Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sakerock: Pleasure Trip & Nihon no Hito

If you like indies music, pop music mixed with jazz and other beats, do check Sakerock out. They play instrumental tracks - with Hamano Kenta on trombone as the driving force. The drummer is terrific. And it just so happens that they come from Hanno City, Saitama. They also do Japanese folk music and they are heavy on "cool" if that word is even used these days, but their suits and hats are a give a way. They like "cool" and they like graphic design (as noted by Ian Lynam over at Neojaponisme, writing about graphic designer Ohara Daijiro, who does the lettering for their albums and videos).

Hoshino Gen (guitar) was born in 1981 and got his first taste of fame in the 69 film (2004, Director: Sang-il Lee) based on Murakami Ryu's novel about a high school in turmoil in Sasebo, Kyushu back in 1969, as students were protesting all over the world. Hamano Kenta (trombone) was born on August 5, 1981. Watch him in the drama Honey and Clover.

Free schools of course have a different approach to learning. The school here in Hanno that Sakerock credits as its origin is called Jiyuu no Mori Gakuen (Free Forest School) and there is both a Junior High and a High School under their administration. The school opened in 1985 with lofty goals such as "independence and self-reliance" and "freedom" but I can't find any official English information about them - does anyone know? In fact - not easy to find information about Japan's 250+ free schools at all.

Japanese link:
Free School Zenkoku Network

English link:
An Alternative Education in Japan: Five Weeks in a Free School in Tokyo

I also learnt a lot from Alternative Education in Japan – a thesis by Heather Nelson on Education in Japan Community Blog:

Why do Free Schools Exist?

A Response to the Phenomenon of School Non-Attendance

If schools such as Jiyu Gakuen were already in existence, what caused a sudden proliferation of free schools across Japan in the 1990s? The simple answer is the phenomenon of school non-attendance. Whereas the early free schools were founded with lofty educational ideas and ‘opt out’ ideals, (on a par with the famous ‘alternative schools’ Summerhill School in the UK and Sudbury Valley School in the US), the modern free schools came into existence in direct response to the needs of children who were dropping out of the compulsory education system. Tokyo Shure, which was founded in 1985 and currently has more than two hundred students, is now widely recognised as the first of the modern wave of free schools, and is typical of all that have followed it in that it was started by the mother of a child who had dropped out of school, with the specific goal of helping ‘drop out’ students.

But, let's give the music a try. Sakerock's latest album (Dec. 2010) was called Muda (Youtube) but I prefer this track, 慰安旅行 Ianryokou (Pleasure Trip):

Here is a performance with Sakerock and vocalist Saho Terao: 日本の人 Nihon no Hito (Japanese Person):

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Big "0"

Not the letter O, I mean "ZERO" - as in zero waste.

A small town of 2,000 people has started down an ambitious path to 100% zero waste - Kamikatsu, in Shikoku Region's Tokushima Prefecture.

So far, the town has increased its recycling and composting rate to 80 percent. As a result of Kamikatsu's lead, at least two municipalities have made a zero waste declaration - Minamata City in Kumamoto Prefecture, and Oki town in Fukuoka Prefecture. In addition, Hayama town in Kanagawa Prefecture has adopted a zero waste policy. Let's help this trend catch on in a much bigger way.

I like the Mayor's happi coat, recycled from a koinobori (carp streamer).

And here is a report about a family in the USA who have a virtually zero waste household. Perhaps not surprisingly, the lady of the house was not originally from the US, but France. This family lives in one of the wealthiest counties of the US, so if they can do it, it can happen anywhere.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The lady in question, Bea Johnson, has a great blog here: The Zero Waste Home with the slogan, "Refuse, Refuse, Refuse. Then reduce, reuse, recycle (and only in that order)."

There is a lot of zero waste information on the internet, so let's all think about how we live now - even those of us who already are aware of the issues - and find ways we can do even better. Then share that knowledge with others.

Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecure: Controversial New Nuclear Power Plant

Kaminoseki Town comprises a peninsula and several islands. It has a population of 3,600 people. Nuclear power? The proposed construction site is on Nagashima Island which is connected by a bridge to the mainland. Iwaishima Island, which has a population of 500 people "who are almost all opposed to the nuclear power plant," is just 3.5 km across the sea from the construction site.

Pan Orient News: Five Japanese in Hunger Strike Against Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant (English)

In Japanese, there are a huge number of blogs, twitter and other new media using Internet to show what is going on.

Chugoku Electric Power Company operates just two nuclear power plants and is currently constructing a third on the Japan Sea coast in Matsue City, the capital of Shimane Prefecture. But, right now, they also are doing everything possible to start building two nuclear power plants on the Seto Inland Sea coast in Kaminoseki Town, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Yesterday and today, this is where activists are clashing with construction companies. It is February, you can imagine it is very cold, and both sides are angry. PanOrient News noted that this is a very old and outdated project:

When the plan for a nuclear power plant first emerged in 1982 the overwhelming majority of the island's population were opposed to it and in 1983 the then Iwaishima Fishing Cooperative passed a resolution opposing the plan. To this day, 90% of the island's population opposes the plan, local NGO said. For the last 27 years they have held a demonstration every Monday under the slogan "We will not sell the sea for a nuclear power plant." The demonstration has now been held over 1050 times and has become part of the local culture.

Activists claim that the Japanese government "accepted Chugoku Electric's woefully inadequate environmental assessment." They said The Ecological Society of Japan strongly criticized Chugoku Electric's environmental assessment saying, "The survey and analysis of each species is inadequate." "It fails to grasp the development, breeding environment and food chain for the species." "No assessment deserving the name of an ecosystem assessment has been carried out."

Yet, the battles at sea last night are harsh and not easy to get information about. However, local NHK, Asahi, Yomiuri and other local main stream media have covered the story:

NHK山口放送局 02月22日 12時46分
上関原発 埋め立て作業続く

朝日新聞(山口) 2011年02月22日

朝日新聞(山口) 2011年2月22日
上関原発着工、にらみ合う現場 反対派、徹底抗戦の構え

毎日新聞 011年2月22日 15時44分 更新:2月22日 15時53分
上関原発:建設予定地でにらみ合い 反対派が工事阻止

読売新聞(山口) 2011年2月22日

上関原発工事 中国電が続行、反対派とにらみあい

電気新聞 2011/02/22
上関原子力、埋立工事が本格化 1年3カ月ぶり

From KRY, Biodiversity Box

Local Banks Trying To Save Forests In Japan

If you follow the money, to get to the source of either all evil or some good progress, you may want to know what banks in Japan are doing for good causes. Some of the nation's local banks have started a campaign to save Japan's forests. They have a website with updates about their activities, and it is indeed nation-wide.

11 banks from Hokkaido and northern Honshu, 13 banks in central Honshu, 11 in Hokuriku and Toukai, 7 in Kinki (Kyoto, Osaka), 9 in Shikoku, 12 in Kyushu and Okinawa. It all adds up. Some 63 local banks that try to make a difference? I am interested. No huge mega-banks here, Gordon Gekko is not invited.

I'm sure they can do a lot of good, if they try. But, of course, the reason I even found this, and their forest-hugging website, is because I wanted to know more about the Juroku Ginko in Nagoya, the one that has helped (?) destroy the Hirabari Satoyama, a small forest reserve in a city that has almost no natural space left at all. Yup, that particular bank is part of the campaign to save Japan's forests. Oh, the irony. Can someone please explain why people should not get very, very angry about that.

