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Showing posts from April, 2007

Olive Cafe

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My paintings are currently on exhibit at Olive Cafe in Yono, Saitama, until May 31, 2007. Produced by Yamazaki-san. Thanks everyone who made it possible! :)

Address: 埼玉県さいたま市中央区上峰4-13-14
Station: Yono Honmachi (Saikyo Line)

Biogasoline comes to Japan

Mainichi reports that biogasoline -- gasoline mixed with bio-ethanol made from plants -- was put on sale at 50 gas stations in and around Tokyo on Friday on an experimental basis. The Environment Ministry and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry are pressing forward with the introduction of bioethanol saying that it helps prevent global warming because corn and sugar cane from which it is made absorb carbon dioxide.

According to NHK, the mixture is 5% ethanol and 95% gasoline, so I hesitate to call it "biogasoline", but ok, it is a small step in the right direction. Mainichi says it is is composed of regular gasoline and ETBE, a mixture of bioethanol and liquefied petroleum gas. The fuel will be sold at the same price as regular gasoline. The extra cost of producing biogasoline -- about 10 yen per liter -- is footed equally by the national government and the oil industry. Yomiuri explains that there is disagreement between the petroleum industry and Japan's En…

CUJ: Japan Resources No. 139

This week we have published Consumer Union of Japan's newsletter called Japan Resources, which is available on the new English website as a pdf file. You can read my report from the conference in Seoul about Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) and articles about CUJ's battle against US beef imports, GMO foods and other articles. CUJ was founded in 1969 by Mr. Takeuchi Naokazu.

Japan Resources No. 139

CONTENTS

- EDC Conference in Seoul, South Korea
- Demand: To exclude farm products from Japan-Australia FTA negotiations
- Statement of opposition to the violations against the Japan-U.S. Beef Agreement
- We request that imports of American beef should be prohibited and demand strict country-of-origin labeling rules
- Breaking News: CUJ finds benzene in popular soft drinks
- Appeal Against Patents on Life
- Report: Attempt to Legitimate GM Contamination Blocked
- To the participants of the WG Meeting on Low-level Presence of rDNA Plant Material

Eat your (local) vegetables

We often hear that Japan has a low self-sufficiency rate when it comes to food. It is said that Japan is "only 40% self-sufficient" but that refers to calories in general.

For rice, Japan is next to 100% self-sufficient, and for vegetables the rate is 79% (2005). That is actually quite high! However, the rate for beef is 43% and Pork is 50%. In other words, if you eat a lot of meat, you are depending on imports, which means you are also depending on a lot of oil for transportation to get your hamburgers to Tokyo. As oil prices are rising, and we reach what is called Peak Oil (when pumping oil from the ground is no longer profitable), food habits will have to change. And of course, if you care about global warming, you may also want to reduce consumption of foods from very distant places.

In 2006, Japan imported fresh and processed vegetables worth about 228 billion yen from China, such as leeks, garlic, satoimo taro roots and shiitake mushrooms, according to Japan External Tra…

Kashiwa City, Chiba getting serious about global warming

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Only two of Japan's 1,800 or so municipalities have enacted special ordinances to deal with global warming, according to Kazuhiko Ikeshita, the official in charge of environmental matters in Kashiwa City, Chiba. Kashiwa, with a population of 383,000 east of Tokyo, has created legislation to specifically address the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The only other city to do that is Kyoto.

Kazuhiko Ikeshita notes that three prefectures (out of 43) have made similar efforts:

In Kashiwa's case, work on the new ordinance started two years ago, after the Kyoto Protocol came into effect on February 2005. Kashiwa immediately began considering a new regulation to support efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

We regarded our move as a rather belated response to the treaty, which was ratified by Japan in June 2002. We were then surprised to find the only municipal ordinance on this issue in force at the time was the one enacted by the city of Kyoto in December 2004.

He al…

Earth Day 2007

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This weekend the Earth Day events will take place in Yoyogi, Tokyo. A map of all the booths and participating organizations is available as a huge pdf file on the official website. Looks terrific.

Official website: Earth Day 2007 and Greenz.jp also has daily updates and lots of good articles (in Japanese - any volunteer translators out there?)

Update: Here are a couple of videos I took with my mobile phone. Sorry about the terrible quality but you "get the picture".





