Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Power to the Whistle-blowers!

Japan's new Whistle-blower Protection Act came into force 1 April 2006. There have been 2-3 examples recently from smaller companies in the food industry that show how this reform has empowered workers who want to expose frauds in their companies. The effect is indeed contributing to "the sound development of socioeconomy".

Food frauds in Japan, although small in scale, are also getting much publicity abroad. Unfortunately, New York Times journalist Norimitsu Onishi, always eager to paint Japan in the blackest of colours, gets it all wrong in his rambling article, Japan sees candy scandal as a cultural betrayal (link to International Herald Tribune). Eh?

Why the US media thinks "tampering with expiration date labels or recycling supposedly fresh ingredients" will lead Japanese people to think in terms of "cultural betrayal" (or that it "stuns Japan", as NYT put it) is beyond my comprehension. Rather, the fact that workers are now more forthcoming about mistakes and eager to set things right - under the new Whistle-blower Protection Act - strikes me as a very positive development.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Organic foods in the news

Organic food pioneers Jack Bayles, Martin Hope and Tomoko Katagiri voice their opinions in The Japan Times today about healthy foods and environmental issues. I remember back in the early 1990s when I first discovered a small shop called Gaia, near where I lived at that time. They introduced me to a new world of Japanese foods. Happy to see that they are thriving today. Bigger supermarkets are also introducing organic foods all over the country, but sometimes the good stuff can be a little hard to find (at least for journalists):

Anyone who has gone to a supermarket in search of the JAS logo can attest to the scarcity of organic products available — usually just spaghetti, natto (fermented soybeans), soy milk and, if you're lucky, perhaps a few others.

A handful of grocery stores (Life, for example, in the Tokyo metropolitan and Kansai areas) boast a small selection of locally grown organic veggies (spinach, tomatoes, onions and potatoes), which are usually put out on a small stand, away from their shiny and beautiful nonorganic counterparts and sold for a slightly higher price. Consumers who choose to eat organic need to accept that the fruits and vegetables will appear a little less-than-perfect.

The Japan Times: Avoid the chemically impaired

Great list of resources: Japan's cafe culture goes vegan

* Happy Cow's Vegetarian Guide to Restaurants and Health Food stores
* The Natural Healing Center's list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and food stores
* Tengu Natural Foods' home delivery

Stores carrying organic food:

* Alishan Cafe & Shop (Tengu Foods, other items and fresh produce):
* Gaia: Ochanomizu, Yoyogiuehara (Tokyo)
* Gruppe: Ogikubo, Kichijyoji, Mitaka (Tokyo)
* Natural House: Aoyama, Yurakucho (Tokyo), Yokohama in Kanagawa, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto (about 30 shops)
* Carrot (Osaka)
* Shun-rakuzen, Nagoya and Inchinomiya, Aichi Prefecture
* Organic House, Yumehiroba, Fukuoka

(Disclaimer: I currently work part-time for Alishan Organic Center)

Saving seed, saving people

My good friend Tony Boys is in Thailand at the moment and he sent some beautiful photos taken just a few days ago from a Karen village in northern part of the country. Tony is studying the agricultural methods of the Karens, who are basically self-sufficient when it comes to both food and seed. The Karens have a lot to teach the rest of us about sustainable food production. This being the season of harvest, I bet their food tastes wonderful too.

I'm thinking of food security and the fact that most of us cannot farm and we rely on a shrinking number of farmers to do the hard work for us. We should all consider what happens to farming as oil prices go through the roof. I am also concerned that many farmers cannot really "farm" in the truly self-sufficient way of the past. This includes knowing how to save seeds for the next season.

Garden farming in particular often uses F1 hybrids. Have a look at your seed bags - these are seeds especially developed so that the fruit or vegetable looks and tastes great. But if you try to save seed from F1 hybrids, and plant them again, you will not get the same result.

Many F1 varieties do not survive more than one generation - however, they are not sterile in the sense of genetically modified seeds that use Terminator technology.

If farmers are not saving seeds, who is? Who controls modern agriculture? Biotechnology has introduced genetically modified seeds, that can only grow one generation.

Monsanto, the US biotech company (that produced chemicals including plutonium for the Nagasaki atomic bomb and Agent Orange for Vietnam) has recently bought Delta & Pine Land, the company that developed Terminator seeds together with the US Department of Agriculture.

