Friday, November 30, 2007

Toshiro Mifune's late-in-life indie flick

Here's a cool factoid about Japanese movie great Toshiro Mifune: In 1994, when he was 74 years old, Toshiro appeared in a small independent American film.


The film, Picture Bride, is about a young Japanese woman who in 1918 is sent to Hawaii to marry a man she's never met. This compelling, well-made film began life as a short-film project while the writer-director, the late Kayo Hatta, was still in film school but expanded into a full-length feature when Ms Hatta realized the story was too important for a short.


Here's where Toshiro Mifune comes in.


Before filming of Picture Bride began, Kayo Hatta wrote to Mifune asking if he would appear in the role of the benshi, a professional narrator of silent films. She knew the letter was a "Hail Mary" pass and later said she never expected Mifune to say yes. But that's exactly what he did.


The rest, as they say, is history.


You can read about the filming of Picture Bride here.



Mifune in 1962's Sanjuro, sequel to Yojimbo.



A real-life picture bride.



—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ghostly abandoned sites in Japan

They look like the set of one of those post-apocalypse movies, but they're not—they're real-life modern-day ghost towns in Japan.


The captions are all in Japanese, but the photos are pretty much self-explanatory. There are resorts that went under because of bad business decisions, and a few sites (including an entire island) that were left in the wake of Japan's collapsing coal industry.



An abandoned glass factory next to an abandoned shipyard near the port of Imari.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

100% biodegradable retail bags

This just in from EcoGreenOffice.com:

I just want to bring your attention to something very cool that we just launched. As of now, we are the only ones offering "stock" 100% degradable retail bags. Unlike starch bags that don’t completely disappear, ours completely degrade. Most importantly, they are reusable, recyclable and work equal or better to that of other retail bags.


They're good for Mr. Duck, too.


—Mellow Monk


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Wheatgrass juice, the other green drink

Wheatgrass juice has long been popular in Japan as a health drink. Of course, small children run screaming from the stuff, but plenty of health-conscious people all over Japan gleefully quaff the beverage daily and swear by its health benefits, which include improving the digestive system, detoxifying heavy metals from the blood, cleansing the liver, and promoting general well-being.


(Barley grass is also popular, but since the two types of grass are very similar in nutrient content, taste, and purported health benefits, and since many grass juice products in Japan contain a mixture of two or more grasses, any reference herein to wheatgrass also applies to barley grass, and vice versa.)


Some folks buy fresh wheatgrass and juice it themselves, but many opt for powdered wheatgrass. This is made by drying harvested grass and then pulverizing into a powder, similar to what’s done when making matcha. Then you simply mix the powder with water and toss the funky green concoction down the hatch.


A popular brand of grass juice powder in Japan is Aojiru, whose name literally means “green juice.” One of Aojiru’s big selling points is it’s made from wheat and barley grass grown on small farms in a rural area renowned all over Japan for its pristine environment and delicious natural bounty.


That’s no minor detail, because if you’re going to grind up a plant and drink it down, then you probably want it to be grown in a nice environment, no? Clean air, clean water, and old-fashioned farming techniques would be nice, yes?


Well, you can find all those things in spades where Aojiru’s wheatgrass is grown. This land, whose blue skies and crystal-clear waters are featured in ads in print and on the Internet and TV, is none other than the Aso region, a large area centered around Mt. Aso, an active volcano. Aso is also where some of Japan’s finest teas are grown—such as ours.


Now for an aside.


One of the TV ads for Aojiru that San Francisco’s Channel 26 shows during its Japanese programming includes an interview with a wheatgrass grower standing in one of his wheat fields, with majestic Mt. Aso rising strongly in the background. The farmer speaks in a thick local dialect that is eminently familiar to me—as I lived there for a spell—and to my wife, who was born and raised there.


But like anyone who speaks with any kind of accent or dialect knows, even though you don’t think of yourself as having an accent, when you’re away from the motherland (wherever that may be), it’s always jarring to hear someone else speak it. When I lived in Japan, American valley speak stood out a lot more audibly in a sea of Japanese than it ever did back home.


That’s the same reaction my wife has to the Aojiru wheatgrass grower. So naturally, whenever we see the commercial, I always making a crack like, “At least this guy’s accent isn’t as bad as your brother’s.” (Which is true, by the way.)


But back to wheatgrass juice, a drink that’s getting more and more popular here in the U.S. Actually it’s once again becoming popular here. You can even get shots of wheatgrass juice at Jamba Juice.


Speaking of that juice bar chain, here in Livermore, California, one of their wheatgrass suppliers is Grassroots Organic Wheatgrass. I wonder if the proprietors there have ever tried a lawnmower.



If you don’t want to eat your veggies then you can drink your veggies.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Our affiliate program is now live!

