Thursday, August 29, 2013

Library Wars, TPP And Copyright Negotiations

Flying back from Brunei where I attended the TPP negotiations, I caught the film Library Wars about censorship. It seemed somehow more than just a coincidence. A great story based on a popular manga by Hiro Arikawa, the action flick is set a couple of years in the future, when a militant group attacks book shops and libraries based on an obscure censorship law implemented to protect the public from smut. This also deals with copyright issues and freedom of speech.

Instead, the main protagonist, young Iku Kasahara (Nana Eikura) charms viewers with her good intentions, judo moves, and a search for the "prince" that once helped her save an important book that was about to be confiscated. Her friend Asako Shibasaki (Chiaki Kuriyama) is probable a better known actress abroad but the cast all manage to make the story believable and gripping. Short trailer here:

The Hollywood Review didn't like it much, but they also don't seem to get the political undertones. does a much better job explaining the realities on the otaku ground:

Library Wars is a movie that manages the rare feat of being both deep and entertaining. On one hand, it addresses the implications and fallout of government-controlled censorship. On the other, it presents an entertaining movie filled with entertaining action, comedic moments, and deep characters. If you enjoy action movies, romantic comedies, or thought experiments centering around censorship, Library Wars will not disappoint.

Here in Japan, for example, The Japan Playwrights Association, the Japan Theatrical Producers Association and the Japan Theatre Arts Association have jointly issued an appeal, opposing the Japanese government’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, according to Japan Agri News:

The Japan Playwrights Association, the Japan Theatrical Producers Association and the Japan Theatre Arts Association has jointly issued an appeal, opposing the Japanese government’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks.
Referring to the TPP initiative in which the next round of negotiations is scheduled to start in Brunei on Thursday, August 22, the appeal expressed strong concern that controversial issues on intellectual property rights are negotiated without any public debating beforehand in Japan.
It asked the government to hold open debate sessions for the public and parties concerned to discuss the issue of extending copyright protection from 50 years to 70 years. It also demanded that the clause on investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which allows companies to sue foreign governments for losses, be eliminated from the TPP agreement, since it could infringe upon the Japanese people’s interests.
Yoji Sakate, chairman of the Japan Playwrights Association, warned that if copyright protection is extended to 70 years, many scripts will become anonymous and cannot be utilized as theatrical works, thus becoming unused treasures.
The groups urged the government to disclose as soon as possible all the information which indicates both the merits and demerits of joining the TPP talks, and promise to withdraw from the negotiations if they turn out to be detrimental to Japan’s national interests.
Concerning non-tariff barriers, the appeal stressed that domestic laws and policies designed to protect the Japanese people should be given priority. The government should not be given a free hand to go forth with the negotiations without disclosing information or providing chances for public debate, the appeal stated.
They hope to ask other theatrical associations and arts and cultural organizations to support the appeal and stir up public opinion.
The playwrights association, which has actress and stage director Eri Watanabe serving as vice chairman, is comprised of 460 members, and the producers association has 150 members. The Japan Theatre Arts Association, with 340 members, has leading kabuki actor Koshiro Matsumoto and television producer Fukuko Ishii serving as directors.

Meanwhile, in Brunei, the secret free trade negotiations that handle these issues, and more, were running into serious problems as I left. More strict copyright rules, extended time frames for intellectual property protection, criminalizing parallel imports of DVDs and fan-art (including fan dubbing which is done by true aficionados - people who share manga and anime from Japan by doing their own translations and posting online) are all topics on the TPP agenda. Unreasonably strict copyright rules amount to much the same as censorship. It is all related to similar issues raised in Library Wars, so do watch and think.

“Where they burn books,” the German poet Heinrich Heine once wrote, “so too will they in the end burn human beings.”

Consumers in the digital age:

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei


The Civil Society stakeholders for the Brunei round of TPP negotiations are very disappointed that no formal report from the Chief Negotiators was presented, nor the opportunity for stakeholders to ask questions in a forum where all could hear the answers. 
At this round of TPP negotiations the stakeholder session ended with a mingling of negotiators with stakeholders in a stand-up format. While we found the negotiators to be friendly and open to questions, the setting did not enable many stakeholders to ask their questions and the answers given were not available to everyone.
There were a number of questions we would liked to have heard answers to, of these the most pressing are:
  • Will there be another round of negotiations?
  • Will a full timetable be released?
  • We know there are inter-sessional meetings planned for September, what, if any, arrangements are being made for stakeholder engagement at these meetings?
  • Will there be media briefings at the inter-sessional meetings?
The Civil Society represented at the Brunei round consisted of a number of NGOs and community organisations who have very limited resources.  To come to a negotiation round and not be able to question Chief Negotiators is a huge disappointment.
We continue to urge for greater transparency and accountability, and we ask again for the release of a draft negotiating text.


Hadyn Green
Consumer NZ
Yoshiko Matsuda
What is TPP?
Trish Hepworth
Australian Digital Alliance
Patricia Ranald
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network
Yasuaki Yamaura
Consumers Union of Japan
Yasuo Kondo
People's Action Against TPP (Japan)
Krista L. Cox
Knowledge Ecology International

Thursday, August 22, 2013

TPP and Tobacco

Rare insight into how things work.

