Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A World Outside Of Tokyo: PNB Gallery In Chichibu

If you live in central Tokyo you probably know that there is a lot more to Japan than Midtown or Roppongi Hills, but do you ever venture out and try something different?

We may be in the middle of the collapse in world trade, but how about the surge in interest in art, music and culture?

Just an example: if you like French art, you already know that there is so much happening all over the country:

Yokohama: French movie night
Kansai: Louvre museum exhibition
Nagoya: Alliance Francaise Jazz/Fusion concert
Hokkaido: Fleurs
Kyushu: From island to island, by Sebastien Lebegue

(Hat tip to Stephan Duccup at Japanzine)

And if you live in the UK, you might have heard of Japan Festival, no doubt!

Japan Matsuri 2009 surpassed our wildest dreams. We anticipated that the maximum number of festival-goers would be around 15,000. In fact, we had more than twice this number, all of whom enjoyed the delicious food and wonderful entertainment throughout the day. In the four weeks leading up to the festival we had more than 45,000 people [...]

I like how artists like Joji Hirota drums his way into the hearts and minds of the stiff-upper-lip British, or maybe he is just reaching the crowds that aren't quite as uptight?

How do we go beyond the "local" that limits even the great cities in the world, and make it more "global" and less about ego or pride?

Tom, old friend and frequent commenter here on Kurashi, introduced me to this:

Hirota was born in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. He studied percussion and composition at the Kyoto Arts University and was invited to come to Europe as a musician at the Red Buddha Theatre, and also The Lindsay Kemp Dance Co as a percussionist, where he later became musical director, which won the Time Out Award for the best dance company for their production of ONNAGATA for which Hirota wrote and performed the music.

Joji Hirota & Hiten Ryu Daiko were the opening act for the LIVE EARTH concert at Wembley Stadium in 2007... and Hirota’s Taiko Group was also the opening act for the 60th Anniversary of Amnesty International ceremony in London 2008.

Now, as well as concert performances, an increasing demand for his compositions has seen his musical creations evolve into even more dynamic and versatile works, ranging from orchestral pieces for theatre and television, piano pieces, flute and string ensemble music, as well as Taiko. Projects include the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Wildlife and Survival documentary TV series- a collaborative project with composer Anthony Phillip, BBC Drama and other commercial works reaching worldwide. On Japanese TV, NHK used his music for the Kumano Kodo episode of the World Heritage series.

I happened upon PNB Gallery in Chichibu, and liked their website. So I thought I should share. Yes, this is really far from central Tokyo ;)

How local do you want to get? The crepe is made from buckwheat grown in Chichibu, and the coffee is fair trade, organically certified.

PNB Cafe menu:

秩父産そば粉のガレット or クレープ



PNB Cafe. There is a lot to see if you like green hills turning red and orange in the fall, and river rafting on the Arakawa, the old-fashioned Chichibu way, at Nagatoro (more over at Secret Japan or at Tokyo Work Life).

Yet, it was the art that caught my attention.

Works by Kyoko Mitani and photography by Ayaki Hosaka (do have a look, great website), more photos here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FM Nishi Tokyo

I was on radio again today, a live show called Compass over at FM Nishi Tokyo, a local station near Tokorozawa and Mitaka, which is west of central Tokyo, but actually in the middle of Tokyo To, the larger area that reaches way out west to the Oku Tama hills where only the bravest of the brave seem to venture, except to grow rice and fruit and veggies...

Kumiko-san was the "personality" that led the interview, and she admitted to being a little nervous having a foreigner on her show, but she did a terrific job and I like being interviewed in Japanese. She had read my book carefully and noted that I recommend 555 different foods, and that I must have done a lot of research. You bet - and we shared a lot of laughs on the air, or rather on FM 84.2 MHz.

