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Showing posts from September, 2007

Okinawa: Don't rewrite our history

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Yomiuri Shinbun reports that 110,000 people in Okinawa, southern Japan, participated in the peaceful demonstration this weekend. They rallied against the Education Ministry's order to modify school textbooks describing how Japan's Imperial Army forced civilians to commit mass suicide at the end of World War II. It is the biggest demonstration since the island was returned to Japan by the United States in 1972, Kyodo News agency said.

Yomiuri: Okinawa residents protest over WWII history textbook amendment

読売新聞: 集団自決に軍関与、沖縄県民11万人余参加で決議採択

Higher oil prices

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Nippon Oil says it will raise oil prices during October, likely lifting the retail gasoline price to its highest level in more than 17 years. Asahi notes that the nationwide average retail price of regular gasoline was 145.4 yen per liter in August, the highest level since 1990, when the Oil Information Center began compiling weekly statistics. Kerosene, used by many people in Japan to heat their homes, will also become more expensive due to the rise in crude oil prices.

Crude oil prices have gone up from about USD 20 per barell 10 years ago to just above USD 80 at the moment, an increase by 400%, that has not been reflected at the gas station to such a high degree.

Here are gasoline prices in Japan, Europe and the US (September 2007)

Japan... E 0.89.. USD 1.26.. JY 145

US...... E 0.54.. USD 0.77.. JY 88
Greece.. E 1.02.. USD 1.45.. JY 167
Spain... E 1.06.. USD 1.50.. JY 173
France.. E 1.28.. USD 1.82.. JY 209
Sweden.. E 1.30.. USD 1.85.. JY 212
UK...... E 1.37.. USD 1.95.. JY 224
Germany. E …

Solar-cells in the news

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Asahi has an interesting article about the current state of affairs with regards to solar cells. The newspaper notes that Sharp Corp. plans to spend up to 200 billion yen on a factory for thin-film solar cells that will have an annual output equivalent to 1,000 megawatts of power generation capacity, or about half the world's total solar-cell production:

The world's top solar-cell producer is banking on thin-film cells, which use significantly less silicon to make than conventional crystalline cells, as a way to get around the shortage.

Sharp's solar-cell production in 2006 grew only 1 percent year on year because of fierce competition for silicon, according to U.S. industry newsletter PV News.

The price of silicon has nearly quadrupled in the last two years in part because of increased demand for solar cells fanned by growing environmental awareness. Demand has been particularly strong in Europe.

Solar-cell production has increased 30 percent to 40 percent annually since 2001…

Support the Yangoon protesters

Click here to support the protesters in Yangoon. Stand with Burma is an initiative from Avaaz, the internet-based campaign group that has done good work in the past. Glad to hear they make it possible for us all to show that we care about the people in Myanmar/Burma.

Avaaz plans to deliver the message to the Security Council members and the UN press corps in New York, and they are making sure the protesters know about the efforts too.

This is one of those moments where the World can make a difference. Together, we are sending a strong message to the UN and warning the generals not to mount a violent crackdown -- it's time for a change. The more people sign, the more powerful the message will be.

BBC Timeline of the protests:

15 Aug: Junta doubles fuel prices, sparking protests
5 Sept: Troops injure several monks at a protest in Pakokku
17 Sept: The junta's failure to apologise for the injuries draws fresh protests by monks
18-21 Sept: Daily marches by monks in Burmese cities graduall…

Tokyo Vegetarian Week Festival 2007

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Tokyo Vegetarian Week Festival 2007 starts this weekend with events in Yoyogi Park on September 29-30. Hope to see you there. Herwin will be selling cookies and his Vegan Restaurant Guidebook, and lots of people are gathering to promote healthy veggies, fruits, nuts and grains that we should all eat more of...

The calligraphy combines the kanji characters for yasai (vegetable) and do (road, code, way ) creating a new term, "the vegetable way" alluding to other familiar philosophical terms in Japanese, such as bushido (the warrior's code) or judo. In Japanese the two kanjis are read saido.

Sol

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Sol - the sun - is the topic of this wonderful photo website based in Guam.


Listen to George Harrison live 1971, Concert for Bangladesh: Here Comes the Sun

(Photo of Sasebo, Japan - edited by me to remove the warship)

NGO: "Promote natural energy!"

NHK World reports that participants at a meeting on global warming have urged the Japanese government to review its measures aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The symposium, hosted by Kiko Network, a Japanese non-profit organization focusing on climate change, was held in Tokyo on Saturday. There are serious concerns that Japan may not be able to meet the Kyoto protocol target. Under the protocol, Japan is obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2012, but the emissions have so far increased by 8 percent, notes NHK:

Environment ministry officials attending the meeting said this was because operations at many nuclear power plants were unexpectedly suspended due to operational problems. This required increased use of conventional thermal power generation using oil and coal.

The representative of the non-profit organization criticized the government, saying it should have made more efforts to promote the use of natural energy. Others said…

Gallery Watanabe

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I went to a small party at a gallery here in my town, with paintings and sculptures by Kido Shizue, Noguchi Toshihiro, and Takagishi Manabu. The wine was great and watching the 2 1/2 year old kid play with the sculpture was a lot of fun! Thanks Noriko Watanabe for the invitation.

