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Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

All you have to do is look (131)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 8, 2012

A building in Minato Ward, Tokyo, whose owners are participating in a green initiative. According to a government survey, there were 511 installations of this type in Tokyo last year. The aggregate area of the green spaces was 8.9 hectares, or more than 12 soccer fields.

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If cleanliness is next to godliness, then…

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 8, 2012

Photo from the South China Morning Post

BAIDU, the most widely used search engine in China, has a bulletin board for discussion. One user recently started a thread asking, “Why are Japanese Roads So Clean?”

That someone in China thought this would be a worthwhile subject for public discussion contains the implicit assumption that Chinese roads are not as clean. Indeed, many Chinese who come to Japan for the first time are surprised at the cleanliness of its public places because they’re accustomed to streets filled with trash. The Japanese explain this with the general observation that roads and other public spaces in Japan are not for an individual’s exclusive use, so they think they have no right to throw trash there. Public spaces in China are not for the exclusive use of the individual either, but for the Chinese that means they don’t care what they do.

In fact, the thread title claimed that Japanese streets were 10,000 times cleaner than Chinese streets. Here are some of the responses the OP received to his call for opinions.

* Because China is 10,000 times dirtier than Japan. Are you satisfied with that answer?

* It’s the degree of civic awareness. Japan has become urbanized and has a high degree of civic awareness. Large Chinese streets require cleaning 10 times a day, but in Japan once every 10 days is sufficient.

* It’s because China is a developing country. It’s universal that developing countries aren’t as clean as developed countries.

* Japan has a maritime climate.

* 10,000 times? Are you saying that all Chinese streets are like toilets?

* Just because it’s dirty where you live doesn’t give you the right to say that it’s typical of China. It’s clean where I live, anyway.

One factor behind the objections to the thread itself might be that the people responding know only China and have no standard for comparison. The Japanese are relatively restrained in their comments about Chinese cleanliness — at least for public consumption. But Westerners aren’t restrained at all. You know how they can be.

One blogger from England let it rip:

Despite armies of street cleaners China is incredibly dirty. Streets are often littered with discarded food, fruit, paper and other waste. Even in some supermarkets the grime seen on floors would shock most westerners. The most noticeable dirty habit of many Chinese people is spitting. Chinese men especially have the disgusting habit of making loud hawking sounds and spitting the contents of their actions on the road, pavement or wherever they happen to be. While it is mostly men, women too can be seen participating in this vulgar habit. Some people even spit on the bus, and onto the floors of restaurants and public toilets. Many Chinese people also seem to blow their noses in a most indiscreet and vulgar fashion. Handkerchiefs or tissues appear to be too much trouble. Instead people are often seen to use their thumb and forefinger to press their nose and loudly blow out the contents onto the street.

He’s just getting warmed up:

If you’ve managed to survive the food prepared in unhygienic conditions and made it past crowds of spitting individuals, you will at some time need to use a public toilet. You will wish you never had. Chinese toilets are arguably the dirtiest and smelliest in the world. Even festival toilets are no match for what you’ll meet in a Chinese lavatory. There are cultural differences that can and should be tolerated, and there are just plain disgusting habits that hark back to an era of primitiveness when mankind still walked on all fours. China has squat toilets and Western style toilets. The squat toilets are traditional and are a cultural difference. But the toilet habits of many Chinese are not. They are extraordinarily dirty. Sometimes one might think even a dog has cleaner toilet habits than many of them.

He was so worked up, he continued his rant on another site. (At least I think it’s him.)

Could it be that the Chinese are practicing for the littering Olympics? Maybe, though a glance around China would prove otherwise, they feel that to win first prize in that event, they need more practice and so everywhere becomes a target for litter, including bus and train floors. Once I traveled from Wuhan to Beijing. At the end of that journey, the train’s floor was covered with spit, wrappers of all kinds, tissue, sunflower seed husks, apple cores, banana peel, orange peel, piss, more sunflower seed husks, egg shell, plastic bottles and bags, and bread that some bitch didn’t want to eat.

If you tell them not to litter, they look at you like you are a weirdo and ask you what you are doing in China. You are a foreigner; it’s not your business.

Chinese people refuse to accept that they have a problem. They will deny it. As an example, when I was teaching a class on cultural differences, spitting came up and one lady vehemently denied that Chinese people spit more than in any other culture. She noted that her husband had been to Germany recently and saw people spitting on the street too, with a greater frequency than Chinese people. So I questioned my German friend: do people in Germany spit like the Chinese? My German friend was vehement: that’s bullshit. You will hardly ever see people spitting on the street in Germany, except maybe the Chinese there.

At the bottom of the page he has a link to part two of his rant:

City people will claim these are dirty countryside habits but this is a blatant lie. For two years, I lived in a provincial capital in China’s northeast. I worked in a modern high rise building on the eleventh floor in the most cosmopolitan area of the city. You could smell the toilets when you got off the elevator, despite the doors to the toilets being shut. The act of going to use the toilet was filled with apprehension, because 75% of the time, when you entered, the toilet was unflushed by the last occupant and full of reeking shit. Judging by the amount of shit, sometimes it was the last 2 or 3 occupants. On many occasions, I almost puked. And even in the squat pots, they spit on the floor, not in the pot. So when you go in and squat, you’re staring at frothy spit in front of you.

And it isn’t just him, as a quick look at the comments will demonstrate.

It would seem the person who started the thread on Baidu wasn’t exaggerating when he said Japanese streets were “10,000 times cleaner”.

Remember: These are the people who use “flower” as a synonym for “China” and who think their behavior is the standard by which everyone else should be judged.

But it’s human nature to find someone else to look down on. There was a feeding frenzy and teapot tempest in 2010 when the Chinese amused themselves by passing around photos of Dirty India. You can read the response of Rajesh Kalra in The Times of India here. It’s called, “Do we need the Chinese to tell us we are dirty?”

I hope not.

Here’s a segment from a Japanese television program examining this issue in China from the perspective of pollution. It’s in Japanese, but language ability isn’t needed to get the drift. The fisherman says the river is so dirty there’s no fish to catch. A man and woman say the land is so polluted the farmers can’t grow crops. There is a lot of talk in the studio about water standards, and they mention there are 19 places in China where you’re not even supposed to touch the water.

Their first film clip is of air pollution on a city street in Fukuoka City caused by yellow dust storms from China. The second, when the Chinese man in the studio speaks, is back in China. He notes that rather than calling China the world’s factory, it should be known as the world’s trash can.

