Friday, September 29, 2006

True Food Guide


This True Food Guide has been launched today here in Japan by Greenpeace. It is the result of careful research asking Japan's major food companies how they deal with the difficult GMO issue. Imported genetically manipulated soy, corn, canola (and long-grain US rice as well, although the government seems to have trouble knowing how to test it, since the contamination is illegal) are used by some companies, that make the "red" list.

Greenpeace also tells consumers which foods make the "green" list. A wonderful idea that has helped food shoppers in other countries such as Australia. Order the Japanese True Food Guide.

Asahi has the story here (in Japanese). Impressive piece of work, over a hundred companies have cooperated with Greenpeace Japan's team on this guide. Hope you are all members. . .

GMO crops & food previous

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Global competitiveness

Sweden has climbed to third in a ranking of the world's most competitive countries. In top spot is Switzerland, while Finland takes second place in the rating by the World Economic Forum.

The figures are based on official statistics and interviews with over 11,000 people in leading positions from 125 countries.
The other countries in the top ten are Denmark, Singapore, the US, Japan, Germany, Holland and the UK.

WEF has the rest of the story.

Excerpt:

Leading within Asia are Singapore and Japan, ranked 5th and 7th respectively, closely followed by Hong Kong (11) and Taiwan (13). These economies are characterized by high-quality infrastructure, flexible and efficient markets, healthy and well-educated workforces and high levels of technological readiness and innovative capacity. Malaysia, ranked 26th overall, has one of the most efficient economies in the region with flexible labour markets, relatively undistorted goods markets and public institutions which in many areas (e.g., rule of law, the legal system) are already operating at the level of the top performing new EU members.

Korea’s (24) performance is slightly more uneven than that of Malaysia. The country has already reached world-class levels in certain areas, such as macroeconomic management, school enrolment rates at all levels, penetration rates for new technologies and scientific innovation, as captured by data on patent registration. However, Korea continues to be held back by institutional weaknesses, both public and private, for which it has not yet reached the standards of Finland, Sweden, Denmark or Chile. Taiwan (13) continues to operate at a high level of efficiency but has dropped below last year’s "top-ten" status. It is an innovation powerhouse, with levels of per capita patents registration exceeded only by the US and Japan. It continues to excel in higher education and training indicators (ranked 7th overall) but, like Korea, its overall rank is weighed down by weaknesses in the institutional infrastructure.


I'm reminded of a Swedish painting that is still very famous, from around 1972, by Peter Tillberg. It showed a very realistically painted school class, all kids looking straight forward in an orderly fashion... Except one boy, by the window, who is looking out, far away, into the distance... The title can be translated as, "Will you ever be profitable, my little friend" and the painting, now at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, captured the mood of a generation in Sweden.

29th case of BSE in Japan

Kyodo reports that a dead Holstein cow in Hokkaido has been confirmed to have tested positive for mad cow disease - the 29th case in Japan, farm ministry officials said Thursday:

The 6-year-old cow tested positive in separate screenings at a Hokkaido animal health center and at the National Institute of Animal Health outside Tokyo.

Its meat and internal organs will be incinerated, said the officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The Hokkaido government said it will analyze the cow's feed to look into the route of inflection of the disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The cow was born in the town of Horonobe, northern Hokkaido, in June 2000, before the Japanese government imposed a ban in 2001 on meat-and-bone meal feed suspected to be a cause of the disease. It was raised at a farm in the town of Nakagawa, also northern Hokkaido.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Greenz.jp

I love the way young (?) designers are incorporating environmental themes and the ubiqous LOHAS (Lifestyle of health and sustainability) in new projects. Recently, a web magazine called Greenz.jp has been launched as a web community magazine.

Some popular keywords are "detox", "organic", and "eco tour".

Have a look, Greenz is showing photos from a German Eco Village, Okodorf Sieben Linden. This must look terribly exotic to most people in Tokyo!

Monday, September 25, 2006

60 Artists

At the Organic Fair, I found a booth from Japan Organic Cotton Association, with a great exhibition of organic t-shirts. They have asked 60 designers to participate under the theme "I support organic cotton". JOCA has a complete list here.


Ingrid Bergman number 15?


