Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Infant formula"

According to The Inquirer, The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is backing the Philippine campaign against international milk formula companies. These are the companies that sell so-called infant formula (ever wondered what that is really made of?) and spend massive amounts on advertising, to get young mothers to buy the stuff.

Jean Ziegler, the commission’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has written to congratulate the Philippine government’s effort in the face of “increasing internal pressures.”

She cited the revised implementing rules and regulations of the new Milk Code, which has been under attack from the US Chamber of Commerce (pdf) and foreign companies, such as Wyeth and Nestlé.

Baby Milk Action, the NGO supporting breast feeding, also has updates on the murder of Assistant Solicitor General Nestor J. Ballocillo, the lawyer who worked on introducing the breast feeding code in the Philippines. Photos from a demonstration and a press release can be found here. Also, in 2005, the President of the trade union in the Philippines, Diosdado Fortuna, who organized a long-running strike at a Nestlé factory, was killed.

Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director, at Baby Milk Action, said:

"Having just returned from the Philippines, the news of this assassination is really disturbing. Assistant Solicitor General Ballcillio was highly respected and seems to have been loved by all who had the privilege to work with him.

"Of course nobody knows at this stage which - if any - of the cases being handled by him led to his murder. But clearly the Solicitor General believes there may a link to his advocacy for breastfeeding.

"We must not forget that infant feeding is a highly politicised issue. Milk is after all a multi-billion pound global business and in the Philippines is the 6th most advertised product with ads in every magazine I picked up. But while some are making healthy profits from this trade, according to the World Health Organisation, the 16,000 Filipino children who die every year due to inappropriate feeding are paying the real price.

"We send our condolences to all our colleagues who are working on this vital issue and wish them courage."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Japan for Sustainability

Japan for Sustainability makes really great websites, also for kids. Their latest deals with food (one of my favourite topics!) so of course I'm happy to share it with you:

Kids, create your future

Let me know if it is useful - if you are a teacher, for example, or if you have kids or grandchildren :)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Yanagisawa has second thoughts about women

Mainichi says Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa has apologized for calling women "birth-giving machines." He now thinks the description was "too uncivil," and has retracted the remarks. Yanagisawa made the gaffe while giving a speech on Japan's declining birthrate on Saturday. His quirky comment was also picked up by the BBC.


Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, called Sunday for Yanagisawa to step down.

"I demand the resignation of the welfare minister because he made awful remarks that he should have never made," she said. Fukushima is currently the only female leader among the major parties.

She told The Asahi Shimbun that women are not merely machines for producing future sources of revenue for the pension program.

"Yanagisawa's remarks were tantamount to telling women to give birth for the nation," Fukushima said.

Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), said the remarks insulted women.

"I feel great anger. (Yanagisawa) should take the blame as welfare minister for failing to create an environment that enables women to give birth and bring up children," Hatoyama said.

Friday, January 26, 2007

John Cage 4'33''

This is a great clip with a full orchestra performing John Cage's famous piece called 4'33''. I had never actually heard it (or seen it) so this YouTube video made me very happy. It is stunning. BBC Four is ecstatic at the end!

John Cage put his Zen Buddhist beliefs into practice through music. His favorite Japanese Zen Buddhist saying was Nichi nichi kore ko nichi -Every day is a good day.

Cage’s discovery of Taoism and ultimately Zen Buddhism, introduced to him by the Japanese scholar DT Suzuki, had a great effect on him. Wikipedia has more details.

Cage visited Japan several times, to meet DT Suzuki, and his An Autobiographical Statement was written for the Inamori Foundation and delivered in Kyoto as a commemorative lecture when he received the Kyoto Prize in November 1989.

PBS made a documentary about John Cage with clips as part of its American Masters series.

Enjoy the silence.

NHK: Kobe Tuna Meeting

NHK, Japan's broadcasting corporation, is putting a series of videos about the ongoing Tuna conference in Kobe on its website.

Click on the players at the NHK Feature column.

Update: IHT says a plan to slow the decline in tuna catches was adopted on Friday, while NHK notes that the plan is non-binding. Was that the best they could do?

Kobe Tuna Meeting previous

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Kobe tuna meeting

I am following the news from the tuna meeting in Kobe. Kyodo reports that they will agree to evaluate the world's five tuna conservation bodies.

Five different systems? No wonder tuna stocks are diminishing:

As the meeting ran into a second day, the five bodies, gathering together for the first time, studied the differences in their historical backgrounds and past achievements in ensuring the sustainable use of the world's tuna stocks, which have increasingly fallen prey to overfishing.

