Thursday, December 31, 2009

Susan Boyle On Kouhaku: Japan's 60th White Vs. Red

Kouhaku is NHK's way to end the year for all of us here in Nippon, all 120 million plus, with their fancy makeup, bad huge haircuts, gorgeous silly suits and outrageously flamboyant kimonos too.

The "red" team or akagumi (赤組, 紅組) is composed of female artists while the "white" team or shirogumi (白組) is all male.

What we call red can be written both as aka and the more chrimsom kou, thus the name.

Tonight is the 60th anniversary of this show, since 1951, when it was only on radio. A live show, nothing ever goes wrong, and there are hundreds of people to make sure that is always the case. While your grandmother enjoys the enka or uncle sings along to the pop, they make sure you can enjoy the latest best-selling bands like Churu-chuw or Flumpool. The additional fun includes nostalgic flashbacks with artists who haven't done so well lately, just to remind you of the つらい tsurai (hard times) and a Heal The World tribute to Michael Jackson.

Japan's Kouhaku, the insipration for the Eurovision Song Contest, which started in 1956?

South Korean, Russian, American and even one Latvian, Laima Vaikule, and a few others from other countries have been invited to this special New Years Eve show.

This year, the theme was 歌の力 uta no chikara (the power of song) and they even invited Susan Boyle from Scotland, who made such a splash at Britain's Got Talent.

Well done, Susan, I loved your "Hope I can return the compliment" comment, that was from the heart.

今年4月、イギリスの人気オーディション番組「ブリテンズ・ゴット・タレント」に出場。その美しく澄んだ歌声で会場を圧倒し、またインターネットの動画サ イトを通して、その歌唱シーンに世界中で3億回以上のアクセスがあったという、スーザン・ボイル。まさに、歌が持つ力で夢をつかみ、世界中を感動で包みこ みました。


Enjoy 2010, Gott Nytt År.

Update: NHK has already been busy this morning and gotten the clip from 12 hours ago removed from YouTube. Here is a clip from UK television with her Britan's Got Talent performances.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fanny And Alexander

This is a great scene from Ingmar Bergman's 1982 film Fanny And Alexander, set in Uppsala around 1907. A lot has happened since then, or, as they say here in Japan, warm water under a red bridge.

My memories of Jul (Yule, Christmas, クリスマス) hardly even touch on a tangent on some of the scenes that Bergman explore here. He was indeed born in a different era, in a different state of mind, that some would call "upper class" whatever that may mean.

His anger and angst, to use the German word, also may not be so well understood.

Bergman is very popular in Japan - and even in America, this film got 4 Oscars. Well done.

Do rent the full version, do enjoy it in its entire fullness, all of Bergman's greatness, with moments of brilliance and truth, like this scene when Isak tells the children an ancient story, of how a young man sets out on a journey. But why?

He has also forgotten his homeland, and the final goal,
Suddenly one evening he is standing in a forest
All is quiet; perhaps the sunset wind is heard in the tall trees
He stands in astonishment...
...but he is also anxious and suspicious
He is alone... and he hears nothing...
And he discovers that his hearing is poor...
...because his ears are blocked up
He sees nothing, because his eyes are
Dazzled by the merciless glare of the daylight

His throat is parched and his cracked lips are pressed around curses

Thus he does not hear the ripple of flowing, streaming water
He does not see the shining stream in the dusk

He stands deaf and blinded just next to the spring...
...and does not know it is there

Thanks Jean at TTT for reminding me of this.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Hercule Poirot: How Does Your Garden Grow?

I can only hope that you are all having a jolly good holiday, wherever you are, in Japan or anywhere else on this precious planet. Thank you for visiting Kurashi, and a very God Jul to all of you.

May I introduce an episode of the 1991 Hercule Poirot series, called How Does Your Garden Grow? It is set in 1935, in a Britain that was once so great, with a treat: how the RHS Chelsea Flower Show might have looked back then.

You will enjoy Poirot proudly presenting his polyanthas rose (with a strong fragrance) and Chief Inspector Japp noting that Poirot would not have been very interested in the "hybrid tea" roses that were so popular around that time. I just love that kind of attention to detail!

Rose breeding is a bit of a futile hobby, if I may say so, with a lot of effort to achieve what nature does not approve of, in the long term. Many varieties look fantastic, but they will not be sustained beyond that one plant. After the plant dies, you have nothing left. That is indeed man's folly. We think we can create, by transmogrifying the laws of nature, but it is rather futile. Plants and some animal breeds are just that - a mirage. They will last a single generation, not more, not less. Also, most hybrids do not have any fragrance, as the energy goes into making fancy petals and colours instead.

That is a key concern related to "sustainable development" as we need to think long-term, not just try to profit from that first success. Biological diversity, we are beginning to understand, takes much more time to thrive, than we humans are currently used to. Also, we need to consider how the wild relatives are preserved, to provide the genetic diversity necessary.

Ulf Nordfjell won Best in Show and a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, according to BBC:

"I really would like to encourage the younger generation to see how you can unite interesting architecture and design with horticultural sustainability," says Ulf. It's this supremely practical approach with an underlying deep affinity and respect for nature that shines through Ulf's work in Sweden and elsewhere. This garden may take its inspiration from Britain, but it has a Scandinavian soul.

Many famous European roses in the 20th century had Chinese (Rosa chinensis) or Japanese roots, often using wild varieties of Rosa rugosa to create new varieties. Rosa rugosa was introduced to Sweden in the 1780s by Carl Peter Thunberg, when he came back from his long journey all the way to Edo era Japan.

