Monday, November 30, 2009

Swedish Embassy Book Seminar About Food Safety & Sustainable Fisheries

On November 30, 2009 I will participate in a book seminar at the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo. The event is arranged by Lena Lindahl, Sweden Sustainable Association, a long-term resident in Tokyo with exceptional trilingual skills in the education for sustainability sector.

I will talk about food safety, the precautionary principle, and compare the Swedish and Japanese legislation. Kodansha will participate to introduce my book that was published in May, 2009.


日時:2009年11月30日(月) 18:00-20:30 (開場:17:30)
主催:持続可能なスウェーデン協会(Sustainable Sweden Association)
申込み:11月29日までに、お名前、所属、当日の連絡メールアドレスあるいは電話番号を明記の上 にご連絡ください。

Also, Yoshihiro Sato will talk about the book "Silent Ocean" that he has translated to Japanese, published by Shinhyo-ron. Written by Swedish journalist Isabella Lövin, we hope this book will stimulate debate about sustainable fishery policies in Japan.

『沈黙の海 — 最後の食用魚を求めて』

Ms. Lövin's book reveals how EU subsidies to fishing fleets have depleted stocks and ruined ecosystems not only in Europe but also in Africa.

Japan is under strong international pressure to reduce consumption of blue fin tuna, the マグロ (maguro) and I hope Yoshi will talk about that issue as well.

Japan should abandon its love affair with sushi and embrace a diet from the austere days of the past, according to the country’s leading fisheries expert.

Masayuki Komatsu, a long-serving minister in the fisheries agency and now head of a prominent think tank, said that Japanese urgently needed to accept that bluefin tuna, of which they consume 44,000 tonnes every year, would soon be far beyond the budgets of ordinary people as stocks dwindle and prices soar.

Swedish Embassy in Tokyo (English website)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hideaki Tokunaga Live At Yakushi-ji, Nara

Hideaki Tokunaga has been around as long as I can remember, at least since 1988, when he had a hit with Kowarekake no Radio. This summer he performed live at the ancient Buddhist temple in Nara, a sacred site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This song is Hoshi to tsuki no pierce to kimi no yume.

星と月のピアスと君の夢 (anyone has any idea how to translate that?)

Do watch 情熱 (Juunatsu) Passion, from the same concert in Nara.

Yakushi-ji was built in the 8th century, and the East Pagoda (known as "frozen music") is still intact today, some 1300 years later. The official website mentions how the ancient stupas of India was an inspiration for these buildings, with sustainable architecture that most modern designers could learn a lot from.

Images from Bernhard's pagoda photo page (in German)

One of the main features is the massive, heavy hanging pillar in the center. This is the real secret of wooden pagodas. The hanging "heart pillar" is like the spine of the pagoda: Not only does it balance off the forces of earthquakes, it also is a powerful symbol of how your spiritual center, your core, should allow you to stay calm and not be moved by all kinds of influences or events...

The long, heavy wooden pole is freely suspended at the top, hanging from the upper part of the pagoda. The weight of the pole "exerts a compressive prestress" on the entire structure, increasing the bending resistance, while undergoing "pendular vibrations" to avoid damage... (From Vibration And Shock Handbook by C W de Silva)

Five-story Pagodas: Why Can't Earthquakes Knock Them Down? Wisdom from the Distant Past Ueda Atsushi, writing for Nipponia, notes a number of other clever structural inventions that help pagodas stay put in times of trouble:

The (...) Earthquake of 1995 brought down many tall modern buildings in the Kobe area, but not one of the 13 three-story pagodas in surrounding Hyogo Prefecture was damaged. What secrets protect three- and five-story pagodas from earthquakes?

The first secret lies in the material used — every structural part of the five-story pagoda is made of wood. When wood is subjected to a force it may bend and warp, but it does not break easily. And when the force is removed the wood returns to its former shape. Because it is flexible, it can absorb seismic stresses.

The second secret, a structural one, complements this flexibility of wood. The timbers are fastened together, with hardly a nail at all, by inserting carved thinner and narrower ends into slots. So if the ground begins to shake, the wood surfaces in these joints twist and rub against each other. This helps prevent the seismic energy from traveling far up the tower. There are about a thousand large mortise joints in a five-story pagoda, making the entire structure practically as flexible as konnyaku (see Note 1).

The third secret has to do with the layered structure of the pagoda. If you stand a long slab of konnyaku on end it will not remain upright, but five cubed pieces placed in diminishing sizes one on top of the other will. In English we say "five-story pagoda," but the Japanese word, go-ju no to ("five-layer tower"), is more accurate because the pagoda is basically a number of box-like structures laid one on top of another, much like the traditional stacked-up boxes called jubako (see Note 2). The "boxes" are all fastened together with mortise joints. When the ground shakes, each of these box layers sways slowly and independently of the others.

The fourth secret involves a wobbling effect. Each box layer permits a certain amount of gentle swaying, but if they sway too far off center they will fall over. Long ago, a carpenter expert in the construction techniques of the time happened to observe a five-story pavilion during a major earthquake. He reported that when the bottommost box layer swayed to the left, the one above it swayed to the right, the one above that one to the left, and so on. The tower was doing a kind of snake dance!

Hideaki Tokunaga Official site: "The Live DVD "Yakushiji LIVE" as a memorial to the consecration of a principle image of Buddhist..."

(Thanks Tom for reminding me of this!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Event: International Film Festival on Organic Farming

Great chance to see films about organic farming this weekend in Tokyo:

The life I value most

We are happy and grateful to announce that your support has made it possible to hold the 3rd IFOF. The last two years' IFOF have been accepted and welcomed with high regard by both old and young.

Members of Steering Committee have also found the depth and the scope organic agriculture has and are deeply impressed by its implication that organic agriculture is not just how-to of farming but is a wholistic concept which enfolds how we should grasp the nature, how we are to live with forest, water, soil and all the creatures that live on our planet.

We have focused our effort on these vast and deep aspects of organic agriculture to be expressed in the program of the IFOF 2009.

During the last two decades, the earth and our lives underwent decay and segmentation by an idea and system that is all too simple and cold, the winner or the loser in a competitive world of economy.

Under the pressure of this modern competitive world, we are trying to rediscover and redo our relationship with nature and also to re-establish relationship among us humans.

We would be gratified if everyone of our friends would come to IFOF 2009 and find in the selected films such possibilities organic agriculture have.

We have also provided a chance to participate in the film festival for those who wish to express views on nature, farming and food with 3 minutes video works.

Please drop in at the film festival and feel and enjoy the organic world.

