Thursday, July 29, 2010

Think Again About US Marines Relocation To Guam

Guam is a small island not well equipped to handle the proposed move of US Marines from Okinawa. The move of 8,000 US Marines and their families may be delayed, according to Yomiuri and other sources.
A planned transfer of about 8,000 U.S. marines from Okinawa Prefecture to Guam could be delayed beyond the 2014 target, perhaps by up to six years, according to an office of the U.S. Defense Department. A final environmental impact statement released by the department's Joint Guam Program Office on Tuesday includes a proposal to delay the transfer of the troops and their dependents to as late as 2020 to reduce environmental impact from the personnel relocation and associated construction projects. However, the statement said a new time frame would be decided later.
This is a strange fact that suddenly emerges in the middle of this hot summer after all the ground-shaking events, including the way former prime minister Hatoyama fired his outspoken and very popular minister Mizuho Fukushima, who was strongly opposed to the way Hatoyama tried to appease the Americans, as he tried to argue that US Marines were needed for deterrence. Then, of course, Hatoyama simply resigned, as if he really didn't care at all.

Yomiuri has a note from 1955, when a very different Japan-US relationship was imagined, by none other than Ichiro Hatoyama - grandfather of Yukio Hatoyama. Such a very small world.

Bold 1955 treaty offer to U.S. revealed

Wow, the things you can learn from wikipedia:
CIA files that were declassified in 2005 and then publicized in January of 2007 (...) detail a plot by ultranationalists to assassinate then prime minister Shigeru Yoshida and install a more hawkish government led by Ichiro Hatoyama in 1952. The plot was never carried out.
A good source appears to be this file, quoting AP. Yukio Hatoyama, you knew more than you let on, didn't you. But that is all in the past, isn't it - except it seems to be the mindset of the Pentagon even today, is it not?

(Wow, what an interesting site: the covers of Time Magazine in 1955, including Dag Hammarskjold of the UN and said Ichiro Hatoyama, Japan)

Back to 2010: If Okinawa will not accept the US Marines, and they cannot move to Guam for all kinds of environmental reasons, or as Ten Thousand Things points out,
The Stars and Stripes reported today that the U.S. military final environmental impact statement on the planned buildup on Guam released today still targets the indigenous Chamorro sacred site, Pagat, as its "preferred" site for a firing range.

What will it take to convince an organization that doesn't demonstrate respect for local self-determination; democratic process; the sacred; traditional cultural heritage; indigenous rights; and the natural environment to nix this Kafkaesque, apocalyptic plan for Pagat?
Where will they end up going? Stars & Stripes notes:

On Guam, local officials and residents continue to complain that a proposed firing range will encroach upon an ancient Chamorro village and a popular swimming and fishing spot.

In its final environmental statement, the Navy stuck to its plans to put the firing range near the Pagat village site, a move that some local leaders have said will force the military to take the land by legal force. It’s a tactic the military has pledged to avoid.

Hmm. We know that the US Marines want to start deplying those huge, horrible V-22 Osprey helicopters, thus the current location inside the city of Ginowan is no longer an option. The old helicopters are out, and the Marines are in a rush to get the new ones. Except, they don't have any place to put them.

Just a couple of days ago, on July 9, 2010, there was this news from Okinawa's Prefectural Assembly:
Summary of the Ryukyu Shimpo's editorial:

The resolution calls the Japan-U.S. Joint Statement "an act of violence that tramples democracy," and "one that ridicules Okinawans."

The anger in the resolution is only natural. The Prefectural Assembly in February passed an unanimous resolution calling for swift closure of Futenma Air Station and opposing construction of a "replacement" base in Henoko, but it was totally ignored by former Prime Minister Hatoyama.

The anger of the Prefectural Assembly is directed against new Prime Minister Kan, who unscrupulously inherited Hatoyama's irresponsible "Japan-U.S. agreement."

