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Showing posts from March, 2007

Kitain, Kawagoe

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The history of Kitain is thought to have begun when the monk Ennin founded Muryoju Temple in 830 A.D.

Muryoju is another name for the Amitabha Buddha (Buddha of Unending Life) - the main object of worship at the Temple.

Kitain is a temple in Kawagoe, Saitama, that the Swedish King (who said Tokyo felt "claustrophobic") visited with Japan's Emperor.

There is also a shrine on the grounds of Kitain, the architecture of which closely resembles that of the main Tosyogu Shrine at Nikko. Japan Guide has more, including photos of the 540 stone statues of the disciples of Buddha, each with a unique facial expression. I wonder who had the great idea to get the Swedish King to go all the way to Saitama prefecture!

Systema Naturae

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Yonhap had this photo from Tuesday's even at the National Science Museum in Ueno. The book is Carl von Linne's own private copy of Systema Naturae, usually only displayed in Uppsala, Sweden.

Carl von Linne and Carl Peter Thunberg

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I learnt today that Japan's Emperor and Empress will make their first ever unofficial visit abroad together. They have been invited to Uppsala, Sweden from May 23 for the 300 year anniversary of Carl von Linne, the scientist, botanist, zoologist and geologist, who was also a skilled doctor, health worker and philosopher.

The Linnaean era is characterised by an ambition to catalogue, organise and give names to the whole natural world. Linnaeus attracted many disciples, who left a lasting impression in many locations.


One of them is Carl Peter Thunberg, who travelled to Japan in the 1770s on a Dutch ship. It was Thunberg who published the first flora that described the plants of Japan.

Thunberg arrived in Japan in the summer of 1775 and stayed one year, the maximum continuous term permitted for a European at the time. He traveled to Edo (modern Tokyo) where he became friends with the shogun's private physician, Katsuragawa Hoshu. They maintained a correspondence even after the S…

Challenges of Dementia Care Symposium

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Sweden's Queen Silvia emphasized the need to give broader support to those suffering from dementia and their families and to educate care-givers at the Japan-Sweden Joint Symposium on Welfare, held in Tokyo, according to Yomiuri Shimbun:

Queen Silvia said: "Awareness of the disease is of most importance in order to provide help and support to those affected by dementia."

The queen has committed herself to improving welfare for the elderly, as well as for the disabled and children, as her late mother suffered from dementia. In 1996, she established the Silvia Home, which provides special training for assistant nurses in the dementia field.

She added: "My wish is that knowledge about good dementia care is spread and that new research and development in the dementia field continues. My wish is that all new research may contribute to the creation of the best care for people with dementia and their families."

The Silvia Home near Stockholm, Sweden has been established …

Emperor, Empress welcome Swedish royal couple

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NHK News Video here

NHK reports that Japan's Emperor and Empress held a ceremony welcoming the Swedish king and queen at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Monday:

The Emperor and Empress introduced imperial family members and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to King Carl 16th Gustaf of Sweden and his wife, Queen Silvia.

The two countries' national anthems were played and the king received a salute from the Ground Self-Defense Force's honor guards.

After the ceremony, the Swedish king expressed his sympathy for people on the Sea of Japan coast that was hit by a powerful earthquake on Sunday.

The Emperor thanked the king, and said predicting when earthquakes will hit is more difficult than predicting the timing of typhoons and tsunamis.

The king praised the performance of Japanese female athletes at the recent World Figure Skating Championship in Tokyo, and the Emperor nodded to express his pleasure.

The Emperor and Empress will host a dinner party for the Swedish royal couple later on Mond…

Ishikawa earthquake

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Ishikawa prefecture had a strong earthquake on Sunday morning, but luckily, the two nuclear reactors there were not functional at the time, according to NHK.

