Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction: Chichibu Fudasho AND Ano Hana Anime

Like last summer, I have been up in Chichibu for the Fudasho temple pilgrimage, but on my own this time, and on a slow note, taking it all in. There are 34 temples, and by the time I got to number 17, something surreal happened.

From April, 2011 a very well done anime was aired on Fuji TV, called あの日見た花の名前を僕達はまだ知らない (We still don't know the name of the flower we saw that day).

Wikipedia: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai

"Ano Hana" (That Flower) as it is called for short is a story about friendship and a mystery character that died when they were all very young. It is sad and wonderful. Perhaps, recent events this year, somehow made this powerful story even more relevant.

All set in Chichibu, western Saitama, with attention to detail and a great care for catching the way it feels up there in the "hills" about an hour or so from Tokyo. A city that may have been much more lively in the bubble economy days 20 years ago. Yet, why did it have to "develop" so much beyond its capacity, the huge concrete factories, chemicals, Chichibu Cement, Mitsubishi Materials, Canon... why not what we call "sustainable development" and not get so torn apart? Since I live near there, this anime makes it all the more special. I like how this video shows the real places, that appear in the anime, including the Harp Bridge over Arakawa River:

So, this is what happened: When I reached Juurinji, temple 17 on the ancient Fudasho route, I was surprised to find a group of cos-play kids dressed up in the "Ano Hana" costumes (most likely home-made). They had the permission of the temple, and leasurly enacted the scene in the anime, exactly as it is, while they took photos and enjoyed the moment. Later, I learnt that many other location spots seen in the films also attract youngsters with this hobby.

I got my stamp, and the beautiful calligraphy that each temple will provide along the pilgrimage route. I walked away, then returned, and asked the kids if I could take their picture. "Sure!"

Some good comments on the many YouTube videos:

Thank god for the "slice of life" genre....the only thing keeping the sci-fi/ecchi hybrids from taking over.

I'm going to type a non-dramatic comment. It was a good anime, and barely made me tear up as much as Clannad. I'm pretty sure anyone who has lost someone important will love this show. Anyhow my personal rating overall is 9.0 out of 10.

most sad animes can give me a sob kind of cry. This one made me cry for real. Such a great anime. Definitely one of my favourites.

Great anime and a wicked opening melody. It is nice when the intro kind of reflects the story and gives an impression of each character's role. Simple, yet quite aesthetic.

Music by Galileo Galilei: Aoi Shiori (the location for the music video is of course the Seibu Line and the JR Chichibu Line train tracks)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunflowers For Fukushima

Can growing sunflowers help draw radioactive particles out of the soil in contaminated areas of Fukushima prefecture? Swedish newspaper DN thinks so, and had this lovely photo by Kerstin Joensson, which I thought was too good to not share with you.

Also, it had a link to an article in The Telegraph that claims there have been similar projects in Chernobyl.

Scientists believe that sunflowers at their full height can absorb large quantities of radioactive caesium, resulting in their growing presence across the Fukushima landscape in order to help decontaminate soil.

The Telegraph: Sunflowers heal soil across nuclear-hit Fukushima

I'd like to see the scientific reports that are behind this. We know that the levels of Caesium isotopes are extremely high in certain areas in Fukushima, from independent testing. It may take a long time before soil with such levels can be used for farming food again. But anyway, the flowers are pretty and bright!

If you want to contribute, try this link to e-Bookland Inc. Many volunteers have been involved in the planting, and as you can see they have gotten quite a lot of media attention in Japan for this effort.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Support For Japan From French Organic Farmers

This is just such terrific news. The French organic farming movement, Urgenci, has close links with Japanese Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA) and a deep sense of connection with events here over the years. There have been many visits and support for people like Hiroko Amemiya, a researcher working on Teikei, who is a member of Urgenci: "She is is studying the current situation in Japan, in order to design a long-term relief project, centered on small-scale organic farmers. She sent some first general elements about the situation and authorized their publication in our 4th issue of the Special News from Japan."

Now, Urgenci has decided to rename their newsletter, calling it "Teikei" after the Japanese term that was introduced here in the 1970s. I helped JOAA create and edit a book about Teikei last year, thus I'm very pleased. Also, I will be going with JOAA to South Korea in September for the IFOAM World Congress, the first such event in Asia for the organic movement.

Tei-Kei: Legend has it that the face of the farmer is hiding in the vegetables in the box. The truth is far more prosaic, but none the less elegant. The word teikei 提 携 Is composed of two characters that depict an action : that of an outstretched hand and that of helping each other. This is the term chosen by the Japanese pioneers to designate the first partnerships that were developed between producers and consumers. From the outset, in the 1970s, this new form of direct sales illustrated how to jointly maintain the often fragile balance between farmers and consumers.

All local solidarity partnerships are born of the same seed; what is known in Japan as Teikei, cooperation, is transformed into the solidarity of AMAPs in France, and some of the Solidarity purchasing groups in Europe and Community Supported Agriculture so close to the hearts of the Quebecois and North Americans. Teikei is our common demoninator in our groups. It also provides the connection between these groups, this shared inspiration that encourages us to meet and develop our network.

At a time when Japan is still suffering from the trauma of the nuclear disaster, renaming our newsletter TEIKEI is a legitimate act anchored in our history. It shows that our movements all recognise our family ties with the Japanese movement and is also a symbol of our unconditional solidarity towards the families that are victims of the disaster. It is an important signal that will strengthen a great many actions that are already up and running. The reconstruction projects carried out with such strength by Hiroko Amemiya to help the farmers in the contaminated zones, as well as the testimony by Shimpei and Toshihide in Aubagne. This is the 33rd Urgenci newsletter, the first to be published using our new name, Teikei. A great deal of it is dedicated to them.
From Urgenci: Teikei #33

In Japan, the vast majority of farms are very small farms (less than 5 acres). They are also very numerous: there are 1.9 million, while in France there are only 500 000 with half the population. The Japanese agricultural model is still an organizational model based on harmony between man and nature, contributing to the maintenance of landscapes (Satoyama).

Some Inspiration (I Hope) As Japanese TV (As We Know It) Is No Longer

Main stream television is going offline tonight here in Japan, so that the "waves" can be sold off to mobile phone providers, i e some large companies that want you to use your iPhone or cell phone or mobile phone, more, rather than actually talking to people. Sayonara, TV.

I expect more of us will be relying on the Internet, blogs, and so on for our daily basic advertising-free needs. Or not. It is up to us who blog to provide content and stories and support, if that is going to happen.

I still think "main stream media" will have an important role to play. But without bloggers, whistle-blowers, non-governmental organizations, volunteers, comments, suggestions, insights, friendly advice, "hints" (how can I trademark that term - just joking) and the occasional "tweets" the world would be a lot less interesting. Television in Japan has not been very interesting for a while, no big surprise there, as everyone knew it was going to be turned off anyway. Who'd invest in a dying dinosaur? They have known for 4-5 years that digital TV is the next new thing, and had no interest in providing quality programs. Of course, this country could actually save a lot of electricity if everyone just stopped watching TV.

But there are some signs that things will be getting better, in the long-term, which is what I am actually more interested in.

Shinji Fujino, head of the country studies division of the International Energy Agency and "in charge of reviewing energy policies of the IEA member countries" writes:

For the time being, electricity companies will have to bridge the gap between supply and demand by increasing capacity in thermal power plants, in particular plants fired by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Given the available facilities and supply risks of each fossil fuel, LNG will be expected to play a major role. However, greater use of LNG could result in higher electricity prices as well as higher CO2 emissions, which will make it more challenging to meet the Kyoto Protocol target (6% below 1990 levels for the first commitment period 2008-2012).

Japan has a relatively small share of renewables, which account for approximately 5% of its total primary energy supply. The current National Energy Plan has set a target of 10% by 2020. At the G8 summit in France this May, Mr Kan announced a plan to increase renewables to more than 20% of total electricity supply by the early 2020s. The government also plans to install 10 million rooftop photo-voltaic units (solar cells) by 2030. Owing to geographic and climatic conditions, the resource potential for renewable energy in Japan is relatively low when compared with other developed countries.

But necessity is the mother of invention. Tackling these challenges head-on could help Japan's economy to recover, and become more competitive in the long-term.
BBC: Fukushima crisis: Nuclear only part of Japan's problems

(Thanks Tom for the hat tip & finding that article)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Local Money

I don't think we know what it means, money. We confuse it with currency, exchange rates, gold standards, silver, platinium, salary, loans, fiat currency or just paper money.

What is money? We should ask, if we do, wouldn't it be the biggest threat to the central bankers, the IMF...

