Tuesday, September 30, 2008

World Foodless Day


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

World Foodless Day

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

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

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

Organised by:

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

Date and time:

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

Venue:

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

Avoid Pump Rage



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

Avoid Pump Rage; Practice Gas Line Etiquette

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

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

Time is money and gasoline is even more money.

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

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

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

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

Source: wsbtv

Sunday, September 28, 2008

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



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.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Mottainai Song



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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crested Ibises Return To Japan's Skies



(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 here at Sado, thanks to a gift from the government of China).

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 year, when rice suddenly became very expensive on the Thai market, may have something to do with how Mikasa Food was caught in the act.

Earlier this year, we heard that Japan would release some of the imported rice the government keeps in storage. This would then "depress" the rice market, it was argued, and lower prices, as speculation would calm down.

Then nothing happened during the summer.

Japan did not sell any of its imported MA rice to other countries: none of it was exported. Why? No reasons have been forthcoming.

I bet they did a few checks, and noticed the high levels of aflatoxins and pesticide residue. And someone said: "Hey, we can't let anyone eat that stuff!"

Then it was revealed that people where indeed eating it, here in Japan...

The Japanese media is not very good at handling these huge scandals. While the Minister of Agriculture resigned, we have only rumours that, once again, a whistle-blower let the cat out of the bag. Well, I like that. As I have noted here on Kurashi, Japan's new whistle-blower protection legislation is a model for other countries to follow.

Consumers Union of Japan: Rice Scandal: Protest Declaration and Questions

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Walking Mountains


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



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.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

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


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 Power Co. (TEPCO) has installed charging devices for electric vehicles in nine basement parking lots, including those under several office buildings, in the business district near JR Tokyo Station on a trial basis. It is the first time that "battery stations" for electric vehicles have been set up in basement parking areas.


The photo shows Mitsubishi's zero-emission MIEV being recharged in Roppongi, Tokyo earlier this week.

The Mainichi: 'Battery stations' launched for electric cars in downtown Tokyo

Dear readers of this humble blog: is this really such a great idea?

Friday, September 19, 2008

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 Geneva"

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 ministry had said it would focus on consumer safety, but it turned out to be a bogus claim. Consumer organizations are now calling for separating consumer affairs administration from the agriculture ministry.

Previously:
Cheap, Pesticide-Laced Rice Sold To Hospitals?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wind Power At Fujimamas


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 city of Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, will describe innovations in small wind turbines and a solar cooker he has been working on.

(Photo: The Loop Wing turbine)

Lehman Brothers Trouble in Japan


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 and regional banks, and insurance companies disclosed their exposure to Lehman on Tuesday.

Sumitomo-Mitsui Financial Group reported that it holds about 980 million dollars in investments and loans, of which 96 million dollars' worth could generate losses.

Mizuho Financial Group says one-half of its 380 million dollar exposure, and Aozora Bank one-fifth of its 570 million dollar credit could be written off.

Regional banks say they own up to 67 million dollars in Lehman Brothers' corporate bonds at risk of default. Insurance firms are also among Lehman's creditors.

The financial institutions say their losses are likely to be limited because most of their investments and loans are secured with collateral.

The NHK World spin here is that the exposures are "limited". OK, so they have some dandy "collateral" meaning they probably will start to have to cash in on skyscrapers here and there, so noone is too worried. The Financial Times seems to agree. But why did all these fine Japanese banks invest in a company like Lehman Brothers? Well, just last year, in 2007, Lehman Brothers ranked number one as "Most Admired Securities Firm" by Fortune, the US magazine. Any ideas, dear readers? I am certainly at a loss.

As an aside, I checked Lehman Brother's "Sustainability Principles". This is where a company gets to brag about all the good things they do for society. How did they feel about environmental issues and corporate social responsibility? They noted that they believe in "market based solutions":

Market-based solutions – We believe that market-based solutions can deliver commercially feasible environmental and social benefit. We will apply our knowledge and understanding of financial markets to develop and implement innovative environmental and social market-based solutions

http://www.lehman.com/who/sustainability/

(Accessed 080914)

Well, they got "market-based solutions" all right: the US government refused to bail them out. Lesson learnt, hopefully.

Monday, September 15, 2008

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 derives from Japanese life culture. As the first generation of the longevity society at a global level, we senior citizens strongly hope that the efforts in environmental protection would be spread worldwide in order to pass the sustainable global environment to the future generations.


"We face a big problem," says Shigeyoshi Yoshida, executive director of JANCA. "Over the next three or four years, 10 million people will retire."

