Showing posts from February, 2012

5 Planets On Show

It snowed a lot today in the Tokyo region, according to the news with over 300 traffic accidents and 15 injuries so far. Most people are not used to extreme weather conditions, and not prepared. We got about 20 cm here northwest of the capital which is the most I have experienced since moving here.

National Geographics cites a fresh report that may explain the unstable weather conditions - could it be due to melting ice in the Arctic:

Some scientists have speculated that such harsh winters might be a result of disappearing Arctic sea ice, which reached a record low in 2007 due to global warming, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

To test that theory, scientists entered data about Arctic sea ice and sea-surface temperatures into a climate model created by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. The results pinpointed two mechanisms for how a decline in sea ice could lead to more snowfall.

For one, major sea ice loss could alter how air circulates in the…

Give Greece A Chance

Here is to hoping that Greece will get through its current financial problems. We all deserve better. OK, it may require some downsizing and a lot less consumption, and no certain outcomes. We have all lived at levels way above what this planet can sustain, especially in the so-called developed world. Turns out, we need to develop other skills, such as humility, compassion, love.

Image from The Telegraph, of an ad placed in The Wall Street Journal, by a consortium of leading Greek business people who have launched an advertising campaign titled Give Greece a Chance. Note: this could happen to any country. It could happen to you. It could happen to Japan.
The advert reads: Greece has committed to the toughest austerity program in modern history. Hefty tax hikes, pension and wage cuts have reduced the primary budget deficit from €24.7 billion to €5.2 billion in just two years... but with a dramatic impact on the life of every Greek. A new set of measures was recently voted …

Trading Away Food Safety Rules

Interesting news from Taiwan, where local farmers and consumers are up in arms against US pressure on Taipei to lift its ban on US pork and beef. The reason is a growth promoting chemical called ractopamine, that is banned in almost all countries around the world, including Canada, the EU and Japan. Taiwan and China are trying to keep their zero threshold on this possibly dangerous substance, but US trade negotiators are now bringing out the big guns. The way Japan has solved the dilemma is to allow imports of some US meat, but ban the use of ractopamine in domestic Japanese pork and beef production.

Ractopamine, a beta-agonist, works in a weird way to make the meat more "lean" while also causing all kinds of side effects in the pigs and cattle. A similar substance, clenbuterol, is banned world-wide. While the US allows 50 ppb, Japan has set a stricter food safety standard limit at 10 ppb. I don't know exactly how much testing of imported US meat is done, but I assume the…

Setsuko Hara In The New Earth (1937)

I have recently been fascinated by the period of time in 1936 and 1937, before Japan's war in China broke out. It was an era of disaster waiting to happen, yet also beauty and cultural achievements, not to mention all the technological breakthroughs (such as the April, 1937 flight from Tokyo to Paris and London by "Japan's Lindbergh," pilot Masaaki Iinuma from Nagano).

We have films and music from that era that help us understand, to some degree, the emotions and hopes of the individuals whose fate would be determined by the war, rather than peace.

Oh well, it is all 75 years ago, who cares?

Well, watch this clip from The New Earth (Japanese title 新しき土, Atarashiki Tsuchi, German title Die Tochter Des Samurai), and you will probably be moved.

It starts in Hiroshima on Miyajima, at Itsukushima Shrine. Still a wonderful location. Amazing to see it the way it looked back then, complete with sacred deer and with no tourists...

The actress is Setsuko Hara, born 1920.

The film wa…

Snow On An Ancient Statue

Early this morning, I awoke, noticing that it had snowed during the night. It was already the time of the day when the sun was getting serious about its business. I knew that if I got up and brought my camera, I might be able to catch a few images. Snow is that rare around these parts, these days.

Around here, there are a lot of old temples, and graveyards. Early in the morning, the temples ring their bells. Other places seem almost abandoned. Just some stone images remain, collecting dust, or snow. Looking very solemn, beautiful, in the early light.

Japan, Apologizing To Okinawa

Defense Minister Tanaka, on the right, deeply bowing to Hirokazu Nakaima, Governor of Okinawa (left).

How long will this farce go on?

Maia Hirasawa: The Best Team

Hope you are all surrounded by great people, someone special, here is Maia Hirasawa's new hit, The Best Team. I saw this on the huge HD video screen near Takadanobaba station, walking back from work at Consumers Union of Japan late one night a few days ago.

More about Maia in Japanese here. Just a year ago, she was recording Boom! for the new Kyushu Shinkansen, a terrific tune.