Mellow Monk has just started an affiliate program through Shareasale.com. If you're a blogger or webmaster and think your readers would be a perfect match for Mellow Monk's teas and our philosophy, please give it some consideration.


A referring affiliate gets 20 percent of each sale, so it's really a win-win for both of us—we get people to try our tea, and you get not only a commission but also the inner peace that comes with knowing you got someone to try some of the best green tea out there. (Who said a monk has to be humble?)



One of our grower's tea groves.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 26, 2007

Wrap cords, headphones without ties or tangles

Here's a nifty tip for anyone who has—or plans on getting—an iPod or other headphoned device: an easy way to wrap your headphones or other cord without ties or tangles.


This way, you get to spend an extra 5 minutes actually listening to your music instead of untangling the cord.



With this technique, your cord stays neat and—just as important—unwraps without any tangles.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Top 60 Japanese buzzwords of 2007

PinkTentacle.com has put up a fascinating list of the Top 60 Japanese buzzwords of 2007.





Japan's 2nd—and thus far shortest-serving—minister of defense, Yuriko Koike, a.k.a. "Madame Sushi" (buzzword #9 on PinkTentacle's list).


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Green tea beats white tea hands-down

White tea is a type of Chinese tea in which harvested tea leaves are only lightly fermented before processing, compared with other types of Chinese tea such as oolong, which is heavily fermented.


White tea's comparatively light fermentation accounts for the higher levels of antioxidants that make white tea popular of late. But note, Grasshopper, that "comparatively light fermentation" means light compared to other types of fermented Chinese teas.


Japanese green tea, in contrast, is not fermented at all before processing, which gives it the highest level of EGCG and other antioxidants of all types of teas.


Mellow Monk tea is especially chock full of antioxidants because it's processed immediately after harvest. This stops oxidation and fermentation in their tracks and locks in the flavor along with the antioxidants.


(And unlike some bottled green teas, which have EGCG and whatnot artificially added to them after brewing, Mellow Monk green tea is naturally rich in antioxidants.)


This is one of the advantages of a small-scale family farm, where the growers harvest only what they can process right away. Contrast this with big corporate-run farms, where harvested leaves often sit around fermenting in massive piles for hours or even days before processing.


In short, Grasshopper, when it comes to EGCG and other antioxidants, small-farm green tea knocks the stuffing out of white tea.


And speaking of stuffing, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.



A close-up of a tea plant at a Mellow Monk grower's tea farm in Aso, Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

World's scariest teahouse?

It's not actually the teahouse itself that's scary; it's the steep cliffside path you have to navigate to get to it.


These online photos are probably as close as yours truly will ever get to this mountaintop shop, which is located somewhere in China. If anyone knows exactly where this is, please use the comment feature to let us know.



Ah, to be young and fearless.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ultra-popular cat beds made from rice straw

This is the time of year when farmers in Sekikawa Village in Niigata Prefecture get busy weaving one of their most popular local products: cat beds (neko chigura).


Winter tends to be a slow time for farmers—and a time when cats seek warm places to sleep. Way back in 1980, someone in Sekikawa put two and two together and came up with an idea to fill an unmet need and make productive use of the winter downtime: They would take a traditional baby basket, hand-woven with rice straw (which rice farmers have a lot of on hand), and modify it for the village's mice-catching members.


(I suspect that the inventor was inspired by heat-seeking felines napping in the baby baskets the way the cat in the photo below is doing.)


The hand-woven baskets turned out to be a smash hit with cats and their owners, with orders now flooding in from all over Japan. The trouble is, the village's current cohort of 19 weavers can produce only about 500 cat beds a year—not nearly enough to keep up with demand. Consequently, if you want to order one (you can find the contact info here) there's a one-year waiting list.


[Source: Asahi Shinbun. Japanese article here.]



Said the kitty right before he attacked the reporter's legs, "Hey, who said you could take my picture?"


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 19, 2007

The health benefits of an unmade bed

The next time you're scolded for not making your bed, explain that an unmade bed is healthier than a nicely made one.


It seems that disarrayed bedding allows moisture to escape, which makes it harder for allergy-aggravating dust mites to survive.


Note, however, that this news does not mean that it's okay to go weeks without changing the sheets.


And bamboo sheets apparently do a good job of preventing creepy-crawly growth.



"Tell me I look lovely, dahling."


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Japan Series of baseball

The Kansas City Star has detailed coverage of the Japan Series of baseball.



The Chunichi Dragons celebrate their recent win in the 2007 Japan Series.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, November 16, 2007

Where Tokyo's temples are—Yanaka

If traditional Japanese architecture in general and old temples and shrines in particular are right up your ally (so to speak), then the next time you're in Tokyo, be sure to visit the Yanaka area. Yanaka has the largest concentration of shrines and temples of all the districts of Tokyo.


How did all those buildings end up there? Well, it seems that during the Edo period, the shogun ordered all the temples concentrated in the city's center to relocate to Yanaka, which at the time was the outskirts of town. The move was intended to create firebreaks in the crowded city—the shrines' thatched roofs were know to burn violently when a fire broke out.


The above is from Frommer's Walking Tours: Tokyo, according to which you can walk the highlights of Yanaka in about 4 hours.


Suwa jinja entrance
At the entrance of Suwa Jinja (Shrine), in Yanaka, Tokyo.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Japan's "melody roads"

One way to get drivers to maintain the speed limit is to ticket them when they go over the limit. Another way is to carve a long series of parallel grooves across the road's surface so that cars traveling over the grooves at just the right speed will hear a melody.


These "melody roads" are designed so that the blacktop ballad will sound just right only if you drive over the grooves at just the right speed—the speed limit.


The "road song" heard in the first video below is "Miagete Goran" (Look Up), originally made famous by Kyu Sakamoto. Mr. Sakamoto, who died in a plane crash in 1985, is best known in America for "Sukiyaki," one of only two foreign-language songs to ever reach the top of the U.S. music charts. (Give yourself an "A" in music trivia for this week if you know what the other song is.)


If you've never heard "Miagete Goran" before, watching the bottom video first will help you detect the tune in the "melody road" video.


Still, I can't help thinking that "Look Up" is not the kind of message to send to people while they're driving. . .


The road that plays "Miagete Goran"




Kyu Sakamoto singing "Miagete Goran"




—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Japanese eating more bread, less rice

File this under "What's the world coming to?":


Young people in Japan nowadays are eating more bread and less rice, which is bad news for rice farmers. (This link takes you to a short movie with beautiful footage of Japanese rice fields.)



A short movie about rice cultivation in Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Talking about Car Talk

Are you one of those people who, like me, wishes you knew more about cars?


I'm not talking about minutiae like the interface by which the conrod presubatomic oscillators connect to the ventriculated thingamajig. No, I'm talking about routine maintenance, routine problems, and—most importantly—how to diagnose your car's mechanical problem or, at the very least, know what's probably wrong, so that you'll know if your friendly neighborhood auto mechanic is trying to get a year's worth of boat payments out of you.


Well then, have I got a radio show for you. It's called Car Talk, a call-in show hosted by real-life auto mechanics and real-life brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi.


Based in the fair town of Cambridge, MA, these good-humored, highly knowledgeable guys take listeners' calls about various automotive problems, from strange noises to unsettling mechanical behavior, then offer their own expert diagnoses. They also have a little fun at the listener's expense.


These guys are a lot of fun to listen to, and you can even listen to them online, via iTunes podcast, or your local radio station. Who knows, you may actually learn something—or, like me, you'll just feel like you've learned something, which is at least a start. But either way, you'll have a great time.


By the way, "Car Talk" is great to listen to whilst enjoying a nice cup of green tea (hint, hint).



Tom and Ray Magliozzi, co-hosts of "Car Talk." Finding a photo of these guys wasn't easy, and now I see why. (Just kidding, guys!)


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 12, 2007

Meditation really does reduce stress

A study showed that college students who spent 20 minutes each day learning a meditative technique called integrated body-mind training (IBMT) exhibited less stress than students who merely studied how to relax muscle groups.


Not only that, but the first group (IBMT-ers) did better on tests of attention and mood and produced lower levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the "stress hormone"), which is something that you do want to keep low.



"Meditation" is the title of this piece of digital—yes, digital—art. Click on the above pic to view the full-sized version, which really is nice and mellowing.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, November 10, 2007

How green tea inhibits breast cancer growth

A study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment reports how a catechin in green tea inhibits breast cancer.


The paper explains that the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—which is found only in green tea—blocks the activity of an enzyme that regulates the metabolism of the fatty acids that are necessary to the survival of breast cancer cells and most other common types of human cancer cells.



The structure of the amazing molecule EGCG.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, November 09, 2007

Classic cars and hot bikes

Here's a pair of slideshows for you to peruse whilst sipping your green tea:





At some point I'll have to get back to blogging about green tea. But rest assured, I have been drinking green tea the whole time ... and I hope you are, too, because this is some good stuff.


And Friday somehow makes it taste even better, doesn't it.



The retro-classic Yamaha Sakura, unveiled to many oohs and aahs at the Tokyo Motor Show.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Japan's samba festival

I don't know what's more surprising—that Tokyo's Asakusa district has its own samba festival or that it's been held every year for the past 27 years.


A couple of generations ago, Asakusa was Tokyo's main entertainment district but was eclipsed by newer parts of town. Today, the area is known as a place where "old Japan" can still be experienced.


An excellent book to read to get an idea of what life was like on the seamier side of old Asakusa is Confessions of a Yakuza.



Cheerleaders at a samba festival? Go figure.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Gratitude—parent of all virtues

Here's a deep sentiment from the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero (who, as fans of HBO's Rome know, was killed by Titus Pullo):

Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all of the others.

I wholeheartedly agree. And according to a Gallup poll, 67 percent of people feel gratitude all the time. This survey is quoted in a paper about the emotion of gratitude in the journal The Psychologist.


Gratitude is also a big part of the philosophy of green tea: A tea break is a time to relax and to step back and reflect on the positive, and feelings of gratitude can make us feel better ourselves and our circumstances. Since we all have plenty to be grateful for, the only trick is to simply take the time out to reflect on all those things.



"I should be grateful that people still remember me and my words—and forgot about the sculptor who made my nose too big."


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lack of sleep can cause psychiatric disorders

Lack of sleep has been linked to all sorts of health problems, from immune system disorders to weight gain and even psychiatric disorders.


Yikes!


A great way to naturally promote sound sleep is good old-fashioned exercise. And it doesn't have to be strenuous, either. I've heard more than a few folks swear by their daily one-hour walk—that without it, they'd soon go back to having trouble sleeping at night.


Green tea can also help promote sound sleep—especially if you're currently a java junkie. That's because green tea has much less caffeine than coffee (about two-thirds less). Green tea also contains theanine, which promotes relaxation and generally positive feelings.


For those who are highly sensitive to caffeine, I suggest trying our hojicha (roasted green tea), which has about a third of the caffeine as ordinary green tea.



Don't let this happen to you.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, November 05, 2007

Squid-ink cake and other black foods

Asia's black food craze is starting to spread to the rest of the world.


"Black food" doesn't mean food dyed black for Halloween. It means food that's either naturally black or dyed with something naturally black—such as black soy beans or squid ink. The latter is said to have anticancer properties and other health benefits.


The photo below show one example of Japan's black food craze, a squid-ink cake roll sold online.


Using squid ink isn't unheard of in the West. The Italians, for instance, enjoy spaghetti al nero di seppia and squid ink risotto.



Wait until your guests have finished their slice, then ask them "So, how did you like the squid ink cake?"


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Robot goat eats losing tickets

To stop gamblers from dropping their losing tickets on the floor, the Edogawa Boat Races in Tokyo have installed a ticket-eating robot goat [original Japanese article at Asahi.com].


According to the article, the animatronic Rocky Mountain goat eats 500 tickets a day on average and is popular with kids (!), who can be heard nagging their parents for losing tickets to feed into the machine.


That may encourage kids to hope their parents lose (which is probably what they deserve for bringing kids to a gambling joint), but seeing the little rug rats happily feed a losing ticket to Mr. Goat will no doubt bring a smile to many a parent's face, which is keeping with the goat's overall goal of taking away the sting of losing one's hard-earned money.


The obviously shrewd owners of the boat-racing facility are also promoting the robot goat with catch phrases such as "Have your frustration eaten up so you can be lucky in the next race."


You can compare my summary to a Google translation of the article.



"Wow, I can feel my luck improving already!"


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Izakayas, part II

The other day I linked to a story about Japan's "small-plate pubs," or izakayas. Here's a little more info about this type of restaurant.


Izakaya-style eating essentially means ordering nothing but appetizers: Each dish has only a small amount of food and is shared by everyone at the table. Of course, if you really like a certain dish, you simply order more than one.


The best thing about the izakaya approach to dining is that it lets you sample a lot of different foods in one meal instead of committing yourself to a single entrée (and casting envious glances at the plates of fellow diners who made a better choice than you did).


In Japan, people tend to stay longer at an izakaya than they would at an ordinary restaurant. The idea is to order food in waves, starting out light appetizers, working up to a few substantial tummy-filling dishes, and then switching to lighter fare to nibble as the party works on its second (or third or fourth) round of drinks.


On the other hand, the strength of an izakaya is also its downside. Because people stay longer, when an izakaya fills up it tends to stay full for a long time.


As Master Po would say to Grasshopper, every good idea has its disadvantage.



The interior of Wann, an izakaya in Seattle.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, November 02, 2007

Make your own samurai costume

You can make your own samurai warrior costume from a couple of garbage cans and rubber stoppers. As you can see in the photo below, the results are pretty incredible.


However, this does seem pretty involved, so to make it in time for Halloween '08, you might want to get started now.



You have to supply the beard yourself.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Recent photo of beautiful Aso

One of our growers sent us this picture he took of another farmer's tractor and feed-grass rolls. Just visible over the hill in the background in the craggy top of Mt. Aso's Neko-dake (Neko Peak). Mt. Aso's main peak, Taka-dake (literally "Tall Peak"), is on the right.

Mt. Aso in the background




—Mellow Monk


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