Friday, April 28, 2006

Japan: Not an easy places to raise children

The Daily Yomiuri has the results from a survey that was conducted in Japan, France, South Korea, Sweden and the United States between October and December 2005 to obtain data that will help the countries tackle their falling birthrates:

Less than half of pollees in Japan said their country offers a sympathetic environment to parents raising children, while a majority of those surveyed in Sweden and the United States said sufficient support is provided in their countries for child-rearing, according to the results of a five-country survey released by the Cabinet Office on Thursday.

Asked whether their countries provide an environment in which they can easily have children, 48 percent of those polled in Japan gave positive answers, but the rates of those in Sweden and the United States--which have a reputation for supporting families--reached 98 percent and 78 percent, respectively.

The survey results also showed that many respondents in Sweden regard raising children as the joint work of mothers and fathers, while many pollees in Japan think it is a mother's job.

Few in Japan think their country is an easy place to raise kids.

Sakie Yokota goes to Washington



This is one impressive lady...

Sakie Yokota, 70, whose daughter Megumi was abducted by North Korean agents, met U.S. Congressman Steven Chabot, R-Ohio, on Tuesday to relate the tale of her family's ordeal since Megumi's disappearance in 1977.

In the 30-minute meeting with Chabot at the congressman's office on Capitol Hill, Yokota said all she wanted was to see her daughter returned to her.

During the meeting she showed Chabot a photo taken on a family trip made when Megumi was a primary school student. The congressman, who has been involved in the abduction issue, said it was very serious and promised he would continue his efforts to resolve the issue, according to Yokota, who spoke to reporters after the meeting.

Megumi's brother, Takuya, 37, who also attended the meeting with Chabot, said he told the congressman they had not taken family photos for nearly 30 years since his sister vanished. He also told Chabot that Japan as a whole was now embroiled in the abduction issue.

Five members of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, including the Yokotas, are visiting Washington this week to try to raise awareness of the issue among U.S. leaders and the public.


(Photo and story from the Daily Yomiuri with more details here)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hamaoka nuclear reactors update


I have previously written about Japan Offspring Fund's campaign to raise awareness about the five nuclear reactors in Hamaoka, south of Tokyo.

Now, JOF notes that it doesn't take any strength at all to crush what Chubu Electric Power Company refers to as "solid rock". This is the kind of rock bed that the Hamaoka nuclear reactors are standing on. In case of the Tokai earthquake, the fact that the ground easily crumbles is a major concern.

Japan Offspring Fund, a NGO based in Kojimachi, Tokyo collected samples of rock at a distance of 100 meters from the actual site of the Hamaoka nuclear reactors, identical to the "solid rock" that the reactors are built on.

Read more here.

"Of all the places in all the world where no one in their right mind would build scores of nuclear power plants, Japan would be pretty near the top of the list." - Leuren Moret, who visited Japan in 2003.

The Japan Times: Japan's deadly game of nuclear roulette


Of all the places in all the world where no one in their right mind would build scores of nuclear power plants, Japan would be pretty near the top of the list.

The Japanese archipelago is located on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, a large active volcanic and tectonic zone ringing North and South America, Asia and island arcs in Southeast Asia. The major earthquakes and active volcanoes occurring there are caused by the westward movement of the Pacific tectonic plate and other plates leading to subduction under Asia.

Japan sits on top of four tectonic plates, at the edge of the subduction zone, and is in one of the most tectonically active regions of the world. It was extreme pressures and temperatures, resulting from the violent plate movements beneath the seafloor, that created the beautiful islands and volcanoes of Japan.


Hamaoka previous.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NHK: No more Chernobyls

NHK World has produced a program about the Chernobyl accident that you can hear on the website here (click on Tuseday and Wednesday). Japanese photo journalist Ryuichi Hirokawa talks about his impressions from his 50 trips to the area. Also in the Tuesday program, lovely music by Nataliya Gudziy.

