Wednesday, February 29, 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 atmosphere, so that more cold air masses from the Arctic would travel farther south. At the same time, melting sea ice also exposes more ocean water, which results in increased water vapor in the atmosphere that can be transformed into snow.

"The implication from this research is, if Arctic sea ice continues to decrease, we will probably see more snowfall and stronger snowstorms in the winter," said study leader Jiping Liu, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

A connection between declining Arctic sea ice and increased snowfall sounds reasonable, said David Rind, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Yet complex atmospheric events can rarely be caused by a single factor, cautioned Rind, who was not involved in the study.

"The atmospheric dynamic is so variable, and the basic equations of motion on the time scale that we're discussing have so much inherent variability in them that you can have the same situations next time but everything is different," Rind said.

Note the question marks in this article, no one knows for sure what is going on.

As in English and other languges, there are two common expressions in Japanese:
気候変動 (Kikou hendou) Climate change
地球温暖化 (Chikyuu ondanka) Global warming

Also found on the National Geographics website: See 5 Bright Planets in Night Sky—First Time in 8 Years

If the weather clears up we might be able to see all five of them tomorrow night!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

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:

Quote 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 in by the Greek Parliament. With a focus on structural reform, we have a chance to create a new Greece. A modern, productive and creative Greece with a sustainable future in Europe.

Further hardship is inevitable. Unemployment has already reached 21pc. This is a high price to pay and it should not go in vain.

We are entering the fifth year of recession. Our European partners have stood by us. But we need continued support and the breathing space to get out of this vicious cycle. And we deserve to know that there is a fair chance of success.

We are hardworking, tax paying citizens unfairly labelled with stereotypes so easily handed out to Greeks today. We are Europeans who aspire to a constructive role within Europe. We will deliver on our commitment. We have already made sacrifices. We are ready to do more. We are betting our future on this. All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

We can all learn a lot from this "canary in the mine" situation. Greece is experiencing some terrific changes that most nations may have to go through, sooner or later. How we treat the people there will also say something about how we will be treated. What if our pensions are no longer secure? What about our banking system...? Are your deposits safe? Noone wants to doubt that the "system" works.

What is worse, we are degrading the environment, not protecting water resources, destroying farm fields, not encouraging young people in the rural areas to learn the skills, how to produce food in a sustainable way. How do we actually protect biological diversity? By farming more, not less, of a larger number of crops. What we survive on, what we consume, has a huge impact on the entire world.

Here is a map that has been around for a while, showing world consumption, calculated as:

Consumption = Appropriated National Biocapacity + Imports - Exports

Red is bad, Green is good.

From Hiroshima University

It basically means Japan is importing more than it can actually afford, from a global point of view. This is called a "negative" ecological footprint.

From an essay at Monthly Review: Looking Back for Insights into a New Paradigm
by Mark Lindley and James Farmelant:

1. Ecological footprint is a kind of index in ecological economics analogous to "gross national product" and per-capita "cost of living" in market economics. The ecological footprint of a given population is defined as the total area of ecologically productive land and water (cropland, pasture, forest, marsh, river, sea, etc.) that would with prevailing technologies be required in order to provide on a continuous basis the energy and materials consumed by that population, and to absorb its wastes. It is a reckoning in terms of area (different kinds of area on the surface of the Earth) and not of money. It summarizes several aspects of ecological economics in a way analogous to the ways in which "cost of living" and other such indices summarize certain aspects of market economics. A clever aspect of the ecological-footprint index is that for each nation it can be estimated from data that have already been gathered for market economics. For instance, the pasture component of a given nation's ecological footprint can be reckoned from the totals of how much money is being spent annually in that country for dairy products and from estimating, for that complex of dairy products, how much pasture (not necessarily in the same country) is needed to produce those goods.

