Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009: Year Of Herding The Ox

Wishing you all the very best for 2009! Thank you so much for reading Kurashi - News From Japan, a humble blog that started in 2005 when I was working for a not-so-profitable NPO and had to attend a United Nations meeting in Seoul, South Korea, which was very memorable and changed my life in a lot of ways. In 2008, I have been on my own, working also for Consumers Union of Japan, where I do editing and translation, and participate in meetings about everything from food safety to G8, energy issues and peace activism. I have also been fortunate to start working with greenz.jp, a media-savvy Tokyo-based group with a lot of potential. Through greenz.jp, I got into blogging for Treehugger, the juggernaut US environmental blog, with thousands of readers. (I have also been busy with Kodansha in Gokokuji, Tokyo, to publish a food guidebook in May, 2009) Through it all, Kurashi has been my hibaki (fireplace), a spot of calm (mostly) where I could chat and write and think and present some of my other doubts and inspirations. And all of your comments have been very much appreciated.

Today, on December 31, I posted a small meditation on the ox, and a famous parable called Herding The Ox. Hope you enjoy it and take it to heart. Happy New Year!!

According to the ancient Chinese calender, that is popular all over Asia, 2009 is the year of the ox. This calm and trustworthy animal is a symbol of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. When even the Wall Street Journal follows the lead of Treehugger, and introduces frugal advice for How to Fix Your Life in 2009, it may be a good time to take a moment and heed the wisdom of the ages. Herding the ox:

Herding the ox is a parable for students of Zen Buddhism. The story draws a parallel between the individual path to enlightenment and the story of the herder and his missing ox. There are 10 stages in the parable, beginning with the search for the ox.

Common titles of the pictures in English, and common themes of the prose, include:

1. In Search of the Bull (aimless searching, only the sound of cicadas)
2. Discovery of the Footprints (a path to follow)
3. Perceiving the Bull (but only its rear, not its head)
4. Catching the Bull (a great struggle, the bull repeatedly escapes, discipline required)
5. Taming the Bull (less straying, less discipline, bull becomes gentle and obeyant)
6. Riding the Bull Home (great joy)
7. The Bull Transcended (once home, the bull is forgotten, discipline's whip is idle; stillness)
8. Both Bull and Self Transcended (all forgotten and empty)
9. Reaching the Source (unconcerned with or without; the sound of cicadas)
10. Return to Society (crowded marketplace; spreading enlightenment by mingling with humankind)

But the story also seems to fit with our age, and how we deal with having to live with less, enjoying nature more, and generally trying to find values and ideas that can shape the future. Of course we hope that legislators and bankers will figure out how to fix the global financial system, so we can continue working towards sustainable energy and food solutions. If they can't herd in the Wall Street bull, we will quickly have to find local solutions that work better...

New, Green Economy, Or "Debilitating Ripple Effects"

Yomiuri Online/AP: Japan auto sales plunge as young lose interest

You learn something new every day. Apparently, Japan's car industry is now talking about kuruma banare, or "demotorization" as many young Japanese no longer think owning a car is worth the trouble.

"Young people's interest is shifting from cars to communication tools like personal computers, mobile phones and services," said Yoichiro Ichimaru, who oversees domestic sales at Toyota.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association predicts auto sales in Japan will fall to 4.86 million in 2009 - the first time below 5 million in more than three decades. This year [2008], sales are projected at 5.11 million, the worst since 1980.


What this will mean for the economy is anyone's guess: "Manufacturing makes up a fifth of Japan's economy in gross domestic product. But it makes up 90 percent of its exports, and any faltering in that sector would send debilitating ripple effects throughout Japan. And that's likely to further depress auto sales in Japan."

Read the article for an interesting take on the consciousness-shift that is happening in Japan. What the journalist is not asking is if the automobile industry can survive. What will the collapse of auto manufacturing mean for the new, green economy - will the "ripple effects" punish efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and oil consumption as the global recession gets worse? Or will this mark the beginning of a new way of thinking - will we learn how to live without cheap fuel and mass consumption of imported goods, and with less pollution and environmental devastation?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Downtown Train, Hold On



Tom Waits: Downtown Train. A video from 1985 for all of us who ride the trains into Tokyo on occasion. No car? Welcome to the future. The days of SUVs and zero percent financing and huge Hummers are over. So over. "They try so hard to break out of their little worlds."


And here is Hold On, beautiful video, beautiful song. And here is some fun trivia from Wikipedia:

Waits has steadfastly refused to allow the use of his songs in commercials and has joked about other artists who do. ("If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn't he just get himself a suit and an office in their headquarters and be done with it?") He has filed several lawsuits against advertisers who used his material without permission. He has been quoted as saying, "Apparently, the highest compliment our culture grants artists nowadays is to be in an ad — ideally, naked and purring on the hood of a new car," he said in a statement, referring to the Mercury Cougar. "I have adamantly and repeatedly refused this dubious honor."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Frugal, Happy Holiday

In spite of what they tell you, here is my advice: have a slow, quiet holiday. Don't spend, don't use your credit card, don't waste your precious time.

Read a good book, listen to an old favourite record. Write a letter using pen and paper. Make your own food from scratch, using organic ingredients from farmers you personally know & trust.

