Friday, March 21, 2008

Riding The Waves- Hawaii To Japan

Kenichi Horie "waved" a fond Aloha to Hawaii at 11:00 AM Sunday (local time) and is now riding the waves to Japan on a new aluminum catamaran that is powered by wave action.

The 3 ton boat, Suntory Mermaid II, is crafted of recycled aluminum and is 9.5 meters long (31 feet). Propulsion is provided by two fins mounted at the bow of the boat which flap as wave action acts upon them through a set of levers and springs. It doesn't matter what direction the wave comes from. The max speed is 5 knots and average cruise speed just 3 knots (about 3.5 mph), so it will take until late May for Mr. Horie to reach Japan. Electricity to run cabin and navigation lights, a shortwave radio, and laptop computer, comes from deck mounted solar panels.

Horie, who is 69 years old, is no stranger to ocean crossings. Since 1962 he has made solo ocean crossings every few years and two solo round the world trips. In 1962 he sailed his 19 foot boat Mermaid from Nishinomiya, Japan to San Francisco in 94 days, becoming the first Japanese to solo across the Pacific. He arrived in San Francisco with no passport or money and was arrested. However, after learning of his voyage the mayor, George Christopher, arranged to have him released and given a 30 day visa. Kenichi was even awarded the key to the city. His book "Kodoku" ("Alone on the Pacific") about this experience, was made into a movie, "My Enemy, The Sea". The Mermaid is on display at the San Francisco Maritime Museum.

His boats have all been unique in that they were made from recycled materials - aluminum, beer kegs, recycled plywood whiskey barrels, and so on. Even his sails have been made of recycled plastics. He has always relied on renewable energy for propulsion - his own muscle, wind, solar, and now waves. He sailed the "Malt's Mermaid" - made of recycled cans and powered solely by solar voltaic panels - non-stop from Ecuador to Tokyo in 1996. Ecuador honored the voyage by naming two islets in the Gulapagos - one after him, the the other after the boat.

(picture from Pop Sci)

The propulsion system was designed by Hiroshi Terao of Tokai University’s oceanography department, as an experiment in alternative propulsion in response to fossil fuel depletion (peak oil). He hopes that this invention will make it possible to significantly cut the fuel required by ships, perhaps as much as half. The boat itself was designed by famed racing yacht designer Ichiro Yokoyama and built by Tsuneishi Shipbuilding Company.

Horie does have a sail and an outboard motor on the Suntory Mermaid II, but those are only for use to provide power when entering port at the end of the voyage.

You can keep track of Kenichi Horie's progress with his diary and map here: SUNTORY-MERMAID.COM

Go Kenichi!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Harukigawa: Japan's worst river

NHK has a fun show with the tema Worst!

Until recently, the worst river in Japan was Harukigawa in Ichikawa, Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo. Many homes have no plumbing for kitchen waste or laundry, and unless cooking oil is kept out of the sink and detergent use reduced, it all goes straight into the river - and further downriver into Tokyo Bay.

Rivers are measured according to a pollution scale and clearly, something had to be done about this issue. Now, people say the water is no longer black but becoming bluish. After a local campaign, it now ranks third, having reduced the pollution index from 14.0 to 11.4 BOD which is not great, but a lot better than a year ago.

The average BOD in river water in Japan was reduced from 3.3 in 1979 to 1.6 in 2003, so Harukigawa still has a long way to go.

How to get ordinary people to care about the environment? One of the campaigners went around to households, talked to them, and got about 15,000 people to pledge to reduce their kitchen water pollution through some simple steps. Those who participated put up a banner with a green frog, looking rather unwell, and information about the need to clean up the river. Professional sludge experts were then hired to remove some 70 cm of yucky goo from the bottom. Many bloggers have also participated, for example check here and here. And now, it seems some birds are returning as well as small fish. A nice success for "Spring Tree River".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good as gold

A gold-coated wooden Buddha sculpture set a new world auction record for Japanese art when it was sold for $14,377,000 at Christie's in New York, according to Reuters.