From 1943-1945, Monsanto's Charles Allen Thomas coordinated Manhattan Project work on plutonium purification and production and, as part of the Manhattan Project's Dayton Project, also coordinated development of techniques to industrially refine polonium for use with beryllium in the triggers of atomic weapons.

Wikipedia: Charles Allen Thomas, Monsanto President and Chairman of the Board, and a "noted American chemist and businessman. "

F. William Engdahl has exposed the politics behind GMO research and ‘food as a weapon.’ "Terminator is merely the logical next step in food weapon technology", notes Engdahl.

Sterile seeds - it sounds like something out of a bad science fiction novel. And people wonder why the resistance to GM food is so strong? This is also why I think we, as consumers, need to pay more attention to organic and sustainable farming methods.

Yes, organic foods are a little more expensive.

But how can we afford anything else?

That's what I call Mickey Mouse farming...

(Top 3 photos: Copyright 2007 Tony Boys, Used With Permission)

Chi and Cwi performing live...

Update: "The bottom of the three photos, for example, it was fascinating to watch the "aunt" (yes the Pgaz K'Nyau have their word for "obasan" too) in the picture who was really skillful at separating out about four different things from the pounded rice, the chaff, the bran, broken rice and the good white rice for human food. How would you do it? At one point she kind of rotated the winnowing tray so that chaff collected in one spot and then scooped it out with cupped hands and seived it to separate the contents! We do it with machines now. Saves time but isn't much fun. Of course most people have almost zero awareness that this is happening anywhere, but that's because they think "food comes from the supermarket." Well, they know better than that, but not much better because they have very little idea of what's going on behind the scenes - what they're missing, what they've lost, what they might have to "relearn" if they want to survive..." - Tony

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Official: organic food really is better

The biggest study so far into organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce. The evidence from the British four-year project will end years of debate and is likely to overturn government advice that eating organic food is no more than "a lifestyle choice".

The Sunday Times notes that the study found that organic fruit and vegetables contained as much as 40% more antioxidants, which scientists believe can cut the risk of cancer and heart disease. They also had higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc.

The Sunday Times Official: organic really is better

I expect the usual chemical companies and GMO seed pushers to immediately start their campaign to discredit the British study. Or not. Perhaps we have finally moved beyond that stage and entered a new, golden era of healthy food production. HAHAHAHAHA.

Here in Tokyo, Japan, there will be a Organic Farming Film Festival on November 24. Films from many countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and India will be screened, and there will be time for discussion and debate as well.

Peak oil and the end of agriculture as we know it

Interesting article and discussion over at The Oil Drum on a topic that I try to follow - what will happen to food production and agriculture as we know it, when oil is becoming too expensive for ordinary farmers?

The Oil Drum: The Connection Between Food Supply and Energy: What Is the Role of Oil Price?

Tha author was inspired by Tony Boys' article on North Korean experience, that I blogged about here.

Tony Boys is asking a pointed question in a recent essay, posted on his website: "Does mankind have the wisdom necessary to implement the historical lifestyle change... whereby populations would be consciously manitained at a level appropriate for the local natural conditions of soil, climate, flora and fauna?" His argument is well worth considering.

Even organic agriculture, with little use of fossile fuels, may not be able to sustain a global population of 7-8 billion meat-eating humans... It seems to me that this message is a political taboo that no government wants to share with citizens. In my view, the hardest lesson of all may be to turn society away from the current free-trade model, that encourages countries to increase its dependence on imports of foods.

Please click here for Tony Boys' essay (pdf)

And continuing on the theme of energy (and food), here is Chess Master Gary Kasparov on the HBO Bill Maher Show, October 19. Clever guy. Funny too (I'm talking about Kasparov).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tokyo: Earth Garden Fall

October 27-28 there will be Earth Garden Fall in Yoyogi, near NHK in Shibuya, Tokyo. Unless the autumn rain gets really bad, you can enjoy the food market, music and lectures.

