Saturday, May 31, 2008

Things my Internet-less mother has asked me to look up online

For years I urged my (self-avowed technophobe) mother to get a computer and an Internet connection. "Think of all the sites online you could browse," I would say. "Think of how often I would call you for help," she would reply.


I eventually came to the conclusion that it would mean less stress in both of our lives if she simply called me whenever she needed to look something up online.


Here are a few of the things she asked me to research or order, etc.
  • The Blue Book price of her 1997 Ford Contour (don't ask).


  • When the new Star Wars game for XBox 360 is coming out. (It's for the grandkids.)


  • How to order replacement parts for a basketball stand in her back yard. (It's for the grandkids, and my mother was shocked at how excellent the customer service at Lifetime, the manufacturer. The Customer Service guy took her name and address and said he'd ship the parts right away, at no charge and without even asking for a copy of the receipt or anything. How often does that happen?)


  • The post-kitchen-fire status of San Francisco's Original Joe's restaurant.


  • The status of Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman's TV show.


  • Who has the best price on the last "Harry Potter" book (also for one of the grandkids).




Original Joe's before the October 2007 fire. I love restaurants with those big, chunky old-fashioned booths.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 30, 2008

The dirty secret about the Shizuoka label

In Japan, Shizuoka Prefecture is considered to be the source of some of the country's best green tea. Shizuoka is to tea what the Napa Valley is to wine in the United States.


However, because of labeling laws that are much less stringent than in America, tea that is labeled "Shizuoka tea" might not even be processed in Shizuoka, let alone grown there. As long as the company has a presence in Shizuoka, the tea can be called "Shizuoka tea." (Actually, wineries follow a similar practice, labeling any wine "Napa wine" as long as it is "cellared" in Napa, even if the grapes were grown, crushed into juice, and bottled elsewhere.)


Another reason that Shizuoka tea isn't all it's cracked up to be (this isn't just sour grapes, or sour tea) is that years ago, when Shizuoka tea started becoming trendy, the big food companies started setting up operations there. These behemoths don't exactly practice traditional agriculture: pesticides and other agrochemicals are liberally used in order to maximum yields for maximum profit. So, even tea that is actually grown in Shizuoka may be the product of a huge corporate farm.


In short, it's not where the tea is grown that matters, but how it's grown.



The majestic Mt. Aso, near where Mellow Monk tea is grown.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Harnessing "silver power" in Japan

Just like almost everywhere else, older folks in Japan are staying in the workforce longer. They also have high technology to help them live independently. Check out the high-tech electric kettle below.



Whenever she uses it, Mrs. Oheo's James Bondian kettle automatically sends a text message to her daughter's cell phone, letting her know that Mom's alright.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Japan's cuddly cop mascots

Japan, as we all know, is big on cute — even police mascots are cute.


For instance, the prefectural police in Kumamoto, home of Mellow Monk green tea, have adopted Yuppi the Bear, shown below, as their mascot.


The name "Kumamoto" means "place of bears" and refers to the wild bears that used to roam the hills. Nowadays, bears in Kumamoto are found mainly in parks like Cuddly Dominion.



Yuppi, Kumamoto's crime-fighting bear.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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 replies 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.


Thanks for all your inquiries!

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


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 26, 2008

The neighborhood tofu maker

This is a great photo of a small neighborhood tofu dealer in the city of Amagasaki. The blogger who took the photo writes [Japanese text only] that the shop has been in business since 1961. You can see how time has stood still here while the rest of the neighborhood developed.


Independent tofu makers who actually make their tofu on the premises are a rarity nowadays even in Japan.


Ah, fresh tofu . . . there's nothing like it!



A customer prepares to head home with her freshly made tofu. (Now maybe the city of Amagasaki can be known for something other than that horrible train wreck.)


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The man who saved the Akita

It may be hard to believe now, but back in the mid-1940s, Japan's Akita breed of dog was on the brink of extinction, pushed there by wartime deprivation and the popularity of foreign breeds, such as the German shepherd.


Literally coming to the dogs' rescue was engineer Morie Sawataishi. His tale [get it?] is recounted in author Martha Sherrill's book Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain.


Of the hundred or so Akitas he owned, Sawataishi was closest to one named Samurai Tiger:

Sherrill writes about how Sawataishi, now in his 90s, chokes up when talking about Samurai Tiger, of how a conversation about the spirited dog can occupy an entire night and drain many glasses of sake.




Morie Sawataishi with Kurasawa-Toro.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Green tea could help prevent osteoporosis

A study at Australia's Edith Cowan University showed that women who drink tea have higher bone density and less bone loss than non-tea-drinking women.