One of its reactors have been in the news recently, as Hokuriku Electric Power Co., known as Hokurikuden, failed to report a criticality accident in 1999 at its nuclear power plant in which there was an uncontrollable chain reaction for 15 minutes:

On June 18, 1999, three of the 89 control rods inserted from underneath into the reactor core suddenly slipped out during a regular checkup at Shika Nuclear Power Station, causing the reactor to reactivate. The reactor was not automatically stopped and the chain reaction lasted for 15 minutes. But the company did not sufficiently inspect the cause, and failed to keep records of the accident or report it to the government.

I wrote about the cover up just a couple of days ago... I'm so glad these two reactors were off-line Sunday morning. Who knows what might have happened with a 6.9 …

Kodo drums

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Kodo is a Japanese drum troupe that has toured around the world starting in Berlin, 1981.



They have their base on Sodo Island in the Sea of Japan, where about 70 people live in a pretty intense environment. Here is a cool video from the Earth Day Celebration on Sado in August 2006. This is from Kodo's performance at Acropolis in Greece...

This is Kodo's official website with tour dates and info, and here is their blog (in Japanese). The dates for this summer's Earth Day Celebration haven't appeared yet.



Doesn't that look inviting!

I want this 2

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I should be getting paid to do these plugs (I don't) but they are too good to pass up. Who wouldn't want wooden speakers made from old whiskey barrels...

A Pioneer engineer with the responsibility of developing new products had a unique idea about capitalizing on the maturation of wood from a whiskey barrel by making it into a speaker cabinet. “When I tapped a piece of this timber to get an idea of the sound it would make, it produced a soft, mellow tone that lingered in the air.”

There were those in his product development team that were skeptical but he proceeded forth with his project. “The sound spoke for itself. Once I had fashioned a prototype and compared its sound to that of a conventional speaker, my detractors were finally convinced that I was on to something. This was the mysterious product of nature, a sound that a piece of timber was only able to produce after 50 years of contact with whiskey.” So began Pioneer's pure malt speaker.

China: Recycling computer ciruit boards

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New Scientist, a UK magainze that I like, notes that Chinese researchers have found a clever way of recycling printed circuit boards.

These boards are made from insulating layers of fibreglass and resin (glue) with electronic components and interconnecting circuitry on top. Full of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, in other words.

The number of boards being manufactured worldwide is growing with China and Taiwan alone producing more than 200 million square metres each year. They are in your mobile phone, your computer, your elevator, your car - - yup, anywhere you expect something fancy to happen when you press a button. However, only a small numbers of these circuit boards are recycled:

They are typically put into copper smelters, which risks releasing harmful toxic fumes. Most circuit boards are simply incinerated or thrown into landfill, which releases toxic pollutants such as heavy metals and dioxins into groundwater and the atmosphere.

Researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, …

Moon and Venus

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Yesterday was Spring Equinox and in the evening, the moon was followed by a bright shining planet. I tried using google to find out what the object was, and asked Pandabonium, who helped me find this page, that explains that it is Venus. If the sky is clear tonight you'll see it in clearly. Above the moon you can also see Pleiades and maybe even Aldebaran. I adjusted the picture a little bit to show how it looked here in Japan last night.

World Peace Now 3.21

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Tomorrow there will be peace demonstrations in many places around Japan. March 21 is a public holiday (Spring Equinox Day) and here in Tokyo, people will gather at Hibiya at 13:00 and start a parade through Ginza at 15:00.

Japanese peace activists want the Air Self Defense Force to be withdrawn from Iraq immediately, and the Maritime Self Defense Force to return home from the Indian Ocean. The focus will also be on U.S. bases in Okinawa and Yokosuka, and on maintaining Japan's Peace Constitution.

World Peace Now has more at their website.



Here is a video from last year's demonstration on 18 March 2006:



Update: Video from 21 March, 2007:

Soul food in Shibuya

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This weekend, Japanese farmers gathered in Shibuya, Tokyo to promote local foods from every prefecture around this country. I had a great time, tasting ayu (charcoal grilled salty fish), baked sweet potates, and squid dumplings.

Okinawa had the cutest sales girls, and kids got a chance to milk a cow under strict hygiene supervision. Wow. Mentioning "cow" and "Shibuya" in the same blog... That doesn't happen very often!

