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Showing posts from February, 2013

Toward A Wide World

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Japanese music, a lot of tunes that always seem to strike a chord. Here is one, that you may not have heard, unless you live in these parts of the wood.

Toward A Wide Word, a tune that many junior high schools have performed, and now, Maestro Ozawa conducted the Kawazaki elementary school...

Hiroi Sekai e-






Japan Times -- Feb 28 Conductor Seiji Ozawa performed Wednesday in public for the first time since ill health forced him to suspend his musical activities last March, conducting a choir of 340 elementary school pupils in Kawasaki. The 77-year-old maestro conducted the singing of a song titled "Hiroi Sekai e" ("Toward a Wide World") by fifth- and sixth-graders at Minami-Ikuta Elementary School. The song will be sung at a graduation ceremony for the sixth-graders next month.


Food Labels: OK, Nobody Is Perfect, Hilariously Misleading

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Time to lighten up a little. It is cold and tomorrow, it may rain. Hope you are all enjoying the last days of winter, hopefully with some nice food. I thought I'd share a couple of fun food labels (vocational habit) that I collected. Here is my list of top five hilarious misleading Japanese foods (drum roll):

No. 5 Butter Pea


Peanuts from rural China, add some salt and - hydrogenated oils. That could be anything, but not butter. My guess is cotton seed oil, mixed with genetically modified corn oil, maybe some soybean oil. But the point is, when they make hydrogenated food oils, that is a factory you don't want to go near. All kinds of chemicals and heavy metals are used to process those molecules. No butter. Zilch. PS, Seven-Eleven should not use the term "kodawari" for such a bland product. こだわり is not something I associate with cheap peanuts. "Seeking perfection" or obsession...

No. 4 Beer Taste


So clever, yet so wrong. Plus it tastes so bad. Orion gets a…

Meat Trade, Not So Easy To Know What You Are Eating/Paying For

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I had not planned to blog about this huge scandal with horse meat found in hamburgers and all kinds of frozen foods, but now it hit Swedish company Ikea as well. Their famous meatballs are sold all around the world, but they also were found to contain horse meat. It is illegal of course to include horse meat in products that should be beef from cattle, or pork from pigs. Also, it is unclear if horses treated with illegal chemicals have been used. It is a nasty mess.

I'm a vegetarian *) and it is quite easy to avoid beef or pork in Japan. Horse meat, properly labelled, is considered a delicacy in Japan. Minced meat products however are difficult to make sense of - after this latest scandal, who would want to eat such stuff? There is a lot less meat eating here than in Europe or in North America. I hope Ikea in Japan didn't sell those meatballs. Sigh.

The Local: Ikea stops meatball sales after horsemeat report

Findus, another Swedish company, formerly part of the multinational N…

The Strange, Not-So-Brave World Of TPP

The negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to be hidden behind a secrecy veil as the countries already involved try to outdo each other in aggressive moves. The US had to withdraw a controversial proposal for new patent rules for pharmaceuticals, that were flat out rejected by just about everyone else.

Dawson Strategic has more:

As negotiations progress, members are drawing lines in the TPP sand box that will determine the dynamics of future negotiating rounds. When it comes to patent protection for pharmaceuticals, these lines are deep and divisive.. Although patent issues for pharmaceuticals were not discussed in the recently-concluded Auckland round, they are likely to be on the agenda for the next round of negotiations in Singapore in March 2013.

Discussion on patent protections has been delayed since the U.S. withdrew its initial proposal in the face of strong opposition from TPP partners. That proposal included an increase in the scope of products for …

Free Trade? Not For Important Things Like Gas, Rice

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Interesting to see NHK and others preparing for Prime Minister Abe's trip to Washington, as he is about to meet President Obama. On the agenda - Abe to ask Obama for shale gas. 

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to ask US President Barack Obama to permit shale gas exports to Japan. The two leaders will meet in Washington on Friday for a bilateral summit.
Abe faces an energy demand, with most of Japan's nuclear power plants halted and the nation increasingly dependent on thermal power. He is eager to import US shale gas as a new, cheaper energy source. But the United States limits the export of shale gas to free-trade partners, to avoid raising domestic prices. Non free-trade partners must have their export plan screened by the US government case-by-case.

Feb. 18, 2013

For a long time, the US has been talking about "free trade" while at the same time excluding important sectors such as the military and energy. The US will not allow exports of gas or cer…

Komatsuna Surprise

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Over at my garten, today, I was working on another project, mostly involving flowers, but then I noticed that the komatsuna that I had given up on a few weeks ago looked rather genki. A closer look revealed that these sturdy brassica plants were thriving in late winter, with a lot of new leaf growth happening inside the outer, larger leafs. I had removed the net that was supposed to protect against birds, and not watered them at all lately.

This is a very happy surprise as there is not much else to harvest in mid February (negi, daikon). These fresh leafy greens are a great source of calcium, and a joy with a sesame dressing. The smallest leaves were delicious, raw.

Risa and Kirk over at Savory Japan Vegetable Recipes, has more.

Komatsuna no ohitashi (stir fried mustard spinach)
As I describe in the ingredients section on the vegetable page, komatsuna is even healthier than spinach. The slightly bitter flavor and crunchy stalks hold up well to stir frying. Use minimal o…

Japan Supermarket Trade Show, Foodopoly

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I get invited to all kinds of events, and I try to stay abreast of it all, but one of the annual trade shows I like to attend is the Tokyo Big Sight Supermarket Trade Show. All kinds of countries participate with huge displays, like Brazil, or Denmark. Others are more subtle, promoting products rather than their national brand, like Chimay or the stalls where kimchi is lauded as the next health food.

Then there is a huge area where Japanese regions get to promote their original products. From Hokkaido, to Okinawa, you name it. Small islands, huge banners and a lot of sale people. Nagano, Niigata, or Shikoku, and many other places. Fukushima also had a large booth with stuff from Aizu Wakamatsu, mainly.

Free samples as much as you can handle, and, do ask questions, they all know a lot and want to tell you more than you may want to know!


I'm glad I went, I met a lot of wonderful people.

All kinds of large companies from abroad, like Tyson, use these events to make "friends"…

Energy Efficiency, Revisited

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Last July, an interesting report was published by the US energy efficiency watchdog called the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). I had never heard of them before, and mostly they have done stuff on individual states in the US. But the report that came out was a novel attempt to rank 12 major countries in terms of energy efficiency.

Then I had a look, and they managed to rank the United Kingdom as No. 1, followed by Germany, Italy and Japan in that order. I thought it is was a bit odd, and forgot about the whole thing (also because the entire point of their exercise seemed to be to shame the United States, that ranked really low compared to others, at No. 9).

I also thought it was great that Japan was up tops in a number of categories, if not always No. 1. There are certainly stuff that Japan can and should do better, like building insulation, but why is its super-efficient public train system not more highly appreciated?

ACEEE: United Kingdom Tops in Energy Ef…

Three Days Of Cold, Four Days Of Warmth

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We again had some snow today but the past few days were very warm, so... I learnt that this is called 三寒四温 (san-kan-shi-on) season. Just get used to it.

Don't catch a cold, take precautions to avoid the flu. Wash your hands a lot, don't shake hands, and did I mention wash your hands many times each day?

Kodo, the taiko drum band from Sado Island has a tune called Sankanshion from their amazing 1995 Acropolis concert...

I like how this is more of a rural thing. If you live in Tokyo, odds are you have never met anyone who has heard about it. Increasingly, Japan is about city vs. country. Whenever I hear a comment about "Japan" I feel the writer is less in touch with the rural parts, but stuck in the commuting/concrete/highrise/highway/office parts. I wonder if the comment is less about this country, more about the lack of it. Of course people in central Tokyo or Osaka have no idea.

Image by Atsuta Chikayoshi, long-time illustrator at Mainichi Shimbun who works for elim…

Bicycle History, Japan

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I am not a historian, but I love finding stuff on the Internet that educates and entertains - here is a wonderful site that is dedicated to bicycles in early modern Japan.






History of the ordinary in Japan.
By Yukio Ootsu

Documented information on high wheel bicycles in Japan is extremely scarce. It is quite incomplete and seems quite impossible to prove when the first ordinary appeared in Japan. However it is my life long plan and desire to find out the record. Here are my reports of discoveries at the time being.
Few undated photographs of high wheelers show a proud Japanese participation in the high wheel bicycle era. Actual examples of these bicycles that exist in Japanese museums and a few private collections show a history of both import and domestic blacksmith shop production. The early Ordinaries produced by Japanese blacksmiths locally are apparently at the same step with the world trend of the 1880's.You can tell it form early woodblock prints.
Judging from the info…

Edo: Living With Just Enough

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Great essay about Edo Era Japan over at Resilience.

Living with just enough

by Azby Brown, author of Just Enough (Kodansha 2010), essay originally published by The Global Oneness Project.

He studied architecture and sculpture at Yale College, graduating in 1980. In 1985, he received a grant from the Japanese Ministry of Education to do research at the Department of Architecture of the University of Tokyo, where he received a master's degree. He is the author of The Genius of Japanese Carpentry, Small Spaces and The Very Small Home, all published by Kodansha International
There is more to it, however. Edo society was literate and informed, and one of the government's major roles was the protection of the environment, which it did through forestry ordinances, waterworks, and promoting good agricultural practices by sponsoring how-to manuals and almanacs. This was not through altruism or for the spiritual advancement of the rulers, but to ensure the safety and security …