The study was published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.



Osteoporosis explained. Yikes!


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In praise of massages

At Mellow Monk, we're all about mellow — getting mellow and staying that way. Green tea can be more than just a drink; it can be the center of stress-busting tea breaks.


But sometimes to relax the mind, you need to relax the body, and a great way to relax the body is with a modern version of an age-old art: massage.


To find a massage therapist, start by asking around. (Or try this site.) Ask your co-commuters or coworkers (or your company may even have someone who comes onsite). Or ask the guy at Starbucks you're chatty with. (Why do I have a feeling that every Starbucks has at least one employee who is or knows a massage therapist.)


After you've tried one massage therapist a couple of times, try a different one. You'll probably find that you like one more than the other, because of a difference in technique or professionalism, for instance. That knowledge will help you shop smarter next time.


You may find in the end that massage just isn't for you. Then again, you may find that getting a good massage can be the key that unlocks the door to releasing a whole lot of stress that's accumulated in your body over the years. That's how it was for me.








—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Freshly brewed is healthier than instant

Remember, everyone — freshly brewed green tea has more antioxidants than instant tea.



Registered dietician Katherine Zeratsky talks about brewed versus instant tea.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 19, 2008

Less homework, more yoga

This story is a little old but still relevant from a stress-relief perspective.


Kids today are under a lot of stress. What with more homework and more after-school activities, plus all those TV shows to watch and video games to play, not to mention all those highly caffeinated drinks they're guzzling, it's no wonder they're forgetting the art of relaxation.


That's why the principal of a high school in Massachusetts decided to add relaxation techniques.


And that's a good idea — because once they get out in the real world, they'll need all the relaxation tools they can get.


And you might also want to consider switching from coffee to green tea. Mellow out, man.



My gym class was never like this.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The song was wrong — green tea ginger ale is too sweet

Remember that series of Canada Dry Ginger Ale commercials from the '70s, in which celebrities like Isaac Hayes and Jack Elam sang the jingle "It's Not Too Sweet" to the tune of "Ain't She Sweet"?


Well, it seems that whoever at Canada Dry was in charge of concocting the company's Green Tea Ginger Ale never saw those commercials, because this review concludes that the drink is just too loaded with sugar:

Chug the whole [bottle], as I imagine many (most?) will do, and you've consumed the equivalent of 15 Domino sugar cubes. So now I have a few questions for Canada Dry. What were they THINKING?

As with so many other green tea-containing beverages out there, looks and labels can be deceiving. In other words, Grasshopper, if you want all the health benefits of green tea, then you should [drumroll, please] drink green tea.



Canada Dry, say it ain't so.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 16, 2008

One heaping teaspoon per pot

The other day I was brewing a potful of tea in a one-quart teapot, and instead of adding about two heaping teaspoons of Mellow Monk tea, I decided to try adding only one teaspoon and then letting the tea steep a little longer—and I was very pleased with the results!






Porcelain teapots are nice, but a glass one lets you monitor the tea level so that you know when you're running low. As an added bonus, this Bodum teapot has a built-in tea press, so that you can push down the press and "pause" the brewing process once your potful of tea has steeped long enough. When you brew another potful with the same leaves, you simply raise the press and add more hot water.



—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Japan's celebrity pianist, Hiromi Uehara

In this video clip, Japan's charming celebrity pianist Hiromi Uehara shows off the amazingly nimble fingerwork for which she's famous.




—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Off-the-shelf Japanese designs

Graphic designer James Bowskill has an online scrapbook of Japanese packaging designs called "Off the Shelf."


Many of the designs are actually quite old, yet they still hold up in a retro, old-is-new kind of way.



This has to be the world's coolest design for a mosquito coil box.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cats playing the theremin

It's a simple filmmaking concept: You buy a Theremin Mini — a scaled-down version of the original theremin — turn it on, stand back, and let your cats discover their hidden musical talents:








—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 12, 2008

Green tea caffeine — why it's better than coffee

Do you want to drink authentic loose-leaf green tea but are worried about caffeine? Well, you need not worry at all, because green tea caffeine is a whole different ballgame than coffee.


Green tea not only has much less caffeine than coffee — about 70 percent less — but it is absorbed more slowly and metabolized more slowly, too. This means that when the caffeine does kick in, you get a gentle lift, instead of a coffee-like jolt. It also means a gentle landing when the caffeine wears off, instead of a coffee-like crash.


This is yet another reason why green tea is such a mellow beverage, and why it can be your oasis of calm in an otherwise busy, hectic day.



There's a lot of goodness in these leaves — but not too much caffeine.


—Mellow Monk


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Tribute to Toshiro Mifune

Here is a 9-minute series of clips of some of the greatest scenes from some of the greatest films of Japan's greatest actor, Toshiro Mifune [more posts about him here].


Featured are the films Sanjuro, Hidden Fortress, The Throne of Blood, Miyamoto Musashi, and the TV miniseries Shogun, among others.


The films' original soundtracks have been replaced by an atmospheric song used in the anime classic Akira.








—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sitting up straight is bad for you?!?

Talk about turning conventional wisdom on its head — researchers in Scotland are claiming that sitting up straight places excessive strain on the lower back, and that the ideal sitting position is leaning slightly back.


What they should have added, however, is that when leaning back, it's important to keep your neck straight, too. For this, a chair with a headrest is highly recommended — especially if you can get your boss to pay for it.


[What about us, Monk? —Your faithful employees.] What's the matter? You don't like those new chairs I got you?






The guy on the right is setting himself up for neck problems.


—Mellow Monk


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Ghostly abandoned hotels in the desert

I'm not the only one fascinated by pictures of abandoned buildings, because I've run across quite a few such photo collections on the Web.


Is it a guy thing? Are we drawn to such structures because they tickle some sort of "man cave" gene?


Anyway, here's a collection of pics of hotels abandoned in the middle of construction in the Sinai desert.



The last words the project manager spoke before ordering construction halted were, "You mean it's always this hot here?"


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Japanese emoticons

Here is a fairly comprehensive list of Japanese emoticons, known in Japanese as kaomoji ("face letters").


In the world of computers, Japanese is a double-byte language. That's one reason Japanese text more difficult to implement electronically than single-byte languages like English were. But then two bytes means more possibility for creating things like kaomoji.



Kaomoji keychains!


—Mellow Monk


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Round ice cubes — ice spheres

Responding to a demand expressed by the country's bartenders, a Japanese company has developed a mold for making seamless ice spheres.


The spherical shape has a lower ratio of surface area to volume, so the ice melts more slowly, thereby diluting your drink less. These ice spheres would be great for iced green tea, too.


At least, that's what I thought until I saw that the prices for these ice molds start at around $800. I think I'll wait for the price to come down.



Hey, that's cool! [Get it?]


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 09, 2008

10 eco-friendly uses for vodka

Save money and reduce your environmental footprint — use vodka, not expensive, toxic chemicals, to cure poison ivy rashes, freshen your clothes, and remove mildew, for instance.



"It's not just for drinking."


—Mellow Monk


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Yoshino, king of cherry trees

The cherry tree Prunus × yedoensis, known as the Yoshino cherry, is one of the most popular varieties of ornamental cherry trees because of its beautiful flowers and its proven hardiness in a wide range of temperate climates.


And they're also fast growers.


Yoshino cherries are not, however, the same variety for which Washing D.C. is famous. Those are a variety of Prunus serrulata known as kanzan, or pink double-flowering cherry.



Up close and personal with Prunus × yedoensis.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bulldog nurses tiger

A slideshow of the animal kingdom's oddest couuples includes a French bulldog nursing and raising a baby tiger at Japan's Shirotori Zoo [image search], located in the city of Higashikagawa. The tiger cub had been rejected by his mother.



Hachi the tiger cuddles with his new mom, Nana. Raised on dog's milk, Hachi is just like other tigers — other than a propensity to chase his tail.


—Mellow Monk


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The green tea trend — still goin' strong

The Center for Culinary Development's report on culinary trends worldwide shows that green tea is still going strong:

Among the trends that made the most progress are superfoods like green tea, edamame and acai. "The trend of using ultra-healthful ingredients in categories of all kinds won't stop. In fact, the next wave of functional foods will include those that improve your mood, make you more beautiful and fill you up faster so you don't over eat," says Kimberly Egan, CEO of CCD.

Thanks, everyone, for being a part of the green tea revolution. And for those of you who haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet, why not give us a try?



Click on the images above to visit our green tea site.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

In Japan, clever crows confound communities

Feeding on urban refuse, Japan's crows are thriving.


And these birdbrains are clever. When power companies began removing nests from electric poles because they were causing blackouts, the birds began building decoy nests.


But we should expect as much from a bird that back in the '90s first learned to crack hard nuts by dropping them on roads for cars to run over, then figured out that the best place on a road to drop nuts was in crosswalks [link to video].


If these guys ever figure out the Internet, we could be in serious trouble.



Maybe he's upset that trash collection was early today.


—Mellow Monk


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Bloomin' cherry blossoms in Brooklyn!

Here's an excellent, set-to-music timelapse movie of the cherry trees blooming this year at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More Mellow Monk merchandise

The Mellow Monk Store has been improved and expanded. We now offer a larger "Monk" logo on a wider range of goods, from T-shirts to hats to book bags. Check us out!



Now what do I have to do to put you in one of these stylish, comfy T-shirts?


—Mellow Monk


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A new tongue-twister to try to triumph over

How often is it in the English-speaking world is it that someone comes up with a new tongue-twister?


Well, that's exactly what your truly did after helping Mini Monk with a homework assignment involving such tricky phrases. I was inspired by something I read about the ancient Roman tradition of the triumph, a victory parade in which the soldiers would sing bawdy songs about their general. The songs were short and silly and when sung for Julius Caesar would constitute silly songs Caesar’s soldiers sang.


I defy you to say that ten times fast. If you can, put it up on YouTube and I'll publish it here. The gauntlet has been thrown!



Those guys sure knew how to throw a tea party.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, May 05, 2008

Online library of Edo-era paintings

The Tohoku University Library had made available online part of its Kano Collection.


Of the "108,000 items of classical books, scrolls, documents and art objects" from the Edo Period collected by educator–philosopher Kokichi Kano (1865-1942), 16,700 images from about 1,180 items are available online.


A neat category of images to peruse are illustrated scrolls like this one.


Kokichi Kano was also said to have had the world's largest collection of, ahem, "adult-oriented" ukiyoe prints, although all the ones linked to on this page are one hundred percent safe for work, minor children, and those with delicate sensibilities, such as yours truly [Yeah right, Monk. —Your loving staff].



A scene from a scroll titled "The Takano Picture Scroll" (Takano Emaki).


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bobby Valentine on "The Zen of Bobby V."

Former NY Mets manager Bob Valentine talks about what it's like to coach baseball in Japan. He also discusses "The Zen of Bobby V.," an ESPN documentary about his life and career in Japan. Below is an interview with the filmmakers.






Bobby V.


—Mellow Monk


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Cities at night

NASA's "Earth Observatory" website has some incredible photos taken from space of cities at night.



Tokyo at night.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, May 02, 2008

Lovers passing on the what's-your-name bridge

From Mellow Monk's Department of Obscure Japanese Movie Trivia comes some trivia so old that I've also labeled this post under "Japanese history."


Released in 1952 and 1953, the movie trilogy “Kimi no Na Wa” (What’s Your Name?) broke all previous box office records in Japan. This success was helped by the fact that the films were based on a long-running smash-hit radio series. The films proved so successful that they are said to have financed the modernization of Shochiku, the studio that produced them.


The story concerns a young man and women who meet by chance, fall in love at first sight (hitomebore), but are then kept apart by the circumstances around them. (Such stories about lovers kept apart by fate even constitute their own genre, known as surechigai, which means "passing," as in two ships passing in the night.)


The film was so popular that the unconventional way that lead actress Keiko Kishi wore her scarf (see the photo below) started a new fashion trend known as Machiko-maki (a "Machiko wrap," after the character's name).


A famous scene take place in the beginning of the trilogy at Tokyo's
Sukiya Bridge, where Machiko first meets her would-be beau, Haruki, during an air raid. (It is as they rush from the bridge to go their separate ways that Haruki utters the famous phrase, "Kimi no na ha?"—Oh, by the way, what's your name?)


In 1957, the Sukiya Bridge was demolished by the frenetic wave of development that preceded the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Today at that spot stands a monument that reads "Former site of the Sukiya Bridge." The words carved into the monument were actually written with a calligraphy brush wielded by Kazuo Kikuta (1908–1973), who authored the original story and after whom a TV screenwriting award was named.



A poster from the movie Kimi no Na Wa (What's Your Name?), showing actress Keiko Kishi sporting the scarf style that sparked a nationwide fashion trend waaaay back in the mid-1950s.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Green tea and ovarian cancer

Researchers comparing the impact of coffee, black tea, green tea, and cola on a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer found that women who drank at least 1 cup of green tea per day had a 54 percent lower risk of getting cancer. None of the other beverages was found to have any effect on risk.


The study concludes:

Green tea, which is commonly consumed in countries with low ovarian cancer incidence, should be further investigated for its cancer prevention properties.

The study appeared in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, which is published by the American Association for Cancer Research.



The American Association for Cancer Research, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, commemorated its 100th year with a conference in Singapore last year.


—Mellow Monk


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