Sunday, December 30, 2007

Kanda River revisited



My river quiz a few weeks ago was a more difficult than I had imagined, with the two winners getting two of the five photos right. The Kamo River in Kyoto was easy, and the Arakawa Dam up in the Chichibu region of Saitama could be found in a previous post about Arakawa River (should that be called the Ara River, by the way?).

The others are: Kanda River, Koma River and Sagawa River (that one is near Tama river between Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture, and was in the news this year as typhoon Fitow wrecked an old bridge).

Kanda River is a man-made canal that runs through Tokyo, and is connected to the Imperial Moat and the Sumida River. It played an important role for the economy before the age of cars and express highways, but Kanda river was actually created to avoid floods in the Edo era. Hiroshige included it in several of his famous views from the capital. My photo is from a bridge just north of Takadanobaba station, and if you look really hard, you can see the green Yamanote line train going north to Ikebukuro.

I used to live near Tokyo Dome in Suidobashi, where Kanda passes, and there is a train station called Kanda with many bookshops. This is not a picturesque canal by any means, but when the Sobu line passes it, I always feel reminded of Tokyo's past, as a city of water. Thanks for participating in the quiz!

(Hiroshige: Kanda River, Shohei Bridge and Seido Hall, 1857)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

End-of-the-year-party

 

A bonenkai is a Japanese office party at the end of the year, literally meaning "forgetting the year". I had a lot of fun with my coworkers in Takadanobaba, going on to a second party in a small Burmese karaoke bar. We sang Japanese enka and The Beatles. A splendid time indeed. Looking forward to 2008!
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Oil prices affecting Korea


South Korea is having big troubles dealing with current high oil prices. Chosun Ilbo compares the lack of preparedness to Japan:

In Japan, 1.5 million small cars are sold each year, accounting for 30 percent of total auto sales. But in Korea, only 40,000 to 50,000 small cars are sold each year, accounting for just around four percent of total sales.

Chosun Ilbo also notes that in Korea, 60 percent of gasoline prices is tax, proposing that this leads to an unwillingness to act:

From a larger perspective, the more oil we consume, the more tax the government collects, naturally leading to a policy that supports increased tax revenues. The government needs to abandon this policy that stokes energy consumption. If the government cannot lower taxes on oil products and automobiles, then it must come up with measures ensuring that such revenues go into the development of energy-saving technologies.

Korea is trying to strengthen its auto fuel efficiency standards by 2012 to reduce green gas emissions. This is expected to accelerate the development of eco-friendly cars. Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy will tighten fuel economy standards for cars by 2012 by 15 percent compared to 2004 based on an agreement made with the auto industry in late 2005.

Why wait until 2012?

Minicars, such as the GM Daewoo Matiz as shown above with the usual "car show girls", is the only mini car model currently available in Korea. Its popularity has soared again during 2007. Selling more than 44,000 minicars in the time leading up to November, sales have increased by 42 percent. Why are minicars getting more popular? They offer much better mileage than any other car. Medium-sized cars get about 11.5 km per liter, but minicars can go 16.6 km. Wasting fuel seems increasingly silly with crude oil staying high at almost $100 per barrel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy holidays


Japan has a secret treasure - its hot springs. It can get pretty cold here around this time of year, -19C in parts of Hokkaido last night. You are lucky if you can head up to the hills, to the small hostels or inns that feature steaming hot water from springs deep in the volcanic mountains. They also (often) have great food.

With friends, I headed up to Chichibu, Saitama, where the Arakawa River has its origin, providing fresh water to some 30 million people in the greater Tokyo region.

We got a delishious mushroom based stew with tofu and plenty of mountain treats. Sweet Chichibu wine was served, and konbu, to be enjoyed with the sweet miso (bean paste). I had about three baths, including the rotenburo (outdoors hot spring). Never slept so well in my entire life.


The next day, we hiked back to our train station, eating yuzu off trees along the road, crossing the impressive, 85 meter long Arakawa Bridge, built in 1923.

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 24, 2007

ODA: No time to lose

China and Japan signed a final agreement for a 46.3 billion yen (US$409.4 million) loan to fund environmental projects in central and western China, the official Xinhua news agency has reported.

