Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Germany - Japan 2-2


Japan's striker Naohiro Takahara and Germany's Per Mertesacker battle for the ball during a friendly at BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, May 30, 2006 in preparation for the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006.

Germany scored two late goals and rallied against Japan to escape with a 2-2 draw on Tuesday. Naohiro Takahara (9) scored both goals for Japan.

(Photo from The Mainichi)

NHK Special: The soybean war


NHK Special: The Soybean War, a documentary showing the massive devastation on rainforests in the Amazon, was shown here recently. It outlines the deforestation of the Amazon that covers 12 times the area of Tokyo, just in one year, due to soybean farming.

Japan imports 96-97% of all its soybeans. NHK also pointed out that with changing food habits in China, the global prices of soy have reached a record high. Last year, China imported 40% of the global soy harvest.

Genetically engineered soy are used in Japan for animal feed and food oils, but due to consumer resistance, almost all tofu, natto and miso are GMO-free. I do hope the farmers in Brazil will keep their soy GMO-free as this is what consumers prefer.

On May 20, activists targeted the US multinational corporation, Cargill, in the northern Brazilian river port of Santarém. Cargill is the only corporation that buys the local soybeans. Cargill acknowledges that most of the land used by its suppliers is unregistered and thus illegal, according to Kyodo.

It is not only the Amazon that is being affected by soybean farms. What the NHK program failed to mention was that since 1980, the governments of Japan and Brazil put in place the Japanese-Brazilian Cooperation Program for the Development of the Cerrados, the regional name given to the Brazilian ecosystem which is similar to savannas. The cooperation lasted for 21 years, during which time the Japanese financed the expansion of farming operations, the development of non-GMO soybean varieties and pest management systems. SOS Cerrados is a photo blog by Carlos Terrano, with amazing images from this beautiful part of the world.

Merapi smoke


This AP photo shows Merapi, the Java volcano, with smoke reaching some 900 meters into the sky on Tuesday.

Java previous

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Koinobori in Kaiserslautern


A 100-meter-long carp streamer was raised on Saturday in the sky in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where the Japan national football team will play its first game in the 2006 World Cup finals against Australia. Such koinobori are popular all over Japan, but usually they are just a couple of meters long. This one is HUGE!

Japan-China environmental protection forum in Tokyo

NHK reported from the Japan-China energy-saving and environmental protection forum that opened on Monday in Tokyo. Over 780 government and corporate officials are discussing ways for Japan to help China conserve energy:

Economy, trade, and industry minister Toshihiro Nikai said in an opening speech that he expects the forum will enhance the two countries' cooperation on energy conservation and help to resolve environmental issues. China's commerce minister, Bo Xilai, said China intends to strengthen ties with Japan in the energy-saving and environmental sectors, as Japan has some of the world's top technologies in these fields.

Due to its rapid economic expansion, China is expected to account for about 15 percent of the world's total energy demand in the year 2030. The Chinese government intends to improve the country's energy efficiency by 20 percent over the next five years. The participants will discuss such topics as energy conservation and environmental protection in steel production and automobile manufacturing. They will also visit a thermal power plant and an electrical-appliance recycling center to observe the technologies used in energy conservation.


Not a day too early. Good to see that Japan and China can agree that a healthy environment is a shared concern, and that cooperation is the only way forward.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ring of Fire: I don't like this at all


The Times describes how a series of powerful aftershocks hit the Pacific basin’s volatile Ring of Fire yesterday giving rise to fears that the Mount Merapi, the smouldering volcano, could erupt.

The aftershocks follow the powerful earthquake that struck the island of Java early on Saturday morning.

More than 450 aftershocks have been recorded in the area, underlining the volatility of the region, an area at the mercy of faultlines and home to the world’s highest density of active and rumbling volcanoes.

The USGS has a great website with earthquake updates. Japan's Meteorological Agency has earthquake updates for Japan. And do say your prayers.

This Red Cross website has updates about how you can help Indonesia, or contact the Japan Red Cross Society.

