Sunday, April 30, 2006
Saturday, April 29, 2006
No one knows for certain exactly where or when the tea plant, Camelia sinensis, originated, or even when or by whom it was first domesticated. What is known is that the tree evolved somewhere in the jungles of the eastern Himalayas, where in an amazingly rapid evolutionary development, the great varieties in temperature and micro-climate caused by the mountains rising from tropical lowlands, combined with the heaviest rainfall in the world as the monsoon clouds hit the outlying Himalayas, made it the most varied and rich region for plants in the world.
It seems likely that parts of the tea tree were first chewed by monkeys and other mammals indigenous to this region. Homo sapiens spread into the area between sixty and a hundred thousands years ago, and, perhaps taking their cue from the monkeys, early tribesmen began chewing tea and found it to be stimulating and relaxing to mind and body. It helped when carrying out arduous tasks, such as tramping through jungles and up mountainsides; indeed, people still chew tea leaves for this purpose: in Turkistan, for example, as Serena Hardy writes in The Tea Book, they chew used tea leaves, which "helps to allay fatigue on a journey when food is scarce."
See a previous post about this book here.
Friday, April 28, 2006
The page reminded me of a passage from the extraordinary book
Confessions of a Yakuza. In the mid-1920s, the protagonist, a Japanese yakuza, was drafted and sent to Manchuria, China—which Japan had invaded after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. On page 122 of the book, he mentions a female bandit there named "Okiku of Manchuria."
The place [Manchuria] was crawling with warlords, bandits, and so on, who did more or less what they liked—I mean, there wasn't any proper government, so it was every man for himself, and a lot of people who couldn't make a living in Japan drifted over there hoping to get rich. A fair number of them became bandits, apparently. There was a woman called "Okiku of Manchuria," for instance—she was one of the best known—who was supposed to be a force to reckon with there, with at least five thousand followers of her own.
A Google search in English turned up zip, but a search in Japanese turned up a reference in a review [in Japanese] of a book titled Sonbun no Onna ("The Women of Sun Yat-sen "; written by Masaaki Nishiki and published in 2005 by Bungei Shunju). (The book's title is taken from a section of the book dealing with two Japanese women with whom Sun Yat-sen was romantically involved while he lived in Japan; Okiku herself has nothing to do with the Chinese revolutionary.)
The brief summary of the chapter of the book dedicated to Okiku of Manchuria says only that she was "sold from Amakusa (in Kumamoto, Japan) to Korea, became a bandit in Manchuria, and eventually drifted to Siberia."
Sounds like a fascinating story. Being intrigued by obscure figures in history, I may just have to get this book.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
After an average of three to five hours of solid sleep, the subjects [in a landmark sleep study] would awaken and spend an hour or two of peaceful wakefulness before a second three- to five-hour sleep period. Such bimodal sleep has been observed in many other animals and also in humans who live in pre-industrial societies lacking artificial light.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
What's the difference between the kids' version and the adult version, you ask?
New research suggests that taking vitamin B-12 could make seasonal allergies a thing of the past. Possible side effects include unstoppable immune function, sharper mental focus, and boundless energy.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Make lists of things for which you're grateful in your life, practice random acts of kindness, forgive your enemies, notice life's small pleasures, take care of your health, practice positive thinking, and invest time and energy into friendships and family.
"Research shows that people who are grateful, optimistic and forgiving have better experiences with their lives, more happiness, fewer strokes, and higher incomes," according to [Gregg] Easterbrook [author of The Progress Paradox : How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse]. "If it makes world a better place at same time, this is a real bonus."
The man had been browsing magazines for 3 hours when the manager finally asked him to either buy something or leave. He chose the latter, but then showed up soon after with a running chainsaw. Fortunately no one was hurt.
Apparently, the man was a fixture at the convenient store, coming in to browse magazines in marathon sessions on a daily basis.
Anyone who's been to Japan has surely seen the throngs of non-buying browsers at bookstores and magazine racks. I've always wondered why the booksellers are so patient with them, allowing them to browse to their heart's content instead of chasing them away.
Now I know why.
Monday, April 24, 2006
The audio is in Japanese, but the step-by-step visuals are fairly self-explanatory. The reason that this trick is effective is that the adhesive strips form a tighter seal around the finger, keeping out the water that would ordinarily seep in and weaken the adhesive.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The operation borrowed a procedure called deep brain stimulation, or D.B.S., which is used to treat Parkinson's. It involves planting electrodes in a region near the center of the brain called Area 25 and sending in a steady stream of low voltage from a pacemaker in the chest.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
My only gripe: There's no pause button. After the slideshow, you're taken to a gallery of the same images.
The first example in the article is about a woman who, at the suggestion of a friend, cut out coffee in the afternoon. As soon as she did, she started sleeping like a baby.
As a way to reduce your caffeine intake, switching to green tea is a healthy alternative to going cold turkey. Not only does green tea have only about one-third to one-quarter the caffeine of coffee, but the antioxidants in green tea slow the body's uptake of caffeine. This assures a more constant level of caffeine in the bloodstream, avoiding the jolt-and-crash changes associated with coffee.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Thou shalt drink green tea every day. It sounds crazy but it's true: Green tea helps burn fat. Two recent studies showed a 4 percent increase in metabolism in subjects who consumed green tea (rich in catechins, a type of antioxidant) at each meal versus a placebo. This may seem insignificant, but a woman who requires 1,800 calories a day could burn an extra 500 calories per week just by making this small change. That's an average of seven lost pounds per year!
(Warning: Before the 2-minute movie starts, you have to sit through a 30-second non-skippable commercial.)
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Why was tea largely restricted to the British at first? ... Why did tea not take off in France or Germany? One might surmise that the peculiar set of conditions that encouraged it in England—the abhorrence of drinking water, the rising price of beer because of the malt taxes, the trade system based on tea—led to a different outcome. If we add to this the relative affluence of the British middling sorts, who could afford to experiment with the new drink, the fact that the British were already used to hot drinks such as heated ale, possets, toddies and punches, and the enormous push given to tea by the East India Company, who had a monopoly of the import, we can see some of the reasons for its success. As is often the case in history, starting from almost imperceptible differences, the gap grew greater. So the French drank coffee as their luxury, as did the Germans. The fact that the Dutch and the British had interests in the Far East, where tea grew, while the French, Germans, Italians and Portuguese, in so far as they had trade connections, mainly focused on Africa, parts of India and South America, is clearly very important. [pgs 72-73]
Flight attendants will insist that they are merely ensuring public safety and the smooth performance of whatever corporation they work for. Still, they may have more power over you, more legal right to limit your movement, than anyone else you'll ever encounter. You'd have roomier quarters and a better range of entertainment in a small-town jail cell on a Sunday night. An airplane is an almost perfect device for torture; and so you arrive at your destination, not just tired but insane.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
In the introduction, the author describes her very first experience with meditation—nothing structured or guided by a teacher, just quiet relaxation taken to the next level:
In the beginning, on the advice and counsel of a friend, I began to sit quietly each day and "not think."
The first day I lasted about a minute.
The rattle-rattle in my head of deafening. The next day, I lasted a minute again. I could not let go of the fear that if I was still and let myself be at rest there would be nothing there. Or, there would be things I did not want to know or be reminded about. The fear was so intense, I abandoned the practice for weeks until my friend said, "Just try again." Imagine light or dark, he advised; invite good feelings, love, God, whatever you want, to pour into your being and go to that place of stillness that can quiet the mind completely.
The next morning, I sat upright on my chair, relaxed my arms, breathed in and out with a few deep breaths, and invited dark velvet to drape over me. I continued my measured breathing. I thought of the dark velvet under me, over me .... I do not know how long I was in that state when a thought interrupted, saying, "I feel so relaxed, like in a dream." I opened my eyes and noticed that I had been meditating for twenty minutes. Eureka! What was really exciting was how great and energized I felt, and the feeling lasted throughout the day. I believed that I had made a new beginning, a new start." [pgs. xiv-xv]
It's interesting that sometimes the first thing to be overcome in achieving this deep relaxation is the fear of being alone with our thoughts.
I'll be posting more excerpts from this very intriguing book. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Now a Candadian study shows another benefit of having a four-legged friend: They help us get more exercise. (And you thought you were taking the dog for a walk.)
Monday, April 17, 2006
The caption reads: "Dateline WWII: The allies foil another axis offensive."
Japander.com (a play on the words "Japan" and "pander," as in to hawk) is a veritable database of past commercials that American celebrities have done in Japan.
However, new "entries" in this database are likely to be scarcer than before: As mentioned in a previous post, American celebrities aren't as sought after by Japan advertisers as they were in the '80s or '90s.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
The founder of these salons is obviously a very shrewd businessperson:
The concept behind the new establishments is to give people the pleasant feeling some had as children when they would rest their heads on their mothers' laps and have their ears cleaned.
Here is a brief Wikipedia entry on ear-picking in Japan.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
According to this article, a tea import company called Dragon Pearl Tea Company is billing itself as “the only American tea company buying directly from the farm.”
Obviously, they've never heard of Mellow Monk.
Not only does Mellow Monk buy directly from the farm—we may well be the only American tea company buying directly from tea farms that are family owned and operated. (The "family operated" part is important, because strictly speaking, a family-owned tea plantation that uses a lot of poorly paid, poorly treated laborers could still call itself a "family-owned tea farm.")
You can read about Mellow Monk's growers here.
No one on earth drank tea a few thousand years ago. A few small tribal groups in the jungles of south-east Asia chewed the leaves of the plant, but that was the nearest anyone came to tea drinking. Two thousand years ago it was drunk in a handful of religious communities. By a thousand years ago it was drunk by millions of Chinese. Five hundred years ago over half of the world’s population was drinking tea as their main alternative to water. [pgs. 31-32]
The authors (a mother-and-son team) point out that tea's spread was due to its meeting all of the requirements for an alternative to water, which was made dangerous by waterborne pathogens as humans began forming city-based civilizations:
True tea, made from the Camellia sinensis plant ... can be produced cheaply. The plant which yields it is very productive, giving new leaf every six weeks or so. It grows over quite a range of climatic zones, from central China to East Africa. Just a few leaves are needed to make a good pot of tea and they can be re-used. Dry tea is very light and stores well. It is easily prepared for drinking, but its preparation is sufficiently elaborate to encourage the human love of play and ceremony. It is extremely safe to drink and indeed many believe it has special health benefits. It is attractive because it makes the drinker feel stimulated and relaxed, optimistic and focused. It is mild enough to be drunk throughout the day without any harmful side effects. [pg. 39]
These same reasons explain green tea's growing (or, depending on where you are, continued) popularity today—for green tea is simply Camellia sinensis leaves in their least-processed form.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Now, video game makers are getting into the act, releasing "brain training" titles marketed specifically to seniors.
Nintendo has sold a combined total of more than 3.3 million of its “Brain Training for Adults” released in May 2005 and a sequel that came out last December. Its portable DS consoles on which the games are played are constantly out of stock in shops.
As the aging of Japan accelerates, and seniors account for a larger and larger portion of the total population, companies will market more products to the sixty-and-older crowd. American could see a similar trend play out as our own Baby Boom generation continues aging.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Amy and Doug were kind enough to name this blog as their "Blog of the Week" for the week of April 12 and mention this blog in Episode 45 of their podcast (destined to become a classic, no doubt).
I highly recommend the Planet Japan podcast. It's a fun, lighthearted look at life in Japan through the eyes of two Americans.
To listen to the podcast, which is simply an MP3 audio file that's available for downloading, all you need a program like iTunes, which is the MP3 player I use on both Macs and PCs.
Thanks again, Amy and Doug!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
First, there was Yamamoto Otokichi, whose storm-ravaged ship landed on the Oregon coast in 1834 after drifting across the Pacific Ocean for 14 months.
He was followed several years later by Nakahama Manjiro, another shipwreck survivor who was rescued by an American whaling ship in 1841. He was taken to the United States, where the 14-year-old received a high-school education. He eventually returned to Japan, where Manjiro's knowledge of Western technology and the English language was put to good use by the rebels who orchestrated the overthrow of the Shogun in the 1860s.
(Manjiro is often mistakenly identified as the first Japanese to visit the United States, but that honor goes to Otokichi, although Manjiro probably had a much greater impact on Japanese history.)
There's a good children's book about Manjiro titled Shipwrecked! : The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy
Monday, April 10, 2006
As someone said, people don't make us angry; we let them make us angry.
[To deal with anger, it's] best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.
The most basic strategy for keeping anger at bay is relaxation:
- Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won't relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your "gut."
- Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax," "take it easy." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
- Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
- Nonstrenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer.
To the above list, add one important omission: green tea. Not only does the natural theanine in green tea promote relaxation, but the "ritual" of preparing and slowly sipping a cup of hot green tea is a great way to take a step back and get your mind off whatever is bothering you.
The bad news: Simultaneous changes in lifestyle are necessary.
(The people in the above-linked survey were broken into three groups, and the group that received the most counseling—on "the standard measures for controlling blood pressure" and added dietary advice—achieved and sustained the biggest drop in blood pressure.)
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Each day, the average human heart beats 100,000 times and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood.
That means that in a 70-year lifetime, the heart beats a total of 2.5 billion times.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
In the 12th century, however, the military took over the reins of power from the Emperor. The usurping generalissimo took on the title of Shogun, and the shogunate was born. The trouble was, the Shinto tradition didn't say anything about a Shogun. So the Shogun declared that he derived his power from the now-powerless Emperor, who was "consulted" on important matters. Officially, he could say yea or nay to important shogunate decisions, but in reality, the Shogun held all the power.
Fast forward about 700 years. In the late 1800s, the Shogun was overthrown by a coalition of clans who had grown weary of what essentially was rule of the country by and for the Shogun's own clan, the Tokugawas. The principal "high ideal" under which the anti-shogunate forces rallied support was the restoration of Japan's emperor to true political power.
(What provided the trigger for this restoration movement was the coming to Japan of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry, along with British and French representatives pressing for treaties for the right to lay anchor and do business in Japan. The Japanese, after hundreds of years of technological stagnation due to the shogunate's extreme isolation policy, took one look at the cannons on the American and European ships and realized that their nation was far behind those countries militarily—and therefore extremely vulnerable. The shogunate was deemed too bureaucratic and backwards in its thinking to modernize the country quickly enough. But this realization of Japan's vulnerability also provided an excuse to vent widespread resentment with the shogunate's rigid social structure, in which commoners and even low-level samurai and local leaders had little opportunity for bettering their standing.)
Once the Shogun was overthrown, there was a brief but unnerving period during which people feared widespread social breakdown. In response, the new rulers further ramped up the "divine Emperor" rhetoric to make him an even stronger symbol of national unity. Again, the Shinto religion was called on to help out. Thus the renewed importance of Shinto to the state.
These historical factors help explain the continued vibrancy of Shinto and the importance of Japan's royal family in today's Japan.
Friday, April 07, 2006
If the new train hits its planned operating speed of 224 miles per hour, it will be the world's fastest train—in terms of normal operating speed.
Currently, France's TGV ordinarily runs at a slower speed (186 mph) but will still be the record-holder when it comes to flat-out top speed (320 mph). It's not known whether Japan Railways will try to top that record.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The talk also covers the effects of stress on children and concludes with a discussion of how to cope with stress.
If real, this would be the first new pitch in baseball since the split-fingered fastball 40 years ago.
Here is a slow-motion movie of Matsuzaka throwing the mystery pitch.
Monday, April 03, 2006
However, the author of the text fails to mention green tea and the two very important ways in which it can help reduce stress.
First, not only does green tea have less caffeine (which in excessive amounts can contribute to stress) than coffee, but the antioxidants in green tea also coat the caffeine molecules in certain ways that slow the uptake of caffeine into the body. Slow uptake means a gentler boost, whereas with coffee, which lacks these antioxidants, the caffeine level in the blood first spikes and then drops suddenly as the body works overtime to break down all that caffeine. These sudden changes in blood levels of caffeine are responsible for the jolt and crash associated with drinking lots of caffeinated coffee.
Second, green tea is rich in theanine, which promotes relaxation by increasing the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid in the body and by increasing alpha-wave production in the brain, for instance.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Most of the trees were a gift from Japan in 1912 or were grafted from those original trees. There's a page on the trees' history here.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
One such garden is Rokugien, where some of the magnificient trees are illuminated at night, like the drooping cherry tree in the photo below.