Friday, July 31, 2009

Fair Trade: 2.9 Yen Per Person...

... is what the average Japanese is spending on Fair trade goods, while people in Switzerland spend almost 3000 Yen per person (per year), according to

My supermarkets all have Fair trade coffee and I have seen chocolate in a couple of stores as well.

But that's about it.

In my Food safety ranking book, I rank Fair trade coffee from Ogawa Coffee Co. higher than the other products. It is organic and their mocca blend is a fantastic way to start the day. This is a Kyoto-based company but they sell all over Japan. If your local supermarket doesn't have Fair trade coffee, let them know about it!

In Europe, the Fair trade movement has many "World Shops" with toys, clothes and other stuff imported and labelled especially to support small-scale farmers and producers in third world countries. They are often linked to Christian churches with missionaries. For better or worse, Europeans have a long history of exchange with rural communities in Africa in particular, as well as Latin America or South East Asia. This could explain why Japan is not as forward about Fair trade certification: no history of missionary work, and the colonial era (except for Korea) was brief, at least compared to Holland and the UK, countries with a strong Fair trade movement. Yet, it doesn't explain why Switzerland would be so far ahead - I suppose they also sent many Christian missionaries to third world countries, just like the Scandinavian countries used to do.

In Sweden, "church coffee" has been a tradition since the early 20th century. People meet for a chat and a cup of coffee at events sponsored by the local church. Perhaps a returning missionary priest shows slides and talks about his experiences (Many early books about Japan and China were written by people from such backgrounds, with stories using terminology like "the natives" or "pagan ceremonies" that seem amusing today). Since the 1990s church-related events increasingly serve Fair trade certified coffee as a way to show that they care about ethical issues.

Imported Fair trade items are certified by organizations that comply with standards set up by FLO-CERT GmbH, an independent certification body, which carries regular inspections. For example, FLO believes GMO crops are incompatible with Fair trade and has adopted strict environmental standards and guidelines expressly forbidding their use and monitoring GMOs in nearby fields to avoid any possible contamination.

What is important is that the consumer can be sure that the producer is getting paid properly for making the certified product. A fair price for a product is one that covers the producer’s cost of sustainable production. On top of the production costs, FLO establishes a premium, which is invested in social, economic or environmental projects of improvement (such as local schools), decided upon democratically by producers within the organization or workers within the plantation.

There are active Fair trade companies in Japan as well, for example Aspiro, a Lutheran (!) producer of footballs made without child labour, and the People Tree "Fair Trade Fashion Pioneer" that I have written about before. Did you know they have a boutique in Omotesando, the fashion centre of Tokyo? Global Village is another site with lots of information about Fair trade events, workshops and products available in Japan.

Child Labour Campaign:

The main event of the World Day Against Child Labour Campaign in Japan was held on 6th June in Tokyo, by Child Labour Network (CL-Net), the ILO office in Japan and NGO-Trade Unions International Collaboration Forum. All tickets were sold out as soon as the event was opened and about 400 people participated in it. This event was organized as a combination of movie and symposium. The movie "Children of the Dark (Yami no Kodomotachi) " is a story about child trafficking and organ trade involving children in Thai and Japan.

As a part of the World Day Against Child Labour Campaign, the symposium on "The situation of child labour and advocacy for the elimination of child labour -learning from experiences in India and EU" was held on Saturday 27th June at Hosei University. It was organized by the Child Labour Network (CL-Net) and the Ohara Institute for Social Research of Hosei University, and supported by the Citizen’s Fund Grand and Japan Airlines. About 50 people turned out for the symposium.

Read more: (in English)

More links about Fair trade in Japan

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ballet: Farukh Ruzimatov In Tokyo

I had the great pleasure to see Farukh Ruzimatov and the Leningrad State Ballet perform in Tokyo yesterday. Great program with all the classics you'd expect, including Nut Cracker and SwanLake by Tchaikovsky. The video clip here is from Schererazade, the ancient Persian story...

Ruzimatov was born in in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He is very popular in Japan, and last night, the ovations just did not want to end. There were so many flowers...

Farukh Ruzimatov also performed a very special Asura dance to the ancient sounds of Japanese music:


振付:岩田 守弘 音楽:藤舎名生


From la doce vita

Friday, July 24, 2009

Food Shop: Harajuku Batake

I have written about antenna shops before, such as Yasui-san's shop in Nishi-Waseda where I get eggs (from free-range farms that don't use GMO-feed) and rye bread, and sometimes vegetables or fruit: stores that specialize in selling local foods from around Japan, while also promoting local varieties and the chisan-chishou concept (地産地消, chi-san chi-shou: local farming, local consumption).

And you can find them even in busy, fashionable parts of town, like the Dosanko Plaza in Yurakucho.

Let me introduce Harajuku Batake, a small, fiendly shop with seasonal vegetables, rice, and locally processed foods from Kyushu, including Kumamoto and the Aso region. Kimiko, the owner, is from Niigata, and if you go there on a hot summer day, don't miss her ice cream!

