Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sunday January 1 2006, 1:52 p.m.

I've been up for nearly a couple of hours after 8 hours of sleep. I ended up watching this late-night bowling match amongst a whole slew of tarento which was strangely engrossing.

Now that I'm up, I'm switching back and forth between the local channels and CNN which has Anderson Cooper about to bring in the New Year in New York. Speaking of Anderson Cooper, he's had quite the year, hasn't he? Before Katrina, he was just the wisecracking cable journalist with an obsession for Japanese navy recruitment videos. After the killer typhoon, he became the Voice of Reason for all of America (seemingly) and the "It" guy of TV news. Kinda reminds me of Tom Hanks' career.

Right now on local TV, it's been nothing but variety shows. If there is a day that is custom-made for tarento's alleged talents, this is the day. Viewers need a reason to plonk themselves down at the kotatsu and eat their mikan and o-sechi. The male TV personalities are all decked out in hakama while the females are all dolled up in their kimonos. And of course, there are tons of live on-site coverage from all over the country of some of the newer tarento earning their stripes by doing all sorts of stuff such as visiting the best restaurants, dunking themselves in onsen or skiing down their mountains. Lots of silly games in store as well. This will be the custom for the next few days.

And now it's 2006 in New York....

I received a couple of e-mail New Year's cards from The Teacher and Ms. Perth of The Beehive. I'm sure that there are a few cards in the postbox waiting to be picked up downstairs but I'm not quite ready to head on out just yet. I'll probably be calling my Uncle later tonight to wish him and his a Happy New Year and thank him for the castella....which I'll probably totally consume three days past the expiry date even if I eat three slices a day.
Saturday December 31, 11:44 p.m.

Well, the 56th annual Kohaku Utagassen is coming to a close. Against my expectations and good taste, the win went to the White (guys) team. The usual rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" finished things off. Actress Yukie Nakama, who was the young host and captain of the Red (girls) team looked rather pissed when she gave her congratulations to her male counterpart (I don't know his name...I just remember him from years ago from the drama "Hitotsu Yane no Shita" as the mute wheelchair-ridden boy). You know that time is indeed passing when you see more and more Musume old enough to be at the big singalong at the end of the festival.

Gotta admit that this year's festival did go rather well. The producers threw in a few changes into the lineup. In the past, younger viewers could catch their faves in the opening half while the older folks caught the enka singers in the latter half of the program. This time, they actually had two enka singers start the program off and some of the younger groups and singers like SMAP and Mika Nakashima were in the very last minutes. There was even...gasp...some needed spontaneity. A lead singer for this rather bizarro band stopped the song midway to go and have a talk with the newly minted ozeki, Koto-O-Oshu of Bulgaria. And although I had been rather leery about the very democratic process of having the citizenry of Japan pick out the singers and their songs since I felt that it was just gonna lead to a feeling of Kohaku reruns, it was actually nice to hear some of the old songs again. Mind you, I think there should be a rule of minimum time between a re-performance of a song. I swear that some performers just sang the same song from last year.

One unintentionally hilarious usual, enka singer Saburo Kitajima, the grand veteran of the proceedings at 42 appearances, had his blizzard of paper snow come hailing on him (I wonder how many trees gave their lives for his performance) as usual. Then, when they cut back to the hosts and other singers, they looked rather nonplussed as they tried to dig out of the storm before they all got back to telegenic mode.

Well, it's past midnight and we're now into the New Year. I just bypassed the NHK "Yuku Toshi, Kuru Toshi" (The Leaving Year, The Coming Year) to watch an orchestra play the epic Beethoven 9th Symphony to end right at 12 midnight. The orchestra was successful of course. Much more thrilling than waiting to hear gongs.

How was my 2005? Can't say it was an annus horribilus but can't really say it was a great year either. I've had to tighten my belt financially and face all the tax and immigration stuff. I also lost a number of students...that in a few cases perhaps I shouldn't have: Jazz Buddy and The New Kid are two that will stick in my craw. However, there were some high points such as my trip to Taiwan and the birth of my niece. Do I have any resolutions? One is the chronic need to shape up physically...I really have to do better with my weight. The other is trying to get more in the plus column financially. Not quite sure how to pull that one off. Not quite sure what I'm gonna say next year in this blog at this time either. Will I be happier with some lady at my side? Will I be celebrating my 13th year in this little apartment of mine? Will I still be alive?
Saturday December 31, 10:56 p.m.

Less than an hour left in the Red and White Show. Well, I have to admit that it has been more on the entertaining side than usual. Probably because there has been more to anticipate than in recent years. How far could Kumi Koda go in her traditionally skimpy fashion on staid NHK (not too racy but enough to keep the fans happy)? What would two different generations of Morning Musume do on the stage (pretty good performance for them)? How would cross-dressing Gorie do in his/her (kinda) cover of The Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" (answer: he and about a thousand cheerleaders have probably won it for the girls' side with one of the most liveliest performances in recent history)? And I'm currently seeing the legendary Queen of J-Pop herself, Yumi Matsutoya, appear for the very first time on the Kohaku Utagassen...although it's with her multi-culti unit, Friends of the Earth, to do what will probably be just a one-off. And Misato Watanabe is still yet to appear with her 20-year-old anthem, "My Revolution", and I'm waiting to see even bigger legend Akiko Wada do her soul stuff with dance music guys, M-Flo. All in all, the anticipation has been well met with good performances. I hope the same holds true for next year.

Speaking of Morning Musume, I was checking the J-Pop forums. The folks at the MM forum have been covering their performance like the US media did for the infamous Gore-Bush election of 2000. It's Oscar night on the Net!

As for dinner, the Sweet N' Sour Chicken came out well and I'm saving half for dinner tomorrow. I also have a pot of stock ready for some more goodies since I used it tonight for that toshikoshi soba. Feeling pretty full right now. I would pop open the bubbly at midnight but I don't think my stomach will be able to handle the alcohol.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Saturday December 31, 2:45 p.m.

Odd thing about these long's awfully hard at times to remember what day it is or even if it's the weekend or not. During a regular work week, I can figure out that if I have The Class Act then it's a Monday...if I have the kids and JJ then it's a Saturday. With no lessons in the past few days, every day seems like every other day. I guess that's how the chronically unemployed feel. It almost feels like an eternity since I had The Lady and The Matron back on Monday.

Just came back from my final shopping of the year. The neighbourhood immediately around me was very quiet...kinda like Xmas back in Canada. I just bought some toiletries and then went to the supermarket to get some goodies for tonight. Since it is an auspicious night tonight, I'm going for Sweet N' Sour Chicken with that remaining Mabo Dofu from last night....all Chinese. I've had the chicken marinating for over 24 hours so that sucker should be plenty tender and flavourful by now. I also got the fresh toshikoshi soba for cooking later tonight while I'm watching The Red and White Song Festival on NHK...why I continue watching that program eludes me; maybe it's some subliminal programming emanating from the other programs in December that makes me watch this annual tradition that has long passed its freshness date. Case in point: NHK has two regular weekly programs from the same hall that deal with enka and the current craze in rock and hip-hop tinged pop respectively...and in addition, there are all of the other music programs all over the Japanese TV spectrum. There's no real particular need for the Festival since its original purpose of cheering up the folks during the bleak postwar years has long gone. And the forced cheeriness of all these old enka singers against the sullen "Why the hell did I accept to come here?" attitude of some of these new young acts just reminds me of a massive monthly family reunion. Well, I guess it makes for some pretty good audio-video wallpaper. In any case, while the Red-and-White is playing on, I'll be simultaneously taping another old chestnut of New Year's programming on TV Tokyo. This show is strictly for the older generation: 4.5 hours of enka for the parents.

The supermarket was crowded as usual. And the o-sechi foodstuffs were in full display on the shelves. I just bought some ready-made squid tempura to top off my soba. However, despite the fact that a lot of stores will be open on New Year's Day, my supermarket and the one across the street will definitely be taking a breather for the next couple of days. Well, at least I know that I'll be cocooning very close to home. Luckily, there is that restaurant up the street which stays open all year and the convenience store around the corner didn't have any signs stating any closing dates so I think I'm covered.

I received a belated Xmas card from a couple of friends who have gone from the wonderful world of English teaching into a higher level of financial security (damn them). The hubby has now become a government representative for his state to promote business between his home and East Asia. And to think, a decade ago he was telling the natives to repeat phrases twice. I'll have to send them a New Year's Card. In a way, I've got the worst of both worlds...I have to send Xmas cards and New Year's Cards. The latter is definitely the harder of the two since I have to consult my kanji dictionary and be very careful with my calligraphy skills. Ironic, since most folks nowadays have software in their PCs or even printers whose sole purpose is to spit out New Year's Cards with the addresses and messages printed out in immaculate kanji. For me, I've gotta do it the old way, and usually my way is the messy way. My kanji could probably be bettered by a Grade 6'er after an all-night study session. Also, another fly in the ointment is that I have to be careful about deaths in the family. According to tradition, I cannot send New Year's Cards to families who are in the yearlong mourning period after a death of a loved one. Well, the remembering is often alleviated by a shot across the bow in the form of a printed postcard from the grieving family that a death has taken place. Unfortunately, I didn't get anything from The Matron whose father had passed away earlier this year, although she did mention that fact in the Spring. Equally as unfortunately, my memory storage capacity apparently doesn't extend beyond a few months so when I apologized to her this past Monday that my card to her would show my poor kanji skills, she quickly showed me the light for which I profusely apologized even more. Luckily, she took it in stride. But I did tell her half-jokingly that once she came across it, she is to rip it up into several pieces.

