The following news summaries are by Jeff Durbin. They are based mainly on information taken from The Asahi Evening News (AEN), The Daily Yomiuri (DY), and The Japan Times (JT).
The Environment Agency will revise the Water Pollution Control Law to cover oil spills that occur in rivers and lakes. In case of an oil spill, emergency measures, such as stopping the spill and reporting it to the prefectural governor, would be required under the new law. Until now only ocean spills have been covered. The revised law also would allow prefectural governors to force businesses to clean up their own pollution, and doubles the maximum fine for polluters to one million yen. The bill must now pass the Diet. (JT 1 Mar)
Rubble from the Great Hanshin Earthquake has been cleared away faster than anticipated, but in the cleanup rush asbestos and dioxin have been released into the air and soil. In Kobe and Nishinomiya, the Environment Agency found high levels of asbestos, due to the failure of disposal companies to take proper care with the asbestos in some collapsed buildings. At other sites, a researcher from Setsunan University found large amounts of dioxin, caused by the indiscriminate burning of debris. In the aftermath of the earthquake, local governments paid disposal companies higher-than-normal rates, which attracted firms from around the country. (JT 2 Mar)
The government announced it will introduce solar-powered batteries for supplemental power in 10% of the nation's soft drink vending machines by 2003. The Environment Agency wants to promote solar cells and bring down production costs, and will perform tests this year before beginning installation in April 1997. The second motivation for the plan is to decrease emissions of carbon dioxide that contribute toward global warming. A single vending machine consumes more than twice the power of an average household. An Agency panel estimated that 193,000 solar vending machines will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3300 tons per year. Battery and vending machine companies will participate in this year's experiments by providing parts and funds. (DY 27 Feb, JT 4 Mar)
Just one week after imposing a 5% cut, Kanagawa water authorities stepped that up to a 10% reduction in water supplies for the prefecture. The cuts are planned until at least the end of March. Reservoirs of the Sagami, Tsukui, and Tanzawa dams stood at one-third capacity as of March 3. Little rain has fallen since last August. This was the first reduction of water supplies in 29 years. (JT 27 Feb/5 Mar)
The Japanese crested ibis (toki, Nipponia nippon), down to one bird in captivity in Japan, still survives in China, and a foundation has been set up to fund its protection. The Japan Association for Preservation of Birds is inviting donations to help Chinese conservationists. Thirty ibis live wild in Shaanxi Province in north central China, in addition to about 30 others in captivity. Last April a male ibis named Midori died at a conservation center on Sado Island in Niigata, leaving just a single female bird in Japan. (JT 6 Mar) The Japanese crested ibis was widespread in Japan until the late 1800's. It roosted communally in trees near ponds, marshes, or wet rice fields where it fed on freshwater crabs and other invertebrates. In Japan, it became extinct in the wild in 1981.
A two-hectare estuary at the mouth of the Onosato River, one of the last natural areas on Osaka Bay, will become a bird refuge. A citizens group sought protection for the wetland, which is a migratory bird stopover. The Wild Bird Society of Japan reports that 150 bird species have been found there. The area, in Sennan City, lies opposite the artificial island on which the Kansai International Airport is located, 5 kilometers away. The estuary is also the only habitat in Osaka Bay for a species of crab, the hakusen-shiomaneki. (DY 6 Mar)
The bean goose, with the help of attorneys, is filing an appeal in Tokyo High Court to win damages because Ibaraki Prefecture has failed to protect its winter habitat in the town of Edosakimachi, near Lake Kasumigaura. Half of the area in which the goose winters is open for hunting, and plans are underway to build an expressway through it. A conservation group in Ibaraki, Hishikui Hogo Kikin, claims that the environmental assessment for the expressway ignores the bean goose, which is a protected species in Japan. The lawsuit calls for increasing the prefectural conservation budget and expanding the existing conservation area in Edosakimachi. Seventy birds have spent the winter there. It is the last wintering site left for the goose (hishikui, Anser fabalis) in the Kanto region. (DY 9 Mar)
Two wind power generators with a total capacity of 400 kilowatts will be built in northern Hokkaido by the Yamagata Wind Power Institute, Japan's first independent wind power company. With an average wind velocity of 23 kph, the generators will be able to produce electricity at a cost of 9.5 yen per kilowatt hour, which is competitive with other sources of energy. The generators were imported from Denmark. The company plans to build an additional 10 units in Japan during the next fiscal year. Ecology Corp. of Tokyo is the main investor in the project. (JT 10 Mar)
Hiroshima Prefecture will spend 25 million yen in fiscal 1996 to protect the Miyajima dragonfly. A 1991 typhoon destroyed most of the dragonfly's remaining habitat. The dragonfly, Orthetrum poecilops miyajimaensis, is listed by the Environment Agency as a vulnerable species. (DY 12 Mar)
State-owned forests, which make up 30 percent of Japan's total forest area, will be 3.3 trillion yen in debt at the close of March. Self-supporting in the 1960's, state forests first went into debt in 1975, and their financial condition has steadily worsened. With smaller timber cuts and lower prices due to imports, the forests no longer generate much income. The work force has shrunk from 89,000 in 1964 to 17,000, but economists say more must be done. Some are calling for privatization of non-protected forests, though it is not clear who would manage business operations. Half of state forests are protected, and cannot be logged. (DY 13 Mar)
Okinawa Prefecture, the Environment Agency, and a nearby village have all stated their interest in turning the U.S. military's Northern Training Area into a national park if the property someday reverts to Japan. The training area, 75 square kilometers, is heavily forested and is home to rare birds and other animals. The Environment Agency may have a more detailed proposal ready in time for President Clinton's visit to Japan in April. Japan and the U.S. are in the middle of negotiations over the future of Okinawa's military bases. (JT 13 Mar)
Controversy continues over the establishment of a 200-mile wide economic zone around Japan based on the international Law of the Sea. The fishing industry is urging the Japanese government to draw the zone boundary in order to prevent South Korean and Chinese fishing vessels from violating fishing regulations. Meanwhile, South Korea and China claim ownership of two island groups that Japan considers its own. Japan would like to negotiate this island-ownership issue separately because it promises to be a political flashpoint. Possible solutions include some form of joint use such as Japan and Russia have in their adjacent waters (DY 5 Mar). In a related story, Japan has begun negotiations with Russia over fishing rights in their respective waters. Japan is seeking to pay a lower fee for catching North Pacific salmon, saying the decrease in domestic prices for salmon merits a reduction. The salmon are considered to belong to Russia because they spawn in Russian rivers (JT 13 Mar).
After a sea eagle in Hokkaido died from lead poisoning, the Environment Agency announced it will restrict lead shot for hunting sea birds. However, Environment Minister Iwatare Sukio said that the measures will need the cooperation of hunting organizations and other government ministries. About 200,000 people in Japan have bird-hunting licenses. (JT 16 Mar)
In Osaka's Nishiyodogawa-ku, air pollution victims will spend 1.5 billion yen of their 3.9 billion yen court settlement to improve their district's environment. Last year, after a 17-year legal fight with companies, the national government, and the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation, the residents settled with 10 companies; the government and Hanshin Expressway are appealing to a higher court. Factories and the expressway have contaminated soil, and released into the air high levels of sulfuric acid and nitrogen oxide. The case is the first in Japan in which auto emissions have been tied to respiratory illness. The 350 plaintiffs still living suffer from chronic respiratory diseases. In February they established the Center for the Redevelopment of Pollution-Damaged Areas in Japan, which will help with clean-up, and work with other pollution victims in Japan and southeast Asia. The group has already called in experts to decide how to plant greenspaces. On a wider scale, the Center has co-sponsored, with the city of Osaka and the Environment Agency, symposia on how to heal pollution-damaged areas. The Center's Moriwaki Kimio says, "Despite our differences and arguments, we want to work together with government and industry." (JT 17 Mar; Kansai Time Out, May)
A comprehensive search for the endangered Japanese river otter in Kochi Prefecture has turned up no individuals. Biologists believe Kochi is the otter's only habitat left in Japan, and though there have been claims of sightings in western and central Kochi in recent years, there has been no official sighting since 1979. The river otter (Nihon-kawa-uso, Lutra lutra) at one time was abundant in Japan, but overhunting and the practice of lining riverbanks with concrete have brought it to near-extinction (DY 16 Mar). In a related story, the Kochi prefectural government has released the results of a survey to which 440 out of 600 households in Tokyo and Kyoto responded. Kochi says it shows that the Japanese public would be willing to pay over 14,000 yen per household in additional taxes to keep the Shimanto River clean. The Shimanto is considered to be the cleanest and most natural river in Japan (DY 18 Mar).
The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea has set up an international body to develop deep-sea resources. At the opening meeting in Jamaica, Japan was one of 36 nations elected to the board of directors. Since the Law of the Sea prohibits ownership of the sea bottom, the organization will oversee development projects and encourage cooperation. The sea floor contains valuable metals such as nickel, manganese, and cobalt, but mining them is beyond the capabilities of most nations. The Japanese Diet must ratify the Law of the Sea before November to keep its seat on the board. (DY 20 Mar)
Twenty-three miners have won 396 million yen from Mitsubishi Materials and two subsidiaries, one of the largest awards ever for such a case. The Sendai District Court ruled that the companies did not adequately protect the miners from pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, which is caused by inhaling metal dust. The 23 worked at lead and zinc mines in Miyagi Prefecture. (JT 23 Mar; DY 23 Mar)
The Green Purchase Network, a creation of the Environment Agency, local governments, citizens' groups, and major companies, will publish a consumer guide next spring to help people make environmentally friendly purchases. The guide will cover, among other products, office paper, copiers, air conditioners, refrigerators, detergents, building materials, and cars. Under an Environment Agency plan, the national government has started to buy green products, and Shiga Prefecture has a similar policy. (DY 23 Mar)
Japan and South Korea will cooperate in studying endangered birds common to both countries. In particular, research will focus on the white-naped crane (mana-zuru, Grus vipio) and hooded crane (nabe-zuru, Grus monacha), which pass through South Korea to their sole remaining wintering ground at Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture; the Saunders's gull (zuguro-kamome, Larus saundersi), down to 3000 birds; and the black-faced spoonbill (kuro-tsura-herasagi, Platalea minor), which has just 400 individuals left. A conference in May in Tokyo will solidify plans for the joint study. The Environment Agency, which made the announcement, is trying to promote cooperative conservation among Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan. (JT 26 Mar)
Life may have gotten a little easier for east Asia's migratory birds, with the formation of the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, meeting this year in Brisbane, Australia, announced the network, whose goals will be cooperative research, exchange of information and training, and wetlands preservation. The Ramsar Convention nominates key wetlands that deserve protection. This year's Brisbane conference added 70 wetlands to its list, including Japan's Sakata lagoon, a stopover for swans and geese. The 44-hectare lagoon, in Niigata Prefecture, is the 10th wetland in Japan to be registered by the Ramsar Convention. Many east Asian wetlands are way stations for migratory birds, especially shorebirds, that move up and down the flyway between Siberia and Australia-New Zealand. Shorebirds depend on replenishing their energy at these wetlands in the course of migrations which may be as long as 25,000 kilometers. (JT 28 Mar; DY/JT 24 Mar)
Asiatic black bears (tsukinowaguma, Selenarctos thibetanus) in the Hyonosen Mountains on the border of Hyogo and Tottori prefectures in western Japan are increasingly coming in contact with humans in surrounding villages. As the mountains are logged for development--often ski areas--the bears' food supply, mainly forest nuts, is diminished, and the bears wander down into the valleys for food. Farmers and beekeepers have tried various strategies to keep the bears away, but still lose an estimated 20 million yen a year in crop damages. The Wildlife Management Office recently sponsored a 2-day meeting in Hyogo to discuss the problem with farmers. Only about 100 bears remain in the mountains. (JT 31 Mar)