Friday, December 30, 2011

ABBA: Happy New Year (1980)

From the ABBA Super Trouper album.

Seems to me now
That the dreams we had before
Are all dead, nothing more
Than confetti on the floor
It's the end of a decade
In another ten years time
Who can say what we'll find
What lies waiting down the line
In the end of '89...

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don't we might as well lay down and die
You and I

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mari Kawamura, Récital de Piano

I got a chance to go to listen to Mari Kawamura at Suntory Hall in Tokyo yesterday. She performed a very rich program of Shumann, Satie, Debussy and Mussorgski. She has studied piano in France and in the US and released one CD so far. I liked her no-nonsense style and relaxed interaction with the audience. English website here:

Mari Kawamura

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find anything by her on Youtube, but here is the Prélude from Suite Bergamasque by Debussy.

Both Satie and especially Claude Debussy are well known and liked in Japan. Debussy even asked the printers to put the now famous Hokusai image, The Hollow of the Great Wave of Kanagawa on the cover page of the musical score for his La Mer (The Ocean).

mellowmarie, an avid art appreciation blogger, writes:

as i noted before, i myself had always sensed japanese tones in his melodies and had wondered if he had ever been influenced by japanese traditional music. it is interesting to learn that he was influenced by japonism.

in a webpage from the Department of Music, Trinity College, Dublin that just happened to hit, it says that debussy was influeced by japanese prints by hokusai hakushika. but i still don't get it. why could he get the japanese melodies by just observing prints? had he ever had any access to actual japanese music performed? or did he happen to have japanese melodies just by impressions he got from prints and other material arts? this is really a fascinating topic that i would return later.

And her link to the webpage is a real gem, with the following details:

Hokusai's painting shows a wave breaking over into spray, foam, and smaller waves. It is an image of terror, elegance, and awesome power, simultaneously through Hokusai's usage of perspective. In a study of Hokusai's work in 1896, Edmond de Goncourt writes,

"The design for The Wave is a deified version of the sea made by a painter who lived in a religious terror of the overwhelming sea surrounding his country on all sides; it is a design which is impressive by the sudden anger of its leap into the sky, by the deep blue of the transparent inner side of its curve, by the splitting of its crest which is thus scattered into a shower of tiny drops having the shape of animals' claws."

This vivid yet suggestive imagery is very well suited to the spirit of Debussy's works. It is seen in Debussy's view of nature, which is typically vague, dreamy, with a type of "luminosity." La Mer is an obvious example and will be dealt with further on in the paper.

That cover for the tune that took Europe by storm (hrm) in 1905 looked like this:

And was created by Hokusai in 1831, some 65 years earlier, when it looked like this:

Valery Gergiev conducts the London Symphony Orchestra performing Debussy's La Mer. Recorded in March, 2007 at the Barbican in London.

I had the pleasure to enjoy Valery Gergiev conducting twice a few years ago in Tokyo, including at the Suntory Hall. Unforgetable. I even took a few photos, and immediately, hall staff was on hand urging everyone not to retain such a small but obviously valuable memento. OK, that's not what they said. I still have the photos. They mean a lot to me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Speaking of Hope - Dvorak Ballet

Melody by Dvorak, dance by Nadezhda Pavlova (Nadezhda means "hope") of Bolshoi fame from the 1970s.

And if you liked that, how about her performance in La Bayadere? Nice comment on the Youtube video:

Pavlova´s extensions are like poetry in every role that she dances, she makes them so natural and when they are necessary, not just for showing - off

This is one of those classic stories that link east and west, as the origin of the "temple dancer" ballet was a visit from India in 1839 to Paris, and then a later visit to London (which ended in tragedy as the main dancer could not endure the cold and fog). The word "bayadere" was already known as Johann Goethe had written his Der Gott und die Bajadere (The God and the Bayadere) in 1830. The term seems to be from the Portugese, while in India, Devadasi is used.

I like how the TV producers of the day made the dance and music the focus, with no stage props to distract from the experience. I hope we can all enjoy music and dance again like this. Technically speaking, this is sublime, if there is such a thing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vladivostok-based Sail Training Ship Nadezhda In Yokohama

I had the good fortune to see a very beautiful sail ship in Yokohama yesterday, the Nadezhda. Based in Vladivostok, she is a research ship built in the late 1980s in Gdansk, Poland (a very exciting year for the Solidarity movement that originated on the ship yards). Read about the history on the ship's sister ship Mir's website:

Mir English website

MIR ("Peace", "World") is the third ship of a series of six ships of the M108-class, also called "MIR"-class, which were built in the '80s at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. The first of this series is the sister ship built for the Polish navy: Dar Mlodziezy. The other sister ships, which were built for the former Soviet Union: Khersones (Crimea peninsula, where there are remains of a Greek settlement) Pallada, Drushzba (means "Friendship"), Nadeshzda (means "Hope").

Photo of Nadezhda at anchor in Yokohama taken with my mobile thus not the best quality. Click to enlarge!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Princess And The Pilot

I went to see a wonderful anime film today, The Princess and the Pilot (とある飛空士への追憶) which was recently released in theatres here in Japan. I liked the flying scenes and the beautiful art work, truly magic on a big screen. Madhouse Studios is a smaller company than Ghibli, which this story seemed to take some inspiration from, especially the fanciful European setting and the huge steampunk aircrafts that hover above the sea. The pilot is a young flyer who is ordered to rescue a princess, but who said she wants to be rescued? Ghibli would have made this story a lot more sentimental, but I liked how the pilot stays true to his mission until the end.

The fighting scenes involve aircraft like the Shinden, which was developed late in WW2. Our hero's plane is called Santa Cruz, a fierce two-seater. All have already been transformed into plastic models for true fans.

As often happens in anime, we are both in the past and in the future, at the same time. Lovely sound track with theme song performed by Seiko Niizuma. Highly recommended!

Official website: (in J but there are plenty of trailers here)

To Aru Hikūshi e no Tsuioku's story revolves around Charles Karino, a Revaamu Empire mercenary aerial pilot who mans the twin-seater reconnaissance seaplane Santa Cruz. One day, he receives a preposterous assignment: to fly solo over 12,000 kilometers of enemy waters to protect a girl named Fana del Moral. Fana happens to be the next in line to the empire's throne and a girl possessing beauty "equal to 5,000 beams of light."

Source: Anime News Network

Update: Oh, blame me, I didn't even think of the obvious connection to recent news here about saving the The Imperial Y Chromosome (Shisaku).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

TPP: To Join Or Not To Join (Or Consult About Possibly Joining)

The last words on Japan's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations were vague, to put it mildly. Prime Minister Noda was supposed to decide on Thursday, then delayed 24 hours, and by Friday he said Japan would "start talks with related countries toward participation in the TPP negotiations," according to the Daily Yomiuri.

Daily Yomiuri: Noda chose words carefully / TPP language thought to be aimed at soothing opponents

Noda sought to win the support of opponents to the talks by referring to his experiences on his family farm. "I remember my mother carrying me in a basket on her back in my childhood," he said. "I remember the earthy smells and the calm and peaceful farm village. These early experiences will remain in my memory. I will always protect beautiful farm villages."

Noda carefully coordinated opinions inside the government and the ruling coalition parties. He postponed his decision on the TPP for one day on Thursday, and consulted with senior DPJ officials about the statement he was going to make during the press conference Friday, and listened to their opinions.

Early Friday, Noda consulted with DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano about what he would say at the press conference later in the day, a source said.

As a result of the consultations, Noda decided to avoid emphatically saying something like, "There's no choice but to join the TPP negotiations to rehabilitate Japan after two 'lost decades' of economic stagnation," the source said.

