Monday, January 09, 2012

Monday January 9, 10:49 p.m.

This is the 4,185th entry since I started this blog all the way back in 2003. And this will be my last entry as well since the title is no longer relevant to my current situation. I'm back for good in my hometown of Toronto, Canada. Yup, I'm now currently an unemployed teacher in The Great White North, trying to carve out some sort of new life in an old city in my middle age....almost sounds like a premise for a new sitcom. In any case, that's old Narita Airport out there.

And this was my final meal in The Land of the Rising Sun....a plate of Japanese-style hamburger topped with grated daikon and ponzu. Not exactly the most traditional way to finish off my nearly 2 decades of culinary life in Japan, but then again, I was eating karaage bento 3 times a week. I will definitely miss my fried chicken with rice...along with kaiten sushi, tonkatsu and tonkotsu ramen.
Japanese food may exist all over the world now but nothing beats the real thing.

I will also miss truly convenient convenience stores, the vending machines on every street corner, near-absolute safety and subways/trains that actually come on time. But most of all, I'll miss the students and friends whose lives I was allowed to enter since 1994. The profession of English conversation teacher has been an invaluable one for me. I don't think I could've been exposed to such a large swath of Japanese society in any other type of career. I can consider myself lucky that I will still be able to have contact with a lot of them via other media such as Mixi and Facebook.

Although I finish this blog, I've already launched the sequel "Tokyo To Toronto"on . If some of you Americans or Russians would like to know what happens in Toronto beyond episodes of "Flashpoint", come and visit me there. I just have this need to ramble on and on and on.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

Saturday January 7, 8:31 a.m.

Before the scouring of my apartment began in earnest, on Sunday December11, the Movie Gang became the Hooters Gang for one night. Yup, MB, The Sylph, The Satyr (without Miss Ivory...the two did indeed break up), Skippy, The Wedding Planner and I made our last trip together not to a movie but to the lone transplanted version of one of America's pop cultural institutions. Strangely enough, the Tokyo branch of Hooters was placed in the somewhat tonier and less skankier area of Akasaka-Mitsuke.

But then again, Japanese pop cultural customs dictate that any importation of foreign culture be given that Japanese twist. So, Tokyo Hooters was more sexy/cute than skanky. The waitresses were far less voluptuous though attractive. It was like being served by AKB 48 in less clothing....that's not exactly an insult, by the way. And I'm not sure if the original American Hooters branches also have the same rule, but the Tokyo branch requires that permission be granted to take pics of the girls. Mind you, I couldn't really see the locals in the States going on a major photographing spree in a Hooters.

The other thing that made this Hooters quintessentially Japanese is the walled booth that we got. It seems that a lot of manga artists have visited the place, so there were pictures of saucer-eyed manga girls and Gundam robots drawn all over. That's about as raunchy as it got.

I guess because of the toned-down nature of the women there, we could focus a bit more on the food which was typically diner fare. I was OK with the deep-fried pickles although I was far in the minority. Although I very much doubt that the Movie Gang will make a 2nd visit in the near future, at least I can say that I was finally able to visit a Hooters before I left Japan.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Friday January 6, 8:19 p.m.

Almost a month ago...December 13, to be exact...Operation Exodus had its most tumultuous stage when the boys from Dustman descended on my 17-year-old home and scoured it clean.

Dustman is the Kanto-wide recycling and disposal firm I'd hired to do a lot of the heavy lifting of things such as my furnishings, appliances and my air conditioner. Two friendly fellows first, I'd thought that with just two of them, it would take the better part of the afternoon to get rid of everything. However, Dustman got everything done within 90 minutes. They were more ruthless than the Borg. Considering how quickly they literally scoured through nearly 2 decades of stuff, I had to ensure that they wouldn't throw away stuff I actually wanted to my passport, remaining clothing, etc. They didn't come cheap either, although I was grateful for their help. Cost me about 100,000 yen. That included dis-installation of the air conditioner and an extra charge for going down 2 flights of stairs. Just goes to show how much moving can cost.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday December 30, 9:57 a.m.

Can't believe how long it's been since my last entry...over 3 weeks. But that goes to show how hectic it was with Operation: Exodus. I've been back in Toronto for a little over 2 weeks now and I've been able to finally get a good string of restful nights on a soft-but-firm bed. So, now that I'm back in the ol' hometown for good, it basically means that this blog's days are now very numbered. I've just got some entries to run off talking about my final days in Japan. I would love to upload some images but Wi-fi in Toronto, I find, is a tricky proposition at best...but this Samsung netbook that I've inherited from my brother hasn't helped. It's very eccentric...almost to the point that I'm still thinking about getting a new computer. In any case, until I get my dedicated service from the local service, I don't think I'll be able to do any sort of computer heavy lifting. But just wanted to log in.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Thursday December 8, 2:27 p.m.

