Terrie's Take 985 - More Genetic Changes in Our Food Supply, e-Biz News from Japan
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Mar 25 21:07:41 JST 2019
* * * * * * * * * TERRIE'S TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
General Edition Monday, Mar 25, 2019, Issue No. 985
- What's New -- More Genetic Changes in Our Food Supply
- News -- Japan Olympic head to be scapegoated?
- Events -- Cybersecurity for Non-technical Managers
- Corrections/Feedback -- Correction on Chinese tourist spending
- Travel Picks -- Wolf spirits in Chichibu, Mukojima-Hyakkaen in Sumida
- News Credits
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+++ More Genetic Changes in Our Food Supply
Last week Japan took a step closer to allowing genetically edited plants
and animals into our food chain. An advisory panel to the Ministry of
Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), decided that gene-edited foods are safe
for the public to eat and are fundamentally different to Genetically
Modified Organisms (GMO) foodstuffs that have gained so much negative
publicity here. The panel met as a consequence of the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) deciding this year that gene-edited foods can be
reported on a voluntary basis and therefore do not need special regulation.
According to the FDA, many gene-editing firms are in the process of
consulting with them and those that do have a safety protocol to follow.
Likewise, the Japanese have said that any gene-editing techniques used in
the local food industry would also need to meet certain criteria, although
they didn't say what these are. Probably because they are waiting for the
FDA to issue it's own guidelines later this year...! [Ed: Do we see a tail
wagging a dog somewhere?]
* FDA advance policy paper: http://bit.ly/2U7vqIP [FDA website]
* There is a Japanese-only draft of the report (not the final yet), here:
http://bit.ly/2U7VTpB [MHLW website]
Needless to say, the panel's decision hasn't been met with enthusiasm by
consumer groups, that feel gene-editing is just another attempt by the same
people who wanted to introduce GMO foods into Japan 20 years ago. Their
concerns would be heightened by the fact that the European Union's (EU)
highest court came to the exact opposite decision about gene editing in
June of last year. In that landmark case, the court said that gene editing
is still the artificial manipulation of genes and therefore while the risks
are not yet apparent they could be just as insidious and unstoppable as GMO
modified plants are perceived to be. So CRISPR-Cas9 edited food experiments
need to go through the same lengthy and complex approvals process that GMO
products do - essentially killing the commercial incentive for researchers
and ensuring the technique won't be adopted in the EU.
So what is the difference between gene modification and gene editing, that
makes the Japanese science panel willing to support the technology?
Fundamentally gene modification involves introducing foreign genetic
material into a given gene, to give that plant (or animal) new
characteristics that don't exist in nature. For example, a tomato that has
a built-in pesticide. On the other hand, gene editing involves taking an
existing gene and clipping (modifying) it with CRISPR so as to either
remove some material or to cause it to regenerate. An example of this might
be an effort to breed wheat that produces high fiber flour for gut health -
which is a real U.S. product that Calyxt will be marketing in 2020.
[Article continues below...]
------ Terrie's Slow-Poke Cycling Tour - Kyushu -------
Last year we threatened to run a cycling tour for readers, but got too busy
to actually do it. So this year we're making amends. The first tour, which
will happen in the third or fourth week of April (just before Golden Week)
will be a 5-6 day ride in Kyushu - most likely in the Nagasaki region. This
tour, and a Hokkaido tour in late August or early September, will have a
1. The tours are potluck, not professionally run. No complaining. Jokes and
helping each other out are mandatory.
2. There will be no support cars or spare bikes or guides. Instead, we use
Google maps and take the most scenic routes to arrive at our hotels each
3. Our bags will be relayed by couriers so you can ride light. Yes, we will
have inner tubes and other basic spare parts.
4. Terrie is a slow poke, so while we will indeed be covering 80km-100km a
day, it will take 6+ hours each day, with plenty of time for lunch, photos,
5. No hill climbing! Terrie is allergic to tall mountains.
6. Although the rides will run 5-6 days, people wanting to cut out at 3
days will be able to do so.
7. Our bikes will go with us on the Shinkansen. Terrie can show you how to
prepare and break your's down for simple transport.
8. If you don't have a road bike, you can rent one at
https://www.gsastuto.com/. [Excellent supplier, great prices.]
9. Anyone over 16, any gender, welcome.
10. There will be a JPY20,000 organizing fee per rider.
11. Other costs will all be at cost. Usually this works out to about
JPY13,000/day plus Shinkansen tickets.
If you're interested in a long, slow, fun, potluck cycling tour in Japan,
contact Terrie today and he will work with you and the rest of the group to
set the final dates and routes.
