Monday, March 30, 2009

Experts have second thoughts on Japan's falling food supply capacity

This article looks at Japan's self sufficiency from yet another angle, providing more perspective on the issue. Basically, "Yes Japan says it produces only 40% of its food supply, but at the same time it is exporting more agricultural product than it did a year ago, and plans to increase it in coming years."

The 40% number is a straw man, and I wonder who's interests it serves. One talking head posits, ''The agriculture industry's potential has been underestimated,'' he said. ''I suspect that the ministry is trying to maintain its reason for existing under the banner of protecting poor farmers.'' My guess is that this argument would also scare the populace into fearing for the other 60%, and approve vast quantities of imports, which would appease some politicians' Washington DC, and agribusiness handlers.

Also, as I have written before, this 40% isn't even close if imported petroleum consumption is factored in. We'd need two Japans worth of land if it were.

FOCUS: Experts have second thoughts on Japan's falling food supply capacity

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Of Jar Gods and Biodynamic farming

Several of our friends and acquaintances through the Steiner school have been very interested, even insistent on using Biodynamics for farming that we do with the children. I don't disapprove entirely, but I think farming principles don't necessarily translate. For example the horn-manure principle. In Biodynamics, there is a method of improving the soil by diffusing cow manure that has been buried in a river bank for some time. Cows and the use of cow manure is a concept that may resonate with Western or more specifically German mythology and spiritualism, but it does not here. I say mythology and spiritualism, because this horn-manure has no fertilizing ingredients as measured by modern agricultural science. I am not so narrow minded as to believe that this science can explain all things, or that there is a lack of evidence that Biodynamics works. What I am saying is that the context is different and that instead of building a context for cows and bovine products that we adapt what we have to the process.

There are two artifacts that explain the mythical creation of Japan, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. In these stories are tales of "Mika" or Jar Deities. In research by William P. Fairchild, "'Mika'-Jar Deities in Japanese Mythology," he makes these conclusions about Jar Gods.
a. According to mythology, jars were important in food production even before agriculture.
b. Jars became integrated with fertility rites and shamanism after the introduction of agriculture.
c. Jars were buried in river beds and in the ground to divine and fertilize the soil. That is why archaeologists find jars in agricultural areas.

It is apparent to me that instead of importing some kind of mythology based on cows and cow manure, that indigenous mythology and systems should be employed to the same end. I offer jars as one possible alternative based on Japanese mythology.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Neighborhood cleanup and compost

Yesterday was neighborhood cleanup day in town. That means that in every neighborhood in town, the residents pick up their shovels, rakes, brooms and saws and clean up litter, clear out obstructions, and clean out ditches. Our neighborhood is in a rural area, so there are lots of tree limbs and leaves in the ditches, but I was also amazed at the amount of just plain junk that people come and dump in our area.

Several of the folks in the area have access to large trucks, and we loaded all form of junk on there, old rusty tanks and barrels, rain gutter, broken sliding glass doors, fiberglass tanks, a rusty bicycle or two, and furniture of various sorts. Since this is a rural area people come and dump their garbage instead of taking it to the dump and paying the fees. We sort it out into metal and plastic and take it to the dump and pay the fees.

I took advantage of the goldmine of leaves that got scooped out of ditches. After the cleanup I went around in my truck and picked up the piles of leaves that were lying around and took them to the compost pile. I was surprised that no one else was taking advantage of the opportunity. Our area is full of avid composters. The only other person I saw was a woman out digging for bamboo shoots. Guess it's that time of year.