NHK: Peter Jablonski

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Tonight, Swedish pianist Peter Jablonski was featured as one of the top soloists of 2006 in NHK's weekly classical music program N Kyoku.

He has played with many of the worlds finest orchestras such as the DSO Berlin, NHK Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia, Kirov, BBC Symphony, Philharmonia, Tonhalle Zurich and the Orchestre Nationale de France conducted by, among others, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniele Gatti, Kurt Sanderling and Myung-Whun Chung, according to his bio. At age eleven he entered Malmö Music Academy (in my home town). Congratulations!

Teaser Japanese 1984

Before Per Gessle made it big with Roxette, he was in a Swedish band called Gyllene Tider. In 1984, they made a song called Teaser Japanese, trying to break into the Japanese music market. Enjoy the fake Chinatown mood...



Bonus: Reunion of Gyllene Tider in 1997, performing När alla vännerna gått hem (When all the friends have gone home)

LOHAS event in Shinjuku

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There is an event in Shinjuku Gyoen Park this weekend arranged by Sotokoto, a popular magazine. Their focus is on Lohas, the "Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability" concept that has gained some ground recently in Japan. Lohas Club has more details, and the official website for this weekend is Sotokoto Net. Combining good design with environmental messages - you got my attention.

Or, you can stay home in your comfortable warm bed and listen to J-Wave from 6AM to 9AM, as Maki Ohashi broadcasts her fantastic Lohas Sunday program.

Junk mail

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I get a lot of junk mail. Oh yes, some people with a lot of free time seem to think I will buy medicines from them, just because they send me fancy emails, with catchy subject like "Aerospace travel" or "Be the man you always wanted to be"!

What surprises me is that the pharmaceutical industry seems to be doing nothing to stop this. After all, their brand names are being sent out to millions of people. So, Novartis, Astra Zeneca, Roche, whoever... If you are serious about your reputation, do something to stop this global drug spam harassment. And why is most of it from the United States?? If the U.S. government is serious about terrorism, let me tell you, the junk mail is a daily terror (not to mention a waste of time and electricity). So, stop it.

With Firefox and Mozilla I can set the message filter (under Tools) so that it automatically deletes .gif files in emails. Great. I don't need your junk mail, I don't want it, and I hate it. Got nothing better to d…

Tamiflu probe led by industry-sponsored researcher

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15 March is World Consumer Rights Day and this year Consumers International and consumer organisations around the world are calling on national governments to end unscrupulous marketing practices by the pharmaceutical industry.

Japan does not allow allow advertising of prescription drugs, and there are also other rules that protect consumers and patients here. For example, drug companies cannot use comparative language ("X is better than Y" or "P works faster than Q").

Meanwhile, Japan's Ministry of Health says 54 people have died so far after taking Tamiflu, according to Reuters.

Rokuro Hama, a medical doctor who heads a Japanese watchdog group on the side effects of drugs, said the ratio of those showing abnormal behavior is four times higher among those who took Tamiflu if limited to the period immediately after taking the drug.

Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG, which produces Tamiflu, also known generically as oseltamivir, has denied a link between the me…

Nuclear power safety in question (again)

Nobody likes to hear the words "nuclear power plant accident" and "cover-up" in the same sentence, especially when it turns out that a critical condition lasted for 15 minutes, and the reactor was effectively uncontrollable for the entire time.

It was revealed yesterday that the private company managed to hide what happened in 1999 at the Hokurikuden nuclear power plant in Shikamachi, Ishikawa Prefecture.

Asahi notes that officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry described the incident as "extremely grave."

Yomiuri: Hokurikuden hid accident at N-plant

Hitoshi Fujisawa, who is community safety section chief at the town government office (yes, they do have such people working hard to make all of us feel safe, I suppose) was upset:

"I was shocked to hear the news," Fujisawa said. "It's an accident that never should have happened. I'd like to hear the explanation again with the deput…

Metrobloggers

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I was invited by Mari, of Watashi to Tokyo fame, to join the illustrious team over at Metroblogging Tokyo. Mari just got an honourable mention at Japanzine, where her blog was selected for Japan on the Web. Congratulations Mari!

