Friday, August 31, 2007

Market Day

Alishan Organic Center is having Market Day and open house on Saturday, September 1 in Koma, Saitama.

Come and join over 30 participating vendors, artists and friends include Gaia Project, Sama Sama (ginger ale), Puratto (vegetables), e-street bagels,Yugeta-shoyu (shoyu), Japanese washi-craft, Kawasemi (hand-made cookies), Kurousagi (sourdough-bread), Grenouille (bread), Seitai-bito, Tanenomori (organic seeds), Lin & Lin (clothes), MAUKO PIRIKA (hand-made clothes), UHOUHO (Mayan coffee), Azure soap, TOKYO BAGS, Himalayan material, Il tempo bola (Pizza), Gallery Yoshitake, Brookie-no-hitsuji (waffles), Alter-trade Japan (fairtrade bananas), Eco-zakka-club, Natural Mart (amazake), Shimizu-noen (vegetables), Nihon-kumamori-kyokai (NPO), Kurosawa-Yuichi (pottery), Sathia-sai (books & kamishibai), Second Harvest (magnets) and much much more.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Janis Joplin at Gröna Lund, Sweden (1969)

Suberb black & white film from Swedish public television, in the days when there was only one channel to watch, and no commercials, and no cable TV, and no satellites, and no video players or DVDs or Youtube or iPods... HOW DID PEOPLE EVER MANAGE??

And just after her Europe tour, that same summer, Janis was interviewed on the US Dick Cavett show, talking about getting into the groove, and if she couldn't do that she'd like to bake organic bread. Cheers, Janis. In August 1970, she was on his show again, and 2 months later she was not with us anymore..

Recycling Kockumskranen

When I was a child, the Kockums shipyard in Malmö had the world's biggest gantry crane, which for many years stood as a strange symbol, no longer used, for the city I was born in. The good news is that in 2002, it was sold and dismantled, and shipped to South Korea.

Great pictures (if you are into industrial photography) of how the crane was dismantled in Malmö in September, 2002:

Hyundai Heavy Industries shipped it off to their Offshore Fabrication Yard in Ulsan, South Korea, where they painted it orange and kept on building the big ships that Malmö workers could only dream of. In Korea it us used for the construction of drilling rigs, FPSO (Floating, Production, Storage & Offloading) and other offshore structures.

Recycling? You bet.

And here is the official Hyundai Heavy Industries website with a promotion gallery of photos of huge oil tankers, if that's your thing...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rosengård, Malmö, Sweden

I went to school in Rosengård from grade 4 to 9. So did my brother and most of our friends. As the Swedish social democrats and the shipyards of Kockums (in Malmö) and Öresundsvarven (in Landskrona) suddenly collapsed due to competition from Japanese shipyards such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., the Hitachi Zosen Corporation, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd. and Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries... - and as the oil crisis of 1974 meant the end of huge oil tankers... - bells ringing as we are now in a "Peak Oil" crisis, of even more serious ramifications for heavy industries, and for ordinary folks as well.

(London Pride, built in 1971 in Malmö, Sweden: Tonnage: 255 090 dwt.)

Malmö is a city that had to adopt to a lot of change over the years. Kockums where the fathers of several of my friends worked, is now "innovative", but mostly in the field of military technology, as part of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. For example, Japanese military submarines started using Sterling engines from Kockums for the Asashio (TSS-3601) submarines since 2001.

Rosengård was conceived of and constructed in the late 1960s to accomodate Swedish workers' needs. This is where I spent five years of my youth: The Rosengård area of Malmö is now instead 85-95% immigrant.

Read more in The Local: Rosengård: hardship and hope

Läs mer på svenska Wikipedia: Varvskrisen

San Francisco Chronicle: After oil supplies dry up, what's Plan B?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Total lunar eclipse

If we are lucky tomorrow evening, we should be able to witness a total lunar eclipse on Tuesday night. It is the first time in six years the astronomical phenomenon will be visible in the country, according to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. Update: We were unlucky, it was cloudy tonight...

