Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Organic Seeds For Your Vegetable Garden

Trying to buy vegetable seeds and starting to grow your own food? Dream on, or try Tane no Mori ("Seed Forest") in Saitama. They have carefully selected the best organic seeds and heirloom varieties that are suitable for Japan's climate and soil. They aim for sustainable agricultural practices, without chemicals.

You can download their catalogue from their website or they will send it to you by mail.

Nothing beats the winter blues like reading a good seed catalogue, planning ahead!

Happy farming!

Link: たねの森 (Japanese only, but most vegetables are written with hiragana or katakana)

Photo of Kami-kun and his wife Ai-chan from a nice article in Asahi Shimbun about their "blue-sky market" event in Koma, Saitama, called the smallest market in Japan.

If you live elsewhere, try Fork & Bottle for a good list of companies that sell organic, heritage seeds. The Kitasawa Seed Company in Oakland, CA has a large variety of Japanese seeds (but also some hybrids that I don't particularly like, because you can't save F1 seeds).

Kitasawa Seed Co. has been in the seed business since 1917, survived the WW2 Relocation Camps, and now has more than 250 varieties of traditional and heirloom seeds of Japan:

Kitazawa Seeds proudly continues to offer the highest quality Asian seeds to delight the diverse palates of our customers. We offer over 250 seed varieties that produce dento yasai or traditional heirloom vegetables of Japan, to the Asian vegetables popularly found in farmers' markets, specialty grocery stores and restaurants. Now you can grow them in your kitchen garden, sell them at your garden center and grow them commercially.

NHK World: Not Getting Taro Aso's US Visit Quite Right

Tonight I arrived home late and checked the website NHK World to see if there were any updates about prime minister Taro Aso's visit to the United States.

Yes, there was a headline, but they made some terrible editing mistake, see the attached screen save.

This is Japan's official media, something similar to BBC in the UK. And the editors in Shibuya cannot get their main story right? On a night like this?

I worked for NHK World for three years, but that was for short wave radio. To see NHK make this kind of stupid mistake is just too embarrasing. I might as well read First, Cake!.


NHK: Get your main story right.

Meanwhile, BBC does have the story: Japan's PM first to visit Obama

"The alliance that we have is the cornerstone of security in East Asia, it is one that my administration wants to strengthen," said Mr Obama

"It is for that reason that the prime minister is the first foreign dignitary to visit me here in the Oval Office."

"I think it is testimony to the strong partnership between the United States and Japan," he said.

And while US Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton did talk about environmental concerns and global warming, both here in Tokyo and on her visit to Beijing, there are few indications yet that Mr. Aso felt the need to bring up such topics. Over here at Kurashi we are a tad disappointed, to say the least.


Kyodo/Breitbart did carry this story later tonight:

Obama lauds Japan as 'great partner,' to boost ties on world issues

...Also on the agenda is global warming, an issue on which the two allies have much closer positions now than during Bush's presidency, and Aso and Obama are expected to agree to work together in forming a post- 2012 global emissions cut protocol, including exploring ways to win cooperation from China and others.

Japan is eager for both the United States and China, the world's top two emitters, to take part so that the new framework after the current Kyoto Protocol expires can be effective.

With Obama placing emphasis on clean energy, including in the economic stimulus measures, Aso is expected to propose that Japan and the United States combine their expertise to further develop new alternative energies, promote the use of hybrid and other next generation vehicles, expand markets for energy efficient products and boost peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The aim is to help create jobs in both countries while also contributing to carbon emissions reduction, Japanese officials said.

The leaders ware also likely to reaffirm plans to steadily implement a roadmap to realign the U.S. military presence in Japan by 2014 to reduce local burdens, as stipulated in an agreement signed between the two nations' foreign ministers last week when Hillary Clinton visited Japan on her overseas debut as secretary of state.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Water Shortages In California Will Affect Japan

Water shortages in California will be severe this year. Not good news at all for Japan, that imports a lot of food from the state-previously-known-as-golden. Over at Treehugger, John Laumer writes, "Non-Californians: If you have been thinking about planting your own vegetable garden for the first time, now would be a good time to order seed and buy a shovel and pick."

For years, Japan has been strongly encouraged to stop protecting its farmers, and import more food from abroad. Cheap imports have then made it virtually impossible to make a living as a farmer here. Add to this the climate problems in China and Australia, and you have every reason to be worried:

Food prices throughout North American, and even parts of Asia, which import produce from California, will be affected in the short-term. Long-term water shortage prospects point to an either-or scenario: social disorganization on a large scale or, alternatively, to massive, government-funded water project expansions, plus water conservation measures, and dietary changes.