ハマナス Hamanasu (Rosa rugosa) or Japanes rose is related to Rose hip, or what we call Nypon in Swedish. Nypon sounds very much like "Nippon" to me - could the name have something to do with the origin?

The China rose, or the Rosa chinensis, has been a source of many varieties that we enjoy today: The desirable traits evident in the China roses found their way to European breeders by way of four distinct imports that arrived between 1792 and 1824, named the China stud roses.

In 1983, a Japanese botanist working in China named Mikinori Ogisu also found R. chinensis var. spontanea. His discovery occurred on a dry, west-facing slope in the Ichang Gorge of the Yangtze Kiang River , within the secondary forests of Leibo County , Hubei Province. He described a wide range of flower colors on various plants of this particular population, depending upon their elevation, which ranged between 1,560 and 1,850 meters. He noted that flower color changes from pale pink to crimson due to exposure to the elements and to pollination. At lower altitudes, flower color was seen to develop quickly to a deep crimson, while at higher elevations there appeared a slower and less noticeable color change, with both pale pink and crimson flowers occurring on the same plant. He considers a cultivated variety named R. chinensis ‘Sanguinea’ (also called the Bengal Crimson 1 and depicted by Redouté) to demonstrate similar characteristics. Over a 10-year period of exploration in Sichuan , Ogisu found 10 locations where native stands of the species occurred, including a pure white-flowered population. As seen in previously discovered populations, these flowered only once, in early to in mid-summer.

Mikinori Ogisu, the Indiana Jones of Botany.

The China Roses have a mysterious origin. Although there is no evidence of how they were developed, they are the product of a rich culture of ingenious people. They were not seen in art before the tenth century, were not a part of mythology, and little is known of their history. What we do know is that they were cultivated for many centuries in China; however, the Chinese did not prize the rose as they did the chrysanthemum, which appears in their art from long times past.

From China Roses of Zhengzhou

"How Does Your Garden Grow?" is a question in the English nursery rhyme. Poirot also receives a special gift, an empty bag of seeds from the Unwins Seed Co, a company that started out in the early 1900s selling sweet peas:

It was back in 1903 that William Unwin sold his first sweet pea seeds. However, the story starts two years earlier, in the summer of 1901. One evening, after choir practice, he was showing two fellow choristers round the many rows of sweet peas he grew to send to the flower markets in London.

William was soon hybridising sweet peas, and offering large flowered forms in a wide range of colours. By 1914 he had been joined in the business by his son Charles, who went on to become one of the leading sweet pea breeders of the 20th Century.

If you enjoy this epsiode of Poirot, you will also find many others on YouTube, or in your local video shop.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice In Japan: Yuzu Bath, O-Mochi, And More

Today is the shortest day of the year, as the planet tilts away from the sun and we have winter solstice here on the northern hemisphere. It is called 冬至 (tōji) and the same kanji are traditionally used in China, Korea and Vietnam as well. More details on wikipedia for Dongzhi Festival. In Korea they serve a special dish with rice dumplings and red azuki beans, on this day. It is called Dongji Patjuk, and Food in Korea has more details:

While making Patjuk as a seasonal food, they put pieces of glutinous rice cake shaped as a bird's egg, which has honey inside. This food also goes on the table for the memorial service and is often thrown into the door as a gesture to drive away misfortunes. On Dongji, each family make Patjuk to eat, and this is made by the process of mashing boiled red-beans or sieving them and making pieces of glutinous rice cake with the water the red-beans boiled in as the amount of bird's eggs would be. This rice cake is called 'Saealsim'. The finished Patjuk is put in the sanctuary first, and after putting it on some corners of the house, the members of the family gather at a place and get to eat it.

Here in Japan, the red azuki beans are popular in all kinds of snacks (including yōkan) with a mild sweet flavour that I like, and a soup called ozensai has o-mochi and azuki beans as the main ingredients.

However, often the products with azuki beans have other artificial flavours as well.

The term "traditional food" should be better respected and protected, and not be used for any kind of item the food industry may want to profit from.

What is o-mochi? Square cakes or balls of glutinous rice, which can symbolize reunion (because they are so sticky?) are called mochi, and it is a fantastic food to make you feel warm around this time of the year. Earlier this month, I was given genmai mochi and kusa mochi, two types that I hadn't tried before. Genmai mochi is made from genmai rice, and has a more rich texture. The kusa mochi contains the pale green herb yomogi, or mugwort (Artemisia princeps).

Mugwort, with its bitter flavour, is the ingredient that gives Swedish bäsk its special punch, and you couldn't make a Dry Martini without Vermouth, which also has mugwort or wormwood for that special hint of absinthe - but I could be wrong.

Kitazawa Seed has a variety of mugwort on sale, noting that it can be used in many dishes for cooks that want something extra: "Young leaves can be boiled, stewed or used fresh, but a little of their strong flavor goes a long way."

Making mochi the traditional way? You need a wooden bowl, preferable very heavy and stable. Place the rice cake inside and start pounding with a wooden club.

Easy? Yes, but it takes two to play. One person swings the club, hitting the rice, as the other (bravely) turns the rice by hand to make the pounding more even, as the gluten needs to be processed vigorously to aquire the right texture.

To make it even better, two people can swing the clubs, and with regular shouts, everyone will do their best to follow the rythm, to avoid injury.

I like slow food, but making mochi the traditional way sometimes requires a lot of speed!

Mochi de yomogi: Preparació d'un mochi de yomogi en una pastisseria de Nara (Japó).

