Friday, July 27, 2007

Rice flowers

Late July is the season of rice flowers, the tiny flowers that make the wet rice paddies look sublime around this time of year. With a google search for 米の花 (rice flower) I found a nice blog with photos. Enjoy!

"I've never had better rice than this."

Selling coal to Newcastle is a British idiom describing a foolhardy or pointless action. Well, here in Asia, Japan is now exporting its rice to Chinese (rich) customers at prices 10-20 times the cost of local rice.

Yomiuri Shimbun is extatic, and notes that one shopper said, "I've never had better rice than this." Come on, is that journalism?

Yomiuri: Japanese rice on Chinese shelves / Koshihikari, Hitomebore back in shops after 4-year ban lifted by Beijing

A two-kilogram pack of Koshihikari rice was on sale for 198 yuan (3,200 yen) while a two-kilogram pack of Hitomebore was priced at 188 yuan (3,008 yen). On the other hand, locally grown rice is available for about 8 yuan, less than one-twentieth of the cost of Japanese rice.

In China, more than 200 million tons of rice are consumed annually while Japanese only eat about 9 million tons.

In urban areas of China, the number of wealthy people have rapidly increased, so experts believe that a potentially huge rice market exists in China if Japanese rice is accepted by the nouveaux riches as a luxury food and gift item.

However, there are other hurdles to overcome before Japanese rice is widely sold in China, apart from the high prices. In China, Chinese versions of the Koshihikari and Hitomebore names have already been registered locally, so Chinese translations were not permitted on the packaging, which are labeled as "produced in Niigata Prefecture" and "produced in Miyagi Prefecture," rather than the descriptions familiar to Japanese consumers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Give us our daily genmai...

Living in Japan for a long time, I get to like rice more and more, and for my daily bento lunch box I like to have some 玄米 (genmai or brown rice). Of course I like white Japanese rice too, which is nice and sticky. There are several common varieties with some taste and texture differences, such as the famous one, Koshikihari, and Norin, Sasanishiki, Akitakomachi, Hitomebore and Hinokari.

I was surprised to learn that Koshihikari, the most popular "Japanese rice" was first created in 1956, by combining 2 different strains of Norin rice varieties, after research that had started in the 1920s. 30% of all rice that is grown is Japan is Koshihikari, and some 80% are in fact varieties of Koshihikari.

It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that machinery becamce common on Japanese farms, so ask any old farmer and I'm sure he (or she) still remembers how to grow the stuff without using fossile fuels, agrichemicals - and a lot of blood, sweat and maybe tears too.

Rice research continues at many institutions around the world, including IRRI in The Philippines. The latest issue of Rice Today has an interesting feature on Rice and Climate Change (pdf).

I do like real bread, with rye flour (or spelt flour if possible) and there are a few bakeries in Japan that supply German style bread that I like. Der Akkord is a shop in Tokyo that takes bread very seriously, and their online shop is worth a visit for good organic, non-GMO, vegan bread.

They explain that they mainly use Haruyutaka flour from Kitaichi Organic Farm in Hokkaido. For other baking, they use Hokushin, Taisetsu and Kitakami flours. They also use flours such as Nanbu depending on availability. Their whole wheat, Norin 61, is grown at an organic farm in Gunma, where only vegetable-based fertilisers have been used for the last 20 years. Whole wheat is ground with a stone grinder. They use organic rye from Grain Works, Canada, accredited by QAI in the U.S.

Address: Der Akkord, 5-45-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beat the heat

Participants sprinkle water on the ground at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo's Asakusa district Monday in the first of a series of events by citizens' groups to help ease summer heat. The "uchimizu" event will be held at various places, including Osaka and Hiroshima.

31 degrees today in Tokyo, seems the rainy season is ending.

(Photo from The Japan Times)

Monday, July 23, 2007

The making of Japanese national cuisine

Katarzyna Cwiertka has written a nice article for Japan Focus about War, Empire and the Making of Japanese National Cuisine. She traces many of today's typical Japanese dishes, such as yakiniku and gyoza, to the experiences of millions of Japanese living on the Asian mainland during WW2 and Koreans remaining in Japan in the post war era. Nice photos too: the hopefulness of the Morinaga bread ad from 1937 juxtaposed with vegetable farming in front of the Parliament building in central Tokyo in 1945...

