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Showing posts from December, 2008

2009: Year Of Herding The Ox

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

New, Green Economy, Or "Debilitating Ripple Effects"

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown Train, Hold On

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


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

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

Frugal, Happy Holiday

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

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

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

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



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

December Food Ranking

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

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

"I Have A Love Hate Relationship With Technology"

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

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

Eco-Products 2008: Asking Difficult Questions About Electric Cars

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

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

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

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

Japan's Economy Needs A Green Revolution

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

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

If only the politicians had a green vision: they could announce a major national reform to deal with Japan's energy depe…

Japanese Cut Flowers Getting Milieu Programma Sierteelt Certification

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

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

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

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

Update: In the United States, VeriFlora is the label to look for if you are interested in buying cut flowers from growers that us…

Eco+Waza

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

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

Article
A Hint for Sustainability from Awaji Island

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

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

Let's Enjoy Tokyo Guide Recommends Organic Restaurants

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

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

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



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

Joseph Mirachi: Fuel Efficiency

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

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

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

We read that the three big automakers are in Washington trying to get elected congressmen and -women to bail them out, or else. Taxpayers will …

Japan Car in London

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London's Science Museum, Design Platform Japan and a host of others are presenting a rather different take on the cultural aspects of state-of-the-art automobiles, including kei cars, in a clever exhibition that started on November 29, 2008.Japan Car - Designs for the Crowded Globe is an exploration of the car as a "mobile cell" - conceived by two world class designers: Kenya Hara, the man responsible for much of the success of Muji, the Nagano Olympics opening ceremony, and Shigeru Ban, the architect currently designing a new satellite gallery for Paris’ Pompidou Centre, who did the recycled cardboard paper tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims, having helped earthquake victims in Kobe in 1995...This is all very timely. The car industry is going through a major shift. Volvo and Saab may have to be nationalized, and who knows if the big three automakers in the Unites States will surivive. Ouch.Reuters has also covered the way the US car makers begg…