Saturday, May 31, 2008


Here are a couple of updates on Kurashi events over the past few days - things have been busy:

Japan said Friday it will accept the draft of an international treaty banning cluster bombs, except for the latest types, and eventually abolish all of those weapons owned by the Self-Defense Forces. The decision, a turnaround from the government's traditional stance, came in response to an agreement on the draft treaty reached in Dublin on Wednesday. The treaty was negotiated by a group of countries, including Norway, supporting a ban under what is known as the Oslo Process. It was formally adopted in Dublin on Friday.

Asahi: Japan OKs ban on cluster bombs

Nongovernmental organizations on Friday called on the Japanese and African governments to take urgent action to mitigate the food crisis in Africa as well as secure additional resources beyond current aid commitments to deal with the impacts of volatile changes in climate.

"The doubling of aid to Africa is a welcoming step in the right direction. However, Japan's overall commitment falls short of expectations," an NGO network said in a statement released as African leaders and development partners concluded a three-day conference in Yokohama. The TICAD 4 NGO Network, or TNnet, also urged Japan, as this year's Group of Eight chair, to take the lead in setting high medium-term targets on emissions.

Kyodo/Yahoo: NGOs call for more action by Japan, Africa on food crisis, climate

Food prices will remain high over the next decade even if they fall from current records, meaning millions more risk further hardship or hunger, the OECD and the UN's FAO food agency said in a report published on Thursday. The report, issued ahead of a June 3-5 world food summit in Rome, said food commodity prices were likely to recede from the peaks hit recently, but that they would remain higher in the decade ahead than the one gone by.

"It's time for action," Jacques Diouf, head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation told a news conference in Paris, saying he expected 40 leaders in Rome for a summit on what should be done immediately and for long-term food security.

Reuters: Food Prices To Stay High, "Grain Drain" Fuel Blamed

The UN biodiversity conference is scheduled to finish Friday after nearly two weeks of talks attended by representatives from 191 countries. On Friday morning, it looked like the concrete results of the conference would be limited.

"This is crunch time," said WWF head James Leape. "Everything depends on what comes out at the end of the day."

Der Spiegel: UN Conference Divided over How to Protect Biodiversity

(NHK World notes that "delegates failed to agree on specifics of the framework due to differences in views between developed and developing nations. They will seek an agreement to be reached in the next meeting to be held in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010. The Nagoya meeting will be an important opportunity to assess the goal of slowing the loss of biological diversity by 2010. Japan, which chairs the meeting, will be urged to build a consensus among participating countries.")

"Let's begin a campaign to boycott U.S. products. Boycott Hollywood movies! Don't wear Nike! Don't drink Starbucks coffee and stop going to McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC," read another Internet post. U.S. companies with a business presence in Korea could suffer losses from the beef controversy if the campaign gains traction.

The Korea Times: Is 'Made in USA' Backlash Next?

Over 100,000 citizens and students are expected to flock to downtown Seoul Saturday to participate in a candlelit vigil against the impending resumption of U.S. beef imports. The vigil will be the largest ever since they began May 2 and the massive protest is expected to continue over the weekend.

Members of some 1,700 civic organizations, university student associations and groups of Internet users plan to join the night rally, encouraging other citizens to join them so as to attract 100,000 participants.

The Korea Times: Massive Candlelit Vigil Planned Tonight

Friday, May 30, 2008

More protests in Seoul

Thousands of South Korean citizens are continuing their candlelight vigils against president Lee's decision to start importing American beef without proper controls, due to concerns about Mad Cow Disease. They are also furious about the Free Trade Agreement with the US and taking to the streets - more protests are expected this weekend.

Tens of thousands of citizens and students from more than 1,000 civic groups took to the streets hours after the government officially announced the resumption of U.S. beef imports, which will be available to consumers as early as next week.

However, protestors gathered at plazas in front of Seoul City Hall and Cheonggae Square, both of which are in downtown Seoul, holding a candle in one hand and placards criticizing the deal in the other chanting "Nullify the beef deal," "Eat the mad cow yourself Lee Myung-bak," and "Impeachment."

The Korea Times: Beef Import Decision Triggers Protests

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

G8 Environment Ministers meeting in Kobe

Standing in front of Maps of "Japanese environment technologies expanding to the world" as they visit the Environment Fair in Kobe, what where these ministers* really thinking?

European and developing countries urged the United States and Japan on Sunday to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. But all they could agree was to make 50% reductions "by 2050". Wake up guys. That's LATE. Did John F. Kennedy say, "Hey lets put a man on moon by the end of the 21st Century" - No, he said, lets do it by the end of the decade. By setting a tough deadline you get things done. In my opinion, 2050 is not a deadline. They might as well have said, "Sorry, we don't know what to do, we can't agree on anything, and we accept the blame." And then they should have all resigned.