Saturday night, NTV, a commercial TV station here in Japan, asked viewers to rank 100 women they love. I was happy to see that a Swedish woman made the list! No other than the lovely Ingrid Bergman:

1. Natsume Masako
2. Audrey Hepburn
3. Princess Diana
4. Cleopatra
5. Mother Teresa
6. Florence Nightingale
7. Grace Kelly
8. Marilyn Monroe
9. Joan of Arc
10. Marie Antoinette

11. Honda Minako
12. Yang Guifei
13. Helen Keller
14. Vivien Leigh
15. Ingrid Bergman
16. Teresa Teng
17. Okada Yukiko
18. Katharine Hepburn
19. Marie Curie
20. Eri Chiemi 

It is a pretty weird list, but ok, TV shows tend to get responses from people who care deeply about their particular hero - or heroine!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Karaoke: the Swedish connection

Karaoke. In Japan, that means entering a tiny, smoky room with plastic sofas and a huge karaoke machine, a truly great sound system, and a phone for ordering drinks. Lots of drinks. There is a song list the size of a telephone book, with a large number of songs in foreign languages as well, mostly English, Korean and Chinese.

So I did a little consumer research, and (proudly) found the following Swedish artists represented in the DAM catalogue:

ABBA 11 songs
Ace of Base 8 songs
Meja 5 songs
Roxette 5 songs
Europe 3 songs

Other Scandinavian artists:

Björk 6 songs
A-ha 3 songs

Bonus: Meja All About the Money (1998)

California discovers global warming


California practically invented car culture, depicted in movies from American Graffiti to The Fast and the Furious. Los Angeles is the home of the TV show Pimp My Ride, Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning motoring writer, hot-rod races and drive-thru Starbucks outlets.

So?

Bill Lockyer, the attorney-general of California, has issued a declaration of war against Ford, GM, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda...

Why?

“Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming, yet the automakers have refused to act,” he said. “It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis.”

Great article in The Times, lets hope this lawsuit raises a few eyebrows and gets global warming firmly on the political agenda, and makes everyone start worry in the boardrooms in the US, Europe, and in Japan.

(The photo shows California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with his Humvee, that he converted to use "green fuel". Yes, really.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lets go to the organic fair!


Japan is now the third largest market for natural and certified organic products after the United States and Europe. With the introduction of the livestock organic JAS law this March and the ever increasing interest of quality organic products among Japanese consumers, the Japanese market is sure to experience further growth.

Biofach Japan at Tokyo Big Site is open to the public on Saturday, September 23. BioFach Japan is a trade show that gathers national and international certified organic and approved natural products under the same roof which all originate from production methods that pay respect to the environment. These products are either organically produced raw materials of the first sector or originate from these like natural beauty products or textiles made of natural fibers.

BioFach Japan first took place in Tokyo as Asia's only Trade Fair for organic products in 2001 when the Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS) for organic products was first introduced. BioFach Japan is the counterpart of the annually held BioFach World Organic Fair in Nürnberg, Germany. Like the Nürnberg trade fair which takes place under the patronage of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) BioFach Japan has the full support of IFOAM and IFOAM Japan.

Read more at the Biofach Japan website!

(Photos from Sakurae Kuwatya Seisan Kumiai)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My next lecture

54回スウェーデン研究連続講座のご案内

テーマ: 「スウェーデンの消費者政策と食品安全問題:日本との違い」
 
日時: 9月25日(月)18:00~20:00
場所: スウェーデン大使館オーディトリウム
(Swedish Embassy Auditorium)
(港区六本木1-10-3)
地下鉄神谷町、南北線六本木一丁目
講師:
日本消費者連盟顧問 マーチン・フリッド 氏
参加料: JISS会員・スウェーデン語講座受講生 および
(Japan Institute for Scandinavian Studies)

  社会人1,000円/1回
  学生 500円/1回(当日支払 )
申込み先: メール:sweden@tkm.att.ne.jp
Tel:03‐5661‐6035 Fax:03‐3655‐1596

9月第54回スウェーデン研究連続講座のご案内を申し上げます。

今回は、スウェーデンを始め国連、世界食糧機構(FAO)や世界保健機構(WHO)に関係する世界各国の消費者運動のNGOで活躍してこられた、マーチン・フリッドさんにその豊富な経験をお話いただきます。特に、生協の発祥の地であるスウェーデンの消費者問題を日本との比較でご紹介し、併せて食糧問題を食品安全の観点から論じます。

フリッドさんは世界25カ国に滞在しましたが、なかでも日本文化に惹かれ、臨済寺で2年近く座禅の修行をつまれました。

Food news

If you watched Japanese TV last night you saw a lot of beef! Yoshinoya had a one-day-only sale of its popular dish, gyudon. Long lines outside... Sales officially starts October 1 after more than 2 1/2 years, due to concerns about mad cow disease in American cattle. Lots of photos of the long lines here. Crazy.