If I made carrots the "Carrot Standard" of world economy, we could all get on with growing carrots. If you were very good at growing really tasty carrots, you could be super wealthy.

You would be the Carrot King or PM: "Sir Carrot Emperor, Rule Supreme!" "Lord Carrot, Esquire!"

Funny how that is not an option.

We tend to think in terms of wealth more in terms of gossip, rumours, FX rates, heritage, and more or less binding legal tenders. So, what is the option?

What is a 1,000 Yen legal tender note realy worth?

In Waseda, since 2004, they have local Atom community money, perhaps that is a solution? It is also spreading to Sendai and other parts of Japan.

Except you would not be able to go on long holidays to exotic destinations, or get loans to buy fancy imported cars. Local money implies trust. It implies boundaries between "far away" and local. Is this the solution for Greece and other coutries that can't make ends meet?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Living in Japan, living on the edge.

After a week of hot weather, in the range of 34-35 C, we are now suddenly faced with a large typhoon. It just started raining heavily here a few minutes ago, with thunderstorms, and the next few days promises to be tough. At least, the heat is not a problem!

We knew this typhoon was approaching, as the Meteorological Agency has fancy maps and forecasts. Yet, the force of it is always a surprise. This is what people here endured for hundreds of years, why should we be surprised now?

Living in Japan, living on the edge.

A large and powerful typhoon was moving toward the main archipelago Monday, with the Meteorological Agency warning of downpours, strong winds and high waves in southwestern and western Japan through Tuesday.


Typhoon Ma-on was located about 300 km northeast off Okinawa's Minamidaito Island at noon Monday, traveling northward at about 25 kph, the agency said. The season's sixth typhoon could cause heavy rain Monday in areas ranging from Kyushu to the Pacific coast of central Japan and is expected to approach western to eastern Japan on Tuesday and Wednesday. The weather agency issued high wave warnings for most of the southern coast from Kyushu to southeast of Tokyo. Due to the typhoon, airlines on Monday cancelled lots of flights.

Don't take anything for granted.

Hokusai, The Great Wave. (Click to enlarge)

Stay safe.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Japan Won!!

Exciting game, Sawa scored 2-2 and then penalty kicks, and Japan won. Terrific final. Well deserved!

Update: FIFA removes all videos of this amazing game from Youtube. You'd think at a moment like this they would actually want people to watch it, to get more people, especially women, especially in Asia, more interested in playing and enjoying football. Sadly, not the case. Old men still dictate the rules for others. I did find this, but no embedding, but certainly worth your while!

"Transcendental moment for Japan..."

Japan-Sweden 3-1

World Cup in Germany, the Swedish ladies lost to Japan in an exciting game. Japan also beat Mexico 4-0 (Sawa did a hat-trick!) but lost to England 0-2. Tonight, or rather Monday morning, Japanese time, it is Japan-US in the finals.

Here are the highlights from the Japan-Sweden game, some really good moments, especially captain (No 10) Homare Sawa 澤穂希 who is just terrific, a play maker who also played for Atlanta and Washington DC teams in the US.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nippori Station Food Market

This weekend there is a fun event at Nippori station, Tokyo. This food and beer fair is becoming very popular and last night, I had some terrific German Weissbier as well as Czech pielsner as the record heat was slowly becoming more bear-able (pun intended). Today and Sunday there will be music as well, with kids playing taiko (big drums) on the small stage, plus jazz and enka by local artists. It will also be a chance to meet farmers from Fukushima, Akita, Niigata and other rural areas, who bring their produce directly to you.

Nippori Marushe website (Japanese)

The next Earth Day Market in Yoyogi is not until July 31, so do visit the market in Nippori (east exit) instead.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kan Thinks We Can Do Without Nuclear Power

PM Kan is one brave guy, who is also not a quitter (like his predecessors) and now he is hinting that a debate is needed on Japan's future energy supply. I couldn't agree more, but of course, I have no idea how Kan and the others in charge will solve the most pressing issue: Japan is only 4% self-sufficient when it comes to electrical power. That is very little.

Relying on ageing nuclear power plants in a country that is prone to have massive earthquakes and tsunamis will not work.

Importing oil? Will not be easy as we are already past peak oil.

Importing uranium? Not a long-term, sustainable solution, anyway, and a very dirty mining practice that most of us know very little about.