Reuters notes that some environmental activists said the ministers had made progress -- but not very much:

"We're at the point where there needs to be a very ambitious message out of the G8 summit for international talks on climate change to move forward," said Mika Obayashi of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an NGO.

"So in that sense, this meeting was just a quarter of a step forward. They didn't specify where they would set targets in the long-term, nor did they go beyond saying that mid-term targets should be effective."

Reuters: G8 environment ministers: halve emissions by 2050

"Kobe gave ministers the opportunity to accelerate the slow progress of G8 climate negotiations, but they failed to send a signal of hope for a breakthrough" at the July summit, said Naoyuki Yamagishi, head of the Climate Change Program at WWF Japan, in a statement.

AP: Agreement on 2020 emissions target eludes G8 ministers

* The United States is one of only a few major countries in the World that still doesn't have a proper Environment Ministry. The US Environmental Protection Agency represented the US at this important meeting, but note that they didn't even send the director, but only the EPA's deputy assistant administrator, Mr. Scott Fulton, to Kobe.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rice planting in Seoul

The Korea Times has a nice photo special with more photos of the rice planting event in central Seoul this weekend.

Go to The Korea Times: Rice Planting in the Heart of the City and click on the link.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peaceful Japan


View of Wagakuni-san from Sainen-ji, Inada, Kasama City, Ibaraki. The 12th Century monk Shinran Shonin lived here for 20 years and wrote that the mountain reminded him of Mt. Hiei back in Kyoto where he first studied Buddhism. Wagakuni means "our country" - the expression is reserved for Japanese referring to Japan. (click picture to enlarge)

Japan has been ranked as the 5th "most peaceful" country on the 2008 Global Peace Index for the second year in a row. Number one was Iceland. The USA ranked 97th, China 67th. Japan was the only G8* country to make the top ten.

Top Ten on the Global Peace Index

The GPI was founded by Steve Killelea, an Australian IT entrepreneur. The 140 countries examined the 2008 rankings were rated by a panel of experts based on 24 factors, such as a country's relations with its neighbors, percent of its budget that is spent on the military, internal or external wars, violent crime rate, respect for human rights, prison population, and so on. For a full description of the methodology visit the website: Global Peace Index.

Here are the bottom 10:

Of course, these rankings are just relative comparisons between countries. I think we can all agree that every country has a lot of room for improvement to make the world a peaceful place where people can focus on higher, more meaningful and beneficial pursuits than violence and war. While the GPI gives us a yardstick to see how we're doing, it's up to all of us to find ways to bring about a more peaceful world.

*The G8 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which together represent about 2/3 of the world's economy, most of the military spending and nuclear arsenals.

UN talks on cluster bombs in Dublin

I'm hoping the UN talks on cluster bombs will not be stalled by the fact that this country has about 4 different types of them. Japan participates in talks, while the US is not "a party" meaning it does not even want to discuss the issue.

China and Russia also do not participate. Why? Any Chinese or Russian reader of this humble blog who would like to shed some light...?

Daily reports from the conference here.

Countries that "acknowledge they cause unacceptable harm to civilians but seek a transition period to allow them to develop alternatives" are Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Japan in this group.

I have no idea why modern democracies in a civilized world still needs cluster bombs or any weapons of mass destruction.

Read more:

Reuters/IHT: U.N. calls for global cluster bomb ban

The Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions will take place from 19-30 May 2008 in Dublin, Ireland. An earlier article notes that the Pope encourages the conference to ban cluster bombs.

The pope said he was praying for the victims of cluster bombs and their families as well as for the successful outcome of the Dublin meeting.

Maybe he should also pray that Israel, India and Pakistan would join this important effort to stop suffering on our small, fragile planet before everyone has lost hope all together.

IHT/Reuters: Pope encourages conference on cluster bomb ban

Image from CMC, the international network of over 200 civil society organisations in 50 countries committed to protecting civilians from the effects of cluster munitions. Members of the CMC network work together on an international campaign calling on governments to conclude a new international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008. More information on the CMC is available online at Stop Cluster

Click to enlarge...

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Utter Tragedy"

Here is an opportunity to watch, listen or read Democracy Now's interview with Hans Blix, former Chief UN Weapons Inspector. He also discusses Iran, Israel, and the oil crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: And your assessment of the war in Iraq today and what it has done?

HANS BLIX: I think it’s an utter tragedy that—what has happened. The US and others expected it would be a short warfare. They expected to find weapons of mass destruction. And it has now gone on for many years, and Iraq is still not at rest. So I think it shows that the military solution was an erroneous one.

