Friday, August 31, 2012

Coal Mining Blues Comes To Tokyo

Coal mining is a dirty job, but someone has to do it... And in Tagawa, Fukuoka prefecture on Kyushu, they have turned it into a tourist attraction complete with a Coal Mine Festival. And now they are taking their show on the road. Don't miss the Tankou-bushi Festival at Nippori JR station in Tokyo (East Exit) in collaboration with the Nippori Yume Donya.

The Tankou-bushi tune, which is a popular dance at many summer festivals all over Japan, laments the hard days and nights of people in a small mining town. The movements of the slow, walking-style dance copy the way coal is dug out of the mine and thrown on cars in the mine shafts. Well, kind of. As with any dance, it looks a lot better than that!

Here is a Youtube video from an event this summer in Hayama, where 佐野 真澄 (Gacya) leads her ensemble (complete with a trombone) and the crowd just can't stop dancing on the beach.

Can it be more "Summertime in Japan" than this?

The Sunday, September 2 show in Nippori will start at 12:30 and continue into the late evening. Other stars are singer Haruka as well as Haru and Yossy (who stems from Saitama, from Morning Musume), as well as the Arakawa kids taiko troupe... Lots of local Fukuoka delicacies will be on sale.

Schedule (J)


Tsuki ga deta deta
Tsuki ga deta, a yoi-yoi
Mitsui Tankō no ue ni deta
Anmari entotsu ga takai no de
Sazoya otsukisan kemutakaro
Sa no yoi yoi
English translation:
The moon, has come out, come out, Oh, the moon is out, yoi-yoi Over Mitsui Coal Mine hath the moon come out. The chimney is so high, I wonder if the moon chokes on the smoke... Yoi-yoi!

According to Wikipedia, "Modern arrangements of Tankō Bushi replace the lyric "Mitsui Tankō" mitsui Mine with "uchi no oyama," which in traditional mining dialect means "our coal mine" or "our coal pit," as Mitsui Mine is no longer in service, and the song is played at Bon dances outside of Kyūshū."

Tagawa, Okawa and Omuta towns are part of a region with many old coal mines with much history, if you are into that sort of thing. Kojo moe (工場萌え, factory infatuation) is what Spike Japan calls it in his post about the abandoned coal mines on Ikeshima, Nagasaki prefecture, in Kyushu.

Spike Japan: Goodbye to old king coal

“Goodbye King Coal, you venal tyrant,” I thought to myself, “and good riddance. It’s good you’re gone, gone at last from these lands at least, gone with your lives cut short by dust blast and black lung, gone with your weeping widows, gone with your fatherless children. And goodbye to you, too, Ikeshima: may your dreams of ruin come true, may you rust in peace.”

Since 2002, coal production has almost come to a halt in Japan, as the last large mine closed in Kushiro, Hokkaido. The Ishikari coal field is still in operation, and aging equipment at thermal plants is troubling Hokkaido Electric and local mine operators, especially the No. 1 unit at the Naie plant that was built in 1968, according to The Japan Times: Nuke crisis a boon for struggling coal mines.

Most of Japan's coal is imported from Australia. The industry, of course, tries to promote "Clean Coal" as it is well known that this energy source is incredibly polluting and a major cause of climate change. Japan Coal Energy Center has all kinds of seminars and experts discussing Clean Coal. All the choices (pdf) has more.

Japan had 2009 coal consumption of 108.78 million tonnes oil equivalent, 3.31% of the world total. Japan is the world's fourth largest consumer of coal after China, the USA and India.
Japan has estimated small coal reserves of 396 million short tons. Japan ceased coal production in January 2002 with the closure of its last operating coal mine at Kushiro, on the northern island of Hokkaido. Japan is the largest single coal importing nation, with the country's demand for both thermal and metallurgical coal being one of the major drivers of the Asia Pacific coal trade. The country used to produce its own indigenous coal. Today, however, the electricity generating units in near-coastal locations have become dependent on imported coal.

Source: MBendi

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harada: How To Become A Conductor

Nice video featuring Keitaro Harada who was kind enough to make a comment here on Kurashi recently. I wish him best of luck.

I like how he is challenging a most difficult job - how to become a conductor. Teary eyes, goose bumps, well, I have been there, at different occasions, when I have had to speak up at international conferences, confronting the people in power.

Guts. It takes a lot of konjo.

Tokyo alone has some 7 classical symphony orchestras. It only takes one hard-working, genius conductor to make one of them world-class. Do wear a kimono, or hakama, instead of the tuxedo, if that is what it takes. There is enough talent here, to make it happen.

Harada-san's blog has more

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Energy Independence?

Returning to Japan, I have jetlag issues that remind me of how fragile we are in our human bodies. Mind over matter? Hardly. I bet politicians and other people who travel too much get a taste of this on a regular basis, thus they don't make so much sense when they appear in front of committees and conferences.

That is no excuse for Mr. Romney, who pushed for his "energy independence by 2020" plan by "removing regulatory barriers to fossil fuel development in the United States, and increasing cooperation with fellow energy-producers Canada and Mexico."

You guys out there that drive a car to work and think gasoline is already too dear, think again. There is no such thing as cheap oil, as consumption is increasing in China and India. And we are not finding new oil reserves to replace Saudi Arabia. What really struck me as weird was the chart that the Guy-Who-Wants-To-Be-Elected-Leader-Of-The-So-Called-Free-World used.

Note how it says "Tight Oil" just before "Alaska" (as if oil will suddenly emerge from the northern state). Tight oil is news to me. I have heard of "Shale Oil" and other expensive processes to get oil from the ground in places like Alberta, Canada, where the environmental consequences are horrendous. They even need nuclear reactors to process the shale oil into something that can be used in regular engines. It is not "oil" as we know it. So what is "Tight Oil"?

Before answering that, take a look at how main-stream media presented Mitt Romney's speech.

CBS video

Note how CBS presents it as "Mitt Romney laid out his six-step plan to get North America on track for energy independence by 2020" BUT they don't even have the journalistic integrity to introduce this "six-step plan". Is it the plan on the chart?

NBC noted:

Mitt Romney's plan, laid out in a white paper and conference call with reporters last night, calls for streamlining the permit process for energy development on federal lands and offshore, for building infrastructure like the Keystone Pipeline, and supporting basic research on next-generation fuels like wind and solar, while abandoning subsidies and loan guarantees that, Romney argues, have tilted the marketplace in favor of those energy sources.

"Tight Oil" then is indeed a pie-in-the-sky idea. Have you ever even heard of "Tight Oil" or got any idea what it might be? The main-stream media in the US does not try to explain it. It is more difficult to get anything useful out of "Tight Oil" than from "Shale Oil" that is currently hotly debated in places like Alberta, Canada, because of the toxic implications of trying to get it out of the ground. It has also been called "Unconventional Oil" or "Tar Sands" and it simply is never going to help anyone achieve energy independence, because it is so dirty and expensive.

In fact, Mitt R. proposes nothing, except to keep consuming more, keep using more, keep on wasting oil and gasoline as if there is no tomorrow for this planet. What does it mean, to make the United States energy independent?

The implications for countries like Japan will be to just shake more intelligent heads in disbelief.

We are all in this together. We currently import huge amounts of high-grade oil products from the Middle East. Fuel is refined in a number of different countries before exports. We are using uranium for nuclear reactors, imported from a number of countries, and nuclear waste is also taken cared of through agreements between countries. We depend on global, multinational corporations for our energy supply. All paid for by tax payers and consumers. It is complicated. Please do not make it sound simple, and then make jokes about it. It is not funny, Mitt.

On September 26, 1971. another American Republican, Richard Nixon, visited Hanford, the birthplace of nuclear bombs, just before going to Alaska to meet the Japanese Emperor, and before going to Peking, China.

His speech is billed by the Richard Nixon Foundation as "President Nixon outlines his administration's plan to develop cleaner, renewable, and more plentiful sources of energy" but is is nothing of the sort. He clearly jokes about not knowing what a breeder reactor is, and refers to his short-comings when it comes to science. Nixon relied on others when it came to ideas about energy. Well, we know what happened to him. Still worth watching.

Mr. Nixon was a lot less optimistic on 7 November 1973, with the US in the throes of the oil crisis. He outlined the measures envisaged by his government with a view to guaranteeing that the US will "never again have to rely on imports for its oil supplies."

Address by Richard Nixon about oil independence

As a result, the average American will consume as much energy in the next 7 days as most other people in the world will consume in an entire year. We have only 6 percent of the world's people in America, but we consume over 30 percent of all the energy in the world - Richard Nixon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What To Do About Nuclear Waste?

There are questions and then there are questions... What to do about nuclear waste, that will stay dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years, is one such question, that neither science nor religion nor anything else seem to provide answers for. Heck, we don't even know what the pyramids in Egypt actually mean. Were they built to tell us something, or just made to impress?

Japan has no solution to the big question about nuclear waste. The 54 nuclear plants, that are now mostly idle, were built to provide cheap electricity. No concern about the long-term disposal was OK as long as scientists and government officials agreed to not ask the difficult question: what to do about radioactive waste in an earthquake-prone country.

Now, a report is about to be released that questions that mentality.

NHK World reports:

Japan's national scientists' organization is to propose a radical review of the government's plan for disposing of highly radioactive nuclear waste. The group says an initial plan to bury the waste more than 300 meters underground for tens of thousands of years is wrong for the country.

The Science Council of Japan is to present its proposal next week to the government's Atomic Energy Commission, which decides the country's nuclear policy.

The commission has been asking for advice on reviewing the initial plan, as it became stalled due to opposition from candidate sites.

In a copy of a draft proposal obtained by NHK, the council says the plan has been deadlocked over fundamental issues, as the Fukushima nuclear accident has raised doubts about Japan's nuclear policy.

It says identifying a stable site in Japan to keep the waste for tens of thousands of years is quite difficult, as the country is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

The council says the government should first find temporary storage sites for decades to hundreds of years. It says the government could use the time to develop technology for final disposal, and to build a national consensus on the issue.

An NHK correspondent says the proposal could start public debate as it could be seen as prolonging the disposal problem.

NHK World: Scientists to call for review of nuclear disposal

Ahem. Public debate? What does that really mean? No other country has any great ideas about the "disposal problem" except perhaps Finland, that wants to bury it deep underground and then ask future generations to just forget about it. The US has recently rejected a similar proposal, for reasons that I do not quite understand. Everyone else seem to be taking the Japanese approach: Do not ask questions. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. Or the 800-pound gorilla. Or the Mokita, if you happen to live in Papau New Guinea. See, Wikipedia has answers to everything.

Did you know that ocean disposal of nuclear waste was not that uncommon in the past? Most countries have tried it. This method is no longer permitted by a number of international agreements, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Images below from a 1999 IAEA report found here (pdf). According to this report, South Korea dumped some 115 containers with 45 tons of nuclear waste in the Japanese Sea in 1968-1972, while Japan dumped some 3031 containers off its coast in 1955-1969. The list goes on and on: The Netherlands dumped some 28,000 containers in the North Atlantic, and even Sweden thought this was a good idea, dumping some 2895 containers in the North Atlantic back in 1969 and 230 containers in the Baltic Sea in 1959 and 1961. The United States dumped over 34,000 containers of nuclear waste off its Atlantic Ocean coast and over 56,000 containers in the Pacific Ocean. And, don't get me started on the number of disposals by the former Soviet Union in the Japanese Sea, north of Takeshima (also known as Dokdo in Korea...).

Monsanto Do Not Want GM Labels in California

GMOs are properly labelled in Japan, and in the EU.

Grist, a source of news that I like a lot, says:

As the battle to get genetically engineered foods (or GMOs) labeled in California — a battle that could very well have an impact on labeling nationwide — heats up, Big Food and Big Ag are working in concert to push back to the tune of $25 million.

The fight centers around Proposition 37, the ballot initiative from the Right to Know Campaign that will go to vote in November.
If it passes, the result would be no small change.

As Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott wrote recently:
Since GM corn, soy, sugar beets, and cotton (the oil part) are processed into sweeteners, fats, and other additives that suffuse the US food system, the initiative would require the labeling of something like 80 percent of all non-organic processed food sold in supermarkets.
As you can see in the chart below, The “Big 6” pesticide makers (BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto, and Syngenta) are putting up big money — especially Monsanto and Dupont (full name E. I. Dupont de Nemours). That’s because all of the Big 6 either produce GMO seeds themselves, or pesticides that work in concert with the seeds, so they have the biggest vested interest in seeing GMO proliferation fly under the radar of most Americans.

This of course applies to Japan and Korea and other countries that import soy and corn from the US.

Where is the money going, exactly? Many of these companies are paying the same consultants who worked for the tobacco industry to create “astroturf,” or fake grassroots groups that will do their best to make it look like there’s a big crowd of citizens who think labeling is a bad idea. And they’ll undoubtedly convince many voters. This Reuters article that ran yesterday predicts a close battle.

Reuters: Insight: Big Food girds for California GMO fight

(Reuters) - After two decades fighting to force U.S. food companies to tell consumers when their products are made with genetically modified organisms, activists in California have mounted what is potentially their most promising offensive to date.
In November, voters in the nation's most populous state will decide whether to require labels on food and drinks containing so-called GMOs, or ingredients that come from plants whose DNA has been manipulated by scientists.
To fight the initiative, seed giant Monsanto Co, soda and snack seller PepsiCo Inc and other opponents of the labeling measure have put up $25 million already and could raise up to $50 million.
Foodmakers, like carmakers, know that what starts in California has a fair chance of becoming the national law, or at least the national norm.
Unbeknownst to many Americans, some of the most popular U.S. GMO crops -- corn, soybeans and canola -- have been staple ingredients for years in virtually every type of packaged food, from soup and tofu to breakfast cereals and chips.
Supporters of the ballot initiative, who include food and environmental activists as well as organic growers, say consumers have the right to know what's in the food they eat and want GMO products cut from the food chain.
A "yes" vote from the Golden State - home to about 10 percent of Americans - could upend the U.S. food business from farm to fork if it prompts makers of popular foods to dump GMO ingredients.
"If a company like Kellogg's has to print a label stating that their famous Corn Flakes have been genetically engineered, it will be the kiss of death for their iconic brand in California...and everywhere else," supporters said in an email seeking donations.
Experts say that campaign bluster might just prove to be true. Polls suggest the labeling proponents could win the vote.
"Ballot measures are the only way to get something like this into law in the United States," Wellesley College political science Professor Rob Paarlberg said.
Time and again, labeling measures have been soundly defeated in state legislatures because food companies and farmers are well represented by lobbyists, experts said.
Food companies, which a decade ago pulverized an Oregon GMO labeling ballot initiative effort, say labels inaccurately imply that GMOs are not safe and that they are akin to putting a skull and crossbones on food packages.
They call the California measure "flawed and poorly drafted" and say it will raise grocery prices and open food companies and farmers to frivolous lawsuits.
Money is flowing in from around the country and opposition fundraising is outpacing that of supporters by a factor of more than eight-to-one, according to filings with the California Secretary of State.
Contributions from PepsiCo, Kellogg Co, Hershey Co, Hormel Foods Corp, General Mills Inc, Pinnacle Foods Group, Cargill Inc and ConAgra Foods Inc have come fast and furious in recent weeks.
But the big money is coming from the likes of Monsanto, the world's largest seed company and the first to introduce genetically engineered products to farmers.
Its $4.2 million donation is the largest single gift and bolstered other million-dollar contributions from fellow biotech firms like DuPont, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience Ltd and BASF Plant Science -- which recently announced plans to move its global headquarters to the United States from Germany.
More than 40 countries around the world already have some requirements for labeling of genetically engineered foods. GMOs are deeply unpopular in Europe, which has strict labeling rules and bans many genetically engineered crops.
Because GMOs are widely used in North America, the region is a key market for the biotechnology companies mentioned above -- many of which are divisions of multinational chemical companies.
While Mother Nature does her share of genetic engineering, human interventions have specific goals, such as increasing crop yields or helping plants survive droughts or attacks from pests.
Institutions like the World Health Organization say GMOs pose no risk to human health and that they are essential to producing enough food for the world's booming population. But critics say studies are mixed and that more investigation is needed.
U.S. regulators do not require independent safety testing of GMOs, relying instead on data supplied by developers of those crops. Because foods made with GMOs are not labeled, it is impossible to trace any food allergies or other ill effects suffered by humans or animals, critics say.
In recent years, several scientists have raised alarms about what they say appears to be a growing pattern of problematic health and environmental effects.
Most large food companies aren't headquartered in California and the state's farmers aren't dependent on soy and corn, the "Big Two" GMO crops. That makes the Golden State an ideal place for an aggressive labeling push, Paarlberg said.
Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota said California law "by default, is essentially a national law" and believes this labeling measure has a good chance of passing.

Image: Here’s a breakdown of the 20 largest donors as of Wednesday, Aug. 15:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

500,000 Cheer For Japan

It has been an amazing summer. I'm just back from London, having seen the best (and some of the worst) of the old Roman city by the Thames, in a country that keeps on rising to the occasion. Absolutely marvelous, as it were. Today, back in Ginza, Tokyo, some 500,000 people showed up to greet the medalists from the Olympics.

The 38 medals won at the London games were the most ever by a Japanese Olympic team.

It has been that kind of summer. Protests against nuclear power in Tokyo and Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan. Thousands of young people educating themselves and others about energy issues. Energy prices and food cost of course going up? The UK customers are facing higher heating bills, and the winter of 2012 could be harsh.

As the red bus passed Hyde Park and Speakers Corner, I was surprised how that particular spot was empty of people with an issue. Rather, that entire park area is now full of war monuments. The scars from last year's Reclaim the City protests, and other more sinister events, such as the bus bombs back in 2007 and before that in 1996, made me wonder how the UK have managed to keep its stiff upper lip. Japan, meanwhile, has avoided similar faith except for the 2005 gas attack by the Aum sect that noone seems to be able to understand/explain.

A summer when 500,000 people are ready to cheer for Japan? I like it. Give credit when credit is due. But it still has to translate into action, such as eating healthier food, avoiding household chemicals, reducing energy use, and not having illusions about a return to the bubble economy some 25 years ago. Same thing applies tot he UK, that got to bite the bullet back in 1976, as it turned to the International Monetary Fun (IMF) for a massive bailout of Greek proportions:

As pressure on the pound continued, the government approached the IMF for a loan of $3.9 billion in September 1976. This was the largest amount ever requested of the Fund, which needed to seek additional funds from the US and Germany. The IMF negotiators demanded heavy cuts in public expenditure and the budget deficit as a precondition for the loan. Healey's proposals for a cut of around 20 per cent in the budget deficit were hotly debated in Cabinet [...] Eventually they acceded, as it seemed likely that the refusal of the loan would be followed by a disastrous run on the pound. Healey announced the forthcoming reductions in public expenditure to the House of Commons on 15 December 1976.

Following the agreement with the IMF, the overall economic and financial picture improved. Interest rates were soon reduced and the pound quickly appreciated in value. By the end of 1977, partly as a result of new oil revenues, there were improvements in the balance of trade. Britain did not need to draw the full loan from the IMF. Nevertheless, the IMF crisis reinforced a change in policy orientation away from full employment and social welfare towards the control of inflation and expenditure.

The National Archives: Sterling devalued and the IMF loan

And by summer of 2012, talking of economic growth is more difficult than ever, as we have 7 billion people on this planet, with all kinds of religious and territorial issues and claims. I have some small hope that women will rise to the occasion, as 2,000 years of male-oriented policies have made such a mess. Having said that, I will keep on cheering for Japan, and Korea, and China and India, and elsewhere if I can find a good cause.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Gold To Sweden In Sailing

Finally Fredrik Löf, who previously had two bronze medals, achieved his goal and got a gold medal in the Olympics, together with Lund native Max Salminen... Congratulations, or as we say here, grattis! Very dramatic final as Sweden had to pass both Brazil and the UK, and the UK had to really muck things up to not win! If we include canoe, Sweden has gotten medals in water-related events in just about every Olympics ever. 

Youtube video with nice slideshow of photos from the event on Sunday.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Japan: Drums Of Protest, Summer of Discontent

Not a day without another large demonstration in Japan. Drums of Fury has updates (J).

I like the "Life rather than money" sign, 金より命 it just sums it up. Kane yori inochi. 

Here are a couple of videos that give a sense of what is happening.

Kjeld Duits: Massive Human Chain around Japan's Parliament (with subtitles)

July 29, 2012 outside the Parliament Building in Tokyo

July 20, 2012 drum protest outside the Prime Ministers Residence in Tokyo

July 16, 2012 NHK World: Anti-Nuclear Rally in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo Japan July 16, 2012

July 13, 2012 outside the Parliament Building in Tokyo

June 29, 2012 in Osaka, No Nukes, Anti-Nuclear Protest in Osaka

June 29, 2012: Ajisai revolution Ver.1 Japanese/English eagles0467(8bitNews)

May 17, 2012 in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture "Bye Bye Nukes TV" has more