Saturday, July 30, 2011

Flood relief supplies dispatched to Niigata by Ishinomaki Disaster Recovery Assistance Council and Peace Boat

(Peace Boat and IDRAC volunteers load a truck.
Photo by Peace Boat volunteer Miki Kojima

Intense rainfall, mudslides, and flooding in Niigata and Fukushima have forced over 18,000 people to flee from their homes. In the aftermath, residents of Ishinomaki, a town hard hit by the 3/11 tsunami and earthquakes have immediately come to the the aid of people in need. The Ishinomaki Disaster Relief Assistance Council along with Peace Boat have just dispatched a truck full of wheelbarrows, shovels, and other relief items to Niigata. Another truck loaded with food and beverages will depart tomorrow morning from the Senshu University, the headquarters of Peace Boat's relief operations in Ishinomaki.

The government is urging 40,000 people evacuate, and one person has already lost their life to the flooding. The same weather system took the lives of 59 people in South Korea earlier this week.

Masaki Narita (left) and Mari Katsui (right) of IDRAC organized the delivery of supplies to Niigata

Friday, July 29, 2011

Distressed Fukushima Citizens Issue Global Appeal to Support Evacuation Plea; Safecast Project Provides Online Radiation Mapping

Parents of children living near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor, forced to watch their children go to school each day wearing radiation-measuring dosimeters, are pleading with the Japanese government to instead issue an official evacuation to safe areas in order to ease their fears of possible contamination.

The above YouTube video, which a group of concerned Fukushima citizens have asked to be spread worldwide, gives a glimpse of the agony that several of these parents are experiencing from concern about continuing nuclear radiation emissions from the plant.

The group has issued a petition to Japan's Prime Minister Kan and Fukushima Governor Sato to officially evacuate babies, small children and pregnant women living in "radiation hot spot" areas. The text reads as follows:
Prime minister of Japan Mr. Naoto Kan
The Governor of Fukushima Prefecture Mr. Yuhei Sato

We are concerned for the safety of babies, pregnant women and young children who are sensitive to radiation and are currently living in the area where high radiation has been detected.

That radiation level is higher then the level of the radiation controlled area (designed as lower than 0.6 µSv/hr) and the “individual radiation exposure controlled area” ( designed as lower than 2.3 µSv/hr) in Japan.

We respectfully request the following actions to be taken:

1) We strongly request that you evacuate infants, small children and pregnant women who are most easily affected by radiation. They need to be immediately evacuated further than 30km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant No.1.

2) In addition to the 30km radius, we are strongly requesting you evacuate infants, pregnant women and children from any "Hot-spot" located outside the 30km evacuation perimeter where high levels of radiation are detected.

3) The 20km limited radiation caution area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant needs to be drastically broadened. Currently, infants, small children and pregnant women who are easily affected by radiation are still living in the “radiation controlled area” where theyʼve measured an exceeded radiation dosage. These people need to be evacuated further than the 30km area as soon as possible. We request to extend the evacuation area, create a safely designed evacuation route and enact legislation to improve the locations that accept people from evacuation areas.

Government should utilize its political power to work on the area that needs to be evacuated. You have tobroaden and ensure the evacuation route, and also find new places where those people can live. Thank you.
The petition may be accessed and signed online via the Moms & Children Rescue Fukushima website here.

In the absence of official government action, the citizen group Safecast is presently working to provide radiation mapping of the area. During the initial days following the earthquake, tsunami and outbreak of the nuclear crisis, its members collaborated with the members of the Tokyo Hackerspace group in order to fashion their own Geiger counters, which they affixed to the windows of several cars and drove through areas near the Fukushima plant to take radiation measurements that they in turn uploaded onto an online radiation map they themselves had created. The group has also made the Geiger counters available to schools, orphanages, and other facilities in Fukushima prefecture in a move to help begin empowering residents through understanding the levels of radiation in their areas.

Safecast and Tokyo Hackerspace members display their hand-fashioned Geiger counters 
and explain mapping program during a recent workshop

A video regarding on the Safecast/Tokyo Hackerspace collaboration and their radiation mapping work may be viewed below. (The report, which is in Japanese, starts around the 15 minute mark).

The Safecast blog also include videos about various citizen action projects taking place in Fukushima, as well as information on how to get involved with its volunteer mapping project in Fukushima and beyond.

A gripping open letter (full text of letter edited before publication at The Japan Times) from a concerned father in Fukushima may be read at this TTT post here.

--Kimberly Hughes

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Concerned Father's Open Letter to Nuclear Experts in Japan

Worried mother holds her son tightly as scientist inspects him
for radiation
(Photo: The Japan Times)

Last week, I had a long phone call with a friend living in Miyagi Prefecture whose entire family was forced to evacuate from their newly purchased home near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Now, after losing members of his family, and mourning with families who lost children and loved ones to the tsunami, he spends all of his time volunteering in Ishinomaki, one of the cities most devastated by the tsunamis and earthquakes that struck Japan in March.

He told me stories of loss, of hope, and also of disappointment. Thousands of volunteers have really made a difference in helping to move along rebuilding efforts. Yet, health policies have moved along whatsoever. Children in his neighborhood go to school wearing dosimeters, only to be experimented on again by more scientists using even more frightening radiation equipment upon arriving at school. Temporary housing is being built in areas also used for dumping of waste.