The newly discovered sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai, the supreme Buddha, attributed to the sculptor Unkei, was bought by Mitsukoshi Department Store at Christie's sale of Japanese and Korean art on Tuesday.

"History was made today," said Katsura Yamaguchi, Christie's International Director of Japanese and Korean Art. "We witnessed enormous interest from clients worldwide who traveled from near and far to ... participate in this landmark sale."

The 70 cm seated Buddha is believed to be the work of Unkei, considered one of the great carvers of the early Kamakura period of the 1190s. Part of a family collection in the northern Kanto region, before which it was kept in a Tochigi prefecture temple in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, its existence was unknown until it was sold to a Buddhist dealer and then bought by the consignor.

Japan's culture agency had received a petition signed by more than 12,000 people who wanted the statue to remain in Japan, according to NHK.

Click here for NHK's Japanese news about the auction (200k Broadband connection required).

You can see more of Unkei's masterful sculptures in Kyoto and Nara.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No future for GMO corn in Japan

In Japan, most corn processors have used only non-GMO crops to produce corn starch and corn syrup, used as a sweetener, as most customers, mainly beer and drug makers, refuse to use GMOs. Risa Maeda at Reuters notes that beer makers so far are resisting price hikes in corn starch, an important ingredient for beer, or a shift to GMO.

"Lack of public acceptance means we don't consider it," said a spokesman at Kirin Holdings, which seven years ago led its peers to use only non-GMO corn starch for Japanese beer.

Kirin notes genetically modified foods, allergic foods, food additives, chemical residues in food, endocrine disrupters, beef (BSE), irradiation, and mycotoxins as items with "high customer interest" in its 2007 CSR Report (pdf), prompting the company to create special quality guidelines to deal with these difficult problems. Also, the introduction of IP handling, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) and ISO9001 certification by food manufacturing facilities have enhanced the transparency of Japanese food companies' quality assurance structure. Clearly, the pressure is on U.S. farmers to supply non-GMO corn.

Reuters: More Pressure on Japan to Accept U.S. Genetically Engineered Corn

(Photo: Poster for Kirin non-GMO beer from Gaijin Tonic)

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ume in Nakayama

As I open my front door, this is the view - plum trees in full bloom.


Swans at Kussharo Lake in Hokkaido, northern Japan.

From Janne in Osaka, with an accute eye.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anti-nuclear demonstration March 16

There will be a anti-nuclear power demonstration in Tokyo on Sunday, March 16, 2008. The activists from No Nukes More Hearts and other groups invite everyone to participate and learn more about the problems with the Rokkashomura nuclear reprocessing plant in Aomori prefecture.

Meet up in Shibuya at 13:30 by the Miyashita Park. The walk starts at 14:00 and goes past NHK, Hachiko at Shibuya station, and back. Read more at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who doesn't want a treehouse?

Takeshi Kobayashi has an unusual hobby - or maybe passion is a better word. He designs treehouses. Here in Japan, that is just not very common, to say the least. His treehouses are appearing all over the country, even as a cafe in Harajuku, Tokyo, called Hideaway.

I'm impressed. If your computer is ok with Flash graphics, I recommend the Japan Treehouse Network website. see this as a "road to freedom".

Lots of photos at
Treehouse Creator

They say, since Japan has a lot of forest, it is possible to live with the forest. This is a way of protecting the forests and a way to experience living with nature. Lumber is also a sustainable resource, if forests are maintained well...

China to have Environment Ministry

China has announced that it will upgrade its environment agency SEPA to ministry status. The new environment ministry aims "to boost environmental and ecological protection efforts and accelerate the building of a resource-saving and environment-friendly society," State Councilor Hua Jianmin said while explaining the government's plan this week.

The ministry will be responsible for drafting and implementing programs, policies and standards concerning environmental protection; working out environmental functions in different regions; supervising pollution prevention and treatment efforts; and tackling major environmental issues

Obviously there are huge problems in China.