She also explained to the listeners about some of my choices of top-ranking foods, such as Yotsuba Milk from Hokkaido (a company that is very careful about using local feed for its cows) and domestic olive oil from Shodoshima, a small island, part of the Seto Inland Sea National Park. Food oils by the way is one area where Japan imports almost all products. Not a great idea, really, as so many dishes here rely on oils like sesame for flavour. Where does the sesame come from? In many cases it is not even written on the bottle, but I found a few that are made with domestic sesame, and some that are using sesame grown in Burma, Tanzania and Nigeria!

We talked in some detail about health and safety, and I repeated that I generally think Japan has very safe and healthy food. I do like genmai rice and I mentioned how impressed I am by some traditional foods here, like tofu.

But I was also given a chance to talk about my great concern for Japan's food security, and how people here will have to change the consumption patterns to rely less on imported foods, as we are running out of fossil fuels. Reduce meat consumption, rely more on locally produced foods. Also, if you care about climate change, you are probably already rethinking your shopping and eating habits. Right?

On a related note, I mention in the book about not using a refrigerator. This was something I tried last winter for about 4-5 months, as it was cold enough in my kitchen to not need to keep the fridge on. I saved money by saving electricity, and got a valuable lesson in how to store foods the old-fashioned way. I did shopping almost daily, which meant my food was more fresh. Also, I stopped using the freezer as I got tired of the bland taste of thawed foods that really didn't taste the same after that kind of treatment. Most of all, as I told Kumiko-san, I got to appreciate traditional ways to keep foods like fermentation in the case of miso. I also feel better prepared in case we have major power outages or simply an energy crisis that makes it impossible to depend on "the grid" that we take for granted today.

No, I'm not a total freak about eating locally. I love Italian food and we also talked about Swedish dishes, like pickled herring that come in all kinds of flavours - mustard, tomato sauce, spicy, salty - yum! Kumiko-san has kids and I was happy to describe how to make rye bread, one of my hobbies that I don't get to do very often these days, as I don't have an oven, but what a good lesson it is for children to learn such skills.

I got to pick two songs for the show: Intimacy by Swedish singer Meja and September Rain Song by South Korean singer Lee Sang Eun from her album Gongmudohaga.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hatoyama In New York: Live Blogging From UN Climate Change Conference

Treehugger writer Matthew McDermott is in New York, live blogging from the United Nations Climate Change conference. Japan's new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama was on every news channel tonight, speaking in English, making the pledge: Japan will reduce CO2 emissions by 25%. My favourite website Grist.org has updates as well. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, a conservative is also in New York (speaking for the EU).

UN Summit on Climate Change

Update: Hatoyama's speech (pdf)

UN Summit Programme here if you want to know what world leaders actually said at the UN meeting, rather than just reading brief quotes that media provides for you. I had no idea our world leaders still rely on fax machines to send their messages: check it out.

From Treehugger:

10:43 EDT
Reinfeldt: Agreement by G8 of 2°C goal is good but we now to take action to actually make that happen -- we need to make 25-40% emission reductions by 2020 (1990 levels) -- that's what the science says is required and great to hear the PM say it publicly... very good indeed to hear it.

10:39 EDT
Swedish PM speaking... "for everyday that goes by without us taking action the consequences will be more severe for all of us"

Maybe it's me, but there's nothing really new here -- even if everything Fredrik Reinfeldt is stating is entirely accurate, factual, there doesn't seem to be buzz around it -- everyone seems to be taking calls in the press room right now.

10:18 EDT
Yukio Hatoyama, the new prime minister of Japan, has taken the podium -- but frankly, the atmosphere has sagged a bit post Obama and Hu. Which is a bit of shame because...

On emission reduction targets: Developed countries need to take lead. Japan should commit itself to 25% by 2020 (good!) by 1990 levels. (This is met with clapping...)

Developing nations must reduce GHG emissions based on differentiated responsibilities... (which is UN-speak for acknowledging that nations should reduce poverty and grown their economies, but can't do so willy nilly, without regard to emissions).

