Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Avoiding HISS

... which stands for "holiday-induced stress syndrome." This article, from Forbes (of all places), doesn't just describe how bad holiday stress is for us. It actually provides a few basic tips, such as:

Set realistic goals. Plan ahead, shop and make travel plans early and pace yourself. This will help decrease last-minute anxiety.


Don't do everything on your own. Get everyone in the family to help with holiday tasks.


—Mellow Monk


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How green tea TKO's the flu

This is a somewhat technical summary of a study that found that the antioxidants in green tea can help stave off the flu.


Specifically, green tea's catechins inhibited the plaque-forming capabilities of the influenza virus. What's more, the catechins tested—EGCG, EGC, and ECG—were most effective when present together.


And one of those antioxidants, EGCG, is found only in green tea.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What "sudoku" means

Sudoku is a Japanese number game that's taking the world by storm. "Sudoku" (数独), actually a trademarked name, is the shortened form of the phrase "numbers (数字) for when you're alone (独身)." In other words, sudoku is a great time-killer.


Sudoku will either mellow you out, or drive you mad. To see which category you fall into, you can try playing online here.


—Mellow Monk


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High stress = high cholesterol levels

Another reason we need to get mellow: to keep our cholesterol levels low.


What this study found is that people whose cholesterol rose in the short term during stressful tasks had higher levels of cholesterol 3 years later. This means that if you're the type of person whose cholesterol rises in response to stress, then you've got to keep your stress level down in order to keep your cholesterol down.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 28, 2005

Farm size in Japan

From Marginal Revolution:

Circa 1990, here are the sizes of average farms, in each nation, in hectares:
U.S.: 197
Canada: 242
Belgium: 17.6
Japan: 1.2


—Mellow Monk


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If you've ever told your teenager to "turn it down!"

From this article:

Loud, grating noise is not just annoying, it can increase the risk of a heart attack, researchers report.


—Mellow Monk


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Bypass those annoying phone trees

A guy named Paul English has created a "cheat sheet" for many companies' automated customer-support phone numbers. Instead of navigating through the interactive voice response (IVR) system (a.k.a. phone tree), you can enter the code listed on this page to bypass the phone tree and go straight to a real-live human operator.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, November 25, 2005

Import restrictions on athletes

Since 2002, Japan's sumo stables have been subject to a quotas on foreign wrestlers.


Japanese baseball teams are also limited to the number of foreign players (called suketto, or "helpers") they can have. I think the current limit is 4 on the lineup at any given time. Back in the '90s, the limit was one per team.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Real money for virtual real estate

Depending on what the people in your immediate family are like, this story may not be the strangest thing you've heard this week, but it's still a good one: A guy paid real money for "real estate" in an online video game. What's even funnier is that he later sold it for a profit.


—Mellow Monk


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Foreign takeover of sumo?

Time's piece on foreign wrestlers in Japanese sumo.


I went into detail about this trend in this posting


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 21, 2005

Junior sends money back home to his folks

7-Eleven is doing so well in Japan that the Japanese operation is actually investing profits back in the U.S..


—Mellow Monk


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Nature of the Beast

The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California, currently has an exhibit called "Nature of the Beast," about animals in traditional Japanese paintings and prints. (The exhibit's website is very well done. However, it requires Flash, and the non-Flash version is fairly plain.)


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, November 20, 2005

The right water temperature

I used a cooking thermometer like this one




to see how long it takes for boiled water to cool down to somewhere
between 165 and 185 degrees F, which is considered the "sweet spot" for brewing green tea. (Since water boils at 212 degrees, you can see that this sweet spot is considerably cooler than just-boiled water, which will "cook" the green tea and alter its natural flavor and aroma.)


Although the exact amount of time to wait after the water reaches a boil depends on the amount of water in the cup or pot, I would say wait at least 5 minutes. To speed cooling, you can remove the kettle lid after boiling.


Remember, we want to coax the flavor out of the tea, not cook it!


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 17, 2005

The doctor accepts payment in cash, check, or chew toys

Yesterday I mentioned a survey whose results proved something we already knew.


Well, another survey falling into the we-already-knew-that category shows that pets make us feel good. The study also goes one step further and shows that these positive emotional effects include reducing stress in measurable ways. But what makes this study so attention-worthy is that the subjects whose stress levels were measurably reduced by quality time with a pet were heart-attack survivors recuperating in a hospital.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Surviving-the-holidays stress-reduction tip #3,212

A scientific study proves what we already knew intuitively: thinking good thoughts helps reduce stress.


—Mellow Monk


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But she secretly took a few towels with her

Upon marrying a commoner, Japan's Princess Sayako became one herself and so had to give up palace life.


But when her brother, the prince, married a commoner, his wife became royalty. That whole succession situation, however, is about to change.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Severing ties with a hatchet

One of the interesting things about a language is the cultural perspective that can be seen in specific words or terms.


For instance, the Japanese term for breaking up with, disowning, divorcing, or otherwise severing ties with someone is en o kiru, which literally means "to cut one's connection (en) [with another person]." Interestingly, the word en comes from Buddhism and means not just any ordinary connection, but a karmic connection.


At Kamahachima Temple in Osaka, Japan, visitors can leave offerings to help sever those karmic ties with someone. Note that the offering is a kama (traditional sickle--hence the temple's name) on which a message is written. The sickle is than stuck into the poor tree as an offering--that this latest breakup "takes," perhaps.


The tradition at Kamahachiman Temple traces its origins all the way back to the general Yukimura Sanada (1567-1615), who stuck a sickle into a hackberry tree at the temple to pray to Hachiman (the Shinto god of war) for victory in an upcoming battle. After he won the battle, people thought he was on to something, and a tradition was born. Thus was also born the temple's nickname of Kamahachiman, which means "Sickle [Temple] for Hachiman." (The temple's real name is Enjuan, which means Enju Hermitage.)


On this page, you can see a picture of the general's statue at Kamahachiman. Scroll down until you see a tree with dozens of sickles stuck in it. The general can be seen in the picture above and to the right.


At any rate, why go through this elaborate offering to break up with someone, when a simple "I said don't call me anymore!" (or a restraining order) would do?


It has to do with Buddhism, which holds that married couples are those who were together in a previous life and have been reunited in this one. So if a person wants to get out of such a relationship ("The Fates may have intended us to be together, but they didn't ask me first!"), he or she may feel a little guilty about bucking the plans that the Heavens had for them. Hence the offering.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 14, 2005

Another benefit of electric kettles

Yesterday I referenced an article about the superiority (in terms of speed, at least) of electric kettles. There's another advantage: boiled water cools faster in an electric kettle.


As I never get tired of saying, just-boiled water is too hot for brewing green tea; it will "cook" the tea and spoil the taste. Instead, water should be no hotter than about 185 degrees F, or about 85 degrees C.


A traditional metal kettle not only takes about twice as long to boil water, but also keeps it hot longer. You'll have to wait about 10 minutes for boiled water to cool to the right temperature, whereas with an electric kettle, you only have to wait about 5 minutes or so before walking the kettle to the pot.


—Mellow Monk


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Geisha

The BBC has a photo journal of a real-life Kyoto geisha, although it's not as glamorous as some may think.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Electric kettles win hands-down

Electric kettles are gaining in popularity over their stovetop counterparts, and for good reason: they boil water more quickly. Other advantages: they turn off automatically, the handle stays cool to the touch, and you can use them in an office or cubicle.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Dolphin catcher turned dolphin liberator

Richard O'Barry is an ex-U.S. Navy diver who in the 1960s helped catch dolphins for marine parks. He even trained the dolphins who played "Flipper" in the TV series of the same name. Later, though, he began working to undo his work by lobbying to free dolphins kept in captivity.


He even helped free a dolphin named Flipper in Brazil in the '90s (not one of the original Flippers, as some reports state).


Mr. Barry, if you read this, please drop me a line. I have some free Mellow Monk green tea for you!


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, November 11, 2005

U.S. military bases in Okinawa

Here's a good background article on the issues surrounding America's Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Caffeine in green tea and coffee

An 8-ounce cup of green tea contains, on average, about 30 milligrams of caffeine—about one-third the caffeine content of coffee. But apparently some brands of coffee contain truly serious amounts of caffeine.


Here's a website where you can see how many cups of various caffeine-containing beverages it would take to be fatal.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kobe's dad to coach in Japan

Joe Bryant, father of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, is set to become a coach in Japan's first-ever professional basketball league. The six-team league starts play this month.


Incidentally, Joe named Kobe after a Japanese steakhouse in Philadelphia. "Kobe" was either the name of the steakhouse itself, or an item on the menu. That item would be beef from the city of Kobe, considered the best (and in fact probably the most expensive) in Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Green tea goes mainstream

Newsweek has an article about the ever-rising popularity of green tea.


One thing I've noticed about such articles in general: They fail to mention that the polyphenols and other antioxidants in green tea begin to break down a few hours after brewing. So that ready-to-drink bottled green tea sitting on your grocer's shelves, and that green tea frappuccino made with a green tea syrup made in some factory who knows when, don't have nearly the amount of antioxidants as good, old-fashioned freshly brewed bulk green tea.


It's up to us to get the word out.


—Mellow Monk


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Instantaneous speech translation

Star Trek's universal translator may be coming to a Radio Shack near you some day: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University unvieled a system for instantly translating human speech from one language into another.


A scientists demonstrated the system by giving a speech in English, which was translated into Spanish and German.


Who knows how much he "massaged" his speech in advance. But the point is, this is an important milestone in overcoming the language barrier.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Foreigners lumbering into the sumo ring

Non-Japanese wrestlers are becoming an increasingly larger presence (no pun intended) in Japanese sumo.


Two fundamental trends are driving this influx of foreign blood into Japanese sumo. The first is that the sumo stables are having a harder and harder time finding Japan-born youngsters to enter the demanding, grueling world of sumo, where all the wreslters in a stable live together and new wrestlers are put to work cleaning toilets and doing the other least desirable jobs there. Unable to find new blood at home, sumo stables are looking beyond Japan's shores for talent.


The second trend is the growing popularity of sumo worldwide, which is creating a larger and larger "pool" of wrestlers from which Japanese stables can recruit. In decades past, Hawaii was the only foreign source of wrestlers.


In fact, the pioneers of foreign sumo wrestlers were all from Hawaii: Jesse "Takamiya" Kuhaulua was the first foreigner to enter professional Japanese sumo, in 1964; the massive Salevaa "Konishiki" Atisanoe was the first non-Japanese sumo wrestler to reach the rank of ozeki (champion); and Chad Rowan, better known as Akebono, became sumo's first non-Japanese to achieve the highest rank in sumo, yokozuna (grand champion), in 1993.


There's a PBS documentary about the "globalization" of sumo called Sumo East and West.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Book on Japan's emperor system

This review of Enigma of the Emperors summarizes author Ben-Ami Shillony’s discussion of how Japan’s emperors differ their counterparts in other countries and why the line of imperial succession has remained unbroken for nearly two thousand years.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, November 04, 2005

Viewing Earth from the ISS

A 34-year-old Japanese dot-com millionaire will be the fourth non-astronaut to view the Earth from space—in this case, the International Space Station.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 03, 2005

The new health food?

Chocolate as a health food? Skeptics say the benefits of chocolate's flavanol content are offset by its calories and fat. I'd say the jury is still out on this.


—Mellow Monk


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Bobby Valentine, darling of Tokyo

Onetime L.A. Dodger Bobby Valentine, now manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines, has been a star in Tokyo ever since he led his team to its first Japan Series win in 31 years.


Now three U.S. teams are trying to lure him back to the States: the Nationals, Devil Rays, and Dodgers.


—Mellow Monk


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Mt. Aso set to blow its top?

The Japan Meteorological Agency announced that Mt. Aso, located in central Kyushu, could soon erupt explosively. The announcement, made by the JMA's Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions, does not specify the approximate timing or intensity of the expected eruption.


Mt. Aso has been relatively quiet since April 14 this year, when an explosion occurred sending a white plume of smoke into the air and depositing ash around the crater.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Pop speech can be, like, so annoying.

If one of your pet peeves is pop language—phrases like "I didn't sign up for this" and "I don't think so"—you may find a kindred spirit in the author of this book.


After all, sharing a pet peeve with others can be very stress-relieving.


—Mellow Monk


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The paradox of diet soda

In a study tracking over fifteen hundred people, researchers found that most of the people who became obese during the study drank diet soda. Not only that, but the more diet soda a person drank, the more weight he or she tended to put on.


—Mellow Monk


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Allergy relief in a bowl of rice...

...not just any rice, of course, but rice that's been genetically modified to produce part of an allergen (an allergy-triggering protein). Eating the rice over time confers immunity to the allergen.


This technique is easier to administer than injections and is less likely than injections to cause anaphylactic shock, because the rice is engineered to produce only specific parts of the allergen protein.


—Mellow Monk


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Seven steps to reduce stress

In an interview in Newsweek, psychologist Robert Leahy discusses why women may worry more than men. He also presents seven steps for reducing anxiety-related stress.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Mellowing out with green tea

This morning didn't exactly go as planned. I found an unauthorized charge on my credit card, then the valve stem on my new bike tire broke. By the time I got to the office, I was pretty steaming about both. I made a cup of green tea simply out of habit, not necessarily thinking that the tea would help me calm down.


But after about the second or third gulp of warm, tasty, aromatic green tea, I could feel my heartbeat slow. Unconsciously, I let out a couple of deep sighs, as if letting go of what was stressing me out.


This is a good example of how the full benefits of green tea are not limited to what's in the tea itself -- green tea is an experience. This mellowing experience includes the act of preparing the tea, enjoying its aroma and taste, and feeling the soothing warmth of the tea spread through your body. The combined effect is a calming, relaxing one. (There is also a scientific reason why green tea is mellowing.)


No wonder some baseball players drink green tea before a game.


After this morning's experience, I wondered what would have happened if, because of an interruption, for instance, I hadn't made a cup of tea right when I did. That stress would have lasted much longer. The lesson there is to make it a habit to brew a cup of green tea as a way to simmer down.


—Mellow Monk


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Most popular name for pooches in Japan

The most popular name for pet dogs in Japan is Choco, which, I believe, is short for "chocolate," so it must be a popular name for dark-colored dogs.


—Mellow Monk


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"Early Spring in a Mountain Village"

Here's the winner of Serai magazine's 6th nature photography contest.


—Mellow Monk


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