(Graphic from The Times)

Eco labelling in Japan


Japan's Eco Mark was initated in 1989 and now covers over 130 product categories and thousands of products. Japan Environment Association publishes a newsletter in English that has interesting facts about its development. In their latest issue, they show the result of a survey conducted by the Ministry of Environment, indicating that 86% of local governments around Japan carry out green purchasing. All 46 prefectures and major cities (100%) indicated that they carry out green purchasing! In the survey, they were asked about the reference information for green purchasing. The top reply was "eco-labelling programs" and 94-96% replied that they would use the Eco Mark for reference. More than 30 prefectures mention the Eco Mark and/or its certified products in their policy or plan. Read Eco Mark News (pdf) or visit the Japan Eco Mark website for more information.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pacific Islands Summit in Okinawa


NHK reported that Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced aid measures including sending scientists to South Pacific islands to help them deal with environmental issues, such as protection of coral reefs and forests:

Japan also plans to help them immediately announce tsunami information based on lessons learned from the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean in December 2004.

On the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Summit, a children's environmental summit was also held on Saturday. Sixteen children from south Pacific islands gathered with Japanese elementary and junior-high-school children from outlying islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Environment Minister Yuriko Koike joined the children to offer encouragement.

The children finished the environmental summit with a declaration. They called for energy conservation to stop global warming and for efforts to reduce garbage and industrial waste. They called for respect for nature and for kindness to all living things.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New global rules for BSE-free beef

The World Organization for Animal Health has eased safety standards for BSE, or mad cow disease, according to NHK. I do wonder why Japan gave up the fight. I know this is going to make a lot of people very angry. NHK continues:

The decision could prompt the United States to push harder for Japan to ease its conditions on allowing US beef imports.

Under the new rules, the animal health body, also known as OIE, allows the trade in cattle aged 30 months or younger that are confirmed to be BSE-free. The rules say beef-importing countries can ask exporters to carry out thorough inspections for the disease if necessary.

At its annual meeting in Paris on Wednesday, the OIE changed the rules to allow trade in cattle aged 30 months or younger that have passed visual checks.

The decision apparently reflects the wishes of the United States and other beef exporters, as it would not allow importers to call for stricter BSE tests. Observers say the decision could prompt the United States to urge Japan to relax its conditions for beef imports, which are tighter than the OIE's.


BSE/food safety previous

Yasukuni in the news

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will perhaps be best remembered abroad for his visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. The editor of JIIA Commentary, the online publication from a think-tank affiliated with Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, writes that Japan is out of practice of thinking about international politics. Will Japan's next leader be more careful:

Since assuming office in 2001, Koizumi has not wavered in his promise to make an annual visit to Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine in central Tokyo where the spirits of modern Japan's war dead are enshrined. His predecessors had trodden with caution around the issue of Yasukuni, for among the 2.5 million spirits enshrined are those of 14 judged to be war criminals by the allied powers following the Second World War. Beijing's point of contention is the 14, and Yasukuni has become the central issue symbolizing Sino-Japanese friction.

Masaru Tamamoto also notes that the major national dailies - Yomiuri, Nikkei, Mainichi, and Asahi - have come to take a critical stance against the Yasukuni visits; Sankei newspaper is the exception.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stella Polaris


The future of the beautiful ship Stella Polaris, built 1927 in Gothenburg, is in doubt. Known for its luxurious round-the-world voyages, it was sold to a Japanese company and turned into a restaurant in 1969, at Numazu on the Izu Peninsula near Mt Fuji. Locals cherish the restaurant, Scandinavia, and one Japanese blogger writes that she felt the ship reminded her of Titanic. A non-profit organization has been set up to keep the ship in Japan, and they have a blog about their struggles. Do make a comment. I'm so impressed that they managed to collect 16,000 signatures to keep Stella Polaris in Japan! The Great Ocean Liners has more information about Stella Polaris.

Kofi Annan in Japan


The Japanese press chose to ignore Kofi Annan's plea for Japan to improve relations with China and South Korea, instead focusing on Iraq and other issues. Even Asahi Shimbun, the most left-wing or should I say liberal newspaper seems to have felt embarassed that Kofi Annan lectured Japan about Asia. Sad, but at least better than the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, that totally ignored the issue.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that Japan could warm its soured relationships with China and South Korea if it expressed remorse and regret for its acts during World War II, following the example of Germany.