By using indirect language, Noda expressed his intention to join the TPP talks, but at the same time, he managed to give DPJ opponents the impression that Japan would be joining only pre-talk talks.

"The vague statement was meant to minimize discontent among DPJ opponents, including former farm minister Masahiko Yamada and those who threatened to leave the party, an observer said.

"Prime Minister Noda didn't say the government would join the negotiations," Yamada said after Noda's press conference. "He said only that Japan would join 'pre-negotiation negotiations.' He accepted proposals by the DPJ and stopped short at the end."

Contrast this with the headlines of major newspapers, that made it seem like Japan had now confirmed that it would join the actual negotiations. Noda can only hope for Japan to attend talks as an "observer" in Honolulu this weekend, when the heads of the nine negotiating countries will meet, as no real decision has been made to join.

The Mainichi notes that the TPP issue "has sharply divided public opinion in Japan." Yet their headline is misleading, to say the least. For a major newspaper to claim that "Japan decides to join Pacific free trade talks despite resistance" is just not the truth. This indicates how divided the publishers, editors and the journalists are when it comes to TPP and "free" trade.

Asahi Shinbun had somewhat better coverage of the TPP debacle. They quoted coalition partner Shizuka Kamei of the People's New Party, who has experience as a trade negotiator, and is against the TPP:

"The TPP concept originated from trade rules established by Singapore and other small countries. The United States is seeking to use them to govern the Pacific Rim free trade zone. If Japan gets involved in TPP rulemaking, it would amount to being unfair to China, South Korea and Indonesia, which are all major trading partners for Japan and not parties to the TPP regime."


"The Foreign Ministry does not appear to be capable of obtaining accurate information about what is going on inside Washington. Perhaps, it does not want to reveal even information that it already has. It looks like the Noda administration is calling for Japan's participation while keeping the country blindfolded. Giving lip service to the United States seems to take precedence out of political considerations."
Asahi: Kamei: Noda administration will collapse if Japan joins TPP talks

Asahi also had this analysis of how difficult it might be for Japan to get serious about negotiations, as different ministries are responsible for different sectors of talks, with opposite goals:

Another hurdle is whether Japan is fully prepared to engage in tough negotiations. The Japanese government does not have an office that handles all international trade talks, unlike the United States, which has the U.S. Trade Representative, and South Korea, whose trade bureaus under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade does the job. The Japanese Foreign Ministry works as the organizer of economic partnership agreement talks.

But officials from the farm ministry are the negotiators if tariffs on agricultural products are involved. And bureaucrats from the health ministry form the Japanese delegation if the talks concern medical products.

My conclusion is that Noda's announcement, for whatever it is worth, amounts to little of substance. This is how opponents of TPP look at it, according to Asahi's analysis:

DPJ members opposed to Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations watched Noda's televised news conference at a room in the Diet. "I was relieved," said Masahiko Yamada, former agriculture minister who is a staunch opponent of the TPP. "(Noda) did not go as far as to announce Japan's participation in the TPP talks, but stopped at entering consultations."

Asahi: ANALYSIS: Noda's tough TPP negotiations start in the DPJ

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

TPP: 11,668,809 Signatures Against Joining "Free" Trade Agreement

You may not know it, but Japanese people are very vocal and very outspoken. They protest a lot! Foreign media usually does not bother to cover activism in this part of the world. The current protests here in Japan against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a case in point.

Over 11 million Japanese people have signed a petition against TPP. They realize that "free" trade is nothing but a massive assault that will force impossible conditions on their livelihoods. What is so "free" about that?

It could be called the fourth disaster to strike in 2011, after the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

Joining TPP negotiations to eliminate 90% of agricultural tariffs would make it impossible to live in rural Japan.

TPP might lead to a lowering of Japan's food self-sufficiency from around 40% to 13%.

Asking Japan to import 87% of its food? That would essentially kill one of the best reasons this country has for attracting tourists. It would kill a way of life, both for small restaurants that depend on local produce, and for fancy places that assure its customers that they provide the very best. It would make rice farming next to impossible, thus all related farm activities in areas that are known for their delishious rice to collapse. These are not empty words in a country that appreciates its farmers. Consumers here are strong supporters of the agricultural policy that has evolved in spite of external pressure.

I have no idea where all those people in rural areas would move, what they would do, how they are supposed to manage.

Farmers are the backbone of rural Japan, and they contribute to Japan's cuisine, with more Michelin Guide 3 star resturants than France, and a very high level of food safety we all can enjoy - also in the cities.

That is connected to postal services, banking and other services in rural areas. Pensions? Health insurance? Hospitals? Ambulance services?

These are other sectors that are targeted for the direct assault and deregulation by the proposed TPP rules.

But the people here clearly understand the gravity of the situation. Thus, they protest. Wouldn't you??

11,668,809 people (so far, and counting) are against the TPP.

On the other side of the fence, a few exporting companies that want us all to consume more of their cars and televisions. Soo 20th century if you ask me.

(Top image from NHK World, showing the massive gathering on Nov. 07 in Tokyo of farmers opposing TPP. Other images from JA, the agricultural cooperative movement, showing the 11 million signatures that they have collected against Japan joining TPP, instead urging the government to protect their livelihood. Click to enlarge.)

Other views on TPP:

Shisaku: Up Against The Wall On The TPP about Prime Minister Noda's "insane" schedule this week before he goes to the APEC meeting on Saturday

Japan Today: Big anti-TPP rally held in Tokyo as deadline for decision looms with a lot of pro-and-con comments, many bordering on the ludicrous while others try to point out facts

Consumers Union of Japan: Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement
We are particularly concerned about what this means for food safety and food security. Japan’s food self sufficiency rate, which is already low, will be further undermined. The United States, which will be a part of TPP, officially considers Japan’s food legislation as a “non-tariff barrier” and lists their concerns each year in the USTR report on trade barriers in foreign countries including Japan. Their goal is to abolish Japanese rules, for example regarding genetically modified organisms (GMO) and beef products, that they regard as one-sided.

Ten Thousand Things: Traditional Americans & Japanese Against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "Free Trade" Agreement (very much in tune with events both here in Japan and in the US):

Americans and Japanese opposing the TPP are the 99% who are actually conservatives. They want to conserve their economic and social systems as they are and renew what has been lost because of past American and Japanese unsustainable obsession with economic competition and growth—that unduly benefited the 1%.

NHK World: Farmers hold rally against TPP
About 6,000 farmers and others have held a rally in Tokyo to oppose Japan's participation in talks on an Asia-Pacific free trade pact.

Agricultural cooperatives and other groups organized the rally on Tuesday. The governing Democratic Party aims to work out an advisory opinion on Wednesday on whether Japan should join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

The head of the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, Akira Banzai, said that even though it's clear the TPP will harm Japan's economy and destabilize its food supply, the government and a ruling party are still inclined to join the talks.

The representative of a doctors' association said Japan's universal health insurance system will collapse if the country joins the TPP. He referred to a possible introduction of combined treatment, under which patients receive medical care that is both covered and not covered by public health insurance.

More than 100 lawmakers also took part in the rally. The politicians included members of the ruling Democrats, and opposition Liberal Democrats and Communists.

They called on Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to refrain from announcing Japan's participation in the TPP at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that opens in Hawaii on Saturday.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Some Surprises As I Search For "Off Grid" On The Internet

Living "off grid" or independently of the usual power supplier (the "grid") is not an unusual concept, although most of us are still trying to find ways of actually doing it. At least we are thinking about our energy consumption. Perhaps that requires some heavy duty Internet search!

If I use, I get lots of interesting results for オフグリッド (off grid), including: (a do-it-your-self shop website with lots of cool ideas)
Offgrid Q & A (blog by a small company with big ideas)
Ultra Technica (Beautiful visions by Osaka architects longing for off-grid living) (a crazy entry on a French ad for a certain company about how to get energy from - oranges!)

