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Showing posts from August, 2009

Saving The Akita Dog, And More

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I have been thinking about biodiversity for a while, mostly because of work, doing some preparations for the UN Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya in October 2010. Often, the issue is abstract and very difficult to communicate. One story I like a lot because it brings home the urgency is about the Akita dog, a breed from northern Japan that almost became extinct around the time of WW2.

The local breeders were killing the last dogs, selling the fur to the military in order to line the winter coats of officers. Yet, Morie Sawataishi decided to take action to save the Akita (and what a difference one person can make!) as described in the book Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain by Martha Sherill.

Working for Mitsubishi in the remote snow country, Morie decided to rescue Japan's noble, ancient Akita breed—whose numbers had already dwindled before the war—from certain extinction. Raised in an elegant Tokyo neighborhood, his long-suffering wife, Kitako, hated country life, and his …

It's Not Easy Being Green

YouTube: Kermit the Frog, 40 years ago. I loved The Muppet Show as a kid. Jim Henson was a genious. It was written for the Sesame Street by Joe Raposo in 1970. Ray Charles did a fantastic version in 1989.

One comment:

My lil nephew used to break out singing this when he had the blues. Boy! Talk about blue! We used to giggle, but he was so serious!

Here's another comment:

1969. New York. So much racial tension goin' on. So Jim Henson asks "what can we do to help kids feel better about all this racial stuff?"... How about Kermit accepting his own color in front of them? Subtle, deep... effecting, soothing. This is the earliest version. There is a more famous version. But this one - so raw - so careful to be true to the children... this one makes me weep.

Election Updates: From The Blogs

Japan doesn't have an active Green Party*, although there have been efforts over the years to start one, and some success on the local level. Some bloggers are comparing the main parties and their national policies. I thought I should sum up some of my finds:

Greener World compares what LDP and DPJ say about biodiversity. Noting that both parties are concerned about loss of biodiversity, the blogger points out that LDP seems aware of Japan's responsibilities next year, when Nagoya is hosting the UN Biodiversity Conference. LDP wants Japan to "exhibit global leadership" at the meeting. DPJ has "rather strong measures to protect biodiversity" and both parties mention the need to protect satoyama, the farm/forest areas that are so important for food security in Japan. Greener World gives LDP a paltry 10 points, while DPJ gets 60 points, noting that "LDP needs to put on their geta (wooden sandals)" and go out and do something, not just pass the buck to…

Ten Thousand Things

I added a new blog I like, called Ten Thousand Things. Hope they keep up the good work. Their noble goal is to "create a netroots venue that supports actions for peace, sustainability, social justice, & creative expression in Asia (and everywhere)."

–– Kim Hughes, Jen Teeter, & Jean Downey

Satoyama And Sustainable Development In The Japan Times

Winifred Bird has written a great article about biodiversity over at Japan Times, glad to see these issues being taken seriously. She notes that biodiversity is threatened not just by the loss of virgin nature but by changes in Japan's satoyama — the carefully managed forests/fields that make up Japan's traditional rural landscape:

Humans have been shaping the natural environment in Japan for a very long time. Starting with the advent of rice cultivation more than 2,000 years ago, virtually every accessible patch of land on these small and crowded islands has had its vegetation cut, cleared, burned, tilled or otherwise transformed. But surprisingly, say those who study the ecology of Japan's traditional rural areas, that may not have been such a bad thing for the archipelago's biological diversity.

Back before humans settled down in villages and learned about agriculture, Japan's wet and mountainous terrain was mostly wooded.

"Japan was a land of trees," say…

Hildegard Behrens (1937-2009): Vissi Di Arte From Tosca

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Floria Tosca: Hildegard Behrens, 1985
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli conductor
Of course this is Puccini, and Hildegard Behrens was more famous for her Wagner work, but it works well for me, hope it works for you. Frau Behrens died this week in Japan, on her way to a workshop in Kusatsu, Gunma prefecture. Murder scene here ("And all Rome trembled before him...!")

Tosca: Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore – “I lived on art, I lived on love”; Scarpia: Sei troppo bella, Tosca, e troppo amante – “You're too beautiful, Tosca, and too loving”)

Rispetto! Nun können Sie mit den Engeln singen! RIP!

Italian

Translation in English

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
Con man furtiva
quante miserie conobbi aiutai.
Sempre con fè sincera
la mia preghiera
ai santi tabernacoli salì.
Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl’altar.
Nell’ora del dolore
perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè me ne rimuneri così?
Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto …

Time Magazine Wants To Fix America's Food Crisis

Very interesting front page article in this week's issue of Time Magazine. Many of the questions they raise will be familiar to readers of Kurashi, but I hadn't thought this would be so suddenly put so high on the public agenda. While we often complain about Big Media, perhaps there is hope. The food crisis is real, and Bryan Walsh at Time Magazine deserves credit for a very bold and urgent article. Let me quote the entire opening paragraph:

Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of governmen…

Changing Light Bulbs At Miyajima To Reduce CO2 Emissions

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I like how the shrine at Miyajima, south of Hiroshima, has replaced all the light bulbs in its lanterns, thus reducing CO2 emissions by 34.3 tonnes a year.