I've pretty much finished off the Big Clean. I did a bit of cheating with the bathroom by just hosing it down with the shower head and then spraying on some of that cleanser everywhere. But I still gotta get the bedroom nice n' tidy and spray some other surfaces. In about an hour and a half, I gotta start taping that enka program.
Friday December 30, 5:39 p.m.

Back in the West, Xmas Eve is the busiest shopping day of the year with tons of customers just grabbing and clawing for all those goodies at low, low prices. Well over here, it's not yet New Year's Eve but I think I got the Japanese equivalent of the lunacy that presides over back home. The supermarket was just packed with people trying to grab the various ingredients for their traditional New Year's food, o-sechi. I did see one forlorn whole chicken waiting to be roasted but it's about a week late now. For those who don't want to spend the night of the 31st slaving away over a hot stove making the stuff, there were some ready-made o-sechi platters but at the steep cost of 10,000 yen (over $100). That's a little too special for me. However, I may grab some noodles and whip up some toshi-koshi soba with some deep-fried squid and green onions tomorrow....that is, if there is any of the soba left. Customers were pretty ravenous today.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Friday December 30, 12:58 p.m.

Pretty nice out there for the penultimate day of the year. Sunny, cold and clear...the usual for a Tokyo winter day. Actually forced myself to lay in bed for a good 10 hours so I just got up a half-hour ago...first time I woke up past noon in several years. Feeling a bit of the burn after trying a heavier weight on my shoulders at the gym yesterday; I think I need to push myself a little bit harder. Just doing my second-last laundry load of the year...I figure that I'll have to clean the futon sheets tomorrow. Usually one of the days in the last week of the year is set aside for The Big Cleanup, a Japanese tradition in which anything is not needed is thrown out and anything that still is will be spic n' span. I'll be setting my Big Cleanup for New Year's Eve.

SR contacted me. She had her last day at her faltering airline company. Thankfully, no big incidents. But unsurprisingly, she won't be able to see me for some time due to her pregnancy and then her duties to take care of the baby. The Denmother once again thanked me for last night. I proposed that perhaps any New Year's party could take place at The Maple Leaf. I'm also thinking of setting any potential lessons with her on Friday right after The Teacher but I've yet to hear when she's available.

I think the TV industry here is now in full New Year's mode according to the TV guide. Huge blocks on the schedule are now saved for multi-hour programs. So far, it's only been news retrospectives on the past year but there have been some comedy bits. The variety stuff should be starting tonight. I'll be making my first taping later for my parents.
Thursday December 29, 11:48 p.m.

Killed two birds with one stone and got my rubdown at the clinic and then did the gym. I got another young guy after having the buttoned-down fellow for a few months. The new guy was also pretty soft on me although I was wearing my vest which could have cushioned the pressure. I think I still prefer the buttoned-down guy.

My gym outing was my first in a couple of weeks. It was probably the most crowded that I had ever seen it in my 15 months at the place. Everyone was on holiday so it was fairly tight going in the locker room and I actually had to wait to get a spot at the showers (albeit just for a few short minutes). Negotiating through the gym room was also slightly tricky...I couldn't get to use all of the machines but I was able to get enough of a workout. I had been thinking of going again the next day but I'm now considering just waiting until the Holiday rush is over. A guy can get spoiled on the usual weekday plan.

I also made what hopefully will be my last withdrawal from the bank for the next few days since UFJ will be closing down all service as of 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve for over 3 days. I imagined things could be pretty hairy in the ATMs on the last day of the year so I decided to jump the gun and get some cash out. There were already a few people ahead of me but it was just a minute's wait til my turn.

After a small pit stop at McDonalds, I met up with the Denmother at Myoden Station. Actually, I first met Scout Q; it was probably the first time that I actually had a meaningful talk with her even if it was only for a few minutes before The D arrived. It would be the eastern group who would join us which meant that Scout B would be the only other addition. However, The D's hip-hopping son also tagged along. We had a bit of a logistical hiccup at the beginning when The D and I got our wires crossed; we both had thought the other knew about this Chinese restaurant in the area. But I think I was the screwup in this one since I was just relating what Yuri of The Beauty Pair had once told me about this wonderful place. But The D took it in stride and so all of us just walked outside for about 10 minutes trying to find this place on our own. We may have found it just on the outskirts of the SATY complex but if it was indeed so, it was just too small for our purposes so we headed on back toward the station and took our meal in an izakaya under the subway tracks.

Scout B wouldn't join us for about 90 minutes so the four of us went on ahead and ordered stuff. We were lucky to share a semi-private room with another group. There was a huge bonenkai going on in the main hall which got pretty rowdy near the end so that we often had a hard time talking over the noise. The D and her son had a fairly humourous argument about the latter going out for the umpteenth time this month...presumably to the bright lights of Roppongi. He's an interesting dude...he has this deep appreciation for hip-hop and dance culture. Despite my limited knowledge of the genre, we had a good brief talk in English about hip-hop music in Japan. We both agreed that pretenders like Namie Amuro and Hikaru Utada aren't really hip-hop singers per se...just pop singers with a little R&B mixed in for good measure. We also both agreed that there is a hip-hop culture buried deep within the streets of Roppongi but it's often covered by these mainstream performers and regular folks who just like talking the talk but not walking the walk (or strutting the strut, as it were). He feels that hip-hop can only be accurately expressed in English since the genre originated in the hardened streets of the American urban cores...not the relatively safe ones of Tokyo. I'm sure that there will probably be quite a few other Japanese who would disagree with him but I can respect his opinion.

Finally, Scout B came...straight from his second part-time job working at a game centre further east in Chiba. The B'ster looks fairly sleepy but he is a hard worker...he's pulling down two jobs; along with the game centre, he also works in a zoo, and he also has classes at a community school so he's got his plate full. In fact, he won't have anything remotely resembling a long holiday since the game centre will be requiring his presence on New Year's Day and then the zoo will also be needing him on the other days.

That year-end party in the next area got very raucous near the end but it finally broke up at around 10. However, and not totally unexpectedly, there were a few shouting matches by drunk folks. The entire group probably numbered in the few dozens so a few out-of-control drunks were an inevitability. But the Denmother kept the conversation flowing. Still, I think our little party dragged on about a half-hour too late. The rest of us were quite ready to move on to a new venue or just home but The D kept on rolling until about 10:30. Perhaps in a way, it was good that we were kept there until that time since if we had followed our instincts and left at 10, we would've been smack dab in the middle of that besotted exodus by the other party next door. Scouts Q and B went the other way while The D and I took the train back west. She did mention a little about the potential for teaching her but we decided to wait until January to make some concrete decisions about time and day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wednesday December 28, 11:01 p.m.

It was another one of those final long days in the big city before the end of 2005. I hit the road fairly early this morning to go to Immigration but it wasn't one of those "up with the robins"-type sojourns. I got to the three-winged monolithic building at about 10:30. I headed straight to Section D for Permanent Residency. I rather wished they would be a bit more specific about their labels. I picked up my number, waited for 20 minutes and endured one of those lousy re-enactments of marital spats on a Fuji-TV morning program famous for them before finding out from the somewhat nervous clerk (I'm sure she's faced down more vigourous reactions than mine) that I was in the wrong line-up since Section D is only for those people who are getting word on their applications for Permanent Residency. For people who are actually handing their applications in, I had to go to Section B for all applications. I was nice enough to just acknowledge the error and went straight over to Section B. When I picked up my number, I found out that there were over 50 people in front of me. That's it, I thought....I'm gonna be spending the rest of my afternoon in the waiting lounge. Well, to my delight, those 50 people just seemed to fly by in about 30 minutes thanks to rapid processing and the 6 counters handling applicants. When my turn came up, I just handed in my documents and tensed up in case that I was missing anything that I hadn't been told about. Within a few minutes, I was given the "In Process" stamp in my passport and told to wait for that postcard. And with that, a big long stage in my immigration process came to an end. Now it would be the waiting game. It's difficult to believe that I may be waiting anything from 6-8 months for Immigration to contact me since my previous times there only involved extending my visa which only necessitated a month's wait. Still, I'm prepared for a long wait as I boarded the bus back to Shinagawa Station.

For lunch, I had my meal at Hansen's once again. Only stuck to one hot and fries this time since I was still feeling rather bloated after the relative feast the night before at The Maple Leaf. Yes, I know that for most mortals, one hot dog is plenty but as my appetite will attest, I'm not any regular person. Still, I'm not nearly as prolific as that Japanese stringbean who managed to eat his way into the record books by downing several dozen franks in a minute...and thereby had Hansen's brought over to these shores (much to my eternal gratitude).

Afterwards, I picked up a magazine at HMV in Yurakucho and then a calendar at the department store Mitsukoshi in Nihombashi with my lone gift certificate. Re-explored Corredo The Shopping Mall for half an hour before heading over to Waseda, a good 3 hours before meeting Skippy there for dinner. I was happy that I did get the one-day pass so I had no compunction to head over to the busier district of Takadanobaba which was one station over. I kinda wished that I had planned those idle hours more efficiently since I ended up staying at two cafes during that time. I had my second chocolate croissant and American (watered-down coffee...for some reason, the US seems to have a kinship with watered-down drinks in this country...must be the Budweiser effect) in as many days. For some reason, this branch of Choco-Cro was morbidly insistent that the front door stayed open despite the cold so the customers in the non-smoking section..namely me...was at risk of frostbite on my legs. So I had to find another venue for reading and idling time..ended up for an hour at a Doutor.