On the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, Citizens' Nuclear Information Center remembers the tragedy of this, the worst industrial accident in human history:

We recognize the dangers of using nuclear energy. We also recognize that using nuclear energy encourages nuclear proliferation. We therefore make the following appeal:

1. that nuclear energy be phased out as soon as possible;
2. that governments industry and the general public work together to dramatically reduce total energy consumption in the 21st Century; and
3. that the use of renewable forms of energy be expanded as rapidly as possible.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tokyo trains not running today

The train lines I use, Saikyo line and Yamanote line, were halted all day today. It is impossible to get the necessary information, except on the JR website (Japanese only). For JR to not be able to provide any information in English or other languages is really mind-boggling.

Yamanote line seems to be running again as of 16:00, and the TV news now at 17:00 says Saikyo line stops at Ikebukuro, and passengers are encouraged to change trains there.

Mainichi explains what happened, but has no updates. NHK Online has ticker information with very brief updates.

IKEA opens in Japan


"Small-space living will be a characteristic throughout the entire store," said Tommy Kullberg, the head of IKEA's Japan division. "We have visited hundreds of homes, and really gone through in detail how the Japanese live, how they cook, how they sleep."

It is that kind of meticulous preparation that has helped the company grow from a one-man venture in a small Swedish village to a global phenomenon with an almost cult-like following.

Today there are more than 230 IKEA stores in 33 countries, and sales have more than tripled in the last decade, to euro 14.8 billion (US$18.3 billion) in 2005.


Mainichi has more details here.

IKEA's Japanese website is here, with an online catalogue... I have so many nostalgic memories related to that catalogue. While growing up it was always great fun to flip through its cleverly designed pages, imagining what kind of furniture to choose. Nice to see it in Japanese, but actually, I live with almost no furniture these days, as I prefer the "empty" and uncluttered look.

I don't see anything about corporate social responsibility on IKEA's Japanese website. I would certainly hope that they take environmental concerns into account as they aim to make profit in Japan. IKEA's English material about CSR is good, but needs to be updated for their Japanese customers.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

More photos from Earth Day in Tokyo!






(Photos from the great Earth Day Tokyo 2006 blog)

Japan's Green Purchasing Network

For 10 years, Japan's Green Purchasing Network (GPN), has promoted the ideas and practices of green purchasing in Japan. The 2,876 member organization (Jan 2005) includes corporations, local autonomous bodies, consumer groups, environmental NGOs, and cooperative associations. Among GPN activities, the organization draws up purchasing guidelines for various products and maintains an extensive product database, as well as holding seminars and study meetings, and awards commendations to organizations that have excellently performed in implementing green purchasing.

GPN held the 10th anniversary commemorative forum and party on February 24, 2006. Photos and reports here (Japanese). Ms Yuriko Koike, Minister of the Environment, gave a commemorative speech and emphasized the role of green purchasing to "realize virtuous circle of economy and the environment".

GPN has a great English website here.

GPN is a member of the International Green Purchasing Network.

Food Safety Commission "in jeopardy"

The Japan Times notes that the trustworthiness of the Food Safety Commission appears to be in jeopardy:

Half of the 12-member panel under the commission that was tasked with assessing the safety of North American beef resigned as of March 31. The six who quit were regarded by consumer groups as being cautious about the idea of resuming beef imports from the United States and Canada. Six new members were appointed as of April 1. A full explanation about what led to their resignation should be the first step to regaining trust in the commission and the panel.

Read more here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Earth Day Tokyo 2006


Come and enjoy Earth Day in Yoyogi, Tokyo this weekend! Lots of music, organic food and a chance to meet young Japanese people who care a lot about the environment, peace and love. This blog has more details. Official website here.

Protest against Chinese missiles targeting Taiwan


Washington D.C. protests during Chinese president Hu Jintao's visit included this Taiwanese group demonstrating against China's build-up of missiles aimed at the island.

(Photo: BBC)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Seoul: Traditional Hanoks Face Destruction


Imagine a place where trees are planted in accordance with ancient tradition, where homes are made of natural materials such as wood and stone in the traditional Korean way and where on a sunny spring afternoon you can feel rejuvenated after a peaceful stroll. You might be surprised to know that this place is only about a fifteen-minute walk from downtown Seoul’s daily hustle and bustle.

