Saturday, January 30, 2010

Enka: Departing From Tokyo (1995)

東京発 Tokyo hatsu with Takao Horiuchi. Nice karaoke number from 1995. This was the theme song for the detective series, Inspector Hagure, that I'm sorry to say I never had a chance to watch. The song is about leaving Tokyo for the north.

東京発北国へ Tokyo hatsu kita kuni he "Departing from Tokyo, for the northern parts of the country"

時の針が昔に戻る Toki no hari ga mukashi ni modoru "The needles of the clock return to the olden days"

And there are lots of nostalgic memories and sadness and joy.

Takao Horiuchi has a website too, in case you wanted to know more about the singer and your chances to experience him live during 2010... Born in Osaka, I wonder why he didn't make it Osaka hatsu?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Japan Saying "No!" To Genetically Modified Wheat

Consumers in Japan are strongly opposed to genetically modified foods, but the previous governments here have been reluctant to cause trade friction with the United States over the issue.

The problem is, the corporate world is running the show, with St Louis-based Monsanto Co. in particular calling the shots in Washington. The USDA, the FDA, and the USTR have key people in charge who have been more than friendly with the biotech giant in the past, notes the Organic Consumers Organization.


Now Monsanto is making a huge push to introduce research and development in wheat, a crop that Japan imports from North America (and Australia) through a complex state import scheme.

The main association representing the flour millers here have told the Americans that there is no reason for them to believe that Japan will accept GM wheat.


The No! GMO Campaign has compared the results of this questionnaire in December, 2009 to our previous one in March, 2004. At that time, we sent the questionnaire to 15 companies, and received replies from 7 different companies. In 2004, all 7 replied that GM wheat should be labelled. 5 out of 7 stated that they did not want to import GM wheat, while this time, not a single company replied that they would like to import GM wheat. We are concerned about the fact that several companies stated that they do not know about the risks associated with GM wheat.

We also received a letter from the person in charge at Japan’s Flour Millers Association. He noted that the answer to questions 1 and 2 is yes, and that in response to question 3, the most important issue is to “obey the law.” As for question 5, he noted: “We have to expect that cross-contamination of GM crops will happen.”

Also, he noted: “Under the present circumstances, with all the doubts about safety and the environment that the consumers in Japan have, including the effect on the human body from GM foods, GM wheat is included among the items that are not acceptable for the Japanese market. We believe that it will be difficult to know if the wheat flour and products are made with GM wheat or not, but such products would have to be clearly labelled.”

Wheat is something that is essential for our daily sustenance, just like rice. Together with citizen groups and consumer organizations from around the world, we will continue to carefully monitor the misguided attempts to introduce GM wheat.

Question 1: Do you know about genetically modified (GM) food?


NO 0

Question 2: In May 2009, 10 wheat-related associations, including the American, Australian and Western Canadian wheat associations, announced that they request commercial cultivation of GM wheat as soon as possible. Did you know about this?


NO 2

Question 3: Presently, there is no GM wheat on the market, but should it happen in the future, and it is sold [in Japan], do you think GM labelling will be necessary?


NO 1

Question 4: In the future, should GM wheat become commercially available, will your company import it?

Yes, we want to import it 0

No, we do not want to import it 2

It depends on the demands of the [Japanese] consumers (5 companies)

It depends on the attitudes of the flour industry as a whole (1 company)

Question 5: Are you aware of the cross-contamination and environmental pollution which can be expected in case GM wheat is cultivated?

Consumers Union of Japan: Survey: Japan’s Wheat Importers Reject GMO

In Canada, reason seems to prevail, with the Canadian Wheat Board noting that:

"We know that this is potentially the wave of the future but right now we're just not there," said Maureen Fitzhenry, spokeswoman for the Wheat Board, which holds a government-granted monopoly on sales of Western Canada's wheat and barley. Consumers in Europe and Japan are wary of genetically modified foods... The Wheat Board, which opposed Monsanto Co's application for a herbicide-tolerant GM wheat in 2004, would also want to see a greater benefit, such as resistance to fusarium disease or improved yield and quality, Fitzhenry said. At present, there's no way to effectively segregate GM wheat from non-GM wheat, which would be another condition the board would want satisfied, she said.

Reuters: Canadian Wheat Board cautious about GM wheat

I cannot understand why we should let one single company take control over such an important food source. Farmers should protest this invasion on their rights, just as consumers are rejecting it. GM wheat, with patents and contracts that would make it impossible to save seed and make sure Monsanto's "proprietary rights" and abhorrent technologies do not end up in our daily bread, must be stopped.

I'll add more later if possible, but blogspot/google/whoever is making access to my account very difficult tonight. Is anyone else having trouble?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Joy As Pelargonium Patent Revoked

Sometimes small victories can mean a lot. I got an email this morning with the curious title, "Joy As Pelargonium Patent Revoked" - it may sound like a joke or a scam. It is not. It is the result of a long and tedious legal battle for the rights of South Africans to their traditional knowledge and heritage. Dr. Willmar Schwabe, a German doctor, applied for and was given a patent on a method to extract a substance found in the pelargonium. It is sold as a (popular) cough syrup by his company, Schwabe.

This may all have been fine and dandy if he had made more effort to share the benefits with the South Africans. It turns out that they have used the plant for a long time as a lung medicine, as part of the traditional healing practices in the region. What the Germans did is called "biopiracy" and is as old as colonialization itself, but the new patent rules under the World Trade Organization (called TRIPs) are making things even more difficult:

Nomtunzi Api, a representative from the Alice community, expressed elation in response to the revocation, “this is the first time that a patent is challenged successfully by Africans. It gives us hope for the future because the patent ends Schwabe’s monopoly over the use of our genetic resources and traditional knowledge.” According to Mariam Mayet of the ACB, “Patent systems are seriously flawed. It is inherently unfair that public interest NGOs should have to challenge patents, at enormous effort and expense, to bring about equity and justice in protecting resources and traditional knowledge from the South.”

