Monday, April 30, 2007

A Roman samurai in London

Japanese theater director Yukio Ninagawa has produced a samurai version of Coriolanus in London.


The original tragedy, by William Shakespeare, concerns the life of the Roman general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, whose life story didn't need much in the way of dramatic license to be turned into a tragedy for the stage.



The samurai version of Coriolanus, played by Toshiaki Karasawa, the "Alan Rickman of Japan," as director Ninagawa calls him. In real life, he's married to actress Tomoko Yamaguchi.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 28, 2007

A cool tea infuser

... by which I mean a tea infuser that is attractive and practical, not an infuser for cold tea.


Crate&Barrel has a new type of tea infuser with a long handle and a silicone tip to insulate the user's hand from heat. The saucer-like base catches leaking tea between uses.


For more tips on brewing green tea, click here.



The long handle enables use with big, deep mugs of tea. And unlike the chain of some tea balls, you don't have to worry about the stiff handle sliding into your cup.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 27, 2007

Japan to get motion-sensitive cell phones for games

Japanese cell phone maker and service provider NTT DoCoMo is set to release cells phones equipped for motion-sensitive video games, just like the Nintendo Wii:

In a boxing game users can throw punches or duck, and their movements are picked up by the phone's camera. In another game, the phone can be tilted in different directions to guide an on-screen ball through a maze.

My theory is that this is a ploy to boost sales of cells phones—because all that punching, weaving, and swinging is going to get a lot of phones broken (including by irate recipients of accidental punches on crowded subway trains).


Oh, and my apologies if upon clicking the above link you were subjected to one of those dancing-silhouette ads. Let's think of it as an opportunity to practice not letting things annoy us.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thousands duped in Japan's Great Poodle Scam of 2007

From the "you can't make this stuff up" department comes a scam perpetrated on some very gullible city folk in Japan:


A group of tricksters in Hokkaido imported a flock of sheep from Australia and England and passed them off as poodles. That's right—as poodles. In fact, thousands of them were sold, having been touted as the latest trendy pet.


The scam began to unravel when actress Maiko Kawakami complained on TV that her new "poodle" wouldn't bark or eat dog food. So far, there has been no word on whether any of the Hokkaido hucksters were caught.


As for the sheep at the center of this unique bit of entrepreneurialism, many of them have reportedly been donated to zoos and farms.


But I just can't help wondering: How many buyers still haven't figured it out? And how many of them did but decided to keep their sheep anyway?



Ironically, these were probably the least annoying poodles in the history of dogdom.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Japan enters Asia's space race

This summer Japan will launch its first lunar orbiter, named the Selenological and Engineering Explorer, or SELENE (which also happens to be the name of the Greek goddness of the moon.)


SELENE's objectives are twofold: to study the moon and catch up with China.



Artist's conception of Japan's SELENE lunar orbiter.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 21, 2007

A bus that rides rails and roads

Hokkaido Railway has developed a bus-streetcar hybrid that can travel on standard train rails, then switch to rubber tires for bus-like locomotion on the roads.



It's a bus, it's a train, it's the Dual Mode Vehicle (DMV).


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 20, 2007

Blending green tea and hojicha (roasted green tea)

The Kikuchi, Kumamoto, branch of the Japan Agriculture Association announced they are releasing a loose-leaf green tea product that blends green tea with hojicha (roasted green tea).


(This story was reported in Japanese in the April 14th online edition of the Nihon Nogyo Shinbun [Japan Agricultural Newspaper; in Japanese only].)


I haven't tried JA's tea, but it is easy enough to create your own blend: Just put a pinch of Monk's Choice or Top Leaf Green Tea into your teapot or your permanent tea filter along with a pinch of our Hojicha and—voilà—there you are. It's fun to experiment with different blends of green teas. Give it a try.


Also, notice I said a "pinch" of green tea. I was being intentionally vague: Brewing tea is an art, not a science, and teatime is a time for relaxation, not for stressing over exact amounts of tea or water, exact water temperature, or exact brewing time. Remember, grasshopper, the ultimate goal is to brew the perfect cup of tea—that is, your perfect cup of tea—instinctively and intuitively.


The great Bruce Lee said about his fighting style, "I do not hit. It [his fist] hits all by itself." That's what a Mellow Monk tea master should strive for—the "all by itself" part, not the hitting part.



His hand hit all by itself, but could it brew green tea all by itself?


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

The original Hot Toddy

Back in January I posted a cocktail recipe for a Green Tea Ginger Hot Toddy. The hot toddy has been around for a while, and no doubt the Green Tea Ginger Hot Toddy is only one of countless variations of the drink.


But what I didn't realize until recently is that the hot toddy was originally named for a famous Hollywood actress, Thelma Todd.


Tragically, Thelma died in 1935 at the age of 30. One of the last people to see her alive was her ex-husband, reputed mobster Pat DiCicco. DiCicco, along with actor Wallace Beery, was also a suspect in the death of Ted Healy, the vaudevillian who in the mid-1920s worked with three young funnymen who would eventually find fame as the Three Stooges.


Thelma Todd's death was ruled a suicide—a ruling that is still controversial today. Some even say that Thelma's ghost still haunts Hollywoood.



The real "Hot Toddy."


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A blossomless but cheery cherry blossom festival

Rain and wind had already swept away the blossoms, but the Washington, D.C.
Cherry Blossom Festival still gave people what mattered most: a good time.


Oh, and for those of you who are really tuned in to popular culture, some guy named Ace Young lip-synched a song called "Scattered."



Students from Japan's Tamagawa University perform at the National Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.


—Mellow Monk


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Mellowness through strategic incompetence

At last, a business philosophy I can get into: the art of what Steven Crawley calls strategic incompetence.

The most memorable time he brandished his nonskill was when the president at an automotive-parts manufacturer asked Mr. Crawley to organize the company picnic. ... So he began to milk his lack of picnic knowledge for all it wasn't worth. He responded to any inquiries or suggestions with questions and comments such as "How do you do that?" or "What did you guys do in the past?" or even "Help me remember why we're talking about this." Ultimately, responsibility for the picnic was reassigned. Mission unaccomplished.

—Mellow Monk


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National Stress Awareness Day

Today is National Stress Awareness Day, and here are a few tips on stress reduction.


But to any list of stress-reduction tips, don't forget to add "green tea."



Brew some green tea and mellow out, dude.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Any horse-loving obstetricians out there?

If you're an obstetrician who loves horses and you are willing to relocate to Japan, then the rural town of Tono has a deal for you:

Since losing its last obstetrician five years ago, this city of nearly 32,000 in rural northern Japan has been desperately seeking a replacement. So desperately, in fact, that it recently promised a horse to any obstetrician willing to come here.


There have been no takers yet.


Actually, for the women who, after going into labor, have to drive 45 minutes to the nearest big city for medical care, this is no joke.



Yukie Kikuchi, right, a midwife in Tono, examines Azusa Furudate, using a telemedicine system.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 16, 2007

Epic solutions to trivial problems

This obituary of renowned therapist Paul Watzlawick, who died on March 31, summarizes some of the man's highly ponderable philosophies. For instance:

  • People create their own misery by trying to force epic, self-defeating solutions to trivial problems of the ego. (Translation: Stop trying to fix it and just deal with it; don't ruin yourself over pride.)

  • Individuals can't go it alone; the key to well-being is found in communication. (Translation: You have to learn how to talk to people without making yourself upset.)

  • Too much thinking about a problem can lead to paralysis. The centipede couldn't walk after the cockroach asked him what was the secret of moving all those legs so elegantly.

Heavy stuff.




—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 13, 2007

Green tea as a tool to fight malaria?

It's simply amazing how the list of diseases that green tea potentially fights keeps growing longer and longer with each passing day.


Researchers in Italy have added malaria to the list: They found that green tea catechins such as EGCG "strongly inhibit" the growth of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.


However, this effect was observed in parasites growing in human red blood cells outside the body; whether this effect occurs inside the body has yet to be verified, although continued research is most definitely warranted, the scientists say.


The above link is to an abstract of the study. You can read the full-length version here.


—Mellow Monk


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A woman on a mission: to raise Japan's birthrate

Ikuko Juryo is an old-fashioned matchmaker in Fukui Prefecture, Japan, who really hits the bricks to bring young people together. Possibly because of Ikuko and women like her, Fukui was the only one of Japan's 47 prefectures to raise its birthrate in 2005.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Green tea may protect the hearts of diabetics

One of the cardiovascular dangers posed by diabetes is stiffening of heart muscle tissue (myocardium) resulting from increased amounts of myocardial collagen, among other factors.


However, a study published recently in the journal Pharmacological Research shows that green tea reduces the harmful end products of excessive myocardial collagen and so "may provide a therapeutic option in the treatment of cardiovascular complications of diabetes."


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Japan's funerary traditions changed by societal changes

Funerals are not the cheeriest of topics, so please forgive me, but I found this article a fascinating glimpse into how fundamental changes in Japanese society are driving changes in tradition.





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nutrition myths

An exercise physiologist at Eastern Washington University dispells several common myths about nutrition, such as eating eggs raises your cholesterol and eating carbohydrates makes you fat.


—Mellow Monk


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The quest for answers about EGCG

The quest begins:

After seeing the Snapple commercial, promoting its "new green tea with the most EGCG on Earth," and reading about Coca-Cola's new green tea drink with EGCG content that creates "negative calories," my inquiring mind wanted to know, what exactly is EGCG, and what can it do for me?

The seeker's conclusion:

However, despite all the what-ifs, I'm still a little bit sold on EGCG's advantages. I'm not going to go out and spend the over four dollars it would take to get the right amount from Enviga... But I might substitute my usual mocha for a piping hot green tea.

You are wise beyond your years, grasshopper.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 09, 2007

Leslie Kim to promote Coca Cola's green tea drink in Korea

To pick a model to star in TV commercials for a new green tea beverage, Coca Cola Korea conducted a survey that asked over two thousands households in the Seoul area which celebrity best fit the image of "detoxification".


Sounds like a strange question, until you read that Coca Cola is promoting the new drink, whose name translates as "Everyday Green Tea," as a way for to "purge oneself of stress and the toxins people absorb in modern urban life."


(I don't know about the detox part, but green tea is an excellent way to relieve stress.)


The winner of the survey? Han Ye-seul, otherwise known as Leslie Kim, shown below.



Han Ye-seul, a.k.a. Leslie Kim.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

"How to Use Chopsticks" (comedy)

The Japanese comedy group Rahmenz previously brought us the satiric short on how to eat at a sushi restaurant.


Now comes another entry in their Japanese Tradition series: The Japanese Tradition: Chopsticks.


Kudos to the Youtube user "gameday" for adding English subtitles.





—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Shiitake-growing brothers extol the agricultural benefits of reggae music

Like most folks who take over a family business from their parents, Kyo and Manabu Fujimoto decided to do things a little differently than Mom and Dad. On the family farm in Tsuyama City, Japan, the twentysomething brothers made a slight change inside the greenhouses where they grow shiitake mushrooms: They installed speakers and started playing loud, thumping dancehall-style reggae music.


This decidedly modern approach to shiitake cultivation has made them locally famous (or notorious, depending on taste in music).


Initially, the brothers began playing the music simply because they liked it but soon began noticing that their shiitake were growing larger and thicker. They also claim this technique is backed up by research showing that mushrooms thrive when exposed to low-frequency sounds (such as the bass line in reggae).


So remember, gang—it's classical music for plants, reggae for mushrooms.


(This story was reported in Japanese in the February 8, 2007, online edition of the Japan Newspaper of Agriculture (Nihon Nogyo Shinbun), but by the day of this posting the article had been removed from the site. The Web, like life itself, is fleeting.)


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Green tea and cancer prevention: a fact sheet

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has a fact sheet on tea and cancer prevention. It includes a summary of clinical investigations into green tea done thus far.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Divorces set to skyrocket in Japan?

Those in the know expect a big upswing in divorces in Japan, where a new law that's about to go into effect will allow a woman to claim up to half of her husband's pension.


Demographics are also involoved. Japan's own baby boom generation is turning sixty, and this year alone about 5 million mostly male workers are expected to retire. Many have been absent spouses, working long hours and socializing nightly with coworkers. The strain of suddenly spending all day together every day after hardly spending any time together is too much for some.


Not wanting to end up like those couples, Shuichi Amano founded the National Chauvinistic Husband's Association in 1999.



"We're, uh, team-building. Right, guys?"


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 02, 2007

Association certifies "green tea sommeliers"

The Nihoncha [Japanese Tea] Instructor Association (website in Japanese only) is in the business of certifying Japanese tea instructors and tea advisors (depending on which test is taken).


Those who pass the test are also called "sammeliers," a play on words combining "sa" for tea (茶, also pronounced "cha") and "sommelier," the French word for wine steward.


According to the NIA's website, over three thousand instructors and advisors have been certified throughout Japan. These "green tea stewards" ply their trade at restaurants, inns, trade shows and other events.


Tea sommeliers are also in demand at schools, where they teach children the art of preparing the perfect cup of tea. Not that making tea is that complicated—it's just that even in Japan, a lot of kids nowadays think of green tea as something that comes in a bottle from a vending machine.


—Mellow Monk


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