Saturday, March 30, 2013

Maruyama Naotaro - Natsu no Owari

A peace song by singer song-writer Maruyama Naotaro, born in Tokyo in 1976. "End of Summer" - Nice short speech there about getting kids, who do not know about war, to understand the importance of peace... Lovely Okinawa vibe. Hope the North Koreans (and South Koreans, and American GIs who are based in these parts of the wood) are listening tonight...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stop Idling, Revisited: Stop Car Deaths

Strange. Toyota and Honda and Mazda have introduced Start-stop systems that mean car engines are simply turned off when the car isn't moving. So why are there no campaigns to help every driver understand that turning off the engine manually, will also reduce gasoline use, and save money? Not only that, but reduce exhaust pollution and help combat climate change.

Japanese car companies have been loss-leaders in this field, fighting a lot of battles since the 1970s. I guess the car business is just that kind of game. You can't win, they are destroying our towns and cities and no matter what kind of sense or reason, the car is the rule.

Getting back to idling, why did not the Japanese ideas back in the 1970s to save gasoline catch on?

Popular Science (1974): Automatic On/Off Switch Gives 10% Gas Saving 

Interesting to note that the writer was aware of "CO" emissions back in 1974, and the need to keep them as low as possible.

The car industry, however, is less interested in such stuff. Over 30,000 deaths each year in the US, and how many injured and handicapped for life, each year? Is there any other such force that makes a profit from killing a lot of people?

Half of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, and young adults aged between 15 and 44 years account for 59% of deaths.

Bloomberg: American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015

Do take a look at that graph. Gun deaths is something the US is infamous for. Much worse, really, is the case if you compare to auto fatalities. Look at 30 years ago, the US had some 40,000-50,000 people dead in car related accidents. Now it is down to 30,000-35,000. Annually, still worse than gun-related deaths.

I can find relevant statistics for Japan from 2009: 4,914 deaths.

It is easier to compare if we break it down to deaths per capita:

US: 33,000 deaths for a population of 313,000,000
Japan: 4,900 deaths for a population of 120,000,00
Sweden: 270 deaths for a population of 9,000,00

Five years ago, The Japan Times noted:

In Tokyo, and many other parts of Japan, it’s illegal to leave your motor running when parked, and the law applies not only to taxis but also to trucks, buses and regular passenger cars. The idea is to protect the environment by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, but as you pointed out, idling also wastes energy and creates heat and noise — the last thing we urban dwellers need, especially in these hot summer months.

How can we get the rules to stick?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Climate Angst

I get angry extremely rarely, which is why events today took me by surprise. I was at a local Home Center (which in Japan is a place where you can by gardening supplies, among lots of other things) with colleagues who have a small car.

As we returned to the car to load our bounty (shovels, garden scissors, rubber boots, bags of soil and fertilizer) it turned out that the car just opposite ours was idling like mad. Not only that, but the red sports car was empty, so it wasn't possible to just go up to the driver and politely tell him to turn off his foul-smelling engine. The driver had left his engine on while going shopping.

Now, I don't own a car so I don't really know what goes on in the brains of drivers. But this made me really angry, for a number of reasons. Such as, my health - having to breathe the foul air from his (her?) car while standing directly behind it. Such as, wasting fuel. Such as, the health of our planet - ever heard of climate change?

There is a term, climate angst, which appeared a few years ago in New Zealand and Australia, using the German term for "worry" or "concern" which is also more existential, about serious issues related to life itself. What we are doing here on Earth matters, and we ought to know better. Coming generations and grandchildren will most certainly curse us for a) leaving behind huge amounts of horrifically dangerous spent nuclear fuel and b) having also managed to f*ck up the climate for them, AT THE SAME TIME. And I never shout. I never (almost) get angry. I try not to swear. But red sports cars that are left with the engine on full blast make me very upset.

I can't find the link, but apparently a WWF Sweden study has recently shown that some 80% of Swedish kids suffer from "climate angst" and worry about the future. Push Sweden is a new initiative this spring to get youth to do more for their future.

New Scientist: International climate angst is growing
SvD: Klimatångest nytt fenomen i psykiatri

And do check out Plan:

Plan is an international child rights organisation that enables millions of children around the world to have an active role in their own development. We fund our work through a multitude of sources: primarily by individual sponsors, grants from statutory funding bodies, corporate partnerships and individual donors.

Japan Center for Climate Change Actions (J) has made efforts to reach out to children in Japan and talk about climate change... Try reading the picture book with Midori-chan...

Top image: Berglins, a Swedish comic strip that I like, translation mine, do share if you feel so inclined.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Moriyama Naotaru - Sakura

It is that time of the year. I usually try to resist it, what will all that pale pink, but here in my local parts of the wood, in my hood, with all that is going on, it is just more lovely than ever. We just went from plums to cherries in a snap.

And here is a tune for all of you who like spring (thanks Tom for finding, and reminding).








Bokura wa kitto matteru Temos esperança
Kimi to mata aeru hibi wo De ver você novamente
Sakuranamiki no michi no ue de Na alamedadeCerejeiras
Te wo furi sakebuyo Gritamos, abanando a mão
Donnani kurushii toki mo Você está sempre sorridente
Kimi wa waratteirukara Mesmo nos dias mais difíceis
Kujikesooni narikakatemo Por isso, senti firmeza da sua coragem
Ganbareru kigashitayo Capaz de superar desenganos

Kasumiyuku keshiki no naka ni Dentro da paisagem enevoada
Ano hi no uta ga kikoeru Ouço a canção daquele dia

Sakura sakura ima sakihokoru As cerejeiras florescem agora
Setsuna ni chiriyuku sadame to titte Cientes da sua vida efêmera
Saraba tomo yo tabidachi no toki Adeus amigo, é a hora da despedida
Kawaranai sono omoi wo ima Será eterno o sentimento deste momento

Imanara ierudarooka itsuwari no nai kotoba Se fosse agora, conseguiria dar
Kagayakeru kimi no mirai wo negau Palavras sinceras e verdadeiras
Hontoo no kotoba Para desejar futuro brilhante para você?