Wild relatives

WWF is a global environmental organization with an office in Japan since 1971. I wish they had more resources to lobby the Japanese government on issues related to crop biodiversity. In Bonn this month, important UN negotiations are taking place, indeed "flying under the radar" here in Japan.

Reuters notes that almost 200 nations are meeting for the UN Convention on Biodiversity from May 19-30 for negotiations on ways to protect the diversity of animals and plants from threats including pollution, climate change and loss of habitats:

"Basic food crops dangerously vulnerable," the WWF said in a headline of a statement about a new WWF map showing that areas in which wild varieties of crops are protected often cover less than five percent of their natural ranges.

"We already have reserves and national parks to protect charismatic species like pandas and tigers, and to preserve outstanding areas of natural beauty," said Liza Higgins-Zogib, Manager of People and Conservation at WWF International.

"It is now time to offer protection to the equally valuable wild and traditional relatives of the plants that feed the world like rice, wheat and potatoes," she said.

Reuters: Crops' wild relatives need better protection: WWF

Aseed Japan is one of the few NGOs in Japan that deal with these important issues. While Japan is proud of the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention to stop climate change, they seem to have forgotten other important global work that came out of the UNEP and the 1992 Earth Summit/UNCED. People have short memories.

Did you know that May 22 was the International Day For Biological Diversity? No? Glad I told you? Drop me a comment.

"Of the 7,000 species of plants that have been domesticated over the 10,000-year history of agriculture, only 30 account for the vast majority of the food we eat every day," said United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. "Relying on so few species for sustenance is a losing strategy."

Do support WWF Japan.

(Photos of rice farming - in traditional theatre and on fields today - from the Torira blog)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tokyo residents still "yellow"?

Sorry for the poor joke in the title, hope noone takes offence, but the "green" trend here in Japan obviously needs to be backed up with action - and education.

What Hakuhodo has found is that more than 40% of Tokyo residents "don't want to sacrifice a convenient lifestyle to prevent global warming." Hakuhodo calls this the "Eco Dilemma" 1)

Hakuhodo is a large advertising agency that also looks at lifestyles. The report is in Japanese, called Research News 「世界8都市・環境生活調査」 2) and I do hope they will translate it to other languages soon.

AFP/Yahoo has more details:

In a list of 27 daily activities considered to counter global warming, from taking only short showers to participating in tree-planting activities, Tokyo residents only scored above average for five of them. In particular, Tokyo dwellers came last when it comes to studying about global warming or preserving the environment.

They also ranked lowest when it comes to buying eco-friendly products and scored below average for using clean energy, biomass, solar or wind energy.

However, the poll showed that nearly 90 percent of Tokyo residents feel threatened by global warming. They also came tops in responding that "environmental protection is more important than economic growth."

Tokyo residents "have the dilemma of not wanting to give up a convenient lifestyle that they've had for years," Hakuhodo said.

Or maybe Tokyo residents are just more honest?

(Hat tip to Kat for alerting me to this article, map from this website with lots of cool facts about real estate in Tokyo, and for those of you looking for eco village projects in Tokyo, Treehugger wrote about the 2007 Tokyo EcoVillage Conference here - and the 2 photos I found after searching for the key word エコビレッジ 3) on google picture: Seems a company called Home Plaza. Inc is now making it possible for you, dear reader, to find that environmentally friendly mansion you have always dreamed of, complete with butterflies and big trees...)


1) Eco Dilemma (エコジレンマ) is a new term, as lifestyle changes indeed are never easy, but I'm also surprised how fast this Hakuhodo-created katakana term has entered the vocabulary of Yomiuri Shinbun (May 19), and then lots of blogs pick it up...

2) Kankyou Seikatsu (
環境生活) means "environmental living" or "green lifestyle"

3) Eco Village (エコビレッジ) has a more down-to-earth nuance in English, inspired by vegetarianism and biodynamic philosophy, or shall I say a more Edo Era style of living?

Good news from Tokyo

Risa Maeda over at Reuters has done a really terrific job with a story that other media here seems to have missed: Tokyo aims to take a major step in meeting its pollution-reducing target by revising an emissions cutting bill. This is news that ought to get much more attention in Japan and around the world:

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will propose to the city assembly next month revising a bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions from big offices and factories in five years from April 2010. If passed it will enable the capital to become a pioneer in Japan by applying a mandatory cap-and-trade scheme of emissions on individual firms.

Japan's central government has been struggling to decide how to curb emissions beyond the current voluntary pledges by major industries, and whether to introduce a carbon trading scheme like the one in Europe.

"The new bill will make Tokyo an advanced environmentally-friendly city," said Satoshi Yamashita, director at Tokyo's environmental policy planning section.

"We understand that assembly members in general agree with a plan to cap emissions of major polluters and also with a trading scheme of emissions... We're hoping the bill will be passed in the next regular session starting in June," he said.