President Obama was expected to help stem the flow of tobacco into developing countries with the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that’s been in clandestine negotiations for three years now. Last May, the U.S. Trade Representative outlined a tobacco proposal that would have recognized the uniquely harmful status of the substance and created a “safe harbor” for countries to regulate it within their borders. Public health advocates including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) applauded the step, while voicing hope that it might be strengthened even further.
The proposal didn’t get far, however, before facing an intense opposition campaign from companies and tobacco state legislators. They’re backed supported by a U.S. business establishment that doesn’t want to see exceptions created for any products on public health grounds, fearing that junk food could be next.
“Nowhere have they said publicly that they think their initial position was mistaken,” says Robert Stumberg, director of Georgetown University’s Harrison Institute for Public Law, of the U.S. trade negotiators. “What they’ve done instead is refer to the criticisms from industry, which is they are creating a precedent that would lead to a slippery slope… Everybody knows that tobacco is the vanguard for control of non-communicable diseases. If they can defend tobacco, they can defend themselves.”
Finally, on Friday the U.S. Trade Representative briefed Stumberg and a group of about a dozen other academics and nonprofits on a change in policy, reported simultaneously by Inside U.S. Trade, that would add steps for countries to justify restrictions on tobacco sales and get rid of the “safe harbor” against trade-related lawsuits.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids slammed the reversal:
The new USTR proposal does not recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product or provide a safe harbor for nations to regulate in order to reduce tobacco use, as the initial proposal would have done. The new proposal states the obvious – that tobacco control measures involve public health – and then directs public health officials from the countries that are party to the trade agreement to consult each other before launching tobacco-related trade challenges.
The new plan preserves the status quo, which allows tobacco companies to sue countries over their public health measures on the grounds that they violate free trade rules.
But it also strengthens it: The Trans Pacific Partnership will also make those free trade rules a lot stronger, through provisions lowering tariffs to zero and protecting the use of trademarks (which would support a company’s right to advertise). And countries that can’t afford to fight trade lawsuits that can cost many millions of dollars might just not act to protect their citizens in the first place.

From Wonkblog: How a secretive trade deal could help American tobacco companies hook new smokers

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Methane Hydrate: The Energy Bubble Unfolds

Projected distribution of methane hydrate in seas around JapanJust as predicted, main stream media promotes fracking and goes to no extreme in publishing claims about other "future" solutions to energy issues. Now it is "Scientists in Japan and the U.S. say they are moving closer to tapping a new source of energy: methane hydrate, a crystalline form of natural gas found in Arctic permafrost and at the bottom of oceans."

AP/Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal: Scientists Envision Fracking in Arctic and on Ocean Floor

Commercial production of methane hydrate is expected to take at least a decade—if it comes at all. Different technologies to harvest the gas are being tested, but so far no single approach has been perfected, and it remains prohibitively expensive. 

So, what are some of the concerns?

The biggest concern is that the sediment that contains methane hydrate is inherently unstable, meaning a drilling accident could set off a landslide that sends massive amounts of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—bubbling up through the ocean and into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile in Great Britain, police have arrested Dr. Caroline Lucas, a very well known expert on environmental issues, and a former European Parliament MP for the Green Party.

As Dr Lucas, a one-time MEP and former leader of the Green Party, was led away, she said: "I'm proud of the people around me who have put their bodies where the police are. They have tried to use the democratic processes, tried to raise the issue through those democratic panels. "The government isn't listening. Climate change is the greatest threat that we face and I think that people are right to try and take action against fracking." 

Dr Lucas's son was also arrested, according to activists. Others stationed outside the drilling site agreed to leave when police threatened them with arrest.Four members of the campaign group Reclaim the Power who chained themselves to a disabled man's wheelchair were unlocked and left the area. Others were dragged away by officers as protesters tried to cling hold of their legs to keep them in the area. 

Activists blockaded the road leading to the drilling site to prevent traffic moving in and out of the area, according to Ewa Jasiewicz, spokesman for the protest group No Dash for Gas. "There was traffic on Saturday, a lorry did enter the site so even though Cuadrilla say they've stopped drilling, we still need to shut them down properly and make sure they don't do any work today. I think there'll be a renewal of the blockade as the day goes on, " she said.

The Independent: Green MP Caroline Lucas arrested as anti-fracking protests reach fever pitch

As she was led away, Ms Lucas said: “Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come.“People today, myself included, took peaceful, non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us.”

Here in Japan, The Asahi presumes, based on (I suppose) PR material from industry sources, like the JOGMEC: "Surveys of methane hydrate reserves beneath the Sea of Japan is now under way as part of an effort to give Japan a steady supply of natural gas for decades to come."

Scary how The Asahi has no inclination at all to worry about the risks, such methane gas as a major culprit for climate change, if this is to be explored further.

One of JOGMEC's corporate objectives is to overcome the constraints of limited resources. Our investigation of next-generation energy resources includes research on methane hydrates. Known as "burnable ice," methane hydrates available within Japan's territorial waters may well be able to supply the nation's natural gas needs for a century. JOGMEC also aggressively investigates and researches mineral resources deep in the ocean, where rare metals are abundant.

Methane hydrate is a crystalline solid like ice that stores gas molecules, usually methane. Each flammable gas molecule is surrounded by a cage of water molecules. Methane hydrate can be found and under in the permafrost of polar regions and in the sediments of deep-sea regions where the temperature is low and the pressure is great. Methane gas is used as municipal gas and fuel for vehicles and fuel cells, and is a cleaner fuel than oil and coal.

Deposits of methane hydrates have been reported in marine sediments in the Nankai Trough off the Pacific coast of central Japan, where the water depth is more than 500 meters. Some estimates indicate that the reserves of methane hydrate correspond to a 100-year supply of natural gas for Japan, making it an important potential source of energy. The Japan National Oil Corporation (JNOC) began research work on methane hydrates in 1995, and JOGMEC has overseen the project since the JNOC's restructuring. An international joint research team including Japan has obtained successful results in experimental production of methane gas by injecting hot water into a borehole in the Mackenzie Delta in the arctic region of Canada.

In accordance with Japan's Methane Hydrate Exploitation Program established by the Advisory Committee for National Methane Hydrates Exploitation Program under METI, JOGMEC promotes the evaluation of methane hydrate resources in the Nankai Trough and other regions. Plans for test production of gas from the methane hydrates in the Nankai Trough will depend on the results.

  • Projected distribution of methane hydrate in seas around Japan
  • Projected distribution of methane hydrate globally

The Methane Hydrate Development Process The Methane Hydrate Development Process

Monday, August 19, 2013

TPP Talks: 7,000 Hokkaido Farmers And Citizens Protest

TPP pact protesters march through the streets of Sapporo, Hokkaido, on Thursday, July 25.Hokkaido farmers protesting against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal that is so far cloaked in secrecy, complete elimination of tariffs is a stated goal, with all kind of more strict intellectual property rules in place?

Who is behind this?

Why? Do explore. Do get engaged.

The Japan Agri News: 7,000 Hokkaido farmers and citizens protest against TPP talks

As many as 7,000 people gathered in Sapporo, Hokkaido, on Thursday, July 25, to stage a protest rally against Japan’s entry in to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, and pledged to strive to protect the nation’s largest agricultural region.

TPP pact protesters march through the streets of Sapporo, Hokkaido, on Thursday, July 25.
The protest rally, held by 4 agricultural groups including the Hokkaido Prefectural Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA Hokkaido Chuokai), was supported by 43 groups such as the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, the Hokkaido Economic Federation, the Hokkaido Consumers’ Association and the Hokkaido Medical Association.
“Hokkaido boasts a food self-sufficiency rate of nearly 200% and is an important agricultural region which supports the Japanese people’s lives,” said JA Hokkaido Chuokai Chairman Toshiaki Tobita. “But the TPP agreement would prevent us from utilizing our abilities.”
Tobita asked Diet members elected from Hokkaido who attended the rally to work on protecting the region’s economy and agriculture.
Kiyoshi Nagase, chairman of the Hokkaido Medical Association, expressed concern over the possibility of the TPP talks having an adverse effect on the national health care system. “We will not be at beck and call of the United States,” Nagase said. “We will strive to the bitter end to protect the nation’s system.”
Tomoko Hashimoto who heads the Hokkaido Consumers’ Association stressed that the association will think and act together with other groups to prevent relaxation of standards for pesticide residues and food additives.
Hiroshi Imazu, a lower house member of the Diet who is responsible for TPP issues at the Hokkaido branch of the Liberal Democratic Party, said he humbly accepts criticisms for letting the government join the TPP talks and pledged to make utmost efforts to protect the nation’s agriculture, rural villages and food safety and security.
Katsuya Ogawa, an upper house member of the Democratic Party of Japan, called on participants to tell other people, who do not recognize the dangers of the TPP talks, the risks of the TPP agreement devastating the safety of food, the nation’s food self-sufficiency and Hokkaido’s economy. “Let us make this movement a challenge to make the government withdraw from the talks,” Ogawa said. Similar comments were made by the members of the New Komeito party, the Japanese Communist Party and the New Party Daichi (Shinto Daichi).
“We should protect the smiles of people sitting around the table with safe farm produce,” said Yoshitsugu Kuroda, chairman of JA Youth Hokkaido. “Most importantly, we should not let the TPP pact infringe the national sovereignty.”
Following the rally, protesters paraded through the main streets of Sapporo, holding banners and boards with phrases expressing anger and anxiety towards the free-trade pact.
(July 26, 2013)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Crab Cannery Ship (2013)

Finally we have a solid translation of the classic story, The Crab Cannery Ship, by Kobayashi Takiji (1903-1933) translated by Zeljko Cipris, with an introduction by Komori Yoichi, published by the University of Hawai'i Press. Do find it in your local bookshop or on the Internet. Plus two additional short stories published in English for the first time, Yasuko and Life of a Party Member.

Look Inside (Amazon)

Mark Schilling explains:

Why does a novel about exploited workers on a crab cannery boat, published 80 years ago by a young communist writer, later tortured to death by the police, become a hot movie property now?
The program for “Kani Kosen” (“The Crab Cannery Boat”) explains that a store poster, inspired by Takiji Kobayashi’s eponymous novel, became a media sensation last year and, before you could say “bubble,” indie veteran Sabu scripted and directed a film. “Kani Kosen,” however, is not another pop culture throwaway, made to capitalize on a fad. It is also not agiprop from another era, with nostalgic value only. In a time of deep recession, with the middle class fading out of reach for millions of young part-time and temporary workers, its advocacy of mass struggle sounds like a real-life call to action.

When this story on the misery aboard a crab cannery ship north of Hokkaido was released again around 2008 or 2009 there was a lot of interest, with manga, a movie and a play released here. The 2009 movie by director Sabu was more of a youth flick while an earlier version released in 1953 was a lot more realistic.

Rather than scenes from these old films, here is a karakoke version of Kani-kousen by Murata Hideo.... Dokkoi-dokkoi!

This video appears to have footage from the 1930s of the ship mentioned in the book, and the small boats or barges that supplied the cannery ship with fresh crab.

We tend to get addicted to food that is not healthy, and certainly not sustainable for the environment. The commercial interests behind such food are clearly outlined in The Crab Cannery Ship, first published in 1929.

Seems to me that farmers and fishermen today may be a lot better organized than Japan's labour. Farms and fisheries here have proper unions that are keen to engage in battle when their interests are at stake, with bonds to Japan's many consumer organizations.

Factory unions meanwhile, like elsewhere in Europe or North America, have a different flavour from the ones with guys and gals more connected to the soil and sea.

The TPP campaigns here in Japan recently are a sign of that (similar to the anti-NAFTA campaigns in Mexico and Canada, and of course the U.S.). You think we are not going to be exposed to rigid rules that favour corporate interests?

The Japan AgriNews: Japanese negotiators briefed by TPP countries day after its TPP debut (July 25, 2013)

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia – Japan received a briefing on Wednesday, July 24, by other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations about the current status of the talks.
As Japan became the 12th member in the already over 3-year-old negotiations the day before, the TPP participants specially arranged the “Japan session” to help Japan catch up with the negotiations. They were briefed on 7 fields, including market access covering tariff elimination, out of 21 fields covered under the pact, and briefings on the remaining fields will be given on the following day.
In the session scheduled until Thursday, July 25, Japanese negotiators hope they can explain the country’s fundamental position based on the government’s pledge to protect its sensitive agricultural products by retaining tariffs on those products while seeking to eliminate trade barriers to boost its exports of manufactured goods.
“We expect to ask various questions and present our opinions there,” Japan’s chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka told reporters before the session.
But with little time left in the current round of talks, it would be difficult for them to address their negotiating stance in detail, as they will be busy analyzing the documents of past negotiations which they gained access of after official admission to the negotiating table.
After the session, Kazuhisa Shibuya, Japan’s deputy chief domestic coordinator for TPP negotiations went only as far as saying that they hope to hold “constructive discussions” concerning Japan’s fundamental policies for negotiation.
Referring to the tariffs on the 5 key agricultural products which Japan deems sensitive, Shibuya said that full-scale discussion on the issue is yet to start, indicating that there still remains room for negotiation. Asked whether Japan can maintain tariffs on the products, Shibuya said the Japanese negotiators “will negotiate to realize the national interest as a whole by strategically using the offensive and defensive tactics at the right place.”
Shibuya refused to comment on whether the Japanese negotiators explained that the upper and lower houses of the Diet adopted resolutions concerning the TPP talks, saying that he cannot specifically describe what they have talked about.
Regarding the documents of past negotiations which Japan obtained the day before, Shibuya said that there is no indication so far that they will not be able to participate in the rule-making process on the key topics of interest for the country.
The first day of the Japan session dealt with 7 fields including market access, textiles, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, investment and financial services. Briefings on the rest of the negotiation fields will be given on Thursday, July 25, the last day of the Malaysia round of talks.
In the morning of Wednesday, July 24, before the Japan session, Tsuruoka attended the chief negotiator session and received explanations on the procedures of the negotiations and discussed how to proceed with the talks in the future.
Other Japanese negotiators attended meetings of working groups on 4 fields, including government procurement to discuss bid requirements for public works projects, and rules of origin which deals with requirements to qualify for reduced tariff benefits.
On the sidelines of the talks, the Japanese government held a briefing session for some 20 Japanese stakeholders including agriculture and business organizations who are visiting Malaysia to gather information on the talks. Some 40 participants of the session included officials of organizations of stockbreeders and sugar manufacturers, the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the Japan Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

As pointed out in the book, exporting canned crab was important for imperial Japan back in 1920s and 1930s, as well as the venturing into northern naval seas claimed by Soviet Russia. Also, the ship was legally neither a "ship" or a "factory" thus the abuse. Seems very similar to the conditions in, say, garment producing entities ("factories?") that today provide us with clothes or shoes - or maybe even food - from, say, Bangladesh, Burma, China, you name it. Rules? Protecting the young people who put their lives on the line? 80 years ago, Kobayashi Takiji had his own ideas about this matter.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Farmers Markets Tokyo!

I just have to blog about this, it is so great. Joan over at Japan Farmers Markets keeps telling everyone about these places where you can get fresh produce directly from farmers, from all over. Her blog is terrific. And she is doing it too, do read up if you want tips about organic farming, she's an expert. And she does all of this in the western area of Tokyo, an hour or so from your regular Yamanote line hangouts.

At Nippori you can join the obon dancing on Saturday night, until 8pm. East side of the station.

Good chance btw to learn more about the hard lessons of farmers in Tohoku since March 11, 2011.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, August 17th and Sunday, August 18th

Earth Day Market in June.
Welcome to the most farmers-market-y weekend in Tokyo! Markets abound making choices of which one to attend a bit tricky. I'm a fan of the Nippori Market for its petite size, excellent food options (try the manju!), and lovely vegetables, and Koenji is no slouch, either. The UN University Night Market, though, is the hands-down winner for summer evening grocery shopping fun - music, good food, and a festive atmosphere - for the whole family or a fascinating first date. The possibilities are endless!

Taking a vacation for the month of August! They'll be back on Sunday, September 4th. Map

Saturday,  August 17th and Sunday, August 18th (Probably.*)
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm
*The Gyre Market schedule has been a bit wonky of late, so I'll update this as I get confirmation.

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 17th and Sunday, August 18th
10am to 5pm
A great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!

The Nippori Farmer's Market is what I would call “off-the-grid.” It's not part of the larger Marche Japon gig or the all-organic Earth Day Markets series, but rather is the brainchild of the owner of a nearby mansion (condominium) owner who wanted to “do something nice” with the plaza space in front of the high rises. Given Nippori's historic feel and past controversies regarding the Fuji Viewing Street, it makes sense that he'd want to try to balance out his very modern high rises.

Based on my first visit I'd say this effort is a successful one. The Nippori Farmer's Market is small – about 30 to 40 vendors – but very pleasant with a remarkably good selection of items. Fresh vegetables, rice, cheese, seedlings, baked goods, fruit, and prepared foods to be eaten on the spot as well as those for snacking were all on hand. (I recommend without reservation Tatsuko Onaya's homemade manju and Ringo no Hana's steaming bowls of hearty tonjirou. We sat down for much-needed breaks at their respective tents to enjoy our food and take in the atmosphere of the market.) Vendors from Hokkaido, Niigata, Gunma, Aomori, and Aizu Wakamatu sported everything from potatoes to fish to apple vinegar to cabbage to nanohana to dried natto and bath salts.

This month's special feature, too, was a booth sponsored by EAC, a division of Asahi Industries (not the beer) where visitors could bring samples of items they wanted tested for radioactive cesium. Folks brought everything from soil to water to bread to rice to homegrown vegetables for testing. Interestingly enough, food items tested relatively low amounts while some soil samples came in with higher numbers. (I'll be doing a longer piece on this later, by the way.) One customer tested the shoes he'd worn that day to find nothing could be detected. (To be fair, the machine used that day couldn't detect anything below 10 becquerels.)

Certainly, the personal tour given me by Atsuko, the market manager, set the stage for a great visit, but in the end as always, it is the vendors that make the experience. To a person they were warm and welcoming, nearly all had samples and were ready to talk about their wares more in-depth. The atmosphere they created reminded me why small markets are sometimes preferable to large ones. The opportunity to talk with vendors is better since I don't feel like I'm taking up too much time or space, and there's more opportunity to peruse the market itself. The overall selection might be smaller – only one person selling strawberries, for example – but I don't really mind. It is sometimes nice to have only a few good things to choose from rather than having to search out the best of ten.

Started a little less than two years ago, the Nippori Farmer's Market has a homespun quality that is a delight to find in a big city. Vendor's chatted with each other as well as customer's, and even danced a bit at their stalls when the musical performances started. The presence of growers and producers from Aizu Wakamatsu, Miyagi, and Ibaraki mean, too, it's a good chance to support Tohoku as the region continues to rebuild and reimagine itself. Held monthly on both Saturday and Sunday visitors are sure to find plenty of good things to eat and explore. I know I'll be back.

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 17th
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm

Saturday, August 17th
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
5pm - 8pm

Every Saturday and Sunday

A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!

10am to 4pm

Every Saturday

A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!

10am to 2pm

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

There are so many videos with great people. Enjoy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Vegan Palooza: Plant-Based Diet Okinawa

Well this is fun, what energy. Vegan Palooza in the US is happening right now from August 15-18, 2013.

Do care

It is happening here too in Japan, do get the latest July issue of Veggy with a focus on Okinawa.

OkiNinjaKitty says:

Fresh Produce Please

One of the great things about living on Okinawa is that there is always fresh produce. Whether it comes from the main island of Okinawa or one of its outer islands grocery stores and farmers markets are always stocked with what’s fresh at reasonable prices. This makes the local grocery stores and farmers markets the place to be if you’re a vegetarian. Although there are large supplies of fresh produce available it’s important to consider that being in Japan the selection may be different from what you are familiar with. There will undoubtably have to be a slight change in your diet if your main source of nourishment is vegetables making it more in line with what you can find here.

Another thing to consider is that sometimes the fruits you may be familiar with from back home such as watermelon, berries and applies can come with a hefty price tag. This makes things such as a good old fashioned fruit salad a pretty rare dish for those of us living here on Okinawa.

TIP: Just because you can’t make yourself a bowl of fresh fruit salad doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it once in a while. Some grocery stores sell fruit cups at an affordable price. They are perfect for an “on the go” snack or to put in the fridge and much more affordable than making one yourself. 

Totally Tofu

If you’re the type of vegetarian who really likes tofu you’re going to be in tofu heaven. There are various styles of tofu in all price ranges and sizes at pretty much every grocery store out there. Oh and go ahead and throw what you know about tofu out the window. This is not that nasty flavorless stuff that you can’t stomach unless it’s mixed and seasoned 10 ways to Sunday.

TIP: The best tofu out there is the local stuff which is fresh and delivered multiple times each day to the local grocery stores. Usually you can find a sign showing what times the tofu is delivered each day. If you’re lucky and get there as the shipment arrives you can get tofu that’s so fresh, it’s still warm. This is by far the best tofu I have ever had.

Do check out Green Leaf Okinawa for organic and chemical free vegetables.

Seems people looking for good vegetables in Okinawa have some great opportunities. Here is Kristy at Okinawa Hai:

Here I am, stationed on the island of Okinawa, with commissaries to shop at for produce. When I arrived on island, I did venture off base to a few local grocery stores. I found some smiles growing within me at the opportunities for more selection than just the commissaries. Then I got really excited when I found a few fresh produce markets! But all the labels are marked with odd looking symbols… Oh wait, I’m in Japan! It must be Kanji! And no, I don’t read Kanji. Then I got sad again. I am a little too timid to spend money (more specifically, yen) on produce that I have no clue how to prepare and eat, and even more importantly, what parts of the produce are edible and what parts are not. Toting two children with me (and yes, any trip leaving the house is an adventure with young children!), I wasn’t interested in having my smart phone out and Googling pictures of produce to find out what was what while I was out trying to shop.

Then I found the answer! I don’t remember how I heard about it, but Okinawa Island Produce is run by Cindy, and is the answer to my prayers. In short, she finds local and mostly organic produce from small farms on the island. She gathers it. She delivers it. Life is good! You can also find her on Facebook, too.
Cindy is an American, born and raised in California. Her mother is from Okinawa, and she has returned to her roots to pursue her business endeavors. She speaks English and Japanese. By trade, she is a seasoned teacher, and now she is here to teach us about local Okinawan produce! She works with local and mostly organic farmers to get you the freshest produce available. The selections are seasonal and always changing.

Okinawa Island Produce

Green Leaf Natural & Organic Food Shop

Center for Food Policy

Thanks Damien for recording this interview with Dennis & Elizabeth Kucinich. Do support.

You can listen to the 52 minutes interview here:
Elizabeth is the Director of Policy at the Center for Food Safety (CFS) 
and formerly served as Director of Public Affairs 
for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food Poverty In Japan?

President, one of the many magazines covering economics and society here in Japan, discussed food poverty in the May issue.

While we may hear about "B-class gourme" schemes that highlight the usual popular ramen places or cheap udon, of course people know that there is more to nutrition and health. TV commercials and regular broadcasting will have no limit to their promotion of (imported) meat and wheat.

B-class food

President wonders why women are more interested in vegetables than men. The article also correlates income with healthy choices.

This needs much more investigation as we are in dire straits and less connection to the traditional, healthy diet in Japan.

What is clear from the President study is that more women will chose more vegetables in their diet, when they feel the pinch.

From Japan Guide:

Japanese cuisine places a strong emphasis on quality and seasonality of ingredients. This is especially true for vegetables, which are a fundamental element of Japanese cooking.

See also our separate pages about mushrooms, seaweed, fruits and pickles.
Leaf Vegetables
Cabbage is an inexpensive, versatile vegetable used to add nutrition and flavor to a broad range of meals. Cabbage is often sliced into thin strips to be served with korokke, tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) or other fried dishes. It is also an important ingredient for okonomiyaki.
Cabbage can be added to just about any dish, from soups and stews to pan-fried meals and side salads. Japan is one of the world's top cabbage producers and the vegetable itself is one of the most frequently purchased vegetables in Japanese supermarkets.

Hakusai (Chinese cabbage)
Hakusai is popular in many parts of Asia, where it is often pickled. In Korea, hakusai is the cabbage variety usually used to make kimchi, the nation's most famous dish.
In Japan, hakusai is also pickled in a dish known as hakusai no sokusekizuke, which, however, is much milder than kimchi. Furthermore, fresh hakusai is a very popular ingredient in hot pot (nabe) dishes.

Horenso (spinach)
Horenso enjoys popularity thanks to its health benefits and variety of vitamins, being particularly rich in calcium and iron.
A well known horenso dish is horenso no goma-ae (spinach with sesame dressing), which involves blanching the horenso and then mixing it with a sweet, soya sauce and sesame flavored dressing. Horenso is also used as a topping in soups.

Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach)
Komatsuna is grown and consumed mostly in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. It is similar to spinach, in that it contains many important nutrients and vitamins, but it does not have the same bitterness as spinach. Komatsuna is commonly eaten raw in salads or boiled and served in soups and stews. It can also be pickled.