The blog Pacific Islanders has more details (with additional humorous comments!)

Google images has lots of different photos.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I like the way people can stay for as long as they want in Tokyo bookshops, browsing, reading magazines, spending a lazy afternoon enjoying the latest...

Definitely a cultural phenomenon that bookshop owners in the rest of the World need to figure out how to introduce.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Eco-house beyond reach?

Yomiuri is examining the cost and energy-saving effect of eco-houses by looking into a few examples built by "ordinary" people. Hikaru Kobayashi, one of the people Yomiuri highlights works at Japan's Environment Ministry, and he was able to get additional funding from a government subsidy. He has published a book titled "Eco-house in my perspective". In a further move to reduce CO2 emissions, he is proceeding with a rooftop gardening plan.

The Kobayashi household was able to reduce CO2 emissions with 49 percent compared to 1999 (I wish his book was translated to other languages).

Today, in Japan, you can get solar panels at about the same cost as a car:

The price of solar-powered electricity generators went down sharply in the past decade. The price, which stood at an average 2 million yen in fiscal 1994 when the government subsidy system was inaugurated, dropped to 660,000 yen in fiscal 2005, according to the New Energy Foundation.

But it costs a family at least 1.8 million yen to install solar-powered electricity generators. As a result, the generator is still a luxury beyond the reach of most people.

Yomiuri: Eco-home is where heart is / Such houses cut energy consumption, but out of reach for many

Just-in-time sushi

Kura Zushi is in the news, as one of the sushi chains that have adopted just-in-time management techniques to improve service and make more money. The chain also makes a rule not to use artificial flavorings and additives, and it publicizes where the fish are from.

Monitors in the kitchen at its Sugawara outlet in the prefecture show the number of children and adults in the restaurant and how long they have been there. This is done in three categories: up to 8 minutes, between 8 and 16 minutes, and between 16 and 24 minutes.

The data is updated every minute. If there are many children, the kitchen churns out more items that will likely appeal, such as sushi rolls without wasabi and hamburger sushi. Popular items like tuna and yellowtail are served if a large number of patrons arrive at once.

Kunihiko Tanaka, president of Kura, says to Asahi: "The less uneaten sushi we discard, the lower the costs. It is also eco-friendly."

So how are they doing? The percentage of sushi that went to waste fell from 7-8 percent to less than 6 percent in two to three years, according to the company.

Asahi: Just-in-time revolving sushi bars thriving

My feeling exactly

A guy was seated next to a 10-year-old girl on an airplane. Being bored, he turned to the girl and said, “Let's talk. I've heard that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.”

The girl, who was reading a book, closed it slowly and said to the guy, “What would you like to talk about?”

Oh, I don't know,” said the guy. “How about nuclear power?”

“OK,” she said. “That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow and a deer all eat the same stuff... grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?”

The guy thought about it and said, “Hmmm, I have no idea.”

To which the girl replied, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know sh*t?”

(Shamelessly quoted from Got Rice?)

Update: Purnendra Jain writes for Asia Times about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit last week to India and the possibility of building of new nuclear power plants in India which "would mean great opportunities for Japanese companies, as they are world leaders in this technology." The articles also touch on the diplomatic relations between Japan and India. Do read both Part 1 and Part 2.

My name according to a silly website

My Buddhist name is Bodhisattva Joy Increasing.

What's yours?

By all means, do enter your name on the silly website and see what comes out.

Actually, I do have a Buddhist name, 紹的 (Shoteki), given to me by the Rinzai Zen roshi at the Sogenji temple in Okayama. That was hard training. Waking up 3:40AM every morning to do zazen and cleaning... After that, my life seems easy.

Read more: Shodo Harada Roshi: Nuclear Reactor of Zen (From The His teacher was Yamada Mumon Roshi, head of Hanazono University in Kyoto.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Koma River Cleanup

On Sunday, there will be a river cleanup and vegetarian barbecue at Koma in Saitama. Alishan Organic Center (link on the left) is organizing this event. Everyone is welcome.