For more information, email: terrie.lloyd at japantravel.com
The issue seems to be not in the immediate safety of gene edited foods,
which until now seem stable and mostly indistinguishable from the original
material. In fact, gene editing scientists explain their technology for the
rest of us (otherwise we couldn't have written this) by comparing gene
editing results as being similar to natural or forced (but legal) mutations
of plant strains that already happen in the labs and nurseries all over the
world. The difference is that you don't need to wait 20 to 30 years to see
if a cross breeding or forced mutation has worked. Instead with CRISPR the
results come in a single season. The issue, rather, appears to be the fact
that gene editing with CRISPR is new, unknown, untested across generations
and communities, and could have unexpected consequences in the future. For
example, a plant variety is made more resistant to a particular disease
that targets it, but while the gene-edited plant itself is still safe to
eat, the absence of that variation in our diets could cause a secondary
change in how our immune system conditions itself. Yes, this is the same
consequence as regular breeding, but the fear is that it is happening much
more quickly and specifically, which somehow usurps Mother Nature. (This
fear that is not very scientific, as scientists frequently point out.)
So the EU has decided it's not worth the risk.
It's not well known that GMO products are also legal in Japan, as approved
almost 20 years ago by a similar group of scientists advising the ministry.
To plant GMO a farm needs to meet the strict but not impossible
requirements set out in the "Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological
Diversity Through Regulations on the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms
- Cartagena Act" (yeah, it's a mouthful) passed in 2003. The fact that we
don't see GMO plantings here is because of the extreme negativity that
Japanese consumers have towards what they view as contamination of their
food supply. The one exception is ornamental flowers - GMO blue roses are
legally grown in Japan.
But the great irony is that even as there are almost no GMO plantings,
Japan is also one of the world's largest importers of GMO food grown
elsewhere. For example, in 2015, 11.8m tons of corn and 2.33m tons of soy
were imported from the U.S. and over 90% is believed to have been GMO
product - and that is data from the agriculture ministry.
The Japanese have history of genetically modified foods with unintended
consequences, and we're not referring to the highly controversial bee
colony collapse disorder (CCD) - which may or may not be a catastrophe
depending on whose data you use. Rather, a better facts-based case (but
still debatable) was in the 1980s when chemicals conglomerate Showa Denko
used a new method to produce tryptophan using genetically engineered
bacteria in the fermentation process. Tryptophan is a protein-building
amino acid often used as a dietary supplement and also for treating
depression. After some consumers took the product there was an outbreak of
eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), a sometimes fatal flu-like condition,
that was traced back to the Showa Denko product. The fact that the
tryptophan was genetically modified caused public alarm and the product was
quickly discontinued. Later, scientists offered up an alternative
explanation that an oversupply of tryptophan itself could have been the
problem, where it has been shown that large doses can create an excess of
histamines in the body, which in turn can cause EMS. Whichever explanation
is correct, GMO or poor assimilation, the damage was done and for the
Japanese public this was the first serious finger-pointing towards the
dangers of GMO.
The potential of gene-edited food products is huge, both commercially and
for health improvement, but just as scientists internationally are telling
us to go slow and test stem cell therapies properly, we believe that Japan
should err on the side of caution until extensive studies have been done on
gene editing as well. While public antipathy has dealt a death knell to GMO
plantings, people are happily chowing down on GMO bread and noodles, and so
perhaps this is the same direction that gene editing will go. It will be
allowed, and thus Japanese scientists will not be held back if there are
commercial breakthroughs to be made, but the first country these new plants
will call home is most likely going to be the USA, with consequent exports
back to Japan.
It's hard to argue that this isn't beneficial to Japanese academia, since
the IP license revenues will probably be many times more profitable than
actual farming here anyway. It (and the stem cells stampede going on) could
also make Japan a new destination for European scientists who want a stable
and unfettered environment in which to conduct research and commercialize
the results. Certainly this should be a green light for Japanese academic
institutions such as the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST)
to send their recruiters to Europe to attract gene editing scientists there
who have had their efforts effectively shut down.
http://bit.ly/2uuuJe4 [OIST faculty members are an excellent international
...The information janitors/
------ German-speaking Travel Consultant Internship -------
Japan Travel KK (www.japantravel.com) is experiencing strong growth of its
German desk for inbound travelers to Japan, and we are looking for a
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which there will be a management and peer review. You can be either a
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The type of work you'll be doing is assisting German customers wanting to
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- U.S. forces Japan to dump Iranian oil suppliers
- First crypto court case in Japan, for hacking youth
- Ichiro resigns, ANA honors him in a unique way
- Japan Olympic head to be scapegoated?
- Japan's Sunwolves axing a political in-fight?
=> U.S. forces Japan to dump Iranian oil suppliers
It's been interesting to see how Japan was allowed to continue trading
under the U.S. sanctions radar for years, bringing Iranian crude oil in for
local consumption. However, it appears that the Trump administration is
looking for reasons to smack Japan hard for non-compliance, and so the
nation's major importers have said that they will cease trading oil from
Iran from October. Notifications from the U.S. have apparently been at
multiple levels - from the actual oil traders all the way up to the banks
providing shipment financing. The effective ban on Iran won't have much
effect though, as only about 5% of crude imports are from that country.
***Ed: This is a good example of how the U.S. can easily influence Japan's
foreign and national trading policies. We always find it strange that the
Trump administration doesn't put more pressure on Tokyo, of the same kind,
to improve market access for U.S. products. Especially since diplomacy
doesn't seem that important any more - take the opportunity while you
can.** (Source: TT commentary from asia.nikkei.com, Mar 19, 2019)
=> First crypto court case in Japan, for hacking youth
Surprising as it may seem, given that Japan has so far had almost JPY100bn
in losses through hacking of cryptocurrency exchanges, the first defendant
to have been caught in a hack is appearing in court just this month. Not
only had the individual managed to steal a mere JPY15m of coins (a tiny
amount compared to the professional hits of the last few years) from a
crypto site called Monappy, he is only 18 and therefore will be charged as
a youth not an adult - meaning that the sentence is likely to be a lot
lighter. The Tochigi hacker found a way to send multiple transfers of coins
to his account, which he then laundered on another cryptocurrency site.
***Ed: Interesting to see this news article also mention that Mark
Karpeles, who was the CEO of Mt. Gox, Japan's most famous hacked site, was
found innocent of embezzlement and breach of trust, and thus escaped jail.
Instead, he was accused of post-hack manipulation of Mt. Gox's data, which
earned him a 2 1/2 year suspended sentence. Finally a free man.** (Source:
TT commentary from coindesk.com, Mar 15, 2019)
=> Ichiro resigns, ANA honors him in a unique way
In case you haven't heard, Japan's most famous baseball players overseas,
Ichiro Suzuki, retired from professional baseball last week, at the age of
51. Ichiro returned to Seattle on Friday after a stint in Japan (no doubt
to assure his sponsors that he's still available), and on leaving from
Narita, ANA had a nice little surprise for him. They changed the usual
Seattle-bound gate number from 58b to Gate 51, in honor of the shirt number
he used to wear when at the Seattle Mariners. A big crowd showed up to see
him off. ***Ed: Although Ichiro should probably have retired about 5 years
ago, while still at a relative peak, it's great to see such a savvy guy
milk his commercial endorsements to ensure a decent retirement package. You
can't go anywhere in Japan recently without seeing his face. In 2012,
Forbes reported that Ichiro was No. 4 in the U.S. baseball league in terms
of earnings, with US$24.5m that particular year. Back then, his Japanese
endorsements were worth US$7m a year... Probably a lot more in the last
couple of years.** (Source: TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Mar 22,
=> Japan Olympic head to be scapegoated?
Japan's Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda has announced that he
will resign the position in June, to take responsibility for any possible
fall-out to come as French authorities probe his involvement in a payments
scandal that we have reported before. At the core of the scandal are
payments of about $2m made to the Singapore-based company associated with
the son of a disgraced Olympic official who has separately been accused of
fixing the awarding of the 2016 Olympics to Rio. Tokyo of course was
awarded the 2020 summer Games. ***Ed: Takeda maintains that he is innocent,
but with the possibility of the games being moved somewhere else if the
allegations stick (although somewhat unlikely at this late stage), it
appears he is going to take the fall for what must have been a group
decision to pay the "consulting" fees. It's never been adequately explained
just what the "consulting" was. FYI, the Tokyo Olympics will wind up
costing US$25bn, about 3 times more than original estimates - we wonder why
there isn't an investigation into that?** (Source: TT commentary from
npr.org, Mar 19, 2019)
=> Japan's Sunwolves axing a political in-fight?
Interesting article in the Kyodo News about the real reason the Japanese
Super Rugby team, the Sunwolves, was axed from the SANZAAR competition. We
thought they were playing reasonably well even if they are dead last in the
Australia conference (having won just one less game than the second last
team). According to the writer, the axing of the Sunwolves is a case of
politics as well as an unfair costing policy towards the Japanese, whereby
they were being charged fees that none of the other teams have to pay. The
article says that the main political pressure came from South Africa, which
was none too happy about Japan's backing of France to host the next Rugby
World Cup in 2023 over South Africa. ***Ed: Perhaps no coincidence that
Dentsu is planning a locally run league involving other international
teams, and run in conjunction with the big sports agency CSM?** (Source: TT
commentary from kyodonews.net, Mar 23, 2019)
NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of
posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.
+++ UPCOMING EVENTS
=> Cybersecurity for Non-technical Managers
Jonathan Siegel presents "Cyber self-defense: When to worry and how to stay
If Facebook privacy, data breaches and ransomware have gotten your
attention, come hear about the practical steps you can take to increase
your personal and professional cyber defenses. Jonathan will share
practical advice and answers for day to day cybersecurity worries that are
prevalent in all of our lives. He’ll also provide a fact check on recent
stories about changing your passwords, covering your laptop camera, and
printing out rather than cloud-storing sensitive data.
Jonathan is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP™)
with a Masters in Cybersecurity from Brown University, as well as a B.A. in
Physics and Computer Science from the University of California Santa
Barbara. He is the Chairman and Founder of Xenon Partners, a small private
The event will be held at the Oakwood Premier Tokyo Midtown and includes
light food and drinks. The entrance fee is JPY1,000, which includes a glass
Seating is limited to 50 people, so please reserve at the following address
if you plan to attend:
siegel.cyber at gmail.com
Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Venue: Oakwood Midtown (in the Tokyo Midtown complex), resident lounge.
Enter directly to Oakwood and press the reception button on the monitor.
Address: 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Phone: 03-5412- 3131
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For corporate travel assistance, contact us at: tours at japantravel.com.
Or visit our pages at: http://japantravel.co.jp/en/about/travel-agency/
=> In Terrie's Take 983 we ran commentary about how much the Chinese spend
while traveling as tourists. Our reader sets us straight about one of the
**** Reader: The US$294bn you cite in the Nikkei as "Chinese spend" is
actually reported by them (citing Bain) as the global "personal luxury
goods" market, which they highlighted to note the 1/3 share taken by
Chinese shoppers. The actual total Chinese tourist spend abroad happens to
be a similar if slightly smaller number... around $260bn in 2017:
That number seems to be around 1/5 the global total.
+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS
=> Mitsumine Shrine in Chichibu
Sacred trees, wolf spirits and opulent carvings
This large and very beautiful mountain shrine is dedicated to wolf spirits
(among others), and you can see a number of wolf statues around the
grounds. Though they are now extinct, Japanese wolves once roamed these
mountains, and people believed wolf spirits protected people's homes from
fire and burglary. Because of that the Shrine was very popular with the
people of Edo.
Walking around the shrine grounds is a pleasure - you never know what will
be around the corner. Keep your eyes open for lovely views over the
surrounding mountains, an elegant red tower, ornate carvings on the main
hall, a mysterious stone with a hidden dragon, and sacred trees that will
renew your strength if you place your hands and forehead against their
trunks. There is also a very beautiful red gate named Zuishinmon, which is
one of the most beautiful gates I have seen, a statue of Yamato Takeru who
founded the shrine some 1900 years ago, and a memorial to Mas Oyama who
founded Kyokushin Karate.
=> Mukojima-Hyakkaen Gardens
An Edo period garden in the middle of Tokyo
Surviving almost as an after thought in modern Japan, Mukojima is a
blue-collar residential area of Sumida Ward in Tokyo. Rarely on the
must-see places for tourists, Mukojma is actually a little delight that
just finds ways of giving. The Seiko Watch Museum finds its home here, as
does the Tobu Museum. But perhaps most authentic of all is the Mukojima
Hyakkaen Gardens. A stunningly calm and peaceful place, these strolling
gardens were created in the early 1800s, and are the only gardens in Tokyo
still surviving from the Edo Period.
The gardens are a treasure of botanical gold, with well over 200 different
species of plants. Indebted to traditional Japanese sensibilities, Hyakkaen
features what are known as the classic seven herbs of spring and the seven
herbs of fall. Plum blossoms are particularly popular during spring and,
with 360 trees planted, it is easy to understand why. Summer brings outs
the hydrangeas which, like the plum blossoms, draw in the crowds. The
traditional Japanese garden layout is certainly one of the most impressive
features of Hyakkaen. The gardens are by no means large, but you would have
a difficult time working that out - visitors are always surrounded by a
sense of nature.
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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