"Some of the policies put forward by the central government, when they are implemented at the local level, in some places they are not completed or in place," Zhang Lijun, deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), according to Reuters.

Also in the news, China appears to be producing far more carbon dioxide than previous estimates and this will frustrate global aims to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases. A group of economists are adding to calls for China to sign up to binding cuts, something it has refused to do.

China Daily: Ministry will give more weight to green issues

Reuters: China's emissions seen rising faster than thought

I, for one, will not go to Beijing this year. 1936, anyone?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shinkansen bento: 15 million sold with false labels

15 million food items with expired dates have been for sold on Japan's Shinkansen trains. The catering firm is a subsidiary of Central Japan Railway Co. They claim that they have not received any complaints of health problems stemming from the expired box lunches, sandwiches and other food items.

Catering company president Takeshi Tategami apologized for "undermining public trust," saying the false labeling "became habitual due to familiarization of the process."

That's a poor excuse.

The company sold a lot of expired items - as much as 30 percent of what were sold between April 2005, when the company shortened its period for safe consumption of the products, and February 2008, when the false labeling came to light - according to Kyodo. If you have eaten a dodgy Shinkansen bento, why not write them a letter.

Rules for "Shelf life", "Best before" dates and "Consume before" dates are clearly stipulated in Japan's food safety legislation. It doesn't mean the bentos are unsafe, but rather that there is no guarantee of safety. Thus, they should not be sold - and false labeling is certainly a crime.

If you find cases of false labeling, or other problems with food safety, you can notify the government's 110 hotline for food safety.

消費期限 (Shouhi kigen) means "Consume before".
賞味期限 (Shoumi kigen) means "Best before" or "At least good until" or "Taste-is-OK-until" or "Shelf life".

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rooftop garden in Fukuoka

Perhaps Japan's most amazing green building is in Fukuoka, southern Japan. It is called ACROS Fukuoka with two very distinct sides: one side looks like a conventional office building with glass walls, but on the other side there is a huge terraced roof that merges with a park. The garden terraces, which reach up to about 60 meters above the ground, contain some 35,000 plants representing 76 species. There is a semicircular atrium and a triangular lobby that provides contrast to the greenery. ACROS has enough space for a symphony hall, offices and shops.

The green roof enables the building’s energy consumption to be much lower than other buildings because the plants keep the inside temperature at a comfortable level.

The design for ACROS Fukuoka proposes a novel solution for a common urban problem: reconciling the developer’s desire for profitable use of a site with the public’s need for open green space, and the planet’s need for greenery.

Rooftop garden in Tokyo

On top of the world: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has added a rooftop garden to its Assembly building in Shinjuku. They have also installed solar power generation facilities. The garden project began in 2002 and has been a sucess. They grow azalea, roses, juniper (cypress) and several types of magnolia on a 770 square meter plot. Visitors are welcome to enter the garden.

Solar power generator panels have been set up next to the green areas to supply power to the garden lights on the rooftop and to electrical devices in the Assembly building.

Read more on The Greening Project website.

Meanwhile, Tokyo is making plans to increase its reliance on renewable energy to 20% by 2020. In order to reach this goal, they want to promote "drastic energy efficiency measures first, then shift from the conventaional energy to renewable energy."

Source: Tokyo Renewable Energy Strategy (pdf)

Incidentally, the 20% goal is identical to what The European Council has adopted in its "extensive energy action plan for the period 2007-2009". Like Tokyo, they have "ambitious objectives for energy efficiency and renewable energy": by 2020, renewable energy will account for 20 per cent of total energy consumption. And the European Commission is aiming to to double the share of renewable energies in the European Union - from the present 6% to 12% by 2010. Latvia, Sweden, Finland and Austria have already achieved this goal: Sweden's share of renewable energy sources was over 29% in 2005, with a high hydroelectric production (water power).