The resolution also protests Kan's statement of "apology and gratitude for Okinawa's burden" at the Battle of Okinawa memorial ceremony on June 23, saying it was "an act that paid no consideration to the feeling of Okinawans."

Prime Minister Kan attempts to impose further base burden on Okinawans. If he had any heart for making that apology, he should cancel that imposition. That would be the only right thing to do.

Kan, in his policy speech in June, stressed on the "realization of relocation and closure of Futenma Base, and transfer of components of U.S. Marines to Guam." The bilateral agreement specifies the relocation of "8,000 Marines and 9,000 family members," but the most important information is missing, which is how many Marines will be left in Okinawa.

According to Okinawa prefecture's statistics at the end of September, 2009, the number of Marines stationed in Okinawa was 14,958, and that of the family members was 9,035. In theory, the number of Marines remaining in Okinawa after the Guam transfer would be approximately 7,000, with no family members remaining. However, according to research by Ginowan Mayor Iha, "the majority of Okinawa Marines have been dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are actually less than 5,000 Marines in Okinawa."

For the past seven years, the number of military personnel in Okinawa, including family members, has decreased by more than 10,000, from 50,000 (2003) to 40,000 (2008).

So what is the rationale for transferring 8,000 Marines? Hatoyama, in his visit to Okinawa on May 4, said, "The more I learned, the more the deterrence effect of U.S. Marines I came to understand." The reality is, if one starts to "learn" anything, one will quickly discover that the bilateral agreement is full of contradictions.
So, these US Marines are clearly not wanted in Okinawa. Guam doesn't seem to be a great place to send them either. Time to think again, and start making suggestions that make sense. Please.

(Photo from the Peaceful New Earth Celebration Part II event, a screening of of The Insular Empire: America in the Mariana Islands, a documentary film directed by Vanessa Warheit. The film introduces viewers to the complex relationship between local residents and military history in the region, with a focus on the continuing harsh impact of U.S. militarism and colonization on the dwindling indigenous Chamoru population in Guam.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Aera: 10% or 30% Consumption Tax?

Aera wonders if the 10% consumption tax proposal means a thing. In its August 2 issue, they note that the good people of Japan tend to live so terribly long that how can the state possibly be supposed to provide welfare for all of its subjects?

Currently, the VAT rate is still set to a very conservative, accross-the-board, 5%, compared to other OECD countries (Sweden tops the list at 25% but does have lower rates for important things like books).

Prime minister Kan muddled the waters before the last election, noting that it may have to be raised. Consumers Union of Japan and many others are against an increase - hoping that the state will somehow reduce expenditures (such as military spending) rather than burden said subjects more.

Then, Kurashi is fortunate to have readers who do send in rather intelligent comments. What do you think about the consumption tax/VAT in Japan?

消費税 shouhi-zei is a rather loose term that implies all kinds of excise duties, thus generally translated as VAT or "consumption tax." VAT (or value added tax) may be argued to be a very different monster.

How I wish, just for once, that the clever folks watching over Japan's finances over in Nagatacho would come up with an indigenous term that actually made sense to, hrm, the "subjects" so to speak.

Citizens, as good consumers, are now faced with a dilemma.

On the one hand, the government and the big companies and just about everyone else want Japanese people to consume more. On the other hand, from an environmental point of view, and if we really wanted to reduce Japan's ecological foot print, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide a real model for how we all ought to live on this small planet, we should make every effort to promote efforts to lower consumption - asking said subjects to consume less.

Less consumption makes sense, per capita, in a post peak oil era.

Except if you are stuck in the thinking that Japan should somehow magically revert to the bubble days of the late 1980s (an era that Time Magazine - and others in the US media - still seem to regard as Japan Inc.'s golden standard, "clouded outlook" or not).

In the UK, the VAT is currently 17.5%, but that will be increased to "up to 20%" according to BBC on June 22, 2010.

If Aera is right - not even if the VAT was raised to an OECD record level of 30%, would Japan really provide a sustainable model for the rest of the world?