It is also possible to reckon how much ecologically productive surface (of various types) is available within each nation. The term for this in relation to national ecological footprint is "national available bio-capacity." The "ecological footprint" minus the "available bio-capacity" is the "ecological surplus or deficit." And, by dividing each of these three numbers by the number of people living in the nation, one gets corresponding per-capita estimates. Here are some of them in hectares as of the mid-1990s:

Ecological Footprint

Because the reckoning is in terms of two-dimensional surface area, it is inapplicable to aspects of depletion (for instance, of fossil fuels) or pollution (for instance, of air) which call for reckoning in terms of three-dimensional volume. But in spite of that lack of comprehensiveness and in spite of the rough nature of the estimates (though no more rough than some of those, such as for cost of living, that are commonly used in market economics), ecological footprint is a way of summarizing a lot of useful information in ecological economics. It shows that the average person living the USA was, in the 1990s, contributing more than ten times as much as the average person in, for instance, India was at that time to a related worldwide "ecological deficit" which is in turn a partial indication of the extent to which humankind was using up, for current consumption, the finite "natural capital" offered by the Earth.

(The ecological deficits for India and China are certainly higher today than they were then.)

The ecological-footprint concept suits the traditional economic theorist's taste for reducing complex realities to a single scale of values. However, ecological economics in our century will have to be of such a transdisciplinary nature, incorporating information from the natural sciences (as 20th-century medical science has done) as well as from other social sciences, that it will no more seek to describe an economy with a single number (such as ecological footprint or the current orthodox economist's GDP) than medical doctors seek to describe a patient's health with a single number.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

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 government inspectors are on the case... (Right, right...)

Image from Food Safety Net: Farmers, food safety groups to protest against ractopamine use

Taiwan News had this story: Pig farmers question double standards on ractopamine

Hualien County Councilor Kung Wen-chun noted that when the government banned ractopamine, pig farmers who continued to use the feed additive faced fines. More than 10 years on, local pig farmers are now used to not using the additive. Washington has been pressing Taipei to revise its zero tolerance policy on ractopamine, which was found in some rejected shipments of beef from the U.S. last year. The beef dispute has been central to the extended suspension of talks between Taiwan and the U.S. under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). The TIFA, signed in September 1994, provides an official framework for Taiwan-U.S. dialogue on trade and economic issues in the absence of diplomatic ties. Bilateral talks under the TIFA have been stalled since 2007.

Don Shapiro at the American Chamber of Commerce in taipei writes on the Brookings website that "Beef [and pork] had taken on a symbolic importance far out of proportion to its monetary value of less than 1 percent of U.S. exports to Taiwan."

Brookings Institute: Getting Beyond Beef in U.S.-Taiwan Relations

The background is that the two governments signed a protocol in October 2009 lifting most of the remaining restrictions on U.S. beef products that Taiwan had put in place following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in 2003. Just two months later, however, the Taiwan legislature – in which Ma’s Kuomintang controlled some three-quarters of the seats – enacted a law that reversed some of those very provisions. Despite resentment at what it regarded as Taiwan’s reneging on the protocol, the U.S. government by early 2011 was willing to start preparations to resume TIFA talks. Then another obstacle arose when Taiwan rejected some shipments of beef found to contain traces of the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine. Though ractopamine, widely used by American ranchers, had long been a banned substance in Taiwan, inspectors had not previously tested for its presence. Random inspections, and the rejection of many shipments, have continued over the past year, and the uncertainty has caused some big buyers such as Costco to switch to other sources of supply.
Hat tip to Taiwan blogger Michael Turton

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

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 was a joint production as Germany and Japan was eying closer ties. According to the Japanese wikipedia article, it helped Nazi Germany understand Japan better, and get over its racist attitudes regarding East Asia and its people. Be that as it may, it was probably also a first introduction for many people to Japanese tea ceremony, archery, flower ceremony, rice farming... The Japanese wikipedia article notes that it shows cool and historically valuable footage of stuff like the modern train lines that I also enjoy learning more about. However, it also goes on to promote the policy of encouraging Japanese people to move to the continent...

The film will be screened in Tokyo on April 7, 2012 at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, according to MSN/Cinema Today.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

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?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

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 countryside of Kyushu (with the N700 and 800 Series Shinkansen). The show must go on!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

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 death. We are all mortal. We all try to avoid it. Deal with it, and try to live honestly while knowing that you are also mortal.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

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 English subtitles.