If your search engine of choice is selective, it will influence your world view - if you use commercial Internet search engines that select what you get in reply to your queries, based on who pays. I worry that even more selective search engines can and may influence a lot of people. On the other hand, even better search engines can help you make important choices.

(Images from Ultra Technica Off Grid Lab)

Non-Electric Lifestyle

A clever inventor in Nasu, Tochigi prefecture is thinking about how to live a non-electric lifestyle - and doing something about it. Yasuyuki Fujimura, with a PhD in engineering, makes products that don't run on electricity, including this fascinatingly simple refrigerator.

Japan for Sustainability explains:

How can it refrigerate food without electric power? It uses a phenomenon called radiational cooling together with the natural convection currents of water.

Radiational cooling occurs when infrared radiation is emitted from an object's surface, causing its temperature to decrease. On a clear night, infrared rays are emitted from the ground into the atmosphere, cooling the air down. This is why the night is extremely cold in the desert. Most people have experienced water's natural convection currents when warm water rises while cold water sinks and pools at the lowest level.

The cooling unit of the refrigerator (capacity 200 liters) is made of metal that has high thermal conductivity. A large volume of water (about 250 liters) is stored around this unit as a coolant. Radiator panels are placed on top so that the inner surface of the panel touches the coolant water. The heat of things stored in the cooling unit is conveyed to the surrounding water by the metal, and the heat goes up by natural convection. Thus it is conveyed to the radiator panel, and emitted through radiational cooling.

The system is most efficient on a clear night when there is less water vapor in the air. One clear night (and sometimes even one cloudy night) every three days can keep the temperature inside the refrigerator at around 7 to 8 degrees Celsius even on a mid-summer day. This innovative refrigerator belies our present-day common sense assumption that things cannot be refrigerated without electricity.

I bet this is going to be a lot more popular in the near future, as our electricity bills are bound to increase and we face chronic energy shortages. For those who are already experimenting with off-the-grid lifestyles, here is a wealth of information. People preparing for power outages will also be glad they found this!

Price? 44,000 Yen (about 400 Euro or 560 USD)

More images of 非電化 hidenka (non-electric) products on the website (J)
English website Atelier Non-Electric
(Hat tip to Pandabonium for bringing this to my attention!)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Shall We Dansu 1/13

Director: Masayuki Suo (1997)


But, I have to say, I'd love to see a take on this film where a bunch of Europeans try to learn Japanese dancing LOL.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Dancing Chaplin, And More

Speaking of recent films, I had the pleasure to watch Dancing Chaplin here in Hanno, where some good people are trying to set up an independent movie theatre.

Directed by Suo Masayuki, the film has two parts: a documentary approach and the real deal, filmed at the Toyo Studios in Tokyo. A ballet based on the films by Charlie Chaplin. I enjoyed every minute.

Starring dancers Tamiyo Kusakari, Luigi Bonino, Lienz Chang.

Quote from Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow:

Now director Masayuki Suo will be returning to the the big screen with another dance-themed film. The 54-year-old filmmaker is set to direct "Dancing Chaplin", a loose adaptation of French choreographer Roland Petit's ballet "Chaplin". This return to dance for Masayuki Suo is a labour of love in more ways than one. The star of "Dancing Chaplin" will be Suo's wife, ballet dancer Tamiyo Kusakari. Although Kusakari will be starring opposite dancer Luigi Bonino she will be apparently taking on six different roles in the film including a turn as Charlie Chaplin on whom the ballet was based.

Mark Schilling has this to say - and he is very inspired, even to the point of wanting to join a gym to get in shape:

The first half of the film captures everything from the 10 days of rehearsal for the performance to Suo's at times testy interactions with the sagely looking, smilingly firm Petit, who rejects the director's proposal to shoot a portion of the ballet in a park (though the quietly persistent Suo finally gets his way).


For me, most of the inspiration came from Bonino, 60 at the time the film was made, but as vivacious, energetic and flexible as a man decades younger. He is also a masterful instructor, gently working with a nervous Kusakari as she moves through her intricate steps, while whipping the young male dancers through their paces like a no-nonsense soccer coach.

Talking to Suo about his own role, Bonino admits to an initial dread of matching himself against Chaplin ("I could watch none of the films," he confesses) and asserts that, though the Tramp is his inspiration, the interpretation is strictly his own.

By the time the performance segment started, presenting 13 scenes from the ballet, I found myself rooting for Bonino, Kusakari and other dancers whose dedication and pain I had just witnessed (which was Suo's intention, though it compromised my objectivity as a dance critic).

Also, instead of the now-common strategy of filming dance with zooming cameras and five-second cuts, Suo takes a relatively straightforward, restrained approach, more like NHK than MTV. At the same time, by occasionally moving the show into the open air, he not only breaks the visual monotony of the typical performance film but also reminds us that Chaplin shot some of his funniest bits with little more than a park, a cop and a pretty girl. Suo was right, in other words, and Petit was wrong.
The Japan Times: 'Dancing Chaplin' A loving convergence of comedy and dance in Japan

Here is the official trailer (they really should put more of it on Youtube if they want people to find out about it):

That got me looking for the original films, as many of the ballet scenes allude to actual moments in Chaplin's classic films.

Except, I realized I haven't seen very many of them. Of course I know he is a comic genious, but...

Finding this gem, from The Great Dictator (1940) was eye-opening. Enjoy the barber scene to the tune of Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 5:

And the final impromptu speech that has such a beautiful message:

But since I will use the humour lable for this post, I can't help add an image from North Korean propaganda, side-by-side with the famous image of Chaplin just before his solo dance with the big globe...:

(Image of North Korean military brass from It's Your World Blog of The World Affairs Council of Northern California)

Friday, November 04, 2011

Tintin In Congo On Trial In Belgium

I just can't resist... The 1930s is a very long time ago, but still, there are people with chips on their shoulders. One case is the current trial in Belgium against the album Tintin In The Congo. And here is my take on this sorry affair (hrm):

I totally agree that Tintin in Congo should be banned and erased from the history books. Why? Obvious! It portrays a young white man as an agent of colonialism in Africa: we just cannot allow that story to be told in 2011! Why should a picture book about a white man and his noble efforts back then still be read today, when we are so much more enlightened and know that all men are created equal, and that white men are (and thus were!) no better or worse than anyone else! Let's stop this implied racism against young white men, once and for all. In fact, prohibit all of the Tintin books, while we are at it, since young white men are bound to find his actions so outlandishly lacking in values that we regard as common sense today, 80 years later!

Look at how they portray Tintin, a young white man, wearing silly trousers!

And while we are at it, we should ban all Agatha Christie books with that caricature of a Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot: it is just so insensitive to all fat yet highly intelligent men, especially white, from Belgium, who happen to like nice clothes and proper cuisine. AND of course, time to erase Charlie Chaplin from the world of cinema too, as he represents a poor white man in America, we just cannot have that, can we, what will the rest of the world think? What else should be banned while we are at it? As a white man, I feel so bad about all the representations of us in books in the past, let's just ban them all! Erase all descriptions of white men from literature!

(Image of Tintin hitting a black man, just another reason to ban this album, as it perpetrates the image of all white men as violent!)

AFP: 'Tintin in the Congo' lawsuit in Brussels

Here is The Adventure of Tintin - The Seven Crystal Balls, one of my favourites:

TIFF Tokyo Drifter, Everyone Was On Edge

Tokyo's International Film Festival is one of many events in this city, if you search for TIFF you'll get all kinds of answers. 2011 is the 24th event. Action for Earth! was the theme. Good.