Even if it is not passed, the bill will continue to be discussed in the following sessions later this year, he said. It is a necessary step for Tokyo to achieve its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by fiscal 2020/21 from 2000/01, Yamashita added.

The target is much tougher than the central government's commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. led global climate pact, to cut emissions by 6 percent on average from 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 period.

An emission cap will be imposed on 1,300 Tokyo-based offices and factories, based on their average annual emissions in three years from April 2005, and taking into account of existing efforts of energy conservation.

The emissions from the 1,300 firms cover 20 percent of Tokyo's emissions in the fiscal year started in April 2005.

The same bill, in place since fiscal 2000/01, imposed compulsory steps to clean up emissions from diesel-burning vehicles from fiscal 2004/05, a rarity in Japan where the central government usually takes a lead in industry policy.

Japan's biggest city with 12.8 million residents, Tokyo was responsible for 5 percent of the nation's total emissions in fiscal 2005/06. The ratio is far less than that of other prefectures, where factories, steel makers and electric power utilities are located.

Reuters: Tokyo to propose cap-and-trade emissions plan

If this revision to Tokyo’s metropolitan laws goes through, it will be an important first: we will be the first city to impose mandatory cap-and-trade limits on individual industrial firms. These rules would cut greenhouse emissions from the metropolitan area by 25% by 2021, well in excess of the 6% mandated country-wide for Japan by the Kyoto Protocol agreement.

Read more about cities and climate change on the C40 website. The next C40 conference on large cities and climate change will be held in Seoul, South Korea in 2009. Here is more about C40, an initiative that started in 2005 to get large cities to take action and to cooperate on reducing climate emissions.

Rice fields

Rice fields here in Japan are so much part of the daily life. You drive past them, you bicycle or walk there, greeting the farmer, saying "good morning" and there is a mutual smile as you both remember long talks you had earlier this year, in the winter months, wondering about this and that.

Pandabonium sent me this photo he took last week near Kasama.

I like the way that white truck is far away in the distance. We are all having to learn how to live without cars and gasoline, now it is a time to start appreciating biodiversity and abundant water.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

NHK: Dealing with environmental issues

In February, I complained about NHK's poor environmental record.

Today, they responded with an interview with the broadcasting company's new president, Mr. Shigeo Fukuchi, on the top of the Broadcasting Center Building (oupps, he needed help to locate Tokyo Tower...).

On the NHK Eco 2008 page, click on the banner to find the video.

As broadcasters move to 24 hour programming, they use more and more energy. NHK is no exception. Mr Fukuchi notes that this is their biggest challenge.

In Kobe, NHK has installed solar cells on the roof of the broadcast center (still something their national center in Tokyo has failed to do) while wind power, albeit on a small scale, has been installed at towers around the country.

Mr. Shigeo Fukuchi is aware that the reduction of CO2 emissions and the conservation of the global environment are becoming ever more pressing issues:

NHK intends to foster public awareness of and interest in these issues and encourage viewers and listeners to take action. NHK is also committed to autonomous eco-friendly activities through the concerted effort of the entire organization. As a part of this effort, we launched an environmental campaign called NHK Eco 2008 in January and this is being intensified from April with ever greater emphasis on environmental issues in our broadcasts and other activities. For instance, special programming, Save the Future, will be broadcast from June 6 through 8 to give a serious consideration to environmental issues. 20 hours will be devoted to the coverage of such issues from diverse angles, including live relays from NHK Fureai Hall. A series of 10-minute mini segments will be shown on General TV at 10:40 p.m. on Sundays.

The specific goals and agenda of the campaign include expansion of the late night off-air hours on Educational TV and Radio 2 while carefully securing the capability to provide broadcasting services in emergency situations; active installation of solar powered electricity generation systems and energy-saving air-conditioning systems when rebuilding local stations; and a 10% reduction of CO2 emissions over the next five years, from fiscal 2008 to 2012, at the offices of the Tokyo headquarters.

NHK: On how NHK is dealing with environmental issues

So, why is their CO2 reduction target only 10%? I think NHK as a company needs to rethink its priorities and set a much higher target.

From June, NHK will show more of Kaguya's amazing images of Earth, and the Save the Future special programming on June 6-8 involves asking viewers to get kids and grandchildren to make and send digital drawings online: more details here.

Below is a program NHK aired on January 1, 2008 with a reminder that Earth is a planet of water, with no neighbours similar to us here in space, near us...

Sting: Desert Rose

I have liked Sting since he was just the bass player/singer of The Police. In Tokyo, I vividly remember Fragile - seeing this video up on the huge screen at Studio Alta, Shinjuku West Exit. I stopped right there, just having to see what he was doing, playing solo acoustic guitar (very well) with a new, smashing hair style. So good.

