Showing posts from November, 2006


Update: European Union lawmakers and governments struck a deal on Thursday over REACH, the wide-ranging draft law on toxic chemicals, putting it on track to enter force in the first part of 2007. Story here . Reuters has details about the political wrangling about REACH, the proposal for a new chemicals legislation in the EU. I spent a large part of my lecture about environmental hormons in Seoul last week discussing the merits of REACH. As Chosun Ilbo notes, most Korean exports to the EU contain chemicals, and almost every export item will be affected by REACH. Korean Exporters Brace for Environmental Rules Abroad . An attempt was initiated in 1998 by Japan to deal with reprotoxic chemicals. It is known as the Strategic Programs on Environmental Endocrine Disrupters (SPEED) program, but its original scope was significantly reduced faced with the chemical industry's criticism. Here is a website with MoE's information . This is a debate where a lot is at stake. Reuters: Tal

Early Buddhism in Japan

Tonight, NHK was showing a beautiful documentary with anthropologist Nakazawa Shinichi , who describes early Buddhism in Nara. Nakazawa is an expert on Tibet and has a lot to say about the influences from China and Korea. You can see his very private talk about Japanese religions here . Shinto? Buddhist? What is "before religion and after religion"? You decide. Mari, my favourite blog, talks about traditional Buddhist vegetarian food called Shojin Ryori .

Who wants GMO foods?

The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is holding its Task Force meeting in Makuhari, Chiba this week. On the agenda is foods from genetically modified animals. No such foods are approved yet, but there is research on GMO salmon that could be in supermarkets unless consumers step up the protests. A "safety standard" approved by Codex could pave the way for more GMOs, irregardless of ethical concerns or the concerns of people caring about animal welfare. Under WTO, an agreement by Codex makes it difficult for national governments to ban GMOs. Others hope that a strong Codex standard can help countries in the developing world, to oppose imports from the U.S. and Canada, where most GMOs are cultivated. Good to see that there was a pretty big demonstration yesterday outside the meeting venue in Makuhari, where governments discuss this issue. Many Co-op members, Consumers Union of Japan, farmers' groups and Korean activists participated in the rain. I especially want

Bluefin tuna quotas cut

Kyodo reports that member states of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna reached a formal accord Sunday to cut the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean bluefin tuna quota for 2007. Overfishing is a huge problem and cutting the quota from the current 32,000 tons to 29,500 tons is not enough. In the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, fish farms have become increasingly common. Large quantities of tuna from such fish farms are exported to Japan and sold at sushi restaurants and supermarkets. Bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna are highly popular in Japan for use in sushi and sashimi. Fatty parts of their meat, known as "toro," are especially sought after and fetch high prices. Japan gets about half of its bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean, according to Japan's Fishery's Agency official, Hiroaki Hasegawa. He also said to NHK that it is inevitable that the agreement will lead to less bluefin imports into Japan but he canno

GMO Free Zones in Japan

There will be a lot of activities this week about food safety. Consumers Union of Japan, Green Coop and the NO! GMO Campaign are among the groups that are spearheading the movement to stop genetic engineering in Japan. Many farmers are involved too, especially in Hokkaido , Iwate, Nagano, and Chiba prefectures, as GMO Free Zones are being established around Japan. The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Task Force is meeting in Makuhari, Chiba, to discuss safety guidelines for GMO animals. Activists are angry that consumer concerns are not taken into account by government officials, although, no GMO animals have been approved for food (yet). Why doesn't the food industry understand that people do not want to eat GMOs?

Lots of protests in Korea

Here is a photo from the conference at the Korea National Assembly yesterday. I participated in the symposium about mad cow disease and heard about how Korea has been forced to open its market to U.S. beef after pressure from the U.S. government. Dr. Mike Hansen from the U.S. Consumers Union had a lot to say about the situation at U.S. meat plants. Virtually no safety testing is going on and unsafe feed appears to be the norm. And just today, there is news that bone fragments were found in in a package of meat during quarantine inspections. Thus, the Korean government said Friday it will not allow the first batch of beef shipped from the United States to be sold in Korea... Actually the Korean beef protest issue is part of a bigger picture. The U.S. and South Korea are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the U.S. demanded that Seoul must allow U.S. beef before any further FTA negotiations could take place. Opposition parties and NGOs are furious at the Korean government. I d

Endocrine Disrupters

Tomorrow I go to Seoul, Korea to talk at a conference about Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, and what we can do to minimize exposure to them. In Japan EDCs are called "kankyou hormones" because they are man-made substances that trick the body's endocrine system, by acting like hormons. I like the name better since it is easier to remember than "Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals". Since Theo Colborn's book Our Stolen Future was translated, there has been a lot of debate about this topic in Japan, also connected to the dioxin and PCB problem. It will be interesting to hear about the situation in Korea.

Tuna in Europe in danger

Overfishing of tuna is an international problem, and Japan's quota for tuna near Australia was recently cut. Regulations on fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic Ocean was on the agenda at the special meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), convening in Dubrovnik, Croatia. WWF has analyzed international trade data, followed fishing vessels and looked at tuna ranches and reached this unhappy conclusion: The estimated total catches in 2004 and in 2005 were at least 45,000 tons each. That is 40 percent more than the quota. The tuna ranching boom that triggered the exhaustion of stocks is supported in large part by the Japanese appetite for tons of low-priced fatty tuna at your local sushi shop. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is being done by European Union vessels, including France, as well as Libya and Turkey. Because of a lack of measures to manage resources, bluefin tuna stocks are now

Okinawa elections results

Tonight, NHK is saying that Hirokazu Nakaima, 67 years old, who is backed by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, is expected to win today's election and become governor of Okinawa prefecture. Asahi had more details about a week ago in this editorial. Scary. Okinawa elections previous

Love your country

Japan's politicians are debating a new education law that includes a provision to create an attitude to love one's country. People are also concerned about a new "Conspiracy Law". Lots of protests and nation-wide demonstrations . Here is a site with information about more protests . But let me just say for the record that I do love Sweden, and here is one reason why: ABBA performing Dancing Queen at the Royal Wedding in June, 1976. Love your country, or else!

Asian Heroes: Fighting pollution in Japan

Phillip White at CNIC kindly sent me three great candidates for the Asian Heroes list. Senji Yamaguchi , a Nagasaki hibakusha. Do read his book "Burnt Yet Undaunted" which is effectively his memoirs. The forward of the book by Joseph Gerson is a powerful account of his efforts: Jinzaburo Takagi was the founder of CNIC and was head and shoulders above anyone else in the anti-nuclear energy movement in terms of scientific knowledge, leadership skill and prolific publication. He was a recipient of the 1997 Right Livelihood Award (shared with fellow French anti-plutonium activist Mycle Schneider ). More about Takagi on the following page: Jun Ui , the environmentalist, was part of a team of brave researchers who discovered and unraveled the Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) in Kyushu: Here is his chapter

Asian Heroes: Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank

As I wrote before, Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for their pioneering use of tiny loans — microcredit — to lift millions of people out of poverty. A true Asian hero. Poor people, especially women, have been able to buy cows, a few chickens or the mobile phone they need, thanks to Grameen Bank. YouTube has a video of the announcement by the Norwegian Nobel committee chairman . A great speech. In this October 2002 article Grameen Bank II: Designed to Open New Possibilities , Muhammad Yunusa describes lessons learnt since starting 1976. The central assumption behind Grameen Bank, he writes, is the firm belief that the poor people always pay back their loans. On some occasions they may take longer time to pay back than it was originally stipulated, but repay they will. There is no reason for a credit institution dedicated to provide financial services to the poor to get uptight because a borrower could not pay back the entire

Time 60 Years of Asian Heroes

Time Magazine has ambitiously tried to identify Asian Heroes of the post WW2 era, and there are many names on the list that I can only nod, smile and agree with. It is good to see that many Japanese men and women are being recognized, including architect Kenzo Tange, conductor Seiji Ozawa, designer Hanae Mori and - Momofuku Ando (inventor of instant noodles!). I was also particularly happy that they mentioned spiritual leaders, such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh: In 1965, after yet another Buddhist self-immolation, Nhat Hanh wrote to the American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that "the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors, but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination, which lie within the heart of man." Nhat Hanh led King, and, by extension, American public sentiment, to oppose the fighting in Vietnam. During the la

