Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best performance Tofu: Trader Joe's

Good quality Tofu is determined by its texture and the flavor of soy bean which should be just right.

Among those that are easiliy available at grocery stores, Trader Joe's is best considering its price (I think it's $1.29~1.49) and the fact that it's organic. Thank you TJ.

Japanese major brand "House" is probably the most widely available Tofu in the US, but I am not a big fan of it. It is either too soft (silken) or too firm (firm), and it's waterly and flavorless.

Another option is Korean grocery stores. Korean brand Tofus are not bad at all, and best of all, you might find locally produced (possibly hand-made), fresh Tofu.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Yamaha fuel cell scooter: FC-Dii

Yamaha unvailed its fuel cell scooter "FC-Dii" at Eco-products 2008, Tokyo, Japan.

Fuel cell use methanol as fuel and it can also be charged by external li-ion battery.
Well I don't know well about the true eco-friedliness and feasiblity of this technology, but the product looks sort of cool. Probably postman can use this to deliver mails?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

California AB 32 Scoping Plan adopted, Toyota iQ is coming to US

Today, California Air Resources Board adopted its historical AB 32 Scoping Plan. This is a huge milestone for California to shift toward low-carbon society.

Yesterday, Toyota decided to launch their new concept car "iQ" to US market. I think iQ is a next generation Prius, not in terms of functionality but in terms of concept -- to (possibly) change people's perception as to how a cool car should be. This is a big and nice surprise because small cars were traditionally thought to be the last choice by the American consumer and automakers haven't tried to sell them here. If people just choose to drive smaller cars, it's such a simple and easy way to reduce GHG emission at a considerable scale.

AB 32 Scoping Plan is highly praised for its "comprehensiveness", but it's missing one critical concept: Small.

Being smaller is less footprint, both ecological and carbon.

Yes, small is not a bad thing at all. Small is a beautiful thing.

Find more about iQ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recycling or collection? Both.

When we say "recycle", we typically talk about "collection effort" -- putting things in recycling bins. This is confusing because "collecting recyclables" and "remanufacturing recyclables" are very different two processes.

The effort to increase collection rate is one thing, effort to increase good quality recyclables is another thing, then improving remanufacturing process and marketing secondary products are yet another thing.

Interesting story about Japanese plastic bottle recycling. (leftt: EoL plastic bottle collection rate)

1) Collection rate has been increasing and coming close to 70%. (I guess simple strategy to install recycling box exclusively for plastic bottles everywhere really helps.)
2) The quality of feedstock is improving. (Consumer awareness matters: they are educated and increasingly source-separate recyclables, therefore plastic bottles are not comingled with other plastics, making feedstock more heterogeneous)
3) Technology for remanufacturing is improving, helped by heterogeneous feedstock. (even different kind of plastic is considered contaminants that deteriorates the quality of secondary material)
4) Secondary products are increasingly with good quality, finding them suitable for different kinds of uses. (combination of 1, 2 and 3)


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Genmai (brown rice) for beginners

Brown rice (whole grain) is a lot more nutritious compared to the white rice. It's rich in Vitamin B and E, Potassium... and fiber. But it has some disadvantages as well.

1. Takes long to cook (it's best to soak brown rice in the water overnight).
2. Takes more to digest (might not be good for kids or when your body is ailing)
3. Got some brown rice-ish odor.....

This half-brown rice solved those problems. As you see in the picture, it's not whole-grain; it looks to me like 40%-grain instead of 100%. Obviously less nutritious than brown rice, but more so than white rice. You can cook just as you cook white rice, and it tastes pretty close (not the same though).

It's a little bit expensive, but worth trying. If you live in California, it shouldn't be difficult find it in Japanese grocery stores.

Sukoyaka Genmai, or 健やか玄米 (I bought 15 lbs bag at about $22)
Nishimoto Trading, Santa Fe Springs, CA USA

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New Honda Insight

Debuted at Paris motor show.
Honda's hybrid car "Insight" is totally renewed and will hit US market next spring, with affordable price less than $19,000.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Renewable energy: Policy matters!

Learn from failure.

Japan had been leading solar cell market both in production and implementation till 2004. Sharp had been No.1 producer for a long time. But in 2007, it gave up No.1 position to Q Cells, a German company.

Everyone would know that Germany is heavily invested in renewables. They introduced feed-in-tariff which boosted German solar power market. And it's not only Germany - a lot other countries are pursuing renewable energy as policy goal.

A lot of countries, except for one country that once boasted World's No.1 solar cell technology and market - Japan.

There is no sign that Japan will start investing seriously in renewable energy as policy, at least as earnestly as other countries. Consequently, it is losing its ground on such a promising field and its leadership role in the market. How sad.

This shows that technology won't spur on its own; policy direction and support (including incentives and regulatory changes) really matters for this kind of paradigm shift.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ultimate minimal / Chashitsu- Japanese tea house

Revisit calculus: keep dividing 1 by ever decreasing number, and the result becomes larger and larger and larger.....toward infinity. 1/0.0000001, 1/0.00000000000001, 1/0.000000000000000000000000000001......

Zero has infinite power.

Yes, zero is null itself, but by being null, it can have infinite power. This is like zen.

Japanese traditional Chashitsu (tea house, tea room) is designed to be very very small as if it wanted to be infinite by being physically null.

Discover some concepts and philosophy that are embedded in 20 square feet or so confined room where most minimal and sophisticated ceremony happens.

It reminds us that we don't need huge or extravagant things to be rich in mind. We can release our mind to the world of infinity by allowing ourselves close to zero, physically and conceptually.

Monday, September 8, 2008

How many miles of road do you owe?

California budget deadlock still continues. As of September 8, there is no sign of 2008-2009 budget moving forward.

I come from a small country with little resources, so I am always impressed by what California has. It is very rich in almost everything: human resources, industry/innovative technology, agriculture, land, mineral resources (including oil) and so on. I feel like water is the only missing piece from the picture. So it is hard for me to believe that California has to suffer from such a serious budget problem.

But I am not here to criticize the politics... I will leave the discussion to the experts. I am simply curious to know why.

Well, as a politics-amateur, one of the things I notice as an outsider is that there is massive investments on infrastructure because everything is large here. People depend on cars for transportation which depend on massive highway system that is FREE. By the same token, extensive scale of urban sprawl requires massive investments to establish and maintain water system, electrical grid, sewage, roads, parking, commercial complex and so forth..... which could be redundant if the community was twice denser.

This is unproven theory and I am just wondering: if what is true to California is true to US as a whole, which also suffers from budget deficit despite its richness in various resources....
Does the life of an American need more infrastructure investment (cost) compared to other countries? Here is some figures:

This is the statistics of the land devoted to road and parking. Each country has different area and population, but it is noticeable when you look at "area per capita" and "area per motor vehicle". The figures in North America and other countries are significantly different.
A British only has to maintain 72 meters2 for road/parking whereas an American has to do 573 meter2.
A Japanese car only has to maintain 184 meters2 for road/parking whereas an American vehicle has to do 745 meter2. (Plus, highway is not FREE in Japan! )

Establishing and maintaining infrastructure takes money. More infrastructure means more spending from tax revenues. If spending is too much, fiscal budget will be in red. Obviously not all the taxes are spent on public infrastructure, but this seems to be an interesting topic to investigate, especially in relation to smart growth.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Outside Lands Music Festival@San Francisco

I'd been to Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park to see Radiohead.

I found quite some "green features" in this festival. Most impressive was the food they sold at the site. The menu was usual suspects such as hamburgers, hot dogs, crepes.... but they used good quality meat, buns etc. Even the ketchup was organic! Good quality junk food.

Solar-generated cell phone charging service.

I have always been hoping that we will eventually be charging our cell phones all solar.

I've been to other music festival in Golden Gate Park before, and I already saw this. There are two types of garbage bins on site: Landfill and Recycling. This is a very good idea because it really make people stop and think what they are about to toss. As a result they could threw more responsibly.
All the plates/cups/folks..... were biodegradable so as they could go to the recycling bin.
And there was some specifics on the bin as to what to put in the garbage bin.

Overall, it was very green but I had a big complaint!


Golden Gate Park is in the middle of the city of San Francisco. They advocated very strongly that we should take public transportation. Sounds very green. I totally agree with the concept.

BUT the reality didn't catch up. Local public transportation (Muni=bus) was almost unavailable to most of us! Too many people and not enough services. I just had to see off Munis by Munis full of passengers that even didn't stop at the station I was waiting.

We had to walk almost two hours to get any line available.

Why was there no coordination between Muni and the organizer? It was too obvious that the demand (number of riders) would be way too high than the supply that the regular service could offer. It didn't look like they increased the number of services.
If the organizer couldn't strike a deal with Muni, couldn't they offer some shuttle bus services at least to BART stations?

San Francisco always leads in being green. Please come up with smart solution for transportation. I felt like I was going through some punishment when I was walking in the middle of the night, tired, freezing and desparate to catch a bus.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mugicha -Barley tea

I am trying not to buy beverages to reduce my carbon footprint. Beverages need to be transported long way, and need to be refrigerated for sales and consumption. A lot of energy. And then, all these glass/plastic bottles.....

So, alternative solution. For summer, I make barley tea in a big pitcher.
Sugar free, caffeine free, no calories.

Pretty healthy. And not expensive at all.

How does it taste?

Well, as a beer lover, I would say that barley tea tastes like Guinness without alcohol and bubbles. Eerrhh, so basically you took all the good stuff from Guinness!?

Honestly, it might taste weird for the first try. But if you get used to it, you will like it. I like it because I don't have to feel that yukky feeling in my month after I drink sweet drinks.

Direction: Find mugicha or barley tea at Japanese or Asian grocery store. They are usually in bags, so you just have to boil water and throw a bag into it and wait for a couple of hours. Some even don't require the water to be boiled, but I believe tap water tastes better when boiled.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Drying index

Luckily it's not deadly hot in Northern California this summer. I only have to put the air on on for a few hours in the afternoon/evening before sunset. It's totally okay to live without air in the morning and at night.

When the air is on, I often check outside temperature and breeze to see if I can turn the air off. I just realize I need to be alert to the change of outside air if I want to minimize the use of air conditioner.
At the end of the day, it's not all about replacing air conditioner with energy efficient one; it's also about keeping an eye on and knowing the weather, and to be able to react to the change swiftly.

One of the interesting thing about using drying rack for laundry is that you become alert to the local weather. Especially in the country like Japan where sun-dry is the major way to dry clothes, people keep an eye on the weather much more seriously. It's especially because it rains much more frequently down there.

The picture is Japanese weather forecast with "drying index". It shows how the weather is suitable for drying and I think it's the combination of radiation, humidity, wind and the chance of rain. This is one of the way to pay close attention to the weather and use solar energy efficiently.

Likewise, we could reduce the use of energy, water or probably something more in various ways by understanding local weather better. For example, we shouldn't need drying index in California because it's always sunny and dry, but I think local radio/TV could report the temperature on hourly basis to let the people know when to turn the air conditioner off. (typical Mediterranean, the temperature here surges/drops drastically within a couple of hours)

This is something we easily forget when we indulge ourselves in 24/7 air conditioned building.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Going dryer-free

One of the things I am hoping to advocate in my blog is stopping using clothes dryer. Dryer is the second largest energy consuming home appliances only to fridge.

And we already have solution to get rid of it -- use drying racks.

I've wrote some posts about laundry, but those are one of the most unpopular pages in my blog. And I know why - drying rack is time consuming.

But hey, if you are so into renewable energy, why don't you talk about most easily available renewable energy??? It's MANPOWER. Our body is designed to some works anyway. There is no reason why we shouldn't count it toward renewable energy to be greener.

There is another important reason why dryer is not good; it damages textile. In Japan, a lot of mesh bags are offered for washing machine. Some are for under wears (left pic) and some are large enough to hold several clothes (below pic). You can use them to wash your favorite clothes with delicate materials or finish.
Mesh bags also keep your clothes from getting excess lint. When lint collector is part of a dryer, it becomes a problem when you chose not to use a dryer.

You might want to add black or navy clothes in the bag so as they don't end up looking fluffy.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Netherlands and Japan

I wasn't aware that there is so much in common between Netherlands and Japan. I was amazed to find many similarities when I visited Leiden, Netherlands for a summer a couple of years ago.

I think one of the major factors that makes these two countries similar is population density. Netherlands - 395/km², Japan - 337/km² . Pretty close. Or actually, I was surprised to find that Netherlands is denser than Japan which is infamously packed with people.

Netherlands is a very small country with very dense population. However, Dutch people use land and resources very efficiently. They rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the United States and France! How could they manage to do this when the land available for agriculture is very limited? Netherlands is also dubbed as one of the greenest countries in Europe (or in the world).

Japan is also very small and dense. Although it is sluggish in environmental policy, it is advanced in energy efficiency technology and process efficiency. Prius and Kaizen are some of those examples.

Photo above is a market in Netherlands, below Japan. Similarly dense! People are just filling up the small space like this everywhere.

I can't stop feeling that this is where people start to internalize the concept of "efficiency" as a second nature.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rohnert Park, Sonoma Co, CA

Rohnert Park, Sonoma is the local government with very advanced sustainable strategies. It has already set GHG reduction target. It is promoting smart growth and sustainable development.

I happened to pass by the town the other day, and decided to cruise around to see if I could find anything sustainable.

I took a picture of a new development that apparently tries to promote mixed use. I think the first floor is meant to be offices/shops, and second floor and upward is for residential use. Each property is rather small, and built right next to each other.

If you are from old European or Asian (or probably other) communities, this is not extraordinary at all. Mixed use is a traditional way to use limited space efficiently.

But here in US, this is something rather new just because the land has never been scarce. Urban area has been sprawling horizontally, requiring more untouched land to be developed. It wasn't until recently that people started to question about the practices because it leads to waste of almost all the resources: land, energy, water, electricity, etc.... With current high gas price, more people/local governments should be interested in planning communities differently to reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled).

City of Rohnert Park is one of the front-runners to explore the US version of smart growth. Stay tuned with them!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Super lunch! Bento box

Eating little bit of everything is one of the key philosophies of Japanese cuisine.

For presentation, it requires putting together little bit of everything in a coordinated manner. Beauty: well balanced nutrients intake, enjoyment of eating and aesthetics - it's almost an art.

Bento lunch box (to go) is a simple, daily-life version of little bit of everything. At home, Moms have been making Bento for family.

There are a lot of websites that talk about how to make Bento; authentic(like the pic), casual, fun and Bento for kids! Check them out. Or you will find whole bunch of information just by Googling by "Bento box".

Great alternative for brown bag.

Lunch in a box
Cooking cute
USAlifehacks (Japanese)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eco-cute in English

Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't ask me what I need to drink

Soda is not sustainable. It's not sustainable for health.....just too much sugar.
It doesn't help reduce GHG emission either. Liquid is not compactible, so it takes space and it's heavy. We need to consume enormous amount of energy to transport so many millions (or more?) of bottles and keep them cold. A top of that, soda is accompanied with so much ice that needs more freezers on duty.

I am growingly annoyed when I go to the restaurants and asked "what would you like to drink?" even before I settle down comfortably! With this timing, I almost have to answer immediately! When I get really annoyed, I say "just water please". What I really mean is "Leave me alone and give me some time to think."

But otherwise, I imagine that many people would answer their favorite soda almost automatically. That means, you have almost automatically and unconsciously entitled yourself for 300Kcal or more extra sugar. To make the matter worse, in many places soda is free to refill.

I understand that drink is money making item for restaurants. And offering less soda might hurt business and might increase complaints from customers.

But really sustainable restaurants should be able to offer other values than soda. Plus, really delicious, tasty food doesn't go along with soda. Soda tastes too junky with good food.

Photo: Tea is an Asian alternative for soda. Tim Riley

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hooray for small house!

To Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Start by Shrinking Buildings

New Mexico architect Edward Mazria proposes the 2030 Challenge. It calls for an immediate 50 percent reduction in fossil-fuel-based energy use in all U.S. buildings and complete elimination by 2030.

This target sounds very bold. What kind of state-of-the-art, cutting and innovative green building technologies or concepts are involved in the proposal?

First step: Make a house smaller!

Again (from my previous post), it has nothing to do with technologies, it's about changing the way of life. I really appreciate the fact that he chose downsizing as the first priority.

I am from the country where average house size would only be somewhere around 1000 sq feet. Here it is 2400 sq feet. I can't stop feeling sorry to see so much energy being wasted only to heat/cool the spaces that nobody is occupying. Smaller houses also reduce your ecological footprint overall, not just carbon footprint.

I know that living in larger house is everyone's dream.

But I don't want to achieve my dream by sacrificing our children's future. We won't be worse off by living in a bit smaller house (even though Japan's case is a bit extreme). Plus, it could be a solution for devastated housing market....smaller houses are definitely much much more affordable than large houses. A lot of people need affordable housing...and now.

Photo: an example of a house in Japan. Compare the size of the house with the car parked in the garage and you will see how small the house is. Also, most houses have multiple stories just to maximize the capacity on a limited land.


Cutting meat from your dinner table just by 20%

I recently found that IPCC Chair Dr. Pachuari is a strong advocate of eating less meat (or beef more specifically). According to his estimate, if the Americans reduce eating beef by 20%, it will have the same effect as replacing all SUVs in this country with Prius. That is a lot.

And it doesn't require any technologies! (actually, many effective solutions to tackle climate change have nothing to do with advanced technology; it's just changing the way of life.)

For those who have never linked eating meat to global warming, here is how it works:
1) To secure pasture to grow cows, forests need to be destroyed
2) It requires a lot of energy to freeze/transport meat which is currently occurring on a global scale
3) It requires long distribution/consumption path until the meat finally end up in your table or in the restaurant, and it all requires freezing.

Where there are enormous concerns on obesity and its various impacts on life in this country, cutting meat is a great solution both for your health and for earth's health. And it will save some/or dozens or more? cow's lives.

Here is the tip: once you start cutting meat, your body is less and less dependent on meat. I am not a vegan, but I don't eat beef much just because I don't feel like to or I don't feel I need to. Check out Tofu hamburger recipe to start off!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stay cool! Sensu, Uchiwa and Higasa

Sensu: Japanese old style fan.

World of artisanship.

Uchiwa is also a traditional Japanese fan but much more casual.

Higasa ( parasol) has evolved a lot. Most of today's models cut UV rays.

If you want to mimimize the use of air conditioner, ask people who lived lives without air conditioner! They have so much to offer.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Right to say NO to overcooling?

What is the most comfortable indoor temperature in summer?

I often see 78F for air conditioner setting as energy saving threshold. And actually I found that my office is kept at 78F.

Darn it, I feel cold.

I don't use air conditioner when I leave home, so I comfortably wear no-sleeve shirt + skirt+ pair of sandal. (Highest is around 100C these days) But once I am in the office, I am cold! I put socks on and add another layer of cloths when I am alone in my cubicle, even when I know it looks terrible with what I wear! I can't stand freezing feeling. What makes worse, I cannot stand the difference of temperature - I feel tired by going from 100F to 78F, then back to 100F and then back to 78F.......doesn't look like my body is responding well to the fluctuation.

The temperature is even lower in shopping malls, restaurants and a lot other places where they apparently set air conditioner lower than 78F.

I just have to wonder if I am the only one who is freezing at 78F?

Do I have the right to say No to overcooling? It makes me stupid especially when I think I am collectively emitting GHG just to freeze with my sandals on.

Recommended energy saving/GHG emission reducing air conditioning temperature in Japan is 28C (82.4F).

I am very curious to know if there is anyone else who wants indoor temperature higher in summer. I just wonder if we can collectively say NO to overcooling.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan

Even though it's my country, I have never been impressed by Japanese politics, especially the way it deals with international affairs. So I am not touching political aspects of this Summit today although climate change is one of the focal points. I just wanted to introduce some eco-information on Summit website because it's available in English.

Some articles are interesting.

Click "eco ideas".

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting children eat vegetables

I did not use processed baby food for my son and tried to cook as much fresh vegetable as I could. But even though, he (2 years old) does not always eat vegetables.

But this works like magic.

He wants more and more of carrots! (carrots are not his favorite food actually)

They are sold in local grocery stores in Japan in variety. I don't seem to find them here.....

They are so effective.

You can use them for other food as well.

Incentivizing Light/Small cars

I went back to Japan in June for a couple of weeks and was surprised to see how passenger vehicles keep becoming smaller and lighter. (I have been here in US for 4 years now, so the change was pretty striking) A lot of cars are not even under "compact" category....much smaller. They are also square to maximize their interior capacity. Now it sounds totally reasonable that Wagon R by Suzuki (not Prius!) is the top selling car in Japan for so many years.

There is a category called "light vehicle" in Japanese vehicle regulations; it enjoys less taxation and cheaper insurance. Also, the parkings are required to have lots dedicated to light vehicles (I guess much smaller than the lot for "compact" here in US). Wagon R is a light vehicle.

When Japan was a flourishing economy, driving light vehicle wasn't cool at all (besides being small, light vehicle has to carry different license plate to normal vehicles) ; people wanted more expensive, normal sized cars. But now, people are less interested in buying gorgeous cars. Or in buying cars at all. Cars are losing its value as status symbol as people's values and economic situation changes (downturn, obviously) and high gas prices (it's much higher than here in US). It's rather just a tool for transportation where efficiency gets priority.

Gas prices are getting high in US as well. There is surging interest in compact/small/energy efficient cars. If it comes with some tax/insurance relaxation, it will further stimulate the interest.

Definition of light-vehicle
Max length 3.4m (11")
Max width 1.48m (4.8")
Max height 2m (6.6")
Max displacement 660 cc
Max power 47kW

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You can be fined by conserving water??

Sacramento couple who let lawn die to save water face $746 fine

Just reminds me how much impact climate change/environmental issues has on all aspects of our daily lives and how unlinked they are from the rules that govern our daily lives.

Monday, June 30, 2008

AB32: Draft Scoping plan released

California Air Resources Board released its draft scoping plan for AB32 (Global Warming Act) last Thursday at its Board meeting.

Dr. Bob Epstein, co-founder of E2 and Vice-Chairman of Economic and Technology Advancement Advisory Committee (ETAAC) for AB32, made a comment after staff presentation for the draft scoping plan.

He said that he is hearing a lot of concerns from around the country recently, that it's not a good timing to start implementing measures to address climate change because of the high energy prices and economic downturn. He said it's exactly because of this reason that we need to implement AB32 now; it's not meant to worsen the situation, it is meant to be the remedy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can paper cut paper? - paper made paper knife

This knife is made of paper; uses material called vulcanised fibre. I've never thought that paper could be so hard and sharp to cut paper, but apparently it could.

It was designed so as it minimizes the process such as cutting.

It never gets rust and can be used for long time.

It seems like such familiar material like paper has much more potential than we know.

Designer: Takashi Ashitomi

Monday, May 26, 2008

Overripe banana pancake

I know that banana is not a sustainable choice if you live in Northern hemisphere....

But I still buy them sometimes.

And I get them overripe sometimes. But I shouldn't waste them because they traveled all the way to reach my kitchen!

Smoothie is great to make out of overripe banana.

My favorite is pancake.

When the bananas are so overripe, they are easily mashed and become like paste. I mix it with regular ingredients such as flour, baking powder, egg and milk. The mix is lumpy as above picture. I add no oil though; it's not necessary. I don't even bother to measure ingredients because banana paste functions like binding. No matter how the ratio is, it tastes good. If you add quite some banana, you don't need to add any sugar or spread because the pancake is already nicely sweet.

Only one suggestion is that you might want to cook a bit slower with lower temperature. Probably because of banana, the mix can get brown fast.

It's super easy and requires only one bowl and a pan. Minimum dish-washing!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Futon: Japanese minimalism in bedroom

When I first came to US, I was amazed to see that "futon" has evolved somehow and did not look like Japanese original futon.

The original futon bedding is just mattress and blanket. No frames whatsoever.

I guess the idea of futon was to live efficiently in a small country/small house.

Futon is foldable. Traditional house rule is that you have to fold your futon and put it in a closet when you wake up in the morning. You pull it back from the closet when you go to sleep. In that way, you can keep your futon clean and use the room for something else during the day.

Living in a smaller house is one way to reduce our carbon footprint. Futon will fit nicely in a small house and help you use the space efficiently.

Do you really need one of those pesky “beds” taking up space in your home?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sushi is not sustainable

This isn't news; world fish stock/supply is depleting.

Blame Sushi.

And I'm not joking.

Japanese eat a lot of fish and seafood; Japan has been importing enormous amount of fish from every part of the globe. Now, with more people in the world choosing seafood over to meat for health reasons or just because they love Sushi, the world is depleting fish stock even faster.

Sushi has traditionally been very high-end food, expensive.

That means fish supply (especially fresh) has been far below the demand if there was no aquaculture involved, at least in Japan. This is the very important rule that we should never have forgotten. However, by accelerating import, Japanese misinterpreted the situation and acted as if the fish supply grew. Sushi got cheaper and became almost like daily food. But it wasn't right. Suppy cannot grow really; we were merely depleting the stock in other parts of the world.

Some fishery and aquaculture is very unsustainable...actually disruptive to the environment. Illegal fishing beyond the boundary is also a problem. But consumers are not well informed about those facts.

I am trying to buy "sustainable" seafood. (Check out Seafood Watch by Monterey Bay Aquarium) And they are expensive! Price is deterimed by the relationship of supply and demand - a classic economic principle. Fish is expensive = supply is limited.

Graphic: World fish import: Japan is purple.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mimimizing input, maximizing output

Japan is geographically small and isolated. It has very little resources except for water. Up untill the middle of 19th century, Japan had almost no contact with foreign countries; it had to live on what scarce resources it had. Japanese needed to be the expert in efficient resource survive.

I belive this is the underlying secret for the success of Prius (most energy-efficient hybrid vehicle) and whole bunch of other energy/resource efficient products that Japanese companies offer. For centuries and centuries, Japanese were under constant pressure to maximize output by using minimum input, which probably became our second nature.

I took lessons for Japanese flower arrangement for a very short time of period. I was totally amazed when I dawned to me that it was not the flowers that I was arranging! It is the space or dimention in between or around flowers that I had to capture and display.

You don't have to have so many flowers to impress people. Mimimum is beautiful because it's not all about flowers. Japanese flower arrangement enjoy the combination and interaction of what is there (flowers) and what is not there (nada). Art of minimum input.

photo by: YAYAYAYAYAY!

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to make Tofu Hamburger (semi-vegan)

Ingredients: ( for 2-3 person)

*Tofu (1 pack)
*Ground beef and ground pork ( around 1/2 lbs...I am trying to reduce the meat as much as I can. If you try for the first time, start by Tofu: meat=1:1 to be on the safe side. )
*Onions (1/2, finely chopped)
*Spinach (or other vegetables of your choice such as carrots, mushroom, celery, cabbage...)
*Hijiki (1-2 pinch)
*Binding -- egg (1-2 ) and potato starch (3-4 tbsp)

1) Drain water from Tofu by simply placing something heavy on it.

2) Soak Hijiki in water for 20 minutes and then drain. Looks scary? Good news is that it is very rich in iron. Bad news is that it does not taste least to me. The reason why a lot of people use Hijiki for hamburger is because Hijiki becomes almost unnoticeable. Good way to let your family take nutrients without even letting them know.

3) Chop Onions and spinach finely. Use food processor if you prefer. Grate ginger.
4) Mix ingredients: Tofu, meat, onion, spinach, Hijiki, ginger, salt and pepper.

5) Add bindings. I used one egg and about 3 tbsp of potato starch. Potato starch is heavily used in Chinese cuisine. If you don't see it in your grocery store, check Chinese, Korean or Japanese grocery stores.
Other binding is bread crumbs (larger pieces) soaked in milk.

6) Form patties. Smaller, easier to deal with. Stir fry them.

7) Bon Appetit!

I introduced simple seasoning (serve with ketchup), but try your own favorite. The patty is pretty mild, so it should work with different spices.

The idea is to make hamburger light and nutritions, not greasy yet tasty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Small cars aren't fragile

Smart receives top crash scores

It seems like there is a strong belief that bigger/heavier cars are always safer.

Recent crash test reveals that the 8-foot, 8-inch vehicle received the highest rating of good in front-end and side-impact testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helping address some concerns that consumers may be more vulnerable in the tiny two-seater.

While it is true that bigger/heavier are less vulnerable in accidents in general, there are the researches that show no direct correlation in increased mass and safety. Why? There is technical aspects such as center of gravity or the design to absorb impact. But I am not an expert so I would like to bring up a simple side of the issue. I think it is because it's all relative. Imagine:

Reckless large truck crashing with a small car on a highway at 100mph.

Small car colliding with a compact car in a narrow urban street at 30mph.

You can't really compare the risk of these two cases. Accidents are affected by many factors that are not related to car design itself. Even if you arm yourself with a lot of steel, it doesn't protect you from all the risks.

Small cars have their own way to be strong and accident resistant. Isn't it enough?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Grape leaves for Tempura!

I read an article in a local paper about a family that grows grapes for leaves. According to them, the leaves are so good that they wait for them rather than for the grapes.

I decided I need to try....we have Thompson in our backyard, which is a good kind for leaves, the paper says. So I picked some. Young, soft and thin (almost transparent) ones are good for eating.

Then I realized that the paper didn't have the recipe! I had Google a little. I found a Greek cuisine that rolls ground meat with grape leaves, but I was not going to use meat.

So I decided to deep fry them.

Actually, they were good! Soft yet crunchy and have a hint of sweet....probably grape?

I can't help thinking this should be good for Tempura!

Tempura is one of the Japanese dishes that are difficult to find authentic one. "Cost-effective" Tempuras are unnecessarily fat with coating and overly greasy. That is not Tempura.

The real Tempura needs fresh and tasty ingredients, thin coating, good oil and good frying technique. It's not really a home dish. My product above is pretty miserable compared to the picture here...I had hard time to deal with the thin leaves. I couldn't straighten them easily and they turned brown so quickly. Even though they tasted good, they could be much better! I was envisioning something like the green leaf in this picture.

Well, I need a Tempura chef. I dream of good grape leave Tempura, that is not greasy, just crunchy and light. Arrhh!

If you would like to try your grape leaves, it seems like May is the best season in California. The leaves get too hard in June. Googling some more will take you to some more recipes, or, since the leaves are pretty docile, you could be creative and invent your own dish.


Photo at the bottom: panduh

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is dish-washer eco-friendly??

I sometimes come across Japanese articles bragging "dish washer is eco-friendly."

In the meantime, I bought "the complete idiot's guide to global warming" out of curiosity. It says that the dishwasher uses as much energy as cloth dryer or freezer. That's a lot.

Are they contradicting?

The reasoning for Japanese articles is because dishwasher only uses about 3 gallons of water/load, which is much less than hand washing. Plus, the machine is energy efficient. Therefore it has overall advantage over hand washing (which assumes hot water requiring energy).

We will need hard numbers to really determine whether the diswasher is truely eco-friendly or not. But there is one obvious difference in determining "what is a dishwasher by the way?": Japanese dishwasher is tiny!

This one is only 1.8'X1.1'X1.8'. Offered by National (domestic brand of Matsushita=Panasonic)

Complete idiots guide recommends using air drying head drying, scraping dishes off....but downsizing can be another easy solution. It doesn't need any cutting-edge technology.

And don't forget about the fridge! Fridges don't have to be as big as what we my opinion.

Home appliances, go lean!.....and it will probably keep the occupants virtually lean.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Toward low carbon & sustainable community; Ronhert Park and Sonoma Mountain Village, Sonoma, CA

Although it has not been talked much in the past, land use has large impact on the environment and GHG emissions. Principally, only local authorities can design their community. General plan& CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) can be a powerful tool to shift planning toward sustainability in California.

This is powerpoint presentation, case studies for community development toward sustainability in two communities in Sonoma County, California. Sends the message very clear.
I love this photo.

Benefits of walkable community

Learn from Atlanta study. Very interesting report about smart growth.

Neighborhood walkability and driving
! people in walkable neighborhoods drive less.
! people in closer-in, high-walkability neighborhoods take more trips by bicycling, walking or transit.
! less driving reduces a household’s expenses.

Neighborhood walkability and the environment
! neighborhood walkability is linked to fewer per capita air pollutants.
! neighborhood walkability is linked to fewer per capita greenhouse gases.

Neighborhood walkability, obesity and physical Activity
! neighborhood walkability is linked to more moderate physical activity.
! neighborhood walkability is linked to lower obesity levels.
! time spent driving is linked to obesity.

Japan's minicars selling big

Japanese carmakers are once more proving that small sells big.

Article 27/07/07

Japanese home style

Japanese stye is the defining influence on modern day minimalism. Find out more about its history and its key influences.

BBC Homes

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nissan Cube launced in North America?

According to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, 15% of world's car use is for urban transportation such as commuting or shopping. Nissan considers this as potential market for EV and compact car.
It is targeting to introduce EV in US in 2010.
It also dubbes Cube (photo), a mini multi-purposed vehicle (MPV), a global strategic car for Nissan and will start marketing it worldwise in the near future. It will get 37 MPG. Nissan expects high gas price will help boost the needs for compact/small cars.

To me, it seems very straightforward. Dragging less steel requires less energy, therefore smaller car is better.

Cars, go small!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I won't compost biodegradable utensils

Very interesting story from one of the major composting operators.
He says he doesn't compost biodegradable plastics at the moment.
Here are some reasons:

1) Plastic utensils are contaminants that are needed to be removed from feedstock before composting. Removing is done manually. Currently there is no way to distinguish biodegradable utensils from plastic ones. To make the operations economically viable, they have to either take all the utensils out or leave them all. His facility takes all out because they can't leave plastic in.
2) It is uncertain how long and to what extent the polymers will biodegrade. I think it means there is no classification on "how biodegradable" the products are. (I need to research this further) Composting is extremely experience/knowledge/skill intensive operation. People working on composting site really know what is the proper temperature/moisture/aeration for what material. It seems like there is not enough information/experience accumulated for biodegradable plastic to make sure the final product is marketable and of good quality.

Well, then if biodegradable utensils end up in landfills, they will produce methane, GHG much more powerful than CO2. (composting produce some methane too, but much less compared to landfill)

There should be pros and cons for these arguments. But anyway, for now, I would need more information to determine that biodegradable plastic is really good for environment.

In the meantime, this solution is definitely environmentally-beneficial: BYOU (bring your own utensil).

Babies have these; why not adults? It shouldn't take much to market them.

Japan's version of BYOU - BYOC (chopstick!).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Compact city: Sustainable urban development

A lot of people must be considering alternative transportation because of high gas price.

Bikes, motor bikes or small electric cars can be available. But they aren't safe when the cars are passing by at 40 or 60 mph. Then how about reducing speed limits to 25 or 30 mph? It is essential to safely promote bikes and other vulnerable transportation means.

There is a way where we can reduce speed limits without compromising the time needed to travel: make cities compact! Assume your town is 20% more compact than what it is now. You can reduce driving speed from 60mph to 48mph, and you still can get to the same place with same amount of travel time. Or, if the key services are effectively aligned, you could reduce your travel time even more with slower speed.

Compact city is a relatively new idea for sustainable urban development that focuses on
1) Central area revitalization
2) High-density development
3) Mixed-use development
4) Services and facilities: hospitals, parks, schools, leisure and fun

There is much more about compact cities, here are some links.
I strongly believe that making motor vehicles eco-conscious can never happen on its own. It has to come hand in hand with community planning and development.

University of Reading, UK: Compact city
Developing a compact city and a network region: Sweden
The compact city and the environment: a review: Netherlands

photo from:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The true Miso-soup

Miso-soups in Japanese restaurants are sad.

I have been to Sushi, Teriyaki and other places, but I've never had a good Miso-soup bowl. They taste as if they are using instant miso-soup and just dissolving it in hot water. Plus, there is very little ingredients to enjoy. It's all about cost-saving....

Here is the true home made Miso-soup. Put as much as vegetable you want! Nutrition can get the priority at home.

1) Broth, broth and broth.
This is the most important thing for Miso-soup. Please use broth. It can be iriko dashi(anchovy) or katsuo dashi(macharel). If you are vegetarian, konbu dashi (seaweed) will work. All of them are available in ready-to-dissolve package in Japanese grocery stores. Those will be handy as a starter kit.

2) Add broth in boiling water. Try 1-2 tps and see how it tastes.

3) Add your choice of vegetables. Most vegetables work fine. Start from hard vegetables such as carrots, radish or onions because they take longer to cook. Then add another group of vegetables such as cabbage, spinach or other leaves. Tofu can be added with them because it cook quickly and it doesn't taste good when overcooked. To enjoy the vegetables most, boiling time is very important. Not too short, not too long so as the texture and flavor gets just right.

4) Add miso right before you turn the oven off. Miso will lose its flavor when overcooked.

5) My Miso-soup of the day has spinach, red radish, carrots and tofu.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tridem bike - a bicycle for parents and two kids

Yes there is a safety issue, and it is huge. Currently it is not legal in Japan to have two kids on a bicycle.

But the police started to consider allowing tridem bike and ordered bicycle makers to develop safe model. The picture is one of those test models.

I think there is a need for this kind of transportation in order for a society to shift toward car-free society.