Thus, Kan is right, "I came to believe we should aim for a society that does not depend on nuclear power," Kan said in a televised news conference from his official residence. "We can phase out the dependence on nuclear power plants and achieve a society that can work without nuclear power plants."

Asahi: Kan comes out for a society with no nuclear power plants

Referring to the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the prime minister said, "When I think of the enormous risks of a nuclear accident, I am convinced that (nuclear power) is the technology that cannot be controlled by the conventional idea to ensure safety alone." Kan said that what type of energy source the Japanese public chooses to meet its growing demands for power is a big political question.

Asahi Shimbun has started a series of editorials to discuss how Japan must change course to create a nuclear-free society. Yoshinori Onoki, director of the editorial board, says:

A major shift in Japan's energy policy is necessary to wean our society off nuclear power generation as soon as possible.

Many people believe so, considering there is no end in sight to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant that started in March. A recent Asahi Shimbun survey found 77 percent of respondents in favor of a phased decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

The Fukushima meltdowns have taught us the fearsome power of nuclear energy that cannot be shut down at will. Japan sits on a veritable "nest" of earthquakes, and experts say we have entered a period of increased seismic activity. If there is another nuclear accident, our society may not recover.

That is why we are proposing a "zero nuclear power generation society" as our long-term target. First, we need to set a timeline.

We have so far relied on nuclear energy for nearly 30 percent of our power needs. We cannot slash it to zero right now, as the resultant power shortage will seriously affect our daily lives and economic activities. It is obviously much more realistic to gradually reduce our dependence on nuclear power generation--an approach that should get us faster to the target over the long run.

It is generally understood that the life expectancy of nuclear reactors is 40 years. If we stop building new reactors and scrap existing reactors over the next 40 years, all reactors will be gone by 2050. This would be too far down the road, but we could make it happen sooner with stepped-up efforts to develop and introduce alternative energy sources and save electricity.

The Mainichi Shimbun is also noting that "it is indispensable to promote the [nuclear power-free] policy on the initiative of the prime minister." The question, of course, is how to do it:
The important question is how the government will protect people's safety and livelihoods as well as business. It is certainly an important policy issue that members of the public should decide on. The issue will emerge as a major point of contention in the next general election, and it is the DPJ's responsibility as the governing party to clearly show its basic thinking on the issue.

And here is The Yomiuri Shimbun, that seems to be not warming up to a nuclear-free Japan, continuing its efforts to undermine Mr. Kan's stand rather than come up with any proposals of its own:

I will aim to make the country not dependent on nuclear power," Kan told a press conference held at the Prime Minister's Office. "I will lower the nation's dependence on it in stages and try to achieve a society that can function without nuclear power in the future."

The prime minister's announcement apparently reflects increasing public anxiety about the safety of nuclear power generation in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

"Before the March 11 nuclear crisis, I thought that we should utilize nuclear power plants while securing their safety," Kan said.

However, he has changed his stance after seeing the colossal damage caused by the nuclear crisis.

"I have realized that nuclear accidents cannot be prevented completely with the conventional safety measures we have at present," he added.

His announcement is a complete turnaround of the government's basic energy plan, which focuses on constructing at least 14 new nuclear reactors by 2030 to increase the ratio of nuclear power generation drastically as a percentage of the total electricity supply from the current 26 percent to 53 percent. The government's basic energy plan was formulated in June last year.

But, the prime minister failed to reveal specific practical measures, a detailed schedule or numerical targets to realize his new policy during the press conference.

Kan said dependence on nuclear power could be reduced because enough power can be secured this summer and winter if electricity conservation measures are promoted and surplus electricity by in-house power generation facilities can be utilized. However, he added that this policy change could not be fully realized in his term.

Okinawa Prefectural Assembly Adopts Resolution Against US Osprey Helicopters

Kyodo News says the Okinawa prefectural assembly adopted a resolution Thursday to demand Tokyo and Washington cancel the planned deployment of MV-22 Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in October next year:

While raising concerns over possible intensification of noise pollution around the base in Ginowan, the assembly also referred to risks surrounding the aircraft’s operation, saying it had resulted in “many casualties in repeated crashes at its development stage” and that its deployment would go “against efforts to eliminate the dangers” of the base.

The assembly also strongly criticized the Japanese government's claim that the plan is merely a change of aircraft model to be deployed at the Futenma base, saying Tokyo "is ignoring the human rights and the lives of the Okinawa people."