Keidanren: Japan can reduce CO2 emissions

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In what I think might be a major policy change in Japan, the chairman of Japan's largest business organization has called for a nationwide campaign against global warming. According to NHK, at a meeting of the Japan Business Federation and its affiliated organizations on Wednesday, Fujio Mitarai admitted that Japan will likely fail to meet the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions set under the Kyoto Protocol unless more serious efforts are made:

He stressed the need to take urgent measures to curb emissions, particularly from households and public service sectors, two major sources of carbon dioxide. Representatives from businesses and consumer organizations participating in the meeting exchanged views on the need to reduce greenhouse gases. They agreed that companies should continue to pursue energy saving measures, while households should be urged to use more eco-friendly electric appliances and reduce their use of family cars. The Japan Business Federation plans to step u…

BBC: Chocolate 'better than kissing'

I just love scientific research sponsored by large corporations. BBC reports that Cadbury, a chocolate maker, has found that chocolate is better than kissing:

When it comes to tongues, melting chocolate is better than a passionate kiss, scientists have found. Couples in their 20s had their heart rates and brains monitored whilst they first melted chocolate in their mouths and then kissed. Chocolate caused a more intense and longer lasting "buzz" than kissing, and doubled volunteers' heart rates.

Nagasaki: This just in...

The mayor of Nagasaki was shot outside a train station on Tuesday night at 19:50PM as he campaigned for local elections. He is in critical condition. Mayor Iccho Ito was shot on a street near his office, just in front of Nagasaki train station, according to local police officials.

A man with links to yakuza (organized crime) was detained, according to Kyodo News agency.

NHK footage tonight from Nagasaki is showing several officers escorting a man into a police car, and an ambulance leaving the scene.

It was the second shooting in recent years of a mayor of Nagasaki, which was destroyed by a U.S. atomic bomb in 1945 and whose leaders have actively campaigned against militarism. In 1990, former Nagasaki mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was shot and seriously wounded in 1990 after saying Japan's emperor bore some responsibility for World War II.

Update: The Nagasaki Mayor, a key denuclearization proponent, died early on Wednesday morning, according to Kyodo.

Silent prayer

I don't know if I have any readers at Virginia T, but since I lived for a year in Washington D.C. I feel for you all there and will take a moment of silent prayer.

Update: The gunman was a Korean student, according to Washington Post and NYT a few minutes ago.

Food irradiation, no thanks

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Japanese consumer organizations do not want foods to be irradiated, and have recently protested against expanding the list of foods, such as spices, that may be irradiated.

Food Safety Citizen's Watch has more details.

Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing to revise its labeling regulations for irradiated foods and supplements, suggesting that some irradiated foods could be labeled as "pasteurized".

Irradiated foods sold in stores must be labeled as "treated with irradiation" and carry the 'radura' symbol. FDA is also proposing to allow a firm to petition for use of an alternate term to "irradiation" (other than "pasteurized"). In addition, FDA is proposing to permit a firm to use the term "pasteurized" in place of "irradiated". Comments to the proposed ruling must be received by July 3 2007. To view the proposed rule, click here.

Currently the US has roughly 50 irradiation facilities,…

I want to ride my bicycle

On P's blog I found this statistics which I think is interesting. He says that according to the VCÖ (traffic club Austria), Denmark ranked highest in the average number of bicycle kilometers ridden per person in 2006. The average distance cycled by Danes was 954 kilometers. Japan ranks very high at 354 km per person, actually higher than Sweden, where people cycled 277 km per person. In the US, bicycles are apparently not very popular - Americans cycled 33 km per person.

Actually, the only reason I quote these stats is because I want to post the link to this classic bicycle promotion video by Queen. Oh, and do enjoy the Segway scene in this hilarious video by Weird Al Yankovic, while we are at it. Any more bicycle references in music videos, anyone?

Update: Pink Floyd (1968) Bike (Having visited and worked in Brussels many times I appreciate this mad "time travel" video) - Thanks P.

Earth radio

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I will appear on the NHK 1 program "Chikyuu rajio" Sunday around 17:30. The segment is called funtou jipangu (奮闘じぱんぐ), meaning something like "Strenuous Effort Jipangu". It is the first time I will have to speak Japanese during a live broadcast. If it doesn't go well I will remove this link to the page where you can find the player. See the jpg I made with explanations.

My topic is "Safe and delishious Japanese food" and I plan to talk a little about my first impressions of sushi and sashimi at a Japanese restaurant in Palo Alto in 1987, and some of the issues that I think people should be more concerned about when it comes to food safety, such as too many food additives and why growth-promoting antibiotics in animal feed are a bad idea. At least that will be my 奮闘...

