Monday, December 31, 2007

Ringing in the new year Japanese-style ... in the U.S.

Among those who celebrate Japan's Oshogatsu (New Year's) in the U.S. are not only Japanese-Americans but also people who've lived in Japan and those who've never been but are enamored of Japanese culture just the same.



Alexandra Clayton poses with her family's hagoita, a decoration brought out at New Year's time.



A traditional bronze bell of the type used to ring in the new year in Japan... except this particular one is in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, December 30, 2007

In a hotter Japan, finding ways to save the rice crop

Scientist in Japan are working to prevent rising temperatures from affecting the country's rice crop.



A rice field in Aso, with a fog-enshrouded Mt. Aso in the background. (Photo taken by yours truly. See more of my recent Aso photos here.)


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bruce Lee statue in U. of Washington?

Before he became a martial arts superstar, Bruce Lee attended the University of Washington, so it would only seem nature to build a statue to the martial arts legend there, but strangely, it hasn't happened yet.


After all, you would think the admissions office would be keen on the idea.



Q: What drink did Bruce Lee order in a restaurant?

A: Wa-TAH!



—Mellow Monk


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Friday, December 28, 2007

Mellow Monk in the news!

Extra, extra, read all about it!


A local newspaper has run a story about Mellow Monk!


Page 1 of the earth-shattering story

Sorry, gents, she's taken. (He's taken, too, ladies.) ladies.


Earth-shattering news, page 2

Here you can see a picture of two growers and their kids. Mr. and Mrs. Monk have children, too, but they refused to be photographed with us.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, December 27, 2007

In pictures: Japan's food crisis

The current upswing in world food prices is particularly worrying to Japan, which imports a big chunk of its foodstuffs and so ranks 124th in the world in food security.


Part of the problem is the shift in recent years to more Western-style foods, especially among young people, many of whom prefer burgers to broiled fish or—say it ain't so!—bottled green tea to traditional brew-it-yourself tea.


Much of this bottled tea is made from tea leaves grown on massive corporate farms in places like China or Brazil, but not Mellow Monk: our tea is grown on family-owned and -operated farms in Aso, Japan.



At a small eatery near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, office workers wind down with food and drink before heading home.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Get in the driver's seat of a Japanese train

Railway TV is streaming video taken from the front of an actual train plying the rails in Japan.


Just FYI: you need to have Flash verion 9 installed to see the video.



Your typical Japanese commuter train.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

From everyone at Mellow Monk's Green Teas, here's wishing a happy and mellow holiday season to you and yours.



A Christmas bonsai.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, December 24, 2007

Capybaras enjoy a nice, hot yuzu bath

When you get chilled to the bone on a cold winter's day, there's nothing like a nice hot bath to raise your core temperature.


Well, capybaras apparently appreciate a hot bath, too, because as the photos below show, the capybaras of Izu Shaboten Park in Ito City are famous for the hot yuzu baths they seem to enjoy so much in wintertime.


Yuzu are often plopped into baths for the wonderful natural fragrance they impart to the waters, and for the smooth feeling that the citrus oils impart to the skin.


By the way, a "yuzu bath" is also a cocktail.





Guys, a word of advice: If people start adding sliced-up carrots and onions to the water, GET OUT!



—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Christmas, sushi cake for kids with allergies

The term "sushi cake" can mean one of two things: (1) a cake that looks like sushi or (2) sushi that looks like a cake.


The second type is becoming popular in Japan at Christmastime, a time when people traditionally buy or bake a sugary Wester-style cake. (Japan's "Christmas cake" tradition is thought to have been imported from Britain.)


However, more and more kids in Japan are allergic to milk, eggs, or wheat—the prime ingredients of cake. In fact, one source I came across says that 10 percent of kids in Japan can't eat cake because of an allergy to one or more of the ingredients. The cause, some say, is the Westernization of the Japanese diet and the chemical additives used in Japanese mass-market foods in general.


Consequently, parents of kids with allergies had given up on Christmas cakes—until someone hit on the Zen-like idea of a cake that isn't a cake.


That someone was a Mr. Toyoshima, owner of Enmusubi, a bakery in Nagasaki that makes the cake in the photo below. Mr. Toyoshima said he was inspired by sad stories that customers told him of their allergic kids celebrating their birthdays by sticking candles in manju.


Mr. Toyoshima's sushi cake is made with pressed sushi rice and slices of ham, cucumber, and strawberries (but no fish). Even kids with the most common food allergies can dig in. "I want kids to believe that Santa sees all children as equal," he explains.


If you live in Japan, you can buy one of these cakes online. And if you're passing through the Suzuka area of Nagasaki, you can pick up one of these sushi cakes at the Suzuka Pass Farmers Market [Japanese-only website].


[Story from Asahi.com and other sources]



Mr. Toyoshima's surprisingly scrumptious-looking sushi cake. If you ask nicely, you might be able to get your local sushi chef to make one for you.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's a Green Tea Partay, West Coast style

Last year, Smirnoff released a comedy viral video called "Tea Partay" featuring made-up East Coast rap group Prep-Unit.


This year the company released a sequel—a West Coast version called "Green Tea Partay" sung by the also made-up group Boyz in the Hillz (as in Beverly Hills).


Just think how impressed your kids will be when they find out you know what "Green Tea Partay" is.





—Mellow Monk


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Friday, December 21, 2007

"Tokyo Stories" (movies)

"Tokyo Stories" is a series of Flash movies about life in uber-modern Tokyo. After the welcome screen appears, you have to click on a play button for one of the movies shown.


(Warning: Unless you have the absolute latest version of Adobe's Flash, you'll be prompted to upgrade, but it's well worth it—and free, of course.)


Seeing these movies, I'm reminded of how different life in Tokyo is from life in rural Japanese areas such as Aso.


Tokyo, a great place to visit, and a great place to live if you've got the energy—and the money.



A wedding in Roppongi, one of a couple dozen photos in a series (click the image to see more).


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Are you getting enough? (sleep, that is)

Sleep is a wonderful cure-all for the various aches, pains, and stress in our life, but many of us just aren't getting enough. But there are
some things you can do to bump up your sack time.


The linked-to article also discusses the Japanese custom of napping and dozing:

"The Japanese are right in their assessment that you work better after a nap than before it. There's a degree of machismo about it, you're saying look how hard I've worked. But that's better than the macho rituals we have over here, like how late you can send a work email to prove how long you've been working."


Japan's former Prime Minister Koizumi resting his eyes.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kegon Falls

Kegon Falls (Kegon no Taki), located in Nikko, are one of Japan's three highest waterfalls.


You can click here for more pictures of Kegon Falls' beautiful fall foliage and rock formations, for which the area is famous. There's also a collection of videos of Kegon Falls here.



The majestic Kegon Falls of Nikko.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rainbow roses all the rage in Japan

Rainbow roses aren't new, but according to the Asahi Shinbun, they're really starting to take off in Japan.


A florist in Nagoya reports a sudden increase in orders this months—and, interestingly, most of the buyers are men in their 30s or 40s.


Rainbow roses are made by watering the flowers with a series of different colored natural dyes as they grow.



When you can't decide what color roses to get, you can get every color in the rainbow in a single bouquet.



Rainbow roses on sale at Megumi's Floral Shop, in downtown Nagoya City.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, December 17, 2007

Why small-farm green tea tastes better

A reader recently asked this question: Do eco-friendly farming practices [such as those of our growers] have an impact on the taste of the harvested tea?


Here is my response:

Most definitely! For instance, letting the tea plants grow naturally (instead of speeding growth with fertilizer and whatnot) lets all of the natural flavor-enhancing compounds develop to their fullest. Our growers water their tea groves with only rainwater from the sky, which avoids "diluting" the tea leaves in the same way we've all experienced firsthand in hydroponically grown grapes. Also, at harvest time, our growers harvest only what they can process right away. This stops oxidation and fermentation, locking in the flavor (and all the healthy antioxidants). On huge corporate farms, harvested tea sits around fermenting in huge piles before being processed.

For the same reasons I mentioned above, small-farm green tea is also healthier for you: since it's processed immediately after harvest, tea like ours has more EGCG and other antioxidants. The fermentation that occurs in large piles of harvested tea not only destroys the natural flavor-enhancing compounds, but also breaks down antioxidants, too.


This just shows, Grasshopper, that sometimes, such as when making tea from harvested leaves, an overly mellow approach is not necessarily the best approach.



Processed right after harvest, locking in the flavor and all the healthy antioxidants.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Moneygami

"Moneygami" is the English name given to Japanese currency folded origami-style so that the person on the bill looks like he/she is wearing a hat.



The title of this one is "Yukichi just out of the bath" ... and it really is made from a single 10,000-yen note.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hot sake in a hot spring

It seems like such an obvious idea, but apparently no one had ever thought of it before (at least, not that we know).


Some marketing genius in the small hot spring town of Yumura Hot Springs in Hyogo Prefecture came up the idea of selling tourists local sake in bamboo carafes, which they heat up in hot spring water while enjoying a nice stress-busting soak.


Sounds nice indeed ... Just be careful when you stand up!



Enjoying hot-spring-heated Japanese sake in Yumura.



An outside foot bath at Yumura Hot Springs.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, December 14, 2007

The high-kickin' chicken with too much kick (TV commercial)

I know Burger King isn't exactly a paragon of healthy eating, but this is still a funny commercial.


However, your take on this commercial might be slightly different than the average person's if you grew up on a farm and have traumatic childhood memories of being chased and kicked by a rooster (as happened to the Missus).





—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Green tea, weight loss, diabetes, and caffeine

I recently received an email asking about the health benefits of green tea, so I am posting my reply here.


Weight loss. To answer your question on weight loss, Commandment Number 2 in diet guru Charles Stuart Platkin's "five-pound panic" diet is:

Thou shalt drink green tea every day. It sounds crazy but it's true: Green tea helps burn fat. Two recent studies showed a 4 percent increase in metabolism in subjects who consumed green tea (rich in catechins, a type of antioxidant) at each meal versus a placebo. This may seem insignificant, but a woman who requires 1,800 calories a day could burn an extra 500 calories per week just by making this small change. That's an average of seven lost pounds per year!


And if you're a coffee drinker, switching to green tea can help you lose weight by avoiding the acids in coffee that increase your levels of insulin, which locks in fat, as Nicholas Perricone said on the Oprah show:

Oprah: Now I've read in your book that you said if I just replaced coffee with green tea instead, that I could lose 10 pounds in six weeks.

Dr. Perricone: Absolutely.

Oprah: Now really. How could that -- what is the big deal about this?

Dr Perricone: Coffee has organic acids that raise your blood sugar, raise insulin. Insulin puts a lock on body fat. When you switch over to green tea, you get your caffeine, you're all set, but you will drop your insulin levels and body fat will fall very rapidly. So 10 pounds in six weeks, I will guarantee it.


Green tea also contains theanine, which naturally enhances your feeling of well-being (thereby cutting down on stress-related snacking).


Why small-farm green tea is better. As for why our tea is better than what you'd find at the local grocery store, there are at least two main reasons: (1) Our tea is grown in a location where the tea plant thrives naturally (not where land and labor are cheapest), so it grows hearty without the use of chemical fertilizers. (2) At harvest time, our small-scale family farms harvest only what they can process into tea right away, thus locking in all the antioxidants before they're broken down by oxidation or fermentation.


A good book on green-tea basics. The best introductory book on green tea I've come across is Nadine Taylor's "Green Tea." This concise, well-written book covers everything -- the history of tea, how it's made, how green tea is different from other types of tea, and what it's health benefits are. I highly recommend it.


Green tea and caffeine. A problem with decaf green tea is that it usually contains less EGCG (one of green tea's most powerful antioxidants) than ordinary green tea.


Green tea already has about two-thirds less caffeine than coffee does. What's more, the polyphenols in green tea smooth your body's uptake of caffeine, so you get less jolt and no crash later on. Here is a somewhat lengthy article I wrote on green tea and caffeine.


Green tea and diabetes. Diabetes is no laughing matter. My own grandmother has it and my mother is working on it, so I'm trying to keep my own numbers in check naturally, and one of the "tools" I've been using is green tea. There's more on green tea and diabetes here.


How to "spice up" green tea. As for the flavor of green tea, I recommend starting out with our Genmaicha, which is green tea mixed with roasted brown rice. The rice imparts a nice nutty flavor that covers up the grassy aroma that can, I admit, take some getting used to. But the roasted brown rice doesn't chemically interfere with any of the tea's good stuff.


Other things you can add to green tea on your own include honey, pieces of fruit, and vanilla extract (just a couple of drops!), just to name a few. As for fruit, research has recently been announced that citrus fruit can boost the health benefits of green tea by allowing more of the tea's antioxidant molecules to be absorbed into the bloodstream from the body's digestive system. This is a new finding which I haven't blogged on yet, but here is an article on it.


So a way to get citrus juice into you tea would be to brew a pot of tea with a couple of pieces of dried orange peel (which is actually an Asian custom that goes back hundreds of years) or squeeze a couple of drops of citric acid from a fresh orange peel into your brewed tea, or just drop an orange or lemon wedge right into your tea. In fact, that sounds so yummy, I think I'll do that right now!


Thanks for all your inquiries.

A scene in Aso, Japan, where our small-farm tea is grown.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Documentary "All in This Tea"

Here's a trailer of the documentary "All in This Tea," which chronicles the journey of an American tea buyer through small villages in rural China.




—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Japan's electric-eel-powered Xmas lights

At the Aqua Toto Gifu aquarium (famous for its mudskippers), an electric eel powers Christmas tree lights outside of its tank via a copper wire.



Mr. Eel on the job.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, December 08, 2007

For kids' coughs, honey works best

If your youngster has a cough that keeps him or her awake at night, forget about cough syrups with questionable ingredients—researchers at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine found that good old-fashioned honey works better.


There's also an accompanying video.



The final score: honey bears 1, cough syrup 0.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, December 07, 2007

The ninja/obstacle course reality TV show

"Sasuke" (a.k.a. "Ninja Warrior") is an obstacle course reality TV game show from Japan—one of Japan's most popular TV exports since "Iron Chef."


Below are a two of clips of "Sasuke": (1) the best wipeouts and (2) the "Tiny Dancer" a.k.a. Yuriko Imamura, said to be Japan's number-one aerialist/acrobatic dancer.


Ninja Warrior: Best Wipeouts




Ninja Warrior: Tiny Dancer




—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Will success ruin Japan's Geektown?

File this story under Say it ain't so.


In the 1960s and '70s, electronics manufacturers congregated in Tokyo's Akihabara district. It wasn't long before the area became proliferated with discount electronics shops supplied by these manufacturers, making Akihabara the place to go for incredible bargains on all devices electronic.


Later, because of this electronics connection, the area transformed into a veritable geek paradise, filled with video game arcades, manga book stores, and even cosplay restaurants.


Naturally, Akihabara is a great place to people-watch. Even foreign tourists make a special trip there to see the show—or to parade around in their own costumes.

But then Akihabara got a little too famous for its own good: it became trendy—and you know what that means.


Even now, as you read this, upscale businesses are moving in, rents are going up, and the funky stores that gave the place its charm are relocating. So Japan's otaku are looking for a new place to hang out.


(Monkishly deep bow to Planet Japan for the news.)



Like a kid in a candy store.



Geekotourism.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Upside-down pillar wards off evil for 400 years

Built as a memorial to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Toshogu Shrine in the city of Nikko is today famous for its many exquisitely crafted architectural wonders. One of the most lavishly made structures there is the Yomeimon Gate, whose 12 wooden pillars are engraved with a curled pattern known as gurimon.


The pattern on one of these pillars is inverted compared to the others; such a post is called a sakabashira (inverted pillar) and is intended to ward off evil spirits.


This custom is related to the old Japanese saying, “Once a building is completed, its destruction begins.” By installing a pillar upside-down, the builders of Toshogu Shrine may have thought they were permanently postponing the shrine’s completion. That nearly all of the shrine’s structures are still so well preserved 400 years later could be a testament to the inverted pillar’s effectiveness.



The exquisite Yomeimon Gate.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The nightmare shower in Japan

The most common type of water heater in Japanese homes is the on-demand water heater, also known as the tankless or instantaneous water heater.


This usually wall-mounted device doesn't heat the water until you open the faucet, after which the water is rapidly heated and dispensed.


These water heaters are cheaper to run and use less energy than storage water heaters. I've seen a lot of these water heaters in action in Japan, and most models, especially the newer ones, are simply great—well designed, well built, and as reliable as can be.


But some models, especially older ones, can be tricky. And every once in a while, you'll run into a water heater that can turn an ordinary shower into a shower from Hades.



A close-up of the Monster.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, December 03, 2007

Do-it-yourself tea room kit

One of the products featured at Japan Expo 2007 in Los Angeles this past weekend was a tea room kit [link to Babelfish translation; original Japanese article is here].


The kit is made in Tottori, Japan by a construction company called Wakobo Gu (和工房「寓」) and is the brainchild of the company's president. The kit is made of pine from Tottori Prefecture and is seen as a way to promote the prefecture's products outside of Japan. According to Wakobo Gu, the tea room can be assembled in about an hour.


For the two-tatami-mat-sized tea room the price is ¥723,450, or $6,548.47 at today's exchange rate. The press release states that the company will ship anywhere in Japan but doesn't say anything about foreign orders. If you want us to inquire for you, drop us a line.



It's your own private tea world. Nice (except for the blue tarp).



Another view of Wakobo Gu's tea room kit, with the company's president.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tea review: auraTeas' Formosa Wenshan Baochong Choice

I recently received a sampling of teas from auraTeas, a British Columbia-based importer of teas from Taiwan, so here is my review of the first of tea I sampled, Formosa Wenshan Baochong Choice.


Bottom line: I really liked this tea. It has a subtle but definite (if that makes sense) oolong aroma and flavor, which is to be expected as it is an oolong tea.


I was surprised by the instructions on the tin to let the tea steep for only 1 minute (for green tea, the average is 3 to 5 minutes); I was equally surprised that such a short steeping time produced such an aromatic infusion.


For the second infusion (the label suggests up to six) I let the tea steep a little longer and was again surprised—this time at how flavorful the tea was for a second steeping. The flavor still held up for a third infusion, without any of the unpleasant overtones that will come out in an inferior tea.


In short, this tea is the real deal. If you like oolong—but not overpowering oolong—then you'll love this tea. I highly recommend it.



auraTeas' Formosa Wenshan Baochong Choice


—Mellow Monk


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