Showing posts from August, 2006

Ranking electronics makers

What kind of harmful chemicals are lurking in my PC or mobile phone? I think most of us are just hoping the companies are being responsible, and avoiding polluting the environment. Right? Greenpeace has launched its Guide to Greener Electronics (pdf). It ranks companies on their use of harmful chemicals and electronic waste recycling. The guide should create demand for toxic-free electronics which can be safely recycled, by informing consumers. The scorecard ranks the 14 top mobile and PC producers and currently all fail to get a green ranking. I use a Dell, and hey, they share the top spot with Nokia in the Greenpeace ranking! I'm rather surprised that most Japanese makers are doing so poorly in this survey, and glad to see that South Korean companies are doing better. Third place goes to HP, followed by Sony Ericsson (4th), Samsung (5th), Sony (6th), LG Electronics (7th), Panasonic (8th), Toshiba (9th), Fujitsu Siemens Computers (10th), Apple (11th), Acer (12th) and Motorola

ILO: Realizing Decent Work in Asia

The International Labour Organization is holding an important meeting in Busan, South Korea this week. Director-General Juan Somavia writes about "underemployment, insecurity, poor working conditions and a shortage of marketable skills" in The Korea Times op-ed article Realizing Decent Work in Asia : The lack of social protection, especially among workers in agriculture and the urban informal economy is serious. And despite significant progress in reducing poverty, some 1 billion people are still “working poor” _ working very hard and long hours but unable to lift themselves or their families above the $2 per person per day poverty line. All this creates underlying tensions that demand our attention. I have no doubt that Asian countries have the capacity to address and solve these problems. This is a region of initiative and entrepreneurship of opportunity and challenge. It is a place where resilience, energy and dynamism abound.

US rice farmers have sued Bayer over GM rice

Reuters reports that rice farmers in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California have sued Bayer CropScience, as Bayer's genetically modified rice has contaminated the crop: The farmers alleged that the unit of Germany's Bayer AG failed to prevent its genetically modified rice, which has not been approved for human consumption, from entering the food chain. As a result, they said, Japan and the European Union have placed strict limits on US rice imports and US rice prices have dropped dramatically. For a longer analysis, check Reuter's US Oversight of Biotech Crops Seen Lacking . The NGO called Center for Food Safety has a great website with updates and background research. You can sign up to get their action alerts and things you can do to make a difference. Genetically modified rice is not approved in Japan, but there are field trials that could potentially contaminate domestic crops through cross-breeding or mixups, as noted here . GMO crops

Think Globally: Worldmapper

Worldmapper , a project at Sheffield University, has published over 170 maps that really bend perceptions about the world we live in. They draw nations based on statistical data and morphs the size according to the variable being mapped. The maps presented on their website are equal area cartograms, otherwise known as density-equalising maps. In a New Scientist article, cartographers Danny Dorling and Anna Barford said, "At first glance, people are shocked by them: the shapes look familiar, yet everything is absurdly distorted. Without even thinking, they have learned something about the world they live in." More Worldmapper in the news here . Above is the map of wealth growth. Click to enlarge.

Global warming maps

What will your hometown look like as the oceans start to rise? Alex Tingle has used google maps and added flood information. You can scroll and change the elevation. Terrific educational tool and rather scary. Give it a try and play God here . The image here is a screen shot of Tokyo at elevation set to 7 meters. Click to enlarge. Discussion here .