NHK also released a survey showing strong support for Mr. Hatoyama. A nationwide telephone survey of 1,774 people aged 20 and older this weekend showed that 42 percent of respondents supported Hatoyama's emissions reduction plan, while 13 percent disapproved.

NHK World: NHK poll: 42% support Hatoyama's emissions goal

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Deeper Meaning Of Ohigan

I had to look up Ohigan on the web to refresh my memory about the Buddhist holiday this week. Ohigan (お彼岸) means "The Other Shore" and implies that we are spiritually crossing to the other shore, a metaphor in Buddhism that can refer to the reaching of Enlightenment by leaving behind ignorance and suffering.

I don't blog much about Buddhism but one guy who does is Doug over at Japan: Life and Religion, with many quotes from Buddhist scriptures and other insights, including his posts on Ohigan. Deep stuff. Also, From the garden of zen, based in Kita-Kamakura, blogs about the seven Higan-bana, the flowers that bloom around this time of the year. I love this photo of the Manjyu-shage (lycoris radiata).

Ohagi, a rice cake covered with bean jam, soybean flour or ground sesame, is traditionally eaten during Ohigan. The cake is named after hagi (bush clover), which flowers in September.

Meanwhile, many people take the "Silver Week" off and get out of the cities to visit relatives elsewhere. As usual, these people spend a lot of time stuck in traffic jams, which are then endlessly reported on the news. Trying to get "to the other shore" while sitting in your car? Hope the stress isn't getting to you!

Today we celebrate Ohigan. Ohigan is celebrated twice a year during the spring and autumn equinox, the time of year when the day and night are of equal length. The Ohigan is also a time of transition, from the short days of winter to the long days of summer and back again. As a time of seasonal transition, it also represents the transitions of human life, from the sunny summer of life to dark winter of death. This is why the Ohigan is a time to remember those who have passed on, particularly our ancestors and loved ones. It is also a time to give thought to another kind of transition, from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of enlightenment, wherein birth and death is transcended. In fact, we recite the Odaimoku and the Lotus Sutra for the purpose of enabling those of us still living and those who are deceased for whom we dedicate merit to both arrive at the other shore of awakening.

From a Dharma talk given in March 2005, at the San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lush, The Body Shop Leading The Way Against Animal Testing

Lush and The Body Shop have numerous shops all around Japan and both companies have campaigns to educate people about animal testing. Lush writes in detail about the issue in the recent issue of their free magazine, which is available at stores. They note that the 25 member countries in the European Union banned animal testing for cosmetic ingredients in March earlier this year and that there is no reason for Japan not to follow. Certainly, they do not intend to use animal-tested ingredients in Japan.

KohGenDo is a Japanese cosmetics brand with a clear policy against animal testing:

We believe that animals shouldn't have to sacrifice their lives for our pursuit of beauty. It is time to end this sad chapter in cosmetics history.

Demonstrations against animal testing have been held recently, with a fairly large one took place in Shibuya on March 8, 2009, sponsored by JAVA and others, with over 100 participants, mostly dressed in pink!

Photos from the Shibuya event here and here.

A Peace Walk for Animals demonstration will be held on September 27, 2009 in Osaka.

Major anti-vivisection NGOs in Japan:

Animal Rights Center Japan
Stop Animal Test! Campaign

Lush is one of the sponsors behind ARCJ. On the website, people are encouraged to send letters (in Japanese) to other cosmetics companies like Shiseido, Kanebo, and L'Oreal to urge them to also stop animal-tested ingredients.

Now, JAVA is taking this campaign to other countries as well. Shiseido is the target, and you can sign the petition (in English). For more details go to this website with links and information on what you can do.

Shiseido still killing animals for cosmetics
in spite of EU BAN

Our group, JAVA, has been seeking the abolition of animal experiments in Japan.

As animal testing for cosmetics has been banned in EU since March 11, 2009, we took this opportunity to launch a campaign to seek the abolition of animal testing for cosmetics, targeting SHISEIDO, the largest cosmetic company in Japan. However, the company still refuses to stop animal testing despite our repeated cry against animal experiments.

