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Showing posts from September, 2008

World Foodless Day

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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 …

Avoid Pump Rage

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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…

Snow Country: Taking The Train To Japan's Remote Regions

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Saturday, we had the first snow of the year at Mt Tateyama in Toyama prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. The Japanese Alps are a long mountain range with many peaks over 3,000 meters of still active volcanos.

The photo from The Mainichi reminded me of author Yasunari Kawabata’s masterpiece Snow Country where he describes visits to these parts of the country by train, through long tunnels linking the west coast to Tokyo. I thought it was a good topic for Treehugger.

“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country,” is the famous first line of the novel.

The Mottainai Song

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Fun video and simple dance for the kids. Mottainai Grandma is a picture book by Mariko Shinju, published by Kodansha, that has sold half a million copies.

She is now on tour in Japan talking about the problems we all face, not just environmental issues, but also child labour and worse.

"What do you mean by Mottainai?" One day I was asked by my child. How can I explain this word? There are some Japanese words that cannot be translated into English and Mottainai is the one and is difficult to explain even in Japanese. This is how I started to think about making this picture story book. - Mariko Shinju

Crested Ibises Return To Japan's Skies

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(Do watch the ibises fly at around 1:30 into the video clip!)

Big news from Sado Island in Niigata prefecture! Crested Ibises have been returned to the wild after 27 years. NHK World explains:

The 10 crested ibises (5 male and 5 female) were bred at the conservation center on the island from birds sent from central China.

Japanese crested ibises used to be seen across Japan:

They became extinct as agricultural chemicals destroyed their food sources. They disappeared from the wild in 1981, when the last 5 were captured for breeding on Sado Island. Residents of Sado have been working to make a friendly environment for the ibises, such as by creating ponds where the birds can catch fish and insects.



I wish NHK would take this opportunity and explain in more detail why agricultural chemicals destroyed the habitat of these magnificient ibises. 20-30 years of turning rice fields into a toxic soup? Remember Rachel Carson?



I wish these 10 very dignified birds all the best in Japan (they are bred h…

Tainted Rice: How Did The Scandal Start To Unravel?

Consumers Union of Japan, Shodanren, and Shufuren are three of Japan's most experienced consumer organizations, together with new groups like Japan Offspring Fund. All are now up in arms, holding rallies downtown, at the revelation of the new food safety scandal, involving imports of so-called Minimum Access Rice, that proved to be contaminated with aflatoxin mold and illegal pesticides.

Thousands of people may have eaten this rice (sold to hospitals and nursing homes!). It was never intended for human consumption, but imported to be used for glue and other industrial products.

Japan agreed to the imports as part of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations in the 1980s and early 1990s. Japan imports a certain amount of rice annually under a "Minimum Access" World Trade Organization accord. The World Trade Organization has indeed made consumer protection very, very difficult.

I am amazed by the scale of this scandal. It appears to me that the global food crisis earlier this…

Walking Mountains

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In the Pines, a blog I really like, quotes an ancient sutra talking about how mountains walk. But, for people, that is hard to comprehend. The sutra notes that if you tell a fish that the river flows, it will also not understand. Such are the sutras:

Nevertheless, when dragons and fish see water as a palace, just as when humans see palaces, they do not view it as flowing. And, if some onlooker were to explain to them that their palace was flowing water, they would surely be just as amazed as we are now to hear it said that mountains flow.

From Dogen's san-sui-kyou (山水経)--Mountains and Waters Sutra.

In the Pines visited Eiheiji, a special place in Fukui prefecture, with a number of temples up in those walking mountains. Thanks to the miracles of Youtube, you can also stroll around and get a brief lecture about how the temple compound is like the body (and soul) of a human being. Deep stuff (except for the silly music in the background). Enjoy.

Sushi Culture

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Being busy with my book (more about that at later point, I promise) I had the rare opportunity to meet Master Sushi Chef Shigeo Mori, Chairman of the All Japan Sushi Association, last night at his restaurant in Taito ward, downtown Tokyo.

Mori-sensei has a lot to say about sushi. His family business is now in its fifth generation, having started in the early Meiji period, and he is concerned how sushi culture will be able to continue to develop. With its roots in the Edo era, sushi didn't really take off until the late 1950s, when transportation and refrigeration made it possible to bring fresh fish all over Japan. Now, overfishing and pollution are issues that seem much more difficult to solve.

"A great deal is lost in a world of instant results," says Shigeo Mori.

Toyota Plug-In In Sweden, Tokyo 'Battery Stations' Launched

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I was surprised to see this post over at Treehugger.
In Scandinavia, they already have plug-in stations where people can recharge the electric cars (such as the Toyoya in the photo).


