Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Shelf life


Expiration date, or shelf life for foods is printed as 賞味期限 (shoumi kigen) here in Japan. There was a debate a few years ago when the government prefered the label 品質保持期限 (hinshitsu hoji kigen) but the consumer perspective won (by emphasising that shelf life relates to quality, rather than food safety).

Unsafe food should not be sold. Manufacturers and retailers need to ensure consumers that foods are as safe as possible. Or we simply don't come back a second time.

On bread and onigiri I prefer if they list the date and time when it was actually made. It is my decision as a consumer to buy food that is as fresh as possible. On some foods, you can see printed 製造年月日 (seizou nengappi) which means manufacture date. Good to know, I don't like milk that is 60 days old (see photo on the right).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Riyo Mori Miss Universe 2007


Congratulations Ms Riyo Mori! Ms Mori is the second Miss Japan to win the crown. In 1959, Ms Akiko Kojima became the first Asian woman ever to win the pageant.

Ms Mori has studied ballet in Canada. During the competition in Mexico, she spoke of her love for dancing, which transcends language barriers, and her desire to share it with people around the world. Her career ambition? To open a dance school in Tokyo.

US BSE Risk Remains High

Consumers Union of Japan has published comments about the OIE decision regarding the recent US BSE rating. It is written by Mr. Yasuaki Yamaura, CUJ's expert on food safety. Hoping it will help the US NGOs in their battle.

OIE Rating: The BSE Risk the US Remains High


On May 20, 2007, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) classified the United States as a “Controlled Risk” country, together with Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, Chile and Brazil. This rating was decided at the OIE general meeting based on each country’s BSE status. As a result of this OIE rating, exports of US beef will become unrestricted after Specified Risk Material (SRM) is removed, even for beef from older US cattle.

We are concerned that this will lead to a US demand for the easing of the beef export agreement with Japan’s government. Consumers Union of Japan is opposed to the latest result from the OIE scientific commission. The reason is that the US countermeasures for BSE remain insufficient.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gasoline cost in Japan


I don't own a car, so I usually don't pay attention to the cost of gasoline. But with the intense debate about climate change this spring here in Japan, and the Iraq war not going very well at all, gasoline cost is a major issue that affects everyone. Also, there is the serious issue of "peak oil" - the fact that fossile fuels are getting less economical to pump up from oil fields around the world. Guys, we are running out of cheap oil. A global decline in oil production will have serious social and economic implications...

Today, in Japan, gas costs about 130-140 yen per liter. That is around $4.50 a gallon. Compared to Northern Europe, that is a bit less: The Netherlands appears to have the highest cost due to taxes at $6.73 a gallon at the pump. The US average is $3.20 a gallon (Note that US taxes on gasoline have gone down from 32% to 14% since 2000 - who is paying for the war in Iraq?).

I laughed out loud when I saw the sign at the Jomo gas station (photo). A lesson in how to confuse consumers. 142 yen? 132? Why do they have two different signs, with the same information, only reversed. 142 yen is the cost for high octane gas, while 132 yen is what you pay for regular. Clever, but also really a sign of the times. Gasoline companies are doing everything they can to make a profit, including obfuscation.

Gmail password security problem??



Hrm... If you use Gmail and access your e-mails on a shared computer, you may be exposing yourself a little more than you'd wish. I just noticed this weekend that on a shared computer, if I typed in a random letter in the Gmail log in box, entire e-mail addresses would pop up, as well as the passwords (in the form of ****** etc).

After that it was easy to access other people's e-mail accounts. Of course I'm such a saint that I didn't actually read anyone's private e-mail, but you get the picture. Has anyone else noticed this?

On Hotmail, this privacy problem is possible to avoid, because they offer a third log in option. You can choose to "Always ask for my e-mail address and password". This is the only safe option if you use a shared computer, such as an office PC or a regular Internet Cafe PC.

I have no idea if this is a problem others have encountered as well, but it seems consumers using Gmail should demand that Google immediately fix this problem by offering the same safe log-in option that Hotmail has.

Free Suu Kyi


Myanmar and its people are in deep trouble. BBC notes that pro-democracy activists rallied in the Burmese capital, Rangoon, to mark the 17th anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi's party's victory in national polls:

Some 200 members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) gathered to shout slogans and call for Ms Suu Kyi's release from house arrest. The rally came on the day her latest detention period was due to expire. But on Friday Burma's military junta extended it by another year, drawing swift international condemnation. Ms Suu Kyi, 61, has spent 11 of the last 18 years in detention.

