Monday, April 30, 2012

Blue Trains To Run During Golden Week

Revival of the sleeper train, the Blue Train, during Golden Week? You bet. While I like trains a lot and have done my fair share (I think) of train travel, I never had the pleasure of riding this classic one - it was in service for some 50 years until 2 or 3 years ago. Lots and lots of tetsudo fan showed up for its last run from Tokyo Station, which was covered live by TV stations. Tetsudo Fan 鉄道ファン (Railroad Fan) is also the name of a magazine here that covers all kinds of train-related issues. This is the magazine (and website) that all true train spotters you see on weekends with their huge cameras read.

Today, in 2012, two sleeper Blue Trains remain in operation: Akebono (from Ueno to Aomori) and Hokutosei (from Ueno to Sapporo in Hokkaido).

I'm very tempted!

Here is a nice video of a Blue Train, Izumo, as it heads from night into dawn going from western Japan to Tokyo...

Asahi Shinbun had a great article about the special revival of the Blue Trains during Golden Week, the long vacation (if you are so lucky). The Blue Trains linked Tokyo and Osaka with smaller regional cities throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The more famous Shinkansen was (and is) more expensive, thus the Blue Trains were the perfect solution for ordinary travellers with a little more time on their hands. Kazunori Haga notes:

One charter sleeper train will travel from Osaka to Ueno Station in Tokyo on April 27. That run is the brainchild of Minoru Mukaiya, 55, a member of the 1980s jazz fusion band Casiopea.

East Japan Railway Co. and West Japan Railway Co. also plan to revive the Nihonkai train for a limited time over Golden Week. Regular runs of the Nihonkai train ended in March.

Nippon Travel Agency Co. is putting together the April 27 chartered blue train that will leave Osaka Station and use the rails of the Hokuriku, Joetsu and other lines to reach Ueno. Mukaiya, a long-time train enthusiast, came up with the idea and convinced Nippon Travel Agency officials to put together a run.

"Railways do not exist only to move from one place to another," Mukaiya says. "I hope passengers will experience the feelings of excitement and expectation that the blue train creates."

Asahi Shinbun: Blue sleeper trains to have Golden Week revival

If you have never heard of Japanese band Casiopea,  I don't blame you, but here is a fun video from their 1988 world tour, featuring Gilberto Gil and Pepeu Gomes. Back when the Japanese music scene was just buzzing with great live concerts!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Paul McCartney - 2012 Grammys

This brings back good memories. I went to see Sir Paul at Tokyo Dome back in March 1990, I had a seat at the very far back but it was terrific.

And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love, you make...

While John Lennon and George Harrison are no longer with us, in 2012, you still get treats like this: 

Paul McCartney Grammys 2012 - Abbey Road Medley

Cat Power- Keep on running

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lady Gaga In Seoul, Korea

Huge event with 45,000 attending in Seoul, and a massive Christian backlash "perverting our youth" that was covered by the media. Only people over 18 years old could attend. Still, isn't it amazing how youth will attend events like this?

The concert was held yesterday at the 1988 Olympic Stadium near the Han River. I went past there last year. Massive ugly concrete block of South Korean dictatorship architecture. Glad that Lady Gaga brought some light to that particular part of East Asia.

May 10th she arrives at Saitama Super Arena, here in Japan!

Glad also that Lady Gaga tries to raise awareness of issues that are not so much debated, but she could do better.

Japan and South Korea, so far away, yet so close... If you don't know anything about hard core Christians in South Korea, let me tell you, they have a lot of very hard core evangelist baptist whatever churches that we don't have here in Japan. Thus, their missionary seal may be difficult to comprehend. Japan is very liberal compared to other countries.

Here is a sample: Korean Christians aim to stop Lady Gaga's "pornographic" show

SEOUL (Reuters) - Christian groups in South Korea called on Friday for pop icon Lady Gaga to cancel her concert here saying it was "pornographic" and promoted homosexuality.