Looks like the debate that was stymied last summer - when PM Hatoyama suddenly quit after signing a controversial agreement with the US - might start all over again. SIgh. Why politicians never learn...?

I blogged about the Bell-Boeing Osprey last year:

Massive Okinawa "13 Kilometer Human Chain" Protest Announced For May 16

A Simple Way to End This Recession...Forever
May 9, 2010 (link no longer working, sorry)

I hate the Osprey, and have ever since they were introduced by Bell-Boeing and started killing Marines, who, by the way, call the thing "the widowmaker." Local reporters who were allowed to take a flight in the things had to sign all manner of releases before they took off, just in case one of them crashed again. An Osprey crash in Afghanistan killed four people just last month, in fact. The things don't work, and watching them skim the roofs in my neighborhood made me want to run and hide. I half expected one of them to go sideways and crash into the Hancock building. It really wouldn't have surprised me.
V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker: Full Report.
Center for Defense Information (pdf report)

The V-22 Osprey is unfit for combat and needs to be scrapped altogether, according to a new report from a defense think tank.

The Center for Defense Information report, titled "V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker? They warned us. But no one is listening," includes nearly 50 pages of text sharply criticizing the tilt rotor's combat capability and lack of testing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Coastal Area In Tohoku Still Needs Lots & Lots Of Help Part 2

I feel so fortunate to be able to do something for the people in Tohoku, north eastern Japan, who have truly gone through hell the past 4 months. My team from Hanno, Saitama with 4 vans plus a small kei-car that we donated to a shelter went up again this weekend, with 10 people and lots and lots of boxes with food, clothes, sandals, summer hats, futons, mosquito coils, books, manga, toys, some furniture (especially boxes are much appreciated for storage) and other stuff.

We started at 1AM and arrived in Minami Sanriku around 8AM, the Tohoku Expressway a very bumpy ride in some parts, and north east of Sendai and Ishinomaki it is rural roads and such beautiful scenery. Much has been done to clear up the debris (particularly by the Self Defense Forces, that have now left the region) and there are lots and lots of cranes and heavy vehicles and trucks removing the rubbish. I also saw some fires with black smoke and that got me very worried about pollution such as PCB, asbestos and other toxins released in the air.

The small villages up in the hills that were not damaged by the tsunami are in dire straits, as their houses are still standing; thus not much help from the official channels. Many of the 130,000 or so people who survived but became homeless are either staying with friends or relatives "up-hill" so to speak, or moving into emergency shelters. But the lottery system for getting into the shelters is not perfect and some people who "win" are reluctant to move into the emergency housing. In other words, it is complicated. Very complicated.

What I worry about is that the 500,000 to 1,000,000 people in the coastal region from Iwate and Miyagi to Fukushima, Tochigi and parts of Ibaraki are more or less forgotten as media is more focused on the nuclear reactors and the radiation issue. Frankly, much more effort should be directed to helping these people rebuild their towns along the coast. Having said that, it was great to visit the large volunteer center in Minami Sanriku, where people from Yokohama brought Indian curry and the walls were covered with "gambare!" messages.

If you have any ideas about how to help, get in touch. Every effort is appreciated. In the car, I heard the local radio station broadcast a message from a child in Europe, who had carefully written a letter, saying if anyone needed a place to staye, please come and visit...

Previously on Kurushii:
Coastal Area In Tohoku Still Needs Lots & Lots Of Help Part 1 (June 13, 2011)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

AKB48 (And Me) In Minami Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture

I went up to bring aid to people in Miyagi prefecture again with a team from my town, but I'm afraid we weren't the main attraction by far on Saturday, as girl band and phenomenon AKB48 decided to do a surprise live at an event the local High School that survived the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

They also visited a local home for elderly people and were amazed that one of the ladies was 84 years old. Isn't that like the total age of all of the AKB48 members, added up together? You can actually see me very briefly trying to run away from the press and all the screaming fans. Anyway, for the first time on this humble blog, I give you AKB48:

And of course I promise to resume regular blogging once I recover from heat stroke and girl band dancing...

Image from Asahi Shimbun, video posted by one of the millions of fans who follow every move they make.