"Like tears from the stars"... maybe 1991?


(click to start please, since the video cannot be embedded)

And then, in September 2001, he happened to be in New York City, performing that very song....

Sting feat. Cheb Mami - Desert Rose (Original video)

And now?

US causalities of Iraq and Afghanistan:
Dead: 4,569
Wounded: 31,984
Injured: 10,180
Ill (however you define that) 28,451

(As of May 7, 2008)

Iraqi deaths due to US invasion:
(Source: Just Foreign

Hat tip to Isis (thanks for the sharp focus).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hug a local farmer

A farm ministry white paper on agriculture issued a strong warning Friday over an expected tightening of the supply-demand balance in the world food market, saying Japan may be significantly affected due to its low food self-sufficiency.

The fiscal 2007 white paper said the food situation for Japanese households is seeing "unprecedented changes."

If food imports become impossible, households will be unable to secure sufficient food, the report says. The solution? Hug a local farmer:

"...the report stresses that it is necessary to increase the consumption of domestically produced food while calling for the public to review its eating habits, including consuming food wastefully. Even if farm imports decline to nothing, households can secure minimum amounts of calories by switching mainstay domestic food production from meat and vegetables to potatoes, the report says, noting this will lead to a dramatic change in what is served."

The Japan Times/Kyodo: Import-dependent Japan fears food crisis: report

Meanwhile, blogger Ken E kindly offers advice for us gaijin how to survive the coming recession, with links to examples such as modern day Cuba's alternative agriculture and Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Akihabara Eco

This is pretty funny. Akihabara, the district in Tokyo with hundreds of shops selling the latest computers and electronic gadgets, is also known for its amazing geek culture.

The otaku, mostly guys - but also gals - enjoy a subculture of manga and anime - not to mention hentai - that has become famous all over the world.

Now, in May, the cosplay maids at Akihabara cafes and restaurants have teamed up to form an environmentally friendly NGO. Their "My Maid Bag" campaign encourages customers to bring their own shopping bag (to reduce plastic) and not accept yet another layer of useless packaging. Great idea!

Akibaeco is a blog devoted to changing - in the sense of greening - the hearts and minds of otaku in Akihabara and all over the world.

Here are links to some of the fine establishments that have participated, including a moe hair salon, a dart pub, and very polite service when you order coffee:

メイドルカフェ アキバ一丁目劇場
メイド美容室 お~ぶ

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Peak DNA: Live Webcast from CBD meeting in Bonn

If you want to know how United Nation meetings with government officials are carried out, please watch the Live Webcast here with an Overview Website here.

With a Real Player, you should be able to watch how government delegates and international NGOs discuss risky GM crops and how to protect biodiversity.

Japan is a party to the CBD since 2004, together with most countries around the World, except the United States, which continues to ignore and obstruct international agreements like this, slowing down the crucial process to protect biodiversity.

Daily reports and photos from IISD Linkages.

(CBD: Convention on Biodiversity, also known as the Cartagena Protocol - we can call this "Peak DNA" as a reference to the crisis we are facing if we lose biological diversity especially for important food crops)

Update from Bonn

About 5,000 activists marched through the German city of Bonn on Monday to protest against genetically modified food at the start of a UN conference to discuss risks linked to the technology. Campaigners, many waving colourful flags and banners with slogans such as "Biofuel Creates Hunger" and "Good Food Instead Of GM Food", walked and danced through the western German city. Some drove tractors and floats.

"We are protesting for biodiversity and against the destruction of nature, against GM, for the protection of biodiversity," activist Amira Busch told Reuters Television.

Reuters: GM Crop Foes March In Germany As UN Summit Starts

Press material:

Planet Diversity Flyer in English (pdf, 2.6 MB)
Planet Diversity Flyer in Japanese (pdf)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Planet Diversity

A big conference is starting tomorrow May 12 in Bonn, Germany about GMO-free zones, called Planet Diversity. Many delegates from all over the world, including Japan, will participate. Keisuke Amagasa from the No! GMO Campaign, Shimizu Ryoko from the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative, and former Hokkaido vice-governor Asada Shinji are among the speakers and volunteers.

There will also be a festival to celebrate diversity: A holiday of sense and the senses – diversity has thousands of faces, tastes, drinks, traditions, songs and treats. They are inviting professional and amateur farmers and gardeners, seed producers and propagators, chefs and food producers to present the diversity of their products, varieties and plants to be seen and smelled, shared and tasted. It will be a great Festival of Diversity, to which they invite the people and families of Bonn, Cologne and surrounding areas as well as all friends from Europe and the world. With theatre, music, animals, plants, seeds, actions, dance and music, videos, presentations of all kinds and thematic pavilions the diversity of life will be celebrated.