Recently this concerned father sent a letter to The Japan Times:
As a father who has evacuated his wife and children from our home near the mess at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, I would like to share a couple of insights that will hopefully inform the debate, or the lack of one, that has been raging:

* It seems to be very difficult for the administration and the so-called experts who have visited the villages and towns of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures to reassure us. We don't know [what to believe or what to expect] because nothing like this has ever happened before. Forget about Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Windscale; the timelines, locations, climate, topography, wind patterns and groundwater systems are all different.

* Authorities have not taken systematic readings. Air, water and soil samples have not been taken in areas that matter. We have no benchmark, because samples were not taken before the nuclear plant crisis. The speedy radiation sensor system failed immediately after the March 11 earthquake because of inadequate electricity backup. There are no future projections of radioactive contamination and no model on which to base them.

* That livestock seem to be receiving more attention than children in the region is a disgrace. On March 10, we would not have been able to imagine that our children would be attending contaminated schools wearing dosimeters.

* Internal radioactivity will be passed on to our children's children. Cesium will remain in the environment for 150 years. A parent can't help viewing this threat as the result of unforgivable neglect. It's past time that the authorities admit what they don't know, and act now to move children out of contaminated areas and provide them with a chance at a future.

And let's turn our minds to how to make this evacuation an opportunity for them, rather than wringing our hands over what we should do.
He also made suggestions on how to manage reconstruction funding to prevent it from simply lining the pockets of big business. The Japan Times decided not to publish this part of his letter:
Most of these reconstruction funds (up to 90%) will end up recycled back to the large corporations in Kanto or Kansai - direct repatriation of profits, through building material distribution networks, or simply through money spent in large retailers. There should be a government stipulation attached to all reconstruction funds that there is a limit to the ridiculous levels of subcontracting and that 50%+ of all funds remain in the region.

The large construction companies will hate it, transport companies will grumble  about lost profits, energy use will go down and the construction material industry might even have to move large numbers of jobs to the region to meet demand.
His recommendations on renewable energy development were also not included:
It is also an opportunity (though it won't be taken) to move away from the ridiculous notion that PV solar power or Wind turbines can or should be a large scale electricity generating substitute for the area. Invest now in proven systems - combined heat and power (CHP)plants, solar water heaters and preheaters for every home -cheap and effective, substituting portland cement production with flyash and lime based materials (40-90% reduction in energy use in a sector using 12-15% of all energy use), establish a committee to design industrial clustering development for the tsunami areas and beyond, where the waste and energy generated by one factory fuels or contributes to the production of the next one. And so on.....

These are the areas of development that need to be enacted, but there is no discussion, little government capacity, no political will and little understanding of what sustainability actually means.
Nor were his prudent suggestion on overcoming energy shortages:
Perhaps it is time to take a long hard look at the energy grid here. Western and Eastern Japan run on different current, 60Hz and 50Hz with just a handful of inverters that connect the two. Thus any surge in demand or heaven forbid a CRISIS might occur then electricity can not be supplied from the other region to compensate.

In a country with a cocktail of natural challenges (earthquakes, heatwaves, heavy snow, volcanoes and typhoons) one would think risk management would be at the fore - not the case. A 'just in time' delivery system in the energy sector doesn't make sense at the best of times.
Japan can learn from this disaster and make wise choices in rebuilding by listening to the voices of the people living through the recovery efforts.

-Posted by Jen Teeter

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

David Vine’s Japan Tour: From Diego Garcia to Okinawa

Accompanied with Korean civic activists, American University anthropologist David Vine prays for Jeju Island)

The banner that reads, “Stay Strong Gangjeong, Let’s protect peace!!”
(Via Kim Tae-hyoung's photo-essay, "Endangered Peace in Gangjeong," at The Hankyoreh

David Vine, a professor at American University in Washington D.C. and author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, is on his way to Japan to speak on military occupation issues and to support grassroots citizen movements throughout Japan.

His tour includes a talk in Tokyo on June 29th; a base tour in Iwakuni (site of a massive new U.S. Marine Air Station in southern Japan) on August 1st; and the Dialogue Under Occupation conference in Okinawa from August 4th-8th, where participants will discuss the effects of U.S. military bases located around the world. DUO conferences have been held in Chicago and Jerusalem; this is the first DUO conference to take place in an Asian country.

The anthropologist has worked closely with Chagossians, the indigenous residents of Diego Garcia island, in their lawsuit following their forced removal from their homeland by the U.S. and U.K. governments. Both nations now use the entire island as a military base. Vine, a member of the Network for Okinawa, is involved in various movements for human rights and military budget reduction; and has visited Okinawa on several occasions. Last year, his students went public about discriminatory statements against Okinawan and Japanese people made by former U.S. diplomat Kevin Maher during a seminar they attended.

More recently, Vine interviewed Korean peace activist Sung-Hee Choi, jailed in Jeju Island for two months without possibility of bail, for nonviolent demonstrating against South Korean governmental seizure and destruction of private farmland to make way for a naval base on Jeju Island, and wrote this piece about their talk.

David Vine's talk in Tokyo:

Date/Time: Friday, July 29th 6:30 PM

Venue: Mainichi Hall (inside The Mainichi Daily News office in Takebashi, Tokyo, near Takebashi subway station in the basement of the Palace Side building)

Map (Japanese):

Entry fee: 500 yen

Interview: Hajime Kitamura (Shukan Kinyoubi magazine)

Interpretation: Yoko Furuyama (Pacific Asia Resource Center lecturer), Meri Joyce (Peace Boat International Department)

Sponsored by Shukan Kinyoubi and supported by various citizen organizations

For more information, contact: (e-mail) or 090-5341-116 (mobile phone)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Martin Frid: Support for Japanese farmers from French Organic Farmers

Wonderful news from Martin Frid in his latest post: "Support For Japan From French Organic Farmers".