This is relevant to the negotiations to be held in Nagoya in October this year, as countries meet for the COP10 conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol. The negotiations should finalize the so-called "Access and Benefit Sharing" regime, with rules for how to avoid biopiracy. Countries with potentially interesting plants should provide access to researchers, and they in turn should share the benefits with the donor country and the local community. The rules are tricky and full of loopholes, but a very important weapon against patent claims like the pelargonium case in Europe. The negotiations also aim to finalize how to preserve the biological diversity of areas with rare and unusual plants or animals, that need protection.

I am enjoying the workshop we are doing over at A Seed Japan, the NGO with several campaigns for the environment, in collaboration with Consumers Union of Japan. Thanks Kobayashi-san for the email this morning, it made my day!

Official website: CBD Access and Benefit Sharing
NGO: Edmonds Institute Report Out of Africa (pdf)

(Photo from the Umckaloabo website - note the South Africans against the silhouette of a huge, healthy tree, an evocative image...)

Takae Village Sit-In Protest against US Helipads in Pristine Yanbaru Forest, Okinawa

Takae is a small village in Yanbaru Forest (pdf), a mountainous region in the northern part of Okinawa adjacent to Henoko. Greenpeace Japan notes that Yanbaru is known for distinct and irreplaceable biodiversity.

Over 192 plant and animal (most are endangered and near extinction) species are unique to this area, such as the bird species Okinawa Rail and Okinawa Woodpecker; Itajii (Evergreen Oak); and the Jambar long armed scarab beetle (the largest beetle species in Japan).

The sea life includes Taimai (Hawksbill turtles), dugongs, corals and tropical fish.

The United States wants to build seven helipads in this natural forest.

Yanbaru Forest. (Photo: Japan Focus: "Okinawa's Turbulent 400 Years" by Gavan McCormack)

Satoko Norimatsu's Peace Philosophy Centre blog reports on the Sit-in Campaign Against US Helipads in Takae, Okinawa, quoting from Brian and Co's Blog:

Takae Helipad Campaign in Okinawa:

There are many campaigns against military bases in Japan. Usually they work independently of each other. However they do join forces for large-scale protests when a major incident occurs...

In February 2006 the Takae helipad campaign began. The campaign was formed by a small number of residents none of whom had any previous campaigning experience. Between them they set up 24- hour guard at entrances to the helipad construction sites. They confronted the construction workers and blocked access to the new helipad sites. Once built, the helipads role would be used in the training of mainly US troops in Jungle warfare.

The campaigners concerns about the new helipads are related to the environmental destruction of the jungle, noise and air pollution. As well their concerns for the environment, they are also against the use of their homeland for the training of military personnel, that they will be taught about killing and jungle warfare literally on their doorsteps. There are also safety concerns after one helicopter crashed near Takae close to their elementary school in 1999. And in 2004 a US military helicopter crashed in the grounds of a university in the city of Ginowan...

Read the rest at

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

US For Okinawa - Peace Action Network Launches This Weekend In Tokyo And Kyoto

Members of grassroots peace groups and other concerned individuals have gathered to form the “US for OKINAWA peace action network".

Closely affiliated with the Peace Boat NGO and also including members from the Peace Not War Japan collective, the network’s primary aim is to voice the opposition of foreigners living in Japan to the presence and plans for expansion of U.S. military bases in Okinawa (and beyond):

New Network Formed to Protect Okinawa, Japan from Foreign Military Bases

US for OKINAWA is a new peace action network based in Tokyo that was recently formed by U.S., Japanese, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian, Welsh, Mexican and other citizens living in Japan who are concerned about Okinawa. A deliberate double entendre, US may be read both as "us" (you, me, everyone), as well as U.S. (reflecting the proactive stance of Americans in Japan who support a base-free Okinawa).

US for OKINAWA was organized out of shared concern regarding the danger that the U.S. Futenma Air Base poses to the people of Okinawa, as well as the pressure exerted by the U.S. on the new Japanese administration to construct a replacement facility for the base in Henoko, an environmentally fragile area on the eastern part of the island. If carried out, this construction would likely spell the extinction of the endangered dugong (cousin to the Florida manatee) and simply shift the problems of contamination, air pollution, safety hazards and crime associated with Futenma to another part of Okinawa.

Information on the network's latest initiatives will also be posted on its blog here.

The network is planning a series of actions to raise support and awareness for its cause. This coming weekend, its very first events will be held in Tokyo (Sunday, January 31st) and Kyoto (Saturday, January 30th). Information is as follows:


Come out to participate in a creative, art-themed event to raise awareness and gather support for a base-free Okinawa. Together, we will create collaborative art projects (painting, digital art, collage, photos, recycled artwork and more) featuring our message. Everyone is welcome…Please wear blue or green clothing to show your support for a peaceful Okinawa. No Futenma, No Henoko!!

Date: Sunday, January 31st
Time: 13:00 - 15:00 (Meet at 13:00; action will start at 14:00)
Place: Yoyogi Park (near the fountain).

Directions from JR Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line):
From Harajuku Station, go right out of the Omotesando Exit. Turn right and walk over the bridge to the right. Cross the street and turn left. The park will be on the right. It’s about a 5 minute walk. Access is also available from the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line (Meiji-Jingumae station) or the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line.

Emilie McGlone ( or Rose Welsch (


Kyoto Action for Okinawa
Date: Saturday, January 30, 2010
Time: 17:00-18:30
Place: Arcade at Kawaramachi and Sanjo Street

Kyoto Action is a group of people living in Kyoto campaigning to close down Futenma Air Force Base and stop the construction of a new U.S. military base at Heneko in Okinawa. The group meets every Saturday, same place, same time, to show their opposition to U.S. military base constructions in Okinawa. On January 30th, in solidarity, Kyoto Action will also be distributing information about the US for Okinawa "Peace Action Network."