"Black and metallic fragments" in baby formula

Korean consumers and their advocacy groups are up in arms over the discovery of alien substances in baby formulas despite the government's assurances that they didn't pose health hazards, according to The Korea Times : Consumers have complained that black and metallic fragments have been found in the baby formulas of both domestic and foreign baby formulas. Consumer Korea cited the Korea Environment & Merchandise Testing Institute, which claims that impurities were found in 10 of the 33 baby formula cans tested in a random sampling. Consumer Korea can be accessed on : Similac, PediaSure, Ildong Foodis, Namyang Dairy and Maeil Dairy were among the 10 brands whose products were found with impurities, the consumer advocacy group claimed. Eight of the 10 tested products were imported. It is impossible to understand how the Korean government can ignore the worried parents' concern and just say that it has no further plans to investigate the allegations of

Cleaning up the beaches

The Mainichi had this story about Kanagawa Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa who helped collecting trash from the beach in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture: Matsuzawa joined about 100 people to pick up cigarette butts and other trash from the beach on Aug. 5, the same day that temperatures in the prefecture soared to 36.8 degrees in Ebina and 35.3 degrees in Yokohama. About 30 people, including Matsuzawa, prefectural government employees and officials from the joint public and private sector organization, Kanagawa Coastal Beautification Foundation, wore Mottainai T-shirts on the day. "Just getting the government to do things is not enough," Matsuzawa said. "We want everybody who lives near or comes to play in coastal areas to realize how important it is to have a campaign like this that keeps these places clean." Matsuzawa used a parasol while walking along the beach and throwing trash into his Mottainai garbage bag. When people saw the governor picking up trash, they j

Petron oil spill

Reuters continues to cover the story about the oil tanker that sank off the Philippine coast, reporting that a Japanese salvage ship will begin siphoning industrial fuel from a sunken tanker off the central island of Guimaras: The tanker, chartered by Petron, sank in heavy seas on Aug. 11, spilling about a tenth of its cargo and creating a toxic slick that has affected 40,000 people and 200 km (120 miles) of coastline. On Wednesday, experts from the Japanese and US coast guards joined Philippine disaster officials to assess the damage to dozens of communities in the provinces of Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental. ... The Japanese salvage ship, which left Okinawa on Tuesday night, is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that provides images of the ocean floor from a remotely operated vehicle. Bulatlat reports that despite the claims of the government and local RDCCs that the Philippines is a disaster-prepared country, disaster-preparedness has been the least of priorit

Mamma Mia!!

The musical Mamma Mia is a big hit both in Korea and Japan, with a new generation of ABBA fans discovering all the great songs. Mamma Mia in Seoul, Korea Mamma Mia at the Shiodome in Tokyo, Japan Enjoy!! And here is ABBA performing Mamma Mia at BBC's Top of the Pops program in December, 1976. As a bonus, do watch Waterloo from the Brighton European Song Contest in 1974.

Water prize

China claimed the Junior Water Prize for the first time on Tuesday night in Stockholm, at the global World Water Week meeting. H.R.H Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden presented the award to (from left) to Wang Hao, Xiao Yi and Weng Jie during the ceremony at the Stockholm City Conference Centre. An innovative river-cleaning project by the students from Shanghai Nanyang Model High School enabled the Chinese team to top the list in the 26-country competition. Well done! Read more on the World Water Week website.


I wish I was there! Water is hurled over portable shinto shrine carriers, at a summer festival at the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine festival in Tokyo. Where I lived before, in Hongo, Bunkyo ku in central Tokyo, I once participated in a smaller shrine-carrying event, and my neighbours invited me to help carry the heavy box around the small streets. There was no water-hurling, though, but it was lots of fun. (Photo from Mainichi )

Reactions to Earthsea

A blog I like, Mutant Frog , has some notes about the response in Japan regarding Earthsea, the new Ghibli film (that I really liked, by the way). It topped Japan's box office in its opening week, but some feel the animation by the team led by Goro Miyazaki was not up to the task. There is also a link to the author Ursula K. Le Guin , who was initially disappointed by the film. I wish she would watch it again, and find that Ghibli's Earthsea is about a beautiful but barren world, far away in time, and that it is great art. I liked her comment at the end: Though I think the dragons of my Earthsea are more beautiful, I admire the noble way Goro's dragons fold their wings. The animals of his imagination are seen with much tenderness — I liked the horse-llama's expressive ears. I very much liked the scenes of plowing, drawing water, stabling the animals, and so on, which give the film an earthy and practical calmness — a wise change of pace from constant conflict and

GM rice in the news

Japan has banned imports of US rice following news about a positive test for trace amounts of a genetically modified strain not approved for human consumption. Japan's government has requested the US to enact strict controls, according to several newspapers. The Health Ministry does not include any strain of rice on its list of genetically modified foods approved for sale in Japan. Also, ten of the nation's 47 prefectures have their own regulations on the open-air cultivation of genetically modified plants, an Asahi Shimbun survey has found: The local ordinances or guidelines are meant to prevent cross-pollination and hybridization of GM plants with related crops in the region. "Once cross-breeding or mixups take place, it will be too late," said an agriculture section official of Niigata Prefecture. Japan began to import GM crops in the 1990s, but no commercial production has started here because of consumer concerns over safety. Read more: Regulating GM crops

NHK: The Beatles in Japan

She's a Woman I'm Down Nowhere Man (from a concert in Munich, Germany just before they left for Japan) Channel Surf , always a well written and useful column in The Japan Times, reminds us that Japan is still celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' only visit: Today, Monday at 22:00, NHK-G will present "Beatles Rainichi 103 Jikan (The Beatles Come to Japan for 103 Hours)." The documentary will relive the Fab Four's arrival at Haneda Airport, which experienced a security crunch like none it had ever experienced before. It will follow them to the Tokyo Hilton (now the Capitol Tokyu, which is about to be demolished) in Akasaka. It will show footage from their concerts at Budokan. More importantly, it will interview many people who met the four mop-tops face-to-face during their stay, as well as a number of people who attended the concerts and "were deeply affected." They will talk not only about the way The Beatles impacted their liv

Have a laugh!

A great picture of Calvin and Hobbes from Pacific Islander , who had the great idea to tell all his readers to turn off the TV (News at least), and have a wonderful, relaxing weekend! For a daily dose of Calvin and Hobbes, go to GoComics , their official site. Wow, Calvin would be 26 years old by now. Wonder if we will ever see an update on how he is doing!

Banning Aerial Spraying in Gunma Prefecture

Is the spraying of agricultural chemicals from the air a problem in Japan? AERA, the weekly magazine, discussed this very sensitive issue in its July 30, 2006 issue. This follows a decision in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, to ban the use of unmanned helicopters to spray rice fields, vegetable gardens and fruit orchards with toxic agrochemicals. Over 40 manufacturers of pesticides and herbicides have protested, but the governor of Gunma, although he surprisingly is a LDP politician, is convinced: reducing the use of agrochemicals is necessary. Japan Crop Protection Association is so worried that they enlisted the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, that tells other prefectures, "Do not follow Gunma's example!" According medical doctors that AERA has talked to, the use of agrochemicals has severe consequences in rural areas of Japan. Kids in agricultural households are more likely to be absent from school, and many more young women are taking psychotropic drugs.

WWF: Protect water sources

World Water Week , an international conference on water resources will begin August 20 in Stockholm, Sweden. There will be a debate based on World Wide Fund for Nature's report, warning that people are using more water than natural sources can provide. The WWF environmental organization on Wednesday released a report calling for the protection of water sources. Read more Rich countries, poor water NHK notes that the report says that in industrialized nations, the supply of water from rivers, aquifers and other natural sources is no longer able to meet the souring demand for water: The report also says China, India and other rapidly growing economies are making similar mistakes as industrialized nations have done by constructing large-scale dams without making precise predictions on the future demand of water. It warns that the move can lead to environmental destruction. Regarding Japan, the report says its daily use of water per capita is 350 liters and is one of the world


For great images and writing about Japan's modern art scene, have a look at PingMag , an online design magazine based in Tokyo. PingMag writes about ideas and inspiration coming from both world class designers, and from the little store on the corner. They also share wonderful photos using Flicker. I really liked The 7 (lesser known) Architectural Wonders of Tokyo . More about the buildings here . And do have a look at Joe Nishizawa's photos of what is hidden deep below the city... (Photo by Kawaguchi Rinko )