Her Harajuku Batake blog is great, with recipies and photos of whatever is in stock. The shop is on Meiji Dori just north of Harajuku, near Kita-sando station.

Address: Sendagaya 3-14-3, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan

When I dropped in earlier this week to give away a copy of my food safety ranking book, I got two steaming onigiri, rice balls with mushrooms and summer veggies in return. Shameless self-promotion, richly rewarded. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Total Eclipse Of The Sun Today In Asia

A string of countries in Asia are experiencing a total eclipse of the sun today Wednesday. Here in Japan, the spectacular eclipse will be visible from Akusekijima Island for 6 minutes and 25 seconds from 10:53 AM, local time. It is actually the longest total solar eclipse visible from any inhabited area of the world this century, according to NHK World and other media.

The eclipse started in India, and followed a track across China and Japan. It has gotten a lot of attention as it is the first total solar eclipse in Japan in forty-six years:

At the moment of total eclipse, the sky is dark, except for the sun appearing as a very bright ring around the outline of the moon, providing what is known as the ‘diamond ring’. We can subsequently get dramatic views of the corona ringing the sun. The sun is the source of life on this planet. A total eclipse abruptly deprives us of its light and warmth. The sun appears dark and there is a sudden drop in temperature. It is an event which plunges the earth into darkness and makes us keenly aware of the importance of the sun.

Note that you should never look directly at the sun (sunglasses are not sufficient protection either).

The Mainichi has a fun collection of historical photos from the Meiji era and onwards, taken at different eclipse events over the years.

皆既日食 (kaiki nisshoku) is the Japanese term for total solar eclipse and I like how the two last kanji literally means "sun-eat" as if the moon has taken a bite of the sun. There are many legends here about how for example queen Himiko, the ruler of ancient Japan, died (or was murdered) around the time of a solar eclipse in the 3rd century.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"New Operating System For Post-Peak Oil Age"

Remember the first time you got a chance to play around with a computer connected to the Internet? That shrill cheap beep beep beep of the modem ("Modem? What is a modem? Explain why I need a modem?") that made it possible to read websites and get your own email account? Remember how slow it was?

I remember "error" messages as I was trying to print things out about how Monsanto and Bayer were taking over seed companies in the US and Europe, or how Codex Alimentarius would discuss food additives that hadn't been properly assessed by independent researchers. Or how TRIPS of the WTO would change the way farmers dealt with their crops, how Monsanto's (and USDA's) "Terminator" GMOs - that would only live for one single season, and then, to the joy of their creator and his wallet, the sterile offspring was designed to not yield a seed that could produce another seed - would feed us all, except farming doesn't work like that, and farmers in Asia and all over the world started using the Internet to protest...

And I remember spending a lot of time waiting... And their websites would appear... And I remember the excitement of connecting with people around the world, food activists who wrote about current events that wasn't yet on the TV news or in the papers. And I met some of you at big conferences: Thanks.

Fast forward to 2009.

We need a "New operating system for post-peak oil age," says the good people here at the UN University in Tokyo.

("Operating System? What is an OS? Explain why I need an OS?")

Imagine no Internet. No blogs, no Twitter, no error messages. No way to communicate like this. Imagine if our world was still running on modem speed. Well, in a certain sense, it is, if you use a car (alone) to commute to work every day, and if you think you can depend on cheap energy to get cheap food to your supermarket and convenience store, to feed you and your family.

The world in 2009 is still addicted to oil and nuclear fuels for economic activities - Japan in particular is importing food in the same way as it did back in the happy days of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Middle East - where most of the oil is - was not as complicated.

I talk about some of these things in my book, such as chisan-chishou (local food production for local consumption), food mileage, climate change, peak oil, Japan's low food sovereignity, organic, additives, GMOs - and this thing - my book! - wow - is actually selling rather well.

Japan, a place I now call my home, needs a new Operating System for the post-peak oil age, to quickly replace the shrill cheap beep beep beep of the industry and the politicians and the media, all hand-in-glove. And, I really do think there are some really great people here who can go ahead and do it. How to upgrade the OS?

New operating system for post-peak oil age

Japan to suffer huge climate costs

Friday, July 10, 2009

Video: Kodo Drumming Training

If you like traditional Japanese drumming, here is a 15:36 minute long documentary that is very good, but no embedding allowed, so do click on the link and go to the Youtube page. Good interviews and subtitles with the Kodo people at Sado Island. I'm hoping you will take the time to watch. I love how the students have to learn how to make their own drum sticks, use their left hand to eat with chopsticks, farm rice... Obviously hard training.

"Life ruled by rythm..."

To become a Kodo drummer, students are put through two years of hell. But these apprentices will endure anything to make the grade.

In the Kodo drumming camp, students practice for around 20 hours a day. Cigarettes, alcohol, and TV are banned, there are no holidays or weekends off and their bodies are pushed to extremes. The day starts with a 15 km run up a mountain and ends when the students are too exhausted to continue. "I'm amazed at how far I can go," states one.

Produced by ABC Australia
Distributed by Journeyman Pictures

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Micro-Hydro Power In Japan

I like the idea of micro-hydro power production. It makes sense that small towns and communities should rely more on local solutions.

