Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Blog Updates

Kyoto Foodie: Firefly Theme Namagashi

This wagashi from a historic shinise store in Kyoto, Kameyama Yoshinaga, is reminiscent of fireflies on verdant green foliage of early summer...

Live while you can. Japanese love something fragile and rare and that is in season for a short period. The cherry blossom is the very best example, but fireflies are similar. Fireflies in Kyoto can still be been seen along some of the rivers and streams in the quieter and greener parts of the city, but they quickly fade and disappear after a few short weeks.

Greenz.jp: Life is sustainable when you are having fun - a day at the Awanowa Market in Kamogawa

I briefly spoke to one of the event’s organizers, Yoshiki Hayashi of the NPO “Uzu”, a healthy, lean, tanned man who seemed to personify to me the image of the traditional Japanese farmer seen in the earliest photographs of Japan from the 19th century, despite the modern artistic cut of his hand made indigo blue work clothes. He described the loose collective gathered here as “Rainbow Village”, fulfilling a role to bridge the gap between sustainable Japanese traditions and the future sustainable Japanese society he envisions. He had much to say on living sustainably, pointing out that in order to invoke change in society, changing one’s own life and getting back in tune with the earth through farming was far more effective than any more revolutionary methods could be.

But the line that hit home most of all was that “life is sustainable when you are having fun”. In Japanese, it was “tanoshii koto ga jizoku kanou”, or literally “fun things are sustainable”. Certainly not everything fun is sustainable, but it is far more difficult to sustain an activity if it isn’t.

OurWorld 2.0: Plenty of fish in the sea

A compelling award-winning documentary movie of the same name illustrates that this environmental catastrophe can be avoided, if we try. A global movement is underway to ensure sustainably managed fisheries, and you are invited to be part of it.

In The Pines (Otakimura): The depths of Shizen-ko: a kayak tour of Otaki's little known lake

For a first timer, like my wife, stepping into the kayak can be a bit nerve-racking, but there is nothing to be afraid of, the kayaks are quite stable. With small pushes from N-san Aki and I were out on the lake in no time, with N-san and K-san right behind us. It's difficult to put into words the feeling of first gliding out onto the lake. One's center of gravity is low, down close to the water's surface, and so the world feels as if it is opening vertically above and below you. Instead of the apodictic feeling of terra firma beneath your feet, the sensation is one of disembodiment-your body and mind are free to drift where they will within the floating world. Of course the action of paddling brings you back into your body, but there's little need for strenuous effort; Shizen-ko is placid and so you are able to move smoothly through its waters with little effort, like strokes of a calligraphy brush.

Pandabonium: Shakedown Cruise

Then it was back to the boat for more sailing. We checked in at office and told them we would be back around 15:00. This would allow them to get the sendai ready when we came back, or come looking for us if we didn't. Actually, one of the great things about the club is that they have a log book for boaters to leave a plan on where they will be going and when they expect to return. Sort of like the flight plans I used to phone into the FAA as a pilot. The club house has an excellent view of the lake, and Hakuta-san has binoculars with which he scans the lake. If he sees someone coming in, he goes down to the ramp, or if he sees someone in trouble, he'll come out on a PWC (jet ski) or another power boat to render assistance... Do I look happy?

K&S: Hawaii eats and other stuff

How green is your house? Ours got greener last year. Not only do we have solar panels (which I found out we've had since 1979!), but mom just installed some photovoltaic (sp?) cells.

She had been wanting to install some but was waiting for the price to go down and for someone to start installing them on homes (apparently when they first came out they were only installing them for businesses) She said her electric bill is super low now (US$30 a month). (Way to go Mom! I wish our apartment building in Japan would do something similar.)

PureLandMountain: One big secret

Late the next afternoon I went out on the deck, merely leaned over the railing to look at the spot and there the snake was again, like a puddle of clay. As soon as my head showed, the snake became alert, and made to move away; though I was downwind, it had sensed me; it must be a pit viper, sensing my heat even while dozing in the sun, and that brought it to alertness. That meant it must be a mamushi, Japan’s only poisonous snake. I looked it up on the net, and there it was. Up to 60cm in length... I probably won't see it again for another 15 years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beekeeping Allowed In Ginza, Tokyo - Why Banned In New York?