Tokyo gets most of its power from other parts of Japan, including nuclear reactors, as well as oil from the Middle East. While I agree that energy efficiency measures will be very helpful, Tokyo's 20-30 million citizens will really have to make a huge effort if Japan's capital is to support wind energy, small-scale hydro power, energy from biomass, solar thermal applications, and especially photovoltaic (silicon module panels directly generating electricity from the sun’s light raher than heat) generation.

Who has the oil?

Click to enlarge.

From The Atlantic, where Andrew Sullivan uses it to explain why the US is not leaving Iraq, noting that "Kuwait was worth rescuing, wasn't it?"

And of course it also helps to explain why Japan has been so eager to resume its assistance to the international coalition in the Gulf.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Food safety management standard ISO 22000

Japan's imports of vegetables from China have decreased since late January when tainted Chinese-made meat dumplings caused several cases of food poisoning. Kyodo quotes a preliminary government survey that reveals that Japan imported 20,704 tons of vegetables from China in the first three weeks of February, down 39.7% from a year earlier, said the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

In spite of some media reports, China appears to be very cautious about the gyoza scandal. Officially, they seem perplexed about the level of scrutiny, and at loss about how to deal with the situation. China Daily notes that the investigation continues:

China on Thursday said its investigation into the dumpling poisoning incident would continue and no unilateral conclusion should be drawn before the truth was discovered. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang made the remarks at a regular press conference, noting that the incident was a cross-border one concerning food safety and could not be solved without cooperation between China and Japan. Qin stressed that the Chinese government had always attached great importance to food safety and taken a highly responsible attitude towards both domestic and foreign consumers.

So far, it is still not clear where the contamination took place. This is of course unacceptable. If the Chinese factory has no records of their production, they should not be exporting food. Blogger GlobalTalk 21 notes that the Chinese take losing face very seriously, and that China would have continued in a far more cooperative vein if their Japanese counterparts had been willing to work outside the glare of the Japanese media. He notes that that, of course, is impossible in an open society like Japan.

The good news is that this week, JT indicated that they will reduce their reliance on Chinese-made products, and implement the ISO 22000 food safety management standard to be able to continue selling safe products. The JT Group notes on its website (pdf) that they will require all suppliers to secure ISO 22000 food safety management system certificates from the International Organization for Standardization within the next two years and will require the certification as a prerequisite for production of food products on behalf of JT. Currently, JT's frozen food is produced at 17 factories in China, 11 of which belong to Chinese companies, including Tianyang Food, the producer of the suspect dumplings.

What is the ISO 22000?

ISO 22000:2005 specifies requirements to enable an organization

-- to plan, implement, operate, maintain and update a food safety management system aimed at providing products that, according to their intended use, are safe for the consumer,

-- to demonstrate compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory food safety requirements,

-- to evaluate and assess customer requirements and demonstrate conformity with those mutually agreed customer requirements that relate to food safety, in order to enhance customer satisfaction,

-- to effectively communicate food safety issues to their suppliers, customers and relevant interested parties in the food chain,

-- to ensure that the organization conforms to its stated food safety policy,

-- to demonstrate such conformity to relevant interested parties, and

-- to seek certification or registration of its food safety management system by an external organization, or make a self-assessment or self-declaration of conformity to ISO 22000:2005.

(Graph from Asia Food Journal: ISO 22000: Market Decides: Top Or Flop?)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Activist refused entry at Narita Airport

Update: On Saturday, Kim Ae Hwa was allowed to enter Japan, after criticism mounted over the refusal earlier this week of her entry at the same airport. I'm glad to learn she challenged the system and won.

A South Korean civic group leader who arrived Wednesday at Narita airport, to participate in a Tokyo meeting of Asian nongovernmental organizations was refused permission to enter Japan, other participants of the meeting said Friday. The woman, Kim Ae Hwa, planned to discuss regional disparities and the protection of farmers in developing countries at the meeting to be held this weekend ahead of a Group of Eight summit in July in Japan.