Glad to see that this event caught the eye of the media, Minami Sanriku town will need all the help they can get to recover.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Exotic Jedi from Japan

LOL, The Exotic Jedi from Japan, Old style Kenjutsu "Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintou Ryu" one of Japan's oldest martial arts, according to Wikipedia, from 1447 (or 1480) by a famous swordsman, Iizasa Ienao from what is now Chiba Prefecture. He practiced both there, at Katori Shrine, and at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Drive Me Crazy - The Temperance Seven

Nothing serious to report here, it is just hot and humid, a bit of rain, and thankfully no power outages (so far). I like how a lot of people are powering down, and it is a huge collective effort here in Japan right now. Trains are running as usual, but yup, it is a little warmer than last year, pre nuclear armageddon in Fukushima.

I'm a little concerned that people think we are back to normal. We are not. We are all, together now, heading for a very interesting journey into a lot less energy waste.

It may even become a sort of patriotic thing, this power-down 節電 setsuden thing. We all do it, and it makes it less frightening. At my local Seven Eleven, they have replaced all their old lighting, so I asked the part-time staff - and he had no idea. Funny how a big company can pay millions of Yen to replace ceiling fluorescent or neon lights, but cannot educate their staff.

Having said that, I frankly have no idea at all how such fluorescent lamps actually work, compared to ordinary light bulbs. Why didn't anyone educate me??

Just kidding, why didn't I figure it out by myself? But, I really do not know what the new stuff is that they are using: LED (light-emitting diods)?

It drives me crazy (more about that later) that we are so ignorant about the solutions that may be out there. We just "carry on" as if someone else will fix all problems for us. LED? We are rather being led into a new era, just as people were led into the high-growth, big-waste era a generation ago. What kind of era will it be? Que sera sera?

Seven Eleven in Japan actually published CSR reports back until 2004, then they gave that up. It was called Sustainability Reports back then. Nice idea, based on the thought that share holders and new workers worried about things like environmental issues and efforts to combat global warming. So, why stop? Financial crisis? Lehman Brothers? Collapse of our oil-dependent society? Their Japanese website is more interested in Eco this and Eco that, and mostly for kids. "Social" Seven Eleven Japan has nothing new since March 1, 2011, before earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown. If I want to know what kind of new lights they are using in my store (since the part-time worker had no idea), where should I turn?

I could call, I suppose. But I think most of us are by now very frustrated by being put on hold, muzak while we wait, then another person who has no clue. Yes, it drives me crazy. I use google to try to make sense of things, rather than trying to actually talk to people who should know better. And I still do not know what kind of novel lamps my local Seven Eleven is using.

If they really wanted to save energy, why not just shut all shops at 23:00PM when all of us used to go asleep, anyway. Why do they have to stay on and about 24 hours? Whoever had such prospects back in the day before "cheap" nuclear energy made us all bask in the light...?

Here is The Temperance Seven, from 1961, and what used to be public transportation in the UK (and in many other places): The Tramway Village (formerly National Tramway Museum) at Crich near Matlock Derbyshire.

Of course we can sift through press releases, and try to make sense out of what our local yet multi-national corporation is doing to our town. Locally, a small outfit cannot be 24/7 in the way that Seven Eleven Holdings can be. Most, if not all, shops close at night, and staff go home. Why not Lawson, 7/11, Family Mart? Why no rules? Ask the LDP politicians who were in charge when Japan went neo-liberal, de-regulation, free-for-all. But, that is for others to judge.

On April 14, 2011, Nikkei noted (which means they just published whatever 7/11 sent them as a so-called press release) that LED will now be the solution to all your worries in case you ever wondered how your local convenience shop was lit up at night. 5000 shops will be fitted with the latest LED lights, no information about where such lamps are produced (probably China).

Nikkei: 5000 shops to introduce LED lights, reduing energy by 25%

Seven-Eleven Japan Co recently announced it will replace in-store and signboard lights with energy efficient LED light bulbs at 5,000 outlets of its convenience store chain. This move is part of a 10 billion yen program aimed at dealing with the power shortages expected in Japan's eastern and northeastern regions this summer.

The goal of the program is to cut electricity consumption by 25 percent from July to September, and includes installation of solar panels on 1,000 Seven-Eleven stores. The Japanese government is considering limiting the use of electricity by major companies to deal with power shortages anticipated this summer as Tokyo Electric Power Co and Tohoku Electric Power Co struggle with lost supply capacity following the March 11 epic earthquake and tsunami.

Seven-Eleven of Japan has around 6,000 outlets in Tokyo Electric Power's service area, and will likely be targeted for electricity limiting. Installing LED light bulbs will free up a large portion of electricity, allowing Seven-Eleven stores to continue operating the same while using less energy.