The loan, signed by China's deputy finance minister and the governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, carries an interest rate of 0.65 percent to 1.4 percent and has a term of 25 to 40 years, according to Reuters. The loan will fund air pollution reduction and urban waste projects in six cities and provinces in central and western China.

With more production moving from Japan to China, it makes sense to help the Chinese with pollution issues. I hope other countries will follow suit over the next few years. There is no time to lose.

JBIC Today is the English newsletter of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. There will be big changes for Japanese ODA in 2008, as JBIC will merge with the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The December 2007 issue has more details:

JBIC Today December 2007 (pdf)

For ten years, from 1991-2001, Japan was the world's number one provider of ODA, much of it going to China. But Japan dropped to third in 2006, and OECD recently predicted that Japan will slide to sixth place by 2010. Be that as it may; Japan's ODA is expected to stand at $10.09 billion in 2010. Asahi notes that Japan has sought to use the money effectively by focusing it on such fields as the environment, agricultural development and measures to prevent infectious diseases.

Asahi: Japan's ODA rank expected to slide to 6th

The primary purpose of some JBIC loans are to secure stable supply of crude oil to Japan, for example with Abu Dhabi. So, the next time you fill up your car at a Cosmo gas station, you can appreciate how Japanese ODA helps you buy gasoline at a reasonable price. 'Tis the season to be jolly!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

OUR DAILY BREAD (いのちの食べかた)

I will go to Shibuya today to see the documentary, Our Daily Bread:



Japanese website here and blog.

Welcome to the world of industrial food production and high-tech farming! To the rhythm of conveyor belts and immense machines, the film looks without commenting into the places where food is produced in Europe: monumental spaces, surreal landscapes and bizarre sounds - a cool, industrial environment which leaves little space for individualism. People, animals, crops and machines play a supporting role in the logistics of this system which provides our society’s standard of living.

The English website has more.

Update: I was surprised that the Forum, a Shibuya movie theatre, was packed yesterday on a Saturday before X-mas... Not exactly your ordinary film. Not a word is spoken, there are no explanations, only the impact of what you actually see on the screen. Should be shown in schools.

By the way, the Japanese title is curious: Inochi no tabekata literally means "Eating for life" so I wonder why the Christian term was not used. The Lord's Prayer (Pater noster) is of course known here too, but perhaps 日々の糧 (hibi no kate) or 日ごとの糧 sound archaic? Anyone has any ideas?

主の祈り (Wikipedia)

Friday, December 21, 2007

How many Japanese legislators does it take to change a light bulb?


Ok, ok, no joke in the title above...

Kyodo reported that Japan will propose putting an end to domestic production and sale of energy-consuming incandescent bulbs to support a shift to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs to cut electricity consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

The government is trying to work out the details, including the designated transition period for a shift from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs, with some proposing the period to be within three years, the sources said.

Thomas Edison's old light bulbs are incredibly inefficient, converting only about 5 percent of the energy they receive into light. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs are 70-80% more energy efficient than their old incandescent counterpart and last significantly longer.

The Japan Times: Lights out for incandescent bulbs in energy-saving proposal

This ninja joke is not bad at all:

Q: How many Ninja does it take to ... ah. Seems there is a new bulb in already, and no sign of the old one. Plus, the room was locked and the windows barred. And noone knows who changed it!

Food mileage


Have you ever considered how far your food travels? It might sound like an abstract question, but what we eat has a lot of impact on the environment, especially if it is transported over long distances. This is the starting point of the "food mileage" discussion.

Food mileage can be defined as the aggregate product of a food item's weight and its transportation distance. It is expressed in units of t-km (1000-kilometer). To present it in a simpler way, the Osaka-based Aozora Foundation calculated the resulting CO2 emissions by multiplying a coefficient according to the means of transportation. The term was coined by Tim Lang in Britain as "food miles" and promoted by civic groups such as Friends of the Earth. The term "food mileage" was created in Japan when the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry's Policy Research Institute began researching the issue around 2000.

