Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tea with a Japanese ghost

Deborah Amar has written an excellent ghost story set in Japan ... and with a surprising twist ending.

Speaking of ghosts, here is a previous post on a haunted fishing spot.

A ghost appears in Edo-era Tokyo.

—Mellow Monk

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Monk makes the local news in Aso. (Well, his grower does, anyway.)

One of Mellow Monk's growers was featured in Kōhō Aso, the city of Aso's official monthly newsletter.

As you can see from the accompanying photo below, the story describes a visit by a French TV crew to film some footage for a documentary on Japanese green tea.

The director first learned about this grower from a previous European documentary about Japanese green tea, which also featured one of our tea buyers on a trip to the area.

Cover caption: "Tea fields in Sakanashi [a district of Aso City]."

The story (in the middle of the page) reads: "Filming for a documentary, to be shown across Europe and in parts of America, on Japan's green tea was carried out in the tea fields and at the tea mill of Koji Nagata, who runs a tea enterprise in [the] Miyaji [district of Aso City]. The program, which is being produced by France's national TV network, aims to show that the tea that is widely consumed in Japan is not the matcha of tea ceremonies but [ordinary] Japanese green tea."

—Mellow Monk

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hitchhiking in Japan: almost too easy

Trevor Mott observes that you almost never see hitchhikers in Japan. After an eventful journey starting in Oita, he offers an explanation for this phenomenon.

Lake Kinrin (Kinrinko) in Yufuin, Oita.

—Mellow Monk

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A study to determine the HPV-fighting abilities of green tea

Researchers at the University of Arizona Medical Center are launching a study to see if green tea polyphenols can help fight the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Researchers Sherry Chow and Wade Chew prepare vials for the green tea study.

—Mellow Monk

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sado island

Japan's Sado Island boasts beautiful scenery and a rich cultural heritage.

You can also visit the now-closed gold mines that financed the shogunate for hundreds of years. (Here is a page of panoramic photos of the island's sights.)

And if diving is your shtick, you can also frolic with the fishes.

Barrel boat rides are a popular attraction on the island.

—Mellow Monk

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Green tea reduces pneumonia risk

Folks, it's getting to the point where even I'm having trouble keeping up with all the research results coming out about the health benefits of green tea.

Here's another one:

Drinking as little as one cup or less of green tea per day was associated with 41 percent less risk of dying from pneumonia among Japanese women, the investigators found.

The findings, they say, "support the possibility" that green tea contains compounds capable of destroying or inhibiting the growth of viruses and microorganisms.

—Mellow Monk

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Green tea halves leukemia risk: study

Yet more recent research points to green tea's cancer-fighting properties.

Results published in the American Journal of Epidemiology show that drinking 5 cups or more per day reduced the risk of leukemia and other blood cancers by one half compared to participants in the over 40,000-person-strong cohort who drank one cup or less per day.

For more information about green tea and leukemia, you can read previous postings in this blog.

—Mellow Monk

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Green tea, acne, and the Kuma River

A blogger called Dr. Zit writes about how simply drinking green tea — not using creams containing green tea, or taking a green tea extract pill — has dramatically improved his skin.

Taken from the shore of a small island in the Kuma River. This is the same spot where we took a recently posted video.

—Mellow Monk

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Chicago Potter reviews our Top Leaf green tea

Chris Chaney, a.k.a. the Chicago Potter, writes the kind of thorough review of one of our teas that only a true tea lover could.

Thanks, Chris.

Our pride and joy. One of them, that is.

—Mellow Monk

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

On the banks of the Kuma River

Here's a video we took recently in Hitoyoshi City, on the tranquil banks of the sometimes rapid Kuma River.

—Mellow Monk

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Friday, October 16, 2009

The perfect steeper—really and truly

When I first heard about an on-the-go infuser mug called the Perfect Steeper, I thought, Well their marketing department isn't shy. But upon examining how this steeper works, I realize the name may be far more objective than I had suspected.

Here's how it works: After filling the mug—see the photo below—with hot water, you place your loose-leaf tea into the tea receptacle, which contains a permanent filter and sits atop and screws into the mug. You then screw on the receptacle's top and turn the whole thing upside-down, allowing the hot water to flow from the mug down into the tea receptacle. The leaves swirl around in the hot water, yielding their wonderful essence. A brew is born.

This video shows the Perfect Steeper in action:

As you can see, when steeping is done you simply turn the steeper back over. The brewed tea flows out of the tea receptacle, stopping the infusion process. The tea leaves are now high and dry, ready for another steeping later on.

This is an oh-so-elegant solution to an ancient issue in the world of tea-brewing contraptions—how to remove the leaves from the hot water/tea to prevent oversteeping. (This teapot also uses gravity to do the trick.)

Another feature I like is that to drink your freshly brewed tea, you remove the permanent filter and set it down upside down—no dripping, and no need for a separate drip-catcher. Another big plus: the mug consists of a glass liner—because who wants to drink out of plastic?—with a polycarbonate shell to protect against dropping and other unforeseen incidents.

It really does sound like the perfect steeper. I can't wait to give one a test drive.

This really could be the perfect steeper.

—Mellow Monk

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Japan’s hip new generation of family farmers

In the Japanese countryside, parents often lament about grown children who balk at taking over the family farm, turning away from what they see as a lifestyle defined by the dreaded "three K's"—kitsui, kitanai, and kiken (demanding, dirty, and dangerous).

But no longer: A new generation of young farmers is striving to preserve the traditional family farm by revamping farm life so that the three K's now stand for kakko yokute, kando ga atte, and kasegeru—cool, exciting, and profitable.

Part of the transformation lies in taking a different approach to farm management. But like all such transformations, a big part is simply taking a different attitude.

And besides, who wouldn't want to work in an environment like this:

A screen capture from one of our "Stringing Tea" documentary videos.

—Mellow Monk

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tokyo on two wheels

It's not only eco-friendly to get around Tokyo by bicycle; it's also convenient and relaxing, as you can leave your bike right next to your destination, which could be blocks away from the nearest subway station or parking spot (if there is parking, that is).

Of course it would be a bit of a challenge to explore the entire city on bike, unless you've got the thighs of samurai warrior. But a bicycle is perfect for getting intimate with one of Tokyo's neighborhoods—such as my favorite, Asakusa.

A "world away from the modern city."

—Mellow Monk

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cherry blossom movies and Zatoichi music

"Oyabun" is obviously a man after my own heart—he runs a fantastic blog on old-school Japanese movies.

(The blog's name comes from the pervasive use of cherry blossom imagery in Japanese movies as a metaphor for the transience of life—blossoming magnificently to signify the brilliant end of existence—as an American cinematic tough guy might talk about going out "in a blaze of glory.")

And if you like the Japanese movie subgenre of Zatoichi flicks, then here's a rare find: a collection of Zatoichi movie music.

Tsuruta Koji about to go out in a blaze of glory in the explosively intense tough-guy classic Bakuto Gaijin Butai (The Gamblers' Foreign Legion), a.k.a. "Sympathy for the Underdog."

—Mellow Monk

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Green tea cheesecake white chocolate brownie

Here's a great matcha dessert recipe: green tea cheesecake white chocolate brownie.

The word "heavenly" is overused in the food business but would, I suspect, be more than appropriate in this case.

—Mellow Monk

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Vitamin C boosts absorption of green tea antioxidants: study

Cathy Wong at has already done an exemplary job of summarizing a study indicating that vitamin C helps your body absorb more antioxidants from your green tea, so I won't reinvent the wheel.

I will point out, however, that this study is one in a long line of research pointing to this complementarity between green tea and citrus fruits.

I would also be remiss if didn't remind the unfamiliar that there exists an age-old tradition of adding a piece of, say, dried orange or mikan peel to a pot of tea.

Yet more evidence that the ancient ones knew just what they were doing.

Don't throw that away.

—Mellow Monk

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Evolution of Japan's tea ceremony

The Japan Society has an excellent essay on the evolution of Japan's tea ceremony.

As pointed out in The Book of Tea, the Zen monks who brought tea to Japan from China brought the powdered form, as this was the most common way in which tea was prepared. However, this practice was lost in China after the Sung dynasty there was overthrown by the conquering Mongols in 1281.

In short, the matcha used in the tea ceremony, which you can still enjoy today, represents a snapshot of tea's distant past: Time travel in a cup.

Frothed matcha with a piece of wagashi is a typical welcome treat at Zen temples even today.

—Mellow Monk

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Green tea linked to less cancer in women

From ABC News:

As if you needed another reason to drink green tea: Japanese women, but not Japanese men, who regularly drink 5 or more cups daily appear about 20 percent less likely to develop stomach cancer, study findings hint.

The findings were published in a paper in the journal Gut.

Japan's National Cancer Center, where the study was conducted.

—Mellow Monk

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Volcanic earthenware

Futoshi Yamashita is unique in the world of Japanese pottery. Located in the Aso area—where our tea is grown—he uses actual volcanic ash from Mt. Aso in his pieces.

He named his studio Aso Bougama, with the Bou from Bouchuu—the district in Aso where he's situated—and "gama" being the voiced-consonant version of kama, meaning "kiln."

Update: I forgot to mention another clever aspect of the potter's name: Together, Aso and Bou form asobou, which means "let's play."

The same volcano-enriched soil that makes for such exquisite tea also makes for exquisite works of art. But then, tea is a work of art, so it makes sense, no?

—Mellow Monk

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