Norway is also definitely still in the lead, with more stations (it forecasts over 100 in place by the end of this year), and a significant advantage for early electric car adopters - free charging and free parking! In addition, Norway's THINK and Buddy give the country a real incentive to do what it takes to deliver an electric car infrastructure.

Treehugger: Swedes Battle Norwegians to Become Best Electric Car Mecca

Meanwhile, TEPCO, Japan's largest electricity firm, wants to establish 200 recharging stations for electric cars in Tokyo by 2010, expanding the network to 1,000 or so in about three years:

"Battery stations" to recharge electric vehicles were launched in car parks in Tokyo on Wednesday in a bid to promote the wider use of battery-operated vehicles in the future.

Tokyo Electric P…

Battle of Seattle

Today the film Battle in Seattle debuts in select cities. The film dramatically recounts the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. In Huffington Post, Irish director Stuart Townsend discusses how his film, which stars Woody Harrelson as well as Charlize Theron and Ray Liotta, was inspired by Anita Roddick and her book Take It Personally.

The WTO is at or near the center of so much consequential policymaking.

But we never put that together, and the media is never gonna put that together for you, either. The WTO enacts legally binding laws. It used to be the GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was designed to facilitate the flow of free trade and open up borders. The difference between the GATT and the WTO is that the WTO's laws are legally binding. It can put sanctions on you. An example is when Europeans didn't want to have American hormone-fed beef.

I wrote about Battle in Seattle over at Treehugger, WTO: From "Battle In Seattle" To "No News From Ge…

Another Ag Minister Resigns

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has accepted Agriculture Minister Seiichi Ota's decision to resign to take responsibility for the tainted rice scandal. I can't remember how many times I have had to write this here on Kurashi: "another agriculture minister resigns/commits suicide/involved in a scandal."

Only yesterday, Mr. Ota appeared at the Lower House agriculture, forestry and fisheries committee, where he apologized over the ministry's lenient handling of issues concerning tainted rice in Japan, and announced changes in government systems to check for contaminated rice.

The Mainichi: Farm minister apologizes over soft response to tainted rice problems

Shodanren, the largest association of Japanese consumer groups, held a rally yesterday in Tokyo to protest the government's failure to catch a rice distributor's sales of tainted rice. The association criticized the ministry, saying its lenient inspections missed an illicit act. They are also angry because the …

Wind Power At Fujimamas

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Laurence Smith is expanding his Green Mondays network. On September 22, he is inviting experts to talk about wind power in Japan. Join them at Fujimamas, a (non-smoking) restaurant in Omotesando, Tokyo. Starting at 7PM, RSVP.

Event Description

The Vision for Renewable Energy from Wind Power in Japan

SUZUKI Akihiro, Ph.D. of the Wind Energy Institute of Tokyo will provide an overview of Wind Energy in Japan sharing the Institute’s vision and strategy to grow Wind Power as an increasingly important source of renewable energy.
Wind Energy Institute of Tokyo, Inc.

Mr UCHIDA Yukinobu, is the Japanese representative of UK based wind energy engineering consultant Garrad Hassan, the worlds leading renewable energy consultancy. Uchida San will describe Garrad Hasan’s work & services and their perspective on Wind Power in Japan with contrasts and experiences from other markets.
http://www.garradhassan.com/

Mr NISHIZAWA Yoshifumi, a researcher at the Ashikaga Institute of Technology, located in the…

Lehman Brothers Trouble in Japan

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NHK World: Lehman Japan affiliates owe $37.5 bil.

Two Japanese affiliates of the failed US investment bank Lehman Brothers say they have combined debts totaling more than 3.9 trillion yen, or about 37.5 billion dollars. The president of Lehman Brothers Japan, Akio Katsuragi, made the announcement at a news conference after his company and Lehman Brothers Holdings filed for court protection from creditors on Tuesday.

The Bank of Japan has done what is called "emergency injections" into the short-term money market totaling about 60 billion dollars since Monday. That's my tax yen and yours helping rich people stay rich. Or is it their way of avoiding the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it?

NHK World: Japanese lenders' Lehman exposure limited

Japanese financial institutions say they hold more than 400 billion yen, or 3.8 billion dollars, worth of investments and loans in failed securities house Lehman Brothers.