En, två, tre... Lycka till!!

Update: The original video for the Boom! Kyushu Shinkansen start for March 12, 2011 has been added, here it is:

One comment is, that it was so sad that this was not able to be aired in March back then, due to the Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011. "I am moved to tears," writes teruterubouzu126, and "I got to like this song a lot, thanks for the translation," says ft2465. "How many times have I watched this, I'm still so moved!" writes 506tks.

There is also a 25 minutes long video of the entire trip from Fukuoka City to Kagoshima, through the c…

Hospitals In Okayama

When I lived in Okayama, I had to spend time with the old retired Zen priest, as he was slowly dying. I had to go to about three different hospitals, and stay with him, and fortunately, the staff and the nurses and doctors were superb, just first class, so amazingly helpful and supportive. I will never forget. I had to sleep on the floor, next to the boiler, and if anything was wrong, in the middle of the night, do whatever had to be done. In such emergencies, a smile or a helpful bow, or just a kind word from the nurses means a lot.

I had similar experiences back in Sweden, but this was in Japan. When I pressed the emergency buzzer, as the old retired priest was moaning, and I had no idea what to do: the nurses and everyone were just amazing. At the 3 hospitals where I had to deal with this, 24 hours on duty, in Okayama, all of them were just so terrific. I really want to go back and say thank you to everyone.

Dealing with death, as people around you are dying, how do you face your own…

1 Litre Of Tears

Speaking of kids, what if you had a child who was diagnosed with a terrible disease? Most of us never think of such a scenario. The 2005 Japanese TV drama 1 litre of tears was based on the 1986 book by Aya Kito. Starring Eriko Sawajiri as Aya.

It is sad, not depressing, yet full of joie de vivre, and thanks to Youtube, we can at least get a hint of what may happen to a family when this sort of thing strikes...

This beautifully moving drama is based on the real-life struggles of a 15-year-old girl named Aya who suffered from an incurable disease, but lived life to the fullest until her death at 25. The script is based on the diary Aya kept writing until she could no longer hold a pen. The book that later followed entitled “One Litre of Tears" has sold over 1.1 million copies in Japan alone. Fifteen year old Ikeuchi Aya was just a normal girl, soon to be high school student and daughter of a family who works at a shop that makes tofu.
Or you can rent it, or buy it, I suppose. With Eng…

Let The Kids Pay?

I had to laugh at this cartoon over at Mike's blog Marketing Japan. He has a lot to say about bailouts and government spending. The image is from the U.S. but applies to Japan too, in one way or the other.

For example, when we hear that the Fukushima disaster will take 40 years to clear up, it seems to me that we are asking future generations to fix the fine mess we have created, because the current generation does not know how to deal with it. That is an expensive and irresponsible legacy.


Time - we have no concept of it. Eggs, about a week. Milk and cream, we can get in about three months if we have a couple of cows, and if we know how to deal with them (including the bull). Wheat and rice, about six or seven months, but a lot more if we consider all the history from back way before. Other veggies, well, it depends on where you get your seeds from. Most seed sold in small bags are imported.

We talk about farming, but if we don't acknowledge that there are people out there, who know how to work the soil, and who understand the concept of time, then how are we going to feed ourselves?

I really liked this article in The Guardian about Irene, a 1907 sail ship that will be chartered to ship food slowly... Organic beer from the UK, olive oil from Spain, and then cocoa, coffee - and rum - back from South America. The whole point is to "blaze a trail for wind-powered cargo ships."

For Pike, this trip, which begins on Valentine's Day, is about romance but also ab…

Food Market In Nippori, Tokyo

This weekend, you can meet some 20-30 food sellers from all over Japan at the Nippori Marche, a French-style market at the east side of the Nippori station on the Yamanote line. There will be live taiko performance and all kinds of fun. You can get fresh veggies from Hokkaido to Okinawa (and Tanegashima).

Support these people if you live in Tokyo! Just one more reason to get to talk to people who actually work the soil, do the harvesting, and enjoy selling their goods. Do visit for the booths from Niigata, Nagano, Fukushima, and Chiba.

Tokyo needs more of these kinds of events.

Stay tuned to their activities: Nippori Yume Donya

People in the big city must learn how to connect, man-to-man, woman-to-woman, with the people who know how to grow food. The people in the rural areas also need to learn how to market their wares. Nippori Marche is one such event, held monthly, that makes me feel hopeful about how Tokyo and Japan will manage as we are heading towards dire straits.