Also, see The BurmaNet News, an online news service covering Burma (Myanmar) established in 1994.


No idea or no interest in Burma or Myanmar? May I recommend a great novel, "The Piano Tuner" by Daniel Mason... One of the very best novels I read during the last year or two.

In October 1886, about a year after the British invaded and took over the lower region of Burma, a shy and modest piano tuner Edgar Drake received a strange request from the British War Office. The Crown had requested of his immediate service in repairing an Erard grand piano thousands of miles away, its soundboard swollen and miserably out of tune.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Earth Day Market on Sunday


If you have a chance to go to Tokyo on Sunday I hope you can visit the Earth Day Market. From 10AM-5PM lots of organic farmers and shops are selling their stuff at Yoyogi Koen, in front of NHK (Harajuku station).

Many of my friends will be there, including Alishan Organic Center, Greenpeace Japan, and Cafe Slow. A good opportunity to see what the NGOs are doing for world peace, health and the environment.

For example, Greenpeace is collecting 1,000,000 signatures to demand better food labelling (many genetically modified organisms are in your food without proper labels) while Forest Life wants to educate people about the value of Japan's forests. Yasai kurashi (Living with vegetables!?) will be there as well as Daizu Revolution (Organic soy bean farmers!) - the volunteers even have their own blog.

Do you like organic beer as much as I do? Cheers! Have a nice weekend.



(Photo from Mother Earth Club)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

NHK: Scientists warn of biofuel boom effects

NHK reports from a symposium held in Tokyo on Wednesday to discuss the increasing use of ethanol for cars, which has pushed up food prices. Nearly 600 people took part in the forum. At the symposium, Lester Brown, director of Earth Policy Insitute, warned that a further surge in food prices might have a serious impact on people in poor nations.

The use of bio-fuel has been adopted in many countries as a promising way to fight global warming. Plants, which are used to create the fuel, absorb carbon dioxide, and therefore can offset carbon dioxide gas emitted by burning the fuel. But the use of crops for fuel production has increased demand and forced up food prices.

Mr Brown said it is not correct to follow only marketplace principles in allowing food to be used as material for auto fuel. He insisted that the construction of new bio-fuel plants should be temporarily suspended, saying people are now at a critical point to decide which way civilization should head.

Other panelists suggested that new technologies should be developed to make bio-fuel from non-edible plants.

After the forum, one participant told NHK that people should change their lifestyles as well as their mindsets toward reducing energy consumption and not merely replace their use of gasoline with ethanol.

BBC: Japan wants 50% greenhouse gas cut

BBC reports that Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the world should halve emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2050. It is the first time Japan has set a firm target to replace the present Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012:

"We must create a new framework which moves beyond the Kyoto Protocol, in which the entire world will participate in emissions reduction," Mr Abe said in a speech in Tokyo.

He made it clear that his country wanted to take a leading role in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

But Mr Abe said he believed those efforts would fail unless the countries which are among the biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, could be persuaded to take part.


BBC: Japan eyes 50% greenhouse gas cut

Global warming is expected to top the agenda at next month's Group of Eight summit in Germany. Shinzo Abe is expected to call on the international community to cooperate toward creating a new framework. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is unsure whether the upcoming Group of Eight summit will produce an agreement on an action plan for a new framework to fight global warming. NHK says Ms Merkel spoke to Germany's parliament on Thursday, and that she referred to global warming as a main topic for the summit to be held at the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm from June 6-8.

Stay tuned.

That didn't take long

Today is a public holiday in South Korea, celebrating the birth of Buddha. I suppose they are ignorant of this fact, and with their impeccable sense of timing, and constant eagerness to insult people in other parts of the world, Mike Johanns, the US agriculture minister and Max Baucus, a senator from Montana, are chosing today to state that they may raise the issue of Korean import restrictions on US beef in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Bravo.

A senior U.S. senator has hinted at filing a suit with the World Trade Organization against countries such as South Korea if they do not completely lift their import ban on American beef. The warning comes after the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) ruled Wednesday that the U.S. has mad cow disease under control.

KBS 'WTO Suit Possible if Ban on US Beef Isn't Lifted'

And according to NHK, Mike Johanns, the US agriculture minister, is making similar statemens as well:

Mr Johanns said he has already asked China to remove barriers to US beef in line with international standards, and that he will ask Japan and South Korea to do the same.

Update: Yomiuri Japan, U.S. set to discuss beef

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moon and Saturn

Tonight I took a long walk and was able to see the Moon and Saturn very clearly.