(Photo from UN.org)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

WHO chief Lee Jong-wook dies


I have worked with WHO, especially with the WHO/FAO Codex Alimentarius Commission food standards body, so this news today from Yonhap caught my attention:

Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the World Health Organization, died early Monday of a stroke, the WTO said. He was 61. "All of the staff of the WHO extend their most sincere condolences to Dr. Lee's family. The sudden loss of our leader, colleague and friend, is devastating," the WHO said in the statement. Anders Nordstrom of Sweden, the WHO's assistant director general for general management, will serve as acting director general, the WHO said in a separate statement.

Lee is survived by his wife Reiko Karabuki and a son. He was elected as the head of the U.N.'s health agency in May 2003. His term was to last five years. Lee was born in Seoul and received a medical doctor's degree from SNU and a master's degree in public health from the University of Hawaii. Lee built a reputation for tackling health problems associated with poverty and was considered an efficient administrator during his nearly two decades of service within the international health body. He was appointed as the secretary-general of the WHO in 2003, becoming the first South Korean and the second Asian to lead an international organization under the United Nations.


Read more on the WHO website.

If I was really, really really rich, I'd give the WHO a whole lot of money. There are few organizations that can do so much good in the world. BBC has a good article about the legacy of Lee Jong-wook and the current campaigns and challenges for WHO.

(The photo shows the previous WHO general secretaries Gro Harlem Brundtland, Halfdan Mahler, Hiroshi Nakajima, and - Lee Jong-wook)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Concerns about U.S. beef import agreement

Yomiuri Shinbun has a feature about American beef, that remain banned in Japan due ot BSE concerns. However, an agreement was reached last week to reopen the Japanese market. Japan will start inspections at 35 meatpacking facilities in the United States from late June and, if conditions are met, it will restart U.S. beef imports in July. The Japan Foodservice Association, comprising 450 restaurant operators said the demand for U.S. beef would likely be only 30 percent of what it was before imports were halted because consumers distrust U.S. beef, and the United States would be only allowed to export meat from cattle aged 20 months or younger.

Yasuaki Yamaura, deputy representative of the Consumers Union of Japan said, "If, at the [planned] meetings for consumers, many people ask the government to make greater efforts to ensure U.S. beef is safe, the government must not resume imports." "We'll listen to consumer opinion and make efforts to win back their trust," said an official of the U.S. Meat Export Federation's Tokyo office. "We'll relieve consumers of unnecessary anxiety by providing as much information as possible on the U.S. system to ensure the safety of its beef."

Asahi Shinbun calls the agreement tentative and notes that Japan's safety concerns about mad cow disease are "deep-rooted".

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Tsushima: What goes around, comes around


I liked this story in The Japan Times about a joint Japanese - Korean project to clean up the beaches on Tsushima Island, near Nagasaki:

According to the Tsushima Municipal Government, about 250 tons of cans, bottles, plastic bags and other kinds of litters were collected in 2004, most of it coming from South Korea. Last year the figure grew to 650 tons. Tsushima officials said the town cannot process the increasing amount of garbage, so it asked Seoul to help in the cleanup effort.

The annual joint project came about with the help of Pak Byong Jun, 37, who came to work at the Tsushima government in 2001 on a bilateral exchange program. Pak said he had been shocked to see so much garbage from South Korea washing up on Tsushima's beaches. He organized the first cleanup in May 2003, drawing some 300 college students from Busan.

Pak quoted a student who joined the event as saying, "It's a shame that garbage from my own country is ruining beaches of another country."


(Photo showing Korean garbage on Tsushima from this website)

Friday, May 19, 2006

NHK program about environmental problems in China


I did a program this week for NHK World about environmental problems in China. The program discusses some of the recent solutions, including an environmental tax on wood products to curb deforestation:

"Disposable chopsticks fashioned from wood have spread in China in recent years. Some 45 billion pairs are produced in a year. However, it means some 2 million cubic metres of forest are chopped down each year in China for disposable chopsticks."


90% of all disposable chopstics here in Japan are produced in China. NHK interviewed professor Wang Tsanfa, the Director of the Institute of Environmental Law at the China University of Political Science and Law, who said the destruction of forests has not abated because the legislation isn’t being properly enforced.