One more week to go. Just been packing, packing, packing. Luckily, Ms. Watanabe at Nippon Express has been very patient with me and allowed me to get that paperwork into her by tomorrow. I'm sure she has dealt with stressed-out execs on the move before.

Had my final lessons with 001 and Kirk last night. I think both folks looked quite sorry to see me go, especially 001 who was my student for at almost 6 years. But that's the way it goes. Neither she nor Kirk can make it out to the farewell party this Saturday: Kirk has got family obligations and 001 is headed out for Hawaii to participate in the Honolulu Marathon, so last night was truly our last night.

I have a couple of more final lessons today. There is The Kimono Nurse in about 30, and then The Magician. Not sure if either of them will be showing up on Saturday either. Another one who won't be showing up is The Intellectual but I'll actually see him some hours beforehand in Nihombashi for lunch.
Wednesday December 7, 5:54 p.m.

I'm starting to get a bit run down after all these goodbye parties and packing and whatnot. I'm almost finished the packing, though. Strangely enough, I may be able to get away with having one extra box left over. Still, I sent an apology letter to my sales agent at Nippon Express for the holdup in the paperwork.

More final lessons. I said goodbye to The Beehive, The Godfather and Mr. Swank over the past couple of days. And tonight it'll be the same with 001 and Kirk. I actually had lunch with Shrek in Ningyocho. Had a good time reminiscing about our days at U of T.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Monday December 5, 4:39 p.m.

Coming down to the last 10 days before the exodus is finalized. I'm still packing my stuff...I'm hoping that my Nippon Express sales representative is an understanding lady. The last few days have been seeing my final classes with students. And the parties still continue.

In fact, I paid a bit dearly for my debauchery. After going through the annual Speedy Xmas party/year-end party, I think the lack of vegetables in my diet came back to haunt me early Sunday morning. I won't get into the gory details but let us say that I'm definitely respecting the fiber once again. Had a couple of parties yesterday. Met up with some of the former Speedy staffers: Ray, AK and Miss London for lunch at The Brooklyn Parlor in East Shinjuku. Nice food and atmosphere but still rather pricey. Then, it was down to Hobgoblins in Shibuya for the U of T Happy Hour. It really did get into the spirit of Happy Hour...a lot of griping about stuff. But I did meet one nice Japanese woman who had lived in Toronto for a few years and is a landscape architect. She even dissed Mayor Ford heavily....which means she's one of the good guys.

As for the rest of the week, I'm having nothing but final lessons and farewell parties. I'm meeting up with The Godfather tomorrow night for dinner. And Shrek and The Intellectual have asked me to have final lunches with them. Racking and stacking 'em as I see 'em. In fact, I've gotta go since I gotta pack.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Friday December 2, 4:59 p.m.

Man, it must be cold today! I'm in my school and even then I've still got my coat on. That's considering the three other layers and my natural layer of fat. I just can't believe that Tokyo is supposed to hit 18 degrees this weekend.

I'm at less than 2 weeks and counting before I take that last Air Canada flight from Narita. Another sign that my adventure here is soon to end is the fact that I've been writing "FINAL" after a number of students' names when I write down their reports. I did it with The Sisters of State this week and I did it with The Bass after his lesson this morning in Funabashi. That picture is the signboard for our cafe, Grace, near the station. It was a good place to hold lessons since we often had the 2nd floor all to ourselves. Today, though, there were actually two pairs of businessmen but they were no problem. I'm gonna miss that place.

Sped cross-city to Nakano-Sakaue to Speedy's for a lesson with The Kimono Nurse. Jolly as usual, and laughs at anything I say. Heck, I just exhaled and she guffawed. She can't make it tomorrow for the annual Xmas party but she's a hopeful for my farewell party at Speedy's the following Saturday. Tomorrow's party will probably be the smallest in the history of the school. There will probably be more staff and teachers than actual students, although I know that Mrs. Thursday will be there with her daughter. Heck, even a former student, the flirty Polynesian will be there...probably to imbibe as much alcohol as possible.

I've got The Button-Down Girl for what may be either her second-last or last lesson tonight at that Cafe de Crie in the Subnade shopping complex in Shinjuku. I hope it isn't too lively there, otherwise I'm gonna have a heck of a time trying to hear her during the class.
Friday December 2, 4:36 p.m.

After devouring half of the food of Tokyo at The Royal Park, The OL, Betty Boop and I decided to walk off some of the thousands of calories ingested and went up one of the nearby towers to its 47th floor. I got some spectacular shots of the view.

