Friday, September 30, 2005

JR West goes beyond an apology

In the September issues of their in-house magazine, West Japan Railway Company (affectionately known as JR West) ran an article consisting of messages from relatives and friends of the 106 people killed in a derailment accident in Amagasaki, Japan, on April 25.


Comments published in the magazine include "What good is profit at the expense of human life?" (from a thirtysomething woman who lost her boss) and "Understand that you've disrupted the lives of many people" (from a thirtysomething man who lost a coworker).


A company spokesman said, "We hope to use [these comments] to create a corporate culture that puts top priority on safety." (All translations are mine. The original Japanese article is here [registration is required but free].)


Service on the line where the accident occurred resumed on June 20, 55 days after the accident.


—Mellow Monk


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Koizumi's electoral victory, part 2

Those unfamiliar about Japan's postal-reform issue may wonder why it was the subject of September 12th's single-issue national election. It's because privatizing Japan's postal system is not just a matter of, say, streamlining the country's mail-delivery system.


It's because Japan's post office is actually the world's largest financial institution, managing a whopping $3 trillion in assets. This money comes primarily from savings accounts that Japan's residents can open at any post office branch. Not only are these accounts insured by the government, but the sheer number of post office locations makes them more convenience than any bank for a lot of folks.


Reformists, however, claim that the central government has made poor use of that money, borrowing against it to fund large, wasteful construction projects that are justified as economic stimulation but criticized as pork. Privatizing the post office, they say, will put that money in the hands of the private sector, which can lend it out to the most deserving businesses.


I'll wrap up this discussion in a 3rd and final posting. I promise!


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, September 29, 2005

The part of Randy Bass will be played tonight by Colonel Sanders

After reading this posting's title you may be thinking, "The Monk has finally lost it." No, not yet. Let me explain.


My post the other day about Ichiro got me thinking about Japanese baseball, and I recalled a story that was already a year old when I first went to Japan, but which was still being told gleefully by baseball fans. It involves Randy Bass, a now little-known American player who made it big in Japan playing for the Hanshin (Osaka) Tigers.


First, a little background info.


One of the bitterest, most long-standing rivalries in Japanese baseball is between the Tigers and the Tokyo's Giants. One reason is the rivalry between the cities themselves: Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, always feels overshadowed by Tokyo.


Another reason for the rivalry is that fact that the Giants usually whoop the Tigers.


Anyhow, in 1985, the Tigers finally beat the Giants in Japan's World Series. Tigers fans danced in the streets. A group of particularly fired-up fans outside the stadium decided to celebrate by grabbing guys who looked like the Tigers players and chucking them into a nearby river one by one, shouting the name of the player as they chucked.


As far as I know, everyone who went into the river came out. With the exception of one.


When the crowd got to Randy Bass, they were stumped. They scanned the crowd but couldn't find anyone who looked like the Lawton, Oklahoma native. Then someone noticed a life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders standing solemly in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. "He'll do!" they shouted, then heaved the Colonel into the drink—where, they say, he still rests. True story.


—Mellow Monk


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Sally Squires' "Lean Plate Club" and green tea

A dieter posting to the "Lean Plate Club" at the Washington Post says she uses green tea to fight hunger between meals. (Registration at the WP is required but free.)


Green tea isn't a magic weight-loss drug, but it can be an important part of a comprehensive, well thought-out diet plan, like the one described in this article.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Seaweed burger, anyone?

This short article says a group of British researchers claim that seaweed can make fast-food hamburgers more healthy (or less unhealthy, depending on your point of view). No, they don't mean laying on big pieces of seaweed like lettuce. The scientists, writing in the journal Critical Reviews In Food Science And Nutrition, say that adding seaweed to the meat patties would raise the fiber content without adding any flavor or taste.


The BBC's teen-oriented Newsround also has a slightly longer article on the same story.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Japanese advertisers giving Hollywood celebs the cold shoulder

The L.A. Times reports that Hollywood celebrities aren't as sought after by Japanese advertisers anymore.


Back in the '90s, stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, and even Micky Roarke (remember when he was popular?) made a whole lot of extra cash appearing in TV commercials in Japan for everything from beer to cigarettes to instant noodles. It was a dirty little secret known to few American fans.


(A website called Japander.com is a veritable database of such commercials.)


Now, Korean celebrities are so popular in Japan, the article says, that they're getting all the high-paying commercial gigs now.


I wonder if the whole shift in tastes among Japanese TV audiences has anything to do with the quality of the movies that Hollywood is churning out these days—or the quality of celebrities who are in those movies.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, September 26, 2005

NY Times article on diet and cancer

The New York Times has a really good article (registration is required but free) on the link between diet and cancer, particularly prostate cancer.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Koizumi's electoral victory, part 1

I've been following Japan's recent national election, especially its implications for the country's future, or at least the future possibility of serious reform in Japan. Every single account of the election describes the overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as the Japanese public's resounding affirmation of Koizumi's reformist agenda.


But what I haven't read is an alternate interpretation: that Koizumi successfully co-opted the opposition, preserving his party's dominance on Japan's political scene and avoiding the even greater reforms that the opposition party had been promoting in its manifesto.


In a nutshell, here's what happened:


Back in August, a bill, backed by Koizumi, that would have privatized the Japan Postal Service passed the lower house of Japan's diet but was then voted down by the upper house.


After the rejection of his bill, Koizumi promptly dissolved the lower house and called an election for September 11. This meant that every member of the lower house had to run again for his or her seat. In the press, Koizumi made sure the public understood that this was a one-issue election about postal reform, his goal being to force out those of his own party who opposed the postal privatization bill in the lower house and even win more seats from the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). He was successful on both counts: 17 of the 30 LDP renegades lost to candidates (dubbed "assassins" by the press) hand-picked by Koizumi to run against them, and the DPJ's lower-house presence shrank from 177 to 113 seats. As a result, the LDP won a two-thirds majority in the lower house, enough to override an upper-house veto of a postal reform bill.


So what's next?


To be continued in another posting...


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, September 23, 2005

EGCG in decaffeinated green tea

According to syndicated health columnist Karen Collins (who is also a registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.), decaffeinated green tea has only one-third as much EGCG as ordinary green tea.


EGCG, which stands for epigallocatechin gallate, is considered the most potent disease-fighting antioxidant in green tea.


Some of you may be concerned about your caffeine intake, but remember: Ounce per ounce, not only does green tea have only about a third as much caffeine as coffee, but the polyphenols in green tea slow the body's uptake of that caffeine. Consequently, green tea drinkers don't experience the same "spike" in caffeine in their blood streams, or suffer from the same "crash" that comes later.


In other words, green tea drinkers are more mellow!


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Still watching every more Ichiro makes

It's amazing how closely the Japanese press still follows baseball player Ichiro's every move. This article reports that after going hitless in five at-bats in yesterday's game against the Blue Jays, the slugger has only 10 more games to get the 8 additional hits he needs to finish his 5th consecutive season with at least 200 hits.


Will he do it? We'll see.


—Mellow Monk


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Is sun tea safe?

The University of Colorado website has a warning about sun tea.


"Sun tea" is simply tea made by placing tea leaves in a container of room-temperature water and placing the container in sunlight, which heats the water enough to produce a tea infusion in a few hours. The long brewing times, however, give potentially harmful bacteria a chance to grow, and incidents of people getting sick from sun tea have been reported.


A safer alternative is to let the tea brew overnight in the refrigerator. In Japan, this is one way of brewing barley tea, which essentially is roasted barley steeped in water.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dual-mode vehicles: riding the roads and rails

This makes it two train-related postings in a row, but here goes...


Japan Rail (JR) Hokkaido announced today it is postposing test operation of its dual-mode vehicle, which can be described as either a bus that also runs on rails or a train that also runs on paved roads. JR Hokkaido unveiled its dual-mode vehicle early last year.


The British have come up with their own dual-mode vehicle, dubbed "Bladerunner".


In both countries, the vehicles are touted as a way to bring more riders to smaller branch lines.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, September 19, 2005

Train stations in Aso, Japan

Here are photos of the train stations between Kumamoto City and Aso City, in Japan. Aso City is where the Nagata Family lives. The station closest to their tea farm is the last one on the page, Miyaji Station.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Small-town supermarket gives away food

An article in today's Asahi.com states that a supermarket in Japan's Gunma Prefecture gave away a thousand heads of cabbage. (The text is in Japanese, but there is a photograph of the inside of the store.)


The cabbage was from a local co-op, whic was going to throw away the cabbage due to a drop in prices in a bumper-crop year.


Upon hearing about the co-op's plans, the store owner is quoted as having said, "Mottainai!" ("What a waste!"). He'd rather give it away than see it go to waste, he said.


The cabbage was snapped up in about an hour.


—Mellow Monk


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Green tea soda? Just say no!

As green tea increases in popularity due to greater awareness of its health benefits, it's inevitable that such spin-offs as green tea-flavored gum will come out. The latest one to be announced is green tea soda.


Yes, that's carbonated green tea soda.


Product announcements like this are a good opportunity to take a step back and remind ourselves that the absolute best form in which to enjoy green tea is the tried-and-true one: loose-leaf tea prepared in the traditional way.


This isn't just some you-can't-buck-tradition argument. Researchers have shown that once green tea is brewed, the catechins and other antioxidants begin to break down in a matter of hours. So imagine the extent to which the antioxidants break down in a ready-to-drink concoction that takes weeks or months to get from the assembly line to you.


I'm not saying, "Avoid green tea soda at all costs!"—just don't drink it expecting anything close to the same benefits you can get from good old-fashioned loose-leaf green tea.


And, in the case of Mellow Monk green tea, you know exactly who grew the tea, and you know they grew it in an environmentally responsible manner and paid their workers (themselves!) an honest wage.


—Mellow Monk


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Anonymous comments are re-enabled!

In an August 26, 2005 posting, I announced that I had disabled anonymous comments (I said "anonymous postings" but I meant to say "anonymous comments"). I did this because the blog was getting "comment spam"—advertisements and links to unrelated sites disguised as comments.


However, I just realized that Blogger.com (the host of this blog) has something called word verification, which prevents automated spam programs from posting comment spam to blogs that allow anonymous comments. Word verification just means that someone posting a comment anonymously has to take the added step of reading and typing in a word displayed in a graphic format that spam programs can't parse electronicaly.


For more about word verification (it's a bit of a hassle, but not complicated at all), see this page.


I look forward to your continued comments!


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Coming to a shoe store near you: the Iceman's shoes

Here's a story from the "truth is stranger than fiction" department.


A footware company in the Czech Republic is getting ready to produce and sell its own re-creation of mountain boots found on Ötzi the Iceman, whose 5,300-year-old well-preserved body was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991. (Hey, I finally figured out how to type German umlauts!)


(You can find more information on Ötzi—also spelled "Oetzi"— here. On that page, do a find for a "[2]" to find a link to another article about the Czech footware company's plans to manufacture the Oetzi shoes. For some reason, I wasn't able to link to it from this blog.)


Apparently, the shoes got "rave reviews from mountain climbers and backpackers" as being comfortable and shock-absorbing. Then again, when I was a young thing, I could wear flip-flops or kung fu slippers all day without getting sore feet. Not anymore!


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, September 09, 2005

What size teacup to use?

What size teacup to use for your green tea depends on how you brew your tea and how fast you drink it.


The typical Japanese way to drink green tea is to brew it in a small (10 to 12 ounces) teapot and pour it into a small cup—roughly 4 ounces or so. The teapot keeps the tea hot, whereas the small tea cup allows just-poured tea to cool more quickly than a larger cup. (This is because a small cup has a higher ratio of surface ratio to volume.)


If you want your tea to stay hotter longer in the cup, then use a larger cup, such as an ordinary 8-ounce coffee mug. If you're using a small pot and large cup, so that the entire contents of the teapot fit into your cup, then this has the advantage of "stopping" the brewing process once you pour all the tea into the cup. Tea left sitting in a teapot too long will overbrew and end up quite bitter, so if you want to take your time drinking your pot of tea, you might want to pour it all into a big cup that will stop the brewing process and keep your green tea hot longer than a small cup would.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Introducing four new teas!

We're excited to announce the release of four new delicious, healthy teas: genmaicha (green tea with roasted whole-grain rice), shiraore (tea made from leaves and stems), hojicha (roasted green tea), and aracha (unsorted green tea).


These four new teas combine with our old favorites, Monk's Choice and Top Leaf, to create this new lineup:



Like Monk's Choice and Top Leaf, these new teas are from the Nagata Family, of Aso City, Japan. They put their heart into every ounce of tea they make, and these four new teas are no exception. Read more about these new teas on our green tea page.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Green tea recipes from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)

This Associated Press article has recipes for green tea dip, green tea poundcake with ginger, and green tea sorbet. The recipes are from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).


Wherever the recipes call for "jasmine green tea" be sure to substitute "Mellow Monk green tea." You can also try making the same recipe with one type of Mellow Monk tea, such as Shiraore, and then compare it to the same dish made with another tea, such as Aracha. The distinct differences in flavor and aroma between our teas is sure to have a definite difference in the final product.


If anyone tries one of these recipes (I haven't yet), please drop me a line and let me know what you think.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Donate to the Katrina relief effort via Amazon.com

Amazon.com has set up a channel for donating to the Katrina relief efforts of the American Red Cross. As of today, almost $10 million has been donated. For more details, please refer to the website.


--Mellow Monk

Saturday, September 03, 2005

3-D map of the Aso region, Japan

Below is a photo I took of a 3-D map of the Aso area. (You can click on the image to view a much larger version of this photograph.) Aso is the home of the Nagata Family, who supply Mellow Monk with green tea.


The rightward-facing horseshoe shape on the map is the Aso caldera (volcanic crater). Aso City, where the Nagatas live, is in the top part of the crater, near the end of the horseshoe leg.



—Mellow Monk


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Friday, September 02, 2005

Tips on brewing and enjoying green tea

Here's a nice little article full of various tips for brewing green tea, such as water temperature, steeping time, and type of cup to use. Here's an interesting point (one I agree with) that the article makes:

Although china or porcelain cups are most commonly used in China and Japan, clear glass mugs can enhance appreciation of the delicate color of most green teas.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why our green tea is chock full of antioxidants

If antioxidants are what you're looking for, then you'll get a lot in our green tea. I've witnessed the operations of the Nagata family (our supplier) first-hand, and they only harvest as much tea as they can process that day. As soon as tea leaves are cut, the oxidation process that destroys catechins and other antioxidants begins, so it's important to steam and dry the leaves right after harvest to lock in all the good stuff.


That's exactly what our growers do, since they're a small operation and are able to get the harvested tea from the field to the processing line right away. In the case of a large corporate tea farm, it could take hours and hours before the cut tea leaves are processed. But the Nagatas take in their harvested tea for processing right away. (Here are pictures from last year's harvest.)


—Mellow Monk


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