Clean the house and think about the amazing year that has just passed. Compare your blessings to those of your ancestors a hundred years ago, and a thousand. And more.

Go out and look at the stars, and try to name the constellations above you. Feel the silence.



(Image from Boing Boing: Fortean artist/prankster Jeffrey Vallance created a Santa Claus Family Tree tracing the genealogy of "wild people." Climb the curious branches over at Cryptomundo. Santa's Family Tree)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December Food Ranking



Here is what I want to eat on a cold December evening. Let me know if you have anything better to offer.

1) Tendon: On top of the steaming rice, I get the tempura of my choice... Maybe some pumpkin?
2) Mochi: You beat the living daylights out of the poor rice grains, pound away all you like, and all you get it a very stiff and mushy - and square - kind of cake. Then you heat that in the oven: enjoy with nori and soy sauce: wow. Nothing tastes better.
3) Irori: I'm all yours. This is the way to cook, Edo style, and I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Do invite me!
4) Miso soup: At the local kaiten sushi, if I order a steaming hot miso soup, the staff treats me different. It is like they know, that I know, how cold it can get in late December.
5) Mushrooms: Use them for pasta, on your pizza, or just fry them. In Sweden, and here in Japan, people do go out and harvest all kinds of mushrooms in the forest, and they tend to know the names of even the most obsqure varieties. Make sure you avoid the poisonous ones ;)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"I Have A Love Hate Relationship With Technology"



How I feel about computers, exactly. Eddie Izzard. I must be getting nostalgic about the 1990s (writing in hand).

And since that had very little to do with Japan, I'll add How to choose a martial art as a bonus. Or maybe Baby J and Christmas (sorry, a little early)?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Eco-Products 2008: Asking Difficult Questions About Electric Cars


I loved Eco-Products 2008 at Tokyo Big Sight. There was a lot to see, and a record number of visitors this year. Over 173,000 people compared to 164,000 in 2007. Clearly a trend!

Over at Treehugger, I singled out Subaru's electric car, because of the "System Thinking" - a focus not only on the vehicle, but on where the electricity will be coming from. Subaru also showcased its 80/2.0 wind mills to power the products they plan to profit from.

Great electric cars are indeed available today. The question is how people and nations will change the infrastructure to power them.

If you are a Pokemon fan, you may have seen the early 1960s Subaru 360 convertible, a fun car that never made it very big in the US, after Consumer Reports called it unsafe. For the R1e and Stella electric cars, Subaru cites the 360 as an influence. I like that sense of humour, and the reminder that this is a company with small, strong roots. They think the all-electric vehicle could be available to consumers in Japan as early as 2009...

More about Subaru and wind power on Treehugger:
Photos of Subaru R1e Electric Car in New York City
Subaru Joins Electric Car Race with R1e
Better Place Coming To Japan
Wind Helps Power Our Flagging Economy
Wind Power Beats Nuclear & Clean Coal, Other Renewables As US’s Best Energy Option

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Japan's Economy Needs A Green Revolution


How will Japan get out of the current economic crisis? The recession? The strong yen means exports are down, and major companies are announcing big cuts and layoffs. The car industry reports 30-40% lower sales. Oh, well, what's new.

SO THE GOOD NEWS is that Japan is quietly becoming a more sustainable, ecological country again. I talk to a lot of people who are fond of traditions, and wish for some recognition of the way Japan used to be. Where is the neogambaru? Some would say the Edo era is the model, and others claim that slow life or a u-turn, moving back to the countryside, is the solution. In terms of technology, Japan is still number one, with four Nobel prize winners this year, and the most patent applications of any nation. Japan is indeed a fun place to be if you are a thinker, innovator, designer, or environmental activist. And there is a lot to do!

If only the politicians had a green vision: they could announce a major national reform to deal with Japan's energy dependency, focus on supporting renewable energy like solar and wind power, say clearly that Japan should reduce its reliance on Middle East oil, reduce CO2 emissions, and announce a huge shift for the economy - from heavy manufacturing to services.

Japan already has the world's best internet, with broadband almost everyhere. Iceland and Korea are doing pretty good too, and Japan could announce programs to hook up with other like-minded countries and really start a revolution where the internet-based economy takes off. You would need something like pay-pal to work all over Asia, globally, finally, but much better. You would need banking that didn't charge an arm and a leg when you tried to transfer money from Japan. (A few years ago I tried to wire money from a Japanese post office to Korea, and was told it was impossible: I had to use a bank instead. Wow. Welcome to the 20th century!)

A green revolution in Japan would mean a focus on rural development, on farm stays and forest tourism, on mountain climbing, hiking and skiing (remember all the Australians skiing in Hokkaido? Well done!) and on scuba diving in Okinawa. You would learn survival skills, involving rice farming, making tofu and miso, and how to brew your own sake. This is a country with 60% forests and mountains - where are the tours to the hinterland? Where are the temple stay programs? The ecolodges?

The JR Railpass is great for foreign visitors, but those of us who live and work here cannot get it. Where is the logic in that? And where is the train link to the Asian continent, and the bullet trains to Europe replacing the 100 year old Siberian Railroad? How about the 120 million Japanese people, who would love to get a discount and go on a Shinkansen trip - how often does that happen? Where are the buses? Wait, you want everyone to go on a vacation after they retire??

