Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Article: Green tea kills leukemia cells

This article discusses a report in the recent issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource about studies showing that a component in green tea kills leukemia cells in the laboratory. The research was conducted at the Mayo Clinic and focused on a compound known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, one of a class of compounds found in green tea called catechins.

For an overview of the health benefits of green tea, see our page "Tea and Health".

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Monday, September 27, 2004

Old-fashioned Japanese rice candy

Here's an old-fashioned Japanese candy that goes great with green tea. It’s called Botan Rice Candy. It’s soft and chewy, and not too sweet. It’s been around for ages in Japan, where a lot of young people today might not even know about it unless they went into a small, traditional candy store in the old part of town. A picture of Botan Rice Candy is shown below.

What makes this candy unique is the edible inner wrapper, which is made out of rice paper, and it dissolves in your mouth. It’s not just a gimmick: it serves the practical purpose of keeping the sticky mochi-like candy from sticking to the outer wrapper. But many a first-timer has spent an agonizing time trying to pick off the delicate edible wrapper shred by tiny shred, only to find out later that it’s edible. But remember: it’s the clear inner wrapper that’s edible, not the waxed-paper outer wrapper!

If you would like to see Mellow Monk carry food items like this, please drop us a line and let us know.

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Friday, September 24, 2004

English and Japanese surnames

Surnames for us common folk are relatively new in human history. Until a few hundred years ago, only the ruling class had them. Everyone else had only first names and were distinguished from their same-named compatriots by their fathers (Eric, son of Davis) or where they lived (William of Langley). These identifiers are also what eventually evolved into many of today’s English surnames. Many other surnames come from occupations: smith, baker, butcher.

In Japan, surnames are depicted with kanji, or Chinese ideograms. Most surnames indicate a place, as you can see in the most common ones: Tanaka (“middle of the paddy”), Fujita (“wisteria paddy” [as in a rice paddy next to trees covered in wisteria vines]), Hashimoto (“base of [or under] the bridge”), Yoshino (“lucky field”), Matsui (“pine well,” as in a water well amid pine trees), and Suzuki (bell tree, or belled tree).
Most last names are written with two kanji, but some are depicted with only one kanji, others with three or even more.

The reason that last names come first in Japan has to do with the Japanese language: Hundreds of years ago, someone today known as Fujita Hiroshi would have been known as “Fujita no Hiroshi,” which can mean “Hiroshi of the Fujita [family or clan].” But because they most often refer to a place, surnames could have gotten their start as geographic reference points. In other words, in Hiroshi’s place, “Fujita no Hiroshi” could have meant “the Hiroshi who lives by [or owns] the wisteria paddy.” Just as appellations like “John the Smith” became simply “John Smith,” the “no” eventually disappeared from Japanese names, too.
It could also be that way back in feudal Japan, the last name of a peasant, merchant, or other commoner came from that of the wealthy landowner on whose land he lived or whose land he farmed.

Even so, that such a large percentage of Japanese names are place names suggests that the land-owning class was just following an already-established practice when they became the first people to give themselves last names. Or, to look at it another way, the fact that the aristocrats were the ones who got surnames first explains why there are almost none that suggest hard work!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

English and Japanese words with similar roots

Nowadays, when the Japanese need a new word in their language, they usually turn to English, taking the English word for that new technology or concept and adapting it phonetically to Japanese pronunciation. For instance, "hotel" is hoteru, "space shuttle" is supeisu shatoru, and “Internet” is Intaanetto. (Americans, of course, occasionally borrow from other languages, such as “skosh,” which comes from Japanese, and schadenfreude, a German word referring to pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.)
But a century or so ago, just as Western scientists drew from Latin and ancient Greek to form new words, Japan turned to Chinese ideographs (known as kanji) to form Japanese words having the same meaning as the Western counterparts. For instance, "petroleum" comes from the Latin roots petra, for “rock,” and oleum, meaning "oil." The Japanese word for petroleum is sekiyu, which combines the kanji for rock (seki) and oil (yu). Another example is the Japanese for automobile: jidousha, which literally means “self-moving cart.”
Some word pairs are nearly identical but with a slight cultural twist. For instance, the English word “dinosaur” is a combination of the Greek for “terrible lizard,” whereas the Japanese for “dinosaur” is kyouryuu, which means “terrible dragon.”
It’s interesting how both cultures in those days turned to the languages of classical cultures to create new words. Today, acronyms seem to be the default method in the English-speaking world for naming new concepts or inventions: PDA, ADD, CEO, HMO. However, we still sometimes go back to Latin and ancient Greek to form new words: biotech, ergonomics. Similarly, the Japanese still turn to kanji: ekishou (liquid crystal), kyougyuubyou (mad cow disease).

Friday, September 03, 2004

Are human beings basically good or evil?

We believe that the answer to this question is: potentially both. On the one hand, most people are basically good to their children, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbors. They’re even good to the people they know only casually, such as waiters and waitresses in their favorite restaurants, people in their vanpool, someone they chat with on the train every morning on the way to work, and others in their general community. In other words, most people are basically good to the people around them, the people they deal with directly.

The problem, however, is how people regard those outside their community: how one city regards another. How one state treats another. How one nation treats another. We admit that the history of humankind can be seen as one of wars of conquest, but consider all the good that people of capable of towards those around them: the selflessness of most parents, the many grown children who care for aging parents, the friend who helps more than any relative. The doctors and nurses who are dedicated to caring for their parents. The many volunteers who do so much, especially in this country. A lot of “good” is being done, and that potential for good can---not always, but often---be extended to a wider and wider circle beyond our own community, however we define that.

In our dealings with those around us, in a way it’s just common sense to be good, because you never know when you may need their help. We share common interests. Which explains why larger groups can be in conflict: conflicting interests. But given the increasingly global scale of some of the problems we face today---problems that no single nation can tackle alone---it’s starting to make more and more sense to work together for the same common-sense reason that two neighbors treat each other in a neighborly way.