This is a picture of Hama-Rikyu Garden Park, formerly a villa of one of the Tokugawa family of shoguns back in the 17th century.

Took another shot beyond the park and onto Bay Bridge.

And this is a birds-eye view of the famed Tsukiji Fish Market. Never actually visited there since I don't desire to sacrifice valuable sleep just to watch folks haggle over a hunk of frozen tuna.

Over the past few years, Betty Boop has been working on a farm all the way out in Chiba Prefecture. Despite all of her high-energy behaviour yesterday, she remarked that she has been a bit depressed since one of her horses bit the dust over the weekend, and for the reason that I'm heading home forever. I did invite her and The OL to come and visit Toronto from time to time. Both of them have done homestays in the United States, and BB had stayed for nearly 2 years in California, so they should be able to come and visit their old teacher.

As I indicated, it was a totally free lunch and dinner day yesterday since after I finished teaching The Carolinan for her final lesson last night, the bossman and his wife took me to the nearby tsukemen shop and paid for the whole thing. More on that later.
Friday December 2, 4:24 p.m.

Yesterday was one of those extremely rare days when I didn't have to pay a single yen for food. For one thing, The OL and Betty Boop took me out to The Royal Park Shiodome Hotel in Shimbashi for an all-you-can-eat buffet up on the 24th floor. Pretty swanky. I see The OL often enough for her lessons, but I hadn't seen BB in a few years. She was still as manic as ever although she either couldn't or wouldn't utter any English since she's been out of practice.
Yup, this was definitely a high-class buffet. No pre-wrapped o-shibori here. And there was decadence well represented....for example, an omelette stuffed with foie gras and covered in truffle sauce. I wondered if I needed to deposit a down payment before getting one of those.

This is what it looked like when the chef did his job. I think just watching him professionally make the perfect omelette was worth the price of admission.

One of my three rounds up to the buffet table.

A major scrum erupted around the buffet table when the waiter brought out a tray of pieces of strawberry shortcake. It was kinda like watching a shark feeding frenzy. No report on whether the waiter survived the onslaught.

However, the ladies were able to get three slices from the table.

Friday December 2, 4:10 p.m.

As I mentioned, Tuesday was pretty much an all-day round of feasting for me due to the farewell parties. Lunch on that day was eel with The Beehive; then later that night, I went down to tony Ebisu and met The Sisters of State for dinner. The Carolinan took us to a place that she knew called "Les Gaku de Mariages", a tiny French place that had gotten quite a number of stars for its reputation.

First off was an appetizer with a couple of slices of marinated mackerel hiding underneath some slices of kabu radish. Everything was marinated in honey and vinegar.

This might look like something that a staffer may have forgotten to rinse out after the fact, but it's actually consomme foam over foie gras mousse. Yep, it's pretty zeitaku...high class.

The main course: Iberico pork in a mustard sauce. It was as tender and juicy as it looked.

I guess I was fated that day to have shirako. I first had the milt when I was at Inariya, that eel restaurant that I'd gone with The Beehive. Then, at Gaku, one of the courses was squid-ink risotto with a bed of sauteed shirako on top. Some of that cod must have a price on my head by now.

And for dessert came wine jelly and a compote of pear with a slab of vanilla ice cream on top. Couldn't get more French than that.

For all intents and purposes, that was the last time for me to see The New Yorker. And I saw The Carolinan for the final time last night here at Speedy's. It ended pretty quietly and the bossman offered to have one of his new teachers take over for me. The Carolinan took in the information without making any committment, so we shall see. She's definitely one who keeps her cards close to her chest.

Friday December 2, 1:25 p.m.

Wet and cold out there today. I swear it feels more like Toronto than Tokyo. Wouldn't be surprised if a few flakes fell down. But true to our recent yo-yo weather patterns, it may hit the rosy heights of 18 degrees C this weekend.

Nothing says the end of the year in this country when two lists come out via the media here. One is the "Ryukougo Taisho" or "Trendy Words Award of the Year". And the other is the performer list for the December 31 "Kohaku Utagassen" or "The Red & White Song Festival" held by NHK. As usual both lists got a full court press.

The trendiest word this year is "Nadeshiko Japan", one of the few words not to be associated with the March 11 disaster and probably one of the few positive ones. The word is the name of Japan's Women's Soccer Team which won the Women's World Cup earlier this year. Some of the other words are "3/11" and "Dojo Naikaku" which translates into The Loach Cabinet referring to current PM Noda's administration; during his acceptance speech as the new Prime Minister, he referred to himself as a mudsucking loach...basically a plain-speaking, hard-working fellow. Strangely enough, I didn't see the word that I thought would be up there: "setsuden" conservation.

As for the Red & White, it's the usual cast of characters: Saburo Kitajima and Sachiko Kobayashi will be there as the enka veterans, and of course, Arashi and AKB 48 will draw in the young crowd. But for the first time, K-POP will also be represented by the leggy KARA and Girls' Generation (I can only guess that toilets will probably stop flowing altogether during their performances...and then start gushing like a Noah's Ark flood immediately after). But the thing that got me is the first-time appearance of Sayaka Kanda...and her far more famous and successful mother, Seiko Matsuda, in a duet. When I realize that I first saw Seiko-chan 30 years ago on the Kohaku as a teenager, I can hear those wrinkles erupting all over my face. In any case, my attitudes toward the year-end visual wallpaper just make me think that it seems to resemble more and more like another one of those 4-hour Music Station specials that come on every 2 months on TV Asahi.
Thursday December 1, 6:25 p.m.

Now to describe the massive feasting and farewells on Tuesday.

The Beehive and I had our usual lesson at Cafe Nard out in Funabashi, but afterwards we had lunch just around the corner at Inariya, an eel restaurant. Now some of you folks may be retching right now at the thought of eating something marine and long, but for me I actually fell in love with the fish 30 years ago.

Because of our numbers, we had the largest room in the restaurant, a very homey chamber. It even came with its own tokonoma, or alcove.

Classy service all the way.

Our first course was this small bowl of tofu topped with 5 salmon eggs and a whole boiled oyster.

Some more appetizers before the main event. The one that I would like to explain about is at the bottom right. That is, don't run away when I say that is the milt from a cod. Yup, it's a gross-looking thing which is white, soft and glistening. I've seen it used tons of times by The Iron Chefs of Fuji-TV but never got to eat it. But on Tuesday, I not only had my first taste of it at Inariya but I ended up having a second taste later on that night at the French restaurant with The Sisters of State. And the verdict was pretty good, kinda like mozzarella cheese in taste and texture.

Even the beer was served in something that looks like it should be in an art gallery. Pretty much all of the serving dishes did.

This was the o-sumashi, the clear soup of the lunch. It contained rings of deep-fried tofu, or abura-age, and the kimo, or liver, from an eel. Again, I'd like to say that we didn't eat this on a dare.

And the main event: una-ju. Grilled eel slathered in sweet and savory sauce placed gently over a bed of rice in a lacquered box. Couldn't ask for a better culinary sendoff. As I mentioned, I first ate this 30 years ago when I'd come here for the second time. The rest is history.

Now, since I was dining with ladies in their upper middle age, appetites wouldn't be as huge so being the vacuum cleaner that I am, two of them generously gave me portions of their eel lunches. I was quite filled, I tell you.

After a rather heavy lunch, it was nice to have something as refreshing as a slice of melon.

This is the alternate entrance to Inariya on the side street. In a way, I think this somewhat more dilapidated entry seems more appropriate.

Thursday December 1, 5:49 p.m.

Last Friday, as you may have read, I'd gone to dinner with my old friend The Acupuncturist in East Shinjuku. After dinner there, he took me to some sort of festival that was going on just to the east of Kabukicho. There is a huge temple there and everything was going on around it. Plus, the north edge of the main street was lined with the usual stands of yakitori, okonomiyaki and chocobananas as would usually be the case for a huge festival.

Yup, it was quite the crowd. But it was a Friday after all. I took this shot from the top of the stairs going to the temple. It was indeed wall-to-wall people.

Friday night in Tokyo? Festival? You bet the crowds will be out to get their fill of drink and squid. The folks were all bunched up on the benches drinking their Asahis and shochus. And it was a pretty chilly night.

Of course, this was a temple so folks were lining up to literally throw in their two yen and pray for a better tomorrow. Considering this year's events, I think people were praying that much more strongly.

Quite the dazzling array of lanterns.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside but there was even a freak sideshow of sorts. Yes, even in this country, they have such things. We were privy to the hebi onna...the Snake Woman...a heavily made-up lass with Sadako (the ghost from "Ringu") hair who took chomps out of a dead decapitated snake. I had been kinda looking forward to a more Ozzy Ozbourne treatment, though. Still, it was also fun watching the same woman string a metal chain up her nose and out her mouth.

This particular avenue had shops selling various battledores...wooden boards with handles suffused with flowers and other ornaments. One rather tipsy fellow held his purchased battledore and proclaimed something, so I gather that it is used as a giant charm of sorts. Somewhat less ornate versions are used on New Year's Day to play some primitive form of badminton, although I think the shuttlecock would probably end up getting caught on the branches.

In any case, I'm glad that I could see my final festival before I depart.