South Korea's government has already bowed to public pressure and banned under-18s from attending the 26-year old's concert, but protesters gathered outside the venue said that was not enough.

"Some people can accept this as another culture but its impact is huge beyond art and debases religions. Even adults can't see her performance which is too homosexual and pornographic," said Yoon Jung-hoon, a reverend who organized the "Civilians Network against the Lady Gaga Concert".

The singer's hit song "Born This Way" celebrates the empowerment of gay men and women, something that many in South Korea, which is the second most Christian country in Asia after the Philippines, say is an immoral lifestyle.

Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has been in Seoul for close on a week as she kicks off her Asian "Born this Way" tour.

"Nervous for tonight. Hope I make little monsters happy and proud," she Tweeted a few hours before the concert kicked off.

Yoon's group claims to have collected 5,000 supporters on Facebook against the concert and some have also called for a boycott of the sponsor Hyundai Card. The protesters have also threatened a boycott of its parent company, Hyundai Motor Co, South Korea's largest car-maker.

"The Christian Council of Korea with 12 million Christians and 55,000 churches will take all kinds of measures such as boycotting Hyundai Card to root out this kind of obscene culture," the council said in a statement.

Yoon said he would attend the concert to "monitor" the performance for homosexual content that could corrupt young people.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by David Chance and Sanjeev Miglani)

They will prob. remove this video soon so do watch asap.

Food Safety Updates: BSE, Pesticides, Etc. Etc.

Japan continues to enjoy a very high level of food safety. Recent news from California that a new case of a mad cow (technically diagnosed with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) was found has not really had much impact here, as the rules stipulate that meat from old cattle cannot be imported. BSE is more likely to develop in cows that are over 30 months old. Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea, that allow import of meat from younger cows, are more concerned.

Washington Post notes that "The United States is one of the few beef-producing countries that does not have a mandatory animal identification system that enables it to trace a cow from birth through the slaughterhouse and beyond, though a proposal has been in the works for years. "If we discover that this case was part of a larger outbreak, we might not be able to find all the animals in that cohort that were exposed to the same feed," said Sarah Klein of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "If the feed is not the problem, then this is yet another warning shot. The question becomes: Do you wait for the big outbreak before you can justify the need for a system to track these animals?"

Washington Post: Mad cow case raises the issue of tracking livestock
Jiji/The Japan Times: Beef-related industries react calmly to U.S. BSE case; no curbs planned

South Korea: Mad over Mad Cows

Taiwan: Beef vote a warning sign: KMT whip
Taiwan: Officials, experts divided over possible BSE in milk

So, because Japan has stuck to its guns, and maintained the 30 month limit, there was not much of a problem here, as meat from old cows are not imported. Meanwhile in other parts of Asia, where U.S. trade pressure had weakened the domestic rules, you got scenes like this, in Taipei, Taiwan:

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday played a key role in a vote on a resolution to ban the import and sale of US beef following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in California on Tuesday, a vote described by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip as a “warning sign” for the government.

The resolution, initiated by opposition parties, called for the government to order the removal of US beef from shelves, to place imported US beef under customs seal and to impose a temporary ban on imports of US beef and beef products.

“Article 5-7 of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures allows WTO members to take provisional precautionary measures in case of insufficient scientific evidence on a food safety risk. The Indonesian government has suspended imports of US beef, but Presdent Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government has done nothing,” the resolution said.

I feel more sorry for the Greenpeace activist in Taiwan that tried to talk about the really serious issue of pesticide residue in vegetables:

Taiwan: Tests find more pesticides on fruit

A second round of tests on fruit and vegetables sold at six of the nation’s main supermarkets and wholesale chains showed that hazardous pesticide residues were found on 20 of the 36 products tested, Greenpeace Taiwan said yesterday.

The organization released its first report on pesticides in February, in which it revealed that 74 percent of fruit and vegetables examined in December contained 36 types of pesticide residue, with one fruit product containing residues of nine types of pesticide.