According to the institute's survey based on the 2001 data of six countries--Japan, Britain, France, Germany, South Korea and the United States--Japan tops the food mileage list with 900 billion t-km, indicating the greatest environmental damage. South Korea and the United States follow at around 300 billion t-km, while the figure is between 100 billion and 200 billion t-km for the three European countries:

900 Japan
300 US, South Korea
100-200 Britain, France, Germany

"I thought Japan's food mileage would be high because of its lack of food self-sufficiency, but it was shocking that the figure was so much larger than the other five countries," said Tetsuya Nakata, who carried out the research at the institute.

The initial purpose of the research was to provide materials to draw up government policies on food supply, said Nakata, who now heads the consumer life department at the Kyushu Regional Agricultural Administration Office. "I never expected the concept would give people an opportunity to think about what they eat. It's a pleasant surprise," he added.


If you live in the Osaka area, you might have seen the local Osaka NHK program about Aozora's Food Mileage game, which aired in September 2007.

Photos from the Aozora Foundation Blog (Japanese)

Yomiuri Shimbun: Gauging your food mileage

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Japan will not help the U.S. banks


Japan's top three banks are expected to resist a request to put up a total of $15 billion for a U.S.-led subprime rescue fund, a move that could further cloud prospects for the bailout plan, says Reuters:

"It could prove quite difficult for us to put up funds for this," said an executive at one of the megabanks, adding that he did not think the fund would be able to sell the commercial paper that would in theory be supported by Japanese credit lines.

"Logically, it just doesn't make sense for us."

And people here are not forgetting a certain arrogance only a few years ago: "What did America do when we had our non-performing loan problem? They just pushed us into the corner. European banks also ran away. Why should Japan now shoulder this burden?" said one megabank executive.

Hat tip to Robert over at Pure Land Mountain, a blogger I like a lot, who further rubs it in by making the point that if this were you or me asking for money on such terms we'd be laughed out of the bank...

Martin Wolf at Financial Times helped me understand the current mess in his analysis, Why the credit squeeze is a turning point for the world

And lets not forget what happened the Northern Rock, the Scottish bank, earlier this year: The day panic came to the high street


IT BEGAN at 8am with a handful of pensioners huddled in the doorway and grew into a snaking queue of panic-stricken customers who feared they would never see their savings again. By the evening, the stampede to withdraw cash from Northern Rock had joined the fuel crisis and the three-day-week as a symbol of national economic woe. This was the day Britain's decade of cheap credit came to an end...

(I haven't seen people lining up yet outside their bank here in Japan - does it mean my savings are ok?)

By the way, does anyone care to guess which are in fact Japan's top three banks? And does ordinary people in the United States or Europe know the names of these institutions? And, remind me, who do we blame for our ignorance...?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

China: Zone for sustainable development


A cluster of cities in central China has been designated the country's latest experimental zone, this one for energy saving and environmentally friendly programmes, according to Reuters:

China has a history of marking out zones for preferential policies which, if successful, are then rolled out across the country. Its most famous were the "special economic zones" of the south which launched the country's market reforms 30 years ago.

Now the Hunan cities of Changsha, Zhuzhou and Xiangtan -- late chairman Mao Zedong's hometown -- as well as the Hubei capital of Wuhan, will be targeted to lead China's drive to make its breakneck economic growth more environmentally sustainable.

The cities must "as quickly as possible form systems and mechanisms beneficial to energy saving and environmental and ecological protection", the People's Daily cited a notice from the National Development and Reform Commission as saying.

Hunan governor Zhou Qiang said the three cities there were chosen because they were part of China's industrial heartland and a lack of resources and environmental pollution have impeded their development.


I am impressed that these cities are taking the lead to become more environmentally friendly. Let's hope they back it up with policy moves and education. When the kids learn about environmental issues, they often start telling their parents what is ok and what is not ok. And the parents might not always like the advice they are getting from the kids... But if you don't talk about it with the kids, what is the real meaning of "sustainable"? After all, it is their future that is at stake.

Eco Calender



For those who have everything, yet feel the need to give.

The 2008 edition focuses on "Slow Life Savoring Human Skills," with messages and additional information from Japan Environmental Exchange:

Its colorful illustrations were drawn by well-known environmental cartoonist High Moon (Dr. Takatsuki Hiroshi) of Ishikawa Prefectural University. We are sure that you will find his whimsical drawings contain easily understood but thought-provoking messages, so please enjoy this year's eco-calendar. We hope that you will also find it has useful hints on reducing global warming activities and on leading a satisfying slow life.