(Image from Skywatching, one of my favourite links)

15,000 hoteliers: Japanese tourists are the best


The best tourists in the world are the Japanese, a survey based on views from hoteliers across Europe said on Wednesday. Japanese tourists stood out for being polite and tidy, securing 35 percent more votes than the Americans who came second. Swiss tourists were commended for being quiet and considerate. Hey, what about Swedes?

Hoteliers also look favourably upon British spending habits voting them the third biggest holiday spenders after Americans and Russians. Based on responses from 15,000 European hoteliers, the survey wascarried out on behalf of a travel Web site.

My grandfather owned a small hotel in a small Swedish town, and I doubt that he ever had a single Japanese tourist. The age of mass tourism is a recent phenomena, obviously, and regular Suzuki-san or Yamada-san were only allowed to go abroad since around 1965. With oil peak and other concerns looming on the horizon, I wonder if future generations will bother - or even be able to - go abroad on holidays to foreign countries.

Reuters: Japanese top good tourists' league

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Irradiated herbs and spices from Asia?

Sales of unlabelled irradiated foods at European Union stores have nearly tripled, and the reason is unregulated imports from Asia. A number of concerned NGOs including ASECO, Les Amis de la Terre and Food & Water Watch Europe have urged the European Parliament to take steps to protect consumers from exposure to unlabelled irradiated foods, and to ensure the strict enforcement of all relevant labeling and import regulations.

In 2002 the European Parliament voted against expanding the list of foods – herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings – that can be irradiated in the EU. The European Parliament based its vote on concerns about the safety and wholesomeness of irradiated foods, including the potential long-term health effects of consuming these products.

Consumers Union of Japan has campaigned against food irradiation in Japan, and basically been successful. See the CUJ newsletter, Japan Resources No. 138, for more information.

Having said that, I wonder how much of the "unregulated imports from Asia" we are getting in Japan. If the producers can't keep their herbs and spices clean, then irradiation is not the solution.

It's official: fish is better

Japan's household consumption of seafood may be surpassed by meat consumption in the near future due partly to rising fish prices and a growing taste for easy-to-cook meat, according to a government report released Tuesday. Kyodo quotes the official report, saying Japan should put the brake on declining seafood consumption by taking measures to diversify sales networks and expand catches to stabilize prices.

There is also plenty of potential to develop demand for seafood, given that health-conscious consumers tend to prefer fish to meat. In China, Europe and the United States, meanwhile, seafood consumption is increasing amid growing interest in fitness and health, leading to higher seafood prices on global markets and reduced purchases by Japanese importers, the white paper pointed out.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Food safety crisis in China


China is taking steps to improve product safety in response to international concern over food and other products made in the country. This new policy was announced at an international conference on product safety that opened in Beijing on Monday, according to NHK.

Officials stressed that China regards product safety as its chief priority and takes responsibility for the safety and health of consumers. They said China is setting up a system for stricter product inspections, and added that the government is preparing an online database of products about which there are safety concerns.

The European Union says about half the faulty products exported to the region last year were from China, and in the United States, thousands of dogs and cats died recently after eating pet food made with ingredients from China.

Food safety crisis in China? You bet. China Daily reports that the government has unveiled a five-year plan for food and drug safety administration, aiming to improve monitoring and law enforcement in food and drug production. Governments at all levels should invest in food and drug safety and enhance supervision capabilities, the plan said.

What they call "quality eligibility rate" of fresh agricultural products in large whole-sale markets and chained supermarkets in big and medium-sized cities will reach 95 percent in 2010. Wow, what about the rest. And what about now? Sounds like trouble.

There is also an ongoing scandal in China with officials from the food and drug administration on trial for taking bribes from drug companies. Yesterday, Chinese media reported a second official went on trial alongside the watchdog body's former head, in the latest blow to the country's record on food safety, according to China Daily.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Japanese ODA


Readers of this blog probably are aware that Japan gives large amounts of ODA to China and other developing countries. The focus on environmental protection is a big part of this effort. Actually, Japan has been providing ODA since 1954, first in the form of trainees and experts sent to other countries. I didn't know that the Suez Canal was made "wider and deeper" in 1980 with the help of a series of Japanese yen loans, thus making it possible for large ships to pass through the canal...

Since 2003, ODA is "implemented by comprehensively considering the recipient country's needs for aid, its socioeconomic situation, and its bilateral relations with Japan. The recipient countries of ODA are screened from various viewpoints. They include maintaining a balance between development and environmental conservation and avoiding military use of ODA."

NHK reported today that Japan will hold a conference in Tokyo in June to promote energy saving efforts by countries in the East Asia region. Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will invite working-level officials from 16 Asian and Pacific nations to give lectures on energy-saving standards and other measures.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: ODA and Environment

MOFA's web pamphlet for the 50th anniversary of Japanese ODA

Evaluations are an important part of ODA.

Critisism against Japanese ODA was very strong in the 1990s, with NGOs and academics arguing that large Japanese companies were the main beneficiaries...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

PBDE found in breast milk

Last November, I was invited to participate and speak at a conference in Seoul about EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) or environmental hormones, as they are also called. In my presentation I listed what has been done in Sweden and Japan to try to tackle this serious health issue, and one of my proposals was basically: do more studies.

Now, a new study shows that South Korea indeed has a problem with one group of EDCs called PBDEs.

My hope? I think studies like this can lead to awareness-raising among people, especially mothers, who need to start asking questions about their lifestyles and the products they buy and use on a daily basis...

Chosun Ilbo: Dangerous Pollutants Found in Human Breast Milk

Researchers have found environmental hormones in the breast milk of Korean mothers who recently gave birth. Environmental hormones are chemicals and pollutants that can disrupt biological processes. This is the second case in which Korean mothers' breast milk was found to contain environmental hormones, following a case in 2000 in which dioxin was discovered.

According to the Korea Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, a three-year analysis of breast milk produced by 120 mothers 30 days after childbirth showed traces of the environmental hormone polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PBDE.

PBDEs are flame retardants that are used in plastics, foams, fabrics and other materials to slow the ignition and spread of fire. The material is known to disrupt the development of the brain and neurological system in infants. PBDEs are not easily dissolved in the ecosystem, and they accumulate in the fat of some animals.

Despite the evidence of pollutants in breast milk, the World Health Organization still recommends breast feeding since breast milk is far more beneficial to babies even if it is contaminated with environmental hormones.

Dr. Kang Youn-seok of LabFrontier, who conducted the study, said that PBDEs can be transferred to babies through breast milk. The concentration of PBDEs in Korean mothers is at a similar level to that found in Swedish, Japanese and Finnish mothers, Dr. Kang said.


Here in Japan, the People's Association on Countermeasure of Dioxin & Endocrine Disrupters has continued to hold seminars, including one on March 3, 2007 about children at risk, as well as sterility issues, that affect one in 10 couples in Japan. On June 11, they will publish a new booklet about the problem (in Japanese).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

WHO: Stop "the illnesses spiral" in Asia

Heart disease and strokes are set to become the leading killers in Asia. A senior WHO advisor is now urging governments to act before the illnesses spiral out of control:

Heart disease and strokes have long been regarded as ailments that affect mostly developed countries, but that is no longer true, said Judith Mackay, tobacco-control campaigner and senior policy advisor to the World Health Organization.

"They are major health problems in Asia and they will surely increase unless we take multi-strategy multi-faceted action to prevent them," said Mackay.


Mackay was named as one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time Magazine in 2006 for her fight against the tobacco industry. My kind of hero.

Reuters: Asian governments must stop heart disease pandemic

Here is a great quote from Time Magazine's article about Judith Mackay last year:

Her biggest triumph so far has been the 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, drawn up between all 192 member states of the WHO and stipulating restrictions on tobacco ads and public smoking. Mackay was instrumental in persuading states to sign it and in framing its provisions. Prior to this, she spent years advising the governments of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam on tobacco-control policies and legislation. A gifted diplomat, she charms her way to the top, exerting influence where it matters most. She's also unafraid of artful compromise. "If a health minister tells me that he can't ban tobacco advertising on TV, then I'll ask them to ban it between 4pm and 8pm, or whatever. They almost always agree."

There are signs that such efforts are working. Kyodo reports that smoking among men in Japan has declined by 20 percentage points from 59.7 percent in 1986 to below 40 percent in 2005. Unfortunately, more women are smoking these days: 11.3 percent of women smoke compared to 8.6 percent in 1986...

Kyodo/Yahoo: Smoking among Japanese men continues to fall, drops below 40%

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The "Sushi Police" Debate



It was in November, 2006 that Japan's government published its intention to create some kind of system to certify Japanese restaurants abroad that served genuine Japanese cousine. Not a bad idea, actually, but the US press immediately jumped into the "Sushi Police" debate, making a fuss about the proposals. Washington Post even quoted "some observers" - anonymous of course - that supposedly had suggested that Japan's push for "food purity overseas" was "yet another expression of resurgent Japanese nationalism". Eh?

Government officials defended the scheme, explaining that the real purpose was to set benchmarks for how Japanese food is made overseas: "We take our food very seriously", said Toshikatsu Matsuoka, Japan's agriculture minister.

What suprises me is that other newspapers, such as The Independent, had already covered this topic in a very factual way a couple of weeks earlier. Yes, they also use the term "Sushi Police" but there was none of the nonsense about "resurgent nationalism" invented by the Washington Post.

In March, the Agriculture ministry's advisory council gave up on the official certification plan, and the 270 million yen budgeted for the project was reported to be in jeopardy. Under the new program presented in May, Japanese inspectors' powers will be limited to providing non-official recommendations for particular restaurants, and their visits will occur only when restaurants specifically invite them.

With some 20,000 Japanese restaurants around the world, I suppose they will unfortunately have very little impact.

The Comite d'evaluation de la cuisine japonaise (Committee for the Evaluation of Japanese Cuisine) in France has a much better idea. According to Asahi Shimbun, they sent anonymous evaluators to Japanese restaurants around France, and published its results in January. The guidebook to authentic restaurants - ones that deserve to call themselves Japanese - is currently available in select restaurants, hotels and travel agencies in France. Voila!

(Photo: Real original Japanese organic food at Asmara in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo)

What took them so long?

Yomiuri Shimbun notes that Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry next autumn will for the first time initiate a project to promote high-level organic farming skills and the organic cultivation of agricultural products:

The ministry will call on individual farmers with specialized knowledge--such as farming without pesticides and chemical fertilizers--to cooperate with the research into their techniques. Information gained through the project will be shared with new agricultural businesses in a bid to proliferate organic farming throughout the nation.

Yomiuri: Agriculture ministry to promote organic farming

This is great, but also some 25 years behind schedule. I have the 880 pages thick book written by Ogura Takekazu, called "Can Japanese Agriculture Survive?" first published in 1979. Ogura was the chairman of the Agricultural Policy Research Center, and he wrote, as one of his proposals on Japanese Agriculture Policy:


Recently, organic farming... has been advocated by some people. This advocacy makes sense against the overdependence on technological development in the developed countries. Another cause of environmental pollution is from the large scale use of intensive animal husbandry. Farming of this type should be reexamined to be combined with field crop farming or horticulture. The objective of the conservation of natural resources means more than that. Agriculture should contribute to prevent soil erosion, to fecundate soil, and to conserve the landscape of the countryside.

Let's hope the research will also benefit the farmers, and ultimately the consumers.

("Fecundate" - not a word you hear too often!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Walking around with coffee? Not!


I love sitting down at a cafe, maybe to read or look at people, or enjoy talking to my friends. Japan also has this "slow-life" tradition at the kissaten coffee shops that became popular in the late Meiji and early Taisho era. But recently, as Starbucks conquered the world, they are introducing all kinds of novel ways of drinking coffee. On a positive note, the introduced non-smoking: yes, all seats at Starbucks in Japan are non-smoking. Wonderful.

Having said that, bear with me as a dig deeper into the dark side of Starbucks. No, I'm not going to discuss the fact that they use milk from cows that may or may not be getting hormon treatment to produce more milk. Or the campaigns to get them to use more Fair Trade and Organic beans.

No, what I really want to gripe about right here and now is that here in Shibuya, the world's busiest place, where a million kids gather each day, they have put up fancy signs inside the Tsutaya video shop in the same building, on every floor, encouraging customers to walk around while drinking coffee. だいきらい!!

Let's start a campaign against trying to teach people to live more busy lives. Are you with me or are you against me? People!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kadena protest



Photo: Heiwa Forum (Peace Forum), from the demonstration against the Kadena Military Base in Okinawa on Sunday.

USS G Washington to be deployed in Japan


Officials from the Japanese government and Yokosuka city, near Tokyo, will visit Bremerton, Washington in the United States and view a drill at the US naval base that simulates a nuclear accident. It is part of preparations for the deployment of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington to Yokosuka naval base next year.

Wikipedia has a lot of history and trivia about Yokosuka, the largest naval base in Japan, here.

Also on Sunday, 15,000 Japanese people ormed a human chain around the US Kadena Air Base in central Okinawa to protest the military presence there. The demonstration is one of the events planned ahead of Tuesday's 35th anniversary of Okinawa Prefecture's reversion from US rule to Japan.

Okinawa hosts some 75 percent of the US bases stationed in Japan in terms of space.

On Sunday afternoon, 15,000 people, including members of labor unions and citizens' groups, surrounded the largest US air base in the Far East with a 17-kilometer human chain.

Sources: NHK World (Sunday)

Kadena Official Site is the US offical site, while Wikipedia has more details and history here.

Heiwa Forum has news and updates here (in Japanese)

Comments, anyone?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cosplay in Denmark

Japan's ambassador to Denmark, Masaki Okada had the bright idea to hold a Cosplay Tournament in what NHK calls "the land of fairy tales". Japanese anime and manga are already very popular in Denmark and the event was planned as an opportunity for cultural exchange. Or, hrm, lets make that "cult" exchange. 300 kids participated in the event.

Ambassador Okada wants kids in Denmark to like Japan: "The question is how much we can encourage young people to take an interest in Japan, how much experience of Japan we can give them. These things are very important. It is an investment in the future, ten and twenty years ahead."

Most Japanese anime are broadcast on Danish TV these days, and quite a few people can sing the theme songs in the Japanese language.

The Cosplay tournament's grand prize went to two girls who had spent two months preparing their costumes. They dressed up as characters from a Japanese anime called "Trinity Blood" that features a war between vampires and humankind, no less.

You can listen to the program on the NHK World website from May 14 (Monday).

Lots and lots of Cosplay photos here (US site) and here (Juergen Specht - great photos from Harajuku, Tokyo).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hybrids "100%" of Toyota's vehicles by 2020?

Japan's top automaker has been keen to see the fuel-saving powertrain enter the mainstream since launching the Prius, the world's first hybrid car, in 1997, but sales have come at the expense of profitability given their high production costs.

But Masatami Takimoto, executive vice president in charge of powertrain development, said cost-cutting efforts on the system's motor, battery and inverter were bearing fruit, and the cost structure would improve drastically by the time Toyota reaches its sales goal of one million hybrids annually in 2010 or soon after.

"By then, we expect margins to be equal to gasoline cars," he told Reuters in an interview at Toyota's headquarters in Toyota City, central Japan.


Early May data showed US gasoline prices at an all-time high above US$3 a gallon.

Takimoto said he expected energy prices to continue rising, according to Reuters.

Toyota likely achieved cumulative hybrid sales of one million units this month, having moved 998,900 by the end of April. By 2020, Takimoto said he expected hybrids to become the standard drivetrain and account for "100 percent" of Toyota's vehicles.

Reuters: Toyota Says Hybrid Cost Premium to Disappear

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Solar Power to Seoul

South Korea's Dongyang Engineering and Construction and Germany's SunTechnics will build a 20-megawatt solar plant in South Korea by 2008. Reuters notes that the project is part of South Korea's plan to raise clean and renewable energy usage to 5 percent by 2011 from the current 2.3 percent. The plant in Sinan, 400 kilometres south-west of Seoul, will be the size of 80 football fields or 600,000 square metres. The world's current biggest plant is Germany's Bavaria solar power station which generates 11 megawatts of electricity.

If you like photos of everything from big bridges to ancient palaces (that Dongyang helps restore), here is their website.

Reuters: South Korea Dongyang to Build 20-Megawatt Solar Plant

Japan was the largest producer of solar power until Germany exceeded it in 2005, according to an article today in The Daily Yomiuri (not available on the internet). Germany accouts for 39 percent of global production, while Japan accouts for 38 percent.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Organic Rinpa Eshidan



Thanks Mari for finding this, the 1 week art work by Japanese art group Rinpa Eshidan:

"Rinpa" is a word created by the founders of the group meaning "to bring people together, while "Eshidan" essentially means "art crew." The Rinpa Eshidan is a team of artists brought together by a common creative expression.


More on their cool website. Using YouTube in a very creative new way! They did a art project for Parco last week that you can see here. And from April 10 they are featured on NHK's program called Neo.

Yoga patents


India is trying to save the world from yoga patents, while the U.S. government is granting patents, trademarks, and copyrights over yoga to con-artists. These fools claim to have invented the millennia-old practice, accoring to a number of courses, including Boing Boing:

The Indian government is retaliating by publishing a giant, multi-lingual database of yoga-stuff so that patent examiners can see that "yoga didn't originate in a San Francisco commune."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories, and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There's big money in those pretzel twists and contortions - $3 billion a year in America alone. It's a mystery to most Indians that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages.

The Indian government is not laughing. It has set up a task force that is cataloging traditional knowledge, including ayurvedic remedies and hundreds of yoga poses, to protect them from being pirated and copyrighted by foreign hucksters. The data will be translated from ancient Sanskrit and Tamil texts, stored digitally, and available in five international languages, so that patent offices in other countries can see that yoga didn't originate in a San Francisco commune.


At the same time, my old friends over at ETC Group have won a tremendous victory over Monsanto's patent on genetically transmogrified soybeans. Good news if you like your food natural, bad news if you prefer multinational corporations to make a profit.

The European Patent Office today put the brakes on Monsanto’s over-the-top corporate greed by revoking its species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans (EP0301749) – a patent unprecedented in its broad scope. ETC Group, an international civil society organization based in Canada, won its 13-year legal challenge against Monsanto’s species-wide soybean patent when an EPO appeal board ruled that the patent was not new or sufficient (i.e., the invention claimed was not sufficiently described for a skilled person to repeat it). The patent challenge was supported by Greenpeace and “No Patents on Life!” Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of UK-based EcoNexus also joined the opposition team in Munich as a scientific expert.



The patent was vigorously and formally opposed by Monsanto itself until the company purchased the original patent assignee (Agracetus) in 1996. The technology related to the now-revoked patent has been used, along with other patents in the company’s portfolio, to corner 90% of the world’s GM soybean market.


Ah, we do indeed live in interesting times...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Save the Children 2007 report

These statistics from Save the Children may surprise you. See the best — and worst — countries to be a mother. Their 2007 report shows that Japan ranks 29th in terms of best country for mothers, while it is supposedly the 5th best country to be a kid! The index is a bit dodgy since they divide nations into "more developed" and "less developed" and so on, but their data is very interesting nevertheless.

I'm impressed by the low infant mortality rate in Japan and South Korea. In Asia, only Singapore ranks better, while many other countries in Asia are unfortunately not providing the care needed to save new-born babies.

3 Singapore
4 Japan
5 South Korea
19 Vietnam
21 Thailand
27 China
33 Philippines
55 North Korea

(Under-5 mortality rate per 1000 live births)

Read more about Save the Children's programs in Asia here.

Japanese website here.

The role of "mother"


Korean textbooks for school children will change illustrations "to correct illustrations that might convey wrong ideas about gender equality."

The illustration of the family meal will be changed so that all the family members are eating together. In a textbook for second graders, an illustration of a family visit to an ancestral grave left the mother out of the scene. In the new version the mother will be included, bowing with her family. And in another drawing, a mother who is shown washing dishes will be changed to show the father doing the dishes (The top 2 photos are the current ones).

Source: Naver and Chosun Ilbo

Monday, May 07, 2007

"Eco" magazines in my bookshop


Tonight, I found a number of magazines about organic foods, organic cosmetics, fair trade fashion, sustainable development, environmental issues, global warming, and "eco" - all in my local bookshop.

I had to take photos and make this collage. What can I say, I am really pleased that consumers in Japan are embracing this trend to such a degree.

My favourite? People Tree!

Their first fair trade Tokyo shop opened in 1998 and in 2005
, People Tree Japan launched the first 'prototype franchise' store in Tokyo.

Read more here (English) and here (Japanese).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

South Pacific bottom trawling to be restricted

BBC reports that a quarter of the world's oceans will be protected from fishing boats which drag heavy nets across the sea floor. South Pacific nations have agreed to a landmark deal that will restrict bottom trawling, which destroys coral reefs and stirs up clouds of sediment that suffocate marine life. Observers and monitoring systems will ensure vessels remain five nautical miles from marine ecosystems at risk. The agreement reached in the coastal town of Renaca in Chile will come into force on 30 September, 2007:

It will close to bottom trawling areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known or are likely to exist, unless a prior assessment is undertaken and highly precautionary protective measures are implemented.

The delegation from New Zealand, whose fishermen are responsible for 90% of bottom trawling in the South Pacific high seas, said the restrictions would "severely constrain" its fishing vessels.

"Because of the cost implications of the necessary research and assessment and observer requirements, it may even have the effect of putting an end to bottom trawling," it said.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an alliance of leading environmental and conservation groups, welcomed the agreement.

"This is a major step forward in the protection of biodiversity on the high seas," Matthew Gianni, a spokesman for the group, said.


China, the United States, France, Japan, Chile and South Korea were among the countries signing the agreement, according to ABC.