They held a special event in Sendai to support the survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, with a special screening for children:

Hal’s Flute is an animated film based on a story by Takashi Yanase, a Japanese creator of popular anime Anpanman. Following the screening at a theater full of children, voice over actresses Keiko Toda and Masako Nozawa came out on stage. Nozawa praised the film saying, “All creatures share the same emotion. This story lets you go back to the basics you tend to forget about.” Toda delivered a message from Takashi Yanase. “I would like the adults to watch this film, too. It’s very touching and has warmth and may do wonders to your mind.” A photo session with the two voice-over actresses and the children followed and the whole theater was filled with a warm and comfortable mood.

Also on TIFF, Tokyo Drifter, by director Tetsuaki Matsue who follows singer Kenta Maeno over a rainy May, 2011 night starting in Shibuya as he sings a set of songs reflecting on life, love and most of all, Tokyo itself. The haunting images of a darkened post-Tohoku disaster Tokyo serve as the backdrop Tetsuaki’s meditation on Japan in 2011.

2011.11.02[Interviews]【Official Interview】 Japanese Eyes “TOKYO DRIFTER”
— Were the songs written for the movie or songs written over the years?

Matsue: These were all songs Maeno-san composed before the earthquake, but the last song, “New Morning” is something that he was singing before the earthquake – last year actually. After the earthquake the song itself had a different meaning for me. While I was in Korea, I was listening to this song. It was during a time when you could hear people being very afraid of the radiation. So, it started to take a different meaning. From the very beginning I asked Maeno-san, “I want you to sing that song at the end of this film” because I thought it had an impact. There were several songs that Maeno-san did compose after the earthquake – Tokyo 2011, for example… the Coca Cola song. I wrote the words to “Tokyo Drifter.” When I was location hunting, Maeno-san said “You have to write the lyrics, because it will also give you an idea of what the film is about.” And that’s why I was forced to write the lyrics of the song “Tokyo Drifter.” And reading the lyrics, Maeno-san more deeply understood what the film was about.

— And the final location, on the river?

Matsue: So that was in Kawaguchi City in Saitama, across the river. I wanted to get a shot of Tokyo. That’s why I went to Kawaguchi. I thought if I went out of Tokyo I could capture the whole city. And to me, rivers play a very important role in films. When you see a flowing river you can imagine what’s outside that frame. So I thought it was very important. Rivers play a big role in expanding the imagination of the audience. The ocean is too big, but with the river you can image there are people living outside this frame along the banks of the river. So that’s why I thought the river was very important.

— The film is like a love letter to Tokyo. And interesting and positive response to the tragedy of 3.11. Anything more to say about that?

Matsue: The Tokyo now and the Tokyo then is different. In May everyone was on edge. They didn’t know what was happening. I prefer Tokyo then in May, rather than the Tokyo we’re in now.

Interesting, creative people prefer Tokyo to be a little bit more dark, a little bit more mysterious, a little bit more creative.

Speaking on being on the edge, how about Play by Ruben Östlund.

Director: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Anas Abdirahman, Sebastian Blyckert, Yannick Diakité

‘What does being an immigrant have to do with anything?’ demands a flustered parent towards the end of Play. That’s the elephant in the room during Ruben Östlund’s film, a dispassionate drama of human unpleasantness in the vein of Michael Haneke. On one level, it’s about bullying: the central story involves a trio of middle-class boys in Gothenburg who are accosted, toyed with and eventually robbed by a group of older kids. The fact that the perpetrators are black ultimately makes little difference to their victims, but is likely to provoke no end of squirming in the sophisticated, politically correct audiences for whom the film is clearly intended. When a pair of fathers try to confront one of the group later on, the impotence of their gesture is compounded when they’re interrupted by a pregnant woman who chastises them for picking on a child – and one from an immigrant family, at that. Touché. Östlund shoots much of the action in long, tightly framed shots where some of the actors are out of view, lending them the deadening immediacy of watching a crime unfold on CCTV footage. Though the tension sags at points, for the most part this is as compelling as it is utterly grim to watch, and the young cast excel themselves.

It is a Sweden I know next to nothing about.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Dalai Lama At Mt Koyasan

The Dalai Lama is visiting Japan. After his lecture at Mt Koyasan, he will go to Sendai to talk to people in the region who survived the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Asahi Shimbun: Dalai Lama delivers sermon at Mount Koyasan
The Dalai Lama gave a sermon at Wakayama Prefecture's Mount Koyasan, one of the most sacred sites in Japanese Buddhism, on Oct 31, during his first visit to the area in 31 years. The event, organized by Koyasan University, was intended to promote academic and cultural exchanges between the Koyasan Shingon Buddhist sect, which is headquartered at Sohonzan Kongobuji temple at Mount Koyasan, and Tibetan Buddhism. About 800 people, including young monks and members of the public, attended the event. At the beginning of the sermon, the Dalai Lama told the audience that he wanted to share, as a friend, the sorrow and pain of the Great East Japan Earthquake. He and Yukei Matsunaga, chief administrator of the Shingon sect, answered questions from the audience.

The Dalai Lama also noted that the Shingon sect in Japan has a history that goes back some 1200 years, way back before Buddhism was established in Tibet.

4 years ago, in 2007, the Dalai Lama visited Japan and Ise Shrine. Asia Times noted: "The 72-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate was in Japan at the invitation of a Buddhist group, to tour the famed Shinto shrine of Ise Jingu, visit local schools and give speeches on spirituality."

Asia Times: Dalai Lama cuts little ice in Japan

Webcast from the 2011 Koyasan visit (2hr 9 min)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Rev. Yukei Matsunga interact with young Buddhists at the Kongubuji Temple.
Venue: Kongobuji Temple auditorium in Koyasan, Japan,
Date: October 31, 2011
Duration: 2 hours and 9 minutes
Languages: Tibetan and Japanese (And some English)

Here is a nice video from the temple where I usually stay: Fire Ceremony (Goma), at Eko-in temple, Koyasan, Japan

1992 lecture to the Parliamentary Earth summit of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

Universal Responsibility and the Inner Environment

First of all, I always think that it is very important to consider oneself as one human being or one member of a big human family. Because every human is basically the same irrespective of culture, religion, country or race. It means everyone has the right to be a happy person and the right to overcome suffering. After all, the purpose of our very life, I consider, is happiness. This is our birthright.

Then, because of the changing situation today, the realization of oneness of all human beings is now very relevant. In ancient times, if you had that kind of perspective, good. If not, it did not matter. But now, today, in reality, whether we like it or not, every crisis is essentially linked to a global crisis. So talking about my nation, my continent, my family, my religion, my tradition is out of date. Therefore, there is really an urgent need to have a sense of Universal Responsibility and change of our Inner Environment.

This I consider to be the basic' foundation of our positive motivation. The prime mover of every human action is the motivation or the determination.

Firstly, our motivation should be simple and sincere. Whether we achieve the goal or not does not matter so long as our motivation is very sincere and we make an attempt. Finally, even if we fail to achieve our goal we won't regret making the effort. If our motivation is not sincere, even if the objective is achieved the person will not be so happy or satisfied deep down. So motivation is very important.

So, any human action, whether the result is positive or negative, largely depends on motivation. If the motivation is sincere then every human. action can be positive- including political initiatives. If our motivation is not adequate, not pure, even religion becomes smeared.

So, therefore, things ultimately depend upon proper motivation. I consider the important thing is unshakable determination based upon a genuine sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, or a sense of Universal Responsibility based upon human compassion or affection. That is the proper mental approach. Our goal may not be achieved so easily this way- it may take more time and may face many obstacles. I think right from the beginning, we must adopt that kind of attitude. If one expects to achieve the goal because our motivation is good, our work will be easy, and everyone will come to help, that is not right attitude.