Non-government organisations in the form of private environmental groups are also trying to foster solutions, drawing people’s attention to the fact that environmental degradation is an issue that directly concerns them.

NHK talked to the Global Village of Beijing, an NGO based in Beijing. The group has been engaged in environmental conservation at the community level, encouraging local people to take part in its activities. The group has been urging people to take their own chopsticks with them when they go to eat out. They are also encouraging people to gather up and recycle the used disposable chopsticks.

(Photo: WWF China)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A sad day for foreigners entering Japan


A bill requiring fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners upon entry to Japan was passed Wednesday as a way to prevent terrorism, writes The Japan Times:

Despite strong criticism from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and human rights organizations, the bill cleared the House of Councilors with a majority vote by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

With the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, an estimated 6 million to 7 million foreigners entering Japan every year will be obliged to have their fingerprints and photographs taken, along with other personal identification information.


I agree with the critics, and wonder how Japanese people will react if they are subject to the same humilating treatment in other countries.

"By targeting only foreigners, the Immigration Bureau is encouraging discrimination against foreigners," said Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement Monday expressing concern over the bill: "Even (if the law is) for antiterrorism purposes, human rights secured in accordance with the Constitution and the International Human Rights Law must be observed. Establishing a society that secures the human rights of minorities, including foreigners, is another important way to prevent terrorism and crime."

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Zico announces Japan's World Cup team


Japan's team for the World Cup was announced today by Zico:

Goalkeepers: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Yoichi Doi, Seigo Narazaki.

Defenders: Makoto Tanaka, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Alessandro Santos, Yuji Nakazawa, Koji Nakata, Keisuke Tsuboi, Akira Kaji, Yuichi Komano.

Midfielders: Takashi Fukunishi, Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Ono, Yasuhito Endo.

Forwards: Atsushi Yanagisawa, Naohiro Takahara, Masashi Oguro, Keiji Tamada, Seiichiro Maki.

(Photo: The Mainichi)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Air for sale

Japanese convenience store operator Seven-Eleven Japan has breathed fresh air into its product lineup by announcing it will add cans of oxygen to its shelves. The firm said it would make an entry into the rapidly expanding oxygen market and begin selling cans of oxygen on May 24. Mainichi notes:

Oxygen has emerged as a popular new product and sparked the creation of city "oxygen bars" that provide oxygen for customers to breathe in. The convenience store operator will sell small portable cans. It is the first retailer among Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets to enter the oxygen market.

Hakugen, that makes the novel oxygen sprays, is best known for its alarm clocks that wake you with scents: By mixing two scents plus eucalyptus mint, starting some 30 minutes before your alarm goes off, you can drift from dreaming to awakening by pleasant smells. Well, they sell water too, so why not air? Just what the doctor ordered...

Longest om-rice in the world


Lots of Korean news today, as Megumi Yokota's father went to Seoul to meet the mother of the South Korean man who also was kidnapped by North Korean in the late 1970s. His message was recorded and will be aired into North Korea over Freedom North Korea Broadcast for three days starting Thursday, according to Asahi.


But today's really big story today has got to be: Seoul University students made the longest "om-rice" in the world!

That's right, dear readers. While the rest of the world worries about nuclear weapons and human rights issues, Seoul students make an all-out effort to get into the Guinness Book of Record! The dish is delishious and simple, consisting of rice, and - you guessed it - omelette.

Enjoy the party!

Kofi Annan in South Korea


United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan today stressed that resolving the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis should be prioritized over handling Pyongyang's other alleged illicit activities such as counterfeiting and human rights abuses.

"I think in terms of priority, the nuclear crisis is by far the most important and should be given separate and top priority compared to human rights and other activities," he said in a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon after their meeting in Seoul.

NHK noted that Kofi Annan urged Japan and South Korea to continue their dialogue to mend bilateral ties, which have become strained over a territorial issue involving some small islands in the Japan Sea and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a war-related shrine in Tokyo.

