Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SpongeBob a hit in Japan

Not many expected America's loud and square SpongeBob SquarePants to go over well in Japan, a country famous for its love of the cute and cuddly. But SpongeBob proved the doubters wrong: He's a hit not only with kids but with young women, too.



Winning over fans in Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Draw to reduce stress

Finding a constructive, relaxing hobby is always a great stress-reducer, and artist Albert Casson says that drawing certainly fits the bill.

"Learning to draw relieves stress. And everyone can learn to draw. It just depends on how much drive you have."


You, too, can learn to draw like this.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rinko Kikuchi's inspiration

Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, who's been nominated for an Oscar for her role as a deaf schoolgirl in the Brad Pitt flick Babel, talks about her inspiration for the role.



Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi.


—Mellow Monk


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Anxiety: Laugh it off, then get back to work

After awaking from a nightmare she knew was brought on by her real-life workload, Jennifer Huget did two things her doctor told her to do when faced with stress or anxiety: laugh it off, then buckle down and get to work.

First, I smiled big and said, out loud, "Hello, anxiety!" Confronting my stress on friendly terms makes it less ominous, says my doctor, psychologist Joe Brown, who practices in the Hartford, Conn., area. Plus, the ritual is so goofy it takes the edge off.


Next, I made myself sit right down and get to work. Because, Dr. Brown helped me discover, procrastination is a huge source of my stress -- and stress-related behaviors such as cramming mini marshmallows into my maw by the fistful.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, January 29, 2007

Green tea: part of a metabolism-revving diet

Says Mark Hyman, M.D., author of Ultra-metabolism, "You can rev up your metabolic engine without changing how much you eat." One of his metabolism-revving tips is drinking green tea.





—Mellow Monk


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Ball players and blood type

The Japanese use blood type to predict a person's character, akin to astrological signs in America—but much more popular.


For instance, most Japanese wouldn't be surprised to hear that Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui, Tadahito Iguchi, home-run king Sadaharu Oh, and Kei Igawa are all type O:


In Japan, people with Type O are commonly referred to as warriors because they are said to be self-confident, outgoing, goal-oriented and passionate. According to Masahiko Nomi, a Japanese journalist who helped popularize blood typology with a best-selling book in 1971, people with Type O make the best bankers, politicians and — if you are not yet convinced — professional baseball players.


He's blood type O.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, January 28, 2007

The seven pillars of Japanese cooking

The author of Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat cites green tea as one of the seven pillars of Japanese cooking.


—Mellow Monk


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The fisherman who conquered the world's toughest obstacle course

In this 9-minute video clip from the Japanese TV show "Sasuke," 34-year-old fisherman Makoto Nagano completes one of the most gruelling obstacle courses you're likely to ever see.


"Sasuke," by the way, is a reference to legendary ninja Sarutobi Sasuke, the subject of numerous ninja movies, TV shows, and anime.


But this modern-day ninja is for real!





—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

A picturesque paradise in Japan's north

Rural and picturesque Takayama, in Gifu Prefecture, Japan, bills itself as the "home of the Japanese spirit." It certainly seems like a good destination for those seeking out old rural Japan.



Hida-no-Sato, in Takayama.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, January 26, 2007

Study: green tea catechin kills cervical cancer cells

Researchers tested the effect of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—an antioxidant found only in green tea—on cervical cancer. They found that EGCG kills cervical cancer cells, which means that drinking green tea is like taking a natural chemopreventive agent that doesn't harm healthy cells in the body.


—Mellow Monk


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Rare shark captured in Japan

Here's a clip of the rare "frilled shark." This speciment was spotted by fisherman in the shallows off Japan's Shizuoka Prefecture. The shark was taken to Awashima Marine Park, where it unfortunately died soon after arrival.


The frilled shark normally lives at pitch-black depths of 2,000 feet or more, hence the rarity of its appearances.





—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Study: green tea protects against stomach cancer

A team of researchers from the UCLA School of Public Health, the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and other prestigious institutions have published a paper in the International Journal of Cancer in which they report the results of a study of over 700 subjects in China.


The doctors were looking for a link between green tea and stomach cancer, and what they found is excellent news for aficionados of green tea.


Not only did their findings "provide further support on the protective effect of green tea against stomach cancer." This was also the first time that "green tea drinking was found to be protective against chronic gastritis," which many doctors believe increases the chances of developing stomach cancer in the future.


—Mellow Monk


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Brazilian-Japanese struggle to fit in

For Brazilian-Japanese working in Japan, it's not always easy to fit in.