 August 2009
 Executive Chief OHNO Kazuoki

International Film Festival on Organic Farming (English)

国際有機農業映画祭 (日本語)

Date: November 27 (Fri) & 28 (Sat), 2009
Place: Large Hall, Arts Building in National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, Tokyo, Japan
Nov. 27 (Fri)  12:00-20:00 (Open at 11:30 )
Nov. 28 (Sat)  9:30-21:00 (Open at 9:10 )
Nov. 27 (Fri)     ¥1500.00
Nov. 28 (Sat)     ¥2000.00
2 days ticket ¥3000.00
Hosted by:
International Film Festival on Organic Farming Executive Committee/
Tokyo Peace Film Club
Japan Organic Agriculture Association/
Pacific Asia Resource Centre(PARC)

Special Event 1: 28 (Sat) 14:20 – 15:30
Special talk on "What is on Asian Villages now"
There are 3 films depicting Asian farmers' fight against globalization. Two among them were from Laos by chance. Visiting students of Organic Agriculture at Asian Rural Institute (ARI) situated at Nasu-Shiobara shi, Tochigi, Mr.Houmphan from Laos and Ms.Polkhayan from Thai will talk on the backgrounds and situations in Laos and Northeast Thai.

Special Event 2: 27 (Fri) 19:30 – 20:00
New farmers talk: "The life I value most"
With a special reference to the film "A Farm with Future Vision", we will have 3 new organic farmers to talk about their view on life they value most. There will be a casual talk after their presentation.

Special Event 3: 27 (Fri) 16:00 – 16:50
3 min. video show: "My view of food and farming"
This gives chance to go one step forward from "just watch" to "make and show"for you. It is our wish that more people will take part in IFOF thru making videos and films for 3min. video show. Your entry of 3 min. video on food and farming is most welcome.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Cut Funding For Organic Agriculture: A Really Bad Idea

According to Japan's daily agriculture newspaper, the Nougyou Shimbun, The DPJ-led government may cut back or eliminate subsidies for organic agriculture. This is a really bad idea. If the government decides to go ahead with slashing the budget for research and development in the agricultural field, there must be a large number of other projects that would be less important than finding ways forward for sustainable food production that is not relying on chemicals and fossile fuels.

Shisaku notes that the process amounts to Japan's Subsidies Culture on Trial:

Of the 244 budget requests reviewed during the first five days, 243 have been rejected. "Reapply with a new proposal," "No budget increases," "Reduce budget request," "Cease activity" have been the responses. Just one program has received the GRU's stamp of approval: a Health, Welfare and Labour Ministry fund supporting theater productions in the nation's after-school activity centers.

Well, yes, but here we are talking about a growth sector that needs to find solutions that work well in Japan. The country's organic farmers are seriously underfunded compared to other countries, and they cannot just depend on data developed elsewhere, like space scientists or others can. Farming in Japan has special features including climate and biodiversity. If you want to know how wild boars disturb farmers in Japan you cannot read about that in a organic farming science magazine published in Europe...

Organic Farming Research in the Countries of Europe (2002)

According to the front page report in Nougyou Shimbun today, we are talking 300 million yen, not a lot of money anyway: in fact I think it should be increased, not cut. Expecting such research to only be funded locally or by prefectures is unrealistic.

Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA) : Statement of Purpose - October 17, 1971

After Peak Oil: Notes From A Small Meeting In Tokyo

It was Labour Day on Monday, a holiday here in Japan. I wanted to go either to the event preparing for the World Social Forum or to learn more about what people here think about peak oil and food security issues.

I chose the latter. The meeting was chaired by Hiroshi Nakayama, who has ideas that he calls the 2030 Vision. "Isn't Japan going to be in big trouble," he asked. We need scenarios for a "soft landing" as oil may again reach $150/barrel. And is economic growth for China and India really possible, without oil? China, as Nakayama noted, has energy self sufficiency at 94% at the moment, but if they want to copy the car based "modern" lifestyle of Japan, Europe or the US, of course that ratio isn't going to hold up, and they will need imports from - where? China is also trying to stop exporting chemical fertilizers by imposing high export tariffs - a sign that they are beginning to have problems feeding their people. Without cheap imports of N, P and K from China, farmers in other countries - including Japan - are facing higher costs.

Tony Boys was in the panel, and got several questions about his research in Thailand: he noted that in times of hardships, "have a festival!" Others mentioned progress in Cuba as an example of how to survive when oil imports become more difficult. "You will need music, culture, and events to have fun to make the transition smooth."

Can Japan promote organic agriculture? Several speakers noted that this would be good, but that the transition would take many years, and that there is little support at the moment.

Ogawa Town in Saitama was mentioned as an example of how some farmers are doing it well:

Yoshinori Kaneko is a farmer who has been organic farming in Ogawa for the past 38 years. In the 1970s, around the time Kaneko started farming, the book "Limits to Growth," commissioned by the Club of Rome, was published. It caused a sensation all around the world due to its conclusion that if the world population and economy continued to grow at the same pace, and the environment was further destroyed, that humanity would face the dire consequences of overstepping the natural limits to growth. In addition, while the world saw economic turmoil resulting from oil shocks at that time, Japanese people were experiencing pollution-caused diseases such as the itai-itai (pain-pain) malady and Minamata disease. In addition, the Acreage Reduction Program was started around that time to regulate rice production.

Against this backdrop, Kaneko thought that a lifestyle of rich self-sufficiency would be the key to farming in a manner that would produce safe, tasty, and nutritious food. "Fossil fuels and mineral resources that the current 'industrial society' depends on will become depleted in the future," he thought, "and we will need to shift to a permanent 'agro-based society.'"

From Ogawa to the World

Such efforts are not limited to just Ogawa, where the organic agricultural farms support the local community and the community supports the farms. Similar efforts can be seen in the United States, in Laurence and Kansas City, in the state of Kansas. At the very heart of industrial-scale farming operations in the U.S., organic farmers and local communities are vigorously supporting each other to boost local development.

From May to June 2009, during an exchange program titled "Global Partnership for Local Organic Food," organized by non-profit organizations, IFOAM Japan and the Kansas Rural Center, visiting organic food producers and specialists stayed in Ogawa for six days, and visited local organic farms and interacted with the organic farmers. In June, ten people visited Kansas, including some organic farmers from Ogawa. In the exchange program, organic farmers and specialists from both sides of the planet shared information, discussed problems they had, and learned more about the similarities and differences between them. Communication is still underway on the program's website. The program proved to be a valuable experience for both groups, and after returning home, discussions still continue between them on some of the things they learned from each other, such as the benefits of a joint shipment program and how to expand their market share.

Global Partners for Local Organic Foods is a project of the Kansas Rural Center (KRC) in cooperation with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements - Japan (IFOAM - Japan). (English, Japanese)

(Photo of Yoshinori Kaneko on his biofuel tractor from Rodale Institute)

Back to Tokyo and 2030 Vision: Shin Shinohara talked eloquently about "after peak oil" and compared our current dilemma to Edo era Japan - was it really a sustainable society? For over 250 years, the country did quite well, with a thriving culture. But the population was only 1/4 of today's Japan, at around 30 million in the 18th century.