To order, please send a postcard, fax or e-mail to J.E.E. writing clearly your name, phone number, address, and the number of copies that you wish to receive. J.E.E. will include the bill for your order, and you can pay by postal transfer (yubin furikomi).

Japan Environmental Exchange (JEE)
34 Koyama Minami Kamifusa-cho, Kita-ku, KYOTO 603-8149
TEL/FAX 075-417-3417
E-mail: jee@jca.apc.org
URL: http://www.jca.apc.org/jee

Macha Moment


Alive in Kyoto, a blog I like a lot, had a photo that captured my imagination. Enjoy...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Oil or biofuels? Japan has neither

Bioethanol from rice straw and husks and used construction materials, such as waste wood and wood chips, at a cost of 100 yen per liter?

At present, such fuel costs more like 2000 yen, making it yet another pipe dream.

Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. He frequently writes for Asia Times:

The rising oil price is one of the biggest potential threats to the Japanese economy. The country imports almost all of its oil - 4.2 million barrels a day last year - with nearly 90% coming from the Middle East. Domestic gasoline prices soared to their highest-ever levels last week, reaching an average of 154.9 yen, according to the Oil Information Center, after global crude oil prices hit a record US$99.29 a barrel last month.

The New National Energy Strategy, which was compiled last year by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), set a goal of reducing the nation's reliance on oil for transport to 80% from the current 100% by 2030.


More about Japan's efforts to introduce tax breaks for biofuels at Asia Times: Japan steps up its biofuel drive

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali quotes

NHK World: Japan's Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita has expressed appreciation following the adoption of the Bali road map. Mr Kamoshita told reporters that he is satisfied that a basis has been established from which all countries can negotiate. He said he is especially happy that the US has expressed its intention to join the discussions in 2 years. Mr Kamoshita also said there will be a tough road ahead and that he hopes to promote international talks ahead of the G8 Summit scheduled for July in Hokkaido, northern Japan.

Wall Street Journal: In a dramatic finish to a U.N. climate conference, world leaders adopted a plan Saturday to negotiate a new global warming pact by 2009, after the U.S. backed down in a battle over wording supported by developing nations and Europe. The U.S. stand had drawn loud boos and sharp floor rebukes -- "Lead, or get out of the way!" one delegate demanded -- before Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky reversed her position, clearing the way for the adoption of the so-called "Bali Roadmap."

BBC: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he appreciated "the spirit of flexibility" shown by key delegations - and was aware that "there is divide of position between and among countries". "But as this global warming is an issue which affects the whole humanity, whole planet earth, we must have co-ordinated and concerted efforts to address this issue," Mr Ban said.

TT (Sweden): Sweden's environment minister, Andreas Carlgren, was delighted that an agreement was reached. "This means that the US is involved in climate negotiations. The US has now clearly said that it wants to reduce emissions by 2050, which is a very important statement," he said. "This is an enormous breakthrough for climate negotiations. It is also important that China, India and other developing countries have gone as far as they have and are now prepared to work for emissions cuts. If this is followed through properly it could be a historic episode," Carlgren said.

My five cents? Not much to cheer about, except that as oil prices continue to rise due to peak oil, businesses and consumers are already changing the way we think about oil consumptions. After the G8 meeting Japan in 2008, we can look forward to talks in Copenhagen ( a very bicylce-friendly city) - the venue for the next UN climate conference in 2009.

More updates at Environmental Defence: What's at Stake

Friday, December 14, 2007

Anime: Tales of Agriculture


Moyashimon (Tales of Agriculture) is a fun anime that aired on Fuji TV this fall in Japan. The story is about Sawaki-kun, a young student with a special skill - he can see bacteria! As wacky as that sounds, the story is an educational journey among the trillions of little invisible living creatures that surround us all, all the time, in spite of anti-bacterial tissues, soaps and sprays. Moreover, useful bacterias give us food and drink, as well as important medicines. Fond of earth worms and ancient kuchikami sake-making methods (in ancient Japan, shrine maidens chewed rice to start the fermentation that produced sake)? I found 12 episodes on YouTube with English subtitles.