Reuters has better reporting, quoting WWF officials who called the gathering an important first step but said regulators needed to set quotas based on scientific data and combat illegal fishing:

"For the first time, there's a general agreement by the governments that something significant has to be done," said Alistair Graham, High Seas Advisor for WWF International.

"One of the key decisions they have to make is to stop ignoring scientific data and to put in place catch limits."

With fishing a touchy political topic in many nations, governments have tended to shy away from imposing restrictions on the industry.

The Kobe meeting is not expected to set catch limits, since those are decided at regional gatherings, but Graham said one outcome could be a decision by governments to use data on stocks and depletion for their fisheries policy.

Pacific Magazine has the local perspective from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga - islands that are increasingly worried about the Chinese, and to a lesser extent Japanese, markets. Bribes are a part of the game, and in Fiji, the Tuna Boat Association has publicly alleged that Permanent Secretary for Fisheries, his director, and the deputy fisheries director have all been taking bribes from Chinese agents in exchange for longline tuna licenses. Similar questions about compromised local fisheries bureaucracies have been raised in several countries, including the Solomons, the Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea, according to the article.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Natto in the news

Kansai Telecasting Corp. (KTV) on Sunday night aired an apology for a program that falsely claimed natto, fermented soybeans, helps people lose weight, according to Mainichi:

KTV's show, "Hakkutsu! Aru Aru Daijiten II," was aired on Jan. 7 and promoted the health benefits of eating natto. In a bid to show natto's potential to help people lose weight, the program used photographs of people who were actually not on a natto diet. It also fabricated some of comments from a professor in the United States. Fictitious data were also aired during the program.

"We regret that it betrayed viewers' trust in us," an announcer said during the special apology aired on Sunday night.

Obviously, natto producers are rather miffed...

Reuters takes the entire affair very seriously, and listed the news on its "World Crises" page!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Conductor Herbert Blomstedt

Herbert Blomstedt was born in the USA to Swedish parents. He attended the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and Uppsala University and studied contemporary music at Darmstadt and Baroque music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, also continuing his conducting studies with Igor Markevitch in Salzburg, and with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood's Berkshire Music Center.

Since 1986, he is Honorary Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra here in Tokyo, and you often see him on TV in Japan.

The history of the NHK Symphony Orchestra goes all the way back to the New Symphony Orchestra, Japan’s first professional orchestra, established on October 5, 1926. Its name was changed to Japan Symphony Orchestra, and the orchestra has received full financial support from NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, since 1951. For the 2007 calendar, you will find other great conductors, such as Charles Dutoit, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Matthias Bamert, Lawrence Foster, Pascal Rophé, Yuri Simonov, as well as Japanese conductors Kenichiro Kobayashi and Tadaaki Otaka.

I found a very rare video from the Danish archive, a concert from 1972 where Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Danish radio symphonic orchestra. Enjoy Berlioz, Nuits d'été, with Janet Baker!

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

De toute beauté!

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Members of an animal rights group kiss as part of an event to draw attention to health problems posed by eating meat.

And apparently that is French for, "Vegetarians are better lovers." Nice.

Pollution over Korea

A toxic haze enveloped the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday after industrial pollutants from China accumulated in the sky due to high temperatures and weak winds, says Chosun Ilbo.

According to South Korea's Environment Ministry, the pollutants began blowing in from China on Monday to pervade the sky over the entire peninsula:

Fine dust density in Songpa-gu, Seoul soared from 42 ㎍/㎥ on Jan. 13 to 189 ㎍/㎥ on Wednesday. The environmental standard is less than 100 ㎍/㎥ daily average. That morning, Bangi-dong at one stage saw 257㎍/㎥, while Nonhyon-dong in Incheon saw 323 ㎍/㎥. The ministry advised the sick and elderly to stay indoors if the daily average density exceeds 200 ㎍/㎥, and everyone to refrain from outdoor activities if the density exceeds 300 ㎍/㎥.

The satellite image is striking and I hope it makes people think about their lifestyles. As more and more products are produced in China, this problem will get worse. Our consumption habits are the source of this, and lets not blame anyone else.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bird flu in Japan

Tests have confirmed that bird flu detected in chickens in southern Japan was the virulent H5N1 strain, according to the Japanese Agricultural Ministry.

About 4,000 chickens died last week at a farm in Kiyotake town in Miyazaki prefecture. On Tuesday, further tests by the National Institute of Animal Health in Tsukuba identified the virus as H5N1, Agricultural Ministry official Hiroyuki Ozono said. The government has banned the shipment of eggs and nearly 200,000 chickens at 16 farms within about a 6-mile radius of the affected farm, where local authorities were to take further disinfectant measures Tuesday.