Mizuna (Japanese mustard, spider mustard)
Mizuna has recently become very popular as a salad leaf. It is frequently paired with julienned daikon (giant white radish) in a fresh tasting salad. Otherwise, mizuna may appear in soups or Japanese hot pot (nabe), or as a garnish on various dishes.

Shiso (Perilla leaf)
Shiso is a mint-like herb whose distinctive flavor is a staple in Japanese cooking. It comes in two varieties which are used for different purposes. Aojiso (green shiso) is often served with sashimi, in salads or to flavor soups and stews. Akajiso (red shiso) is used to pickle Japanese plums and add color to dishes.
Root Vegetables
Daikon (giant white radish)
Daikon is a very popular and versatile Japanese vegetable. It can be eaten raw or cooked or grated into daikon-oroshi, a refreshing topping used to counteract the oiliness of dishes like grilled fish and tempura.
Especially the bottom half a daikon is often quite spicy like other radish varieties. However, when cooked, this spiciness disappears and the vegetable becomes slightly sweet.
When used raw, daikon is usually cut into julienne strips and paired with mizuna leaves in a salad. When cooked, daikon is usually boiled in soups, stews or hot pot (nabe) dishes . It is the most popular ingredient in the oden hot pot.
Daikon also makes Japan's most popular pickle. Known as takuan, pickled daikon is included in virtually every dish of Japanese pickles. During the harvesting season, daikon hanging from farm houses in preparation for pickling is a common countryside sight.

Kabu (turnip)
Kabu is almost always boiled and served in soups or Japanese hot pot, (nabe). It is a common miso soup ingredient and is often used to make pickles. Kabu usually have a spicier taste than Western varieties.

Jagaimo (potato)
Jagaimo were not part of traditional Japanese cuisine until relatively recently. They are believed to have been brought by Dutch traders from Indonesia to Kyushu in the 17th century. However, potato cultivation in Japan did not begin until the end of the 19th century. Today, jagaimo are closely associated with Hokkaido where they are a regional specialty and common crop.
Jagaimo are popular in several Japanese dishes and adapted Western dishes. Nikujaga (meat and potato stew) combines beef, vegetables and potatoes in a sweet, soya sauce flavored stew. Jaga batta is a popular festival food in which a grilled potato is seasoned with butter and soya sauce. Jagaimo are also common in Japanese curry and korokke.

Satsumaimo (sweet potato)
Satsumaimo were originally grown in Kagoshima, formerly called Satsuma. They are a popular winter vegetable used in both sweet and savory dishes. Satsumaimo are often simply grilled, peeled and eaten plain in a snack called yaki-imo. Satsumaimo may also be battered and deep fried in tempura or boiled in soups, stews or Japanese curry.
Daigakuimo is a dish composed of candied satsumaimo. Its name comes from the word for "university" because the snack was invented for university students looking for cheap, tasty food. Because of their natural sweetness, satsumaimo are sometimes made into sweets and snacks.

Satoimo (taro root)
Satoimo are eaten throughout Asia, especially in India, China, Korea and Japan. They are a starchy root vegetable known for their somewhat sticky, slimy texture.
Satoimo are always cooked before eaten, and typically appear in boiled or stewed dishes. Satoimo can be added to miso soup, Japanese hot pot (nabe), Japanese curry or appear battered and deep fried.

Nagaimo (yam)
Nagaimo and its wild mountain variety yamaimo are slightly different in taste, texture and shape, but are prepared and consumed in the same way: sliced and grilled, or eaten raw.
Raw nagaimo is grated to form a sticky, paste-like cream known as tororo. Tororo is used as a topping for rice, soba or udon noodles, or mixed with dashi (fish stock) for flavor. Some people experience a slight reaction when raw nagaimo comes in contact with their skin. This can result in a tingling sensation around the lips.

Renkon (lotus root)
Common in Japan and greater Asia, renkon's attractive pattern makes it a useful vegetable for creating visually appealing dishes. It is not usually eaten raw, but peeled and boiled in water. Depending on how long it is cooked, lotus root may be crunchy like a fresh carrot, or starchy and soft, like a cooked potato.
Renkon is often used in tempura, boiled in soups or stewed dishes like chikuzenni, fried in pan-cooked dishes or dressed with vinegar in a salad. It is almost always sliced to show off its attractive pattern.

Gobo (burdock root)
Burdock plants exist all over the world, however, the vegetable is mostly consumed in Asia and especially in Japan. Gobo grow to about one to two meters in length and are cut before sold to make them more manageable. Gobo are always cooked before eaten and are commonly added to soups as a topping.
The most popular gobo dish is kinpira gobo, in which gobo and carrots are shred into thin strips, stir fried and glazed with soya sauce, sugar and sake.

Ninjin (carrot)
Ninjin are a widely available and popular vegetable in Japan. They are often thicker than carrots seen in North American and European markets although the taste is the same.
Like carrots in other parts of the world, ninjin are often enjoyed raw in salads, or cooked into various dishes such as Japanese curry and Japanese hot pot (nabe). Because of their bright color and sturdy consistency, ninjin are often cut into decorative shapes or simply used to add color and visual appeal to a dish.