With an increase to 10%, would the VAT support the pensions for people in "long-living hell?"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Osaka: Austrian Artist Hundertwasser In Japan

Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an amazing artist from Austria. He helped design the Maishima Incineration Plant in Osaka. I like how he was always interested in all aspects of life, making even the most mundane aspects of life more artistic - such as toilets and garbage:

...According to the guide, the plant didn’t cost any more than a traditional one because they cut corners in other areas. Inside, visitors will see what must be the world’s cleanest incineration plant. The whole place is spotless, high-tech, well-decorated and modern. Trucks pull up to a giant garbage pit, and two giant robotic hands (each 6m in circumference) pick up the garbage and dump it into a huge incinerator. The plant can handle 900 tons of garbage a day and is extremely impressive.

If you are interested in finding out more about this quirky waste disposal icon, free tours are available with reservations. There is a good English pamphlet available but the guides do not speak English so please arrange an interpreter or come with a Japanese speaker.

Access: From Sakurajima station on the JR Yumesaki line, take the Maishima Sports Island bus and get off at ‘Konohana Ohashi Nishizume’ stop. The plant is open every day except Sundays and national holidays. Tours start at 10am, 1:30pm and 3pm. The tour lasts about 90 minutes. Reservations can be made by telephone, mail, or fax, but must be received at least one week before the visit.

Construction period: Begun in March 1997, completed in April 2001.

For more information see Osaka City


Exhaust gas treatment:
bug filter, moist cleaning equipment, catalytic equipment for removing NOx, etc.

Coping with dioxins:
The plant keeps exhaust gas concentration below 0.1 nanograms by computer controlled high-temperature operation + use of bug filter + catalytic NOx removal. Dioxins in escaping ash are decomposed with superheated dechlorination equipment

Chimney height:
1, Hokkoshiratsu 1cho-me, Konohana-ku, Osaka

In his architectural projects, Herr Hundertwasser, "implemented window right and tree tenants, uneven floors, woods on the roof, and spontaneous vegetation."

His first visit to Japan was back in 1960, according to this biography.

1960 Visits Japan. Receives the Mainichi Prize at the 6th International Art Exhibition, Tokyo. Very successful exhibiton in Tokyo. Paints in Hokkaido and returns to Vienna via Siberia.
1961 Marries Yuko Ikewada (divorced 1966). Very successful retrospective at the Venice Biennial.

Works include housing complexes in Germany; a church in Bärnbach, Austria; a district heating plant in Vienna; an incineration plant and sludge centre in Osaka, Japan; a railway station in Uelzen; a winery in Napa Valley; and a public toilet in New Zealand (in Kawakawa)... where he became a citizen in 1986! Video here.

My introduction to Hundertwasser was sometime in the early 1990s, when his works were exhibited at the Teien Art Museum in Meguro, including the drawings for his clever toilets!

I find his wikipedia page severly lacking in many ways, but, ok, I guess being an artist has never been easy. Furthermore, my knowledge of where my garbage ends up is even more lacking. How about you?


Video from inside the massive Osaka garbage disposal plant:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MSN News In Japan - Ads Or Just Business As Usual?

If you ever read MSN News in Japanese, which I do, you may be used to having to sift through commercials posing as editorial material. Or is it the other way around? Their summer campaign for hybrid cars takes the cake. Now, I enjoy reading about two girls driving from Asakusa, Tokyo, to Izu (and then apparently they will travel to Hokkaido) but shouldn't it be made much more clear that this is an ad?

The young girls pose in bikinis for both Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z (from July 23) but from what I can gather, this is not really a MSN News segment. So what is it?

OK, it is very hot and maybe someone decided that this was the best they could do to combat global warming, let's get out of Tokyo, summer in the city, 2010-style ;)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sigh - have we learnt nothing since 1957, when Vance Packard published his book called The Hidden Persuaders, about how images were being manipulated in advertising to induce desire for products or ideas in a subliminal fashion... With chapters such as "Back to the Breast, and Beyond" and "Babes in Consumerland" the MSN Drive Report seems to confirm the claims made by Mr. Packard, more than half a century later.