Life Style Forum in Shinjuku

This weekend I plan to go to the Life Style Forum with what promises to be interesting speakers and great events. LSF started in 2000 as a gathering of NGOs and individuals concerned with changing the social structure of mass production, mass consumption, and finding solutions to the global warming problem. The theme this year is "Gross National Happiness" and Bhutan. This year, the event is at Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Centennial Pavilion (walk from Shinjuku station southern entrance, or Shinjukugyoen-mae station, or Shinjukusanchome station) with lots of fun for kids too: - Music performances - Lecture forum - NGO/NPO and company exhibitions - Ecology market - Life style cafe - Kids corner - Natural observation meeting - Movie show - The story of Peter Rabbit and Global Warming - Yoga classroom More about Gross National Happiness (in Japanese) at the Sloth website. Sloth Club is the NGO that promotes Slow Life in Japan. Quite a task! PBS (in En

NHK World TV Monitors

I just found this notice on NHK's website, and thought I'd share it with you: NHK World is looking for NHK World TV Monitors Requirements - Regular viewing of NHK World TV living - Residency outside Japan - Regular monitor reports in either English or Japanese by e-mail Contents of monitor reports Impressions, comments and suggestions regarding at least one of the NHK World TV news & programs listed below in 300 to 400 words (if in English). The programs: "WHAT'S ON JAPAN", "News Today 30 Minutes", "News Today Asia", "Weekend Japanology", "JAPAN BIZ CAST", "TOKYO EYE", "J-MELO", "Insight & Foresight", and "Maverick Minds of Japan" For further details on those programs, see: NHK World TV Frankly, I am very curious, do you ever watch NHK World TV? Did you even know it existed? How about Radio Japan ...? Comments, please!

Okinawa elections

The November 19 Okinawa election campaign to select a new governor started today. The campaign will be a duel between Keiko Itokazu , who is supported by the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and others, and Hirokazu Nakaima , backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. A key issue is what to do with the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Relocating the controversial Futenma air station was the focal issue in two previous gubernatorial elections, notes the Asahi : Keiichi Inamine, the incumbent governor, won election eight years ago for endorsing the move within the prefecture on the condition that the new airfield be used for 15 years only. However, the initial plan to construct the base offshore of Henoko sank under protest from local residents and their supporters. Tokyo and Washington then came up with an alternative plan to build the base on land at Henoko point. But this time, Inamine refused to go along,

Protect Article 9: "Stop becoming a country that wages wars"

Kyodo has this photo from a demonstration with groups opposed to revising Japan's Constitution, and its war-renouncing Article 9, in Tokyo, on November 3, the 60th anniversary of the Constitution's 1946 promulgation. The banner says "Lets stop becoming a country that makes war". The Japan Times notes that discussions about revising the war-renouncing Article 9, which limits the military to self-defense, have been brewing for years, but the recent nuclear threat from North Korea has brought the debate to a head: The anniversary also comes at a time when Japan has seen its first postwar-born prime minister take office, a conservative hawk who declared amending the Constitution a priority in his effort to end the "postwar regime" of guilt. "It's been 60 years, and during this time there has been a change of hands between two generations," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday on the eve of the anniversary. "Over this long period of ti

The Doors: LA Woman

Great video with a lot of ambience from Los Angeles in the 1970s and maybe 1980s. Interesting to see that the Japanese community in LA played such a big role at the city's festivals and that The Doors payed attention. Little Tokyo in LA had 30,000 Japanese-American residents at its peak. Little Tokyo extended east and south of the present location, and covered approximately one square mile. The area was a magnet for immigrating Japanese until the racist U.S. Exclusion Act of 1924 halted any further immigration. Nisei Week is a good website too (Nisei or 二世 lit. means second generation). More about the internment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during WW2, based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership". Densho is a nonprofit organization started in 1996, to document oral histories from Japanese Americans at that time. All very relevant today, as we have to make decisions about how to deal with people of faiths and backgrou

Asahi: Natural energy

Subsidies are a great way to help consumers who want to change into more sustainable forms of energy supply, such as sun power. How is Japan doing? Asahi has the latest news in an editorial today about Natural Energy : For many years, Japan prided itself as being the world's top generator of solar power. But at the end of last year, it lost the title to Germany. In Japan, the purchase price of solar energy is only one-third of Germany's. In addition, government subsidies to households using solar energy, which kept declining year by year, were completely abolished in March. Even though Japanese companies are supplying nearly half of the global demand for solar panels, they lost the support needed to expand the domestic market. Business Week: Another Dawn For Solar Power : "Tech breakthroughs and high energy prices are rekindling the industry" Lots of sun power news at Treehugger . Enjoy. Japan has quietly been a leader in the field of solar energy for 20 years or