But as I searched for images of 冬至 for this post, google gave me a lot of hits for something completely different. It turns out many people associate winter solstice in Japan with taking a hot bath, and adding lots of yuzu, the aromatic citrus fruit, to the waters. As I write this post, it has already gotten dark outside...

(Images of yuzu bath from Tateshina Park Hotel and Kahoku)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No Real Deal In Copenhagen - And Where Was Hatoyama?

There has been no real agreement at the end of the COP 15 climate change conference in Copenhagen, a huge loss of opportunity as world leaders met to agree to a legally binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

From the news reports this morning, one thing is clear: Japan did virtually nothing to fascilitate the negotiations. Where was Prime Minister Hatoyama? It was left to Environment Minister Ozawa to talk to the press, and announce "about 1.75 trillion yen over the three years through 2012 to support efforts by developing nations to fight global warming," according to The Yomiuri.

Japan's offer sounds good until you read the fine print:

Ozawa explained that some of the funding will be in Yen loans, and Ozawa said implementation of the funding was conditional on COP15 participants agreeing on a political accord that establishes a framework for fair and effective cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, including aggressive reduction targets for all the major emitting countries.

"If this condition isn't met, [the offer of funding] will cease to be an international promise," Ozawa emphasized.

The Times argues that it was the US who failed to live up to expectations:

The one positive outcome for developing countries was a commitment by rich countries to provide $30 billion of climate aid over the next three years and $100 billion a year from 2020. The US announced by far the lowest pledge. It will contribute $3.6 billion between 2010 and 2012, while Japan will give $11 billion and the European Union $10.6 billion.

The Times: Copenhagen deadlock wrapped up as emissions deal

As far as I can see, there has been no official comment from Japan's government or from Prime minister Hatoyama himself. That shows a lack of awareness about what is at stake. The Kyoto Protocol will now expire, and Japan had virtually nothing else to offer than an empty promise.

You can read the brief Hatoyama Initiative as a pdf document on the official government page, with the $11 billion pledge, but why Hatoyama's name should be on this is beyond me - that's public funds, not his own money. Perhaps he could have asked his rich mother for some advice?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Organic Cotton Jeans For Xmas - Muji and H&M Leading The Way

Muji, the Japanese no-brand brand offers pesticide-free jeans made from organically produced cotton. Their bedlinens and other stuff are also made from 100 per cent certified Fairtrade and/or organic cotton.

Muji joins H&M, the Swedish chain, to answer the call from aware consumers who want to know what they are buying - both companies are leaders in the garment industry, with shops all over the world. OK, I don't like multi-national brands so much, but when they do make an effort, they deserve praise. It is fantastic that Muji is now making organic cotton available all over Japan. At Muji stores, you can find items made from organic cotton: no pesticides, non-GMO, and generally a much better feeling.

Certified organic means farmers and processors are following rules that are subject to inspections and checks by independent organizations: You know that you get what you pay for.

Muji Women's Regular Organic Denim Jeans

Muji Mens Regular Organic Denim Jeans

Muji Organic Inner Wear

Over at Japan's H&M, they publish CSR reports, with ambitious data. Do click through the icons (note the "Green is the new black" and "No to child labour" contents), in English.

Watch the H&M CSR Film (English, with Japanese subtitles) - good information about how the company deals with dangerous substances in the production chain, and the H&M requirements. If you don't care about what you buy, don't bother, but it is good to see that some companies are making such effort:

"The list includes several hundres of substances. Some of the chemicals is [sic] not really relevant for our consumers, but are very dangerous for the factory workers. They can be cancerogenic, or harmful for the neurological system. That's why we have them on our list. To ensure that our suppliers comply with the chemical restrictions, first of all they need to sign the Chemical Restrictions Compliance Commitment, where they agree to comply with the restrictions... We are doing a lot of follow up. We are educating our suppliers, we are also testing a lot of production samples. Should we find something in our products, we can, and will, cancel and stop that product." - H&M video

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seeds For Life: Interview With Noguchi Isao

Over at Consumers Union of Japan, we published the first part of an interview with Noguchi Isao, who runs a small, independent seed shop in Hanno, Saitama:

In 2004, Noguchi’s seed shop got an unusual request from a TV program. The reporter and actor Fumio Watanabe contacted the shop, saying he wanted to eat “old” style vegetables. The staff of the program initially visited the shop in Hanno city, and they talked at length with Noguchi about heirloom varieties and veggies with names like Hanshiro kyuuri (half white cucumber that was popular in Tokyo in the Meiji era) and Izumi mizunasu (water eggplant from the Izumi area of Osaka which is particularly suitable for pickling).

A photograph of the famous actor together with Noguchi was displayed in the shop window. This prompted a customer from a local newspaper to ask if Noguchi was always enjoying such delicious heirloom vegetables.

Of course, as the old saying goes, “seeing is believing,” or “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In Japan, Noguchi explains, the saying is “hyakku bun ha hitokuchi ni shikazu” or, loosely translated: “One bite is worth a hundred words.” He sees it as his mission to educate people about the great taste of “old” varieties of vegetables, and the importance of using heirloom seed for local varieties that are well suited to the climate, the geological features, and the soil.

Since ancient times, farmers would carefully select seed from vegetables that grew well and tasted wonderful, in addition to other characteristics including shape and color. By continuously saving such seed, season after season, the regular native seed (sometimes called heirloom varieties to emphasize that they are regarded as an important cultural heritage) that became trusted as stable varieties over long time periods.

(Photo from the 1950s or early 1960s of the old Noguchi seed shop, from the Noguchi Seed website)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Japan's Companies CSR Reports In Focus: Asahi

When I was doing the research for my book, Nippon Shoku no anzen ranking 555 (Japan Food Safety Ranking 555) I noticed that many food companies in Japan had very detailed CSR reports and impressive environmental strategies. Several also had clear goals to reduce CO2 emissions, reduce water use, avoid genetically modified organisms, and use more locally procured - and organic ingredients.

It is not always the case that the companies achieve all of their goals, but, if you read their annual Corporate Social Responsibility reports and track their progress, you get a picture of how they get a grip on issues like emissions.

This trend is highlighted by a post over at where Miyagi Koshiro and Ken note that in a survey of 55 Japanese companies, 95% of Companies Have Quantitative GHG Reduction Targets.

e’s Inc, founded by environmental journalist Junko Edahiro released a report on 55 companies surveyed on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. According to the report, of the 55 companies surveyed, 52 or 95% had set quantitative goals.

Other important points are:

1. Long term vision

2. Goals were for overall operation, not on a per-quantity basis

3. Emissions from production and internal transportation included

The eight companies that cleared each of the above points are Ricoh, Epson, INAX, Toshiba, Sompo Japan, JR East, Lion, and Shimizu Corporation.
The following four companies also have long-term goals equating to reductions of 60-80%: • Epson: 90% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 from 2006 levels • Ricoh: 87.5% reduction in overall environmental impact by 2050 from 2000 levels • INAX: 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels • Lion: 67% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels

The second tier of companies, in this report, includes Asahi Beer, Sapporo Beer, Suntory, Kao.

Asahi Beer, for example, has been doing quite a lot:

Asahi Breweries, Ltd., a major Japanese brewer, announced on August 25, 2009, the second round of a project that donates a portion of the proceeds from its main product, Asahi Super Dry beer, to prefectures where the sales take place. The donations fund local efforts to preserve the natural environment and cultural heritage sites. This is the second round of this same project which was implemented this past spring, and raised a total of 219,792,528 yen (about U.S.$2.4 million) nationwide.

Japan for Sustainability: Asahi Breweries to Donate Part of Sales Proceeds for Environmental Protection

We can also look in more detail at this particular company, starting with Asahi's CSR page (English):

In 2000, this company decided that by 2010, they would reduce CO2 emissions by 30% (basic units). They also wanted to acheive 100% recycling at all business units by 2010.

By 2008, they collected 100.4% of bottles, and by 2007 they collected 92.7% of aluminum cans. That is pretty impressive. However, they still use a lot of energy, including city gas, A-grade heavy oil, and electric power.

In 1990, Asahi Brewery had Co2 emissions of 309,000 tonnes. This was reduced to 267,000 tonnes by 2008. They also increasingly collect CO2 in tanks (rather than emit it directly into the atmosphere), and they have reduced CO2 emissions during transportation from 100,433 tonnes in 1990 to 87,162 in 2008.

Asahi beers are non-GMO but I'm disappointed that they still have not introduced even a single organic beer in the Japanese market: I mentioned organic beer in Japan in this old post about Tokyo's Earth Market from 2007, and Kat & Satoshi noted that:

Made by the Yahho Brewing Company, they have several beers. (Yahho by the way, is what the Japanese yell in the mountains as a kind of yodel, kind of like Yode-lehi-hoo (sorry don't know how to spell it) in other countries.) The organic one is called Shinshu San-San. Shinshu is an area in Nagano prefecture that is known for their soba(buckwheat noodles) and beautiful mountains and san-san (means to shine brilliantly). On the can it is written sun sun (the sun shining brilliantly, get it??). Both the hops and malt are 100% organic from Germany. I was surprised that it was relatively inexpensive. I would have thought since it was organic that it would have been more pricey. I was also surprised that this beer was a little fruity and the foam didn't last too long on top.

In other words, a big company like Asahi can do a lot to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there is still room for improvement, and it is still small companies that are spearheading the movement towards sustainable, organically certified products.

Asahi uses (some) solar and wind power, but it is not much compared to their reliance on fossile fuels. I like their forest program in Hiroshima prefecture which was certified by FSC in 2001. Do have a look at the report (pdf) and let me know what you think.

For my book, another important criteria is food miles.

Now, in Copenhagen, Oxfam is proposing that perhaps food mileage is not so bad, but fair miles are more important:

Food is more than a plateful of emissions. It’s a social, political and economic issue that involves millions of small farmers in poor countries who export produce to the North. They have built lives and livelihoods around this trade. By buying what they grow, you’ve clocked up ‘fair miles’.

In any case, rather than Kirin Beer (with imported ingredients) perhaps I ought to try one of the local sake brands, Tenranzan Kahori, made here in Hanno, Saitama:

We were established in 1897, we were at first a small family owned brewery, and we have grown considerably over the decades. We created the Tenranzan brand name to personify our sake. The name 'Tenranzan' means 'The emperor mountain'. It's nearyby from the brewery. Our brewery is located in central Japan's Hanno-city, in the prefecture of Saitama. It's an area blessed with lush and beautiful natural reserves, fine water, two rivers and mountains.

Igarashi Syuzo Co website (English)

(Top photo: Darell in Japan)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Climate Change Action Day 12 December: Update With Photos

There will be several parades and protests on Saturday December 12, 2009 in Tokyo, Kyoto and other places around Japan. Do participate. Make the Rule is a campaign to set binding targets, not just let business decide what they think is best in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, and helping people become aware of what they can do on a daily basis to combat global warming.