The focus this time is on arts and crafts: I like the peace mark designs. Also participating are farmers "for our smile world". Radio Freedom, Organic Life & Smile World Cafe, Soft Energy Demo and Dish Re-use System... And many others. Who makes their posters? They are great! (Click to enlarge for detail)

Update (Saturday noon): It rains. A lot. Their website doesn't work. Don't go there. Don't go out today. Stay home and watch YouTube instead. Autumn typhoons are best enjoyed indoors.

Update 2 (Sunday morning): Sunny! ;)

Japan Resources No. 141

This week, we have published the 141th issue of Japan Resources, the English newsletter of Consumers Union of Japan.

Download the pdf file here.

Japan Resources No. 141


Food Irradiation Opposition Letter
Codex Comments
Request: South Australia to Continue Moratorium on GM Crops
International Dioxin Forum
Codex Task Force Report and Comments
Statement: Continue GM Moratorium!
The Opposition Movement to GMOs in Japan
“Keep GM ban or face revolt, say Japanese”

Stephen Hesse in The Japan Times

If you live in Japan, you are probably reading Japanese newspapers like The Japan Times, The Asahi, The Yomiuri or The Mainichi to get your daily fix of news, culture and comics from back home. Plus sports and job ads and whatnot... The Japan Times has the best coverage of environmental issues, as far as I am concerned. Stephen Hesse is one of their regular contributers. You know how it works. You see a headline on the web, and if the byline (the name of the writer) is familiar, you tend to read the rest of the story.

You can read his columns here: Our Planet Earth, and the story that caught my eye today was a narrative of how Mr. Hesse was inspired by a bunch of Junior High School students. A good read.

The Japan Times: Homeroom Truths: 'Gore's Nobel Prize is wonderful'

The day after the Nobel Prize was awarded to Gore and the IPCC, I visited Hiroo Gakuen in Tokyo, a combined junior- and senior-high school, for the school's autumn festival — this year themed "Earth's Happiness is Our Happiness."

A friend whose daughter graduated from the school thought I might like to see what young people these days are thinking about environmental issues.

I was immediately struck by how Japan has changed. Today, junior- and senior-high school students are studying dioxins, the ozone layer and "corporate social responsibility." When I first began teaching environmental issues in Japan 17 years ago, first-year university students would identify old men on bicycles and bad breath as pressing environmental concerns.

At Hiroo Gakuen I also met Joel Plunkett, one of several teachers coordinating the school's International Program, an English-based curriculum for foreign students and Japanese students with strong English skills. The program is new this year, with seven students entering the junior high school and four entering the high school.

On the way home it struck me: The people I really wanted to hear from were these young people who will inherit this planet. The next day I sent Plunkett an e-mail and asked if any of his students would be willing to share their thoughts on the Nobel Peace Prize and climate change with readers of The Japan Times.

If you want to hear the rest of Mr. Hesse's story, please click here!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Junior 8

"J8 was a great chance not only to think about world issues but also to understand other cultures... I don't want to stop thinking about the world and find solutions of world issues. I will never forget these 11 days."

-Yumeko, Japanese Delegate (from the Junior 8 website)

Imagine having an audience with some of the most powerful leaders on the planet, where you have the opportunity to tell them what you think about the future of our planet. This is exactly what happens at the J8 summit each year!

The Junior 8 (J8) Summit is the parallel youth event to the G8 Summit. Asahi writes about the Japanese Junior High School students who participated at the conference earlier this year. The kids are saying that they were inspired to make environmental issues a main theme for their school festival, with clubs investigating dioxin levels and water quality. They also got the entire school to watch Al Gore's documentary about global warming.

Asahi: 生徒が自ら考える「環境」への取り組み

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Asahi: Making Noise

In its Cover Story today, Asahi notes that Japanese nongovernmental organizations have been struggling for respect, and that they failed to generate much momentum on influencing policy issues during a previous Group of Eight summit here in Japan, and they have lagged behind their Western counterparts in terms of success...

I find that rather typical of Japanese media. Instead of highlighting the success of many NGOs, journalists prefer to downplay their activities. I often suspect that Japanese journalists secretly harbour the misplaced idea that they, the media, have a more important role than the civil society. In fact, NGOs are very active and doing a lot both at home and abroad, making much more than just "noise".

