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Showing posts from June, 2010

Saving Seed - Part 3

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Save biological diversity by saving seed: the genetic resources needed to feed the world are under threat. Human intervention, climate change, pollution - and neglect - are all factors that severely reduce biodiversity. For food crops and livestock this is a very serious issue.

If farmers choose to grow only one crop on huge farms, and reject varieties that they do not think are as profitable or easy to grow, who is going to preserve those other crops?

As a seed is left forgotten (or eaten), its amazing genetic information is simply lost forever. Traditionally, farmers carefully saved seed based on observation of how the crops grew, how they handled changes in the weather conditions - and how good it tasted!

Much of colonialization was really about accessing and bringing back edible plants to feed the growing population in Europe. The potato is a classic example. Often, there was little understanding of the need for genetic diversity. The famine in Ireland is often cited as an example o…

Saving Seed - Part 2

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In the first part I dealt with the way we can save seeds from plants, by carefully paying attention to what happens during their entire cycle. In this part, I want to talk about saving seed - from seed companies. And I mean that in the literal sense: we need to understand the way the seed companies control farmers, and thus how they control what we eat.

If you want seed for your garden, and you buy what is available in the usual garden shop, you basically support the large, multinational seed companies.

Saving (as in "rescue" or just avoiding) seed from the companies that try to genetically manipulate (and patent) is a first crucial step. I have also previously talked about F1 hybrids, that do not breed true. F1 hybrids are not GMOs, but if you try to save seed from F1 hybrids, you don't know what the outcome will be in the following generations (technically speaking, the F1 seeds come from "inbred" lines of parent plants). The reason seed companies spend so much…

Saving Seed - Part 1

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My veggie farming skills are slowly improving, mostly due to others who are patiently explaining what to do.

This year, I have been helping a local farmer who runs a pretty professional operation with several houses, sprinkler systems, and all the bells and whistles he needs to provide supermarkets with fresh produce, including tomatoes, potatoes, daikon, onions, leech, beans, eggplants, red peppers, asparagus, corn (maize) and more. He is quite amazing and I will blog about him another time, because it really is fun to help out on a "real" farm, rather than having to make all the mistakes on my own.

Meanwhile, my own small veggy patch has been surprisingly good so far this year. I have harvested daikon and leek onions, and just a couple of days ago the first cucumber of the year. I also had some really nice beans from plants I bought in December. Right now I'm waiting for the tomatoes to start ripen, and I have some eggplant as well to look forward too, in addition to the…

Car Engine Idling: Stop Wasting Fossile Fuels!

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Wasting fossile fuels seems like an increasingly important issue to tackle. I have mentioned how much I dislike drivers who leave their car engines on, while they do other things, including shopping or sleeping. It is a common practice in Japan, even though it is technically illegal in many places. Even large trucks and tour buses just park and keep idling, apparently unaware of the air pollution and noise. Kids especially are at risk and allergies are on the increase. The fact that we are running out of oil on this fragile planet also seems to not bother these drivers, and they need to understand how their ignorance is contributing to climate change. I often take the local bus in Tokyo, and many bus drivers turn off the engine as they stop at red lights. I have noticed that many transportation companies also encourage their drivers to stop the engine when unloading goods. My postman sometimes stops his Cub bike when he has a lot of letters to deliver, but Japan Post doesn't seem t…

Nobel laureate Oe calls for reducing U.S. bases in Okinawa

I met Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe in Lund, Sweden back in 1994. He told the audience that he had woken up that morning, in south Sweden, to the noise of some demonstration or other, thinking they were protesting against him. He said it gave him quite a fright! Turned out it was just a regular animal rights march or some labour union thing. He got a laugh out of that.

Back then, I also wrote about the book he did together with German author Gunther Grass, as the two of them wrote letters to each other about their experiences of being German and Japanese, during/after WW2. As it turned out, Herr Grass wasn't very honest about his past, as he had served in the SS, but had decided to keep very quiet about that for a long time.

I wonder how Oe feels about that exchange, today.

Of course, he is very political. From the NYT:
In a closely watched ruling, the Osaka District Court threw out a $200,000 damage suit that was filed by a 91-year-old war veteran and another veteran’s surviving rela…

...By Any Other Name: What To Call North Korea?

