Monday, October 24, 2016

Mindfulness-inducing 500-year-old paining

Amanohashidate is a large, tree-covered sandbar in Kyoto.

This work was drawn by Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506) near the end of his life, at age 82. He creates an amazing sense of perspective with his mastery of light and shade (notan). Perhaps his aim was to create the feeling of calm that comes from viewing the actual splendor first hand, the feeling of mindfulness.

—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Inspiring scenes of post-quake rebuilding in Aso

The Aso Shrine was severely damaged in the Kumamoto Earthquake earlier this year. The shrine office has released a few videos of how the city of Aso is rebuilding, including the shrine itself and the local merchants and their families. Here are a few of the truly inspiring videos.

1.) Hiroaki Uchimura of Aso Shrine


2.) Kouji Miyagawa of Miyagawa Clock Shop


3.) Akiko Kudo of Tsuruya Inn


4.) Yuino Tano of Tanoya Confectionery


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tokyo's tea-picking samurai

Walking through Tokyo's exclusive Shoto (松濤) neighborhood, gazing up at the uber-upscale homes of Japan's movers and shakers, you would probably never guess that you were walking through the ghost of a tea plantation. But you are.

The plantation goes back to a time when the Tokyo area had much more empty space. In 1871, the Meiji government, which had overthrown the shogunate only a few years earlier, turned over the land that would be known as Shoto to the Nabeshima clan, formerly of the Shogun's Saga fiefdom. The government provided the land under a swords-to-plowshares program designed to encourage ex-samurai to take up non-lethal pursuits in agriculture and industry. The clan decided to start a tea estate. Since tea was a labor-intensive proposition in those days, who knows how many former warriors picked tea leaves there. (From sword to tea basket — what a Zenlike transition that must have been.)

The name the clan chose for its tea estate was Shoto En (松濤園) — "En" meaning estate or plantation and "Shoto" meaning "wind whistling through the pines" but also being a poetic term for the sound of steam gently escaping a kettle. Another instance of the word's use in tea: this Rokyaku-yaki (鷺脚焼) teapot, apparently part of a "Shoto" series of teaware. (Don't worry if you've never heard of Rokyaku-yaki. This now rare line of pottery was started in 1881 by Nakagawa Yujiro and discontinued when his son and successor Hisao died almost 100 years later — quite a run for a two-generation workshop.)

Shoto-cha, as the tea was known, soon became popular throughout Tokyo, but its run was cut short by progress: Once the Tokaido rail line connected the capital to the Kansai region in the late 1880s, tea from prestigious but distant sources such as Uji and Shizuoka began to pour into Tokyo at lower prices, undercutting the Tokyo tea. In response, the Nabeshima clan in 1904 began converting Shoto En to fruit orchards. Eventually houses began to sprout up, further crowding out the tea. The last of the plants were torn up in 1932, when the remaining undeveloped land was turned over to the Tokyo municipal government. (A piece of that real estate surrounding a natural spring-water pond became a park, predecessor to today's Nabeshima-Shoto Park.)

The tea plants may have disappeared, but their name stuck.

So when your neck gets tired from looking up at all the expensive homes, stop by Shoto's lovely park and amble over to the pond. You'll be gazing at a scene that also undoubtedly brought much quiet enjoyment to Tokyo's tea-picking samurai.

—Mellow Monk


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Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday, April 04, 2016

Aso's traditional grassland management — a linchpin of biodiversity and region-wide sustainable agriculture

The Aso valley. From the Aso GIAHS website's photo gallery.

My previous post highlighted the integrated cultivation of tea and feed grass in a traditional way that not only benefits both species but is also more sustainable than when the two are cultivated separately.

In this post I present another Japanese farming technique designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations: the traditional management of grasslands by the people of Aso, which is home to one of Mellow Monk's tea artisans, Koji Nagata.

The farming equivalent of the U.N.'s World Heritage Site system, the GIAHS program recognizes truly unique, traditional agricultural approaches that not only represent a means of sustainability worthy of preservation in their own environment but also a potential path to sustainability for others around the world.

Noyaki is a traditional technique of controlled burning that keeps grasslands from being overgrown with thicket species. From the blog "Tomo no Hitorigoto".

In the case of Aso grassland, the FAO recognizes that over the generations, traditional grassland management has preserved the biodiversity of rural landscapes and served as the cornerstone of region-wide sustainable agriculture for other crops, too. Says the GIAHS report: "The remarkable feature of [the] Aso region lies in this dynamic system of sustainable agriculture through cyclical grassland use and its management system."

This 2013 presentation (PDF) by Kumamoto Prefecture's vice-governor explains the philosophies and interdependencies involved wonderfully.

At the heart of this responsible grassland use is the same traditional philosophy that our tea artisans represent — that one does not own land so much as have temporary stewardship over it; that use of the land should ideally benefit others and preserve the land and its environment for future generations, as well.

—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 03, 2016

Japan's unique style of integrated tea–grass agriculture

This article about Japan's traditional chagusaba technique of growing tea is an example of the quality content sure to come from Tea Journey, a magazine currently in the Kickstarter stage.

"Chagusaba" literally means "tea grass place" and refers to the integration of feed grass among tea groves. Each species gets the benefit of the other and is the better for it.

Japan's chagusaba has also been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Two examples of chagusaba — from the Kakegawa City website and Shizufan, where the image is an animated gif highlighting the crass growing between the tea groves.

—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, February 07, 2016

We sponsor the Love Is Bald 4th Annual Chilibowl

Mellow Monk is a proud supporter of the Love Is Bald fundraiser 4th Annual Chilibowl. After all, what could be better than a nice cuppa green tea after a day of tasting chili for such a wonderfully worthy cause?

—Mellow Monk


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