Contact: Jen Teeter (

Further information also available here in Japanese and in English.

- Posted by Kim Hughes and Jen Teeter

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Peace Walkers for Okinawa greeted in Nagasaki by Rally to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Commuters arriving at and departing from Nagasaki Station yesterday morning were greeted with a peaceful gathering of over 200 people calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Participants of the Peace Walk from Okinawa flew in from Okinawa yesterday just in time for the rally and continued their walk to Tokyo soon after it ended.

Photo taken by Hito

The Peace Walk from Okinawa is travelling across Japan for four months from Okinawa to Tokyo to raise awareness about two historical events taking place in 2010 that will significantly influence the future of our planet: the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Nagoya.

The walkers, who are scheduled to arrive in Tokyo by May 3, Constitution Day, believe that our future lies in the fate of our biosphere whose biodiversity is threatened by continued military expansion in Okinawa and other parts of our fragile Mother Earth.

Peace Walkers leaving Nagasaki Station
(This photo is courtesy of the Peace Walk for Okinawa Blog)

Buddhist monks, hip hop musicians from Puerto Rico and Liberia, veterans of the Iraq and Vietnam wars, students, mothers and peace loving citizens from all over Japan collected messages of peace on the previous 71 day long Article 9 Peace Walk from Hiroshima to Tokyo in 2008. They hand-delivered these message to the participants of the Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War which took place in Tokyo from May 4th-6th.

Peace Walk reaches Hibiya Park, May 3, 2008 (Jen Teeter)

There are more photos of Constitution Day in Hibiya Park, May 3, 2008 available here.

This year's Peace Walk is planned to reach:
  • Hiroshima on February 27th
  • Kyoto on March 27th
  • Nagoya on April 4th
  • Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant on April 14th
  • Shizuoka April 18th
  • Tokyo on May 1st
--Jen Teeter

Monday, January 25, 2010

Japan: Farming In Foreign Media

Farming in Japan is as old as the country itself, with rice paddies and veggies and tea and sake as ancient as the shrines and temples. Yet, recently, global WTO agreements and Tokyo-based free-trade import rules have made it difficult for young people to take over farms and make a living.

Foreign media noted some of these stories, and I am impressed. The stories are about people in rural Japan who have succeeded, in spite of the odds.

I try to buy local foods as much as possible. Supporting the farmers where I live is so important. Read the labels before you put anything in your grocery store bag, or make that your マイバグ (my bag)!

Here are a few examples:

The Christian Science Monitor:
Farm Women Go Online

YAMANASHI, JAPAN – Taeko Omata says she’d never even turned on a computer before attending a computer-skills workshop last summer. Ms. Omata, a mother of two, now writes a daily blog, posting recipes for homemade sweets and recounting family trips (with lots of photos). She also sells cakes and fruit online.

“I never expected to do this,” she says.

The Guardian (UK):
The Rise Of Japanese Rice-Field Art

Ancient and modern, folk and sophisticated, they draw on Japan's traditions of heroic iconography and iconic landscape art. A reproduction in rice of Hokusai's famous print The Great Wave is especially dazzling. Just as crop circles have become a modern folk tradition, so will these images blossom.

The New York Times:

For Young Japanese, It’s Back to the Farm

Many young Japanese, for their part, have shown a growing interest in farming as disillusionment rises over the grind of city jobs and layoffs. Agricultural job fairs have been swamped with hundreds of applicants; one in Osaka attracted 1,400 people.

“Young people want jobs, and farmers need the extra hands,” said Isao Muneta, an agriculture ministry official who coordinates the 1.3 billion yen ($13 million) program, part of a larger stimulus package. “It’s the perfect match.”
Wall Street Journal:
Solution to Japan's Jobless Problem: Send City Workers Back to the Land

"I know it's a hard life" compared with his former job as a bookkeeper, Mr. Oshima said. "But I want to become a farmer and use my own hands to do everything, from sowing seeds to shipping boxes." He hopes to soon rent land nearby to start farming full time. As the global financial crisis sinks Japan into its worst recession since World War II and hundreds of thousands of jobs are slashed in factories and offices, farming has emerged as a promising new career track. "Agriculture Will Save Japan," blared a headline for a business weekly magazine.

(Photo from slide show at Wall Street Journal)

OurWorld 2.0: Fashionista farm gals of Tokyo

Singer Shiho Fujita is the leader of a squad of young women farmers. She started a marketing business at just 19 years of age, targeting the city’s young girls. Eventually this young entrepreneur came to join various campaigns about environmental and food problems, which led her to venture into a new field — farming.

“Young people, including me in the past, don’t have a clear picture about agriculture in general and the food problems we face,” she says.

“That’s what I want to change.”

Read more:
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike

Then, of course, there is the Ringo Musume campaign, the Apple Maidens (りんご娘: ringo musume, literally “apple daughters”) in Aomori prefecture.

Read more about apple farming at the UN University website:

Apples have feelings too: A tale of pesticide-freedom

I was enjoying Mr Akinori Kimura's lecture yesterday in Saitama. He was very clear about the value of speaking to the apple trees. If you talk to the trees, they will grow and become at least 40 cm wide, he said. And if you don't they just remain at around 2o cm. He noted that the same applies to vegetables:

The 57-year-old Kimura recounts how after leaving high school he joined a company in Tokyo but returned to Hirosaki, his hometown in Aomori Prefecture, after three years to marry and take up apple farming.

Restricted from using pesticides and chemical fertilizers on their land because of severe reactions they caused on his wife's skin, Kimura gradually reduced his reliance on the artificial farming aids with the goal of phasing them out completely in a matter of years.