Chosun Ilbo has more details about Kofi Annan's visit to Seoul:

Turning to historical differences that are pitting Japan against the regional victims of its past aggression, Annan recommended Europe as a model for resolution of conflicts. He said Europe had a similar experience but was now moving to a union of 25 countries. The 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, he recalled, saw heads of state from Germany, France and the U.S. stand together with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi and President Roh Moo-hyun. He expressed hope that one day he could attend a similar ceremony in Asia.

(South Korean newspapers should know that Europe is not "moving towards a union" but has already achieved this - after the breakup of the Soviet Union - while East Asia indeed still remains ideologically divided. The communist regimes in China and North Korea possess nuclear weapons, not Japan or any other country in the region.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Energy saving efforts in Asia


China and Japan will hold a seminar on energy saving and environmental protection at the end of May in Tokyo, according to Xinhua.

China's National Development and Reform Commission said the seminar is jointly sponsored by the NDRC, China's Ministry of Commerce, Chinese embassy to Japan, Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and Japan-China Association on Economy and Trade. About 150 Chinese delegates and 350 Japanese delegates will attend the seminar.

Delegates will also visit Japan's model companies in energy saving, the NDRC said.

"China must improve efficiency in power use and consider the environment while carrying out massive economic development," Ma Kai, commissioner of the National Development and Reform Commission, said in 2005. Ma said the country faces challenges including a stiffer trade environment, power shortages and operational risks in financial sectors over the next five years, according to the China Center for Economic Research (CCER) at Peking University.

Read more about energy conservation policy in Japan on the Energy Conservation Center, Japan (ECCJ) website. The ENEX 2006: Energy & Environment Exhibition 2006 held in February in Tokyo and Osaka was the 30th annual exhibition to raise awareness of energy conservation and the global environmental conservation.

Over 60,000 visitors learnt about practical up-to-date technical know-how of the energy saving and new energy in "food, clothing and dwelling" which can be easily incorporated into a daily life, through hands-on exhibits for smart construction, choice and way of living in house including introduction of energy-saving household electric appliances and the promotion of use of the high energy-efficiency gadgets.

(Photo: ECCJ)

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Future of Food


I will show a part of the documentary "The Future of Food" at a lecture tonight at the YWCA in Mitaka, western Tokyo. This documentary has been described as a "stylish film": "It is a look at something we might not want to see: Monsanto, Roundup and Roundup-resistant seeds, collectively wreaking havoc on American farmers and our agricultural neighbors around the world. In the end, this documentary is a eloquent call to action."

To watch the trailer, please go to the Future of Food website.

To order the DVD, please click here.

Japan's controversial "conspiracy" law

Japanese politicians is debating a new law that aims to stop organized crime, according to a United Nation convention that was passed in 2000. However, as a recent Yomiuri Shimbun editorial notes, labor unions and civil groups could also become a target of the new bill.

Reiji Yoshida at The Japan Times has done us all a favour by explaining the controversial conspiracy bill aimed at making "conspiracy" a crime. The bill will likely take its first step toward law as the ruling coalition is ready to ask a House of Representatives panel to approve the legislation over strong objections from the opposition parties:

The government-sponsored bill would allow authorities to crack down on members of organizations who agree to commit a crime, even if they don't actually perpetrate one.

Lawyers and citizen groups are protesting the legislation because they fear it will end up giving the government excessive control over the public.


Over 100 Japanese NGO have protested against the bill:

...the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and many citizen groups have asserted that authorities will likely abuse their power by stretching the bill's interpretation to include lesser crimes committed by the general public. This is because the definition of conspiracy and the targeted groups as written in the bill has been left vague.

The legislation would apply to more than 615 offenses, including murder and theft, but critics say many on the list have little to do with organized crime, including violations of the election and political funds control laws.

How the state recognizes a conspiracy "agreement" is another issue. In October, then Justice Minister Chieko Noono told the Lower House that "even winking" could be a signal of criminal conspiracy. This fueled public fears of state abuse of authority.


Update: Amnesty Japan has more details about the April 19 appeal signed by many NGOs (in Japanese). JCA-Net has a blog with updates about the lobbying against the bill.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gotheborg censors reports from participants


Sydsvenskan, a Swedish newspaper, reports that the ship Gotheborg is censoring participating volunteers from writing about human rights in China. This expedition is sponsored by major Swedish companies that trade with China. On the ship's website, there is no information or explanation about censorship. According to Sydsvenskan, the company says they are tied up by the sponsors, and have to stay neutral and not get involved in any political issues. It makes me wonder why everyone is so eager to bend over backwards to the communists in China...