42 of Japan's financial institutions including major commercial a…

Respect for Japan's Green Senior Citizens

Monday marks "Respect for the Aged" day, a public holiday in Japan. I wanted to share some interesting information I found on the website of Japan NGO Council on Ageing (JANCA). They note that many seniors are interested and involved in environmental issues, ranging from garbage disposal, maintenance of the natural environment to global environmental problems (e.g., global warming). Their efforts are mostly local and/or the range of their activities may be limited, but, having experienced poverty and pollution, a lot of today’s seniors are apprehensive about the recent “culture of wasting.”

JARC & JANCA started actively encouraging more senior citizens in Japan to tackle environmental problems. They note that JANCA members have brought the green back in the ruins of a fire after the World War II.

We also have the experiences in overcoming pollution due to the industrialization as well as in developing energy-saving technology. Above all, we have the Mottainai spirit that d…

Fantasia: Clair De Lune (1940)

Harvest Moon

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In my linkbar on the left, I keep Skywatching, because it is such a great blog about the things I can see in the night sky.

Recently, Jupiter has been pretty near the moon, and on September 14-15 we will have harvest moon. Why the name? Skywatcher explains that for the farmers in the past, it was important to be able to keep on collecting the grains after sunset, and the full moon helped them see what they were doing. Thus, "harvest moon".

Here in Asia, this weekend there will be many celebrations as the autumn full moon appears. Korea keeps the tradition of Chuseok at this time of year, originally a harvest festival. In Japan, we are having a day off on Monday to celebrate the Otsukimi (moon viewing) to give thanks for the harvest of the year, and (officially) to celebrate the old folks. Happy long weekend!

Koizumi Endorses Yuriko Koike

Global Talk and Observing Japan are the bloggers to watch for insights into Japan's politics. I like that former prime minister Koizumi says he supports Yuriko Koike, who spoke very well last night on NHK's debate program, about ending Japan's dependency on fossile fuels, and the need to think about sustainable development and "mottainai" (wastefulness). At least compared to the others, she seemed to care about issues that are very, very important.

Cheap, Pesticide-Laced Rice Sold To Hospitals?

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This week, a new food safety scandal is rocking Japan. Mikasa Foods (三笠フーズ) had for 10 years imported pesticide-laced rice from China and Vietnam (supported by officials at MAFF) in order to make - - glue.

Mikasa Foods then promptly went ahead and re-sold the tainted rice to all kinds of food companies, including shochu and sembei makers. And made a killing by charging normal prices, as if the rice was fit for human consumption. For ten years...



First, it seemed limited to a few companies. Today, it emerges that they also sold the rice to hospitals in Osaka and Kyoto. I mean, who are these guys? Are they not paying attention to the fact that Japan reacts very strongly to food safety crime? Are they unable to read and write, and maybe not even able to feel any compassion for fellow human beings? And how did officials at the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) get involved in this? World Trade Organization rules stipulate that Japan should import rice, and ok, using it to make glue makes sense…

"Green" Manga Summit In Kyoto

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Did I ever mention I have a weak spot for Tezuka Osamu, and his wonderful manga and anime films.

Which one is your favourite?

You can catch a lot of Tezuka Osamu's work on Youtube (in English) from the early 1980s.

I wrote about the 9th International Manga Summit in Kyoto over at Treehugger. The main theme for this years convention was "Environmental Innovation". Those in charge of the summit note:

Kyoto was the site of the United Nation's Convention on Climate Change. We envision a convention that will boost awareness of sub-themes such as "global warming prevention", "dietary education", and "The 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)", while advocating the passing of the torch of a promising culture to the children and young people responsible for the next generation.

Comic arts in Japan has a long tradition of using the screen or manga book to convey environmental messages as important parts of the plot.

I think Tezuka Osamu was way ahead of the ti…

Hearing Fukuda (Kind Of) Discuss Consumer Policy

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Today, I had the unexpected opportunity to listen to Japan's prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, who spoke briefly at the Cabinet Office's International Conference on Consumer Policy. The conference was prodding along fine until about 16:10, when suddenly some secret service-type guys in black suits, white shirts (and no neckties) started appearing. A few of them had the kind of ear-piece you may have seen in movies (talking into their hands, etc). The conference went on smoothly even as media suddenly appeared, with TV cameras and lots of gear. NHK, TBS, and the others quickly lined up at the back of the hall, seating some 200 people who were there to hear about Japan's efforts to discuss The Future of Consumer Policy for a Globalized Society.

Then nothing unusual happened, except more secret service-type guys had lined up along the walls and shot long glances at just about everyone in the hall. At 16:59 sharp, a young lady entered and wispered something to the MC. He promptly …

Tom & Jerry Hungarian Rhapsody (1946)

Was this the golden era of animation or what.