The world, unfortunately, is not pure; there are lots of negative forces. For 33 years I have been telling my fellow Tibetans that we should hope for the best but at the same time prepare with optimism for the worst.

An optimistic attitude is the key factor for success. Right from the beginning, if you hold a pessimistic attitude, even small things may not be achieved. Therefore, to remain optimistic all the time is very important.

As I mentioned earlier, many forms of human activity like religion, politics, technology, science and law, are supposedly meant for the betterment and happiness of humanity. Because of past experience many people feel that politics is something dirty. That is also a wrong concept. In a democratic country practicing democracy effectively, whether we like it or not, political parties must be there. Under such circumstances, if you remain removed from politics, just to criticize or complain or resent, that is not a wise way.

For example, in the field of religion there is also abuse. In the name of humanity, and also in the name of religion, some exploitations and abuses are there. How can you change that just sitting on the sideline? If you only criticize, there won't be much effect. Go into It and try to change things from within. That is the way.

I want to praise the NGOs a little. Basically, every human Individual carries responsibility for the benefit or welfare of humanity and for the planet it self, because this planet is our only home. We have no alternative refuge. Therefore, everyone has the responsibility to care not only for our fellow human beings but also for insects, plants, animals and this very planet.

However, the initiative must come from individuals. But then, in order to make an impact, the unified mobilization of individual forces through various organizations is the only path. So various organizations become very important. I think at a government level action is sometimes not true to desires. This is due to certain policies or reasons and sometimes due to elected leaders being concerned about their re-election.

NGOs have more freedom and opportunity, so in many fields you can do many more and also you can create certain new ideas, new activities and act as a pilot. If this becomes something significant then the government will also follow your lead. Already some cases of this type have happened. So, therefore NGOs have a unique opportunity to contribute. Already you have contributed many things for humanity and planet and I hope you can continue your good work with full co-operation, confidence and determination.

Now, already the East-West division is there, mainly in economic terms. The richer nations, sooner or later, will find some problems because of this gap. So, we have to find ways and means to reduce this gap. In this field both sides should have genuine discussion in the spirit of our world, rather than my nation or my continent. This is to the mutual interest of our mutual future. If one side adopts a defensive attitude, or another side seeks only to complain and criticize, that is not good. Come together and think in terms of one world. Both sides belong to that same world. With this attitude you can achieve many things.

Another thing while we are talking about the gap between richer and poorer nations. There is no point in neglecting ones own community. Among nations there is a big gap between rich and poor people, like India and Brazil. So, a terribly pathetic situation is there. Practically, these are dangerous and critical situations.

Today only one Super Power remains. Last year after the collapse of the Soviet Communist bloc, when I was returning from Europe to India, there was a high official from an African state on my plane. When we reached Delhi Airport we were together for a few minutes. I expressed to him that recent developments in the world are very hopeful and positive; now there is no more danger of a nuclear holocaust. I expected his response to be equally positive. But instead he raised another possibility. Before there were two superpowers, so the Third World can manage between the two. Now there is only one power so we have more fear, more anxiety.

We are not sure what kind of future lies ahead. I think and feel this is quite unfortunate. The reason is not because of the American system of liberty, democracy, and freedom but primarily because of the US military forces. Perhaps economic power also has some relevance there.

Soon after the Gulf War happened I myself made some pledge or resolution that the rest of my life will be committed to the demilitarization of this planet.

Yesterday I heard through BBC that about 18 million people in Africa face the danger of starvation. Of course one immediate cause is drought but another cause is civil war in recent years. A lot of money is being spent on weapons and agriculture is neglected. All these unfortunate experiences are ultimately related to weapons. The military establishment or war is part of human history. But I think today things are completely changed and now we must find some new way of thinking. After all, we have such beautiful human intelligence but this intelligence certainly is not meant for destruction. If we use our intelligence for destruction it is really unfortunate.

Once I expressed that I consider the worst event on this planet in this century was the October Revolution in Russia. Because, in order to achieve that revolution and in order co sustain that revolution, so much bloodshed happened. Although, as far as original Marxism is concerned, I've deep sympathy, because of its practice and eventual development the outcome was so terrible.

During a certain period weapons in general, and particularly nuclear weapons, did some good that we call deterrent. Now the Berlin Wall has collapsed and Soviet Communist Empire has collapsed. That leaves only Communist China. Now there is no danger from communism, so I think nuclear weapons did their job. Now the time has come to say farewell to these dreadful weapons. We don't need them any more.

When we get seriously ill we need medicine and even some poison is needed. But as soon as one is cured then these poisonous medicines must be thrown out of the home. To keep them is really dangerous.

Now a quite favorable time has come and we should think seriously. First of all we should eliminate nuclear and biological weapons. Eventually we must think seriously about the very concept of war and military establishments. A recent Chinese proposal to totally ban nuclear weapons is good; whether they really stick to it or not is another question. They carried out a nuclear test recently. That is awful.

During one of my interviews with German television, one written question put to me was that Westerners very much fear death and Easterners don't fear death. Why is it? Then told the interviewer that I believed the contrary. You Westerners love war, you love these horrible weapons. These weapons kill, and war means death, and it is natural death. This is awful and it seems you have no fear of death! We Tibetans, in our time, saw soldiers and the military as something negative. That means we have more fear of death!

So, I think our concept of building military establishments in the name of defense is wrong. I consider military establishments as the worst kind of human rights violation_but legalized. Then, at the same time, I think it is true that with five billion people there are bound to be some mischievous people. In future world community there will be also never be a 100 percent perfect society.

Therefore counter measures to that are also necessary. During the Gulf War crisis the main force came from America. Because of the world situation the system of collective forces has already happened. In future a police or military force should be 'created by nations big or small, irrespectively, by equally balanced forces. These collective forces should be controlled by collective leadership on an international basis. Forces can be mobilized everywhere. If we achieve this then there will be no more violent conflict between nations, no more civil war. On the other hand, we save a lot of money and also we save a lot of destruction. So fear in the world atmosphere can be reduced to some extent.

Even if we take every precaution to preserve our planet, this is simply not possible because of the population. According to scientists, if the present rate of population growth continues, there is a real danger and the situation is increasing in seriousness every day.

As a Buddhist monk, of course, I consider every human life is something very precious, almost like a jewel. Therefore, from that viewpoint, to control human birth is not appropriate. This is the individual case. If we look at the whole then obviously, because of its high population, eventually this planet simply can't provide sufficient requirements for human beings. So this is not a question bf one individual, or two human beings, but the suffering of all humanity- including other species. Therefore, and from a Buddhist viewpoint, it is absolutely worthwhile to think about, and seriously implement birth control.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

An Organic Farmer Speaks Up Against TPP

The Mainichi has a great piece about Japanese farmer and poet Kanji Hoshi, 76, who has been engaged in organic farming for 38 years in the Yamagata Prefecture town of Takahata. Kanji-san is opposed to Japan's TPP participation:

Hoshi is the author of an essay called "Sonno joi no shiso: han TPP no chiiki ron" (The philosophy of revere agriculture, expel the barbarians: anti-TPP localism), published in May 2011 in the book, "Takahata-gaku" (Takahataology). In it, he writes: "I would like the philosophy of revering agriculture and expelling the barbarians to be the stronghold against the black ships of TPP," Hoshi writes. "We need to give primary importance to agriculture for its production of food for life, and to justly appreciate its function of protecting the environment. If we destroy our beautiful homeland, we will not be able to face our descendents. 'Expel the barbarians' refers to the elimination of our disposable consumer civilization. We need to possess a set of values necessary to live simply and spiritually rich in a mature society, and let us attempt self realization."

In this essay, Hoshi categorically states that TPP participation will devastate Japanese agriculture. Our dinner tables will be filled with imported products whose manufacturers and processors we don't know, sacrificing food safety, and rural landscapes will be destroyed, Hoshi says, and warns that local communities themselves will collapse.