This is held while government delegates from some 190 nations gather for the UN Biosafety Protocol negotiations, called COP-MOP4, about "adequate level of protection worldwide in the field of the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health."

Activists will demonstrate against genetic engineering at the site of these UN negotiations:

* for the human right to adequate, diverse and healthy food – against the misuse of agriculture for agro-fuel, and other raw materials for international speculation;
* for the right of consumers and farmers to decide – against genetic experiments with our food and our environment;
* for the free exchange of seeds and agricultural know-how – against patents on life forms and bio-piracy;
* for the preservation of regional diversity – against agro-industrial monocultures and the worldwide death of farmers;
* for biological diversity – regional, fair and GMO-free!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"President Hu picks up green ideas"

China's president Hu Jintao has visited a PET bottle-recycling factory at a green industrial zone in Kawasaki, Japan. China Daily says Hu listened and took notes as Masanori Suzuki, an employee of the plant owned by JFE Group, talked about its environmental protection program.

The environment has been one of the key issues on Hu's agenda during his Japan visit. On Wednesday in Tokyo, Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian and Japan's Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita signed a document agreeing to cooperate on wastewater treatment projects in rural China. Pilot schemes, aimed at reducing the amount of pollutants discharged into the Yangtze River, will begin this year in Jiangsu and Chongqing. Under the agreement, Japan will set up drainage disposal facilities, including water purification tanks, in the two regions. Seminars on wastewater disposal technology will also be held in China.

JFE Group has said it will share its environmental protection expertise with some Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian and Guiyang.

"Hu's tour of the recycling plant might facilitate the cooperation," technician Yoshinori Kohno said. JFE Group is Japan's second largest steel-maker. Its recycling factory processes used bottles and electronics equipment. The plant's approach to recycling resources and success with environment-related projects could provide a good model for China's steel industry, Kohno said.

Hu's last engagement before boarding a flight home was a visit to the Osaka headquarters of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., among the first Japanese companies to operate in China, to observe environment-friendly technology.

China Daily: President Hu picks up green ideas

Environmental Reports at JFE Group. Created in 1954, the JFE Steel Sheet Group has 5 plants in China.

Top photo from JFE Holdings, I suppose that is the factory President Hu visited - JFE developed and commercialized the world's first integrated waste plastics recycling system, and when you throw away a PET bottle, you can only hope that it reaches JFE Kankyo Corp. where they have the technology to recycle it.

Bottom photo from Carbon Conscious Consumer: A Chinese man transports plastic bottles and containers for recycling in Haikou, China. China is the world’s third largest consumer of bottled water, according to a report released by Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan

There are actually quite a few buildings in Japan designed or inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, as mentioned in P's fascinating post previously here on Kurashi: Magnificient Obsessions (thanks!)

The Imperial Hotel in central Tokyo was a landmark until the late 1960s.

Old Tokyo has some wonderful photos from postcards, that I imagine some of you may have in your grandfathers' collections...

Wow, have a look at that luggage sticker - Imagine having that on your suitcase back in the 1920s or 1930s!

Here is the entrance of the Yamamura House in Hyogo prefecture, also known as the Yodoko House.

It was completed in 1924.

But this is also about people. Arata Endo was one of the Japanese architects who studied Wright's philosophy. This helped him to build his ideal view of organic architecture: "to find a point where humans and architecture meet, to make architecture the art based on everyday lives, and not to classify architecture into practicality, science or art."

I think Frank Lloyd Wright was very lucky to meet students in Japan, such as Endo, who probably taught the teacher more than we will ever know.

More photos on the Wright in Japan website, a NPO that wants to foster greater cultural awareness of Frank Lloyd Wright's enduring architectural legacy in Japan through the collection, management and deployment of Wright-related documents and artifacts.

Endo and Wright collaborated to design the Jiyu Gakuen, a famous school in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Wright extended his congratulations for the opening of the school in 1921 by sending a following message:
"This little school building was designed for the Jiyu - Gakuen - in the same spirit implied by the name of the school - a free spirit. The children seem to belong to the building in quite the same way as the flowers belong to the tree, and the building belongs to them as the tree belongs to its flowers."

(Click to enlarge photos)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Magnificent Obsession

As we explore a healthier lifestyle, an oft overlooked but very important aspect of our lives is architecture. Modern cities and their suburbs are often bleak, impersonal places which are uncomfortable to live in, both physically and spiritually, and are unsustainable both in their construction and energy use. Organic architecture addresses these issues, creating buildings with spaces that are both pleasing and practical.