To our surprise, SHISEIDO continues marketing their cosmetic products in EU without hesitation even after the EU ban on import and sales of cosmetics tested on animals.

WE NEED YOUR HELP in pursuit of a day when SHISEIDO stops animal testing and no animal testing is conducted in Japan or anywhere else in the world.

The Cove To Be Shown At Tokyo International Film Festival

Great news - The Cove, the documentary about dolphin hunting in Taiji, Wakayama prefecture, will be shown at TIFF here in Japan. It is the first chance for a Japanese audience to see the film.

"The Cove" had been widely reported to have been refused by TIFF, but it was confirmed just prior to the finalization of the lineup. The film, shot by National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, displays footage of dolphins being corralled and then killed by sharpened poles in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. It has not yet been screened in Japan.

Regarding the documentary, the chairman said that TIFF very strongly believes in freedom of expression. "We were subjected to some criticism from some parts of the media about perhaps engaging in censorship," he said. "I would like to make it absolutely clear that we do not censor any works in any way."

TIF chairman Tatsumi “Tom” Yoda said at a press luncheon that it is very important for TIF to not only screen high-quality films from around the globe but to also educate the world about environmental issues.

From The Tokyo Reporter: Tokyo film fest to emphasize eco theme, screen controversial "The Cove"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mail Online: The Ghost Fleet Of The Recession

I was born in a small/medium size harbour town with fog horns at night and strong winds all day long. We liked the salty air but hated this time of year, when summer turns to autumn, and you know it is just going to get darker for a very long time.

When I was a child, the Kockums shipyard in Malmö had the world's biggest gantry crane, which for many years stood as a strange symbol, no longer used, for the city I was born in. The good news is that in 2002, it was sold and dismantled, and shipped to Ulsan, South Korea.


Must read over at Mail Online: Revealed: The ghost fleet of the recession anchored just east of Singapore By Simon Parry

Here, on a sleepy stretch of shoreline at the far end of Asia, is surely the biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history. Their numbers are equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined; their tonnage is far greater. Container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers - all should be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of the retail pandemonium of 2009.

A lot of ships are already sitting idle, and the article notes that some experts believe the ratio of container ships not being used could rise to 25 per cent within two years. This is how the "extraordinary downturn" that shipping giant Maersk has called a "crisis of historic dimensions" is now playing out as shipping companies, the ones that should be making money from the global trade, are making losses.

What's worse, they are still building more ships in places like Mokpo and Ulsan in South Korea, where orders got placed two or three years ago, before the recession.

A decade ago, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung (who died last month) issued a decree to his industrial captains: he wished to make his nation the market leader in shipbuilding. He knew the market intimately. Before entering politics, he studied economics and worked for a Japanese-owned freight-shipping business. Within a few years he was heading his own business, starting out with a fleet of nine ships.

Thus, by 2004, Kim Dae-jung's presidential vision was made real. His country's low-cost yards were winning 40 per cent of world orders, with Japan second with 24 per cent and China way behind on 14 per cent.

But shipbuilding is a horrendously hard market to plan. There is a three-year lag between the placing of an order and the delivery of a ship. With contracts signed, down-payments made and work under way, stopping work on a new ship is the economic equivalent of trying to change direction in an ocean liner travelling at full speed towards an iceberg.

Thus the labours of today's Korean shipbuilders merely represent the completion of contracts ordered in the fat years of 2006 and 2007. Those ships will now sail out into a global economy that no longer wants them.

Try explaining that to the workers who have families to feed and bills to pay, today.

I have written here previously about Kockums in my home town Malmö, and how the shipyard was forced to close down. The city is totally different today, after going through many changes. But that did not happen during a global recession.

We need more in-depth news articles like this, good journalism can be a kind of "fog horn" as we try to prepare, and try to help everyone who will be without a job as the global economy changes, fast.

The good news? As noted here on Kurashi earlier, shipping's effect on climate change is huge, and with more of the tankers sitting idle, at least we are polluting Earth's atmosphere a little less.