Of course there were zero imports of oil or gasoline, and for fertilizers, the farmers needed both to collect human waste and biomass from plants (草木, kusaki, soumoku) that you can gather if you live near a forest - like I am fortunate to do, and indeed, my compost and thus my vegetable garden would not be the same without the dry leaves and other stuff I can find on a brief walk up on the hills.

I think Edo era Japan is worth studying for inspiration, but hardly as a quick solution to the complex, global issues today.

The feeling that farming needs to become more かっこいい (kakko ii, stylish, fashionable, "cool") was noted. Today, Japan's farmers are often seen as a bit miserable and old-fashioned. How can the image of farming be improved? Others noted that as foods become scarce, it doesn't take long before that happens!

Japan needs more people to think deeply about the future. I was impressed by this event, and hope some of the ideas discussed will be shared with more people, as soon as possible.

Read more:

The Decline and Fall of the Suburbian Empire: an interview with James Howard Kunstler in The Sun

Agriculture is an example of a complex system we depend on — and obviously a crucial one. We pour enormous amounts of oil- and natural-gas-based products on the soil in order to get all those Cheez Doodles out of it. This system is going to come under stress because of the rising price and decreasing supply of oil. Last summer, as we got into the planting and growing seasons, the price of oil began to rise astronomically. It went from $60 a barrel to $147 a barrel in July, which hammered the farmers.

Of course the price of oil has crashed since then because of the falloff in demand brought about by the financial crisis. But I think the next act in the drama is going to be a renewed set of problems with oil prices and supply. These could begin at any time because of the instability in the global oil markets themselves, which are at the mercy of geopolitical trends and relationships among nations. They’ve entered a zone of extreme volatility.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vintage Japan: The History Of Sex Ed, German Films, And More

For a blog that is supposedly about all things 暮らし kurashi (life, living) there is precious little sex around here, as I think you can all find enough of that elsewhere on the Internet. But, ladies and gentlemen of the blog reading inclination, I thought my attempt at a Vintage Japan series of posts could benefit from a look at - Sex Education.

On a side note, the first photo here is from a Swedish film from 1953 called Sommaren med Monica, which was rather popular a long, long time ago (known in the US as "Monica: The Story of a Bad Girl" with arrests in Los Angeles when it was first screened at the Orpheum). How surprised I was to see it at Tsutaya, the video rental shop!

不良少女モニカ Furyuu Shoujo Monica (Juvenile Delinquent Monica) is the Japanese title, and it was a scandal here too, apparently.

Harriett Andersson is very lovely in this film, but frankly it is rather dull and there is very little nudity. OK, go and rent it or see if you cannot find it on the Internet. (Photo from Clara no mori, a blog about all kinds of beautiful vintage things, much recommended!)

Roland Domenig who knows a lot about cinema has written a great article in 3 parts over at Midnight Eye, a blog I like, about the History of Sex Education Films in Japan. It appears that the Meiji government was quick to understand the value of teaching the imperial subjects about issues like hygiene:

The enforcement of eisei, a newly coined term taken from the German "Gesundheitspflege" or "hygiene" introduced in 1872 by Sensai Nagayo, one of the key figures during the formation years of Japan's modern health system, became a central concern of doctors, bureaucrats and social reformers alike. Together with the promotion of modern science this resulted at the beginning of the 20th century in the establishment of the field of seigaku or "sexology" which was strongly influenced by the German Sexualwissenschaft.

Herr Domenig notes that this early seigaku or Sex Ed reached a peak before it was suppressed by the "nationalistic policy of the 1930s and during the war." I find it interesting that just like in Scandinavia or Germany, the social democratic political movement, with influences from further left on the spectrum, also reached Japan, with the Proletarian Film League (Purokino) trying to educate the working class in a more rational way.

In the mid-1920s, however, at the peak of the seigaku boom, so-called osan eiga ("birth films") attracted attention. Norimasa Kaeriyama for instance mentions these films in his book Eiga no Seiteki Miwaku (Cinema's sexual attraction) published in 1928. These were scientific films mostly imported from Germany and made primarily for doctors.

Fast forward to the post-war days. Herr Domenig has a lot of references to films that were mainly intended for doctors and the medical establishment in Japan. This changed gradually in the post WW2 occupation years (1945-1952) as Japan grappled with defeat and survival. We learn that Colonel Crawford F. Sams, the head of the Public Health and Welfare Section of General Headquarters, argued that the Japanese had three options to come to terms with overpopulation: food imports, emigration, and birth control. Since the first two were not possible in the immediate or near future, birth control was the only option.

At the end of World War II Japan was confronted with a serious problem of overpopulation. The repatriation of its citizens from the former colonies, a baby boom despite the miserable economic condition of the immediate post-war years and the resulting food shortages led to an intensive discussion of Japan's population problem. "Surplus population" (kajo jinko) became a media buzzword of the period. Birth control and family planning thus became urgent tasks and sparked the so-called basukon eiga ("birth control films")...

In the 1950s, Herr Domenig notes, movie theaters like the Asakusa Rokku-za, the Asakusa Romansu-za and the Shinjuku Central, all showed basukon eiga to sell-out crowds, while sometimes with "additional scenes" or "lascivious scenes" (senjoteki na bamen):

To add additional scenes seems to have been a common practice at the time, because the films were not only shown with the aim of enlightening the audience about sex education (as perhaps the program at the Kaguraza was), but also for less noble reasons.

Naughty, but good, in other words, from the audience's point of view. In 1952 a cinema in Shibuya presented a "Sex education film festival" (seikyoiku eiga taikai). Herr Domenig must have a copy of the original program, because he lists not only the price (Entrance fee, just 100 yen) but also the names of the four films: Sei no Honno (Sex Instinct), Hana aru Dokuso (Poisonous Plant in Bloom), Ratai (Naked Body) and Sanji Seigen no Chishiki (Knowledge about Birth Control).

There is more over at Midnight Eye, but I would just like to add - shouldn't Japan have tried harder to consider birth control or rather population control? Abortion was made legal in 1949, and Mariko Kato at The Japan Times notes that this was 10 years earlier than in other industrialized countries (I'm not sure about that: for example, Sweden legalized it in 1938). Today, abortion rates are lower in Japan than in the US or Britain.

To conclude, Herr Domenig doesn't tell us how Sex Education is taught in schools today in Japan, and my guess is as good as yours. If I discover anything, I might add it as an update.

(Photo of condome vending machine from

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vintage Japan: Toyopet

Toyota has been making cars for over 70 years, and by 1936, the Nagoya-based company was making models that were strong and solid enough for the road conditions of the time. The Toyota AA was produced from 1936 to 1941: 1 engine (3,4 liters / 65 hp) with 353 units produced.