Japanese national cuisine was shaped by a variety of forces that emerged in Japan since the late nineteenth century. However, perhaps surprisingly, militarism stands out as the most powerful. This influence of militarism does not complement the general image of Japanese cuisine, with its strong emphasis on aesthetics of presentation and harmony with nature, and is therefore very little known.

I'm not so sure there is such a thing that can easily be defined as "Japanese national cuisine", but ok, NHK World does its part this summer with a program series called "Your Japanese Kitchen".

Food writer Harumi Kurihara teaches simple dishes with ingredients like daikon (radish) and eggplant. There is also a video about how to cook rice. Rice, of course, is not really an indigenous "Japanese" crop, but was brought here from the continent during the end of the Jomon period (4000-400BC). Kurihara-sensei could do this show alone, but for some reason NHK keeps employing "talents" like Daniel Kahl (who brags on Wikipedia about "his ability to speak in a northern dialect of Japanese". Plus he has appeared in the 1991 movie Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Itadakimasu!

Anyway, do have a look around the NHK World food website!

CNIC Report on Niigata Earthquake

Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) has published a report about the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Earthquake, called Japan's Nuclear Safety Shaken to the Roots


From analysis of the distribution of the after shocks from the 16 July 2007 quake, it is now believed that there is an active fault extending directly under the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP. Since Japan's earthquake resistance guidelines do not permit NPPs to be built directly above active faults, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa would not have been chosen to host a NPP had this been known at the time. However, it now appears that this should have been recognized. After the recent earthquake, Professors Takashi Nakata (Hiroshima Institute of Technology) and Yasuhiro Suzuki (Nagoya University) analyzed the data in TEPCO's license application and concluded that it indicated a fault five times longer than one identified by TEPCO (Asahi Shimbun, 20 July 2007). Between 1979 and 1985, using sonic testing, TEPCO found 4 small faults off the coast of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, but it concluded that they were either not active or not important. However, Nakata and Suzuki said that the data indicated that three of these small faults were connected and were in fact one long 36-kilometer fault and that the fault was probably active.

Professor Nakata is the geomorphologist who last year proved that there is a previously unidentified active fault near the Shimane nuclear power plant (NIT 114). Earthquake studies for Japan's nuclear power plants have largely ignored the work of geomorphologists. They are taken more seriously now under new earthquake resistance guidelines approved in September 2006, but their role is still vague. It seems that the nuclear industry does not like them, because they are too good at finding active faults.

Clearly Japan's earthquake safety standards are inadequate.

Times, the UK newspaper, notes that Radioactivity leaked unchecked for three days and teaches us all the Japanese phrase for the combination of an earthquake and nuclear meltdown: Genpatsu-shinsai.

(Photo from The Daily Yomiuri, showing TEPCO barrels containing radioactive waste, in disarray after the earthquake)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pot calling the kettle "black"

China and the US are in a battle of words regarding food safety, that reminds me of the old adage: The pot is calling the kettle "black"...

Chinese cardboard-filled buns "bogus"?

AFP reports from Beijing that ordinary Chinese are refusing to believe government claims that a recent media report on cardboard-filled meat buns was in fact a hoax. The Chinese government has stated that the televised report was bogus, with the aim to hype the nation's food safety problems. Was it just an attempt to stem the bad publicity over a series of scandals? That is what the official news agency Xinhua says.

AFP even asked a taxi driver, surnamed Liu, what he thought of the matter: He said he cannot believe the news report aired by Beijing TV on July 8 was a fabrication.

BBC noted that Beijing Television made a public apology during its evening news broadcast for the "vile impact on society". Yomiuri/AP says 7 more people have been penalized in China over the story.

Sounds like a classic case of shooting the messenger.

I really don't know what to think of the whole story. I for one will continue to look very carefully for the "Made in China" (中国産) labels, and avoid their stuff for now. Also, if they want to export food they should implement HACCP hygiene systems, apply traceability and strict surveillance.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Niigata radioactive water leak

NHK World reports that Tokyo Electric Power Company will look into the earthquake resistance of its nuclear reactors following a "small" radioactive water leak during Monday's devastating quake.