Finally, I returned to Waseda and waited in front of the McDonalds. Luckily, I only had to wait a minute before Skippy showed up (she's refreshingly prompt) and we headed out to this famous place for curry. Forgot the name although it is Thai-sounding. Apparently, the eatery gets a lot of university students lining up for its much so that it has been seen on a lot of these variety shows. However, it is the Holidays and since school is out, the restaurant was pretty deserted, lucky for us. I had the double set of Thai Red and Gray Curries. Very nice on a cold day like today. Skippy, who is continuing to impress me with not only the size of her appetite but with her endurance to spicy food, selected the hottest thing on the menu. I almost gagged on her Thai Chicken Curry...thankfully, we had ordered a couple of lhassies to cool us down. I still can't remember the name of the place but I know where it is and I know I'll be a return customer, provided that I can get a seat during a normal day. Afterwards, we ended up going across the street to one of the domestic cafe chains that has managed to survive despite the steamroller that is Starbucks and Tullys. It's called Chat Noir (the managment could consider changing the name) and we spent another chatting about her job and her supposedly strange neighbour who lives upstairs. She suspects he could be one of those hikikomori, or shut-ins...those people who have decided to live hermit-like existences. Well, she seems to be OK with him, and I guess as long as he isn't into collecting human organs or eyelids, she'll let him be.

Back home now. Just watching...or enduring...the semi-annual "Waratte Ii Tomo" live special. Tamori and all of his charges have just finished a rash of impersonations of other celebs that wouldn't get genuine laughs from the giddiest office ladies at a year-end party. I think the real carousers at such a party would be more effective. But this is what I'm gonna have to be facing for the next few days as we approach New Years.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wednesday December 28, 6:30 a.m.

My mouth currently has that taste of toxic waste...consequences of that chili at The Maple Leaf last night. In fact, a lot of these things went through my piehole over there. I met up with Movie Buddy in Shibuya. I was slightly caught off-guard when he brought a guest but he had stated the night before that he would be asking a couple of current students at the ol' school if they would be interested in joining us. The young lady in question had an uncanny resemblance to The Ballerina...not enough to be considered a twin but she could easily be mistaken for her sister. The Ballerina-B also had some of the original's giddiness.

The three of us got to The Maple Leaf right at the opening time of 5 (I guess that idea of opening up for lunch didn't really work) but the shutter was still down. There was a sign that said that the pub would be open Monday to Friday but we were still wondering if we'd been taken for a ride. However, a few minutes later, a sheepish staff member bounded up the stairs to open up. But as it turned out, there were already a few barflies in there just talking away...Norm-like regulars, I wondered. For the first 90 minutes or so, it was just the three of us on Labatt's Blues, poutine and deep-fried mushrooms. MB enjoyed the light, very refreshing taste of the Blue and wondered what this Pilsener process was all about, but he was also slightly aghast at the hefty price of 900 yen. I found the poutine somewhat disappointing since the gravy came out rather watery. Good poutine should have gravy rich enough to coat the lining of your did make me think about what the financial status of The Leaf was if they had to give out distinctly watered-down gravy. The mushrooms were fine, though.

Surprisingly, Skippy did show up. It was lucky that I was able to contact her on MB's cell since she couldn't find The Maple Leaf after all. I was able to lead her in by meeting her in front of Tokyu Hands several metres away. All that possible offense I may have caused was no longer existent. At the same time, Ballerina-B's classmate, a photographer who had taken shots of an ol' school Xmas party a few years ago. also arrived. The Photog remembered me as the party Santa. Once the whole gang was there, we could tuck into the main stuff so MB, B-B and I had those burgers. Skippy was truly amazing...despite the fact that she had to run off to another year-end party later, she ordered up quite a few things for herself such as the buffalo wings and chili. How a woman as slim as her could have my appetite...well, as it turned, we all helped out with her contributions. She also was her usual very chatty self which lent a very convivial air to the proceedings.

Ballerina-B and The Photog quickly revealed their very strong friendship. They made for quite a humourous pair. The Photog was quick to disintegrate into giggling fits and her mate was one of those tennen boke, a naturally funny person....she could say anything that would be taken a bit off-kilter which would garner laughter. In my years at the ol' school, that type of student was gold in any classroom. It made me a bit wistful for those group classes again. Teaching at that school of Speedy's has been fine for the past several months but we've yet to get that group class; there is that dynamic that's missing.

Skippy had to take off an hour later although she certainly gave the impression that she wasn't all that eager to leave. However, she made plans with me for yet another dinner tonight in Waseda for a curry place that she especially recommended. She would see if OA is available since she lives close by. The rest of us left about another 90 minutes later since there were no coffee-and-cake options at The Maple Leaf. We ended up just around the corner at another one of those Choco-Cro cafes for about an hour where I tucked into a chocolate croissant and coffee. By the time I was on the subway home, I was feeling very beat but I still had some pep left to take a shower. Good thing, too...since I think I would have contaminated my sheets. Despite it being Tuesday, the holiday feeling was definitely in Tokyo. I saw one salaryman heaving his guts out on the walk back to the station and another guy had to be lifted out of the Tozai after collapsing on the train.

Well, now I've gotta eat some breakfast before taking off for Immigration. I've gotta make that final check of my documents and then I'll be off. I've got no idea what the lineup is gonna be like for a Permanent Residency bid....keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tuesday December 27, 9:38 a.m.

I've just hopped myself on the last of the chocolate nuggets that have been laying on my coffee table for about 10 days since the sukiyaki party. Got about 7 hours of sleep but don't feel all that refreshed.

I had written some doubts last night about whether or not Skippy wasn't too happy with my response concerning the night out tonight. Well, I realized some minutes ago that I may have the impression that I wasn't willing to pick her up and guide her into The Maple Leaf since I didn't explain to her that I would be meeting MB about 90 minutes earlier. Tail tucked in between me, I've sent an apology to her cell phone. I hope her cell e-mail size limits don't cut me off.

Well, there's been some interesting news back in The Great White North. Apparently, the federal government has decided to allow group sex houses...I'm sure the politicians are very quietly celebrating this...and maybe I know where. Not surprisingly, Quebecers (their province is the place where the party started) are taking this with their usual grain of sel while the suits in Toronto, uptight as always, have gone onto their PCs to write editorials of outrage. Well, as for me in all honesty, there's a part of me (which one, I wonder...heheheh) which would be curious about visiting such a place but I'm afraid that I would still be left sitting in a corner nursing a soda (cue Charlie Brown theme).

And keeping to the Canadiana theme, it looks like Mike Myers and his wife are calling it quits after 12 years of marriage. I wonder if that means he's gonna move back into the basement in Scarborough. It would be nice to have him as a neighbour again although I'm now living many thousands of kilometres away.

Well, time to get some breakfast and then get some document copying done.
Tuesday December 27, 1:15 a.m.

Yup, I'm still up....had to get through the mountain of ironing. Well, it didn't help that I just had to watch "Star Trek: Nemesis" on DVD last night. Y'know...with all the bricks and bats that I'd thrown at it after that first viewing at the cineplex three years ago, after seeing it again it is actually more palatable. It's still not a great movie and I've now noticed that it borrows heavily from "Wrath of Khan" and even the only good TNG movie "First Contact". But despite all of its faults, the cast still has that long-earned chemistry amongst themselves and Patrick Stewart can still own the room. And to be a bit kinder to Tom Hardy, he did try to be the nemesis to Captain Picard, not an easy acting task by any means. Still, he just came off as a pretty light foe when compared to the scenery-chewing Ricardo Montalban.

I received a call midway through the DVD from Movie Buddy who had just come back from a ski trip to Hokkaido. Looks like he and his girl had a great time hitting the slopes and at a very surprising cost of only 40000 yen for the 4 days. Makes me kinda wonder about how much I had paid for my summer trip to Sapporo last year. Anyways, I'm due to meet him for dinner later today at The Maple Leaf. I kinda wished that Skippy had answered my summons a bit sooner though. She said that she would prefer Wednesday night but I'd already set up the plan with MB so I just let her know the game plan just in case she can come out. Otherwise, the next night is still OK with me. She gave me a rather vague answer stating that if she could come out on Tuesday, she'll be able to head over to the pub herself. Not sure if I offended her or not by jumping the gun like that but then again who can understand women at times?

Well, I'll be hitting the hay in the next few minutes. I'll be writing some notes for Immigration and then making the copies of every document that I have to hand in. Looks like I'll be going to Shinagawa on its last day of operation on Wednesday before it closes for the New Year's holidays.

Saw an interesting BBC interview with Gene Wilder, the original Leo Bloom, on Hardtalk Extra about a half-hour ago. He comes off as this very content, articulate man despite all the woes that had assaulted him in his life including the death of his wife, Gilda Radner, his own neurotic battles and then cancer a few years ago. I can only wish that I can make that sort of peace with life when I get to be his age. It's hard to imagine him as that manic comic actor from the 70s in those Mel Brooks movies and those other films with Richard Pryor.
Monday December 26, 6:09 p.m.

Well, it was supposed to be an ordinary day but I guess a lot of citizens decided to take their New Year's holidays a bit early this year. The subways weren't all that crowded either going or coming....not that I'm complaining, mind you...just a bit odd.

The Class Act had their usual gab session. No free lunch from The Chef, though, since he was taking a well-deserved holiday. I made it out to Speedy's...his neighbourhood was just one big wind tunnel. I think the folks in that area now realize what a Toronto wind chill factor is like. As both Speedy and I had suspected, that model lesson student called in to cancel. The last week of any year is basically the week of Hell for anyone in corporate Japan. Speedy also found that out when he went to the bank to draw out my salary. There was quite a lineup ahead of him. I did quite a goodly sum of money from him which I hadn't quite expected. It still wasn't enough to break through the million barrier but I'll take whatever I can. He also had a bit of a powwow with me for a few minutes concerning any other ideas about drawing in the students. The school has been kinda dry for the past several weeks.