Praying for the dead

Sweden has waged lot of wars, a long time ago. As vikings, we traded along major rivers in Russia and our boats went as far west as Greenland and even Canada. Then, we had the era when we, as Protestants, were probably among the worst in terms of waging wars on the European continent, against the Catholic armies. Our era of the Swedish Empire lasted from 1611 to 1718. "Her vigorous intervention had saved the cause of religious liberty in Europe; and this remains, for all time, her greatest political achievement." - from the Encyclopædia Britannica Yet, we don't have a "national shrine" or a place like Arlington in the US, where presidents or people go to pray. And we certainly do not have a place like Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Japan's Prime Minister went there today, on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in WW2, and predictably China and South Korea protested. Wikipedia has a link where you can listen to Hirohito's speech on August 15, 1945

Himalaya Film Festival

The Himalaya Film Festival will screen 16 documentary films in Tokyo from Aug. 14-17 and from Aug. 19-22, in collaboration with NHK (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation). Most of the films will be subtitled both in English and in Japanese. The HFFT 2006 will offer an excellent and unique opportunity to take a closer look at the Himalayan region, including present-day Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Tibet, and to think about global environmental problems and human diversity in the region. The 16 documentaries cover topics ranging from intrepid climbing expeditions through cultural festivals, events unique to the region and environmental issues. Venue: NHK Fureai Hall, Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Fee: Advanced ticket: 1,000 yen/Ticket at the door: 1,100 yen. Information: Himalaya Film Festival (Japanese official site).

IHT: Testing travel blogs

Roger Collis writes about finding good information about travel destinations on the Internet: Testing travel blogs, with caution . He points out that many hotel sites are often unconvincing: There are blogs for all seasons and manners of travel, ranging from tedious diaries with blow-by-blow accounts of the writer's meals and musings, to crisp reports and intelligent, entertaining essays on places one has always been meaning to visit. The only way to check the authenticity of a blog is to measure it against what you already know of a place or to do more research yourself. Here is my ranking of some of the sites he mentions, that deal with Japan and other places in East Asia. I really like when ordinary travellers can add their own photos and stories: 1) Virtual Tourist 2) IgoUgo 3) Wikitravel 4) Travelpost blogs On some sites, the ads are just too much. It is really annoying to look at the page for Kyoto and find ads for hotels in Las Vegas... And when the maps are as bad

Living beautifully

I do admire people who can live beautifully. David Kilburn, the tea merchant and writer who has a hanok house with his wife in Seoul, seems to have won a round against the city hall officials who threatened to destroy the traditional neighbourhood where he lives. Director Kim Ki-duk , who made Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring , filmed scenes for his 2004 film 3-Iron at David's house. You can watch both trailers on the links above. ...It was last October when the idea first came to me. I was removing a flyer that was pasted over the keyhole on my front door when it suddenly occured to me that the houses that had these ads intact for days must have been empty. The image of an empty house that noone enters led to a story of a very lonely person cut off from others. And I wanted to make a film about a man who goes in and fills that emptiness with warmth. People who play golf would know that the 3 Iron is the least used club. Imagine the 3 Iron stuck in an expensive leathery g

Student statues

If you ever visit a school in Japan it is very likely that you will see a statue of Kinjiro Ninomiya (1787-1856). As a boy he studied very hard, even though he also had to help out at home with many chores, such as collecting fire wood. He is thus always shown carrying both a textbook and a bundle of firewood on his back. I did a google search and found hundreds of photos of his statues all around Japan (photo on the right). I was surprised to find a photo (shown on the left) of a very similar boy on this website, although in this case, the statue is clearly having Korean dress. It's a small world...