The article gets more interesting when it starts reporting about a G8 Summit NGO Forum conference last week (with over 200 participants):

Now, with Tokyo gearing up for next summer's Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, Japanese NGOs are joining hands to have their voices heard by the G-8 leaders and to perhaps make a difference in the world. Masaaki Ohashi, vice chair of the 2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO Forum, is upbeat about the Lake Toyako Summit in July.

The forum consists of NGOs in various fields, such as environment, poverty and human rights.

"It will be the first time for Japan's NGOs to issue cross-sectoral policy proposals," Ohashi said.

"It will be an important touchstone," he said of the forum's proposals planned in three fields: poverty and development; environment; and human rights and peace.

In Sweden and many parts of Europe, NGOs are funded to a large degree by governments and tax payer's money, in one way or other. In other parts of the World, donations are more generous. Yet, without all that, Japanese NGOs manage to maintain a very high level of activism and sophisticated discourse. I think it is time they start getting some credit for their work!

Asahi: Making Noise

2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO Forum (English website)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

NHK Food Debate

Today, Saturday October 20, NHK's public debate program, Nihon no Kore Kara (Japan From Now On) (NHK-G, 7:30 p.m.), will discuss Japan's food issues.

Experts and lay people will debate in the studio while viewers at home can comment via fax and e-mail. There is also an online Questionnaire (in Japanese).

Do let them know what you think!

One topic that is a big issue is Japan's low food self-sufficiency rate. The graph below is from NHK's website (I translated the names of the countries).

Update: Philip Brasor, media critic at The Japan Times, didn't like the program very much:

The program mentioned a possible Free Trade Agreement with Australia, under which Japanese farmers would lose an estimated ¥800 billion a year, 75 percent of it in the form of rice. However, the country's GDP would rise by ¥650 billion because of the steel and automobiles it would sell to Australia in exchange.

Voting from home, viewers didn't seem to think it was a fair trade. To the question, "Should Japan open its markets to foreign foods?" five times as many viewers said "no" as "yes." And the number who said, "Only the rice market shouldn't be opened" was three times the number who said "yes."

The Japan Times: Japan's fixed rice price is hardly fair trade

Friday, October 19, 2007

Donovan: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Longer scene here (if you have the time) from the 1972 film:

Protests against GM food in Japan

Keisuke Amagasa of NO! GMO Campaign notes that, 'Japan does not produce any GM crops. However, because Japan imports GM canola from Canada, GM contamination has already occurred and it is spreading to a much greater degree than one could imagine. If GM crops are cultivated, then this kind of pollution will spread even more. Judging by the ominous precedent of Canada, once GM crops are cultivated, segregation between GM and non-GM will become almost impossible, and keeping pure non-GM varieties away from GM contamination will be very hard. The clear conclusion from the findings is that cultivating or importing GM crops, leads to GM pollution and once this pollution begins, it can cause irreversible damage.' (Spilled GM canola growing in Japan - Citizens' survey results 2007)

In October 2007, a delegation from the NO! GMO Campaign, an alliance of more than 80 Japanese consumer groups, together with farmers' groups and 300 individuals, visited Australia, to deliver a petition asking state premiers to extend their moratoria on GM food crops. The petition is signed by 155 Japanese consumer organisations, consumer cooperatives, labour organisations and cooking oil producers whose total membership represents 2.9 million Japanese consumers.

Read more about protests against GM food in Japan at
Japan update: October 2007
Japanese consumers will not accept GM food

I enjoy Keisuke Amagasa's lectures and I have learnt a lot from his efforts to educate consumers and farmers. We all need more facts about food from independent voices like Amagasa-san. I wish his books could be published in English!

Further reading about Japan and the GM issue in English:
- Japan Resources by Consumers Union of Japan

- Bio Journal by Citizens' Biotechnology Information Center

- Greenpeace Canola Contamination Report (about imported GM seeds growing near ports around Japan)

(Photo from BBC 021219: Monsanto boss steps down and Seikatsu Club (in Japanese))

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Press freedom in Asia

Taiwan ranks highest in Asia when it comes to press freedom, according to Reporters Sans Frontiers, the NGO that represents journalists around the World. Japan and South Korea come second and third.