Another previous post explains the reason Japanese insist on buying domestically farmed fish when they get the chance.

But is all that just a prelude to the final disillusionment?

Posted in Agriculture, China, Environmentalism | 2 Comments »

Habitat

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 21, 2012

SOME efforts to save endangered species are controversial, some are praiseworthy, and others approach the absurd. One citizen-led effort underway in the hot springs town of Yufuin, Oita, however, is quite reasonable and isn’t causing problems for anyone.

The endangered species in question is a rare variety of the stenothyridae shellfish. This particular variety is the only shellfish in the world whose natural habitat is a hot springs, and it exists only in Yufuin. It also was found in several nearby areas, including the well-known spa resort city of Beppu, until the mid-1960s.

But the shellfish started disappearing when some of the hot springs water was diverted to resorts — the exact cause and effect has never been identified —- and it now lives only in a water course near Lake Kinrin. The water temperature there is roughly 36° C (96.8° F) year-round.

Some local people formed a research group in February to expand its habitat. They succeeded in tripling the local population in just three months. They’ve also kept some alive in tubs of heated water to show school children. That was enough to convince the prefecture and city governments to provide a modest amount of funding, and the group is now conducting water quality tests in different locations to find the most suitable spots that might work as a new home.

Give them credit for even knowing about the creature to begin with. It’s naturally a bright gold color, but it eats moss and usually winds up covered in the stuff. It’s also only 4 x 2.5 millimeters in size, which works out to 0.15 x 0.09 inches. You’ve really got to be looking for it to find it.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood and enjoy soaking in hot water, by the way, Yufuin’s an excellent choice. I’ve been there twice and would find it very easy to live there year-round if it came to that. It’s a small town near the mountains, and it’s quite attractive as the picture above shows. (The photo is from a Japanese website called Muru’s Log.) The main street is perfect for walking, has excellent views, and is filled with the sort of shops that women like. And the stenothyridae are so small you won’t even notice them sharing space with you in the spa.

There’s also a song called Yufuin. It’s about a woman trying to recover from an unhappy love affair.

Posted in Environmentalism, Travel | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (62)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 28, 2012

The city of Kitakyushu last week became the first municipality in Kyushu to begin the large-scale disposal of rubble from the Tohoku disaster. They intend to dispose of 62,500 tons by March 2014.

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Hauling ash

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LAST SUNDAY we had a post that dealt, in part, with a mini-sit-in held at the entrance of a refuse incineration facility in Kitakyushu that was to conduct a trial burning of 80 tons of debris generated by the Tohoku disaster. The demonstrators held up the process until the police removed them from the premises.

The incineration went ahead as scheduled, the city measured the radioactivity in the fly ash collected in the smokestack filters, and the results were announced yesterday. The national government’s minimum standard for landfill is no more than 3,000 becquerels per kilogram. As I noted last week, the city is known for its rigorous environmental standards, and their target for the fly ash was a much lower 330 becquerels per kilogram.

One of the incineration sites measured 19 becquerels, and the other measured 30.

The city’s standard for the bottom ash (the ash that never left the incinerator) is no more than 100 becquerels per kilogram. They detected none at either location. The mayor will announce the city’s decision next month on whether to continue the incineration, and these results make it more likely that they will.

It is of critical importance that other regions help with the incineration.  The Tohoku earthquake disaster created 29 million cubic meters of debris. Most of it has yet to be disposed of, though it has been organized into piles. Preventing that disposal is a combination of hysteria, willful ignorance, and the Not In My Backyard phenomenon:

“We think the debris is contaminated with Caesium and we do not trust the government tests,” she said. “There has been a lot of misleading information from officials so it is difficult now to trust any directive from above.”

Mrs Aki, who conceded that the city was probably evenly split for and against the decision, suggested that the waste should remain in the tsunami zone, and perhaps be stored in the exclusion zone around the stricken nuclear plant, which will be a dead zone for decades.

In other words, out of sight, out of mind. One foreigner on Twitter recently asked an open question (in Japanese) of the protesters: Do you really think the government is making all this up? Is this man betraying the public trust?

“We have tested all of our rubbish and not found any radiation,” said Sato Yoshinori, a spokesman for Ishinomaki council. “The amounts we found were background levels. So it is a shame that people perceive there is danger in a place like Ishinomaki, that does not have any radiation. It is a shame they do not see that.”

Ishinomaki is the source of the debris incinerated at Kitakyushu.

As to be expected, the usual concerns remain, and some of them are on the legit. The Nishinippon Shimbun quoted someone identified as being in the “agricultural and maritime industry” as saying:

“No matter how often the government insists that it is scientifically safe, it is possible that the reputation of our products will be harmed if that is not fully understood by the consumers.”

Then there was this from Saito Toshiyuki:

“It is a fact that radioactive material was detected in the fly ash, and the city’s target figures themselves are unclear.”

Mr. Saito is an attorney and an anti-nuclear power activist, but you probably guessed that already. The patter and the pattern are universal. That includes the implication that it’s a terrible, terrible outrage if everything everywhere isn’t absolutely perfect and pure and socially just at all times, and there are no leaky faucets in anyone’s lives.

Meanwhile,  a citizens’ group in Tokyo called (roughly) “National Referendum on Nuclear Power: Let’s All Decide Together”,  asked the metro district government today to pass a law to allow a local referendum.  You’ve also probably guessed what their preferred outcome would be.

That cranky old fart xenophobic right-wing nationalist creep Ishihara Shintaro, the metro district governor, replied briefly and to the point:

“That is a judgment the national government should calmly make.”

He has the ear and political friendship of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, who has emerged as the national leader of the nuclear hysteria faction. Perhaps Mr. Ishihara would consider playing the role of wise old uncle and lay some wisdom on him.

It has not escaped the notice of some Japanese that one man is behaving like an adult and the other is behaving like a child.

N.B.: For reason #21,947 demonstrating why I bang on so often about the lackwits assigned by the overseas English-language media to write about Japan, look carefully at the linked Telegraph article. On this website, I use the Japanese (and Chinese and Korean) custom of writing family names first and given names second. Most English-language media outlets, however, reverse them into the Western order. The names of the two people provided to the Telegraph’s correspondent were in the traditional Japanese order. That would be obvious to anyone who has spent about a month in Japan and gotten accustomed to people’s names.