The Japan Times: Apple farmer raises 'miracle' fruit

This video is from NHK's program Professionals, a nice interview with Kimura-san. It is only in Japanese, no subtitles:

Moral Arc of Universe Bends Towards Justice: Anti-US Base Candidate Inamine Wins Nago Mayoral Election

Kyodo News reports that anti US-Base candidate Inamine won the Nago mayoral election:
Susumu Inamine, who has been opposed to accepting the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station, won the mayoral race Sunday in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, making it difficult for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to implement a 2006 Japan-U.S. accord to relocate the facility to Nago.
Kyodo News also reports:
Hatoyama has said he wants to see the election result before making any decision on the U.S. base issue and vowed to conclude negotiations with the United States by the end of May, but prospects are dim that he can find a feasible alternative site.
But this remark ignores the fact that there is no need for a "feasible alternative site."

The mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa revealed that the Henoko base was never part of the US original plan. The US always intended to move all the Futenma troops to Guam.

However, the US bowed to pressure from Japanese construction companies (backed by the LDP) that wanted contracts for the proposed military base that was to "float" over the coral reef home of the endangered Okinawan dugong.

The details are outlined in Tanaka Sakai's article at Japan Focus: "Japanese Bureaucrats Hide Decision to Move All US Marines out of Okinawa to Guam [Japanese original text at Tanaka News (]."

Of course, the next question is: Where does this leave Guam--where US military bases already take up 1/3 of the island?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shoukichi Kina speaks about the US military occupation of Okinawa in ANPO, Linda Hoaglund's upcoming film

Globally renowned musician and Japanese MP Shoukichi Kina and others speak about the US military occupation to filmmaker Linda Hoaglund in this clip from her upcoming film, ANPO:
ANPO opens as a squadron of F-16 fighter jets thunder directly over local traffic to land on Kadena, the largest U.S. airbase in Asia. Ten miles south, the urban homes that crowd Futenma Marine Corps Air Station shake from the numbing drone of C-130 cargo planes whose novice pilots repeatedly practice “touch-and-go” take-offs and landings.

The U.S. base at Futenma is one of 30 bases in Okinawa, an island that makes up only 1% of Japan’s land mass while shouldering the burden of 75% of the U.S. military installations in Japan. That presence includes over 28,000 American troops, rivaling the number deployed to the active war zone of Afghanistan.

America’s military presence was negotiated in 1951 under the terms of the lopsided U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, known in Japan as “ANPO.” Under its provisions, American soldiers who rape Japanese women and girls are often protected from local prosecution. Prime farming lands have been confiscated from farmers to extend air force jet runways. Civilians are killed in hit-and-run accidents by drunken US servicemen with few held to account. In one particularly egregious case, a woman collecting shell casings to sell was shot in the back and killed by a US soldier who served no time for her death.
Hoaglund said this film is a sequel to her first documentary, Wings of Defeat (Tokko in Japan), and that her most pressing issue is to get "the word out to the world about the current situation in Okinawa and the base they’re trying to move from Futenma to the emerald waters off Henoko."

ANPO will open in Japanese theaters in June 2010--on the 50th anniversary of the 1960 ANPO struggle.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ehime Mikan Juice

January is a great time to enjoy the many varieties of lemons, oranges and mikan that grow here in Japan.

My favourite juice is from Ehime. The Pom Juice is from 100% domestic mikan oranges.

They also introduced a brand that has no food additives (mutenka 無添加).

A very good way to get your daily dose of Vitamin C.

Ehime prefecture is one of the four prefectures of Shikoku.

Hiroko and Rick, based in New York, have a wonderful Itadakimasu blog about all kinds of issues that are close to the heart of Kurashi:

Shikoku is a small island of four prefectures. Since the island was isolated from the main island of Honshu until the 1988 opening of Seto Ohashi (Great Seto Bridge), Shikoku has developed a strong sense of community and pride in each of its prefectures. Kagawa is the place of origin for Sanuki Udon of which its people are extremely proud (myself included). Tokushima is famous for Awa Odori or Awa Dance and Tai (fluke fish). Kochi is well known for drinkers and Katsuo (Bonito...see Katsuo no Tataki) and Ehime is known for mikan (Japanese orange/tangerine) and Pom Juice.

Eco Points For Chrysler Jeep? You Must Be Joking

There are three ways to blog about this piece of news:

LOL, Jeep Patriot will be the first American car to qualify for Japan's eco point system. "Improvements" to the engine have "improved" its fuel efficiency from 10 kilometers to 10.6 kilometers per liter (25.0 mpg), according to the Mainichi. That's hardly an "improvement" ladies and gentlemen.

The Japanese government introduced the subsidy program for eco-cars in June last year, in which up to 250,000 yen will be provided for the purchase of a vehicle with a minimum required gas mileage. However, as most American automakers do not acquire product model approval in Japan, the government had decided to exclude U.S. cars from the program, due to the lack of reliable mileage data required for the screening.

Meanwhile, the Toyota Prius (44 mpg) or Honda's Insight (38 mpg) get, on average, almost twice the fuel efficiency. Jeep, an eco car? No way.

Source: Consumers Report: Fuel Economy Reality Check

By the way, Consumers Report note (video), "The Jeep Patriot proved to be slow, noisy, and crude, and it struggled on our off-road course."

The second way I could blog about this is to just say, shake head, thumbs down, wishing I could refuse to pay taxes.

The third way is to ask, what kind of tax payer in Japan really thinks this truly is an eco car? In 2007, Autoblog Green noted that this was the best fuel economy of the class. Ho-hum. Strangely enough, there is an electric drive EV Jeep around, but it is not the one they are now trying to call an eco car in Japan. The Jeep Patriot EV would have made more sense, but then again, the automotive business is not so much about sense, is it.

(Photo from

Fuel efficiency standards in Japan and Europe are much stricter than in other parts of the world. Pew Center for Climate Change (pdf) notes that the goal of Japan's strict rules was to achieve an average fleet fuel economy of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2010.