Utsuriyuku machi wa marude Cidade em transição
Bokura wo sekasuyooni Parece nos afobar

Sakura sakura tada maiochiru As cerejeiras simplesmente caem
Itsuka umarekawaru toki o shinji Confiantes no momento de renascer um dia
Nakuna tomo yo ima sekibetsu no toki Não chore amigo
Kazaranai ano egao de saa Vá com aquele sorriso singelo

Sakura sakura iza maiagare Levantem-se flores de cerejeira
Towani sanzameku hikari o abite Tomando o sol que as ilumina para sempre
Saraba tomo yo mata kono basho de aoo Adeus, amigo, nos veremos aqui nesta ladeira
Sakura maichiru michi no Sobre a qual posam flores de cerejeira
Sakura maichiru michi no ue de

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogging About TPP, Straw Man Arguments, And More

If you like writing that is as good as Spike Japan's, you'll be sad to hear he is once again hanging up his hat. He blames Abenomics and other recent events. However, the good news is that Ken and his wonderful garten blog is back! Which is great, because I learnt a lot from his write-ups, and comments, and I'm suddenly in the middle of a similar project... Pandabonium? Not sure, he and his Momo Wonderdog always come up with the best of the best, but all too un-frequently for my taste, so do check out his vast archives. Other fun blogs are truly sayonara, like Mari's Watashi to Tokyo and her cute rants against hello kitty and all sorts of fun stuff that most of us non-natives might have missed. Glad to see that Ten Thousand Things is more active than ever.

Kurashi in its 8 (!) years of history has nowhere near the amount of readers or fans. Be that as it may. Sort of, we try to keep the flag up against the facebook and twitter crowds. If Kurashi manages to continue to fly under the radar, then so be it.

Thusly, the recent TPP debate ought to be something I should delve deeply into, but I fear it is all to complex and chimera-ish or vague at this point. The negotiations are all kept secret, so whatever we may demand, from a public point of view, is secondary. Not very democratic, thus hard to blog intelligently about. Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) of course is absolutely against. For work, I get paid to help Consumers Union of Japan explain its point of view, and we did point out that Prime Minister Abe has just managed to contradict the election pledge of the LDP in December, 2012, by announcing that he now thinks Japan ought to try and jump (belatedly) into the fray:

Prime Minister Abe has then gone on to talk about formally announcing participation in TPP negotiations during speeches in the Upper and Lower House Parliament sessions on February 28, 2013.

This is in sharp contrast to the LDP election promises during last December’s general election, to oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations if abolishing tariffs without restriction becomes a precondition. Five conditions were included in LDP’s election manifesto, including protecting the country’s health insurance system, which covers all citizens, and food safety standards, as well as not accepting numerical targets for imports of cars and other manufactured products. LDP also promised it would not liberalize financial services or rules regarding public procurement. The TPP also stipulates a new type of dispute resolution system, known as Investor-state Dispute System (ISD) that will allow foreign corporations or financial investors to sue governments in other countries. The comment by the Prime Minister only five days after his meeting with the US President can only be construed as an absurd violation of LDP’s election promises in key areas.

We regard it as unacceptable that such infringements of the rights of people can be proposed, that will infringe on our lives and all aspects of society. This is related to governance and Japan’s national structure, its politics, and issues related to important national policy-making.

And do note that it is not just farmers in Japan that are angry. Shufuren, Parc, Seikatsu Club, Pal System Coop, Dai-ichi Mamoru Kai, Shin Nihon Fujin Kai, have joined CUJ in protesting against the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). That is unusual, to say the least. Not just farmers' organizations but also all of the main consumer organizations are against TPP.

If I may just add, Shisaku is one blog I really like, and I like that he is still going strong. And I like that he just pointed out that farmers in Japan have a lot of traditions and culture to protect:

- Commentators about Japan's entering into Trans Pacific Partnership discussions not talking about the recalcitrance of Japanese farmers and starting to talk about the recalcitrance of U.S. light truck manufacturer executives and workers. At least Japanese farmers have the traditional rural environment and culture fig leaves to hide behind.

Here at Kurashi we think we owe a lot to Japanese farmers, for the wonderful food we can enjoy on these shores. Even a small izakaya will serve you a meal with freshly harvested veggies, local rice and miso soup from Hokkaido soybeans. My 2009 book was all about that heritage, and the safety of it all, and the importance of food self-sufficiency, if you don't prefer more imported corn syrup in your diet. Remind me how many Michelin star restaurants we can count here in Japan...? If I can add one thing to Dr. Cucek's points, it is this:

- Stop calling Japanese farmers "inefficient" (from a global trade perspective) as they are amazingly diverse and in touch with the local crops that grow in each season, and having a great sense of biological diversity, compared to North American or Australian farmers, with their vast farm areas, that require pesticide applications by airplanes ("crop dusting") or genetically modified crops (patented by Monsanto, mostly).

Finally, I was encouraged by the post over at East Asia Forum, where the normally Japan-critical trade expert, Aurelia George Mulgan, asks, Will Prime Minister Abe’s TPP strategy be successful?

She cleverly picks Abe's plan apart, noting that he set up a straw man argument:

Abe’s two-stage political strategy for achieving Japan’s entry into the TPP negotiations has now been revealed. First, he wanted the recent summit with President Obama to deliver some kind of statement that exceptions to tariff abolition were possible, which would enable him to honour the election pledge of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on the TPP whilst at the same time opening the door to Japan’s participation. Second, he wanted to use the summit’s achievement as leverage to persuade the members of his own party to accept participation and have the ruling party entrust him to make the decision to join the talks.
Abe appeared to overcome the first hurdle in his meeting with Obama. The wording of their joint statement read: ‘The two Governments confirm that should Japan participate in the TPP negotiations, all goods would be subject to negotiation’ and that ‘as the final outcome will be determined during the negotiations, it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations’.
A superficial reading of this statement would suggest that Japan could enter the TPP negotiations without violating the LDP’s election pledge. However, there never was a requirement for participants in the TPP talks to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs. The statement set up a straw man, misrepresenting the TPP in order to eliminate a domestic political obstacle facing Abe.

Then of course we have all the usual main stream news in the local media:

The Governor of Hokkaido has urged the government to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks if the trade pact is likely to negatively affect farming, forestry and fisheries. These are the northernmost prefecture's main industries.
Governor Harumi Takahashi along with Hokkaido assembly members and farm organization representatives made the appeal to agriculture, forestry and fisheries industry minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday.

Takahashi said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement last week that Japan's is joining the talks is extremely regrettable. She said the negative impacts of the pact would be concentrated on Hokkaido and other rural regions. Hayashi responded that the government will do all it can to protect the nation's interests, maintaining withdrawal as an option.

Meanwhile, a group of farm and fisheries organizations in Iwate, northern Japan, have called on the prefectural governor to urge the government to retract its decision on the TPP talks. Governor Takuya Tasso said the prefecture also considers it regrettable that the government announced the decision despite the prefecture's calls for caution and the full disclosure of information.

Jiji Press/ Yomiuri: LDP panel seeks TPP exceptions for 5 items

A Liberal Democratic Party panel has adopted a resolution asking the government to ensure that rice and four other items will be treated as exceptions to the basic principle of tariff elimination under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. The resolution, adopted Wednesday at a plenary meeting of the ruling party panel on issues related to the TPP, effectively marks the LDP's approval of the nation's participation in the ongoing U.S.-led multilateral talks. But it also said the government should consider quitting the talks if it decides the proposed exceptions to the tariff elimination rule are unlikely to be secured. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely hold a news conference Friday to announce the country's participation in TPP talks. In a document attached to the resolution, the LDP panel said the five items for which tariffs should be maintained are rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products, and plants for making sweeteners. The resolution said the government must make clear the degree to which people's lives will be affected if the country participates in the TPP, and present to the public a clear policy on how to protect the nation's interests and provide sufficient information. Noting that the public is divided over whether Japan should join the TPP negotiations, the resolution said the prime minister needs to make an important decision on the matter by fully taking various opinions into account.

I also agree with this commentary by James R. Simpson over at The Japan Times: TPP a risky venture for Japan

If tariff levels are set much lower, Japan will have crossed a bridge with no return, and it will be a prisoner to one system. While loss of human, capital and other resources are an integral aspect of “trade prisoner risk,” a very real problem is the potential for disruptions in securing specialized commodities and products such as Japonica rice as well as a host of foods that are not traded internationally or may ultimately be available only from a low-cost neighboring country specializing in it. Not to denigrate China, but what happens if the producing country suddenly becomes bellicose with the other and halts food shipments or shuts off exports due to production problems? The solution for Japan is to strongly support the LDP resolution on national interests and, for very sound economic and social reasons, to strongly back Japan’s multifunctional agriculture based on a system of small and medium-size farms.

Here is what I had to say in an interview with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo:

To TTP or not to TTP
The CUJ and many other NGOs and NPOs are opposed to Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which involves eliminating trade barriers and importing more food produced at lower cost elsewhere. Frid finds these lines of argument dangerous for a country that already imports some 60% of its food and exports only little. “Joining the TPP would mean a collapse of the backbone of the farming industry in Japan.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Misia - Ginkado

Misia and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) collaborated making this amazing music video.

Star Party (E)  

Here is a door to the universe.
Star Party for the public is held at the Mitaka Campus of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, on Friday before the 2nd Saturday and the 4th Saturday in every month. 

(Please check the Star Party Calendar).

Even city lights have taken dark nights away, the universe is still above us. Now it's time to explore the vast universe.

A telescope enables us to observe a fine pattern and faint stars thanks to its large aperture. As you know, main roles of telescopes are to collect light and to magnify distant objects.
As for concentration of light, larger mirrors or lenses telescope have, more light they can collect. A human pupils has a diameter of about 7mm, while our telescope has a main mirror 50 cm in diameter. The power of collecting light for our telescope is about 5000 times larger than your eyes.
As for magnification, the lowest and the highest are determined by the aperture. It is not reasonable to raise the power recklessly. The maximum magnification equals to the numerical value of the aperture at the unit of the millimeter as a rough guide. The minimum magnification equales the aperture (mm) divided by 7 mm (the diameter of the human pupils). Thus, in case of the 50 cm aperture, the maximum magnification is 500 times, and the minimum magnification becomes 71 times.

I like how the NAOJ Mitaka campus east of Tokyo is open to the public. Their website will need a little help, but hey, nobody is perfect. These guys and gals are too buy watching the sky to pay attention to stuff like websites. Don't we all know that feeling.

Daily Open

Opening Hours

10:00 - 17:00 (last admission 16:30)

Open Facilities

  • The First Dome and Solar 8-inch Refractor (*)
  • Solar Tower Telescope (Einstein Tower) (*)
  • 65-cm refractor (Observatory History Museum) (*)
  • Old library
  • Repsold Transit Instrument and Its Housing
  • Gautier Meridian Circle
  • Photoelectric Meridian Circle
  • Exhibition Room (models of Subaru telescope, the 45meter Radio Telescope in Nobeyama, ALMA , TAMA300 and other displays)
The facilities marked (*) are designated as tangible cultural properties.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Comet

Nice video animation by the good people over at NAOJ (E) of the path of the comet that we will possibly be able to see, in the western sky, just after sunset. I think this is using Mitaka, a cool space visualization program that was developed by Kato Tsunehiko. Stars within 3000 light years with distance measurements from the Hipparcos satellite are in the database...

Great photo courtesy Luis Argerich in Argentina.

Tricky to catch since it is so close to the horizon. Earthsky provides this helpful image.

And did you know that you should be able to see at least five planets this month?

You’ll have absolutely no trouble spotting the dazzling planet Jupiter this month, which pops out high into the sky at evening dusk. The king planet ranks as the fourth-brightest celestial body to light up the heavens, after sun, moon and the planet Venus. However, Venus will be obscured in the glare of sun all this month. Look for the moon to pass close to Jupiter on March 16, 17 and 18.

This particular comet is called Pan-STARRS, because the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System was the first to detect it.

Air Quality Warning, Japan

If you have allergies, the SPRINTARS page may help you to prepare for your daily tasks.

Red alert means severe warning
Orange means pretty bad
Green means yaya, a little bad
Blue means OK...

Sunday was severe in many places, including Tohoku and Kyushu. But Monday should be OK.

SPRINTARS Forecast (J) The aerosol forecast is based on the simulation with a global aerosol climate model, SPRINTARS (E). Their movies are rather interesting too, here.

Here is the link to their daily forecasts:

SPRINTARS also do video forecasts of pollutants.

Try this link. Wow, China really gets it bad.

SPRINTARS is based on an atmosphere-ocean general circulation model, MIROC, developed by Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute (Division of Climate System Research), University of Tokyo, National Institute fot Environmental Studies, and Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (Research Institute for Global Change), and treats main tropospheric aerosols both from natural and anthropogenic sources (black carbon, organic matter, sulfate, soil dust, and sea salt). They are also categorized into PM10 and PM2.5. SPRINTARS calculates transport processes of aerosols (emission, advection, diffusion, wet deposition, dry deposition, and gravitational settling). The aerosol direct effect, which is scattering and absorption of solar and thermal radiation by aerosols, and the indirect effect, which is act of aerosols as cloud condensation nuclei and ice nuclei, are included in the calculation. 

Saturday, March 09, 2013

A Weekend Of Demonstrations In Tokyo

March 9, 2013 (Saturday): Bonding with Fukushima: Sayonara Nuclear - Event starts at 11:00 in Meiji Koen, Tokyo. Opening Live from 12:00. Speeches from 12:25, then at 15:00 the parade (demonstration walk) starts with two routes, one for NGOs and one for Labour Unions.

If you want to avoid the speeches, try to get there by 15:00 but it may be very crowded.  

3月9日 つながろうふくしま!

March 10, 2013 (Sunday): Two Years after the Nuclear Accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi - Event starts at 13:00 in Hibiya Koen, Tokyo. Parade (demonstration walk) starts from 14:00. Event from 17:00 outside the Parliament Bldg.

March 11, 2013 (Monday): Bonding with Fukushima: Sayonara Nuclear - Event at Shinagawa Culture Foundation (Oimachi Station, Rinkai Line). Lecture and music from 18:30.

More details and maps over at (J)

Appeal for March 9 in English here.

Much more in English from Kai Sawyer's excellent Living Permaculture blog:

I'll be speaking at the Talk Tent with a few other people working on cool sustainability projects from 12:30.

3/10 Major demonstration against nuclear power (FREE, of course)

This year will mark the 2nd anniversary of 3/11 disasters. Much has happened since and politics-society is changing rapidly. Demonstrations have happened every week in Tokyo and will continue indefinitely. An occupation of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Economy continues (just a little corner with cute little tents with friendly ojisans and women from Fukushima). Anyways, if you have never been to a Japanese demonstration (or any demonstration) come join and have a cultural experience. They are extremely safe (this is Japan) with music (professional bands, drumming groups) and there is also a family friendly march too. It's a bit like a parade.

Hibiya Park Outdoor Music Area (Hibiya Koen Yagai Ongakudou)

13:00 gather 14:00 start the march

Home Page:

3/10-3/11 Peace on Earth Hibiya Park music festival (FREE)
There will be a free festival also at the same park! Famous bands like world-renowed Sakamoto Ryuichi and Asian Kung Fu Generation (ajikan) will be there. Musicians will be performing on a solar powered stage. There is also a plan to bring children from affected areas of Fukushima and hear their stories. I'll be talking at a smaller stage too:) with other community organizers and organic farm/localization change-makers. This might be one of the biggest free festivals in Tokyo. It will also be ustreamed.

Hibiya Park (you can't miss it), rain or shine (although if it rains they'll have to use a non-solar energy source)
12:00 - 19:00

3/15 Wake Up! A day of mindfulness
This is a monthly meditation group I host in Harajuku. Its a day to relax, slow down, learn/practice meditation, and meet other young people who want to create a healthy and compassionate society. I highly recommend it as its a good way to meet other people from Tokyo area, and meditation might help you stay calm and grounded through the year. Life can be stressful sometimes, but peace is always in you.

Time: 10:00 - 17:00
Place: Cafe Vayu (Omotesando/Harajuku, Tokyo)
Max: 15 people
Cost: 1500 yen (delicious lunch included from the cafe)

To register, contact: sekiguchi.shiori(at) 

There are lots of local events too around the country. May I just mention that here in my furusato, there will be a great event over at Chuo Koen on Sunday. If you feel like getting out of Tokyo, get on the Seibu Ikebukuru line, head to Hanno, and enjoy some fresh air, Tenransan mountain and rivers. Also on Saturday, UN Women's Day, Yasuda Setsuko (J) will visit to talk about food safety and radiation, over at the Hanno Civic Hall, together with Philippine women living in Saitama. We are blessed with many talented people here in my parts of the wood.

Friday, March 08, 2013

No Nukes 2013 Events In Tokyo This Weekend

Monday next week of course a very solemn date for all of us here in Japan, as it marks two years since the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Tohoku, northeast of Tokyo. Polls in the news this week indicate that a lot of people are still suffering and in doubt how to carry on.

The Tohoku region, and Fukushima prefecture, has such a long history. It is not easy to abandon one's roots and one's hometown. However, many people in this part of Japan were migrants in earlier eras, going to the US and Hawaii. Fukushima also has that special kind of vibe, with people from Manchuria returning after WW2, to battle against the forces of nature again. No wonder there are a lot of people in Tokyo who want to support and help any effort from Tohoku, like the Nippori March events.

You a;so get the inspiration from ladies like the Hula Girls movie, based on a true story.

Plus the fierce fishermen and everyone involved in the trade along the coast. I was particularly struck by the train lines, when I visited Tohoku, such narrow gauge lines, through old tunnels and on overpasses that were clearly not strong enough. That broken coastal line that I saw two years ago in Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture was beyond repair, but you cannot say that to the people who used it day-to-day.

Day by day, roads and train lines have been brought back to service in this part of Japan.

Media here has noted it but I'm not sure how much of that caught the attention abroad.

Here is a FNN local clip about a train service that is finally coming back in service after two years.

It wasn't just the massive tsunami, though. It was the Fukushima nuclear power plant, that still is not really under control, is it. As I type, I note that I don't have my usual genki Kurashi verbs and adjectives ready. Seems this is something that will be with us for 30 or 40 years. Or more. Kyoto Journal once had an article that suggested that the Fukui prefecture Zen temples may have the kind of lesson to help us through the nuclear age. Most people seem to just ignore such state of affairs.

I do wonder about this weekend. Big demonstrations and parades planned again. A year ago, some 40,000 or 60,000 or 100,000 people gathered in Tokyo to protest against nuclear power and everything that was wrong with the world. Nice photos of that event here and here and here.

Meanwhile, we have also had to deal with North Korea testing its nukes.

American expats who are bloggers in South Korea are more concerned:

UPDATE: A North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson just warned that North Korea would exercise its right to launch nuclear preemptive strikes on the “invaders strongholds.” as long as the United States is pushing to ignite a nuclear war against the North. Or something to that effect.
ORIGINAL POST: OK, North Korea’s Rodong Shinmun is warning it can turn not only Seoul, but also Washington DC into seas of fire.

- North Korea’s throwing its poo around again, this time threatening to nullify the Armistice Agreement. OK, now I’ve heard North Korea threaten to void the Armistice so many times I can’t really take it seriously, but I did find the “diversified precision nuclear strike means of Korean style” bit mildly amusing:

North Korea has also vowed to take unspecified retaliatory steps if the Security Council imposed more sanctions against the country for its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, and its latest warning amplified on such threats.
“Now that the U.S. imperialists seek to attack the DPRK with nuclear weapons, it will counter them with diversified precision nuclear strike means of Korean style,” the North Korean statement said, using the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The army and people of the DPRK have everything including lighter and smaller nukes unlike what they had in the past.”

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ancient Navigation, Viking Style

We know precious little about how our ancestors travelled. We do know that the Vikings used some kind of "Sunstone" to sail, and recent discoveries seem to confirm that they may have used a kind of crystal found in Iceland and other places in Scandinavia, called spar or Iceland spar or silfurberg. Fältspar is a common Swedish word, so this is not an unusual stone, and not a precious stone as such, but they simply may give a hint at where the sun may be on a cloudy day through polarization.

We know of course that vikings like Leif Eriksson settled on the eastern coast of North America (called Vinland by the Scandinavians) long before that upstart Columbus reached what we now call the "American" continent, but it hasn't been clear how the vikings navigated, except for the few lines in ancient Nordic texts.

Viking legends, including an Icelandic saga ‘Rauðúlfs þáttr’ with  the hero Sigurður , hint that these sailors had another navigational aid at their disposal: a sólarsteinn, or sunstone.
The saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurður on the location of the Sun.  To check Sigurður‘s answer, Olaf  “made them fetch the solar stone and held it up and saw where light radiated from the stone and thus directly verified Sigurður’ s prediction”.  In 1967, Thorkild Ramskou, a Danish archaeologist, suggested that this stone could have been a polarizing crystal such as Icelandic spar, a transparent form of calcite, which is common in Scandinavia.

Now it seems just such a crystal may have been found near an English shipwreck. The English vessel sank in 1592, some four years after the Spanish Armada, near Alderney.

The Independent: Not just the stuff of legend: Famed Viking 'sunstone' did exist, believe scientists

Researchers who have spent three years poring over a cloudy crystal discovered in the wreck of an  Elizabethan ship sunk off the Channel Islands believe they have proved that it could be the substance described by the Norsemen as helping to locate the sun when obscured by cloud. The so-called sunstone has long been the subject of scientific intrigue after it was described in one Icelandic saga as a magical gem which, when held up to sky, would reveal the position of the sun even before dawn or after sunset.

Such a navigational aid could be one of the secrets behind the Vikings’ reputation as remarkable seafarers whose prowess at heading into unexplored water means they may have beaten Christopher Columbus as the first European visitors to America by hundreds of years.

So, why not? There would have to have been someone on a Viking ship who knew about navigation. Using the sun and stars, well what do you do when it is cloudy and rainy and storms are all around you? If a simple device like a crystal can do the trick, then I'm pretty sure they used it. Plus, they probably kept it secret, just like today with all our convoluted patent laws and intellectual property right protection issues and WTO and TRIPS and TPP debates --- but I'm digressing. Isn't it wonderful to imagine that on each viking ship, a very smart guy with a precious crystal was on board, to make sure everyone got from A to B to C?

If you ever get the chance, do visit the amazing Oslo museum, with the 24 meter long Gokstad longship. I had the pleasure of going on a junior high school trip (I always had great teachers!) to this place, and it is really something, especially if you like sailing.

However, what does seem to be pure fiction, is the work by English author Gavin Menzies, who wrote the curious book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World. There seems to be an unusual agreement among all historians and others that this book is complete nonsense. See for example 1421 Exposed and here and here.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Japan Leading The Way Away From Nuclear?

Strange to observe what is happening in the world. Italy has no nuclear reactors, having abandoned the idea from the start. Germany quickly responded to the call of the general public in the spring of 2011, and decided to stop investing in new nuclear plants, thus basically and fundamentally changing its energy future. Japan - after the Fukushima disaster with three meltdowns and massive hydrogen explosions.

Remember at Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, US, they thought it might happen, but it didn't... Imagine if it had? Well, Japan went through three such explosions, all shown live here on television, back in March 2011, just two years ago.

Then, in 2012, for two months, all of Japan's 50 or so remaining nuclear reactors went offline. Then, the Oi reactors north of Osaka were restarted, and there were amazing demonstrations and protests, unlike anything you had ever seen in this country.

Now, it turns out that possibly no reactors will be restarted in Japan during 2013, according to a survey by Kyodo and reliable sources.

None of Japan's nuclear power plants that have been idled since the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami are likely to restart operations within the year as safety checks under new standards are not expected to be completed, a Kyodo news agency survey of utilities showed Sunday.

In addition to that news, note that the Oi reactors will be shut down later in 2013 for regular maintenance. New, more strict safety rules will also enter into force in 2013. The Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime, Shikoku, and two reactors in Kyushu could be restarted "in July if inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority are completed swiftly." Not likely to happen. That means, Japan will be joining Germany and Italy (and others) in leading the way away from nuclear power, with zero reactors online.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is having trouble deciding what to do with its nuclear waste. The small island has/had a dodgy deal with North Korea (of all places) for disposal of its dangerous waste. Back in 1997, Taiwan thought it could pay Pyongyang to get rid of some of its waste, according to New York Times.

NYT: North Korea Agrees to Take Taiwan Atom Waste for Cash

Bad idea. On March 4, 2013, some 16 years later, North Korea is suddenly suing Taiwan for breach of contract. LOL. Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper that I have no reason not to quote, has more details:

Chosun Ilbo: N.Korea Sues Taiwan Over Nuclear Waste Disposal Deal

North Korea has belatedly sued a Taiwanese power company for US$10.1 million for an unfulfilled contract signed 16 years ago to dump nuclear waste in the North, the Taipei Times reported on Sunday.

The daily said North Korea signed a contract with state-owned Taiwan Power Co. in January 1997 to dispose of 60,000 barrels of low-level radioactive waste from the company in an abandoned coal mine in Pyongsan, North Hwanghae Province. But Taipower reneged on the deal under international pressure. North Korea is now suing for the cost of building the disposal site.

Also, the Taiwan government has recently decided to hold a referendum on the yes or no to a new nuclear plant in Gongliao, which terrific expat blogger Michael Turton calls "the dumbest public infrastructure project in Taiwan history."

It even made the international news (AP). After noting that the government had agreed to the referendum, the Taipei Times reported:
According to the plan, a referendum on halting construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant will be initiated by the KMT caucus tabling a motion next month in the legislature, KMT caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said.

Lai said the plebiscite could be held in August as the Referendum Act (公民投票法) stipulates that a referendum must be held no sooner than one month and no later than six months after its proposal.

If the completion of the plant failed to win approval, there was the risk of huge compensation payouts for breach of contract, higher electricity costs, power shortages and even an adverse effect on economic growth, Jiang said.
Hahaha. The KMT government is already hard into fear mongering, the same tired nonsense. The government claimed twenty years ago that power shortages and economic growth effects would occur if the plant were not built, and it has never varied from that line. Obviously these things never  happened. It was lies at the beginning, and it is still lies. There are plenty of other ways Taiwan can generate power. Not to mention reduce demand through improved conservation...

Frozen Garlic has a long, excellent post on many of the issues. First, I think many of us are as shocked as he is that the KMT would submit a major project to the overall review of the public when it knows that in any fair referendum the Party position in favor of nuclear power will be defeated. In these two paragraphs he strikes to the heart of the matter:
Why is the KMT so politically committed to nuclear power? Most importantly, they have committed enormous piles of money to this project over the past two decades. They cannot simply walk away with nothing to show for it. The DPP would beat over the head relentlessly for years and years. How many schools, hospitals, roads, public housing, MRT lines, or flower festivals were sacrificed for 4NPP?

South Korea, too, has had a range of issues with its old reactors. There is a strong anti-nuclear movement in South Korea. As far as I can ascertain, the South Koreans also do not know/have no plan/are lying to the public/about what to do about nuclear waste from South Korean nuclear reactors. “We want a nuclear-free peaceful world” say South Korea’s women.

We South Korean women call these participants to give us hope by supporting our stance toward a nuclear-free world.
1. Nuclear security must start with the elimination of nuclear weapons.
At the 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit, leaders focused on the security of nuclear materials, but did not discuss the reduction or elimination of nuclear weapons or reactors, which should be the core issues of any nuclear talks. Consequently, participating 5 nuclear-weapon states (NWS) were criticized for imposing non-proliferation and nuclear security regulations on non-NWS, while NWS themselves did not carry out their responsibility of eliminating nuclear weapons. Although non-NPT nuclear weapon states (Israel, India and Pakistan) participated in the 2010 Summit, Iran (a member of the NPT) and North Korea (seceded from the NPT) were not invited. The world witnessed the double standards of the international community during the 2010 Summit, where discrimination was seen between NWS and non-NWS and even within the nuclear weapon countries.

We South Korean women call all nuclear weapon countries including the US, Russia, the UK, China, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to eliminate their nuclear weapons and to show consistency in principle and position on these weapons at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit. We believe this is the only way that nuclear security is possible.

2. Nuclear power generators must be phased out and their export must be suspended.
The South Korean government has announced that the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit will promote nuclear energy safety and its peaceful use, and that the Nuclear Industry Summit, preceding the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, will provide a place to formulate measures for safe use of nuclear power. However, we believe that the government sees the Summit as an opportunity to establish nuclear power as the next generation’s power source, despite the risks demonstrated by the Fukushima disaster.

The Summit steering committee must understand that many countries around the world are reconsidering their nuclear power generation policy after the Fukushima disaster. The Summit participants must accept the collapse of the nuclear safety myth, agree the policy to abolish nuclear reactors, suspend nuclear reactor exports and eliminate plans for new reactor construction.

3. To build a nuclear-free world, governments must cooperate with the women and civil society.
A nuclear-free world is possible only when governments around the world walk in step with their citizens, including women. The South Korean government has announced that it will consult its people in preparation for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit. So far, however, the government has cooperated only with those from industry, academia and social organizations which support nuclear energy. The South Korean government must listen to the voices of all those in society who are interested in a nuclear-free world. We call the government to build a mechanism for cooperation with the women and civil society on peace-related issues, including nuclear issues, as called for by the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Furthermore, in preparation for the Summit, we call the international community to take a more thoughtful approach to North Korean nuclear issues, which stem from the Cold War regime still prevailing in Northeast Asia. Resolution of these issues is closely tied to the establishment of a peaceful regime on the Korean Peninsula and the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations. It is impossible to realize peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia without solving North Korean nuclear issues.
Proactive negotiations by the six-party nations, including the U.S., are needed to solve these issues. We Korean women believe that it is crucial to hold the six-party talks as soon as possible.

In order to achieve peaceful coexistence of all living things, we must stop producing nuclear materials and begin using renewable energy. By doing so, we can realize a nuclear-free world and resolve the contradiction of the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, which claims to seek solutions to nuclear terror even as nuclear materials continue to be produced. We Korean women, in solidarity with women around the world, call for new forms of cooperation with governments in order to realize a nuclear-free world in the near future.
This formal statement was released officially by twenty-two women’s organizations in South Korea on January 13, 2012.

Authors of this release include the Organizing Committee of the Northeast Asian Women’s Peace Conference, Korean Women’s Association United, Women Making Peace, The Women’s Committee of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, Kyunggi Women’s Association United, Korea Church Women United, Korea Differently Abled Women United, Jeju Association for Women’s Rights, Daegu Women’s Association, Daegu Kyungbuk’s Women’s Association United, Korea Women Migrants’ Human Rights Center, Pohang Women’s Association, Korea Women Workers Association, Daejeon Women’s Association for Peace, Korea Women’s Political Solidarity, Korean Association of Women Theologians, Gwanggju Jonnam Women’s Association United, Korean Association of Christian Women for Women Minjung, Jeju Women’s Association, Korea Women’s Studies Institute, Cheonan Women’s Association, Korean Womenlink (a total 22 women’s organizations in South Korea).
©2012 WNN – Women News Network

As of September 2012, Japanese people support the zero option on nuclear power, and the Japanese government announced a dramatic change of direction promising to make Japan nuclear-free by the 2030s. There will be no new construction of nuclear power plants, a 40-year lifetime limit on existing nuclear plants, and any further nuclear plant restarts will need to meet tough safety standards of the new independent regulatory authority, Nuclear Regulation Authority. The new approach to meeting energy needs will also involve investing $500 billion over 20 years to commercialize the use of renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power.

This is also relevant (note that anti-nuclear protests started in Japan already in the early 1950s):

A protest march from AldermastonHiroshima survivors from Japan participated in the very first protests in Europe, at Aldermaston March in 1958. BBC has more: 

Since 1958, when 10,000 people marched from London to Aldermaston in protest at Britain's first hydrogen bomb tests, AWE Aldermaston has been the site of campaigns against nuclear weapons.

Nearby, RAF Station Greenham Common was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army until the Cold War ended and it closed in 1993.

In 1962 Hiroshima survivors led an anti-nuclear march from Aldermaston
In protest at the Cruise missiles stored there, the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was formed in 1981.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


If you are interested in organic farming, and would like to visit Japan, do try WWOOF. You may need to be prepared for all kinds of things.


Do take the chance to do something completely different with your life. It could be difficult, it could be wonderful. You will be going to rural Japan, not to the big cities of bright lights and endless temptations. You will sleep on tatami mats in futons, wake up at dawn, breakfast is rice and miso soup.  

An exchange between friends; Hosts and WWOOFers.

"Friends just like family"

When visiting hosts, you are neither a guest nor a worker, but a part of the host's place - like friends and family members are. Based on the rhythms you see at the host's place you'll be thinking about what you can do to help-out, and what you can learn and experience in doing so. The host will give the same back to you. Living chores are often a part of the day: ie., preparing meals and cleaning up.  Open your heart.  Listen to your friends' instructions.  If misunderstanding occurs, tell the host of your needs directly but sincerely.

Leah Wood made this:

Hosts give WWOOFers accommodation and all meals in return for the WWOOFer assisting the Host. Hosts also give WWOOFers various knowledge and skills as result living and helping them, Japanese culture & Japanese language, introduction to the beauty of the local area, and other resources most of which are outlined in the Hosts' Preview. There is no payment of money between Host and WWOOFer. WWOOFers need to pay just the yearly WWOOF membership fee, 5,500 yen. WWOOFing starts from sending an online application form.

Here are some testimonials, from the WWOF website.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Hat-trick For Shinji Kagawa

Congratulations to Shinji Kagawa, 23, who scored a hat-trick for Manchester United!

"I think I'll get a lot of attention because I scored a hat-trick but the fans in Japan are looking toward the Real Madrid game and that's where I'm setting my sights," Kagawa said, after netting in the 46th, 76th and 87th minutes before a turnout of 75,586 at Old Trafford.
"It'll be a terrific atmosphere here. I'll put the team first as always and prepare as well as I can for the match."

Kagawa scored three goals ("hat trick" in football parlance) in United's 4-0 home win over Norwich City. Kagawa is the first Japanese to score a hat trick on English soil since Junichi Inamoto, who fired Fulham into their first UEFA Cup in 2002 with a triple at Craven Cottage, according to The Mainichi...

Terrific photo, what a joy for the fans: AP Photo/Jon Super/The Mainichi

Update: 428 comments so far on The Guardian: Manchester United stretch lead as Shinji Kagawa treble sinks Norwich

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Myth Of Tamiflu: Why Is This Drug Still Marketed To Children?

A long, long time ago, I wrote about Tamiflu on this blog, here and here. There were serious issues with this drug, as Japanese parents lobbied to stop it from being prescribed to children. There were several cases of suicides and other mental problems in teenagers who had taken Tamiflu.

It was big news here in 2007, and got the attention even of NHK World:

...on March 20, NHK World reports that Tamiflu side-effects prompt NPO reaction:

Families of people who died from abnormal behavior have asked the government to ban the sale of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Five groups made the request to the health ministry on Monday. The groups include non-profit organizations studying the harmful effects of drugs, and a group of families whose relatives died after taking Tamiflu. They asked the government to stop the sale of Tamiflu, and to issue a stronger warning on the side effects of the drug.

They also asked the government to remove a professor from a research panel on the drug's side effects. The professor had accepted 10 million yen, or about 85,000 US dollars, in donations from a pharmaceutical firm that sells Tamiflu. They claim the professor did not tell the truth in his report, which said that there is no causal link between the abnormal behavior and the drug.

The ministry is advising people not to leave influenza patients alone for at least 2 days, whether or not the patient has taken Tamiflu. But the 5 organizations say the government's actions are insufficient, and that stricter measures are necessary to prevent future cases.

Now, as I had the opportunity to revisit my notes, I found that in England and the US, serious doubts have been raised about this drug - does it even work? Forbes calls it the "Myth of Tamiflu: 5 Things You Should know." And just a year ago, the UK regulatory agency, NHS, noted, "Doubts cast over whether anti-flu drug Tamiflu works."

“Tamiflu maker accused of secrecy over trial data,” reported The Independent today, while The Daily Telegraph said that scientists have challenged Roche, the manufacturer of the antiviral, to “prove Tamiflu works”. While these are disturbing headlines, they do not necessarily mean that the drug is ineffective or even harmful, as some newspapers seem to imply.
These headlines have come about following the publication of a systematic review into the effectiveness of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) in preventing and treating flu in adults and children. These drugs are from a group called neuraminidase inhibitors (NIs), which are thought to help reduce symptoms of flu. However, the evidence behind their effectiveness is a source of continued debate.
This story is particularly important because the UK government has spent millions of pounds stockpiling Tamiflu to protect against the threat of a potential flu pandemic, as have many other countries.
The review of Relenza was postponed due to new information about how the drug affected individual patients being made available by the manufacturer (GlaxoSmithKline). The results of this are eagerly awaited. The review on Tamiflu was incomplete because of difficulties obtaining sufficiently detailed information from the manufacturer (Roche).

What happened a year ago should have sent alarm bells ringing. The study was carried out by researchers from The Cochrane Collaboration and was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Health Research UK. So, why are medical doctors and hospitals in Japan still prescribing a drug that may not work, and may have serious side effects, especially for children and young adults?

One clue may be the person who was a board member and then chairman of Gilead, the California-based biotech company that discovered that star anise, a natural compound from China, may have antiviral effects (or not). Donald Rumsfeld was in charge until he was appointed Defense Secretary by President Bush, in January 2001. He had previous experience at GD Searle, another controversial US drug company, that was bought up by Monsanto...

In November 2005, George W. Bush urged Congress to pass $7.1 billion in emergency funding to prepare for the possible bird flu pandemic, of which $1 billion is solely dedicated to the purchase, and distribution of Tamiflu. No doubt Mr. Rumsfeld made a lot of money as share prices in Gilead went up and up...

Gilead has the patents that matter.

Plus, if you wonder why the US government is trying to get other countries to do the same, in addition to push drug patents to abide by US standards, then you have the answer. Do I need to mention TPP? We don't even have the right to know what is being negotiated, it is all kept secret. The very people who run the US government are involved in a rather-not-so-subtle racket.

More links:

Links to the science:

Jefferson T, Jones MA, Doshi P et al. Review: Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children (PDF, 1.6Mb). The Cochrane Collaboration. Published online 2012.

Further reading:

Pharma company hid vital data on Tamiflu, scientists claim. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. January 12, 2012
Cohen D. Flu drugs: The search for evidence goes on. BMJ, Published online January 17 2012.