Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No Restart of Hamaoka Nuclear Plant Likely

The aging nuclear plant at Hamaoka, in Shizuoka prefecture is located near a fault line in a region seen as vulnerable to earthquakes. It was one of the first nuclear plants ordered to be shut down after last year’s March 11 disaster. I can't say how happy I am to hear this news.

No restart of Hamaoka nuclear plant likely for long time, says Shizuoka governor:

Japan Today/AFP

Last September, plant operator Chubu Electric Co began preparations to build an 18-meter-high anti-tsunami seawall.
However, Shizuoka Gov Heita Kawakatsu told reporters that new disaster-mitigation measures at the plant are a long way off, NTV reported.
Chubu Electric says the seawall and other additional safety measures should protect the plant from a tsunami as strong as the one that crippled the Fukushima plant on after the March 11 earthquake.
The Hamaoka plant faces the Pacific Ocean and sits in the Tokai region, southwest of Tokyo, where seismologists have long warned that a major quake is overdue because two major continental plates meet here.
Chubu Electric said it will spend about 100 billion yen on the 1.6-kilometer-long wall, as well as other measures to prevent flooding inside the plant, and programs to safeguard cooling systems that bring reactors to safe shutdown in case of severe accidents.
Before it shut down, the five-reactor Hamaoka plant accounted for almost 12% of the output of Chubu Electric, which serves a large part of Japan’s industrial heartland, including many Toyota auto factories.
Japan Today/AFP

Amidst repeated attempts by successive Japanese governments to reinvigorate the country's flagging economy, Shizuoka's multibillion-dollar reinvention as a global technology and health leader is a demonstration of how harnessing leadership and a region's distinctive culture and traditions can pave the road to economic recovery — a modern-day industrial revolution set against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Fuji.
Cradled between the sprawling metropolises of Tokyo and Yokohama to the east, and Nagoya and Osaka to the west, Shizuoka Prefecture has for millennia played an intimate role in the culture, history and politics of Japan. With the iconic peak of Mount Fuji at its heart, the region has been home to some of the country's most ancient and influential cultures, from the tribes of the Yayoi period more than 2,000 years ago, to the first Tokugawa Shogunate in the seventeenth century. It was the collapse of Tokugawa rule in the mid-1800s that precipitated Japan's emergence from national isolation, starting the country on its eventful journey to become one of the world's great economic powers. By virtue of its location on the arterial Tokaido east–west trade route and proximity to Japan's three largest urban centres, Shizuoka has from the beginning of that economic odyssey been a crossroads where traditional Japanese values mingled with the entrepreneurial spirit of the West. Spotlight on Shizuoka

Sign Of Relief: Hamaoka Not To Be Restarted, Soon

The Hamaoka nuclear power plant was the first one I was made aware of, and campaigned against, back when I was working on another project (about food safety and antibiotic resistance) for Japan Offspring Fund. Now I am pleased to hear that there is very little chance of it going back online. The Shizuoka governor seems to share the deep concerns not only about the earthquake fault it is on top of, but also the lack of tsunami protection.

Back then, I think it was 2005, we just thought there was enough evidence that that particular plant was unsafe.

Of course, after March 11, 2011, we know that massive earthquakes can cause massive damage, much worse than we could imagine, back then. Of course, the damage can be contained, and life goes on. But the Hamaoka nuclear power plant is situated at such a location that if a similar event to the Fukushima disaster were to strike, then Tokyo (and eastern Japan) would basically be cut off from Osaka (and western Japan). The Shinkansen and other important routes would be hard hit. Politically and in the sense of a national economy, it would split the country in two. Not acceptable. Of course, the farmers and people living in the area would also have to be evacuated, and this is a busy industrial zone with many important corporations...

The Mainichi (J)

Having said that, I am not sure we are about to convince the people who think Japan ought to restart all its 50 or so nuclear reactors, and get on with it. In fact, I'm curious to hear from the pro-nuclear people, just which reactors they think Japan should restart, and which to not restart? Should Hamaoka be restarted?

Come on, give me a list, which ones do you think ought to be restarted?

Currently, end of June, 2012 no nuclear power plants are on line, an amazing state of events for one of the world's top economic powers. (We are doing OK, by the way, in case you were wondering!)

Meanwhile, massive protests against the Oi reactors in Fukui prefecture, with some people in Kyoto, Japan's main tourist destination nearby, noting that they have no real plans if disaster would strike.

Shiga Gov. Yukuko Kada accuses Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of emphasizing plant site safety to the exclusion of any discussion of safety procedures in the communities surrounding the plants.
"They still ignore the residents, and that's what angers me most," said Kada, an environmental scientist and independent politician.
Kada said Noda's government has refused to provide radiation simulation data that she has requested to compile an evacuation map and study the impact of radiation on Lake Biwa, where monitoring stations still need to be installed.
"I'm horrified by the thought that another Fukushima-class crisis could instantly make the lake water undrinkable," she said.
The neighboring city of Kyoto — Japan's biggest tourist destination — has only a tentative crisis plan, and its first-ever drill is still three months away, city disaster manager Fujio Yoshida said. Its contingency plans need to take into account a large number of foreign visitors, he said."Until Fukushima, we never imagined radiation reaching our city [Kyoto] or the need for crisis plans," he said.

Also in the news, the proposed Kaminoseki nuclear reactors in Yamaguchi prefecture, which have not yet been built, may have been halted. I blogged about the film Ashes to Honey, the third film on the global nuclear issue from acclaimed director Hitomi Kamanaka, Japanese title ミツバチの羽音と地球の回転 (Mitsubachi no Haoto to Chikyū no Kaiten, 2010).

You could probably make an amazing, fantastic film about just about every nuclear reactor that has ever been built, around the world. Each one must have gone so many secret and public processes. Some have been built after paying off the locals, other are strongly supported because they provide jobs, and some are now in question because they may be unsafe. I'm reminded of the legal concept of "reasonable doubt" and of course the "precautionary principle" but is it enough? We do not seem to have a moral or ethical way to deal with nuclear power plants. We just ignore them, and hope they are safe, but then, when they are not, what can we do?

Update: I just noticed that I actually noted Kamanaka's first film, about Japan's nuclear reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture here on Kurashi back in 2006.

Image of the Hamaoka nuclear plant control room, with faces blocked out for privacy, from the blog by Fukuoka Yumio (J), who visited Hamaoka in March, 2010, and who asked the very good question, if we really should continue to be あいまい aimai (vague) about how Japan should supply its energy.

Update 2: Mitsuru Obe, over at The WSJ blog Japan Real Time says:

So which of the country’s 50 reactors are safest to operate?
A bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers– all of whom support reducing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power– looked into that question. They ranked the reactors by nine criteria, including reactor age and type, accident records, average operating rates, quake vulnerability and proximity to large population centers.
They found the 10 safest reactors are run by three utilities — Kyushu Electric Power Co. (6), Shikoku Electric Power Co. (2) and Hokkaido Electric Power Co. (2). They are the smallest of Japan’s 10 utilities, and their plants are relatively new, and located far from large cities.
The worst performer is Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga No. 1 reactor, which was recently found to have an active fault running right underneath.
Tsuruga is followed by Oi Nos. 1-2, Mihama Nos. 1-3, and Hamaoka Nos. 3-5. Of the worst 10, five are owned by Kansai Electric Power Co., and three by Chubu Electric Power Co., the nation’s second and third largest utilities. The still-operational reactors of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs Fukushima Daiichi, came in toward the middle of the rankings. But all Tepco’s reactors were on a second list of facilities the lawmakers thought should be scrapped, based on the risks of future earthquakes or damage done by recent quakes. Tepco’s remaining reactors have all suffered damage from earthquakes in 2007 and 2011.
The bottom 10 ranking reactors are all 30 years old or more, except for the three Hamaoka reactors, which are newer but sitting in a region with a high risk of being hit by a Magnitude 8 earthquake.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mahler # 2 Resurrection Conducted By Gustavo Dudamel

Gorgeous, young, and from Venezuela. The Financial Times just hailed him as "The modern maestro" pointing out that classical orchestra conductors are no longer of the old breed, like Karajan, Haitink or Mravinsky... I did not know that conductors "did not exist until the mid 19th-century."

Only then did the rapidly growing size and sophistication of the orchestra necessitate that someone other than the principal violinist beat time  and coordinate the players.

Since the does not like linking, I will not. Sad. Such great writing, on pink paper, not to be available to the reading, listening, thinking public. If they could explain why I should not quote, then so be it. I think the writers should protest, and the editors, and tell the owners of such great newspapers that we need to have them online, available, for the public good, for history, for democracy and for education.

"The seed was sown to flower again... The Lord of the harvest goes forth."

But hey, classical music will survive, even if newspapers do not. Their loss.

It should have come as no great surprise — especially now that the band has evolved from its youth orchestra foundations and with Gustavo Dudamel holding music directorships in both Los Angeles and Gothenburg – that this Mahler Resurrection Symphony was sensational . There were things in it that could probably only have been achieved in a space such as the Royal Albert Hall and in an atmosphere like that of the Proms. The sight of 14 double basses in four serried ranks was already imposing — never mind the panache with which they were played.

The National Youth Choir of Great Britain was magnificent, and Miah Persson’s soprano solos in the finale were as passionately radiant as her reputation would lead one to expect. As for her compatriot, Swedish mezzo Anna Larsson, she sang the Urlicht as though an angel had got into her. 

Expectations: colossal. Achievement: beyond that.

The Telegraph: Simon Bolivar Orchestra/Dudamel, Albert Hall, review
The sensational Simon Bolivar Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel comes of age at the BBC Proms.
5 out of 5 stars

Dudamel has a cool website. Do take a look. I learnt that in 2004, Dudamel was brought to international attention by winning the inaugural Bamberger Symphoniker Gustav Mahler Competition. His "early musical and mentoring experiences molded his commitment to music as an engine for social change – a lifelong passion." Or so his official website says. Quoting that, I hope I have not run counter to all the new and confusing rules and laws that seem to be proposed and imposed on our Internet. Resurrection, indeed.

Classical music is more alive than ever, do explore.

Another conductor that I like a lot is Neemi Järvi from Estonia. There is a connection. Both Dudamel and Neemi (and others) got their start as the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden, with a little help from Volvo, but that is not the point - classical music or any music for that matter requires sponsors.

What is unique of our era is that sponsors no longer matter, instead intellectual property rights, copyrights and all kinds of webs of legal entanglements made by record companies and law makers that don't know better have us all wondering if posting something on a blog is ok or not and while we have this amazing opportunity to get to be intimate with new, young, brilliant stars through the Internet, there is an effort to not allow the "resurrection" as it were, to happen.

Let's say I want to introduce some young Japanese conductors here on Kurashi, like Sean Kubota (winner of the First International Sir Georg Solti Conducting Competition) or Kotaro Fukuta or Keitaro Harada, or Tomomi Nishimoto from Osaka:

What if I can not quote anything about these wonderful people, because I do not know if the text or music  files or whatever may be covered by copyright? Can I add a photo of the cover photo of the DVD? What is ok to copy and what is not... how on earth would the Internet function...?

Here is a link to Nishimoto-san's blog.

Here is more about Ms. Nishimoto:

November 7, 2010

My Thoughts on the First Two Stops on My First Conducting Trip to the US: Conducting in Los Angeles and Orange County

I have always thought of English as the last language I would ever need to study.
Hence, I faced a big obstacle of communicating in the language that I was unfamiliar with. Thank you, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, for working through the language barrier with me and "feeling" what I was trying to tell you! I was very ecstatic to when I was told, "Come back again, soon!" Except when I do, I would definitely have had studied English a little more, just as I was subtly reminded to do so by my host.
And another thanks to the person who brought me beautiful flowers and told me that they became my "Newest Fan".
As a musician, I cherish my experiences of each and everyday.
Next, I will conduct at New York City’s Carnegie Hall where Tchaikovsky conducted the opening performance many years ago. What an honor it is!

Friday, June 22, 2012


16 amazing photos of flooding around Wakayama City after the recent downpour, from the Mainichi.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

H&M Neon Sign Mystery In Sweden

"700 plan" is simple enough, but the old neon sign makes no sense at all. What does it mean? The Swedish newspaper SVD decided to outsource the question, and after a couple of days, an answer was found. Something about 700 square meters, or whatever, as a promotion for a new shop.

I like how Sweden had a totally un-metric unit, the "plan" back in the 1950s. These days, we are all too standardized to care.

Japan, of course, has tatami mats as the way to go (make that "sleep"). Soft to step on, made from rice, with a certain bounce.

One tatami mat is just about 2 square meters, by the way, but since the days of the Silver Pavilion was built in Kyoto, or whenever, the 2.73 m × 3.64 m (6 mat) room is a standard.

Isn't wikipedia amazing, here is the page for tatami.

Korea also has the pyeong (tsubo) and in Taiwan, the ping is used. 

I digress, but for a reason.

The United States is sometimes blamed as the only country on Earth that does not do "metric" for whatever logic, I do not know.

Here, more about the yard.

Metrication is the process of introducing the International System of Units (SI or Système International), a metric system of measurement, to replace the historical or customary units of measurement of a country or region. While all U.S customary units have been redefined in terms of SI units, the United States does not officially use or mandate a metric system of units, making it one of only three countries, along with Burma (Myanmar) and Liberia, that have not adopted the SI as their official system.

There are a lot of curious units found in East Asia.

Japan, on the other hand, is perfectly able to juggle both the metric standard and the old measurements.Since the Meiji era, it decided to go with the flow, and that turned out to be the European flow.

I like how the simple mat that I sleep on has such historical connotations.

Yoshimasa's retirement villa became known as the temple Ginkaku-ji (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion) after his death. It is situated in Kyoto's Sakyō-ku, and was the center of the Higashiyama cultural outgrowth in a number of ways. The Pavilion is revered for its simple beauty, the silver having never been added. The rock garden next to it is likewise one of the most famous in Japan, and praised for its Zen and wabi-sabi aesthetics. It is a quintessential example of the idea that only the trained expert should be able to recognize the subtle beauty within art and architecture; the beauty of the object should not be underscored and emphasized, but gently hidden. The retired shogun also invited many artists, poets, and court nobles to his villa, encouraging the development of their arts.
The Tōgudō building includes a shoin-style room called the Dōjinsai. It originally had a fireplace built into the floor, and due to this, the Dōjinsai is considered the earliest extant example of a room designed for use as a tea room.[1]

Update: Parts of a Japanese house has been found as far away as Seattle, having floated all the way since the tsunami last year: Washington kayakers find parts of tsunami-hit house

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Extreme Weather, Do Take Care

Do take care tonight, the 2 typhoons are hitting us hard and make sure you are not in harms way.

I usually check the Meteorological Agency website for updates on a day like this. Go to their main website, then find the link to tropical cyclone information.

JMA has good updates in English and maps that are very accurate.

“Fresh Currents: Japan’s Flow from a Nuclear Past to a Renewable Future”

From the good people over at Kyoto Journal an appeal to support the next issue, "Fresh Currents" by donating thru the website:

More than a year after the triple meltdown at Fukushima, Japan and the rest of the world continue to grapple with the short- and long-term consequences. The myth that nuclear power can deliver us from the long-term evils of fossil fuels has been shattered. Renewable energy, long dismissed as impractical, is being given serious reconsideration. Japan can and must take advantage of this opportunity to rethink and refocus its energy strategies.
In Kyoto, birthplace of the Kyoto Protocol, a dedicated group of reporters, writers, artists, editors, and photographers associated with Kyoto Journal ( is taking a fresh look at proven and innovative alternative technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, mini-hydro, and biomass as well as the even greater number that are being actively researched, but are insufficiently recognized and under-funded.

With your help, our goal is to produce a investigative publication,“Fresh Currents: Japan’s Flow from a Nuclear Past to a Renewable Future,” first in English, with the possibility of having it subsequently published in Japanese, which we will do our best to get into the hands of key policymakers, local government officials, community leaders, educators, and media outlets. Print and PDF versions will also be made available to the general public.

Why is this so important? Japan’s entrenched pro-nuclear lobby is desperate to reinstitute “business as usual,” as it has after far too many previous accidents. The nuclear industry’s dismal safety record, reflecting both amazing arrogance and catastrophic negligence, shows that safer, sustainable alternatives must be found and developed.

This is a critical moment, with a strong citizens’ movement underway demanding a national referendum on nuclear power. Even Japan’s current Minister for the Economy, Trade and Industry admits that it’s time to phase out nuclear generation of electricity. Our “Fresh Currents” project has vital potential to identify viable renewable energy mix options. We believe that it can make a significant contribution to the debate on the future of energy production – not only in Japan, but worldwide.

*A previous KJ special issue, Biodiversity, presenting compelling perspectives on biological diversity, contributed constructively to debate at the COP10 Conference in Nagoya in 2010. We handed out 1,000 complimentary copies to delegates and media, in person. KJ also established a presence at the original Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997.

What will your contribution do?

Our team is already hard at work on this project, but we need help. Kyoto Journal editors and contributors are all working on “Fresh Currents” as volunteers, but we urgently need funds to enable:

• Research and documentation, including travel expenses
• Translation of vital source materials
• Printing of complimentary copies
• Website management

Long experience has taught us how to operate on a shoestring, so our budget is modest. All donations will be gratefully received, and applied to maximum effect.
We need to raise $9,500 by July 10th, 2012. Please help us to make a real difference, with multiple benefits for tomorrow’s world and future generations!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

40 Year Old Nuclear Reactors To Be Restarted? I Don't Think So

So we all accept that technology tends to make life better, right... Except, some things like nuclear reactors, are not easily replaced because they are so expensive to build and difficult to run. Now, Japan wants to restart old reactors, that have been idled due to fears after last year's massive earthquake and tsunami. This is how I think about it:

Almost nobody would drive a car that is 40 years old, and most of our gadgets from back then have been replaced or abandoned. Somehow, the nuclear power plants are an exception. 30 or 40 years ago, well, people made great things, but since then a lot has changed. In Tokyo, for example, nobody wants to live in a building that was constructed before 1981, when the new earthquake rules came in force.

Or take your old bath tub from back then. I'm not joking, but it is rather funny how old Japanese baths were so complicated in the 1970s and 1980s. I happen to have one made by Hitatchi, it is hilarious how many levers and cranks are needed to get the hot water to flow. Some of it is for safety, some just because it was the trend of the day, 30-40 years ago. All kinds of old tubing and plastics and rubber devices. So, you can imagine I am not too thrilled to hear that the government and the nuclear industry want to extend the 40-year limit on the country's nuclear reactors. I mean, these power plants are old. Very old!

The Mainichi: 40-year limit on nuclear reactors a basic requirement

After the outbreak of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the government said Japan would decrease its reliance on nuclear power. We have also called on the government to abandon the construction of new nuclear reactors and shut down existing reactors in the order of the risks they pose, decreasing the overall number of reactors in Japan. The 40-year limit has served as an important yardstick in this respect.

Currently, the wear on a reactor is evaluated 30 years into its operational life, and with the government's approval, the reactor's life can be extended in 10-year increments. However, even when old reactors are found to have safety-related faults, it is difficult to incorporate new technology into them.

The LDP stated it could not agree with a blanket 40-year limit on reactors -- probably from the opinion that differences between old and new model reactors and other such factors should be taken into consideration. However, reactors that are new now will be old in 40 years. In breaking away from nuclear power, there is great significance in placing a ceiling on the life of reactors. The new regulatory commission should clarify its standards for deciding on the decommissioning of reactors, and make it possible to decommission reactors before their age reaches 40 years.

Images from Antique Japanese Bathtub and Shibuya 246 - a bath that I estimate to be about 30-40 years old, much like the nuclear power plants that are currently not on-line due to concerns about their safety.

Would you like to drive a car that is 30-40 years old, except for special events, like classic car races? I don't think so.


Some 11,000 people protested outside Prime Minister Noda's residence this weekend, urging him not to restart the Ohi nuclear plants in Fukui prefecture. The first 2 power plants at Ohi went online in March and December 1979, some 33 years ago. Reactors 3 and 4, that are currently being debated, went on line in December 1991 and February 1993, some 20 years ago.

A coalition of six groups Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), FoE Japan, Green Action, No Nukes Asia Forum, Peace Boat, and Shut Tomari have united to organize international protest against nuclear restart in Japan. Despite intense public opposition (see Women "die-in" at the Ohi reactor June 7th), and international celebration for the shut down of all reactors in Japan, officials have turned a blind eye, and are proceeding with plans to restart the mismanaged Ohi reactor in Fukui Prefecture, Western Japan.

The coalition is urging support to conduct the following acts of civil protest, preferably on Wednesday to Friday this week / June 13-15, 2012:
  1. Please assemble in front of the Japanese embassies in your capital to voice your protest against the decision and policy of Prime Minister Noda.
  2. Please try to submit a letter of protest -addressed to Prime Minister Noda- to the Japanese Ambassador in your country and request the Japanese Ambassador to forward this letter of protest to the Japanese Prime Minister
  3. Please try to seek coverage of this action by your local and international media, especially Japanese media, as well as on the Internet
  4. Please give us notice about your planned action, so we can organize a press event in Japan to reinforce your message to the Japanese government.
Some actions in Tokyo and Osaka include the following:

Time: Friday, June 15, 2012, 6 to 8 pm.
Location: In front of the prime minister’s official residence. (In front of Kokkai Kisha Kaikan, right outside #3 exit at Kokkaigijidomae station.)
Organizer: The Metropolitan area anti nuclear power plant alliance members.

Time: Friday, June 15, 2012, 6 to 8 pm.
Location: In front of Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) headquarter. (6-16 Sancho-me, Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka-city, Osaka Prefecture)

More information at Fukushima Voice and Ten Thousand Things (thanks!)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Football, 2012: England v. Sweden

I just had this thought, this feeling, that the Euro 2012 is just a way for Europe to deal with the karma of so many battles between people in the past. Now, we don't go to war against each other. We just play football. Karma? Still angry? I really wonder why. Not only that, but we have exported the game around the world. Why not go forward and promote much more good around the planet?

We need to focus on the great, not the nasty, bad. If we are going to get through the next couple of years, let's work together. But, we can do better.

Karma means we take responsibility for what we do, what we say, yes even what we think.

We need to "think better" and be more clever.

The Independent: Banking: King hits panic button

Fears of new credit crunch prompt Bank of England to kickstart emergency lending scheme

Sir Mervyn King, and George Osborne said the Bank and the Treasury were working on a liquidity operation – a "funding for lending" scheme – which would provide private banks with cheap funding in exchange for a commitment from lenders to provide cheap loans to ordinary businesses and households.

Marketing Japan has some interesting thoughts about the rigging of events!

Beauty Contests and Sports Are Rigged? Say it Ain't So, Joe! (They Are)

Well, well, well... Lookie here. What do we have? Another rigged beauty contest? How timely and perfect for the Euros! (That's European soccer for some of you folks). How timely and perfect and a total reflection of our broken economy and society...

Important Greek election this weekend. I'd like to put it in a much larger perspective, time heals all wounds, right...: Changes on the map of Europe:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Meeting Remarkable Men: Prince Tomohito

I actually met the man that has been in the news recently, who was a reluctant member of the imperial household. It was way back when I was a lot younger. I think it was some kind of ado having something to do with Sweden House, and he and his wife attended, for some reason or other. I now completely understand how dull it must have been for him. So, there I was, in my early 20s, dressed in my 501 jeans and my only suit jacket, listening to speeches by all kinds of people.

Then I noticed that over in another room, there was silence, and a lot of body guards. I ventured there, and found Prince Tomohito, a cousin of Emperor Akihito. He seemed bored and of course I went over and said hi!

We had a long talk. He told me about his time in England, and lots of stories, from when he was about my age, at that time. He also frankly mentioned how he wanted no part of the imperial business, but they would not let him leave. All the time, his wife was there, and he was very fond of her, telling me, a young man from Sweden, how much she meant to him. I have a photo or two from that event, I should try to find it.

I like how the people in ancient Heian costumes show up for his funeral today. But there was little anyone could do to help him deal with his demons, while he was alive and with us. Is that not a lesson for us all.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TPP Documents Leaked, Huffington Post, Activists Huff


The debate about the Trans-Pacific Partnership just got a little bit more huffy 
(cool adjective I just invented) as The Huffington Post leaked links to 
documents that US trade negotiators have tried to keep away from the public eye 
that were released by Public Citizen.

And of course, the same is true for every other country that joins the TPP. The international tribunal will be able to overrule any national legislation that is not in line with the TPP rules. Forget about national legislation, that is so old-school. Democracy? I don't think so. Say your country has environmental laws and consumer protection rules, that are not so much appreciated by some multinational corporation, be it chemicals, energy, cars, food, or medicines. 

The Trans-Pacific deal has Intellectual Property (IP) provision rules that would prevent the development of useful new products in the technology space, blocking the release of new products.

If national rules do not confirm with TPP negotiated terms, the foreign company can then use the tribunal, very similar to the WTO dispute panel system, to get their way. It especially applies to attempts to get access to medicines, better food labels, or national efforts to outlaw unsafe products or chemicals, such as antibiotics and hormones for animals in food production, or food additives, and especially national rules for genetically modified crops (GMO).

It follows that such tribunal would be granted the power to overrule Japanese law and impose trade sanctions on Japan for failing to abide by its rulings.

If Japan were to join the TPP, there would be a lot less information for consumers about the food we buy. And we want to improve the food labelling rules, not have them become subject to rulings by obscure panels of judges that couldn't care less about what is in the best interest of the general public.

The leaked text of the pact’s Investment Chapter shows that, if applied to Japan, the TPP would:
·      limit how Japanese government officials could regulate foreign firms operating within Japan, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms;
·      extend the incentives for Japanese firms to offshore investment and jobs to lower-wage countries;
·      establish a two-track legal system that gives foreign firms new rights to skirt Japanese courts and laws, directly sue the Japanese government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for financial, health, environmental, land use and other laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges; and
·      allow foreign firms to demand compensation for the costs of complying with Japanese financial or environmental regulations that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms.

huff n : a state of irritation or annoyance [syn: miff, seeing red] 
2v: blow hard and loudly 

WASHINGTON -- A critical document from President Barack Obama's free 
trade negotiations with eight Pacific nations was leaked online early 
Wednesday morning, revealing that the administration intends to bestow 
radical new political powers upon multinational corporations, 
contradicting prior promises. 

The leaked document has been posted on the website of Public Citizen, a long-time critic of the administration's trade objectives. The new leak follows substantial controversy surrounding the secrecy of the talks, in which some members of Congress have complained they are not being given the same access to trade documents that corporate officials receive.

"The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch in a written statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been so incensed by the lack of access as to introduce legislation requiring further disclosure. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has gone so far as to leak a separate document from the talks on his website. Other Senators are considering writing a letter to Ron Kirk, the top trade negotiator under Obama, demanding more disclosure.

The newly leaked document is one of the most controversial of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. It addresses a broad sweep of regulations governing international investment and reveals the Obama administration's advocacy for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.

Under the agreement currently being advocated by the Obama administration, American corporations would continue to be subject to domestic laws and regulations on the environment, banking and other issues. But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Torrential rain is wrecking havoc in Taiwan, as we here in Japan are also entering rainy season. Image from Michael Turton's blog shows a great before-after capture of Mucha, a district in Taipei.

It brings home why we need those ugly concrete riverbanks in this part of the world... If you work in Tokyo, for example, and live across any of the large rivers, you will appreciate why the rivers are built to look like this.

Turton also mentions something I wasn't aware of, regarding dams. Too much silt means the lifespan of reservoirs and dams may be shortened. Typhoons in particular can release a lot of silt  and mud into dams, meaning their water retaining capabilities are reduced. This can lead to the kind of flooding now seen in Taiwan. Ouch.

Unpredictable weather means more stress on dams that are exposed to conditions they were not designed for. Dams of course are also important for energy production (hydro power) and many older dams may need to be rebuilt, at huge costs. And of course cities like Tokyo or Taipei are built on river delta areas that have been drained by man-made rivers (really canals) and reservoirs since hundreds of years ago, not exactly the most clever places to house millions of people... Ouch X2.

Read more: Rain = Silt

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rare Flowers In Niigata

In mid June, a rare flower blooms in Niigata, and people who like to pay attention to such things, come and visit, from far away.

The Oze Preservation Foundation website:

When I recently visited Yuzawa, I was told that Oze is the place to see the white mizubashou, and I just adore that simple, terrific flower. It grows wild only in the certain environment here in north eastern Japan.

The Oze-area extends over 4 prefectures:

I was told that many people know the lovely enka tune of Oze, so do tell me, which is the version you like.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Cycle of Clever, Intelligence And Good (Beauty)

I was recently made aware of a documentary film about matters I care a lot about. Such as food, health, agriculture, welfare. Also about the economy.

Are the top pharmaceutical companies, that are obviously also involved in biotechnology, and GMOs, and what not, also making the same substances that may give us all, or at least 1/3 of us, cancer? That is the concept behind Idiot Cycle.

A documentary by Emmanuelle Schick Garcia. Seems Google is not very fond of this film. Also, I'm told they couldn't get the insurance that is needed to show it on TV in North America. Scary, as "freedom of speech" is something we all care a lot about, right?

I'll be complete honest and say that I don't like the image of the dead lab rat that they have chosen for the film's poster. Yes, millions of lab rats are killed for research, I don't like it but that is considered as normal, and no one seems to care. I don't understand why not, but that is reality.

Milkweed is not just a "weed" but also a very important plant that has grown wild in North America for ages. Now it is being killed by GMO crop farming, as Roundup will eradicate anything that isn't genetically modified (and patented by Monsanto) to tolerate - Roundup (glyphosate). Recently most of these herbicides are made in China.

If this film had chosen the Monarch Butterfly as its poster child, hey, I think donations and support may have been a lot easier. The Monarch flies from north to south, feeding on milkweed, from Canada to Mexico.


Monarch Butterfly 

Monarch Watch

Aren't we humans strange. We have millennial of emotions for certain creatures, like dolphins, yet care not for the pigs, cows, rats that we use for research and development - and food. Lab rats? Genetically modified mice? Guinea pigs? Don't get me started. Any thoughts?

Since they could not show it much, they are trying to raise funds to get it into the public domain. They need donations to help them. Check it out over at

Indiegogo (do donate if you can)


The Idiot Cycle follows the world's largest chemical producers:
Dow Chemical
and how these chemical companies, who manufacture and emit cancer causing chemical substances, also develop, produce and invest in cancer treatments, the most profitable disease on the planet.

But that is not all: 

I am Emmanuelle Schick Garcia, the director of the award-winning documentary The Idiot Cycle that investigates the connections between the chemical, cancer and GMO industries (the film focuses on Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont, BASF and Astrazeneca). 
We produced The Idiot Cycle with no commercial partnerships, financial support from broadcasters or distributors or state funding, making The Idiot Cycle a truly independent film.
While we allowed non-profit associations (Slow Food, Friends of the Earth, PAN UK) and university medical, law and agricultural students in over 40 universities (UCLA, University of Oxford, University of Toronto) to screen the film without paying any licensing fees in its first year, we could not continue to do this, since we have the sole responsibility of repaying the film's costs. 
While my producer, Laila Tahhar and I were never paid for our over three years of work on the film (and never will be), the cost to make the film was a little over 200,000 euros. This is an average budget for an investigative film that is shot in 8 countries - Canada, USA, France, Netherlands, Germany, England, Northern Ireland, Italy and where the crew is paid fair wages with social security benefits. 
As of today, between television licensing fees (the film was broadcast on Russia Today, Al Jazeera, and AB), DVD/download sales and library licensing fees we have recuperated about 14,000 euros (which means, we still have $192,532 to repay). 
But we agree with the many people who have contacted us, this is an important film that needs to be seen. 
That is why we have decided, with the publics help, to make The Idiot Cycle part of the public domain.
If 7,500 people make a $25 (price of a DVD) donation, The Idiot Cycle will be in the public domain, where anyone, anywhere can see the film and learn about the links betwen GMOs, toxic chemicals and cancer.
We hope you will share the following campaign information below with your mailing list, facebook, twitter or on your blog.

1) Make a financial contribution on this page !

If we DON'T reach our goal, everyone is refunded their contribution and JPS Films retains the copyright.
If we DO reach our goal, The Idiot Cycle will belong to everyone, launching a massive awareness campaign about toxic chemicals, GMOs and cancer. 
We have until July 21st!

With your help:
*Anyone will be able to screen, watch, stream, share and distribute The Idiot Cycle anywhere, by any means, sparking debates and awareness.
*Anyone will be able to make translations of the film in any countries.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions at THEGEEKS (AT) JAPANESEPOPSONGS.COM (replace the (AT) with @). 
Kind regards,
Emmanuelle Schick Garcia
JPS Films
6 rue Pierre Haret
Paris 75009
JPS Films is an independent production company based in Paris, France. 

The Impact
If the film is in the public domain it will spark an international debate on toxic chemicals, GMOs and cancer.

Other Ways You Can Help
If you can't contribute financially, you can be a cheerleader!
Please inform the members any non profit association that would be interested, your facebook friends, anyone!
If the film becomes public domain, your association will be able to screen the film for the public, stream it on their web site, share it with members. It will be a great educational supplement.

So, here is the latest on how GMO corn, GMO soybeans are linked to Monarch butterfly losses:

Herbicide-resistant crops can withstand Roundup, which kills monarchs' preferred nesting plant.

Genetically engineered corn and soybeans make it easy for farmers to eradicate weeds, including the long-lived and unruly milkweed.

But they might be putting the monarch butterfly in peril.
The rapid spread of herbicide-resistant crops has coincided with -- and may explain -- the dramatic decline in monarch numbers that has troubled some naturalists over the past decade, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University.

Between 1999 and 2010, the same period in which so-called GMO crops became the norm for farmers, the number of monarch eggs declined by an estimated 81 percent across the Midwest, the researchers say. That's because milkweed -- the host plant for the eggs and caterpillars produced by one of one of the most gaudy and widely recognized of all North American butterflies -- has nearly disappeared from farm fields, they found.
It is one of the clearest examples yet of unintended consequences from the widespread use of genetically modified seeds, said John Pleasants, a monarch researcher from Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.
"When we put something out there, we don't know always what the consequences are," he said.
Pleasants and Karen Oberhauser, of the University of Minnesota, published their findings online last week in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity.

"It is quite an extraordinary paper," said Chip Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and the director of research at Monarch Watch, a conservation group. He noted that Oberhauser and Pleasants were able to tie the loss of habitat to a decline in numbers across the country.

But the evidence they present -- estimates of the number of milkweed plants across the Corn Belt and a decade's worth of butterfly egg counts by an army of volunteer citizens -- is indirect, say others.

"It does not resolve the debate," said Leslie Ries, a University of Maryland professor who studies monarchs.

Butterflies in decline

The orange and black butterflies migrate every year to the mountains of Mexico, where they collect in fluttering clouds in trees, an extraordinary event that has inspired festivals and tourism.

But for reasons that are not well understood, the number of butterflies that make it to Mexico -- half of which come from the Midwest -- has been on the decline. This year, according to a report released Thursday, the butterflies occupied seven acres of trees in their refuge west of Mexico City -- 28 percent less than last year and a fraction of the 45 acres they occupied in 1996, a peak year.

Experts said last year's drought probably had a serious effect on the insects. Others say damage to the wintering grounds from logging and development are also playing a part, and that the number that make it to Mexico does not necessarily reflect the health of the species.
But some scientists have for years wondered whether the use of genetically modified crops is affecting the spring and summer reproduction in this country.

Earlier studies suggested that monarch caterpillars would die if they ate milkweed dusted with pollen from another kind of engineered seed known as BT corn. It contains a gene that produces a toxin that kills corn-eating pests.

That theory was disproved, but it led scientists to take a hard look at milkweed plants in corn and soybean fields, said Pleasants. "Surprisingly, monarchs use those milkweeds more heavily than milkweed outside [farm fields]," he said. The butterflies lay nearly four times as many eggs on farm field plants as on those in pastures or on roadsides, the researchers said.

More important, they also found "that milkweed in the fields was disappearing," he said. That's because more farmers are using a new kind of genetically modified seed developed by Monsanto, Roundup-ready corn and soybeans, that contain a gene allowing the plants to withstand Roundup, or glyphosate. That allows farmers to spray their fields without harming the crop.
Monsanto, which did not respond to a request for comment, says on its website the seeds help farmers increase yield. Today, it's used by 94 percent of soybean farmers and 72 percent of corn farmers, according to federal data.

Assessing the effect on milkweed plants both in and out of farm fields, was difficult, researchers said -- never mind the challenge of counting butterfly eggs.

Pleasants said he used data on the change in milkweed density in Iowa, and extrapolated those numbers to landscape use data across the Midwest. That showed an estimated 58 percent decline in milkweed plants throughout the Corn Belt, primarily on agricultural lands.

Oberhauser supplied data she has been collecting for years through the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. Every week during the monarch breeding season, volunteers across the country go to the same patches of non-agricultural milkweed in their communities and count all the eggs they can find.

That showed two things: Butterflies were not flocking to breed on plants outside agricultural fields; those numbers remained the same. And overall production, measured in eggs, declined 81 percent between 1999 and 2010.

Taylor said the new study should help make the case that increasing monarch habitat along roads in pastures, gardens and on conservation lands must become a national priority because the milkweed will never come back to farm fields, he said.
"The scale of the loss of habitat is so big that unless we compensate for it in some way, the population will decline to the point where it will disappear," he said.

Study ties GMO corn, soybeans to butterfly losses

USDA considers milkweed to be "poisonous" and can be  "controlled with 2,4-D plus picloram (0.5 kg ae/Ac) or glyphosate at a spot spray. Follow all precautions for handling herbicides."

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Terrific Food Label Guide!

I'm really, really impressed by the post by Ashley over at her Surving in Japan blog, about reading food labels in Japan. I learned a lot! And I'm supposed to be the expert! That just shows how complicated it can be to shop for food in a foreign country. Fortunately, Japan has laws and regulations that help us who try to buy healthy and environmentally friendly food. Head over to Ashely's (long) post and I promise, you will be happier for it.

The Ultimate Guide to Reading Food Labels in Japan

When I first came to Japan, attempting to read food labels and understand what things were and what was IN what I was buying and eating was a huge obstacle. I could read hiragana, katakana and some kanji, but the majority of the food labels were confusing and I spent extensive amounts of time at the supermarket, smartphone in hand with a Japanese-English dictionary open, trying to decipher ingredients and information. I'd also use the smartphone app, ShinKanji, to search for various kanji and words I couldn't read.

The work paid off, and though now I can't read every single Japanese word without consulting a J-E dictionary or looking up certain kanji, I can usually quickly scan most labels to find what I want to know.

A guide to reading food labels in Japan is also one of the most popular post topic requests I've received. It's something most of us struggle with when we first arrive, and I'd imagine even some of those who are fluent may not have known every word or kanji at first. Deciphering Japanese food labels, the entirety of them anyway, isn't particularly easy, but I've attempted to break them down for you here. Note that I have not covered various ingredients aside from common allergens, as that's something to cover in a separate post (or more than one). This one is already long!

I should note that food labels in Japan aren't always consistent, as you'll see below, and although, for example, you'll usually see information about the total calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and similar main nutrients, you won't always see much about other minerals or vitamins (though things like fortified cereals, breads, etc., often list these).

I've also tried to include a variety of words you'll see, but some terms/phrases are worded slightly different, although the meaning is generally the same, e.g., "賞味期限" and "消費期限" both mean "best before; best eaten by" or the expiration date.

Meanwhile, my own favourite labels are stuff like 無添加 mutenka (no additives) and 遺伝子組み替えない idenshikumikae nai (No genetically modified organisms) and of course 有機 yuuki (Organic). I also like when the farmers are properly introduced. I try to by local which is easy in all of the supermarkets where I live, as they have sections with produce from around town - or should I say country. That's what I recommended in my food book, that was published three years ago by Kodansha. At least with more local control over your food, you have better chances of playing it safe.

Better food labels are a huge part of what we do at Consumers Union of Japan. But it is also up to everyone to study up on things like salt intake or calories, as I have been made aware of recently

Let me just add that there are a lot of Japanese food labels like 天日塩 tenpijioo (natural sun-dried salt) or indications to help you buy honey that haven't been altered in all kinds of ways... And don't get me started on natto, miso, and tofu. Or what the different 酒 sake makers put on their labels!? This is a really fun topic. Thanks Ashley for all your research.!

Monday, June 04, 2012


Maya Nakanishi, who is planning to compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games, published a calendar featuring her posing semi-nude with her prosthetic leg to help fund her training and trip to London Paralympic Games. Do search and do support her. Is being sold at Amazon. Photos by Takao Ochi.

Some ten-fifteen years ago, I worked with Kent, a wonderful guy who had polio as a child. If you have not dealt with real serious disabilities, you have no idea what it does to a human being. Not just the body, but the spirit. Most of us have no idea how to deal with that, if it were to happen to us. In Maya's case, it was an accident. Well, isn't life all about accidents waiting to happen??

Yoko Ono In The Financial Times

At Ikebukuro station, they sell newspapers and one of them is the FT at 600 yen, thus I rarely buy it, but it is there, and I sneak a look, getting a peak at the headlines. This weekend I was going to Tokyo so I bought it, and hey, the Simon Schama interview was a bonus. For 600 yen, there is a lot to read, indeed. I like how the lady that sells the pink rag by the tracks agrees with me, "Yes, it is expensive..." But, as we head out to the 'woods, we like a good read, nes pa? Yoko Ono talks to...  But had she not been Mrs John Lennon, would the world have heard of Yoko Ono? The answer, says Simon Schama, is YES

In a cold-water apartment on Chambers Street, New York, she gave a series of performances and concerts in which minimalist “instructions” and transient experiences replaced the static, monumental pretensions of framed pictures. The prompted eye and the receptive brain made the pictures instead. The technique was lovely, liberating and genuinely innovative. “I thought art should be like science, always discovering things afresh, and I wanted to be Madame Curie.”

So when she and Lennon had their momentous encounter at Indica in 1966, Ono was already established as an avant-garde conceptual artist. She insists she really had no idea who he was or what he did. “I just saw this rather attractive guy who seemed to be taking my work very seriously”. Of pop music she knew nothing, “not even of Elvis Presley; just maybe some jazz.” Of what was about to hit them both out there in Beatlemania land she had no clue. “I was naïve. We both were ... we thought that it was going to be really great.” It wasn’t. “My work totally disappeared and John, with all that power he had, was going to go down too.” She falls quiet for a moment; a flicker of sadness clouding the wide, expressively sunny face. “I feel very badly if maybe I was the cause of it.”

But then she remembers good things: the long night through which she and Lennon produced the first Plastic Ono Band album “full of things not done before”. Dawn light was coming through the window. “We did feel like Monsieur and Madame Curie, trying to change the world. I know this pride can be considered arrogance but isn’t that the reason to live?” She also remembers making the film in which – eventually – the impish, sometimes enigmatic Lennon face resolves itself into a wicked grin. And then you realise that Yoko Ono is really still, for all the world and for all her past, not so much a near-octogenarian as an ageless child for whom a smile is actually a work of art that no one, not even among the loaded readers of the FT, is rich enough to buy at auction.

‘Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT’ is at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2, from June 19 to September 9,

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Stuttgart Ballet in Tokyo

I went to see Stuttgart Ballet perform the unusual work, The Taming of the Shrew, in Ueno at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. It is a beautiful piece based on Shakespeare's play, with lots of laughs. The music was written by Kurt-Heinz Stolze in the classical style of Domenico Scarlatti but with some modern inspiration as well - it premiered in 1969. Choreography by John Cranko.

The Stuttgart ballet is a terrific troupe and I highly recommend anyone who like classical music to take the opportunity to go and see their Swan Lake on Tuesday or Wednesday June 5-6.

Here is the Pas de Deux 1:

Friday, June 01, 2012

Who's In Charge In The Nuclear Age?

I'm confused about who makes the decision here in Japan regarding nuclear reactors. I thought it was based on local, not national government decrees. In other words, if a nuclear reactor in say, Ohi, a place you most likely have never heard of, is in question, the national government in Tokyo has to wait until the Ohi town and Fukui prefecture have made up their minds.

I'm reluctant to argue with Shisaku, a blog I like a lot, but his only source for a recent post about Osaka governor Hashimoto having "backed away from full opposition to a restart of the Oi reactors, paving the way for them to be brought back online" is a dubious blog entry from the Wall Street Journal. MTC, that is not quite good enough, is it?

Shisaku: Hashimoto Toru Comes Back Down To Earth
WSJ Japan Real Time Blog: Japan Reactor Restart Countdown: Approaching Zero?

In fact, on May 31, The Yomiuri has a different take on the events, as they continue to unfold:

Meanwhile, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who participated in the meeting via a teleconference system, criticized Hosono's remark that the government's standards for restarting the reactors compiled in April are "provisional and will be tightened" under a planned new nuclear regulatory body. "If the standards are provisional, judgments on safety will also be provisional," Hashimoto argued.

The Yomiuri: Hosono: Safety will be ensured for Oi restart

NHK, meanwhile, is not so sure that the re-start will happen next week:

Japan's government says it hopes to announce the restart of Ohi nuclear plant as early as next week, if it can win the final consent of host municipalities. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met his cabinet ministers in charge of nuclear issues on Wednesday: Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Economy and Industry Minister Yukio Edano and Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono. The ministers agreed that most municipalities near the offline facility support the restart, though with reservations.

But they noted that the plant's host Ohi Town and Fukui Prefecture remain undecided. The government says it will also send a senior official to Fukui to again explain its commitment to safety.

NHK World: Restart of Ohi plant may be declared next week

Reading Japanese news, Osaka prefectural governor Ichirō Matsui said on Thursday that he was against restarting the nuclear reactors, and felt the process was unsatisfactory (不十分, fu-juubun), according to The Mainichi (J).

I'm reminded of the speech in the 1964 film, Seven Days in May, where Lyman, the president says (as he is about to face the "enemy"):

"He's not the enemy. Scott, the Joint Chiefs, even the very emotional, very illogical lunatic fringe: they're not the enemy. The enemy's an age - a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, and out of sickness a frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness. And from this, this desperation, we look for a champion in red, white, and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration."

"The nuclear age, having killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him..."

What a great line.

(Hat tip to P for recommending that classic motion picture!)