Compare, if you wish, to the 2010 Prius:

* 51 mpg-US (4.6 L/100 km; 61 mpg-imp) city driving
* 48 mpg-US (4.9 L/100 km; 58 mpg-imp) highway driving
* 50 mpg-US (4.7 L/100 km; 60 mpg-imp) combined

MLIT rules here (in Japanese)

The Japanese rules do allow the Toyota RAV4 to be included as an eco car. Is this the reason that the Jeep can qualify?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Japan Airlines: A Cultural Assessment As We Deal With Peak Oil And Climate Change

JAL, Asia's largest airline by revenue, has filed for bankruptcy. Japan Airlines has operated since 1951 on routes to America and also Europe.


It seems a great era is about the end. Once great airlines like BOAC, Pan Am or TWA are of course no more. Air France has merged with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Lufthansa has acquired Austrian Airlines. When will KAL, Korean Air (based in Seoul) or China Airlines (based in Taiwan) face the new realities? And what about Air China, based in Beijing?

Easy jet travel, i e convenient flights, wonderful service with meals and drinks, in flight entertainment - it could all end soon. We have taken it for granted for a long time. But with peak oil and climate change worries, the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a long adjustment to economic realities here in Japan, no wonder people are a little reluctant to travel abroad. How different from 20 years ago, when I first lived in Japan!?

"How to Fly, Japanese Style.

Slip into a happi coat. Part robe, part sports coat. The Japanese dress up even to relax.

Sake, champagne, wine. And a platter of cheese to snack from in between.

JAL's flight kit includes slippers, fan, city guide, toothbrush, travel wallet - and eyeshades!

Hot oshibori towels. Or, how to freshen up without getting up.

Kobe. The world's most tender beef.

Tsukidashi. The delicious word for Japanese hors d'oeuvres.

Beluga caviar. Lobster plate. When it's cocktail time on JAL, we treat you like a king. Cuisine à la Japanese. A perfect introduction to Japan.

Artichoke hearts. Carrots aglow in butter. And the steak is cooked to order.

...At JAL, we glory in the small things of life. From our first hello to our last sayonara, we take the small attentions and courtesies so much for granted, they are our way of life.

It's a way of life practiced by us and our ancestors of generations beyond number.

In that sense, you could say we've been practicing how to fly for a thousand years and more."

JAL is not so different from Scandinavian Airlines or Swiss Air. In a deregulated era, the concept of a "flag" carrier or a national airline has ceased to be functional, and JAL has to bite the bullet.

I don't get to fly much these days. I have visited some 25 countries over the years for work, as I had to attend conferences and all kinds of meetings. At one point, I did love the thrill. I also had several opportunities to personally fly small aircrafts, both in Sweden and in the United States. As I made that huge, long turn, I got to love the view of Mt Chasta, a very special place.

How are we going to deal with the changes that are clearly ahead of us? Are we going to educate the next generation to believe in peace and understanding, rather than in confrontation and cut-throat competition? JAL was for a very long time a model for young ladies and pilots who wanted to learn English and look great.

Can we find better models for spiritual growth, today? How do we tell young people that no, there may not be so many opportunities for hard work on huge jets, you should prepare for an era with more local services, less easy jet travel. But you should keep your international focus, and not forget about the world...

Mainichi: Japan Airlines files for bankruptcy

The bankruptcy represents a humbling outcome for Japan's once-proud flagship carrier which was founded in 1951 and came to symbolize the country's rapid economic growth. The state-owned airline expanded quickly in the decades after World War II and was privatized in 1987.

Meanwhile, it was not so long ago, in 1957, that SAS was the first airline to offer "Round the world service over the North Pole" via the North Pole shortcut Copenhagen-Anchorage-Tokyo. The 1955 memorial is a rune stone erected in memory of the first direct flight from Scandinavia to Haneda Airport, Tokyo, Japan...

(Photo of JAL 1974 ad from Vintage Ads)

NHK World: Shinkansen History

The Shinkansen was not just a high speed rail system for passengers to enjoy a fast trip, but also about "pride" as Japan embarked on a new era of science and technology, recovering from WW2. There are many videos on Youtube, with narrators going on and on about how impressed the foreign visitors and transportation experts were back in 1964. Safety is a major factor, as well as the comfort. "The coffee cup didn't move, it was such a smooth ride!" and the like. Other videos emphasize the innovations, such as the ATC (Automatic Train Control) system that was used from 1964 which was a novel feature to guide trains by computers (using the state-of-the-art Packard Bell from 1972) for safety.

You get to see "Dr. Yellow" - the special 992 train that checks the routes with all kinds of sophisticated equipment. We learn that every night, a crew of some 3,000 workers are out inspecting the tracks, making sure that "track alignment is millimeter accurate." There have been no fatal accidents in the 45 year history of Shinkansen operations. More details in this video.

OK, OK, couldn't NHK give us just one single point of view opposed to this? A single grumpy farmer who wasn't too happy about fast trains bypassing his town or village? I suppose not.

The 3 videos from NHK World have English narration by Peter Barakan, starting at Tokyo Station, the main terminal for the Shinkansen. In part 1, the engineers and experts with the vision are introduced, and the technological challenges they faced.

Part 2 discusses how the economic boom of the 1950s (in no small part spurred by the Korean War, although that is left unsaid) led to the development of the Shinkansen.

Rare vintage footage from the late 1950s and early 1960s from NHK. Reducing the travel time between Tokyo and Osaka from 6 1/2 hours to about 3 hours was the aim. At the time, the world's top speed train was the French Mistral, which had a top speed of 160 km/h. NHK says, "Japanese engineers set their sight at a top speed of 200 km/h."

Tadanao Miki was the main designer for the Shinkansen, getting a chance to work for peaceful purposes... It was his idea to use the streamline design of wartime fighter planes for trains, to cut wind resistance and boost the train speed. "If we want a beautiful airflow, we must give it a beautiful shape..." That was Miki's guiding philosophy, as he crafted one clay model after another.