Instant coffee for Kim Yong Il

Asahi reports that Japanese police has arrested a North Korean man for illegally exporting equipment to his homeland that can be used to make biological weapons: The suspect, Kim Young Gun, is the former president of Meisho Yoko, a Tokyo-based trading company. He said he was aware the freeze-dryer his company shipped to North Korea had military applications. Kim, who goes by the name Minoru Kida in Japan, is suspected of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law. Police believe the company that ordered the machine has close ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Freeze-driers are used to make stuff like instant coffee - as well as nasty bacteria. As every science student knows, they dehydrate substances by quickly freezing them, and can be used to preserve bacteria for long periods, which unfortunately make them useful for producing biological weapons. I don't like instant coffee either.

BBC: Chaos at UK airports

BBC has all the details of the delays at each airport here . Japan Airlines (JAL) has an update on their UK website here . Update about all airlines affected Friday here . NHK says the transport ministry has ordered Japanese airport operators and airline companies to take thorough security measures, focusing on hand-carried luggage, but the transport ministry also says there is no information about possible terrorist attacks targeting flights to and from Japan.

The Central Tibetan Administration and Tibet citizens in exile have launched Tibet Online, a web television site that will devote most of its coverage to the Buddhist teachings of the Dalai Lama. also features an archive of documentary films on Tibet. Watch Compassion in Exile , an intimate portrait of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, whose thirty-year nonviolent struggle on behalf of his people earned him the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, People's Daily , the Chinese communist government's newspaper, published in Beijing, is using the opening of the China-Tibet railroad this summer as a major propaganda event. They are showing photos of "college students of the Tibetan ethnic group chat on a train". "Ethnic group"? Adding insult to injury... BBC also reports that the controversial railroad will be extended.

NHK Nagasaki special today

NHK has a video clip about the Nagasaki Peace Park events today. Take a moment to watch it here (English).

Bamboo charcoal...

Bamboo charcoal is used by a South Korean maker of the alcohol "soju" to remove impurities during the distillation process and thus ease the possibility of hangovers, the Los Angeles Times has revealed. In a short piece titled "No Tylenol Required," LA Times said soju, a South Korean alcohol made from grain, has only half the alcohol content of vodka. Some newspapers seem to take their article straight from corporate websites these days. The Jinro website has all the details you need to become a LA Times writer! Having said that, I do think charcoal is a great product for keeping the air in your fridge clean. It is also used to remove impurities from bath water and as a deodorizer for room air. Bamboo charcoal has great ability to absorb impurities because of the tiny holes, after roasting the bamboo at a very high temperature for up to one month. And it looks lovely as a room decoration too. Hey, I wish I was selling the stuff right here on my blog, I'd ma

8 is a lucky number in Hong Kong

8 is a lucky number in Hong Kong, BBC explains, in a story about air pollution and smog. The campaign against Hong Kong's air pollution begins today, the eighth day of the eight month, at eight o'clock. It is called the Lights Out campaign and everyone is being asked to turn their lights off for three minutes. The campaign has caught on among the public, and among trendy nightspots. BBC: Hong Kong in 'Lights Out' plan . Update: It appears that the first event was not a big success, according to Reuters: Few in Hong Kong Turn Off Lights Against Pollution .

The U.S. Atomic Legacy

I wrote about the Hiroshima Peace Museum last August, that displays the horrors of the atomic bomb, and sends a strong message of peace to all of mankind. This year, I will tell you about the U.S. National Atomic Museum in New Mexico. Hmm... A more tacky, terrible and tragic museum would be difficult to find anywhere in the world: Display after display that brag about developing weapons of mass destruction. Please have a look at the souvenirs too, because of course there is a gift shop with "fun stuff", t-shirts, Albert Einstein posters, a blueprint of the bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima (killing some 240,000 people) and stuff like the $8.95 Fat Man Shot Glass. The mission of the National Atomic Museum is said to be to serve as America's resource for nuclear history and science. The Museum presents exhibits and quality educational programs that convey the diversity of individuals and events that shape the historical and technical context of the nuclear

Hiroshima: 'Stop ignoring our plea'

'Stop ignoring our plea,' Hiroshima told world leaders yesterday, according to Asahi : Calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons across the globe, Tadatoshi Akiba, the mayor of this Seto Inland Sea city, described the scene of Aug. 6, 1945, as "hell on Earth." Yet, he told the roughly 45,000 people gathered at the park near ground zero, the world's political leaders continue to ignore the voices of "conscience"--the many people worldwide who campaign year after year for nuclear weapons to be stamped out. "Radiation, heat, the blast and their combined effects created a hell on Earth," said Akiba in a Peace Declaration. "Is it acceptable for cities, and especially the innocent children who live in them, to be targeted by nuclear weapons?" The Japan Times also notes that 1,400 member cities of the Mayors for Peace organization has launched a campaign to promote the world court's recommendation and a project to demand nuc

NHK TV programs about atomic bombing

Hiroshima Retold - Voices from the World - Aug. 6,Sun., 7:45 - 8:00 [English on audio main-channel, Japanese on audio sub-channel] Eight young people from abroad have staged an interpretive reading of a work based on witness of atomic bomb survivors. We report on their attempt to face up to and pass down the tragedy. Hiroshima Peace Ceremony Aug. 6 Sun., 8:00 [Japanese on audio main-channel,English on audio sub-channel] Transcending Borders : The Nagasaki Experience Transcending Borders : The Nagasaki Experience Aug. 9, Wed., 10:40 - 11:00 [English on audio main-channel, Japanese on audio sub-channel] A South Korean researcher is attempting to create a realistic three-dimensional model of Nagasaki at the time of atomic bombing. His wish is to pass down the tragedy to the world and the next generation. To listen to news updates about the events in Hiroshima today, go to NHK World and click on select language . The NHK TV guide is here .

Wind Power in Japan

I have only ever seen wind power generators once in Japan, in Aomori prefecture, but it seems they are becoming increasingly popular. Engineer live reports that five wind power developers in Japan have joined together to promote the use of wind power and exchange ideas to support the growth of such technology in the country: Tomen is one of the world's largest wind power developers, with more than 20 stations operating in Europe, the USA and Japan with a combined output of 700 000 kW. In 1999 the company started operation of its 20 000 kW power plant at Tomamae Green Hill Wind Park in Hokkaido - one of Japan's largest-scale wind power projects. It has also announced plans to build a 32 500 kW capacity plant in Shimokita Peninsula, Aomori Prefecture, this year. Actually, my local Seiyu, a Wal-Mart group company, promotes wind power. Does Wal-Mart do that in the US and elsewhere too? Seems we will see more wind mills in the future: ...a number of other developments have occ

Local Hero: Marutei Tsurunen

Here is an update about Japan's only politician from - Finland (!): Tsurunen is an unabashed Japanophile who, in addition to rendering his Finnish name, Martti Turunen, into its current Japanese form, has translated The Tale of Genji and other local classics into his native language. His populist tactics brought him tantalizingly close to victory in each race, and upon finally taking office he touted protecting the environment and “internationalizing” the nation as his priorities. These days, he's homed in on sustainable agriculture as a member of the Diet's Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and founder and secretary-general of the Parliamentarian’s League for the Promotion of Organic Agriculture. But he says his mission is not confined to these. Read the entire article about Marutei Tsurunen to find out what he thinks about nationalism, fingerprinting foreigners, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Yasukuni Shrine visits and an education bill that manda


Mari wrote on her blog about the World Map of Happiness but - Japan (and other Asian countries) ended up rather low in the rankings. Any ideas why this may be the case? Why is Japan ranked so low? Sweden ranked 7, which is nice, and the number one spot went to Denmark: 1.Denmark 2.Switzerland 3.Austria 4.Iceland 5.Bahamas 6. Finland 7. Sweden 8. Bhutan 9. Brunei 10. Canada 19. Norway, 23. US, 41. UK 68.Taiwan 82.China 90.Japan 103.South Korea 125.India The map is based on an analysis of the results from over 100 studies. It uses data published by by UNESCO, the CIA, the New Economics Foundation, the WHO, the Veenhoven Database, the Latinbarometer, the Afrobarometer, and the UNHDR.