Brazillian immigrants at a bar in Japan


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dogs reduce stress

A researcher writing in the British Journal of Health Psychology has found that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.


One reason might be the exercise that human owners get from "walkies." But that's not the only reason:


"It is possible that dogs can directly promote our well-being by buffering us from stress, one of the major risk factors associated with ill-health."




—Mellow Monk


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Free, downloadable book on Japan

Professor Solomon, who wears many hats (including "finder of lost objects"), has written a 70-plus-page book on Japan called Japan in a Nutshell. Covering nearly every aspect of Japanese culture, from sumo to sushi, this comprehensive book is an entertaining read and is available for download in PDF form for free.





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tokyo fishmongers furious over controversial relocation plan

The Tokyo municipal government has ordered the city's massive Tsukiji fish market—the world's largest—to pull up stakes and relocate. The reason? The bean counters determined it would be cheaper to build a new market on a currently vacant site than to renovate the 72-year-old market.


The fishmongers who work at Tsukiji are furious—and not just because of the disruption to their livelihoods.


What has them so upset upset about the new site, which is located about one and a half miles away, is the same reason the site has been vacant for so long in a city where land is at such a premium: The previous owners, Tokyo Gas, reported the site "contaminated by toxic spills from their plants."



Sushi, anyone?


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Making green tea in Myanmar

This short, briskly edited home-made travelogue shows scenes of Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma) and the very labor-intensive process of making green tea there.


There's no narration, but what transpires is fairly self-explanatory.





—Mellow Monk


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The most-stressed nations

South Koreans lead a list of the most stressed-out nations. Having North Korea as a neighbor probably doesn't help things.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The former king of pop charges a king's ransom in Japan

Erstwhile king of pop Michael Jackson has apparently hit on a new business model: charging a ridiculous amount of money for having dinner with wealthy fans.


—Mellow Monk


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Can a birdbrain broker Sino-Japanese peace?

From CNN.com:

Chinese President Wen Jiabao is likely to announce the gift of several Chinese crested ibises when he meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this weekend at an Asian-leaders meeting in the Philippines, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun daily said on Thursday.

In Japan, this species of ibis was once common throughout the land but today is found only in captivity.



A branch of this bird's family was venerated by the ancient Egyptians.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

How to make a ginger green tea hot toddy

In an episode of "Art of the Drink," professional bartender Andy Caporale and "guest star" Tracy show how to make a ginger green tea hot toddy, which sounds like the perfect thing for this cold weather we've been experiencing lately.


The ingredients you'll need are:


  • 2 slices of fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 thin slice of lemon
  • 8 ounces of hot green tea
  • 1-1/4 ounces of brandy



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Bilingualism and dementia

Researchers in Canada found that speaking two languages delays the onset of dementia.


This fits in with the larger theory that when it comes to your brain and avoiding senility, "use it or lose it" definitely holds true.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, January 19, 2007

Japan's high-tech toilets

Buck Rogers probably had (or is it "will have"?) one of these in his lavatory: a high-tech toilet from Japan.



Three, two, one ... blastoff!


—Mellow Monk


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How to deal with the 6 most annoying things kids say

Parenting magazine offers tips on how to respond in a calm, nurturing way to the 6 most annoying things that small children say, such as the always popular "I want a new mommie!"


What I'm really waiting for, however, is the teenager version of the article, which hopefully will explain how to respond to such statements as "What do you mean I can't have the entire swim team over for my birthday?"


—Mellow Monk


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Spas retool to treat modern maladies

Today's spas are coming up with treatments tailored for "tech neck," Blackberry thumb, and other physical woes caused by modern technology.


Any spa worth its bath salts should also teach the art of relaxing when you're away from the spa, such as taking a green tea break.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bad news for bottled tea (and decaf and instant, too)

This is bad, bad news for anyone who sells or drinks decaffeinated green tea, instant green tea, or ready-to-drink green tea. But it's great news for fans of natural loose-leaf green tea (such as that humbly offered by yours truly).


Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an update of its database on the flavonoid content of foods. (Flavonoids, also called bioflavonoids, are a category of compounds that include catechins and other strong antioxidants. Scientific evidence has consistently shown that eating foods high in flavonoids reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease.)


The USDA's numbers haven't changed much since the first release of the database. Still, the new release provides a good occasion to revisit the clear superiority of natural loose-leaf green tea when it comes to the health benefits that we all expect from our green tea.


Take epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), for instance. EGCG is not only one of the most important flavonoids in green tea (because of its powerful antioxidant properties); it's also found only in green tea.


The USDA database tells us that brewed loose-leaf green tea contains 77.81 milligrams of EGCG per 100 grams of infusion. Decaffeinated green tea, however, contains 66 percent less EGCG—only 26.05 mg/100 g.


For green tea that comes ready to drink in a can or bottle, the news is even worse: its EGCG count is a measely 3.96 mg/100 g, or only 5 percent of the EGCG content of brew-it-yourself loose-leaf tea.


(The reason is that within a couple of hours of brewing, green tea catechins begin to break down. The lesson, grasshopper, is that if you want bottled or canned green tea that's rich in catechins, you must go to the factory, snatch it as it rolls off the line, and guzzle it down quickly as you use your kung-fu techniques to escape the security guards chasing you.)


Bringing up the rear is instant green tea, which barely registers with an EGCG count of 0.45 mg/100 g (decaf instant) or 0.49 mg/100 g (regular instant). The cruel math says that's only half a percent as much EGCG as natural loose-leaf green tea.


To summarize, brewing your own hot, tasty green tea infusion from natural loose-leaf green tea is the healthiest way to go—and the tastiest, too.


And there are no security guards to deal with, either.


By the way, you can download the full "database" (actually a PDF file) here.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Spicy foods kill cancer cells

Great news for lovers of spicy food: Capsaicin, the compound that gives jalapeno peppers (and tear gas) its kick, has been shown to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy ones.





—Mellow Monk


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High school tests applicants' chopstick skills

A girls' high school in Japan, believing that young people today are losing touch with traditional culture, says it will begin testing the chopstick-manipulating skills of prospective students.



"Alright, you pass the test. Next!"


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Green tea keeps the bacteria away

Scientists have known for years that green tea inhibits the growth of bacteria, but they weren't sure exactly how green tea did it. Now, in a paper published last month, a group of researchers explain that green tea catechins target an essential bacterial enzyme.


An abstract of the findings, along with links to the full paper, is available here.


—Mellow Monk


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Japan's Coming of Age day

Turning 20 years old is a big deal in Japan—it's the age when young people get to legally drink, smoke, and vote (hopefully not all at the same time). Each year, on the second Monday of January, those who turned 20 in the previous year celebrate Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi).


Reflecting birth rates that have been declining for years, however, the latest cohort of 20-year-olds was the smallest in nearly 20 years.





—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

OD'ing on caffeine

Overdosing on caffeine and ending up in the emergency room is not an urban legend; it really happens.


Green tea naturally contains caffeine, but only about 30 percent as much as coffee does on a cup-by-cup basis. In addition to a lighter caffeine load, the antioxidants in green tea slow the body's uptake of caffeine, spreading that caffeiene load over a longer period of time. This helps avoid the "crash" that java junkies experience when their caffeine level suddenly plummets.


In short, when it comes to caffeine, green tea gives you a smooth takeoff and a gentle landing.


—Mellow Monk


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Japan and India strengthen ties

Here is a long, thorough article on the renewed diplomatic efforts that Japan and India are making to strengthen relations between their two countries.


Why the sudden resurgence in interest in Japan-India relations? In a word: China.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Natural mattresses improve sleep

Led by natural-latex mattresses, sales of natural mattresses are booming.


Still, I have my suspicions. "It was like lying down on a cloud" is how one person describes her first encounter with a natural-latex mattress. Personally, I feel that when it comes to mattresses, the firmer the better. When I sleep on a super-extra-firm bed, my back thanks me in the morning, whereas two nights on a way-too-soft hotel mattress ages me 20 years.


—Mellow Monk


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R.I.P. to the instant-noodle man

Let us all pause a moment to reflect on the passing of a great man—Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant noodles.



The man who gave the world instant noodles.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, January 12, 2007

Monk gets the scoop on the negative effects of milk on tea

The press is reporting research findings from Germany that show that when added to tea, milk wrecks tea's health benefits.


(This explains why the correlation between tea drinking and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer is "seen most clearly in east Asia, [but] not in [other] tea-loving countries such as the U.K."—it's 'cause the bloody Brits are always putting bloody milk in their bloody tea, isn't it.)


However, readers of this blog already knew that about tea and milk from a posting I wrote last month.


Actually, last month's posting referenced a study that was done way back in 1996. The German study simply reinforces those findings.


—Mellow Monk


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Why the Danes are happier than their neighbors

Researchers at Britain's University of Leicester have published something called the World Map of Happiness (download the PDF here). Ranking number one on the survey-based happiness list is the nation of Denmark.


Why are the Danes so happy? Apparently, it's because they have low expectations. When you don't expect much, you're never disappointed. (Kind of a downer philosophy of life, though.)


It reminds me of my brother, the San Francisco 49ers fan: He's never disappointed when his team doesn't make the playoffs, because his expectations of them doing so are so low.



Any nation whose national color is orange has got to be a little different from the rest.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Green tea boosts GABA content of germinated brown rice

Germinated brown rice (in Japanese, hatsuga genmai [発芽玄米]) is simply brown rice that's been soaked in water long enough to start to bud.


This is similar to what breweries do with barley—malted barley is simply barley that's been made to germinate/bud and then dried before the budding seeds grow into barley plants.


Germinated brown rice is a red-hot health food in Japan now because of its higher amounts of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) compared to ordinary brown rice.


But what really has people paying attention to germinated/malted brown rice is that it contains twice as much gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) as ordinary brown rice and ten times as much as white rice. That's important because research is showing that GABA helps boost the immune system and inhibits the development of cancer cells.


The GABA content of germinated brown rice sold today would be even higher if so much GABA didn't leach out while the rice is soaking in warm water (which has to be changed at least once during the process because of bacteria growth).


After much trial and error, the Shimane Prefecture Agricultural Technology Center has found a solution to this problem. Their germinated brown rice has a whopping three times as much GABA as germinated brown rice currently on the market. This brown rice has gobs of GABA! The secret? Germinating the brown rice in green tea.


The researchers theorize that green tea prevents GABA loss in two ways: because of its higher osmotic pressure and because it naturally inhibits the growth of bacteria, thus eliminating the need to change the water during germination. One also has to surmise that the green tea also acts like a natural plant-growth stimulator—after all, many Japanese pour leftover green tea on their houseplants and use old tea leaves as a garden fertilizer. Finally, brown rice germinated in green tea obviously absorbs the tea's polyphenols and other good stuff.


In short, green-tea-germinated brown rice clearly has a lot going for it. Watch for green-tea-germinated brown rice (and products made from it) at a health food store near you.


Source: Nihon Nogyo Shimbun (Japan Agriculture Newspaper) [http://www.nougyou-shimbun.ne.jp/modules/bulletin8/article.php?storyid=336].


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Building materials made with used green tea leaves

In the home, the Japanese have traditionally re-used old tea leaves by first drying them out and putting them in the refrigerator or on a shoe rack as an odor absorbent. Others use old tea leaves as natural fertilizer for potted plants or in the garden.


Japan's big beverage firms, however, generate a staggering 30,000 metric tons of the stuff every year. As with all waste, this is expensive to dispose of. One firm, Itoen, recently developed the technology for using old tea leaves in building boards and panels. Tatami mats made with these panels are advertised for their resistance to common household odors thanks to the odor-resistant properties of green-tea polyphenols.


(The original Japanese article in "Ecology Sympony" is here. Or you can read the Google translation here.)


P.S. Apologies for disappearing posts and other technical problems with the blog in the last couple of days. Blogger.com seems to have worked out the bugs that were causing the trouble.


—Mellow Monk


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Twilight of the kimono

For 1,200 years, the Nishijin district of Kyoto has been the heart of Japan's weaving industry, and the kimono has long been the mainstay of that industry. But with the kimono business itself collapsing in the face of "globalization and rapidly changing demographics," Nishijin's elderly master weavers are literally a dying breed.



Making kimono fabric the old-fashioned way.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, January 08, 2007

Green tea commercial with Miyazawa Rie

Here's a commercial for Suntory's "Iemon" (pronounced EE-eh-moan) bottled green tea. Yes, I know ready-to-drink green tea is anathema to serious green-tea drinkers, but on the other hand, this commercial is beautifully photographed and features actress Miyazawa Rie, who about 12 years ago was the most popular actress in Japan.


The commercial's winter theme ties in with the ad's main point: that in wintertime, Iemon tea is dispensed hot from Japan's ubiquitous vending machines.


The commercial's minimalist dialog translates as follows:


Man: You came out to meet me.
Woman: [handing him tea] Here you are.
Woman: [standing under his umbrella] Welcome back.






—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The night before a test

This news is for all of you who have a big test tomorrow—or, for that matter, a job interview or a big presentation to give to the boss first thing tomorrow morning.


Scientists prove what teachers have been telling students since time immemorial: Instead of cramming the night before a test, you'll do better if you get a good night's sleep instead.



The sleep team at work.


—Mellow Monk


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Stress-avoidance classes for parents-to-be

This is a postive trend: classes for young parents-to-be on how to handle the stress of the toughest job in the world—parenthood.

"In our country, more training is required to drive a car than to become a parent,” instructor Cortney Gibson told The Indianapolis Star for a recent story.

How true.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Non-drug treatment for lower back pain

A team at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System found that "psychological treatments—namely, behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapies; self-regulatory therapies such as hypnosis, biofeedback and relaxation; and supportive counseling—either alone or as part of a multidisciplinary approach proved superior to no treatment or 'treatment as usual'" in the treatment chronic lower-back pain.


—Mellow Monk


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Beauty up, Japan style

In her book Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics, author Laura Miller "investigates a wide range of phenomenon—aesthetic salons, dieting products, male beauty activities, and beauty language—to find out why Japanese women and men are paying so much attention to their bodies."


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, January 05, 2007

The benefits of naps

The Industrial Revolution may have "separated us from siesta," but a 20-minute power nap is perfect for a workday afternoon.



Nap time!


—Mellow Monk


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The three R's for busy parents

Dr. Rachel Bryant discusses what she calls the "three R's" for successful parenting in today super-busy world: rest, reflect, refuel.



Dr. Rachel Bryant


—Mellow Monk


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Video of Korean green tea plantation

Here's a video of a very large, very photogenic green tea plantation in Korea's Boseong County. The video has no dialog but is accompanied by haunting music.


Like the small farms that grow Mellow Monk tea, this tea plantation is located in a mountainous area. That's because the green tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is naturally suited to mountainous climates and grows best on hillsides.


It is only lately in the history of tea that massive industrial farms, with their artificial fertilizers and other chemicals, have been able to grow tea on land where Camellia sinensis would otherwise not grow at all.





—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gargling with green tea to stave off the flu

An old Japanese folk remedy for preventing colds is gargling. Perhaps it arose in the fact that a scratchy throat is often the first symptom of a cold.


This belief in the preventative effects of gargling still persists today. In fact, during cold and flu season, school teachers often have their students gargle once or twice a day.


The liquid of choice is usually water, but according to an article in the Nihon Nogyo Shinbun (Japan Agricultural Newspaper), administrators at an elementary school in Yame City are having students gargle with green tea. (Yame, incidentally, is a major producer of green tea.)


You can view Google's translation of the article here.



Kids, why not skip the gargling and just drink the tea.


—Mellow Monk


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Brain exercises stave off mental decline

After retirement, the chance of developing Alzheimer's increases with each passing decade.


That's the bad news.


The good news, however, is that just as physical exercise keeps the body in shape, "boosting mental skills with simple exercises can help slow the rate of mental decline as people age."


A sampling of "brain exercises" accompanying the above-linked article can be found here.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The ex-spy who came in from the cold ... only to be served a cup of poisoned green tea

I know of only one instance in which someone died from drinking green tea. However, in that case, it wasn't the green tea per se that did the poor man in—it was the polonium-201 that someone slipped into his tea that did it.



Two acquaintances of Litvinenko's talk about the night he was presumably poisoned.


—Mellow Monk


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New Toyota won't run for drunk drivers

Toyota has developed a car that automatically monitors the driver's blood alcohol level and shuts down the car if the legal limit is exceeded.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The first shrine visit of the year

In Japan, it's customary to make the first shrine visit of the year (hatsu moude) either after the clock strikes twelve on New Year's night, or on New Year's day. Most folks get dressed up to go to the shrine, where they pray for a healthy, happy new year. This usually includes ringing a bell and tossing a few coins into the offering box.


The photo below shows a young woman making her hatsu moude at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.





—Mellow Monk


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Happy 400th, Kumamoto Castle!

Kumamoto Castle is the largest castle in Japan's Kumamoto Prefecture (where Mellow Monk tea is grown). This year marks the 400th since the castle was originally constructed. Although it was almost completely rebuilt in 1960, the castle—said to be one of the most impregnable in Japan—still retains some original structures.


Pictures and information about other castles throughout Japan can be found at Guide to Japanese Castles. The author has personally visited 54 of the castles listed and names Kumamoto Castle as number 1 on his list of castles to visit next.



Why, you don't look a day over 300.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, January 01, 2007

In Japan: calligraphy as a way to relax

Some Japanese are rediscovering an ancient art of stress relief: copying Buddhist sutras [registration required but free] by hand with an old-fashioned calligraphy brush.


Calligraphy in general is a great hobby, whether it's western or eastern calligraphy, and regardless of what you actually write with your brush.


—Mellow Monk


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Japan's new first lady

BBC News interviews Akie Abe, Japan's new first lady. The interview touches on many subjects, including Ms Abe's reputation as a high-society party animal.



Me? A party animal?


—Mellow Monk


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