Is the World Producing Enough Food?

Global food prices are soaring again, as droughts, freezes and floods have affected various crops in many parts of the world. At the same time, demand is rising with living standards in fast-growing countries.

The price spikes are not as sharp as they were in 2008, but the new volatility reflects more than the sum of recent freakish weather "events," from severe droughts in China and Russia to floods in Australia to a deep freeze in Mexico.

Economists and scientists have identified longer-term changes — from global warming to China’s economic growth to a lack of productive farmland — as the culprits. Is the world producing enough food — specifically grain? Is this a continuation of the 2008 crisis, or something quite different?

Read the rest of the story: Is the World Producing Enough Food?.

Japan offers to fund part of US high-speed rail project

Japan has offered to fund part of a project to build an ultra-fast train line between Washington and New York, which would revolutionize travel on the US east coast, a Japanese official said Friday.

In talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara proposed that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation would fund a portion of the first phase of a project to bring Maglev trains to the US, said Satoru Satoh, the Japanese embassy press attache.

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The proposed first phase of the project would see a Maglev train, which can travel at speeds of up to 341 miles per hour (550 kilometers per hour), link Washington with Baltimore some 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the north and currently an hour’s train ride away.

The Maglev line would eventually be extended to New York, more than 200 miles from Washington, putting the Big Apple and Baltimore closer to the capital in terms of travel time than many suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.

New York would be an hour away from Washington once the Maglev is up and running instead of the current four hours.

Baltimore, which is linked to Washington by a commuter train that takes an hour and 10 minutes, would be around a quarter of an hour away.

Read the rest of the story: Japan offers to fund part of US high-speed rail project.

Japan to support green city projects abroad

Japan is financially backing its companies that are seeking to build "green cities" — communities with low pollution and renewable energies — in India and elsewhere, a report said Thursday.

The public-private Innovation Network Corp. of Japan plans to invest up to 130 billion yen ($1.5 billion) in such eco-community projects, more of which are planned for China and Southeast Asia, the Nikkei daily said.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has set aside 40 billion yen in funds within its investment and loan programme for fiscal 2011 to cover the fund supply for smart-community development abroad, the daily said.

Read the rest of the story: Japan backs ‘firms’ green city projects abroad.

World Temperature rose steeply this year

Temperatures on land and ocean surfaces climbed an average of 0.36 degree around the globe this year, logging the second-sharpest rise since comparable data started being tracked in 1891, the Meteorological Agency said in a preliminary report.

The sharpest rise, 0.37 degree as measured against the average between 1971 and 2000, was set in 1998.

The global land temperature rose 0.68 degree, its most ever. In Japan, however, it climbed 0.85 higher than the 30-year average, tying for the fourth-biggest increase since 1898.

Read the rest of the story: World warmed steeply this year.

‘Kyarabens’ Tutorial

Hexagon Bento

If you are looking for a Japanese art form to explore but haven’t found a traditional art to your taste, you might want to try the art of Kyaraben, also known as Charaben, short for “Character Bentos”.

These are bentos where the assortment of foods to go in the lunch box are made in the shapes of your favorite animation characters.  If you develop a flair, you may even want to branch into landscape-bens, portrait-bens, or even abstra-bens.  The latter three being as yet unexplored bento art territory.

Sketch for Hexagon Character Bento by Y.

To make this 100% edible art, start with a sketch of your favorite character.  From Hello Kitty to Hexa-kun (the character from the well-known television quiz show, Hexagon),  the world’s your oyster and any vegetable, fish cake, meat morsel or seaweed  sheets can form the materials.

You will find a scissor helpful for cutting seaweed; and straws are good to punch small circles in slices of ham or cheese that can be used as buttons, on faces, as polkadots, etc.

Think about your palette, and how to make colors from plain white rice adding such condiments as tomato ketchup, mentaiko or pink fish powders, or an autumn orange using pumpkin.

Color variations for egg omelette
cutting holes in cheese with the end of a straw

Bento artist at work
Koala March Ben

Sharpen your knives, get out your bento supplies, and discover that you too can sculpt rice into onigiri of various shapes and sizes that can be wrapped with colorful tastes to resemble your favorite characters.

The bentos pictured are made by my daughter,  11-year old Y., who is getting an early start in the art.  She made these bentos  for her fall school excursions (ensokus).   BTW, the Chara-bens are also ECO and can be adapted for all ages.  If you enjoy this art, you might be inclined to use your own bento more and purchase the disposable variety less.


Aikawarazu Life in Japan

Japan at the UN: $2bln environment rescue package for developing countries to stay natural

Japan announced Wednesday a two-billion-dollar environment rescue package for developing countries in a bid to kick-start tense UN talks aimed at securing a pact on saving biodiversity.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan wanted to help lead the world in protecting the world’s animals and plants from extinction, and offered the money to poor nations over the next three years.

"Our generation must resist the ongoing extinction and bequeath to future generations our rich and abundant earth," Kan said as he unveiled his government’s aid package that would be spent on protecting ecosystems.

Kan was addressing delegates from more than 190 countries who are in the central Japanese city of Nagoya trying to broker a treaty aimed at ending the world’s rapid loss of biodiversity.

via Japan offers $2bln environment rescue package.

Earth Celebration: Sado island

In comfortable, convenient, modern Japan, there are some who are willing to drop everything for a communal life on a remote island where they will begin each day before 5 a.m. with a hard run, followed by hours of housework and drum practice.

The island, Sado Island, is best known for the kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea. But for Yuichiro Funabashi, artistic director of this year’s mid-August Earth Celebration — the Kodo drummers’ annual festival — it’s all about “being face to face with the drum.”

Read the rest of the story: Earth Celebration: Taiko drums and communal life on a remote Japanese island.

Sanyo’s Solarve Bus is a clean, green solar-powered machine

We all know Japan is second only to Singapore when it comes to keeping things clean, so it’s little surprise to see the country’s captains of industry come up with a futuristic vehicle called the Solarve Bus (a contraction of "Solar Vehicle") that’s sparkly both inside and out.

Sanyo and Ryobi teamed up to outfit (Japanese) the standard road-going bus with solar panels on the outside to generate power and some nifty air scrubbers in the cabin for the passengers to enjoy cleaner air.

Read the rest of the story: The Solarve Bus: Sanyo’s clean, green solar-powered machine.

Electric cars – NEC to Start Testing EV Rapid Charger in US

NEC Corp announced Aug 6, 2010, that it will start testing a rapid charger for electric vehicles (EVs) in collaboration with Portland General Electric Co (PGE).

The rapid charger manufactured by Takasago Ltd, a subsidiary of NEC, was installed at the headquarters of PGE, which is located in Portland, Oregon, the US. The two companies had a demonstration of charging Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s Leaf electric vehicle.

The rapid charger is based on the standard being promoted by Japan’s CHAdeMO Council. According to the standard, the maximum voltage and maximum current are 500V and 125A (direct current), respectively. The maximum output is 50kW. And it is possible to charge a storage battery to about 80% in 20 to 30 minutes.

Read the rest of the story: NEC to Start Testing EV Rapid Charger in US

Toyota Hybrids Sales in Japan Top 1 Million Units, Global Sales over 2.68 Million

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announces that cumulative sales in Japan of its hybrid vehicles have topped the 1-million mark, while more than 2.68 million units have been sold globally as of July 31, 2010(1).

In August 1997 in Japan, TMC launched its first hybrid vehicle, the Toyota "Coaster Hybrid EV" minibus. In December of the same year, TMC launched the Toyota "Prius" – the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. The use of the Toyota hybrid system was subsequently expanded to such vehicles as minivans, SUVs and rear-wheel-drive sedans. In 2009, TMC broadened its range of hybrid vehicles further with the launch of the third-generation Prius, as well as two other dedicated hybrid vehicles, the Lexus "HS250h" and the Toyota "Sai". Currently, nine TMC-produced hybrid passenger vehicle models and three hybrid commercial vehicle models are sold in Japan.

via Sales in Japan of Toyota Hybrids Top 1 Million Units, Global Sales Pass 2.68 Million Units.