Wednesday, April 30, 2008

See Kyoto frugally

The NY Times "Frugal Traveler" shows how to find tranquility in Kyoto on less than $200 a day.


The article also features a really cool slideshow of sights to see in Kyoto.



A koi pond at Kyoto's Nanzen-ji temple.



From the "Frugal Traveler" slideshow: the Sanmon ("Mountain Gate") at Nanzen-ji temple. (Click on the image above to open the slideshow.)


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review of Suntory's ZEN green tea liqueur

This past weekend I had the chance to try ZEN Green Tea Liqueur, a new product from Japan's Suntory.


By fortuitous chance, I had some friends over that day, and so we all sat around the table and put ZEN through its paces. This was a demanding and opinionated crowd, but the overall consensus was a big "thumbs up."


"This is the taste of Japan," said one person after the first sip. Another first impression was that ZEN has "an unexpected, original bouquet." Another friend said it was smooth, sweet and flavorful, like a "Japanese Drambuie."


ZEN has a hint of liquorice; the green tea earthiness is subdued but definitely present. The texture also has a subtle, almost undetectably light matcha-like graininess, which gives it a slight chewiness (if that makes any sense).


The bottle of ZEN came with a small booklet tagged to the neck. Of the recipes inside, we tried the Zentini, although we made it first with just ZEN and vodka — and it was excellent. In fact, for those who aren't partial to sweet liqueurs, the Zentini tones down the sweetness but without sacrificing the unique green tea flavor. After further experimentation, we concluded that a Zentini on the rocks but sans orange juice was the ultimate. Unfortunately, we depleted our supply of ZEN before we could do further experimentation with other recipes.


So let this be a warning: If you serve ZEN at a party, be sure to get your share quickly, because it is sure to disappear quickly.


Finally, the bottle and labeling are also top-notch super-classy, making ZEN a fine gift idea — for, say, Mother's Day or Monk's Day (hint, hint).



Remember, Grasshopper: drink responsibly.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 28, 2008

Your shoes are wrong

I bet you thought you knew how to walk properly, didn't you?


Well, so did I, but it turns out we're wrong. Or, more specifically, our shoes are wrong. All wrong. (Especially high heels.)


The new trend in footwear is shoes that keep our feet in a more natural state.



If these shoes look like they're paint on, it's because they are.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Record-breaking Coke-and-Mentos experiment

Add this to the list of world records that you didn't even know existed.


A group of 1,500 students in Belgium set out to break the previous record for the largest number of Coke-and-Mentos fountains simultaneously generated.


And of course the first thing I thought upon reading of this attempt was, There was a previous record-holder? What next, a Coke–Mentos reality show?



Hey, kids. Didn't your mothers teach you not to waste food?


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Reduce stress, boost willpower.

Alright, everyone. Brew up a cup of green tea and sit back and relax, because today's article is a little on the long side.


But bear with me, because the payoff is there at the end.


First, the bad news — which we all knew, really — is that willpower is a limited resource. Using willpower to refrain from one bad habit, or to force ourselves to do an unpleasant task, depletes the willpower left over for other unpleasant tasks. For instance:

[R]estraining our consumer spending, in the short term, may cause us to actually loosen the belts around our waists. What’s the connection? The brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one area often leads to backsliding in others.

But the good news is you can avoid backsliding by using your limited willpower strategically:

For example, if you do not want to drink too much at a party, then on the way to the festivities, you should not deplete your willpower by window shopping for items you cannot afford. Taking an alternative route to avoid passing the store would be a better strategy.

And there's more good news: Willpower is like a muscle — the more you exert it, the stronger it gets:

In psychological studies, even something as simple as using your nondominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can increase willpower capacity.

Anyway, this is all according to the authors of Welcome to Your Brain, which does seem like an interesting read.


But there's another way of looking at it: How much willpower you have depends on how much stress you have.


Stress is a killer. It wears us down. In fact, that's what stress is — the use of too much of our limited mental energy on some chronic problem or obstacle in our lives, leaving us too little energy left to devote to the important things.


It's like a little kid nagging, nagging, nagging for ice cream, until Mom is so worn down she gives in.


Then again, maybe Mom would have had the strength to keep saying "No" if other things in her life hadn't already worn down her willpower.


Some stress is unavoidable. Life ain't easy, after all. But you can zap a big chunk of your stress just by learning the art of relaxation. Things like deep breathing, meditating, yoga, exercise.


And, of course, green tea.


You may laugh. But do not underestimate the power of green tea, Grasshopper. The power to relax you. The power to mellow you out.


And green tea isn't just a beverage. It's a philosophy. A way of life.



Reduce your stress and you increase your resolve to resist the many temptations out there (and there are a lot of them).


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 25, 2008

Doc, there's a spider in my room

"Count your blessings" is a one way of expressing one of the most fundamental philosophies of Mellowness. Another way of expressing this attitude is "No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse."


For instance, the next time you have a problem with HMO or your hospital, just remember — at least it's not infested with poisonous spiders.
--
Clarification:


A reader wrote:

"Things Could Be Worse" is quite a different attitude than "Count Your Blessings". The attitude behind it is bordering on paranoid and seems against the spirit of "mellowness", at least to me.

To which I replied:

You are quite right, Anonymous.

However, achieving Mellowness is for many people a slow, gradual process (sort of like learning how to operate a new DVD player).

Learning to always keep in mind that "things could be worse" is taking one step towards the much higher level of Mellowness expressed by "Count your blessings."

Or, as the Master says, "Before achieving perfect Mellowness, one must first stop punching the wall."

Knowwhatimean?



With apologies to arachnophobes, here it is, Australia's redback spider.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

A bicycle built for three

With gas prices the way they are, more parents in Japan are biking their small kids to school. In Japan's very compact cities, most folks tend to live quite close to their kids' preschool or kindergarten.


So the Kawamura Cycle Company came up with a "bicycle built for three" that's a lot safer than the conventional approach of tacking on an aftermarket child seat. As you can see in the photo below, another of the bike's selling points is the rear-wheel configuration, designed for stability even when riding over the bumps and other obstacles that are so common on city streets.



My kids are too old to sit in back, but those child seats look to be just the right size for a small sake cask.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Green tea and Sjogren's syndrome

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, i.e., targets the symptoms but cannot reduce or prevent damage to the glands.


However, a study published in the journal Autoimmunity suggests that epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and other green tea polyphenols "may provide a degree of protection against autoimmune-induced tissue damage in SS.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Photos of old Japan

If you like photographs, Japan, and old stuff, well then my friend, have I got a website for you: Old Photos Japan, which describes itself as "a photo blog about old Japan that reads like a book and works like an archive" and which promises a new photo every day.


I'm usually not one to attempt to see into the future, but I predict I will be visiting this site quite often.



"Employees pose in front of Tokyo sidewalk restaurants on a sunny day in May, 1934. The delivery bicycle belongs to Yanase Sushi (the shop with the white sign with red kanji)."


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 21, 2008

Got green tea? If not, you should

From Better Nutrition, via Red Orbit.com:

"Green tea is not the ambulance that comes rushing in to whisk away illness," explains Lise Alschuler, ND, a naturopathic oncologist and coauthor of the Definitive Guide to Cancer: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. "It is more like an insurance policy to protect us against diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes."




—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Schoolkids picking tea

The newspaper Mainichi Shinbun recently ran a story [in Japanese only] about a group of 60 middle-school students in Yame, Fukuoka, who went on a tea-picking field trip as part of a "comprehensive learning" class.


(In addition to tea, Yame is also known for its hina doll festival.)


Harvest time in Aso, where our tea hails from, starts in mid-May—later than in Yame because of Aso's higher elevation.



"You're not supposed to eat the leaves, silly."


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 18, 2008

The part of Rhett Butler will be played by a Japanese woman

In 1977, Japan's all-female theater group Takarazuka Revue premiered its production of a musical version of Gone with the Wind.


The role of Rhett Butler went to Haruna Yuri, then the troupe's biggest star, who played the role with a Clark Gable-style mustache.


That she was the first Takarazuka actress in a leading role to sport facial hair would have caused enough of a stir on its own. But Ms Yuri multiplied the controversy tenfold by wearing the mustache offstage at public appearances. She explained that she wanted to get used to it and so be less conscious of it on stage.



"After this show runs its course, maybe I could get into painting."


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

What's in your man cave?

What's that? You've never heard of a "man cave"?


Well, don't worry, because I hadn't either, although we are all familiar with the concept: a place in the home to which a guy can retreat to ponder big thoughts . . . or just watch the game.



This man cave is a big upgrade from Rock Band.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Societies, pathogens, and tea

Some societies emphasize the individual, whereas others place priority on the interests of the larger group. This "individualism–collectivism" split is one of the most fundamental differences between cultures.


For years, scientists and other bright types have wondered why "collectivism declines with distance from the equator, and why living in colder regions should promote individualism."


Well, some folks think they have finally found the answer — pathogens:

[C]ertain behaviors make you less likely to contract an infectious disease. A reluctance to interact with strangers can protect against pathogens because strangers are more likely to carry strange microbes that the group lacks immunity to . . . . Respect for traditions also works: ways of preparing food (using hot pepper, say, which kills microbes), rules about hygiene and laws about marriage (wed only in-group members, whose microbes you're probably immune to) likely arose to keep pathogens at bay. "Conformity helps maintain these buffers against disease," says Corey Fincher of the University of New Mexico; mavericks are dangerous.

This theory also ties in with a theory about why the tradition of tea-drinking first developed in Asia thousands of years ago: Tea provided protection against pathogens, which became more and more problematic as humans began living in denser concentrations.


And now, thousands of years later, humankind is rediscovering the power of tea to fight pathogens, including the so-called superbugs.



Continuing a time-honored — and healthy — tradition.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nikko's soba festival

The Imaichi area of the historical Nikko region is known for its buckwheat and in fact registers the second-largest harvest in all of Tochigi Prefecture. The bountiful nature, cool climate, and pristine water from the Nikko mountain range are perfect for cultivation, and the buckwheat grown there is renowned for its fragrance and sweet taste.


Imaichi's reputation for delicious buckwheat noodles (soba) goes back hundreds of years, when the town developed as a stopover point for people pilgrimaging to Nikko along the Nikko tree-lined road. Soba became popular as a quick, easy meal for weary travelers and soon became firmly entrenched in the area’s culinary culture.


Today, Imachi has over 30 shops offering their own handmade soba noodles. Many visitors enjoy comparing the different tastes of each shop’s unique recipe. In March of every year, the town is host to the National Handmade Soba Eating Contest.


This year, the soba-eating contest was held on March 23. Alright, I didn't get the word out in time for that, but it's not too late to make plans to attend the Nikko Soba Festival, which is held every November to commemorate the buckwheat harvest.



At last November's Soba (Buckwheat) Festival.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 14, 2008

Willpower waning? Blame your accumbens

The part of the blame responsible for some of the really silly, short-sighted things that people do is known as the nucleus accumbens:

Think of the nucleus accumbens as appetite central. It's part of the primitive brain, and it has evolved to light up and get us moving forward at the sight of almost any kind of reward. It doesn't matter whether it's a piece of chocolate cake, a BMW M5 sports car, Scarlett Johansson in a party dress or a stock that gets the kind of hype Enron used to enjoy.

What to do when faced with a potential impulsive act? The trick is to relax. Take a deep breath. Mellow out, dude:

In one MRI study reported at a recent conference, the nucleus accumbens predictably lighted up when test subjects saw a blue square, which they understood to represent a possible cash reward. But when Rutgers University neuroscientist Mauricio Delgado asked the subjects to think of something else on seeing a blue square -- the sky or sea, instead of the cash -- that reduced the sort of brain activity associated with risky decisions.

And so, Grasshopper, drinking relaxing, mellowness-inducing green tea can also help you resist the many temptations we all face out there.



"There he is, Officer. That's the guy who made me eat the whole box of Oreos."


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spidercat

Here's a video that shows you've got to be careful about what movies you let your cat watch.





—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 11, 2008

Tokyo Gardens

Photographer Tim Porter has an online photo collection called "Tokyo Gardens" featuring beautiful sepia-and-white photographs of some of Japan's most famous gardens.


So brew yourself up a nice cup of green tea, because this is a wonderful site for perusing during a green tea break.



The Rikugien garden in Tokyo. Click on the photo to see more of Tim Porter's collection.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Breast cancer inhibited by green tea

Not too long ago I blogged about a study suggesting one way green tea inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells — by disrupting the cancer cells' metabolism of fatty acids, which they need to survive.


Now a new study suggests yet another way that green tea fights breast cancer cells — by suppressing angiogenesis, or the growth of blood vessels in tumors.


The magical substance in green tea responsible for these cancer-fighting effects is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is found only in green tea.



A "first day of tea harvest" event in Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Alligator blood is good for you!

A few days ago I blogged about how green tea can make antibiotics more effective against drug-resistant superbugs.


Well, now comes a story about a superbug cure that sounds like it's straight out of a cheesy horror movie: alligator blood.


Scientists had long wondered why alligators, who are notorious for their bloody territorial fights, seldom get infections from the gory wounds they inflict on each other.


Some researchers finally got around to taking a close look at alligator blood, and what they found was bacteria-fighting blood as tough as the alligators themselves:

Chemists in Louisiana found that blood from the American alligator can successfully destroy 23 strains of bacteria, including strains known to be resistant to antibiotics.

In addition, the blood was able to deplete and destroy a significant amount of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

And if blood from an ordinary alligator can do all that, imagine what pharmacological wonders await discovery in the blood of a standing alligator.



"Uh, sorry Mr. Alligator, but would you hold still a sec while we take a sample of your blood? That's a good alligator."


—Mellow Monk


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More teas from auraTeas

I just tried auraTeas' Formosa Baihao Oolong Choice. It's less tannic than black teas. A complex but subtle flavor, and even a short steeping time of only a minute or so produces a surprisingly flavorful infusion. The flavor held up well for two more infusions, and the instructions suggest up to six, although being subtle, the flavor beings to fade a bit after the third.


I occasionally like to brew a super-strong cup of tea, so I tried it with this Baiho Oolong, brewing 2 teaspoons of tea leaves for 4 minutes. The result was excellent—flavorful but not bitter.


The tea leaves themselves unfurled nicely during brewing, and I saw many small whole leaves, many with stems, which may explain the tea's smooth flavor.


I also tried their Formosa Minglian Green Tea. Chinese greens in general are usually lightly oxidized before processing and so are very different from Japanese green tea, which is processed immediately after harvest to keep oxidation and fermentation to an absolute minimum.


The Formosa Minglian was very aromatic. The infusion was bright but lightly colored and very subtle in flavor. The taste is light and refreshing. Your palate feels cleansed afterwards, although there is also a light, pleasant aftertaste. This is a refined tea that is sure to please the refined of palates.



auraTeas' Formosa Baiho Oolong Choice — a very good choice!


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tokyo at night

Another excellent, excellent website for a green tea break: ArkiBlog's "Tokyo at Night."



Click on the photo to go to the online album.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 07, 2008

Diary of 1923 trip to Japan

The estate of Charles Blauvelt has posted Mr. Blauvelt's diary of his trip to Japan in 1923 aboard the steamer S.S. President Pierce.


He took his trip at a tumultuous time in Japanese history. For instance:

Sept 4

Slept in chair in front of the hotel last night. Soldiers patrolling the entire city, now under Martial law. Only one or two slight tremors felt during the night and no disturbance notices. No fires visible.

U.S. Embassy has temporary office here at the hotel. All at the hotel were examined today and those who had rooms given badge to get meals. Slight tremors felt throughout day - apparently no fires in city. Many Koreans arrested. Army post part of the hotel.


In 1935, the S.S. President Pierce served as a visual guide for Amelia Earhart during her historical crossing of the Pacific Oceean.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, April 05, 2008

See netsuke online!

"What on earth's a netsuke?" you ask?


The word netsuke is usually translated as "toggle," but it's actually more like a keychain in that it was fastened at the end of a cord attached to a traditional Japanese carrying case (sagemono).


Back in the days of kimonos, you see, no one had pockets, so the only way to carry around personal belongings was in a kimono sleeve or in a sagemono hung from the kimono belt (obi). The netsuke served as a counterbalance and as a stopper that prevented the cord from slipping through the obi.


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has an online gallery of its impressive collection of netsuke from the Meiji period (1868–1912).


This is a really cool collection to peruse with a cup of green tea. So take a break, relax and nourish your body and mind. The lawn can wait another week.


By the way, does it surprise you that there is an organization devoted to netsuke? Nope, it doesn't surprise me, either.



A horse-shaped netsuke.



This predates "Pirates of the Caribbean."


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 04, 2008

Tokyo panoramas

The Tokyo page at 360cities.net has some amazing panoramic photographs of Japan's largest city. These photos really make you feel like you're right there in person.


I could kick my feet up on my desk, sip green tea and peruse these photos all day. But then what kind of example would I be setting for my employees? [Monk, it's way too late to worry about that. —The Staff]


When you go to the linked-to page, there will be a map taking up the majority of the page. On this page, the circled numbers indicate how many sights there are to see at that spot. Mouse over one of the names on the map and you'll get a hovering preview of the panoramic shot. Click on it, and the moving panorama appears in the upper right-hand corner.


To get an amazing full-screen version of that panorama (such as the one shown below), click on the small screen icon below the lower left-hand corner of the preview.


Just don't spend too much time at this website, alright? I already have enough companies mad at me as it is.



To view a full-screen version like the one shown below, click on the icon indicated by the green arrow.



Tokyo's Kabukiza district, home of traditional kabuki theaters.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rabies as a drug-delivery system

Talk about turning a negative into a positive.


Rabies is "one of the few viruses known to be nearly 100% deadly to mankind." What makes the virus so pernicious is its ability to work its way from a cut or other wound anywhere on the body, into the bloodstream, through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, where it wreaks havoc.


Now, the blood-brain barrier — a layer of tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord — usually does a very good job of keeping out viruses and other harmful particles. In fact, it's so good at its job that it even blocks "good" substances, such as anti-tumor drugs injected into the blood stream to target a brain tumor.


So, a smart groups of researchers hit on the idea of taking the rabies virus's negative — its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier — and turning it into a positive: They found the protein in the out layer of the virus that is responsible for pulling the whole virus through the blood-brain barrier, then figured out a way to attach drugs to the rabies protein. The protein pulls the drug through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, where, instead of wreaking havoc, the drug does its job of zapping a tumor or whatever else it way designed to do.


Maybe there's a lesson in this for all of us. Is there a negative in your life that could, with a little outside-the-box thinking, be turned into a positive?



Priti Kumar (left), lead author of the paper on using a rabies virus protein to deliver drugs to the brain.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Green tea boosts antibiotics—even against superbugs

A study announced at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Edinburgh, Scotland, found that green tea makes antibiotics more effective against germs, even the drug-resistant bacteria known as "superbugs."





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

French-press your green tea

Remember, a French press isn't just for coffee — it's a great way to brew green tea, too: Just as the press, when plunged down, stops coffee from brewing, it also stops the tea-steeping process, saving the "good stuff" in the leaves for the next infusion.



Not just for coffee.


—Mellow Monk


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