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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seeking Solutions to Japan's Organic Food Export Challenges

One of the challenges the organic industry in Japan will face is the stigma that the Fukushima Accident will place on food exports. I don't pretend to have any answers, but there are a few important questions I would like to put forth for debate. The first is, will consumers outside Japan buy Japanese organic products that were produced before the accident? Will they buy products produced in areas totally unaffected by the accident? And will they buy products from areas affected by the accident, but meet all legal definitions of safety? I think these are the important questions the Japanese organic industry needs to put forward to its consumer associations and retailer associations to assess where we are at the present time.

An excellent source of information about the situation in Japan. Eurotechnology Japan has been around since 1996, the same year I started Ecocert-QAI Japan Ltd.

Eurotechnology-Japan newsletter archive

Friday, March 18, 2011

Organic Market Visit in Kochi

A good friend took my wife and I to visit an organic market today. I was able to reflect a little on what has happened in Japan during the past week. The market is located in a park, next to a river and surrounded by mountains. One fact that stood out in the market was how most of the things that were sold there were hand made, using natural materials without electricity.

Farm fresh vegetables and fruit. Honey. Dried fish. Unpolished rice. Many sundry cakes, cookies and sweets, all made by hand in small kitchens. Hand sewn clothes. Hand made jewelry. Hand made wooden cutlery. Hand made bamboo baskets. Hand made soaps made with natural ingredients. Guitar performances. All things that could be made, if we were asked to work without electricity. And all that we need, to live. In fact, when we see pictures of people surviving after the earthquake and tsunami, these are some of the things they are eating and using.

I am the first person to complain when I don't have a mobile signal or a wifi signal, and I love my iPhone 3GS, my iPad and my MacBook Pro, so it was ironic that during our exodus from Kawasaki the battery for my MacBook Pro was damaged. Every time we leave the hotel it needs to be shutdown, because it can not operate with battery power. The hotel uses the room key card as a breaker for power in the room. This means each time I need to shut down and then restart the compter. It seems very inconvenient because I am used to having a working battery. For anyone used to using a laptop, not having a battery is a major inconvenience. It takes away the meaning of having a laptop. Why pay extra for a laptop if it doesn't work. I am so used to always having power, anywhere, that not having it or being threatened with power rationing, was a valuable experience. I think after this earthquake and the multiple nuclear meltdown at TEPCO's Fukushima plant, solar power and batteries are going to be some of my focuses.

Technology did help me incredibly during the quake and its immediate aftermath I was able to contact my Indonesian family via skype on my iPhone and via SMS on my Docomo phone. My pregnant wife was teaching at an elementary school. The local mobile service was overwhelmed and unavailable. My brother-in-law in Indonesia was able to call her and then to call me. My sister-in-law in Indonesia was also able to call me. So without this wonderful technology we wouldn't have been able to reunite so easily. Many thanks to these systems and the men and women who kept them running.

After all that has happened in Japan in the last week, I believe that a deep understanding of natural systems is going to be the future of our society. Looking at how natural disasters influenced our lifelines shows us that solar power does have a value above and beyond the monthly utility price. Governments need to seriously look at getting clean and safe energy for transportation, distribution, industrial, agricultural and domestic uses. I am not advocating a return to life as it was 100 years ago. However, I will be reconsidering what is important, and to realize that convenience may not be worth the low cost.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011 : World Bank Data Mobile : World Bank Data Mobile: "Now you can explore World Bank data from your iPhone, and see every country’s progress toward achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is the Japanese language a "must" for business life in Japan?

There was a discussion question posted on LinkedIn recently, "Is the Japanese language a "must" for business life in Japan?" While it doesn't relate directly to sustainability, I thought I would share it here.

Language will only get you so far, you will also need a very good cross cultural training program to back up the language training. This will help you put your language use into context. Steven's example hints at this. His theatre class put him into contexts, that he then needed to react to, in Japanese. Ironically I wrote an article saying this in 1992 in the Asahi Evening News entititled, "Act man, Act!" Encouraging language learners to do just this.

I run a service business in Japan and introduced third party organic certification to Japan. When I started in 1996, it was just me, a phone and a computer in a cubicle. After three months, I quickly reached the ends of my language ability and hired a Japanese assistant. I didn't need the assistant for the language alone however. Clients wanted to deal with someone who had staff. Without staff, I wasn't seen as legitimate. At that point I had been in Japan for 8 years, had been working in a Japanese office for 3 of those, among co-workers who did not speak English. My Japanese was good, but nowhere near native level like it is now. But even with this experience, I had not been running a company on my own.

Fourteen years later, we are now Ecocert's subsidiary in Japan, and even with 83 competitors, still manage to certify 14% of the market for Japanese government organic standards (MAFF's JAS). Japan now has more certifiers than any other country. How did I do this? By providing services that my Japanese competitors do not.

Language is important, cross cultural understanding is also important. At the end of the day it is good business practices that will ensure your success in Japan, or anywhere.

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