Not the journo at the Telegraph, however. He refers to the woman as “Mrs. Aki”. That’s the equivalent of calling someone “Mrs. Debbie”. A closer look at that page shows that he is identifed as a “foreign correspondent” and Tweeting from China. There is no mention of whether he packed his Burberry trenchcoat for his grand East Asian adventure.

Afterwords:

Let’s continue the theme from the previous post, titled Cultural Notes.

The situation in the Tohoku region is bad enough, but it’s much worse in Haiti, more than two years after its earthquake. The emphasis is mine.

But two years later, over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, a majority of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more. Haiti today looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years.

Haitians ask the same question as the US Congress, “Where is the money?”

The authors think they have identified the problem.

The effort so far has not been based a respectful partnership between Haitians and the international community.

But the New York Times thinks real progress is being made:

Haitians have seen real progress in the last two years. About half of the 10 million cubic feet of quake debris has been removed from Port-au-Prince and other areas. More people have access to clean water in the capital than before the quake. With investment from a Korean garment maker, an industrial park is being built in the northeast, with the promise of 20,000 jobs.

They have a suggestion for speeding up the process:

A United Nations analysis showed that while many nations have been generous, particularly the United States, Brazil, Canada, Spain and France, almost all the money has gone to nongovernmental organizations and private contractors. To build Haitian capacity, that will have to change, and the commission can help — by giving guidance to Haiti’s ministries and monitoring their efforts.

But oddly, in the next paragraph, we see the answer to the charge that there’s hasn’t been a respectful partnership, and the reason the money isn’t going to the government:

President Martelly is a more engaged leader than his predecessor. In the fall, he announced a plan to house 30,000 residents of six tent cities with rental subsidies and new construction. More than a half-million Haitians remain in camps and it is not clear if he will take on powerful landowners to free up the land needed for rebuilding. He needs to abandon his focus on building an army. What Haiti needs is a professional, accountable police force.

If this president is more engaged, even though his focus is on building an army instead of cleaning up the rubble, we can only imagine what his predecessor must have been like. (Perhaps the threat of invasion from the Dominican Republic is greater than we realized.) We also can imagine the behavior of the local police.

Ah, but the human spirit remains triumphant in the face of all disasters. Here’s a glowing report on the response of some Haitians:

The metal figures standing like sentinels in the middle of an exhibit of contemporary Haitian art are created from a mishmash of scrap metal and found objects: nails, marbles, old shoes, bed springs, tire treads, hub caps, pieces of fans and other discards.

…The figures created from found objects were sculpted by Guyodo, Andre Eugene and Jean Herard Celeur, three members of the group Atis Rezistans, an artists’ collective living and working in downtown Port-au-Prince. The group has showcased its artwork and creative process in a mash-up of high art-meets-the developing world called “Ghetto Biennale,” which opened a month before the earthquake and returned last month.

Their work in “Haiti Kingdom of This World” exemplifies the exhibit’s theme of celebrating Haitian artists’ creativity and resourcefulness while challenging viewers to look beyond Haiti’s reputation for disorder, poverty and failure.

If I were so challenged, I’d return the challenge and ask why they thought it was so important to stage an art exhibit created from earthquake debris instead of temporarily suspending their artists’ collective after the earthquake and organizing volunteer groups to drag and drop into piles the crap that remains where it fell, enabling the NGOs and private contractors to get at it while Monsieur Le President is reviewing the troops and the police are busy shaking people down.

It’s worth reading that piece, by the way, if only for entertainment purposes. It contains enough adjectives, adverbs, and artsy-fartsy platitudes to choke a museum curator.

The Haitians do have one advantage over the Japanese, however. I doubt any of them are complaining about the environmental hazards of the cleanup operation or holding sit-ins in front of incineration sites.

*****

The Huffpo culture critic missed her chance to really impress her readers when she used the term “found objects” instead of the official Art jargon of objets trouvés.

Speaking of finding things, I found this video on YouTube of a performance by the son of my favorite Haitian singer, Coupé Cloué. Everything seems to be spic and span in his neck of the woods. His father chose that stage name, by the way, because it combines two French words used in Haiti as slang for the sexual act.

Posted in Environmentalism, Government, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Matsuri da! (122): The air’s apparent

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 27, 2011

THIS is going to stump everybody, including the Japanese readers: What is the object shown in the following photograph?

Here’s a hint, but it won’t help at all: Those are five-meter-square stainless steel sheets.

The answer? It’s a Shinto shrine in Asahi-machi, Yamagata.

In fact, that’s a photograph of the Kuki shrine’s main sanctuary, the site in all shrines which houses the shintai, the sacred object in which the spirit of the deity resides. The deity in Shinto is described as the yaoyorozu no kami, or the 800 myriads of divinities, which some (but not all) interpret as being different aspects of the One. Therefore, the presence of the divinity is manifest in every aspect of life.

Some deities are divinized ancestors or famous figures of the past. (That’s the point behind the often misunderstood concept of the Emperor as a “living god” until 1945, or the enshrinement of the spirits of the war dead in Yasukuni.) Natural phenomena are deities: the wind, sun, moon, water, mountains, trees, and rocks (including those that are phallic- and yonic-shaped). Man-made objects can be divinities: mirrors, swords, polished stones (tama), bells, clothes, dishes, and, after Buddhism began to exert an influence, paintings and statues. Mirrors have been used in Shinto worship since ancient times, so the creation of what is essentially a large mirror isn’t as odd as it might seem at first glance.

The deity worshipped at this shrine is air. That’s why it’s called the Air Shrine (unless you can think of a better translation for 空気神社).

On the approach to this site, one passes through monuments to earth, fire, wood, metal, and water, the five elements that created the cosmos.

As you might expect, Asahi-machi is located in a glorious natural setting — the somewhere in what city slickers would call the middle of nowhere — and the primary occupation of the residents is rice and fruit cultivation. Before he died in 1986, Shirakawa Chiyo, one of the older Asahi-machi natives, offered the opinion that the town should build a shrine in which air was the tutelary deity as a way to give thanks for the clean air that was a blessing to them all.

Nothing came of Mr. Shirakawa’s idea when he was alive, but it began to get serious consideration a year after he died in 1987, when the town launched a municipal development campaign. Because this is a religious institution, the money to build it had to come from private citizen/sector donations. Even though the Japanese are extraordinarily ecumenical, that wasn’t an easy sell. Still, they collected the money they needed and finished the shrine the following year.

Yeah, they pray there.

The idea behind the use of stainless steel for the air shrine was that it would reflect natural views of the surrounding area throughout the year from different perspectives. This would help people reflect on the existence of air.

