Monday, January 28, 2013

Toshiba Refuses To Meet Finnish Nuclear Protesters

During a demonstration today outside Toshiba's headquarters in Tokyo, anti-nuclear activists pointed out that they had "politely" asked for a meeting with the Japanese company, but were refused without any explanations. Toshiba was selected in October, 2012 to build a new nuclear power plant in northern Finland.

However, after protests intensified, E.On, the largest stakeholder in energy utility Fennovoima pulled out of the project.

Prohanhikivi activists photographed by Fredrik Oskarsson.

The German energy company E.On intends to pull out of the project aimed at building a nuclear power plant in Pyhäjoki on Finland’s west coast. As E.On would have been the largest single investor with a 34 per cent holding in Fennovoima, the company that plans to build the reactor, the whole project is in serious jeopardy. Two other companies, the meat processing company Atria and the S-Group retail chain announced earlier that they were divesting from Fennovoima. E.On's decision to pull out of Fennovoima is part of a broader move to divest all E.On holdings in Finnish energy companies.
There are a number of likely reasons for E.On’s decision. Electricity consumption has declined in Finland, and the Fukushima disaster in Japan has reduced the popularity of nuclear energy around the world. Germany, E.On’s home country, has decided to phase out the use of nuclear energy by 2022. By that time, the reactor planned for Pyhäjoki could have been ready.
E.On is already a major player in Sweden, which uses more nuclear energy than Finland does. Sweden belongs to the same electricity market as Finland. The cost of the Pyhäjoki nuclear plant has been estimated at about EUR 6 billion. E.On’s share of it would have been about EUR 2 billion. Finding investors to replace the German company is likely to be very difficult, if it is possible at all

Helsingin Sanomat: E.On pulling out of Fennovoima – Pyhäjoki nuclear project in jeopardy

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Protests Against Toshiba: "Finland Does Not Want More Nuclear Power"

Activists from northern Finland are in Japan to convey the message that Finnish people do not want a Toshiba nuclear reactor in their neighborhood. Hanna Halmeenpää from Pro Hanhikivi has visited Fukushima Prefecture and is now in Tokyo to talk to anti-nuclear activists and I had the pleasure of meeting her and help interpret for her team. A mother of three, she was rudely awoken by a newspaper article that there would be a nuclear plant in the Baltic Sea nature reserve called Hanhikivi - on her doorstep, literally. This is a beautiful cape that turns out to be host to a large number of migratory birds, a location for breeding birds, and unique natural beauty.

E.On, the German energy giant soon found out that they had dropped this project on the wrong doorstep. Through lawsuits, going to Brussels and arguing the case that this is a protected Natura 2000 area, and by an amazing amount of enthusiasm, Hanna and others managed to at least bring the project to a temporary halt. E.On has dropped out and as of January 2013, there is a huge hole in the project budget that could be very difficult to fill. Hanna and her friends managed this by purchasing shares in E.On, thus allowing them to speak up at the German company's shareholders meeting.

Adding injury to the insult (or is it the other way around?) is the fact that Japan's Toshiba is behind the plans, thus her urgent visit to this country. After 3/11, 2011, how can Japanese companies still be promoting nuclear power, abroad? What cheered me up is that some of Japan's main stream mass media - Kyodo, NHK in Fukushima, and Mainichi - picked up the story. Bloggers, activist housewives, and others are on the case, too. Thanks Lena Lindahl (J) for making this visit possible!

On Friday, Hanna spoke to crowds outside the Prime Minister's Residence in central Tokyo, and walked with anti-nuke demonstrators. On Monday, a protest will be held right in front of Toshiba's headquarters in Tokyo.

We really need to do everything we can to protect such beautiful places, that we share with other living organisms, on this fragile planet: for the sake of future generations, not just for our own small gains. 

Top photo from the Hanhikivi website. Photo from Hanna's speech at the E.On shareholder's meeting from

The Hanhikivi cape locates alongside the main bird migration route and thus the numbers of migratory birds are extraordinarily high. The number of many bird species is – as far as known – even greater than anywhere else in Finland. Especially numerous species are, for example, many wader species, Bean Goose, Greylag Goose, Common Crane, many raptor species and Whooper Swan, whose number has been counted to be more than 10 000 during the spring and more than 15 000 individuals during the autumn.

Friday, January 25, 2013

400 Years Or More Of Korea-Japan Diplomatic Relations

It may be useful to remember that Korea and Japan has had formal diplomatic relations, for a  very long time. This post is about the Joseon Tongsinsa. In light of events this week, where Communist North Korea may be - again - thinking of a nuclear bomb test, well, Beijing (who still supports North Korea) would have to deal with that puny effort to be taken seriously.

The mess that they are in, with little or no food for their population, and no hope for reunification with South Korea, the People's Paradise next door to Japan in in a state of flux. Meanwhile...

Here at Kurashi of course we tend to think about compassion and peace. There is no other way forward (paradigm paradox, or paradigm paralysis). Don't believe everything mainstream media tells you. We can do a lot of things to make all things better.

I'd like to highlight that in Seoul and Busan, many people are involved in all kinds of wonderful events to commemorate the Joseon Tongsinsa. People in South Korea dress up in costumes and play the roles of envoys that ventured to Edo Japan some 400 years ago. For Koreans, this seems to be very important.

Busan, in particular is making it clear that

The city of Joseon Tongsinsa (Diplomatic Mission dispatched to Japan), Busan is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Joseon Tongsinsa's interchange with Japan. Busan is now hosting a festival of peace between Korea and Japan with a variety of attractions to look out for.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Film: Yamada, The Samurai of Thailand

Thailand and Japan have links that go way back to the 16th Century, and as Buddhist countries, of course there are deeper bonds that transcend time.

Based on a true historic figure during Ayothaya Era, here is a film that depicts the life of Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese samurai who gained considerable influence in Thailand and became the governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat province in southern Thailand.

Yamada Nagamasa lived in the Japanese quarters of Ayutthaya, home to another 1,500 Japanese inhabitants (some estimates run as high as 7,000). The community was called "Ban Yipun" in Thai, and was headed by a Japanese chief nominated by Thai authorities. Yamada was born in Shizuoka prefecture in 1590.

Wikipedia has more: The colony was active in trade, particularly in the export of deer-hide to Japan in exchange for Japanese silver and Japanese handicrafts (swords, lacquered boxes, high-quality papers, used by Rembrandt, among others). They were noted by the Dutch for challenging the trade monopoly of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

The Japanese colony also had an important military role in Thailand. Yamada Nagamasa is alleged to have carried on the business of attacking and plundering Dutch ships in and around Batavia (present day Jakarta). The Japanese colony was highly valued for its military expertise, and was organized under a "Department of Japanese Volunteers" (Krom Asa Yipun) by the Thai king.

This epic film is a part of a greater set of films about Thai history, and the martial arts scenes may not be to everyone's liking. Thai boxing, in a new light. Well.. Good to see some East Asian history, not from a Western point of view.

Director: Nopporn Watin
Starring: Kanokkorn Jaicheun, Seigi Oseki, Sorapong Chatree, Thanawut Ketsaro, Winai Khaibutr

I like how this Thai film shows how Yamada learnt from the Thai. But it rather accurately, I think, all things considered, depicts what Japanese at the trading post may have experienced in these parts of the world, with a matsuri-like event and taiko-drumming that evokes a fudasho pilgrimage of 34 temples... And, it also fills your heart with very different ideas about battle, or learning any art. You will need a teacher. "From now on, you have a teacher, you must be virtuous and never use Ayothaya's martial arts to bully others, but only use it for protecting the country and yourself..."

Youtube has the film here, with English subtitles.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tasting Japanese Traditional Vegetarian Cuisine

For centuries, Japanese people were mostly vegetarians, with a lot of veggies and grains that were grown seasonally, plus stuff that could be harvested from the wild, like mushrooms or seaweed.

Fruit was also plentiful in the southern parts, and even today, I'd say Japan has the most amazing variety of oranges, mikan, dekapon, and so many others in the winter season, providing vitamin C and sweetness during the cold months.

This winter, I'm able to harvest several types of greens, including mizuna, hakusai, and sweet cabbage. I'm looking forward to a scale-up of my efforts next winter. Things that I'm still not very good at include broccoli and daikon, staple food in winter as well. I think I will get a hang of it, ultimately. Growing something is what matters, as far as I am concerned, as we are heading towards a time when imports may no longer be taken for granted. Having something from your own garten that you can barter with may make all the difference.

It wasn't always like this. If you want to know more about traditional Japanese vegetarian food, you need to explore shojin ryori. It is the traditional Japanese way of cooking, using only veggies, tofu, and some other tricks to make it very tasty and special. It has evolved as time went by, but at its core - it is healthy, delicious, and beautiful.

Alena from Germany notes:

Register NOW for the free Shōjin Ryōri seminar in Tokyo at (event details below)

The one common rule though is not to use fish, meat and animal products such as eggs and milk. One of the precepts of Buddhism is “thou shalt not kill”, which also forbids the killing of any animal, fish or insects for food. Hence, all animal products are taboo in Buddhist cuisine, which Shōjin Ryōri is an example of.
Temples are the culinary kingdoms of Shōjin Ryōri and visitors who stay at temple lodgings, called “shukubo” in Japanese, are typically served Shōjin Ryōri for dinner and for breakfast.
Not considering the religious aspects, Shōjin Ryōri is a simple yet flavorful cuisine that is extremely nutritious and hence good for health.
Vegetarians, and vegans in particular, who have difficulties in finding something to eat in Japan that does not contain fish, seafood or meat, have embraced Shōjin Ryōri.

Fresh Local Ingredients – Dishes Changing with the Season
A great number of Shōjin Ryōri dishes are soybean based, including bean curd (tofu) and deep-fried bean curd (abura-age) and seasonings are also made from soy, for example soy sauce and soy bean paste. Miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning typically made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a kind of fungus, also features in Shōjin Ryōri.
Mushrooms, for example shiitake, enoki, eringi and shimeji, and “sea vegetables”, ie seaweed, are also common ingredients. While many broths used in Japanese cooking are fish stock-based, in Shōjin Ryōri vegetarian kombu is used in general.
Shōjin Ryōri cannot do without locally sourced vegetables and the choice of vegetables very much goes with the seasons. Eat Shōjin Ryōri at different times of the year and you will notice that the types of vegetables and also the parts of vegetables used are not the same.
In spring new vegetable sprouts are used while in summer it is the leaves of vegetables that feature on your plate. Come autumn and you will find many fruits and nuts, especially chestnut, while in winter dishes are based on root vegetables.

Dewa Sanzan Shōjin Ryōri – Local Cuisine Developed by Mountain Priests
Shōjin Ryōri dishes differ from temple to temple and from region to region as the ingredients used very much reflect what vegetables can be found in the mountains and forests nearby.
The Dewa Sanzan Shōjin Ryōri is known for using vegetables found in the nearby Shonai Plain and wild mushrooms and vegetables picked on the slopes of Mount Gassan.
Serving Shōjin Ryōri to pilgrims has a long tradition at the temple lodgings in Toge Village, which lies at the foot of Mount Haguro.
Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono are collectively known as the Three Mountains of Dewa (Dewa Sanzan) which have been venerated for centuries as sacred mountains.
The area is known to be a place where Shugendo, a spiritual tradition unique to Japan is still being practiced. Shugendo is based on mountain worship and it incorporates philosophies from esoteric Buddhism, old Shinto and ancient Japanese animism.
Practitioners are colloquially referred to as “yamabushi” (mountain priests). They are expert naturalists who possess an in-depth knowledge of and profound connection with the natural environment and with the spiritual spheres.
Shōjin Ryōri is the mediator that connects their belief with their daily life as the following testimonials will tell.

All Generation Team Revives Traditions
A team of locals is revitalizing the centuries-old Dewa Sanzan Shōjin Ryōri tradition and they are coming to Tokyo to introduce their unique cuisine.

Register NOW for the free Shōjin Ryōri seminar in Tokyo at
Practical Information about the Event:
  • Schedule: Saturday, February 9th, 13:30-15:30
  • Venue: Neuro Café (
  • Fee: Free (incl.sampling of some Shōjin Ryōri dishes, herbal tea,local sake tasting; info pack in English or Japanese)
  • Location: 2F, Jingu-mae 2-13-2, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
  • Nearest Sta: JR Chuo/Sobu Line Sendagaya (9min walk)/ Metro Ginza Line Gaien-mae (7min walk)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

At Least 10 Japanese Missing In Algeria: Sunday, No Condolences From Prime Minister Abe?

Sunday is never a great news day in Japan. Today, Kyodo just after noon noted that at least 10 Japanese are missing at the Algerian gas plant that was part of a "hostage crisis" that ended badly.

TOKYO, Jan. 20, Kyodo
Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp. said Sunday 17 of its employees including 10 Japanese remain unaccounted for in Algeria after local security forces ended a hostage crisis at a gas complex with apparently heavy casualties.
The Japanese government was told by Algeria earlier in the day that some Japanese nationals died in the crisis, although Tokyo says it has yet to confirm the information.
The situation surrounding the missing workers is "grave," a JGC spokesman said, in light of information obtained locally and from the Japanese government.

No updates until now, on Sunday night. The UK prime minister already confirmed that British workers are dead, Norway's king has offered his condolences - but no such revelation by Shinzo Abe that Japan has suffered serious losses. I guess he just has no idea how to deal with the real world.

Update: At 22:15, Kyodo (J) noted that 9 Japanese are reported dead in Algeria, quoting AFP, the French news agency.

The Algerian gas plant is run by BP and Norsk Hydro/Statoil, so there has been plenty of news from those countries., With 10 Japanese engineers or staff possibly dead, shall we call this the Japan Sunday News Syndrome?

Yokohama-based JGC said seven Japanese staff and 10 people of other nationalities have so far been confirmed as safe. But a total of 61 staff — including 10 Japanese — remain unaccounted for, according to the company. JGC President Koichi Kawana and other senior officials had departed for Algeria by early Saturday. One Japanese national was treated at a hospital Friday in the municipality of Ain Amenas, where the plant is located, and transported to the capital, Algiers, a reporter for Algerian television said. It is not yet known if that person is among the seven hostages confirmed as safe. The militant group is still holding hostages at the complex and Algerian troops are continuing the rescue operation, according to local reports.

The Japan Times/Kyodo: Japan's Abe confirms cooperation with Britain over Algeria hostage crisis

Gas and oil, a terrible, nasty business. The government in Tokyo has no way to ensure the safety of civilian Japanese workers at dangerous plants. Abe, again, shows he is not in charge, but has to ask Britain for help. I guess on Monday, Japanese media will kick in and start a huge campaign. Sorry guys, you are 24 hours behind everyone else. Already, foreign media is talking to the families of victims. Japan, tonight, Sunday, nothing.

Aftenposten: Norway's king has offered condolences to all that have died in the Algerian disaster.

Kong Harald skriver i en uttalelse at han føler med de pårørende: «Vi har fulgt situasjonen til gislene i Algerie med bekymring og uro. Våre tanker er hos dem som fortsatt lever i nagende uvisshet, både pårørende og kolleger i Statoil. Vi føler sorg over drepte gisler fra mange land og samtidig lettelse over våre egne og andre som har kommet trygt hjem.»

French AFP/google: 9 Japanese are confirmed dead.

25 bodies of foreigners found after Algeria bloodbath

IN AMENAS, Algeria — Security forces found the bodies of 25 foreigners Sunday as they combed a desert gas plant after a deadly stand-off with Islamists, and witnesses said nine Japanese hostages had been executed.
Citing security sources, Anis Rahmani of the private television channel Ennahar told AFP the army discovered "the bodies of 25 hostages" as they sought to secure the sprawling Sahara site at In Amenas.
"In all nine Japanese were killed," one Algerian witness identified as Brahim said a day after special forces swooped on the gas plant run by Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Sonatrach of Algeria to end the siege that began Wednesday.
In Tokyo, a foreign ministry official said: "We are in a position not to comment on this kind of information at all. Please understand."

Please understand?

Sunday night, almost 23:00 and no further updates from prime minister Abe, just this lame announcement from Kantei, with no hour-minute, from Jan 20 (J). They are clearly not going to use the internet to help people here understand what might have happened on Sunday. And, so far tonight as for January 20, no condolences from prime minister Abe.

So far, past midnight, no "twitter" or "facebook" or "updates" to add to the real situation.

Update 2: Monday night, 24 hours later. Still not a single word from Prime Minister Abe... He really has let everyone down, compared to the announcements from Heads of States in other countries with interests in this. Abe, you have just shown that you have no idea how to deal with an international crisis.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Art Setouchi Triennale 2013

I am fortunate enough to often get the chance to go to Naoshima and the beautiful Seto Inland Sea, and this year, from March to November, 2013 they are again hosting an event that should attract visitors.

Update: As David (merci!) notes in the comment section, the Triennale is held during three sessions: One in the Spring (March 20 - April 21), one in Summer (July 20 - September 1st) and Fall (October 5th - November 4th).

Easy access from Okayama. If you have never been to these parts of Japan, you are missing out!

First held in 2010, the Art Setouchi is now a much larger, more extended event with events being planned for a large number of locations and islands. Did I mention "events"?

List of participating artists here.

Setouchi Triennale Website (English) here.

You will get stuff like this:

Inujima Art House Project: S-Art House

An elongated gallery made of transparent acrylic panels appears behind a curve on the road in front of a tangerine orchard. An image of a one-dollar bill is delicately weaved in the center of a spider web made of lace that spans across the gallery. A careful examination reveals that the spider web is pierced by 13 arrows and is fraying around the edges. “Dollar Web Garden” expresses the idea that the financial chauvinism symbolized by the one-dollar bill is collapsing, and a new and beautiful multidimensional world is being weaved through the harmonious coexistence of the inhabitants and the village scenery with the surrounding environment.

Materials: “Dollar Web Garden”: Olive tree, 13 arrows, fabric (leavers lace), insects
Architectural Design: Kazuyo Sejima
Management: Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation

And, one of my favourites, Art House Project Minamidera:
This wooden architecture covered by pitch-dark burnt cedar boards is a brand new building designed by Tadao Ando. It tries to retain the memory that this temple located at this site used to function as a spiritual center for people. As you walk down the stone pavement approach and enter the building, you are faced with total darkness. (1999)

This should be a very memorable trip. The islands have their own history, with mines and explorations, and the memories of the exploitations of the 20th century close by.

Naoshima, the main art island, and the site of the largest museums and a great hotel, also hosts a large plant for rare earths, precious metals and gold and other mineral refineries at the Mitsubishi Materials plant, and as you take the ferry, you see their large chimneys that have been a part of this site since 1917.

The theme from 2013 includes "restoration of the sea" which seems very timely.

From time immemorial, the Seto Inland Sea has been an important nexus of transportation. Boats from the mainland came and went, bringing new cultures and lifestyles to the islands dotting the Sea. Since then, each island has formed and developed its own unique culture. This rich heritage, along with its beautiful scenery, is still around today, set against the backdrop of tradition. However, in today’s globalizing world, with increasing homogenization and streamlining, the islands are losing their unique characteristics because of the aging and decreasing of the population on the islands and the decline of the local area’s vitality.

At the same time, Mitsubishi Materials is making all kinds of CSR promises for the future:

Our Corporate Philosophy here at the Mitsubishi Materials Group is to do our bit "for people, society and the earth." The Great East Japan Earthquake made me appreciate the true meaning of that philosophy more than ever. As a corporate group, we are committed to continually overcoming social issues and making a lasting contribution, so that we can help maintain sustainable development throughout society. I believe this is the best way to repay the trust that our shareholders have placed in us, whilst at the same time growing as a group. I hope that we can continue to rely on the support and understanding of all of our stakeholders in the future.

As far as I can see, we are heading into some very tricky territory. In the recent James Bond film, Skyfall, we get a taste of Gunkanjima in Nagasaki, that used to be a Mitsubishi coal mine from 1887 to 1974.

It was suddenly abandoned (back then, there was not much interest in "sustainable development"). I wonder why these corporations can continue to manage to survive.

Quite tellingly, the "Mitsubishi Materials Corporate History" pages end at around 2005, some 7 or 8 years ago.

Maybe there is no connection. Who pays for all of this? Meanwhile, art - that seems to me to create bridges across centuries or even thousands of years, as some civilizations have been swept off the surface of our planet, yet leaving amazing legacies behind - is now reduced to "projects" and "installations" and did I mention "events" and whatnot.

The 2013 triennial also promises to consider the aged people who reside on the Setouchi Islands, who have fished and farmed and survived typhoons and harsh winters.

As Japan has a low birthrate, it seems like a perfect focus for an event like this, as we need to consider all options for the future.

A great place to go for some amazing sights.

And, I just like this, " the idea that the financial chauvinism symbolized by the one-dollar bill is collapsing, and a new and beautiful multidimensional world is being weaved through the harmonious coexistence of the inhabitants and the village scenery with the surrounding environment."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Farmers Markets

Want to know more about the farmers markets in Tokyo? Want to actually meet a farmer? Most people get their food from supermarkets or the local convenience store, only. How do you feel about that?

Head over to the Japan Farmers Markets blog. This weekend should be sunny but cold, so everyone is ready to go.

Joan from Michigan, has more:

The language may be different, but just under a different culture and maybe a different skin tone beats the same heart. Again and again I find people as generous and kind as any farmer in my home state, as hard-working, as weathered, as cautiously optimistic about the future of their livelihoods. It is, perhaps, how I stay connected with my own culture and history while living so far away.
One such farmer is Takako Kimura from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture. Takako comes to the Nippori Farmers Market each month with her vegetables, some yummy homemade pickles, and rice. She's charming, knowledgeable, and fun to talk with. (Yes, she's invited me to visit and help out on her farm.)  She's a young farmer determined, like all young farmers, to make a go of it.

Takako has held up remarkably well given the fear the name of her prefecture now engenders. After the March 11th disasters, she struggled to find a way to make sure her farm and the food she brought to market was safe. With the help of the Nippori Farmers Market and their support of Tohoku growers and producers, she's been able to regain some ground, farm safely, and keep bringing some of the cutest miniature daikon I've ever seen to her customers. 

Read her full story here at ecotwaza

Consumer skepticism and distrust in government assurances that food was safe, that the situation at the power plant was under control ran high. The regions farmers, especially those like Takako and Sase from Fukushima, suffered a worse kind of fallout as customers turned away in fear. Questions about the level of radiation on her farm, in her vegetables, and what she was doing about it poured in along with words of comfort and support.
It was a sad, hard time, but Takako empathizes with her customers’ concerns. “Of course,” she says. “Of course, they were worried. The best I could do was answer honestly. I was never angry. I was only accepting and smiling from the bottom of my heart.”
There is a pause, though, as her eyes well up with tears and her voice won’t come as she remembers those days. “I was born in Aizu. I am proud to be from there, but people were afraid of my vegetables. They wanted to help, but they were afraid.”
The Nippori Market, Takako says, has made all the difference. Here she’s found a support that keeps her afloat financially and emotionally. She’s built up a set of regulars that come each month to shop, to buy, to ask how she’s doing. It’s more than she’s received from any other source, including local, prefectural, and national governments. Nippori Market has made her feel less alone.
“I’m always conscious now of my Tokyo customers in everything I do. When I plant, I wonder if they’ll like this vegetable. When I harvest I think about what they prefer in terms of looks and presentation,” she said.

Update: Nice to see that farmers markets are growing in popularity in the US as well, especially in places like California:

The number of farmers markets in the U.S. has increased more than four-fold since 1994, when the USDA began keeping track of their numbers. In August of 2012, there were 7,828 farmers markets operating in the United States. Nearly forty percent of the nation’s farmers markets are in metro areas which have a reliable consumer base. 

The highest concentration of markets are found in California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The red areas in the map below show where the greatest increase in the number of farmers markets has occurred over the past four years.

Source: Big Picture Agriculture blog

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow, Trains, Japan

As we got a lot of snow on Monday (a public holiday) I was impressed that most trains kept running. Seibu Ikebukuru Line struggled to get me into Tokyo, and we were 25 minutes delayed, but got the job done. Well done, and much appreciated. While some lines were temporarily suspended, the Yamanote Line managed to keep running all day long.

The Yamanote Line is very special for people in central Tokyo. It runs both ways, clockwise and anticlockwise, and a full circle takes just about one hour. This year, it celebrates its 50th anniversary as the first trains started to run the full loop back in 1963, just before the Tokyo Olympics.

Sankei notes that the first tracks were laid down back in 1909 between Akabane and Shinagawa, and Ikebukuro and Tabata. Now, in 2013, a campaign to celebrate the anniversary will involve a "Lucky" train wrapped in special green colours. Others trace the history back to 1885 (electrification started in 1909). Current trains are from 2002, built by state-owned companies (in Niigata Prefecture), Kawasaki Heavy Industries and others. You'll be riding along at 90 km/hr on a E231 Series train, with some recent variations.

Turning to Youtube, a lot of train and snow, and a lot of fan videos. Further north, where conditions are often very harsh this time of the year, Japan's train services continue to deliver. I take Japanese trains a lot for work and pleasure. Did I mention, I'm impressed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kiritanpo From Akita

Wow, lots of snow in Tokyo, I was rather concerned. Made it into central Tokyo, and the Yamanote Line had delays after delays. No worries, I got from A to B to C, and arrived safely at Uguisudani.

We had a plan to celebrate the new years, and the privilege to have a special dish from Akita prefecture, kiritanpo, so I was not going to let a little snow delay my Monday. Lots of rice dumplings, served in a special nabe way.

Kiritanpo is one of many local Akita dishes, with certain rules.

We added veggies, and for Ver. 2 my cabbage was included: This winter, I have been growing hakusai, mizuna and cabbage. So, I do get some instant street cred at slick city parties like this... Yo, bro! Etc. etc.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Archery Event In Kyoto

A really great archery event held each year in Kyoto at the Sanjusangendo Temple. Girls dressed up in their very best kimonos.

Imagine the training behind all of this. 1500 young women participated this year.

Photo from Sankei

Sunday, January 13, 2013

So, Nuclear Power Plants, How Safe Are They Really?

I'm confused by the news from Sweden and elsewhere that safety at nuclear power plants is not really that different from any other kind of factory. Anyone, with a mission, seems to be able to enter these premises. Doesn't that worry you?

Any location that has hazardous material ought to be sealed very tight. Or not be allowed to operate. OK, we are all humans, and mistakes are made, all the time. Sigh.

In Sweden, Greenpeace activists were able to simply walk into the Ringhals and Forsmark nuclear plants (Sweden has three plants, with 10 reactors).

A spokeswoman for Greenpeace Nordic said on Wednesday the six had remained in restricted areas around the west-coast Ringhals plant and Forsmark on the east coast by hiding on rooftops.
On Tuesday, plant owner Vattenfall said police had detained in all 59 people who had climbed over or cut through fences into the grounds of Ringhals and Forsmark.
"There was a heavy police search yesterday and still they didn't find them," spokeswoman Birgitte Lesanner said.
She said police resumed the searches again Wednesday morning after one of those hiding at Ringhals tweeted her whereabouts.

In the US, meanwhile, this 82 year old woman was part of a group that got into a US uranium complex at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She is my new hero. Way to go, Sister Megan Rice. Interesting that this only made the news in Europe since the same security (hrm) company was also involved in the London Olympics. 

Ms. Rice, you have my support, all the way.

The Telegraph: G4S under fire after nun breaks into US nuclear facility

Sister Megan Rice, along with two male accomplices aged 63 and 57, allegedly used bolt cutters to get in to the Y-12 national security complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

It is the US government's only facility for storing weapons-grade enriched uranium, a key component in nuclear bombs.

WSI Oak Ridge, the contractor responsible for protecting the facility, is owned by G4S, which failed to provide enough security guards for the Olympics. That led to the British government having to use military personnel for the Games.

The groups's chief executive Nick Buckles recently told MPs the Olympics fiasco was a "humiliating shambles for the company."

In the latest debacle Sister Megan, from Nevada, got through four fences to gain access to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, which holds the enriched uranium.

The other guy is Greg Boertje-Obed, one of three Plowshares protesters who penetrated Y-12's security barriers on July 28, 2012 to draw attention to weapons production activities, a couple of times before he departed for Duluth, Minn., after being released from jail. He and the other protesters will be tried on multiple federal charges, with the trial in U.S. District Court set for Feb. 26, 2013. has more:

His story is an interesting one. He wasn't always a pacificist. Indeed, he studied psychology at Tulane University on a ROTC scholarship, and after graduating voluntarily joined the U.S. Army -- serving as a medical service officer at Fort Polk in Louisiana, with the rank of First Lieutenant. His family was supportive of his military pursuits, he said.
"I was trained to fight and supposedly win a nuclear war," Boertje-Obed said.
Boertje-Obed said the troops were trained to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear warfare.
"They have us imagine we were in a nuclear war and what would we do if a bomb (detonated)," he said of the experience with group attached to a combat engineering company.
"That's when I really realized all this was a sham," Boertje-Obed said. He said he remembers being given a respiratory mask that was extremely painful to wear and while it might have been helpful against chemical or biological agents it was useless against radiation.
"I realized if this was preparation for war, I was going to die, and I needed to change that," he said.

(Top image by Tore Davidsson, Mt Fuji seen from Shinjuku, Tokyo, November 2012)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nuclear Updates

There is so much going on here that it is difficult to keep up. I don't want Kurashi to be all about nuclear issues, since there are so many other topics that interest me, and inspire. But I also work with related issues, so here we go.

The Guardian: Fukushima 50: 'We felt like kamikaze pilots ready to sacrifice anything

Excellent article by Justin McCurry over at The Guardian, just about the best I have read so far in the English-language press about what actually happened at Fukushima Dai-ichi after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He has managed to interview one of the workers who stayed on to save us all from a much bigger disaster.

Disagreements over a possible withdrawal rumoured to have taken place in the capital never filtered through to the men on the frontline, according to Yoshizawa. Some among the vast network of Tepco contractors and subcontractors ordered their employees to leave the plant. They were joined by other workers who lived in the communities in the path of the tsunami or which were imperilled by the reactor meltdowns. None of the workers had been able to communicate with their families; some would return to find their homes had been swept away. But at no point was anyone forced to stay, Yoshizawa said.
"I never thought of leaving. I had to stay and get a grip on the situation. I wasn't thinking about my family, only about the other workers and how worried they must have been about their own families.
"We knew that we would not be replaced. No one was forced to stay, but those of us who remained knew that we would be there until the end. We knew that we were the only people capable of saving the plant. Our determination surpassed all other considerations."
Yoshizawa says the hardest part of his job was sending junior colleagues into dangerous situations. The plant was frequently rocked by strong aftershocks, and the proximity of so much water to electrical equipment was an ever-present danger, as was the risk of acute radiation sickness.

The Mainichi: Over 10 nuclear plants in Japan have flawed fire-prevention equipment: sources

You couldn't make this up if you tried. If you were writing a Science Fiction novel, perhaps, but this is what we are finding out now, almost two years after the Fukushima disaster.

More than 10 nuclear power plants in Japan are plagued by flaws in their fire-prevention equipment, nuclear regulatory sources have revealed, raising the possibility some reactors may be shut down.
Sources close to the secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), respectively, say that deficient equipment includes flammable electric cables in wiring. They say apparatuses important to safety are also installed close to each other, increasing the risk that fire could spread from one apparatus to the other.
The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy has already launched an investigation into the matter, while the NRA is poised to interview electric company officials in the near future.
METI anticipates that some nuclear reactors may be decommissioned due to the high cost of exchanging cables and repairing equipment. It also expects that reactivation of other plants could be delayed by several years.
Since December 1975, utilities obtaining approval for reactor construction have been required to use flame-resistant cables in important safety equipment and to appropriately space apparatuses to prevent fires from spreading. However, due to the absence of regulations for reactors built before then, the decision on whether to improve such equipment has been left up to each plant operator.
The total number of plants using flawed equipment has not been determined, but the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed power companies across the country and found that cables made of such flammable materials including vinyl and polyethylene are used at 13 out of 50 nuclear reactors. Because the surfaces of those cables are coated with fire-resistant agents using special types of resin, utility officials say they are on par with flame-resistant cables. However, the NRA secretariat and METI officials dismissed the utilities' claims.
"Even if the fire-resistant agents do not burn, the flammable cables inside would burn," one source told the Mainichi. "Those cables may also be aging and deteriorating. We can't recognize them as being equivalent (to non-flammable cables). Most of the cables are fraught with problems in terms of fire prevention and need to be renewed."
At some plants, it has also emerged that equipment controlling the so-called reactor "safety system," which includes control rods, the core cooling system, and instrument surveillance at the time of a nuclear accident are flawed in terms of fire-prevention measures. Although the principle of "system separation" that allows one failed electric system to be complemented by another one is prioritized in safety systems, at some plants electric cables for two separate systems are installed in close proximity. Cooling water pumps are also set up next to each other, raising the risk of such critical apparatuses catching fire simultaneously. Both the NRA secretariat and METI officials are expecting that such flaws will be found at more than 10 reactors.
The NRA is planning to include both the "system separation" rule and stipulations on the use of flame-resistant cables in new safety standards to be drawn up by July. However, as each reactor has roughly 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers of cables, including several hundred kilometers which are important to safety, it will take more than one year and cost a huge amount to renew the cables. Due to the prospect of unrecoverable costs, some reactors may be forced to be decommissioned, the sources said.

The Asahi: Hamaoka reactor likely wrecked in seawater accident

A similar accident happened in the US at the Unit 1 reactor of the Millstone nuclear power plant in Connecticut in September 1972, so experts know this is serious.

A restart may be impossible at one of Japan's idled nuclear reactors without substantial repairs, after an accident during a shutdown procedure last year in which hundreds of tons of seawater flooded equipment including the central pressure vessel.
Unrefined seawater contaminated sensitive appliances and subsequent inspections have found rust on many key components of the affected unit, the No. 5 reactor at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. Damaged devices include those that regulate the rate of nuclear fission.
The incident occurred while workers were shutting down the reactor on May 14, 2011

Japan Today/Fuji TV: Rice grown in Miyagi contains more than double legal limit of radioactive cesium

Probably a case of "hot spot" radiation - it is good to see that it was caught by the careful testing that is on-going in the Tohoku region. While it is worrying to some extent, the levels are not really dangerous. But the comments at Japan Today indicate that a lot of people are worried and angry, nevertheless.

Rice grown in Miyagi Prefecture was found to contain more than double the legal limit of radioactive cesium, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced Friday.
The rice, which was grown on a farm in Kurihara last year, was found to contain around 240 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, over twice the legal limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram. Fuji TV reported that this is the first time rice grown outside Fukushima Prefecture has exceeded the legal limit.
The local government has requested farmers growing rice in the same ward as the affected farm to check each bag for radiation before shipping. It added that it will strive to carry out spot checks on rice from neighboring prefectures.
In order to quell public fears about rice already shipped from the farm in question, a ministry spokesperson said that spot checks had, until now, given no cause for alarm.

The Japan Times:  As radiation fears dwindle, so do checkups, Doctor wants more residents to get followup full-body scans

Good article by Mizuho Aoki with insights about efforts to check internal exposure radiation level. Dr. Masaharu Tsubokura has set up a clinic to help people get tested, but as no high levels are found, fewer people are showing up to get tested.

As residents have come to understand more about radiation and that their internal exposure levels are low, an air of calm has been noticeable. At the same time, residents' interest in knowing their exposure levels has waned.
"I'm surprised to see such a dramatic loss of interest in just about a year and a half," said Tsubokura, 30, who works several days a week at Minamisoma hospital and the rest of the week at the University of Tokyo. "The biggest issue we have now is finding ways to secure continuous checkups for internal radiation exposure."
The city of Minamisoma covers the cost for two checkups. The hospital there began conducting the second round of internal exposure examinations in August, but less than 3 percent of residents tested in the first round turned up that month, Tsubokura said.
"To be honest, local people have almost no worries (about radiation exposure because of eating contaminated food) these days. . . . They are satisfied with their results from last year (where many were below detectable levels)," Tsubokura said.

It's not just Japan, folks, South Korea is going through an extensive overhaul of its reactors, too. In November, 2012, cracks were found, and thousands of parts at their reactors were revealed to have been supplied with false documentation. Reuters noted that the head of the main electricity utility KEPCO resigned as the scale of the scandal hit the news.

Reuters: South Korea widens nuclear lapses probe; KEPCO chief resigns

Two reactors remained shut on Wednesday, and five others are closed for maintenance, or through other glitches, raising the prospect of winter power shortages. The nuclear industry supplies close to a third of South Korea's electricity.
The authorities have stressed that the parts - such as fuses, switches and heat sensors - are non-crucial, and there is no safety risk.
Kim Joong-kyum, president and CEO of power utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), which owns the operator of the nation's nuclear plants, tendered his resignation for what KEPCO officials said were "personal reasons". 


South Korea's Nuclear Safety & Security Commission said it set up a team of 58 private and public investigators to inspect all the country's reactors to see if they were supplied with parts with forged certificates.
"The team will inspect all 23 reactors, which will take some time, as you can imagine," a spokeswoman for the commission, which supervises nuclear safety, told Reuters. The commission said it plans measures to improve supply systems, quality controls and external auditing.
Eight companies submitted 60 false certificates to cover more than 7,000 parts used in the two reactors between 2003 and 2012, and Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo told parliament that most of the documents, which purported to come from certifying body UCI, were forgeries.
A senior ministry official told Reuters that UCI was one of 12 U.S. certifiers, but was not one of the eight firms under investigation. The firms have not been named.

Over at Consumers Union of Japan, we are thinking about the roles of consumers and producers. Amagasa Keisuke writes:

Contaminated food is a particularly serious matter for young children and pregnant women, with possible consequences for coming generations as well. The consumer movement and anti-nuclear power plant activists have pointed out similar problems resulting from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
However, there is another aspect to the meltdowns here in Japan. After Chernobyl, farmers and consumers in Japan did not take steps to cooperate and deal with radioactive contamination, in spite of the fact that agricultural lands and the ocean were polluted. After the Fukushima disaster, farmers and consumers have ended up divided on the issues, as the perpetrators – the government and TEPCO – have strongly continued to promote nuclear power over the years.
For over 40 years, the consumer movement demanded Japan to abolish nuclear power plants in order to avoid accidents. What is our role now? Even I could never imagine such a situation after an accident has actually occurred.

Finally, for Japan Focus, I was asked to take an extended look at all of the 50 or so nuclear power reactors from Hokkaido to Kyushu, trying to develop my blog post here earlier, and assess if any of them at all are safe, or not. My conclusion?

Japan Focus: Getting to Zero: Doing the Nuclear Math about Japan's Ageing Reactors

As for nuclear reactors in Japan, there are 13 or fewer, possibly none, that are "maybe safe" and most of them are in western Japan. As I finish writing this paper, I keep wondering what new incident may happen, what discovery of another active seismic fault may come to light, and all kinds of revelations about more problems with Japan’s Nuclear Village, that may render this whole calculation terribly redundant. As I found out, it is not just that there are lots of issues with the links: The entire chain is the problem.

(Top image by Tore Davidsson, from Koke-dera, Kyoto, November 2012)

Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass - Meetings Along The Edge!

Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass from the Album "Passages" (1990). The collaboration between Philip Glass, one of the greatest composer of the 20th century, and Ravi Shankar...

Ravi Shankar (vocals, sitar); Philip Glass; S.P. Balasubramanyam, Madras Choir, Jeannie Gagne (vocals); Shubho Shankar (sitar); Partha Sarady (sarod); Barry Finclair (violin, viola); Tim Baker, Mayuki Fukuhara (violin); Al Brown (viola); Seymour Barab (cello); Theresa Norris, Ronus Mazumdar (flute); Jon Gibson (soprano saxophone); Richard Peck, Lenny Pickett (alto & tenor saxophones); Peter Gordon (French horn); Keith O'Quinn (trombone); Joe Carver (bass); Abhiman Kaushal (tabla).

Monday, January 07, 2013

Seven Herb Rice Gruel

Today, January 7, is traditionally a special food day in Japan. People eat seven freshly harvested veggies, herbs, and roots. We had this dish at my temple in Okayama, as a way to say thanks to the way the days were getting longer, while it was still very cold, but in the fields, some greens were beginning to thrive.

七草粥 nana kusa kayu means "Seven herb rice gruel" but that is just a part of the story.

These seven varieties of 草 kusa or herbs, also include some 采 sai or na (brassica) which are nutritious and something we should all eat a lot more of.

One thought was that after indulging in all kinds of delicious New Year foods, on this day, people would welcome something so very simple. Our bodies, of course, prefer veggies, and a lot of veggies. We are not particularly well equipped for indulgence. Speaking of equipped, we are more prone to survive poverty than opulence. From a long-term perspective, humans can deal with having less, but not with having more. Fat, sugar, meat and less exercise are not what we are used to.

I like how the seven herb rice gruel is a reminder of that.

A quick google search for nana-kusa-gayu in Japanese gives 593,000 results.



Boil seven types of fresh herbs and roots*

* If you can grow them, here are seven great-tasting herbs and roots that we enjoy this time of year, early January, fresh from our fertile fields in Japan:


Some English names for the above plants are Water dropwort, Shepherd's purse, Cudweed, Chickweed, Nipplewort, turnip and radish. I like how the Swedish word ört (herb) has been incorporated as "wort" in English. Vikings from Scandinavia brought a lot to Britain...

Meanwhile, here in Japan, supermarkets continue to sell special sets on this day, which include all the usual seven veggies.

Here is a google image search result for that!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Seven Lucky Gods

With a lot of humour, and a great sense of compassion, we get these old manga stories from Japan's Old Tales.

Manga Nihon Mukashii Banashi
まんが日本昔ばなし 「大年の客」 

An old lady is trying to do good, bringing some rice from her small field to a local lord. Seems like we are talking about paying local taxes, right?

Her humble offering is rejected.

It says something about the way we feel, as we pay taxes.

Those who rule, don't they tend to enjoy their wealth, at our expense?

The old lady is really sad, as she returns to her house.

Meanwhile, the seven gods from the local lord, are disgusted by his ignorance.

He rejected her humble seeds, and threw them to the chicken...

The seven gods decide to depart, and make an effort to move to the house of the old lady, in the cold winter... 

She invites them to her simple abode.

There is a certain glow...

And the poor seven members that used to occupy her altar, will move, as they are no longer wanted. Where do they go? Never seen the seven old gods look so decrepit, nothing like their usual glorious display...

How about that old guy, who called himself "lord" and was the head of the village, taking advantage of his position. This is what he ends up with, in the old Mukashi Banashi.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Bright Ideas For 2013

Here are a couple of links to some bright ideas from fellow bloggers. Also, for the new year, some principles to scale up in your daily life. Thanks everyone!

1) Exchange/Study/Survive

Help indigenous Ainu youth get to New Zealand for an exchange with Maori to study methods for cultural survival.

In January 2012, a Maori leader, Te Ururoa Flavell visited Ainumosir (Hokkaido) and Tokyo and witnessed the work Ainu people are doing in their communities to revitalize their culture, language, and rights. He immediately suggested that Ainu youth come to Aoteroa (New Zealand) to see how Maori community members have been working to ensure cultural survival.
Immediately, we formed the Aotearoa-Ainumosir Exchange Program Committee to seek out participants. After a rigourous interview process, we chose 7 Ainu youth to go on the exchange starting end January for 5 weeks. Once they reach Aotearoa, they will study, experientialy, about the various ambitious endeavors of Maori people who have successfully revitalized their rights as indigenous people while living with strength in the society of New Zealand.

18 days left of their fund raising campaign at Indiegogo!

2) Localize

Curious about visiting a Farmers Markets in Japan? Even if your supermarket does stock some great stuff, nothing beats meeting farmers directly and getting to know them. Tokyo has a number of farmers markets, and Joan frequently blogs about their schedules and details. Who knows what discoveries you may make. Maybe it will even inspire you to start trying your hand at some farming, too! She says:

I believe small farms are a very real answer to all that ails our world from a lack of community to environmental degradation and climate change to obesity. Farming the same land season after season for literally thousands of years makes me think Japanese farmers have much to share with the rest of the world (and probably to learn, too), and I'd like to help facilitate that.

3) Trade

We need to move beyond money, loans and debt. QE isn't going to help us survive one bit. This isn't only about the financial cliff, it is about the ecological cliff... But you knew that already. What Ken in Shiga Aiichi is doing is remarkable. His long list of useful stuff he is willing to trade for your useful stuff is such an inspiration! (There was also something about a Satoyama Economy Rangers Program, or S.E.R.P. but I can't seem to find the link...) By the way, Ken, I have a lot of old paperback books, would you be interested in a trade...? In his own words:

Background: I’ve been meaning to trade stuff for years, but it’s really hard ! You have to have stuff already, or lots of time to make it or obtain it. Then if you finally have stuff you’d like to trade, you have to take a bunch of pictures and stick them on the internet.

Welcome to

est. 2008 adams guild™, Japan
- Care to trade ? Make a deal with me at the bottom of this page in the comments section. To send pictures of stuff, send me a mail at kenelwood, and then hotmail, and the ( thing.

I think one of the main lessons for the future is that we all have something we are good at, something we enjoy doing. If we do that, other good, enjoyable things will follow. End each day with a quiet prayer: Good things will happen.

4) Protest

We live in strange days after the big earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, almost two years ago. We know that it could strike again, any time. We remember how fast it all happened, that fateful Friday afternoon.

My thoughts are with all who had to evacuate from their homes and still can't return or find a future where they can be happy. Meanwhile, it has been amazing to be a (small) part of the new (huge) protest movement in Japan, which is a global movement really.

Do not think things are going to change for the better unless you also take a part, not just to protest, but to start a blog, write a diary, take beautiful photos, make amazing music, sing, make videos, paint, speak, think... Taking a stand against something is also a positive, optimistic move. You start by deciding what it is you really want to protect, nurture, and care for.

Even when I get angry, I am always reminded that love and peace are stronger emotions. Head over to Ten Thousand Things regularly for lessons in how to not give in or give up. We are all in this together.

For example, did you know that...:

Japanese support for the Lithuanian anti-nuclear power movement gained media attention, and months of protest, letters to the government, and international solidarity actions to pressure the government to abandon the construction plans, the government agreed to hold a referendum to decide on the issue.  On October 14, 2012, 62.68% of the people who participated in the referendum decided against the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania.

Despite this, Hitachi still intends to export an ABWR nuclear reactor to Lithuania. The Lithuanian people do not wish to increase the potential of a repeat of the Fukushima disaster in their country.

Source: Banner Action Tue, Dec 18th: Stop Hitachi's Nuclear Export! Lithuanian National Referendum Says "No" To Nuclear Power (Dec. 17, 2012)

5) Appreciate

Image from Sweet Bluesette.

Thanks for reading Kurashi. Nuf' said.