Showing posts from 2007

Kanda River revisited

My river quiz a few weeks ago was a more difficult than I had imagined, with the two winners getting two of the five photos right. The Kamo River in Kyoto was easy, and the Arakawa Dam up in the Chichibu region of Saitama could be found in a previous post about Arakawa River (should that be called the Ara River, by the way?). The others are: Kanda River, Koma River and Sagawa River (that one is near Tama river between Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture, and was in the news this year as typhoon Fitow wrecked an old bridge). Kanda River is a man-made canal that runs through Tokyo, and is connected to the Imperial Moat and the Sumida River. It played an important role for the economy before the age of cars and express highways, but Kanda river was actually created to avoid floods in the Edo era. Hiroshige included it in several of his famous views from the capital. My photo is from a bridge just north of Takadanobaba station, and if you look really hard, you can see the green Yamanote line tr


  A bonenkai is a Japanese office party at the end of the year, literally meaning "forgetting the year". I had a lot of fun with my coworkers in Takadanobaba, going on to a second party in a small Burmese karaoke bar. We sang Japanese enka and The Beatles. A splendid time indeed. Looking forward to 2008!

Oil prices affecting Korea

South Korea is having big troubles dealing with current high oil prices. Chosun Ilbo compares the lack of preparedness to Japan: In Japan, 1.5 million small cars are sold each year, accounting for 30 percent of total auto sales. But in Korea, only 40,000 to 50,000 small cars are sold each year, accounting for just around four percent of total sales. Chosun Ilbo also notes that in Korea, 60 percent of gasoline prices is tax, proposing that this leads to an unwillingness to act: From a larger perspective, the more oil we consume, the more tax the government collects, naturally leading to a policy that supports increased tax revenues. The government needs to abandon this policy that stokes energy consumption. If the government cannot lower taxes on oil products and automobiles, then it must come up with measures ensuring that such revenues go into the development of energy-saving technologies. Korea is trying to strengthen its auto fuel efficiency standards by 2012 to reduce green gas emi

Happy holidays

Japan has a secret treasure - its hot springs. It can get pretty cold here around this time of year, -19C in parts of Hokkaido last night. You are lucky if you can head up to the hills, to the small hostels or inns that feature steaming hot water from springs deep in the volcanic mountains. They also (often) have great food. With friends, I headed up to Chichibu, Saitama, where the Arakawa River has its origin, providing fresh water to some 30 million people in the greater Tokyo region. We got a delishious mushroom based stew with tofu and plenty of mountain treats. Sweet Chichibu wine was served, and konbu, to be enjoyed with the sweet miso (bean paste). I had about three baths, including the rotenburo (outdoors hot spring). Never slept so well in my entire life. The next day, we hiked back to our train station, eating yuzu off trees along the road, crossing the impressive, 85 meter long Arakawa Bridge, built in 1923. Happy holidays.

ODA: No time to lose

China and Japan signed a final agreement for a 46.3 billion yen (US$409.4 million) loan to fund environmental projects in central and western China, the official Xinhua news agency has reported. The loan, signed by China's deputy finance minister and the governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation , carries an interest rate of 0.65 percent to 1.4 percent and has a term of 25 to 40 years, according to Reuters . The loan will fund air pollution reduction and urban waste projects in six cities and provinces in central and western China. With more production moving from Japan to China, it makes sense to help the Chinese with pollution issues. I hope other countries will follow suit over the next few years. There is no time to lose. JBIC Today is the English newsletter of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. There will be big changes for Japanese ODA in 2008, as JBIC will merge with the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The December 2007 issue has more d

OUR DAILY BREAD (いのちの食べかた)

I will go to Shibuya today to see the documentary, Our Daily Bread: Japanese website here and blog . Welcome to the world of industrial food production and high-tech farming! To the rhythm of conveyor belts and immense machines, the film looks without commenting into the places where food is produced in Europe: monumental spaces, surreal landscapes and bizarre sounds - a cool, industrial environment which leaves little space for individualism. People, animals, crops and machines play a supporting role in the logistics of this system which provides our society’s standard of living. The English website has more . Update: I was surprised that the Forum, a Shibuya movie theatre, was packed yesterday on a Saturday before X-mas... Not exactly your ordinary film. Not a word is spoken, there are no explanations, only the impact of what you actually see on the screen. Should be shown in schools. By the way, the Japanese title is curious: Inochi no tabekata literally means "Eating

How many Japanese legislators does it take to change a light bulb?

Ok, ok, no joke in the title above... Kyodo reported that Japan will propose putting an end to domestic production and sale of energy-consuming incandescent bulbs to support a shift to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs to cut electricity consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. The government is trying to work out the details, including the designated transition period for a shift from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs, with some proposing the period to be within three years, the sources said. Thomas Edison's old light bulbs are incredibly inefficient, converting only about 5 percent of the energy they receive into light. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs are 70-80% more energy efficient than their old incandescent counterpart and last significantly longer. The Japan Times: Lights out for incandescent bulbs in energy-saving proposal This ninja joke is not bad at all: Q: How many Ninja does it take to ... ah. Seems there is a new bulb in already, and no sign of the old one. Plus, the ro

Food mileage

Have you ever considered how far your food travels? It might sound like an abstract question, but what we eat has a lot of impact on the environment, especially if it is transported over long distances. This is the starting point of the "food mileage" discussion. Food mileage can be defined as the aggregate product of a food item's weight and its transportation distance. It is expressed in units of t-km (1000-kilometer). To present it in a simpler way, the Osaka-based Aozora Foundation calculated the resulting CO2 emissions by multiplying a coefficient according to the means of transportation. The term was coined by Tim Lang in Britain as " food miles " and promoted by civic groups such as Friends of the Earth. The term "food mileage" was created in Japan when the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry's Policy Research Institute began researching the issue around 2000. According to the institute's survey based on the 2001 data of six co

Japan will not help the U.S. banks

Japan's top three banks are expected to resist a request to put up a total of $15 billion for a U.S.-led subprime rescue fund, a move that could further cloud prospects for the bailout plan, says Reuters : "It could prove quite difficult for us to put up funds for this," said an executive at one of the megabanks, adding that he did not think the fund would be able to sell the commercial paper that would in theory be supported by Japanese credit lines. "Logically, it just doesn't make sense for us." And people here are not forgetting a certain arrogance only a few years ago: "What did America do when we had our non-performing loan problem? They just pushed us into the corner. European banks also ran away. Why should Japan now shoulder this burden?" said one megabank executive. Hat tip to Robert over at Pure Land Mountain , a blogger I like a lot, who further rubs it in by making the point that if this were you or me asking for money on such terms we

China: Zone for sustainable development

A cluster of cities in central China has been designated the country's latest experimental zone, this one for energy saving and environmentally friendly programmes, according to Reuters : China has a history of marking out zones for preferential policies which, if successful, are then rolled out across the country. Its most famous were the "special economic zones" of the south which launched the country's market reforms 30 years ago. Now the Hunan cities of Changsha, Zhuzhou and Xiangtan -- late chairman Mao Zedong's hometown -- as well as the Hubei capital of Wuhan, will be targeted to lead China's drive to make its breakneck economic growth more environmentally sustainable. The cities must "as quickly as possible form systems and mechanisms beneficial to energy saving and environmental and ecological protection", the People's Daily cited a notice from the National Development and Reform Commission as saying. Hunan governor Zhou Qiang said the

Eco Calender

For those who have everything, yet feel the need to give. The 2008 edition focuses on "Slow Life Savoring Human Skills," with messages and additional information from Japan Environmental Exchange : Its colorful illustrations were drawn by well-known environmental cartoonist High Moon (Dr. Takatsuki Hiroshi) of Ishikawa Prefectural University. We are sure that you will find his whimsical drawings contain easily understood but thought-provoking messages, so please enjoy this year's eco-calendar. We hope that you will also find it has useful hints on reducing global warming activities and on leading a satisfying slow life. To order, please send a postcard, fax or e-mail to J.E.E. writing clearly your name, phone number, address, and the number of copies that you wish to receive. J.E.E. will include the bill for your order, and you can pay by postal transfer (yubin furikomi). Japan Environmental Exchange

Macha Moment

Alive in Kyoto , a blog I like a lot, had a photo that captured my imagination. Enjoy...

Oil or biofuels? Japan has neither

Bioethanol from rice straw and husks and used construction materials, such as waste wood and wood chips, at a cost of 100 yen per liter? At present, such fuel costs more like 2000 yen, making it yet another pipe dream. Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. He frequently writes for Asia Times: The rising oil price is one of the biggest potential threats to the Japanese economy. The country imports almost all of its oil - 4.2 million barrels a day last year - with nearly 90% coming from the Middle East. Domestic gasoline prices soared to their highest-ever levels last week, reaching an average of 154.9 yen, according to the Oil Information Center, after global crude oil prices hit a record US$99.29 a barrel last month. The New National Energy Strategy, which was compiled last year by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), set a goal of reducing the nation's reliance on oil for transport to 80% from t

Bali quotes

NHK World: Japan's Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita has expressed appreciation following the adoption of the Bali road map. Mr Kamoshita told reporters that he is satisfied that a basis has been established from which all countries can negotiate. He said he is especially happy that the US has expressed its intention to join the discussions in 2 years. Mr Kamoshita also said there will be a tough road ahead and that he hopes to promote international talks ahead of the G8 Summit scheduled for July in Hokkaido, northern Japan. Wall Street Journal: In a dramatic finish to a U.N. climate conference, world leaders adopted a plan Saturday to negotiate a new global warming pact by 2009, after the U.S. backed down in a battle over wording supported by developing nations and Europe. The U.S. stand had drawn loud boos and sharp floor rebukes -- "Lead, or get out of the way!" one delegate demanded -- before Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky reversed her position, cleari

Anime: Tales of Agriculture

Moyashimon ( Tales of Agriculture ) is a fun anime that aired on Fuji TV this fall in Japan. The story is about Sawaki-kun, a young student with a special skill - he can see bacteria! As wacky as that sounds, the story is an educational journey among the trillions of little invisible living creatures that surround us all, all the time, in spite of anti-bacterial tissues, soaps and sprays. Moreover, useful bacterias give us food and drink, as well as important medicines. Fond of earth worms and ancient kuchikami sake-making methods (in ancient Japan, shrine maidens chewed rice to start the fermentation that produced sake)? I found 12 episodes on YouTube with English subtitles. Here is Episode 1, 1/3: Trivia: Portugese bloggers have identified the Tokyo campus of the "Department of Agriculture", Sawaki Tadayasu's new school, as the Universidade de Coimbra , founded in 1290! (Cute bacteria from Hobby Blog , who informs us that these are in fact magnets made by Kaiyodoo . Pe

Angry Girl

Lela Lee draws a hilarious cartoon that I stumbled upon quite by accident here on my old computer. Oh the irony of seeing racism as a topic of a joke. But there is more to her wit too. Do have a browse. Hope I don't make Lee angry by noting that her Angry Asian Girl looks a lot like Chibi Maruko-chan ...

Reducing car exhaust emissions

Japan's Ministry of the Environment has announced the world's strictest rules for car exhaust emissions : 1. In a bid to dramatically reduce particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), newly implemented emission regulations for diesel motor vehicles will come close to matching those for gasoline motor vehicles. 2. With concerns to PM emissions for gasoline motor vehicles, the same level of PM regulations will be implemented as for diesel motor vehicles. Following this amendment, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will make partial amendments to the "Announcement that Prescribes Details of Safety Regulations for Road Vehicles" (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Announcement No. 619 of July 15, 2002) under the Road Vehicles Act. NHK World notes that these regulatory standards, announced on Thursday, will be implemented in 2009 for all new diesel vehicles: The new rules call for lowering the level of particulate matter emitted every 1


The kanji for 2007 has been selected - "fake" 「偽」 ( nise , as in " nisemono " 「偽物」) due to a number of scandals. Mari has more here . She notes that the food scandals and the Defence Agency (actually the Japanese Defense Ministry) are among the top stories that made this trend for 2007. The Guardian: Japan defence ministry raided in bribery scandal

Nordic Modernism at Opera City, Tokyo

Scandinavian objects from the 1950s and 1960s are on display at the Opera City Art Gallery in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Nordic designers tend to take environmental considerations into concern. For me, these things are both familiar and nostalgic, having grown up with the Tetra Pak milk cartoons and Marimekko curtains (that my mother loved). Nordic Modernism 3 November (Saturday) 2007 - 14 January (Monday) 2008 Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery Open hours: 11:00 - 19:00 (to 20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, entry up to 30 minutes before closing) Closed on Mondays (except December 24 and January 14), 29 December - January 3 Admission: Adult 1,000 (800) yen, University and High School Students 800 (600) yen, Junior High and Elementary School Students 600 (400) yen Some of these chairs and lamps that my grandparents took for granted are now very expensive collectors' items...

"We need to change the lifestyle of people"

The world has tools to cut emissions massively but is not using them or investing enough in technology needed to avert dangerous climate change, according to Nobuo Tanaka, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency : Nobuo Tanaka said little time should be spent on celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol to tackle global warming, because rapid emissions growth was making its targets less relevant and governments were moving too slowly. "The most scarce resource on earth is not natural resources, nor the capital investment or money, but time. And now is the time for action," he told a news conference on the sidelines of UN climate talks in the Indonesian island of Bali. Nobuo Tanaka noted that governments need to have systems ready to convince investors to channel an estimated US$22 trillion required to reform the energy sector by 2030. And such change must be implemented to "change the lifestyle of people". Reuters: World Not Doing Eno

NHK Songs: A Thousand Winds & Jupiter

A Thousand Winds Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there; I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sun on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there; I did not die. Video with Akikawa Masafumi & Hirahara Ayaka. A Thousand Winds seems to be based on an old Navaho poem. I also love the Japanese lyrics to Jupiter , which inspired a lot of people after the Niigata earthquake. Makes me want to pray. Enjoy.

South Korea: Another massive oil spill...

BBC reports that oil from a damaged tanker has reached South Korea's west coast, not far from a nature reserve. Emergency workers in Taean region are battling to stop the slick, now up to 20km (12 miles) long, from harming wildlife and valuable sea farms. More than 10,000 metric tons of oil began leaking into the sea from Hebei Spirit, a single-hull oil tanker. Korean Maritime officials say it is the country's worst oil spill since 1995, when 5,000 tonnes of oil washed onto the country's southern coast. The incident occurred off Daesan Port, home to the Hyundai Oilbank refinery that was the Hebei Spirit's destination, northwest of the Taean peninsula. Taean County, southwest of Seoul, is known for its rich seafood resources, such as fish and seaweed farms. The Taean Marine National Park encompasses about 130 islands, and the area is famed for tourism spots such as Mallipo Beach, Chollipo Beach and Anmyeon Island. Its low hills and pine-fringed beaches and inlets are amo

Right Livelihood Award

The Right Livelihood Award celebrates and supports people of vision. People who have ideas and apply them in concrete initiatives for the public good. They give hope for tomorrow, for a world in peace and balance. They demonstrate how we can overcome oppression, war, poverty, the destruction of our environment, and a widespread sense of meaninglessness and fear. Today, Christopher Weeramantry (Sri Lanka), Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (Kenya), and Percy and Louise Schmeiser (Canada) will share the award with The company Grameen Shakti (Bangladesh). I met Percy here in Tokyo and would like to congratulate him and his wife, as well as the others! The Jury honours Percy and Louise Schmeiser "for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers' rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws". There award ceremony is held in the Swedish Parliament Building in Stockholm. In 2005, TIME Magazine named Jakob von Uexkull

CUJ History update

We have updated the Consumers Union of Japan History Pages with lots of information from the active days in the 1980s, including CUJ’s strong stand against nuclear power after the Chernobyl disaster, as well as food safety issues. - Editors Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) was established by Mr. Takeuchi Naokazu in 1969. For over 30 years, CUJ has led the Japanese consumer movement. In 2006, CUJ was officially certified as a non-profit organization by the new Japanese NPO legislation. Do have a look at the CUJ English website or the Japanese website: 日本消費者連盟

River Quiz

As I have noted on this blog from time to time, I think Japan has wonderful water, but the contrast can be great. Here is a small quiz for my avid readers: can you identify the following five locations? Update: New rules! Everyone who can identify one or more of the rivers below will receive an original price!

Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu

NHK World reports that participants in the first international conference on water problems in the Asia-Pacific region ended their two-day meeting with a declaration to supply safe drinking water to everyone in the region by 2025: Political leaders and experts from 36 countries and territories gathered for the 1st Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu, southwestern Japan. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori chaired the meeting. On Tuesday, the participants adopted a memorandum titled "A Message from Beppu," urging immediate action by the world's governments to combat waterborne diseases. The memorandum calls for populations in the Asia-Pacific region that have no access to clean drinking water to be halved by 2015, and made zero by 2025. It also calls on governments to make water sanitation a political priority, and to increase funding for related projects. The Asia-Pacific Water Forum website has the documents about the efforts to provide safe water and sanitation

China and Japan discussing food safety

Japanese food companies are very interested in increasing imports of foods from China. The governments have agreed to continue to cooperate and improve their product quality and food safety systems, according to Xinhua/China Daily. The two countries agreed to solve issues including exports of Chinese pumpkins and the meat of artiodactyls (cattle, deer and other hoofed animals) to Japan, as well as Japanese rice exports to China: According to discussions between the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officials in Beijing on Sunday, China has agreed to import the second batch of 150 tons of rice from Japan before next March, while Japan agreed to devise and launch working procedures, including insect inspections of Japanese rice, by the end of next March. The first batch of Japanese rice, approximately 24 tons, hit the shelves of department stores in Beijing and Shanghai in July and has been so

Artist at Fukuroda falls

More photos at Pacific Islander .

Japan-China cooperation

Japanese media is reporting from the meeting today in Beijing between Japanese and Chinese ministers regarding food safety cooperation. This was the first meeting under a new dialogue framework set up to enhance mutually beneficial economic ties, with an unprecedented six cabinet members from Tokyo participating, according to Kyodo: The ministers agreed that the Japanese and Chinese economies are in a "win-win" relationship, according to a joint document issued after the Japan-China High-Level Economic Dialogue. During the half-day meeting, the participants agreed on exchanging information on food safety, which has recently emerged as a social problem in both countries, and on launching a working group to help China promote measures aimed at reducing air pollution and curbing global warming simultaneously. We might hear a lot about tension between Japan and China, but there are also signs of closer ties between the two countries. These are countries with relations stretch

Who is "Roger Dahl" !?!

Roger Dahl is seriously funny. More cartoons here . Hmm... I can't find anything about him on the Internet. Who is "Roger Dahl"?? He creates the Zero Gravity strip for The Japan Times. More importantly, how does he manage to maintain such a low-profile? Not even a Wikipedia link . He deserves better. Cheers! Gwen Muranaka is another great cartoonist for The Japan Times that makes me chuckle! She also doubles as editor-in-chief for The Rafu Shimpo , a newspaper based in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles since 1903 . Impressive. Japanese in the United States have a long history.