I found a nice satellite photo of the Arakawa river system (marked with red lines), reaching from Saitama prefecture to Tokyo Bay.

Can you find Tokyo? Yokohama? Mount Fuji? Narita Airport...?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Record power consumption

Power consumption in Japan reached a record of nearly 3.42 billion kilowatts on Tuesday as soaring temperatures prompted residents to switch on air conditioners.

The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan announced that the power usage for the 10 power companies the federation represents reached 3,419,917,000 kilowatts, breaking the previous record set in 2001 of 3,392,200,000 kilowatts.

As Leon, our web guru over at Alishan Organic Center pointed out to me today, the heat wave during the past 10 days couldn't have come at a worse time, as 7 nuclear reactors in Niigata prefecture are closed because of earthquake damage.

The graph shows how power companies deal with power surges during the day. Basically, more oil is used during peak hours starting around 9:00 AM. If Japan introduced daylight saving time, energy consumption could be drastically reduced.

(Source: Nuketext, a NGO that is critical of the information provided in schools about nuclear power in Japan)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Risk of another big earthquake "too great"

A group of scientists, including Hiromitsu Ino, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, called Tuesday for the closure of the quake-hit Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture. During a news conference they cited the possibility of another huge earthquake in the area:

"This region is right in the middle of the Uetsu-Shinetsu fold zone, an area of particularly high crustal activity in the Japan Sea Eastern Margin Mobile Belt and has many active faults," the group said in a statement released in Tokyo.

The Japan Times: Close Niigata nuclear plant for good: scientists

Formaldehyde in children's clothes

Formaldehyde is nasty stuff that shouldn't be in clothes, yet a scientist employed by the New Zealand consumer TV program "Watchdog" found high levels in children's clothes:

The government ordered the probe after scientists hired by a consumer watchdog programme discovered formaldehyde in Chinese clothes at levels of up to 900 times regarded as safe. Manufacturers sometimes apply formaldehyde to clothes to prevent mildew. It can cause skin rashes, irritation to the eyes and throat and allergic reactions.

FT notes that textiles and clothing currently make up more than 13 per cent of China's exports.

Washington Post: NZ Investigates China Clothes Imports
Financial Times: Poison clothes add to China export scares

Monday, August 20, 2007

Organic Japanese food hot items in U.K., Europe

The Japan Times has a nice article on the increasing demand for organic Japanese food in Europe. They note that more Europeans "opt for healthier diets".

The Japanese government has also tried to boost the production of organic foods by offering more support (although, as I noted here, they have been very slow!!):

Christopher Dawson, chairman of Clearspring Ltd., says his products have attracted much interest from supermarkets eager to stock his range of Japanese organic produce, which includes teas, noodles, soups and sauces.

Dawson, the only foreigner to receive this year's agriculture ministry award in Tokyo for the overseas promotion of Japanese food, said the demand has been buoyed by TV programs in Britain extolling the virtues of traditional Japanese food.

And, as with British food, consumers are increasingly looking for the organically grown option, free from pesticides and other chemicals.

The Japan Times: Organic Japanese food hot items in U.K., Europe

Popular items include green tea and miso soup, and they also sell sake and ingredients for making sushi. I like their website with an online store. Clearspring, based in west London, even has umeboshi, the pickled plums which I like, but I never considered the possibility that they could be exported. Way to go!

Friday, August 17, 2007

JR East introduces hybrid train

JR East, the Japanese railway company here in central Japan, has introduced the world's first environmentally friendly hybrid train into commercial service.

The train is powered by a diesel engine together with an electric battery that gets recharged by energy created from braking at curves and when entering stations, East Japan Railway spokesman Shinichi Harada explained to AP (quoted by US environmental NGO NRDC):

Although gas-and-electric hybrid automobiles are already touted as a way to fight global warming, the JR East's hybrid train is the first of its kind in the world, Harada said. The train, called Kiha E200, developed by East Japan Railway Co., will debut on the Koumi Line in central Japan on July 31. The new technology helps reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by up to 60 percent, compared to conventional trains, Harada said. It cuts fuel consumption by up to 20 percent, and also runs more quietly.