Before the Toyako G8 Summit earlier this year in Hokkaido, these groups held a number of meetings all over Japan.

JANCA wants to respond to senior citizens’ desire to contribute to the society and to attain Ikigai (meaning of life, well-being) in Japan, where one in every 5 people is now aged 65 and over. JANCA also works toward a harmonious society between the old and young generations:

One of our focus is the global environmental problem, the urgent issue for all the human beings. With the slogan “We senior citizens are the guardians of global environment,” we have been involved in various environmental protection activities, such as conducting an opinion survey on environmental problems, developing “Seniors’ Action Plans to Tackle Environmental Problems” based on the survey results, and organizing an international symposium on environmental protection.


Respect.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Harvest Moon


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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cheap, Pesticide-Laced Rice Sold To Hospitals?



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.

So, you import crap rice that is not fit for human consumption, and make glue for a living. How do you then go from that to sell it to food companies? And at what point do you and your partners start thinking it is ok to sell it to food companies? And then move onto hospitals? And nursing homes? At what point do you start to actually go ahead with such a plan? AND THINK YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH IT?

NHK World: Tainted rice may have used for hospital meals

Quote:

Authorities say that inedible rice tainted with high levels of pesticide may have been used for meals in hospitals and nursing homes in western Japan.

The rice in question was purchased by Osaka-based Mikasa Foods from the government as industrial-use but the company is accused of selling it on as an edible foodstuff.

Officials say that about 690 kilograms of the rice from China was sold through third companies by Mikasa to Nisshin Healthcare Food Service, a distributor of hospital meals, between May and July.

The Tokyo-based company later distributed the rice to about 110 institutions in 6 prefectures, including Osaka and Kyoto.

Mikasa Foods admits the rice in question was inedible and says that it may contain residues of a pesticide called methamidophos five times above the legal limit.

The meal provider says that part of the rice has already been consumed.


Yomiuri: Mikasa 'hid tainted rice' from inspectors

Quote:


Mikasa Foods, an Osaka-based rice-processing and sales firm suspected of selling tainted rice as edible rice, covered up its actions by hiding tainted rice from regular government inspections, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

"We moved tainted rice [from where it was usually kept] to a different warehouse every time government officials came for inspections," an employee of Mikasa's Kyushu plant in Chikuzenmachi, Fukuoka Prefecture, told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

"Another employee was assigned to mix tainted rice with clean rice," the employee added.

According to the employee, three warehouses are next to each other on the plant's compound. Warehouse No. 1 was used to store rice for processing, such as making shochu liquor, warehouse No. 2 was used to store edible rice to be shipped to restaurants, and warehouse No. 3 was used to store tainted rice. Each warehouse holds about 1,100 to 1,400 30-kilogram bags of rice.

The company's records show that quantities of the tainted rice were registered as having been shipped to industrial glue manufacturers. If government inspectors had realized that the rice was in warehouse No. 3, the subterfuge would have been discovered.

When the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry's Fukuoka District Agriculture Office conducted on-the-spot inspections once a month, plant workers moved some bags of tainted rice to warehouse No. 1, placed them deep inside the building and covered them with bags of clean rice to ensure they would not be detected.



Mainichi: Asahi Breweries begins recall of 650,000 bottles of shochu over tainted rice

Quote:

Asahi Breweries, the latest company to fall foul of the Misawa Foods scandal, announced on Thursday that thousands of bottles of sweet potato shochu liquor are being recalled after contaminated rice was found to have been used in its manufacture.

Despite initial claims by a brewing company commissioned by Asahi Breweries that no contaminated rice was ever used in its products, it later emerged that some rice used to make nine varieties of sweet potato shochu liquor contained high levels of the insecticide acetamiprid. There have been no reports of any adverse health effects so far.

The recall covers some 650,000 bottles of shochu sold to restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores from June this year, and is expected to cost around 1.5 billion yen.


It would be really interesting to know which Japanese political party this guy has supported, or belongs to. I think Japan's media - or what about foreign correspondents covering Japan - should ask this question. Any takers?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Green" Manga Summit In Kyoto

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 times with his early trailblazing works from the 1940s and 1950s, often set in a future filled with robots and high-tech gadgets.

Astroboy (aka Atom, as he is known here in Japan) is the hero helping the underdogs against unfair destructive development, as in the classic episode of Red Cat from 1980:



Part 2
Part 3

Tezuka in English (terrific site!) lists how Red Cat was first published as a manga in 1953, depicting Tokyo as it may be in 2013.