It was Toyota Motor's first passenger car, adopting "the popular streamline style, possessed an ideally balanced load on the front wheel, and offered a superior ride which placed it above many foreign cars in terms of comfort," according to the Toyota Museum website, which claims that it was an "advanced automobile."

Moreover, Toyota's production know-how was developed completely in-house,
while Nissan Motor Company acquired designs for large passenger cars and production facilities from the Graham Paige Corporation of the United States (Others claim the early Toyota models were Cadillac knock-offs).

During WW2, Toyota was involved in truck production for Japan's Imperial Army. Because of severe shortages in Japan, military trucks were kept as simple as possible. For example, the trucks had only one headlight on the center of the hood.

Fortunately for Toyota, the war ended shortly before a scheduled US bombing run on the Toyota factories in Aichi prefecture...

After WW2, Toyota again was building cars, and by 1953, Toyota came out with a 1500cc model, the Toyopet Super. The Toyopet Super became Toyota’s main model in the market in the fifties.

I just love the name, which was actually just a nickname of a SA Sedan 1947 model that caught on, and became a registered trademark in 1949.

Where I lived before, just near Saitama's first Toyota outlet that once served the entire Tokyo area, they still displayed the "Toyopet" logo on the showroom. Some pride.

By 1955, Toyota introduced the Crown Deluxe Model which came equipped with a radio, heater, electric clock, tinted windows, white side wall tires, fog lights and other amenities, making it Japan's first domestically produced prestige car. Fancy. Yet, it was still a "Toyopet" along with other cute and lightweight models that crowded the streets of Japan at the time, like the Flying Feather, Fujicabin, Daihatsu Midget, and the Cony Guppet Sports. I think working in the car industry must have been quite fun!

Toyota set up a headquarters in Hollywood in 1957, and in 1959, the company opened its first plant outside Japan - in Brazil. The Toyopet was the first Japanese car sold in the United States. They are collectors items today.

Top left photo from of a 1959 Toyopet Crown Custom model which looks like it is in very good shape. has more stories from the early days:

Sakichi Toyoda, a prolific inventor, created the Toyoda Automatic Loom company based on his groundbreaking designs, one of which was licensed to a British concern for 1 million yen; this money was used to help found Toyota Motor Company, which was supported by the Japanese government partly because of the military applications. The Japanese relied on foreign trucks in the war in Manchuria, but with the Depression, money was scarce. Domestic production would reduce costs, provide jobs, and make the country more independent. By 1936, just after the first successful Toyoda vehicles were produced, Japan demanded that any automakers selling in the country needed to have a majority of stockholders from Japan, along with all officers, and stopped nearly all imports.

Over at Flickr, Hugo90 has a fantastic collection of photos of vintage car ads, including this one of a Tiara and the Toyopet that just cuts to the chase. They were not shy about it, were they: "The World's finest Compact Car."

So, a very long time ago, a small company called Toyoda, or Toyota, started out making looms.

I like this ad by William Cruse from the 1980s, as they promote how they have been "studying ergonomcis, or the way machines fit humans, for years."

Toyota is best known today for its cars, but it is still in the textile business and makes automatic looms, which are now fully computerized, and electric sewing machines which are available worldwide. Since 1946!

Since 1946, Toyota Sewing Machine has been building functional yet beautiful sewing machines.

The Toyota name itself indicates the high quality of the machines and it has been one of the best selling sewing machines in Europe for years.

Now it's available in the United States. Discover for yourself the quality, reliability and design that Toyota sewing machines have to offer.

But that is all in the past, more or less. Today, Toyota Future has an entirely new vision for you and me, with environmental lectures, safety lectures, a very clever "new mobility lecture" and more. I'm not sure how they are really preparing for the future, but this is a wii style vision from Toyoda City, Japan, late 2009.

Can today's environmental thinking inspire tomorrow's technology? We think so. Since its launch in 1997, the Prius has earned the love of millions of forward-thinking drivers, and is paving the way for the next generation of environmental vehicles. Like cars charged at home. Or cars that will run solely on electricity, or consume hydrogen and emit only water. Because when it comes to thinking green, the sky's the limit. That's why we spend an average of nearly one million dollars an hour on R&D to develop the cars and technologies of the future - cars that deliver higher fuel economy with lower vehicle emissions. We will continue to invest in R&D, moving even closer to our vision of the ultimate eco-car.

Can a car company really be a part of the movement towards sustainable development?

Can Toyota, the global leader, make the decisions to create mobility for people around the world, who need solutions for how to get to work, how to get the kids to soccer practice, how to help farmers, and how to move food to the supermarkets that replaced local networks and community-based coops...

Is Toyota going to be part of the solution or are they just an obstacle, as they continue to sell huge SUVs that make more profit?

From Toyopet to... what?

Technological innovation continues to push the boundaries of possibility, improving our quality of life not only on the road, but at home and in cities as well. Along with our partners we are re-imagining the urban environments of the future where new vehicle technologies will live and new sources of energy will power the advanced vehicles of tomorrow.

Here at Kurashi, we still like staying put, walking, and riding bicycles, and taking the trains.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vintage Japan: Tiger Oil Advertising Sign

This morning I was (rudely) awakened by the call of the local gasolin truck, making his rounds for the benefit of some of my fossile fuel-burning neighbours. He has a loud sound track, on his small truck, playing a cheesy clarinet tune, and a young lady announcing, endlessly and cheerfully so, on a tape loop: "Tooyu hanbai, 18 liter, 1380 yen!" ("Selling 18 l of heating gas for 1380 yen!") while he slowly makes his rounds.

Once upon a time, in a country far, far away... There was an oil company putting up metal advertising signs with its 虎印灯油 (Tiger Brand Oil) logo all over the place. It seems very retro today, and Japanese bloggers are delighted when they find one, even if it is rusty. People who were born in the bubble economy days can afford to be nostalgic, at least for now.

The "Put A Tiger In Your Tank" advertising campaign introduced by US oil company Humble in 1964 was even popular in Sweden when I was a kid. Did they get the idea from Japan, or did the Japanese copy the American campaign? Your guess is as good as mine, at this point.

Humble Co. became Exxon and Esso in the early 1970s. Sustainable?

Recently, on, a blog I like, Humble's old "Happy Motoring" ad in Time Magazine from 1962 has resurfaced, because it is so blatantly significant (and funny) today:

Each day Humble supplies enough energy to melt 7 million tons of glacier!

It gets better: This was one of the companies that also created this WW2 ad:

We're floating to Victory on a sea of OIL


Gasolin powers the attack - Don't waste a drop

In other words, the message was "save," then, "no, don't save, use!" in just 20 years.

By 1960, a company called Standard Vacuum, or Standard Oil, was selling oil in Japan, as noted by the Today Soup/Oil Heater & Stove 本日のスープ or sabotage soup blog, who is seriously devoted to collecting this kind of stuff, "Various tasteful things becomes spice of life..."

Stan-Vac? I'm afraid I have never heard this name before.

Standard Oil was founded by John D. Rockefeller, and in the Asia-Pacific region, they had oil production and refineries in Indonesia but no marketing network. Socony-Vacuum had Asian marketing outlets. In 1933, Jersey Standard and Socony-Vacuum merged their interests in the region into a 50-50 joint venture. Standard-Vacuum Oil Co., or Stanvac, operated in 50 countries, from East Africa to New Zealand, before it was dissolved in 1962.

Standard Oil around the world website.

Japan's oil deals made the news back in 1934, when they decided to not adhere to US oil interests. Time Magazine noted that Japan had adopted a new National Oil Business Law.

1) foreign oil companies doing business in Japan must build additional storage tanks and keep always on hand a six-months' supply of petroleum in addition to their normal needs;
2) they are subject to quota restrictions on retail sales which thus far have been rigged to favor Japanese oil companies at the foreigners' expense;
3) the Government reserves the right "in case of emergency" to purchase all petroleum in Japan at its own price, which may be below cost or purely nominal (i. e. confiscatory);
4) to ensure compliance with the law, foreign firms will be licensed to operate for only one year at a time and must file estimates of the amount of business they expect to do for several years in advance. Once an estimate has been accepted by the Government, all petroleum called for therein must be imported "irrespective of business conditions."
But that was then.

So, who owns the small truck with the loud sound track, that cursed my morning sleep this morning? This is where things get tricky.

Standard Vacuum Oil Company (predecessor of ExxonMobil) signed an agreement with Tonen General Sekiyu K.K. in 1949 (Company designated as an oil refining and supply company.) Tonen was founded in 1939 under imperial Japan's national policy, as a manufacturer of aviation fuel and lubricants for the military. Today, ExxonMobil holds a 50.2 percent stake in Tonen General Sekiyu, according to

General Sekiyu's Early History

Although Tonen Corporation was incorporated almost ten years before General Sekiyu came into being, General Sekiyu's roots extend much further back than its date of incorporation. General Sekiyu had its beginning in the Mitsui zaibatsu, a very large general trading company, which became involved in the distribution of petroleum products as early as the 1880s, when it began to sell kerosene. Although it was later forced out of that business by foreign competitors, the company re-entered the oil business in the years following World War I. Since Japan has very little natural petroleum, this re-entry meant dealing with a foreign supplier. In 1920 Mitsui became the exclusive distributor in the Far East for the refined petroleum products of General Petroleum Corporation, a U.S. company. Mitsui quickly set up facilities to market and store oil and, by selling high-quality oil from California at competitive prices, was able to challenge successfully the dominance of Dutch oil interests in Japan.

In 1932, however, Mitsui's U.S. supplier was purchased by Standard Oil of New York, and it became difficult to maintain the company's distribution arrangements. In 1933 Standard Oil of New York and Standard Oil of New Jersey combined their operations in the Far East to create Standard-Vacuum, known as Stan-Vac. Along with Rising Sun, a Dutch company, Stan-Vac held 60 percent of Japan's domestic oil market throughout the early 1930s. Having failed to work out an agreement to enter the refining business with Stan-Vac, Mitsui negotiated a contract to distribute the company's products.

In 1934 the Japanese government passed the Petroleum Industry Law, bringing the oil industry under government control as part of the preparations for the expected war.

Petroleum, used to power Japanese warships, was seen as a vital strategic resource. The law required all foreign oil companies to maintain a six-month supply of oil beyond the usual inventories. When Stan-Vac balked at this requirement, Mitsui compromised with its foreign partners by building tanks that would hold a three-month supply, while the U.S. firm took care of the other half of the requirement.

Tonen's Early History

In July 1939, just a few years after the Petroleum Industry Law was passed and with the country still gearing up for war, the Ministry of Defense and the fuel Department of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry formed a partnership of ten Japanese oil-related companies. The partnership--consisting of Nippon Sekiyu, Kokura Sekiyu, Chosen Sekiyu, Aikoku Sekiyu, Sayama Sekiyu, Mitsubishi Sha Holdings, Mitsubishi Shoji Trading, Aratsu Sekiyu, Maruzen Sekiyu, and Mitsubishi Mining Co.--was called Towa Nenryo Kogyo Co. Ltd., a name later changed to Tonen Corporation. The new company had capital of ¥50 million and 59 employees. Keizaburo Hashimoto, president of the Nippon Sekiyu Co. Ltd., was appointed chairman of the board, and Fusazo Kokura, president of Kokura Sekiyu Co. Ltd., became president. The larger corporate investors dispatched managerial officers to the company.

At the start of the refinery operation, sales and the procurement of crude oil and finance were supported and ensured by the Japanese Ministry of Defense. The choice of an industrial site and the question of which technologies to adopt for the refinery operations, however, were major concerns. As the result of cooperative discussions among shareholders, a research and development center was located at the Shimizu plant site in the Shizuoka prefecture, and the refinery facilities were located in the Wakayama plant site in the Wakayama Prefecture.

In September 1939, the production and distribution of oil products in Japan fell under the influence of the national policy promoted by the fuel department of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. All Japanese oil companies' independent business activities were severely restricted. The effects of the national policy were limited, however, in the case of Towa Nenryo (Tonen), which was heavily engaged in munitions production.

Wartime and Postwar Restructuring

In 1941, normal-pressure distillers began to operate in Tonen's Wakayama refinery and successfully produced engine starter volatile oil, airplane fuels, automobile gasoline, mineral turpentine, solvent, kerosene, light oils, and heavy oil. From 1941 to 1945, the Wakayama refinery processed 842,000 kiloliters of crude oil, 53 percent for munitions and 47 percent for civilian use. In 1943, a crude oil heating distillery was built at the Wakayama refinery and processed 86,000 kiloliters of crude oil before the end of World War II--77 percent for munitions and 23 percent for civilian use.

On Tonen's Shimizu site, research and development activities started as a result of the serious shortage of natural resources caused by the war. The major projects at the research and development center were the substitution for petroleum products of other materials, such as high-octane gasoline developed from artificial oil and lubricants made from raw natural rubber; and the processing of heavy tar oil produced in Southeast Asia and volatile oil, made from pine-tree gum. The construction of the Shimizu refinery was hindered by the shortage of materials under wartime conditions and was not realized on a large scale until 1950.

After the war ended, Tonen experienced a considerable fall in sales when the need for airplane fuel for munitions use ceased abruptly. Three-quarters of Tonen's 2,600 employees were dismissed in 1945. The major board members, including chairman and president, were banned from public duties by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) because of their involvement in Japan's war effort, and they were obliged to resign from the company. Nobuhei Nakahara became president. SCAP prohibited crude oil imports to Japan and banned refinery operations on the Pacific coast site. Tonen almost ceased to operate until 1947.

Ok, if you read all that, time to take a deep breath.

No wonder some people were confused (and most still are). Two generations later, we still act as if oil is abundant, an endless source of joy & happiness for all. We are not well prepared for any other kind of lifestyle.

We don't know how to grow our food, and we keep on pretending that we really believe that this kind of lifestyle will go on forever (at least, it seems most people vote for politicians that say such things).

Our schools should teach the kids about alternatives, and local and national governments should stop rewarding bad behaviour, and quickly help us all prepare to change.

Tonen General does, however say this, that I agree with. In their programs for environment, safety and health, they note that

TonenGeneral works to preserve the environment by setting goals and implementing programs, and manages outcomes for the following issues.
  • Reduction of energy consumption
  • Reduction of sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide and benzene emissions
  • Reduction of industrial waste and increased recycling
I wish the driver of the truck this morning had included "reduce" in the tape message played over and over again.

Great photo of vintage advertising signs from marcy144's blog dedicated to Ryu Sakamoto and Kochi, Shikoku - can you spot the "Tiger Brand Oil" ad?

More vintage signs over at Kazetaro Report!

(Click images to enlarge)

Japan Hoarded Tuna To Keep Sushi Price Down?

Astonishing - the Japanese government admits to having hoarded some 25,000 tonnes of tuna, thus "there is no reason to fear tuna prices will spike or that the inventories of tuna will run out," the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries said at a news conference, according to Kyodo News.

Hirotaka Akamatsu inherited this problem - and the inventory - from the LDP government, but that doesn't make his comment less silly.

Japan has about 25,000 tons of bluefin and southern bluefin tuna in inventory — most in the past decade. Because there is ample inventory, the agency predicts tuna prices are unlikely to rise anytime soon.

Commenting on the decision Sunday by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas to slash the annual bluefin catch limit by some 40 percent in 2010, Akamatsu said, "It's good that we can continue fishing for tuna."

Of course the government knew that quotas would be reduced. Negotiations have been going on for years at the ICCAT. Monaco even proposed a complete ban on trade in maguro, the Atlantic blue fin tuna, to save the dwindling stocks. There would still be Pacific tuna coming to Japan, according to The Asahi, so fret not, the government has a plan. Or at least they say they do. Or at least until March, 2010, when the ban will be discussed again at the conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

...a one-year moratorium on bluefin tuna fishing was discussed as an alternative to the proposed trade ban. The moratorium would be an attempt to restore trust in the ICCAT while also allowing fishing to continue.

However, nations with large fish farms opposed the one-year moratorium.

In a compromise, the catch for 2010 was limited to 13,500 tons. The number could be lowered further after the ICCAT's Standing Committee on Research and Statistics conducts a study on the availability of the fish in 2010.

The deal also includes an emergency provision that would impose a fishing ban should an unexpected situation arise, such as finding a smaller number of young fish. The Standing Committee on Research and Statistics recommended in November 2008 that 15,000 tons was an appropriate annual catch for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Due to resistance from large tuna farming nations such as Spain and France, the ICCAT earlier set annual catch limits of 22,000 tons for 2009, 19,950 tons for 2010 and 18,500 tons for 2011. That move was criticized by environmental conservation groups.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

BB King in Tokyo 1989: All Over Again

In November 1989 I was lucky enough to see BB King perform with Irish band U2 in Yokohama. The Arena is a great place for music and I was very close to the stage, up on the right side.

Last week, George W Bush was in town and as I walked down the street in Waseda, there were a lot of police cars and tension. If you read The Asahi you know that Mr. Bush only talked about baseball, and questions about Afghanistan or Iraq "were not allowed."

Not a very good way to contribute to the spread of free speech, liberty, and democracy, on a major university campus in Japan, but, hey, what do you expect. A friend of mine laughed when I complained and made hands movement, indicating that Mr Bush was just a 文楽 (bunraku).

Today, Mr Obama is visiting, and NHK notes that "Obama said that the United States belongs to the Asia-Pacific region, and that he considers it important to strengthen the alliance with Japan for the sake of the region."

Kings, presidents, emperors... We expect a lot more from our dear leaders.

...the Emperor said: "As Japan is undergoing an aging population and harsh economic conditions, I understand that you have various concerns and pains. While I give thought to the fact that the Japanese have built up what we are today through extreme efforts out of the ruins of the post-war period, I hope that you will work together to give your best to build a better society."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whistleblower (Again) At Oil Agency: What Does It Mean For Japan?

Whistleblower, or just an anonymous source for The Guardian? The story is very similar to last year, as the International Energy Agency releases its annual World Energy Outlook. Is it just a clever tactic to get more media attention to an issue that governments do not want to talk about?

But first, look at the graph. What do you actually see here? The only "real" oil is the darker blue field. The reality is we will not be having even half of the petrolium in just 20 years. The graph says, start reducing consumption, now.

The increase in "other" forms of oil or energy is just a mirage. Note that the real oil supply is now officially expected to drop - a lot. This is not a graph made by "peak oil theorists" but based on official figures and estimates. Finally, we are being told the truth. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the big story of this week...

Actually, in February 2009 a very similar story hit the news, and I wrote about it over at Treehugger: Peak Oil: So Now It's Official (Or Not?) and almost exactly a year ago there was another whistleblower story related to the IEA (also promptly denied): World Will Struggle To Meet Oil Demand, Says International Energy Agency

Indeed, a strange case of anonymous tips to media, which then are used to slowly tell the general public something important.

China will never be able to "reach" the kind of oil consumption levels that the US or Western Europe had until now. But Japan is currently hoping that China's economy will continue to grow, and that they will continue to increase consumption. That's a model not based on reality. (Exporting Shinkansen technology is still a pretty good idea, but make sure the Chinese are building the trains rather than shipping them from Japan).

For Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, countries that rely to such a large degree on imported oil, we know it is time to start changing lifestyles. Buy a very good bicycle and forget about government incentives to buy a new "Eco-car" because car companies will not be able to handle this: there are no environmentally friendly cars. We will not even be able to maintain our asphalt roads (they need a lot of tar, another oil-based product that we take for granted in the era of cheap imports from the Middle East). Thinking of buying an expensive flat in a "Mansion" high above the ground? Probably not such a good idea - expect prices to fall as people want to move away from cities. Most important: start supporting your local farmers, and talk to them about how to grow food in a sustainable way, without a lot of chemical fertilizer (they need a lot of natural gas, also in increasingly short demand, to make NPK), and stop buying so much imported cheap stuff. Another thing to do is - prepare yourself mentally for your "kurashi" here in a very different Japan.