"It is our responsibility to help reduce global warming by running environmentally friendly means of transportation," Harada said.

Harada also says JR East, is in the process to decide whether to mass produce the hybrid train cars... Read more about their R&D program here.

I do like trains. My first train trips alone from my Swedish home town Malmö to meet my grandparents who lived in Osby, two hours away! What adventure for such a lad. I was maybe eight or nine years old. My mother has once said that maybe she allowed me to have too much sense of independence and wonder at such a young age (as I am now very far away in Japan) but I don't really like to think she has any regrets. I intend to continue supporting train companies, and I do hope they intend to become increasingly "green".

East Japan Railway Company (JR East) has researched and developed a fuel cell system for railcars, and announced the first test run of the World’s First Fuel Cell Hybrid Railcar on October 19th, 2006. The control system for the railcar is based on a diesel hybrid system, but replaces the diesel engine with a fuel cell that uses hydrogen as fuel. This efficient system supplies the necessary electric power from both the fuel cell and the storage battery when accelerating, and the storage battery is recharged by electric power produced by the regenerative brakes when braking. The maximum speed of the railcar is 80km/h and it can run for 70km - 80km before needing to be refueled with hydrogen. The test run was held at the site of the rolling stock manufacturer in Yokohama City, and the railcar smoothly accelerated to a speed of about 50km/h.

Source: JR East Press Release April 2006

More trainspotting: JR East Environmental Reports and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Reports here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Save electricity in the heat

TEPCO, my electricity company, put a notice in my mailbox today. They are asking customers to save electricity as a result of the earthquake in Niigata prefecture in July. All seven nuclear reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station are shut down and that has created problems for TEPCO, who has had to secure power from other plants.

The leaflet explains that between 13:00 and 16:00, they are having trouble supplying the electricity needed, so please turn down the tempereture of your air conditioners, hang up curtains and blinds in front of windows, and turn off the TV if you are not watching.

I'm sure people can do more than that. Any good ideas, dear readers...?

TEPCO Challenges website here.

TEPCO Green Power Program here:

The Green Power Certification System is a framework for the consignment of natural energy power generation by corporations and customer groups to Japan Natural Energy Company Limited, which mediates for windmill power generation companies. As of July 2004, 45 corporations and customer groups had contracted to purchase a total of 44.3 million kWh -- the equivalent electric power consumption of 12,300 households.

I wrote about Natural-e and their programs for "green power" in a previous post about Reducing fossile fuel use in Japan.

(Photos of sudare and power-saving fridge curtain from

To recall or not to recall

Lead has been found in baby bibs made in China, and are the center of a new scandal in the US:

The vinyl bibs, which feature illustrations of baseball bats and soccer balls and Disney's Winnie the Pooh characters, are sold for less than $5 each under store-brand labels, including Especially for Baby and Koala Baby.

Tests this summer, financed by the Center for Environmental Health of Oakland, California, found lead as high as three times the level allowed in paint in several styles of the bibs purchased from both Toys 'R' Us and Babies 'R' Us stores in California.

IHT: Some China-made baby bibs found to contain lead

This time, consumer protection agencies did not even think a recall was necessary, even though lead levels were three times as high as the level allowed in paint. I want to tell parents that it is time to wake up and stop buying this kind of stuff. The grandparents too, they are often the ones who give colourful presents to the kids.

This follows a massive recall earlier this week of 19 million toys also found to contain lead, all made in substandard factories in China. By the way, is anyone thinking of the health of the workers in those factories? Breathing toxic fumes on a daily basis, no doubt without any safety equipment or face masks.

In Japan, the toys' importer, a company ironically called Progress Interactive, said they are recalling the products and will make refunds to customers. It did not say how many toys would be affected in Japan. Toys "R" Us Inc.'s office in Kawasaki said about 50 shops out of the 149 outlets it operates in Japan have removed all the affected products. That is some progress.