I was doing quite a bit of napping on the subways coming home. Almost missed my stops a couple of times which is a sign that I really need to relax more. Found out that my uncle decided to get a bit of revenge on me by sending me a package of castella cake. Unfortunately, I wasn't home at the time of the attempted delivery so I'm having it re-delivered on Thursday. I'll definitely have to give him a call on New Year's Day.

Movie Buddy slipped in a message while I was in the shower. He was wondering if I were open for either tomorrow or Wednesday night. I decided to drop Skippy a line to see if she were also open since she had sent the same sort of message last week. Perhaps I can then combine the trip to Immigration with the later meeting with either or both. I'm thinking of taking the two of them to The Maple Leaf.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Monday December 26, 7:11 a.m.

The day after... I didn't eat a Christmas dinner last night (that was the Fujimamas experience on Xmas Eve) but I have that "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" feeling. So I'm keeping my breakfast down to cereal, juice and coffee; the coffee I don't really need but since it is a diuretic and I need to...well, unload...

I don't get to watch it every week and I'm not at all interested in cars or driving but I have a special affinity for BBC's "Top Gear" whenever I do get to see it, which I did first thing when I turned on the telly. I don't watch it for the cars but for the snarky banter amongst the three hosts.

There's been quite a bit of news going on over here over the past several hours. Two of the reports aren't happy ones and they've occurred up north. One even got onto CNN...there was a derailment of a JR train in Yamagata Prefecture which has killed three and injured 33 others. Winds might be to blame there. And up in the regional capital of Sendai, some truck driver who apparently snapped decided to ram his car into a major shopping arcade which injured seven. Even before he did the dirty deed, he had sent in a message to police stating that he was thinking of doing something evil. On a happier note, three of the big female skaters here got their tickets to the Olympics. One of them has apparently become the first female to pull off two triple axels in a program...whatever that means. The skaters have already become a regular part of the pop cultural zeitgeist with their frequent appearances on the sports news and, more notably, those chocolate bar commercials with Dreams Come True singing in the background.

I got a call from Mom last night. At this time over at home, my brother and his family should be on their way to my parents for Xmas dinner. They'll be having just roast beef for Xmas dinner (I'm a traditionalist...I think turkey should be mandatory for Xmas, and whenever I am back home for The Holidays, that's what we have). My brother should be bringing over the DVD player for them so that they can put the Hiroshi Itsuki disc I sent them to good use.

Usually when I am back home for the Holidays, I get to see "White Christmas" or "Holiday Inn" or the usual Xmas movies. Last night? Well, along with the Charlie Brown festivities, I saw a few eps of "Space Cruiser Yamato III" on that satelite channel showing old Japanese TV programs. Hm..I guess 1981 can now be considered to be ancient history.

Just before I laid my bloated corpse to bed last night, I turned on the TV to see a bit of that movie-and-music show on TV Tokyo at midnight. Gwen Stefani was showing off her latest music video called "Hollaback Girl". As per her days with No Doubt, her song was catchy as all hell. And continuing on with her current Harajuku Girl obsession, there was the kanji for Harajuku emblazoned on the floor in a ceiling shot. Y'know...when it comes to the local pop diva, Ayumi Hamasaki has often been compared to Madonna. I think that comparison should be changed. Gwen Stefani seems to be more similar in style and looks to Hamasaki. Speaking of The Material Girl (yes, children...back in the ancient 80s, Madonna had that nickname after one of her old songs), she was here last week to promote her latest dance album, and she complimented Japan on the heated toilet seats. Perhaps she should have a word to the Ichikawa City Hall about getting those modern toilets.

I woke up this morning as usual to the talking heads from "Mezamashi Terebi", the Fuji-TV morning news show. Fave sports figure in Japan, Maria Sharapova (she should heavily consider Japanese citizenship...she'd get it in a second) has once more come to her adopted country to show off some fashion. The usual questions of insecurity from the Japanese press came to the fore such as "What Japanese food have you eaten since you arrived?"

It's always simultaneously interesting and sad watching foreign channels such as CNN and seeing all that Xmas ho-ho-ho going on back in the States from a country which treats the Yuletide like we do Halloween...just a cultural observation and not this most important of holidays. I don't harbor any resentment against the Japanese, naturally. After all, Japan isn't a Christian country. But when one has been raised in a Yuletide country, it does seem somewhat poignant. But this week will be different. Now, it will be Japan's time to rev up the holiday motors since their most important holiday of New Year's is on the way. The stores will be selling their special New Year's food and putting up the special decorations to replace the culturally grafted Xmas trees and wreathes.

Now, I've gotta go to the can...
Sunday December 25, 10:15 p.m.

This time last year, I was back home getting stuffed on Xmas turkey and the like. Well, I'm stuffed again right now but it's because of pork kimchi, smoked duck yakitori and lots of rice. Yup, it's Xmas in Ichikawa. As it is not a national holiday here, it was just a regular Sunday outside but the supermarket had some roast chicken legs for families to get for their Xmas dinner including some that looked like they came off of Foghorn Leghorn. I guess those genetic engineering experiments have paid off in dividends.

Indoors, I just listened to some Xmas music and then ended up watching the two broadcasts of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on the Cartoon Network...despite the fact that I'd bought the DVD of the show a few days ago. Yup, I'm a true-blue Peanuts fan.

For dessert, I whipped up some an applesauce concoction with apple slices, butter, sugar and some rum...just like The Madame did last week...and poured it on some of that roll cake...that I had bought last week. Strangely enough, the roll cake is still edible which frightens me in a way. In any case, I'm feeling pretty heavy right now. I was thinking of doing some ironing but decided to hold off until tomorrow since I don't think I should be doing any major moving for the next hour or so.

The Entrepreneur said he would be taping the first David Tennant "Doctor Who" show. It's happening today in jolly ol' England. And according to the BBC and Outpost Gallifrey sites, the show is getting a ton of press. It reminds me of all the hype that "Star Trek: The Next Generation" got when it was about to premiere 18 years ago. Well, David, welcome to the world of Captain Kirk, Obi-Wan Kenobi and...Doctor Who (The Tom Baker years). I hope you're handling the pressure well on this Xmas Day. I saw the full commercial for "The Xmas Invasion" on the BBC, those "special" effects of flying spray-painted styrofoam balls are long over. I just saw that big gherkin building in London effectively explode...authentically, and the TARDIS being thrown all over Rose's neighbourhood. I'm gonna be looking forward to this episode.

Well, I'm back teaching The Class Act tomorrow, and hopefully that will be my final class of the year. Speedy warned me that there could be a model lesson tomorrow night but I'd rather not have to do that as my final. I know full well that Speedy needs the all the clients he can get but I'm just not in the mood for handling that type of lesson at this time of year.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Saturday December 24, 8:53 p.m.

To start my Xmas Eve trek into Tokyo, I went to Maruzen to see if I could pick up another crossword puzzle book. The Oazo complex was abuzz with activity and there were some sizable lineups forming at some of the restaurants underground. Maruzen was also quite busy. I could find the crosswords but couldn't find anything of cheap enough cost to read at Fujimamas. There was The Person of the Year issue of TIME but I just wasn't particularly intrigued about reading up on The Gates or Bono.

Then, it was off to Omotesando to have my dinner. To put it in a nutshell, my experience at Fujimamas was overall fine: the food was great, the mood was suitably understated and enhanced with music of the season, and the service was cordial and efficient. It was just the start and the finish which kinda irked me...specifically, the maitre d'. For some odd reason, despite a series of e-mails between me and the Reservations staffer stating that I would be a party of one, the maitre d' still had me down as a pair of two which kinda confused her and annoyed me for a bit. She apologized and I said "No problem" and we were on our way to my table. I checked the original e-mail just now, and sure enough, I typed it plainly enough...just me. Then when I went to pay my bill, the maitre d' was at the cash counter talking with the cashier for several seconds. She suddenly gave me this one-second shocked glare beam! I'm not sure if she had been taken by surprise by my presence there...I certainly didn't mean to act like a ninja despite my dark clothing (not that I would ever be confused for one from my size). In any case, she just gave a few more quick words to the diminuitive cashier and then she was off. The whole incident lasted just a sec but it was enough to sour me on her....for now. I've seen her during the brunches and she's always come off as a friendly person but tonight for some reason...a pity. It wasn't enough of a problem that I needed to complain about it since I can easily imagine how people in the retail business have to handle overreacting customers (and I'm not exactly Mister Easygoing when it comes to being served incorrectly), but let's say I may hold off on any more visits there for a short while.

Omotesando was extremely crowded with the young tonight. It's been a decade since the local government decided to halt the annual Xmas illumination parade there and yet, it still felt like one big mall. I remember going to one of the last parades there back in 1994 with Chip Guy when he was still an unmarried gadabout instead of the straight-up family man he is now. Man, was that a nightmare! Thousands of couples were being corralled down the main street like cows to the slaughter. It felt like a Blue Jays World Series victory parade in extreme slo-mo except that there was no joy to be had. Romantic stroll?! Try Dead Man Walking! It took Chip and I almost one hour to get from the Aoyama side to the Harajuku side....a distance that usually takes ten minutes. I couldn't blame the neighbourhood association there that the parade had to be stopped since the residents behind all the boutiques and restaurants had to contend with all of the garbage afterwards. And yet, I recall there was quite a bit of a hue and cry about having to permanently shelving this once-annual ritual/ordeal. Believe me, I'm glad it was gone. Still, there were elements of the lights that used to populate the trees lining Omotesando. Just off to one side, there was a huge well-lit and well-decorated tree which was attracting several people to take pics including me. There were several staffers dressed in Santa outfits promoting Southern All Stars, a distinctly summer band.