Yeah, they have festivals there too.

The townsfolk designated 5 June as the local Air Day, which coincides with World Environment Day. They hold the Air Festival every year on the Saturday closest to Air Day. The main sanctuary is open to the public for viewing the divinity and pausing for reflections suitable for the spirit of the occasion. There’s also a performance by the miko of kagura, or Shinto Dance, which is traditional at shrine festivals. That’s shown in the photo above.

Oh yeah, there’s even a video:

And to conclude here’s a question theological but not rhetorical — Is the sound of the wind on that video the voice of the divinity?

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Posted in Environmentalism, Festivals, Religion, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Kobot

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 26, 2011

WHEN the Segway hit the market 10 years ago next week, some people viewed it as a revolutionary product with the transformational potential of the Internet. Rather than transforming anything, however, after a decade down the road the device has become a SWPL toy for a certain type of status-seeking urbanite who wants to differentiate himself from the bicycle crowd. They’re the same sort of folks who go out of their way to pay through the nose for a mug of designer coffee at a trendy shop rather than a regular cup of Joe.

The adult two-wheeler hasn’t even got that far in Japan, where only about a thousand have been sold. Here, they’re used exclusively by corporate employees on larger tracts of private property, such as production plants or theme parks. The Nagasaki resort Huis ten Bosch, for example, has 10 of them.

Those looking for an intermediate alternative to the automobile and the bicycle might be interested in test driving a new transportation device jointly developed by the robot manufacturer tmsuk (yes, that’s how they spell it) and pharmaceutical/industrial equipment manufacturer Kyowa. It’s called the Kobot, and they’re touting it as the next-generation electric personal vehicle. The public will get a chance to see it up close for the first time when it’s exhibited in this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, which opens in the first week of December.

The two companies have a vision for the Kobot similar to that people once had for the Segway. They see it as a car that will change the shape of the future – the shape of vehicles, the shape of transportation, and the relationship between people and their cars. Indeed, the car itself is capable of changing shape. One of the three models can be folded in a manner similar to a cellphone to reduce its size by about 25% for storage.

As you can see from the photo, it is compact and shaped somewhat like a bean, or at least that’s what the promo material says. At present, there are two one-person models and one two-person model. Kyowa/tmsuk are projecting speeds of 45-80 kilometers per hour, and they’re working to give it the capability of traveling for up to 100 kilometers on one charge.

In addition to use by a single owner, the developers anticipate the increasing popularity in Japan of car-sharing schemes in condos and other urban neighborhoods will create another niche for the vehicle. If things fall into place, it could be commercialized and placed on the market next fall.

If that happens, perhaps they could use this as a tip for their TV ads.

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Posted in Environmentalism, New products, Science and technology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Turn out the lights

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 19, 2011

A year ago, (Kan Naoto) wanted to quickly build a society that wasn’t dependent on fossil fuels. When you add to that a society which isn’t dependent on nuclear energy, how are we supposed to obtain energy?
- Sengoku Yoshito, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, on 28 July

IN AN INTERVIEW published last week in the weekly Shukan Asahi, Prime Minister Kan Naoto had this to say about the world’s third-largest economy:

Put in the extreme, we must be able to maintain the survival of the nation even if the energy supply is halved from its present amount.

Yes, that’s the prime minister of Japan speaking.

And people thought Hatoyama Yukio was from outer space.

Now why would Japan wake up one day to a nightmare in which its energy supply is halved? National leaders have to be prepared for every contingency, but Kim Tubby III in Pyeongyang will not be ordering a surgically precise missile attack on the power plants on the far shores of the Sea of Japan anytime soon. The North Koreans would sooner eat the Dogs of War than unleash them.

But Kan Naoto does have a dream, and part of that dream is to end the country’s reliance on nuclear and fossil fuel power generation in Japan. He’d replace that, to the extent it’s replaceable, with the wind power that he “loves”, according to his blog posts of several years ago. He’s also cooked up a cockamamie crony capitalism scheme with Son Masayoshi to cover all the currently unutilized farmland with solar panels and harvest sun power.

But even if the prime minister’s contingency plan resembles the ramblings of a barstool philosopher from the nihilist left, other people are starting to formulate plans of their own premised on a powerless Japan. They can’t afford not to.

Yosano Kaoru, the Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy, said this about keeping the nuclear plants idled:

It can easily be envisioned this will have an effect on the Japanese economy.

It can just as easily be envisioned what Mr. Yosano would have said if he wasn’t biting his tongue as a member of the Cabinet.

Yonekura Hiromasa, the chairman of Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) predicted that more than 40% of the country’s large corporations would leave Japan if nuclear power generation were ended. Some would suggest that Mr. Yonekura exaggerates because Keidanren represents what the Democratic Party of Japan likes to call Big Capital, and what the rest of the world calls Big Business. In fact, he may be understating the problem.

Earlier this week, the Kyodo news agency released the results of their questionnaire survey of 105 major companies. The survey found that 55 firms, or more than half, said they were accelerating plans to move operations overseas as a way to strengthen the corporate foundation. The general reason they cited was a bad business climate, but the specific reasons were the lack of sufficient electricity over the long term, the high yen, and low stock prices.

Another 47 replied that they’d stay in Japan for the long haul, 17 said they had no other option but to consider such a move, and two said they’d already done it.

An article in the 5 August edition of the weekly Shukan Post provided more specifics.

* Mitsui Mining and Smelting

The company announced in June that it will build a new production line for its primary products, materials used for smartphones, in Malaysia. Their plant in Saitama was idled for a month due to rolling blackouts. They have a market share exceeding 90% for electrolytic copper foil for smartphone use. The company told the magazine that they operate 24 hours a day, so even a two-hour production stoppage has a serious effect.

* Hoya

This major lens manufacturer will build a plant in China’s Shangdong Province for making industrial glass. They plan to begin operation there in December. The company said that a stable power supply was indispensable for melting the glass materials, and that the potential lack of a dependable power supply was the factor that pushed them in that direction.

* Renesas Electronics

The semiconductor giant is considering outsourcing all its production to Taiwan and Singapore.

* U-shin

The auto parts manufacturer has decided to shift all its production from Japan to China.

* Prime Minister Kan called for a 10% reduction in power consumption from all companies in the region supplied by Kansai Electric Power, though it was unaffected by the Tohoku earthquake. Motor manufacturer Nidec of Kyoto realized this would have an impact on their reliability testing, so they’ll move their testing facilities overseas.

