Sunday, April 30, 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Where the tea plant originated

Here's another excerpt from Green Gold:

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.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 28, 2006

A Japanese bandit queen

Recently I came across this page about women pirates who were less well known than their male counterparts.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Green tea and lung cancer

A study conducted at the University of Washington suggests that green tea may help prevent lung cancer, although the researchers conclude that "[f]uture studies are needed to determine how green tea affects the genes associated with cell cycle regulation and apoptosis during the mouse lung carcinogenesis process."


—Mellow Monk


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The myth of sleep disorders

According to this article, even though disturbed sleep is one of the most common complaints that doctors receive, and even though the use of sleep medications has increased by 60 percent in the last 5 years alone, those perceived sleep problems are based on a false assumption—that it's normal to get 7 or 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night:

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.

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

An action hero belt for grown men

A Japanese toy manufacturer has released a reproduction of a belt worn by the hero in the 1970s TV show Kamen Rider ("Masked Rider"). The belt is being marketed to middle-aged men who watched the show as kids.


What's the difference between the kids' version and the adult version, you ask?


Why, the waist size, of course!





—Mellow Monk


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Vitamin B-12 for seasonal allergies

From Men's Journal:

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.




—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Keys to happiness

This article on the keys to happiness—and why we don't use them—is a comprehensive summary of a lot of straightforward philosophies that we've probably all heard before, but then again, sometimes a refresher course is a good thing.


For instance:


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."


—Mellow Monk


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The chainsaw-wielding senior at the magazine rack

Police in Japan recently arrested a 70-year-old man after he threatened convenience-store clerks with a chainsaw.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 24, 2006

Tea to dethrone coffee?

From the New Jersey Express-Times:

Tea is set to dethrone coffee as America's beverage of choice. For health, for taste, for enjoyment, tea is catching on.

—Mellow Monk


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Making an adhesive bandage stay on longer

This video clip from a Japanese TV show demonstrates how to make an ordinary adhesive bandage (Band Aid) stay on longer, especially when applied to a finger.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Depression switch?

Doctors have developed a new surgical procedure to treat severe, treatment-resistant depression by targeting a specific area of the brain that has been linked to the disease:

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.

—Mellow Monk


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Beat insomnia naturally

Speaking of insomnia, here are a few more commonsense tips for beating it naturally.





—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Space slideshow

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a Flash slideshow titled "Year in Images: 2005." Pretty cool.


My only gripe: There's no pause button. After the slideshow, you're taken to a gallery of the same images.


—Mellow Monk


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Beat insomnia with only slight changes in your lifestyle

Here is an article about experimenting with various lifestyle changes to overcome insomnia without relying on drugs.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 21, 2006

Thou shalt drink green tea to lose weight

Commandment Number 2 in diet guru Charles Stuart Platkin's "five-pound panic" diet is:

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!

—Mellow Monk


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Movie of D.C. cherry blossom festival

The Washington Post has a movie of the 2006 Cherry Blossom Festival, including an exhibition bout by members of the American Sumo Association.


(Warning: Before the 2-minute movie starts, you have to sit through a 30-second non-skippable commercial.)


—Mellow Monk


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Amazing rainbow pics

Check out these rainbow pictures. Pretty cool!





—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 20, 2006

The role of trade in the global spread of tea

Here's another excerpt from Green Gold: The Empire of Tea. Here, the author writes about how foreign trade flows explain the great imbalance in the adoption of tea drinking in the 17th and 18th centuries between the British, who took to tea like a fish takes to water, and the Germans, Italians, and other Western Europeans who ended up incorporating coffee into their culture instead.

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]

—Mellow Monk


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The stress of air travel

Here's an excerpt I liked from Jim Lewis's "Notes from the Land of Nod," published in issue 88 of Granta:

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.

—Mellow Monk


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Online guided meditation

Speaking of meditation, Beliefnet.com has a 10-minute guided meditation session that you can do online, with an accompanying slideshow.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Smithsonian photo contest winners

The winning entries in Smithsonian magazine's 3rd annual photography contest are viewable online.


One of the categories is travel.





—Mellow Monk


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Excerpt from "Meditations with Tea"

Another book on tea I've been reading is Diana Rosen's Meditations With Tea: Paths to Inner Peace, which, true to the title, is literally about using tea as the centerpiece of a relaxing, mellowness-inducing meditation experience.


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!





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fido, take your human for a walk

Previously I've posted about the positive health effects of pets. (In that case, findings showed that hospital visits by dogs improved the survival chances of heart attack victims.)


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.)


—Mellow Monk


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Japanese toilets a hit in U.S.

Japan's toilet manufacturer Toto has built a factory in Mexico to keep up with growing demand in the U.S. for its high-end (no pun intended) toilets with built-in bidet features.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Three Stooges didn't patent it

I took this photo of a display in the front window of a hobby shop at San Francisco Japantown.





The caption reads: "Dateline WWII: The allies foil another axis offensive."


—Mellow Monk


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American celebs in Japanese TV commercials

They thought you'd never see these commercials here in America, but the Internet is making it possible.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 16, 2006

10 worst foods

Running/jogging magazine Time to Run has a list of the 10 worst foods you can eat. Topping the list is of course ... Oh, why spoil the surprise.


—Mellow Monk


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Have your ears dewaxed while you wait

A new niche in the Japan's service industry is arising: the ear-dewaxing salon. It's a place where you pay about $4 for a 10-minute ear-cleaning session. You can even view the inside of your own ear via the tiny camera mounted to the technician's high-tech ear pick.


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.




—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Family owned and operated

What gives?


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.




—Mellow Monk


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The global spread of tea

Here's an interesting quote from Alan and Iris Macfarlane's Green Gold: The Empire of Tea:

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.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 14, 2006

Ten tiny Tokyo photos

Have you seen the ten tiny Tokyo photos before?


The pics are actual aerial photographs of Tokyo processed using a tilt shift lens, which makes real buildings and other structures look like miniatures photographed from close up.





—Mellow Monk


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Where to find happiness

Stewart Elliott, a nursing home resident, writes the column "Notes From a Nursing Home." Here is a piece titled "Happiness finds us when we're not looking for it."


—Mellow Monk


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Brain training for seniors in Japan

The growing popularity in Japan of "brain training for seniors" reflects that country's aging society. The trend began in Japan's bookstores, with workbooks full of math, geography, and other problems for seniors to solve as a way to stimulate their brains and stave off dementia.


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.




—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Splendid China pics!

Photographer Gil Azouri posts some of his beautiful travel photographs online, including a gallery of photos taken in China.





—Mellow Monk


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Sinking ship on live TV

Yesterday, the slow sinking of the Philippine-registered cargo ship Eastern Challenger in Tokyo Bay was broadcast live on Japanese TV [link to video clip on BBC News].


All crew members were safely rescued from the 6,000-ton ship, which began taking on water after colliding with the Tsugaru-maru, a 500-ton Japanese vessel, in thick fog at 5:20 a.m.





—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mellowness-inducing undersea photographs

Dancingfish.com contains many high-quality photographs of sea life. The photos are organized into galleries by location. (The picture below was taken in Thailand.)


These photos are perfect for mellowing out to during a Mellow Monk green tea break!





—Mellow Monk


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Green tea "mocktails" in India

Here is a story about a mocktail bar in India where the menu includes concoctions made with green tea.





—Mellow Monk


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Mellow Monk on the Planet Japan podcast

Amy Chavez, a columnist for the Japan Times, and Doug DeLong, who describes himself as a "long-time raconteur and man-about-town," record and publish Planet Japan, a weekly podcast about some of the more off-the-wall aspects of life in Japan.


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!


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Japan's trailblazing castaways

A Japanese castaway was the first of his people to visit the United States. Another castaway rescued at sea by American sailors eventually returned to Japan to play a key role in the overthrow of the Shogun, which began Japan's modernization.


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


Wouldn't these castaways' stories make a good subject for a documentary? Or at least a term paper.





—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 10, 2006

Anger and how to control it

The American Psychological Association website has an extensive page on anger management.


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.


And when you're drinking that cup of green tea, feel free to play your favorite CD and put your feet up on your desk!






—Mellow Monk


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Lowering your blood pressure

The good news: People with high blood pressure can reduce their blood pressure and keep it low through simultaneous changes in lifestyle.


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.)


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Decision-making at Honda and GM: a comparison

In Autoweek.com, a former GM engineer who job-hopped over to Honda R&D Americas talks about the difference in decision-making processes at the two automakers. Very revealing.





—Mellow Monk


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The hard-working heart

Here's a thought:


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 08, 2006

The politics of Shinto

Shinto is Japan's native religion, tracing its origins to animistic beliefs and rituals of Japan's prehistory. At some point in ancient times, when Japan's ruling class decided to declare its leader to be an emperor of divine origin—chosen by the gods to lead and protect the land—the religion now known as Shinto was revised accordingly. In short, Shinto became the state religion, justifying the Emperor's status just as the Roman gods justified the power of that empire's leader.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 07, 2006

Weight-loss tips, including green tea

Readers of CNN.com recently shared their weight-loss tips. I'm surprised the list doesn't include switching from coffee to green tea, as Nicholas Perricone and other have recommended.


—Mellow Monk


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Japan unveils the fastest train in the world

East Japan Railways showed reporters the prototype of its next-generation bullet train.


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.


To the list of the Top 10 announcements you don't want to hear on the bullet train, add: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to try to break the current world record for train speed."





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Zebras don't get ulcers

In a talk titled "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers," neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky discusses why animals handle stress better than humans—or rather why humans don't handle stress as well as animals. Basically, it's because humans can stress themselves out with a thought.


The talk also covers the effects of stress on children and concludes with a discussion of how to cope with stress.


—Mellow Monk


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Daisuke Matsuzaka invents new baseball pitch?

Some are saying that Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka has invented a new "miracle pitch" called a gyroball. The pitch is purported to spin like a spiraled football and break in a way that makes it impossible to hit.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 03, 2006

Green tea as part of a stress-reduction diet

This page discusses dietary factors that contribute to stress.


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.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 02, 2006

View D.C.'s cherry blossoms online

The National Park Service has a Washington, D.C. cherry blossom site with information for folks wanting to view the area's blossoms. There's even a live webcam.


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.





—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Inuyama Festival

Below is a photo of lantern-adorned portable shrines from the Inuyama Festival, a 370-year-old event held every year in Inuyama City in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. (Click on the photo to see a slightly larger version.)





—Mellow Monk


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China pics

ChinaPictures.org is a site chock full of—you guessed it—pictures of China. There are hundreds of pictures, all organized by topic. One topic is festivals, an example of which is shown below.




—Mellow Monk


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Nighttime cherry-blossom viewing

Japan is in the midst of cherry-blossom viewing season. There are scores of parks, gardens, and even tree-lined streets that draw large crowds when the cherry trees are in full bloom.


One such garden is Rokugien, where some of the magnificient trees are illuminated at night, like the drooping cherry tree in the photo below.





—Mellow Monk


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