Those of us who love and support traditional Japanese culture (rooted in small, organic family farms) are thrilled to hear that the French organic farming movement, Urgenci, is renaming their newsletter "Teikei," (cooperation) as a sign of solidarity with the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA):
Tei-Kei: Legend has it that the face of the farmer is hiding in the vegetables in the box. The truth is far more prosaic, but none the less elegant. The word teikei 提 携 Is composed of two characters that depict an action : that of an outstretched hand and that of helping each other. This is the term chosen by the Japanese pioneers to designate the first partnerships that were developed between producers and consumers. From the outset, in the 1970s, this new form of direct sales illustrated how to jointly maintain the often fragile balance between farmers and consumers...

At a time when Japan is still suffering from the trauma of the nuclear disaster, renaming our newsletter TEIKEI is a legitimate act anchored in our history. It shows that our movements all recognise our family ties with the Japanese movement and is also a symbol of our unconditional solidarity towards the families that are victims of the disaster. It is an important signal that will strengthen a great many actions that are already up and running. The reconstruction projects carried out with such strength by Hiroko Amemiya to help the farmers in the contaminated zones, as well as the testimony by Shimpei and Toshihide in Aubagne. This is the 33rd Urgenci newsletter, the first to be published using our new name, Teikei. A great deal of it is dedicated to them.
More at the linked post from Martin, who will be visiting Namyangju City, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea in September with the JOAA for the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) World Congress, the first such event in Asia for the organic movement. IFOAM is the global umbrella organization for the organic movement, uniting more than 750 member organizations in 116 countries.

Most (1.9 million) Japanese farms are very small (less than 5 acres). These farms are based on harmony between humans and nature, highly sensitive to ecological balance of their landscapes (Satoyama).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The survivors of the Great Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake in "No Place for Resent"- a photo essay by Kimberlye Kowalczyk

"It is one thing to watch video of what happened on youtube or to view
photographs, quite another to be surrounded by it 360 degrees, and yet
another still to stand in it and try to comprehend 500 km of coastline
affected in the same way."

Ten days after the strongest tsunami in recorded Japanese history devastated North Eastern Japan, Kimberlye Kowalczyk bore witness not just to devastation, but the resilience of the people affected everywhere along the coasts and as far deep as one kilometer inland. Winifred Bird, a Japan-based journalist who is also closely covering the disaster as it unfolds, accompanied Kowalczyk to Ishinomaki, Japan. Kowalczyk explains to Voices from the Ground:
I had expected to be devastated, but instead I was humbled and inspired by many individuals I met whom I can only describe as “enlightened”. I witnessed great giving, compassion, and solidarity.

Not only from the volunteers, but from survivors. I went to give and instead was given to; great lessons about impermanence, resilience, and gratitude.

There is still much work to be done. As the media moves on to the next Hot Topic, the road through reflection, healing, and rebuilding is still long for Japan. It is my sincere hope that many movements for peacebuilding will arise from the debris.
As the new Hot Topics start to sprinkle the airwaves, as the media begins to turn its kaleidoscope towards the inefficacy of the current prime minister, or the impressive win of the Japanese Women's soccer team in the World Cup, over 420,000 people remain displaced. As other parts of Japan, the world, carry on with the daily grind, coping by detaching, 27,000 people are dead or unaccounted for. Thousands and thousands are still, as Kowalczyk describes, "waiting to be pulled out of the water."

However, thousands and thousands, continue to dedicate themselves to recovery efforts and the sharing of knowledge of disaster management. Peace Boat is dispatching volunteers biweekly to the hardest hit areas of Tohoku.
Volunteers cleaning out a swimming pool brimming with mud.

According to Peace Boat staff, even two days is enough to make a big difference:
Even for staff who have been in Ishinomaki for months and seen the great efforts of volunteers in many places throughout the city, it was a huge surprise to see the pool – which had been so filled with mud – cleaned in just two days. The majority of the volunteers who participated in this cleanup effort were in Ishinomaki on the short-term programme – showing what can be achieved through teamwork in even a short volunteer stay.
International Disaster Relief Organization (IDRO) of Japan a local, Kyoto-based organization, has maintained a constant presence in the Oshiga and Ogatsu peninsulas ever since the disaster struck.

IDRO is looking for volunteers to join them anytime from July 15th to August 30st. In addition to spare hands, IDRO is also looking for donations of the following items which can be dropped off or shipped (IDRO Japan, 817-2 Kannonji Monzen cho, Kamigyo-ku Kyoto 602-8385 JAPAN):
* Window screen, you can buy lengths at your local hardware store
* Mosquito coils (Kattori Senko in Japanese)
* Electric fans (five years old or less please, you can buy brand new from Conan for a couple thousand yen)
* Insect Repellent
* Mosquito nets (called kaya in Japanese) available online and very inexpensive. Here is a link to the Rakuten site for selling kaya -かや/-/
JEN, an NGO specializing in post-conflict assistance, is also recruiting volunteers from all over the world. Visit their blog to hear testimony from their volunteers.

The road to reflection, healing, and rebuilding winds on. We must never forget and keep contributing to the recovery efforts, as what is good for Tohoku-Kanto right now, is good for Japan, is good for us all.

- Posted by Jen Teeter

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Haruki Marukami: As An Unrealistic Dreamer

World-renowned Japanese author Haruki Marukami was recently named the winner of the 2011 Premi Internacional Catalunya, whose judges praised him as having "built a literary bridge between east and west, bringing the two worlds together."

During Murakami's acceptance speech, delivered on June 9th in Barcelona, he first thanked the committee for the prestigious award, and memorialized the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. Turning subsequently toward the matter of the ongoing nuclear crisis that followed, he powerfully and poignantly lamented the social values that allowed the Fukushima tragedy to occur:
Sixty-six years after the nuclear bombings, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors have now been spreading radioactivity for three months, contaminating the soil, the ocean and the air around them. No one knows how and when we can stop this. This is the second source of devastation caused by nuclear power in Japan, but this time nobody dropped an atomic bomb. We, the Japanese people, paved our own way for this tragedy, making grave errors and contributing to the destruction of our own lands and lives.

Why did this occur? What happened to our rejection of nuclear power after World War II? What was it that corrupted our goal of a peaceful and prosperous society, which we had been pursuing so diligently?

The reason is simple. The reason is “efficiency”.

The electrical power companies insisted that nuclear plants offered an efficient power generation system. In other words, it was a system from which they could derive profit. For its part, the Japanese government doubted the stability of petroleum supplies, particularly since the oil crisis, and promoted nuclear power generation as national policy. The electrical power companies spent huge amounts of money on advertisements, thereby bribing the media to indoctrinate the Japanese people with the illusion that nuclear power generation was completely safe.

Before we knew it, 30 percent of electricity generation was being supplied by nuclear power. Japan, a small island nation frequently struck by earthquakes, thus became the third leading nuclear power-generating country, without the Japanese people even realizing what was happening.

We had gone beyond the point of no return. The deed was done. Those who doubted nuclear power generation were now asked the intimidating question, “Would you be in favour of power shortages?” Japanese people had come to believe that reliance on nuclear power was inevitable. Living without air conditioning during a hot and humid Japanese summer is almost akin to torture. Consequently, those who harbour doubts about nuclear power generation came to be labelled as “unrealistic dreamers”.

And so we arrived where we are today. Nuclear power plants, which were supposed to be efficient, instead offer us a vision of hell. This is the reality.

The so-called “reality” that has been proclaimed by those who promote nuclear power, however, isn’t reality at all. It is nothing more than superficial “convenience”, which their flawed logic confused with reality itself.

This situation marked the collapse of the myth regarding Japan’s technological prowess, of which the Japanese people had been so proud. In addition, allowing this distorted logic represented the defeat of existing Japanese ethics and values. We now blame the electrical companies and Japanese government, which is right and necessary. At the same time however, we must also point the finger at ourselves. We are at once victims and perpetrators, and we must consider this fact seriously. If we fail to do so, we will make the same mistake again.

“Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”

We must take these words to our hearts.
Murakami's speech has been translated into English, Romanian, German, French, and Italian (with a Portuguese translation forthcoming shortly) through a collaborative project organized by the members of a Paris-based project known as Senrinomichi, which has been working to provide material, financial, and human assistance to those affected by the March 11th disaster.

Kevin, the Senrinomichi organizer who spearheaded the translation project (which is titled Planting Seeds Together, from the closing idea within Murakami's speech), explained the background to the initiative:
Since hearing the news about Murakami san’s Catalunya Prize speech in Barcelona on Friday, I had tried long and hard to find an English translation. For several days the search proved fruitless, and increasingly frustrating. All I could find were brief extracts, which merely increased my appetite rather than assuaging it. It was like offering a thirsty man vinegar, or inviting a music lover to listen to the final chorus from Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion and then saying there was no need to listen to the previous three hours.

What surprised me was how many people who don’t speak Japanese came forward to take favourable or unfavourable positions on the speech, on the basis of these very same selected media sound bites. Since March 11, I have learned to be distrustful of media reporting in a way that I never felt before. Bread and circuses, all efficiently packaged….

On Tuesday, I finally found the first translation, written by a self-styled ordinary salary man in Japan. I drank in those words, like a long cold beer after lashings of vinegar, posted the translation to Senrinomichi and went to sleep. But the following day the words kept coming back to me, and I understood that I had myself now to contribute to this translation, even if I did not understand the words of Murakami san’s text in Japanese. Let’s call it an interpretation of the translation. At other times this could seem perverse, but not now. Now this seems like the right thing, the only thing to do. How could it be otherwise? At such moments, life seems so simple.

In adding my grain of sand to the translation, something strange and unexpected happened. Drifting amid the words, the silences and interstices of the text, I began to make better sense of the whirlwind of thoughts and ideas that have been racing around in my head since March 11. Thoughts about Japan, the ephemeral, the notion of chance, the nuclear question, about what can each of us can do to help, thoughts that had initially led to the creation of this blog and subsequently provided its backdrop. In taking the time to think carefully about each of the words in the translation, and in listening to each of the pauses between the words – which seem to me no less important in Murakami san’s speech – I came to understand more clearly the recent Brownian motion of my own mind.

In this sense, perhaps I can say that I dreamed, and that I shared my story at least with myself, but also with anyone who is taking the trouble to read this.

I love and am occasionally afraid of the power of words, though unlike Murakami san I am not a writer. I am an ordinary salary man in Paris, who feels a kinship with my friend, the ordinary salary man in Tokyo, who I understand also loves words. It was from such kinship that Senrinomichi was born, even though I didn’t know that particular ordinary salary man before yesterday when, to borrow his image (again), a small, but very happy storm was unleashed on both our houses…

Translation is the work of a single person. Murakami san’s novels are assigned to a single translator per language, which explains why the non Japanese-speaking readers have to wait so long for translations to appear. Translation is a complex process, a lonely process, an enriching process, a creation in its own right. Words are powerful, they must be treated with respect, not hurried, not abused or treated “inconveniently”.

But at this time I keep thinking about the words, the ideas from the Barcelona speech. These words that should be heard and be published, not as media sound bites but in their entirety, not as part of a subsequent Murakami Collected Works, but here, now, everywhere.

In the absence of an official translation, but also inspired by the spirit of Murakami san’s speech, I would therefore like to propose something quite different, quite singular. That we – Japanese and other nationalities – work together to produce collaborative translations of the Barcelona speech, in English but also in other languages. And that we then communicate this to the traditional international mass media and internet sites in our different countries, which to date seem to have let us down with their reporting of this speech. In doing so, in our own way we take up the exhortation of Murakami Haruki, to go out together into the fields, to cultivate and sow seeds.

Together we would work like the workshop students of the great Renaissance artists, as cheerful artisans.

Finally, I cannot help but find resonance with the name we chose for our site, Senrinomichi,千里の道– the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Serendipity is everywhere just now. The very moment I completed my interpretation of the translation, the feed to Senriomichi was published on Haruki Murakami’s Facebook page. Am I dreaming this?

Perhaps this is all madness, perhaps translations are already envisaged, perhaps I need to sleep. Perhaps, perhaps perhaps… but just now all of this seems so obvious.

…“Everyone doing what they can do, all hearts together”
The full text of Murakami's speech in English may be read here.

Anyone interested in contributing to the collaborative translation project with additional languages is asked to please contact Senrinomichi via the group's Facebook page, or by e-mail at

- Kimberly Hughes

Friday, July 15, 2011

Emily Wang: A raining morning in Gangjeong

"A Humble Determination in the morning"

晨雨 於 江汀洞。
A raining morning in Gangjeong.

Because of raining this morning,
the regular 100-bow ceremony moved to the tent.

(Text and Photo: Visual artist Emily Wang's exquisite Jeju Island-based blog, From Los Palos)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Velcrow Ripper's Evolve Love: Love in a Time of Climate Crisis holds a sustainable (& healing, empowering) answer for post-3.11 Japan

Here's the new blog and the old blog for Velcrow Ripper's upcoming Evolve Love: Love in a Time of Climate Change with video interviews.

Ripper's film focuses on planetary climate change activism but also resonates with the love and vision fueling overlapping grassroots cross-border dialogue and action of people worldwide (Okinawa, Jeju Island, Guam) who are trying to save their sacred places, parks, and eco-systems from military, nuclear, and extraction industry destruction.

In "Love to the People," Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth International shares with filmmaker Velcrow Ripper at the 2010 World People’s Summit on Climate Change, in Cochabamba, Bolivia:
Love means respect for one another...In Bolivia, I see this as a big gift to humanity...

The coming together of peoples from around the world, to sit down together to talk about their pains, to talk about their anxieties, to talk about their hopes and their feelings and dreams of a future.

These are the ingredients of a great love story, what we're doing for nature, for Mother Earth We are, together, telling ourselves to recall the memory of who we are and why we're here.
In another episode in the film, "Love versus the G20,"  Judy Rebick explains that compassionate activism is about becoming conscious of and building affirmative relationships with each other, all life, and our planet:
What we have to show the world is that we're here because we love the planet; we love the people on the planet, and we want to protect them from the forces of destruction...It will become a great love story if the people of the earth come together to change the system of greed and stand up against whatever pressure and intimidation there is. If we could find ways to express that and connect with each other, it would be the greatest love story ever told.
Rebick, the author of Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political and founding publisher of the Canadian progressive news site cites indigenous peoples as emerging planetary leaders. Her June 15 blog post:
It is time to stop talking about what went wrong with the left that was so effective in the 20th century and identify the forces that are leading change in the 21st century. Primary among these, in my view, are indigenous peoples and movements.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Grassroots Asians part of interconnected worldwide coal-free movement: Coal is not the answer for post-3.11 Japan

China's example demonstrates that coal is not an answer to energy production. (Image: Sierra Club)

Congratulations to locals in Sabah, Malaysia and their global supporters in prevailing against a coal company 
that wanted to destroy this beautiful coast! (Image: Sierra Club)

Last month scientists reported that Pacific marine life passed into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in thousands of years because global warming has melted ice cover in the Arctic. This month we've seen a flurry of news stories stating China's coal burning has "halted" global warming. Responsible media outlets like Reuters and Discover qualified the finding with pronouncements from climate change scientists who stressed that, over the long term, sulfur dioxide emissions from coal would increase global warming. Anyone who has been to China (or the Appalachian region of the United States) already knows coal is not an answer to energy production. The coal industry is as destructive as the oil and nuclear energy industries: causing permanent ruin of entire eco-systems and communities worldwide.

Even before 3.11, Japanese electricity producers were, together, the world's #1 coal importer and had planned or had under construction several new major coal-fired power stations in Japan:
Tepco previously said it expected two new coal-fired units to start operations in late 2013—a 1 GW plant at Hitachinaka and the 600 MW Hiromo No. 6 unit northeast of Tokyo, and J-Power has several plans for new coal-fired generating stations.
In past years, Japanese energy companies clashed with the Environment Ministry over emissions. Coal energy concerns now are using the Fukushima catastrophe to push through previously rejected projects and pursue growth. Owners of a mine project (20% owned by Japanese; 20% owned by South Koreans) in Vancouver, British Columbia want to produce coal for export to Asia over the objections of local residents. Itochu, a Japanese trading group, paid US$1.52 billion to acquire a 20% stake in Drummond International’s Colombian coal mining operation. The agreement gives Itochu “rights” to sell Colombian coal in Japan. The conglomerate, a major uranium supplier, used to buy most of its coal from Australian companies and has investments in Canada, Indonesia, and China. Two days ago, Mitsui bought a 49% share of Australia's Cockatoo coal project.

In Asia (and elsewhere), coal companies have seized farm land and destroyed villages, rendering entire populations homeless. The Sierra Club details this pattern of destruction, attempted destruction, and local resistance by rural people who want to save their ancestral homes and natural environments in "Down With Coal! The Grassroots Anti-Coal Movement Goes Global":
While China struggles with the enormity of the pollution burden from its world-leading annual coal consumption, it is not the only hotbed of future coal-plant construction. Activists in India, for example, report that regulators gave the green light to at least 173 coal projects during 2010 -- nearly one plant every other day. In Southeast Asia, large Chinese utilities such as China Huadian are setting up shop to finance and build a slew of new coal plants. Meanwhile, new coal mines are being proposed in Australia and Indonesia, overwhelmingly for export sales. Countries from Mozambique to Mongolia, which have had little domestic need for coal, are now being hyped as the next big players in the global coal rush. (Photo: A 2,000-MW coal plant in Madhya Pradesh, India.)

In the fertile farming areas that support large rural populations in much of Asia, the new coal boom spells civil conflict, as fields are seized, villages are ordered to pack up and leave, and communities resist. For the U.S. coal movement, the 2,500 people who turned out to protest the Capitol Power Plant was a large number. In India or Bangladesh, marches and demonstrations of more than 10,000 people are not uncommon.

The dominant international narrative focuses on the need to build large numbers of new coal plants across the developing world to spur economic progress. However, the assertion that development can only be achieved through a massive expansion of coal use is being met with increasingly fierce resistance by those asked to bear the most toxic and destructive burdens of this expansion: the people living next to coal projects.

Local populations are resisting private and public-sector pressure to dramatically expand coal-fired power because these projects are not intended for their benefit. While local people face displacement and the destruction of their livelihoods, electricity is often exported to urban centers. Communities are calling for a more sustainable model of energy development that prioritizes access to energy services for all, environmental sustainability, and human health. Their efforts to halt coal-plant construction have placed them front and center in the struggle over energy and development in the 21st century.

In the past, most communities struggling to take on ill-conceived projects have done so largely on their own, but that's starting to change. International coalitions are beginning to develop to bring publicity and support to front-line efforts. Here are a dozen places around the world where people are uniting to halt coal projects, increasingly with international support.

•  Sabah, Malaysia

In April, 1,500 people convened on a beach in Malaysia to savor a victory that had been judged impossible just two years earlier: the defeat of a 300-MW coal plant in the Malaysian state of Sabah, located on the northeast side of the island of Borneo. Celebrations were also underway 7,500 miles away, in California, among a group of activists who had helped draw international publicity to the issue -- including a Time magazine article entitled "A Coal Plant in Paradise."

• Phulbari, Bangladesh

Bangladesh's high population density (more than 164 million people in a country the size of Iowa) and rich agricultural land make coal mining a destructive proposition. In the township of Phulbari, as many as 220,000 people would be displaced by a proposed 15-million-ton-per-year coal mine and a 500-MW coal plant. Community opposition reached a crescendo in 2006, when paramilitary forces fired on a protest rally of as many as 70,000 people, killing three people and injuring 200. In the wake of these deaths, nationwide protests and strikes closed down the country for four days... During recent demonstrations, the Bangladeshi government has deployed its Rapid Action Battalion, notorious for torture and for the deaths of persons in its custody. The repression has failed.

• Andhra Pradesh, India

This coastal state of eastern India is experiencing a coal-plant construction boom, including the 4,000-MW Krishnapatnam Ultra Mega Power Project, one of nine such massive projects in planning or under construction across the country...The 2,640-MW Sompeta plant proposed by Nagarjuna Construction Company and the 2,640-MW Bhavanapadu plant proposed by East Coast Energy have both provoked large nonviolent protests that have ended in police attacks, including four deaths of local residents. Following coverage of the police action on Indian television, investigations revealed a pattern of "crony capitalism" among the permitting agencies and corporate sponsors. As of May 2011, the Sompeta plant had been cancelled and the Bhavanapadu plant had been placed on hold by officials, with corruption investigations continuing...

• Dawei, Burma

In Dawei, on the beautiful southern peninsula coast of Burma, Italian-Thai Development Plc signed a deal in Nov. 2010 to build a 4,000-to-6,000-MW coal plant, the largest in Southeast Asia and possibly the world. Within weeks of the signing, 19 villages had received orders to move. Dawei is 10 miles from Maungmagan, a scenic beach and rich fishing district...

• Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Thailand - On Feb. 24, 2011, 10,000 people formed a human chain in this province in Thailand to protest a coal-fired power plant planned by Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand...