In Kochi prefecture, one town decided to go micro-hydro and install small power plants. Yusuhara found that it took some effort, but after town meetings and a focus on education, people liked the idea of self-sufficiency and the environmental benefits. One way to get people interested turned out to be inviting experts from NGOs and local environmental groups, who could discuss global warming and the need for CO2 reduction targets. Way to go Kochi!

More about micro-hydro on and over at Treehugger (in English) and Agua y Terra (in Japanese).

Post updated: I did a second post about micro-hydro over at Treehugger: Tsuru, Yamanashi (Japan) Finding Off-Grid Solutions To Solve Their Energy Needs


Tsuru, a small town in Yamanashi prefecture in Japan, has implemented strategies to harness some of the resources at their disposal. They are promoting micro-hydro, small scale water power, and moreover, they are focusing on education as a way forward.

In April 1999, Tsuru decided to implement an environmental plan of action, and in 2001 they began a project to reduce CO2 emissions to combat global warming. Green purchasing was introduced to reduce the town's energy consumption: Tsuru spared no effort to educate locals that energy issues were important.

In front of city hall, Tsuru built a small wooden hydro electric power plant. It is a reminder of how energy was sourced from streams and rivers in the ancient past, and also forward-looking. You can't get energy out of nothing, and you can't use more than nature provides. In Tsuru, they have made that message a very powerful part of the town's effort to survive in the 21st century.

(In the post, I also dig into the concept of "off-grid" a bit. "Off-grid" means to not be connected to the electricity grid, by supplying your own energy. Especially in Japan, it seems rather impossible to imagine liveing completely away from others, for example by not being hooked up to the same electricity supply as your neighbours. Or am I wrong? Seems to me that "off-grid" has emerged as a final fantasy in some countries, a dream about not having to deal with others, in this crazy world of ours...)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Comparing Countries: Sweden And Japan (And More)

Comparing countries is never easy. Yet, some data speaks for itself. The Equality Trust is a UK research group that has carefully looked at different countries, comparing income equality: For example, in Japan and Sweden the income gap is fairly small: the richest 20% are less than 4 times as rich as the poorest 20%; but in Britain the richest 20% are over 7 times as rich as the poorest 20%, and in the USA they are over 8 times as rich.

Here are some graphs comparing countries on different issues:

Trust and Community Life
Rich and Poor Countries

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, a book published by Penguin in March 2009.

For example, Sweden gets its greater equality through redistribution, through taxes and benefits, and public services provided by a big state. In contrast, Japan has a greater equality of "market incomes", before redistribution. Differences in Japanese earnings are smaller even before taxes and benefits. While Sweden has a large state and well developed public services, in Japan government social expenditure makes up an unusually small part (compared to other OECD countries) of its Gross National Income. The same contrast exists among US states - even between neighbouring states like Vermont and New Hampshire. Vermont takes the big government route and New Hampshire the small. But despite the contrast in how greater equality is achieved, Sweden, Japan, Vermont and New Hampshire all enjoy good health, lower rates of most social problems - i.e. all the benefits of greater equality.

Considering environmental issues, I have a lot of opinions and it is not a simple matter to compare the ecological footprint of 9 million Swedes to 120 million Japanese. Both Sweden and Japan are heavily depending on imported fossile fuels and nuclear power for energy. Sweden could rely more on wind power, while solar is clearly a better option for Japan.

Last year, Jiji Press talked about "Love of Nature as Part of National Identity" and asked for views from ISEP in Tokyo:

"Sweden shows us a glimpse of one step ahead into the future," Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, a Tokyo-based independent organization, says. "Despite differences in politics, culture and society, there are many things that Japan and the whole world can learn from Sweden."

Jiji Press: Sweden Offers Glimpse of Sustainable Future

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Eco-Points For Consumers in Japan

Japan has introduced an Eco-Point system that gives you discounts:

6,000-9,000 points if you buy a new air conditioner, depending on cooling power

3,000-10,000 points if you buy a new refrigerator depending on capacity

7,000-36,000 points if you buy a new television depending on the size of screen

If you want to reduce CO2 emissions, and replace an old airconditioner, this could be a good time to do some research.

Details here (in Japanese only)

Application forms are available at retail stores and post offices. You can also get more points if you recycle your old stuff: for example, your old fridge may be worth 5,000 points. A brochure of goods exchangeable with Eco-Points can be found at the website ( Copies of the brochures are also put at electric appliance retail stores and post offices. The deadline for exchanging Eco-Points for goods is set at the end of March 2012.

So, how much is one Eco-Point worth? This is where things get tricky. For example, 13,500 eco-points may be exchanged for 12,000 yen stored in your Suica electronic money card. Strange! Why not make one point worth one yen? Well, 5,000 points are exchangeable for 5,000 yen worth of department store coupons. Clearly, the government wants you to go and do more shopping, using your Eco-Points.

Kyodo/Breitbart:'Eco-points' ready for registration, exchanges of goods

In May, Asahi was unhappy with this program, reminding everyone that we, the tax payers are the ones that are paying for it:

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.