* Mitsubishi Chemical has annual revenue of roughly JPY one trillion, and their electric power costs account for 3-4% of that total. This year, however, increases in the already high rates will bump that to 5%. Thus their power bill will climb to more than JPY 10 billion, equivalent to more than one-third of their operating profit.

* The Institute of Energy Economics Japan reported that industrial power fees will rise 36% year-on-year if thermal plants are used to offset the power loss from nuclear plants. The institute adds that if the energy bill Mr. Kan is pushing as a condition for his political withdrawal passes and the mandated costs for purchasing natural energy are transferred to fees, it will further boost the bills to a level 70% above current totals.

* This has the potential to wipe out entire industries. The Japan Soda Industry Association (industrial sodas) says power costs account for 40% of the production costs for the 25 companies and 30 plants in the country. An increase in power costs of just one yen adds JPY 3.8 billion to their production costs.

*****
Why does Mr. Kan dream of everyone else’s nightmare? To cite one reason, this founding member of the Socialist Democratic Federation, who later jumped to larger parties to enhance his political viability, has never cottoned to the bare fact that socialist plans for wealth redistribution require a robust free-market non-socialist economy.

Another is Ikeda Nobuo’s theory that smashing the state is the only objective remaining from Mr. Kan’s pinkoid youth, now that history has dessicated his Italian Communist Party-inspired fantasies. Indeed, as we’ve seen before, he remains a stout devotee of the ideas of Prof. Matsushita Keiichi, which means he dislikes the idea of nation-states altogether. What he does like is community government by NGOs, which in turn would be under the thumb of coordinated by global institutions.

Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro wrote an op-ed published in the Yomiuri Shimbun this week that makes it plain he understands exactly what Mr. Kan was up to (as does the rest of the political class, I suspect). Mr. Nakasone’s critique of the Kan philosophy left the larger issue unstated, however, while dealing with more immediate matters, perhaps to keep the grass where the goats can get at it. Here’s an excerpt in English.

*****
The citizen-centered government (市民主義) championed by the prime minister is a concept of government with local citizen activities at its core. It is a political concept that lacks the spirit to accept the challenge of the future with a sense of ideals…the primary focus of this citizen-centered government is a narrow one, perhaps with a view to pandering and winning elections. Its weakness is the absence of a sense of continuity as a nation with history and culture.

The limits have been exposed of the citizen-centered government of Prime Minister Kan, which incorporates no view of the state. The duty of a Diet member is to be entrusted with the conduct of the affairs of state. Each state has its own distinctive history and traditions, and all states establish their individuality in the world…Those states and ethnic groups must contribute to the prosperity of the world. The citizens who live in a state have no existence isolated from the history or traditions of the state.

The politicians responsible for the affairs of state who declare that their focus is only on citizen activities are derelict in their primary duty because they hold cheaply the state and the people which are its support. There is nothing wrong with using the word citizen in the sense of people who value the region in which they live, but Prime Minister Kan’s words and deeds, unaccompanied by a background of history and culture, lack appeal. A prime minister carries a nation’s history and culture.

The Kan administration has clarified the meaning of citizen-centered government (which should be seen as a so-called historical experiment) in a form that ignores the flow of history of the Japanese people and the state. It has been shown to be insufficient in the extreme as a governing principle of the state. The next government must put this lesson to use.

(N.B.: Mr. Nakasone’s word selection reflects the distinction in Japanese between “national citizen” and the more general “citizen”. The latter implies the resident of a municipality.)

*****
Theories can have consequences, and the consequences of the theories of the lizard-eyed left, in Japan as well as elsewhere, are such that one is left wondering about their emotional equilibrium.

Once in positions of power, these folks always contrive a way to shield themselves from the consequences of their theories. The rest of us would have to live in their world or make decisions accordingly. Financial analyst and blogger Fujisawa Kazuki wrote this week about what his decision might be:

What would I do in the event that Japan idled all its nuclear power plants? It would be time to stiffen my resolve and move.

Mr. Kan wants to conceive of ways to maintain the nation’s survival with only 50% of the energy. He has to be aware that the nation which survived would be an entity far inferior to the Japan of today.

People should be excused for thinking that is the rest of Kan Naoto’s dream.

Afterwords:

It’s not just Japanese private sector corporations that are concerned:

Pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer on Saturday issued a warning that it my leave Germany because of rising electricity prices linked to Germany’s decision to end its nuclear energy program.

Bayer employs 35,000 people in Germany, but CEO Marijn Dekkers told the German weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche that energy prices posed a genuine threat to the company’s manufacturing operations in the country.

—–
Nevin wrote in recently to ask if Kan Naoto was really all that bad. Here are some additional data points to help answer that question.

******
Matsumoto Ken’ichi, a Cabinet Secretariat advisor, gave an interview published in today’s Sankei Shimbun that helps explain the delay in the Tohoku recovery.

Mr. Matsumoto said that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito directed a team that formulated his own proposal for a reconstruction vision, which was finished in March. He says that Prime Minister Kan initially liked it, but wound up “crushing” it.

Mr. Kan later created his own council to draft a redevelopment vision, which was submitted on 25 June (three months later), but in Mr. Matsumoto’s words:

Not one aspect of their proposal exceeded anything in our proposal.

The reason? Kan Naoto didn’t want Mr. Sengoku to get the credit. Explained Mr. Matsumoto:

The prime minister wanted the spotlight on himself and the applause for a job well done. He essentially ignored the people.

Now no one is applauding him for a job well done. Who says there’s no justice in the world?

Mr. Matsumoto added that he argued against a universal tax increase to fund the recovery because it wouldn’t be fair to take funds out of the Tohoku region. He suggested long-term bonds instead. Replied Mr. Kan:

I wonder if the Finance Ministry would go along with that.

The prime minister insisted on a universal tax.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press interviewed retired American diplomat Kevin Maher, who coordinated U.S. assistance after the earthquake. Said Mr. Maher:

Early in the Fukushima nuclear crisis, U.S. officials felt that nobody in Japan’s government was taking charge, and Washington considered evacuating American troops in a worst-case scenario, a retired U.S. envoy said Thursday.

As we’ve since learned, Mr. Kan and his Cabinet did take charge, but the American misperception was understandable. When they take charge, it just looks as if no one’s in charge.

*****
If a no-nuke, wind/solar energy policy is adopted, this will be the last song they play on the radio before the station shuts down.

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The plant party

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 13, 2011

THE Nagata-cho Deep Throat column in the 13 August edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai reports that Prime Minister Kan Naoto spoke at a meeting with the bureaucrats from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in late July and said the following:

By all means, I will see through the cleanup of the nuclear accident and the recovery. I also want to form a new political party. It will be called the Plant Party. (植物党)

That story’s got to be true if only because no one would dare make something like that up and try to fob it off on anybody. One staff member in the Kantei said no one had any idea what the Plant Party was about, but suggested the concept might be based on coexistence with nature and sustainable energy.

The anonymous author of the column (there are probably several) speculated that Mr. Kan was spinning a scenario in which he would leave the DPJ after they ousted him from the party presidency and supported a successful no-confidence motion to remove him from the premiership. The idea seems to be that he would then dissolve the Diet and call a general election. Mr. Kan assumed he would have to form a new party because the DPJ might not officially support him in that election.

One DPJ Diet member affiliated with the Hatoyama group told the magazine the following:

The prime minister has recently immersed himself in the books of environmental activist C.W. Nicol (originally Welsh but now a Japanese citizen). He’s also been spending a lot of time talking to Tama University Professor Tasaka Hiroshi, a Cabinet Secretariat advisor who is somehow involved with religion. The idea for a Plant Party probably came from that.

The columnist concludes the article by suggesting that the prime minister’s animal instincts function only during a political crisis when his position is at stake.

I’ve been comparing Kan Naoto with Barack Obama lately, but perhaps Al Gore is the better comp after factoring in the element of the whacked-out sidewalk preacher warning that the end of the world is nigh.

If anyone thought I was off base with The Barstool Philosopher post, maybe it’s time you thought again.

Incidentally, Prof. Tasaka’s academic specialty is something called social entrepreneurship, and I’m sure you can identify the contours of that UFO long before it enters earth orbit. A social entrepreneur is defined on the Web as “someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change…(they) assess their success in terms of the impact they have on society. While social entrepreneurs often work through nonprofits and citizen groups, many work in the private and governmental sectors.”

Yes, he has a blog. Yes, I looked at it. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away.

Prof. Tasaka likes to write in short sentences that he probably thinks are poetic. I translated one of his entries and kept as many of the original line breaks as possible.

On the evening of 27 March
A turning point came in my life.

The Fukushima nuclear accident
Was caused by the Tohoku earthquake.

I was asked to give advice to the government
As a nuclear power specialist, for measures to deal with the accident.

When I received the prime minister’s request to be an advisor to the Cabinet Secretariat
What I heard, as always
Was “The Voice of Heaven”.

If that doesn’t go a long way toward explaining the dysfunction of the Kan Cabinet and their inability to get cracking on the Tohoku cleanup, you can dip me in chocolate and feed me to the hyenas.

And speaking of plants, where are all those killer tomatoes now that we really need them?

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Safe as milk

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 1, 2011

THE STORY is old enough to have curdled, but it’s news to me. MSNBC-Reuters reported in June:

Scientists at China’s Agricultural University in Beijing announced that they had produced human breast milk from genetically modified dairy cows and expect supplies to be available in supermarkets within three years. Employing technology once used to produce the sheep “Dolly,” researchers created a herd of 300 modified cows, which yielded milk that was reported as “sweeter” and “stronger” than typical cow milk.

Whatever for?

The Brits get more upset about GM foods than the Yanks, so while the American reports were filed in the Weird News section, the British newspapers were Very Concerned. There’s a wealth of detail in the Telegraph article in addition to the justification for the research:

Human milk contains high quantities of key nutrients that can help to boost the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of infections.

The scientists behind the research believe milk from herds of genetically modified cows could provide an alternative to human breast milk and formula milk for babies, which is often criticised as being an inferior substitute.

They hope genetically modified dairy products from herds of similar cows could be sold in supermarkets. The research has the backing of a major biotechnology company.

I’m not opposed to scientific research that pushes everyone’s envelope — I’m a progressive, after all — and there are so many ignorable whining weenies among the environmentalists and other variegated Nature Activists it’s easy to discount whatever it is they’re banging on about this week, but I thought the spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals got it right:

“Why do we need this milk – what is it giving us that we haven’t already got.”

Professor Ning Li, the scientist who led the research, unwittingly makes another important point:

“As our daily food, the cow’s milk provided us the basic source of nutrition. But the digestion and absorption problems made it not the perfect food for human being.”

He’s right, and many Health Activists (including the late Jack LaLanne) argue that milk is not intended for human consumption, much less as a daily food. (Disclaimer: I like ice cream and yogurt!) In fact, LaLanne once said:

Milk is for a suckling calf. How many creatures still use milk after they’re weaned? Man.

Most mammals become lactose intolerant as they grow, but it’s thought humans became lactose persistent due to a mutation on a chromosome resulting from the pastoral lifestyle in both Europe and East Africa.

Then again, LaLanne didn’t eat beef either.

Oh, one last thing (to channel Colombo): The China Agricultural University is a state school under the control of the Ministry of Education. Its president is appointed by the Chinese government.

Is this a case of Chinese tax yuan at work, or is the research funded by the premiums Uncle Sam pays to those who purchase his bonds?

*****
Probably the only worthwhile song this group ever did, but then Graham Gouldman was the one who wrote it.

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From gray to green

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 29, 2011

THE CITY OF KITAKYUSHU has long been one of Japan’s major industrial centers. The concentration of industry in the area was the reason the Kokura district was the intended target of the second atomic bomb. Cloud cover on the day of the mission sent the pilots to their backup target of Nagasaki further to the south.

By the 1960s, the city was one of the four largest industrial zones in Japan, and the pollution was horrific. The first time I saw it, through the windows of the Shinkansen in 1988, the smoke and the factories reminded me of Chicago or Gary, Indiana.

But the city had already begun to take steps in the early 70s toward a drastic remedy of its problems, however. Their objective was to become the world capital of sustainable development, and that link describes some of the steps they’ve taken.

The world is taking notice. Yesterday, the OECD announced the selection of Kitakyushu as the first green growth model city in Asia. Noted the Kyodo report:

“It is the fourth city selected for the OECD’s Green Cities Program, following Paris, Chicago and Stockholm.”

The city is also generous with the expertise gained from its experience. People from around the world, particularly those associated with local governments, regularly visit to see what’s been accomplished and what they can learn. Representatives from the city travel throughout Asia, and China in particular, to promote region-to-region ties in the environmental sector. (Of course it’s also good for local business.) A day doesn’t go by without another story appearing in the Nishinippon Shimbun, my local newspaper that covers northern Kyushu, about the city’s efforts.