I like how Nippori…

Full Moon Halo

I noticed an unusual halo around the full moon earlier tonight.

It looked much like this:

From The Astronomy Photo Of The Day:

This fairly common sight occurs when high thin clouds containing millions of tiny ice crystals cover much of the sky. Each ice crystal acts like a miniature lens. Because most of the crystals have a similar elongated hexagonal shape, light entering one crystal face and exiting through the opposing face refracts 22 degrees, which corresponds to the radius of the Moon Halo. A similar Sun Halo may be visible during the day.
Pure Land had this to say in January about the moon:

When you move from the city into the country, a considerable number of municipally peripheral things suddenly come into your life in a big way, such as the moon and the stars. Also insects, trees and animals, not to mention the sky as a whole. As well general vegetation, and a welcome absence of the masses of concrete and asphalt and people that characterize city life, as do power and phone line…

Thank You Shinkansen 300 Series

This is a country where people take their trains seriously. Special events are held for the many Steam Locomotive (SL) trains that still run, and when a Shinkansen model, the 300 Series, is about to be retired, fans go out of their way to celebrate.

The 300 Series was introduced in 1990 and has over 20 years of distinguished service which is worth commemorating - with a lunch box! The bento box costs 1100 Yen (10 Euro or 14 USD or whatever the lousy exchange rate is these days, as the Yen is stronger than ever, does anyone understand why?).

Tickets on the Shinkansen however are not cheap and they ought to introduce reduced fares, for example for people who book well in advance.

It also makes no sense that only foreign tourists can use the JR Rail Pass to ride these clever trains. What about all the foreigners that live here permanently?

A one-way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto is around 13,000 Yen (126 Euro or 170 USD).

My first trip to Kyoto was in the winter of 1989, when my brother came to vi…

Early Aviation: Porco Rosso By Miyazaki Hayao

A pig that flies? Already 20 years ago, this amazing anime film was released by Studio Ghibli in Tokyo. Music by Joe Hisashi, here is 時には昔の話を Toki ni wa Mukashi no Hanashi wo. I'd translate that as "Sometimes, we talk about the old days" which is the mood of the story. Time flies, anyway, and we had better just try to hang on there!

The WW1 ace pilot who has been turned into a Bogart-like pig, is now flying an amphibian, a type of airplane that was developed in Italy in the 1920s. In fact the film is very much an homage to early aviation, with accuracy that you'd expect from Miyazaki Hayao, yet how does he know how it feels to fly planes like that?? The amazing thing is, he makes the viewers feel like we also know what it must have felt like. Click here to watch the original 紅の豚 Japanese trailer on Youtube (embed not allowed).

Miyazaki originally created this as a manga, and said this: "If this were animation, I might be able to convey the grandeur of this life-or…

Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody Performed By Miyuji Kaneko

On Friday, we had the pleasure here in Hanno to welcome the Ukraine State Symphony Orchestra, and piano soloist Miyuji Kaneko, for an all Tchaikovsky program. Kaneko's father is Hungarian, his mother is from Japan, so I thought this video is appropriate, as he performs Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody.

Miyuji Kaneko did really well with a certain elegance, performing the 1st piano symphony in B-flat minor, and as an encore he played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. It looked like he wanted to play more, as he almost sat down for another... I'm sure the audience would have loved it.

On March 18, you can hear him play Liszt, Bach and Bartok at the Saitama Arts Theatre in Yono, Saitama, where he will start with the Ungarische Rhapsodie.

The symphony orchestra from Odessa had a wonderful sound, that made Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony seem fresh, especially the strings, with such warm approach to the famous melodies. I think a wonderful time was had by all on a cold winter's…

GM Papaya From Hawaii On Sale In Japan: A Trojan Fruit

I went to the large Supermarket Trade Fair at Tokyo Big Sight, with hundreds of boots and tens of thousands of visitors with an interest in food. I like this fair a lot with its many local food producers from all regions of Japan, as well as many foreign companies and traders. All are aiming at getting a slice of Japan's appetite for delishious and healthy foods, and many novel products are introduced each year.

This time I was surprised to see Hawaiian Rainbow papaya on display. This product was recently approved by the authorities after many, many years of wrangling. The reason is Japan's reluctance to accept anything that is genetically modified, as the consumers here are up in arms against GMOs. GM rice, for example, was on test trials around 10 years ago, but farmer after farmer dropped out of the research as there seemed to be no benefits whatsoever, except for the large multinational biotech companies like Monsanto.

The GM papaya is a result of research and development th…