Forbes has more details about this mess:

One Japanese retailer said it took other Fisher-Price toys off its shelves as a precaution. "We didn't stock any of the affected products, but we quickly removed other Mattel's Fisher-Price brand items from our shelves until the importer's safety assurance is made," said Masaki Shimizu, a spokesman of Mitsukoshi Ltd., one of the major department stores in Japan.

Forbes: Asia, Europe implement Mattel toy recall

Update: Very interesting article in The Seattle Times that reveals how the current US government and China both have fought tightening rules on lead.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Perseid meteor shower

BBC: Stargazers enjoy meteor spectacle

I'm hoping to see it tonight, although the peak was early this morning in Japan, before sunrise.

Sub-prime news

I don't usually do financial news on this blog because I think it is boring and I don't understand the stock market very well. But the news today that the Bank of Japan has injected another 5bn dollar (after 8.5bn dollar on Friday) to calm market fears and avoid "panic" strikes me as a big waste. That is tax payers' money: why should governments bail out banks that sell loans to people with no security? Help the people directly instead (oupps, but that would be socialism, can't do that).

Coupled with that story, NHK reports today that Japanese banks are offering an increasing range of non-business related services at their branches to help people in the communities. So, what kind of services are we talking about?

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation is to place defibrillators at all its branches by October. The devices - used to respond to heart attacks - will be available for use whenever the automatic teller machines are open.

Great. Defibrillators. So, do not panic! I suppose a lot of people are having heart attacks as they see their funds dwindle.

(Sub-prime loans are those made to high-risk individuals and were promoted during a US housing boom. Since then the housing market has slowed, and successive US interest rate rises have pushed up the cost of mortgage repayments, thereby increasing the number of defaults. "Sub-prime loans" is a wonderful way to avoid saying "bad loans".)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fuji Rock Photos & videos 2007

I found lots of great photos on the Fuji Rock Festival website. Click to enlarge. Enjoy.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the lineup this summer included Cure, Beastie Boys and The Chemical Brothers. Over at YouTube, you can find a lot of gems, just search for Fuji Rock 2007. I like The Cure, Lullaby, an old favourite.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I wish I was in Hokkaido!

36 degrees hot here in the Tokyo area, and I wish I was in Hokkaido, northern Japan, where I assume it is cooler.

There is a group of bicyclists called BEE Japan (Bicycle for Everyone's Earth), a group of international members that promotes environmental awareness and green living in Japan. Their main event is the annual two month BEE ride, beginning in August, from the northern most island of Japan to the southern most.

They also have a separate English website on environmentally friendly living in Japan.

The BEE ride uses both direct action and environmental education. Their direct action includes:

* Traveling the length of Japan exclusively by bicycle
* Eating low on the food chain (vegetarian)
* Choosing organic products whenever possible
* Choosing fair trade products whenever possible
* Supporting local economies by buying local produce
* Using no vending machines
* Minimizing waste by choosing less packaged products, buying reusable, recycled and recyclable items, and using no waribashi or other disposable eating utensils.

BEE Japan blogs about their trip in English and Japanese. Lots of photos here.

Good luck!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Blades of Glory

It is 33 degrees (Update: 36 degrees Saturday noon in the Tokyo area) and I'm thinking of ice. A new comedy caught my eye, called Blades of Glory (released March 2007) with Will Ferrell.

A Korean blogger that I like (because he usually posts a lot of songs and photos with The Beatles) seems to like Bo Bice, who did the theme song. Trailers at YouTube of course:

And in the movie, the US team wins, Korea is second and SWEDEN is THIRD!?! Now I'm feeling REALLY grumpy.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nagasaki: Signs of change

AP notes that Nagasaki marked the 62nd anniversary of the world's second atomic bomb attack Thursday with a somber ceremony and calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide:

The city was to observe a moment of silence at 11:02 a.m., when the B-29 bomber Bock's Car dropped its atomic payload, killing about 74,000. The attack on Nagasaki came three days after the U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped a bomb on Hiroshima in the world's first atomic attack. That bombing killed at least 140,000.

The anniversary comes amid signs of change in Japan, the only country to suffer nuclear attacks, as memories of the tragedies fade and survivors become older. Some prominent Japanese politicians have suggested that Japan should at least discuss developing nuclear weapons, and former Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma recently said the U.S. nuclear bombings in 1945 may have been inevitable.

Kyuma's remarks were particularly upsetting to many Nagasaki residents because he is from the prefecture (state). He resigned under pressure in June and was not attending this year's memorial despite an invitation sent earlier, according to the city. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, bringing World War II to an end.

Signs of change, yes. I am surprised that the AP story does not mention the election results last Sunday. Just today, Asahi has the big story that the Democratic Party of Japan seems set on ending the legislation that enabled Japanese troups to "support" the US and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reuters also has the story. The AP story in the Washington Post does not mention that. This is actually a time when it is very exciting to be living in Japan and Asia.

Mari has more about Nagasaki on her blog today, with links to the official Nagasaki website and more.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

NHK World about atomic bombings 62 years ago

NHK World has several radio programs this week in English (and 20 other languages) about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You can listen on the Internet:

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hiroshima Peace Declaration 2007

Please take a moment to read the Peace Declaration issued today in Hiroshima, the first city to ever experience an atomic bomb:

That fateful summer, 8:15. The roar of a B-29 breaks the morning calm. A parachute opens in the blue sky. Then suddenly, a flash, an enormous blast - silence - hell on Earth.

The eyes of young girls watching the parachute were melted. Their faces became giant charred blisters. The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails. Their hair stood on end. Their clothes were ripped to shreds. People trapped in houses toppled by the blast were burned alive. Others died when their eyeballs and internal organs burst from their bodies-Hiroshima was a hell where those who somehow survived envied the dead.

Within the year, 140,000 had died. Many who escaped death initially are still suffering from leukemia, thyroid cancer, and a vast array of other afflictions.

But there was more. Sneered at for their keloid scars, discriminated against in employment and marriage, unable to find understanding for profound emotional wounds, survivors suffered and struggled day after day, questioning the meaning of life.

And yet, the message born of that agony is a beam of light now shining the way for the human family. To ensure that “no one else ever suffers as we did,” the hibakusha have continuously spoken of experiences they would rather forget, and we must never forget their accomplishments in preventing a third use of nuclear weapons.

Despite their best efforts, vast arsenals of nuclear weapons remain in high states of readiness-deployed or easily available. Proliferation is gaining momentum, and the human family still faces the peril of extinction. This is because a handful of old-fashioned leaders, clinging to an early 20th century worldview in thrall to the rule of brute strength, are rejecting global democracy, turning their backs on the reality of the atomic bombings and the message of the hibakusha.

However, here in the 21st century the time has come when these problems can actually be solved through the power of the people. Former colonies have become independent. Democratic governments have taken root. Learning the lessons of history, people have created international rules prohibiting attacks on non-combatants and the use of inhumane weapons. They have worked hard to make the United Nations an instrument for the resolution of international disputes. And now city governments, entities that have always walked with and shared in the tragedy and pain of their citizens, are rising up. In the light of human wisdom, they are leveraging the voices of their citizens to lift international politics.

Because “Cities suffer most from war,” Mayors for Peace, with 1,698 city members around the world, is actively campaigning to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2020.

In Hiroshima, we are continuing our effort to communicate the A-bomb experience by holding A-bomb exhibitions in 101 cities in the US and facilitating establishment of Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Study Courses in universities around the world. American mayors have taken the lead in our Cities Are Not Targets project. Mayors in the Czech Republic are opposing the deployment of a missile defense system. The mayor of Guernica-Lumo is calling for a resurgence of morality in international politics. The mayor of Ypres is providing an international secretariat for Mayors for Peace, while other Belgian mayors are contributing funds, and many more mayors around the world are working with their citizens on pioneering initiatives. In October this year, at the World Congress of United Cities and Local Governments, which represents the majority of our planet’s population, cities will express the will of humanity as we call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The government of Japan, the world’s only A-bombed nation, is duty-bound to humbly learn the philosophy of the hibakusha along with the facts of the atomic bombings and to spread this knowledge through the world. At the same time, to abide by international law and fulfill its good-faith obligation to press for nuclear weapons abolition, the Japanese government should take pride in and protect, as is, the Peace Constitution, while clearly saying “No,” to obsolete and mistaken US policies. We further demand, on behalf of the hibakusha whose average age now exceeds 74, improved and appropriate assistance, to be extended also to those living overseas or exposed in “black rain areas.”