An electric city, a dream for some, a nightmare for others.

In the anime version from 1980, that date has been moved forward to the 2030s.

Not much forest remains, as the city continues to expand. But the mysterious character Red Cat has invited a select group of boys, whos fathers are all involved in the big development projects, to do something about saving the animals, and the environment...

Jungle Emperor Leo (later shamelessly copied by Disney) and Black Jack are also known here for their green themes, but it is worth noting how Tezuka Osamu and other manga creators are eager to explore the newest technology, yet always got that focus on the human heart.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hearing Fukuda (Kind Of) Discuss Consumer Policy


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 announced that "Elvis is in the building" (sorry, wrong guy) while a podium with a microphone was hurriedly carried to the center of the stage. Of course, what he actually said was a very brief and proper introduction of the PM - whose strong focus on consumer policy is an important legacy (his only one?).

Mr. Yasuo-I-am-different-from-you-Fukuda then entered the stage, made a very brief joke about how he had just arrived (har-har), and then read a prepared, five minute speech. He bowed, not too deaply, shook hands with the main speakers (including my old collegue & good friend Samuel Ochieng, now president of Consumers International, congratulations!). Fukuda-san then left the stage at exactly 17:05. Wow, tight schedule. Five minutes? Japanese government officials just have no sense of how to help a poor blogger make a more interesting entry =_=;;

More details about Japan's new consumer policies over at the Cabinet Office website.



(Hat tip to Japan Probe for the YouTube video of the "Anata to chigau-n desu" quip to the tune of MC Hammer!)

Friday, September 05, 2008

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 first use in 1929 because many of the gags are similar. However, controversy followed this short's release. Within weeks, MGM released Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's Tom and Jerry short, The Cat Concerto, which won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. The short featured an almost identical plot, and the same Hungarian Rhapsody, being played by Tom the cat this time. Freleng was convinced that MGM stole the idea from him, and Hanna and Barbera were just as convinced that they were the victims of plagiarism.


But, then again, these days we've got Youtube ;) And the kids are using it! Wish I had had that when I was a KID!

Survey: Have You Ever Spent Time On A Farm?


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 watching the piglets, or helping my uncle gather eggs, or exploring the woods and Roanoke river with my grandparent's 5 BIG dogs...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

End Of Summer...



> 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 nice, but nothing like what we get here. You will really arrive at a perfect time. I'm making plans with some people, you should be having a rather nice time. So happy we will meet again. Thanks for making the trip.

Arriving at a 'perfect time' - sugoi. Still autumn/fall etc lilting into winter. Gonna be good.

> Having said that, lets not spend too much money. I'm on a rather low-budget life as it is.

Of course.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Antiwar Protester Detained in Minnesota


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.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

G8 Speakers of Parliament Visit Hiroshima



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 these efforts, especially of the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who continue to work hard to tell the real story of nuclear weapons. I hope the Speakers of Parliament and other elected politicians will do everything they can to make sure that this weapon is never used again.

MSNBC: Pelosi visits Hiroshima atomic bomb memorial
NHK World: Parliament speakers lay flowers at A-bomb memorial

(Note to self: do I know the names of even one of these "elected politicians" that are supposed to represent us in our democratic societies...?)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Greenpeace Scorecard For Beijing Olympics


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
Climate change, energy use and refrigerants
Transportation
Water and sewage treatment
Forests
Toxic materials and waste management
Olympic sponsor environmental commitments
Public engagement
Conclusion

Greenpeace praises Beijing for:

• Using state-of-the-art renewable energy saving technologies in the Olympic Village
• Setting new vehicle emissions to the very stringent EURO IV standard ahead of schedule.
• Building five new subway lines to encourage public transportation
• Launching a fleet of 3,759 buses running on compressed natural gas.
• Helping 32 000 households to convert from coal heating systems to electric heating systems.
• Establishing the Guanting wind power station, Beijing’s first wind power generation station capable of generating 100 million kWh of electricity a year.
• Improving its wastewater treatment plants, sewage and water reuse systems.

Greenpeace is disappointed that Beijing did not:

• Make environmentally-friendly policies for the Games in the areas of procurement and construction binding
• Apply water saving technologies across the city
• Pursue a zero-waste policy instead of building more landfill sites and incinerators.
• Introduce an internationally recognizable timber procurement policy, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard, for the construction material used during the Games
• Eradicate climate-damaging HFC technology in some Olympic facilities
• Make environmental data and certification of Olympic venues fully transparent.