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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

IFOAM: Sadness, Joy

This blog is honestly more about the sadness I feel, living here, and the reasons we are feeling connected to Japan and South Korea and the Far East.

I was in South Korea for a week, visiting organic farms. They are trying to avoid dangerous chemicals, trying to avoid artificial fertilisers, and not adding 添加物 (tenkabutsu) chemical additives, and trying to save seed. I was impressed by their grains, especially by Heuksalim, a farm/company that we visited in central South Korea.

The only good food I was able to enjoy was at a Buddhist temple restaurant in Seoul, but even that felt slightly strange. I don't think that was the food that people actually ate at a temple, where they did their practice.

I felt so sad in Seoul, with the traffic jams, and the large BMWs and Benz and Lexus. Walking was faster. I was told that in Korea, the rich people cannot afford to buy a house, so they buy a large car instead. If that is true - I feel just sadness, and pain. The income gap just appears to be massive.

I learnt that I know next to nothing about South Korea, in spite of having visited the country several times. I also noted, that they care not at all about reducing electricity or petrol; in fact it felt like I was back in the early-1980s. While Japan has made a major effort to reduce electricity (setsuden) there was no such campaign in South Korea. As they import most of their fuel and also their food, how can they deal with the massive changes that we are facing?

In Japan, the organic movement started back in 1971, with the teikei relationship that connects farmers and consumers. It is called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and it also means the farms support the community. I was the moderator for a session that Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA) hosted, with speakers discussing organic farming in Japan.

This was the first ever IFOAM conference in Asia, and I have no idea why it was held in South Korea. It was not easy to understand or comprehend if there really is a strong organic movement in Korea. My impression was that it is perhaps only available to well-to-do consumers in the large cities, and they mainly purchase imported, processed organic foods. I got no sense at all of a grassroot farmers' movement or any real government support. I was at loss at the conference to find any Koreans who could speak English, which added to the confusion. For example, the products sold at the conference market mostly seemed to be non-organic, and none of the sellers had any English materials or leaflets.

I was glad to meet Korean organic farmers in Heuksalim, who are at the front line of Korean organic agrculture. However, I learnt that the country still has no standards or rules or lables of their own.

Heuksalim farm in central South Korea: During the first 2 days of my visit, I participated in a pre-conference about organic seeds. This is an important issue as most organic farmers in Europe and North America generally use conventional seeds sold by commercial seed companies. We discussed the importance of saving seeds but also how to get public breeding schemes working that can provide healthy and biologically diverse seeds for a number of vegetables and grains. At the Heuksalim farm, they are engaged in efforts to save seeds of varieties that grow well in Korea, espcially millet and sorghum.

Heuksalim notes:

One of the most serious problems of organic agriculture in Korea is the lack of organic seeds. In the age of crises over food and seed sovereignty, preparing and researching organic seed remain one of the most important issues in Korea. Organic farmers must distinguish the seeds suitable for their land and exchange seeds and information and activities to preserve seeds must be widely expanded.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Kan On The Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail

Will Kan Have Hap I asked last year when he was suddenly made Prime Minister as the hapless Hatoyama resigned. Now Mr. Kan has also been replaced, perhaps because he was too outspoken against nuclear power.

I have no idea what Hatoyama does these days, but Kan has been seen in Shikoku on the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage route of 88 temples, which he is quoted as saying is preferable to the "slander" that goes on in the political realm. A good choice for a man who had the right stuff but not the right connections.

More Buddhism and pilgrimage routes on Kurashi:
Praying, Sutras, Meditating For Japan
On The Pilgrimage Trail in Chichibu
Incense From Mt Koya, Kyoto
The Heart Sutra

Noda And The Okinawa Problem: What Happened To The Japan That Can Say "No"?

Over at Japan Focus, Gavan McCormack and Norimatsu Satoko have taken a very close look at how Japanese media covered new Prime Minister Noda and his recent talks with US President Obama.

Japan Focus: Discordant Visitors: Japanese and Okinawan Messages to the US

Seems to me that the Daily Yomiuri has some serious explaining to do, while other news channels fare almost as badly. It is all down to who said what, and who quoted whom. It all matters a lot to the people in Okinawa. If the Yomiuri fails to explain why it failed to report what actually happened during the Noda-Obama meeting, or if the Japanese officials were involved in what is commonly known as "spin" and if the Yomiuri had its own agenda, I hope we will find out.

Noda says he will try to get the "understanding" of the people in Okinawa. OK, good. So, when will he actually travel to the prefecture? When was the last time a Japanese Prime Minister bothered to visit Okinawa?

Or is Noda planning to let others do the explaining? As the imminent arrival of brand new US Marine Osprey helicopters are adding pressure to the prefecture, I expect Noda to have a lot of explaining to do. Okinawa prefectural governor Nakaima Hirokazu has already contradicted Noda, noting that opposition in Okinawa to the Okinawan base project is almost total.

In the first reports of the talks published in Japan (in Yomiuri shimbun), these words, which Campbell had given no indication were the President’s, were placed within quote marks as the direct speech of the President. The Japanese media immediately highlighted the words “need to see results,” making it sound as though Obama had issued something close to an ultimatum.

In later reports, the Yomiuri attributed its source for the “Obama” remark to unnamed Japanese government sources.7 The Japanese media soon built a picture of the meeting replete with insights into its mood and the President’s mind. There was (according to the Asahi, quoting “a Japanese government official”) an “unexpectedly tense atmosphere,” in which Obama “pressed for action,” and according to the Japan Times (quoting “sources”) Obama was “impatient and irritated” and Noda was under pressure. Jiji News Agency offered the most dramatic account:

“The President cut into the discussion as if not to waste a second, saying, ‘The time to produce results is approaching.’ According to sources accompanying the Prime Minister, without even waiting for the other participants including Secretary of State Clinton to introduce themselves, the President turned upon the Prime Minister to demand of him in firm tones progress on the Futenma problem.”

Gavan McCormack and Norimatsu Satoko notes that "the citizens of Okinawa have for fifteen years of mass, non-violent resistance defied all the Tokyo promises, threats and bribes designed to crush or neutralize them. No amount of “sincerity” on the part of Noda and his Ministers seemed likely to overcome that determination, and violence would threaten the very fabric of Japan’s security in whose name it would be taken. The US-Japan “Alliance” runs aground on the reef of Okinawan resistance. By making the promises he has made, supposedly in order to “deepen” the “alliance,” Noda heads towards exposing it to its greatest crisis."