Hmm, remind me...

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Why is Time Magazine comparing Japan to Bangladesh and the Philippines when it introduces Taro Aso and Yasuo Fukuda to its American readers?

Meet the candidates vying to lead this Asian nation: one is the son of a former Prime Minister, the other is a grandson of another former Prime Minister. The man they would replace, who announced his resignation on Sept. 12 after less than a year in power, is yet another former Premier's grandson. And the top man before that? Yup, another scion of a political dynasty.

Is this version of Family Affair unfolding in Bangladesh or the Philippines? Think again. It's Japan, long held up as the paragon of a mature Asian democracy, yet which continues to serve up political leaders distinguishable only by subtleties of grey in their ideological coloration.

Hmm, remind me, isn't the current U.S. president the son of a former U.S. president, who like his son sent U.S. soldiers to war for oil in the Middle East? And his grandfather, Prescott Bush, w…

Green energy house

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I am very interested in how Japan deals with the housing issue - how are we going to live in a sustainable way, developing a comfortable kurashi, a way of life, while avoiding oil and nuclear power? The home is a major expense, often paid for by loans, or life savings, or inheritance. We want that to be "green" and not contribute to climate change, pollution, and health problems (Sick House is a term that many Japanese people are familiar with after the debates in the 1990s regarding toxic chemicals used in new home building).

Asahi notes that new house designs in Japan are focusing on making efficient use of wind and light to provide renewable energy sources, thereby cutting down on the use of electricity and carbon emissions that add to the greenhouse effect. The growing interest in so-called eco homes also stems from a government campaign to promote "symbiotic housing"--structures that are environment-friendly:

In 1998, the Institute for Building Environment and…

IHT: Letter from Japan

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Howard W. French does us all a favour by writing about Tokyo for IHT, describing his visit to "the city that marry luxury with a patented smug understatement."

I like how he compares China and Japan, but there is more to his writing:

"The city sparkled and glowed in every direction through floor-to-ceiling windows, while far down below our table, Tokyo Station, its tracks bathed in soft white light, pulsed with the arrival and departure of bullet trains. What's the big deal, one might ask? The point, which really came together for me as I set out from my hotel in the new Shiodome district the next morning, is that Japan is not "back" at all. It never really went away..."

"The overwhelming impression here, and in one district after another, where Tokyo just keeps getting better, is of an immensely rich country that has appeared to disappear since its own raging boom years mostly because it has quietly gone about its business, applying the same kind …

Fewer cars in Japan

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Isis (Floating Down Denial), a blogger I check daily, notes that the number of passenger cars owned per household in Japan fell in fiscal 2006 for the first time since records started in 1975, sinking to 1.107 per household. The number of private cars owned by households came to 57.24 million as of March 31. In Tokyo the rate of car ownership is only about 0.52 - that means only about half of households own a car.


660 cc cars make up the largest new car market segment in Japan.

Isis: Car Ownership Falling in Japan, Size Matters

The Isis blog is: a collection of links to articles, videos, and graphics from around the web to help readers understand the problems we face as the age of cheap and abundant oil comes to a close and to direct you to the information you need for planning your future.

Peace Day Tokyo (photos & links)

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Here are some photos from the anti-war event in Shiba Park, near Tokyo Tower on Saturday 15.


















Some participating NGOs have websites in English that I want to introduce:
Peace On
Japan International Volunteer Center
Global Article 9: Campaign to Abolish War
Amnesty Japan
Consumers Union of Japan

"Stuck in limbo"

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The Daily Yomiuri notes that bureaucrats in the government officies in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district feel "stuck in limbo" after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would quit:

At the Environment Ministry, officials were in the middle of preparations for Abe's planned participation in a U.N. high-level meeting on global warming scheduled for Sept. 24. Officials completed Wednesday morning a draft speech for Abe, after staying overnight.

"I don't know what's going on," one official murmured.

Next year, Japan will host a Group of Eight summit meeting in Toyakocho, Hokkaido, where environmental issues are expected to be high on the agenda.

In light of this, another ministry official expressed concern, saying, "I wonder if we can continue with our current policies that prioritize the environment."


And over at the Construction and Transport Ministry, an official said, "With Abe resigning, it's not clear whether we can keep working …

Vegan in Japan

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Vegan Japan... You might have noticed that I have added the link to Herwin's website! I think his book is very interesting. I met him yesterday in Omotesando, he recommended the Brown Rice Cafe (near the Hanae Mori Building).

After that I introduced him to Satoshi Takagi at a tiny bar called TRAND that I like under the train tracks just north of Shibuya station. One of those tiny old places that remain from the post-war era, when things where very difficult in Tokyo, yet very simple.

Herwin's book, the Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide, is well researched and he has a lot of help from Japanese friends to make sure that all details are correct. I find the vegan diet challenging, to say the least, and I respect Herwin for his thorough research.