In Tokyo we start 13:00 in Shibuya, in front of NHK (Yoyogi Park Keyaki Namiki Road) or catch up around 13:30 by Shibuya Station.

In Kyoto, meet up in front of City Hall at 14:00.

UPDATE 1: How to Cool the Earth: Vegetables and Walking (Cool Earth Parade@Kyoto Sat, Dec 12th)

UPDATE 2: Here are bunch of photos from Saturday's event in Tokyo. I'd estimate that we had about 300-400 people (NHK Shutoken News says 500 people) in the parade, with drums, speeches, & comedy (including Tora-san, and a mock debate between Obama and Hatoyama, joined by the icebear). Thanks Paul Johannessen and Lena Lindahl for the pictures!

Friday, December 11, 2009

US Car Makers Lie About Japan's Cash For Clunkers Scheme

Blatant lie exposed: The US car industry must really be in deep trouble when they claim that Japan's program to help car owners change their old vehicle to a newer one is unfair, claiming that the program makes "the vast majority of imports ineligible for the program's significant tax cut benefit, regardless of the vehicle's fuel efficiency."

I'm no fan of cars but the rules here do not in any way discriminate against foreign cars. So this is just another ruse from Detroit, which is now going around the internet, making ordinary Americans angry and risking their high blood pressure even more than, say Tiger Woods or Medicare legislation. Come on, read the rules, there is not a word that says "Japanese cars only". All old cars are eligible, and all new ones apply, as long as you buy one that is more fuel efficient.

The American government has a trade representative, the USTR, an office that I don't really understand the meaning of, except that they usually try to pry foreign markets open, and they usually do it in a "shoot first, ask later" kind of way. However, they are now getting into the mess as well:

Carol Guthrie, a spokewoman for the U.S. Trade Representative, said the government was working to address the issue. "USTR is continuing to raise this issue with the Japanese government. Our position remains that changes are necessary to give U.S. vehicles greater opportunity to qualify under Japan's program," Guthrie said today.

Japan's program is pretty simple, and not discriminatory, as far as I can understand. Drivers buying new electric, hybrid or cleaner diesel cas do not have to pay the usual automobile taxes. If you own a clunker that is more than 13 years old and scrap it when purchasing a new one that fits the criteria, you receive a subsidy of either ¥125,000 or ¥250,000, depending on the type of car being scrapped. The problem for US cars is: Japan is providing up to a ¥250,000 ($2,830) tax cut for scrapping a car 13 years old or older toward the purchase of a new vehicle as long as it meets the 2010 fuel efficiency requirements - and US car makers still don't make or sell a whole lot of Hummers or Cadillacs that fall into that category. Discriminatory? Not.


DetNewsCom: Detroit automakers call Japan's 'clunkers' program discriminatory
Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism: 事業用車両(緑ナンバー・黒ナンバー)の環境対応車への買い換え・購入に対する補助制度について
Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry: 環境対応車への買い換え・購入に対する補助制度について
Nikkei Weekly: Summer Edition 2009

Oslo: Huge Anti Nuclear Weapons Demonstration

There was a huge anti nuclear weapons demonstration last night in Oslo as US president Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. The demonstration, a torchlight procession, was arranged by a NGO called Nei til atomvåpen ("No to nuclear weapons) and another official slogan was "With Obama for a nuclear weapon free world." Many peace activists from Fredsinitiativet also participated with banners protesting against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Photo gallery here.

However, this manifestation was mostly ignored by media around the world, which I find tragic and disappointing. BBC managed to mention an earlier protest briefly:

Some anti-war demonstrators gathered outside city hall, where the ceremony was held.

"We are protesting against him because... we don't think he is a man of peace," one of them told AFP news agency.

Then, BBC only had this to say about the 12,000-15,000 who gathered for the massive demonstration in the evening:

In the evening, Mr Obama appeared alongside Michelle on their hotel balcony and waved to a torchlight procession below.

If you read Norwegian, you can get more details from Aftonposten or NRK, the government news channel. According to NRK, some people shouted "Obama, Obama" and "Yes we Can" while the more "critical" shouted:

" one, two, three, four, we don't want the f****** war" and "Bring the troops home".
From the Fredsinitiativet website:

Peace Demonstration December 10th
As the US President, Barack Obama, arrives in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Peace Movement stages a grand demonstration. The main goal of the demonstration is to point at the obligations of the Peace Prize. The event will begin at Jernbanetorget square at 6 pm.

The following are the slogans of the demonstration:

# Change: Stop the War in Afghanistan!

# Yes We Can: Control Arms Trade

# Hope: No Nukes!

# A New Dawn: Stop the Israeli Settlements!

# Cindy Sheehan, US Peace activist

# Alyn Ware, this year's Right Livelihood Award Laureate. New-Zealand-based nuclear disarmament activist.

# Ida Thomassen, leader of the Norwegian Church Aid youth organization Changemaker

# Line Khateeb, leader of the Norwegian Palestine Committee

After their talks, the demonstration will proceed from Jernbanetorget through Karl Johans gate to the south end of Eidsvolds plass, in front of Stortinget (the Parliament building). We will present our message to President Obama, as he appears on the balcony of Grand Hotel at 6.55 pm.

After the event, there will be a free grass-root Peace Concert at Smuget (Rosenkrantz' gate 22).