More seriously, or at least more elequently, Philip Brazor at The Japan Times noted:

Last April, the government introduced tax cuts (genzei) and subsidies (hojokin) for purchases of "eco cars." Consumers who buy new electric, hybrid or clean diesel vehicles do not have to pay the automobile acquisition and weight taxes, and if they own a car that's more than 13 years old and scrap it when purchasing a new one that fits certain criteria, they receive a subsidy of either ¥125,000 or ¥250,000, depending on the type of car being scrapped.

The Japan Times: Tax cut to make fuel-efficient cars cheaper backfires due to loophole

In fact, Toyota was in deep trouble last year, not even breaking even, as they sold only 8,000 cars in Japan per month.

In the words of NHK World, "the financial crisis forced Toyota to slash its daily output to as low as 8,000 units in March last year [2009]. That's below the break-even quota of 12,000 cars a day. However, the [eco car] subsidies helped boost demand for the automaker's mainstay hybrid models."

NHK World: Toyota to cut output after eco-car subsidy expires

Ladies and gentlemen, things could get very serious for the world's largest automaker by the end of 2010 unless you all go out and follow the advice of the two bikini-clad girls in the MSN commercial.

Beach Cleaning At Naruto, Japan

The Koike Beach Clean Up in Tokushima prefecture on July 17, 2010 aimed "to clean up rubbish-coming from the Seto Inland Sea- which has accumulated for years along the coast of Naruto, Japan."

Several schools participated, including Naruto High School and Shimada Elementary School. It is another example of how any real "defense" of our lands and our waters now rely on children and volunteers, as governments seem pre-occupied with satisfying global defense contractors (what used to be called the military-industrial complex). Meanwhile children grow up in neighborhoods that are severely polluted. Sarah, from France, also appears here (in Japanese).

I like how they made a special blog here and I hope they will share many more photos soon!

How did this happen?
The roles of Mr Miyamoto and Donoura Waste Treatment Plant are crucial. For this reason, Naruto High School and the waste treatment plant have decided to coordinate their actions. However, we also need more volunteers! So, why don't you join us on next time?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More River Cleanup: NEC

Many Japanese companies do arrange river cleanup programs as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs.

NEC is a case in point:

Seventy-three employees from the company, NEC Engineering, NEC Fielding, NEC Media Products, NEC Professional Support, NEC Soft, etc. which are located in the Nakagawara Technical Center cleaned up a river bank of Tama river on April 11, 2004.

They also do beach cleanups such as the Miura, Kanagawa prefecture beach.

I hope they keep going and see this as an investment in the future, both for the company and for the people involved.

In August 2006, NEC launched the NEC B.E.A.C.H. (Beach Ecological Action will Change your Heart) Project to contribute to society and encourage environmental awareness by sweeping beaches. On August 26, 126 people, including NEC employees & their families and local residents, participated in the First Miura Beach Cleaning Campaign. The event included beach sweeping, observation of organisms on the beach, playing with sand and other programs involving children learning more about the environment. Jointly organized with Miura City, the activity will be continued at the rate of four events per year.

In June 2010, some 147 employees of NEC participated in a cleanup event around their facilities in Ibaraki prefecture. In addition to events in Japan, they also hold environmental activities in other parts of the world, under the Make A Difference campaign:

The "NEC Make-a-Difference Drive (MDD)" is one such example. Established in 1999 to mark our 100th anniversary, this project has harnessed the energy of, at present, a total of 1,070,000 employees in contributing as volunteers to supporting developing countries, educational activities, tree planting and a variety of other problem-solving projects. And through their volunteer work in contributing to local communities, NEC employees have helped greatly in developing a corporate consciousness that is community-based and highly social. In addition, participation in such efforts has also resulted in NEC employees who are more sensitive to the problems facing society, and therefore, has lead to the development of products and services that are plugged into societal needs.