Kim Ae Hwa, a representative from the Committee for Asian Women, planned to discuss regional disparities and the protection of farmers in developing countries, according to OANA:

Mary Lou Malig, a researcher at a private think tank in Thailand, told a press conference that the participants of the forum must look into why Kim was refused entry.

Japan is a democratic country and freedom of expression should be respected, Malig said, adding that excessive regulations are a problem and that the participants' activities are peaceful and directed at thinking about the plight of people suffering from poverty.

An official at the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau said, "We cannot comment about an individual case."

Kyodo notes that she returned home after being interviewed at Narita airport and told she had been refused entry.

The forum is organized by the G8 Action Network, which brings together various Japanese civic groups, including Consumers Union of Japan, Attac and People's Plan.

Call to action against the G8

Resisting Free Trade, Militarism and Fighting for Real Solutions to Climate Change

The G8 Summit will be held this year from July 7-9 in Toyako, Hokkaido, Japan. This will be a culmination of a series of ministerial preparation meeting beginning in March. The G8 Action Network, a network of various Japanese organizations and movements, is calling on all social movements, peasant organizations, women, migrants, urban and rural poor, fisherfolks and civil society from all over the world who are resisting free trade in its many forms, war and militarism, the privatization of essential services and natural resources, illegitimate debt and the domination of global finance, and fighting for and building real people based solutions to global warming, to come and join us in the week of action against the G8 here in Japan.

Friday, March 07, 2008

UN World Food Programme

The United Nations has a World Food Programme that sends food aid to some 73 million people in around 80 countries. Recently, the WFP is warning that they have a problem: "We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs."

The Guardian notes that the WFP is holding an emergency meeting in Rome on Friday, at which its senior managers will meet board members to brief them on the scale of the problem. There will then be a case-by-case assessment of the seriousness of the situation in the affected countries, before the WFP formally asks for an increased budget at its executive board meeting in June.

Among the reasons for higher wheat, corn and soy prices are: a rise in demand for animal feed [for meat] from increasingly prosperous populations in India and China, the use of more land and agricultural produce for biofuels, and climate change.

Soy prices are up some 72% year-on-year, and wheat prices are also going up (the area planted with wheat globally has been relatively static for the last 20 years).

The Guardian: Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

Reuters: UN Sees More Hunger, Unrest Over Food Inflation

The Oil Drum: USA Grain Exports - Where to, how much?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Justice at last for victims of contaminated blood scandal

Japan's Supreme Court this week upheld a suspended prison sentence for a former health ministry official convicted for failing to prevent the use of HIV-contaminated blood products in the mid 1980s, according to Kyodo and Bloomberg.

This is the first time in 25 years that a Japanese government official has been held criminally responsible for administrative negligence. The Tokyo District Court issued a one-year suspended prison sentence for Akihito Matsumura in 2001, a decision upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 2005, Kyodo said. The courts ruled Matsumura caused the death of a liver disease patient in 1995 by failing to stop the use of contaminated blood products.

In Japan, the contaminated blood products infected 1,430 people with HIV between the late 1970s and 1986. More than 500 of them have died. Green Cross Corp., a Japanese drug company used blood products imported from the United States, collected from needle-drug users and federal prisoners in Arkansas. Bayer, the German drug company, stopped sales of the drugs in the United States in 1984, but did not stop sales of the contaminated products in Japan until a year later.

The people responsible at the US Food & Drug Administration have not been brought to justice (nor have they apologized) according to Wikipedia and other sources.

There is nothing green about Green Cross Corp. The company is now a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Takeda Pharma Corp., the Osaka-based company that also makes food additives, pesticides and various veterinary drugs. As Sheldon Harris noted in 1999 in his essay about Japanese Medical Atrocities in WWII, Green Cross Corp was founded by war criminals, such as Naito Ryoichi and Kitano Masaji. The link to the contaminated blood was not lost on prof. Harris:

The callousness shown by these scholars and physicians is best illustrated by what is known as The Green Cross scandal. Nearly 1500 Japanese, principally hemophiliacs, were given unsterilized blood that contained the HIV virus in the mid-1980s. Much of this contaminated blood was supplied by the Green Cross Company, although it had been warned of the danger of using unsterilized blood. Putting profits ahead of safety and concern for the ill, Green Cross officials, in collusion with members of the Ministry of Health, continued to provide patients with contaminated blood. Nearly 500 individuals thus far have died of HIV complications due to having received infected blood. In February 2000, in a landmark decision in Japan, several Green Cross officials were sentenced to prison for their crimes. The company has since been absorbed by another Japanese pharmaceutical company. However, hundreds of lawsuits are pending in Japanese courts against the late Green Cross Company and its successor. The silence of the Japanese Government concerning this crime and other notorious medical crimes is deafening.

So, how did contaminated blood get into medical products? The documentary "Factor 8 uses in-depth interviews and key documents as well as never-before-seen footage, to allege wrongdoing at the Arkansas state government under Governor Bill Clinton's leadership, and at the United States federal level", showing how blood was sold by blood companies for millions of dollars and shipped around the world.

Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal is a very, very disturbing, award-winning film by Kelly Duda.

Update: I should mention that Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has offered an official apology to plaintiffs who sued the state and drug makers over their infection of hepatitis C through tainted blood products. He also apologized for the government's delay in helping them:

"(We) have caused you great hardship both mentally and physically for a long time," Fukuda told the group at the Prime Minister's Official Residence. "I take this opportunity to offer a heart-felt apology."

Health minister Yoichi Masuzoe also admitted that the government is responsible for having caused this scandal stemming from tainted blood products "and must reflect on its actions."

Asahi: Fukuda offers apology to hepatitis C patients

Photo showing Michiko Yamaguchi protesting outside Mitsubishi Pharma's offices in Tokyo from The Japan Times: Blood battle is about the past and future

(Haemophilia is a genetic condition which prevents blood clotting, while hepatitis C can result in cirrhosis (fibrotic scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.)


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Green TV Japan

I know I have a few English teachers reading my blog from time to time, perhaps looking for topics for lessons or picking up ideas for the class room. Environmental education, anyone?

Do have a look at Green TV, a great idea with streaming videos such as Tsunami: Green Belts, or Crude (about oil) with Japanese subtitles. There are many Japanese-language videos as well, including a lovely documentary about "Living with forests". I like the interview with Takanaka Akiyoshi, who talks about poetry and how people express their deep feelings for nature - and how words, in the form of poems, can live for 500 or 1000 years.

There are also many videos from Earth Day Tokyo in April, 2007, which I really enjoyed, and wrote about here. Now you can watch Green TV's Part1, Part2, Part3 and Part 4 (with Fuji Rock Festival and Greenpeace Japan). I love they way these videos let lots and lots of people appear with their messages for peace and "green" planet.

I would also like to recommend the video (in English/Swedish, with Japanese subtitles) about Wetland Protection by Helge å (literally "Holy River") in Kristianstad, Sweden, near my birth place. 1700 hectar of wild bird protection. So happy to see that particular success story being shown all over the world.

The Green TV Japanese website is ambitious, with some big sponsors in addition to the UNEP, Greenpeace and the Japanese NPO Sloth Club or slow life partners.

Complete list of videos here.

Let me know if you use it, and how the reaction is among the students!

English website here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Peace march in Shizuoka honors hydrogen bomb victim

Kyodo reports that about 1,000 people held a peace march Saturday in Shizuoka Prefecture, calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The event was held to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the irradiation of the crew of a Japanese fishing ship by a US hydrogen bomb test at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

The Bravo test, in February 1954, was at 15 megatons the most powerful bomb ever detonated by the US - far bigger than expected. An H-bomb, it vaporized three islands and threw radioactive debris over nearly 50,000 square miles, according to an interesting website maintained by "The Bureau of Atomic Tourism" (for real). Official Bikini Atoll website here, with details about the forced evacuation and sufferings of local residents. They also write about the Japanese fishing ship, called "Lucky Dragon" in English-language media. And here in Tokyo, there is a exhibition hall that houses the fishing ship, and guides explain the horrors of nuclear radiation to school children and other visitors. Address: Yumenoshima Park 3-2, Tokyo, Japan.

