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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The panorama of Kyoto from Daimonji, taken exactly from the center of the 大.

The one thing that I find the most exciting about Japan is its physical landscape. You might wonder why I didn't say food, girls, manga, kimonos, shrines, temples, high-tech robots, or something like that; all these things are great, but the greatest thing about Japan is that there are mountains almost everywhere you look. Mountains cover most of the country and envelop small strips of flatlands around the coastline, where most of the major Japanese cities are located. Surrounded by mountains, the size of Japanese cities is determined exactly by where these mountains begin, which is also probably why everything in Japan is so small, with many things packed into small spaces. This Japanese flatland-mountain divide creates a sharp contrast between everything urban and everything not urban, to which Kyoto is no exception. This topographic feature makes it really easy for me to get out of the city whenever I feel like it, and because I am not known to be a stubborn city dweller, I feel like it quite often.

So far, I have hiked to the top of three mountains (or hills, considering neither of them topped 1000m (3300 ft). The weekend before the last I hiked up the Daimonji Mountain with Becca, an American friend of mine. Daimonji , written 大文字, literally means “Chinese character for great” (). In other words, there is a huge “Great” () carved into the mountain and it can be seen from very far away, including Doshisha’s Imadegawa campus, which is where I go to school. It shouldn’t then surprise you that when I first noticed this mountain, I knew I had to hike it. Interestingly enough, there are four other such mountains with different characters on them scattered around Kyoto, and all of them can be seen from the center of city. In the night of Aug 16, as a culmination of the famous Obon festival, the five characters are lit up and literally burn for about thirty minutes. Unfortunately, I won’t be here to see this spectacle. The view from Daimonji was amazing, and the Kyoto Tower, which I went up several weeks ago during orientation, looked like a tiny needle in an enormous haystack.

This Saturday, me and Kohei, a Japanese friend of mine living in the neighborhood, went on a short bike ride. Or so we thought. We left my house at around 11am and biked to the mountains just east of Seika (my town, remember?). Instead of returning in an hour or two, we took about four and a half. We biked east through Seika’s rice fields, across the Kizugawa River, and into the mountains covered with bamboo forests and tea fields which surround the cedar-covered peaks of the Yamashirocho Forest Park. The roads there are very narrow and there are barely any cars in them, which exemplifies the contrast between urban and not urban in Japan that I mentioned in the beginning. We biked through the park and got to a sign which said 三上山 (Sanjo Mtn) 5km. Thinking that 5km would take no time on a bike, we took the road to Sanjo. After a while it became impossible to bike because the road changed into a small, steep forest path. We locked our bikes and started hiking (even though no one actually steals bikes in Japan, locking them is a cultural necessity). Obviously no one took this path in a while because we ended up having to hike with a long stick in front of us in order not to get covered by huge, sticky spider webs every other step (but just every fourth). When we got to the top, it was already 1pm, but the view was absolutely worth it. We could see Seika to the west below us, and mountains to the east behind us, a gorgeous view. We enjoyed the view for a while, took a picture, and left. Interestingly enough, neither Kohei nor anyone from my host family, though they’re all native to the area, have ever been to the Yamashirocho Forest Park or to Sanjo. It’s funny that the locals need a foreign tourist with them to finally discover the beauties of their own neighborhood.

On Sanjo, we met a man who recommended us two other mountains to hike, Mt Atago and Mt Kurama. Me, Becca and Masa (short for Masakazu, another Japanese friend of mine), hiked up Mt Atago the next day.  With its 924 meters above sea level, Mt Atago is more than twice as tall as the four-hundred-something Daimonji and Sanjo. Similar to Daimonji, Atago is a popular weekend destination and therefore full of people like the three of us, desiring to escape the city’s grasp for at least an afternoon. The amount of people hiking up and down the mountain actually makes the hike feel like walking up a tilted Champs-Élysées, with trees instead of old buildings and with a Shinto shrine on top instead of the Arch of Triumph. In fact, many people visit the shrine on top to pray to the Kami (Japanese “gods”) and buy all kinds of talismans and other trinkets for considerable sums of money. Masa bought himself a plain piece of paper for seven hundred yen, the equivalent of 8 USD. Apparently it was blessed. The view from Atago is even better than from Daimonji in terms of distance, but you can’t see too far in general because of the ever-present haze surrounding much of Japan during the hotter months. We hiked down a different route, which, for a change, led through a Buddhist temple.

If the weather forecast is right, it should rain in Kyoto this weekend, and so my hiking will probably be either suspended or quite wet. The latter will likely be the outcome. I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Japan in Bullet Points

Me, Okaasan, and Otousan at the Welcome Party

My host family's name is Iwai (岩井), but if I want to be polite. I must say Iwai san. There are three people in the family: my host mom Kimiko, my host dad Akira, and my host sister Tomoko. They also have a son, Atsushi, but he is happily married and currently living in Tokyo with his expectant wife. As you may guess, I do not call my host family (except for Tomoko) by their first names, but rather Okaasan (お母さん) and Otousan (お父さん), mom and dad. My host parents are both born around the year 1950, and my host sister is 28 years old. They also have and old German shepherd called Coco, who always barks loudly when anyone comes in or leaves through the front door. They have been great so far and really helpful with everything. Okaasan cooks great food every day for dinner, such as Katsudon, Miso soup, Karaage, Curry, and other delicious meals. She also does the laundry every day(!) for the whole family, myself included. On Saturday, Okaasan and Otousan gave me Okaasan's old cell phone and helped me get a plan. Even though the phone is "old", it is still much better than any phone I have ever owned in my life, and it’s free. In fact, there are no shitty phones sold in Japan; I guess it's just culturally unacceptable.

When I said we live in a house, I sort of understated things. The Iwai have two houses. One house which they live in, and one in which I live. Yes, I do have a whole house for myself, and yes, it is great. The only slight problem is that my house does not have a bathroom, and so I have to go to the big house. We live in a town called Seika, located about 30km south of Kyoto city, or about an hour train ride. Therefore every day I spend two hours in transit, which is sort of a pain. On the bright side, it means that I have two hours a day to actually do the readings for my classes. Also, my house is situated about three meters away from the train tracks of two different companies (three tracks in total), so approximately every five minutes my whole house starts shaking as if there were an earthquake. Finally, I bike every day to the train station (about five minutes away), and park my bike in a parking lot not different from the ones in Helsinki.

At school I am taking a Japanese class, an anthropology class about modernity in Japan, and a class about religion in Japan. The latter involves a weekly field trip to a temple, which should be awesome. The latter two are of course conducted in English. These two classes meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, which gives me some time off on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I only have Japanese. Finally, I have already made quite a lot of Japanese friends, which is great, because having them is helpful. Also, they are quite different people from for example Americans, of whom I have been seeing one too many in the past two years (no offense to any of you who are reading this!). My point is that Japanese people are quiet, polite, and respectful. That's it for the boring stuff, and now let's go ahead with the bullet points that you've all been so impatiently waiting for (if you haven't started with them)!

PS: Sorry for the length of this entry, I know long entries are boring. I'll make it shorter next time, I promise!

  1. There are vending machines EVERYWHERE in Japan, even in the middle of a bamboo forest.
  2. People wait in lines to get into the metro (this goes for both Kyoto and Sapporo).
  3. Bikes are allowed on the sidewalks, which is a super scary experience for pedestrians.
  4. Commercial beer in Japan is better than commercial beer in America (though worse than in Czech).
  5. In case you didn't know, cars drive on the left,.
  6. You do not tip in restaurants.
  7. Humbleness is the way: even if you are really good at something, you must say that you are not.
  8. There are free public bathrooms everywhere (Actually, bathrooms deserve a separate entry).

    Friday, September 10, 2010


    Me and my two lovely guides, Saki and Erina, in front of the Kyoto Station.
    It’s been two weeks since I arrived at the Kansai airport in Osaka, and so I figured it might be time to write my first entry about Japan. As I told you before, I first flew to Sapporo to visit Kent, my Colby roommate, in his home environment (sort of, since he’s Kiwi). For now, everything has been great. Kent’s mom cooked some great food for us (I’ll write a separate entry about food eventually), we toured the city of Sapporo, and the island of Hokkaido. It was a great way of getting rid of the jet lag and the first cultural shock, regaining my Japanese, and doing some traveling. I’ll put pictures on Facebook, and Kent already did, but right now I’d rather write about the AKP orientation.

    There are 5 guys and 21 girls in our AKP (Associated Kyoto Program) group. I know, a little gender-imbalanced, but that’s only good for me, isn’t it? We slept at the Kyoto Tower Hotel, right in the center of the city, and commuted to the Doshisha University campus. Yesterday we had Japanese students assigned to us as guides. They took us to our host family’s house, helped us register for an alien ID and national insurance, helped us purchase a commuting pass and then we just hung out. My guides were the two cutest girls I have ever met, Erina and Saki. After we were done with the painful but necessary bureaucracy, the girls took me to “Purikura”, a place that could only exist in Japan. It goes like this: you go together to a photo studio, pay 400 Yen, take pictures together with different backgrounds that you pick on a computer screen, then go to another computer and use a special pen to write whatever you want on these pictures, add all kinds of stars, hearts, ribbons, rainbows, wrappings, frames, butterflies, smileys, etc, and then have them printed out on stickers and sent to your email address. Interestingly enough, they usually don’t allow any guys in unless they’re accompanied by a girl—because they’re afraid of sexual offenders, apparently. We ended the day by going to the Kyoto Tower, from which you can see far, far away.

    Today, we continued our orientation. We went to Shimogamo shrine (Shinto) to pray for a successful year and had different Doshisha students give us a campus tour. I also managed to meet up with Rie, one of my best friends from Pearson, which really made my day. I promised to her, just before we left Pearson, that I'd come to Japan to see her. Here's my promise fulfilled. 

    In the evening we had a welcome dinner with our host families, after which the Iwai (my family) drove me to our house. So right now here I am, at my new family’s house, writing this post.
    To be continued…

    PS: I will add the Purikura picture when the girls send it to me.


    Wednesday, September 1, 2010


    Myslím, že nemá nějaký zvláštní smysl Vám vysvětlovat, že Helsinki je město čisté, tiché, klidné, krásné, zelené, plné parků, nádherných domů, stromů, kostelů, muzeí, čerstvých ryb a dalších věcí, co Vám jsou úplně jasné. O těchto věcech, které jsou jistě zajímavé, se ostatně dá dočíst na internetu, v turistických příručkách, a tak dále. To, co mne zaujalo na Helsinkách nejvíce byla však jedna úplně jiná věc, a to absolutní posedlost finů naší maličkou zemí, Českou Republikou.

    Toto tvrzení sice může znít trochu (nebo i hodně) přehnaně, ale ne, nedělám si srandu.  Začnu hezky popořádku. Jakmile jsem vylezl z letadla, všude byly reklamy na nějaké „autenticky české pivo“, které se jmenuje Bohemia Regent. Nevím jak vy, ale já jsem o něm nikdy v životě neslyšel. Dobře, říkám si a pokračuji v cestě. Druhý den ráno se vydávám na průzkum města a ejhle, co to nevidím? Přímo v centru, hned vedle hlavního nádraží, stojí restaurant s příznačným názvem Vltava. Na něm mimo jiné visí obrovská reklama nabízející onoho Bohemia Regenta a Krušovické černé za lidovou cenu pěti Euro. Stále ještě v tom nehledám nic neobvyklého a pokračuji dál. Při prohlídce slavné pevnosti Suomenlinna mě oslovuje jakýsi Fin, jménem Tommi, a dává mi rady, kam jít, zve mě do sauny atd.  Mimo jiné poté, co zjistil, že jsem Čech, mi doporučil restaurant se jménem Zetor. Že prý tam mají vystavené české traktory, ale vaří finská jídla. Ideální, říkám si, a večer onen restaurant společně s několika dalšími hosty mého hostelu skutečně navštěvuji. Ten skutečně s čechami mino oněch traktorů nemá společné ani to pivo, ale nápad je to podle mně skvělý. Jejich jídelní lístek je napsán minimálně v deseti jazycích, jedním z nichž je i naše milovaná čeština. Naplněn sobím masem opouštím tuto retauraci, a aby toho nebylo dost, všímám si další „české“ restaurace, tentokrát prozněnu se jménem Praha. Tak nevím, co na nás ti finové vidí, ale myslím, že restaurace typu Zetor nám v Čechách rozhodně chybí. No a na konec ještě druhý den narážím v helsinském olympijském stadionu na jména dvou češek držících rekord stadionu v různých disciplínách, vystavená na místní tabuli slávy: Jarmila Kratochvílová a Helena Fibingerová. Netuším, čím jsme si to zasloužili, ale finové nás prostě milují.

    Kde jinde se můžete navečeřet na traktoru?