Other important engineers are introduced, such as Tadashi Matsudaira, who found a way to solve the problem of the Hunting motion at high speeds, by improving the spring suspension using air pressure.

In part 2, you also get to see rare footage of the first trial run in March 30, 1963, as they rewrote the record books by reaching 200 km/h - and it kept going to 256 km/h: "It was the fastest train in the world."

I didn't know that the public was asked to name the new train. 560,000 suggestions were submitted. The winning entry was "Hikari" or light.

If you understand Japanese, do watch the 7 part documentary, with more rare footage and interviews also included in the shorter NHK World program. Here is part 1/7:

万物創世紀 新幹線 1/7

Shinkansen History 3/3

Just how difficult is it to take a photo like the image above? Two full-length Shinkansen trains, running along, side by side at full speed. The third part of the NHK World documentary has all the details about serious trainspotting photography in Japan.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Green Tea: Food For Thought

At my Zen temple in Okayama, seveal years ago, I remember the biting cold of mid-January. It was truly terrible. Early mornings as we woke up, as the bell was ringing at 4:40am, were just hell. Then, around 6am or in late January close to 7am, the sun would rise. We had a pretty solid routine each morning, just to get through that. Going along, doing zazen, running, sitting, eating, working in the garden or cleaning the buildings. Suddenly it was noon and time for lunch.

The tea routine was a very important part of each day.

Especially, I remember how things slowed down after lunch. The roshi would meet with guests in the small tea room. He was really such a pro at whipping up the green teas for each guest. That is his way of meeting each person, face-to-face, cup-to-cup.

We didn't always see him like that - so relaxed, happy, just being himself.

But it was really hard. Kitchen duty meant you were serving rice and miso soup to the entire sangha. The person in charge of the kitchen each day would be invited to be present for the tea break. After having worked since early morning (5am) making rice and miso soup for (7am) breakfast, and then preparing (12am) lunch, cleaning the kitchen - that tea meeting was a strange calm moment (around 13:30pm). A very special treat. A rare moment to feel on top of the world. A chance to watch the roshi whip that green powder, mix it with hot water, pouring in the coups. Drinking tea, listening to the profound, sometimes hilariously funny conversation, and relaxing. Just another day's work.

TV Asahi's Eco Meshi Food Program About Oden: Is Shark Meat "Eco"?

TV Asahi has a food program on Sunday evenings at 23:00 called Eco Meshi (エコめし) as part of their "Earth Restaurant" series. Eco of course is the term used for anything connected to environmental matters, while meshi means food in a more casual reading of the 飯 kanji also found in the polite word gohan (ご飯).

Several of their other programs have been educational and fun but last night they introduced oden, and especially hanpen, as an environmentally friendly original Japanese food.

Hanpen, as shown by TV Asahi, is a processed product made from fish meat, and the January 17 show showed how it can be made from shark meat and other parts of the shark, mixed with sugar and starch added. The square patties are white and very tasty - if shark meat is your thing. Many people will probably have difficulties understanding how shark meat can be considered an eco product.

Shark, or same 鮫 is caught accidentally when the huge fishing fleets angle for tuna (maguro 鮪) on long lines with baited hooks. TV Asahi explained how the fishing boats bring back shark that have been caught this way, and also mentioned that there are food supplements made shark liver oil. But generally, shark meat is not popular, and most of the sharks are discarded - unless they are processed as hanpei for oden.

I like oden, especially in winter, when it is a tasty and "warming" food, and it is also inexpensive. Oden can be anything from eggs and tofu to daikon or potatoes, and many other processed fish meat products. In my food safety ranking book I reccomend oden-style foods like konnyaku (made from the Konjac root, a perennial plant) and the hanpen I recommend is made in Fukuoka from other types of fish, like sardine and cod, and certainly not shark!

The logic that shark meat hanpen is "eco" was based on the mottainai concept, i e the idea that we should not waste anything, and that using a by-catch in this way is a clever way to make use of marine resources. I couldn't disagree more. The tuna fleets are already causing huge damage to ocean ecosystems, and the sharks are threatened not only in this way but also by the cutting off of their fins for shark fin soup, so popular in China. Unfortunately, TV Asahi ignored the opportunity to invite a guest from, say WWF Japan or Greenpeace Japan, organizations with knowledge about ocean issues that have staff that could have provided the other point of view.

Meanwhile, do enjoy oden. It is a great food for winter, and it can be easy on your wallet too.

Blue Lotus, a blog I like, has some great posts introducing oden!

Friday, January 15, 2010

6 Minutes To Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which include some 19 Nobel laureates, has moved the symbolic "minute hand of the doomsday clock" back from five to six minutes to midnight:

We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons. For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material. And for the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable.

It is 6 minutes to midnight

Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a monthly periodical that originated at the University of Illinois, has updated its "Doomsday Clock". It explains the clock's purpose thus:

The Doomsday Clock conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction – the figurative midnight – and monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself. First and foremost, these include nuclear weapons, but they also encompass climate-changing technologies and new developments in the life sciences that could inflict irrevocable harm.

At 3pm today, January 14, 2009, the clock was adjusted for the first time since 2007.

The Guardian: Doomsday Clock: Does nuclear threat outweigh climate catastrophe?

Grist: Scientists cautiously optimistic as Doomsday Clock reset


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. They knew about the horrible effects of these new weapons and devoted themselves to warning the public about the consequences of using them. Those early scientists also worried about military secrecy, fearing that leaders might draw their countries into increasingly dangerous nuclear confrontations without the full consent of their citizens.

In the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of the Bulletin, Eugene Rabinowitch wrote that the magazine's purpose "was to awaken the public to full understanding of the horrendous reality of nuclear weapons and of their far-reaching implications for the future of mankind; to warn of the inevitability of other nations acquiring nuclear weapons within a few years, and of the futility of relying on America's possession of the 'secret' of the bomb." Over the years, Rabinowitch wrote more than 100 articles for the magazine, most of them editorials.