Many people know that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (completed 1923), but few are aware of how much time he spent in Japan, how pivotal that hotel was in his career, the other buildings he designed here, or the lasting influence he had on the many Japanese architects who studied under him and worked with him. Unlike the bleak modernist buildings of concrete slabs (Japanese public schools leap to mind) and the monolithic towers of cities today, Wright's organic designs emphasize the unity between man and nature. His buildings are scaled to be comfortable places for people and are built of local materials, looking as if they grew out of their surroundings.

Yodoko Guest House near Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture - originally designed for Tazaemon Yamamura, a sake brewer.

The Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1968, as the land under it had become too valuable for the three story structure. A part of it - the entrance and lobby building were spared however and reassembled at the Museum Meiji-mura, an open air architectural museum near Nagoya, in 1985. I visited there in 1987 and experienced the Imperial Hotel lobby first hand. I want to go back and see it again now that the surrounding vegetation has matured.

Wright first came to Japan in 1905. One of the places he stayed was the Fujiya Hotel in Hakone, where K and I stayed last August [as I recounted in the post, "Road Trip (Railroad that is)". ] I can recommend a book about his journey - Frank Lloyd Wright's Fifty Views of Japan, the 1905 Photo Album - which features his own photographs of his two month tour of Japan in that year.

I recently found an excellent documentary on DVD - the first of its kind as it focuses solely on his work in Japan. "Magnificent Obsession - Frank Lloyd Wright's Buildings and Legacy in Japan".

It was written, produced, directed and edited by Karen Severns and Koichi Mori. The two decided to do this project after being involved in saving Wright's last surviving public building in Tokyo - Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan - or "House of Tomorrow" (a private school that was listed as an Important Cultural Property of Japan 1997, then rebuilt, and is still in use). Through that project, they learned a lot about Wright's Japanese work and the sorry state of the documentation of it. They also realized that many of the people involved were in their twilight years, and indeed some had already passed, so there was an urgency to interview the remaining people and get their input first hand.

They spent the next several years collecting pictures, documents, and plans, and interviewing nearly a hundred architects and historians to produce this lasting tribute and important documentary of Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan and the friendships he developed which lasted for several decades and transcended a world war.

The DVD is available in either English or Japanese.

For more information visit the website: Magnificent Obsession

Not many of us will have the means or opportunity to commission an architectural work. However, we do have some say over the buildings and public spaces of our governments, as well as those of the private organizations to which we belong. Promoting architecture that improves the lives of the people who live and work in and around these buildings, and which promotes sustainability, is one way we can improve our own lives and leave a legacy that will last for generations to come.

Profiles: Karen Severns received an MFA in Film from Columbia University, and also has an MS in Journalism. She has worked in both New York and Tokyo as a filmmaker, film critic, journalist and author. She has produced two dozen short films, including 2001 Academy Award nominee One Day Crossing.

Koichi Mori studied engineering before working throughout Asia on building management and environmental conservation projects for a leading multinational. He holds an MBA in International Management from the Garvin School of International Management (Thunderbird).

Cyclone Nargis

NASA image of the scope of the tragedy that befell Myanmar (or Burma).

From Treehugger.

NHK and The Japan Red Cross have a post office account for all of you who may want to send money to help:

(口座名義) 日本赤十字社
(口座番号) 00110-2-5606

Planting rice in Japan, one by one

(Source: Miyamotoya blog)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Food Mileage

Over at Consumers Union of Japan, we published a brief discussion about Food Mileage, written by Miyake Seiko at Food Safety Citizens' Watch. I think this quote from a study by Tetsuya Nakata at the Kyushu Regional Agricultural Administration Office is significant :

In 2001, Japan’s total volume of food imports was 58 million tons and its food mileage was 900 billion ton-km, the latter being almost 1.6 times the total domestic freightage. International comparisons show that this figure is high. The food mileage of South Korea and the United States are around 30 to 40% of Japan’s, the United Kingdom and Germany about 20% and France around 10%. The per capita figure of Japan is also high.Japan’s remarkably high food mileage is largely due to particular commodities such as grains and distant export countries such as the United States, and incurs environmental concerns. Japan’s huge volume of food imports accompanied by long-distance transportation may be damaging the global environment through the increase of carbon dioxide emissions.

Noting that the distance of importing food has been getting shorter, as Japan has imported more foods from Asia, Miyake Seiko also points out that Japan continues to import a large amount of feed grains and food oil crops from the United States, Canada and Australia for its animal feed and food oil - and that such crops are also increasingly used as biofuels, and the prices have been pushed higher due to rivalry on the global commodity markets.

Japanese consumers appreciate that its rice farmers have continued to supply this country with 100% of the rice eaten in Japan. This in spite of endless lobbying efforts from abroad, especially the United States, and World Trade Organization rules that attempt to stipulate that Japan should open its rice market (which would of course put local farmers out of business).