• Konkan Coast of Maharashtra, India

Home to 112 million people, this state in western India is building a concentration of large coal plants on a tiny sliver of land south of Mumbai known as the Konkan Coast (dubbed "the California of Maharashtra")...Concerned by the pollution and displacement entailed by the massive proposals, farmers have targeted some of the largest projects. One of these is the 4,000-MW Girye Ultra Mega Power Project, which prompted mango farmers and others to stage marches, hunger strikes, and other nonviolent actions. They successfully forced the project to seek a new location [PDF] as protests barred the government from acquiring the needed land.

• Orissa, India

In this state on the eastern coast of India, the scale of coal-plant development is staggering... In March, activists from across India converged on Orissa for a national conclave to plan a response to the coal boom, as well as the related issues of energy use and climate change. The mobilization includes the National Alliance for People's Movements, Focus Odisha, and numerous other groups.

• Madhya Pradesh, India

Since 1977, when the World Bank financed the first coal-fired plant in the region, the Singrauli district of this state in central India has been notorious for roughshod development and population displacement. Now more massive coal plants are being built or planned... The concentration of power generation in an agricultural area has left local communities reeling. The Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project, for example, has displaced 6,000 people. One man is benefiting: Mukesh Ambani, the controlling owner of India-based Reliance Power, whose reported net worth of $27 billion makes him one of the world's five richest individuals.

• Queensland and New South Wales, Australia

On a tonnage basis, Australia already leads the world in coal exports, and that lead may widen significantly if several massive mines are allowed to move forward in the eastern coal-mining states of Queensland and New South Wales... Farmers and ranchers are fighting back with a concerted effort to protect rich agricultural lands and precious water resources from mining operations...

•  Victoria, Australia

While the low-quality coal in this state in southeastern Australia is not suitable for export, it provides 91 percent of the fuel used for power generation in Victoria itself...

• Colombia

One of the oldest examples of citizens working across national boundaries on coal issues is the coalition of human rights and labor organizations that has brought attention to the massive mines in Colombia, such as the 35-by-5-mile Cerrejón coal mine, operated by Cerrejón Coal Company, and the mines operated by Drummond. The expansion of these mines has been marked by paramilitary violence, high numbers of deaths in mining accidents, and displacement of entire communities, including Tabaco, a 700-person Afro-Colombian village that was razed in 2001. Witness for Peace has brought members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to visit the mines, as well as people who live near the Salem Power Station in Massachusetts, which uses coal from Colombia.

• Sarangani Province, the Philippines

In the Philippines, grassroots protests against new coal plants and open-pit coal mining have taken place across the country...At a separate demonstration, students at Mindanao State University dressed as Na'vi from the film Avatar marched on the fenced property of the proposed plant site...
The co-authors (collaborative activists worldwide) conclude:
As grassroots resistance grows in countries around the globe, a nascent, interconnected, worldwide anti-coal movement is emerging. In an increasingly globalized world, local campaigns can quickly reach a global audience and tap into previously unimagined support networks. While the participants in this new movement are diverse, some of the patterns are becoming clear: sustained and passionate grassroots activism is challenging the idea that fossil fuels are the only option. Many governments have backtracked or shelved plans in response to political pressure or legal actions. Some banks, investors, and even energy companies are growing increasingly wary of further supporting coal.

But it's still too early to write the obituary for King Coal. The industry is now attempting to wrap itself in the cloak of "development," justifying dirty energy projects in the name of providing energy access for some of the world's most economically poor countries. While many coal projects have encountered strong opposition, too many others are proceeding without challenge.

...Like tobacco, coal insinuated its way into our lives delivering a cheap, short-term energy high, but leaving a bitter long-term aftertaste -- in the case of coal, ruined rivers and lands, lives wrecked and cut short, abandoned communities, and an increasingly polluted and potentially unlivable atmosphere.

We need clean energy alternatives, not the continuation of dirty energy that destroys people's health, livelihoods, and resources. Will you join the growing global movement to move away from coal?
(24 February 2011 - Thailand. Children join Greenpeace & thousands of other people from Nakhon Si Thammarat to protest plans for a new coal-fired power station to be built in their province by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). The protesters call for EGAT to immediately withdraw its coal project due to projected serious economic, social and environmental impacts. Photo: Greenpeace Int.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

LGBT Resources in Japan: Something for Everyone

Once upon a time, back in the day, a lesbian or bisexual woman newly arriving to Tokyo was welcomed into a thriving international community complete with a buzzing information circuit, weekly Wednesday night gatherings at the “Chestnut and Squirrel” (C&S) bar/café in Shibuya, weekend retreats held several times yearly to meet with other queer* women for sports and workshops, and many other constantly ongoing activities.

As elsewhere, the roots of this scene trace back to the height of the lesbian/feminist movement of the 1970s, when a group of Japanese and foreign women came together to begin the work of challenging patriarchy and creating community. As the age of face-to-face social activism gradually morphed into that of e-mail and then Facebook, however, the gay women’s community—as perhaps with other subcultures as well—began to go the way of fragmentation, with community-based organizing slowly being replaced by individualized cyber-surfing and socializing. The cohesiveness of the international Tokyo women’s community was further diminished by the gradual tapering off the weekend retreats, followed by the closing down of the popular C&S event in 2010 when the space was sold and turned into a snack bar catering to salarymen.

The news is definitely not all bleak, however, as organized scenes for queer women definitely do exist—not only in Tokyo, but in nearly every major city in Japan. And with a bit of sleuthing, many resources are out there to be discovered. With much of the existing information available exclusively in Japanese, however, this article is intended to serve as a helpful tool for anyone seeking to understand the lay of the gay land— so to speak— for queer ladies in Japan.

One well-loved event that has survived and thrived through the changing of the times is the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (TILGFF), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall. Held at the Spiral Hall in Tokyo’s artsy district of Aoyama, the festival screens LGBT films from all around the world, while welcoming overseas film directors and actors as guest speakers, and also usually throwing stylish before and/or after parties.  

A related event is the Asian Queer Film Festival (AQFF), which will make its third run this summer in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. The festival’s Facebook page explains that its goal is to “present these independent Asian queer films with the hope that they will provoke a reconsideration of the image of sexual minorities in Japanese society, and in other Asian countries”. The dates for both film festivals this year were pushed back due to the recent Eastern Japan Great Earthquake—TILGFF from July to October, and AQFF from May to July. In addition, the AQFF website states that it will donate a portion of this year’s proceeds for disaster relief.

Also working to provide support for those affected by the triple earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis is LOUD, a resource center for lesbian and bisexual women in Tokyo’s Nakano district. In addition to its monthly “candle night” socials and “open day” events where women are invited to come and peruse its extensive library of books and literature in both Japanese and English, LOUD is now working together with the Sexuality and Human Rights Network ESTO to collect donations for LGBT individuals who have been forced from their homes due to the catastrophe. In addition to the basic everyday needs faced by all survivors of the disaster, sexual minorities (known as “seku-mai” in Japanese) face additional challenges such as lack of access to hormone medications in the case of transgender individuals, and for lesbians, an exacerbation of the already precarious economic situation that many unmarried women face in this country due to a socioeconomic structure that favors male earners.

Looking back several years, these types of social issues were among those tackled head on by Kanako Otsuji, a former assembly member in the Osaka prefectural legislature who ran in the National Diet election of 2007 on the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ticket as an openly out lesbian in the hopes of courting the LGBT vote. Her candidacy gave a fresh infusion of energy to the seku-mai community, which brought many previously separated sub-communities together in support of a potential ally within the halls of legislative power.

While Otsuji’s loss in this election dealt a strong blow to the LGBT community as a whole, which saw its momentum fizzle temporarily in the wake of the defeat, its members continue to wage the long fight for social equality. Following public remarks made by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara this past December that same-sex couples were “lacking something” and that he “pitied them”, an umbrella network named “Rainbow Action” was organized in order to convene community gatherings in January and April to reaffirm the need for greater social understanding and policies toward LGBT individuals.

Hoping to address these same inequalities, Amnesty International is presently spearheading a bilingual online petition drive, titled “Yes! Paragraph 29” in order to “call on the Japanese government to take immediate measures to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity in Japan.” For those who are able to communicate in Japanese, other initiatives of interest include the recently organized Partnership Law Japan network, which aims to advocate for a law that will afford social benefits to same-sex couples, as well as the PAF School in Tokyo and the Queer & Women’sResource Center (QWRC) in Osaka—both of which offer courses and workshops on various themes related to gender and sexuality.

While many will say that the hurdles facing LGBT communities in Japan loom large, many hopeful signs do exist that social attitudes are indeed improving. NHK started a television series called “Haato wo tsunagou” (“Connecting Hearts”) that looks intimately at the issues facing these individuals, and a Fuji TV drama in 2008 introduced a character who was openly questioning her gender and sexual identity—both evidence of positively changing times. Lively pride parades held in the summer streets of Harajuku and Shibuya nearly every year see turnouts of thousands. Still, however, while many nations around the world now offer civil partnerships and even full-fledged marriage for same-sex couples, this still seems a faraway dream for LGBT people in Japan.

In terms of getting involved with the LGBT community (or, more to the point, “communities”), the resources are certainly out there—regardless of whether your interests lean more toward activism or toward a night out clubbing in Tokyo’s famed gayborhood of Shinjuku Ni-chome (or perhaps toward both!). Although this overview covers only a fraction of what is available, a simple bit of initiative means that the world of rainbow Japan is yours for the exploring.

--Kimberly Hughes

Originally published in Being A Broad magazine. July 7, 2011.

Resources (Text box?!)
☆ (Denotes that site is available in Japanese only)

Film Festivals:

Aomori International LGBT Film Festival:

Asian Queer Film Festival (AQFF):

Kansai Queer Film Festival:

Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (TILGFF):

LGBT Support Organizations:

Amnesty International “Yes! Paragraph 29” petition:

International Queer Group (IQG):

OUT Japan (Social Networking Site):

Partnership Law Japan network:

Queer Women’s Resource Center (QWRC):

Rainbow Action blog:

Sexuality and Human Rights Network ESTO:

Ladies bars/clubs in Shinjuku Nichome:

Bar Motel

Goldfinger / Girlfriend (monthly women-only dance parties):

Kinswomyn Bar

LGBT Media:

Gay Japan News (LGBT news of interest from both Japan and around the world):

Tokyo Wrestling (trilingual (Japanese, English, French) lesbian culture site):

Sparkling Rain (Japanese lesbian fiction anthology in translation):

Additional Japan-based resources (via Utopia Asia website):

* A word originally carrying derogatory connotations, “queer” has been reclaimed with pride to serve as an umbrella term for those outside of the mainstream with respect to sexuality and/or gender (often used similarly to LGBT).