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Take A Tour Through The Gorgeous Castles of Japan! 

When most Westerners think of castles, they think of medieval fortifications built at the edge of chilly cliffs, but Japan has many beautiful castles, each with their own interesting story to tell. Many were built during the Sengoku, or "warring states" era of Japan, where warlords battled for control of the country. Here are some of our favorite castles and the tales behind them.

Matsumoto Castle 

Known as the Crow Castle because of its black panels and winged roofs, Matsumoto Castle has a great ghost story attached to it. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, a farmer named Tada Kasuke lead an uprising of farmers in protest of the regions high taxes. The revolt failed and Tada Kasuke was executed, but his ghost has since been seen of the castle ground and his curse has been blamed for structural damage during the reconstruction. The castle is a regular tourist attraction and known for its weapon exhibit.

Osaka Castle 

The majestic Osaka castle played a central role in the unification of Japan during the 17th century. Built by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in imitation of Oda Nobunaga's castle, the site became the center of two major battles between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his former ally Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the first battle, Toyotomi forces inside the castle were able to fend off the numerically superior Tokugawa forces. The second battle lead to the death of the Toyotomi line. The castle was regularly used as an armory and munition storage through both the Meiji restoration and WW2. Today it's a favorite site for visitors who come to watch the cherry blossoms bloom. Also, Godzilla destroyed it in the 1955 film Godzilla Raids Again.

Odawara Castle 

This beautiful castle, located in Kanagawa Prefecture, has been touched by some of the most dramatic events in Japanese history. 

Built during the Kamakura period of Japan, the era marked by the rule of the first shogun and the formation of the samurai class, the castle saw several new owners as fortunes changed through constant warfare. It was in regular use during that era. In the 19th century, when the Meiji government worked to modernize the country, Odawara castle was torn down and a Shinto shrine was built in the castle's memory. It was later listed as a historical site and several of the buildings were restored to pristine condition.

Takeda Castle 

The Takeda castle ruins stand on the mountains to the northwest of Kyoto and is known as the Machu-Picchu of Japan. 

Originally built as Izushi castle in 1441, the castle fell under the control of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1577. The castle changed hands through the years until it fell into the hands of its final owner, warrior Hirohide Akamatsu. He fought on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu but was accused of arson and ordered to commit ritual suicide. Takeda castle fell into ruin shortly thereafter.

Gifu Castle 

Gifu castle has a very long, colorful history. A constant battleground, the castle was considered one of the most formidable castles in the Sengoku era but was once captured by only sixteen men! 

The first story involved Takenaka Hanbei, a samurai who entered the castle on the pretext of visiting his sick brother. In reality, he came to kill Saitō Tatsuoki, the lord of the castle at the time. Tatsuoki believed that a large army was attacking him and he fled the castle. The castle was eventually returned to him but Tatsuoki suffered a loss of face for his cowardice. 

The second story involved the siege of Gifu castle, which involved an assault very similar to a Special Forces raid! The castle is built on top of a very steep hill which helped keep invaders at bay. When Oda Nobunaga laid siege to the castle, he sent his retainer Kinoshita Tōkichirō to scale the mountainside to attack the undefended rear of the castle. His team opened the castle gates and let the rest of the army through.

Himeji Castle 

The largest and most visited castle in Japan, Himeji castle is a massive structure comprised of 83 buildings. Known as the White Heron Castle because of the wing shape of the buildings, the fortress features views of the surrounding areas and elevated defense positions for soldiers to fire down on attacks. Himeji castle has been featured in film and TV for years, most notably in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. 

The castle is full of legendary tales, from the master carpenter who killed himself over dissatisfaction in his work to the old woman who turned over her millstone to help with the castle construction to the ghost of the poor servant woman whose spirit still haunts the well her body was thrown into. Visitors to this magical castle can see a rich tapestry of Japanese history.

Did we miss any favorites? Let us know in the comments. And please share this article with anyone interested in Japanese history or castles of yore.

392 Year-Old Shark Found in the Arctic May Be The Oldest Living Vertebrate 

Image by Julius Nielsen Instagram/juniel85

The Greenland shark has the longest known lifespan of all vertebrate species. Scientists have recently discovered a Greenland shark that is at least 392 years old!  According to reports, the Greenland shark was found living in the arctic and could very well be the oldest living vertebrate creature in the world. 

The researchers measured the creature and estimated that it could have been born as early as 1505. It is known to live in temperatures of -1° Celsius and 10° Celsius. A report by Metro.co.uk, said that the shark can swim as deep as 7,200 feet and weighs more than a ton. 

According to the report, the found shark measured at 18 feet in length. It is this length which reportedly can mean the shark can be anywhere between 272 to 512 years old, as this species grows at a rate of 1 cm in a year. 

A report by The Sun said it was the oldest of 28 Greenland sharks to be analyzed. These sharks have an estimated lifespan of 400 years and they spend their time swimming around looking for mates, report claimed.

Image by Henrik Schurmann

What implications does this astounding creature have on us humans? Scientists are now studying the longevity of Greenland sharks to see if the science behind their longevity can be applied towards humans one day. One possible explanation for the sharks’ longevity is that they spend their lives 2,000 meters down, where the water temperature is around 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme cold is associated with slow metabolism and maturation — Greenland sharks don’t reach adulthood until age 150 — as well as long life spans. 

Of course, humans aren’t about to start living underwater. But scientists think in the future we might be able to incorporate into our own bodies some of the shark’s life-extending biological adaptations. 

What do you think? Would you splice shark DNA into you so you could live longer? Let us know in the comments!

Swedish Solve Clutter with ‘Death cleaning.’ 

If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead. 

That’s the blunt assessment of yet another self-help author from abroad who is trying to get Americans, who have an addiction to collecting and storage units, to clean up their acts. 

The latest volley in the decluttering business comes from Stockholm, where 80-ish artist Margareta Magnusson has just published a slim yet sage volume, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The book will be published in the United States in January. 

While Japanese item-control diva Marie Kondo gave us strict instructions to keep only things that spark joy, Magnusson’s book is straightforward and unsentimental (with a bit of humor). The main message from this mother of five is: Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair. Magnusson says you can keep things that evoke good memories; there are no hard-and-fast rules such as folding your remaining T-shirts to stand upright in your drawers, as dictated by the KonMari method. 

The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called “dostadning,” is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) Karin Olofsdotter, 51, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, says her mother and father, who are in their 80s, are in the midst of it back home. 

“My parents and their friends are death cleaning, and we all kind of joke about it,” Olofsdotter says. “It’s almost like a biological thing to do.” Olofsdotter says part of Swedish culture is living independently and never being a burden to anyone. How you keep your home is a statement of that. 

Magnusson, who has moved 17 times, says women often end up doing the death cleaning. After her husband died, she had to declutter their house; it took her almost a year before she could downsize to a two-room apartment. She says that although it felt overwhelming, she is glad she did it herself, as her husband would have wanted to keep everything and her kids would have disagreed about what to keep and what to toss. This way, she made her own decisions. Now she continues to do it on a regular basis. 

Magnusson suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age. 

A few of her tips: Don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything. Make sure you keep a book of passwords for your heirs. Give away nice things you don’t want as gifts, such as china or table linens or books, as opposed to buying new items. Keep a separate box of things that matter only to you, and label it to be tossed upon your death. It’s okay to keep a beloved stuffed animal or two. 

Magnusson and one of her daughters filmed a video in which she talks about why she decluttered and how it’s not a sad process, but more of a relief. Her daughter asks whether her mom would help her begin death cleaning. They go to a storage locker overflowing with luggage and clothes and blankets topped by a garden gnome. 

“Oh, my God. What are you going to do with all this crap?” her mother says in perfect English, taking a look around. They discuss how long it’s going to take. 

Author Margareta Magnusson. Photographer: Alexander Mahmoud (Alexander Mahmoud) 

“You are never ready with your death cleaning because you don’t know when you are going to die,” Magnusson says. “So it goes on and on.” 

When you are dead, then it stops, they agree. 

“Finally,” Magnusson says.

First-seen Neutron Star Collision Crashes So Hard The Whole Universe Wobbles and Flings Out Gold 

Two stars slammed into each other sending out ‘huge amounts of gold’ in an alchemical explosion causing the universe to ‘wobble’ scientists said. 

On 17th August, the neutron stars collided 130 million light years away, expelling ‘precious metals’ and elements such as ‘platinum and uranium’, in turn creating a ‘new chapter in astrophysics’, scientists said. 

According to a report in <em>the Independent</em>, the crash has ‘confirmed theories about the origin of the mysterious neutron stars’. 

The gravitational wave signal, which has been named GW170817, was detected at 1.41pm UK time on 17th August, marking only the fifth time this type of wave have been spotted on Earth. 

Scientists say they not only ‘heard’ this phenomenon by measuring vibrations in space-time, they used telescopes to ‘see light and radiation pouring out of the stellar fireball, called a kilonova’. 

Every other wave detection in history has been ‘traced to black holes’ colliding in more than ‘a billion light years away’. 

The Independent writes the two stars, ‘each about 12 miles in diameter, stretched and distorted space-time as they spiralled towards each other and finally collided’. 

Adding, like ‘ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, the gravitational waves fanned out across the universe at the speed of light’. 

The ripples were picked up on Earth by detectors in Washington and Louisiana, which are operated by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). 

British LIGO scientist Professor BS Sathyaprakash, from the University of Cardiff, said: 

"The 12 hours that followed are inarguably the most exciting hours of my scientific life. This event marks a turning point in observational astronomy and will lead to a treasure trove of scientific results." 

The origins of gold, along with many heavy elements has been a mystery for a long time, but recent evidence suggests colliding neutron stars could well be involved in their creation. 

LIGO’s detectors, consisting of L-shaped tunnels with arms 2.5 miles (4km) long, use laser beams bouncing off mirrors to measure movement across a distance 10,000 times smaller than the width of a proton, the kernel of an atom. 

Dr Samantha Oates, also from the University of Warwick, said: 

"This discovery has answered three questions that astronomers have been puzzling for decades: what happens when neutron stars merge? What causes the short duration gamma-ray bursts? Where are the heavy elements, like gold, made? 

In the space of about a week all three of these mysteries were solved." 

The discovery has also ‘solved the mystery of what creates short wave gamma ray bursts which are picked up on Earth and could help pinpoint how fast the universe is expanding’, according to The Telegraph. 

Her colleague Dr Danny Steeghs said it is a ‘new chapter in The new findings were published in research papers in the journals Nature, Nature Astronomy and Science. 

And professor Laura Cadonati, from Georgia Institute of Technology, US, said: 

"This detection has genuinely opened the doors to a new way of doing astrophysics. 

I expect it will be remembered as one of the most studied astrophysical events in history." 

It is being hailed as the first known instance of multi-messenger astrophysics: one source in the universe emitting two kinds of waves, gravitational and electromagnetic. 

To learn more about the event, check out this PBS video below:

 

Can Silence Heal Your Brain? Science Says Yes 

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.” 

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”. 

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think. 

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence. 

 A 2013 study on mice  published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning. 

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. 

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.” 

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain. 

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence 

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information. 

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.” 

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues. 

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world. 

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way. 

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.” 

Silence relieves stress and tension. 

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. 

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says. 

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain. 

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources. 

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving. 

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills. 

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 

Summation 

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good. 

What do you think? Will you be practicing silence? Let us know in the comments!

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