Anyway, the beautiful replica Gotheborg sailed from a Swedish harbour last year, embarking on the same journey as the historical trade vessel in the 18th century. It is supposed to reach Guangzhou in July 2006 and Shanghai in August 2006.

Read more on the SOIC website.

Environmental tax in Japan

Japan for Sustainability notes that a majority (77.7 percent) of the Japanese public responds favorably to the idea of an environmental tax to be imposed on fossil fuels in the fight against global warming, the Ministry of the Environment reported on December 5, 2005:

The amount of tax amount per household per month would be equivalent to the price of a cup of coffee (180 yen). Collecting even such a small amount of tax from households and companies could support, for example, improvement of 5.2 million hectares of forest, 500,000 solar power plants, 1,820 wind generators, 900,000 eco-friendly houses, 33,000 eco-friendly buildings or 35,000 low emission vehicles.

OECD has a database with reports about green taxes: Economic instruments, like taxes and tradable permits, are environmentally effective and economically efficient policy instruments. OECD has long advocated for a consistent use of these instruments and has carried out extensive analysis of their implementation.

However, Japan's Ministry of Environment has met strong resistance from other ministries and the business community, forcing the headquarters to backpedal on earlier plans and to say only that the government will "consider earnestly" the introduction of a green tax, according to International Environment Reporter:

In a prepared statement, Nippon Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) Chairman Hiroshi Okuda, who also is chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., said Japanese industry will "make the best effort in achieving the 'Keidanren environment voluntary plan' to reduce office, business, and transport sector GHG emissions [but] we remained opposed to the introduction of an environmental tax because it would rob the industry of resources for technological innovations and capital expenditures and sap economic vigor."

In 2001, Sweden launched a 10-year "environmental tax shift". It is designed to convert revenue from income taxes to environmentally destructive activities. The average household has seen its income tax bill reduced by around 100,000 Yen annually. The Swedish government is also using green taxes on vehicles and fuel as a central measure of Sweden's plan to be free of oil use by 2025.

Disposable chopsticks to be banned

Many Japanese restaurants and convenience stores still think it is a nice service to routinely give customers free chopsticks. Since these are disposable, they add to the garbage problem, not to mention the deforestation issue. Some are made of bamboo, which is better, but now old habits are beginning to change as the price increases. The Mainichi has the details:

A restriction that the Chinese government has placed on the production of disposable wooden chopsticks to protect forests is beginning to affect Japanese box lunch companies, restaurants and pubs, industry sources said.

In November last year, Chinese exporters notified Japanese buyers that they would raise the price of disposable chopsticks by 50 percent because of the rising cost of wood. However, Chinese products, which were 1 to 2 yen a pair, were still less expensive than their Japanese counterparts, which were priced at 2 to 20 yen.

The move was followed by the Chinese government's announcement in March that it would restrict the production of disposable chopsticks, and then totally ban them in order to protect domestic forests.

Monday, May 08, 2006

World Cup: Japan faces big challenge


The Mainichi thinks Japan coach Zico figures his team has nothing to fear at the World Cup. Drawn in a tough Group F that includes five-time champion Brazil, Australia and Croatia, the Asian champions will need all the courage they can muster to advance to the second round, however. Zico, who took over from Philippe Troussier after the 2002 World Cup, said Japan's players have become stronger after a series of setbacks. And actually, Japan won 11 of 12 games to qualify for the Germany World Cup.

Japan opens its World Cup campaign on June 12 against Australia. "The match against Australia is very important," Zico said. "They have many high-level players who play in Europe and if you give them space, they'll define the match so we have to mark them very closely." Australia also has Guus Hiddink, who guided South Korea to the semifinals in 2002 and is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the game today.

Only one month to go before the fun begins!

Pressure grows to lift US beef ban

The Daily Yomiuri has an update on the US/Japan beef issue. Japan still does not allow imports of American beef, due to concerns about mad cow disease:

An increasing number of officials at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry think the government should comply with the U.S. request soon. The government plans to inspect U.S. facilities where beef for export to Japan is to be processed after the U.S. government submits its own inspection results. But since it will take more than a month to inspect all 37 facilities, ministry officials intend to consider resuming imports in stages, starting with products processed at facilities where safety has been confirmed.