Treehugger: California's Real Sustainability Problem

Next time you go shopping, take a look at the lemons. The domestic ones (国産レモン) are clearly labelled (many are from Hiroshima prefecture) while the imported ones are about half price; they are also laced with post-harvest pesticides so they can survive the long journey, kill pests and fungus, and get a longer shelf-life. TBZ, Chlorpyrifos, Imazalil, Syngenta's fungicide Cyprodinil or Ciba Geigy's Fludioxonil... you name it. OPP? Called 2-Penylphenol in English, it is sold under the trade names Dowicide, Torsite, Preventol, Nipacide and many others. In April 1977, when Japanese consumers found out that imported lemons and grapefruit contained high levels of OPP, the so-called lemon war broke out:

The Ministry of Health and Welfare authorized use of ortho-phenyl phenol (OPP) as a fungicide for citrus fruits under pressure from the US FDA. Consumer groups launched a boycott of imported citrus fruits treated with OPP. Consequently, production and sales of domestic lemons increased.

If you like a slice of lemon with your tea, make sure to cut of the skin before adding to your cup. Or - buy organic, or domestic - lemons (and wash the skin well).

New Zealand lemons without OPP or TBZ are also sold here, check Fandt for details (in Japanese). Note they clearly say on the label that they do not use these chemicals: 防カビ剤 (OPP・TBZ・イマザリル)は使用していません。

Global Voices notes that farming is getting trendy among celebrities.

Quoting blogger Diary 3.08, a hair dresser who insists on the hardship of farm work:

I come from a family of farmers living in the mountains, and when I was a kid I often had to help my folks with their work. So even I, who used to say "I will never be a farmer", can understand this agriculture boom, which is about to take off.
However, I cannot help looking with suspicion at this trend that, according to many magazines, seems to be very popular among celebrities lately.
You can't grow any vegetables just going out into the fields once a month.
I’d like to tell them: "if you really want to do that, then instead of going to Yamanashi or Tochigi once in a while, rent a ward farm and try to grow everything by yourself!"
I have no right to speak to them in this way though, as I don’t work as a farmer, but nonetheless farm work is very hard.
[The proportion] of hardship to fun is probably something like 90:10. (It might be more like 50:50 in the case that [you are growing] food that only you will be eating.)

And here is blogger Noboyuki:

On TV and in magazines, there is more and more coverage of people who earn their livelihood through agriculture.
Of course it’s wonderful how those people can make a living of agriculture, but why is it that all of the media have decided to cover this topic?
I have the feeling that their focus is not on the beauty of agriculture, but rather that they are trying to give the message that "if you dedicate yourself to agricultural work, you may be overloaded with work, but at least you won’t be short of food".

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hemp in Japan: OK As Rope, Not As Dope

For thousands of years, farmers in Japan grew hemp. But in 1948, US authorities decided to make it illegal. Some say chemical companies like DuPont wanted to control the synthetic fiber market: I would not be surprised. Hemp is going through a revival with lots of young people promoting this environmentally friendly crop.

Over at Treehugger, I take a look at hemp, noting that legal farming in Tochigi and Gunma Prefecture is thriving.

Hemp ropes can be seen at hundreds of thousands of places of worship, called kamidama. They are usually decorated with white paper. I like the way people in Japan used local, sustainable resources like hemp, rice, mulberry (for paper) and seasonal fruits and vegetables. The Japan Times says Hidetaro Funayama, 58, represents a group involved in a city development project aimed at growing hemp for the production of construction materials and washi paper:

The Tochigi Prefectural Government has developed its own variety of hemp for cultivation called "Tochigi shiro," which is used to produce ropes for use in Shinto rituals, among other uses.

Sayonara, SAAB

Saab Automobile AB on Friday filed for court protection from creditors, becoming the first GM unit to fail:

The move came after the Swedish government rejected GM's request for financial aid to Saab. Saab hopes to complete its rehabilitation into a company independent from GM through a court process in three months. Saab became a GM subsidiary in 2000 and has remained plagued with losses. Amid the global economic downturn, its auto sales in 2008 plunged 25 percent from the year before.


Lots of comments over at General Motors Inside News

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Solar Eclipse Seen From Kaguya

On February 10, Japan’s Kaguya lunar explorer shot these photos, and high resolution video (actually a NHK HDTV camera) of the Sun hidden by the Moon - or is it Earth? This effect is called Baily's beads, in honour of Francis Baily, who first provided an exact explanation of the phenomenon in 1836.
Found on Pink Tentacle

Brutus Farming Issue

Brutus used to be a upscale fashion/lifestyle magazin for men. I guess the trend these days is farming and listening to the radio (and You Tube). Fishing got a special issue too last year, and Rimpa, the lovely, decorative school of painting.

Times - and priorities - change.

Read more about farming, Brutus-style (Japanese)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

IAE's Tanaka: Peak Oil Is Official

I like reading what IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka says, he seems more frank and outspoken than most, even with regards to Peak Oil. Now he has told Reuters that the sharp decline in the oil market, with prices collapsing by more than 70 percent is also slowing the search for new sources of oil as existing fields were depleted. Peak Oil now appears to be, hrm, official:

Tanaka said oil demand may already have peaked in the developed countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) but failure to invest now in renewables could store up problems in the future.

"I don't see much chance it (demand) could come back now, but if we do not invest in renewables now, it could bounce back when the economy starts to grow again," he said.

For years, we had people blogging about Peak Oil and how we should prepare, while trying to explain why this important source of energy was running out. Oil companies and others spent lots of money explaining why they didn't agree, or why it was a myth or even a conspiracy, and mainstream media didn't seem to care either way.

More on Treehugger and The Oil Drum.

How can you prepare for a sudden lack of fuel? Life After The Oil Crash has some good tips, and writers like Doug Reynolds says:

I think that it is important for our borough to consider preparing for high oil prices and the types of infrastructure we will need (more busses, more well-kept bicycle paths, and the greater use of firewood and coal for heating). On the other hand, markets will also help: As oil prices get higher, people will naturally find ways to adapt. This is one reason that I ride my bike to work every day, even in the winter.

As for Japan, maybe public transportation will keep the country running, but food could get scarce. During the 1970s oil crisis, housewives were shown panicking to buy toilet paper, but the situation could probably get much worse today, unless we are better prepared. So why is NHK and other Japanese media not alert to this story? BBC Radio Scotland's Investigation said clearly:

Some forecasters say we'll hit peak oil in 20 years, some people say we already have. What is a certainty is that we face a future where oil will become increasingly scarce. Which is where the concept of transition towns comes in.

Transition towns are communities which have accepted that peak oil will happen and have started to take steps to ensure that when it does start to impact, they're ready for it. They're not wild-eyed survivalists, they're just ordinary men and women with an eye to a potentially difficult future.

Friday, February 13, 2009

UK To Get Hitachi Super-Express Trains

Some good news, glad to see at least one government not going into a protectionist tail-spin, as others seem intent on doing. The Hitachi 395 Javelin was selected for Britain's Southeastern train company on the soon-to-be-completed final section of the Channel Tunnel Rail link from Kent into central London. By 2013 they will connect London to Edinburgh and replace the 30-year-old InterCity 125s.

The trains will be the fastest operating domestic service trains in Britain, running at a maximum speed of 140 mph (225 km/h). NHK World notes that technically, these are very advanced trains:

The stock will include hybrid trains equipped with diesel engines and lithium ion batteries. Hitachi says there is growing recognition of its environment-friendly technology. Capitalizing on the reputation of its bullet trains, Japan's manufacturers see the worldwide push for "greener" transport alternatives as a significant opportunity.

Now, if only the British could teach the Japanese how to build large, wonderful train stations...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

School Lunch: What's Your Story!

Over at Treehugger, I mention school lunches in Japan, Korea, France, and Sweden. I also introduce a new book: Eat This, Not That For Kids

This book, recently published in the United States, is helping parents re-think the school lunch box.

David Zinczenko, editor-in-chief of Men's Health magazine, and Matt Goulding wrote the Eat This, Not That For Kids as a reference for parents. Chapter 5 covers eating at schools, which means the school cafeteria. Vending machines choices are also included because most schools (unfortunately) have them. In some parts of the U.S. there are great initiatives to provide organic, healthy school lunches, but we clearly have a long way to go. In Japan, local foods are a big trend. How about your area? Comments please!

Australia Ten News:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Beijing Bicycle (Trailer)

Beijing Bicycle

China passed Japan to become the world's second-biggest auto market in 2006. And in January, 2009, China overtook the U.S. of A. in monthly vehicle sales in January for the first time ever, says AP:

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said Tuesday that 735,000 vehicles were sold in China in January. That surpasses the 656,976 vehicles sold in the U.S. the same month.

Beijing Bicycle tells the story of a seventeen-year-old country boy who comes to the big city determined to make it. He soon finds a job as a bike messenger in which he gets a small percentage of each delivery, working hard to build up enough credit to eventually own the bike for himself (but, it is promptly stolen): "Cinematographer Lui Jie depicts a very different China, one that is filled with dangerous, meandering alleys and frightening poverty."

"With this masterful, flawless film, [Wang] emerges in the front ranks of China's now numerous, world-renowned filmmakers." -- Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, February 08, 2009

CO2 Reductions: Reading Between The Lines

The Kyoto Protocol is one of the main international treaties that came out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, when countries met to discuss pressing environmental concerns that could not be tackled by countries on their own.

The not-so-simple debate at the United Nations meeting and the much-celebrated ratification of the Kyoto Protocol meant that (some) nations are taking climate change more seriously than others. At least in theory. Reading between the lines, we can sense the government's utter frustration that Japan is not able to present a sucessful model for a serious, radical climate change policy.

Reading between the lines: Japan is among the signatories that are committed to do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But because the country has not seriously signed up to or strongly promoted any major carbon offset trading regimes yet, it appears as if Japan is actually increasing its emissions (while the data from some small European countries is looking rather rosy).

Japan’s government and some large companies are buying the offsets, called Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs).

JBIC, Japan Bank for International Coorporation, is the key to making this work. For example, they are promoting wind power near the Black Sea and in Bulgaria, while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries "makes equity investments, provides engineering technology as a participating firm, and acquires the carbon credits generated by the project."

The key word here is to set targets. Governments should make legally binding targets and make sure that companies are punished if they don't make an effort.

Easier said than done, at least here in Japan.

While the Kyoto ink still appears to be drying, now, in 2009, the next big meeting will be held in Copenhagen, to discuss how to continue "post-Kyoto" and how to make sure that more countries make more reductions.

Of course, it doesn't look so good that Japan's greenhouse gas emissions will increase by about 7 percent from 1990 levels, instead of decrease.

Today, NHK World reports that the Japanese government panel in charge of this matter is expected to present four options to help decide mid-term targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

If energy saving equipment now under development is fully utilized, emissions could be reduced by about 4 percent, they think. Reading between the lines: "Oupps, we are in trouble."

The panel also says Japan will have to achieve a 25 percent reduction to meet the level required by a UN climate change organization. Reading between the lines: "..."

A government-sponsored panel of experts scheduled to meet on Thursday, February 12, to examine the various options:

The Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012 requires Japan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels. However, Japan has yet to commit to a reduction target for 2020. The government says it will set the mid-term target by June, taking into consideration the moves of other nations and possible effects on the Japanese economy.

NHK World: Japan to set mid-term targets for CO2 reduction

Friday, February 06, 2009

Green Monday Events in Tokyo

Green Monday events continue to impress: this month you can join talks about the Climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, learn about carbon offset, and get to know a whole lot about CSR. Other events will discuss advertising (sounds promising):

"Can Advertising save the Planet?"

This is a really great presentation that uses many excellent real life examples of corporation that are either getting it right, or really stretching the truth - and often getting punished for it!

This event is critical for anyone involved in Advertising, Marketing, Communications or CSR and will be of interest to anyone interested in Green issues, the environment & Sustainability.

Motoko Sakashita, Senior Planner, Insight Planning Team, will present Planet McCann's perspective on the challenges for brands who are genuinely pursuing Sustainability and how to best get their messages across as well as some examples of Corporate 'GreenWashing.'

For April, there are events about China - more about that later.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Mt Asama Erupts, Sending Ash Over Tokyo

I woke up this morning with a fine, white ash on the ground outside. Mount Asama, one of 108 active volcanos in Japan, erupted around 2 AM local time. The 2,568-meter mountain is known to erupt from time to time, so noone will worry too much.

Yet, it is rare that ash flies all the way to Tokyo some 145 km away. TV reports tonight are showing ashes falling in neighboring regions, people cleaning their cars, and people are asked to wear masks in the vicinity.

BBC Video

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Japan To Announce CO2 Reduction Target

NHK World says Taro Aso is in Davos, Switzerland, attending a meeting focusing on climate change:

He said all major greenhouse gas emitters should take part in a new international framework that will replace the Kyoto Protocol. Aso stressed that participants should include both developed and developing nations. He specifically mentioned US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao and urged the 2 countries to participate in the new framework.

Aso also said Japan intends to announce by June its greenhouse gas reduction target for around 2020. So far, Japan has never done that, so this is actually a big step. Stay tuned, this could get interesting. Or not:

Aso's pledge to announce Japan's goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions until 2020 was made with an eye toward the COP15 meeting to be held at the end of the year. "This should not be a baseless declaration, but should be achievable in terms of economics and should contribute to international efforts to fight global warming," Aso said. Aso pointed to Japan's history of turning past oil crises into business opportunities as an example of what the nation was prepared to do to deal with global warming.

And I can't help wondering, did NHK just miss something, or did he really not mention the important COP10 meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in Nagoya later this year? The two "protocols" (Kyoto and Cartagena) are both in dire straits and need a lot of attention.