Love Is in the Air: Vladimir Putin, the World's Greenest Politician?

An unexpected actor has more positive impact on the world's climate than Mr. Obama and the EU combined: Vladimir Putin.

Cutting Emissions in India

A look at the construction sector

Why Coal is Worse than Nuclear

Many people would prefer coal power generation over nuclear. Is this preference justified?

Energy: Empowering the Consumer?

A talk by MP Laura Sandys

Dieter Helm: The Carbon Crunch

My review of Dr. Dieter Helm's latest book on climate change.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Festival Crazy

As it does every year, this year Kyoto also hosted two major festivals on Oct 22. Because this year's Oct 22 happened to be a Friday, me and a couple of my friends decided to visit them both. First was the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages), starting at noon, with an enormously long procession of people walking for about four hours through the city's streets dressed in clothing from all the ages since the year 794 when Kyoto became the capital of Japan (which it ceased to be after 1868). The procession's route led through the city center, starting at the Imperial Palace and ending at the Heian Shrine, which was actually built for this occasion. There are two things worth noting about this festival. First, it is so huge that it attracts tourists from all over Japan. So many people walk the streets dressed in various costumes that there are barely enough policemen to divert traffic and make sure that everything goes smooth. There is no way you can follow the festival because the streets are crowded, and so we just waited for it at 1.50PM at the crossing of the Karasuma and Oike streets. The whole procession passed by us in about twenty minutes and over it was. Interesting as it was, I am surprised to hear that people actually travel here from all over Japan to see this twenty minute fashion show. The second thing worth noting is that this festival is not full of volunteers who love to dress up medieval style but rather full of students who receive pay for doing so; even my Doshisha friend Masa walked the streets for hours dressed in a costume in order to receive ¥6300. I guess even the most famous festivals in Japan aren't done entirely out of people's love for their city's traditions.

The second festival, called Hi Matsuri (Fire Festival), started at 8PM in Kurama, a town in the mountains north of  Kyoto. Me and the same couple of my friends of course embarked on a trip to see the festival. We went to Demachiyanagi, the station from which a two-cart mini train leaves about twenty minutes to Kurama. We were recommended by people on the AKP staff to come at least two hours early lest we wish to wait in a line forever. So instead of going to the station so we make the train at 7.30PM, we went at five thinking how empty the place was going to be and how easily we would secure the best viewing spots. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and we didn't. The line for the mini train ride was longer than ever. We paid ¥820 (about $10) for the return ticket and waited, and waited, and waited. When it finally came to be our turn after about forty-five minutes of waiting in line, we ended up on a train where throngs of people were pressed like sardines. Pushed against people's backsides, front sides, and hands, we survived this horrible thirty minute ride and hastily left the Kurama train station, following the enormous crowd which just left the train. We followed and followed, but there was no end to that crowd. People were literally everywhere; I don't know how early they must have started coming, but it seemed as if many of them had come well before noon. There was only one tiny street where people were allowed to walk and even that street was only open in one lane because there were fires in the other lane. Yes, there were fires burning everywhere. So we went on pushing our way through the crowd until we decided that there indeed was no end to it. We couldn't see anything and were pushed from all sides by a festival-crazy mob. We turned around and, going against the never ending river of people, returned to the station. As you may guess, we weren't the only ones who thought that going back was the only sensible thing to do, and so the crowd going on the 7PM train back was as huge as the one going up, as was the line we had to wait in. ¥820 poorer, we were back where we started off by 7.30, half an hour before the festival was scheduled to begin

Agreeing that the last thing we wanted to do was to go somewhere where there were people, we sat down on the bank of Kamogawa (river flowing through Kyoto), popped a can of sake, opened a pack of supermarket sushi and dried squid, and enjoyed the lack of people. After an hour or so of just sitting at the river, a couple of musicians, a man and a woman, sat down on the stairs above us and started practicing one catchy song again and again. We stayed for a good hour or so more, enjoying the music, and when we were about to leave, we asked the two what they were about. Apparently they were  the singer and the guitarist of a starting underground rock/pop band called Maruyama Hanto Kamogawa Karuteto. They gave us their poster and invited us to their concert taking place on Nov 4. For some reason, musicians in Kyoto love to practice/perform at Kamogawa, but as most of them always hang where Kamogawa meets Shijo, Kyoto's busiest street, there are so many that you can barely distinguish among them. Because these two were playing in such an empty place, they got noticed (though just by us five people). The next morning I checked out the web page on the poster and indeed found the song which they were playing at the river. It's called Hataraku Hito (Working People) and is quite catchy. So click on the play button below and do as Dexter Holland once so famously said:

Ahhhhh, it's time to relax, 
and you know what that means, 
a glass of wine, your favourite easy chair, 
and of course this compact disc playing and your home stereo. 
So go on, indulge yourself, 
that's right, kick off your shoes, put your feet up, 
lean back and just enjoy the melodies. 
After all, music soothes even the savage beasts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Liquor Mountain, my favorite liquor store.
Because all of my usual co-hikers bailed on me, the only mountain I climbed this past weekend was Liquor Mountain. Instead talking about that, though,I will tell you about my classes here in Kyoto and about how class research can be a lot of fun without actually including any research. Maybe some of you can get inspired.

I already told you that I am taking 9 hours a week of Japanese, nothing worth any special analysis other than an honorable mention. On top of Japanese I am also taking two other classes, Japanese Buddhism and Anthropology of Modernity. Yeah, I'd rather be taking the Joint Seminar with Doshisha students and the Japanese Film class, but Anthropology and Religion actually count toward my East Asian Studies and International Studies majors, and if I want to graduate, I have no choice but to take them. The religion class is quite interesting (as interesting as religion can get, being what it is), and the highlight of it are Friday afternoon field trips to various Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, graveyards or other religiously affiliated sites. These field trips are a great way to spend a Friday afternoon seeing the sights which I'd probably go to see anyway. This way however I get a free tour guide (i.e. our prof), and reimbursement for all expenses. The most interesting field trip so far was to Byodo-in, one of the most beautiful temples in Japan, located halfway between my house and Kyoto. To tell you how important a site it is to the Japanese, know that the outline of Byodo-in is also engraved on the 10 Yen coin. There is little I remember about the particularities of the place other than that there are two bronze phoenixes on the roof (see the picture below) which are deemed Japan's national treasures. Though I am not sure how many other national treasures there are, the phoenixes are quite elaborate, especially considering they were made about a thousand years ago. Because they are so important, the actual phoenixes are in a museum below Byodo-in, while the ones on the roof are replicas.
Byodo-in, taken from the left rather than from the front,
because everyone shoots it from the front.

Similarly, my anthropology class is as interesting as anthropology can get, but because I have been in fact conducting anthropological observations for the past more than four years simply by living abroad, I can definitely relate to many of the topics/discussions in class. We talk about all kinds of things which have to do with the word modernity in Japan. The other day we were assigned a "research" project, where we had to choose a place which should sort of relate to our readings and conduct field research there. Being conscious about my time schedule, I thought that the least time-consuming and most fun way to do my research is not to do it at all. In other words, do what I normally do and call it "research". So I submitted my proposal in which I suggested that I conduct a Friday night research in Shirokiya, my favorite bar just across the street from school. The topic of the research was to "find out whether Shirokiya is a western or more traditionally Japanese establishment in the context of our readings". Of course, because I needed to look inconspicuous while conducting my research, I justified receiving budget to buy myself some dinner and a couple of drinks. Giving the above rationale, I also justified taking a couple of my Japanese friends with me so that we look like yet another group of customers. While my "research" was supposed to take an hour and a half of work, it took me about four hours of usual Friday night fun with my friends, some good food, and a couple of free drinks paid for by the AKP. Good times.

On another note, the weather in Kyoto has been getting gradually colder, with highs at around 20°C (68F), and lows at night around 10°C (50F). The ever present haze caused by hot, humid air, which has been obstructing the view of far away places, has slowly been disappearing, and though the Ochiba (falling leaf) season is still about a month away, the leaves are slowly starting to change color. The beautiful golden rice fields, a dominant of Seika Town and its surroundings, have quickly been changing from a lively gold to a  murky brown as busy farmers reap the results of a year's work with their mini harvesters. This pleasant weather is awesome for riding my bike, which I do quite often on the days when school ends right after lunch. Last week I biked to Kamo City, about 17km (11mi) southeast from my place and was rewarded with a great view of mountains as well as half-harvested fields.
The fields in Kamo City, about 17km (11mi) from my place. Because I took it
with my phone during one of my bike rides, the resolution is quite low.

Speaking of harvesting, the Japanese surely know how to celebrate a successful harvest. Last Sunday, Oct 10, me and a couple of my friends went to see a harvest celebration at Momoyama, a town just south of Kyoto, on the way to Seika. We visited the Goryo Temple in Momoyama, which transformed that evening from a quiet meditation place into a bustling market street. All kinds of merchants were selling Japanese foods like Takoyaki (baked octopus), Okonomiyaki (see last post), and Omochi (rice cakes), as well as more western foods like fried cheese, Kebab, Wieners on a stick, and huge hamburgers. There was also a surprisingly big amount of merchants selling airsoft guns and video games. What I found the most intriguing though was a little game for kids where they would get a fish hook on a string and tried to catch eel crowded in a small tub by sticking the hook into the eels' bodies. Sometimes they would succeed, which would cause the unfortunate eel to twist, turn, screw, twiddle and tweak on the hook until it either managed to escape back into the tub or became one with the lucky kid later that evening. A successful catch would cause general applause from the kid's parents as well as other bystanders. Quite cruel a fun, if you ask me. The evening's finale came when two enormous processions of strong, sweaty men passed through the streets carrying heavy-looking Mikoshi, or portable shrines. They would sing and jump and make noise, waving the Mikoshi so wildly from side to side that I was almost certain that they were going to drop it, but they didn't. Maybe they didn't drop it because they made a refreshment stop to drink a beer and smoke a cigarette every twenty minutes or so. All in all, everybody seemed to be having loads of fun. 
The procession of men carrying the Mikoshi.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hiroshima (広島), a Modern Reminder of the Cruel Past

The A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

This Thursday to Saturday, Oct 7 - 9, the AKP people organized a field trip along the southern coast of Honshu Island. We visited Bizen, a city known for its traditional pottery (what is NOT traditional in Japan these days?), Kurashiki, a city known for its traditional houses (again, right?), the city of Hiroshima, known for the atomic bombing 65 years ago, and Miyajima Island, with its Torii. I'll start from the beginning.

We left Kyoto at 8.30 in the morning on Thursday. Not by Shinkansen as the previous AKP groups used to, but by bus, because it is much cheaper and the AKP is apparently running out of money due to the historically strong yen and a weak dollar. The bus ride did have its spells, though. Mainly, because Japan is a mountainous country, we spent a good half of the trip driving through tunnels, and watching beautiful mountainous scenery while outside of the tunnels. Actually, according to Kent, Japan has the longest tunnel network of all the countries in the world (excluding Kazakhstan of course); a fact that I only came to believe after Saturday. Anyway, after three or so hours on the highway, we arrived in Bizen, known for its traditional pottery. No offense, but they were still just mugs, cups, bowls, jars, vases, chopstick holders, incense holders, candle holders, napkin holders, etc, and though pretty, they definitely deserve no special attention in this blog. The AKP people seemed to think the same as they scheduled our visit to less than an hour.

We continued west to Kurashiki, a city with a beautiful historical center full of museums and traditional shops. It is especially well known for the local delicacy called Kibidango, a sweet cake made from a powder of millet and rice. Rather than spending the beautiful sunny day in a museum, I walked along the city's Kibidango shops and enjoyed this great delicacy in its various forms. We spent the night at a hotel near the Inland Sea, which had an Ofuro (hot tub) with the view of the 13.1 km long Great Seto Bridge (Seto-Ohashi), connecting the Islands of Honshu and Shikoku through a series of smaller islands.

Early the next morning we continued on to Hiroshima, the supposed highlight of the whole trip. Hiroshima today is known for two things. First is the atomic bombing of Aug 6, 1945, and second is Okonomiyaki, a delicious pancake-like meal. I will start with the atomic bomb. As you may well imagine, the explosion released by the fission of approximately 1kg of Uranium 235 transformed Hiroshima from a booming military outpost into radioactive hell within mere seconds. Sixty thousand people died on the spot, with over a hundred thousand following them within the next year, and even more dying untimely due to leukemia and such caused by radiation poisoning. I could go on talking about the reasoning behind and morality of throwing the Little Boy on Hiroshima and the Fat Man on Nagasaki, but because enough has been said by others, I would rather talk about the city itself. Obviously, because sixty-five years ago Hiroshima was virtually erased from Earth's surface, there are no buildings older than that. That doesn't mean, however, that the new city was not built according to the old plans. In fact, it has the same narrow streets and cool houses with funky Asian roofs, the old castle was rebuilt to its old image, and the old bridges look the same as they did before that one horrible August morning. The only building which was not rebuilt is the Atomic Bomb Dome, today a peace monument and the main symbol of Hiroshima. The Dome, built in 1915 by the Czech architect Jan Letzel, was the only building close to the hypocenter of the atomic explosion which did not entirely collapse. Now it serves as a grim memory of what happened and is only maintained to look exactly the same way it did after the explosion. It indeed carries a strong message: as you watch Hiroshima's panorama of new, tall, glass-metal buildings, the view of this dreary ruin in the back is sure to give you goose bumps. Because it was raining all day long, I also went to the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, which was interesting though I didn't learn anything new. We also got a lecture by an atomic bomb survivor (Hibakusha). It was a woman in her late seventies with some serious scars on her body as well as her soul, and her story was truly sad. But enough of that. The second thing that Hiroshima is famous for is Okonomiyaki, a grilled pancake (yaki) with anything you like inside (okonomi). What makes Hiroshima Okonomiyaki special is that they add buckwheat noodles (soba) inside it, and make it on a huge bar-like oven right in front of you. The one I got was so huge and thick that I was barely able to eat it, and cost only some ¥800, or $10.
Okonomiyaki in the process of being made.

That same rainy evening we took the ferry to the Miyajima Island, just off the coast of Hiroshima. The Island is famous for its Torii (Shinto gate), which stands partly in the sea and is accessible by foot during low tide and by boat during high tide. It is also famous for the local sweet called Momiji Manju, a maple leaf-shaped pastry with sweet filling. Most interestingly, though, there are numerous deer everywhere, roaming the island freely and begging tourists for food. Because they are supposed to be manifestations of some sort of Kami (Shinto god), they are not to be killed. In other words, if I were a deer, I would live in Miyajima, the deer paradise. Despite having little time and despite (or perhaps because of) the fame of Miyajima’s Torii, the Momiji Manju factories and such, me and a couple of my friends decided to hike the highest peak on the island, Mt. Misen, instead. Sadly it was raining, and so we didn't get much view from the top of this 535m tall mountain. However, there was a restaurant on top of the mountain (it's Japan, remember?), and the above-mentioned deer were roaming inside!!! the restaurant as if it were theirs. Many a Czech restaurant would pay loads of money to have delicious Goulash meat coming right through their doorstep, I reckon. But again, these deer are gods, right, and therefore cannot be killed. We hiked down, ate some Momiji Manju, and embarked on the 7 hour journey back to Kyoto. It was a worthy trip, not to mention free.
The Torii in Miyajima, with a couple of newlyweds. Notice the two deer.

On another note, I’m sorry for making this entry so long. I know I promised to keep them shorter because otherwise no one bothers to read them. I just couldn't help it, sorry. Oh yes, please comment! I love comments, they’re great! They make this blog much more interesting. They make me want to write more. So please, comment! :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Even the commercial suggests that you be green! Be green and KAYAK across the Pacific! :D
In case you guys want to come for a visit and don't have enough money to make the trip, or want to be green and thus don't want to fly, you can just ask Google to tell you how to get from Waterville to Kyoto. All you have to do is drive to the West Coast, and KAYAK across the Pacific Ocean, preferably with a layover in Hawaii :D At least so says Google. I wonder when winter comes and the northern seas freeze over, whether Google will also suggest the alternative route, that is hiking across Alaska and the frozen Bering Strait into Russia and then walk over from Sakhalin to Hokkaido over the frozen Okhotsk Sea. In case you want to embark right away but don't have the time to look at the map, I marked the most important waypoints for you on the map above!
Courtesy of Jirina Laburdova.