Participants in the Shizuoka event marched the 2-kilometer course through the city of Yaizu, the home port of Fukuryu Maru No. 5, carrying banners and a photo of Aikichi Kuboyama, the ship's chief radio operator who died six months after the irradiation at the age of 40. They placed flowers at Kuboyama's grave and prayed for peace.

The 1954 events came around the time when Japanese people were beginning to learn more about the horrible effects in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after years of strict censorship during the US occupation. According to CNN, by August 1955, 32 million signatures had been collected among Japanese people to protest US nuclear tests, and the first world conference protesting nuclear weapons was held in Hiroshima.

Peak Oil at Japan's House of Councillors

There was a conference yesterday, Feb 29 about Peak Oil and how Japan will be affected. The venue was the House of Councillors, at the Japanese Parliament in Tokyo. The speaker was the author of several books and articles about Peak Oil, Ishii Yoshinori.

Ishii argues for (among other things) a "Plan B" for Japan's energy needs, with investments in train services instead of cars, a focus on local food production, less meat consumption, and energy savings at home. Ishii also thinks Japan's population should be allowed to shrink and worries that China will also be hit hard by Peak Oil, perhaps even this summer during the Olympics.

Peak Oil refers to the growing gap between oil demand and production. It is the point when the maximum rate of global petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters a decline. If global consumption is not reduced before the peak, an energy crisis will certainly develop because oil will be less available. Prices will then rise dramatically, as we have seen in the past year.

Ishii Yoshinori has written extensively about energy issues for years, noting that "mother earth is limited and our resent civilization which is supported by cheap abundant oil is about to end. Unable to perceive this "Oil peak", Japan has been wasting a large amount of money, e.g. for infrastructures for motor vehicles." He strongly believes that we should abandon the present wasteful civilization.

One of his key ideas is the urgent need to move from muda (wastefulness) to mottainai (waste not) which he says is "vital for Japanese survival".

Read more about about prof. Ishii Yoshinori.

The event at Sangiin was sponsored by Ryuhei Kawada, a MP (independent) who got 683,629 votes in Tokyo last year, defeating the incumbent ruling Liberal Democratic Party candidate.

"Genetically modified food must be labeled"

Genetically modified foods are terribly controversial in Asia, with no commercial farming of GM crops in Japan or Korea. As I have written before, you find lots of soy-based foods in Japan, such as tofu and miso, that are clearly labelled as made from Non-Genetically Modified soy. Consumer organizations here are even lobbying Australia to keep its ban on GM canola (rape seed) used for cooking oil. And time after time, illegal US crops turn up in Japan, prompting recalls and trouble for food companies and authorities - most recently it was yet another GM corn that still had not been approved here.

South Korea will introduce new, more strict GM labelling rules from June 29 this year, according to JoongAng Daily. They note in an editorial that "genetically modified food must be labelled". With higher grain prices, South Korea is finding it more difficult to continue procure Non-GM crops. Expect this debate to pick up steam as consumers find out more.

"If the companies go ahead with the move the groups will join hands and carry out campaigning and boycott products from those manufacturers," said spokesman Kim Dae-hoon of ICOOP, South Korea's largest consumer lobby group, according to Reuters.

And according to Donga, Choi Jun-ho of the civic group Korean Federation for Environmental Movement said, “Current law does not mandate food companies to indicate the use of GMO ingredients in starch sugar and oil on product labels. This must be changed to protect the consumer’s right to know.”

Read more about the heated debate in South Korea:

JoongAng Daily: Food for thought
Chosun Ilbo: High Grain Prices to Bring Flood of GMO Foods
Reuters: South Korea Breaks GMO Food Taboo With First Corn Deal
Donga: Surging Corn Prices Causing Rethink of GMO Foods

(Image from Chosun Ilbo)