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Watching North Korea get hammered by Portugal in the World Cup tonight, I was reminded of the trouble we had at NHK World: What to call that country? Officially, of course, it is (in English) Korea DPR while most of us just say, incorrectly, "North Korea." As far as they are concerned, there is no such thing as a "north" and a "south" Korea, since technically, they are still at war and not... but I digress.

At NHK in Shibuya, the news is broadcast in a number of languages, including Korean. We all had signs in our own languages, such as "Svenska" for the Swedish section and "Deutsch" for the German. The problem, then, was how to write "Korean" in the hangul script, that is used on the Korean peninsula. Since NHK aims for listeners both in the south and the north, so to speak, they had to find a term that was not controversial, even though it was not correct.

In South Korea, the language is most often called Hangungmal. There ar…

Lithium In The News, Little Do We Know

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Toyota and Honda would not be selling a lot of hybrid cars if they didn't have enough lithium for the rechargable batteries needed. Your cell phone or your brand new iPad would not work without it. This little known mineral is rare, and we know little of how it is mined for use in all kinds of applications (known as "eco" here in Japan). Is it not rather telling that most people have no idea at all where the important metals and minerals are coming from? Who is keeping such information from the consumers?

On his visit to Tokyo, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said this week that Japan takes priority over other nations when it comes to mining his country's vast mineral deposits. Karzai made his proclamation during a five-day visit to Japan. Grist has more, and Huffington Post even quoted our very own Japan Times:
"Morally, Afghanistan should give access as a priority to those countries that have helped Afghanistan massively in the past few years," he said, not…

Watching Football

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I'm watching Slovenia against the U.S. at Kodansha, were a couple of friends are live blogging for the gekisaka newsletter. T-kun from the UK is here too in his yellow Arsenal away shirt. As one does ;) Later tonight we will watch England but the big game is Saturday night, when Japan has a chance to make history - or not. Not quite fever pitch but it is fun to see the world come together for an event like this. Only once in four years.

ANPO At 50: Security At Any Cost?

Over at Ten Thousand Things, blogger Kimberly Hughes writes about a symposium she attended recently. The speakers included Kato Tokiko, Ueno Chizuko, Hosaka Masayasu, Oguma Eiji, Linda Hoaglund with details of the struggle against ANPO, the Japanese abbreviation for the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. This agreement was signed 50 years ago after a long and bitter fight, not just between the political parties* but also on the streets of Tokyo and elsewhere. Today, this treaty is like the elephant in the room, that noone likes but noone seems to like to mention:
“For many people in Japan, the presence of U.S. military bases had been all but completely forgotten about in recent decades—until the issue became dragged out of the shadows by the Futenma base conflict,” explained Oguma, a social historian. “And since the United States has not bothered to provide any explanation whatsoever about what the benefits of this air base might provide, it …

On The Pilgrimage Trail In Chichibu

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Prime Minister Kan, it was reported, responded to a scandal a few years ago by resigning from politics and embarking on the famous 88 temple pilgrimage in Shikoku. This is not as unusual as it sounds. Around the country, there are a number of ancient routes that link Buddhist temples, for those who need time off to contemplate or prepare for a new stage in life. These pilgrimage routes are called 巡礼 junrei.

Visiting me over the past two weeks, T-kun, an old friend from the UK has been walking the pilgrimage route in Chichibu, Saitama prefecture, and completed 30 of the 34 temples on the route, all on foot.


I went with him to a couple of the temples, such as number 12 and from 17 to 20. Some of it is paved road walking, but we also crossed small paths along rice field paddies, and he tells me there are tough climbs as well, especially on the final stretches up by the Arakawa River. The views are amazing, considering you are only a train journey away from Tokyo.

In Chichibu, the pilgrimage…

Consumers Demand Better Food Labelling System

325,125 people signed a petition demanding better food labelling rules in Japan. The signatures were collected by the No! GMO Campaign over a 6 month period, starting in the fall of 2009. This popular grass root movement strongly supports drastic changes to the current labelling system. An event was held on March 26, 2010 to submit the signatures to legislators at the House of Councilors of the Japanese Parliament in central Tokyo.The main targets of the push for revised rules are:1) The ingredients of processed foods should be covered by a traceability system to facilitate mandatory labelling;
2) All genetically modified (GM) foods and animal feed ingredients should be covered by the mandatory GM labelling system; and
3) Any food from cloned animals must be covered by a mandatory labelling system.The background for these demands is that consumers want to improve the nation’s food self-sufficiency ratio and ensure that our food is safe and healthy. The many signatures confirm that this …