The focus of the earthquake was only 9 kilometers from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. The utility says seismometers located under the reactors detected jolts that exceeded their design strength. The company says the quake has caused water from pools containing spent nuclear fuel to spill in all 7 reactors. TEPCO also failed to promptly extinguish a fire from a power transformer at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari has issued a severe warning to Tokyo Electric Power Company for its handling of the earthquake-related incidents. The minister said the utility risked inviting serious public mistrust by failing to quickly report a spill of low-level radioactive water.

Food safety in the news

Yomiuri Shimbun notes in an editorial about product safety problems in China that Japan showed the way:

Five years ago, a scandal erupted in Japan over Chinese-made spinach that was found to contain illegally high levels of residual agricultural chemicals. In response, the Japanese government introduced a system to strictly prohibit the sale of agricultural and other products that contain amounts of residual agricultural chemicals and additives exceeding allowable levels.

When Japan introduced the system, which was dubbed the strictest in the world at the time, China strongly objected. After the system was put into force, however, it worked better than expected. In addition to preventing inflows of dangerous food products into Japan, it produced a secondary effect within China: In places where agricultural commodities are produced for export to Japan, producers began paying much more attention to food safety.

This time, the Chinese government initially lashed out at foreign media for "exaggerating" the food safety problem. However, as criticism of China grew internationally, it shifted its stance, pledging to reinforce safety administration at every level, from production to distribution.

Meanwhile, BBC reported that Chinese authorities have investigated imported foods from the United States, and found a number of problems. China suspended imports from several key US meat suppliers such as Tyson Foods, Cargill Meat Solutions, AJC International and Triumph Foods. Officials said they had found salmonella and growth-enhancers in several imported US chicken products.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Email break

I will take a break from emails for about a week until I get a new provider and a brand new address, and I intend to do everything possible to keep it spam-free.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Typhoon information website

Japan Meteorological Agency has a good page with typhoon data. I will be moving on Saturday July 14, so obviously I'm not too thrilled. They also have daily temperatures and UV warnings. At least I will be safe from that!

To put things in perspectrive: Yes, it rains a lot. And there is strong wind. And I have to change t-shirts about five times a day. Doing laundry? Hahaha. Nice, but nothing gets really dry, ever. Anyway, I prefer it to cold. You know minus 20 degrees? No thanks. I prefer this. I don't like it, I just don't mind it.

I once flew into Nagoya International Airport in the middle of a typhoon, in mid August, with Aeroflot. You know the good-old pilots at Aeroflot? Trained on mighty MIGs, that is one thing. I also think they were in some kind of existential orthodox fix, that only Russians can understand. They didn't circle around and prepare for a commercial landing, nice and slow, with "This is your captain speaking" booming from the speakers. Like pilots from other airlines. We had steam coming down from the ceiling, each time they applied the brakes.

I mean, other airlines probably cancelled their Japan-bound flights that entire WEEK. To cut a long story short, the particular typhoon-loving Aeroflot pilot I happened to be flying with, back in 1993, when half of their fleet still sported the Soviet flag - takes a long time to repaint that many airplanes! - he just dived. I still remember how my stomach felt. It was up near my tonsils. And on he went. Down. To Nagoya. We were all getting rather riled up and tell me one thing that is harmonious about modern aviation... Landing is always traumatic. The one instant when you either make it or... So. We landed. Can't remember disembarking or getting my passport stamped. Still working on my stomach. Typhoon on TV, each minute (oh, I'm already in Kyoto, at the Hiraiwa minshoku!) wondering, "did we really land in the middle of THAT?"

Kumamoto flooding

(Source: Japan Probe published this photo of a powerful river in Kumamoto prefecture, in southern Japan)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Country of Rivers

Saitama Prefecture with around 7 million people (almost as big as Sweden!) is starting a campaign this weekend July 13-15 to raise awareness about its many rivers. "Saitama: Country of Rivers" will collect photos and essays from the public about the 100 most charming river spots around Saitama. Do send in your suggestions.