Support insulation for Japanese homes, make sure home owners get financing for making their homes earthquake proof. Schools should be rebuilt. Start funding organic, sustainable, environmentally-friendly farming instead of the massive pesticide- and fertilizer-based production support, that WTO rules are killing anyway.

You wonder why the birthrate is low? Invest in healthcare and kindergartens and daycare centers, and support local efforts to create bicycle lanes, bus lanes, pavements and sidewalks, and close off streets in city centers from cars (Car sharing? Never heard of it in Japan).

Make Japan safe and friendly for young mothers, and the kids will start coming. Japan doesn't need 100 taxis to idle in front of every train station. Small hybrid buses or electric trams could do the job just as well. A green revolution could make Japan great again. Imagine the pride and joy. Imagine...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Japanese Cut Flowers Getting Milieu Programma Sierteelt Certification


Over at Treehugger, I note that Japanese cut flowers are moving in the right direction: they are adopting the Dutch standard called Milieu Programma Sierteelt, the environmental horticulture certification program that originated in Holland in 1995. In this system, participating growers record and report data on pesticide, fertilizer and energy consumption and waste management.

If you want to give a rose to someone you love, make sure it is coming from growers that care about our precious planet. If you do not ask, how will the flower shops begin to make the change?

As I wrote this blog entry, and tried to find a nice photo, I discovered that Dutch traders have appreciated Japanese roses for a very long time:

In 1696 Plunkenet added R. multiflora (the Polyantha or Japanese Rose) as the Dutch were bringing home varieties of precious East Asian flowers to Europe.

Update
: In the United States, VeriFlora is the label to look for if you are interested in buying cut flowers from growers that use less chemicals. Try the Whole Foods Market, they also have organically grown cut flowers, something I haven't yet seen in Japan.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Eco+Waza


Japanese Eco-friendly Ideas and Goods, one of my favourite blogs ("Hand made dictionary of Japanese sustainable customs, culture, products and business ideas") introduces issue 4 of the unique Eco+Waza magazine.

Cover Interview
No More Picking Up Trash? Start Reducing
An Interview with Ken Noguchi

Article
A Hint for Sustainability from Awaji Island

Virtual Showroom
1. Biodegradable Detergent
2. Near-infrared Sensor for CCA Contained Lumber
3. Mineral Ion for Water Sterilization and Algal Removal
4. Edo Sensu
5. A Breathing Wall
6. Wall Material Made of Recycled Milk Carton
7. Charcoal Crepe Paper
8. Curtain Hook

To subscribe to the magazine, send an email to subscribe (at) ecotwaza.com with your name and address.

Let's Enjoy Tokyo Guide Recommends Organic Restaurants


Surprise, surprise! オーガニック料理 Ooganikku ryouri (Organic food) has been introduced as one of the key search terms for Let's Enjoy Tokyo, a popular website for shopping, dining and fun.

They also show ads for certified organic Osechi, the traditional new year's food, but that's way too expensive for me.

Often, I think local food makes a lot more sense here in Japan, and I like the Harajuku Batake in Kita-Sando, where they specialize in foods from areas of Japan that are maintaining and promoting a rural, agriculture-based economy, with many small farms. A lot of their stuff comes from Kumamoto prefecture in southern Japan, where Aso Design Center does a terrific job at luring green visitors. Check out the Aso online broschure (pdf)!



The special online Aso-TV channel has streaming videos with a focus on eco-tourism, farm stays and local restaurants. They recommend that you take the train, and then get a bicycle, because "You won't notice it if you drive past in a car."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Joseph Mirachi: Fuel Efficiency


Automakers have come a long way to their bailout-begging today since the days when Consumers Union published this (very funny) cartoon. I scanned it from an old issue of Consumer Reports, the April 1963 "Facts You Need Before You Buy" issue with a brown cover and red/black letters. A treasure from a bygone era! This was the auto buying guide for 1963, "including ratings of all makes, 6-year repair records, service notes, checks on safety details, etc., etc." And there isn't a single foreign car listed. Not even one.

Joseph Mirachi did over 500 cartoons for publications like the New Yorker and Playboy. He passed away in 1991.

Update: A post I did on the US bailout did not seem relevant to Kurashi, but you'll be the judge. Today (Friday) we hear them lie about the need to support the car industry. Here is what I posted:

We read that the three big automakers are in Washington trying to get elected congressmen and -women to bail them out, or else. Taxpayers will not get to know the details of the agreement, that is going to be kept secret. I truly couldn't care less about the state of the state of the SUV-making, energy-wasting bastards. Hope they sink into the garbage pile of history just like the sweatshop factories of the 19th Century. Politicians should allocate money to better education for the children of the future, who need new skills to save this precious planet and avoid useless wars for oil and other (scarce) resources.

I'm reminded of a U2 song I like a lot, from 1991, called Acrobat.



And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And you can find
Your own way out
You can build
And I can will
And you can call
I can't wait until
You can stash
And you can seize
In dreams begin
Responsibilities
And I can love
And I can love
And I know that the tide is turning 'round
So don't let the bastards grind you down

Monday, December 01, 2008

Japan Car in London


London's Science Museum, Design Platform Japan and a host of others are presenting a rather different take on the cultural aspects of state-of-the-art automobiles, including kei cars, in a clever exhibition that started on November 29, 2008.

Japan Car - Designs for the Crowded Globe is an exploration of the car as a "mobile cell" - conceived by two world class designers: Kenya Hara, the man responsible for much of the success of Muji, the Nagano Olympics opening ceremony, and Shigeru Ban, the architect currently designing a new satellite gallery for Paris’ Pompidou Centre, who did the recycled cardboard paper tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims, having helped earthquake victims in Kobe in 1995...

This is all very timely. The car industry is going through a major shift. Volvo and Saab may have to be nationalized, and who knows if the big three automakers in the Unites States will surivive.

Ouch.

Reuters has also covered the way the US car makers begged for tax payer dollars:

…Automakers pledged during their testimony to spend bailout money on operations and invest in new fuel efficiency technology - like better-performing gasoline engines, hybrids, and new electric cars.



What went wrong? At the Science Museum in London, you can explore:

* Size - small yet sophisticated vehicles and special kei cars, which are both compact and technologically advanced
* Environment – climate-conscious hybrids intended to reduce carbon and other emissions
* Moving urban cells – the future of transport as integrated systems rather than individual vehicles

Alongside Japanese bonsai, art and design, Japan Car is displaying 14 unusual cars from the past decade and conceptual models, including the Nissan PIVO2 and Toyota i-REAL.

View London


Treehugger:
"I Have Seen Things" - Japan Car At London's Science Museum



(From Blade Runner, music by Vangelis)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Food Photos




I had a wonderful day yesterday way up in the central Saitama mountain range, where we took photos for my food book at a small restaurant in Shomaru.

Enomoto-san used to have a fancy eatery in Yoyogi, but got tired of that kind of lifestyle, and found this location instead.

He made traditional foods including seasonal vegetables, tamagoyaki, and grilled tai, red snapper: since tai rhymes with the word medetai, or "congratulations," it is regarded as a good luck dish in Japan.

Kodansha is going all out to make this a best-seller, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Japanese Children Worried About The Environment

I wrote a post for Treehugger about the campaign over at Japan's Environmental Ministry, where kids are contributing drawings on the theme of global warming, pollution and other concerns. The children are clearly concerned about the future, their future.

I got a pretty nasty comment already from someone who thinks this is all due to propaganda, brainwashing, and: "Seriously, it's the modern day equivalent of the Cold War. I'm sure in the 60's you'd have had the same number of drawings from kids told they were going to die from A-bombs and nuclear winter."

Oh well... That kind of comment really makes me think we all need to work even harder for the future of the kids on this beautiful planet.



Sunday, November 23, 2008

Swan Lake

Have you ever seen Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake performed on stage? I was lucky as a young boy to see both this and the Nutcracker at the Malmö Stadsteatern (built in 1944), and then the Aida opera by Verdi, around the time when I was 9 or 10.

Swan Lake was written in the 1870s and received its premiere on February 27, 1877, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, but credit for the version we are used to seeing belongs to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

BBC last year made a fantastic documentary, now available on Youtube. Here is part 1:



If you like Japanese animation, I'm sure you know that Toei did a wonderful Swan Lake (白鳥の湖, Hakuchou no Mizuumi) back in 1981...

The first performance of Swan Lake in These Parts Of The World was on August 9, 1946 by the Imperial Garden Theater. Their roots go all the way back to 1911, when Toho opened a theater in Marunouchi, central Tokyo. Today, Tokyo has seven major symphony orchestras. And classical music is incredibly popular. According to a 1950 article in JSTOR, western music was introduced here in the early Meiji period, some 130 years ago:

Among the far-sighted Japanese of that day was Shuzi Izawa, who returned from the United States, where he had been sent for training, enthusiastic in the cause of Western music. Largely due to his efforts, the Institute [for Musical Research] was founded, and he became its first director.


Shuzi Izawa? Today, his name is spelled Izawa Shūji (1851-1917). He was born in Shikoku, in the Tokushima Domain of the Edo era. "National identity..."

Imagine the journey he would be taking, all the way to Boston!

East-Asian-History has more details. Worth mentioning is also Luther Whiting Mason (1828-1896).


Izawa studied education for three years in the Untied States, became an educational official in the new Meiji government, and, although not a musician, became the supervisor of music education. In 1879, he submitted "Plan for the Study of Music" in which he advocated a creating a distinctive form of modern Japanese music by mixing Japanese and western elements. To carry out this plan, Izawa brought in Mason in 1880, who was a professional musician. Later that year, twenty-two students, mostly women, enrolled in a course in music studies directed by Izawa and Mason.


Having worked at NHK, I always tend to check their websites, as I know they were often very early and I was not disappointed:

The history of the NHK Symphony Orchestra began from the “New Symphony Orchestra”, Japan’s first professional orchestra established on October 5, 1926. After its name was changed to “Japan Symphony Orchestra”, the orchestra received full financial support from NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, i. e. Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in 1951, and changed its name to “NHK Symphony Orchestra”. The Orchestra’s performance standard has vastly improved after appointing Joseph Rosenstock as chief conductor, and its subscription concerts, which are its core activities, continued even during the World War II...