I went down into the Omotesando subway station and was amazed to find the wondrous metamorphosis that it had undergone. For some weeks before December, the posters were up all over the lines talking about the new complex that would share space with the formerly drab and boarded-up was quite an incongruous mess down there compared to the fancy and trendy neighbourhood on ground level. Well, after what seems to have been a decade of drabness, the new Omotesando station has come out looking like a very new lady. The walls are now faux-marble and where there used to be construction plywood has now been replaced with all of these branches of popular chains such as Bagel & Bagel and Soup Kitchen. And these 26 stores and restaurants riddle the whole station outside and inside the gates. The whole thing is strangely called Echika, presumably a mix of the Japanese words for "station" and "underground". Still, the platforms are in the middle of remodeling.

I made my way home still feeling the buzz of the complementary glass of champagne and my ordered glass of traditional egg nog. But by the time I reached home, I was back to normal. The total cost of Fujimamas came out to just a shade over 5000 yen...not as cheap as I'd hoped but it is Xmas. But I only have 2000 yen in my wallet for food tomorrow. I could make another withdrawal at the bank but discipline tells me not to do so. I should be able to make it until I pick up my usual fee from The Class Act and Speedy on Monday. I'll basically be cocooning on Xmas non-food purchases.

This entry is taking quite a while to write since halfway through, I got chatted from The Croissant who's now back in Japan with her Brazilian friend for the Holidays. Before she came back here, she had told me that there would be a drinking party with some of her old classmates but except for a mention of something from Movie Buddy during the sukiyaki party, I never heard any follow-up. Apparently, there had been something in the middle of the week but The Croissant quickly added that she didn't bother going to that one either. In any case, I couldn't have gone since I had my classes at Speedy. The Croissant mentioned that there could be one planned for the New Year. I shot one across her bow stating that if they really don't want to invite me, that's perfectly fine....after all, students can't really talk as freely as they would like to when teachers are around even if they've stopped their professional relationships for several months. That's also quite true the other way around. We teachers have to often go into our teacher-talk mode of slower delivery and easier vocabulary without a lot of slang. The Croissant reassured me that I would be welcome at any upcoming party but I'll wait for the official invitation. To be honest, I've always wondered how really welcome I am at these alumni-sponsored I really being invited because I have become more of a friend to them or is it just an obligation on their part? Perhaps I will really never know...there will always be a paranoid side to me on that point.

The telly certainly has been bringing up some interesting programming tonight. Nothing says Xmas in Japan more than having one of the country's greatest magicians perform his stuff in front of sumo wrestlers surrounded by a Yuletide setting on live TV. On NTV, I also got another huge surprise when none other than THE Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Russian President, was on a variety show in blazer, blue shirt and no tie just bantering (via interpreter, of course) with a whole bunch of tarento such as the bizarro comedy duo Regulars, buxom beauty Eiko Koike and even the son of PM Koizumi who is an actor. Gorbachev got into the schtick himself when he was telling one of the more hyperactive comedians to go to his room for acting up so much. Right now, there's been a program going on for almost 90 minutes showing off a musical Xmas tribute starring several of J-Pop's finest showing off their stuff. Now I'm not talking about the idols but the more respected folks such as Koji Tamaki, Shikao Suga and Midori Karashima. And even Enya (snore) and Cyndi Lauper are there for a bit of foreign flavour. All of this musical stuff for the season is being interwoven with a little drama involving actress Koyuki (taking that horrible bath in the pond from "The Last Samurai") as a lonely patissier making her cakes for more joyous customers. Nothing like sappiness to perk up the viewers' interest in Japan.

Well, time to take that bath...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Saturday December 24, 2:41 a.m.

Since I took up so much space talking about "Memoirs of a Geisha" last entry, I decided to start anew. Anyways, after being not-so-delightfully surprised about our reactions to the movie, The Madame and I went straight to the Sumitomo Building in West Shinjuku to this cafe just a floor above the venue for the Speedy Xmas party. It was one of those fancy-schmancy cafes that a lot of these omiai couples probably visit after the initial meeting in a tatami room. The sunset view of Mt. Fuji was spectacular. We shared a scone set which had quite a few more items than just the scones...there was a biscotti, a cup of yogurt with blueberry jam, a couple of pieces of cake swathed in whipped cream, and a small cup of two strawberry slices and a slice of kiwi. We were still loading up on food just in case the health food venue for the party held back on the menu.

Mu-mu was on the 49th floor of the angular Sumitomo Building. Speedy and his wife were already there directing traffic. Since we were amongst the first ones there, The Madame and I were escorted to Table No. 1 right by another large window overlooking a great night view of Shinjuku Station. The restaurant was one of those modern places of glass and plastic with whites and dark browns being the primary colours. Our table seated 8 so it wasn't too long before 001 got seated in front of us. 001 recognized the Madame from the Taiwan pics which kinda surprised my dinner date. But they got along fine. Then, an accountant for the school with his girlfriend sat next to us, followed by an acquaintance of Speedy's and her hubby, and finally a mutual friend of 001 and 002. The food was quite good and plentfiul despite Speedy's warnings although there was the inevitable rabbit food salad served. I felt nicely full by the end of the course but for some strange reason, The Madame was still quite hungry more than halfway through the dinner.

The second party was taking place just north of Shinjuku Station at Karaoke Kan, one of the several karaoke box chains in Tokyo. The Madame pulled out due to a busy day tomorrow although I think really it was because she's not into the pastime. I can't really see her crooning her favourite songs in public. We were a group of 17 including Speedy and 001. Speedy, his wife and I had to anchor a lot of the numbers since the others weren't so into karaoke. 001 and SB stayed resolutely mute throughout the 2 hours in our suite. All in all, it was a good night.

I got back home just around the stroke of midnight. Got a Xmas card from The Beachgirl in California...three times. I also got a message from Skippy. She'd skipped the Speedy Xmas party (at 5500 yen a head, I couldn't blame her) to go out with her kid student and his mother to see "Chicken Little". She wasn't as enthused about it as she had been for "The Incredibles" last year but she said it was good enough. She also asked about my schedule next week to see if we could get together for some dinner. And then, SIL sent in a cancellation for her lesson on Boxing Day.

Gonna sleep long and hard after this. I won't have to worry about the Oven Light Gremlin since I unscrewed the light bulb. But I still have to write the remaining New Year's cards tomorrow before I head on out to Fujimamas.
Saturday December 24, 1:49 a.m.

Well, Xmas Eve has finally come to town. And I'm typing this after another long day. I got to Shinjuku at about noon and got the tickets for The Madame and I for "Memoirs of a Geisha". Heeding Speedy's warning about the smaller portions at his Xmas party later that evening, I tucked myself into a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Burger set to fill me up before the movie. I thought I was rushing things a bit but as it turned out, The Madame was 10 minutes late.

Now, as for this movie that I'd been dreading to see for some weeks. Well, it didn't stink. Go fig on that one. I think part of it is that both the Madame and I had heard a rather bad review from Speedy who had seen it earlier in the month, and therefore the both of us had the lowest of expectations when we took our seats. As it turned out, the movie was basically one big beautiful soap opera right down to the dreamy closing credits with the actors' faces in soft focus. I could almost imagine hearing the theme song from "Young and the Restless" instead of John Williams' score. The set design was great, the music was haunting and I could even get through the movie without having the English language script spoken by Japanese actors bother me. However, as Speedy noted, watching "Memoirs of a Geisha" was like watching something through a plate glass window. I didn't particularly feel moved by any of the characters except for Gong Li's Hatsumomo who seemed almost unbelievably evil. It was interesting seeing actors such as Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe and Ziyi Zhang tackle the English script. Before watching it, I was wondering if I were going to have to pull out my red pen and make notes about their delivery but I guess their dialogue coaches were very good since all that talking didn't especially interfere with the story. Also, there was that scene in which Sayuri performs her non-geisha dance...a scene that had been advertised in the papers for some weeks before release. Well, after seeing it finally in full form, I just had to say that that was the Hollywood machine in full action. For me, though, the two steadiest actors were Yuki Kudo (Pumpkin) and Kaori Momoi(Mother). Kudo, or to be more precise...Pumpkin, seemed to have undergone the biggest changes through the movie, more so than Sayuri. She goes from becoming Sayuri's best friend and protector in their early years to a nervous inferior geisha and reluctant rival to Sayuri in their early adulthood to an unleashed US-centric GI Joe-loving moll complete with American slang. And as for Momoi, she was born to play her part. Throughout her career in Japan, she's made a reputation for herself as this brassy, seen-it-all actress. The comedians who have mimicked her usually have done so by smoking this very long cigarette. Well, guess what Mother was smoking during most of the movie. All in all, though, it was an OK movie but again it could have been Speedy-assisted.

Strangely enough though, and I'm intentionally pushing ahead the action by several hours to just a few minutes ago, I have been watching a late-night variety show in which buxom tarento MEGUMI, a more pixieish celeb, and a crusty no-nonsense Japanese director gave their opinions on "Memoirs of a Geisha" after having seen it. Boy, did the director really let the movie, director Rob Marshall, and the two male leads have it with both barrels. He gave the movie no stars and a lot of vitriol. In fact, his anger was so palpable that the rest of the dozen or so celebs on the panel quietened down to a bunch of scolded kids. He reminded me of the ol' Prez from The Company whenever he was beating a tattoo in that former feeb staff/whipping boy in his spleen-venting. However, I had far less sympathy for this director. I've never liked bullies as a matter of course, and I think part of his ire rather comes from right-wing tendencies. He absolutely detested the fact that Chinese actresses were chosen to play Japanese women. Of course, I would've thought it better to cast a Japanese actress in the title role but then again, are there any Japanese actresses famous enough or good enough to be cast in a Hollywood movie? Nope...the sad fact of the matter is when making a Hollywood movie, it's all about the Benjamins and as such, Ziyi Zhang is the "it" Asian girl. Yuki Kudo could've been Sayuri but would there have been as much buzz about it? I say again, nope. On the second point of lambasting Rob Marshall for his ham-handed attempts to depict Japan, I can understand that a bit more. I've never been all that much for Hollywood's attempts to depict The Land of the Rising Sun, whether it be anything from "Shogun" to "Mr. Baseball". But his final attacks on Koji Yakusho and Ken Watanabe while giving some praise to Momoi and Kudo seemed very strange. The director angrily denounced their performances as shameful; basically skewering them for giving a "Let's Do Acting Workshop in English". I don't see the difference between what Yakusho and Watanabe gave from what the two Japanese female leads gave. In summary, the director felt that if they were gonna do "Memoirs of a Geisha", it should have been made in Japanese. can just imagine how Hollywood would've taken that news. Plus, the director misses the point completely. The original novel didn't come from Japan; it was from an American novelist who based the book on interviews with a true-blue geisha. It's an American production so it's natural that it would have been a Hollywood production. To be honest, if I'd seen the movie with high expectations, I probably would have been more amenable to this director/critic but his vitriol just sounded like so much jingoistic breast-beating that I just scowled at him.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Friday December 23, 8:39 a.m.

Well, it's the Emperor's Birthday today(yes, please cue the Darth Vader theme) so another national holiday. Very well-timed as well since it means a long weekend although I'm not sure if people are really willing to head out of the Kanto considering the lousy snow outside. I just heard that 120 million residences...not sure where hit with a blackout.

The folks at Fujimamas contacted me today to see if "my group" would be having the turkey or roast beef on Xmas Eve. Hmm...they already know how big I am, eh?

I watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" just before hitting bed last night. 26 minutes of "happiness and cheer". Initially, I was kinda wondering how the network affiliates were able to stuff 26 minutes with commercials when it came to the annual presentation of this special. Then I realized that they took out the scene with the kids throwing snowballs at the tin can. Yup, the animation and continuity are quaintly wonky, and as I've said before, a lot of the script is just directly lifted from the original comics lending it somewhat of a patchwork feel. However, the Guaraldi soundtrack, the use of real kids to voice Charlie Brown, Linus and all the rest of the Peanuts crew, and the nostalgic feel more than compensates this into classic status. Not surprisingly, it is the scenes which couldn't be shown in comic form that stand out, though. For example, that dancing scene that starts off the second act...where did that idea come from, I wonder. With the juxtaposition of the patchwork-like insertion of the 4-frame comics, that whole second act in the school reminded me of the go-go dance/punchline parts of "Laugh-In", an old comedy show from the 1960s (yup, I grew up on Rowan & Martin...I can just imagine a lot of question marks from you guys born after 1970). Well, after watching the DVD, I went to bed listening to the soundtrack from the show.

My oven light gremlin came back to haunt the kitchen for several hours. Looks like I'm gonna have to unscrew the light bulb in there if I'm not gonna donate any more yen to TEPCO. Anyways, it's time to have breakfast. I guess I'll try to polish off the remaining smoked duck in my fridge.
Thursday December 22, 10:15 p.m.

Went over to Ichikawa City Hall today to pick up those documents for my Permanent Residency bid. Cost me 300 yen per document to get them but it didn't sting me too badly. What did sting me was the stench in the men's toilets. They really gotta switch to modern sit-down Western toilets instead of the old squats. Obviously one guy not only had a stomach problem but one of targeting as well.

Then I headed for Ginza to take advantage of my Yamano Music point card. I was just 3 points away from getting my 3000 yen discount and since it was double-point day I figured I was in for an easy ride. However, it took me quite a while to pick out a suitable CD to sacrifice my cash on. I first tried out the 1st floor which had all the J-Pop discs. I checked out the latest Kazumasa Oda disc which apparently hit the Top 10 in total album sales this year. Well, let's say that I didn't contribute to any further climbs on the list. And then I thought maybe the new CD by sultry songstress Toko Furuuchi would be just the thing. After some quick listens to the various tracks, I also gave it a pass. Basically, I thought both artists suffered from the same problem...they've become so mellowed out that all the songs are pretty much variations on the same theme; a pity since both are good singers. Then, I went up to the 2nd floor to see if there was anything work buying from the Western side of things. Again, it took me several minutes to find something but I finally decided on Spandau Ballet's "Anthology". I kinda laughed at the title. Any resemblance between it and The Beatles' "Anthology" is purely coincidental, I'm sure. Well, what can you say about the former New Romantic band? It was an early 80s fave due to "True" and "Gold". Kinda kitsch now but still I hadn't bought a Spandau Ballet disc for my 80s collection so why not?

I got the golden number of 50 points on the card so I went down to the DVD floor in B1. And I picked up "A Charlie Brown Christmas" DVD (over here, it's called, strangely enough "Snoopy's Merry Christmas" which just makes Charlie Brown's disrespect even deeper). Well, it's too bad that it's just a bare-bones disc without any sort of specials or commentary considering that it is the 40th anniversary but I figure that it's still worth having. It was only 1890 yen so I had to search one more disc to pad out the discount. It took another number of minutes. I wanted to get "X-Men 2" but it was just a tad too expensive even with the discount so in the end I just went with "Star Trek: Nemesis". In any case, it's still a Patrick Stewart movie. I thought the cashier at the DVD counter was a lot more eager to please than the dourpuss on the 2nd floor; then I saw the badge of "Trainee" on his lapel.

By the time I got out of the shop, night had fallen. Ginza was once again bustling with night activity appropriate to an evening of Xmas decorations and shopping. I took the subway up to The Tea Room. As I had expected, it was pretty quiet inside. Just went for the Tea Room salad as dinner since it is rather big. An hour later, The Carolinan showed up. It just goes to show the difference between her and The New Kid in terms of enthusiasm. It takes two to tango. She asked about the ball at The Lady's place since my last time with her was just on the night before it. She was sufficiently amused by my regaling that I was left wondering if I should invite her and the New Yorker next year. In any case, as we were walking back to the station, the winter cultural difference between us was also rather evident. I found the cold rather refreshing and was striding down without gloves; meanwhile, the Carolinan was walking down as if she were somewhere in Antarctica.

Got home to find out that my uncle did send back the document. No message on the machine, though. However, I will still have to acknowledge that it did come back. There was a message from Fujimamas, though, asking for confirmation for my Xmas Eve reservation. No problems on that point...I just sent an e-mail back to them.

Well, tomorrow is that movie date with The Madame for "Memoirs of a Geisha". Hmmm...I hope my low expectations will be rewarded with a delightful surprise. However, considering Speedy's rather negative assessment of it, I'm not too optimistic.

Then, there will be a bit of a coffee break before the two of us head out for the Speedy Xmas party at this place called Mu-mu--Body Balance Dining. Uh-oh...body balance dining? Speedy warned me that it is rather healthy if delicious food which means that the portions will be small. Speedy promised me that I would get double portions although I'm not sure if was just joshing me or not. He did advise me to get something to eat for lunch. So I may have a distinctly unhealthy Wendy's meal beside the Picadilly before The Madame meets me. She's not too thrilled with that place. The Madame should be quite pleased with the portions at Mu-mu and the sky-high night view in the Sumitomo Building.

The winds are howling out there right now. Not sure if this portends to any sort of major weather phenomena in the next 12 hours.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thursday December 22, 8:23 a.m.

When it comes to heinous crimes in this country, and we've had more than our fair share this year, it's always easy to distinguish between those killers who feel remorse/shame from the true sociopaths. Most of the folks who have been arrested are seen with coats draped over their heads or heads bowed down; it's up to file photos to reveal what these guys looked like. On the other hand, there was a case in which two sisters in their 20s were recently murdered by an unrepentant psycho. His mug was fully visible in the perp car, sneering/smiling/glazed. He even gleefully admitted, when he was actually lucid, that he offed his mother 5 years ago with a bat and started his murderous ways to "see the blood flow" again. Sounds like a Japanese Norman Bates.

Today, I'll probably get that lone gym session in this week and then perhaps I may head off to Swarovski Crystal in Shibuya to see if I can pick up that crystal hedgehog that The Madame likes. I'm not hopeful that this will change anything in our strange relationship but who knows? Then I've got The Carolinan for her final lesson of the year. I suspect it'll be another quiet night in The Tea Room.

I didn't quite get that gloriously long night of sleep today but at least I could peg on an extra hour. Hopefully, I'll get some more shuteye as we approach Xmas.
Wednesday December 21, 10:31 p.m.

With an Orange Cassis in a paper cup and some Sour Cream n' Onion Pringles at my side, I'm officially declaring the supposed first day of Winter closed. Another long day comes to a pretty nice end.

In the morning, I went to see the Immigration lawyer in Shin-Okubo and for a half-hour, we went over the documents that I've been able to amass. The big snag appears to be my birth certificate. In most of the other countries, a birth certificate would have both my name and my parents' names, but in Canada....nooooooo. It just so happens that my Permanent Residency bid needs to have that official link between me and my parents stated. Ach...well, at least the lawyer gave me the option of just explaining the situation to the powers-that-be as a note. And as it turns out, the lawyer told me that that form that I'd sent to my uncle to sign is no longer needed at all. Well, I've still yet to hear from him about it but since it's no longer an issue, I'm not worrying about it. However, I still need to get a few more things together before I head on down to Immigration again. It cost me another 5000 yen for the consultation but it's been worth it.

In the afternoon, I met up with The New Yorker for her final lesson of the year at The Tea Room. I got a very nice present from her in the form of Snoopy pins and plastic folder. The pins were just made for Japanese customers since one of them is an Ueno Snoopy. Slow but steady progress from her.