This time the survey found residues of a pesticide with reproduction toxicity — carbendazim, which may cause harm to fetuses — on items from all six of the chains surveyed, the organization said in its report.

It added that procymidone, azoxystrobin and dimethomorph, which can cause infertility, were found on items from one of the wholesale chains.

Greenpeace Taiwan’s agriculture project manager Tsai Szu-ting (蔡絲婷) said eight of the fruit products tested contained more than three types of pesticide residues, with oranges sold at Pxmart wholesalers containing eight types, kumquats sold at Matsusei supermarkets containing six types and strawberries sold at Pxmart wholesalers containing five types of residue.

Moreover, among the eight types of pesticide found in oranges, flucythrinate and carbofuran were considered as highly hazardous by the WHO, Tsai said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has in 2009 banned carbofuran residues on food sold in the US.

“The organization has communicated with the supermarkets after announcing the first report in Feburary, but the stores only chose to pull the problem items off the shelves, without taking other positive actions to change the situation and they cannot protect consumers from health problems,” Tsai said.

Although the doses of pesticide residues found on the samples were not high, the organization is concerned about the combination effect — which it compared to mixing cocktails — of several pesticides on human health, Tsai said.

A mixture of several pesticides could be even more hazardous than only a single type of toxic agent, Tsai said.

I don't eat meat, but if my veggies are sprayed that much, I would get very concerned. The more imported food you eat, the less you know about how the stuff was produced.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Miho Museum, Meeting Remarkable Men, Mr. I. M. Pei

Sometimes in life, you get lucky, and you get to visit great places. You feel at peace with all things in the universe. Then, you get to meet unusual people, like in the classic film by Peter Brook from 1979.

Meetings With Remarkable Men (Part 1 of 11)

Meetings With Remarkable Men (Part 2 of 11)

Then you get to just by chance meet someone who has designed the very building you are in, a museum in Shiga prefecture, the Miho Museum. I go there from time to time, I like the place a lot, it has a special concept of "beauty" and the viewpoint is "from East Asia" which makes it distinct from a lot of other ordinary museums. Art history, viewed from Japan, and also with a very feminine touch. We tend to ignore that perspective, but a woman with an artistic sense, like at Miho, can change everything around. The female touch has been a very important part of art in Asia, since ancient times. The English website does not quite explore this connection to Grandmother, who initiated all of Miho Museum...

Miho is a very unusual museum, where each object, be it a tea cup or a mask or a statue, is displayed in its own right. And the backdrop against the mountains is an added plus. It could be a model for all other museums.

Thus, meeting Mr. I.M. Pei himself inside this very special structure, that he had designed some 15 years ago, was amazing. Photo by Anki Myrberg, she insisted on the shot, we were having coffee and I was wondering why the tables were all set.! Usually reservations are not possible. Mr. Pei and his wife rolled in, with due entourage, and it was all very friendly and laughs all around.

You get to meet someone special, and Mr. Pei asks me, "Why do you know about this place?" and starts talking about Asplund and Aalto, architects that he was inspired by. I also read on the internet that Mr. Pei as a young man was part of the US war effort, helping design bombs to destroy Japanese towns and cities. I did not ask him about that. I do wonder, should I have asked?

Do watch the video from Miho Museum, it is a very special place for all of us who likes art in Asia.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

TPP At Public Citizen Website

If you want to read more about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) I recommend the Public Citizen website. More here: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

TPP: Corporate Power Tool of the 1%

Have you heard? The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” agreement is a stealthy policy being pressed by corporate America, a dream of the 1 percent, that in one blow could:

  • offshore millions of American jobs,
  • free the banksters from oversight,
  • ban Buy America policies needed to create green jobs and rebuild our economy,
  • decrease access to medicine,
  • flood the U.S. with unsafe food and products,
  • and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards.

Closed-door talks are on-going between the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam; with countries like Japan and China potentially joining later. 600 corporate advisors have access to the text, while the public, Members of Congress, journalists, and civil society are excluded. And so far what we know about what's in there is very scary!

I met Lori Wallace from Public Citizen, a great campaigner in Seattle in 1999 and in Washington DC back in 2000 or 2001, I can't remember, but it was great to see her again in Tokyo, as she explained why TPP will cause a lot of harm to things we take for granted, like access to medical services, food labels, rules against mad cow disease...

TPP Protests In Tokyo: Lost In Translation?

Thousands of people protesting in Tokyo against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that is virtually unknown in the US, according to the Wall Street Journal blog?

One of the reasons it "gets no press" could be that the entire text of the negotiations is kept secret, and even elected legislators (that get to vote "yes" or "no" once the negotiations are finished, but have no access to the actual negotiation process) and others are kept in the dark about the details. Only corporations are allowed access, which of course is not OK.

We heard the same complaints against the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) some 10-15 years ago, seems the people with hidden interests that want to change the rules for global trade have moved on to the TPP. If it gets no press, shouldn't journalists in the US (and editors) try a little harder? Most of us have of course lost any confidence in main stream media, but that blog post just takes the cake. Why should a major economic partnership agreement be flying under the radar? Hello??

With so much secrecy, it is not strange that in Japan, the entire project seems like a conspiracy.

I was glad to see so many people at the anti-TPP event today in Hibiya Park, I hope we made a difference, at least on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

Lost in Translation: Anti-TPP Campaign Befuddles Washington

By Peter Landers

Japan’s agricultural lobby has taken its campaign against a global free trade agreement to the U.S., buying a full-page advertisement in Tuesday’s Washington Post opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The ad is titled “Don’t let the TPP rob your future,” and features a picture of a padlocked factory on the back page of the newspaper’s front section.
For American readers, it must have seemed a strange message. The advertisement doesn’t say what the proposed free-trade agreement consists of or how it would “destroy jobs” for Americans. JRT asked a colleague who doesn’t cover Asia to review it. The reaction: “What is it about? I have no idea what it means.”
That captures the disconnect between the two countries over the issue. In Japan, TPP has become a household phrase, with newspapers, magazines and TV shows prominently featuring the pact. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has made Japan’s entry into the agreement a top priority, and is expected to discuss the matter when he meets American President Barack Obama in Washington next week. While advocates say the agreement would lift Japan’s economy overall, it would likely require further opening of Japan’s protected farm sectors — hence the advertising campaign.
In the U.S., however, the pact gets virtually no press, and is largely unknown.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dust In Shikoku

I'm just back from Shikoku, the central part of the island, which has the most amazing rivers and steep gorges anywhere in Japan. The roads and railways must have been built by the most dare-devil fear-loathing kind of guys. This is where Nobel Prize laureate Oe Kenzaburo was born and raised. I love this part of Japan, which is not so very Japanese; it has all kinds of features from ancient past, like rope bridges that connected the Heike clan as they escaped from Kyoto... Also, Shikoku has the 88 henro pilgrimage trail.

In these parts, you cannot but sense that you are on the edge of the world. Shikoku is that island that connects Japan to Hawaii, miles away. You get a sense of being on the edge.

If you want to get a taste of that world, here is Dust, with dramatic scenes from Oboke, Shikoku.
Visit our Kickstarter page to help us reach our funding goal by May 5, 2012. Filmed in Japan, this sci-fi fantasy immerses viewers in the rapidly changing world of Dust. Join our adventure as we complete the VFX!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Alaska soccer ball traced to tsunami survivor

A Japanese teenager who lost his home and belongings in last year's tsunami will get one thing back -- a soccer ball he received as a farewell gift from his classmates.

NHK: The soccer ball washed ashore on Middleton Island in the US state of Alaska. David Baxter, an Alaska resident found the ball during a visit to the island last month.

The ball carries messages dated March 2005 to Misaki Murakami, a third grader at a primary school in Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture. The owner is now 16 and still lives in the city. The ball was a gift from his homeroom teacher and classmates when Murakami was transferred to another school after finishing the third grade.

