Monday, June 30, 2008

"Living Flowers": an exhibit

The Japanese American National Museum is holding an exhibit called "Living Flowers: Ikebana and Contemporary Art."


Even if you can't make it to the museum, you can enjoy some photos of the exhibit.






—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, June 29, 2008

33 benefits of tea

The article "33 Health Benefits of Drinking Tea" not only provides a comprehensive list of the health benefits of tea but also divides those benefits into categories.

Even so, this list is by no means complete — scientists are discovering new benefits on an almost daily basis. And of course, we all know that of the various teas, green tea is the healthiest.

—Mellow Monk

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Green enclave in a Japanese metropolis

In the midst of bustling Osaka is an "amazing rising garden complex," Namba Parks.

Here is a wonderful night view of the complex.

It's amazing how greenery can soothe and relax us, even in a busy urban environment.

—Mellow Monk

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Japan gets tough on spare tires

Yikes! Workplaces in Japan are cracking down on obesity:
Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. [. . .] Those exceeding government limits [. . .] and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight.

"Goodbye, weight!"

—Mellow Monk

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Old Japanese woman sweeps the floor with big tough soldiers

To seniors fed up with the way some young people nowadays disrespect their elders, 77-year-old martial arts expert Keiko Wakabayshi has a dream job—beating up young soldiers.



"Okay, OKAY! I take back that Jitterbug joke!"


—Mellow Monk

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Robot conducts symphony

I can't make up my mind whether this is cool or creepy. A little bit of both, I suppose.


At any rate, here is Honda's Asimo robot conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.





—Mellow Monk

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tokyo Toy Fair 2008

Bandai's Airshock Battle Beam Saber, which "makes satisfyingly realistic noises as you use the force to jab and lunge towards your opponent," was just one of the gadgets on displays at the Tokyo Toy Fair 2008.


The Amazon Japan pre-order page for the Beam Saber has a demo movie you can watch.



Sure, they're calling it a "Beam Saber," but let's see what George Lucas has to say about that.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Stringing Tea": Intro & Chapter 1

Intro: Just How Does One “String Tea”?

[This is the first of a series of postings about my recent tea-buying expedition in Japan. Stay tuned for further installments.]

On a recent tea-finding trip through the wilds of Kyushu, Japan, I was followed by a three-person film crew from Europe’s Arte TV network. They were filming a 1-hour documentary on Japanese green tea for Arte's "Geo 360" series.

The subject of this installment of "Geo 360," which is due to be broadcast in September or October, is Japanese green tea. Arte chose Kyushu—and in particular Kumamoto—because of its natural, unspoiled environment. And they chose me because Kumamoto is where Mellow Monk's Green Teas are grown.

I was honored to have been chosen by such a prestigious public television network.

But filmmaking is serious business. And busy business. The shooting schedule was über-tight. The film crew and I lived out of a suitcase. Each day we drove far enough and fast enough to alter Earth’s rotation. We had to — we were under constant pressure right up until the night before we all went home.

On this three-week adventure, I was a tea-buyer second and a stringer first. No one is sure of the origins of the word stringer, but if I had to guess based on my own experience, I’d say it derived from an ancient word for “slave.” Or maybe “punishment.”

A stringer is a film crew’s interpreter, travel agent, interviewer, negotiator, luggage carrier, and all-around gofer. It may sound complicated, but a stringer's job is exceedingly simple: A stringer’s job is to Make It Happen.

For instance, if the director says, “We’re going to spend the next two nights in Hitoyoshi and film the tea fields there,” then the stringer books the rooms, clears everything with the tea grower, and finds the hotel on a map. The stringer Makes It Happen. If the cameraman says, “Can you get him to do the same thing again so we can film it from a different angle?” the stringer Makes It Happen. If the sound engineer wants the gardener to shut off the leaf blower for the next ten minutes, then the sound engineer Makes It Happen (in that particular case).

Anyone who’s ever translated between two languages knows that an interpreter is also a diplomat. Actually, this is true of anyone who communicates a message from one person to another. “Don’t shoot the messenger” is an invocation that isn’t always successful, and so a messenger with a strong survival instinct always softens the message.

So, when the director says in English, “What the hell is he doing? Tell him to do that again and not to bounce all over the place when he’s talking,” a smart stringer will put it slightly differently. Such as: “Wow, that was great. Just great. But the electromagnetic pulse from a solar flare zapped the camera, so could we do that one more time?” Such diplomacy is absolutely consistent with the Make It Happen directive. After all, as we say in America, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. (To which some may retort, Yes but you can catch more flies with scheissen than with honey.)

Chapter 1: This Is Not Possible

“This is not possible,” Mr. Matsuzaki said to me in Japanese. This shy, soft-spoken man — who had hardly made eye contact with me at all during the long hours we had spent together that day — was now staring me dead in the eye. Through thick, nearsighted eyeglasses he gave me a dumbstruck look, as if I had just asked him to cut off a finger or give up his firstborn.

Confused, I responded weakly. “You can’t?” What I was really thinking to myself was Can’t do what? Can’t pour hot water on tea? How the hell else do you make tea?

We were filming Mr. Matsuzaki making a hot cup of tea in a beautiful tea room — like a cross between this one and this one — on his tea farm. But when we got to the part where he was finally supposed to pour hot water into a teapot full of tea leaves, he balked.

Unaware of what we were saying, the film crew waited patiently. The cameraman, Chris, raised his eyebrows curiously. Manuel, the sound engineer, bedecked with wires, cables, and other sound-recording accoutrements, paused with his usual tired, oh-what’s-the-point-in-complaining look. The director, Ilka, stroked her chin pensively. The much-feared Furrow had yet to appear in her brow, which meant I might actually live to see tomorrow.

But I couldn’t explain to the crew what the problem was: There was no time. And I wasn’t even sure myself what the problem was. Besides, I was the stringer. The stringer’s job is to Make It Happen. And when things don’t happen, that means trouble. Such as dinner at ten o'clock instead of eight or nine.

I decided to play dumb with Mr. Matsuzaki. “All you have to do is pour the water into the teapot,” I smiled as pleasantly as I could.

“It’s not possible,” he repeated. “That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.”

“Then how are you supposed to do it?”

“You have to cool the water first. You can’t pour it directly from the kettle into the teapot.”

A sharp, loud voice shattered the quiet. “What’s the problem?” asked Ilka. The Furrow was near. I could feel it.

“He says he has to cool the water before he pours it onto the tea.”

“There’s no time for that!”

Chris chimed in helpfully. “Tell him you can’t even see the kettle in the closeup. Only the stream of water flowing into the pot.”

I translated. I added my own pleas. But Mr. Matsuzaki was adamant. “That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.”

But there was no room for negotiation. Once the director and cameraman had made up their mind, my job was to Make It Happen. Period.

“It’s okay,” I said to Mr. Matsuzaki. Desperation had crept into my voice. “The kettle won’t even be in the shot. It’s a closeup, so no one will know.”

With a little more prodding, Mr. Matsuzaki finally relented and poured hot water from the small silver kettle into the earthenware teapot. As he did, Chris filmed, Manuel recorded, and Ilka watched intently on the small monitor. The pour was perfect. No second take necessary.

The next shot was to be of the brewed tea being poured into a small white teacup. Once Chris was finished repositioning and refocusing the high-definition Sony movie camera, just enough time had passed for the tea to steep.

Mr. Matsuzaki poured the green infusion into the cup. Everything looked fine to my untrained eye. But Ilka was clearly unhappy.

“This is not possible,” she said in her Teutonically accented English. What’s not possible? I thought to myself. That tea leaves turned hot water green? What the hell else is supposed to happen?

“This is not possible,” Herr Direktor repeated. She locked her gaze on me. This was obviously my fault. “The tea is too dark. Much too dark. Why is it not bright green?”

I turned to Mr. Matzuaki, who, although he had no idea what we were saying, had paused instinctively, sensing the bad vibes in the air. “It’s the color,” I translated. “She says it’s too dark.”

“Of course it’s dark,” he responded matter-of-factly. “The water was too hot. When the water’s too hot, the tea comes out dark.”

I explained this to Ilka. “Oh,” she responded with uncharacteristic meekness. “Then . . . let’s do it again. With cooler water.”

“Can we do it again?” I asked Mr. Matsuzaki.

“Yes,” he replied softly. “This time we’ll brew the tea correctly.”




This is the kind of yuzamashi (literally "water cooler") that Mr. Matsuzaki used to cool the hot water when we decided to make tea correctly.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 23, 2008

Green tea prevents memory loss from sleep apnea

To the long list of ailments that science is finding to be preventable or treatable with green tea, add memory loss due to sleep apnea.



The first step in preventing memory loss with green tea, Grasshopper, is remembering to drink it.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, June 20, 2008

Improve your posture

The Alexander Technique is a system of rules and guidelines for improving your posture.


A posture-improving exercise I've had excellent results with is wall angels—like snow angels, but performed while standing against a wall. Just remember, never do any exercise that hurts, and if you have any doubt at all about whether an exercise is right for you, talk to your doctor first!


P.S. There's been a lot of talk lately about who invented the modern "dolphin kick" that's revolutionizing competitive swimming, but we all know that it was really the Man from Atlantis [YouTube link].



The bad, the good ... and the bad.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Highest waterfalls

Environmental Graffiti lists the 10 highest waterfalls on Earth.



Although not on the list of the world's highest waterfalls, the falls at Plitvicka Jezera National Park certainly are breathtaking.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Strawberry iced green tea

Here's a great treat to beat the summer heat—the strawberry iced green tea.



Don't forget to add real strawberries as a garnish.


—Mellow Monk


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Study: green tea can prevent colon cancer

The latest issue of the journal Gastroenterology contains an article about how green tea can prevent colorectal cancer.


The chemistry involved is complex, but it basically breaks down like this:


The green tea antioxidant epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) interferes with the production of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF). Normal cells use bFGF to form blood vessels, but cancer cells produce it in excessive amounts to reproduce and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.


So, by impeding the overproduction of bFGF by cancer cells, EGCG stops cancer in its tracks.


In other words, green tea may be the beverage of mellowness, but it gets tough when it comes to cancer.



Cover of the issue of Gastroenterology containing the linked-to article about green tea and colorectal cancer.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A rice revolution

A professor at Cornell University has developed a farming system that boosts the harvests of rice fields. Amazingly, he does this without relying on agrichemicals or genetic engineering.


Instead, professor Normal Uphoff's System of Rice Intensification is a perfect example of finding a counterintuitive, outside-the-box solution to a problem:

Harvests typically double, he says, if farmers plant early, give seedlings more room to grow and stop flooding fields. That cuts water and seed costs while promoting root and leaf growth.

Professor Uphoff, your timing couldn't be better.



Norman T. Uphoff of Cornell University.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 16, 2008

Muji—the brand that isn't a brand

It must be a Zen thing.


Just as Bruce Lee practiced the art of fighting without fighting [YouTube link], Japan's Muji brand is the brand that isn't a brand.


Muji, whose name literally means "brandless," is a line of Japanese generics that has inspired fanatical loyalty among adherents all over the world.


It's not just the philosophy behind Muji that enthralls customers, but the sleek, simple look of the products, too.



A sampling of the Muji lineup.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chemical-free bug repellents that work!

With the summer heat—and summer insect life—already here, it's helpful to remember that mosquitoes don't like lavender or red peppers.



Oh, Mr. Mosquito, say hello to Mr. Tabasco Sauce.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Less-junky junk food

Let's face it—it's not always possible to eat healthy. When pressed for time or on the go (or when the craving hits), junk food is hard to resist.


But even then, there are eco-friendly, less-junky junk food alternatives.





—Mellow Monk


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Friday, June 13, 2008

First flush tea is here!

We've just received the first of the '08 harvest from Japan—first-flush Monk's Choice.


It's been a great growing season, and I snapped up as much first-flush tea as I could. Get it while it lasts!



Fresh from the field to you!


—Mellow Monk


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America's unhealthiest drinks

Numbered lists seem to be popular again—by "again" I mean, do you remember the Book of Lists?


For instance, Men's Health magazine has a list of the 20 unhealthiest drinks in America.


Hmm . . . if those are the unhealthiest drinks, then I wonder was the healthiest drink could be.



A cool, thirst-quenching version—perfect for summertime—of the world's healthiest drink.


—Mellow Monk


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Inside the world of Japanese wooden latticework

PingMag has an interview with kumiko latticework craftsman Shinji Yoshiwara.



Some of Mr. Yoshiwara's exquisitely detailed kumiko latticework.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Green tea as the optimum source of caffeine

The article "Caffeine: A User's Guide to Getting Optimally Wired" comes to the following conclusion:

[To find an optimum source of caffeine] why not enjoy a cup of green tea [. . .], as the Chinese have for nearly 5000 years? It's hard to come by a better longitudinal study than that.

On the other hand, if you're worried about getting too much caffeine, then green tea is still a wise choice. Read more about green tea and caffeine, including how to decaffeinate your green tea yourself, here.



Click on the "hybrid brain" image to go to the home page of the article's author.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reese at tea

Watch actress Reese Witherspoon, clad in lovely kimono, learning how to whisk up a bowl of frothy matcha green tea the traditional, tea-ceremony way.


Ms Witherspoon is visiting Japan to raise awareness of breast cancer and domestic violence as an Avon "global ambassador" in a project also supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women. (Read the full story here.)





—Mellow Monk


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Way-out-there Harajuku fashions

Japan Forum has a huge photo gallery of some of the outrageous fashions you can find on display in Tokyo's Harajuku district.



Insert mandatory joke about Halloween here.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 09, 2008

The world-famous water of Aso

Located in the heart of Kyushu, the mountains of Aso are the bounteous source of pure, tasty water for the rest of the island. Many towns get all of their drinking and farming water from the springs of Aso.


The city of Kumamoto is the biggest in the world to have its water needs met entirely by natural underground springs, all of it from Aso. The clear water has also fueled a national drinking craze, as Kumamoto uses this water to produce high-quality shochu, a spirit distilled from sweet potatoes. Recent health studies found that a shochu enzyme helps reduce blood clots, and Kumamoto shochu has been flying off shelves nationwide ever since.


The mineral-rich spring water of Aso also does wonders for green tea, allowing the people there to gain an appreciation of truly great tea. In short, the natural spring water of Aso is an important reason that the people of Aso are famous for such high standards when it comes to green tea.



The Shirakawa headspring, one of the sources of the delicious spring water that Mt. Aso provides to many areas of Kyushu.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Amazing contact juggler

Found on YouTube—a video of an amazing contact juggler practicing his art somewhere in Japan. The ball actually seems suspended in mid-air.





—Mellow Monk


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Friday, June 06, 2008

Slow your roll with green tea

To mellow out, you can drink Drank, the "anti-energy drink" that "slows your roll" by inducing sleepiness with melatonin, valerian root, and rose hips.


Or you can drink green tea, whose theanine mellows without inducing sleepiness.


Addendum: And at least Drank isn't dangerous like the über-caffeinated energy drinks can be.



The "slow your roll" philosophy is a good one indeed. But it can be attained more naturally.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Review of Sen Cha's Green Tea Bar and Mints

I recently had the opportunity to try Green Tea Mints and Green Tea Bars from Sen Cha Naturals.


First, the mints. I loved all three flavors. Friends and coworkers used such words as "awesome" and "unique flavor" to describe them, and I agree. In addition to making use of green tea's natural breath-freshening properties, each Sen Cha Naturals Green Tea Mint also provides the same antioxidant kick as 1/3 cup of tea, so they're convenient for when you want the benefits of green tea but aren't able to brew a potful, such as when on the road.


However, because of their subtle, restrained flavor, these mints may disappoint those accustomed to knock-your-socks-off power mints. These mints are also somewhat harder than some crumbly mints. However, their hardness allows you to either suck on the mints slowly or chew them up (as I do).


The Green Tea Bars are simply scrumptious — tasty and flavorful but light and clean, without being overly sweet or sitting heavy in the stomach. The wide variety of nuts and other natural ingredients are perfectly complementary, and tying the whole orchestra of flavors together is the down-to-earth taste of green tea. These bars make a great mid-day snack, satisfying your hunger but without slowing you down.



Green Tea Mints come in three flavors: Original, Delicate Pear, and Lively Lemongrass.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Slow down ... fast!

Slow Down Fast is wonderful site by lifecoach and author David Bohl that's full of tips on living a less-hectic, more mellow life.


Here's an excerpt from the article "How to Boost Your Subjective Well-Being":

4. Shut off the television. Exposure to television is directly correlated with unhappiness. Regular television viewers consistently rate themselves as less satisfied with their financial status, more insecure about life in general and dissatisfied with themselves and their relationships. One possible reason is that commercials, and the exaggeratedly wealthy and exciting lifestyles of television characters, work together to make us feel bad about our own normal lives and possessions. Another issue is that physically ideal people are incredibly over-represented on television, therefore making us unhappy and unsatisfied with how our own looks, and the physical attractiveness of those around us, fares in comparison.




"Let's see, what would Mellow Monk do in this situation..."


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The art of Tetsuya Ishida

Welcome to the nightmarishly bizarre yet somehow enthralling world of Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishida (1973–2005).



Blank expressions and a claustrophobic feeling are found in many of Ishida's works.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 02, 2008

Prostate cancer prevention and green tea

[This slipped through the cracks, but it's still newsworthy and just one example of studies showing green tea's prostate-cancer-fighting properties. —Mellow Monk]


Medical science has learned a lot recently about prostate cancer and its prevention.

[E]vidence has mounted that increasing vitamin E and selenium intake could also protect against prostate cancer, they said. Recent research also suggests that consuming more green tea, soy, vitamin D, and lycopene (typically found in tomatoes) might confer similar benefits.




—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Asakusa samurai

Asakusa Samurai is a blog — now dormant, apparently — all about Asakusa, my favorite district of Tokyo. [More posts about Asakusa here.]


Asakusa is where the Japan of old is best preserved. The area has even begun capitalizing on domestic nostalgia by bringing back such blasts from the past as rickshaws.



The Himiko, which ferries tourists up and down the Sumida River.


—Mellow Monk


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