Do kids these days get a chance to listen to Liszt while having a laugh - I doubt it. Or was this made for adults? I know a lot of people who love classical music, maybe because it used to be so much more accessible. In the days of radio, there would be at least one channel which always could be relied on to play the great masters.

Here in Japan, you have NHK N Kyoku Hour on Sunday evenings, I love it, very reliable, a good little program that is a standard feature... But... B u t . . .

Wikipedia's entry on Hungarian Rhapsody in Popular Culture is fun to read:

It became a permanent part of cartoon history with its use in Friz Freleng's Rhapsody in Rivets, where the construction of a skyscraper is synchronized to the rhapsody. Freleng used the piece in several other Warner Brothers cartoons, most notably Rhapsody Rabbit, which featured Bugs Bunny as a concert pianist playing the solo piano version. This film was clearly inspired by its …

Survey: Have You Ever Spent Time On A Farm?

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One of my posts recently on Treehugger.com about farmstays and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms caught the eye of Lloyd Alter, one of the best writers on that juggernaut blog, who promptly had the good sense to create a survey:

Survey: Have You Ever Spent Time on a Farm?

Results so far:

Have you ever spent time on a farm?
I have never been on a farm. 12% (54 votes)
I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) and go regularly. 5% (20 votes)
I have worked on farms. 67% (290 votes)
I thought food came from supermarkets. 6% (25 votes)
Other (in comments) 11% (47 votes)
Total Votes: 436

Any thoughts?

From the comments:

it was the only place in my life that i don't remember my brother or i ever saying "im bored!" there was ALWAYS something wonderful to do, whether it was stomping through the ice that formed on the ponds in the mornings (late fall, lol) or playing hide and seek in the corn (still one of my best memories!) or foolishly climbing the hay bales in the barn, or…

End Of Summer...

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> Summer... I'm trying to not complain... I just survived another summer here. Today was so humid. Sunny, temperatures in the 30s. I'm ok, I tell myself.

Natsukashii ;o) I remember it being a running joke with natsu in Japan - "might be scorching, humid and sweat a constant problem but ANYTHING is better than 'summer' back home.." Those dept store aircons - yaaa!

> I had to go to Waseda and try to be fresh at the Consumers Union office. I only go once a week, so... From Hanno to Waseda is about 1 1/2 hours. I had an extra t-shirt in my bag, so I put that on, after a quick wash in the toilet. I think I was ok there, but later in the evening I did "stink". Oh well.

One small thing I was blessed with is I've never sweated that much generally. Sure, the deodorant has to be radioactive strong but otherwise ok. And that is saying something in Tokyo, ne.

> By now, Sweden is all gloomy fall and the end of civilization. October in Sweden can be ni…

Antiwar Protester Detained in Minnesota

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An antiwar protester is detained by police at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota on August 31, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

Source: Truthout

That lady is my new hero.

G8 Speakers of Parliament Visit Hiroshima

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NHK World reports that Speakers of Parliament from the Group of Eight countries visited the cenotaph for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing in Hiroshima:

The visit was made on Tuesday morning, ahead of the G8 speakers' meeting. This year, the speakers are in Hiroshima to exchange views on the legislature's role in promoting global peace and disarmament. The attendees included Nancy Pelosi, the first US House Speaker to pay respects at the memorial. Each laid flowers before the cenotaph and offered prayers for the victims.

Local elementary school and junior high school students welcomed the speakers and handed them peace messages and paper cranes, which are a symbol of peace. The speakers then visited the Peace Memorial Museum to see exhibitions, including victims' belongings and a panoramic model of the devastated city after the bombing.

Japan's Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono also called for more international efforts to abolish nuclear arms. I'm impressed by thes…

Greenpeace Scorecard For Beijing Olympics

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Gold medals, silver, bronze. World records, fun performances. Now that it is all over, back to the ordinary, grey everyday life. On the air pollution score, Beijing has invested in new subway and bus lines, applying high emissions standards (Beijing has lately moved to the very stringent Euro IV) and cleaner energy in and around Beijing.

China made big promises to clean up Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games. How well did they do? Greenpeace’s new Olympic report has some answers.

"It is crucial that the [IOC] requires host cities to set comparable and mandatory environmental standards, thereby ensuring that environment is honored as the third pillar of the Olympics, after sports and culture," said Lo Sze Ping, Greenpeace China's campaign director.

Download the full report here

Each chapter deals with very interesting details that you will probably not be getting on your regular sports pages:

Executive summary/The environment, Beijing and the 2008 Olympic Games
Air quality
Climat…