Thursday, May 31, 2007

Japan's Riyo Mori crowned Miss Universe

Riyo Mori, a 20-year-old dance instructor from Japan, has been crowned Miss Universe 2007.


What is this story doing on this blog, you ask? Why, it's because Ms. Mori is from Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan's leading tea-producing region. Why else?


Speaking of Shizuoka, just because they're the biggest doesn't mean they're the best. Our tea is from the Aso region of Kumamoto Prefecture, which has everything that quality tea plants need to thrive—high altitude, cool summers, clean air, volcanic soil, natural spring water, and essentially zero industry. It may sound corny to say, but you really can taste the unspoiled nature in every cup. Hmm... That sounds like a good catchphrase.








—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In Japan, yoga goes to the dogs--literally

Doga—yoga for dogs—is popular not only in the U.S. but even in Japan, too.


Translations of foreign doga books are selling well, and of course there's even a Japan Dog Yoga Association.


Speaking of Japan's doggie-destressing industry, one Japanese company has invented a patch to tell if a dog is stressed out.



I had no idea my golden retriever, when she sat like this, was practicing doga.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Green tea and breast cancer: an update

I have posted on this same research group's results previously, but the University of Southern California has a more recent announcement on its website:

Recent research from Wu and colleagues suggested an explanation for the mixed effects on breast cancer rates: It seems that green tea lowers estrogen levels in women’s blood, while black tea elevates it. Estrogen has been found to promote the growth of some breast cancers.


Researchers at the University of Southern California are doing cutting-edge research on how green tea may prevent some forms of breast cancer by reducing estrogen levels.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 28, 2007

Japan to institute a "Nobel Prize" for manga

When I first read that Japan was planning what Foreign Minister Taro Aso called a "Nobel Prize of manga," I have to admit I smiled. "Nobel Prize"? A bit of a stretch, no?


But further reading revealed that the Nobel analogy referred not to importance, but to the international nature of the new prize, which will recognize foreign authors of Japanese-style comics.


The new award is part of Japan's "efforts to harness the power of pop culture diplomacy."



Who's going to break the news to her that if she's not foreign-drawn, she's not eligible for the new manga prize?


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sushi shocker--it can be less healthy than pizza

Say it ain't so—food writer Trevor Corson says that sushi in America is not necessarily healthier than pizza.

"What we think of as sushi in the United States has become Americanized and that involves more fatty ingredients while the rice tends to be sweet," Corson told Reuters in an interview.



Looks great! Just go easy on the mayo next time, okay?


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 25, 2007

Tie a yellow handkerchief 'round the old koinobori pole

For four weeks in 1973, the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree," by Tony Orlando and Dawn, was the number-one song in America, and today it's enjoying something of a revival.


In the song, a man is riding on a bus on his way back from a stint in jail. He had told his sweetheart to tie a yellow ribbon around "the old oak tree" if she still wants him back. No ribbon means "Keep on walking, buddy."


When the bus finally passes the tree, he sees not one ribbon but hundreds. (You can read the lyrics here.)


Predating the song is a 1971 piece by Pete Hamill called "Going Home." Like the yellow ribbon tradition itself, the ex-con-on-a-bus-looking-for-a-yellow-ribbon theme has a long and convoluted history, which this page explains in detail.


Eventually, a Japanese translation of Hamill's book was published, and in 1977 legendary Japanese film director Yoji Yamada turned it into a movie, Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi ("The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness"), which was a smash hit in Japan and even won the "Best Picture of the Year" award in the inaugural year of the Japanese Academy Awards.


The film's ending is essentially the same as the song's, with an interesting difference: Instead of an oak tree, the sweetheart ties dozens of yellow handkerchiefs to the lines of her koinobori pole.


(And don't accuse me of giving away the film's ending, because that's the scene on the cover of the DVD case, as you can see below.)


In another twist to the yellow handkerchief tale, the Japanese film is being remade as Yellow Handkerchief, which is due out next year and stars William Hurt.



Cover of the DVD version of "Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi."


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mellow bonsai pics from the National Arboretum

Jerry "Bonsaihunk" Meislik has a collection of dozens of photographs of bonsai. Peruse these while enjoying a nice cup of green tea, and you can practically feel your blood pressure drop.


The pictures were taken at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, located at the U.S. National Arboretum.



More pictures of truly amazing bonsai are available for viewing at BonsaiSite.com. Just click on the pic to go there.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Now you're cooking with green tea

Green tea—it's what's for dinner:

As tea's health profile has risen, it has increasingly found its way onto dinner plates as well as in tea cups. Green tea is mellow enough to work well with spicy flavors like ginger and garlic; citrus teas give a lift to heavier flavors like chocolate. Green tea cakes and chai cookies are now staples at bakeries, and restaurants are putting tea in marinades and rubs.


Green tea—it's not just for sipping.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Japan to get guide-dogs-to-be from Australia

Guide Dogs Victoria recently sent "some of Australia's finest four-legged genes" to Japan to help the blind.



By the time you read this, Faye, Fuji and Vega will be in Japan undergoing guide-dog training.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 21, 2007

Hot rice from cold water

A company in Japan recently demonstrated to the public its new self-heating rice. Intended primarily as a post-disaster emergency food, the product consists of pressurized cooked rice with an exothermic agent that generates heat when water is poured into the container, as the nervous-looking gentleman is doing in the photo below.


It sounds useful, but let's hope that self-heating rice works out better than those self-heating lattes did.



"Uh, guys... What if it starts some sort of chain reaction?"


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Whiskey and iced green tea

The Scotch Whisky Association is poised to announce that the world's top-ten whiskey-consuming nations now include China, where a popular way of imbibing is adding the whiskey to iced green tea.



In China, whiskey is a popular "boost" for green tea.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 18, 2007

A slideshow double feature: Japanese theme parks and the Tama region near Mt. Fuji

Who says there are no more double features? Here's a slideshow double feature, so boil up a pot of green tea, pop up some popcorn, and enjoy:


A scene from Japan's "Italian Village" theme park.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Green tea may prevent autoimmune disease

Sjogren's syndrome (SS) is a common autoimmune disorder that affects up to 4 million people in the U.S. alone. It's associated with arthritis, and the most common symptoms include dry mouth and dry eyes, a result of lymphocytes (a kind of white blood cell) clustering in salivary and other glands.


Current treatment for SS is theraputic—it targets the symptoms but cannot cure the disease.


However, a team of researchers at the Medical College of Georgia have found that green tea could help treat this disease. Subjects given green tea extract exhibited significantly less salivary gland damage as well as significantly fewer lymphocytes and lower levels of autoantibodies—a sign of suppressed imflammation.


Researchers already know that one component of green tea – EGCG – helps suppress inflammation, according to Dr. Hsu. "So, we suspected that green tea would suppress the inflammatory response of this disease. Those treated with the green tea extract beginning at three weeks, showed significantly less damage to those glands over time.”

An abstract of the study, which was published in the journal Autoimmunity, is available online here.




The good doctor hard at work, studying how green tea fights autoimmune diseases.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Japan to build maglev trains

Perhaps because I recently saw the film The Station Agent—which is excellent, by the way—I've lately re-realized how cool trains are.


Which is why this piece of news caught my attention: Japan is planning to build a magnetic-levitation (maglev) rail system and have it up and running by 2025.



"I hear the train a-comin', it's rolling 'round the bend..."


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Green tea may prevent HIV-associated dementia

At the conference Experimental Biology 2007, held from April 28 to May 2 in Washington, DC., a University of South Florida neuroscientist reported that green tea may help prevent and treat HIV-associated dementia, also known as AIDS dementia complex.


More specifically, the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) "greatly diminished the neurotoxicity of proteins secreted by [HIV]." EGCG is not only the most abundant catechin in green tea—it's found only in green tea.


This news comes on the heels of a report that green tea could also reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and slow its spread in those already infected.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 14, 2007

Death of a 1,400-year-old company

Kongo Gumi was the oldest continuously operating family business in the entire world until last year, when massive debt forced it to shut its doors.


Since the firm's founding in the year 578, forty generations of Kongos had run the company, which specialized in Buddhist temple construction. What brought an end to Kongo Gumi's fourteen-hundred-year run? It is a sad but all too common tale: speculation in real estate.



Kongo Gumi in happlier times.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hikonyan, the samurai cat of Hikone Castle

To attract more tourists to Hikone Castle as its 400th anniversary approached, a group of business types hit on the idea of creating a cartoon character to feature in all ads for the castle.


The result was Hikonyan the samurai cat, who has been a smash hit with the public.


The "-nyan" part of the name "Hikonyan" is the Japanese equivalent of "meow" and is also used in nyanko, the baby-talk word for cat. And the word "moggy," used in the second linked-to article, is a Britishism for cat.


By the way, the Monk wishes the happiest and mellowest of Mother's Days to all the mothers out there.



Hikonyan as drawn on paper...



...and Hikonyan in "real life."


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 11, 2007

Green tea kombucha

A small company in Ohio has released a green tea kombucha called "Kombucha Kvass."


To clear up confusion over the word kombucha: In Japanese, kombucha is tea (cha) brewed from kombu, a type of edible kelp.


In the English-speaking world, however, kombucha somehow came to refer to sweet, fermented teas like Kombucha Kvass.



Entrepreneur Bob Munley poses with bottles of his "Kombucha Kvass."


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Yoshida Brothers' shamisen music

There are two ways to breathe new life into an old art form: the bad way and the good way. An example of the former is the fusion of classical music with disco in Night on Disco Mountain. (It's cheesy and fun, but let us give thanks that the disco-plus-classical-music trend did not outlive disco itself.)


Japan's Yoshida Brothers, on the other hand, are an example of artists who revitalize a traditional art form while maintaining the form's essence.


Ryoichiro and Kenichi Yoshida are two real-life brothers who play the shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Many of their pieces start slow and build up to a string-picking frenzy—think "Dueling Banjos" but with shamisen.


Below are two videos of shamisen-only pieces. The first piece, Kodo, you may recognize from the Nintendo Wii commercials.


Kodo (Pulse)


Tsugaru Jongara


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Postcards from Hokkaido

A Russian researcher sent the BBC pictures of Hokkaido, Japan's second largest island.


Despite its size, Hokkaido contains only 5 percent of Japan's population—making it quite roomy indeed by Japanese standards.



Sapporo is Hokkaido's main city—and Japan's youngest.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Russian beer commando storms Japanese beach

After he and his fellow sailors aboard a Russian merchant ship ran out of beer off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, a lone Russian sailor secretly went ashore on an international beer run.


He purchased a 24-bottle case of beer—Sapporo, one hopes—for the equivalent of $84 and was on his way back to his inflatable boat when he was nabbed by police.


No word on what happened to the beer.



A typical 20-bottle case of Japanese beer. Note the large bottles. (The one obtained by the Russian was an American-style case of 24 small bottles.) These cases are heavy. In fact, at small-town festivals, the sakayas (liquor store owners) tend to win a lot of "feats of strength"-type contests.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 07, 2007

Green tea vs. rheumatoid arthritis

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that green tea may help treat rheumatoid arthritis.


Specifically, they found that when treated with EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), joint cells called synovial fibroblasts exhibited less inflamation when exposed to an inflammatory chemical linked to RA. In addition, "EGCG blocked a chemical chain reaction linked to inflammation and joint damage."


And EGCG, like all compounds that are beneficial to the human body, is best obtained in its natural form. And since EGCG is found only in green tea, the only way to get it naturally is by drinking natural green tea.


And sipping a nice, warm cup of green tea with one's feet up on the desk is so much more soothing than popping a green tea extract pill.





—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Friday, May 04, 2007

Crying-baby sumo

The Japanese expression Naku ko wa sodatsu (泣く子は育つ) means "A child who cries will thrive." This saying dates back to an age when the infant mortality rate was high, and a child who was too quiet was cause for concern. In other words, having the strength to ball one's eyes out was the sign of a healthy child.


From this belief evolved the tradition of konakizumo, or "crying-baby sumo," in which real sumo wrestlers face off in the ring holding a child. Whichever child cries first is the winner.

CNN.com has a photo gallery of a konakizumo tournament held recently at Senso-ji temple, a very photogenic locale also known as Asakusa Temple.



Superman wouldn't cry ... so he loses!


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Drinkable cosmetics

Here is the questionable beverage industry decision of the week: Coke's decision to partner with L'Oreal cosmetics to make a co-branded line of health-and-beauty drinks—or, to use their terminology, "nutraceutical" drinks.


What next, Pepto-Bismol sunblock?



The new Coke/L'Oreal health drinks.


—Mellow Monk


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Eat like the Japanese, live to be 100

Eating like the French? That's so last year. It's time to take a look at the Japanese diet and its benefits:

It's true that Japan has one of the world's lowest obesity rates. Only 3 percent of Japanese women are obese, compared with 13 percent in France and 33 percent in the United States, according to the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

The Japanese also are global longevity champs, particularly the people of Okinawa -- home to the world's largest population of centenarians.

This article even has a recipe for "Aromatic steamed salmon with shallots and broccoli." Hmm... Sounds yummy! Is it too early to break for lunch?


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

50 ways to find joy

Fifty ways to find joy. Some highlights:

1 Create ambiance. For tonight's dinner, put out your best linens, create a centerpiece, or simply light a candle. A festive setting makes for a festive mood.

5 Hit the sack sooner. Go to bed an hour early tonight. Tomorrow, you'll wake up with a brighter outlook.

16 Keep in touch. Write a friend. Use your best pen and beautiful stationery. Realize that you are actually sending love.

17 Start a tea party. Schedule a regular tea date with your friends and honor it like any other appointment. During stressful weeks you'll have something fun to look forward to.

—Mellow Monk


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