Government officials in favor of resuming imports intend to proceed with the resumption plan, even if only a partial resumption, before a summit meeting of the two nations scheduled for June so as not to give the impression of giving into U.S. pressure, the sources said.

Some government officials are more cautious due to consumer concern over the safety of U.S. beef and public criticism that it was too early to lift the initial ban in December. These officials say the ban should not be lifted until Japanese inspectors are stationed in the United States.

At 10 meetings the government held in Tokyo, Osaka and other places, a number of consumers said they were not satisfied with the credibility of U.S. inspections and called for stricter measures to prevent the recurrence of risk materials being imported.


American been is also banned by the 25 member countries of the European Union, due to concerns about the use of growth hormones. South Korea banned imports at the same time as Japan, and is also considering reopening its market after inspections. Taiwan and Hong Kong reopened their markets in 2005.

Overuse of antibiotics in Korean farms

The Korea Times describes the overuse of antibiotics in Korea, with some compelling data. Last year, a NGO called The People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy released a report on the antibiotics abuse in Korean farms and fisheries, based on data from the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service in 2001-2004:

According to the report, the livestock and fishery industries used 1,500 tons of antibiotics per year during the period, about 16 times more than the 94 tons used in Denmark, which produces 1.2 times more livestock product than Korea. It also showed 54 percent of the antibiotics were mixed with feed, while 40 percent were given on the grower's own decision, while 6 percent were give under veterinarian prescriptions.

However, what is worse than the use of antibiotics is that farmers and ranchers do not follow the rules about when to stop giving their ivestock antibiotics.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Asia Times on US bases in Japan and Korea

Asia Times has two excellent articles if you are interested in what is happeneing to the military alliance between the US and Japan, as well as the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Washington and Seoul.

Key words:

Japan: "Realignment" of US bases in Japan, agreement to move 8,000 US marines from Okinawa to Guam, concerns about the huge costs (Japanese tax payers will fork out $US 6.1 Billion for the Guam move, and another estimated $US 26 Billion for the rest of the "realignment"), Yokosuka Naval Base as a home for a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and what the US calls the "arc of instability" stretching from Northeast Asia to the Middle East via Southeast and South Asia. Number of US troups in Japan: 47,000.

Korea: nuclear weapons, counterfeiting and human rights concerns at the industrial park at Gaesong just across the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, refugee issues, and American command over South Korean military forces in case of war. Number of US troups in South Korea: 29,500.

(South Korea has also recently agreed to pay US$ 68 Billion to move a US garrison in central Seoul and other American bases as part of a plan to consolidate US bases outside of the capital by 2008, according to Yonhap News)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Common regional currency in Asia?

The Japan Times reports that finance ministers from Japan, China and South Korea plus the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed Thursday that they will examine the usefulness of creating regional currency units as one of their channels to deepen economic integration in the region.

Chosun Ilbo and China Daily have more details about the plans for the ACU (Asian Currency Unit).

A common currency would have a tremendous effect on people's lives in Asia, just like the Euro has made the European Union a truly integrated region, also for ordinary people. Expect some major protests before it becomes reality though!

Update: Koizumi in Sweden


Sveriges Radio International reports that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he and Sweden's Göran Persson had agreed on the need for reforms of the United Nations:

But Persson stopped short of saying Japan should have a permanent seat on the Security Council. The Japanese Prime Minister also said his country has much to learn from Sweden’s policy on welfare and ageing populations. Earlier in the day he visited a Swedish kindergarten to get a firsthand look at the country’s child care system.

Another issue was North Korea, since Sweden maintains diplomatic relations with the communist regime in Pyongyang, and Göran Persson has visited North Korea.

