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Showing posts from January, 2009

Small World: Saving Saitama Satoyama Forest in San Francisco

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My Neighbour Totoro Part 1
by bluzzybear

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 u…

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 megaw…

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

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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 p…

Shinkansen:Japan's Five Fastest Regular Super Express Trains

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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.

"How genetically modified foods are accelerating the food crisis"

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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…

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 automob…

Making Trains Fun, Sexy, And Romantic in Japan

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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 lo…

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 c…

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" an…

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…