Sunday, September 30, 2007

Okinawa: Don't rewrite our history

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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Higher oil prices

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 1.37.. USD 1.95.. JY 224
Norway.. E 1.60.. USD 2.27.. JY 262

Data for prices in Euro/liter from - US readers can multiply the USD price with 3.7854 to get the per gallon price.

And, for the first time ever on the Kurashi blog, it being a rainy weekend and all, I decided to show a Reuters photo of a "Race Queen" (pun probably not intended) at the Oyama F1 track west of Tokyo, where a Ferrari is being refueled. What a "waist".

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Solar-cells in the news

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, when a large number of solar panels began being installed on houses and other large facilities.

I wish I could afford to buy a panel or two for my small house - with temperatures still around 30 degrees, I think I should be able to store some power for the winter. Of course, then I'd need some good batteries too... At what point will this make economically sense to small energy users and households?

Asahi: Cover Story: Silicon rising

(Image from the Sharp Power Generation System website)

Sharp Sunvista
(in Japanese) has the company's latest lineup of different solar-cell panels.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

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 gradually gather in size
22 Sept: 1,000 monks march to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon
23 Sept: Up to 20,000 march in Rangoon
24 Sept: New Rangoon march draws at least 50,000 and 24 other towns join in...

(I find it curious that increased fuel prices - some source say the gasolin cost was suddenly 500% higher - could lead to such uprising)

BBC: Burma cyber-dissidents crack censorship

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tokyo Vegetarian Week Festival 2007

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.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


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 the government should introduce tougher measures, such as limiting emission of carbon dioxide at companies, and imposing a new tax on gasoline consumers.

The NPO representative said Japan's efforts to tackle global warming has made little progress in the past decade. She said that she hopes more discussions on future measures will be made at similar symposiums.

Kiko Network (English website)
Symposium information (in Japanese)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gallery Watanabe

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...

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, was deeply invovled with Nazi Germany through his banking business. "Yup, another scion of a political dynasty." Hmmmm, so in what way is Japan similar to Bangladesh and the Philippines, while the U.S. political system is so different? Hmmmmm!

Time Magazine: Japan's Politics: A Family Affair

The Guardian: How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

Much more interesting day-by-day analysis about Japanese politics can be found over at the Asia Exile Blog: Man of the moment, comparing Yasuo Fukuda to Homer Simpson, and also noting that for 17 years Fukuda served as a conventional Japanese salaryman in a oil company.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Green energy house

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 Energy Conservation (IBEC) introduced an accreditation system for housing construction that meets certain criteria with the goal of promoting symbiotic housing. The number of dwellings that received official accreditation as symbiotic housing doubled to over 3,000 in fiscal 2006 compared to the previous year.

There is, however, a downside to going green: Natural materials cost more, hence a higher price tag.

Sekisui Chemical Co. (English website, with CSR reports) markets homes that come with built-in solar-power systems that "eliminate electricity bills." Building costs for such homes start at 650,000 yen per tsubo (about 3.3 square meters). The company also offers the option of retro-fitting existing homes with the system in an effort to increase its market share.

In 2005, an impressive 53 percent of all new Sekisui homes had the solar-power system installed.

Misawa Homes Co. introduced its "ECO Bikiko (microclimate) Design" homes in 2005 (lovely music and simple grapics). Based on the company's accumulated know-how and technology that conserve energy and other resources, its new homes incorporate designs that utilize the comfort and benefits of the natural environment, according to Asahi.

Asahi: Greener homes mean much more than planting lots of trees

Green Energy Japan (Website for owners of photovotaic power generation systems, in Japanese)

The Building Center of Japan has a lot of information in English.

Sweden House is a successful company in Japan, I don't get paid to promote them, but their website is great! And Sweden Hills in Hokkaido is a residential area, modelled on Swedish design, a housing project near Sapporo since 1983.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

IHT: Letter from Japan

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 of meticulous approach long ago made famous by its industries, of relentless small improvements to quality of life."

IHT: Letter from Japan: Look eastward, China, for paradigm of success

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fewer cars in Japan

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.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Peace Day Tokyo (photos & links)

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"

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 on current policies, such as one related to tax revenues for highway projects. Until a new minister is decided, we're stuck in limbo for the time being."