Another company in Japan, FamilyMart Co, aims to reduce its electricity with a reduction in light bulb usage, and changing temperatures to adapt to changing seasons. In any case these are positive changes toward a more energy efficient future. It's unfortunate these sweeping changes had to be prompted by such dire circumstances.

Let me just take this one small step further. If I understand it correctly, these 5000 shops are now installing LED lights, and just suppose I would like to know where the LEDs are made, and how... Do you have any suggestion as to what we should do?

And, if it drives us crazy, that maybe they are spending millions to replace 7/11's old-fashioned fluorescent lights (with mercury compounds) then, why are we not told about the way the "old" stuff is thrown away and where that will be disposed...?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Food Safety, Post March 11 In Japan

Speaking from the view point of food safety and consumers rights, which I have been working on for the past 15 years or so, there is a lot of confusion in Japan right now, and I am not in a position to say anything with great certainty. So is our food "safe" or not? Is enough done to actually check the many different radioactive isotopes and dangerous substances...?

Miyagi prefecture just released official data that you may want to ponder.

This is the prefecture just north of Fukushima. I visited Miyagi last month, and of course, I do hope they can recover and get back to "normal" as soon as possible.

As you can see, no iodine can be found, but some cesium remains. The levels are around 3-34 Bq/kg in blueberry, bamboo shoot, and 49 Bq/kg in plums. Nothing detected in vegetables such as onions or radish. The "safe" limits are considered to be much higher, at 500 Bq/kg.

I'd like to see a lot more testing done before anyone tries to say we are OK (or not).

At the same time, I'm not very convinced that pregnant mothers and small children should be exposed to any of these substances. When I read that some food suppliers are encouraging their customers to "support" farmers in Fukushima, without much details as to what kind of testing have actually been done, I get worried. The Japan Times wrote about the "moral dilemmas" that we are faced with, and noted that Seikatsu Club, or Daiichi Mamoru Kai have campaigns to "Support Tohoku Farmers" or "Cheer Up by Eating" but that really is not a good idea for kids.

The Japan Times: Irradiated food poses moral dilemmas

"A lot of our suppliers happened to be concentrated in the Tohoku region, and one of our mushroom growers in Minami-Sanriku (in Miyagi Prefecture) was actually killed by the tsunami," he said. "There were many others whose homes, fishing boats and processing plants were washed away. Our biggest issue since the disaster has been how to support these people."

After the disasters, Daichi lost no time in appealing to its 100,000 members to donate money to its suppliers affected by the magnitude-9 megaquake and tsunami. It has raised ¥90 million so far, and the money keeps flowing in.

In contrast, another attempt by the group to help those farmers — by starting to market a range of vegetables grown in Fukushima and the surrounding Ibaraki and Gunma prefectures — has met with mixed reactions.

Fujita said that the company currently sells about 2,000 of these "Cheer Up by Eating" units every week to mostly elderly customers who buy the produce "out of feelings of gratitude for providing them with safe, organic food over the years."

But his office has also been bombarded with "cries for help" from customers with completely different sentiments. These callers — who numbered up to 2,000 a day after cesium levels twice the safety limit for infants were detected at a water-treatment plant in Tokyo in late March — were mostly young mothers with small children, he said, and they were skeptical of safety assurances from the government and demanding that Daichi provide less-irradiated food.

"Many of them said they would stop buying from us if we sold veggies containing ones from Fukushima and northern Kanto," Fujita said. "Others were anxious whether we could deliver mineral water, whether we were testing the veggies for radiation, and if they could really trust what the government says."

More testing is needed. Bloomberg noted on June 16 that only some 4,850 samples from 22 prefectures were tested for radiation. Japan has 1.68 million farms in Japan so if these numbers are correct, there clearly has not been enough proper testing done, at least not by mid-June.

Bloomberg: Food Safety Fears Grow in Japan on Skepticism at Radiation Testing Regime

The voluntary tests are conducted by prefectural governments in cooperation with local farmers, said Taku Ohara, an official in the ministry’s inspection and safety division. There’s no centralized checking system and many small farms aren’t tested, he said.

“It’s difficult to take test samples from all farms because there are too many,” he said. “We have asked local governments to cover each of the farming regions and monitor them evenly.”
Be that as it may.