Bonus Swan Lake: NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kazufumi Yamashita. NHK Hall, Tokyo, 2005.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Plan


I have had the most amazingly busy week helping a very professional and inspiring Swedish film team do a documentary here in Tokyo. Their emails turned into phone calls and then increasingly - concerns/joyful requests/questions/whatnot.

The team that made The Planet will now go further to talk to some very special people around the world, trying to find out what we all can do to change things.

If you are familiar with Thomas Kuhn/Paradigm Shift-kind-of-thinking, this will sound familiar.

There are moments in history when great changes occur. An old epoch gives way to a new, shifts in ways of thinking or paradigm shifts, as the philosopher Thomas S. Kuhn chose to call it. What is it that drives forth and triggers these changes or sudden shifts in our lives and in our minds?


Yet, somehow, it all boils down to logistics. I found a truly marvellous driver, Mayumi-san, with a Toyota Hiace van big enough for the five of us and tons of gear, including a brand new camera that is good enough to light up your movie theatre. There was a lot I could not help them with, so they had to rent Kino gear from expensive Tokyo firms that I had no idea even existed. Oh well...

Getting permission (許可 をとる, kyoka o toru) for filming in Tokyo is not impossible, if you are shooting a real feature film, like Lost in Translation. Talk to Tokyo Location Box - you had better do it formally through the Tokyo Metropolitan people, who will help you sort things out properly with the police department. But for us, with Mayumi-san kindly watching our backs, setting up the camera on a sturdy tripod on a busy west Shinjuku corner was actually not so bad. We even made some friends with passer-bys who stopped by to admire Anders, our Norrland (far northern Sweden) cameraman and his novelty-yet-to-be-released Red.

Filming in Akihabara was fun, but we failed to get any of the cosplay Licolita girls who are trying to get every otaku in Tokyo to get into carbon offsets to join us. We also failed to go all the way to Uenomura in south-western Gunma, where the mountain roads are not so easy to navigate this time of year, in spite of Mayumi-san's fancy superior (and talkative) Panasonic GPS system!

I loved the evening we spent at an ancient shinto shrine in Chofu. Tonight, we rode the Yurikamome line back and forth to catch the billions (?) of lights of this huge and important city, glowing so bright in the night. Did you know that the Winter Illumination in the Marunouchi district near Tokyo station is all powered by renweable energy and low-energy LED lamps this year? Finally, tomorrow we have a party in Harajuku, courtesy of greenz.jp and Treehouse Network.

The Plan? I hope the team will keep asking the difficult question - what is your plan? How do you intend to change the world? What can you do? What are you doing? What will you do?

otsukaresamadeshita...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Making Wine From Viburnum Berries


I went to a "Eco-tourism" event in Hanno, up near where the hills become mountains and there are rivers and lakes.


We took a long walk in the morning, with the guide helping everyone identifying edible plants and berries, such as gamazumi, that we picked. We then got the entire, full-monty lecture and started clean the matatabi, yamaboushi, sarunashi and gumi. Adding alcohol, we were told to wait for 3 years to get the special flavour... Our guide had plenty of bottles, all properly labelled, some dating back 20 years or so. The older the better ;)

Gamazumi is a plant we actually have in Sweden too, it is called olvon. The Latin name is Viburnum dilatatum.

Making sake from rice of course happens in late fall, after the harvest. Around here, and in the far western part of Tokyo, and into Yamanashi, there are lots of wineries and sake breweries. Many of them are having events and guided tours.

With my UK friend visiting, I had an opportunity to go to Mercian, the large winery in Yamanashi prefecture. Their wine-making tradition dates back to 1877. We also went to a sake brewery called Matsudaya, that boasts the largest taiko drum in the world! Of course Tom and Kouji had to go ahead and play.

Really, there were these huge, heavy drum sticks waiting in a box: all you had to do was take of your shoes and hit the skin. Apparently it is in the Guinness Book of Records.

Evening Meditation

Sunset on Lake Kitaura, Ibaraki-ken
Photobucket


and the moonrise
Photobucket

Monday, November 10, 2008

Groovisions: "Ensuring the Future of Food"



Pink Tentacle spotted the new video Tokyo-based Groovisions motion graphic design crew made for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), to highlight some of the serious issues surrounding the future of food in Japan. The video with English subtitles was posted on the official MAFF YouTube channel, which was created last month.


Groovisions usually makes design projects like Spank the Monkey or stuff for MTV, so I wonder how they felt about this project! Do watch, they have managed to cram a lot of facts about Kurashi issues into a very attractive package.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hanno Matsuri 2008


Hanno City has a couple of amazing festivals, and last weekend I was lucky to meet up with an old friend from the UK who happens to be a great taiko drummer.

The largest taiko drum in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records? Tom loved it. If you ever visit Yamanashi prefecture, pick up the wooden sticks, take off your shoes, and hit the skin.

Tom has been to some 38 prefectures around Japan, usually on the special 18 Seishun JR tickets that allows unlimited train travel on local lines. Tom was back briefly for the 2002 World Cup, but this was his first real "deep" visit since he lived here back in 1989-1994.

And, what a coincidence, having 50,000 people on the streets for 2 nights, just as my old friend was back. Luck... 一期一会!