You may have heard of the successfull Ginza Honeybee Project, that started in 2006 and is now selling honey used in pound cakes and other sweets sold at patisseries and confectionaries in Ginza. Matsuya has some 30 employees who tend to the urban patch up on the roof garden as an after-work volunteer activity, according to The Japan Times:

It is great to see people becoming more aware of environmental issues. Each person takes action and hopefully that will spread to other people," said Shinpei Kono, who heads the project team.

The Matsuya department store in Ginza is supporting the Ginza honey bee project by giving the bees access to Matsuya's rooftop garden. They call this Ginza Green, and it is part of the company's efforts to take action on environmental issues. "Ginpachi" is a very Japanese way to abbreviate Ginza and the hachi of hachimitsu that becomes pachi, from the Japanese 蜂蜜 as bee and honey have the same kanji, but can sound different due to linguistic rules (changing ha to pa), thus you get Ginpachi... (Some clever people made a website called www.8mitsu.com where the 8 is a pun on hachi, which can also mean "eight")

Farm Aid in Ginza is an event to bring locally produced vegetables and foods to the center of Tokyo this summer. The beekeepers from Ginza will take part in the Enjoy Eco events (do visit July 18).

I still don't understand why beekeeping would be illegal in New York, and if there are no good reasons, let's hope City Council member David Yassky's bill to abolish the ban will pass.

From the New York Times:

In attendance were New York City beekeepers, aspiring New York City beekeepers, beekeepers not from New York City, friends of beekeepers, friends of bees, people who like to dress as bees, people who like to dress their children as bees, bee-dressed children, one cross-dressing beekeeper, a couple of guys who spend much of their time dressed in armor, fans of honey, fans of local food and a team of French videographers.

Soy Sauce: Introducing The Real Stuff

I wrote about soy sauce over on Treehugger, noting that organic, traditionally brewed soy sauce is now available not only in Japan, but also exported to other countries. Kikkoman, Ohsawa and Kenyu Trading are among the companies making an effort to introduce the real stuff overseas.

I'm not sure this kind of post makes much sense to readers over at Treehugger. Is it relevant? What do you think? When I talk about "traditional brewing" I mean keeping the soybeans and the koji in cedar casks for up to four years. That takes patience.

Kōji, or kōji-kin (麹菌) the microoorganism, is also used here to make sake and miso. Not easy to explain to people who are used to considering food more as entertainment...

When I see the large variety of soy sauces in my local supermarket, I'm both bewildered and delighted. Being able to read kanji characters is a must: if I want a soy sauce that contains a 100% naturally fermented product, I select the Honjōzō hōshiki variety, while the Shinshiki hōshiki contains only 30-50% naturally fermented product. Oh well. Then there are the Tokkyū (Special quality, not pasteurized) and Tokusen (Premium quality, usually implies limited quantity) grades, and several others for the locally produced, more rare stuff that is seldom available in supermarkets. Regional differences are also common, for example in Osaka, where people like a less dark soy sauce with their sashimi. It contains more wheat than soy, hence the lighter colour.

Dr. Eiji Ichishima of Tohoku University called the kōji fungus a "national fungus" ("kokkin") in the journal of the Brewing Society of Japan, due to its importance not only for sake brewing but also for making miso, soy sauce and a range of other traditional Japanese foods. His proposal was approved at the society's annual meeting in 2006. Such a precious microorganism has been used very carefully here to create delicious foods for millenia.

Read more over at The Tokyo Foundation

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sweden: Reduce Meat Consumption, Make Important Environmental Choices

EurActiv.com, 22 June 2009 - Guidelines for climate-friendly food choices developed by the Swedish authorities recommend citizens to reduce their meat and rice consumption as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The first of their kind, the guidelines are now being sent out for reactions and inspiration from other EU countries.