He notes that Tokyo has about 20-30 vegan restaurants now, more than perhaps any city anywhere else in the World: Actually this city is a leader in terms of diet and healthy foods.

Herwin's guide was recently featured in Hanako, a trendy maga…

Örsjön, Skåne-Småland

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Here is my younger brother Johan showing off again, yes, yes, nice rowing technique. Actually I (kind of) helped grandfather build that oak boat, a very long time ago on a summer holiday - I can't even remember the year now.

Örsjön is a lake on the rugged border between the Skåne and Småland provinces in southern Sweden.

Fish species: Pike, perch, pike-perch, bream, roach, tench, eel, Crucian carp, spined loach and burbot.

Skåne used to be part of Denmark, but a war of aggression some 350 years ago solved that little problem. In southern Sweden, we still speak Swedish in a funny dialect (i.e. much more sophisticated, continental European). And my brother, who has a Ph.D. and teaches at Lund University, would be able to tell you a lot more (preferably if you buy him a stout or why not a nice lager). I am very proud of him.

And here is Jens, my nephew, who must be about 4 years old now! Call me anytime!

Örsjön, near Osby, is an area where people speak even more original dialects:

Här pr…

Peace Day Tokyo September 15, 2007

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Sayonara, Shinzo Abe. You could not get the Japanese public to understand why Japan needs to support the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan (Update: providing more than 127 million gallons of fuel, free of charge, much of it into U.S. warships, according to the Washington Post), and why Article 9 should be scrapped. Global warming? You seemed to care, but was it just politics? And you did absolutely nothing to clear up the massive issue of "lost" pension accounts, a very real problem for hundreds of thousands of people.

With Abe gone, I think the Peace manifestation on September 15 in Tokyo will be a very, very cheerful event with a lot of enthusiasm from peace activists who have maintained their support for Article 9 of Japan's Peace Constitution, that clearly says, Japan is a country that will not wage wars. Especially not now, and not in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tokyo says "No War" and "Peace for everyone"!

Now I'm really looking forward to Saturday!

Pl…

Body Shop

Body Shop founder, Dame Anita Roddick, has died at the age of 64. Her shops are popular in Japan too, with their strong ethical message. Read her blog for inspiration, and consider supporting Amnesty International and other NGOs that try to make our World a better place - her important links list is really impressive:

www.anitaroddick.com

Waiting for the "real" IAEA report

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Remember the earthquake on 16 July that seriously shook the World's largest nuclear reactor? Now, Japanese NGOs are calling for greater accountability from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They are also demanding that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) improve its transparency surrounding the impact of the July Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Nagano Prefecture:

In a letter to the IAEA and TEPCO, Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, Green Action, and Greenpeace Japan criticized the IAEA Expert Mission to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant for making misleading statements about the impact of the earthquake on the plant1. They also criticized Philippe Jamet, head of the Expert Mission, for saying it would take "months or a year" to put the plant back into operation, even though a careful reading of the Expert Mission’s 17 August 2007 report shows that there are strong grounds for believing that the plant can n…

Higher animal feed prices

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High feed costs are becoming noticeable for livestock farmers in Japan, and an agricultural group has decided to take measures to support them, reports NHK today:

Prices of the assorted feed for livestock, mixed with imported grains such as corn and soybean, have risen over 20 percent in the past year, to the highest level in 22-years. Staple foods such as corn are now sold in the United States for bio-ethanol fuel, and soybean demand is expanding in China.

High costs are hurting livestock farmers, especially in the poultry industry, which depends on assorted feed. Some poultry farmers are being driven out of business. An agricultural group decided to study ways to solve the current problems with animal feed. They are planning to grow rice and corn locally instead of importing, and to urge the farmers to utilize feed produced from school lunch waste.

So meat-lovers, who is going to pay for this? I certainly hope you are not expecting the government to hand out subsidies so that you can c…

Koma, Saitama map

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Sunday

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What do you do on a Sunday...?

I liked this photo, called "Playing by the River" (川遊ぶ Kawa asobu) on the Hidaka sightseeing website.


Near Koma station, there is a special place called Kinchakuda. Now, in the middle of September, bright red lilies of the Lycoris radiata species can be seen there in all their brief splendour. The river is Kamagawa, and Kinchakuda is a name that refers to she shape of the route of the river, as it looks like a silk purse (Kinchaku).



Tamagawa, Kawasaki

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Great photos of Tama River in Kawasaki, as Typhoon Fitow continued north today Friday. This river is swollen to the maximum, and you have to admire the impressive engineering that went into those levees. According to Wikipedia, Tama River has not breached its levees since 1974. I still can't believe people are choosing to live so near such a powerful river.

Update: One bridge in Kanagawa Prefecture collapsed after its base was weakened by the massive flow of water:


The river began to reach a dangerous level in the predawn hours of Friday. Officials said the river's width increased to about 400 meters, compared to a norm of 40 meters, according to The Mainichi.


Haha, this is one cool river with its own official website: Tamariver.net. English information here.

Tama River is normally a popular weekend destination, with many bridges for the commuter trains and Shinkansen linking Tokyo to Yokohama and the rest of western Japan.