The 900 year old shrine is no stranger to the elements, having been hit badly by a typhoon as recently as 2004. No matter, shrines in Japan are frequently rebuilt as way to preserve and maintain purity, using wood from forests that are especially designated and protected.

But if sea levels were to rise as predicted, the entire 900 year old structure would not survive.

The lanterns are not lit all night long, just for a while in the evening, as tourists enjoy a walk along the beach or a quiet supper in the restaurants nearby. Many weddings are also held here, and a trip to Hiroshima is not complete without a visit. "I want to spread CO2 reduction from Miyajima, getting people to understand what will happen if polar ice melts," said the head priest to journalists at the light bulb changing event.

Photo from Nikkei Net, read mo…

Greenbooks, Natural Food Books, And My Book

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I like how my book is advertised on this page, with organic farming/permaculture pioneer Masanobu Fukuoka, kind of looking over approvingly at this Swedish upstart. Lots of other great(er) books too about natural food, slow food, apples and an entire book about natto (!).

Ryokushodo is a great little book store with a spirit. It is run by Pono People who are part of Japan's microbiotic movement, and "pono" I think is a Hawaiian word meaning "righteousness" or "inner balance" if I'm not mistaken.

Quote of the day: "If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork." - Masanobu Fukuoka

Asahi: DPJ Policies Would Raise Annual CO2 Emissions

The Research Institute for Local Initiative of Environmental Policies is unhappy with some of the ideas put forward by the Democratic Party of Japan: A pledge by the main opposition party to abolish expressway tolls and special car taxes would "raise the volume of road traffic and result in an annual increase of 9.8 million tons in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions."

Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is not really known for his treehugging tendencies, criticized DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, saying the opposition party's manifesto "would increase oil consumption and have a negative impact on the environment."

The election is on August 30, and I suppose DPJ could still change its mind about this idiotic stance. I don't plan to comment a lot on the election, but this was too important to ignore.

Asahi: DPJ policies would raise annual CO2 emissions, think tank says

In its policy platform for the Aug. 30 Lower House election, the Democratic Party of Japan pledged to abolish…

Perseid Shower Tonight

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There is a very good chance to see meteors tonight, if the sky is clear. The Perseid meteor shower has been observed regularly for a very long time, and was first noted in the "Far East" (don't you just love the old-fashioned term!).

The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the greatest activity between August 8 and 14, peaking about August 12. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.
- Wikipedia

Image from hoshifuru.jp who notes that the peak will be around 2-3 AM on August 13 here in Japan. Look towards north-east.

流れ星 (nagare boshi) is the Japanese word for falling star, while meteor is called 流星 (ryuusei). 星 (hoshi or -boshi or -sei) is of course "star" so I was surprised to see that kanji in the proper word for meteor, as they are not stars at all.

What Wikipedia means by "Far East" is more clear from the link to meteorshoweronline.com:

The earliest record of Perseid activity comes from the Chinese annals, where it i…

Green House Gas Emission Per Capita: Japan Gets Passing Grade

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To follow up on the previous post, which was about how worried people are about global warming, this is an important graph that should be on Kurashi.

It shows the green house gas emissions per capita. It could be a better indicator of the mess we are in, rather than just asking countries to reduce emissions, let's take this debate to the people. And actually, Japanese are not doing so badly at all, compared to people in several of the other large economies. And it was interesting to note in the previous post that Japanese people are among the top that feel concerned about this issue.

(Graph from The Conference Board of Canada, great website where you can find more interactive graphs and lots of data)

South Korea, Japan Think Global Warming Is A Serious Problem

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In the latest edition of the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, which states that Brazil and Argentina are the countries in which people are most aware of global warming as a threat, South Korea and Japan also score very high.

The survey was carried out in 25 countries, including the United States and China. When asked the question, "Is global warming a serious problem?" 90% of Brazilians and 69% of Argentineans said yes, while only 44% of Americans or Russians chose the affirmative answer.

More on the survey (from page 87):
Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF)

Are Japanese people less concerned about climate change, at least compared to 2007, when 78% worried about global warming?

There is a lot more to ponder: In this survey, 64% of the Japanese agreed with the statement, "Protect environment even if it slows growth and costs jobs."

68% would "Pay higher prices to address global climate change" in Japan, compared to 41% in the US and 53% in the UK and 54% in German…

Bad Earthquake, But Not That Bad

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Bad earthquake this morning near the Hamaoka nuclear reactors that I have written about here and here. Fortunately, reactors 4 and 5 were the only ones up and running, due to the massive debate about the aging first three (ruptures, steam turbine problems and much more). We are told both were shut down, and then there was this line:

Agency officials said they received no reports of radioactivity leakage in surrounding areas.