"Meat – beef, lamb, pork and chicken – is the food group that has the greatest impact on the environment," state the guidelines, jointly drafted by the Swedish National Food Administration and the country's Environmental Protection Agency.

The authorities note that Swedes' meat consumption has grown by an average ten kilos per person over the past ten years and now totals 65 kilos.

According to the World Bank, demand for food is expected to increase by 50% by 2050, and demand for meat by 85%, mainly as emerging economies like China and India become richer and adopt Western-style eating habits, rich in meat and dairy products.

The document, entitled 'Environmentally-smart Food Choices', recommend eating meat less often and in smaller quantities. "Try to exchange one or two meat dishes a week against vegetarian meals or decrease the quantity of meat," the document reads, explaining that such behaviour will lower people's climate-change footprint.

The document further lists various facts on the environmental impact of different foods. For example, one kilo of beef contributes up to 15-25 kilos of greenhouse gases - which is ten times more than the carbon footprint of the equivalent amount of chicken.

"Eating less meat, and making careful choices about what you eat, is therefore the smartest environmental choice you can make," the authorities state.

In addition to information on climate and the environment, the guidelines list the health aspects related to different foodstuffs, their recommended daily intake and the consequences of over-consumption. "With a few exceptions, healthy food choices can also go hand in hand with choices that are good for the environment," the guidelines read.

Foods covered include meat, fish, seafood, fruits, berries, starches, fats and even water. Recommendations range from eating seasonal, locally-produced fruits, vegetables and berries, avoiding bottled water, soda and palm oil and limiting rice consumption as its cultivation produces methane.

The Swedish authorities are the first in Europe to develop such recommendations. They will be sent out to other EU countries to guage reactions before being released.

"Provided there are no serious objections," the process should be completed within three months, the authorities noted, hoping that the guidelines will inspire authorities in other countries to follow Sweden's example.

"Consumers make important environmental choices when they are food-shopping, so they need a sound basis on which to make their decisions. Food production accounts for roughly a quarter of Swedish consumers' climate-impacting emissions, and also contributes to other harmful environmental effects, for example through the use of pesticides," said Inger Andersson, director-general of the National Food Administration.

Source: World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Actually, Japan's Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour has issued a report suggesting that meat consumption should be reduced. Over at Consumers Union of Japan, Toshiki Mashimo has used this model for his paper about Japan's food self-sufficiency. The government makes recommendations "as the ideal for Japanese people to maintain their health, avoiding lifestyle-related sickness." Specifically, the ingestion of grains, potatoes and vegetables would increase, while consumption of meat, milk products, sugar and fat would drastically decrease.

CUJ: To what level could Japan’s food self-sufficiency recover?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Taue: Rice Planting By Hand And By Machine

I did taue (rice planting) for the first time on Saturday. I went up to Kumagaya by Arakawa River in north/central Saitama to get mud between my toes and sun on my cheeks.

I managed to do about five lines (how is that for a terrific blog post title!) and they were not too crooked either as far as I could tell (and noone made any silly comments).

That area is not organic but they use as little pesticides as possible. We saw frogs and ladybugs, and there were birds and ducks.

The fields were created in the 1960s with modern irrigation. Before that, there were no factories on the horizon, and rice paddies as far as the eye could see.

The farmer, Negishi-san and his wife took good care of our small group of 3 who had assembled from Consumers Union of Japan and the local Seikatsu Club. As a gift, he got my food ranking book, signed by yours truly.

Neighbours selling their fields, new farmers arriving who don't follow (or understand) the rules (and the odd Swede in a silly hat doing his very best) and all the other difficulties that farmers no doubt share all over the world... Negishi-san makes terrific miso with his own soybeans and koji, and is a strong member of the Daichi Mamoru movement that wants to contribute to Japan's food culture by growing local crops for local consumption. He also grows barley for a beer brewery, but they had bad luck this year with the crop.

Meeting him made me feel even more concerned about food security in Japan, but I was also encouraged that good people like him are not giving up in spite of all the difficulties.

These are the trays with tiny rice plants, that we had to tear off and put into the mud. The machine does it automatically, using pincers.

At the end of the day, I felt really refreshed and didn't even need a nap on the long train journey home... Here is more from Peko Peko, a Kyoto Foodie blogger I like:

Properly, taue is very serious business in Japan... growing rice was a matter of survival in Japan. Life and death. Even today, to leave a bowl of rice with even a few grains uneaten is very, very bad form.

Never-the-less, we city slickers (employees, friends and family of Kitagawa Honke) went up to rural Kyoto on a chartered bus and experienced rice planting. And of course, no gathering in Japan would be complete without accompanying food and drink. So after planting in the rain and hosing the mud off of ourselves, we barbecued in the greenhouse. So despite the downpour, we were able to party unabated.

We just planted a very small corner of the paddy and some city kids got to experience what surely the vast majority of Japanese that ever lived made their living by - the cultivation of rice.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Tsunami" Of Criticism Against Japan For Its CO2 Goals?

Remember Taro Aso, our manga hero, busy trying to make a decision about Japan's CO2 emissions?

Well, first James Kanter at the NYT was very unhappy about Japan's CO2 emission cuts. I do look forward to his reports from now on - how will he describe the US effort, or China's? Mr. Kanter doesn't seem to remember that last year, Mr Aso's predecessor Yasuo Fukuda set a longer term target of cutting emissions by 60-80% by 2050. Seems to me that noone really wants to take the lead, and blaming Japan was an easy way to escape real responsibility.

Green Inc. Tsunami of Criticism for Japan’s CO2 Goals

Then, on June 12, Mr. Kantor wrote again, having talked to more experts, noting that perhaps, Japan’s goal are Not So Shabby After All?

The key distinction, both Mr. Purvis and Mr. Levi said, is that the Japanese had pledged to reach their goal by making cuts in domestic emissions — that is, by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions within their own borders.

That contrasts with legislation under consideration in the United States, called the Waxman-Markey bill, as well as an agreement between countries in the European Union — both of which propose to meet their targets in large part by buying credits, or offsets, from carbon-cutting projects overseas.

Factor out the reliance on offsets in the original Waxman-Markey bill, Mr. Levi suggested, and the United States would be making cuts of only 8 to 11 percent from 2005 levels – substantially weaker than the Japanese target.

The European Union is also trying to reach a 14% reduction through domestic efforts which is basically the same as the 15% pledged by Japan. So why did everyone decide to redicule Japan so much? Perhaps if Prime Minister Taro Aso (and his advisors) had made more effort, they could have set a new standard (by separating domestic and international reduction efforts more clearly) instead of making Japan look like a bloody fool.

More about the "outcry" that followed Japan's announcement, on Copenhagen Questions, a blog about the negotiations leading up to the conference in Copenhagen.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

OurWorld 2.0

I added a link to OurWorld 2.0, a blog I like, about current topics from Brendan at the United Nations University here in Tokyo.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Organic Cotton? Isetan, Uniqlo, You Can Do Better

Wal-Mart is the biggest buyer of organic cotton, and Swedish H&M and Spanish Zara also rank pretty high. Where are the Japanese retailers? Nowhere to be found, at least not on Treehugger's ranking list. C&A is No 2 and Nike is No 3. What is going on?

Nike says its goal is to blend a minimum of 5 percent organic cotton into all of its cotton-containing apparel materials by 2010, while steadily expanding its offering of 100 percent certified-organic cotton products.

In 2008, the big-box retailer purchased 12 million pounds of cotton from farmers who were transitioning from conventional to organic farming to help boost the supply of certified-organic cotton available on the market. No matter what the company's intentions, be they financial, altruistic, or a little of both, any move Wal-Mart makes is significant by virtue of its massive supply chain and sheer ubiquity—factors that would play no small role in pushing us past the tipping point.

Isetan has some organic cotton items for father's day, but they obviously need to do more to promote pesticide-free, non-GMO cotton. Their annual report from 2005 (pdf) made some promises, I'm hoping they are committed. As for Uniqlo, they seem to be trying; a pity they had no vision to make it into the global top 10.

Treehugger: Top 10 Buyers of Organic Cotton (You Won't Believe Who's No. 1!)

Reducing CO2 Emissions The Japanese Way

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Taro Aso announced what he called "extremely ambitious" greenhouse gas emission cuts of 15%. Did you hear about the manga campaign in Nikkei to get him to make even deeper cuts, such as 25%?

Aso stressed that Japan's mid-term target of 15% has been calculated solely on domestic energy-saving efforts, unlike those set by the US and Europe, which include emission rights purchased from other countries. The 14-15% reduction compared to 2005 levels translates to about 7-8% reductions to 1990 levels... The EU reductions compared to 2005 levels are about 13% and the US about 14%, according to Naoto Katase, NHK World: he was even told that "Japan's proposal is unlikely to be welcomed at this point."

Mr Aso, you could have done worse, and a lot better.

Treehugger: Japan: "Extremely Ambitious" 15% Emissions Cut

Monday, June 08, 2009

Recalls And Mislabelling? Japan's New Consumer Agency Will Have Its Work Cut Out For It

Last year, Japan was rocked by a number of food scandals, not particularly serious, but they managed to grab the attention of the media and sales of all frozen food in Japan fell by as much as 40 percent in 2008. It also had the positive effect that large companies with factories in China, producing frozen foods for supermarkets all over Japan, changed their inspection practices and improved their labelling. Ajinomoto, for example, started listing the country-of-origin of all the ingredients in their frozen foods.

Now, it turns out that there were some 879 cases of mislabeled food products last year but MAFF only disclosed 110 of them "in order to protect the companies responsible" according to Kyodo.

A ministry official said it decided not to announce all of the cases because it might deliver "a big social blow" to firms that got caught up in mislabeling through simple negligence or temporary law-infringement cases. It therefore decided only to announce cases it considered "malicious" or requiring orders to take corrective measures.

The remarks highlight the ministry's admitted stance of placing more importance on corporate interests rather than those of consumers.

Kyodo/ The Japan Times: Ministry hid 90% of food-mislabeling cases

These cases involve a lot of marine products that are often mislabelled in other countries as well, but why was MAFF trying to hide it? Don't they know that consumers like being treated with respect, and that providing all the data is the best way to avoid breeding mistrust? Consumers are actually intelligent enough to handle correct information...?

Recalls of items like kerosene heaters are also in the news. This shows that Japan will need a much better consumer safety policy, with proper disclosure. Regular readers of Kurashi know that I like Japan's whistle-blower protection rules.

Japan: Whistleblower Protection Act 2004

There will be plenty of work cut out for the new Consumer Agency.

Asahi: Faulty goods causing accidents, even after recalls

Under the revised Consumer Products Safety Law that took effect in May 2007, manufacturers or importers are required to report serious accidents to the ministry. According to the ministry, the largest number of cases, 84, involved oil water heaters and bath boilers. In many cases, fires started after kerosene had leaked, due to aging rubber parts that had hardened. The second-highest number of cases, 77, involved electric cooking stoves. Switches were inadvertently turned on, burning flammable items on or near the stoves. There were 24 accidents involving microwave ovens, 15 cases with electric heaters and 12 with air conditioners. Eleven serious accidents were caused by gas bath boilers and 10 others by washing machines or washer-dryers.

According to the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE), an independent administrative entity that collects accident and recall information, there have been about 1,100 recall cases involving home-use products since 1989.

The biggest killer of them all, of course, is the automobile, with over 10,000 deaths each year here in Japan.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Youtube Japan Goes Green

Youtube Japan Goes Green, with videos ranging from nature documentaries to shows about renewable energy, food and other fun stuff that we like here on Kurashi.

Youtube Think Green Channel

Backed by a lot of good people, with NHK and the Youtube channels of United Nations University as well as Asahi.com and National Geographics, this is a media initiative that could reach the hearts and minds of lots of people.

Some videos have English subtitles and could be useful if you are planning teaching environmental topics or sustainability with a focus on Japan. Or, alternatively, exploring this could help you improve your Japanese.

Having said that, I'm not sure Youtube's 5 minute limit is the way to go here.

Many difficult problems require a lot more thinking and thorough explanation.

Here are 2 examples of good reads from the Oil Drum, that would be impossible to summarize (or, ok, go ahead, try):

Herman Daly: From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy

Luis De Sousa: EuroElections 2009: Greens-EFA

Bonus video: Lingerie model Miranda Kerr goes nude and green for Rolling Stones magazine, wants to protect koalas in Australia.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Taro Aso, Manga Hero Cutting CO2 Emissions

Image from Nikkei, the major financial daily here in Japan. This ad was sponsored by WWF Japan and Avaaz.org to highlight the options for Prime Minister Taro Aso. He is supposed to decide Japan's CO2 emission targets in June. They range from an increase of four percent (suggested by the industry) to reductions up to 25 percent.

Turns out 63% of the public, when asked, will support deep cuts. "Can Taro Aso be a hero," the ad asks. Wouldn't it be great if he really came forward on this issue? More over at Treehugger.

Japan's international reputation and economic future are at stake as Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso prepares to announce Japan's 2020 climate targets in the next few weeks. His decision will be critical to progress at global climate negotiations -- currently taking place in Bonn, Germany -- as countries like the USA and China are deliberating about their own ambition levels.

Avaaz.org, working with partner organizations in Japan and around the world, is running a campaign to call on Prime Minister Aso to set strong, science-based 2020 climate emissions targets. The campaign includes a public opinion survey showing widespread Japanese support for strong targets and an ad campaign calling on Prime Minister Aso to be a hero.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Japan Hoping That GM Chapter 11 Will Not Be The End Of The World

Asahi has a brief but good analysis of the sentiment here in Japan as General Motors went to the courts filing for bankruptcy protection. Chrysler has already been rescued by Fiat, the Italian car maker, while Ford remains stable.

1) Toyota has reached a basic agreement with GM to continue New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint venture in Fremont, California, established in 1984.

2) Suzuki Chairman Osamu Suzuki said CAMI Automotive Inc., a joint venture with GM in Ontario, Canada, will play a central role in GM's reconstruction.

3) A top Isuzu executive said the company's relationship with GM would continue because the truck business had been profitable everywhere except in the United States.

Asahi: Firms brace for GM bankruptcy

A lot more is going on behind the scenes today (Monday), as you may expect. This is not just about selling automobiles to individuals who really can't afford it using no-money-down incentives: "Parts suppliers, meanwhile, are trying to secure payment owed by GM for products delivered. According to private credit research company Teikoku Databank Ltd., 133 Japanese companies do business with GM and 102 of them may not be able to recoup money owed for supplies."

Japan's car industry has depended on the U.S. market for at least a quarter of a century. So did SAAB and Volvo in Sweden, and a lot of other companies, like Opel. What is amazing is how few commentators here in Japan, at least in the major newspapers, are admitting that this is the end of an era.

There will never be another automobile industry driven economic boom. The Mainichi, for example, hopes that GM's bankruptcy will be a "quiet" affair (静かな破綻) but obviously, unemplyment and general misery will increase (unless people start to value other things that are more important to life than horse power and gas guzzling engines). What we all should prepare for is a world without cars - and I for one is looking forward to it.

Update: Wolfgang Munchau at Financial Times worries about the way the German government has been negotiating the rescue of Opel, the European subsidiary of General Motors:

Opel – or Vauxhall in the UK – has been a truly European carmaker, with plants in several European countries. But when GM got into trouble, the EU was nowhere to be seen. It should have declared any rescue of Opel illegal, a flagrant breach of state aid law, especially at a time when the industry suffers from overcapacity.

Overcapacity - wow, the taboo word in today's global economy. Consume less, not more. Finding joy where that old Pink Cadillac V8 engine just won't do the trick.