Caster: Lung Cancer Causing Cigarettes From Japan Tobacco


If you ever have watched Tetsuya Chikushi, a newscaster and journalist who hosted Tokyo Broadcasting System's "News 23" program, you will be sad to hear that he died in lung cancer yesterday. He was fluent in English and interviewed presidents and foreign guests with confidence.

I have no evidence that his favourite brand was Japan Tobacco's Caster, (with a hint of vanilla from Madagascar, apparently) but cigarettes are the cause of 98% of all lung cancer cases around the world. The brand name obviously tries to milk the sense of kakko-ii (stylishness) associated with a TV news caster, but the era of such murdeous marketing scams ought to have ended a long time ago. Tetsuya Chikushi, we miss you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kei-Car Sales Up 6.2% In Japan While New Car Sales Dropped 13.1%


Macho car journalism will never be the same... NHK World notes that Kei cars, the 660 cc engine size vehicles that are already so common in Japan, are now selling like hot cakes, no make that omochi (rice cakes). The association of mini-car dealers, Japan Mini Vehicles Association, says October, 2008 new car sales were up 6.2 percent from the same month last year, indicating that many motorists are opting for cheaper, more fuel efficient vehicles.

More details over at Treehugger!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lifestyle Forum 2008



If you are in Tokyo this weekend, do visit the park called Shinjuku Gyoen and listen to lectures about environmental topics, "slow life" and current topics. The cafes are great and I love the focus on all my favourite topics like solar power, fair trade gifts and organic food.


Lifestyle Forum 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cup Noodles Recalled

Japan's Nissin Food Products Co. said Friday it was recalling half a million cups of instant Cup Noodles over fears of insecticide contamination. AFP has more:

A 67-year-old woman vomited and felt numbness on her tongue after eating Nissin's Cup Noodle this week in the Tokyo suburb of Fujisawa, the city's health office said late Thursday. The product was made at a Nissin factory in Japan.


Recalls are a good way to quickly deal with the uncertainty in such situation. The noodles scare spread as another company, Myojo Foods Co. said it found instant noodles laced with paradichlorobenzene and naphthol, also used as bug repellent. I wonder if consumers are getting more careful and more willing to report bad food. Hope noone else gets sick!

Update I: Asahi says the Japanese Consumers' Co-operative Union (JCCU) has had to recall its cup noodles as well: JCCU told its outlets to remove five types of Co-op cup ramen from their shelves. Their stuff is made by Myojo Foods, and it has taken an entire month for them to get to the bottom of this. Mainichi has more: Woman left ill after eating contaminated instant noodles

Update II: NHK World says a Tokyo-based food company has begun to recall a type of Chinese-made instant noodles after it detected a tiny amount of the chemical melamine. Ryukou Shokuhin found the chemical in the freeze-dried broth for instant Harusame noodles with dried vegetables and egg. The product was made by a Chinese manufacturer.

Update III: Kyodo says Itoham Foods Inc. will voluntarily recall 2.67 million packages of sausages, pizzas and other products that might be tainted by toxic cyanogen compounds detected last month in well water it uses. The recall affects 13 products: nine types of sausages, including Arabiki Gourmet Vienna Sausage, and four kinds of pizzas. It will also include expired products. Itoham's previously very fancy website now looks like this.

Update IV: Recall-Plus.jp is your website if you want to try to keep up with product problems of all kinds in Japan!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

21st Tokyo International Film Festival: Action! For Earth


Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) starts on October 18th. Stars will walk on a green carpet manufactured from recycled plastic bottles to convey the message of “Ecology = Preservation of Earth’s Environment.”

The Earth Grand Prix, a new award, will be given for the first time to the best new film dealing with nature, the environment and ecology. There will also be some fun and easy-to-understand conferences and other events on the environment and ecology are also scheduled. Participation if free! The official poster of the 21st TIFF features a green earth and the new motto of TIFF “Action! for Earth!”

TIFF Lineup

I like that the Natural TIFF, a new section of the festival program, is also launched this year, with 30 new and vintage films. The following films will have their world premier: Ashes from the Sky, Blue Symphony, and Silent Color Silent Voice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NHK: Shanghai Typhoon


NHK's six-part drama series, Shanghai Typhoon is about a young Japanese woman named Misuzu (Tae Kimura) as she starts her own business in Shanghai. As she moves to the Chinese city she has trouble finding an apartment, so she stays with another Japanese expatriate, Mari (Megumi).

Misuzu applies for a job at a flower shop, and the boss, Kaori (Yuki Matsushita), reluctantly hires her. Later, Misuzu realizes that the Chinese owner of the flower shop (Peter Ho) got her fired from her last job in Japan. It gets more interesting as Misuzu reveals her true talent as a fashion designer...

You can watch six brief trailers from the drama: the last one will be aired on October 18, 2008, called "Thank You, Shanghai".

With the recent opening of H&M, the Swedish retailer, in Japan, I cannot help but wonder... Multinational companies need to do a lot better in terms of supporting culture and drama, to really connect people around the world. If Shanghai Typhoon is shown on Swedish TV, I would be very pleased. And... In my humble opinion, this is one example of how Japan is a lot more global-minded than my old country... European and American companies think they can sell to customers in Japan and other countries in Asia, without any real commitment to the region. That is not going to be sustainable, guys.