Organizers: Fredsinitativet, Norges Fredsråd, Hent Soldatene Hjem and Fred og Demokrati i Afghanistan

Participating organizations: Internasjonal kvinneliga for fred og frihet, Sosialistisk Venstreparti, Sosialistisk Ungdom, Rød Ungdom, Oslo AUF, Rødt, Komiteen for et fritt Irak, Fredslaget, Palestinakomiteen, Fellesutvalget for Palestina, Afghanistankomiteen, Norges Kommunistiske parti, Ungkommunistene, KPml, ML-gruppa Revolusjon, EL & IT Forbundet, NTL, Changemaker, Norsk Nærings og Nytelsesmiddelarbeiderforbund, Fellesforbundets Ungdom, Studentorganisasjon for aktivisme og kunnskap, Attac, Norges Kristelige Studentforbund, Miljøpartiet de grønne, IFOR Norge, Komiteen for et fritt Irak, Norges Kommunistiske Ungdomsforbund, Landsrådet for Eelam Tamiler i Norge, Heismontørenes Fagforening

UPDATE: Survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were disappointed by Obama's speech in Oslo in which he said the use of force is sometimes justified:

"He admitted the use of force while also mentioning a world without nuclear weapons and the speech is contradictory in its nature," Kazushi Kaneko, 84, director general of the Hiroshima Council of A- Bomb Sufferers Organizations, said.

"A-bomb survivors and other civilians need to raise their voices to press the president," he said, adding they need to stop relying just on the U.S. president in promoting the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Graveyards, Golf Courses, Forests Or Farmland?

Rural Japan, at least in areas near big cities, should focus on sustainable agriculture, food security and solutions that benefit the people who have lived in such areas for a long time. Yet, there is much at stake. Golf courses have been a problem at least since the 1980s, and now we are beginning to hear that many metropolitan residents have no grave to go to. Such a particular Tokyo problem, and Nikkei has more details:

In Tokyo, 18,000 new graves were needed each year for the 20 years up to 2004, but only 8,000 were available annually. There are indications that there will be a shortage of final resting places for the next 50 years or more.

So, 20-30 years ago, farmland and forests were turned into golf courses. Local citizens protested, tried to lobby the government, held meetings and wanted to stop this madness. Let's hope golf courses are not turned into massive graveyards. We need that land for better things, for the living.

It is one thing to see the road signs and an occasional golfer walk by (most take the special membership-only golf-course buses from the train station). Suddenly, on Google Earth, there was my house (yellow X marks the spot) surrounded by golf courses (red circles)!

One legendary Saitama golf course was first opened back in 1929, designed by Kinya Fujita and renovated by Charles Alison, according to a website called 100 top golf courses of the world. However, a number of environmental scandals involving golf courses came to light in the 1980s, and the government was forced to step in:

In terms of the maintenance of golf links, on the other hand, the utilization of pesticides and chemical fertilizer is commonly made to keep the lawns good in quality, and in recent years there have been mounting concerns about the impacts of pesticides on water in the region. In the midst of this situation, there occurred an accident in which "yamame" (Onchorhynchus masou) and other fish in Hokkaido's hatch-eries were affected by pesticides improperly sprayed at an upstream golf link in November 1989.

The Global Anti-Golf Movement was launched on World No-Golf Day (April 29, 1993) by Mr. Gen Morita, following a three-day conference on Golf Course and Resort Development in the Asia-Pacific Region in Panang, Malaysia from April 26 to 28, 1993. The three sponsoring organizations were the Japan-based Global Network for Anti-Golf Course Action (GNAGA), the Thailand-based Asian Tourism Network (ANTENNA) and the Malaysia-based Asia-Pacific People and Environmental Network (APPEN). Delegates from Hawaii, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand were also present.

I'm lucky, I still have a lot of hills and mountains around me that are in no way at all touched by human development. Yet, at the same time, Google Earth helped open my eyes to the fact that many of our local environmental issues can be close to our backyards, yet not always so obvious.

Where would you like to be buried...? Or do you have other plans?

Nikkei: Many Metropolitan Residents Have No Grave To Go To

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

COP 15: Kiko Network Blogging From Copenhagen

Kiko Network is a Japanese NGO with a focus on climate change. They are based in Kyoto and have three people in Copenhagen who are blogging with lots of photos and videos. They were also featured in the major Danish newspaper Politiken. (Photo: Jens Dresling)

Megumi Ito told the reporter that Japan is experiencing more typhoons and rain, and that the cherry blossoms are blooming earlier than in the past. She is hoping that the blog will help other Japanese and especially young Japanese people understand the climate issues.

Kiko Network website English Japanese
Kiko Network COPMOP Blog Journal (Japanese only)
Kiko Network Volunteer Blog (Japanese only)

There are about 50 Japanese NGOs in Copenhagen for the COP15 meeting, a record number. For the first time ever, Japan's government is also letting NGO delegates participate in the government's official delegation. If anyone has information about other blogs by Japanese activists or NGO participants, please comment.

I hope the Friends of the Earth Japan blog will be more active, only three posts so far ;)

FoEJ website Climate Change Campaign (Japanese)

The OurWorld 2.0 web magazine joined 56 newspapers in 45 countries that are taking the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial:

More blogs:

Eco Singapore has a great blog in English, with updates from the different meetings. They are a group of 21 young students from Singapore, with lots of photos here. They noted:

We met with youth from East and Southeast Asia during a caucus session at the Conference of Youth (COY). Compared to the delegations from Europe, the US and Australia, there were very few youth from our region at COY. At the risk of sounding post-colonialist, it was starkly apparent that the youth from the West played a more active and dominant role in the organisation of COY and in the youth climate movement on the whole. Many of the perspectives shared at COY as well as the ideas and issues discussed were viewed from the lenses of our friends and collaborators from Australia, Europe and the US. While they were insightful and thought-provoking, the silence on Asian issues was starkly apparent.