Means a lot to me. I should tell this story right though. Just as I was entering high school, my father was diagnosed with a life-treathening disease, and we thought he wouldn't make it. Some 30 years later, he is still around, still writing his columns about classical music for the local newspaper. But we didn't know that back then. I can't speak for others, but when a parent or a child is in this kind of situation, everyone suffers, and grows, having to learn from the day-to-day exposure with kurashi. I really wish I had known that as I went to college, far away.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3 (When the mother first notices the signs of Aya's disease):

Part 4 (When things get serious...):

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


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 about getting an important environmental message out. "It's great to be doing this romantic trip on a lovely old ship," he said. "But there's a bigger debate to be had about shipping in general. Is there an alternative to huge polluting cargo ships? We want to help launch that debate." Pike hopes, on the back of Irene's voyage, to set up a For Sail mark that can be used by traders to show goods were moved by wind.

The Guardian: Vintage ketch sets sail to launch slow cargo movement

Read more about this amazing ship on the Irene SS website:

Bridgwater is in Somerset, on the river Parret. In 1907 a lovely ketch was launched - a merchant vessel of 98 tons. She plied the seas with a grace and dignity until patterns of commerce changed and her majesty declined. Faltering and enfeebled the ship retired. A queen yet. Her reign was over, but her magic remained. One day a young man, a dealer in dreams and delusions, looked on her. "Let me sell you a dream young man", the ketch incanted. "It will cost you your life, your fortune, your soul". The dreamer looked and saw nothing of the peeled paint, the tarnished brass: he saw only a sailing ship of vitality and beauty: and he fell in love. He yearned to posses her; he fought many battles, he dreamed many dreams and one day the ship was his. The dream she sold cost him dear - but the dream was his own. He lives it still Lives it......or dreams it? What answer can there be to that which is not a question? Man and ship inhabit that fantasy world of reality, that real world of fantasy.

(Introduction from the book "Good Night Irene" by Leslie Morrish)

Friday, February 10, 2012

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 Marche has become a way for people in Tokyo to support the farmers and everyone in the Tohoku area. But it is more than that. As we learn how to appreciate what we eat, we also learn to appreciate the people who bring the food to our table, to our plate, to our cup. We are all connected. Without that, we are nothing.


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 lines overhead.

The moon doesn't play much of a role in city life, except as a kind of urban add-on one sees occasionally that is played up in movies as an extravaganza backdrop, the moon coming up between the skyscrapers. City folks actually don't have all that much to do with the moon, let alone the stars, except in a mythico-cinematico-derivativo kind of way, isn't it mystical, they say in the park, that smattering of artificial countryside city folks resort to in their free time to evoke their roots with a distant wistfulness, as in a museum where you can touch the artifacts. And the sky---in the city the sky is pretty much an artifact too, the less significant part of what metropolitans call the "skyline." Isn't it impressive they say. Well, yeah, I guess so, if you like artifacts in your eye.

Out in the country the sky stretches all the way from here to there (not the city "here and there"; such words resume their original meaning out in the country). And of course the country is where birds actually live, and enjoy themselves. By birds I don't mean panhandling pigeons, but self-supporting warblers, wheatears, grosbeaks, ducks, thrushes, egrets, pheasants, finches, redstarts, hawks, swallows, wagtails, owls, the list goes on. Real birds. Not merely the species or two that can tolerate exhaust fumes for a discernable life span, like the trees the city inserts along the avenues.

I used to be interested in Physics and Astronomy, because it seemed to provide answers to questions that were interesting. These days, there are not so many people writing about such issues. Have we lost our faith in science? I hope not. I was intrigued as a high school student to encounter The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Books like that made it so fascinating to go to math class, and try to understand Calculus, and all the Math required for higher levels of dancing... I hoped I could unravel the mysteries of the universe, both the inner and the outer.