Also, Asahi reported that 26% of chicken farms accross Japan that were tested by the Japan Poultry Association had salmonella. It seems such tests are not done by the government, like in Europe, and this was the first test on a nationwide scale. Other studies indicate that about three out of 10,000 eggs are infected with salmonella in Japan. The Asahi has the story: Salmonella found in 26% of egg farms

The results of JPA's survey were compiled into an unofficial report in March last year, but the JPA did not publicize the results.

"We did not want to give consumers the misunderstanding that many eggs are contaminated," an official said.

The Asahi Shimbun recently obtained a copy of the unofficial report.

The report said there are about 3,600 layer farms in Japan. The JPA chose 10 percent of them for the survey, among which 204 cooperated.

The farmers each submitted droppings of 50 hens, as well as samples of dust from ventilation openings and the fans of their henhouses.

Salmonella was detected in the droppings from 15 farms and in the dust samples of 48 farms. Nine farms had the bacteria in both the droppings and the dust, the report said.

In total, salmonella was found in 54 of the 204 farms, or 26.5 percent. Twenty-seven of the infected farms were large-scale ones that keep more than 100,000 hens.

The United States and some European countries conduct nationwide salmonella surveys on a regular basis.

However, Japan has not done so.

According to experts, hens infected with salmonella pass the bacteria on to less than 10 percent of their eggs.

Experts say the salmonella bacteria do not increase if the infected eggs are kept at 10 degrees or lower, meaning the possibility of people suffering from food poisoning after eating the eggs is low.

In addition, the bacteria are destroyed if the eggs are heated at 65 degrees or higher.

However, Haruo Watanabe, a vice director of the National institute of Infectious Diseases, said: "The results of the survey back up the situation that about three out of 10,000 eggs are infected with the bacteria in Japan.

"Consumers should recognize that it is difficult to completely remove salmonella, which exists in the natural environment, from poultry farms."


Not wanting to worry the consumers? That is such a lame excuse. Do the tests, fix the problems, and then let consumers decide if they want to worry or not. Japan has its share of unhygienic farms and restaurants, but actually, I have never gotten the stomach flu or any infection here (yet). It also means I avoid places like this:



(Photo of a dirty yakitori stall in Shinjuku from Kanagawa Ken's Flicker Page, used with permission)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Carola: Tokyo

Swedish singer Carola Häggqvist tried to make it big in Japan in the mid 1980s with this song, called "Tokyo". This is a version from the Swedish TV program Nöjesmaskinen!



Update: Andreas writes that a Japanese version of this song actually made it onto the hit charts here. He has a great list of Western artists who made more or less embarassing attempts to charm Japanese music fans, including Bee Gees (Tokyo Nights), Michael Cretu (Samurai), Europe (Ninja), Styx (Mr. Roboto) - and most recently, Gwen Stefani (Harajuku Girls).

Bonus: Back to Carola: I remember this live concert in Malmö Pildammsparken in the summer of 1983, but was her dancing really that bad...

Carola: Hey Mickey

Corporate Social Responsibility, hm?

CSR has become one of the new buzz words recently, and I'm glad to see that big companies are showing signs of "Corporate Social Responsibility". That is what CSR is all about. Not just following the law, but also doing something for society.

I had a look at Kinokuniya, the biggest book shop in Tokyo, and they had an entire section, lots of books, about environmental topics, eco labels, ISO 14000 standards, food safety, consumer activism, and CSR. Wow, maybe it is officially a trend, then?

Greenpeace Japan has a good page about CSR, trying to keep companies honest, getting rid of freon from refrigerators, getting Asahi Beer to change their mind about using pet bottles (yuk) for beer, and putting pressure on Oji Paper to protect forests.

Greenpeace Japan CSR in Japan. English page here. Hope you are a member!?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Create Your Future


Websites for children are sometimes rather silly, but I think Create Your Future is the exception! This websites shows tips to help kids think about the environment and their actions. And no goofy popups!

New ideas for the Earth include:

How to have a car without owning it: why do we buy cars?
How to get what we want without buying things
How we learn from nature: nature is a treasure chest of ideas

Create Your Future is brought to you by Japan for Sustainability.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Food focus this weekend


This weekend a lot of good stuff is going on in Tokyo! There is the Tokyo International Vegetarian Culture Fair at Yoyogi Koen near Harajuku station. The theme is "Food forward for love" and there are exhibitions about alternative dining and information about the vegetarian diet "for health, environment and society". If that is not a mouthful, how about raw rice promotion supported by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport?