Kyodo reports that Sweden and Japan will join forces in helping resolve the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea:

In response to Koizumi's call for Sweden's help on the issue, Persson was quoted as replying that Sweden, which has diplomatic ties with North Korea, wants to discuss the abduction issue and the North Korean nuclear development issue with Pyongyang. On other issues, Persson pointed out that Japan's ties with China, which have been at the nadir since normalizing diplomatic relations in 1972, should be developed in an amicable manner as theirs is a key bilateral relationship in Asia, the officials said.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Koizumi in Sweden

Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is visiting Sweden today. A press conference will be webcast on the Swedish government website after he visits the Täppan kindergarten in Stockholm. Koizumi's website with his ideals and milestones has some fun information about his heros (including Winston Churchill!) and The spirit of "kome hyappyo" (one hundred sacks of rice):

The domain of Nagaoka was impoverished in the Boshin Civil War of 1868-69 at the time of the Meiji Restoration. In 1870 the domain of Mineyama sent a hundred sacks of rice to Nagaoka as assistance. Most of the domain officials wanted to distribute the rice immediately, but the grand councilor, Torasaburo Kobayashi (1828-77), decided to sell the rice and use the proceeds to build a school instead. His reasoning was that if the rice were simply distributed it would be gone in only a few days, but if it were used to educate people, in future they would be able to generate wealth worth tens of thousands of sacks of rice.

Prime Minister Koizumi maintains that the spirit of the hundred sacks of rice -- the willingness to endure pain today for the sake of a better tomorrow -- is what is needed in today's Japan.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The people who shape our world: Ma Jun


Time Magazine lists Chinese journalist and environmentalist Ma Jun as one of the 100 most influental people on Earth. While there are many other activists who should be on that list, it is good that Time pays attention to China. Ma Jun wrote his book China's Water Crisis in 1999, and actor Ed Norton writes for Time:

My father Ed Norton Sr., who helped found the Nature Conservancy's landmark collaboration with the People's Republic in Yunnan province, says that during its first industrial century, the U.S. had plenty of time to learn from its mistakes. "China doesn't have that kind of time," he says. "They are going to have to learn faster and leapfrog the problems we created in the West."



The greatest concern to Mr. Ma is the condition of China’s two major rivers, the Yellow and the Yangzi. The very existence of the Yellow River is threatened by massive reductions in water flow caused by a variety of man-made programs while chronic soil erosion resulting from defor-estation together with dam construction has led to a cycle of flood and drought in the Yangzi River basin. The same issues are reflected in China’s smaller rivers. Mr. Ma documents the persistent drought conditions in the southeast, the impact of pollutants on the Tibetan plateau, the defects in China’s large-scale reservoirs, steadily diminishing underground water tables, and the growing abuse of aquifers for urbanization and industrialization.

(Oh, by the way, South Korean singer Rain also made the Time 100 list, for reasons that have nothing to do with water at all!)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New earthquake rules for nuclear reactors

I have mentioned the risks associated with major earthquakes hitting areas in Japan where nuclear reactors are located. The Asahi notes that this is the first time in almost 30 years that
the government will revise and strengthen its earthquake-resistance standards for nuclear power plants:

A Nuclear Safety Commission subcommittee has come up with a draft revision of the current guidelines that would require nuclear power plants to prepare for temblors 20 to 30 percent stronger than currently stipulated. The subcommittee will post the draft on the Internet and solicit public opinion. It will finalize the revisions as early as this summer.

Not a day too early.

May Day in Tokyo 2006



(Photo from the Mainichi)

Monday, May 01, 2006

50th anniversary of Minamata disease

The Japanese city that gave its name to Minamata disease held a ceremony Monday to mark 50 years since the neurological disorder caused by mercury poisoning was first diagnosed. City officials laid flowers at a monument dedicated to those who have died of the disease since it was officially recognized on May 1, 1956, in Minamata on Japan's main island of Kyushu, said Mitsuru Ichigosaki who is overseeing the event.

Mainichi has more on what is regarded as Japan's worst industrial disaster:

Despite the terrifying effects of the poisoning, Chisso continued to dump mercury in the bay until 1970. Victims' advocates say the poisoning was much more widespread than the government admits.

In a statement Friday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed regret at the government's failure to stop the disaster and pledged to protect the environment. Chisso's chairman, Shunichi Goto, attended Monday's ceremony, along with Environment Minister Yuriko Koike and the mayor of Minamata, Katsuaki Miyamoto.