This is big news because we generally have little or no idea about what is going on when it comes to nuclear weapons.

We live in a world that has moved beyond the Cold War (how so 20 years ago!), and of course rejected the "Mutually Assured Destruction" paradigm (that you may or may not have signed up to). Yet, we have not really found a way to strongly propose, in a democratic fashion, that it is now a good - no, an excellent - moment to demand that the countries that have them, should dismantle the nuclear weapons... How are we going to do that?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

China: Really Fast Trains With Japanese And German Technology

China is emerging as the next big really fast train center, with a new line opened on the Wuhan–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway line, going north-south, in late December 2009.

This is based on technology from Japan and Germany. The trains are now assembled in China, but if you have ever travelled from Tokyo to Nagano, you will recognize the CRH2 as the E2-1000 Shinkansen, and the CRH3 is based on the Siemens Velaro.

China has ordered the Kawasaki/Hitachi made trains based on my favourite, the E2-1000 series design, renamed it as CRH2, becoming the second country to import Japan's amazing Shinkansen trains after Taiwan's 700T series which began commercial operation in 2007 (there are some interesting modifications, such as more powerful motors to allow the trains to run at 300 km/h and as the Taiwanese railway infrastructure is based on the European system, tunnel diameters are larger than in Japan, allowing for a shorter engine nose length without causing a degradation in the aerodynamic performance when entering tunnels).

Bombardier, the Canadian company, and Ahlstom from France have also contributed to the development of fast train services in China, and Bombardier's CRH1 trains are based on designs made at the old ASEA plant in Västerås, Sweden, that used to make all Swedish trains (that I remember from my childhood travels!). If you like environmentally-friendly trains that can handle snow, the Regina is a very good choice.

The Chinese are clearly serious about fast trains, and billed the December 2009 event as the world's fastest train journey.

The 968-km line is part of a planned 2100-km long Beijing-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway. Experts are unsure if they will maintain the high speed and the cost of tickets, but China is clearly on the right track.

AFP noted that China "unveiled what it billed as the fastest rail link in the world -- a train connecting the modern cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan at an average speed of 350 kilometres (217 miles) an hour."

It is interesting that Chinese media seems to be able to discuss the new trains quite openly. Soon after the first run, news emerged that many Chinese felt the ticket prices were too high:

The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway has cut travel time between these two destinations to less than three hours. But at some cost. Priced between three to four hundred yuan, tickets are too expensive for many passengers. An online survey shows more than 30 percent of respondents think a railway trip should not cost so much money. More than a half say concerns over cost would prompt them to take standard, non-high-speed trains instead. But rail authorities say current prices are for a trial period only. And that they will be adjusted later, according, amongst other things, to how popular the trains prove to be.

Source: People's Daily Online High-speed trains too costly for many


In response to the comments, I'd like to add links to a brief report by Stuart Staniford, about transportation in China, and how quickly it is changing. Not only train lines, but also cars, trucks and airplanes are increasing in a very unsustainable way. The comments are worth reading too. Of the different investments China is making, trains is the least bad choice.

The Oil Drum
Early Warning

Consumers Union of Japan: In Memory of Urano Hisako

This is very personal. I had the joy and the privilege to work closely with Urano Hisako at Consumers Union of Japan over the past five years.

Mizuhara Hiroko writes:

Ms. Urano Hisako, who supported the international activities over the past 20 years at Consumers Union of Japan, has passed away on 2009 December 14. She was only 60 year old. I first met Urano-san as Consumers Union of Japan planned its 20th anniversary in August 1989: When we started the work to prepare for the large Asian Pacific Consumers’ Conference (APCC) held in Omiya, Japan, she began working as a volunteer at our office. Urano-san, together with almost 50 other volunteers who were fluent in English, contributed to the success of the APCC, coordinating this large meeting as we welcomed 20 guests from countries in the Asia-Pacific region...

Consumers Union of Japan: History 1969-

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Salvador Dali, Hiroshima and Okinawa

Spanish artist Salvador Dali was deeply terrified by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his exact, detailed style was very much suited to show the horror of the A-bomb, which America tried to keep a secret by classifying photos and descriptions until the end of the occupation of Japan in 1952. The Bureau of Atomic Tourism has more details if you want to know more about the legacy of nuclear weapons in the U.S.

Even today, do people understand the real horror of atomic bombs? If not, then, why not?

Dali's paintings are on display in Fukushima prefecture, where you can view Melancholy Atomic and Uranium Idyll and The Three Sphinxes of Bikini at the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art.

Long YouTube video from the Nihon University (Nichidai) channel with an interview featuring Morohashi Eiji, the son of the founder of the unique museum, and scenes from the Morohashi Museum (29:20):

#271美術館への誘い ダリの世界

Is there a hidden message in Dali's Bikini hydrogen bomb painting from 1947? Morohashi Eiji has the details around 12:30-14:00.

Wishing to find out more about Dali's inspiration around this time: The Triangle offers this quote:

During the post World War II era, Dali found a new inspiration in the person and the ideas of Werner Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle. Along with this came a renewed interest in religion and Dali coined a new term for this "Nuclear Mysticism". In his "Anti-Matter Manifesto" of 1958 Dali wrote: "In the Surrealist period I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world and the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. Today the exterior world and that of physics, has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is Dr. Heisenberg."

Dali Planet notes:

The atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima in 1945 had an enormous impact on Dali’s way of looking at the world. He was certainly among the first artists to recognise that the arrival of the nuclear age had fundamentally altered man’s perception of nature. In the decades to come Dali immersed himself in physics and produced dozens of works depicting objects exploded into their component particles...

In the year of Hiroshima he painted “Melancholy Atomic and Uranium Idyll”... In a bombed bunker intermingling atoms and electrons seem to draw a connection between aerial assault and baseball, one critic noting that the New York Yankees were known as the Bronx Bombers.