Tokyo Vegetarian Forum

Also, at Be Good Cafe in Daikanyama, Tokyo, there is an entire day of lectures about food, vegetables, and the campaign against genetically modified food, with a talk by Greenpeace Japan director Jun Hoshikawa. It starts at 14:00 and ends around 20:00. There will also be a presentation about the Japanese version of the video "Future of Food" by Deborah Koons Garcia.

Be Good Cafe

World Peace Now 9/9


Big peace demonstration on Saturday 9/9 in Tokyo, by World Peace Now...

WORLD PEACE NOW

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Podcasting World 2006

Celebrity Kaori Manabe, who has earned a name for herself as a "blog queen," acted as a judge in the "Podcasting World 2006" competition here in Tokyo this week, according to The Mainichi:

Manabe, who began a podcasting program in May, said she wanted to make her own podcasts more lively.

"I want to get ideas from everyone's work, and liven up my podcasts," the 25-year-old said.

Podcasting is a service enabling Internet sound recordings and videos to be heard and viewed on portable players such as Apple's iPods.

There were a total of 362 applications in the contest, and Manabe joined three other judges. The top prize went to "Tama Tankentai" (Tama expedition team), a podcast produced by the Tama expedition team at Chuo University. The podcast will be aired temporarily on "Podcasting News," a podcasting site operated by Internet firm Nifty, which sponsored the contest.

Appearing at the event on Thursday were Manabe, fellow judge Mika Naito and the operators of the podcasts that made the final selection.

Manabe introduced the three rules of podcasting: "Update the podcasts regularly," "Individuality is important," and "Have fun."

During the event, Manabe was asked, "Haven't your blog updates been lagging a bit recently?" As a "blog queen," her reply was uncharacteristic: "I've been playing lots of video games lately and can't update it," she said. "Maybe I should cut down on video games."


Did I mention that she is very cute, too?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

RSS Feed, NeoEarth and kanji

I added a RSS feed so you can subscribe to my Kurashi News From Japan feed, as well as a fancy NeoEarth map, a world map that shows who is online wherever you are on Earth. Hope you like it!

RSS means "Really Simple Syndication" which means you will get an update whenever I add somthing new to my blog.

And, as Andi pointed out, the kanji for "kurashi" is 暮 which gives us 暮らし, which is easy to remember as "sun going down behind bushes, with redundant sun..."

Kanji=> kurashi

And what is "zhongwen"? Zhongwen or kanji in Japan, are originally Chinese characters derived from a couple hundred simple pictographs and ideographs in ways that are usually quite logical and easy to remember. These wen (or zigen) are the true radicals of Chinese as identified by Xu Shen in his classic Shuowen Jiezi nearly 2000 years ago. The kanji site is a good place to start, if you want to learn more.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Asahi: The Food Chain


Great front page article today in The Asahi about food safety: The Food Chain.

In a global marketplace, even moderate changes in local shopping habits or import requirements can have international repercussions. Thus one major legal change, the introduction of toughened safety rules for foodstuffs imposed by Japan this spring, is causing major ripples in China.

According to the Chinese government, agricultural exports to Japan amounted to the equivalent of $8 billion in 2005, accounting for about 30 percent of China's export total.

Due to the Japanese government's introduction of the "Positive List System for Agricultural Chemical Residue in Foods" on May 29, Chinese farm exports to Japan dropped by 18 percent for June compared to the previous year.

It's a drop that may not just affect the food industry: Japan is the biggest importer of China's agricultural products, and there are fears the new system could trigger another flare-up between the two countries.

The Positive List System is part of a government plan to lower the threshold for the amount of chemical residue permitted in agricultural and other food products. It prohibits the distribution of all food items, from fresh to processed food, found to contain agricultural chemicals above maximum residue limits as determined by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Chemicals include pesticides, feed additives and veterinary drugs. The system uniformly covers both domestic and imported food.

The system has widely expanded the screening list of chemicals for which specific maximum residue limits were established. The number of substances was increased from 283 to 799, with a uniform level of no more than 0.01 part per million for other chemicals.

To the consumer, this is nothing but good news, but for many farmers it is very bad for business.


China has complained that Japan's law is too strict, and that it damages China's farming industry. That is just silly, and the Chinese should work to improve standards if they want to export food, and of course the Chinese farmers should also grow safe food for domestic consumption. China's State Environment Protection Bureau has even stated that more than one-tenth of China's farming land has been "contaminated by water and waste products" so obviously there are problems.