For example, The Asahi notes that METI's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy has prepared a gasoline rationing system using magnetic cards, to be used in a crisis. Note that their global energy predictions are still assuming increased oil demand, which, as we are now seeing, is not going to happen in reality.

But back to The Guardian's remarkable article:

The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.

Read more:
The Guardian: Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower

TIME: After the Recession, Will the World Face an Energy Crisis?
CNBC: Peak Oil Closer Than IEA Forecasts Show: Report
The China Post (Taiwan): IEA 'whistleblower' says peak oil nearing

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lake Hinuma, Early Morning

Photo from Sweet Bluesette, click to enlarge. Magic.

40 Million People In Japan Have Allergies

Some 40 million people have allergies in Japan, according to the Japan Allergy Foundation. They don't have an English website, even though information about allergies in Japan should be made widely available - don't you think? The Japanese Society for Allergology has English studies, but most are pdf documents. Their October 2009 Vol 58 issue 4 (in print) had a focus on food allergy- someone should make all of this information available in a more accesible way!

According to a new study by Ito and Urisu (pdf), food allergies affect 12.8% of infants in Japan. 5.1% of 3-year olds and 1.3-2.6% of school-age kids in Japan have food allergies, causing a number of problems, "particularly in terms of providing lunches to the affected children."

I had a chance today to speak to some 30-40 mothers and others with an interest in food allergies in Omiya, north of Tokyo. The theme was "Slow food" so I had prepared a presentation about issues from Sweden as well as current topics here in Japan.

Slow Japan

I introduced traditional Swedish foods and explained how organically labelled foods have become so popular thanks to government support, reaching 10-20% in many cases. We also talked about Satoyama Initiative and the Green Lantern in Japan, as restaurants are increasingly better connected to local farmers.

I got a lot of questions about food safety, ranging from labels ("Can we trust them?") to deeper issues ("Why does my child have food allergies?") .

I have talked many times about these topicss, and my main points are:

  • People with allergies are not "weak" - you are strong!
  • People with allergies know more than most other people about health
  • People with allergies can teach others about environmental problems
In fact, the more I learn about allergies, especially food allergies, I am convinced that it is a strong message to people to change their habits, to educate themselves, and to get involved in the debate about food, farming, and our future.

Young mothers especially may suddenly find that all they know is "wrong" and they have to quickly study and understand more about food - ingredients, farming practices, traceability, labelling issues. They notice immediately if their baby is not feeling well. They cannot afford to make mistakes! Consequently, they are happy to discover organic food makers and others with a strong commitment to food safety.

Wow, I'm sorry to say I can't find any good websites in English if you have questions about food allergies in Japan...

Thanks to NPO Millet for inviting me today, best wishes to all of you.

Allergy links:

Ministry of Health: Food Allergy (English)
Japan Allergy Foundation (Kyushu branch, Japanese only)
Japan Allergy & Asthma Network (Japanese only)
Food allergy and Anaphylaxis Partnership (Japanese only)
NPO Millet (Japanese only)
Atopicco (NGO with a focus on food safety, Japanese only)

Kids With Food Allergies (US website in English)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Akihabara Rice: Licolita And The Maids

My friend Sanada-san has done it again. He keeps coming up with great ideas for the unique Licolita-style activism of Akihabara, Tokyo.

Remember when they went to a shrine and blessed a bicycle (because it is so eco) and way back, they did the uchimizu actions to show that you could lower the unbearable heat in summer by throwing water on the pavement by at least 1 degree C. Uchimizukko! So what's new?!

Photos from Akiba kome!

In September, their music event was a big success. Moreover, this fall, they are harvesting rice made in Akihabara. Yup. Roof-top farming in Tokyo's electronic town. They say they need help to do the treshing, and rice cleaning. Who wouldn't want to volunteer?

Can you imagine a better brand? If you participate, you can share the special omelette-rice オムライス (omuraisu).

They have blogged about typhoons and got featured in Japan's major agriculture newspaper. Sanada-san praises the Akihabara maids who made it possible. They note that this helped them “feel the severity of farming” as their harvest was not huge. Maids working as staff at cafes like Misty Heaven, Schatz-kiste and Jam took part.

Deeply caring about global warming, the Licolita group is inviting aspiring manga artists to contribute characters to help everyone deal with the challenges that we all face on planet earth. Only in Tokyo, Japan.

More details and links over at

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Satoyama Initiative: How Can Japan Make It More Well Known?

Japan's Ministry of Environment is trying hard to introduce the Satoyama Initiative. They are using Youtube (but not allowing the wonderful 10 minute long video by Green TV Japan to be embedded - why?)

- Yet it is a very worthwhile project, with images from Aritagawa, Tsurugashima, and Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Asia:

Youtube: The Satoyama Initiative:Toward a rural society in harmony with nature

Japan gave the name of the Satoyama Initiative to establishment of universal philosophy for sustainable maintenance and use of natural resources such as Satoyama Landscape and the efforts to promote it, and now propose and address it to the world.

The English is so-so, yet don't let that hold you back. There is more - much more - over at the website, Satoyama Initiative:

Satoyama landscape, a traditional Japanese socio-ecological production system, is an example of multi-functional land use practiced in many parts of the world.

Satoyama-like landscapes have sustained millions of people for thousands of years. Yet, with the various forces of modernization and urbanization, such systems are being undermined or abandoned, and many ecosystems degraded and the corresponding communities weakened. In recognition of the potential of satoyama-like land use systems to enhance human well-being and biodiversity, the Satoyama Initiative aims to promote the rebuilding of sustainable ties between humans and the natural environment through optimized use and management of land and natural resources.

The Satoyama Initiative is a global effort led by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies. The hope is that Satoyama will be a part of the CBD/post Nagoya 2010 strategy. I like it - a lot. With all the talk about climate change, now is the time to focus on real issues, and loss of biodiversity is not negotiable. Without seeds and breeds, we have no food.

Traditional satoyama-like landscapes are those shaped and maintained by humans. While leading lives centered on agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishing, the human inhabitants exert an influence on the local natural environment through land and natural resource usage and management techniques. These practices are conducted in accordance with the local area’s special natural features and ecological processes: thus satoyama-like landscapes help conserve biodiversity. Further, the diverse ecosystem services provided by these landscapes contribute to resolving food security, poverty, energy and climate change challenges.

The CBD Executive Secretary Dr. Djoghlaf (who was born in Algeria, north Africa) notes that in Nagoya, the Satoyama Initiative will be used by other countries to continue benefiting from knowledge and traditions to protect this knowledge for themselves and for future generations. And how to highlight the scientific aspects of this old tradition of living in harmony with nature...

Rice seed varieties image from Sweet Pepper Cafe, including the popular koshihikari, akitakomachi, red rice, black rice, genmai, and many more!