The Mainichi: Fighting TPP with 'reverence' for farming and 'expulsion' of consumer culture

If the TPP negotiations lead to a situation where Japan is forced to accept zero tarrifs for main agricultural products like rice and wheat, a lot of farming in Japan will simply become impossible. I have never heard of a country that agrees to such policy. It has been noted that reducing the nation's already-low food self-sufficiency rate would leave Japan hostage to potential diplomatic conflicts. The Japan Times is quoting Japan's agriculture ministry, that "last year calculated that Japan's food self-sufficiency rate — at 40 percent on a calorie basis — would fall to 13 percent under the TPP."

The Japan Times: TPP bandwagons play tunes not all find pleasing to the ear

(Photo of Kanji Hoshi from a 2008 article over at Nikkei BP)

Website of Inochi Tagayasu Hitobito, a 2006 documentary about organic agriculture in Kanji-san's hometown, Takahata, in Yamagata prefecture: いのち耕す人々 (The people who cultivite life).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

EU Crisis - Live Blogging - What It Means For Japan

The strong Yen is impossible to understand. Japan seems to be the only economy in the free world that is upbeat. And that is after the March 11 震災 (shinsai).

Why is the Yen at such record highs against the US$ and considered a safe haven for investors? Well, it may be a case of us against them. Just about everyone else have much larger troubles ahead. Japan, in spite of it all, is still a country where people work hard, we tend not to protest, as the gap between rich and poor is not as huge as in other parts of the world.

The European Union this week is trying to deal with that huge gap - the 27 countries which form the EU have members that are not so strong, like Greece. Yet, there is a strong commitment to the Euro, the common currency. But what does it mean, when a country is told to deal with its debt, and tell people that pensions from the national government may not be forthcoming. And what about the salaries of the police force that is supposed to deal with the demonstrations? The Euro is supposed to be a common currency for all, a sense of security. But that is not how the global market players look at it. Thus, the Yen at record levels. Small planet, small world, huge effects on people.

The Guardian: Live blogging about the European debt crisis

Meanwhile, NHK World notes:

Japan's finance minister has urged European leaders to produce effective measures against their credit worries at Wednesday's summit to help stem the yen's historic rise.

Jun Azumi told reporters on Tuesday that behind the yen's rise is euro weakness triggered by European debt problems.

Azumi said the flow of cash into yen is continuing but that Japan can't stabilize its currency alone. He said the world expects the EU to come up with a credible plan to restore market trust in the euro.
NHK World: Azumi: European measures needed to stem yen's rise

That just does not quite cut to the chase. If the negotiations fail in Europe this week, we may see a much heavier impact on the economy in Japan. Or, is Japan currently the only "safe haven" and are we in fact the only place on Earth where people feel confident about their future? Hmm... Stay tuned.

The Beatles: We Can work It Out

Update 1: The Financial Times has interviewed Prime Minister Noda, who notes that "the most important thing is to ensure [the fire] does not spread to Asia or the global economy.” Both China and Japan are expected to help bail out Europe through the European financial stability facility (EFSF). Japan currently holds 20% of the €10bn in bonds issued by the EFSF, according to Japan urges more action on Euro crisis (log in required)

Update 2: Using the same fire analogy, but in a different way, Noda said in his October 28 speech to the Parliament: ""The (sovereign debt) crisis in Europe is not a fire on the other side of the river," he said. "Every child born today (in Japan) will have to live with the burden of over 7 million yen of public debt." Noda should clearly express his policy committments

Update 3: China appears to have rebuffed negotiators who hoped for help with the EU rescue package, and then the entire deal has been put on hold as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said he would hold a referendum (probably on Dec. 4). “Greece’s abrupt announcement on holding a referendum, which was not included in (the earlier agreed deal), has confused people,” Finance Minister Jun Azumi said according to AFP.

AFP/Japan Today: Greek referendum plan 'confusing,' says Azumi

Update 4: BBC says Greece may not opt for a referendum (who thought the words "Greece" and "democracy" had anything to do with each other?)

BBC: Greek PM Papandreou 'ready to drop' bailout referendum

Greek PM George Papandreou has said he is ready to drop a proposed referendum on the country's eurozone bailout deal. He said he had started talks to secure opposition support in parliament which would make the vote unnecessary. His announcement of a referendum angered European leaders and sent shockwaves through its markets.

Facing calls for his resignation, Mr Papandreou called for unity in the party ranks ahead of a confidence vote on Friday. He has a thin majority. But Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, addressing the Socialist Party (Pasok) MPs immediately after the prime minister, said Greece must say it was not holding a referendum.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wind Power? Not So Fast, Says TEPCO, While Others Are More Optimistic

Japan's largest wind power company, Eurus Energy, is in the news as TEPCO has announced that it will sell a part of its shares in the company, that is also owned by Toyota through a trading house connected to the car maker. Why is TEPCO not holding on to shares in a company that could do very well as the nation turns from fossile fuels and nuclear energy, to renewable energy sources (water, solar, wind, biogas)?

It has not been much noted, but somehow, Japan's wind turbines managed to survive the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. As shaken as our confidence is in nuclear energy, it is perhaps telling that main streem media has not told the story of how the turbines in Kamisu, southern Ibaraki prefecture, perfectly managed to survive the forces of nature.

The seven turbins were unhurt and continued to produce electricity. In fact, none of Japan's wind turbines, representing over 2300 MW of capacity, failed as a result of the disaster, according to the Japan Wind Power Association.

Elisa Wood notes:

It was a bit astounding. Somehow, despite the massive tsunami that hit Japan's Kamisu offshore wind farm 11 March 2011, its seven turbines emerged intact. While the crushing wave wrecked almost everything in its path, the turbines stood tall and continued to generate power. Meanwhile, the world watched nervously as workers struggled to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant, site of explosions and radiation leaks. Despite its redundant safety systems and sturdy cement and steel layering, the nuclear plant's systems ultimatley failed. Yet the wind farm, exposed and buffeted by the earthquake's full force and the subsequent tsunami, survived.

Renewable Energy The Dangers of Energy Generation

The Yomiuri has the latest about TEPCO's desperate efforts to raise cash:

Eurus Energy has continuously suffered deficits. However, the enactment in August of the law on special measures for renewable energy raised hopes for a dramatic upturn in its business. The law makes it mandatory for power companies to purchase all available natural energy, including electricity generated from wind power.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: TEPCO to sell shares in wind power firm

Eurus Energy operates about 20 wind power plants around Japan, including the nation's largest plant in Shimane Prefecture. With a total wind power capacity of 520,000 kilowatts, Eurus accounts for about 20 percent of the total wind power generated domestically in Japan. It also conducts business in the United States and Europe.

Eurus Energy has a lot of news updates about its international projects, including near Stavanger, Norway and in California, US. Eurus Energy America has been active in wind energy development in the United States since 1987. It also has "two mega solar projects already in operation in South Korea," according to its website. Here is the breakdown:

Japan: 527MW
Korea: 142MW
USA: 587MW
Europe: 760MW
Total: 2,016MW

Norway and Sweden in particular seem to be great places to do business if you are supporting wind:

Norway is enthusiastic about the furtherance of renewable energies, and in 2012, will set afloat with Sweden a common green certificate system. With the Stavanger project as a way through, and general trend in favor of renewable energies, Eurus Energy Group will promote wind farm business in the Nordic market.

View pop-up gallery of photos of their wind power installations here.