Those among the all-seeing Western punditocracy ready to declare Japan down for the count might want to glance in the direction of Kitakyushu to discover just what the nation is capable of. These stories are consigned to the back pages or the skipped-over sections of the newspaper or website news aggregators, but they’re often more important in the long run than the ones on the front page.

*****
Kitakyushu’s name literally means “North Kyushu”, but it’s in the south (west) of Japan.

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Crony capitalism nouveau: green and Japanese

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 19, 2011

ONE OF Japan’s wealthiest men, entrepreneur Son Masayoshi made his mint by distributing software and taking on the NTT monopoly to provide broadband services. His idea to shift Japan from nuclear power to solar power, combined with Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s out-of-the-blue proposal at the recent summit for an impossibly sharp and rapid increase of solar power generation, has again turned him into a media darling while cogenerating suspicions of crony capitalism gone green.

University professor, author, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo wrote an article last week examining the Son scheme. Here’s part of it in English:

*****
Mr. Son has established the Natural Energy Council to work with local governments for building solar power generating plants, and they’ve already announced the cooperation of 34 of those governments. The governments will provide the land and Softbank (Son’s company) will provide the capital investment. They plan to build 10 solar energy plants nationwide generating 20,000 kW. Softbank has even modified their Articles of Incorporation to include “the power generation business” in the section dealing with their business content.

This enterprise has a serious problem, however. The unit cost of solar power generation is more than JPY 40/kWh, much higher than the unit costs for atomic or thermal power, which are less than JPY 10/kWh, so power companies won’t buy the power generated. Therefore, Mr. Son held a meeting with Prime Minister Kan Naoto on the day before he launched his initiative and extracted the promise that a system would be instituted in which all renewable energy would be purchased at a fixed cost.

This is a mandatory system in which the power companies must purchase the expensive solar power at a price the government determines. There is at present a scheme for purchasing the surplus power generated by homes and companies using solar cells at a price of JPY 42/kWh. The Cabinet approved a bill in March, however, that will require the purchase of all this power. Because that means the generated solar power will be purchased at JPY 42, anyone who can hold the costs below that amount will make a profit.

Meanwhile, the utilities charge about JPY 15 kWh for power consumption, so the new scheme creates a negative margin. But the power companies will pass that differential on to the consumer through a solar power surcharge. In short, those who bear the liability of the higher costs of Softbank’s solar power plants will be those who use electric power. This is tantamount to Softbank receiving subsidies from the government and taxing the user.

The more basic problem is what these solar power plants will resolve. Mr. Son seems to be inclining toward natural energy to shift from nuclear power, but solar power is useless for reducing nuclear power reliance. If all 10 mega-solar power plants are built, they will generate only 200,000 kW, or one-fifth the amount of one nuclear plant. Solar power generation requires 40 times the land area of nuclear power generation. The amount of land required to generate the one million kW of power produced by a nuclear plant would be equal to 1.5 times the land inside JR East’s Yamanote Line in Tokyo. Further, the solar power plants can’t be used on rainy days. It is not possible to rely on them to replace nuclear power.

If the objective is to reduce the reliance on nuclear power, a more effective way would be to increase thermal power. When the costs of waste material disposition and compensation for damages are factored in, the cost of generating nuclear power is not that much different from thermal power. Fuel costs will rise over the short term, but over the long term, cost savings will be achieved for the facilities and reprocessing.

Natural gas is a particularly important type of thermal power. There have been recent advances in the technology for extracting shale gas, and the costs are said to be cheaper than coal. The Middle East has been the major natural gas production region until now, so there was considerable political risk. But the United States is the largest producer of shale gas, and is estimated to have 160 years’ worth of reserves. It has become the view in the energy industry that natural gas will become the mainstay in 10 years’ time at the least.

Gas turbines are said to have poor energy efficiency, but using the combined cycle technology, the residual heat from using gas to operate the turbines can convert water to steam, achieving 1.5 times the conventional efficiency of thermal power. Cogeneration technology, in which the heat used in blast furnaces, for example, is created simultaneously with electric power, is also becoming more sophisticated. Greater innovation is likely to result if companies other than the power utilities become involved.

The power companies, however, control the transmission lines, making it difficult for other companies to get involved. It is the same situation that Mr. Son claimed was unfair competition when NTT monopolized the telecommunications infrastructure. Attempting to compete with them will require an investment of at least JPY 10 billion. None of the so-called independent PPS power companies could even seriously compete with Tokyo Electric and its zaibatsu affiliations and ties to gas companies.

(End translation)
*****
This is yet another demonstration that the fundamental things still apply as time goes by in the eternal intercontinental love match between Big Business and Big Government.

The calls for the separation of the power generation and transmission operations were so numerous and made so much sense that even Kan Naoto has come out in favor of them. Mr. Deregulation.

In an amusing piece of journalism, the Asahi-published weekly magazine Aera suggested that Mr. Kan’s support for this was the motivation behind the recent no confidence motion. They offered neither evidence nor quotes from suspicious anonymous sources (and actually allocated more space quoting named sources talking about the rambling wreck of Tokyo Tech). They said Tokyo Electric made substantial political contributions, which they surely do, but specified none of the people who received them. They also admitted the contributions were not close to the scale of the largesse distributed by construction companies.

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Ichigen Koji (6)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 26, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“After operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant were suspended at the prime minister’s ‘request’, a citizens’ campaign to end nuclear power has spread throughout the country. That’s only to be expected. An accident occurred at Reactor #1 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which had an earthquake probability of 0.0%, so if earthquake risk is to be used as a standard, all the nuclear power plants in Japan are dangerous.

“The one person who has consistently made clear demands about this issue is Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democratic Party. She had sought the closure of Hamaoka for some time, and now she’s stepped up her efforts, asserting that ‘All nuclear power plants should be shut down immediately as a way to value life’. That’s exactly right. To be even more consistent, how about calling for the prohibition of all automobiles and airplanes as a way to value life?

“The hysteria that seeks absolute safety, which she represents, is an illness of Japanese society. That is not unrelated to her demand that the temporary seconding of workers be prohibited. In both cases, the demand is only to eliminate the unpleasant phenomenon in front of one’s face and to disregard the results. It is easy to understand the advantages of ending nuclear power, but the resulting rise in electricity rates and decline in economic growth will occur in the future, so it isn’t easy to understand the cause and effect relationship. But when summer comes and there’s an electrical power shortage, all one has to do is go on the attack and blame government blunders or something.”

