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Showing posts from December, 2009

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

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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 赤 aka and the more chrimsom 紅 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 …

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…

Hercule Poirot: How Does Your Garden Grow?

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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…

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

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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 s…

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 th…

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

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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 Wea…

Seeds For Life: Interview With Noguchi Isao

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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 Jap…

Japan's Companies CSR Reports In Focus: Asahi

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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 greenz.jp 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…

Climate Change Action Day 12 December: Update With Photos

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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 pictur…

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…

Oslo: Huge Anti Nuclear Weapons Demonstration

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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 appeare…

Graveyards, Golf Courses, Forests Or Farmland?

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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 occasi…

COP 15: Kiko Network Blogging From Copenhagen

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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 EnglishJapanese
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…

COP 15: Hatoyama Wants To Talk Directly With Obama

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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 gas…

Autumn Photos From Saitama

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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…

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 …

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 …

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

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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 …

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…