But Asian youth have a huge stake in climate change too.

Well said, and I will check their blog for updates over the next couple of weeks.

COP 15: Hatoyama Wants To Talk Directly With Obama

The COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen has started and Japanese media seems a little unsure about what they should report: NHK World lets Japan Business Federation Chairman Fujio Mitarai express "dissatisfaction over targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts announced by Europe and the US, as well as by China." Exactly what you would expect from Keidanren, but why is this one of the top stories tonight at NHK:

Mitarai was speaking to reporters on Monday, hours before the opening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP15. The conference is aimed at creating a new framework on climate change to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The United States unveiled a mid-term goal of a 17-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020 from 2005 levels. The European Union set a goal of up to a 30 percent reduction from 1990 levels. Mitarai said judging from the costs, these targets are too low. China, the world's largest emitter of such gases, has announced that it will reduce the intensity of its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent, compared with the level in 2005. Mitarai expressed his appreciation for the announcement but said the calculations suggest that China's greenhouse gas emissions could soar by 70 percent from the 2005 levels. He said that China, as a major emitter, must act in a responsible manner.

Asahi is perhaps more sober, with a top news posted at 00:00 at midnight indicating that governments aim for a "Post-Kyoto" agreement. Asahi has more over at their World Environment Forum website. They also have updates and articles (in Japanese) over at their special Asahi Eco pages.

Mainichi has more detail, with a quote from prime minister Hatoyama, who says he will adjust his schedule because he wants to have talks directly with US president Obama - but actually, the issue of the relocation of the US Futenma military base may be higher on his agenda. Japan's government is making sure that Hatoyama will meet Obama in Copenhagen, no matter what, but if they will discuss climate change or not is not mentioned.

Update: Nikkei also confirms that "Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Monday that the government would inform the United States of its policy on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture by Dec. 18, when he may meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Copenhagen..." with no additional news about climate change or a post-Kyoto deal.

Ito Yoichi over at Nikkei Bio Japan
, with plenty of opinions about BRIC (Brazil, India and China) hopes that he will live to see a great week with many surprises in Copenhagen, as the US and China have already started to make noise to the effect that "change" may be possible, he notes.

Ten Thousand Things, a blog I like, has more about the US bases in Okinawa.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Autumn Photos From Saitama

Autumn is turning into winter and I wanted to share some photos.

The first three are from the rice harvest party in Kumagaya. Remember the post I did from June when we planted the green rice shoots? Well, the result was pretty good, as you can see from the first photo.

This is small-scale community-supported farming, and we had a pot-luck party at a local shrine as people could come to collect their share of the harvest.

I loved the pumpkin with azuki beans, and the apple salad was great. Rice, miso soup and tea. The others had a couple of chicken and pork dishes as well. Negishi-san grows soybeans and makes miso, and the bean-and-tomato dish was very tasty.

Negishi-san, Shimizu-san and the others are very concerned about the future of farming in Japan, and we are thinking of how to develop this project further.

Also, some photos from Hanno City, showing the largest local temple, Noninji, founded in 1501. The temple is just next to a small mountain called Tenranzan, a popular hiking spot.

Easy access from Ikebukuro, yet you feel far away from the concrete jungle. Blue Lotus has more from a trip in September, with truly gorgeous photos. Matt at Oak House also likes Hanno! Official website here.

And finally, my amazing mini-tomatoes, that I harvested in December. Yup, they are slowly turning ripe in the sunshine.

I'm not going to suggest that this is due to global warming - the vine is growing against the western wall of my house, and gets a lot of early morning sun. This is the only explanation I can think of that they are still ripening at this time of year.

I also added a bag of 栗 kuri (chestnut) and some mushrooms - foods more considered to be "in season" than tomatoes. The last photo of my neighbour's mikan tree in afternoon sunshine I took just minutes ago. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Kitaro In Nara For 1300 Year Celebration

Sometimes I wonder if perhaps Kitaro is more well known and beloved overseas than in Japan, but his 1980 soundtrack for NHK's Silk Road documentary is legendary. The series was broadcast in 38 countries in Asia and Europe. Eighteen books were published on the making of The Silk Road selling 3 million copies. A 10-volume photo series sold 660,000 copies, and 380,000 videos, too, were sold. Seven million records and CDs of the soundtrack with Kitaro's music have been sold in Japan and abroad, according to NHK.

This year in September 2009, he participated at events in Nara, as the ancient city prepars to celebrate 1300 years since its founding. Kitaro still plays the Korg syntheziser but he is also amazing at the taiko drums.

His tour included concerts at Todai-ji on September 22, Nara and after that he performed at Mt Fuji, and in Nagoya and Tokyo.

Kitaro at Todai-ji, Nara (September 2009)

From NHK 50 Years of Television:

In September 1972, an NHK director was in Beijing for the TV relay of Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei's visit to China. The day after diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored, Chinese Premier Chou Enlai invited reporters to a reception at the Great Hall of the People. In a speech to them, the premier stated that China and Japan were no longer at war and asked for their support in introducing China to the rest of the world. He told them that this was their duty as journalists.

The director recalled how the Han and T'ang dynasties were eras of great cultural transfer to China, how China had accepted the cultures of many lands and made itself the most prosperous country. The Silk Road was the medium that made this phenomenon possible. He felt The Silk Road could be a TV program that responded to the hopes of the Chinese premier.