Took this photo tonight...

Why I love Asia

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South Korea and the United States reached a final consensus in more than half of the 19 negotiation sectors during the eighth round of free trade agreement (FTA) talks in Seoul, which ended on Monday.

Many Koreans are worried about the impact of a full-scale FTA with the United States. What caught my attention was the poem the Korean negotiators handed to their U.S. counterparts. It is nice to be reminded that diplomacy has a long history here in Asia...

The Korea Times: Korea, US Reach Accord on Half of FTA Agenda

Chosun Ilbo: Korea-U.S. FTA Talks Leave Big Deal to the Heavyweights

(Click to enlarge the photo of the poem)

March in March demonstration

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The Japan Times has the story about the "March In March" in Tokyo on March 11:

Workers from all parts of the globe battled wind and rain Sunday to give speeches, performances and then trudge through the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo, calling for job security and equality for all.

About 300 mainly foreign supporters attended the "March In March," which was organized by the National Union of General Workers Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus, Kanagawa City Union, Zentoitsu Workers' Union and Tokyo Occupational Safety and Wealth Center.



"Three main areas are involved in our work," said Peruvian Augusto Tamanaha, from Kanagawa City Union. "The first is dismissal. It's too easy for foreigners to get fired for no or poor reasons. Second is salary issues. And third relates to accidents.

U.S. beef not welcome in Korea or Japan

South Korea and Japan have strict rules about what kind of North American beef they will import, after several years of acrimonious debate about BSE (mad cow disease).

There is even a U.S. meat company in Kansas that wants to test their cows to provide evidence that their beef comes from BSE-free cows. But that is illegal! USDA argues that such evidence would be unfair to other meat companies that are not testing cows... Of course Korean and Japanese importers are not particularly impressed by such logic.

Instead, the U.S. government has hijacked the OIE, an agency that didn't deal with BSE until the U.S. asked them to, and changed the rules for what is considered "BSE-free" or, as OIE now states, "controlled risk". Sounds safe? Well...

The "controlled risk" classification is an intermediate level, which is placed between "undetermined risk" for countries vulnerable to mad cow disease and "negligible risk" for countries free from the…

1 million signatures for better GMO labels

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Right now, Greenpeace here in Japan is asking NGOs and groups (including companies and shops and so on) to join the network for the 1 million petition to demand stricter GMO food labelling in Japan.

In Japan, consumers do not have easy way to avoid eating GMO foods, due to the current GM food labelling law.



There are 3 conditions which Greenpeace activists say are misleading consumers.

1) Ingredients such as oil and soy sauce that have been treated during the
making process and are difficult to detect DNA and GMO proteins, do NOT need
to be labelled.
2) Only ingredients which constitute top 3 by the weight percentage in the
total ingredients, and their weight percentages are no less than 5% of the
total ingredients, should be labelled.
3) Ingredients imported by using IP-handling (GM or non-GM handling
separately), can be labelled as NON-GM even though it has GM contamination
up to 5 %.

Please consider to join the Greenpeace network to demand better labelling!

How to join the network (in Jap…

I want this

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A wooden watch made in Russia in the year of 1900. Isn't it lovely. All parts are made of wood, apparently.



Found on Boing Boing, with a link to a French page called Odd Watches. Internet at its best. You can give it to me on my birthday, or any day of the year.






Or, probably a lot cheaper, how about this wooden LED clock, Made in Japan? When it’s turned off, this wooden LED clock just looks like a block of wood but when you switch it on the digital red numbers magically tell you the time through a thin layer of wood.



(From Treehugger)

Lunar eclipse

I was at work at NHK in Shibuya late in the evening on March 6, when the moon turned red due to the eclipse. Everyone got out on the balcony and had a look. Alex, from the Russian section, started joking as usual and said that's what the moon always looks like after a couple of vodkas back home. Found a few videos on YouTube that explain the event.



Wilhelm Kempff plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata 1st movement.