It is just not about cleaning up rivers or beaches.

On May 12, 2010, NEC TOKIN America Inc. employees returned to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank in San Jose, CA, to sort and box food donations collected from homes by the U.S. Postal Service letter carriers in the annual “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive to help feed people in need in our local community.

About the Second Harvest Food Bank: The Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara is a non-profit organization that has been serving the community since 1974. The food bank serves an average of 236,000 people monthly, mostly low-income families and seniors in our local community.

For more information see: Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Clara and San Mateo, U.S.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia what is NEC doing? We have to rely on their official webisite, don't we.

In addition, local Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) or Non Political Organizations (NPO) may or may not be able to reach out and let like-minded people at NGOs or NPOs know what is going on. Also., journalists (if they can be trusted) may be invited to learn about local issues...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Obori River Clean Up Campaign

I just love finding stuff like this - a local blog about some region I would not have heard of, and the more I read the better it gets.

Check this out:

Next, I talked to Mr. Nakano of Oborigawa no Mizu wo Kirei ni suru Kai – the Obori River waterway clean-up association. The Obori River is a part of the Tone River system and feeds Teganuma Marsh. The organization welcomes volunteers who can come out and clean up garbage that washes down the river, teaches children about the water cycle, and hosts events on the river.

I was surprised to learn that the Oborigawa to this day has a significant salmon run. So that’s what the grandpas are patiently waiting to catch! Looking down from the Joban train line which crosses the Obori on the west side of the marsh, you can see people with rods. Mr. Nakano says that, like salmon runs anywhere, there is a four-year cycle, and people eagerly anticipate the return. The big event of the summer happens on Marine Day, July 22nd*, when volunteers do “osoji”, a big clean of the river. Come help out!

*Make that July 19, 2010 (Monday) which is a public holiday in Japan.

  日時: 2010年7月19日(月、海の日) 
  場所: 国道6号脇のアサヒ飲料跡地の裏、

From Chibaraki Life

More rivers on Kurashi here

Monday, July 12, 2010

Uemura Kano: Toilet God Song

Uemura Kana got a huge hit this year with her 10 minute long ballad called Toilet God. A sweet story of her memories of growing up with her obaasan, who taught her how to be a beautiful woman. This is for all of us who had the privilege to spend a lot of time with our grandparents when we were young. Enjoy. Yes, in Japan there are all kinds of gods for all kinds of occasions and situations, even today. Is it shinto? You decide. Even Mure Dickie at the Financial Times thinks this is a tune worth linking too ;)

“Japanese like simple and compact designs, but Chinese consumers tend to prefer a bit more form and decoration,” says Junko Kawaide, Inax’s Expo manager.

Such concern for Chinese tastes is a relatively recent phenomenon for many Japanese companies. Inax, for example, has been manufacturing bathroom fittings , tiles and toilets in China for years, but has only recently seen the country as a serious market for its high-technology toilets with their automated seats, massaging shower units, deodorisers and sound systems.

“At first we were producing here for Japan, but now we are putting more and more emphasis on the Chinese market,” Ms Kawaide says.

Lyrics from JpopAsia:

Toire No Kamisama

About the time I was in 3rd grade
I lived with my grandmother
My parent's house was next door but
I lived with my grandmother

Everyday I helped out
I even played gobang
But my grandmother said this to me
because I couldn't clean the toilet

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

From that day on
I started making the toilet shine
I'll definitely become a beautiful woman
Every day I polished it

When we went out to go shopping
We both had roasted duck
My grandmother missed her new comedy show
and cried and blamed me

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

I became an adult
and I bumped heads with grandma
I couldn't make a family
and I had no place to stay

I didn't return home on days off
I was out with my boyfriend
Both of us stopped playing
gobang and eating roasted duck

I wonder why people hurt others
and we lose things close to us
she was always by my side and I left her alone