China executes former head of Food & Drug Administration

China has executed the former head of the food and drug safety agency who was found guilty of taking bribes. The former head of China's State Food and Drug Administration was sentenced to death in May for accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies for approval of new drugs, including fake ones.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the execution was carried out on Tuesday morning. Xinhua says the supreme court approved the death penalty, taking note of the enormous social impact of the bribery scandal. NHK's correspondent in Beijing says the Chinese government apparently wanted to show it is cracking down hard on those who neglect public safety, amid growing international concern over Chinese-made food and drugs.

That is a really severe punishment and I can't believe they actually think China or its food products' reputation abroad will improve through this action.

According to BBC, spokeswoman Yan Jiangying said:

"As a developing country, China's food and drug supervision work began late and its foundations are weak."

"Therefore, the food and drug safety situation is not something we can be optimistic about."

She said Zheng Xiaoyu's case had "brought shame" on the department, adding that anyone who abused their power would be punished.

Chinese officials have already acknowledged that the country could face social unrest and a tarnished image abroad unless improvements are made.

Western diet risk to Asian women

Asian women who eat a Western-style diet high in meat, white bread, milk and puddings may be at higher risk of breast cancer, research has suggested. A study of 1,500 Chinese women showed those who ate a "meat-sweet" diet were twice as likely to develop the disease as those on a vegetable-based diet.

Asian breast cancer rates are lower than those in the West but are rising.

The study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention suggested increasing obesity rates may be key.

BBC: Western diet risk to Asian women

Saturday, July 07, 2007


No comment. Thanks Ad B, for Yokai Attack.

Focus on Fair Trade

People Tree, a UK/Japanese NGO that promotes Fair Trade (efforts to make sure that the farmers in rural areas in developing countries get a larger share of the profit) has a great fashion catalogue that I have introduced here on my blog before. They also have a mail order business and a web shop.

Alter Trade Japan had a booth this weekend in Yoyogi Park at the Earth Garden Market. They started in 1986 as a NGO to support people on Negros Island, The Philippines. Through its activities、ATJ

1) supports small producers growing crops suited to local climate within their community.
2) trades good food, safe for both producers and consumers, and non-destructive to environment.
3) offers the space for "encounter" beyond borders, aside from trading. Producers and consumers meet and support each other as human beings through trading of food stuffs.

TV Tokyo featured Fair Trade projects in India in a December 2006 program. Read more here (Japanese).

(Photo from the People Tree 2007 Summer Collection)

On May 12, People Tree had a huge fashion event here in Tokyo with over 800 people participating. Highlights included a Fair Trade fashion show featuring pieces from their regular collection, the Vogue designer collaboration and the People Tree for Topshop range. Take a look at some of the photos at Safia's blog.

(More photos and lots to read at the UK People Tree website)

IPS: Fair Trade Concept Starts to Sell

Live Earth Tokyo (Makuhari and Kyoto)

BBC has a nice page about today's Live Earth concerts around the World and NHK showcases some local talents such as Bonnie Pink and Yellow Magic Orchestra. The page has a player, seems you can watch highlights from the events on your computer.

Update: Yes, it works, but I do hate all the advertising!

The concerts for a climate in crisis

Friday, July 06, 2007

Earth Garden Summer

This Saturday and Sunday there will be another Earth Garden

event in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo. Fleemarket, organic food, music and a chance to meet a lot of people...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Protest in Aomori

The National Network to Stop Radioactive Pollution from the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Consumers Union of Japan have issued a call for action to stop the nuclear reprocessing plant at Rokkashomura in Aomori prefecture, Japan.

They are making the following demands:

1) We express our views about the actual damage due to radioactive contamination, in order to avoid rumours to spread.

2) We declare that we will independently measure radioactive contamination in order to protect the natural environment and the farming industry from increased levels of pollution.

3) We declare that we will cooperate with farmers and food producers, by connecting consumers to the land.

4) We call for opposition to radioactive pollution from the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, in order to protect the rich and plentiful natural environment, life and food, as well as the air and water.

Read the entire call for action on the website of Consumers Union of Japan. More details at Citizen's Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) - a great website about the problems with Japan's nuclear industry.

Save forests in Tasmania

What Rainforest Action Network (RAN) says about Japanese paper companies here.

What Gunns, the multinational paper producer says about RAN here.

What 10,000 protesters want here.