Hopefully, the company will find a new owner who is more inclined to support individual consumers and large customers that want to select renewable energy, as I noted in my previous post: Japan's Renewable Energy Bill - Q & A

(Images of Shinto priests offering a sprig of sacred sakaki tree and praying for the safety and successful completion of the project in accordance with solemn Shinto protocol, from the Eurus news releases on their website.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Japan's Renewable Energy Bill - Q & A

A new law for renewable energy in Japan? If you haven't heard about it, well, here are a few details. I'm still not convinced it is the real deal.

The August 26, 2011, new law:

- "opens up" the power generation industry
- is meant to "reduce Japan's reliance on nuclear power"
- aims to achieve reduce Japan's greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 from the 1990 level
- will introduce a feed-in-tariff mechanism, common in Europe, that requires utilities to purchase at premium prices electricity produced from renewable sources

PV Magazine notes:

Andrew DeWitt is a politics and public policy professor in Tokyo and he believes that this legislation is a critical step in Japan fully adopting renewable energy. "You have to see everything [in light of] this recent trajectory of politics in Japan. In the wake of Fukushima, public opposition to nuclear energy has gone from basically people not being concerned with ‘nukes’ […] to more than 75 percent against it," DeWit told pv magazine.

The law will be effective as of July 1, 2012. Details as to what the FIT rates would be are yet to be determined. It is also unclear as to whether utilities will be required to purchase solar power. Japan’s electricity utilities remain relatively highly regulated and regional, although there have been recent moves to break up this system, spearheaded by charismatic entrepreneur Masayoshi Son.

PV Magazine: Japan: Renewable energy signed into law

A more optimistic voice comes from that thinks Japan can learn from European initiatives, perhaps more wind than solar:

From July 2012, by law, power companies will have to purchase 100% of the renewable energy that power generators supply, and at fixed prices passed on to the consumer – so-called feed-in tariffs. That’s good news for the makers of wind-power turbines and related equipment.

Vestas Wind Systems A/S of Denmark is the largest global manufacturer, seller, installer, and servicer of wind turbines. “There will be a more conducive climate for investment in renewable energy,” says Luke Eginton, managing director of Vestas Japan. “[That] will have a positive effect on suppliers of renewable energy technologies in Japan.”

Brevini Power Transmission is a pioneer in the area of pitch and yaw drives used to orient turbines and blades in relation to the wind. These drives ensure the turbines optimise their position to generate energy efficiently and safely.

“We believe the new law will release the financial support needed for wind, and will see a resumption of new wind farm developments in Japan,” says Vittorio Falconeri, president of Brevini Japan. “We expect to see demand for relevant equipment pick up gradually from 2012.” Gale force

Earlier, Reuters calculated the effects (and I'm much obliged to note that they have carefully looked into the issue):

Reuters: Solar potential at big utilities
A bill submitted to parliament in March would expand the range of renewable sources from the existing scheme for small-lot solar power suppliers, mainly house owners.

Even if the bill is passed in a divided parliament and utilities are obliged to buy electricity from mega solar projects in a so-called "feed-in" tariff scheme, solar panels are not economically viable in Japan without subsidies, according to a government estimate.

Construction of a 1,000-megawatt power plant using solar energy would cost three times as much as if it used wind power and at least 10 times as much as for nuclear energy, when the energy efficiency of each source is taken into account, a separate government estimate showed.

But solar panel prices are on the decline, and if houses and buildings are more effectively insulated, initial investments would be paid back in eight years or so, instead of 15 to 20 years currently, Mitsubishi Research's Komiyama said.

Limited transmission capacity between regionally dominant power companies is another factor keeping power suppliers from tapping into solar or wind power.

Unlike in Europe, where power grids are connected across national borders, Japan's fragmented system is divided into nine regions and links are used only when there is a sudden jump in demand or problems at power facilities.

In the northern Japan island of Hokkaido, where wind potential is higher than in other regions, for example, Hokkaido Electric Power Co limits its capacity for wind power to 360 megawatts, or a little more than 10 percent of the island's minimum power demand, to avoid any failure to meet demand.

A failure would cause unexpected blackouts.

But for utilities with larger power demand such as Tokyo Electric, Kansai Electric Power Co and Chubu Electric Power Co , their capacity for such variable sources should be much bigger.

Using a similar assumption, Tokyo Electric, which serves the country's economic heartland of Tokyo and its surrounding areas, could take in about 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar power combined without support from neighbouring utilities or causing unexpected blackouts.

I have major questions like how can a consumer opt out of his/her current energy utility, and pick another one. Japan needs independent energy companies. They can provide other energy mixes, such as non-nuclear, or non-oil, thus aiding people who want to support renewable energy. We have had such companies in Sweden for at least 5 years. A great way to vote with your Yen (or Krona).

It is not easy to judge which small initiative can help you and your business solve your issues. The Green Power Certification System established by the Japan Natural Energy Company in 2001 claims to be an example of how consumers (shops, restaurants, companies) can select renewable energy sources. The certification system enables consumers to purchase solar panels or wind by paying a premium for the certificate.

In 2007, on this blog, I introduced Natural-E. They are still going strong.

Kurashi: Reducing fossile fuel use in Japan

Japan's Green Power Certification System is a scheme for encouraging corporate and some other customers to use natural energy as one of their voluntary measures for energy conservation and environmental protection. With a Certification of Green Power, customers can show proof of their use of green electricity. This can serve various purposes such as meeting targets of fossil fuel savings and CO2 emission reductions...

I also wonder if this scheme (which is very good, but very small) for "Green Energy" in Japan will get a major boost or not. Say, from schools, colleges, restaurants, companies that make or import food, clothes, furniture - - - all kinds of businesses that should get involved.

I want to see that certificate (top image) displayed on your wall!

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Japan Gets 29 3-Star Restaurants In Michelin Guide

Good news on the gourmet front: Michelin, the French guide book publisher, will award 29 restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara with 3 stars, its highest rating. This confirms what many of us know already - Japan has the world's best food!

The Telegraph mentions that France now only has 25 3-star restaurants:

Japan's status as a clear culinary leader over France will be officially confirmed with publication of the new 2012 publication on Friday, which bestowed a total of 296 stars upon establishments – including an additional three three-starred restaurants – across the Western Japan region.

In the new guide to Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara, which will be published in English and Japanese on Friday, there are 15 restaurants with three stars, an accolade which refers to the distinction of "exceptional cuisine worth a special journey".

The high quality of food in the region was reflected by the fact that the total three-star tally for the region outshone the capital Tokyo, which currently has 14.

Kyoto, the former imperial capital, confirmed its status as the culinary epicentre of Western Japan, with seven of the three-star 15 restaurants based in the historic city, which is famous for its culinary heritage.

The Telegraph: Japan relishes status as country with most three-starred Michelin restaurants

Of course it is silly to try to rank countries in this way. The UK press likes to gloat whenever France is seen to be in decline. And you don't have to go to any of the restaurants in the guidebook to eat well in Japan, but it is good fun to read about the reactions.

Many of these top restaurants also have wonderful websites, like Wa no Yamamura in Nara or Kiku no I in Kyoto (photo).

Here is a list of the 3-star restaurants in Japan (in Japanese)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fukushima Rice Is OK

Careful testing of rice harvested in all parts of Fukushima prefecture shows that none of the rice on sale has radioactive materials at unsafe levels. Of course rice from the most heavily contaminated areas near the nuclear reactors (11 areas) will not be for sale. Where there are high levels, the rice will not be sold even though the levels are below the safe limit of 500 Bq/kg. "I will take the initiative in marketing by stressing the safety and good taste" of rice harvested in the prefecture, Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said after the announcement, according to The Japan Times/Kyodo: Fukushima declares rice is safe.

You can check the testing results over at the Ministry of Health (MHWL). These daily reports are very valuable in terms of reassuring the public. However, a lot of people are probably still very worried about the nuclear contamination.