Yomiuri: Abe's departure stuns Kasumigaseki

Elsewhere in the World, as some of you may have noticed, The Pope ends state of limbo after 800 years.

No more of this.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Vegan in Japan

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 magazine. Congratulations!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Örsjön, Skåne-Småland

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 pratas det Göingemål, prova att smaka på tungvrickningarna i följande lilla historia skriven på bygdens ursprungliga dialekt.

"Da va oin gåbbe frau dän ostligaste dåilen au vaur kommun, såm hadde vatt i Stockhölm.

Naur han kåm hem sa fraute nabobonnen ho han hadde hatt da däa å hö han tyte åm Stockhölm? Jo svarte roisenären, da va vail rätt sau bra, män stan ligga ju i oin jädrans akrog!"

(Transl: A man from the eastern part of our town had gone on a visit to Stockholm. When he returned, his neighbour asked about his trip and what he thought about the Swedish capital. Well, the traveller replied, it was allright, but that darn city is really in the middle of nowhere!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Peace Day Tokyo September 15, 2007


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!

Place: Shiba Park (by Tokyo Tower)
Time 11:00AM - 17:00PM
More details on the World Peace Now Website and at the Peace Day Tokyo Blog.

World Peace Now previous: 070321 and 060318 (and you can also click on the "Peace" tag under this post to read about other related events and news stories)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

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:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Waiting for the "real" IAEA report

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 never be operated again.

I was surprised to learn from the NGOs that the UN inspectors never actually went inside the nuclear plants, yet there were all kinds of reassuring statements about the safety. So, if the IAEA inspectors didn't actually inspect, what did they do?

IAEA's website is not very helpful. The entry made on 14 Aug notes that "significant work, such as detailed examination of the reactor vessels, cores and fuel elements, has still to be performed." And on 17 Aug, IAEA issued its "Preliminary" (pdf) report. Indeed, the report notes that:

"...important components like the reactor vessels, the core internals and the fuel elements have not yet been examined and in-depth inspections are still to be performed."

Ouch. What has been done since then, almost one month ago? I do not understand how anyone can make any claims about safety at this "preliminary" stage.

CNIC (Tokyo): NGO Letter to IAEA

Please also refer to Green Action, the "Nuclear Free Japan" NGO based in Kyoto.

(Photo: Aerial view of the 7 Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear reactors and their surroundings, from Wikipedia)

Higher animal feed prices

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 continue to enjoy your pork chops. Can we please use tax payers' money for better, healthier things?

Kyodo also reported in August that Seven-Eleven Japan Co will recycle unsold lunch and other food products at its convenience store chain in Tokyo into feed for livestock. For the recycling program, the biggest convenience store chain in Japan has tied up with AgriGaia System Co in Yachimata, Chiba Prefecture, which will send trucks to all of some 1,000 Seven-Eleven stores in Tokyo's 23 wards every day to collect food products unsold beyond expiry dates.

Can someone explain how using more trucks (burning fossile fuels) makes sense from an economical point of view?

In July, New Scientist magazine wrote about an interesting study by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan. His group found that a kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home.

Akifumi Ogino wanted to assess the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption:

The team looked at calf production, focusing on animal management and the effects of producing and transporting feed. By combining this information with data from their earlier studies on the impact of beef fattening systems, the researchers were able to calculate the total environmental load of a portion of beef...

"Everybody is trying to come up with different ways to reduce carbon footprints," says Su Taylor of the Vegetarian Society in the UK: "But one of the easiest things you can do is to stop eating meat."

New Scientist also mentions a Swedish study in 2003 that suggested that organic beef, raised on grass rather than concentrated feed, emits 40 per cent less greenhouse gases and consumes 85 per cent less energy. I tried, but could not locate the study; if anyone knows more about it I would be delighted.

New Scientist: Meat is Murder on the Environment

Natural Life Magazine: How Green is my Diet?

(Photos from Greenpeace, the international environmental organization with campaigns both against Genetically Engineered animal feed and global warming. Do support them by getting involved and donating.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Koma, Saitama map


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).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tamagawa, Kawasaki

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: 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.