RAN’s new report, The Truth Behind Tasmanian Forest Destruction and the Japanese Paper Industry, details how Australian lumber giant Gunns Limited's egregious logging practices in Tasmania are supported by major paper companies in Japan, such as Nippon and Oji, which buy huge volumes of woodchips that come from Tasmania’s old growth and environmentally sensitive forests. Download it here (pdf).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


My 100 last visitors are from a number of countries on five different continents, according to my SiteMeter.

Thanks for stopping by, and do leave a comment if you get inspired.

UK Consumers Association: Japanese cars best in test

As regular readers of this humble blog knows, I am no fan of cars, but if you are going to get one, make sure to read what independent consumer organizations like US Consumers Union and UK Consumers Association, or Which? have to say about before you decide.

BBC notes that Japanese cars are the most reliable, the least polluting and the best to own, according to consumer group Which?

Honda (Jazz) has won this year's Reliability Award, based on a Which? readers' survey of 100,000 cars, beating the Best Manufacturer Award-winner Toyota. The Green Award went to hybrid champion Toyota, ahead of runner-up BMW, which won the Road Testers' Award... The only serious non-Japanese contender for the Reliability Award was Korea's Hyundai, which came joint third - alongside five Japanese marques: Daihatsu, Lexus, Mazda, Subaru and Suzuki, with Mitsubishi following closely behind.

Too busy to read? How about a pod cast from Which? about the results of their biggest ever car survey: Best Buys and Don't Buys based on nearly 100,000 responses.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fumio Kyuma quit

Great, he got the message and quit a few minutes ago. On Saturday Japan's defense minister said the atomic bomb over Nagsaki "couldn't be helped" (shiyou ga nai).

(Photo: Protesters staged a sit-in Monday at Nagasaki Peace Park to denounce Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma's remarks in which he appeared to try to justify the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings.)

Update: Yomiuri says:

Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, who resigned Tuesday, criticized the United States for the Iraq war, one of a series of gaffes that cast doubt over his fitness to be head of national defense. While the point he wanted to make is understandable, his expression was naive.

His remark on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final days of World War II was in line with the previous gaffes he had made.

Since the end of the war, Japan has been protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, an agreement that has made it difficult for the government to diplomatically deal with the mass slaughter caused by the United States' atomic bombings as well as the fire bombing of Tokyo during the war, for which historical evaluations have yet to be made.

However, Japan, the only country to have been a victim of an atomic bombing, has a responsibility to continue raising questions about nuclear issues. As such, it is inconceivable Kyuma could state that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could not be helped. It also goes without saying that he should resign.

Ouch, and that is from Japan's right wing press. Asahi with its more liberal stance, is much more critical:

...Japan's diplomatic attempt to make the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki known to the rest of the world has often been criticized by the United States and other Asian nations. These countries say Japan had it coming because Japan started the war. They also argue that the atomic bombs finally brought an end to the brutal war.

There is no easy solution to this dispute. But Japan's position should be that the indiscriminate killings of innocent and defenseless Japanese civilians are still unpardonable, even though Japan started the war and caused huge damage to many other countries.

Describing the atomic bombings simply as something that "could not be helped" is tantamount to forgetting history and subserviently accepting the U.S. justification of the attacks.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Anarchy (not) in Akihabara

Liberate Akihabara? The demonstration last weekend was a mixture of otaku and cosplay, with some serious activism as well. "Stop the PSE law" or The Product Safety of Electrical Items was one of the hot topics, as the Japanese PSE law may ban the sales and the resales of old electronics. Others demonstrated for queer rights and of course, Henry the Horse, dances the walz, as the police (in their cute blue uniforms) was on standby.

Not much happened, as otaku are usually better at expressing themselves in front of a computer, but there are lots of photos at the Jabro Blog.

Danny Cho (a blogger who dresses up as a Star Wars Storm Trooper) and Hector (Spanish blogger who calls himself un geek de Alicante que está viviendo en Japón) have more photos and grainy videos than you would ever want to watch of this event. He says:

...around 1.000 otakus joined the march against otaku discrimination. They claimed respect from traditional media that sometimes treats otakus people in general as “criminals” and also the “liberation of Akihabara and otaku emancipation”. Lately many big department stores are conquering Akihabara, little shops are disappearing, and with them the “authentic Akihabara spirit” is also being destroyed.