A Picture Is Worth More Than...

New government here in Japan, Prime Minister Hatoyama has a plan. Mr Dove Mountain bows deeply to the Emperor at the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo on Wednesday.

How about the choice of Minister for the Environment, Mr Sakihito Ozawa from rural Yamanashi prefecture, who got his masters degree here at Saitama University. I hope he speaks English as he will be leading the Nagoya UN Biodiversity/Cartagena Protocol negotiations in Nagoya next year. Can Mr Ozawa explain Japan's 25 percent cut from Japan's 1990 greenhouse-gas emissions levels by 2020 at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen?

Reuters AlertNet had this to say:

- He has chaired the lower house of parliament's environment committee and served as member of the Democratic Party's panel on climate change, although the party's climate policies have mostly been spearheaded by Katsuya Okada, the new foreign minister.

- Ozawa is expected to work closely with Okada in the new government as Japan tries to play a bigger negotiating role in U.N.-backed climate talks in Copenhagen in December. The talks will try to work out a new agreement on reducing emissions to succeed the current Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which ends in 2012.

(I can't help wonder why they are all wearing European-style tuxedos, when this is a country with truly marvellous kimonos and hakamas with designs and materials from way back. Nice bow, though.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Geothermal Energy: Japan Can Do Better

Geothermal energy is all about harnessing heat from deep below. Japan ranks 6th after the US, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico and Italy in terms of global geothermal electricity capacity. Producing some 535.2 MW today, I think Japan can do a lot better. Source: GHC Bulletin (pdf).

Earlier this year, Nikkei, the business daily reported that Mitsubishi Materials Corp, J-Power, Nittetsu Mining Co Ltd and Kyushu Electric Power Co will build new geothermal powerplants, starting in 2009, with government support. Japan has 18 major geothermal power stations in operation, but their aggregate output accounts for only around 0.2-0.3 percent of electricity generated here, according to Reuters.

Yanaizu Town in Fukushima Prefecture is a town that made the news when Chiba University professor Hidefumi Kurasaka announced his list of Japan's most self-sufficient places.

Yanaizu tops the list at a fantastic 3290%, due to its geothermal applications. According to Kurasaka-sensei, a zone where all energy requirements can be met by renewable, natural energy created within that zone can be called self-sufficient if the supply rate is more than 100%.


Image: Irasshaimase! Poster welcoming visitors to Hachoubaru Geothermal Center, from biki8

Treehugger: The First 3290% Energy Self-Sufficient Town In Japan

Map of geothermal power plants in Japan from GRSJ (English page) about geothermal energy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

FM Yokohama Interview: Green Oasis

I like radio, and today I had a chance to talk about my book with the good people over at FM Sounds, a studio that produces content for FM Yokohama and other stations.

If you have been reading Kurashi, you know that I am concerned about Japan's food security and issues like peak oil. At the same time, my book is very positive. I am doing some radio spots recently, and everyone in the production teams seem to pick up on my concerns. Do avoid GMOs, do try to find organic foods, care about food mileage, the fewer additives the better.

Today, Mitsumi asked about Japanese food, and what I think about the low food self-sufficiency level, which is about 40%. She also noted that for rice, Japan is 100% self-sufficient. I think that's great, and I look forward to the harvest this fall!

We talked about soybeans. Japan imports some 95% of soy, but most of it goes to animal feed. If you care about tofu, miso and natto, you already look at the labels, and buy the 国産 (kokusan) stuff, which are domestically produced. In the current economic climate, isn't locally produced, locally consumed much more preferable? Here, it is called 地産地消 (chisan-chishou). Mitsumi also asked me about farmers markets. Yes, the foods we get from the supermarkets are basically safe, but... How about antenna shops, or other local ways to get involved in your town's farming? If you can find a farmers market near your town, don't they have much better foods, plus they know about it, and can give you advice about cooking, and how to keep it, and convey that special feeling?