Here is Asia on the global ranking scale (Kurashi News From Japan list):

32 Taiwan
37 Japan
39 South Korea
61 Hong Kong
74 Mongolia
85 Cambodia
100 Indonesia
120 India
124 Malaysia
128 The Philippines
135 Thailand
137 Nepal
141 Singapore
161 Laos
162 Vietnam
163 China
164 Burma
168 North Korea

Sweden ranks fifth, after Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Slovakia, Belgium, and Finland.

“We are particularly disturbed by the situation in Burma (164th),” Reporters Without Borders said. “The military junta’s crackdown on demonstrations bodes ill for the future of basic freedoms in this country. Journalists continue to work under the yoke of harsh censorship from which nothing escapes, not even small ads. We also regret that China (163rd) stagnates near the bottom of the index. With less than a year to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the reforms and the releases of imprisoned journalists so often promised by the authorities seem to be a vain hope.”

Old cake

I'm not sure if this is a food safety issue or not, since the 300 year-old company kept the ingredients in the freezer, but anyhow, they lied to consumers about the best-before date of their sweet bean cakes. For 34 years! Dame da yo! (No good at all!)

Sources close to the company said that the products that did not end up on shelves were frozen instead of being disposed of. Later, they were thawed and their packaging was changed, falsely listing the thawing date as the production date, and creating a use-by date several days later. The products were then sent out again.

Mainichi says Mie Prefectural Government officials inspected the quality of the repackaged products, but found that they did not pose any health risks.

Their shop is near Ise Shrine, one of the most holy places in Japan. The Akafuku Co. website, which had many lovely photos and so on, has now been replaced with a single message of apology. You can still find small images of their cakes using Google Image Search.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

King Corn - The Film

King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives America - and to some degree, Japan, that imports 94.1% of its corn from the United States (mostly for animal feed and food oil that anti-GM campaigners here want the Japanese government to prohibit or at least require full GM labelling for).

In the film King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis move to Iowa, where both their great-grandfathers once lived, to learn where their food comes from:

With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm.

Watch the trailer here.

Check their blog for links to the reviews - I'm amazed at the attention this film is getting. The Village Voice reviewed King Corn in its Film section, and critic Robert Wilonsky offered a warning: King Corn will put you off corn for a long, long time. And: “...This is as much a thoughtful meditation on the plight of the American farmer as it is a rant against our expanding waistlines.”

The Village Voice: Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis's Genetically Modified Harvest

King Corn opened October 12 in theatres around the U.S. And, as one U.S. farmer admits, with a grin: "We aren’t growing quality. We’re growing crap. Poorest quality crap the world’s ever seen."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

SEPA, China's environmental watchdog could be expanded or given Cabinet-level status by March 2008 to enforce policies aimed at fighting chronic pollution. Reuters quotes Xia Guang, a top Chinese government adviser who notes that it is still under discussion how the new organization should be:

Environmental groups are seeking more status and power for China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), and there has been speculation it could happen as early as next year.

That recommendation was one of dozens in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report this year that said China's environmental protection efforts have been ineffective and inefficient largely because the central government has been unable to implement its policies.

The English website of SEPA has data about air and water quality in China, as well as details about international cooperation and so on. But actually, the first page doesn't work on my pc, and there are lots of broken links. Why do they make it so complex? I hope their Chinese pages are easier to access. I would suggest that they should try to make the pages more user-friendly, and less bureaucratic. Keep it simple! It is important to focus on issues that ordinary people can understand and provide advice and tips on lifestyle changes that will benefit the environment and our health.

Since Japan upgraded its environmental agency to a full Cabinet Ministry in 2001, a number of proposals have been made that can help the country change to a path of more sustainable development. It is especially helpful for policy reasons to have a person in charge of these issues present at Cabinet meetings, in the same way as in European countries and in the European Commision.

Japan Ministry of the Environment (English)

I like their Japanese pages about "Eco Family" and "Eco Life" with ideas and proposals for example about energy use in your household to reduce CO2 emissions. Cute graphic design too! Their magazine has special sections for Stylish Women and for kids, as well as suggestions how you can make a Notebook about your energy use and how to set up targets to reduce energy consumption in your household.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

October 15 is "Blog Action Day" for the environment, so I submit this as my entry. One Issue. One Day. Thousands of Voices. I agree with that and a hat tip to Vegetable Japan for the inspiration.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Golden Melodies

Ah, the pleasures of the Internet. On LP Cover Lover I found a mysterious LP cover that I really liked, by an artist I had never heard of. His name is Paul Mark, and it turns out he is a Japanese musician based in Hawaii, and the album is from the early 1960s. Then I had to do some serious searching to find a few soundtracks (nothing on YouTube!).