Here is Episode 1, 1/3:



Trivia: Portugese bloggers have identified the Tokyo campus of the "Department of Agriculture", Sawaki Tadayasu's new school, as the Universidade de Coimbra, founded in 1290!



(Cute bacteria from Hobby Blog, who informs us that these are in fact magnets made by Kaiyodoo. Perfect Xmas present for you microbiologist S.O.)

Angry Girl





Lela Lee draws a hilarious cartoon that I stumbled upon quite by accident here on my old computer. Oh the irony of seeing racism as a topic of a joke. But there is more to her wit too. Do have a browse. Hope I don't make Lee angry by noting that her Angry Asian Girl looks a lot like Chibi Maruko-chan...

Reducing car exhaust emissions

Japan's Ministry of the Environment has announced the world's strictest rules for car exhaust emissions:

1. In a bid to dramatically reduce particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), newly implemented emission regulations for diesel motor vehicles will come close to matching those for gasoline motor vehicles.
2. With concerns to PM emissions for gasoline motor vehicles, the same level of PM regulations will be implemented as for diesel motor vehicles.
Following this amendment, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will make partial amendments to the "Announcement that Prescribes Details of Safety Regulations for Road Vehicles" (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Announcement No. 619 of July 15, 2002) under the Road Vehicles Act.

NHK World notes that these regulatory standards, announced on Thursday, will be implemented in 2009 for all new diesel vehicles:

The new rules call for lowering the level of particulate matter emitted every 1 kilometer of travel to 5 to 7 milligrams, depending on the type of vehicle. The figures are nearly 60 percent less than current standards, and near the minimum level that can technically be measured. The rules also require diesel vehicles to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 to 60 percent. These cuts are greater than those in Europe, which is implementing similar measures. The Environment Ministry hopes the new regulations will help reduce air pollution across the country. Last year, 71 points along major roads failed to meet current standards on nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions.

Good, lets hope they get serious about stopping all the idling cars as well, especially taxis and construction trucks. What a waste.

「偽」


The kanji for 2007 has been selected - "fake" 「偽」 (nise, as in "nisemono" 「偽物」) due to a number of scandals. Mari has more here. She notes that the food scandals and the Defence Agency (actually the Japanese Defense Ministry) are among the top stories that made this trend for 2007.

The Guardian: Japan defence ministry raided in bribery scandal

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nordic Modernism at Opera City, Tokyo



Scandinavian objects from the 1950s and 1960s are on display at the Opera City Art Gallery in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Nordic designers tend to take environmental considerations into concern. For me, these things are both familiar and nostalgic, having grown up with the Tetra Pak milk cartoons and Marimekko curtains (that my mother loved).

Nordic Modernism

3 November (Saturday) 2007 - 14 January (Monday) 2008 Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
Open hours: 11:00 - 19:00
(to 20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, entry up to 30 minutes before closing)
Closed on Mondays (except December 24 and January 14), 29 December - January 3
Admission: Adult 1,000 (800) yen, University and High School Students 800 (600) yen, Junior High and Elementary School Students 600 (400) yen

Some of these chairs and lamps that my grandparents took for granted are now very expensive collectors' items...

"We need to change the lifestyle of people"


The world has tools to cut emissions massively but is not using them or investing enough in technology needed to avert dangerous climate change, according to Nobuo Tanaka, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency:

Nobuo Tanaka said little time should be spent on celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol to tackle global warming, because rapid emissions growth was making its targets less relevant and governments were moving too slowly.

"The most scarce resource on earth is not natural resources, nor the capital investment or money, but time. And now is the time for action," he told a news conference on the sidelines of UN climate talks in the Indonesian island of Bali.


Nobuo Tanaka noted that governments need to have systems ready to convince investors to channel an estimated US$22 trillion required to reform the energy sector by 2030. And such change must be implemented to "change the lifestyle of people".

Reuters: World Not Doing Enough on Climate Change - IEA

Sunday, December 09, 2007

NHK Songs: A Thousand Winds & Jupiter

A Thousand Winds

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.



Video with Akikawa Masafumi & Hirahara Ayaka. A Thousand Winds seems to be based on an old Navaho poem. I also love the Japanese lyrics to Jupiter, which inspired a lot of people after the Niigata earthquake. Makes me want to pray. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

South Korea: Another massive oil spill...


BBC reports that oil from a damaged tanker has reached South Korea's west coast, not far from a nature reserve.

Emergency workers in Taean region are battling to stop the slick, now up to 20km (12 miles) long, from harming wildlife and valuable sea farms. More than 10,000 metric tons of oil began leaking into the sea from Hebei Spirit, a single-hull oil tanker. Korean Maritime officials say it is the country's worst oil spill since 1995, when 5,000 tonnes of oil washed onto the country's southern coast.

The incident occurred off Daesan Port, home to the Hyundai Oilbank refinery that was the Hebei Spirit's destination, northwest of the Taean peninsula. Taean County, southwest of Seoul, is known for its rich seafood resources, such as fish and seaweed farms. The Taean Marine National Park encompasses about 130 islands, and the area is famed for tourism spots such as Mallipo Beach, Chollipo Beach and Anmyeon Island. Its low hills and pine-fringed beaches and inlets are among Korea's most popular vacation getaways...

BBC: S Korea oil slick reaches shore



Does political views influence the news? Right-wing newspaper Chosun Ilbo is not reporting about this on its English website, while KBS, the official news organ had a brief summary of events yesterday. Left-leaning Donga Ilbo says more than 15,000 tons of oil has leaked from the ship, and that the crude stuff "is expected to harm sea farms". Photo of cleanup efforts at Mallipo Beach from The Korea Herald.

I found the Taean official tourist website. The region is famous as a film location, with the romantic tragedy Bungee Jumping of Their Own shot here in 2000.

Meanwhile, South Korea's dependence on Middle Eastern countries for oil imports remains high, with concerns that Asia's fourth-largest economy would be threatened by supply disruptions in the region as oil prices continue to climb. South Korea has no proven oil reserves.

Hebei Ocean Shipping Co., Ltd is based in Hong Kong and they have a pretty cool logo, with a dragon trying to strangle the Earth. They own the ship but will they take any responsibility? Yonhap notes that the accident could cause compensation payments of as much as 300 billion won (US$330 million) from British Lloyd P&I, the insurance company for the barge, and from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, an intergovernmental organization that provides compensation for damage caused by oil spills from tankers.

According to the IOPC website, 7 of 10 recent ongoing incidents involve oil spills occuring in South Korea.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Right Livelihood Award

The Right Livelihood Award celebrates and supports people of vision. People who have ideas and apply them in concrete initiatives for the public good. They give hope for tomorrow, for a world in peace and balance. They demonstrate how we can overcome oppression, war, poverty, the destruction of our environment, and a widespread sense of meaninglessness and fear.

Today, Christopher Weeramantry (Sri Lanka), Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (Kenya), and Percy and Louise Schmeiser (Canada) will share the award with The company Grameen Shakti (Bangladesh). I met Percy here in Tokyo and would like to congratulate him and his wife, as well as the others!

The Jury honours Percy and Louise Schmeiser "for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers' rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws".

There award ceremony is held in the Swedish Parliament Building in Stockholm.

In 2005, TIME Magazine named Jakob von Uexkull a "2005 European Hero" and dedicated one page in its October 10, 2005 issue to him and his projects. What is "Right Livelihood"? TIME notes that adopting the Buddhist concept of “right livelihood”— which teaches that each individual is responsible for his or her actions and should take only a fair share of the earth’s resources — the emphasis of the prizes is on practical solutions to the main challenges of our time.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

CUJ History update


We have updated the Consumers Union of Japan History Pages with lots of information from the active days in the 1980s, including CUJ’s strong stand against nuclear power after the Chernobyl disaster, as well as food safety issues.

- Editors

Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) was established by Mr. Takeuchi Naokazu in 1969. For over 30 years, CUJ has led the Japanese consumer movement. In 2006, CUJ was officially certified as a non-profit organization by the new Japanese NPO legislation.