Mori Chigin page (Japanese list of banks participating in the Save The Forest In Japan)

日本の森を守りたい (Nihon no mori wo mamoritai) We want to save the forests of Japan

The Juroku bank goes way back to 1877, so they do have some claim to being one of the major backers of industrialization (and destruction of the natural environment) in Nagoya. Note that they do not have any CSR policy (Corporate Social Responibility is very well known in Japan, so they can't pretend that they do not know about it).

They also have offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Hakumie Horie, the president, says he wants to "become our customers' best partner bank, and helping them realize their dreams." OK, what kind of dream is that? That classic quote is from their 2009 annual report (pdf).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hirabari Destroyed

The people of the Hirabari Environment Protection Association have been working on protecting a small forest in Nagoya and asked Miyazaki Hayao to give them advice on it. Miyazaki replied to them with the following message:

"I'm backing you people of Hirabari Environment Protection Association from the bottom of my heart." - Miyazaki Hayao, Fichi-no-mori chairman

"The age of an ever increasing population is over. The age of city outspread is towards the end too. We are now in an age during which we have to rebuild our country that is moth-eaten and fragmented by overdevelopment. It is an age in which we have to rebuild it for human and natural life forms to live comfortably in. In Tokorozawa and Higashi-Murayama we are working for growing the small forests that remain from development. Though we are far in distance, we are like-minded and we hope you can gather wisdom, power and money, and reach a good result." (July 12 2009)


But Hirabari Satoyama Conservatory was not saved.

For some reasons that I do not understand, we have no real power to stop such "development" no matter how we try. And, for some strange reason, media is just not interested. Very difficult for local activists to get heard.

Sunday, June 06, 2010
Save Hirabari Satoyama: How can Nagoya City allow the destruction of this biodiverse treasure while hosting a UN conference on biodiversity?

Monday, May 10, 2010
Where Children Can See Totoro: Hirabari Satoyama And COP10

Thursday, March 04, 2010
Satoyama In Nagoya? Not So Fast, Construction Companies

Facebook? Do use it, if you think it makes a difference, let me know...

This is a YouTube video in which Tomoko Abe is questioning Minister of Environment about the destruction.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mozart Horn Concerto No. 1 KV 412/514

I mentioned Ibaraki in my last post about soybeans. Just so noone gets the wrong idea about that particular prefecture, here is the Mito Chamber Orchestra. Seiji Ozawa conducting, and horn virtuoso Radek Baborák does the honours. Mozart's horn concerto is not an easy piece at all.

W.A.Mozart's first Horn Concerto in D major, KV 412/514(386b) I. Allegro, II. Rondo

Compare to Baborák playing the same piece with Barenbaum conducting, not sure where, but I'm pretty sure it is the Berlin Philharmoniker. While in Japan, he has also performed with the NHK Symphony Orchestra.

And, while in Mito, they also performed Mozart's horn concerto No. 2. Here is the rondo.

I'm going to have to add Ibaraki to my list of labels. Anyone in favour?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Soybean Field Trust Movement (Daizu Trust) And Efforts To Make Rural Japan Cool Again

I went to a fun meeting today with the Soybean Field Trust Movement people, including farmers and consumers, who are trying to encourage interest in locally grown soy. One speaker noted that in Ibaraki Prefecture (considered No. 2 after Hokkaido for soy production) a recent inventory revealed over 100 different varieties. Much soy in Japan is used for tofu, miso and soy sauce. Did you know that soy is used as edamame, often as a snack?

The Soybean Field Trust Movement started some 13 years ago, when it became clear that imported soy from the US was increasingly genetically modified, and controlled by large multinational corporations like Monsanto. On top of that, the soy that Japan imported from Latin America was found to lead to the destruction of the Amazon forests.