Many people did get hurt from the usual accidents that always happen. What I don't like is how traffic was stopped on the Tomei Expressway between the Fuji Interchange and the Fukuroi Interchange in Shizuoka Prefecture due to the collapsed section. The artery links Tokyo and Nagoya. Imagine if they wanted to send convoys of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles (ambulances, buses for evacuation purposes) down to Hamaoka. This is clearly not the best place to have five big nuclear reactors - and they are planning to build a new, bigger one, at this very locat…

Tegomass: Tanabata Matsuri, A Swedish Song!

I've written about the wonderful pop duo Tegomass here, back in 2006, and they seem to continue to enjoy a special link to Sweden. Their new song Tanabata Matsuri is in Japanese but it was originally written as a folk music/bluegrass hit for Hasse 'Kvinnaböske' Andersson, who was very surprised when the Sydsvenskan newspaper in Malmö called him and asked him how he felt about being "Big-In-Japan".

Hasse's greatest hit back in the 1990s was Får man ta hunden med sig in i himlen, a sad and caring song, titled something like "May I bring my dog with me to heaven (when I die)" touching the hearts of many in Sweden, where old people often have to spend their last years alone, or at least just with a beloved pet. Could be a big hit in Japan too, where the ageing society in many areas is not without its similarities to regions of Sweden.

I like this video! 七夕祭り (Tanabata Matsuri) is the special festival earlier in July, and now in August we have other events…

The Economics Of Farming, Or Of Importing Food

Food and farming in Japan are topics close to the heart of this blog. Kurashi is not a place where you can read a lot of comments about election matters, and there are other bloggers who are far more savvy at commenting on the platforms (called "manifesto" in Japan using the English? Spanish? Russian? Latin-inspired? name) of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and the rest.

I will try to comment on a couple of things that appeared on Tobias Harris' excellent blog, Observing Japan. He is also interested in the Free Trade Agreement policies of Japan's major parties, such as the possibility of a deal between Japan and the U.S., but I think he gets this all wrong:

"Aso was delivering the same message on a different front in Shimane and Okayama Wednesday, when he attacked the DPJ for its position on a US-Japan FTA. Exhibiting the LDP's full-out reversion to agricultural protectionism — discussed here by Aurelia George Mulgan — Aso stressed,…

Greenz.jp Updates

Are you reading Greenz.jp? Recently, a few new writers joined us who are really good. I liked Joan's post about the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park, where she talks about some of the food sellers and pottery makers, as well as tea:

Tea is a hot topic here, and a few good sites include this one with information about different kinds of teas in Japan; this nice post about organic green tea blended with family memories, and a video recounting some of the challenges of organic tea growing. There is, of course, also absolutely no shortage of books about tea in Japan.

Where to Find Local Seasonal Food- Tokyo Farmers Market

Since June, Chris is doing an ongoing series on sustainable living in Japan and he will focus on the unique lifestyle and agricultural practices of Konohana Family near Mt Fuji:

In 1993, perhaps long before the term Eco Village came into popular usage in Japan, a middle aged interior designer and carpenter from Nagoya and several companions were asking themselves if there…

North Korea: BBC Documentary About The Korean War

This is a very difficult documentary to watch.

It is a BBC documentary and it is very long, and I will just link to part 22, about the bombing that totally devastated the entire north. BBC says 600,000 tonnes of bombs (including napalm) was used. Only chimneys would remain. There is a segment were they talk to the cameraman who did some of the filming. Horrific stuff. According to BBC, some 2,000,000 people died.

Part of this was censored from the US version of the documentary, if you decide to watch, you will understand why. But can it also help us understand why today, North Korea is such a different place?

BBC: Korean War Part 22

Most people have heard about the Korean War, maybe you even watched M.A.S.H and laughed at Alan Alda ("in this horrifying place") and his friends. M.A.S.H was shown on Swedish TV in the late 1970s, long before I knew that I would be living in these parts of the woods. And, no, M.A.S.H was not filmed in Korea. It was shot in Malibu Creek State Park in…

July Blog Updates

Tokyo is bigger than you think, Shisaku pointed out, before the July elections...

...would make pretty good country, if independent. With its 12,688,000 inhabitants (10,000,000 of whom are eligible to vote on Sunday) it would be the 67th largest country by population, in between Mali and in Zimbabwe. By GDP, on an exchange rate basis, it would rank among the world’s top 25 economies, on a par with Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden. In terms of headquarters of Fortune Global 500 companies, it would rank second, behind only the United States.

Meanwhile, Mari of Watashi to Tokyo fame, my all-time favourite blog, wrote about Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and noted, "You can find an English subtitled versions on YouTube, please enjoy." Is it just me, or have there been really few earthquakes recently? Four scary (anime) episodes of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 were shown late Thursday nights (just before midnight) on Fuji TV during July.

It's not always easy to live in this great city: "Mainich…