Sixty-two years after the atomic bombing, we offer today our heartfelt prayers for the peaceful repose of all its victims and of Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki shot down on his way toward nuclear weapons abolition. Let us pledge here and now to take all actions required to bequeath to future generations a nuclear-weapon-free world.

August 6, 2007

Tadatoshi Akiba
The City of Hiroshima

Let me add a thought or two to that very well written message. What if "Hiroshima" had been your hometown? I mean, it could be any city on Earth. For over 60 years now, nuclear weapons have been a reality, pointed both here and there.

My hometown could have been a target too. Lets say it had been hit. What would the mayor of my hometown say, so many years later, after the terrible disaster, after the rebuilding, after the suffering and pain. Mayors for Peace is the organization that is discussing these issues. As of July 30, 2007, they have 1,698 member cities from 122 countries and regions. Make sure your hometown is on that list. Please.
(Photo from the Hiroshima City website)

Hiroshima marks 62 years since atomic bombing

Survivors, residents, visitors and officials from around the world observed a minute of silence at 8:15 a.m. Monday, the moment the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe also participated:

An estimated 140,000 people were killed instantly or died within a few months after the bombing. Three days later, another U.S. airplane dropped a plutonium bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing about 80,000 people.

"Japan has been taking the path toward global peace for 62 years since World War II. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should never be repeated in any place on earth," Abe said in a speech at Hiroshima Peace Park, near the bomb's epicenter.

Yomiuri/AP: Hiroshima marks 62nd anniversary of atomic bombing

The Mainichi has published a in-depth series of articles this summer on hibakusha, the victims and survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by New Zealand journalist Roger Hutchings, Kazuki Kuraoka, and Noriko Tokuno.

I also want to recommend the excellent interview with anti-nuclear activist Steven Leeper, new chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Committee, published in The Japan Times: Mr. Hiroshima-san

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Swiss government: Prius is the world's greenest car

Switzerland has named Toyota's Prius the world's greenest car. Reuters reports that the Swiss government gave the Prius the highest green rating in a draft study evaluating the environmental impact of driving around 6,000 different cars, including carbon dioxide (C02) emissions which contribute to global warming:

The Swiss government said it hopes that the list—which is still in draft form and could be revised before it is finalized next year—will persuade drivers to buy cars which have the lowest impact on the environment.

The list could also be used to impose an emissions-related tax on cars.

'The goal is to modernize the fleet of cars and to make the use of natural resources as efficient as possible, so that using cars will exert less pressure on the environment,' said Adrian Aeschlimann, a spokesman for the Federal Office for the Environment.

The Prius — a hybrid car twinning battery power and a combustion engine — was launched in 1997 by Toyota, the world's biggest car maker. It is the best-selling hybrid car on the road, although hybrids account for only a fraction of global car sales.

I was surprised to read that Fiat's Punto 1.2 Bipower and the Fiat Panda 1.2 Bipower, the Daihatsu Cuore and Citroen's C3 1.4i GNV were also in the top 5 of the draft list. Environmentalists welcomed the Swiss government initiative:'It's great when a national government is behind this, and a list like that will have much more sway and can function as a guideline for the automotive industry,' said Juergen Resch at Germany's environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

Fuji Rock Festival

Over 120,000 people went to Niigata last weekend for the annual summer festival with lots of music... Nice photo gallery on the official Japanese website.

The lineup this summer included Cure, Beastie Boys and The Chemical Brothers. Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John deserves a special mention too! I like that the festival takes social and environmental issues seriously, with NGOs promoting povery campaigns, global warming awareness and "Save Shimokitazawa with Flower Company" (to stop the highway construction in Tokyo's charming Shimokitazawa area).