I was delighted by the mix of girlie vocals, cheesy electric organ, shamisen and percussion instruments that sound like the castanet. Here is one called East to West (mp3).

More on Exotica and Hawaiian (how's that for a politically incorrect name!) including a lovely song from the above album Golden Melodies from Japan (mp3).

Then, it seems Paul Mark and his orchestra went slightly mad and released an album called Twelve and a Half Geishas Must Be Right. 14 songs, and here is one of them - the famous hit song called Sukiyaki (mp3).

Fire Goddess - they just don't make covers like that anymore!

Too wonderful - Swedish actress Ann-Margret on the cover of two South Korean LPs... Most likely from the late 1960s. Collectors' items!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tea Museum

I had the pleasure of visiting the newly opened Tea Museum in Daikanyama, near Shibuya in Tokyo. My friend David Kilburn invited me to his shop, which was recently featured in Hanako, a trendy magazine. They note that his teas, that you can only buy here, are drawing on cultural traditions from areas such as the Himalayas and Egypt.

David let me try his special Shezmu blend with very subtle, warm and dreamy notes, reminding me of the way some flowers have a more intense fragrance in the evening. Many of his unique blends are organic, although tea is a complex affair, and Tea Museum is already on the expensive side, so I understand that he may not want to go through the additional process of getting organic certification at this point. You will find some exquisite teas here, the perfect gift.

The Tokyo Afternoon Tea Club will hold an event at the Tea Museum on Sunday October 28th. Organised by Richard Mort, this event is open to members of the public, subject to space availability.

Nobel Peace Prize 2007

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore (in that order) for efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

The UK weekly magazine New Scientist has a special section with news and updates about Climate Change.

I think we all think we know who Al Gore is, but what is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? IPCC is a UN-backed body that has organised a series of reviews about climate change. Since 1990, the IPCC has published four major reports summarising progress in climate change science. The reports are meant to represent scientific consensus about climate change.

The key findings of the latest 2007 IPCC report were that there is a 90% or greater certainty that human activities are causing climate change, the effects of this change are already being felt world-wide, and that limiting global warming to between 2°C and 4°C will slow the annual growth of global GDP by just 0.12% by 2030.

IHT notes that IPCC has issued a series of increasingly grim reports in the last two decades assessing scientific, technological and economic issues surrounding climate change. It is expected to issue another report in the next few months, before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Indonesia on Dec. 3. Some 180 countries are scheduled to begin negotiations there on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The website of IPCC is worth a visit.

Oh, and I think I will pat myself on the back, just once. On January 10, 2007 I wrote about Global Warming concerns in Japan:

Al Gore's documentary about global warming will premiere on January 20 here in Japan, so I expect more debate about this topic during 2007. Also, in 2008, Japan will host the G8 meeting, and it has been decided that CO2 emissions will be discussed. My concern is that governments and the nuclear industry are using this debate to justify the construction of more and bigger nuclear reactors, certainly not a "sustainable" alternative.

(Photos from the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NYT: Safe Food for Japan

Dear readers of my humble blog - as you may know, I have been working for consumer organizations for over a decade, and over the past 3-4 years, being based in Japan, there has been a lot to do as well.

I have visited Japanese ports where foods are being imported from all over the World, and found the inspectors to be very careful, dedicated, and professional. I have talked to the people who perform the testing and I have studied how samples are taken and analysed. As far as I am concerned, Japan gets A+ in terms of food safety. Much of that should be credited to the consumer activists, including the experts at Consumers Union of Japan, Japan Offspring Fund, Food Safety Citizens' Watch, Seikatsu Club (English) and other pressure groups and NGOs such as Yasai-Gurashi, Toziba and Tokyo Earth Day Market (Japanese).