Update: Thanks Hans for downloading the interview.

Update: Here is a photo from the NHK studio on the 13th floor in Jinnan, Shibuya.

Starting with your own belly

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Greenpeace Japan and Toziba are holding a True Food Market in Shinjuku, Tokyo tomorrow Saturday 14 from 11AM. The theme is to suggest ways to start by doing a small "eco". By changing what we eat (avoiding genetically modified organisms, buying locally produced organic foods) we can do a lot for Earth. What better place to start to create a GMO-free zone than your own belly.

Among the 20 or so participating groups are the Ibaragi Duck Paddy Field Trust, Organic restaurant & healing cafe Asmara, and rice farmers specializing in unique rice varieties. You can buy healthy bread and vegetables too. In addition to the market, there will be a showing of The Future of Food video (promoted in Japan by Shoku no Mirai) and music performances by different artists.

Map: Shinjuku Mura
Directions: About 5 min walk from Nishi Shinjuku station on Marunouchi line or 18 min walk from JR Shinjuku station (west exit).
Address: 新宿区北新宿2丁目1番8号  TEL 03-3361-5946

Benzene found in "genki" drinks

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Consumers Union of Japan has announced the results of its investigation into 21 popular soft drinks, vitamin drinks, and supplement drinks. 16 of the tested products were contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical benzene. More details here.

The source is thought to be common food additives such as benzoic acids (E201, E211, E212 and E213) used as preservatives. It has been known for a long time that benzoic acid can react with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) when it is added as an anti oxidant in soft drinks, forming benzene.

Consumers Union of Japan wants companies to stop selling such products and immediately stop the simultaneous use of the additives. CUJ also wants the Food Safety Commission and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to take measures to totally ban the simultaneous use of these additives in soft drinks, supplement drinks, cosmetics, etc.

Update:US FDA data and UK FSIS data (pdf) on benzene levels in softdrinks, both from 2006.

Revitalize, Relax, Spa!

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The Japanese onsen industry is experiencing a boom, attributed to a rising Japanese consumer interest in health and the widescale retirement of the Baby Boomer generation in Japan – defined as those born after WW2.

The president of Spa Finder Japan, Yoriko Soma said to World Leisure Jobs & News: "I expect the Japanese spa industry to grow significantly in the next three years, particularly in the hotel and resort spa category. Already, we are getting news every week of day spas opening in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. There is lots of interest in reaching out to these consumers."

According to Soma, the number of Japanese tourists visiting spa resorts in Asia and Hawaii is also on the rise.

New style spas offer more attractions, not just the hot tubs we all have learnt to love. A 2003 study found that 60% of Japanese people had visited a spa in the last 12 months, compared to 21% of Americans. This represents 76.4 million spa-goers in Japan. So, who does not go to a spa?

Spa-goers …

Maria Callas in Tokyo 1974

Maria Callas sings "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Giancomo Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" in her performance in Tokyo, Japan, 1974. Rare NHK interview here (10:37).

And this version makes me cry...

Glad påsk!

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The egg has always been a symbol of fertility; Semiramis (Easter) was the goddess of Fertility. The Easter egg is a symbol of the pagan Mother Goddess. In Sweden we call this holiday "Påsk" and eggs are a standard feature.

Paoblo Roberto is Swedish, with Italian origins, and he recently made news when he said his tiramisu was better than sex. OK...

Here is his recipe:

500 gram mascarpone cheese
5 table spoons sugar
3 deciliter whip cream
4 eggs
200 gram crackers (Savoiardi)
1,5 table spoons amaretto liquour (almond)
4 table spoons coffee (preferably espresso strength)
1 table spoon cacao powder

Update: Easter or "Ishtar" is from the Babylonian word for "Star". She is referred to in the Bible as Ashtoreth or Anath, and the name Esther is an apparent late borrowing of Akkadian "Ishtar" into Hebrew. "Like all the church's 'moveable feasts,' Easter shows its pagan origin in a dating system based on the old lunar calendar... the first Sunday af…

While on the topics of cars...

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BBC has a truly awful, testosterone-driven car show called Top Gear hosted by Jeremy Clarkson. Two years ago he had to apologize to Korean viewers who were angry because of his disparaging comments about a Korean-made car. Well, it seems that apology was not really seriously felt, as he did it again in a show about a Malaysian built car called the Perodua Kelisa.

In the show, he calls it the worst in the world. He then promptly attacks it with a sledgehammer before blowing it up. Watch it here.

