Showing posts from 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

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 we…

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 mu…

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!

Seiko Niizuma: Aitai


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 pe…

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…

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…

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 p…

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 con…

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.

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 …

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 la…

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…

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 KoyasanThe 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 D…

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 civilizat…

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? Th…

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 Wi…

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 i…

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 T…

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. Japa…

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 ma…

Tomas Tranströmer - Lifetime Recognition Award (2007)


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 lowes…