Murakami says he was astonished to hear that the ball had been found. He also says he is happy because he has lost everything else in the disaster.

He thanked Baxter for taking the trouble to find out where the ball came from.

A lot of debris will be floating towards the U.S. and Canada, I hope it will be taken care of. Much of it will be from people here that did not survive the March 11 disaster. The Pacific Ocean is a reminder of how close we all are to each other.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Japan: Energy Crisis? What's New?

As we all wonder what happened to spring, with chilly weather this weekend, I enjoyed the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi today Saturday. Do visit again on Sunday and you will be amazed by the creativity and positive vibe in Tokyo, Japan.

So many people with great ideas for the future, making a point of being positive almost to the limit of what is possible... Best of all, none of it is fake, in a city that just a year ago was turning down its neon lights while the aftershocks still rattled the northeast of the nation. From eco tourism to organic food (and cotton) and solutions to all kinds of problems you have probably never heard of, the Earth Day Market in Tokyo has grown into a massive event. If I may be just a little grumpy, it is due to the lack of space on the walk in front of NHK and the Olympic Stadium. It was pretty noisy too, for my liking, but no one else seemed to mind.

Tokyo Earth Day Market

The amazing thing about Tokyo and Japan is that we are all doing all right. With the last nuclear reactor scheduled to be closed down on Children's Day (May 5) Japan could be expected to be turning inwards in some kind of gloom-and-doom fog.

Not so fast. By reducing energy consumption radically, we have mostly managed to deal with the lack of 50 or so nuclear reactors, that have been shut down since March 11, 2011.

Over at Shisaku, I found a reference to someone who has actually looked at the numbers, and in fact, Japan's oil imports hit a 22 year low in late 2011 -- the lowest level since 1989. Todd Kreider at Kanazawa University notes on the NBR Forums that Japan's coal imports have decreased by some 10%.

Even though some 50+ nuclear reactors have been up and running since the 1980s, Japan continued to increase its import of coal. I don't remember hearing about that from the main stream media...

Index Mundi: Japan Coal Imports by Year

As for oil, back in 1995, Japan imported 5.7 million barrels of oil per day, with a peak of 5.8 million barrels a day in 1998. That was down to 4.3 million barrels of oil per day in 2011, so a small increase recently is not going to be very significant compared to the major decrease in oil imports over the past 15-20 years.


If you compare that to the range of oil imports in the 2005-2010 years, Japan is now importing less oil than it used to. Why? Because of the general global slow down in economic activity, more energy conservation awareness, and simply because people drive less and waste less.

What's new? Japan is again leading the way to a more sustainable society, where people are responsible and take an interest in their own consumption patterns, and how it influences our planet.

OECD/IEA: Oil Market Report (March 14, 2012) Countries Import of Crude Oil

Again, if you look at the data, Japan's total consumption of gas, diesel and oil has decreased since 2002, when it was 23% of the total, to 19% of the total in 2012. Jet fuel and kerosene have also decreased significantly.

Source: IEA Oil Market Report

That does not mean we are off the hook. We still use far more than we can afford to. But nuclear power plants going off line are not part of the problem.

What's new? We are producing less waste (no more spent fuel rods stored inside nuclear reactor buildings, that no one has any solution for), and we are enjoying a pretty high standard of living, but we could do better. Stay tuned.

More setsuden posts here at Kurashi:

Setsuden, Not Teiden: The Cry From Japan, Advice Please!

Japan's Huge Energy Crunch

(Hat tip to Shisaku: Energy And The Future Of The DPJ)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Kyoto Tachibana High School Band

Freak storm today, just as I was going to enjoy Kyoto... Yesterday was nice though, with early spring weather, 16 C, false hopes as it were. Massive delays with canceled flights and delayed Shinkansen trains.

Speaking of Kyoto, did you know that the High School here, the Kyoto Tachibana is among the world's best? They got standing ovations at the Rose Parade in California in December last year, with a terrific performance. Other bands from Sweden, Canada... Here is a preview:

Enjoy the longer show: