Showing posts from May, 2008


Here are a couple of updates on Kurashi events over the past few days - things have been busy: Japan said Friday it will accept the draft of an international treaty banning cluster bombs, except for the latest types, and eventually abolish all of those weapons owned by the Self-Defense Forces. The decision, a turnaround from the government's traditional stance, came in response to an agreement on the draft treaty reached in Dublin on Wednesday. The treaty was negotiated by a group of countries, including Norway, supporting a ban under what is known as the Oslo Process. It was formally adopted in Dublin on Friday. Asahi: Japan OKs ban on cluster bombs Nongovernmental organizations on Friday called on the Japanese and African governments to take urgent action to mitigate the food crisis in Africa as well as secure additional resources beyond current aid commitments to deal with the impacts of volatile changes in climate. "The doubling of aid to Africa is a welcoming step in the

More protests in Seoul

Thousands of South Korean citizens are continuing their candlelight vigils against president Lee's decision to start importing American beef without proper controls, due to concerns about Mad Cow Disease. They are also furious about the Free Trade Agreement with the US and taking to the streets - more protests are expected this weekend. Tens of thousands of citizens and students from more than 1,000 civic groups took to the streets hours after the government officially announced the resumption of U.S. beef imports, which will be available to consumers as early as next week. However, protestors gathered at plazas in front of Seoul City Hall and Cheonggae Square, both of which are in downtown Seoul, holding a candle in one hand and placards criticizing the deal in the other chanting "Nullify the beef deal," "Eat the mad cow yourself Lee Myung-bak," and "Impeachment." The Korea Times: Beef Import Decision Triggers Protests

G8 Environment Ministers meeting in Kobe

Standing in front of Maps of "Japanese environment technologies expanding to the world" as they visit the Environment Fair in Kobe, what where these ministers* really thinking? European and developing countries urged the United States and Japan on Sunday to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. But all they could agree was to make 50% reductions "by 2050". Wake up guys. That's LATE. Did John F. Kennedy say, "Hey lets put a man on moon by the end of the 21st Century" - No, he said, lets do it by the end of the decade. By setting a tough deadline you get things done. In my opinion, 2050 is not a deadline. They might as well have said, "Sorry, we don't know what to do, we can't agree on anything, and we accept the blame." And then they should have all resigned. Reuters notes that some environmental activists said the ministers had made progress -- but not very much: "We're at the point where there needs

Rice planting in Seoul

The Korea Times has a nice photo special with more photos of the rice planting event in central Seoul this weekend. Go to The Korea Times: Rice Planting in the Heart of the City and click on the link.

Peaceful Japan

View of Wagakuni-san from Sainen-ji, Inada, Kasama City, Ibaraki. The 12th Century monk Shinran Shonin lived here for 20 years and wrote that the mountain reminded him of Mt. Hiei back in Kyoto where he first studied Buddhism. Wagakuni means "our country" - the expression is reserved for Japanese referring to Japan. (click picture to enlarge) Japan has been ranked as the 5th "most peaceful" country on the 2008 Global Peace Index for the second year in a row. Number one was Iceland. The USA ranked 97th, China 67th. Japan was the only G8* country to make the top ten. Top Ten on the Global Peace Index The GPI was founded by Steve Killelea, an Australian IT entrepreneur. The 140 countries examined the 2008 rankings were rated by a panel of experts based on 24 factors, such as a country's relations with its neighbors, percent of its budget that is spent on the military, internal or external wars, violent crime rate, respect for human rights, prison pop

UN talks on cluster bombs in Dublin

I'm hoping the UN talks on cluster bombs will not be stalled by the fact that this country has about 4 different types of them. Japan participates in talks, while the US is not "a party" meaning it does not even want to discuss the issue. China and Russia also do not participate. Why? Any Chinese or Russian reader of this humble blog who would like to shed some light...? Daily reports from the conference here . Countries that "acknowledge they cause unacceptable harm to civilians but seek a transition period to allow them to develop alternatives" are Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Japan in this group. I have no idea why modern democracies in a civilized world still needs cluster bombs or any weapons of mass destruction. Read more: Reuters/IHT: U.N. calls for global cluster bomb ban The Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions will take place from 19-30 May 2008 in Dublin, Ireland. An earlier article notes that the Pope encourages the c

"Utter Tragedy"

Here is an opportunity to watch , listen or read Democracy Now's interview with Hans Blix, former Chief UN Weapons Inspector. He also discusses Iran, Israel, and the oil crisis. AMY GOODMAN: And your assessment of the war in Iraq today and what it has done? HANS BLIX: I think it’s an utter tragedy that—what has happened. The US and others expected it would be a short warfare. They expected to find weapons of mass destruction. And it has now gone on for many years, and Iraq is still not at rest. So I think it shows that the military solution was an erroneous one.

Wild relatives

WWF is a global environmental organization with an office in Japan since 1971. I wish they had more resources to lobby the Japanese government on issues related to crop biodiversity. In Bonn this month, important UN negotiations are taking place, indeed "flying under the radar" here in Japan. Reuters notes that almost 200 nations are meeting for the UN Convention on Biodiversity from May 19-30 for negotiations on ways to protect the diversity of animals and plants from threats including pollution, climate change and loss of habitats: "Basic food crops dangerously vulnerable," the WWF said in a headline of a statement about a new WWF map showing that areas in which wild varieties of crops are protected often cover less than five percent of their natural ranges. "We already have reserves and national parks to protect charismatic species like pandas and tigers, and to preserve outstanding areas of natural beauty," said Liza Higgins-Zogib, Manager of People an

Tokyo residents still "yellow"?

Sorry for the poor joke in the title, hope noone takes offence, but the "green" trend here in Japan obviously needs to be backed up with action - and education. What Hakuhodo has found is that more than 40% of Tokyo residents "don't want to sacrifice a convenient lifestyle to prevent global warming." Hakuhodo calls this the "Eco Dilemma" 1) Hakuhodo is a large advertising agency that also looks at lifestyles. The report is in Japanese, called Research News 「世界8都市・環境生活調査」 2) and I do hope they will translate it to other languages soon. AFP/Yahoo has more details : In a list of 27 daily activities considered to counter global warming, from taking only short showers to participating in tree-planting activities, Tokyo residents only scored above average for five of them. In particular, Tokyo dwellers came last when it comes to studying about global warming or preserving the environment. They also ranked lowest when it comes to buying eco-friendly product

Good news from Tokyo

Risa Maeda over at Reuters has done a really terrific job with a story that other media here seems to have missed: Tokyo aims to take a major step in meeting its pollution-reducing target by revising an emissions cutting bill. This is news that ought to get much more attention in Japan and around the world: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will propose to the city assembly next month revising a bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions from big offices and factories in five years from April 2010. If passed it will enable the capital to become a pioneer in Japan by applying a mandatory cap-and-trade scheme of emissions on individual firms. Japan's central government has been struggling to decide how to curb emissions beyond the current voluntary pledges by major industries, and whether to introduce a carbon trading scheme like the one in Europe. "The new bill will make Tokyo an advanced environmentally-friendly city," said Satoshi Yamashita, director at Tokyo's environme

Rice fields

Rice fields here in Japan are so much part of the daily life. You drive past them, you bicycle or walk there, greeting the farmer, saying "good morning" and there is a mutual smile as you both remember long talks you had earlier this year, in the winter months, wondering about this and that. Pandabonium sent me this photo he took last week near Kasama. I like the way that white truck is far away in the distance. We are all having to learn how to live without cars and gasoline, now it is a time to start appreciating biodiversity and abundant water.

NHK: Dealing with environmental issues

In February, I complained about NHK's poor environmental record . Today, they responded with an interview with the broadcasting company's new president, Mr. Shigeo Fukuchi, on the top of the Broadcasting Center Building (oupps, he needed help to locate Tokyo Tower...). On the NHK Eco 2008 page , click on the banner to find the video. As broadcasters move to 24 hour programming, they use more and more energy. NHK is no exception. Mr Fukuchi notes that this is their biggest challenge. In Kobe, NHK has installed solar cells on the roof of the broadcast center (still something their national center in Tokyo has failed to do) while wind power, albeit on a small scale, has been installed at towers around the country. Mr. Shigeo Fukuchi is aware that the reduction of CO2 emissions and the conservation of the global environment are becoming ever more pressing issues: NHK intends to foster public awareness of and interest in these issues and encourage viewers and listeners to take act

Sting: Desert Rose

I have liked Sting since he was just the bass player/singer of The Police. In Tokyo, I vividly remember Fragile - seeing this video up on the huge screen at Studio Alta, Shinjuku West Exit. I stopped right there, just having to see what he was doing, playing solo acoustic guitar (very well) with a new, smashing hair style. So good. "Like tears from the stars"... maybe 1991? Fragile (click to start please, since the video cannot be embedded) And then, in September 2001, he happened to be in New York City, performing that very song.... Sting feat. Cheb Mami - Desert Rose (Original video) And now? US causalities of Iraq and Afghanistan: Dead: 4,569 Wounded: 31,984 Injured: 10,180 Ill (however you define that) 28,451 (As of May 7, 2008) Iraqi deaths due to US invasion: 1,209,263 (Source: Just Foreign ) Hat tip to Isis (thanks for the sharp focus).

Hug a local farmer

A farm ministry white paper on agriculture issued a strong warning Friday over an expected tightening of the supply-demand balance in the world food market, saying Japan may be significantly affected due to its low food self-sufficiency. The fiscal 2007 white paper said the food situation for Japanese households is seeing "unprecedented changes." If food imports become impossible, households will be unable to secure sufficient food, the report says. The solution? Hug a local farmer: "...the report stresses that it is necessary to increase the consumption of domestically produced food while calling for the public to review its eating habits, including consuming food wastefully. Even if farm imports decline to nothing, households can secure minimum amounts of calories by switching mainstay domestic food production from meat and vegetables to potatoes, the report says, noting this will lead to a dramatic change in what is served." The Japan Times/Kyodo: Import-dep

Akihabara Eco

This is pretty funny. Akihabara, the district in Tokyo with hundreds of shops selling the latest computers and electronic gadgets, is also known for its amazing geek culture. The otaku , mostly guys - but also gals - enjoy a subculture of manga and anime - not to mention hentai - that has become famous all over the world. Now, in May, the cosplay maids at Akihabara cafes and restaurants have teamed up to form an environmentally friendly NGO. Their " My Maid Bag " campaign encourages customers to bring their own shopping bag (to reduce plastic) and not accept yet another layer of useless packaging. Great idea! Akibaeco is a blog devoted to changing - in the sense of greening - the hearts and minds of otaku in Akihabara and all over the world. Here are links to some of the fine establishments that have participated, including a moe hair salon, a dart pub, and very polite service when you order coffee: @ほ~むCafe カフェ&キッ

Peak DNA: Live Webcast from CBD meeting in Bonn

If you want to know how United Nation meetings with government officials are carried out, please watch the Live Webcast here with an Overview Website here . With a Real Player, you should be able to watch how government delegates and international NGOs discuss risky GM crops and how to protect biodiversity. Japan is a party to the CBD since 2004, together with most countries around the World, except the United States, which continues to ignore and obstruct international agreements like this, slowing down the crucial process to protect biodiversity. Daily reports and photos from IISD Linkages . (CBD: Convention on Biodiversity, also known as the Cartagena Protocol - we can call this "Peak DNA" as a reference to the crisis we are facing if we lose biological diversity especially for important food crops)

Update from Bonn

About 5,000 activists marched through the German city of Bonn on Monday to protest against genetically modified food at the start of a UN conference to discuss risks linked to the technology. Campaigners, many waving colourful flags and banners with slogans such as "Biofuel Creates Hunger" and "Good Food Instead Of GM Food", walked and danced through the western German city. Some drove tractors and floats. "We are protesting for biodiversity and against the destruction of nature, against GM, for the protection of biodiversity," activist Amira Busch told Reuters Television. Reuters: GM Crop Foes March In Germany As UN Summit Starts Press material: Planet Diversity Flyer in English (pdf, 2.6 MB) Planet Diversity Flyer in Japanese (pdf)

Planet Diversity

A big conference is starting tomorrow May 12 in Bonn, Germany about GMO-free zones, called Planet Diversity . Many delegates from all over the world, including Japan, will participate. Keisuke Amagasa from the No! GMO Campaign , Shimizu Ryoko from the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative , and former Hokkaido vice-governor Asada Shinji are among the speakers and volunteers. There will also be a festival to celebrate diversity: A holiday of sense and the senses – diversity has thousands of faces, tastes, drinks, traditions, songs and treats. They are inviting professional and amateur farmers and gardeners, seed producers and propagators, chefs and food producers to present the diversity of their products, varieties and plants to be seen and smelled, shared and tasted. It will be a great Festival of Diversity, to which they invite the people and families of Bonn, Cologne and surrounding areas as well as all friends from Europe and the world. With theatre, music, animals, plants, seeds,

"President Hu picks up green ideas"

China's president Hu Jintao has visited a PET bottle-recycling factory at a green industrial zone in Kawasaki, Japan. China Daily says Hu listened and took notes as Masanori Suzuki, an employee of the plant owned by JFE Group, talked about its environmental protection program. The environment has been one of the key issues on Hu's agenda during his Japan visit. On Wednesday in Tokyo, Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian and Japan's Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita signed a document agreeing to cooperate on wastewater treatment projects in rural China. Pilot schemes, aimed at reducing the amount of pollutants discharged into the Yangtze River, will begin this year in Jiangsu and Chongqing. Under the agreement, Japan will set up drainage disposal facilities, including water purification tanks, in the two regions. Seminars on wastewater disposal technology will also be held in China. JFE Group has said it will share its environmental protection expertise with some Chinese

Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan

There are actually quite a few buildings in Japan designed or inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, as mentioned in P's fascinating post previously here on Kurashi: Magnificient Obsessions (thanks!) The Imperial Hotel in central Tokyo was a landmark until the late 1960s. Old Tokyo has some wonderful photos from postcards, that I imagine some of you may have in your grandfathers' collections... Wow, have a look at that luggage sticker - Imagine having that on your suitcase back in the 1920s or 1930s! Here is the entrance of the Yamamura House in Hyogo prefecture, also known as the Yodoko House . It was completed in 1924. But this is also about people. Arata Endo was one of the Japanese architects who studied Wright's philosophy. This helped him to build his ideal view of organic architecture: "to find a point where humans and architecture meet, to make architecture the art based on everyday lives, and not to classify architecture into practicality, science or art." I

Magnificent Obsession

As we explore a healthier lifestyle, an oft overlooked but very important aspect of our lives is architecture. Modern cities and their suburbs are often bleak, impersonal places which are uncomfortable to live in, both physically and spiritually, and are unsustainable both in their construction and energy use. Organic architecture addresses these issues, creating buildings with spaces that are both pleasing and practical. Many people know that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (completed 1923), but few are aware of how much time he spent in Japan, how pivotal that hotel was in his career, the other buildings he designed here, or the lasting influence he had on the many Japanese architects who studied under him and worked with him. Unlike the bleak modernist buildings of concrete slabs (Japanese public schools leap to mind) and the monolithic towers of cities today, Wright's organic designs emphasize the unity between man and nature. His buildings are scaled

Cyclone Nargis

NASA image of the scope of the tragedy that befell Myanmar (or Burma). From Treehugger . NHK and The Japan Red Cross have a post office account for all of you who may want to send money to help: ミャンマーサイクロン災害救援金 【郵便振替】 振替口座 (口座名義) 日本赤十字社 (口座番号) 00110-2-5606

Planting rice in Japan, one by one

(Source: Miyamotoya blog )

Food Mileage

Over at Consumers Union of Japan , we published a brief discussion about Food Mileage , written by Miyake Seiko at Food Safety Citizens' Watch. I think this quote from a study by Tetsuya Nakata at the Kyushu Regional Agricultural Administration Office is significant : In 2001, Japan’s total volume of food imports was 58 million tons and its food mileage was 900 billion ton-km, the latter being almost 1.6 times the total domestic freightage. International comparisons show that this figure is high. The food mileage of South Korea and the United States are around 30 to 40% of Japan’s, the United Kingdom and Germany about 20% and France around 10%. The per capita figure of Japan is also high.Japan’s remarkably high food mileage is largely due to particular commodities such as grains and distant export countries such as the United States, and incurs environmental concerns. Japan’s huge volume of food imports accompanied by long-distance transportation may be damaging the global environm

"Don't lose your true self!"

As Ryokan said when there was a great earthquake, If there is a tragedy, tragedy is fine If sick, then sickness is fine, If dying, then dying is fine. That was not being said from some safe cozy place rather in the same tragedy and crisis to be saying. "Don't hurry around and be so panicked!" While in the same crisis, Ryokan is saying, "Don't lose your true self!" Do not be confused by the circumstances! We lose track of our being alive. If our mind is pure and empty then we can receive and accept whatever comes and our wisdom will come forth spontaneously, naturally and obviously. If we think we cannot receive or accept something, that is an obstruction in our mind. Even in the worst crisis we go through it very evenly. From Shodo Harada Roshi's newsletter .

The World According to Monsanto

A documentary aired in France on March 11 that Americans will probably never be shown. It is about Monsanto and it GM "products", their effects on farming, the environment, and possibly you, the consumer. The French documentary, called “The world according to Monsanto” and directed by independent filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin, paints a grim picture of a company with a long track record of environmental crimes and health scandals. So far, Japan has kept these GM products out. As I write this, the European Union is voting on whether or not to allow three types of GM crops to be grown in Europe - stay tuned. Why be concerned? Watch the documentary... Here is a 3 minute clip about the film: bande annonce film Monsanto by rue89 The full documentary is here (108 minutes): Did you know that if you live the United States you have a 75% chance of buying something that contains genetically modified ingredients when you are at the supermarket? Close to one third of the c

Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War

A unique three-day international conference is being held at Makuhari near Tokyo, a day after the 61st anniversary of the enforcement of Japan's Constitution. It is organized by nongovernmental groups, including Japan-based Peace Boat . Organizers said the meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the significance of the constitutional article that endorses demilitarization and what people can do to promote its spirit, notes The Japan Times . While the constitution stipulates that Japan renounces war as a sovereign right and that it will not maintain land, sea and air forces, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been keen to make amendments. "The war in Iraq has shown that even the strongest, biggest army in the world can not keep peace in a single city. It proves that aggression never instates peace," Tatsuya Yoshioka, director of Peace Boat and a representative of the event's organizing committee, said during the opening remarks. "Article 9 is a treasu