Friday, January 30, 2009

Small World: Saving Saitama Satoyama Forest in San Francisco

If you are living in Tokyo, one of the best places to visit on a day off, if you long for nature and forest, may be Sayama, Saitama prefecture. There are others, such as Takao, or Nikko, if you have the time. Sayama has some really nice walks, and the kind of feel that you may not get easily anywhere else near the nation's capital.

Over in San Francisco, an exhibition about Totoro, the anime character created by Hayao Miyazaki, has spurred quite a movement to support the Sayama forests. Called the Totoro Forest Project, you can help protect precious forest area here in not-so-rural Japan. In San Francisco, you can visit the art exhibition with works celebrating forests at the Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 US (between Second Street and Third Street).

So, in California, there is an appeal to preserve the Sayama forest on the outskirts of Tokyo, that was adopted by Hayao Miyazaki, who was instrumental in setting up the Forest Fund after the success of his 1990 film, My Neighbor Totoro. The fund has since raised $3 million. Wow.

"The biggest motivation for this event is really to show our appreciation and tribute for Miyazaki — so many of us in the animation world are in this business because of him," Pixar Art Director Dice Tsutsumi said to San Francisco Business Times. "It’s not just a forest in Japan, it symbolizes any forest in the world. It’s not just one enemy we’re fighting so we just have to raise awareness."

Totoro Forest Project is an international charity effort to preserve Sayama Forest, also known as Totoro Forest. This forest sanctuary on the outskirts of Tokyo is where director Hayao Miyazaki got the inspiration for his much loved character "Totoro." Over 200 top international artists from animation, illustration, and comics are donating artwork especially created for this cause. Small world!

From September 6, 2008 Pixar Animation Studios will be hosting an art auction event featuring all these fantastic pieces of art, until February 8, 2009.

Treehugger: Satoyama
Treehugger: Totoro Forest Project

Thursday, January 29, 2009

TEPCO To Build Solar Plant, But Is It Really That Big?

TEPCO, the power utility for Tokyo's 20-30 million people, have announced that they will build a 10 megawatt solar plant in Yamanashi prefecture. Media loves this kind of news, and so do I, but when they tout it as a "big" solar plant, they have gotten it wrong. Compare to Spain, where they built over 3 gigawatt of solar power until Novemeber 2008. Spain became a booming market thanks to a generous government program that requires utilities to buy all the solar energy production at a premium price.

A coal power plant is approximately equivalent to 1 gigawatt of solarpower, so you can see how small TEPCO's investment in Yamanashi is: a fraction of the total energy required to keep Tokyo's neon lights blinking and the air conditioners humming.

Or put it this way: Sharp will install a 9 megawatt generating facility on the roof of a new factory it is building in Japan. The facility will be operated with Kansai Electric Power and will expand to eventually reach 18 megawatts - and here is the punch line of the joke - enough to provide about 5 percent of the power used by the factory. So, to build solar panels, they need a lot more energy than they can provide to themselves, using solar panels...

Also, note that you need a standard panel for about 3.7 kilowatt of solar power to produce enough energy for a family of four.

I'm not saying this is wrong. TEPCO and the other utilities should invest more in renewable energy. But it is wrong to mislead the public into thinking that this scale of investment is "big" or that we can continue wasting energy. As previously noted here at Kurashi, Tokyo is making plans to increase its reliance on renewable energy to 20% by 2020. In order to reach this goal, they want to promote "drastic energy efficiency measures first, then shift from the conventaional energy to renewable energy."

There are currently many much larger solar power plants being built around the world, including the 550 megawatt plant planned for San Luis Obispo County, California. (China has also announced a 1 gigawatt solar power plant and there is talk about a 5 gigawatt plant in India, but details are sketchy at best regarding these ambitious projects.)

And what do the prefixes "kilo" and "mega" and so on mean?

Kilo 1,000
Mega 1,000,000
Giga 1,000,000,000
Tera 1,000,000,000,000
Peta 1,000,000,000,000,000
Exa 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
Zetta 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
Yotta 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Kilo comes from the Greek khiloi and means 1000. It is interesting enough, the only prefix with a direct numerical meaning.

The next three come from Greek and Latin and are either descriptive or mythological.

Mega comes from the Greek mega meaning "great", as in "Alexandros O Megas" or "Megas Alexandros" (Alexander the Great).

Giga comes from Latin gigas meaning "giant".

Tera comes from Greek teras meaning "monster".

(Source: James S. Huggins Refrigerator Door)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Top Gear Grinds Into Reverse: Nissan GTR Vs. Shinkansen 700

Neil Duckett uploaded two fun episodes of Top Gear, the car program that BBC broadcasts without any care for peak oil, CO2 emissions or other environmental issues that interest us here at Kurashi. As it were, Jeremy Clarkson got to race across Japan in a Nissan GT-R (that he clearly loved, breaking a lot of local speed laws, and as far as I know, got no ticket). His fellow BBC companions took public transit including the 700 Shinkansen.

Isn't it rather absurd that in the event of the current energy crisis, BBC airs such a show, without a single reference to (cough) reality. More over at Treehugger: Top Gear: Fast, Sexy Car Vs. Shinkansen, A-Bike And Public Transportation

As a good friend of mine kindly noted in an email earlier today:

...we have no time to convert one person at a time ("one light bulb at a time" as it is sometimes stated) in order to save the planet. Making fossil fuels cost a lot automatically causes people to change their behaviors. Perhaps organized political pressure to put taxes on fuels and on carbon would be more effective.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shinkansen:Japan's Five Fastest Regular Super Express Trains

Celebrating the Shinkansen! "Be Ambitious" by Cloe.

Japan's five fastest super express trains are (drumroll):

500 Series Top speed 300 km/h (186 mph)
700 Series Top speed 285 km/h (178 mph)
E2 Series Top speed 275 km/h (171 mph)
E3 Series Top speed 275 km/h (171 mph)
300 Series Top speed 270 km/h (169 mph)

More over at Treehugger. I note that you could travel the distance between New York and Los Angeles in little over 8 hours if they had the 500 Shinkansen up and running, at 300 km/h (186 mph). Love the design by German company Neumeister.

Use this Converter Website to get all kinds of data. Such as: Travelling at 300 km/h, you could go from Moscow to Beijing, a distance of 5,806 km, in about 20 hours. Or Berlin to Madrid, 1,871 km, in just over 6 hours. Tokyo to Seoul? 1,159 km, or just under 4 hours by the super express train.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"How genetically modified foods are accelerating the food crisis"

Mr Keisuke Amagasa is a well-known writer and food activist in Japan, with a number of books about food safety, genetically modified organisms, and biofuels. He is concerned about how GMOs are making the global food crisis worse. Over at Consumers Union of Japan, you can read his speech at the World Foodless Day event held in Tokyo on October 16, 2008:

”Let me emphasise that Japan is not among the GM crop cultivating countries. But Japan is a great importer of GM crops; in average, people in Japan are eating GM food the most in East Asia, followed by South Korea, and Taiwan. This is due to the low self-sufficiency ratios and the increase of GM crop farming in certain exporting countries. In addition, the Japanese food labelling system is so partial and confusing that consumers are not able to make a choice.”

When I go to these meetings, I'm often struck by the earnest talking, the large number of people listening, and the sense of urgency. These people know Japan needs to change its agricultural policies, its energy matrix. You cannot import 99% of your fuel and 60% of your food. It does not make any sense. But who is going to provide the food, when transnational seed companies use WTO rules and TRIPS patent regulations to limit the varieties available to farmers? And meanwhile, who will farm?

Amagasa-san also noted that global GM research and development is being dominated by Monsanto. Currently, this company has more than a 90% share of the world’s GM seeds. They reached this by suppressing the entry of other companies through patents, and by aggressively purchasing seed companies, and by creating a monopoly on the way seeds are marketed. Amagasa-san makes that point that GM crops have no real merits for the farmer:

"Yields actually decrease and the amount of agricultural chemicals will increase. Monsanto has claimed that yields will increase, but they have not introduced DNA that specifically leads to increased yields."

According to Mr Keisuke Amagasa, GM crops have been identified as a threat to the ecosystem and the biodiversity: Contamination trials in Hokkaido, northern Japan, proved that pollen from GM crops can spread further and wider than expected. Tests have been done by people all over Japan, collecting samples of wild-growing rape seed (canola) plants. They discovered a large number of cases of GM rape seed in locations where they should not be growing. Amagasa-san notes that this is an example of how serious the environmental pollution caused by GM has become in Japan. GMO contamination is a serious issue for farmers and consumers.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

NHK: Toyota To Cut Production By Half

Cars, anyone? No, I didn't think so. That's why I feel blogging about trains and other more environmentally friendly transportation options makes so much sense. We need investment in public transportation, not in fancy cars. Do you own a car? I do not. Are you worried yet? I am. Toyota Motors announced today that it plans to make half the number of vehicles it produced in 2008. Half. 50%.

NHK World quotes industry sources, that say the company will slash production to around 9,000 vehicles a day in February and March at plants across Japan:

The company already reduced production last month when it set a daily output for the 3 months until the end of March at 12,000 units. Toyota also planned a coordinated stoppage of operations at domestic plants for 11 days from February through March. But it may be forced to take a similar measure in April as well, as there is no sign of improvement in global car sales.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how Toyota, the worlds most sucessful automobile company is dealing with the current crisis: make less cars. Make a lot less cars. NHK notes that industry sources say if Toyota continues to reduce domestic production, it may have to reduce its workforce again. Less is becoming the new lean.

Five Lean Principles: video by rasmusbm

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making Trains Fun, Sexy, And Romantic in Japan

For as long as I have lived in Japan, TV commercials have promoted public transit. One of my favourite campaigns was the JR Tokai X'mas Express, running from 1988-1992. Music by 山下達郎 Tatsuro Yamashita - Christmas Eve (1983).

Reuters notes that Japanese women take to train spotting:

"There's a growing number of girls who like trains. The Internet has made it easier for people to meet others with similar hobbies," said Chihiro Uchida, the 25-year-old "station-master" who runs the train bar. The women clients that Uchida refers to are called "Tetsuko" or train girls. The name became popular after "Tetsuko's Trip," a comic book that was later turned into a TV series.

Tetsuko's Trip official website

This is a fantastic poster for - bus schedules. In many regions of Japan, you need thick schedule books for both the train and the bus, to go to remote locations. So much fun to plan your trip, and if you are lucky, who will you meet on the long, slow journey...?

(Poster photos from

After you turn 50, Japan Rail thinks you deserve special treatment. They offer great discounts to locations that you may once have visited, a long time ago, or perhaps only dreamt of! JR Otona no Yasumi are carefully promoted as high-culture, sophisticated trips to temples and traditional restaurants in towns in Japan's amazing countryside.

Monday, January 12, 2009

From Japan To Europe: Global Warming Opens The Northern Sea Route

In the summer of 2008, images from the NASA Aqua satellite revealed that the last ice blockage of the Northern Sea Route had melted. This was the first time in 125,000 years that both the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route had been open simultaneously.

In 1879 the Finland-Swedish explorer Nordenskiöld made the first successful attempt to completely navigate the Northeast Passage from Sweden to Japan during the Vega expedition. The ship's captain was lieutenant Louis Palander of the Swedish Royal Navy. Vega was a steam ship, and the eventful journey was delayed when they got stuck for almost a full year, before the Bering Strait ice melted in July 1879. They reached Yokohama in September and got to meet the Emperor.

The Bremen-based Beluga Group has announced that it would start to use the Northern Sea Route for shipping from early 2009, cutting 4000 nautical miles off the journey between Germany and Japan.

The Independent: For the first time in human history, the North Pole can be circumnavigated

Many scientists now predict that the Arctic ocean will be ice-free in summer by 2030 – and a landmark study this year by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, concluded that there will be no ice between mid-July and mid-September as early as 2013.

Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld was born in 1832 and his remarkable journey was supported by Swedish King Oscar II. They stayed for two months in Japan, also visiting Hiroshima, Kobe and Nagasaki, and being treated like royalties. The links between Scandinavia and Japan were getting stronger, with the first treaty between Japan and Sweden signed in 1868 in Yokohama. In Kobe, incidentally, Nordenskiöld met another adventurous Swedish traveller, Herman Trotzig (also born in 1832!), who had saved the life of a Japanese high-ranking official and went on to become chief of Kobe's police force.

Other early sailors were less fortunate: just today there is news about the Turkish ship Ertugrul Firkateyni, that sank in a storm off the coast of Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, in 1890. It was on its way home after delivering a letter from the sultan and a medal to Emperor Meiji. Of the crew, 69 were saved by local people. The incident became a symbol of friendship between Japan and Turkey, according to Kyodo.

The Japan Times: Team dives on 1890 shipwreck

Since the early 1980´s Swedish ice-breakers have been roaming the Arctic seaways on expeditions run by the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, with joint projects with Japanese scientific stations in Antarctica belonging to NIPR: Syowa Station, the mother station of JARE, was established in January 1957.

The Nordenskiöld tradition is strong, notes Knut Ekström, social anthropologist & documentary filmmaker, who has collected data and photos on his website, The travel with Vega.

If the northern sea route is indeed opened due to climate change, it will also radically change the way Northern Europe and East Asia can engage in trade. Another possibility is to upgrade the Trans-Siberian Railroad, completed in 1916. For all means of transport combined Japan sends 360,000 containers to Europe per year... 6.14 million foreign tourists visits Japan each year, most of them by jet planes...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sibelius: Symphony 7

Jean Sibelius - from Finland. This is from his 7th symphony - classical in every sense of the word. Yet it is so very modern (just one wonderful, unbounded flow, disregarding "movements" of the traditional symphony). This was first heard in 1924, between two world wars, when there was some hope, and Finland as a nation had recently re-gained its independence (from Russia).

By the way, Sibelius is of course from Finland, but did you know that his "mother tongue" was Swedish? Even today, school children in Finland learn both languages, in addition to English. And there are amazing poets and writers from Finland, who wrote in such beautiful Swedish, much more lovely than anyone I can think of in my own language, such as Johan Ludvig Runeberg, son of a sea captain. Finnish is similar to Hungarian, with roots going back to ancient Altaic languages, such as Japanese and Korean?

More precisely, Ural-Altaic came to subgroup Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic as "Uralic" and Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic as "Altaic", with Korean sometimes added to Altaic, and less often Japanese.

Nicholas Poppe considered the issue of the relationship of Korean to Turkic-Mongolic-Tungusic as not settled. In his view, there were three real possibilities: (1) Korean did not belong with the other three genealogically, but had been influenced by an Altaic substratum; (2) Korean was related to the other three at the same level they were related to each other; (3) Korean had split off from the other three before they underwent a series of characteristic changes. Poppe leaned toward the third possibility, but did not commit himself to it in this work.

Roy Andrew Miller's 1971 book Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages convinced most Altaicists that Japanese also belonged to Altaic. Since then, the standard set of languages included in the Altaic hypothesis has comprised Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Korean, and Japanese.

Whatever. We really base our notion of "self" on very limited information. My passsort says one thing, but how about 100 years ago, or 1000? Actually, from Japan to the Nordic countries doesn't really feel that far.

With global warming, we may soon have the ice gone and the long sought for northern passage between Asia and Scandinavia could become a busy sea route!

In Sibelius' days, ships from Sweden and Finland, or ships with captains or crews from our parts of the globetrotting world, used to frequently go all the way to the Far East. Hey! Since the time of the vikings, we do like to travel.

Jean Sibelius
Symphony No. 7, in C major (1924)

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden, September 1992
Part I of III
Part II of III
Part III of III

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Green New Deal For Japan

The Mainichi had a nice New Year's message in early January, noting that "greater importance should be attached to investments in the environmental protection field, considering Japan's situation over the next several decades."

With both South Korea and Japan announcing large-scale government support for green development projects, I wonder if millions of jobs really can be created by the efforts. For example, South Korea says it will spend $38 billion on waste to energy power plants, support for 'Green Homes', transportation infrastructure for rail and bicycles, cleaning up polluted river systems, and investments in energy storage technologies used for electric vehicles (They are also planning 10 new nuclear reactors).

I like that the Korean government is considering building bicycle-only roads spanning 3,114 kilometers across the country over the next 10 years, "while launching an international bicycle competition mimicking the Tour de France as part of efforts to promote eco-friendly industries."

According to Kyodo's inimitable prose, Japan' Prime Minister Taro Aso this week "instructed" Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito to compile a "bold" and "easy-to-understand" program aimed at propping up the economy by promoting measures to curb global warming:

Under the envisioned program — essentially a Japanese version of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's Green New Deal — the Environment Ministry aims to expand the environment-related business market.

Aso demands 'bold' green business program to boost economy

"We want to take the initiative and build a leading low-carbon society while stepping out of recession before anyone else in the world," Ichiro Sumikura, an environment ministry official, told Reuters.

Garry Golden, clever blogger over at The Energy Roadmap, notes that $38 billion is not a lot of money:

The long view implications of this story go far beyond any actual investments that may or may not turn Korea's attention towards 'cleantech' industries. These projects might already have been planned long before the recent global economic slowdown. And $38 billion is not a lot of money for a 'New Deal'.

The real story is the media spin on 'green' and underlying values statement that shows widespread support within Korea for cleantech and eco-friendly ventures. The ripple effect of modern notions of environmentalism (able to address impacts of large scale industrialism, not traditional forms of agricultural living) could begin to challenge the notion of 'growth at any cost' that dominates economic policies around the world in all nations, but especially in emerging economies.

Values are very important when it comes to 'cleantech' policies, and there is no evidence that 'environmentalism' as it is viewed in American and European life is a current global phenomenon. There are still several billion people in the world who see 'quality of life' factors as related to jobs, education, home ownership and upward mobility, not planetary health.

Stay tuned, this could get interesting. Do we actually have new ideas for a green economy, or are we just going to let governments spend tax money on the same old style projects?