Water in Asia

Water is an issue that interests me a lot these days. I was buying bottled water (18 liter plastic bottles) but recently decided to switch to tapwater. It doesn't taste as good as the bottled stuff, but here in Japan, tapwater is safe to drink. And I don't want to contribute to more energy waste and pollution by having the plastic bottles delivered by truck to my doorstep. Next week ADB is holding an international water conference in Beppu City, Japan . A team of eminent experts, led by 2006 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate Professor Asit Biswas and supported by a panel of resource persons, have prepared a report about the water issues in Asian countries: ADB: Asian Water Development Outlook 2007 The report is trying to put on a brave face, calling it a "cautiously optimistic" look atAsia’s water future. With existing knowledge, experience, and technology, the region’s water problems are solvable. But in solving these issues, the report highlights that: * Worl

Japan's first carbon credit trade

Marubeni, a Japanese trading company has sold 10,000 tons worth of greenhouse gas emission rights to another company. This is Japan's first major case of carbon-credit trading. NHK World explains that carbon trading allows companies that surpass their emission-cut target to sell that excess cut. They are using an Internet-based system providing information about companies' emission rights: Marubeni Corporation used the Web site to sell 10,000 tons worth of carbon dioxide emission rights to a domestic power company. Marubeni acquired the emission rights by funding a South Korean chemical plant's reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon-credit trading is becoming an increasingly popular method for achieving emission-cut targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

CUJ: Stop clear-cutting Tasmania's forests

Consumers Union of Japan and other groups here are concerned about the clear-cutting of old growth forest in Tasmania, Australia. This fall, a group of activists went there and met with Green Party representatives Bob Brown and Christina Milne. Yasuaki Yamaura has written a report about his impressions from the trip. He notes that most Japanese consumers have no way of knowing where their tissue paper and office paper comes from. Australian Wilderness Society in Tasmania is a NGO with a great website, do have a look. Do read his report, What is happening to Tasmanian Forests? My five cents? The road from this: To this: is paved with the best intentions. More about Tasmania's amazing biodiversity here . Update: On November 22, Australia's Federal Court dismissed the appeal against Gunn's $1.7 billion pulp mill in Tasmania. Activists vow to keep on fighting , as the Wilderness Society issued a call for law reform in response to the dismissal of its

False labels at Makudo

McDonalds - Makudo to Japanese customers - has falsified labels at at least four outlets in Tokyo, it was revealed yesterday. Kyodo reports that the fast food chain is investigating because out-of-date food may have been sold: In response to an inquiry by McDonald's, staff employed by the franchisee admitted instructing subordinates to replace labels showing the actual production dates and hours with false ones, according to the company. What is really interesting is that once again, a whistle-blower inside the company has come forward with details. I wrote about Japan's new rules for protecting whistle-blowers here . Japan's new Whistleblower Protection Act came into force 1 April 2006. Asahi: Four McDonald's outlets in Tokyo suspected of selling falsely labeled salads Update: The scandal is widening, with McDonald's Chairman Eiko Harada saying that mislabeling actually has been common practice for up to six years at some outlets, not two years as

Dr. Mercola: Japanese Consumers Will Not Accept GM Food

Dr. Joseph Mercola's website and newsletter are the largest of its kind in the United States. Impressive. Recently, they noted that Japanese Consumers Will Not Accept GM Food : Japanese consumers are opposed to genetically modified (GM) food and agriculture, and are actively building alliances to keep their country GM-free. As far back as 1997, nearly 500,000 Japanese signed a petition opposing GM food and demanding proper labeling. By 2002, the petition grew to over 2 million signatures. The majority of the Japanese public also wants GM foods to be labeled as such. According to a 2002 survey by the Ministry of Public Management and Home Affairs: * 84 percent of respondents said that labeling is needed if a product is derived from GM crops -- even if the amount is very small * 76 percent said that labeling is needed if a product is derived from GM crops, whether or not it contains any GM material (such as edible oil and soy sauce) Much of the country’s concern about GM crops stems