It's been two years since I left for Tokyo
grandma is in the hospital
She's losing weight and got thin
I went to go see her

I said, "granny, I'm back!"
just like I used to
Even though we spoke a little bit
I said I'll come back and left the room

The next morning grandma
quietly fell asleep
it was just as if
she was waiting for me to come back
Even though she raised me properly
Even though I could repay her back
Even though I wasn't a good grandchild
She waited for me

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

I had a dream to become
a wife in a good dispostion
today I'm going to
make the toilet shine alone

Thank you
Thank you
from the bottom of my heart

Meanwhile, back in Sweden, people are making and promoting phosphorus-separating toilets that look like this:

Why? Because P (as in NPK) is an important plant fertilizer/nutritient that should not be wasted. I am hoping this is a trend that will catch on in Japan (and China) as well.

Hands Across The Sand Calls For End To Offshore Drilling Around The World

On February 13, 2010, over 10,000 concerned people in Florida, USA joined hands on nearly 100 beaches along the entire state coastline to demand an end to the dangerous, contaminating practice of coastal oil drilling.

Two months later, in one of the worst disasters in recent history, the entire southern U.S. Gulf Coast was threatened by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill--a catastrophe whose full extent is still unfolding.

Aiming to prevent future similar disasters, the Florida organizers put out a call for a similar event to take place worldwide on June 26, 2010.

Kimberly Hughes has more over at Ten Thousand Things. 3 events took place in Japan, including Yokohama. Videos and photos from other events taking place worldwide are available on the Hands Across the Sand gallery page.

On Saturday, June 26th tens of thousands of people gathered at more than 900 locations in 39 countries to be part of an event called Hands Across the Sand. The message was simple, clear and powerful: NO to offshore drilling and YES to a clean energy future that will end our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels. This worldwide event transcended social and political lines to become one of the biggest grassroots phenomenons since the first Earth Day in 1970.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mitsui Asked To Help BP Pay For Oil Disaster

Mitsui is deeply involved in oil drilling around the world. BP has just asked the Japanese company to help pay for clean up operations in the Mexican Gulf. Not much has been reported here in Japan about the toxic goo but if BP insists, what will Mitsui Oil Exploration Company do? To pay or not to pay...

BP's clean-up costs to date amount to some $3.12bn (£2bn), including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid, and federal costs. To recoup some of those losses, in June BP sent out demands for almost $400m to its partners in the well – Houston-based Anadarko and Japan's Mitsui Oil Exploration Company. Anadarko owns 25% of the well and Mitsui has 10%. Anadarko, however, has flatly refused to pay up.

Guardian: BP attempts to place new cap over Gulf of Mexico oil rupture

MOECO website said on May 10, 2010:

Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., Ltd. (''MOECO'') announced today that on April 20, 2010, a third party semi-submersible drilling rig, which was conducting exploration work on the Mississippi Canyon 252 block in the Gulf of Mexico, experienced a fire incident, which sank the drilling rig and resulted in leakage of hydrocarbons from the well, as reported in the press. MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC, a 100% subsidiary of MOEX USA Corporation (a 100% subsidiary of MOECO), has a 10% working interest in the block as a non-operator, which is operated by BP Exploration and Production Inc. A full response is being conducted by the operator, the drilling rig owner and government entities. MOECO maintains insurance policies.

MOECO is unable, at this time, to determine the cause of the incident, and the impact, if any, that the incident will have on MOECO's future operating results, financial position or cash flows.

But these huge companies are almost never held accountable. Mitsui is also involved in many other ventures, such as a project in the ocean near Thailand and Cambodia.

If a similar disaster struck there, would we be getting daily reports in international media?

Would clean up operations be properly paid for and would local fishermen and others be compensated?

Where is your oil, gasoline and gas coming from? Can you reduce? What about "fossile fuels" and climate change issues? By mid 2010, are we getting closer to supplying our energy needs using renewable energy?

Are you prepared to deal with life without cheap oil?