So, I am truly delighted when the New York Times today notes that the United States has begun looking for food safety solutions in Japan:

The Japanese have developed tough approaches for ensuring the quality of Chinese imports, particularly food — in part by far more rigorous testing of its imported food than in the United States. But the innovation getting the most American attention is Japan’s system for screening Chinese producers even before they ship their merchandise to Japan.

A report released last week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee cited Japan’s system for monitoring spinach and other Chinese food exports as a possible model for importers in the United States. Last month, a White House working group issued its own report after visiting Tokyo, and even Chinese officials have urged the United States to adopt the Japanese approach.

Citing the US Food and Drug Administration, the report has described Japan’s model as the most realistic one for protecting American consumers: “The Japanese system of regulating Chinese food imports does appear to offer better control than that currently used by F.D.A.,”it concluded.

I did not know that Japan inspects 15 times more of the food it imports from China than the US does.

Consumer activists in Japan should be very proud of their work, not only in areas such as pesticide residue or the opposition to food irradiation and genetically modified foods:

The program is the product of Japan’s longer experience with Chinese safety problems, going back to the discovery five years ago of high levels of pesticide in Chinese frozen spinach. Americans have become more conscious of such safety issues this year, with the highly publicized recalls of Chinese-made toys contaminated with lead paint and pet food ingredients containing hazardous chemicals.

“Japan is five years ahead of the rest of the world in dealing with quality problems from China,” said Tatsuya Kakita, the author of several books here on food safety. “The world can learn from Japan.”

New York Times: Safe Food for Japan

Dingell, Stupak Release Report on Safety of Food Imported from China; Announce Series of Hearings
(Oct. 5, 2007)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Biofach Japan 2007 Oct 10-12

BioFach fairs are major event for the organic food producers in Europe and Japan. In 2007, reflecting growing demand, the exhibit space at Tokyo Big Site has expanded by 30 % with exhibitors from more than 20 countries.Their slogan is "Where people meet". They note that a healthy life-style has become a trend in Japan:

From gourmet organic food and beverages to natural cosmetics, personal care and organic textile products - the selection of organic supply continues to grow with innovative entries each year.

Japanese website here.

IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) and Nürnberg Global Fairs will be there to tell you more about this success story.

According to the website, Japan is classified as the third largest consumer market for organic and natural products and experts forecast high growth rates in the years ahead. This trend is supported by a number of factors characterising the Japanese consumer:

* traditionally close ties to nature

* food being a cultural asset in Japan

* growing health consciousness to avoid allergies

* high quality demands for any consumer goods

* willingness to pay higher prices for quality products

Monday, October 08, 2007

Organic Apples

"We can only help them along the way. Apples can grow by themselves of course, but we, the farmers, are here to make it more conducive for them to grow disease-free," Kimura said in his speech at the organic food store.

His skill has earned Kimura the respect of experts like Fumio Yamauchi, a professor emeritus of agriculture at Tohoku University, who studied Kimura's "miracle" apple cultivation methods for more than 10 years.

"Kimura's superb observation capabilities, along with his ingenious methods, paved the way for him to grow farm products that are eco-friendly and competitive in the world market," said Yamauchi, 75. "His methods are scientifically sound."

The Japan Times: Apple farmer raises 'miracle' fruit

I'm always looking for organic fruit in my stores, and wondering why it is so hard to find. Perhaps I'm looking for the wrong type of fruits. Stuff that has been introduced to Japanese farms recently may not be as suitable to the climate - or are farmers just not able to develop the suitable methods to avoid using harmful pesticides? I bet there is a lot more to this story. To be continued...

(Hat tip to

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The king and the emperor are prepared

Japanese Emperor Akihito receives a gift from Swedish King Carl Gustaf during a reception of 54th World Baden-Powell Fellowship event in Tokyo October 5, 2007. Carl XIV Gustaf and Akihito, accompanied by Empress Michiko, attended the reception to celebrate the centenary of scouting.

My mother and grandfather were active scouts, but I never caught the bug. Here in Japan you often see groups of kids in their best scouting uniforms, looking very ready and prepared!

The Japanese Scout Motto is Sonae-yo Tsuneni (Japanese: そなえよつねに), translating as Be Prepared.

Wikipedia notes that the Scouting movement in Japan started in 1909.