In Sweden, and in most of Europe (especially Germany and Austria) we had similar concerns after the 1987 Chernobyl accident. Japan has been quite fortunate that the immediate food contamination back then, which was almost exclusively related to cow milk and wild animals (such as reindeers) did not apply here.

Green tea, on the other hand, come from leaves that grow on bushes that may have been exposed in March. It is a unique Japanese product that needs special attention. Even in my city, Hanno in Saitama, some of the green tea has been slightly affected according to data released today. But not at levels that should make anyone particularly worried.

Slightly eleveated levels of Cesium can still be found in certain products like mushrooms or fish caught in rivers in Fukushima, but the rest of the food supply and farmed food supply and its products can be regarded as safe, as I predicted back in July.

We have been very, very lucky.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

James Turrell At Naoshima

I went back to Naoshima again in September, staying at the Benesse Art Site. There are a number of installations in the town and a couple of spectacular buildings by Tadao Ando. The view of the Seto Inland Sea makes it even more beautiful. This time, however, what really caught my attention was the works by James Turrell. He makes large rooms and space where light itself becomes the object. You actually step inside his art. It cannot be described, it has to be experienced. He notes that he works with frequencies of light that resonate, based on distance to the wall ahead of you. In other words, what you see is what your brain creates out of the visual stimula. Leave it to your mind to appreciate the rest.

Open Sky (2004,Naoshima) can be viewed at anytime, but a special sunset viewing, Night Program, is also available.

From wikipedia:

Turrell's works defy the accelerated habits of people especially when looking at art. He feels that viewers spend so little time with the art that it makes it hard to appreciate.

"I feel my work is made for one being, one individual. You could say that's me, but that's not really true. It's for an idealized viewer. Sometimes I'm kind of cranky coming to see something. I saw the Mona Lisa when it was in L.A., saw it for 13 seconds and had to move on. But, you know, there's this slow-food movement right now. Maybe we could also have a slow-art movement, and take an hour."
(Quote from Artinfo)

PBS Special Art21 website: Spirituality

I can't find any video that really does his works at Naoshima justice, but a similar room where you can watch the sky both above and below can be found here (with interview):

This is in German with English subtitles:

(3 bottom photos from Yoji Kinoshita's blog)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

South Korean Food Imports At 80-90%

I was rather shocked to learn that South Korea imports almost all its food from China and the United States. Nearly 90% is imported, according to Asian Sentinel - and that includes almost all its wheat and corn, quoting a Samsung report from SERI World. Some 16 countries supply the country with other food items:

...Korea's food self sufficiency has in fact continued to decline due to its falling international competitiveness in agriculture, as well as its increased opening of its food market to foreign providers.

But that is just the beginning.

Food stability in South Korea has experienced a continuous decline, caused by rapidly increased grain price volatility and intensified import source concentration as the western countries, particularly the United States and the European Union, devote more and more of their corn production to biofuels. It is estimated that 35 percent of corn production is now going into biofuels. In addition, the report says, "food safety fell to its lowest level in 2008 at 94.2, down more than 5.85 compared to 2005, indicating a need for efforts to improve food safety. quality, soil, and ecosystems.

The report notes with something akin to alarm that the international grain market "is subject to an oligopoly of the four major global grain conglomerates: Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, LDC, and Bunge," which have the power not only to perform grain trading functions but to "affect government policy with respect to international trade and agricultural markets using their massive capabilities to obtain information worldwide. South Korea imports 80 percent of its grain through the four. The four giants, the report continues, "exercise tremendous leverage over the worldwide food industry. Business for grain majors has expanded beyond traditional trading of crops to seeds, fertilizers, food and food processing, finance, and bio-energy production. At times, the four grain majors have encroached on consumer welfare by exerting their influence on agricultural producers, or by creating an oligopoly regime."

As food imports have increased, so has anxiety over agricultural product safety, the report notes, with "spiraling increases in the share of GMO food imports, which have risen from about 30 percent to over 50 percent in 2008, "posing a greater threat to food safety."

Climate change, the report notes, is detrimental to water quality, soil pollution, and ecosystem degradation, hampering productivity.

Yonhap noted that organic food imports were on the rise:

The KFDA also said that organic food imports totaled $40 million due to growing public interest in health. Most organic food imports centered on brown sugar, bananas and certain types of processed food.

But I think this Canadian report also paints a pretty good picture of the changing situation in South Korea, as consumers are worried about the global economic crisis:

The organic food market grew, on average, 8.5% from 2005 to 2008, after which the sector recorded negative growth of 0.05% in 2009. Re-prioritization of food shopping dollars was most likely behind this decline. In January 2010, new legislation for processed organic products and a new certification system were introduced by the South Korean Government. However, the implementation date was postponed to January 2011.

The lack of support for domestic organic produce means South Korea has missed the opportunity to educate its farmers and consumers to choose healthy and safe food. A pity. It might not be too late to change, but from what I have seen recently, the effort is too small and the country in such an environmental mess that it will be difficult to switch to anything remotely similar to what we regard as sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture.

Of course I hope they will prove me wrong.

Graph from Victoria, Australia, in a report that notes:

Korea imported $18.9 billion in agricultural goods in 2008. The United States was the main exporter to Korea, supplying corn, meat, hides, soybeans, milling wheat, and cotton valued at $5.57 billion in 2008. Other important suppliers included China: Feeds from starch and brewing residues, frozen and preserved vegetables, processed foods, soybean; Australia: Beef, wheat, sugar, dairy products; ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations): Rubber, palm oil, bananas, oilseed meals; European Union: Pork, wine, processed foods, dairy products; Brazil and Argentina: Soybeans, soymeal, soyoil; and New Zealand: Beef, dairy products, kiwifruit (USDA, 2009).

Doalnara is a pioneer among South Korea's organic certification agencies:

Doalnara Certified Organic Korea, LLC (DCOK), originally operated as an organic certification services department of Doalnara Restoration Society - a non-profit society promoting health and global restoration. Doalnara Restoration Society (DRS) was accredited by the South Korean government in May 2002 to offer certification services for organic crops under Korea’s Environmentally Friendly Agriculture Promotion Act (EFAPA) organic certification programme.

I was more impressed after visiting Heuksalim, that grows rice, millet and sorghum according to Korean organic rules:

Heuksalim operates a cooperative farm under its model of urban and rural resource exchange, circulating varieties of domestic rice, glutinous rice, cereals and wild flowers from the producers to the consumers. Heuksalim manages the distribution of environmentally-friendly organic products – through direct sales, retail outlets, wholesale distributions, e-commerce and the operation of a Friday market once a week from March to November. In addition to this, it develops pilot businesses for school meals. Guaranteeing vocational safety and the revitalization of the local community, this initiative creates social jobs and employment opportunities while promoting the use of pro-environmental products in school catering programs. Heuksalim hopes to expand this initiative through conducting market research and developing a database on pro-environmental school meals in the Cheongju and Cheongwon districts. Ideally, with their specific business model for such enterprises, these school-meal business would be self-generating, achieving 20% profit on investment.

Heuksalim’s Research Institute was established in 1993 in the hopes of directing farming trends away from the heavy use of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics. Such chemically-based methods of agriculture were seen to be undermining the crop and soil quality, harming human health and contributing to the rapid deterioration of the environment. In response, Heuksalim’s Research Institute conducts studies and develops scientific approaches to organic agriculture. In recent years, it even began operating a pilot farm project to investigate and analyze traditional farming methods. It spreads and shares knowledge of organic agricultural techniques through its publications. Heuksalim has published 13 books – the “Organic Agriculture Series” – on the theory and practice, as well as the success, of organic agriculture in Korea. Heuksalim’s research and development work has earned it accolades and official recognition: in 2002, Heuksalim became the first organic certification body in Korea.