Biodiversity: Japan Urged To Do More Before Nagoya UN Meeting

Last week was busy with several visitors from international NGOs who are urging Japan to make more efforts to prepare for the UN Conference in Nagoya in October, 2010 about biodiversity.

Consumers Union of Japan and other NGOs were able to bring Christine von Weizsäcker of Ecoropa, co-founder of Diverse Women for Biodiversity, and the CBD Alliance to Japan. She visited Nagoya and Tokyo to discuss the Convention on Biodiversity which she has followed closely since its early stages; thus she knows in detail how this terrific global treaty was created.

In Tokyo, she made a presentation for some 25 newly elected members of the Japanese Parliament and 200 other guests, before meeting with Aseed, a local NGO. The next evening she was suddenly invited to talk directly with the new Minister of the Environment. Christine is especially concerned with the issue of liability and redress - what will happen if farmers find that genetically modified crops have contaminated their fields?

Clear rules are needed, and countries in Africa and Asia are demanding it, as they cannot afford to lose their biodiversity to monoculture farming with novel GMOs using patented traits that require applications of herbicides. Farmers who saved seed for generations also want benefits from sharing their knowledge. Japanese farmers and consumers are increasingly aware of the risks, and hope that the Nagoya meeting will finalize the treaty on these issues.

Christine von Weizsäcker comes from Germany and is affiliated the Federation of German Scientists (VDW). She has been a civil society observer of the preparatory negotiations of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Convention on Biological Diversity. She tries to influence discussions and decisions in the conference rooms on: the international liability regime, the Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) regime, agrofuels/biofuel issues, a moratorium on genetically engineered trees, protected areas respecting the rights and livelihoods of local communities, agricultural biodiversity, and public participation.

I hope that the decisions at MOP and COP will indeed be good for cultural and biological diversity. Diversity needs justice -
not to despair and to stay wide awake and fully focused in negotiations at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Christine has participated in Planet Diversity with Japanese activists including Amagasa Keisuke last year in Bonn, because she believes that success needs good work inside the conference rooms but also a lot of pressure from outside.

On October 30, NHK World interviewed Jeffrey McNeely, senior science advisor of IUCN, who was in Kobe for a meeting on related issues as Japan is preparing for the 2010 UN Meeting.

Kobe Biodiversity Dialogue in 2009

"Different industry sectors on biodiversity will be introduced and discussion will be made on future challenges on business and biodiversity." You get the picture. Even Nippon Keidanren Committee on Nature Conservation was taking part, as this was a very official event... Japan's new initiative, called Satoyama, was discussed as Japan tries to work with other countries in Asia and elsewhere:

To look at landscapes that are like Satoyama, which are very important agricultural landscapes. They have a lot of diversity of crops, they have trees, they have medicinal plants. They grow rice where the water is clean. They are very interesting agricultural systems that have evolved over hundreds of years. And these are the kinds of ecosystems that also need to be saved.

Video in English at NHK World Saving Biodiversity

(I wish NHK World would allow embedding of their English videos, and why don't they provide any explanatory text, or at least a brief introduction?)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Expect Higher Tax On Cigarettes In Japan

In Japan, a box of Marlboro Lights costs just around 320 yen, compared with 600 yen to 800 yen in the European Union. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters on Friday that a hike in the tobacco tax is ''possible'' considering the adverse effects of smoking on public health and the environment. Even The Wall Street Journal paid attention:

Japan's new administration is considering raising cigarette taxes to European levels to help pay for an ambitious domestic spending plan, in a potential threat to partially state-owned Japan Tobacco Inc.

Japan Tobacco, which sells the Mild Seven, Camel and Salem brands, has a 65% market share in Japan. Tonight, TV7 provided the following figures for the tax part on the cost of a pack of fags around the world:

1,186 Yen (731 Yen tax)
829 Yen (491 Yen tax)
644 Yen (385 Yen tax)
300 Yen (174 Yen tax)

In other words, tax revenue on cigarettes is still much lower in Japan than in other countries. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare last week asked the government's tax panel to increase the tobacco tax by 10 yen per cigarette which would push up the price. But in October last year, JT enlisted customers "in a campaign to stop the government from raising cigarette taxes, " according to Blomberg:

Consumers opposed to the proposal to increase retail cigarette prices by as much as threefold should fill in a petition at tobacco retailers, by mobile phone or on the Internet, the Tokyo-based company, which is 50 percent owned by the government, said..."

Seems odd, but a lot has changed since then. If you smoke, Japan's new government just may want you to pay a little bit more for that pleasure. I think I will label that as "progress."

Mainichi: Lack Of GMO Information For Processed Syrup

Are consumers ready for this? Japan imports and makes corn syrup (HFCS) which could be genetically modified. The rules for GM labelling were imposed a decade ago, but ignored the fact that many additives like lecitin or processed sugars can come from GM crops. No genetically modified crops are farmed commercially in Japan, but as noted previously here on Kurashi, avoiding GMO (genetically modified organisms) can be difficult.

The Mainichi surveyed major drink manufacturers Asahi Soft Drinks Co., Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Kirin Beverage Co., Sapporo Beverage Co., Suntory Holdings Ltd., Coca-Cola (Japan) Co., Pokka Corp. and Yakult Honsha Co. about their use of GM ingredients in their soft drinks.

Coca Cola simply refuses to tell, while Otsuka, maker of Pocari Sweat and Soy Joy, claims they do not use GMO.

The rest frankly admit that they use GM corn for the High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

"Most HFCS manufacturers have begun switching to GM ingredients, so it has become impossible to secure a steady supply of HFCS that does not use such ingredients," explained Yakult. Meanwhile, Otsuka Pharmaceutical said they do not use GM ingredients, and Coca-Cola said they could not disclose information that was not required by law.

According to existing regulations, GM labeling is mandatory for such foods as tofu, natto (fermented soybeans) and snacks made from corn, but not for foods such as HFCS and soybean oil because the manipulated genes are broken down or eliminated during processing.

Center for Science in the Public Interest has noted that HFCS is not a “natural” ingredient due to the high level of processing and the use of at least one GMO enzyme required to produce it. In fact this complex process was invented by a Japanese researcher, Dr. Yoshiyuki Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan in 1974. He later worked for Hokkaido Sugar and at MITI.

HFCS (High-fructose corn syrup) is called 異性化糖(いせいかとう) iseika-to, but can also be found in mixtures called:
  • ブドウ糖果糖液糖 dextroglucose fructose liquid sugar (used in most foods and baked goods; approximately 42% fructose and 58% glucose)
  • 果糖ブドウ糖液糖 fructose dextroglucose liquid sugar (mostly used in soft drinks)
  • 高果糖液糖 high fructose liquid sugar, (= 90% fructose, 10% glucose)