Then I headed on out to Speedy's. Thankfully, it was also another nice night there although Student 003 once again bailed out due to overtime. So I just had another rollicking lesson with 001; sometimes, I think some form of psychic alcohol is fueling our classes. Whatever it is, it's a good tonic whenever I've had a bad day anywhere else. She'll be coming to the Speedy Xmas party on Friday so things should be quite fine at our table at least. I may have a model lesson with a pretty capable young lady on Boxing Day at the school. Hmmm...I'm kinda wondering if this is gonna end up like erstwhile 005.

Considering that this is the first day of Winter, it wasn't too cold today. Not sure if we will get any sort of snow at all tonight although I've been surprised in the past.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tuesday December 20, 10:06 p.m.

Well, today's session at the juku was pretty off-kilter due to the fact that the boss told me as soon as I got into the house that The New Kid would be leaving us for Yoyogi Seminar, a famed cram school. The second shoe has dropped. Therefore, things were pretty awkward especially near the end when I was struggling to think of things to talk about. To be honest, I think things were pretty much inevitable...he's not one of those special kids; he's just a typical teen...a good boy in general...but a teen with the usual disinterest in things, and I'm the type of person who just doesn't do well with teens, especially boys. I'm never very happy whenever I lose students, and I've lost my fair share this year...but I think there's a sense of relief along with the disappointment with this latest departure. As for the other classes...they went OK, although I think I was quite happy to finish them off for the year. I think I need a bit of a break from the juku for the next three weeks.

The second shoe...perhaps one of many pairs to be dropped over the next few months...has also dropped for Hidetsugu Aneha, the notorious architect who falsified all that data so that several buildings are now potential deathtraps. The police and media descended on his strangely dilapidated house so that the former could scour it for evidence while the latter could take as many pictures as possible. The amazing thing is that this pariah lives in my own humble city of Ichikawa. Mind you, my city isn't exactly does spread rather broadly...and I didn't see any TV trucks around my neighbourhood. Ironically, the police also raided the residence of the president of one of the contractors under investigation...he lives in some pretty regal digs. NHK has just reported that today's multiple raids are the one of the largest ever seen in this country. Aneha is increasingly looking more like a pathetic corpse left to swing in a conspiracy of pretty sinister-looking characters.

Well, I've gotta get my paperwork in order to show that lawyer tomorrow. It's gonna cost me 5000 yen for the basic rate but I just wanna make sure everything is OK. I've still yet to hear from my uncle about that document that I'd sent him last week. Ordinarily I would think that I may have sent it to the wrong address but I also sent that present of rice crackers the day after; I just hope I didn't offend him in some way. He's definitely one person that I can't afford to alienate. Basically, if I don't get that document back from him, I don't go to Immigration on Thursday. Plus, I still have to prepare for 3 classes later on.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tuesday December 20, 7:34 a.m.

SkyPerfect is now showing the second season of "Space:1999". Tried to watch the first two eps but frankly the Trekkifying of the show rendered it unwatchable for me. I realize any viewing of science-fiction requires a very huge suspension of disbelief but to have every alien race be able to speak perfect English to a group of humans who didn't choose to be in deep space is perhaps a bit too much to ask for....unless Maya the Metamorph was able to concoct a universal translator.

I've got my first event during the official holiday week next week. The Denmother has set up something for the 29th. The Croissant has been telling me of this party but none of her group, which includes The Coffeemaker and The Barmaiden, has contacted me about it.

A follow-up on one of the grislier news stories this year. I mentioned about that discovery of skeletonized dog heads in a box by a river in Tokyo. Well, Dog's Worst Friend turned himself in a few days ago according to SIL. Apparently, he had wanted to dine on some Fido and Rover. The man, I assume, is getting his head examined in jail where, much to his disappointment, the meat of fare is just mundane beef, fish or chicken.

Speaking of beef, the US variety has finally come back into Japan after a few years of exile due to that BSE scare (which was really Canada's fault). Now, those poor purveyors of beef bowls, gyudon, can run to their local Yoshinoya gleefully, knowing that they can have their old beloved dish again.
Monday December 19, 9:32 p.m.

As expected, the day went pretty smoothly. The morning wasn't as frigid as it had been on the day before but that slowly changed as the day wore on. And as I found out tonight, Nagoya got whacked with a snowstorm, the first time that it actually broke a record in 58 years. Tokyo has still been spared the white stuff but I still think we're due for a White Christmas.

The Class Act's lesson ended up being a gab session while SIL's lesson was another one filled with plenty of mirth. Let's say that the class was filled with topics such as the fattening of the US, jargonization of job terms enemas. I'll let you use your imagination about how that class went, but on her digital recorder, there was a lot of laughter there. In between, I did get that lunch from The Chef after all. On hearing the announcement from The Lady, my big stomach miraculously cleared itself of all that sukiyaki beef and sprouts from breakfast. Incidentally, lunch was Vegetable Curry, Salad, and Strawberries. It's amazing that The Chef can whip up such a great curry although he cannot taste the stuff himself since he hates spicy food. Also, in a continuation of the tribute-to-teacher, I got a bottle of French Red from The Lady which will come in handy for the Beehive Xmas party tomorrow. And from The OL tonight at Starbucks, I received a Starbucks charge card. Hopefully, I can return the favour to The OL in the new year.

Since I was heading home around 6, I was stuck in my first evening rush hour in several years. If I'd remembered about this horrible phenomenon, I would have scheduled The OL's lesson for later on in the evening but I just didn't wanna hang out too long in the city. As it was, it wasn't too bad on The Tozai Line. I managed to find a good niche in the middle of the train for a few stops before the guy below vacated his seat. I consider myself rather lucky.

After all that spending on food yesterday for the sukiyaki, it was nice that I had so much food left over that my supermarket bill was really low. Also, getting that free lunch from The Chef helped as well. I ended up having the sukiyaki leftovers but there's still some stuff left over, so I guess I'll have to have that for Wednesday breakfast since I've got that feast tomorrow with The Beehive.

I got my Xmas package from the parentals tonight. Clothes as usual.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Monday December 19, 8:08 a.m.

My oven light gremlin was back at it last night. I woke up to the eerie amber glow from my kitchen once more. I'm sure TEPCO will have something to say about it next month. Maybe I ought to unplug the bulb...or perhaps that won't matter.

For breakfast, I ate the remaining unused meat from the sukiyaki party...all 300 g of it. I just tossed it together with some bean sprouts. Sukiyaki meat isn't the most conducive for stir-fry; it's just a bit too stringy and fatty but it made for a filling meal. Hopefully, The Chef (and this is one of the few times I would ever say this) won't be making anything for me today after The Class Act's lesson.

The Madame confirmed her meeting with me on Friday to see "Memoirs of a Geisha" in Shinjuku. I still have some mighty big misgivings about this one. Well, at least, we'll have plenty of stuff to talk about (or argue about) over coffee afterwards.

SR's colleague at work contacted me for potential lessons. I offered midweek mornings but I also threw out Monday night, the night that was saved for Speedy. But since I no longer have any class there at that time, I need to fill that up. I've got a feeling that it could be a while before anything fills up there.
Sunday December 18, 11:30 p.m.

Well, the second party of this Xmas season is now history. First it was Speedy, Skippy, OA and myself at The Lady's grand ball on the 9th. Today was a far more humbler soiree at chez Haru, and it was on the coldest day of the year so far. When I met up with Skippy, OA and then The Madame at the station, they were all acting fairly frostbitten. Being the long-standing Canuck, I was in pretty good shape although I did feel Winter's sharp touch initially when I stepped out of the apartment. I'd had spent a few hours trying to get the place into shape which meant lugging my sofas into my bedroom and basicaly transforming it into one big closet. By a miracle, I was able to open things up in my living room so that it could barely fit 8 people.

The four of us got our fixins at the supermarket. I didn't bother with the raffle since there was already a discouragingly long lineup. The bill for getting the meat and veggies amongst other stuff cost us around 9000 yen; amongst 8 people, that was a pretty good price to pay for sukiyaki. We also picked up some wine and cassis since Skippy had a craving for Cassis Orange, a popular cocktail amongst the women here.

It was basically just the four of us for the first couple of hours at the apartment so we just got busy preparing the ingredients while noshing on some of that smoked duck that The Matron had so kindly given me. Once we started getting the portable gas stove and pan ready and oiled up, the other half of the party arrived just in time. Speedy and his missus along with Movie Buddy and The Sylph came in at virtually the same time. After that, it was all Skippy's show. Fueled up on all that Cassis Orange, she was on fire! She was hypercheerful throwing in all that meat and veg into the pot as if it were radioactive material. Good thing, too...the sukiyaki was excellent. It was pretty much that...I didn't have anything really to entertain them with although there were the photo albums showing yesteryear. Afterwards, it was The Madame's turn to take over as she made some caramelized apples and poured them onto some cake with whipped cream.

Well, the party finally broke up around 9. I had to get the apartment back into its dilapidated self again but the benefit is that I have a ton of snacks and drinks which should be keep my food bill down for the next few days....that could only help my bottom line especially since a sparse patch is coming up.

I just read that The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, has taken a leave of absence from his coaching position for the Phoenix Coyotes to be with his ailing mother. The report also mentioned that his daughter, Paulina, is an up-and-coming model/singer. I also read these other names such as Steve Tambellini and Rick Tocchet in front office positions. I remember them only as players in the NHL. When I remember Gretzky as the most amazing hockey player that ever lived, it just ages me that much more when I read this report.

Miraculously, I think I can take that shower now and actually hit bed by 12:15. I've got a pretty full day tomorrow with The Class Act, SIL and The OL...although these ladies are always smooth to teach.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sunday December 18, 9:02 a.m.