Photos from Pacific Islander ;) and Rakuten

"Don't lose your true self!"

As Ryokan said when there was a great earthquake,
If there is a tragedy, tragedy is fine
If sick, then sickness is fine,
If dying, then dying is fine.

That was not being said from some safe cozy place rather in the same tragedy and crisis to be saying. "Don't hurry around and be so panicked!" While in the same crisis, Ryokan is saying, "Don't lose your true self!"

Do not be confused by the circumstances! We lose track of our being alive. If our mind is pure and empty then we can receive and accept whatever comes and our wisdom will come forth spontaneously, naturally and obviously. If we think we cannot receive or accept something, that is an obstruction in our mind. Even in the worst crisis we go through it very evenly.

From Shodo Harada Roshi's newsletter.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The World According to Monsanto

A documentary aired in France on March 11 that Americans will probably never be shown. It is about Monsanto and it GM "products", their effects on farming, the environment, and possibly you, the consumer.

The French documentary, called “The world according to Monsanto” and directed by independent filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin, paints a grim picture of a company with a long track record of environmental crimes and health scandals.

So far, Japan has kept these GM products out. As I write this, the European Union is voting on whether or not to allow three types of GM crops to be grown in Europe - stay tuned.

Why be concerned? Watch the documentary...

Here is a 3 minute clip about the film:

The full documentary is here (108 minutes):

Did you know that if you live the United States you have a 75% chance of buying something that contains genetically modified ingredients when you are at the supermarket? Close to one third of the crops in the United States are now Genetically Modified.

How can you eliminate GMOs from your diet?

First, print out this shopping guide from True Food Now, linked here:


Look at the produce stickers on the fruits and vegetables you buy. The PLU code for conventionally grown fruit consists of four numbers, organically grown fruit has five numbers prefaced by the number nine, and GM fruit has five numbers beginning with the number eight.

Buy organic produce as often as you can. By definition, food that is certified organic must be free from all GM organisms.

Do no eat processed foods. Most contain corn and soy products, and most corn and soy are genetically modified.

Say no to GMOs - for your health, the biodiversity of the planet, and the food sovereignty of poor nations.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War

A unique three-day international conference is being held at Makuhari near Tokyo, a day after the 61st anniversary of the enforcement of Japan's Constitution. It is organized by nongovernmental groups, including Japan-based Peace Boat. Organizers said the meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the significance of the constitutional article that endorses demilitarization and what people can do to promote its spirit, notes The Japan Times.

While the constitution stipulates that Japan renounces war as a sovereign right and that it will not maintain land, sea and air forces, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been keen to make amendments.

"The war in Iraq has shown that even the strongest, biggest army in the world can not keep peace in a single city. It proves that aggression never instates peace," Tatsuya Yoshioka, director of Peace Boat and a representative of the event's organizing committee, said during the opening remarks.

"Article 9 is a treasure of all mankind. It must be protected," he said.

The conference's organizing committee and more than 100 supporters adopted a declaration urging governments around the world to reduce arms, work on peacemaking and abolish war.

The declaration said Article 9 can work as an international peacemaking mechanism and that other countries can introduce similar ideas into their constitutions. It also called for starting a global movement to promote the spirit of Article 9.

The event is being supported by more than 70 groups, and 100 peace activists and legal experts from more than 43 countries. Approximately 10,000 people attended the opening-day sessions. Organizers of Sunday's event, including the groups Peace Boat and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, say the principles of Article 9 can be applied globally to issues such as human rights, disarmament, the environment and development, according to AP.

Live video and more information at

Similar gatherings are to be held in Hiroshima on Monday and in Sendai and Osaka on Tuesday.

May 4-6 2008 Program:
Makuhari Messe International Convention Complex

* Join 10,000 people from around the world to voice your support for the existence and principles of Article 9
* Join the people of Japan in protecting their peace constitution
* Take part in an active network of international movements to shift resources from the military to sustainable development and human security
* Hear keynote speeches by international peace advocates including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and President of the Hague Appeal of Peace Cora Weiss
* Share your views or activities through a "self-organised event" - be it a performance, debate, symposium or workshop (contact
* Contribute to the creation of a Global Article 9 Action Plan to Abolish War
* Experience cultural events in collaboration with civil society from all over the world
* Call for peace constitutions for every country.
* Voice your support for Article 9 by signing the Global Article 9 Statement here

(Kyuu-to or Cute is the official mascot of the Global Article 9 Conference - Kyuu means 9 in Japanese...)

Update: I found a Youtube video of the Makuhari conference here!

5月4日、「9条世界会議」が開幕した。会場となった千葉県幕張メッセ・イベントホー ルには、客席数7000を大幅に上回る15000人が参加した。