When I see a Full Moon Halo, like tonight, I just feel great. Something out there, that inspires me. Hope it inspires you too...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

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 visit. We went to Kyoto, stayed at the Hiraiwa Ryokan, and had a great time. Except, back then around the New Years holiday, banks were closed for several days. I had to pay cash for the ryokan, and had next to nothing for a few cold days in the ancient capital. I think Johan remembers this better than I do, but a couple of kind Kyoto University students introduced us to a cheap okonomiyaki place, that I still remember we joked was "economy-yaki" and by the time the banks finally opened, we enjoyed a very good meal. We tried to hitchhike back to Tokyo, but failed, and ended up taking the Shinkansen (probably the 100 Series) instead.

March 16, 2012 is the last run for the 300 Series, and as of February 1 they are gradually being replaced, according to The 700 Series trains have a great track record and are more efficient. Update: According to Railfan, the 700 Series is 25% more energy efficient than the 300 Series, due to better streamlining and newer airconditioning systems.

Shinkansen rules, I'm using their services quite a lot each year on trips all over Japan, and I can vouch for their passenger friendly services and amazing punctuality. This is how a train service should be run. Accident-free, reliable and supported by the people.

Images from MSN/Sankei

Just for the mood, here is a cover of an enka ballad from 1976 by Alice, "While listening to the sound of a distant steam whistle," with a C571 Steam Locomotive that still runs in Yamaguchi prefecture:

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

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-death battle. But this is a comic. I have no choice but to rely on the imagination of you, good readers."

Amphibians or float planes were popular in Japan back in the 1930s, especially in Ibaraki prefecture, near Lake Kasumigaura and were built by all the Japanese aircraft manufaturers of the time, including Nakajima, Mitsubishi and Aichi (as well as others that I have never heard of). Many of these were used as mail planes before WW2.

Pandabonium wrote about early aviation back in 2005:

In 1924, the US Army - there was no "US Air Force" until after WWII - made a daring flight with four aircraft around the world. It was the first time that any aircaft had circumnavigated the globe. The planes were Douglas "World Cruisers", a single engine biplane which could be fitted with either wheels or floats and had a crew of two. The cruising speed was 103 mph. They took off from Seattle on April 6th and within days crashed one of the ships in fog on one of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Happily the crew survived and hiked to safety.

One of their stops was Kasumigaura, on May 22, 1924. They landed on the lake using their floats. Ultimately, two of the planes completed the flight around the world having covered over 27,500 miles and taking 371 hours of flying time. The total time for the trip was 175 days due to time on the ground for rest, repairs, and waiting out bad weather.

(Might have been the first time I commented on his Pacific Islander blog, by the way!)

I'd like to visit the Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum near there, which was established in 1922.

Actually, the British appears to have beaten the Americans to Lake Kasumigaura, with a visit back in 1920, according to Aviation Post Card International:

In 1920/21 a British military mission of about 30 RAF personnel was in Japan assisting with the establishment of a naval air force, including the creation of the Kasumigaura school. As a result, Vickers and Supermarine supplied flying boats to the Japanese navy in the 1920s.

The front boat on the top card is a Supermarine Seagull III amphibian. This was powered by a single Napier Lion. This type was also supplied to the Royal and Australian Navies and was a fore-runner of the Walrus & Sea Otter. The other amphibian in the background is a Vickers Viking. This was a 4 seat cabin design also with a Napier Lion Two Viking Mk IV designated Type 58 were supplied to the Imperial Japanese Navy (...) other military customers included the US Navy, Dutch East Indies Air Force, Argentine Navy, Canadian A.F.

Two derivative 3 seat Vultures were built specially for a round-the-world flight attempt by S/L Maclaren in 1924 and the first G-EBGO was shipped to Japan as a back-up aircraft and this was also assembled at Kasumigaura. It was needed and was shipped to Burma to replace the crashed G-EBHO but itself forced landed off the Aleutians.

Aren't you glad you are reading Kurashi... If any of my readers can find vintage aviation-related postcards like that one, please send them to me, and I will publish them here.
Here is the theme song of Porco Rosso, performed by peace activist Kato Tokiko, born in 1943 in what was then Manchukuo:

Lyrics translated:

Let's have an old tale once in a while, shall we?
At that cafe that we always go to
We saw horse chestnut trees by the window
Spending a day on a cup of coffee
Searching for the unseen tomorrow
Everyone placed their dreams
Blown by the hot wind of the changing era
You felt the time flow with your whole body
Didn't you?