Enjoy this FRF 1997 documentary:

Air pollution in Tokyo down by half

Mainichi reports that levels of airborne soot, emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, have declined by half in downtown Tokyo over the past four years. Strict rules on emissions are clearly working.

A University of Tokyo research laboratory say the findings prove that the government's efforts to reduce emissions of black carbon, including a 2003 ban on diesel vehicles that cannot meet emission standards in Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures, have been effective:

Black carbon, emitted from diesel engines, amongst other sources, is suspected to be both an allergen and a carcinogen, they say. Moreover, experts say reductions in black carbon emissions can help reduce the effects of global warming.

"It's important to measure black carbon levels in areas outside Tokyo to evaluate the effects of restrictions (on diesel vehicle exhaust fumes)," said Yutaka Kondo, a professor at the University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. "Japan's strengthening of restrictions will help encourage other Asian cities, such as Beijing and Bangkok where the density of black carbon is higher than in Tokyo, to take their own measures."

The research center used a newly developed device to precisely measure the airborne density of black carbon in the Komaba district of Meguro-ku and Shinjuku-ku since May 2003.

Levels of black carbon in Komaba, which stood at 0.0023 milligrams per cubic meter per hour between 2003 and 2005, dropped by half to 0.0011 milligrams over the January-July period of this year, they say.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Specified Risk Material

SRM refers to the specified risk material that can be contaminated with prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Korea's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on Wednesday suspended its inspections of all U.S. beef imports after again finding banned vertebral bones in a shipment. The spinal column is considered a specified risk material for BSE or mad cow disease (the prions are never in the meat itself, but always in the nerve cells along the bones).

Chosun Ilbo reports that the violation of Korea's import agreement with the U.S. that permits only shipments of boneless beef persuaded the ministry to prevent any more U.S. beef from reaching consumers for the time being.

The photo of a National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service official shows a huge section of spine found in a shipment of U.S. beef on Thursday. Photo: Chosun Ilbo.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More power to Japan's National Consumer Affairs Center

To protect consumers from malicious sales and faulty products, Japan's National Consumer Affairs Center (NCAC) will be given more power. In collaboration with about 540 local consumer centers across the country, the NCAC will offer troubleshooting services on a one-on-one basis with consumers. Currently, the NCAC receives nearly 10,000 cases of consultations and complaints from consumers each year. Of them, the NCAC makes efforts to resolve disputes between business operators and consumers in just 200 to 300 cases. Asahi also mentions that officials are discussing punitive measures, such as fines, against business operators who do not comply with the NCAC.

Asahi: Center for consumers to get more authority

This is a very good development for consumers. It is better if simple fraud cases and complaints do not have to reach the courts, as consumers generally do not have the resources (time or money or desire) to spend fighting for their rights. The NCAC and local consumer centers can do a lot more to help. This also means business operators will gradually realize that shady deals are not in anyone's best interest - a huge problem in Japan has been loan shark practices, hardly an issue that an individual consumer can take on by himself.

NCAC English website here.
NCAC English Newsletter here.

NCAC also publishes a glossy magazine in Japanese, called Tashikana Me ("Critical Eye") which they have announced will be discontinued. I think that is a real shame. Such magazine could be developed instead and used for the benefit of consumers. Unfortunately, Tashikana Me has felt increasingly outdated, with very few articles on health or environmental issues (although the August 2007 issue explains what consumers can do to combat global warming).

For truly independent consumer magazines, I recommend the newsletters that Consumers Union of Japan or Japan Offspring Fund are publishing.

LDP's Akagi quits over scandal

Agriculture Minister Norihiko Akagi has resigned over a financial scandal involving his political organization, according to NHK. His organization's dubious accounting practices are blamed for the major loss suffered by the governing Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday's Upper House election.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to resign before the election, if he really felt he had done something wrong?

Mainichi: Scandal plagued Farm Minister Akagi resigns