I'm always happy when I find good news like this...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sting - Fragile



Oh-ho, another big trip down memory lane. This video came out in 1988, when I had just moved to Japan. That fall I saw it played on the huge video screen at Studio Alta, Shinjuku East Exit, Bladerunneresque. It was a big change in image and look and sound for Sting, as he had become involved in the Rainforest Action in Latin America... Sounds that will always be with me.

Double Bonus: Sting Every Breath You Take at Tokyo Dome and Englishman in New York at Seagaia in Miyazaki, Japan.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Asian Development Bank

Friday May 4 to Monday May 7 2007 the 40th Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will be held in Kyoto. The meeting will be attended by some 3,000 people including finance ministers and central bank governors from 67 countries and regions. Discussions at the meeting will focus on issues relating to the future of the Asia-Pacific region including the widening gap between rich and poor, environmental problems, and the furthering of regional cooperation.

Activists from countries around Asia are gathering for a People's Forum at Doshisha University Imadegawa Campus, Kyoto.

The NGOs feel they have brought some modest yet significant gains since founding the NGO Forum on ADB. Their ADB campaign has contributed to changes in the Bank’s policy in terms of:

* improved social and environmental guidelines for projects
* new Bank-wide lending priorities
* Bank initiatives in defining sectoral priorities on forestry, energy, population, involuntary resettlement, and information disclosure,
* a more open attitude to dialogue with NGOs and communities,
* and more recently, the Bank’s shift to poverty reduction as its “overarching framework.”

Yasuaki Yamaura from Consumers Union of Japan will speak on issues close to the heart for Japanese farmers and consumers on May 6.

NGOs that are active on ADB issues in Japan include:

Attac
JACSES Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (English website here)
Kansai NGO Council
ISEP Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (English website here)
AMNet (English website here)

Updates:

Yomiuri: ADB confab kicks off in Kyoto
Mainichi: Asian Development Bank opens meeting under attack from environmentalists
Mainichi: Asian Development Bank under fire from 'disadvantaged' nations
The Japan Times: Large-scale ADB projects draw critisism
Yomiuri: Govt to set up 2 ADB funds

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tibet Festival in Tokyo


With Buddhism one of Japan's main religions, there are also many links to other Buddhist communities around Asia, including Tibet.

If you are interested in doing something a little more spiritual this GW, why not visit
Gokokuji Tempel in Tokyo for the Tibet Festival 2007 (until Sunday).

"Breathe the Wind of Himalaya this Golden Week".

Address:
住所:東京都文京区大塚5-40-1
電話番号: 03-3941-0764
Subway: Yurakucho line, Gokokuji station

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day in Tokyo


NHK reports that about 42,000 people gathered at a rally in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park today. I walked past their parade around noon and tried to take some photos.

In spite of the drizzle the mood seemed to be really good, with banners and floats demanding workers' rights and also showing the union's support for Article 9 of Japan's Peace Constitution (九番まもれ!!).

This was the 78th May Day event held in Japan.

The rally today was organized by the National Confederation of Trade Unions:

The union's chairman, Mitsuo Bannai, called for a much higher minimum wage and more stable employment to fight the income gap and the problem of the so-called "working poor" who are struggling with low wages. A nurse at the rally said her wage has been going down and she can't take as many holidays as she likes. Many other labor unions also held rallies or marches on Tuesday, while Japan's largest labor organization, Rengo which backs the Democratic Party, staged its May Day rally on Saturday.

Oh yes, and after the rally, they all got seriously drunk and a great time was had by all. ハッピメーデー!

The end of cheap orange juice

I continue to be amazed by the ramifications of "the end of cheap oil". Yomiuri reports that orange juice will get more expensive, because farmers in Brazil are encouraged to shift their production to sugar cane. Turns out sugar cane - which can be used for bioethanol - is getting more profitable than oranges.

Yomiuri: Bioethanol squeezes juice makers

Meiji Dairies Corp. will increase the price of four Minute Made products from Tuesday, including "Orange 100%" and "Pink Grapefruit 100%" one-liter packages, by 20 yen to 260 yen, excluding tax. Also Tuesday, Morinaga Milk Industry Co. will increase the price of its four 500 milliliter "Sunkist 100%" series juices by 10 yen to 110 yen, excluding tax, and by 20 yen for one-liter products to 220 yen each. Nihon Milk Community Co. and Kirin Tropicana also will up the price for some juice products in the latter part of May.

Since I don't own a car, I want a voucher declaring that I'm not affected by this madness. But, of course we all are. Sigh.