This interview will be aired in the Yokohama area on Sunday September 20 at 7:35AM

Update: I found Mitsumi's blog and discovered she is from Hiroshima prefecture and has blood type "B". She studied music therapy in the US and likes mountain climbing in the Japanese Alps. And, if that is not genki enough for all of you, how about her ”Sun will Shine” motto?! I should also add that you can hear FM Yokohama on 84.7 and previous Green Oasis shows featured music by Mika (Blame it on the Girl) and Beck (Sexx Laws). I hope Sunday's show has music by Cardigans or other Swedish bands!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Can Japan Lead? Update About Mr Hatoyama's Emission Targets

Japanese businesses are worried about the ambitious emissions cut target proposed by DPJ. Mr Hatoyama, the next prime minister, said on Monday that he is resolved to achieving a 25 percent cut from Japan's 1990 greenhouse-gas emissions levels by 2020.

One research institute estimates that to achieve the goal, solar-power generation capacity would have to increase to 55 times the current level by installing solar panels in all new houses. It says the sales of conventional cars would have to be banned to raise the percentage of eco-friendly models to 90 percent of all new cars. It also says some highly energy-consuming industries including steel and chemical manufacturers would have to curtail production. The institute estimates these measures would cost each household an additional 3,900 dollars a year.

OK, that is how you would expect Japan Inc. to respond to any radical proposal. Fact is, Mr Hatoyama is getting some very strong support around the world.

"This is the first sign of climate leadership we have seen out of any developed country for quite some time -- the type of leadership we need to see from President Obama," Martin Kaiser, climate policy director at Greenpeace, said according to Bloomberg.

The outgoing Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said it contains many problems--both social and economic--that must be addressed: ''I recognize some merit in exerting Japanese leadership, but there are various realistic problems, including whether all major emitting countries will join in efforts to prevent global warming... I wonder if people can tackle the proposal with the resolve that they would hardly be able to use gasoline-powered vehicles,'' he said at a Tokyo news conference, according to Kyodo News.

What a difference an election can make. The people of Japan wants "change" and they are giving Mr Hatoyama the mandate to act on environmental issues.

BBC's Richard Black said: "Now Japan has broken that mould. Mr Hatoyama believes a major cut is feasible, and in a country that is already far more frugal with energy than the US. Tokyo, therefore, has laid down a gauntlet to Washington. We shall see whether Washington responds."

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard, who will head the big UN meeting in Copenhagen later this year, welcomed Japan's new commitment, according to Eric Johnston at The Japan Times:

"For a long time, everybody has been waiting for everybody else in the international (climate) negotiations. Now, Japan has taken a big step forward in setting an ambitious target and I hope other countries will follow," she said in a statement.

And, "This ambitious commitment by Japan will help to move the negotiations forward," according to Yvo de Boer, the UN's chief climate change official, speaking to Mure Dickie at the Financial Times.

To reduce emissions, Hatoyama will create a domestic emissions trading market with volume caps on emitters. They also want to introduce a feed-in tariff for renewable energy to help expand capacity for clean energy sources. A higher gasoline tax is also being discussed.

More over at Treehugger (including links to the news sources). Do comment here, or over there if you think this is important.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Ganbatte! Japan Is Feeling Competitive?

Sweden is ranking very high on this year's list of competitive countries. Japan is doing very well too, and South Korea is scoring among the top 20.

In its Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010, the Geneva-based institute said Sweden ranked 4th in competitiveness among 133 countries. This is based on a combination of available data and a survey of over 11,000 business leaders in 133 countries across the globe. Japan "won high marks for technical innovation, but its competitiveness was compromised by its huge budget deficit," according to NHK World, while China ranked 29th, India 49th, Brazil 56th and Russia 63rd.

Makes me wonder why we are all so busy, working so hard...

Why bother!? What would happen if we all slowed down a bit, decided to help each other a bit more, and make sure everyone is ok...?