Do have a look at the CUJ English website or the Japanese website: 日本消費者連盟

River Quiz

As I have noted on this blog from time to time, I think Japan has wonderful water, but the contrast can be great.

Here is a small quiz for my avid readers: can you identify the following five locations?

Update: New rules! Everyone who can identify one or more of the rivers below will receive an original price!





Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu


NHK World reports that participants in the first international conference on water problems in the Asia-Pacific region ended their two-day meeting with a declaration to supply safe drinking water to everyone in the region by 2025:

Political leaders and experts from 36 countries and territories gathered for the 1st Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu, southwestern Japan. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori chaired the meeting. On Tuesday, the participants adopted a memorandum titled "A Message from Beppu," urging immediate action by the world's governments to combat waterborne diseases.

The memorandum calls for populations in the Asia-Pacific region that have no access to clean drinking water to be halved by 2015, and made zero by 2025. It also calls on governments to make water sanitation a political priority, and to increase funding for related projects.


The Asia-Pacific Water Forum website has the documents about the efforts to provide safe water and sanitation - a prerequisite for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals and for good health and quality of life.
Many organizations and NGOs are involved in this undertaking. Links here (Impressive!)
Water News is where I click for updates.

China and Japan discussing food safety


Japanese food companies are very interested in increasing imports of foods from China. The governments have agreed to continue to cooperate and improve their product quality and food safety systems, according to Xinhua/China Daily.

The two countries agreed to solve issues including exports of Chinese pumpkins and the meat of artiodactyls (cattle, deer and other hoofed animals) to Japan, as well as Japanese rice exports to China:

According to discussions between the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officials in Beijing on Sunday, China has agreed to import the second batch of 150 tons of rice from Japan before next March, while Japan agreed to devise and launch working procedures, including insect inspections of Japanese rice, by the end of next March.

The first batch of Japanese rice, approximately 24 tons, hit the shelves of department stores in Beijing and Shanghai in July and has been sold out. Japan said it would immediately launch domestic legal procedures to ensure import bans on Chinese pumpkins could be lifted by the end of next March.

It promised to start importing Chinese artiodactyl meat by the end of March 2008, after it finished inspections of the products of 35 Chinese companies that sell such items. The two sides also agreed to conduct exchanges and consultations on quarantine and inspection techniques before next May amid efforts to resume Japanese imports of frozen raw poultry from China, according to the AQSIQ.


The two countries agreed to further strengthen exchanges and cooperation on quarantine and inspection techniques of exporting agricultural products, so as to normalize their bilateral trade. Let's hope we can look forward to smooth imports without too many incidents and food scandals blown out of proportion by the media. Consumers deserve better.

China Daily: China, Japan to further food safety cooperation

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Artist at Fukuroda falls


More photos at Pacific Islander.

Japan-China cooperation

Japanese media is reporting from the meeting today in Beijing between Japanese and Chinese ministers regarding food safety cooperation. This was the first meeting under a new dialogue framework set up to enhance mutually beneficial economic ties, with an unprecedented six cabinet members from Tokyo participating, according to Kyodo:

The ministers agreed that the Japanese and Chinese economies are in a "win-win" relationship, according to a joint document issued after the Japan-China High-Level Economic Dialogue.

During the half-day meeting, the participants agreed on exchanging information on food safety, which has recently emerged as a social problem in both countries, and on launching a working group to help China promote measures aimed at reducing air pollution and curbing global warming simultaneously.


We might hear a lot about tension between Japan and China, but there are also signs of closer ties between the two countries. These are countries with relations stretching back a very long time. I look forward to a lot of good news on issues and problems that Japan and China will discuss over the next few years. Stay tuned.

(Kyodo is the official "non-profit cooperative" news organ of Japan, founded in 1972, with a history going back to 1945. Unfortunately, their English website is not particularly developed and a lot of links require (paid) registration. That is just old. Even The New York Times has scrapped its subscription policy, understanding that in the age of the Internet, you have got to be accessible. Having said that, Kyodo does a great job supplying news not only in Japanese, but also in Chinese, and I check their English page when NHK World is lacking in detail. Kyodo also used to have a link exchange with South Korea's official news organ, Yonhap, but that link is now broken and noone seems to have noticed. Pity, pity.)