A broadcaster's dream

The executives of NHK's General Broadcasting Administration strongly supported this idea. Gaining access, however, was a problem. In a previous program, the camera crews for Legacy for the Future (1974-75) had not been able to enter the Silk Road region.

How were China's doors to be opened? Various negotiating routes were available, and the breakthrough came at the end of October 1978, with Deputy-Premier Deng Xiaoping's visit to Japan. The program director boarded the special train on which Deng was traveling and managed to talk to his secretary, passing on NHK's request to shoot scenes in the Silk Road region. On New Year's Eve, permission was granted and the enormous joint project began.

Seventeen years after the program was conceived, the project was completed. Writer Shiba Ryotaro described The Silk Road series as "the most fruitful Sino-Japanese cultural exchange in postwar history."

A variety of seasonal events will be held throughout Nara Prefecture in 2010 to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Capital, according to the official website:

Celebrating the 1300th anniversary of Nara Heijo-kyo Capital in 2010

Blogs I like: Tokyo Green Space

I added a link to Tokyo Green Space, a great blog I just discovered. Jared Braiterman is a design anthropologist working in urban ecology, clean tech, venture funding, and business innovation. He even gets paid to blog!

Tokyo Green Space: How green spaces make Tokyo a livable city, 東京の小さな緑

Tokyo Green Space examines the potential for micro-green spaces to transform the world’s largest city into an urban forest that supports bio-diversity, the environment, and human community.

Tokyo Green Space examines how corporations and governments can empower ordinary gardeners to improve urban ecology in Tokyo and around the world. Micro green spaces connect people to the environment and to each other. Tokyo Green Space draws from and contributes to questions about public and private space, urban planning, global urbanization and development, public health, bio-diversity, climate change, energy independence, and the environment.

Tokyo Green Space will include a year of fieldwork with ordinary Tokyo gardeners, interviews with city and ward urban planners, real estate companies, construction companies, multinational corporations, architects, landscape designers, environmental non-profits, garden societies, educators, scientists, and a wide range of urban futurists.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pot, Call Kettle: Japan Says US Climate Change Targets Are "Disappointing"

This is just such a great case of the pot calling the kettle black. But, ok, per capita we are doing much better here in Japan than in the old US of A.

I like Mr. Ozawa's attitude. How things have indeed changed.

NHK World: Japanese minister: US CO2 target disappointing

Japan's Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa has indicated that the US midterm target for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions is not enough.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Ozawa called the target somewhat disappointing, but expressed a measure of appreciation for the US long-term target.

On Wednesday last week, the US government announced the mid-term target of reducing emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and long-term targets of 30 percent by 2025 and 83 percent by 2050.

US President Barack Obama is expected to officially announce the targets at a UN climate change conference opening in Copenhagen next week. The meeting is known as the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP15.

The midterm goal translates into a nearly 3-percent reduction compared to 1990 levels. Japan has pledged to cut its emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Developing countries insist that industrialized nations should cut their emissions by a total of more than 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Developing countries are likely to exert more pressure on industrialized countries, including the United States, to raise their targets further.

Too bad the US of A doesn't even have a Secretary of the Environment, or someone in charge to make policy about environmental matters.

(This article first appeared on NHK World, the official website of Japan's public broadcaster - much like the BBC - and I copy the news story as it is likely to soon disappear from their archives. I think the public has a right to know what happens in Japan, and I hope NHK will review its policy to not maintain a searchable archive of news in English. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. The photo is mine, an image I took in Yono, Saitama at a construction site. I have no idea what they where brewing in that kettle, but it does give me the creeps. Isn't it a great image? Please save and use it if you wish.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

NHK: TV Program In Japan About The Whistleblower Who Revealed Meat Hope's Dirty Practices

I'm definitely going to try to remember to watch the program tonight at 22:00 on NHK about the whistleblower who revealed the dirty practices at Hokkaido-based Meat Hope:

Being a whistle blower isn't easy anywhere... The story of Kiroku Akabane, the man who alerted the authorities to the mislabeling of ground beef products at his company, Meat Hope, in 2007, risked more than just his job, as shown in the docudrama "Tatta Hitori no Henran" (The Rebellion of a Single Person; NHK-G, Tues., 10 p.m.).

Using interviews with Akabane and dramatic recreations, the program explains what became the first in a series of labeling scandals that rocked the food industry. Akabane revealed that Meat Hope was mixing bread crumbs and even rotten meat into its ground beef products, and did so without hiding his own identity. As a result, the president of the company went to prison, and is still there.

Akabane paid, too. He faced stiff opposition from his colleagues and the food industry in general. What's more, his family was dragged through the dirt.

(From The Japan Times column Channel Surf)

The docudrama たったひとりの返乱 was originally aired in July 2008. Henran also means uprising or war. Nice choice of word for an effort that really shook up Japan's insular and secretive meat industry back in 2007.

Let me add this:
内部告発 naibu kokuhatsu is the Japanese kanji compound for the noun whistle blowing, and it works as a verb like in English if you add -suru. A whistle blower is a 内部告発者 or naibu kokuhatsu-sha.

The legislation from 2006 is called 公益通報者保護法 (Japanese) and an English translation is available here: Whistleblower Protection Act (pdf). I prefer the term Public Interest Disclosure which is 公益 koueki (public interest) 通報 tsuuhou (disclosure, report or tip) - perhaps a better translation and a little more positive - any thoughts?

The system is explained in more detail on the government's
Consumer Affairs Agency page. There is also a hotline website with telephone numbers if you need help.

Good to know if you are working in Japan and thinking of exposing something particularly nasty your company is involved in.

More on Kurashi: Meat No Hope Co.