The Korea Times: South Korea's Competitiveness Plunges To 19th

Monday, September 07, 2009

400 Year Old Sake Company Creates Rooftop Garden In Tokyo

In 1971, sake brewer Toshimaya was prosperous enough to construct a brand new headquarter building in Tokyo. They probably took one look at the blueprints and thought it was the sexiest design ever: straight lines, simple features. Think modern, modern, modern.

Recently, however, they remodeled this drab, sterile (well, molding is probably more accurate) concrete cube with a terrific roof garden, as part of Japan’s movement to reduce CO2 emissions, called Minus Six Degrees.

This is an effort that quickly paid off, with staff clearly inspired to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and think about environmental issues. The before-and-after photos are striking.

Previously, this was a company that promoted its rice liquor with snappy slogans like "For Mountains, it’s Fuji, for Shirozake, it’s Toshimaya."

Comparing your traditionally made sake to the tallest mountain in the country was probably good enough back in the 1970s. Recently, they felt the headquarter building was a “dead space” and decided to do something about it. How things have changed.

Established in 1596, Toshimaya Juemon, the founder of Toshimaya, firstly built a sake shop along the Kanda riverbank in what is now central Tokyo. Their fine sake is offered to Meiji Shrine, Kanda Shrine, and Hie Shrine for "sacred rituals." Toshimaya’s Shirozake is also presented to the Emperor and his family every year. Says Yoko Kimura:

The building was reborn with earthquake-proof reinforcement and environment-conscious type conservation of energy in 2004. Moreover, we started the rooftop gardening construction in December, 2006, and completed a Japanese style garden with a small brook. We want it to be a gentle space for the earth as a service to the people who visit us.

I like how the roof garden has inspired a Green Community among staff and others to think about sustainable development, and how the company uses resources like water and rice in a better way.

Hatoyama Wants 25% GHG Emission Cuts By 2020 From 1990 Levels

Hatoyama vows 25% emission cuts by Japan by 2020 from 1990, according to Breitbart/Kyodo and NHK. That's a big step forward compared to the LDP proposal of 8%.

"It is one of our pledges stipulated in our (election) manifesto so we have to have the political will to aim at its realization by utilizing all policy tools," Hatoyama said today.

Speaking to the Asahi World Environment Forum in Tokyo hosted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Hatoyama urged other major countries to agree on "ambitious" reduction targets, saying such an accord will be a "precondition" for Tokyo's renewed emission cut goal. "We will aim to establish a fair and effective international framework involving all major countries in the world" to fight global warming, he added.

NHK World notes that Hatoyama added that he wants to start studying immediately after taking office what concrete assistance Japan can offer to developing countries. He said these efforts would be called the "Hatoyama initiative."

I hope they can make this happen. After the election, we are all waiting for new ideas. LDP clearly didn't have them. Takamasa Higuchi at WWF Japan said they "welcomes the courage of Yukio Hatoyama and believes he has the strength to set Japan on track for a low carbon future which will benefit people and nature, both in Japan and worldwide."

"Japan used to be the country driven by industry groups, but now we see a new prime minister with true leadership," he said.

WWF Japan (English Website) has a climate change campaign that you can support by becoming a member.

Back in June, I was rather busy blogging about this topic...

"Tsunami" Of Criticism Against Japan For Its CO2 Goals?
Reducing CO2 Emissions The Japanese Way
Taro Aso, Manga Hero Cutting CO2 Emissions

Friday, September 04, 2009

What Is A Barrel Of Oil Worth, You Might Ask?

As he drives, Dave indulges in a little academic exercise. He’s comfortable with numbers, quick with calculations. A barrel of oil, he tells you, contains about six gigajoules of energy. That’s six billion joules. Put your average healthy Albertan on a treadmill and wire it to a generator, and in an hour the guy could produce about 100 watts of energy. That’s 360,000 joules. Pay the guy the provincial minimum wage, give him breaks and weekends and statutory holidays off, and it would take 8.6 years for him to produce one barrel of oil equivalent (boe, the standard unit of measure in hydrocarbon circles). And you’d owe him $138,363 in wages. That, Dave tells you, is what a barrel of oil is worth.