Neighborhood clean and the compost pile full. Pretty satisfying.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Biodynamics and Steiner Education

My family is active in the local Steiner school, Niji Gakko (Rainbow School). Yesterday we watched a twelve-year old documentary on NHK about a Steiner school in Nuremberg, Germany. I will certainly watch it again. It was about a Japanese woman who had graduated from that school. She and her mother were both featured in the show. As a child the woman had gone with her family to Germany, and while she was there, she was enrolled in the Steiner school. She was there for a couple of years, and her family returned to Japan, but the girl wanted to return to school in Germany, so in the sixth grade she returned. She graduated from there and pursued a career in music, among other things. The school had changed since she left, had become quite grand really. Beautifully designed, the school and surrounding facilities were ideal from my perspective.

They had a number of special needs children at the school, and they all worked and lived closeby. Their farming was all Biodynamic, and they had quite a facility. The school was pretty much self sufficient, and Steiner philosophy had spread well beyond the school and farm to banking and healthcare in the area. Brilliant experience for children, I'm sure.

It was a bit of a stimulus overload, as all of the ideas were just so profound. I'll be happy to see it again, but I was impressed by how mature that society was compared to what I see around me, unfortunately.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Honeybee shortage threatens fruit and vegetable producers in Japan

I had heard about this problem earlier, and it sounded much more acute the first time I read about it. It is a very real problem which probably has its roots in social trends. It doesn't seem that market forces are enough to encourage people to enter certain areas of labor. The media is full of stories about people who have lost their jobs because of the current economic condition, but at the same time there are whole areas of the economy that are begging for workers. One of those areas is agriculture.

JA was anticipating people would want to become farmers in this economic climate, but they are as yet underwhelmed. A bus company in Kyushu advertised for drivers, who they would train and employ, but no one showed up. While at the same time a small municipality advertised for 5 public servant posts, and got over 900 applications.

People seem to want to avoid "three K" jobs, kitsui, kitanai, kiken, or tiring, dirty, and dangerous. The bee shortage seems to be a similar problem

The honeybee shortage is attributable to a sharp decrease in the number of those kept by beekeepers.
I just don't think the Japanese population is hungry enough yet. Look how much of what they have they waste.

Honeybee shortage threatens fruit and vegetable producers in Japan

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Korean firms head to Japan food expo - INSIDE JoongAng Daily

This article says that last year Japan bought 33 percent of Korean farm goods, fisheries, and food.

This food expo is the Japan Foodex 2009, and is held in Chiba.

Local firms head to Japan food expo - INSIDE JoongAng Daily

"Aji to Kokoro" is one great company

My family orders some items from this company from time to time, and I recommend it highly. You can get basic necessities like soy sauce, miso, and dashi in addition to a ton of other basics. The products are great quality. The staff at Aji to Kokoro is friendly, and the products come nearly as quickly as if you had bought them yourself at a supermarket. We ordered some things yesterday afternoon, and they were delivered at around 10 am this morning. There is also a beautifully hand written, yes, hand penned letter in the box saying thank you for buying and some seasonal message.

This is a company I would recommend to anyone living in Japan.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Japan loves wasting food | The Japan Times Online

This is staggering. I had no idea of the waste. I always thought Japan was rather frugal.

Japan's agricultural ministry estimates that 23 million tons of food was discarded in 2007, about ¥11 trillion worth, which is the monetary equivalent of Japan's annual agricultural output. Moreover, it cost ¥2 trillion to process that waste.
In Tokyo alone, food accounts for 30 percent of all household waste. That's about 6,000 tons a day, which is enough to keep 4.5 million starving people alive for a day.
Japan's 40-percent food self-sufficiency rate is the lowest of all G7 countries, which means the bulk of Japan's food supply is imported. And yet a third of that food ends up in the garbage.

Japanese restaurants throw away 31 percent of the food they prepare.

I don't know the statistics on other countries, but this is a shock. I grew up learning to clean my plate, and I still do. My whole family does, but we are also very choosie about what we eat. We choose to buy food without additives, without animal products in them, without sugar, and as much as possible, locally grown. That limits what we can get pretty much, and we have similar standards when we eat out. We don't waste much of that.

The scale of the waste is appalling.
Japan loves wasting food | The Japan Times Online