NHK also reports that Hong Kong has banned imports of chicken from Japan. It is Japan's first confirmed case of the H5N1 strain since 2004, when the toxic virus killed poultry in Yamaguchi, Oita, and Kyoto prefectures. The deadly bird flu strain has been spreading mainly in Asia, but has also been detected in Africa and Europe.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Al Gore in Japan

NHK reports that Al Gore has urged Japanese business leaders to play a leading role in the fight against global warming.

Mr Gore, who "used to be the next president of the United States", is in Tokyo to promote his documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, which deals with global warming. The film will be released on January 20 in major Japanese cities:

In a lecture on Monday, he told some 400 Japanese business leaders that the crisis is not political problem, but a moral one. Mr Gore urged Japanese companies to help boost worldwide action against global warming, saying that Japanese private firms have cutting-edge technologies for environmental protection and energy conservation.

Al Gore in Japan and global warming previous

Food safety in the news

Several food safety issues are appearing daily in the news these days. Fujiya and Dunkin Donuts are both dealing with consumer complaints, and it seems the latter is doing the right thing, while the former tried to cover up its mess. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is not happy and Fujiya might even lose its ISO certification, according to the Yomiuri:

Due to public concern over food safety prompting food makers to obtain ISO certifications, the suspension or revocation of Fujiya's certification would be detrimental for the company.

Through the Japan Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment, the ministry asked a private certification organization that certified Fujiya to examine the confectioner's ISO certifications.

The organization, which is said to have already begun the check, will ask Fujiya to take remedial measures, temporarily suspend its certification or revoke the certification, if it determines the confectioner has problems.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Listen to the Flower People

Spinal Tap is a hilarious UK movie from 1984 about the, hrm, ultimate band experience. If you have ever been trying to make rock music with other people, "Listen to the Flower People" is the song for you!

And what does this have to do with Japan, you might ask, if you haven't seen the epic film. Well, Spinal Tap does end with a performance in Japan - with a new drummer (all the seven others have mysteriously died).

Ah, how I sometimes long for the good old 1980s!

Bonus: ....when we need that extra push over the cliff....
we go to 11!

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Bruce Wallace at LA Times describes why Japanese consumers might not be so impressed by the new iPhone. The iPhone is 'business as usual' in a country where the mobile features announced by Steve Jobs and Apple already are so advanced.

In Japan, barely a ripple

"Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything," Jobs said as he unveiled the iPhone on Tuesday at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.

But the revolution is already well underway in Japan, where cellphones are used for everything. Besides downloading music and surfing the Net, Japanese use their cellphones to navigate their way home by global positioning system, to buy movie tickets and to update personal blogs from wherever they are.

They have been a natural extension of daily life here for the last few years, spurred by Japan's decision to be the first country to upgrade to third-generation mobile-phone networks, or 3G, which increase broadband capabilities and allow for better transmission of voice and data.

Apple's iPhone, by comparison, will operate on a second-generation network.

It was 3G that sparked the boom in music downloads that makes it common for phones to be used as portable digital music players here.

And it is 3G that has led the Japanese into a world where they can watch live TV on their phones and use them as a charge card to ride trains or buy milk at the corner store or take a taxi. Ticket Pia, Japan's major entertainment ticketing agency, has been selling e-mail tickets to cellphones since October 2003. The phones also can be used to conduct conference calls among as many as five people. Another widely used 3G feature enables users to point cellphone cameras at bar codes and be directed to websites.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Global warming concerns in Japan

Al Gore's documentary about global warming will premiere on January 20 here in Japan, so I expect more debate about this topic during 2007. Also, in 2008, Japan will host the G8 meeting, and it has been decided that CO2 emissions will be discussed. My concern is that governments and the nuclear industry are using this debate to justify the construction of more and bigger nuclear reactors, certainly not a "sustainable" alternative.

Mainichi: Japanese cite global warming as top environmental problem

More people in Japan think global warming is the most serious environmental problem, a survey by the National Institute for Environmental Studies has shown. Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the survey, conducted in 2006, said that global warming was the most serious problem:

In the previous two surveys, "waste" was the top answer, selected by one in four people.

The national research institute has conducted surveys on environmental problems about once every four or five years since 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming was formed. Previous surveys were conducted in 1997 and 2002.

In 1997, global warming was listed as the most serious problem by only 4 percent of respondents, but the figure rose to 10 percent in 2002. In the latest survey, it shot up to 27 percent, one point higher than for the problem of waste. The next most common answers were "destruction of nature" (7 percent), and water contamination (6 percent).