An Inconvenient Talk

Dave Hughes’s guide to the end of the fossil fuel age
by Chris Turner

This is a very long and detailed article on the energy crisis we are not told about by our regular media. A good read by Chris Turner, a former winner of the National Magazine Awards president's medal, who is working on a new book about the global sustainability movement. I hope he visits Japan and Asia too before finishing the book. Chris has a blog called The Geography of Hope after the book he wrote. Recommended.

Change Of Government: Not So Fast, DPJ

brace yourself (PREPARE) verb [R]
to prepare yourself physically or mentally for something unpleasant:
The passengers were told to brace themselves (= to press their bodies hard against something or hold them very stiff) for a crash landing.
She told me she had some bad news for me and I braced myself for a shock.

NHK World, which should be neutral, picked this term as the title for an article about the change of government and how "Japan's ministries are bracing for the start of the incoming government to be led by the Democratic Party."

NHK World: Ministries brace for a new government

Who is bracing for what?

Here is evidence that the old LDP-style bureaucracy is still in charge. A former senior official from MAFF, the Agriculture Ministry, was appointed on Wednesday to become the chairman of Japan Fisheries Association, a ministry-affiliated organization. Hope you are sitting down for this: He is the official who resigned last September to take responsibility for scandals involving contaminated rice, that ended up costing tax payers millions of Yen. Nice chap, obviously, with all the right connections.

Even worse was the LDP's timing to appoint a former career bureaucrat to the top post of the new Consumer Agency. Asahi noted in an editorial that this invited criticism: "Properly speaking, the appointment of agency chief should have been made by the new administration in power as a result of the election outcome."

Meanwhile, Ampotan also has an example of how DPJ may be back-tracking on the expressway fee election promise. It turns out that perhaps, just maybe, they will not eliminate all tolls, as voters were led to believe, except in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, where the tolls will remain. They may also be kept in places where there are traffic jams...

I think this was a stupid campaign pledge in the first place, as I noted here, because such policies will raise annual CO2 emissions, and shift transport away from trains and back to cars and trucks.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Yamba Dam Suspended As DPJ Prepares To Lead

What a difference a day makes. I have friends who told me just last week that they would attend a court hearing about Yamba Dam, a controversial project in Gunma prefecture first proposed way back in 1952. This huge hydro-electric power plant would also help supply water to Tokyo and the entire Kanto region. Now, today, Yamba, already costing tax payers some 321.7 billion yen ($3.2 billion), has been postponed to the joy of local activists, according to The Asahi:

...the DPJ, which pulled off a landslide victory in the Lower House election Sunday, has pledged to "drastically review large-scale public works projects that fail to meet the needs of the times." The Yanba dam is one of the projects expected to be axed under the new DPJ administration. Hiroaki Taniguchi, vice minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, told reporters Monday that the ministry would "comply with the instructions of the new minister." Other public works projects, including the Kawabegawa Dam in Kumamoto Prefecture, could face a similar fate.

So, are we totally against all hydro projects? More over at Treehugger. I agree with Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), Japan, who was recently featured in an article by Japan for Sustainability:

Natural energy includes energy of solar origin and geothermal energy meaning magma heat as well as wind, wave and tidal energy. However, some types of renewable energy cannot be classified into sustainable natural energy. For example, large-scale power generation by hydroelectric dams, typically the Three Gorges Dam in China, and multi-purpose dams, represented by Yanba Dam in Japan, does not emit CO2 but exerts a significantly bad influence upon rivers and other natural, living and social environment. Therefore, hydro energy cannot be indiscriminately categorized into natural energy.

There are also many examples of "micro-hydro" or small scale power stations, that do not interfer with the environment, and can help local communities with their energy needs.

More details on The Association of Concerned Citizens For Yamba Dam Project (English website, they also have information in French, thanks!)