Dali also made a statue, the Sun God Rising In Okinawa as a tribute to the island.

When it was loaned to the island’s Urasoe City Museum for a 2008 exhibition, people called on the owner to give it to the prefecture permanently. (Photo from Okinawa daisuki na ningen)

Strange, but I cannot think of even a single American artist who compare to Salvadore Dali. Is there even one man or woman who stood up and made a case against nuclear weapons?

Classified Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by Hiroko Takahashi (pdf)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Sunk In Rethoric: The Ady Gil

James over at Japan Probe notes:

Being no expert on ships, I can’t really say for certain which vessel did the “ramming” in this case. However, judging from the wake coming from the back of the Ady Gil, it is very hard to believe Sea Shepherd’s claim that the vessel was “motionless” and “dead in the water” at the time of the collision.

On Friday, NHK World says this (adding that "crossbow arrows" have been found near the Ady Gil):

The anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says its high-speed boat that was involved in a collision with a Japanese whaling vessel has sunk in Antarctic waters. The Sea Shepherd's Ady Gil had its bow torn off in the collision with the Japanese whaling fleet's Shonan Maru No.2 on Wednesday.

Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said on Friday that the Ady Gil was abandoned while being towed by another of his group's vessels toward a French Antarctic research base. He said the organization's remaining 2 ships are continuing their pursuit of the Japanese fleet.

Separately, Australia's Environment Minister Peter Garrett told reporters that his government has asked Japan's government to investigate the collision.

Garrett said the request was filed on Thursday through the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. Garrett also said he's disappointed by Japan's lack of response despite Australia's repeated calls for a stop to the country's research whaling. The minister again suggested that the Australian government will seek legal action if diplomatic efforts fail.

The collision is receiving wide media coverage in Australia, where anti-whaling sentiment is strong. Some people are calling on Australia's government to take tougher action against Japan and to dispatch vessels to monitor its whaling activity.

Sea Shepherd was accusing Greenpeace for doing nothing to stop whaling, now this. While Greenpeace tried to engage the public in Japan and make the case against whaling, I fail to see how Mr. Watson has done anything to further the cause against whaling. He might have all the right arguments, but his tactics are not going to win over a lot of people here in Japan. Having said that, I did have some hope that he was more intelligent and would not let the Japanese "research" ships win this particular battle in such an easy way. "Hippie-boat" no more.

Sea Shepherd has engaged in violent tactics against a number of countries so far. The Morild in Norway, the society claims, in an editorial at their website, is a case in point:

The Norwegians are the most blatant violators of the regulations of the International Whaling Commission. The Norwegians, unlike the Japanese do not pretend to kill whales for research. They are thumbing their nose at international law.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been the most aggressive opposition to illegal Norwegian whaling. In 1992, our crew sank the pirate whaler Nybraena at dockside in the Lofoten Islands. In 1974, our crew scuttled the pirate whaler Senet in Southern Norway. In 1998, the pirate whaler Morild was sunk. In 1974, the Sea Shepherd ship Whales Forever disrupted the summer whale hunt and engaged in a confrontation with the Norwegian Navy. Despite being rammed, depth-charged and fired upon by the Naval vessel Andenes, the Whales Forever successfully avoided capture. Sea Shepherd continues to aggressively oppose illegal whaling activities in Norway.

Whatever happened to education and quiet persuasion, civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action, and targeted communication via mass media?

Update I: Ten Thousand Things notes that Hollywood stars are now supporting Sea Shepherd, while in the 1950s the best in Hollywood spoke out against American domestic repression of democracy; many lost their careers as a result... And, thanks for the link to Julian Lennon's Whale Dreamers official homepage.

Update II: Pandabonium notes that Australian Broadcasting (ABC) has a video on its website which was taken from the Shonan Maru 2 and released by the Institute of Cetacean Research (sic), which, ironically enough, clearly shows the latter intentionally turned hard to starboard, deliberately ramming the Ady Gil which was practically dead in the water:

Monday, January 04, 2010

Zen: Shodo Harada Roshi In America

"We have zazen, we have this practice that is designed to dig in, and dig out that ego. To find that place where it isn't happening, to get rid of that filter. To cut away, shave away, dig into the deepest possible roots, and find that place where the water of clear mind is flowing freely."

Update by Ten Thousand Things:

In his lecture, Shodo Harada concludes that the only way out is for individuals to purify themselves of their narrow egos and tap into a liberated mindset that sees the interconnections between every person with each other, our planet, and the universe:

This is something that everyone understands very easily. Everyone is capable of sensing the situation in the world today. There's no one who cannot sense that very deep despair that everyone feels.

But it's not a question of only fixing what is external. It's a question of also going within and taking care of the egoistic source of these external problems.

Today there are a lot of things that are being taken care of on the outside. There's a lot of healthy food being eaten. There's a lot of care to preserve our health. There's beginning to be care to preserve our planet. People are coming to consciousness that is needed to address these external social problems.

And that's good. But even if those go to greater lengths that we're going to now, if we don't take care of the problems that's within ourselves, it's not going to work. No matter how much external work is done, if what's happening inside is not being repaired, it's not going to help. It's not going to help the inner problem. The inner problem is something each person has to do for themselves...

...When we feel we are too self-aware and self-conscious and living on our own small energy instead of a greater, larger picture, we don't know what to do about that...

...And for that reason, we have za-zen, we have this practice that is designed to dig in and dig out that ego, to find that place where it isn't happening, to get rid of that filter, to cut away, shave away, dig into the deepest possible roots and find that place where the water of clear mind is flowing freely...and return to that base where that huge, clear, liberated mind comes from...

...And when we do that, when we return to this place where we can feel our center free from having to be told what to do by that ego, free from having to be controlled by that ego, then we can take that mind back out into our life, into the outside world and we can start dealing with the external problems from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

And that's the only way we are really going to be able to get rid of this egoistic heaviness in the world...

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