This is the BBC. Not a tabloid channel, exactly. Why does a public broadcasting company allow this jerk to insult millions of people in Malaysia and Korea (mentioned again in this clip). Understandably, Malaysian politicians are rather upset.

Imagine the outrage if NHK allowed a similar program to be aired here in Japan.

Wine party

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Here is a photo collage from tonight's wine party at Bokuryutei in Yono.

Thanks Takahashi-sensei, who had a lot of stories to tell from his trip to different places in France.

My oil paintings and acryls are still being exhibited for another week. Please let me know if you want to have a look.

Honda "Greenest Automaker" in the US

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Japanese auto makers are driving Americans toward a cleaner environment, according to a report released Tuesday by Union of Concerned Scientists, the US environmental group.

Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. lead the rankings. Hyundai-Kia ranked third among America's top eight auto makers, followed by Nissan Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG, according to UCS.

"There is still a big gap between the cleanest and the dirtiest vehicles," said Don MacKenzie, author of the study, which reviewed 2005 vehicle models:

He said the group focused on the nation's top eight auto makers because combined they sell the majority of U.S. vehicles and account for nearly one-third sold globally:

The group ranked each company by the smog-producing capacity of their vehicles and the effect those vehicles had on global warming. Honda earned its fourth consecutive "Greenest Automaker" distinction.

JTEPA news

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AFP reports on Japan's Free Trade Agreement with Thailand:

Under the agreement, Japan and Thailand will lift tariffs on 90 percent of trade in 10 years and Bangkok has vowed to step up transparency and legal protections to help Japanese investors.

But anti-globalisation activists (...) have lashed out against the deal. The activists say the deal will turn Thailand into a dumping ground, with Japan allowed to send toxic waste and to patent genetically modified micro-organisms in Thailand.

Japan prefers to call its FTAs "Economic Partnership Agreements". That Thailand will "become a dumping ground for Japan's toxic waste" is a claim that several NGOs have put forward over the past months. Bangkok Post has more details about an annex to the deal, that seeks to eliminate such concerns.

Bangkok Post: Japan FTA will liberalise 90 pct of bilateral trade

In Bangkok on Tuesday, opponents of the agreement criticised the government for not making its terms public. Some 50 …

KORUS concluded, not yet ratified

Negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the United States were concluded yesterday. It is hailed by supporters as the biggest deal since the EU and NAFTA. Actually many of the sticky points, such as agriculture, will not come into effect until 15 years later (Seoul will phase out its 40 percent tariff on US beef over 15 years, while tariffs on pork will go over 10 years). Rice is also not included in the KORUS, most likely a trade-off as the Koreans said they agreed to start importing US beef again, under a number of conditions.

In the US, the Democrats are unhappy, led by members of Congress from states that depend on farming and car manufacturing – two sectors that lost out in the negotiations, according to Financial Times.

I was in Seoul last November when about 70,000 protesters marched against the negotiations. I'm surprised that President Roh Moo-hyun got the support for this deal. But anyway, details of the results of the negotiations have not yet been…

“Fukuro wa kekko desu”

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“Fukuro wa kekko desu”is a nice way to tell a Japanese shop clerk that you don't need a plastic bag.

From April 1, new rules say Japanese retailers should reduce the amount of plastic bags by 30% over the next couple of years, but that will not happen unless we all start changing our habits. Bring your own bag!

Japan for Sustainability: Working to Reduce Plastic Bag Use

(The sign at this Lawson convenience store says customers should tell clerks if they do not need plastic bags...)

Chinese sand over Tokyo

Yellow sand was observed for the first time this year in central Tokyo and outlying areas, according to Asahi Shimbun. Yellow sand was also detected in Kumagaya in neighboring Saitama Prefecture and Maebashi. More sand than usual will likely be carried to Japan from areas around the Yellow River. Yellow sand particles whipped up in the Taklimakan Desert and Loess Plateau in central China rise to an altitude of several thousands meters to be borne to Japan by westerly winds.

Mainichi also notes that huge clouds of yellow sand carried on strong winds from China covered areas of western Japan on Monday, reducing visibility and coating buildings with dust:

Meteorological officials said visibility in the cities of Nagoya, Tsu and Gifu was reduced to about 3 kilometers as a result of the sand. Because of the poor visibility, officials warned people to take care when driving on expressways in affected areas.

And it was even worse in Ulsan, South Korea yesterday, where visibility was about 1 ki…