Scout Association of Japan (English website)

Lunar orbit

Japan's SELENE probe has successfully reached lunar orbit, a first for this country, Japanese space agency officials said Friday. Now that they have shown that they can achieve that, how about some decent bicycle roads and make this beatuiful country a bit easier for all those of us who likes to take it slow!

(Image: Artist's rendering released Aug. 2006 by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA))

Updated: And I should add a link to Pandabonium's delightful essay about Kaguya:

SELENE has been nicknamed KAGUYA and is referred to by that name within JAXA and in press reports in honor of the ancient tale of the bamboo cutter's daughter. Once again Kaguya-hima has risen into the heavens on a chariot and is going home - to the Moon.

Do read the rest of his post: A Moon Maiden Takes Flight - Princess Kaguya

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Codex results

An almost completely unknown international government task force has met recently in Makuhari, Japan to discuss biotech foods derived from genetically engineered animals. I participated two years ago, but I felt disgusted by the process, as it ignores ethical concerns, environmental issues and animal welfare problems. However, the World Trade Organization (WTO) refers to Codex standards and guidelines in case of trade disputes, so the work is very important.

Yasuaki Yamaura from Consumers Union of Japan has written a critical report of the results from the meeting. He notes that, "Regardless of whether this Codex guideline is approved or not, we will not eat GM foods, and make every attempt to stop genetic modification of animals for food production."

CUJ: Codex Task Force Report and Comments

(Photos from the 2006 Codex meeting)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Arirang Festival

Today, the South Korean president has arrived to North Korea for talks between the two countries that still technically remain at war since the Korea War.

He will watch the Arirang Festival, mass games of gymnastics and music, that are difficult to describe in words. Have a look at the YouTube video!

My home town in Sweden has a small team of gymnasts, Malmöflickorna, with Swedish girls that have performed internationally since the 1950s. Their photos are rather funny compared to the North Korean seriousness...

Anyway. The South Korean president is under a lot of pressure at home for meeting with Kim Yong-Il, and also for watching the Arirang games, that many feel are a huge propaganda show. However, Chosun Ilbo notes that a South Korean politician compared the Arirang Games to an opera by Verdi! Well, it is true that European culture, such as Verdi's Aida, was used at the time to glorify European colonialism...

BBC: Mixed feelings over Koreas summit

(Photo from Marmot of South Koreas War Memorial in Yongsan, with flags of the nations that participated on the UN side of the Korean War, along with the five nations that sent medical teams (Denmark, India, Italy, Norway, Sweden)

Monday, October 01, 2007

"Formation and evolution of galaxy disks"

BBC reports that over 200 scientists from 26 countries including the United States, Britain, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Japan have gathered in Rome for a five-day meeting on disc galaxies. Disc galaxies, like our own "Milky Way" are amazing in size and power - and how did life emerge here, on a small planet in a tiny solar system...? The conference is called "Formation and evolution of galaxy disks". Abstracts is where you can read brief summaries of what they are talking about, such as more abstruse concepts of space and time involving how galaxies, stars and planets came to be formed and evolve.

BBC: Papal stargazers reach for heaven

I didn't know the Vatican had its own observatory - and it is located in Arizona, the U.S.

Image of "Our Place in the Universe" from the Columbia University Astronomy Lab website of Aeree & Ben.

My favourite book way back in High School was The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, where he describes a number of fascinating parallells between moder science and ancient philosophy.

From the Preface to "The Tao of Physics":

Five years ago, I had a beautiful experience which set me on a road that has led to the writing of this book. I was sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing, when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. Being a physicist, I knew that the sand, rocks, water, and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms, and that these consisted of particles which interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I knew also that the earth's atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of "cosmic rays," particles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air. All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experienced it through graphs, diagrams, and mathematical theories. As I sat on that beach my former experiences came to life; I "saw" cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I "saw" the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and I "heard" its sound, and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dancers worshiped by the Hindus.

I had gone through a long training in theoretical physics and had done several years of research. At the same time, I had become very interested in Eastern mysticism and had begun to see the parallels to modern physics. I was particularly attracted to the puzzling aspects of Zen which reminded me of the puzzles in quantum theory. At first, however, relating the two was a purely intellectual exercise. To overcome the gap between rational, analytical thinking and the meditative experience of mystical truth, was, and still is, very difficult for me.