More about An Inconvenient Truth including a trailer.

Trailer with Japanese subtitles here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rabbits to North Korea

North Korea appears to have begun a program to breed rabbits for food, using animals from Germany, as a step to alleviate its acute food shortage, according to NHK.

A German farmer says officials from the North Korean embassy in Berlin visited his rabbit farm in December to buy some male and female rabbits. The farmer also told NHK he arranged to ship the rabbits to North Korea by air.

During World War II my grandfather kept rabbits in Lund, Sweden as a source of meat for his family. I remember my father saying he liked the cute rabbits, and felt sorry when granpa had to kill them.

Not sure how NHK got this story, or what it is supposed to mean, except that North Koreans in crisis are trying to be creative about their food supply. However, a huge problem with rabbits is that they multiply a lot and if the get out in the wild, they will wreck havoc with the local ecosystem - in Australia rabbits are seen as environmental vandals. Marauding rabbits? No thanks.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung on Monday said his government will provide unconditional aid to North Korea "on a humanitarian basis." The conservative (thus very critical of the current administration in South Korea) newspaper Chosun Ilbo says this means the government will provide free aid to North Korea without taking into account Pyongyang's missile tests and nuclear test to make sure a second inter-Korean summit happens this year.

Clean energy production

On a cold day like today, my gas stove is keeping me warm. I wish I had a kotatsu! A problem with the housing here is that all windows are single glass only, while in Sweden we usually have 3 layers of glass to keep the cold out.

Japan uses less energy per unit of gross domestic product than any other country. This is one result of its energy conservation measures following the oil crises of the 1970s. Japan Times notes that Japan is helping other parts of Asia, including emerging powerhouses China and India, to curb coal consumption. The effort is not altruism, it is a bid to bolster Japan's own energy security:

Japan's clean coal push self-serving as well

Every year, Japan invites about 60 engineers and managers from the coal industry of seven Asian nations -- China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and India -- to instruct them in the use of "clean coal technology," or CCT, which aims to improve the mineral's efficiency while reducing carbon dioxide emissions and pollution.

The program, which lasts three weeks to a month, started in 1996. This year, 14 engineers visited the Coal & Environment Research Laboratory of Idemitsu Kosan Co. in Sodegaura, Chiba Prefecture, to see "kaizen" (continuous improvement) efforts boost the combustion efficiency of coal.

"Clean coal technology is still developing and not widely used. For further improving the efficiency of energy combustion, we need IGCC and IGFC in the future," said Kaushlendra Kumar Mishra of Coal India Ltd.

IGCC, or integrated gasification combined cycle, and IGFC, integrated coal gasification fuel-cell combined cycle, are advanced clean coal technologies that have been introduced on an experimental basis.

Mishra said the Japanese cooperation project "helps us in understanding and disseminating CCT, especially for environmental protection."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Restriction of Hazardous Substances in China

Treehugger, a blog I like, has an update on a new law in China to control pollution from electronic products.

The Chinese law will come into effect on 1 March, 2007. It will target the same six hazardous substances which are regulated by EU and Japan, namely the heavy metals cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium as well as two flame retardants, PBB and PBDE:

The main means of control will be a mark which must be affixed by suppliers to the device sold, or clearly printed in papers accompanying the supplied goods if marking is not possible. The green e with two arrows chasing each other in a circle is the mark of equipment which is free of the targeted substances. The orange symbol exemplifies the marking of the product's "environmentally friendly use period".

Japanese manufacturers have begun phasing out lead and other harmful materials, and Japan does have a marking requirement called J-MOSS, wich came into effect on 1 July, 2006, on many electronic products. According to RSJ Technical Consulting, Japan has chosen a more comprehensive approach than European RoHS rules. In Japan, manufacturers and importers of computers, televisions, refrigerators, washers & dryers, microwaves and air conditioners must label their products to indicate presence of the six RoHS substances: lead, mercury, chromium VI, cadmium, PBB & PBDE. This judgment criteria is known as JIS C 0950. Also, importers of computers, copiers, televisions, refrigerators, washers & dryers, microwaves and air conditioners must now meet the Design for Environment (DfE) criteria required of domestic manufacturers.

South Korea appear to be planning a similar legislation by 1 March, 2007.

NHK World: Eco-Friendly Fields

This week, you can listen to a radio program in English from NHK World about New Year celebrations and organic rice farming. But first they introduce Lake Izunuma in Miyagi Prefecture, a paradise for water birds such as geese and swans.

A New Year Full of Earth's Blessings (38'46")

(Photo from the Miyagi Prefecture website)