Day 24 - Boxes
via Flickr/Cristiano_Betta

Missing recent posts from this week? That’s because this blog is continuing in a new location, as my professional website is nearing completion. You can find my blog (and all of the posts of the last two years) here to continue reading.

See you there!


Osaka / rooftop urban garden

Hoewel ik het hier al weer heb gehad over een volgende werkreis naar het Oosten, ben ik momenteel nog druk bezig met het opvolgen van gelegde contacten en opgedane kennis in Tokyo toen ik daar in mei was. Want dat was een erg succesvolle week, dus daar wil ik juist veel mee gaan doen in Nederland.

Door te laten zien wat er in Japan speelt op het gebied van MVO en duurzaamheid (zoals duurzame stedelijke ontwikkeling, waar ik gisteren ook over schreef) hoop ik ook aan een Nederlands publiek te tonen dat hier interessante dingen gebeuren en dat er raakvlakken liggen voor Nederlandse organisaties.

Maar waar laat je dat zien? Bijvoorbeeld via de (nog relatief jonge) site Katern: Japan waar vandaag mijn eerste artikel over MVO in Japan verscheen. Binnenkort verschijnt deel 2.

via Flickr/David O

Attractive and well-maintained public pedestrian space is probably essential to a smoothly functioning democratic society, because we are forced to develop and maintain a civic awareness there, our activities are visible and we can meet as equals

This quote comes from Just Enough: Lessons in living green from traditional Japan, the book I’ve been drawn into the past week. It’s a great book, lent to me by a friend, about what Japan in the late Edo period (18th/19th century) looked like: a self-sufficient and sustainable society. The book follows the narrator on his visits to friends and acquaintances and shares with the reader what he sees: by telling us the story, and showing us with great illustrations. The book is amazing in its richness of detail and the amount of research that must have gone in to it. Not only is the book a good way of learning what kind of elements a sustainable society can have, it is also a great way of learning more about what people lived like at that time (so I now think it should be compulsory reading for anyone studying Japanese, like I did).

But back to the quote. At the end of each chapter, the writer Azby Brown shares lessons learned: what elements of Edo Japan can – or should – we integrate in our modern societies? Many of them I’ve come across at different places: eating local, waste = food, and many others. But the above quote stood out to me immediately.

I’m a walker. Despite being very Dutch, I don’t enjoy cycling (in fact, I can’t remember the last time I took my – broken down – bike out of the garage). I’m happy just walking through cities, turning in to streets that seem interesting and exploring a city that way. But this quote highlighted some other aspects of city walking that I hadn’t really thought of much before. Interaction with others, and the link to a democratic society. And it makes sense, because by walking I feel part of the city and I feel connected – even if only slightly – with the people around me.

The quote also reminded me of a discussion I had with urban planner/architect Christian Dimmer in Tokyo, and his ideas on how cities can become a more sustainable urban space. It’s not just about having green buildings, energy-efficient infrastructure and renewable energy sources. It’s also – mostly? – about the people. If you cannot create a sense of community in a city than all of the rest becomes a lot more difficult to realize successfully. But governments and top-down planners seem to forget about this social dimension of cities too often, maybe because it’s also seems to me to be one of the most difficult things to get right.

One initiative in Japan that is trying to bring attention to this dimension of urban development is the Tohoku Planning Forum, which brings together professionals in urban development to find ways of involving local communities in developing reconstruction plans in the tsunami-hit area of Tohoku in Japan. This article also explains some more of the initiative’s objectives and ambitions for the future.

However, talking to different people including Dr. Dimmer in Tokyo, my impression that urban development in Tokyo is very much top-down driven was definitely confirmed. In a way, that’s understandable. But, like the above quote also shows: you can’t create livable cities without involving the people and communities that are supposed to live there.

There does seem to be quite a bit happening in the field of (sustainable) urban development in Japan – even if China takes the spotlight currently – but my impression is also increasingly that this market is much more difficult to penetrate as a European urban planning or architecture firm. Not impossible, several European (including Dutch) architecture firms are active on the Japanese market. But the Chinese market seems to be much more receptive to outside expertise and knowledge.

Saturday morning, and I’m writing this in a luscious green garden with the sound of birds and a windchime. Perfect start of the weekend. Today’s selection of articles is not a very extensive one. Either I’ve not being paying attention this week or we are really heading into summer.

Solar power in Japan
Speaking of summer – and sun – I caught up on this article from last month on the development of the solar energy industry in Japan, and its potential economic drawbacks by increasing the electricity bill for consumers in a country where electricity already is expensive. Although the article starts off by saying that this could hinder the economic policies set in place by current PM Abe, it doesn’t really elaborate further on the effects on Abenomics.

Stories from Chinese factory managers
One topic that seems to be part of this series almost weekly is the environment in China. While there is a lot of discussion on government policy, response from civilians and, of course, the pollution itself, I haven’t seen many stories highlighting the perspective of one of the sources of this pollution: the factories. Steven Zhang is a Fullbright scholar in China, and his (seemingly new) website Made in China shares his discussions with factory managers on environmental pollution, waste water treatment etc. Looks like an interesting website to continue following.

Bike-sharing in China
China holds many growth records, but did you know that China is also the fastest growing bike-sharing location? Via UrbaChina I just found this post sharing how China & Taiwan are exploring new ways to make using a bicycle more attractive again, including starting up bike-sharing schemes.

Chinese art in Groningen
And closing off with another slightly older post, I just looked up a previous edition of the SinArts Newsletter to read Alex’s review of the current exhibition Fuck Off 2 in the Groninger Museum. Will be going there tomorrow, looking forward to it.

social networking
via Flickr/Sean MacEntee

I’m an active user of all kinds of social media, as you can tell from some of the links on this blog. But, there are plenty of things that I don’t like about social media – or rather, that I dislike in how people use it.

For example, one of my pet peeves on LinkedIn is receiving an invitation to connect from someone I’ve never met who doesn’t include anything personal in that invitation.

Who are you?
Why do you want to connect with me?
Why is it interesting for me to connect with you?

These are some of the questions that immediately pop up when I see yet another one of these emails popping up in my inbox.

Ususally, I ignore. (So, if you are reading this and I don’t know you, but you once sent me an impersonal LinkedIn invitation: now you know why I didn’t accept) Sometimes, I’m in a good mood. And I think, ‘Sure, I’ll reply. Why not?’

When I do, I accept an invitiation, but also reply with a message to the sender to find out more about this person and the things we might have in common. I like knowing my network – that doesn’t have to mean we go way back, but I want to have some idea of who you are. Of course, this appraoch doesn’t always work. And those people, after time, are deleted from my contact list again. But sometimes, the results go way beyond anything I had expected.

One of these invitations a year ago ultimately led to a small project to help his company set up a location in Tokyo – and, incidentally, was my first project as an entrepreneur. And this week I finally replied to another one of these invitations which had been sitting in my inbox for a while staring at me indecisively. It’s now a few days later, I’m also in touch with one of his contacts and together we’re talking about a possible collaboration to work on in September. It may not happen, of course, but just the idea that this is a possibility leaves me amazed at the power of (online) networks.

It’s also a good reminder to just do this more often: connect and talk to people. It’s the only way to make social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter (and probably all the others) work in the way you would like them to. Anyway, I guess this article (in Dutch) pretty much sums that up as well.

And probably, it’s the only way anything in the world works. 

This weekend, I will mostly be outside enjoying the summer and reading Just Enough: lessons in living green from traditional japan. But if you are looking for some additional reading, here are some suggestions from this week.

Urban farming in Tokyo
Continuing with Japan, I want to share this crowdfunding project on Kickstarter: Growing City by Nick Sugihara. Sugihara is planning to produce a documentary about urban farming in Tokyo, which sounds really interesting, but he still needs some more funding to be able to do this.

Wayne Visser on Japan
I also came across a post on CSR in Japan by Wayne Visser (of CSR 2.0 fame). It’s interesting to read his ideas on the development of CSR in Japan, which seem to be based mostly on earlier visits. He also sketches a much more positive picture of CSR & sustainability in Japan than I have seen when I visited recently, which is interesting to find. The vision and front-runner examples he talks about are something that I have not recognized as clearly in Tokyo.

China’s middle class
McKinsey is continuing their coverage of market developments in China with a post on the developing middle class. An interesting post, as it highlights which regions and which categories of the population are expected to grow most quickly – and would therefore become more interesting target groups for business.

A Swedish look at human rights and business
And closing off with a video, from the Swedish consultancy EnAct, who’ve put together a prezi to give an overview of recent developments in the field of human rights and business and made this into a Youtube-clip. The video mostly highlights Swedish examples of issues and companies, but it’s easy to substitute these with Dutch examples (and probably examples from your own country if you’re reading this from elsewhere). The issues are the same everywhere.

japan 658
taken in Kyoto / May 2012

I graduated from university with a Masters thesis researching and analysing the abduction issue* which was dominating bilateral relations between Japan & North Korea at that time, 2004. So that is quite some time ago.

When I started researching this topic – the North Korean confession in 2002 of having abducted Japanese citizens broke when I was living in Osaka – many people said that this was a non-issue. One of those issues which Japan cares about (strongly), but which ultimately have no further effect and don’t require academic attention. I disagreed, and I think my thesis was convincing on this point. The abduction issue has been a major obstacle in improving bilateral relations between these two countries ever since, much more so than the nuclear threat from North Korea or any other topics that are important on the Korean peninsula.

The East Asia forum published an article today which gives a good overview (with lots of useful links) of recent developments, mainly spurred by Shinzo Abe becoming Japan’s PM again in December 2012. And it shows that it is still one of Japan’s leading foreign policy concerns vis-a-vis North Korea.

And honestly, I can’t quite grasp how an issue like this (yes, it is bizarre to think that your citizens would be kidnapped by another country for spying purposes) can continue for so long.

* if you are interested to obtain a copy, please get in touch