My Celebrity Look-alikes

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My cool celebrity look-alike collage from MyHeritage.com. Cool? Stop laughing and get one for yourself.



In case you wonder, that is Rubens Barrichello, Al Pachino (wow), Steffi Graf (!), kd lang, Jarno Trulli, Jawaharlal Nehru, Russel Crow, and Benjamin McKenzie (who?)

Two race car drivers, a female tennis ace and a couple of movie stars and singers. If it wasn't for pandit Nehru I wouldn't have posted it! Namaste...

(Thanks Linda for the silly idea, and good luck with your essay)

Sustainable Development: New Buzzword for China

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BBC reports from the meeting of China's legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC) which has opened today Monday, in Beijing with a two hour speech by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao:

Mr Wen said China would do more to save energy, cut pollution and continue the country's stellar economic growth. He promised to reduce the gap between wealthy cities and poorer rural areas. Correspondents say the report goes to the heart of the government's pledge to focus more on sustainable development than rapid economic growth at any cost.

Wen Jiabao is quoted as saying:

"The pattern of economic growth is inefficient. This can be seen most clearly in excessive energy consumption and serious environmental pollution. We must attach greater importance to saving energy and resources, protecting the environment and using land intensively."

China Daily doesn't have any news about this speech yet, but recently published several articles about global warming in China.

Also, Peopl…

NHK Classical Music Program

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Every Sunday evening, NHK has a terrific classical music program from 21:00PM.

It is called N Kyoku Hour and I try not to miss it each week. Tonight, Swedish soprano Klara Ek made a lovely debut in Japan with Mahler's 4th symphony, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Cell phones can change your life!

AFP says Japan is the pioneer of third-generation telephones, which allow advanced functions such as Internet browsing and online shopping:

Of Japanese aged 20 to 40, some 16 percent say they spend three to five hours a day on their mobiles. Nine percent use their phones for five to 10 hours -- and four percent spend even more than 10 hours a day.

Quoting a survey by Nepro IT Co. Ltd., the article notes that ninety percent of participants in the latest survey said that mobile phones have changed their lives in some way.

For 40 percent, online shopping was the most popular service available on mobile phones, followed by 38 percent who most enjoyed downloading music.

Japan has more than 100 million cellphone subscriptions in a population of 127 million, an industry group said last month. Two-thirds of mobile users have opted for third-generation handsets.

Environmental impact assessments

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According to Kyodo, the Environment Ministry has drafted guidelines on conducting strategic assessments of the environmental impact from the initial planning stage of road construction, waste disposal and other projects:

Ministry officials said they plan to implement them as early as within fiscal 2007, which starts April 1, to improve Japan's environment assessment system which has lagged far behind the strategic systems already implemented in many advanced economies.

Great idea, and something Japan will benefit greatly from. Let's make a beautiful country... In Europe, Environmental Impact Assessment was first introduced in 1985 and was amended several times, to include the 1998 signature by the EU of the Aarhus Convention on public participation in environmental matters. The Japanese NGO called Aarhus Net Japan is convinced that those environmental rights are basic requirements for the public to promote sustainable and environmental development.

New rules for South Korean food

South Korea's Food & Drug Administration wants to ban ads for fast food and snacks packaged with children’s toys from the Internet and television, according to Chosun Ilbo. Also sales of soda pop, high-fat snacks, and fast foods near schools will be prohibited. The plans were announced Tuesday in a report called “Comprehensive Plan for Children’s Food Safety.”

The plan includes asking for a law designating areas within a 200-meter radius of schools as “Green Food Zones” to keep children's food safe and wholesome.
The KFDA would also require that the amount of trans-fat, known to cause arteriosclerosis, be listed on all food products from December. It wants to reduce the amount of trans-fat in all food products to below 1 percent by 2010.

Chosun Ilbo: KFDA to Safeguard Food for Children

The percentage of overweight Koreans climbed to 36 percent of the population from 22.2 percent in 1995. The rate of overweight female and male children had doubled to 15.4 percent and 15.9 p…