There were times I slept on the roadside
We couldn't go anywhere together
We didn't have any money, but we still managed
Poverty brought us the new day
We crammed ourselves in a small student flat
Causing a racket until the morning, and then we slept
Like a storm every day burned up
We ran till we ran out of breath
Didn't we?

Look at the only photo remaining
The bearded guy's you, isn't he?
Now I don't know where you may be
Although I have made few friends
The fact that everything that day meant nothing
That, I can't tell anyone
Even now, just as before, searching for the endless dream
You still keep on running

Don't you?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

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 night, as the orchestra prepared for performances this weekend at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall and Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall. It was fun chatting with some of the players before the concert, especially the lady who said she didn't know which town she was in: "You're in Hanno, Saitama!"

The orchestra also did an ancore, from the Nutcracker Suite, and then they had to hurry back to Tokyo. I hope they enjoyed their brief visit to the boondocks, where we are not used to such rare pleasures. Some 700-800 people in Hanno would like to thank you very much.

Friday, February 03, 2012

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 that involves patents owned by Monsanto, but that US company is so hated in Japan that it has stayed in the background, as the Hawaiians clearly understood that another PR effort was needed that disassociated the GM papaya from Monsanto. Instead, it is marketed under a pretty "Rainbow" name, with hibiscus flowers and other Hawaiian imagery. But legally, the product must be labelled with text in Japanese, stating that it has been genetically modified (遺伝子組換え Idenshi kumikae). Currently, the GM papaya is only on sale at Costco, a supermarket chain, and cannot be easily be found anywhere else.

Consumers Union of Japan has protested against the GM papaya and the main concern is that consumers will not be given a choice to avoid this, in case the fruit is cut up or used in other products, like juice. The small label appears to be strongly glued onto the skin of the GM papaya, but would the information be passed on in restaurants if it is on the menu? Many people would prefer not to eat this product, and hopefully, the campaign to introduce this will be revealed as a "Trojan Fruit" to get other GM products into Japan. The powerful GM lobby was at the Supermarket Fair in Tokyo, but they are afraid of public opinion. This could get very interesting!

Consumers Union of Japan: GM Papaya, Consumer Reaction

First of all, we regard the cultivation and import of GM papaya as problematic. Japanese consumers who do not want to eat GM foods expect the GM label to be distinct and clear if GM papaya is to appear on the market. CUJ would like to point out the following problems with the approach taken by the Consumer Affairs Agency:

According to the suggestions, “The sticker could possibly be re-attached on the fruit, when the operator in charge deals with GM papaya only”, if the GM sticker is removed or falls off. If the manufacturer handles both GM papaya and non-GM papaya, all products from that manufacturer should be labeled as “may contain GM papaya” due to the possibility that mixing appears.

The Consumer Affairs Agency recognizes that there may be cases when the GM papaya is sold without a label because it has been removed or falls off, but takes a relaxed attitude to this possibility. This should be regarded as a serious violation. CUJ regards the act of selling GM papaya without correct GM labeling as a violation that should be severely punished by the law.

Top image from Aloha Street, a Hawaiian website.

Update I: The island of Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Check out the Occupy Maui video and song: MONSANTO GO AWAY:
And see the photos of Maui activists protesting and calling for GMO labeling:
and from

Update II: For details of the week of protests against Monsanto:

The week of events planned by Occupy Wall Street Maui and posted on the website include:

Monday, January 23, 2012: a roundup-themed garden highlighting concerns over herbicide use.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012: a march is planned past Monsanto crops along the Piilani Highway in South Maui.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012: a rally in Kahului is planned to spread information on the effects of GMO products.
Thursday, January 26, 2012: a march is planned in Wailuku to protest Monsanto and claims of the company’s influence in government.
Friday, January 27, 2012: An Occupy with Aloha event is planned at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
Saturday, January 28, 2012: Plans to Occupy local farmers markets and fruit stands, and gathering for a day of teach-ins, music, and organic food is planned.
Sunday, January 29, 2012: A dusk vigil will be held for small farmers at the occupation site fronting Monsanto on Maui.