Tamanegi (onion)
Japan is one of the world's top onion producing countries, and onions are widely used in many Japanese dishes.
As in most other cuisines, onions are usually cooked before eaten, and are a typical ingredient of many fried and stewed dishes such as Japanese curry, various domburi (meals served over a bowl of rice), and Japanese hot pot (nabe). Onions may also be an ingredient in miso soup or grilled alongside meat in teppanyaki.

Shoga (ginger)
Ginger, originally imported from China, is commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is a winter flavor, used to add heat to winter meals or served with fish to counter the "fishy" smell.
Grated ginger is sometimes served besides wasabi as a spice for certain types of sushi and sashimi and to add flavor or counter fishy aromas. Ground shoga is also often served on top of tofu for flavor.
Thinly sliced, pickled ginger, called gari, is served with sushi and eaten in between pieces of sushi to clear the palate. Another kind of pickled ginger, beni shoga, is commonly served with heavy meats or fried foods such as yakisoba and tonkatsu. Beni shoga is a dark red pickle with a stronger taste than gari.
Other Vegetables
Takenoko (bamboo shoot)
Takenoko symbolizes spring more than any other vegetable. As its name (lit. "child of bamboo") suggests, takenoko is the soft top of a young bamboo plant. Takenoko must be harvested just before the plant peaks out of the soil, otherwise it become hard and green.
Takenoko is consumed grilled, steamed with rice, deep fried in tempura, or boiled in soups and stews.

Negi (leek, green onion)
Negi are included in many fried and boiled dishes, or used as a topping for domburi (rice bowl) dishes such as gyudon (marinated beef over rice). Negi are usually described as having a taste similar to the green onion, though sweeter.
There are as many different varieties of negi as there are regions of Japan; however, the two most common are the Kanto variety with a long, white stem (see picture to the left) and the Kansai variety, whose stem is almost entirely green.

In Japan, tomatoes are mostly eaten in Western style cooking, eaten raw in salads or used as a garnish. While it is one of the most popular vegetables in Japan, it is rarely cooked in Japanese dishes. For their size and color, cherry tomatoes are especially popular in bento boxes.

Kyuri (cucumber)
Kyuri are usually thinner than Western cucumbers and are always eaten unpeeled. They are commonly found raw in salads or as a garnish, or pickled in an iced brine. Kyuri are a popular summer time vegetable.

Nasu (eggplant, aubergine)
Nasu are smaller and less bitter than their North American and European counterparts. They are an important vegetable in the Japanese cuisine and used in a wide variety of dishes.
"Nasu dengaku" is a typical dish in which the vegetable is cut in half and baked under a layer of miso paste. Another common dish featuring nasu is "nasu miso itame" in which the vegetable is fried with onions, miso and sugar.
Nasu has also a place in cultural folklore: Dreaming about Mount Fuji, a hawk or nasu on New Year is considered good luck. And in a Japanese proverb, parents are warned against giving nasu to their daughters-in-law in the fall.
This warning comes from the fact that fall nasu are particularly delicious and are better kept to oneself. However, it also refers to the fact that nasu are a "cooling" vegetable best eaten in the hot summer months. Consequently, it is thought to deter pregnancy, thus being a poor gift for a daughter-in-law.

Piman (Green pepper)
Piman comes from the French word for pepper, poivron. Japanese piman are usually smaller than bell peppers. They have a thin skin and sweet taste, and are often served battered and deep fried as tempura, or stir fried in Chinese style dishes. They are also eaten raw in salads.

Shishito (Small Japanese green pepper)
Shishito are a smaller variety of piman, Japanese green peppers. They are generally a sweet and mild pepper, although some varieties can be quite spicy. Shishito are most commonly served as tempura or roasted and topped with soya sauce and bonito flakes.

Kabocha (pumpkin)
Kabocha make their appearance in fall and winter. Kabocha's high vitamin A content made it an important vegetable for northern Japan's long winters.
Kabocha is traditionally eaten in celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, when people lack the nutrients found more commonly in summer vegetables. Kabocha is often enjoyed as tempura or boiled in sugar and soya sauce resulting in a soft, sweet dish.
Recently, with the import of Halloween from North America, kabocha has become a popular ingredient around the October 31 holiday, for example in kabocha purin, sweet pumpkin pudding.

Tomorokoshi (corn)
Foreign visitors to Japan may notice the frequent addition of corn to Japanese breads, pizzas, pasta, salads and more.
Tomorokoshi is a popular vegetable in Japan, closely associated with Hokkaido, where it is grown. 
When tomorokoshi is in season, it is often grilled, buttered and seasoned with soya sauce. Tomorokoshi is also included in many Hokkaido specialty foods such a Hokkaido style ramen (noodle soup) and miso soup.

Okura (okra)
Okura has a sticky layer surrounding the seeds of its fruit, producing a consistency similar to nagaimo (yam). When okura is consumed raw, the sticky texture is present, however, it is cooked off when boiled or fried.
Okura is a summer vegetable that is often eaten raw in salads, deep fried in tempura, or served with soya sauce and katsuobushi (smoked bonito flakes). Okura leaves are not commonly consumed in Japan.

Goya (bitter melon)
Goya is the most famous vegetables in Okinawan cuisine and the key ingredient in goya champuru, Okinawa's signature dish composed of stir fried goya, tofu and eggs. Goya is well known for its bitter taste.