H&M, what's new? Organic cotton? Good. Please make every effort to tell your Japanese customers that this is now available at H&M.

Our intention is to gradually use more cotton that has been grown organically – that is without the use of chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. We want to contribute towards increased demand and thereby motivate more growers to invest in organic cotton growing.

H&M has been using organically grown cotton since 2004, when we began to mix some organic cotton into selected children’s clothing. Since 2007 we have had garments made from 100 percent organic cotton in all departments. We also have some garments made from 50 percent organic cotton and 50 percent conventional cotton. All garments made from organic cotton are marked with an “Organic Cotton” label.

Does H&M have any idea about Japan??

Friday, October 10, 2008

Japanese Humour & Really Bad Jokes


Recent reports indicate the Japanese banking crisis shows no signs of improving. If anything, it's getting worse. Following last week's news that Origami Bank had folded, it was today learned that Sumo Bank has gone belly up. Bonsai Bank plans to cut back some of its branches. Karaoke Bank is up for sale and is going for a song.

Meanwhile, shares in Kamikaze Bank have nose-dived and 500 jobs at Karate Bank will be chopped. Analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank and staff there fear they may get a raw deal.

Source: JREF (Thanks guys, you are the best!)

OK, OK, a few more:

Japanese mugger

What does a Japanese mugger say?
"Give me all your money or I'll kill myself!"

Kamikaze
Why did the Japanese Kamikaze pilot fly back to the base?
He forgot his helmet.

Two men and a woman on a deserted island:

On a beautiful deserted island in the middle of nowhere, the following people are stranded:
Two Italian men and one Italian woman
Two French men and one French woman
Two German men and one German woman
Two Greek men and one Greek woman
Two English men and one English woman
Two Bulgarian men and one Bulgarian woman
Two Japanese men and one Japanese woman
...

One month later the following things have occurred:

One Italian man killed the other Italian man for the Italian woman.

The two French men and the French woman are living happily together having loads of sex.

The two German men have a strict weekly schedule of when they alternate with the German woman.

The two Greek men are sleeping with each other and the Greek woman is cleaning and cooking for them.

The two English men are waiting for someone to introduce them to the English woman.

The two Bulgarian men took a long look at the endless ocean and one look at the Bulgarian woman and they started swimming.

The two Japanese men have faxed Tokyo and are awaiting further instructions.



(Funny photo from swyaa.com)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Giants and Tigers? It's Crunch Time

I know nill and nought about baseball, but I have a ticket for the game at Tokyo Dome tomorrow night (Thursday). So I would appreciate hints from anyone who knows what the fuzz is all about. Asahi says "The Giants and Tigers each have identical 81-56-3 records with four games remaining, including Wednesday's key matchup with each other at Tokyo Dome." I heard they serve draft beer at Tokyo Dome, so I don't think it will be a complete waste of time.

Oh, and no big Japanese bank has failed yet, but the Crunch seems to be hitting the stock market hard. Is Japan going to avoid the bailouts now happening in the US and Europe?

Which brings me to the main message of this post: how do we all join together and calm down the real crisis, instead of letting politicians that we never really liked anyway scare us all into thinking it will get worse?

The Coup D'etat of October 1, 2008

Listen to Naomi Wolf, author of "Give Me Liberty - A Handbook For American Revolutionaries", talk about what our news networks are not telling us (thanks Isis).

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Nobel Prize in Physics To 3 Japanese Scientists...


NHK is reporting that 3 Japanese scientists share the Nobel Prize in Physics this year. More later...

Yoichiro Nambu at Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago, US, shares the prize with Makoto Kobayashi at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization
Tsukuba, Japan, and Toshihide Masukawa at the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP), Kyoto University, Japan. Together, they made important discoveries about "symmetry breaking" and quarks, leading to a deeper understanding of our universe.

...and snowflakes:

How does the oxygen and hydrogen of water form such a wide variety of (beautiful) patterns when forming the simple snowflake? To understand this, we need very complex mathematical models, derived from the years of study of elementary particles and quantum physics.

James Trefil explains the Snowflake like this:

Both the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are quite symmetric when they are isolated. The electric force which governs their actions as atoms is also a symmetrically acting force. But when their temperature is lowered and they form a water molecule, the symmetry of the individual atoms is broken as they form a molecule with 105 degrees between the hydrogen-oxygen bonds. When they freeze to form a snowflake, they form another type of symmetry, but the symmetry of the original atoms has been lost. Since this loss of symmetry occurs without any external intervention, we say that it has undergone spontaneous symmetry breaking.


I'm always inspired by these great minds who continue exploring the origins of our universe. Want to read more about symmetry breaking and quantum physics? Over at Treehugger I made this a (short) list of books:

Richard P. Feynman: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
James Trefil: The Moment of Creation: Big Bang Physics from Before the First Millisecond to the Present Universe
Fritjof Capra: Tao of Physics
Gary Zukav: The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics


Got any more suggestions...?

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Big Issue


This Thursday, we'll have The Big Issue as guest speakers at greenz.jp to talk about poverty and the situation for homeless people in Japan, as part of Blog Action Day 2008.

Date:

Thursday 9th, October 2008

Time Schedule:

19:00 Door Open. Opening Remarks Followed by Presentation by Big Issue Japan
20:00 green drinks
23:00 Door Close

Address:
Lounge greenz 3-29-3 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan (Harajuku station)

Map (in Japanese):
greenz.jp/lounge

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Eiji Oue Conducting Mahler's Fifth Symphony



Part II (with the famous harp tune)

21.10.2006 Auditorio de Barcelona

"Asians have lived below their means so that Americans could live beyond theirs"


Japan has invested $55 billion in US firms in the past few days, in addition to the massive amounts of money spent on "infusions" to the market. Hope America appreciates the effort. We are all in this great act together.

Leading research firm Thomson Reuters says Japanese firms have spent over 55 billion dollars - a record-high amount - to buy out or invest in overseas companies so far this year, capitalizing on the financial turmoil that severely affected US firms, notes NHK World.

Over at Treehugger, one of my collegues notes:

Matt Simmons, head of the oil investment bank Simmons and Company, has long been a prophet of peak oil, silencing the Fast Money team with his dire warnings to move to the country and grow your own food. And he’s busy stirring things up again, warning in a conversation with Peak Moment TV that gasoline reserves are so low in the US that if everyone topped up their tank we would see “a run on the bank”, literally running dry – running out of food within 5 to 7 days...


The title of this post is a quote from the Financial Times, where David Pilling talks to Chinese and Japanese finance experts, wondering if this is America’s chance to kick its Asian addiction:

Did America hang itself with Asian rope? I put this to a Chinese official last week and, quick as a flash, he responded: “No. It drowned itself in Asian liquidity.”

Asia’s part in America’s financial downfall has been two-fold. First, shiploads of cheap goods from China and other low-cost producers helped keep a lid on US prices. That lulled the Fed, with its tight focus on the consumer price index, into thinking it could have it both ways: high growth with low inflation.


Second, FT notes, Asian bank reserves, particularly from Japan, funded buy-now pay-later consumption in the US.

I can't help but wonder why. "Asians have lived below their means so that Americans could live beyond theirs" - a classic quote.

Treehugger: A Great Act: Living Beyond One's Means

Oh, and as part of the very unusual $700 billion taxpayer-assisted US bailout of banks and market players, there was also a sign of relief:

Wind power tax credits have been extended for one year; other types of renewable energy such as small-scale hydro or tidal power have been extended for two years. The bigger news is that solar tax credits for businesses and residential installations have been extended for eight years. The entire package amounts to $18 billion in tax credits and will be partially paid for by closing tax loopholes for the oil and gas industry.


A comment I got from Crossroads in China (much appreciated!):

I too will be interested to see if Americans will be able to manage through this period. The Chinese call it "eating bitterness", and unfortunately there are some that will have to do just that before times improve.

through this episode in our economic and social evolution, one can only hope that the concepts of conspicuous and green consumption patterns will take hold. Otherwise, nothing will have been learned, and the opportunity to make big steps will have been lost.


(Photo - of a real great act - from from Blogtorira, a great act from an ancient Kagura performance)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

World Foodless Day


Rising food prices, food contamination, reduced food production induced by climate change — food insecurity is spreading all over the world. Japan is suffering from low food self-sufficiency and a string of food safety scandals and frauds. The occasion of World Food Day on October 16 organised by the FAO is an opportune time to send a strong message of food sovereignty and highlight consumers’ strategies to address the food crisis.

World Foodless Day

How can consumers cope with this crisis? Several NGOs will organise a forum, Another World Food Day, in Tokyo to discuss a wide range of current food problems and solutions.

The forum titled “Sky-rocketing food prices and crisis: hype and reality” will include the following themes:

* The real cause of the rising food prices
* How genetically modified foods are accelerating the food crisis
* Can Japan feed itself?

Organised by:

* NO! GMO Campaign
* Consumers Union of Japan
* No to WTO/FTA Grass-roots Campaign
* Japan Organic Agriculture Association

Date and time:

* October 16, 2008
* afternoon session: 14:00-16:00
* evening session: 19:00-21:00

Venue:

* Taito-ku Shogai Gakushu Center
* Nishi-Asakusa 3-25-6, Taito-ku, Tokyo
* Nearby stations: JR Uguisudani St. (South exit)/Tokyo Metro Iriya St. (Exit No.1)/Tsukuba Express Asakusa St. (Exit A2)

Avoid Pump Rage



This is from Atlanta, US. Empty gas stations? "Pump rage"? That hasn't happened yet here in Japan, although there have been a couple of reports of drivers who just left without paying after filling up. Kurashi will keep you posted.

Avoid Pump Rage; Practice Gas Line Etiquette

Long lines at the pump and the high price of gas when you can find it are creating a hostile environment at the local gas station.

As soon as you're finished filling up a long line of other drivers waits to take your spot at the pump.

Time is money and gasoline is even more money.

But the crush to fill up doesn't give drivers an excuse to abandon common courtesy.

Here are a few rules that might help you keep your sanity while waiting for fuel:

1. Get in line - If there's nobody behind you it's OK to hover and see which line is moving fastest, but as soon as somebody else pulls into the lot you must pick a line and pull into place.

2. Use credit - While people are waiting it slows things down when somebody strolls inside and pays cash, so use your credit or debit card.

Source: wsbtv