The new rules have been debated this summer in Japan with some Japanese farmers also expressing concern that the rules are "too strict". They are especially concerned about chemical residue from neighbors as winds can carry the toxic substances. Read more: New rules on pesticides a boon to consumers, but farmers are concerned. One Fukuoka farmer even wrote an angry letter to the editor complaining that all the farmers get is "useless advice": Farmers want facts, not more dumb advice.

I'm glad to see that other farmers are taking the pro-active approach, and finding new ways to reach consumers who want safe and tasty food, as described here: Local farmers go all out to put produce with 'real taste' on diners' tables.

(Woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai: Farmers crossing a suspension bridge, 1834)

Monday, September 04, 2006

NHK World: Extensive Earthquake Exercises


NHK World has made a program about the earthquake drills on September 1, when over 800,000 people participated in different drills around the Tokyo region. This year, US military provided helicopters and rescue workers were invited from South Korea.

A 7.3 earthquake in Tokyo Bay would mean that "over 4000 would die, 154,000 people would be injured, and tens of thousands of buildings would collapse..." according to NHK World.

You can find the Extensive Earthquake Exercises Feature video here. (WM or Real Player) Update: Link no longer active

(Photo from NHK's earthquake information pages)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Stella Polaris has sunk


NHK reports that the MS Stella Polaris has sunk in the Pacific off Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan, while being towed to China for repairs.

I wrote about the beautiful ship here. It sailed as a liner for millionaire travelers until the 1960s. It was sold to a Japanese company in 1970 for use as a hotel and restaurant in Suruga Bay in Shizuoka Prefecture, near Mt Fuji.

The vessel, also known as Scandinavia, was once again sold to a Swedish company and it was scheduled to go to Stockholm after undergoing repairs in Shanghai.

The cause of the sinking is not yet known, and nobody was injured, according to NHK. The Coast Guard reports that the vessel sank early on Sunday morning and that a small amount of fuel is leaking but not enough to affect sea transport in the area.

What a sad end. The owners really had no respect for the ship at all, and for all the memories connected to her. What a total waste of a beautiful ship.

Update: The Japan Times says its new owner, the Swedish company Petro-Fast AB, planned to operate the ship as a hotel-restaurant in Stockholm, according to Izuhakone Railway. An employee of Izuhakone Railway's general affairs department is also quoted as saying, "We are surprised at the news as it has only left the port a few days ago. We've taken care of the ship for more than 30 years. We feel very sad."

Why not Sweden?

Most Korean respondents in a recent poll by Digital Inside said they would hate to be reborn as Koreans. Asked, "If you were born again, would you want to be born as a Korean?" 67.8 percent of 8,406 said they would rather be reborn as a citizen of another modernized nation.

Only 24.4 percent said that they would want to be reborn as a Korean, while the rest were unsure. The survey ran on August 23-31:

Respondents gave a variety of explanations for their choice. The education system and mandatory military service were top among them, as was the need for political, economic and social reforms. Countries that were most popular for reincarnation were Switzerland, Denmark, Japan, Canada, Germany and the U.K.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Oil prices and food habits

Asahi notes that high petroleum costs is one factor that is driving up the prices of imported food in Japan.

Imported food prices rise as diets change abroad:

Consumers in Europe and China are increasingly switching from meat to fish, a historical staple of Japanese. Prices of salmon, sardines and red bream, for example, have risen by 20 to 30 percent.

The higher price of oil is also driving up fuel costs for boats and other equipment required to bring fish to market.


Yasuhiro Nakashima, assistant professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, comments that a shortage of water resources worldwide is holding down production increases of cereal grains which the animals feed on: "High prices and the tightening balance of the demand and supply of food will continue."

Actually, domestically produced food will also become more expensive, as Japan's farmers use petrol for their equipment, and to transport food by trucks to your supermarket. Fertilizers and other agrochemicals are oil-based to a large extent, and while organic agriculture could be a solution, it would also require a huge change in consumption habits, and current organic production methods are hardly well-suited to feeding large amounts of people.

Energy Bulletin has daily updates on these and other issues as well as a lot of thought-provoking articles... Never heard of Peak Oil or Hubbert's Peak? Here is a primer. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas is another good resource.

As for the debate here in Japan, Andrew DeWit noted last October that there is perhaps increasing interest in the subject. His article for ZNet What Me Worry? was in response to Nikkei's review of two American books about Peak Oil, but frankly there is no real awareness - as far as I can sense public opinion. An article in the May 2005 edition of the Japanese Oil and Natural Gas Review even dismissed Peak Oil theory, according to DeWit. So for the time being, Japan is sitting on its hands, fiddling with ethanol, while at the same time embracing nuclear energy.