Japan's New Farm Minister Author Of Food Crisis Novel

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Masahiko Yamada, DPJ lawmaker and author of a novel about how serious things could get if there is a global food crisis, was appointed Agriculture Minister today. He has previously served as a senior vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

The 300 page novel is a work of fiction with a number of reference points to real events over the past few years. What if grain trading in Chicago goes seriously wrong and Japan's trading companies cannot secure the wheat and corn that Japan needs to feed its population? Would "Heisei riots" follow, with people trying to escape from the cities? Yamada imagines panic and terror attacks and even starvation.

Clearly, what Yamada describes is a worst case scenario that few Japanese people want to think about - but the prospect of a "food war" is something the government should have long-term planning for. An oil crisis in the Middle East could very rapidly develop into a major problem for Japan, with everyone from fis…

Save Hirabari Satoyama: How can Nagoya City allow the destruction of this biodiverse treasure while hosting a UN conference on biodiversity?

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From Takuya Kamibayashi of Hirabari Satoyama Conservancy:Hirabari Satoyama is in real danger...

On the 29th of May, developers started blocking visitors' entry to Hirabari Satoyama.

Inside of the Satoyama, local children were growing rice inside of buckets—not inside the rice fields that actually exist inside of Satoyama. But once the developers started the blockade, the children were forced to remove buckets. The only available alternative location for the rice buckets seemed to be the public pathway that actually runs inside of Satoyama; but without a clear explanation, it was also blocked. Some locals asked Nagoya City for an explanation why it allowed the blockade of a public road, but the city turned them away.

I also had a chance to plant rice seedlings inside of buckets, and also to tour inside of Satoyama. What I witnessed there: shining eyes of kids–finding out how their food grows, looking up at the big Totoro tree, discovering the mystery of life. Now, they have not only m…

Finding Connections: Sea, Forest & Our Lives—Pacific Asia Resource Center DVD features individuals who saved their eco-systems

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The Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC) has worked since the 1970’s to promote sustainable development and fair trade in Asia. The Japanese NGO has released their newest DVD, Finding Connections: Sea, Forest and Our Lives, produced to encourage sustainable development and biodiversity conservation in Japan and abroad—particularly in rapidly developing Asian countries.

In the name of "development," humans are destroying ever-increasing swathes of our planet; thus wiping out entire eco-systems which we depend upon for food production and the continuation of life itself. Finding Connections: Sea, Forest and Our Lives features ordinary people who defy this trend living in harmony with nature—often against overwhelming forces. By listening to their experiences, we learn about the intimate interconnections between humans and nature.

Patterns of human relationships with nature reflect values that have changed with time. During the 1960's, Japan’s oceans, rivers, forests and f…

Will Kan Have Hap?

With Yukio Hatoyama's exit on Wednesday (while his wife "was quietly stuffing a pillow with cotton" according to The Yomiuri, that naughty old rag) Japan welcomes yet another new prime minister. Mr. Naoto Kan was health minister in 1996, during a very interesting time in Japanese politics, helping victims of a medical company scandal expose what involved blood from U.S. prisoners sold by Green Cross Corp. He has been finance minister under Hatoyama and must know that neither country involved in the Okinawa military base debacle really can afford more massive military spending. Reuters thinks he will be more pragmatic but notes that
He will also face challenges on the diplomatic front, where his views are less well-known. He is likely to stick to the Democrats' basic line of seeking a more equal partnership with the United States and closer ties with Asia including China.But implementing a deal clinched by Hatoyama with Washington to shift a controversial U.S. airbase…

BP Oil Spill Model: From Gulf Of Mexico To The Atlantic Ocean

This brief video shows how the BP oil spill could spread to the Atlantic Ocean from the Mexican Gulf, using a model with dye injected continuously each day for 2 months. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research predict that BP oil "might soon extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer [2010]." "I've had a lot of people ask me, ‘Will the oil reach Florida?'" NCAR scientist Synte Peacock said in a statement today. "Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood." NCAR's statement also addresses whether the slick could reach Europe and concludes that it will have disintegrated beyond harmful concentrations by then.From Grist