Tea, a very traditional Japanese product, has also been hit hard. The tea leaves are harvested in spring/early summer, and cannot be washed. Thus, the problem that radioactive particles remain in the final product. For vegetables, of course, a good wash (using a brush) might remove anything that is stuck on the surface.

Consumers (and hobby farmers) are left in doubt as to the long-term safety. Better get a good brush, unless you want to invest in a radiation meter.

Frankly, we do not know enough about radiation to really be confident to talk about "risk" or "damage" and if anyone starts to cry wolf, you had better ask, "does he/she really know what is going on?"

Tokyo Cuban Boys: The Fukushima Connection

Tokyo Cuban Boys was a legendary band, formed by Tadaaki Misago in 1949. They were hugely popular and influential in introducing Latin music to the mainstream of Japanese music fans. They remained at the pinnacle of the Latin/pop music scene for over 30 years until 1980.

Latin America is close to the heart of many Japanese people who have relatives that migrated to Peru, Brazil, and other countries across the Pacific Ocean in the early 20th century. Historically, Japan and Brazil has links going back to at least 1908, according to TokyoTopia.

One of my first memories in Tokyo, in the hot summer of 1988, was the Samba Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo. It has been cancelled this summer, because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

In 2005 Misago's son, Kazuaki Misago, decided continue the Tokyo Cuban Boys band as 'Kazuaki Misago & His Tokyo Cuban Boys'.

This top tune is the Souma Bon Uta, a jazzed up version of a local melody from Souma, Fukushima. Eri Chiemi on vocals, and fantastic brass & percussions. Also certain themes from Glenn Miller, with a marvellous trombone solo too!

Below, you get Without You (Opening) from 1988.

Music brings people together: Musician and translator Alan Gleason has just returned from a gig in what might seem the unlikeliest of places: an evacuation center sheltering hundreds of people displaced from their homes by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The sound of music in Fukushima

Fukushima is known for its traditional tunes, such as Fisherman's Song. The lyrics is in the local dialect. Enjoy.

CNNGo: What gave you the idea to do this?

Alan Gleason: A month after the March 11 earthquake we played a gig at a café in my neighborhood in Suginami, on the west side of Tokyo.

Afterwards, a lady came up and introduced herself as Midori Watanabe, a liaison between Suginami and the city of Minami-Soma, Fukushima, which is inside the nuclear no-go zone and just north of the crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant.

Suginami and Minami-Soma have a sister-city relationship, it turns out. A large number of Minami-Soma's citizens are staying in the spa resort town of Iizaka, just outside Fukushima city, 60 kilometers northwest of the nuke plant.

CNNGo: Resorts? Presumably not for R and R (though we're sure they could use it)?

Gleason: The resort hotels have been paid by the government to house the evacuees. They have been there since mid-April (previously they were in makeshift shelters elsewhere) with no idea of when they will be able to leave or where they can go.

Some lost their homes in the tsunami but many have homes that are intact, but essentially abandoned, in the no-go zone.


The warmest response came from the young kids in the audience, who were delighted to encounter a bunch of weird looking guys carrying even weirder instruments. They swarmed us and asked all kinds of questions about the violin, guitars and bass, wanting to touch them and try playing them.

During the concert some of the kids ran around the room playing tag, but others listened with rapt attention. It was clear they were going stir-crazy in their evacuation quarters, even in the nicely appointed resort hotels where many of them were staying.

Many of the evacuees talked to us quite willingly about their plight and their concerns. Parents, in particular, are worried about the kids. With their situation so unsettled, they don't know whether to enroll the kids in local schools, or to wait till they can resettle somewhere more permanently.

And in the meantime, they are upset that radiation levels are still high enough, even in Fukushima City, that kids are not supposed to go outside to play in the parks and school playgrounds.

CNNGo: How would you sum up the experience?

Gleason: I came away with the understanding that the evacuees desperately need cheering up, not to be told to "cheer up." More than anything else, though, they need housing, and relief from the fear of radiation.

We made a point of avoiding even well-intentioned words of encouragement, because the evacuees had heard it all and were sick and tired of being told by government bureaucrats and media personalities to "hang in there" ("Ganbaro!" in Japanese).

Read more: The sound of music in Fukushima |

Summer festivals are a big part of my memories of summer in Japan. As hot as it gets, at night, there will be music, dance, drums, flutes, more dance and lots of fun. There is nothing like it, except perhaps in Latin America!?

From the summer festival, 2009, in Souma, Fukushima: