Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pioneers Of Organic, Vegetarian Food In Japan

I went to Koma, Saitama today for the Food Festival, a fun event sponsored by Alishan. They really are the pioneers of organic, vegetarian foods in Japan. Jack and Fey have worked so hard to bring the very best to this country, and make it easy for people to order. It was great to see my old collegues, and new staff, and the belly dancing and yoga and the same old super-busy barn atmosphere... Make sure to be there next time they throw a party.

Photos from Herman's Vegan Japan blog, and from the (new) official Alishan Organic Center website.

Tengu Natural Foods is their mail order service "for organic vegetarian foods, environmentally sound cleaning supplies and more to make life just that much happier and healthier." They ship anywhere in Japan in just a few days (all things being as they should). I worked there part-time 2 years ago in the packing room, climbing the stairs and learning about the organic food business. What I loved? The focus on healthy, non-GMO foods, without chemicals (pesticides or fertilizers). One thing I did not like? The huge trucks that brought the shipping containers from the U.S. The drivers just kept on idling the engines as we were unloading the foods in the parking lot. What a waste of petrol. Hmmm!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Codawari Shouten In Nishi-Waseda And More "Antenna Shops"

"Antenna Shops" is a concept that is gaining popularity in Japan. Farmers who want to find alternative ways to tell their goods in the cities are supporting these shops so consumers can get fresh produce, fruits and other local specialities, for example here in Tokyo. Yasui-san in Nishi-Waseda was recently featured in Japan's Agriculture Newspaper, and here he is with me, helping me promote my book. He also has a blog and as he points out, I often buy rye bread when I visit. He is a really swell guy, and a good example of all that I think is so good about Japan's food & farming.

Furusato Antenna Shops are sometimes called Chiho Bussan Kan (地方物産館), meaning Local Food Shop.

Antenna Shop Codawari Shouten
Address: Nishi-Waseda 1-9-13, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Blog: アンテナショップ こだわり商店 早稲田 (栃木県茂木町 宮城県南三陸町/東京都檜原村)

Japan-Hopper has details about other Antenna Shops in Tokyo:

1. Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza

Hokkaido is the northest prefecture (island) of Japan blessed with beautiful nature, and Hokkaiod Dosanko Plaza offer high quality milk, butter, cheese, potato and seafood products.

It’s in Kotsu Kaikan Building in front of Yurakucho Station.

2. Shinjuku Miyazaki Kan KONNE

Miyazaki prefecture is perhaps the most booming prefecture in Japan, thanks to Miyazaki governor Higashi Kunibara, who’s formaly been a TV character.

Today Miyazaki Kan KONNE is now getting even more popular than ever, with lots of people visiting to get the local chicken special lunch.

It’s in southern exit side of Shinjuku, `Southern Terrace’. To get there, get off at Shinjuku statinon (JR line), pass through Shin Minami exit. On your way to Shinjuku Takashimaya Department store, you can find it on your right side, just the other side of Starbucks.

3. Iwate Ginga Plaza

With 300 square metre floor and 1,800 variety of products, you can experience whole Iwate! It’s next to the Ginza area, opposite side of Kabukiza in Higashi Ginza (East Ginza).

Japan-Hopper also notes that the most luxurious Antenna Shop would be Zarai Oita in Ginza!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Food Book On Kodansha's Website...

This is what my food safety book looks like on Kodansha's website.

I'm of course hoping a lot of people here are asking the same questions that I have been asking; food self sufficiency, food mileage, climate change effect, peak oil, organic farming, non-GMO seeds, as little use of pesticides as possible, and how about food additives. And why don't all companies explain where their ingredients come from?

I was able to list foods that come from Hokkaido in the north to Tanegashima and Okinawa in the south. I think consumers have a right to know that kind of things.

(Kodansha in Gokokuji, left is the 1930s building, to the right is the 1990s skyscraper where I had most of my editorial meetings)

Official blog: Gendai Premier


著者名: マーティン・フリッド 著

Monday, May 25, 2009

Asahi On The Eco Points Program

Asahi: As part of the Aso administration's economic stimulus package, the government has introduced a program in which buyers of energy-saving household electronic appliances are given "eco-points" that can be exchanged for gift certificates or other goods.

Not quite the full monty? Well, why not include, say JAS marked, certified organic food in this clever little scheme. Ladies, you could all claim that you want organically certified cosmetics and hair care products to be covered, no? And why not, menstrual pads made of certified organic cotton? Has Prime Minister Taro Aso not heard of Fair Trade products from Third World countries? Why should Japan's tax payers support this proposal, that only gives benefits to people who buy new TVs and air conditioners??

While the program may be beneficial for consumers, the 295 billion yen necessary for this system is, in the end, a burden of 2,500 yen for each individual citizen. In addition, more government money will be necessary for administrative procedures to exchange the items for points and print huge numbers of catalogs.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Announcement: My Food Safety Ranking Book Published By Kodansha

My Food Safety Ranking Book has been published by Kodansha and is now in bookshops around the country. You can also order it on the Internet.

I spent about a year carefully reading company websites, looking at ingredient lists, company news releases, and checked shops and other sources. Finally, the book puts 555 different foods to the test: The best get 3 stars, and the rest 2 or (in many cases) 1 star each. I checked if the company has good information about where the ingredients come from, especially if they are locally produced or imported. This, of course, contributes to global warming: we need to think more about issues like food mileage and irrigation in foreign lands... I also listed if the companies are avoiding genetically modified ingredients or not. Some 80% of consumers here in Japan say they want to avoid GMOs, but that can be difficult in many cases. That's why you need my guidebook ;)

Organic food products get higher rankings, but if a locally made food is available, and seems to have been farmed with great care for the environment, then they are often preferable to an organic product that has been imported. While better in terms of biodiversity and safety for farmers, who don't use toxic pesticides, organic foods are still a very small segment in Japan. Shockingly, some foods are imported by jet plane - not a very sustainable way to feed Japan. Shipping by boat in containers isn't much better for the environment, with massive green house gas emissions.

Generally, I find the food at Japan's many supermarkets and shops to be safe and delishious. Yes, there are additives like MSG in many products, but less other harmful additives than in many other countries. I had trouble with meat products: most contain preservatives that I simply cannot recommend. Avoid!

We took great photos at a small restaurant run by the charming Enomoto-san here in Hanno, Saitama, and my editors have been fantastic. A special thanks to my diligent proofreader, Mashiko-san, who has read each draft and carefully fixed all my spelling mistakes. The design was done by Hosobuchi-san at Studio Give in Minami Aoyama, who also created the different symbols that will help readers use this little guidebook...

Kodansha is Japan's largest publishing house and I had many fun editing meetings at the office in Gokokuji, Tokyo. Now I really hope this will be a best seller!

Official blog: Gendai Premier


著者名: マーティン・フリッド 著






For inquiries please write to: fridfrid ( a t )
Subject: 555 Ranking

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beat Poverty: Word Fair Trade Day In Japan

I love how the good people over at People Tree are such an insipration here in Japan. This year's World Fair Trade Day in early May was no exception: 800 people showed up to watch their fashion show: there was Taiko drumming by Gocoo, a celebrated band with a lot of energy (and a cute website) and other fashion-related events. Says Safia Minney:

Whether you attended a World Fair Trade Day event or not the biggest support you can give is buying Fair Trade and telling your friends about it.

The fair trade movement is growing stronger and stronger. I can't beleive it is seven years ago that they invited me to talk about consumers perceptions about fair trade at their international conference. I made a strong case for the fair trade movement to promote themselves more, and be proud of what they are doing. Back then, they were often seen as running little shops with not much to sell except the odd tea bags or cotton t-shirts. How things have changed!

People Tree, Avanti and Patagonia are the real pioneers for organic cotton in Japan. They have been working in organic cotton for over 12 years and have developed some of the best fabrics and clothes in the international market. They are often inviting activists from producing countries to Roppongi Hills, a gleaming building in the heart of Tokyo, hosting press conferences, where Japan's journalists are briefed on the issues facing cotton farmers worldwide.

People Tree's catalogue and the online shop are also popular: lots of stuff available by mail order in case you don't live near a real shop. 5% discounts as we talk. Wish I could get a free gift for promoting them ;)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Harvest Time In Satoyama

A wonderful video about Satoyama by Anne McDonald, Mio Horiuchi, and Toshiya Kai at the United Nations University.

Forests, wetlands and rice paddies, and grasslands: In Japanese, there is a name for this kind of area that encompasses these ecosystems, along with houses and roads and shops where people make a living: Satoyama (里山): It is similar to the English concept of "the commons" yet this is much more of a people-land concept. Satoyama, here where I live in central Saitama, the word means people who farm, people who have small shops, people who take care of the forests up on the hills. Here, people live in spite of the Seibu golf courses, in spite of the trucks that pass by on the roads built with money from Tokyo, in spite of a lot of madness imposed by others. Satoyama is almost like a verb. You live it. It is a sustainable kind of investment, like putting a seed in the soil, knowing that sooner or later, a crop, a plant, will emerge.

As the academics put it:

For many Japanese, satoyama represents the ideal of coexistence between humans and nature. It is commonly described as secondary woodlands and grasslands adjunct to small villages, and is the scene of rich biological diversity.

The first written reference to satoyama dates back to 1759. Forester Hyoemon Terauchi recorded the livelihoods of rural mountain woodland communities and used the term satoyama to describe the human managed landscapes surrounding those communities.

Read more: Harvest Time In Satoyama

Raising Awareness

Gradually increasing public awareness of the links between satoyama landscapes and food and fuel security is a welcome trend among researchers involved in satoyama ecosystem assessments.

In 2006, the United Nations University-Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) initiated a comprehensive national ecosystem assessment focusing on satoyama. Referred to as the Satoyama-Satoumi Sub-Global Assessment, it is intended to be part of the network of over 30 sub-global ecosystem assessments. To ensure an in-depth report, Japan was broken down into 5 clusters (one of which is the Hoku-Shinetsu Cluster and the work of UNU-IAS Operating Unit Ishikawa/Kanazawa featured in the video).

Focusing on the last 50 years of satoyama landscape change, each cluster report follows the framework of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The findings will be integrated into a national report to be published in time for the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.

Many of the writers assessing the ecosystem services provided by satoyama landscapes hope that their findings will feed into designs for a sustainable society that draw from the past to forge a contemporary model for sustainability; a model that contributes not only to sustainable food and fuel production but also to biodiversity conservation strategies and initiatives in Japan.

Updated: The video was produced by Kaori Brand at the UNU Media Studio. The article was written by Anne, Moi and Toshiya. Thanks Brendan for the additional information!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Which Country Has The Best High Speed Rail?

Living in Japan, we take the Shinkansen for granted, and tend to forget that other countries are not as fortunate to have such an efficient, safe and reliable mass transit system. But countries like France, Germany, and most recently Spain, are also investing heavily in high-speed rail. Over at Treehugger, I compare the different countries.

It turns out that the U.S. is hoping Japan and other countries will help to build a high-speed railway network. Karen Rae told Kyodo that FRA is reaching out to "a number of countries that have success in high-speed rail" and that "Japan is one of many." She also noted that they are trying to avoid creating a "cookie cutter" where everything is exactly the same: "It really needs to be designed around the local and state needs."

The International Union of Railways defines high-speed rail as services which regularly operate at or above 250km/h on new tracks, or 200km/h (125 mph) on existing tracks.

Recommended reading: Biting the Bullet: What we can learn from the Shinkansen, by Christopher P. Hood


Japan is a long, narrow country. This makes it particularly suitable for developing a rail network - though its abundance of rivers and mountains obviously is less of advantage. However, much of the Japanese population is located on the Eastern seaboard, and so can easily be connected by one line. This is opposed to the multitude of lines that are needed in Britain, though high-speed lines could be developed that would have better population coverage than now.

Ironically there are in fact more railways (per head of population (279.8 km/million people in UK compared to 142.2 in Japan), and in relation to the area of the country (67.8 km/100km2 in Britain compared to 47.6 in Japan) in Britain than in Japan. However, British people do not use them as much (6% compared to 35% of journeys) - although the fact that so many British are so outspoken (especially in criticising the lines or services) may give the impression than more people use them.

The high level of education and professionalism of the shinkansen operators and drivers need not be a problem in Britain, though it would doubtless take time to change the bad-habits that have managed to fester and develop over the past few decades (and if the level of service at McDonald's, for example, is anything to go by - where it is still nothing like that in the United States - then perhaps this will be an almost impossible hurdle). In other words, as one JR Tokai employee told me, 'you cannot give other countries the shinkansen and expect it to work perfectly with no accidents'.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Honda Insight: First Hybrid Ever To Top The List Of Best-Selling Cars In Japan

12 years ago, Toyota introduced a revolutionary car, the Prius, on the market. It was a "hybrid" meaning its engine could switch between gas and electric drive modes. Now, the new Honda Insight is the best-selling car in Japan for the month of April. It is the first time ever that a hybrid car tops the list here in Japan (or anywhere in the world).

Other car makers have been much slower to introduce hybrid cars, and even Ford had to licence Toyota's technology in order to get its first hybrids on the road.

I don't own a car, and I don't plan to buy one (I love trains) but I do think we are witnessing a paradigm shift away from gas-guzzling automobiles, to an era where mobility means we only use energy resources as efficiently as possible.

I'm sorry to say that U.S. -owned car makers Volvo and SAAB are so far from this race that they frankly deserve to go under, unless they can start to make cars with fuel efficiency that match the hybrids - and why not? In Sweden, private purchasers of the Prius (or any other vehicle in the environmentally less destructive class) are awarded SEK 10,000 (roughly USD 1700, €1100) in order to stimulate sales and use of such vehicles. The subsidy program has been very successful.

And, perhaps this will be Honda's first European Car of the Year? Toyota Prius got the honours in 2005.

More about the Honda Insight over at Treehugger. Do comment and let people know what you think about this remarkable development. Things are indeed changing. Fast.

Reuters: Honda Insight first hybrid to rank top in Japan

More hybrid cars on Kurashi

Update: NHK World notes: Overall domestic sales of new Japanese vehicles fell 28 percent in April from a year earlier to an all-time low for the month. That is a huge drop.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tokyo International Singers

Tokyo International Singers, the chorus I had the joy of rehersing and performing with a few years ago, will perform Antonin Dvorak's Mass in D Major Opus 86 and the Liebeslieder Waltzes 1-18 by Johannes Brahms.

Tokyo International Singers perform at the Oota Kumin Hall Aprico in Kamata from 7 p.m. May 9, 2009. Tickets are ¥4,000.

The concert tonight will feature soloists Jang Min Kug (soprano), Misato Iwamori (mezzo-soprano), Makoto Kuraishi (tenor) and Tetsuro Kitamura (baritone) accompanied by organist Mineko Kojima and pianists Jonathan Kats and Akemi Watanabe.

The group's conductor is longtime Tokyo resident Marcel L'Esperance, who founded TIS, a choir boasting members from several countries as well as Japanese nationals, in 1980 with his wife, the late Carol Melby, who recently lost her own battle with cancer. There are not too many things that would benefit the world more than a cure for cancer. TIS, therefore, is hoping that the public will turn out in support.

The Japan Times: Tokyo International Singers to perform for cancer charity

I'll add the label "prayer" for this music post, in memory of Carol, who was so incredibly sweet and kind, and a real artist at heart.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

South Korea To Promote Korean Food, Plans 40,000 New Restaurants

South Korea is officially launching its first promotional body dedicated to promoting recognition and popularity of Korean foods abroad, according to The Korea Times:

The pan-government body - comprised of 36 food experts, officials and CEOs including Agriculture Minister Chang Tae-pyong and Culture Minister Yu In-chon - will work on revising the law and setting up stable business structures to foster Korean restaurants, chefs and food experts overseas...

They note that Korean food is getting more popular in the West. I had no idea that there are some 1,400 Korean restaurants in the United States, 1,700 in Japan, 2,500 in China and 170 in Europe.

But these figures are still meager, compared with 10,000 Japanese restaurants in the United States and nearly 25,000 globally, according to the Koreans, who wants 40,000 Korean restaurants by 2017. While promoting healthy food is always a good idea, I fail to see the point of setting an unrealistic target like that. Why not focus on quality instead of quantity...?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Herwin's Vegan Pocket Guide - Updated

Dutch writer and food enthusiast Herwin Walravens strikes again - a new and updated version of his vegan restaurant guidebook is now on sale. His website also looks better than ever. The book features more then 100 different 100% vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Japan's mayor cities, from Sapporo in the north, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, to Okinawa in the south. Even if you are not a vegan you would enjoy many of these restaurants with healthy food and unique people. Herwin's labour of love is a real inspiration!

Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide
Author: Herwin Walravens
Full Color, maps, bilingual, 164 pages, 151 restaurants
Published Februari 2009
Publisher: Children of the CARROT publisher
Price: 1600 yen (+ 80 yen tax)