Japan still imports a lot of soy, but companies like Honda Motor Co. (!) have set up special silos in North America that only accepts non-GMO soy:

In Ohio, non-GMO soybean acreage increased 6%, the largest increase in any state. "We saw more growers switching to non-GMO production for 2009 planting,” says Joe Hanusik, manager at Harmony Agricultural Products In Ohio (HAPI Ohio), which produces non-GMO soybeans for food use. HAPI Ohio is owned by the Honda Motor Company, based in Japan. Honda ships containers to the US filled with automobile parts, and HAPI Ohio ships them back to Japan filled with non-GMO soybeans. The infield of a Honda test track in Marysville, Ohio, is even planted with non-GMO soybeans. Hanusik said he contracted with a record number of farmers to plant non-GMO soybeans. "This year we are producing roughly 45,000 acres of non GMO soybeans. Last year we were right around 25,000.” Steve Waddell, a farmer near Columbus, Ohio, switched to non-GMO production because of the higher premiums. Waddell says he will earn a $2.00 premium for non-GMO soybeans this year.

Be that as it may, soy bean farmers around Japan feel a keen sense of responsibility to carry on traditional farming methods and food culture.

Soybean Field Trust Movement is active around Japan, and do try to find them, and join their activities. If their blogs are anything to go by, they are truly doing their very best to make the rural Japan experience something worth writing home about:

Gifu Prefecture
Yamagata Prefecture
Ibaraki Prefecture (one of several)
Saitama Prefecture (Supported by local politician)
Hokkaido (NPO, one of many)

You can order Soybean Field Trust products via the PAL Network (Ibaraki). I also recommend soybeans and other products from Warabemura (English).

Mamejin has a pretty complete list of everyone who is part of this amazing movement.

Marukawa Miso was at the meeting today, they are a riot. Hey: "Money is more important than life itself!" LOL.


Oh, if that was just too negative, but you get the drift. Here is another take on rural life, Natsuko's sake. It started as a popular manga, and became a wonderful TV series. Natsuko is a young lady who makes every effort to revive rural sake making by farming rice organically, and winning over all her critics. Did you know there are people with a fetish thing for yellow rubber boots and actress Wakui Emi?
Part 1 here (from 1994).

夏子の酒 和久井映見 炊事用手袋

Monday, February 14, 2011

GIFT: Chandran Nair

I learned of GIFT just the other day when I listened to an interview on BBC - Peter Day's World of Business. The guest was Chandran Nair, former environmental consultant and Founder and CEO of GIFT - the Global Institute for Tomorrow, based in Hong Kong. GIFT looks at the problems of economic growth, pollution, climate change, food, and so on, with a focus on that part of the world which will drive these issues in the 21st century: Asia.

GIFT is not just another think tank, but an organization with an active outreach that helps people directly in the Asia region and educates students through their "Young Leaders Programme".

From their website - Global Institute for Tomorrow-

"The YLP is a unique executive learning programme aimed at developing leadership and business skills by applying these in an experiential context to design commercially viable solutions for socially responsible projects in Asia."

GIFT also provides advisory services and offers ideas through seminars, speaking engagements and articles.

Chandran Nair gave a talk at the 2009 TEDx Tokyo, in which he outlines his thesis and, as he puts it, "asks the hard questions".


I find it refreshing to hear someone raise these issues. I am very frustrated when concerned individuals and institutions get bogged down in chasing "green" techno-fixes to these problems, or worse, shifting their focus from resource scarcity, how to feed the world, provide clean water, and salvage the Earth's environment to how to keep the automobile culture alive.

For an in depth look at his ideas, visit the website (linked above) or read his new book Consumptionomics: Asia's Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet.

To see the YLP in action, watch this video which shows them - with help from United Nations Development Program - helping cocoa farmers in tsunami devestated Aceh, Indonesia, re-organize the way they do things to bring about a sustainable and economically viable industry.

Politicians are still stuck in the "exponential growth on a finite planet" paradigm, which is already hitting the wall of limited resources - witness PM Kan's pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

We must find a way to redefine economics and define well being, indeed happiness, in terms of health, community, clean water, access to farm land, and so on, rather than solely on consumption.

Chandran Nair is bringing up the tough conversations we need to be having.