Read more here.

Realistic or not, efforts to save cultural assets in Korea seem to require a major effort. Good luck, David.

Monday, April 17, 2006

OECD: Iceland most wired nation on Earth

In Iceland, 26.7 percent of citizens have a subscription to broadband Internet connections, compared with 25.4 percent in South Korea, 25.3 percent in the Netherlands and 25 percent in Denmark, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a study, according to Reuters.

The number of broadband subscriptions throughout the OECD countries grew to 158 million by December 2005 from 136 million six months earlier. This is an average of 13.6 subscribers per 100 inhabitants in the entire OECD.

The United States, with 16.8 percent broadband penetration, counted 49.39 million subscribers in 2005, compared with 22.52 million in Japan which has 17.6 percent penetration. The fastest broadband download speeds are in Japan and Korea as a result of fibre-optic cable connections.

Graphs and details here.

Koizumi eager to lift US beef ban

According to Asahi, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has given the thumbs-up to efforts to lift the ban on U.S. beef.

"Looking at the issue from the U.S. point of view, Americans eat beef every day, and they eat a lot more of it than the Japanese do, and it is safe," he said in the Lower House. "The United States is unhappy that Japanese are not eating beef that is so safe."

Friday, April 14, 2006

TV Asahi in Sweden and Norway


TV Asahi is showing beatuiful scenery from Sweden and Norway every evening these days. Lots of snow and forests and kids iceskating on lakes. Take a look!

I'm surprised how interested Japanese people are in my native part of the world. Bio City did an issue on The Sustainable World in Scandinavia and with IKEA opening its first shop in Chiba on April 24, we are seeing a lot of stories about Scandinavian design as well. Instead of a massive (and expnesive) ad campaign, IKEA was clever and sponsored 4.5, showing how people can use the 4.5 tatami mat room in a novel way.

Volvo is making headlines here too, as the truck maker (still an independent Swedish company) became the largest shareholder in Nissan Diesel, and is about to open up markets in China if they can buy the Dongfeng Group. The Volvo Group this month introduced a hybrid solution for trucks and buses, which offers fuel savings of up to 35 percent: "We envisage opportunities to accelerate developments in commercially viable hybrids for heavy vehicles. This can be significant for both our customers and for the environment," says President and CEO of Volvo, Leif Johansson, according to Privata Affärer.

For some fancy videos of Volvo's environmentally friendly trucks click here!

Japan "will consult with consumers" on US beef

According to NHK, Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa has told the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns that Japan must take all necessary steps, including consulting consumers, before discussing any resumption of American beef imports:

Mr Johanns told Mr Nakagawa that US officials have revised their inspection procedures and meat-packing authorizations, as promised in a recent experts' meeting. Mr Johanns said the US Congress has run out of patience waiting for Japan to resume imports of US beef. Mr Nakagawa said the Japanese government must hold meetings to hear consumers' views.

Running out of patience? That is a really stupid argument. Japanese consumers are indeed cautious after learning the details about the lack of controls regarding the U.S. and Canadian BSE situation.

Food Safety Citizens' Watch has a website with the viewpoints of what Japanese consumer organizations are saying, views that the U.S. Embassy is hopefully transmitting back to Washington:

In our opinion, the BSE countermeasures in those two countries are completely insufficient. We have pointed out again and again that even if the export program is adhered to, with inspections, traceability, removal of SRM, and strict feed controls to exclude meat and bone meal, there is indeed a danger to us Japanese consumers and producers.

In addition there are still concerns about cattle cannibalism, as the U.S. continues to carelessly disregard BSE countermeasures and uses meat bone meal, beef tallow and blood meal as milk replacer and feed for domestic animals. The U.S. does not ban vertebral columns in their domestic beef, and this is also a large problem.


Make no mistake, Japan is closely monitoring news like this and this.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dvorak: Stabat Mater



I joined the Tokyo International Singers! We will perform Dvorak's beautiful work Stabat Mater with Tokyo New City Orchestra in Meguro Persimmon Hall on May 2, 2006. You can listen to recordings of the different parts here. Read more about Tokyo International Singers here.

Protest against Rokkasho


Peace groups and environmental groups including Korean Federation for Environmental Movement organized a protest against operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant on March 31, 2006 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. KFEM has an excellent English website here.

Korean NGOs expressed their concern that the reprocessing of spent fuel might result in Japanese nuclear armament which will bring about tension and conflict in Northeast Asia. They also said large scale contamination from the facility is another big environmental threat.

Korean NGOs released a joint statement demanding Japan to stop operating the reprocessing facility immediately.

Japan's Citizens' Nuclear Information Center has more details about the concerns about Rokkasho here. Have a look at their English website here.

Update: Water containing radioactive material has leaked at the Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern Japan, but no radioactivity was released into the atmosphere, according to The Mainichi:

About 40 liters (10.5 gallons) of water containing plutonium and other radioactive material leaked inside a compound at the plant in Rokkasho on Tuesday, said Yukio Takahashi, spokesman for Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.

One would think they would be a little more careful with a substance that is so lethal to humans.


Update: BBC also had the story about the Rokkasho accident, and they note that: "Nuclear installations, which supply much of Japan's power, have come under the spotlight in recent years after a string of accidents and mishaps." I'm happy to see that the BBC lists the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center under "Related Internet Links". Congratulations!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Japanese lobbying in the EU


With 80 pct of laws passed in member countries originating in Brussels, it is little wonder that more and more private corporations and organizations are trying to reach decision-makers in Europe's capital. Japanese companies, however, are "not visible" in Brussels, says Franz Waldenberger, adviser to EUTOP Group GmbH, a Munich-based company that specializes in representing the interests of private companies and organizations.

I have worked in Brussels so I know how difficult lobbying can be. As the Mainichi describes it, Japan, the world's number two economy, is very low key - or simply not trying:

American companies are much more present in Brussels than Japanese companies. U.S. firms, for example, have been conspicuous in their lobbying against the EU''s proposed new chemicals policy, dubbed REACH, designed to enforce stricter testing and labeling rules for chemicals.

Waldenberger points out that some major Japanese companies, such as Toyota Motor Corp. and NEC Corp., have representative offices in Brussels but they have yet to find their way into the corridors of power.

"In many areas, they are outsiders," Waldenberger says, citing as an example the fact that Japanese automakers are not members of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). "Japanese companies are not yet as positioned as they are in the United States."


The European Commission has a special website for EU-Japan relations. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has a lot of official statements and declarations. This page is more interesting; it has details about Japan's relationship with each country in the World!

(Illustration from "Kuifje en de Picaros" where the Indian speaks with a Brussels accent - only funny if you know your Tintin)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Want to watch Japanese TV?


Did you know that you can watch short clips of whatever NHK is showing, each day, here in Japan? Here is the link to one such program, about Mt Fuji, that was broadcast tonight.

It was beautiful, using the latest camera technology. I really liked the segment that showed how the stars move in the night sky, while Fuji-san stays immovable (well, since it is a volcano, I do hope it will stay that way!) and very dignified.

(Photo from this website, that has a number of beautiful NHK QSL cards - "QSL" is a code, which means "I confirm contact with you" - this is the confirmation of a QSO or radio contact between two radio amateurs. Read more about QSL and QSO here!)

Sandstorm warning

Sandstorms from Mongolia carries yellow dust, as well as contaminants including heavy metals, which are bad for skin, eyes, ears, nose and throat. The dust can be noticed now in April in China, Korea and Japan, causing serious health concerns.

Chosun Ilbo has the following advice:

Many people experience cold symptoms during the sandstorms. Even though it is no direct cause of cold, dry weather and the attendant big fluctuations between night and day temperatures make people more susceptible. Drink plenty of water to help your immune system cope. The mucous membranes in the airways dry up easily, which is why experts recommend drinking 1-1.5 liters of water and eating high-protein meals.

I'm not a big sun screen fan, but I do believe they are needed to protect the face. I use SPF 50 and say my prayers...

TVE Earth Report went to the Mongolian Autonomous Region of China where the traditional grassland ecosystem is being eaten away by the desert, vividly showing the causes of this problem.

UNEP, the UN agency for environmental protection, is allocating money in assisting governments with joint work for monitoring and early warning of dust and sandstorms. UNEP's Global Environment Outlook Yearbook 2003, an annual report on the health of the planet, has blamed the increased intensity of the storms on the expansion of the Gobi Desert in China which is threatening the livelihoods of some 400 million people with desertification. More details here, from the UNEP meeting in Jeju, South Korea, 2004.

Update: It was so bad this time in Korea that the National Korean Meteorological Administration chief issued an apology for mistakes in predicting the exact course of the yellow dust storm that hit the Korean penninsula Saturday. Dust levels measured at a high of 2,281 particles per million in a cubic meter of air in Seoul. Officials consider 301-500 parts per million a “hazardous” health concern. The storm left cars, sidewalks and pedestrian handrails covered with a thin layer of dust in the greater Seoul area. More information on the Asian Dust Homepage with video clips.

Ozawa criticizes Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine

Seems like Japanese politics just got a tad more interesting. Ichiro Ozawa, the new leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Party, stated in a NHK interview this weekend that he thinks Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo was not intended to enshrine the spirits of convicted war criminals:

"Koizumi's (visits) are wrong ... Yasukuni shrine originally was not a place where people with the greatest responsibility for leading Japan into wars were honored," Ozawa said. Read more here.

In my humble opinion, removing the war criminals from Yasukuni might be one step towards making the shrine more acceptable. However, it is also terrifying to note what the shrine officially says on its website:

Moreover, there were those who gave up their lives after the end of the Great East Asian War, taking upon themselves the responsibility for the war. There were also 1,068 "Martyrs of Showa" who were cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal of the Allied forces (United States, England, the Netherlands, China and others). These martyrs are also the Kami of Yasukuni Jinja.

Another step would be to remove the War Memorial Museum from the precinct. The museum displays war items, even weapons (a tank, an airplane, guns, and a huge torpedo) and all kinds of written messages that justifies Japan's wars. The shop sells souvenirs such as Zero fighter and Battleship Yamato "original goods". What on earth does this has to do with shinto? I know of no other shrine in Japan that houses a museum like this. Sigh...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

NHK: Shell oil drums found in Hokkaido


Tonight, NHK showed oil drums bearing the Shell logo and name on its evening news, as evidence that the Dutch company is responsible for the horrific oil spill in Hokkaido recently. The oil spill has infuriated local residents. 5000 migrating birds have been found dead on the beaches in this remote area of northern Japan. I tried to search for Shell and Hokkaido, and found some information on this Sakhalin oil and gas project website. Shell, together with Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Gazprom, are expanding their environmental and social destruction of Sakhalin Island, with support, it seems, from the international financial institutions.

What is Shell doing to make sure its partners are protecting the environment, or will they just ignore this incident?

Friday, April 07, 2006

SAAB introduces first fossil-free hybrid car


Nice to see that SAAB still is making good cars. Now they have introduced the world's first fossil-free hybrid vehicle. I like that there are zero fossil CO2 emissions, and what they call "a range of energy-saving features by combining the use of pure bioethanol fuel and electric power generation for the first time." The Saab 9-3 Convertible show car also becomes the world's first hybrid soft-top.

Cyber-activists claim success

Good NGO campaigns are always a joy. Months of campaigning by environmental cyber-activists, who sent thousands of e-mails demanding an end to commercial whaling, has been a success. Now Nissui, Gortons and other companies are doing the right thing, pulling out of the whaling business, according to The Independent:

Japan's ruthless push for the return of commercial whaling received a significant setback yesterday when pressure from green campaigners forced five big food companies to pull out of supporting the Japanese whaling industry.

The five firms, led by the Japanese seafood giant Nissui and its wholly-owned US frozen foods subsidiary Gortons, said they would divest their one-third share in Japan's largest operator of whaling ships, Kyodo Senpaku. The firm runs seven of the eight whaling ships in Japan.


Greenpeace has even coined a new usage: "to mouse someone" - meaning using the computer mouse to send a electronic message to someone - and it also has a funny nuance reminding one of "the mouse that roared"... Read more here. Do become a member, these people are doing a great job. Greenpeace podcasts can be found here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cars: US Consumer Reports Top Pics

US Consumer Reports is a great read, always independent and never dull. Over many years, its advice has indeed become the leading source of information not only in the US, but all over the world. Take their Top Picks for best cars in 2006: They tested 200 cars and for the first time, all the magazine's top picks were made by Japanese auto makers. Their selections are based not on any other guidline but the consumers' best interest.

I'm impressed (although I don't like cars):

Four new models made our Top Picks list this year. The redesigned Honda Civic is our choice among sedans priced below $20,000. The outstanding Infiniti M35 dethroned the Lexus LS430 in the luxury-sedan class ($40,000 or more). The Toyota Highlander Hybrid scored highest among SUVs priced above $30,000. Among pickup trucks, our choice is the new Honda Ridgeline.

The addition of the Highlander Hybrid means that our Top Picks now include two hybrid models, but for very different reasons. The Toyota Prius is our Top Pick in the “green”-car category because of its excellent 44-mpg overall fuel economy, the best we’ve measured in any five-passenger vehicle.


Hisane Masaki at Asia Times has an analysis of what the unsurpassed success of Japan's car industry (noting that Japan's trade surplus with the US is huge - at $82.6 billion in 2005, of which about 60%, or $50.6 billion, came in the autos and auto-parts trade) actually means here.

Organic cotton, made in Japan


TV Tokyo, on channel 12, had a nice segment tonight about organic wool and organic cotton. It is a big boom in Japan now. The news program showed Avanti, an organic cotton business that started in 1991. It has grown to a company dedicated in organic cotton business, from raw cotton, yarn, fabric and garments. The are even able to export to Europe, because of their wonderful fabrics, according to TV Tokyo.

Avanti clothes are manufactured in accordance with the strict organic guideline of Japan Organic Agriculture Association, a nonprofit organization.

The TV show was careful to explain how organic cotton can be good for babies, expecially if they have atopy or other allergic recations.

Japan Organic Cotton Organization has more information.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

New environmental taxes in China


This is great news: China imposes a tax on disposable chopsticks! Actually, the campaign was involving schoolchildren, according to BBC:

It produces about 45 billion pairs of chopsticks a year, consuming millions of trees and bamboo plants. The move came as China said it would raise some consumption taxes next month in a bid to help the environment and narrow the gap between rich and poor.

Taxes on yachts, luxury watches, golf clubs, gas-guzzling cars and wooden floor panels are rising by 5-20%.

The disposable splints of wood, usually between eight and 10 inches long, have long been a target for Chinese environmentalists.

School children have written to the Chinese prime minister asking for a ban on disposable wooden chopsticks, while students have persuaded some college cafeterias to replace them with spoons.


I'm finding different numbers, but it seems China produces 10 billion boxes of chopsticks each year for domestic use, while 6 billion boxes are being exported, mainly to Japan. What a waste! South Korea has a much better solution: Stainless steel chopsticks.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

UN meeting keeps ban on controversial GMO

Governments at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have agreed to keep a ban on the Terminator technology – plants that are genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds at harvest. The 8th meeting of the CBD ended today in Curitiba, Brazil. Nice to see that negotiators at United Nations meeting sometimes can agree on something.

Read more on the Ban Terminator Campaign website.

Among Japanese signatures are Consumers Union of Japan, Anti-GM Farmers Network, and No! GMO Campaign of Japan.

IISD has a service called Linkages to provide reports and photos from the negotiations. Great job!

Update from Reuters with more details here, noting that a proposal to limit commercial deep-sea fishing in international waters failed, in part because of pressure from countries with big fleets like Japan and South Korea.