- Ikeda Nobuo, author, university professor, and blogger

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Yet more true facts

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 27, 2011

THE PREVIOUS POST about misconceptions elsewhere of Japan-South Korea relations reminded me of similar misconceptions overseas about a supposed waning of the spirit of Japanese enterprise. That’s illustrated by the recent rash of ADD-impaired stories presenting Japan shuffling off the world’s stage like some forgotten old duffer with hair growing out of his ears.

Oh, really?

Here’s a sample of stories featuring developments that occurred over the past two months in Kyushu alone. Decide for yourself who’s shuffling and who’s strutting.

* Kitakyushu Hydrogen Town Project

Trials of the Hydrogen Town project in Kitakyushu got underway on 15 January and will run until the end of March. The trials involve using underground piping to send hydrogen to individual residences and commercial facilities, where it will be used in fuel cells to generate electric power and heat water. The hydrogen used is created as byproduct at local steel mills. The project organizers hope to resolve any issues regarding consistent hydrogen supply and its safe use. These will be the first large-scale trials in the world for the use of hydrogen in urban areas.

* Nanosatellite Testing Center Opens at KIT

The Kyushu Institute of Technology opened the Center for Nanosatellite Testing, a facility for conducting trials with artificial satellites no larger than 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing less than 50 kilograms. It is the world’s first facility with the capacity to conduct all the required performance tests for nanosatellites, including the ability to withstand temperature changes and vibrations. These satellites, used primarily for taking photos of Earth, have become increasingly popular in recent years because they are somewhat inexpensive.

* New Development in Cancer Stem Cell Treatment

Dr. Nakayama Keiichi and a team of researchers at Kyushu University’s Medical Institute of Bioregulation discovered that a certain protein will change the state of cancer stem cells, which are impervious to chemotherapy and radiation, into a state that allows them to be attacked. Even when other cancerous cells are removed, the remaining cancer stem cells have the potential to create a recurrence of the disease. Converting the protein into a usable medicine might bring a cure within reach.

* Honda to Conduct Electric Vehicle Trials in Kumamoto

Honda announced it will begin trials of new model electric motorbikes, electric cars, and plug-in hybrids next year at its Kumamoto Prefecture plant. The recharging station used in the trials will employ solar power to generate the electricity. The motorbike trials are slated to begin next spring, while those for automobiles will begin in the latter half of the year.

* Desalinization Certification Plant Built in Kitakyushu

Water Plaza Kitakyushu, Japan’s first desalinization certification plant capable of certifying both the conversion of seawater to fresh water and the purity of reclaimed sewage water, will begin operation in April. The plant was built by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The operators hope to disseminate the technology and operational expertise gained from the plant both in Japan and overseas.

* NEECO to Make Energy from Chicken Dung in India

Fukuoka City-based Nishi-Nippon Environmental Energy Co. plans to launch a biomass power generating business in India by the spring of 2012 using chicken dung as fuel. If the enterprise is successful, the company hopes to expand the business throughout India and the rest of Asia. The company is using the expertise gained from operating a similar enterprise in Miyazaki Prefecture, which produces 25% of Japan’s chickens.

* Ecogenomics Sells DNA Chip Technology to China

Bio-venture company Ecogenomics is now selling to Chinese government agencies its DNA chips, which are devices for genetic testing. The adhesion and reaction of bacteria and chemical substances on the DNA chips makes them effective as medicine for pathological conditions. They are also said to be effective for preventing cancer and infectious diseases. The company has its own technology for the comprehensive processes from design to manufacture to create products that meet the individual testing needs of its customers.

While putting this post together, I discovered another example from outside Kyushu, as described today in the Asahi:

Researchers at RIKEN, Yokohama City University and The University of Tokyo have uncovered how gut bifidobacteria protect the body against lethal infection by enhancing the defenses of colonic epithelium. Published in this week’s issue of Nature, the finding provides first-ever clues on the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of gut microbiota, promising more effective probiotic therapies for a variety of disorders and diseases.

*****
To find this information, however, one has to read Japanese newspapers.

*****
Chemistry is another popular field in Japan.

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Another way to make lemonade from lemons

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 8, 2010

THE FOLLOWING ARE some excerpts from an article that appeared in today’s Nishinippon Shimbun.
——
Production of paper diapers for adults is skyrocketing as the population ages, and local governments must consider how to dispose of them as garbage after use. In 2009, paper diaper production was 1.7 times that of 2003. Efforts are spreading nationwide to reuse them as a fuel source to reduce garbage volume, and some local governments in Kyushu have begun recycling them. Potential hurdles to their reuse, however, are the difficulty of separating them from other refuse and the recovery costs.

The municipal government of Hoki-cho, Tottori, teamed with local businesses to begin trial production of solid fuel using a system that processes used paper diapers. If the system is shown to be effective, they envision using it at such facilities as hot spring resorts to heat boilers. Trial calculations suggest the system could result in savings of up to JPY three million annually.

One of the first local governments in Kyushu to become involved is Oki-machi, Fukuoka. They formed ties with the Total Care System company of Fukuoka City, which has a recycling plant for paper diapers in Omuta. The municipality has conducted trials in which the residents collect the diapers separately in special bags and a municipal vehicle stops by to pick them up.

Oki-machi is currently paying a substantial amount of money to neighboring Okawa for the incineration of burnable refuse. Said a municipal official, “Paper diapers account for about 10% of the town’s burnable refuse. Recycling them would lessen the burden on the environment and reduce public expenditures.”

Total Care System also collects used paper diapers from hospitals and long-term care facilities. They treat and process the diapers and recycle them as fireproofing material.

The Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association reports that 5.019 billion paper diapers for adults were produced in 2009, an increase from the 2.996 billion paper diapers in 2003…The association points out, however, that few municipalities dispose of the diapers separately and treat them as burnable garbage…Those local governments with their own incineration facilities find that to be a more efficient and economical method of disposal.

(end translation)

Here’s a Kyodo article on the same subject from April, and another from CNET. Speaking of incontinence, the author of the latter managed to hold in the “Weird Japan” snark for most of his entry, but still wound up wetting himself in the last sentence.

*****
Noborikawa Seijin is 78 years old, but I don’t think he needs special underwear yet. He just released another CD this year.

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