I got an early warning from Mother Nature that today will probably be the coldest day this year so far. The winds were howling all over the place overnight. At first, I had thought it was just one of those bikers letting everyone in Chiba know how many cc's he has in his engine but when I realized that it was gale-force gusts, I woke up at the sinfully early hour of 5 a.m. and took in all of my laundry lest they be taken to Oz. Considering that the high has now been revised to just 4 C, the wind chill factor will easily drop into the minus column. I think all of my guests except for Speedy, who's a Canuck like myself, will be suffering a mighty wind on the way to my place.

Also, it would seem that my oven light gremlin is back. A couple of times during the night, my oven light has switched on and off by itself. This has been happening periodically over the past month. No idea behind it.

As usual, I'm already running late in my big cleanup. Mind you, I always overestimate the time needed to complete a project....kinda like Scotty the Miracle Worker so perhaps it won't be too rough getting the apartment into shape before 1 p.m. It doesn't help that I'm still feeling a bit tired although the tea has helped.

Last night I listened to Mika Nakashima's BEST OF album over the headphones just before bed. After just 3 years, she's put out an album of her best hits, eh? Of course, it's a marketing ploy but to be honest, it could be well warranted in her case. She's had a lot of the top writers coming up with some good material to complement her somewhat off-kilter voice. In fact, owning a couple of her earlier releases, there were a few songs that I thought should have gone onto the best album. For some reason, a J-Pop website has pegged her a jazz-pop diva. Well, except for one of her hits, "Love Addict" which is in the jazz vein (sort of), the rest of her stuff has been solidly in the pop or R&B category. Also, her most recent hit "Glamourous Sky" for the movie version of the manga "Nana" is straight rock. I think it's this chameleon ability of hers which will keep her on the waves for some time.

The night before I listened to my other recent acquisition, "From To" (yup, another one of those enigmatic Japlish titles again) by recent diva, Ayaka Hirahara. She first achieved her fame a few years ago with a slightly hip-hop version of one of the songs from Holst's "The Planets". Her cover of "Jupiter" may have gotten more young people to cotton onto classical music. In any case, her newest album is also one of covers of various classic J-Pop songs of yesteryear which include Southern All Stars' "Itoshi no Ellie" (a song that had been covered once before by the late Ray Charles). What's remarkable about her is that her voice has a tone reminiscent of the notes produced by a shakuhachi or bass recorder...very mellow and rich, unusual for a lady in her early twenties. Before I start talking of Hirahara as if she were some bottle of wine, I'll just end up by saying that the two albums I've bought are definitely keepers.

I've just read that John Spencer from "The West Wing" has passed away. Man, he was quite the familiar face on the big and small screen for a number of years. I wonder how the NBC show is gonna handle this death in the family.
Saturday December 17, 6:52 p.m.

Feeling beat. I guess just getting those 5 hours of sleep doesn't really help a 40-year-old. It did help that I had the Oedo Line as a makeshift napping sofa.

I don't know what's gotten into The Elder these two weeks but I hope it's more than just a phase she's going through. She was actually semi-cheerful and talking today. She's still just 15 but with hope she may just be maturing. For both kids, I did some Xmas-themed puzzles along with their usual stuff. By the time I was finishing off with The Younger, I was starting to fade badly. I was just happy that I was doing another version of that puzzle book, I SPY. And just before the kids' mother took off for Shibuya, she gave me a big bag of big apples.. It wasn't as heavy as they looked, though.

JJ was in good form today. She'd had a pretty good run at the Honolulu Marathon last week although her right leg gave out on her near the finish. Once again, I got another culinary present in the form of a box of Macadamia Chocolates and a tiny bottle of Icewine straight from the Inniskillen Winery in Niagara Falls. How it got into Hawaii I'm not sure. So along with these treats from JJ, the apples from the mother and then the smoked duck from The Matron, it looks like we're gonna have a veritable feast tomorrow for the sukiyaki party.

I got back home but wasn't done quite yet. I just dumped my bag and apples on the kitchen floor and then took off once more for the station since I still had to get some more supplies for the party. On the way there, I saw the second day of raffles taking place in the subway mall. The lineup was truly a long one which is making me think about lining up tomorrow with The Madame to get a crack at the big wheel.

I got off at Myoden Station and made a beeline for the 100-yen shop just across from the cafe where I meet The Teacher on Fridays. This place is indeed a godsend....I bought four extra seating cushions. zabuton, a CD rack, paper bowls, napkins and cups....all for 840 yen. The only downside there was having to listen to Der Bingle's treacly cover of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" through one ear and then hearing a frustrated mother berate her oversucrosed kids in the other. And I wonder why I've stayed single so long. Afterwards, I just decided to have dinner in the cafe. It was pretty sparse in the non-smoking section where I meet The Teacher; in fact, I sat at the same table. Perhaps there were only two other couples in the area. I went for the Ginger-Sauteed Pork and Deep Fried Oysters set. Not too expensive at 780 yen but I got reminded that one gets for what one pays for...the dish looked somewhat smaller than the pic on the menu.

Just bought some more cleaning stuff for the big cleaning job I'm gonna have to do early tomorrow morning before the hordes descend on my apartment. And here I am. Gonna try and relax as much as I can and then take a nice hot bath before hitting bed.

The snows have been coming down like a rock on a majority of the country. Tokyo, as usual, is playing observer on all this wintry weather. Still, we're gonna be plenty cold tomorrow at just 6 C.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Saturday December 17, 7:05 a.m.

Aye, another cold one out there. But we're still snow-free for now. On average, it's warmer here than back in The Great White North but unfortunately, we don't have the great luxury of central heating. Still, it's better being here right now than in New York where there are partial transit strikes. I don't think there's ever been such a thing as a transit strike in reason is that the unions are so weak here. Service is still very good although you do get the odd driver who feels the need to talk to himself very loudly.

Well, Kong may be king in the Americas but he's arriving in Japan today to much less fanfare. It sounds like "King Kong" may be the Johnny-come-lately for Oscar with all of the raves that are accompanying it but the big ape doesn't have the legacy here that it does in America. I can only assume then that "Godzilla Versus King Kong" didn't particularly enthrall the folks here. But there was a cute commercial for a television set which features Kong and Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui.

Skippy confirmed that she and OA are heading over here for dinner tomorrow. So we will be a party of 8. I'm afraid that this weekend will not see me with any late wake-ups. I gotta wake up early tomorrow too to clean up the apartment before the ladies come.
Friday December 16, 6:43 p.m.

I sent off that last Xmas present to my brother's family today. I guess I have friends in high places. Despite that it was a parcel, the longtime staffer at the post office just stamped it as a "small packet" and only charged me 1230 yen for Air Mail. There's no way that I could've gotten it over at that price.

The Teacher was really in a good mood today...quite the contrast from her near-suicidal one from a couple of weeks ago. Almost wondered what she was on. She was getting into some pretty risque topics as well...kinda reminded me of The Madame on that score. Still, I prefer her as she was today. And it was nice to finish off the year with her in good spirits.

Looks like I once again went on a spending spree this afternoon. Luckily, my bank book didn't take too much of a beating thanks to those gift certificates I got from the kids' mother last week. First I had lunch at Com Pho, that Vietnamese lunchery in the basement of the Oazo complex at Otemachi Station. I hadn't been there in a couple of months so it was nice to be back. Instead of the usual bun bi, I went for the goma pho (sesame noodles), a hot bowl of rice noodles mixed in with minced meat and a heavy dollop of sesame sauce. After adding some chili oil and vinegar, it was perfect.

I went upstairs to Maruzen and picked up a Christmas kids' book for use in tomorrow's class with the kids...the final one this year. It had some puzzles appropriate for the Holidays. In any case, they should help pad the lessons. Then, it was off to the next station, Nihombashi, where I went to the venerable department store, Takashimaya, to pick up some New Year's cards and then CDs with the remaining gift certificates. I was quite happy to add another Mika Nakashima disc to my collection...this time, it's her "Best of" album. The second purchase was Ayaka Hirahara's latest release which is a set of covers of other J-Pop songs. Both ladies have rather unique voices. To finish things off, I went down to B1 and purchased a box of special rice crackers from one of the many counters in the food section for my uncle in thanks for helping me with my immigration documents. The relatives ought to be fairly surprised when the Yamato delivery guy shows up on their front step with the package. It's a wonderfuly convenient thing purchasing packages of food in a department store. Right then and there, you can buy it and then have it delivered via Yamato.

I managed to cut down on the guilt by actually making it to the gym today. I put in a good workout too. Afterwards, I did decide to pay my rent right on the due date. I figure it wouldn't matter in any case. I'll just have to try and save up as best I can. Just to cut down on the stuff I had to lug home with me, I decided to have dinner at the local Subways...I tried the seasonal Turkey and Bacon with Red Wine Vinegar. Hmmm...not bad but it won't replace Tuna.

As I was checking my e-mail, The Croissant called me via Instant Messaging from LA. We had a long chat...looks like she'll back here as of the 19th. It won't be all fun and games with her since she's due for an operation on her back...she'd been suffering a lot of pain there for some years. Still, she wants to get some of her own gang from her days at the ol' school together for a year-end party. I said that I would keep my schedule open for her. Strangely enough, just before I got the chat signal from her, I had been reading a message from The Denmother about pretty much the same thing; that is, getting together over The Holidays. Also, she mentioned of the possible chance of getting some English lessons from me. I'm always amenable for that.

Paddy's colleague finally responded back to me. I'll be heading back to her office on Wednesday to have her check my documents before heading off for Immigration. I hope I can get all of the stuff together before the final day of work there on the 28th.

Looks like Japan is being wracked over most of the country with heavy snow....Tokyo, as usual, has all the lives of a cat and has so far avoided so much as a flake although there was that alleged first snow back on Sunday. Places like Niigata and northern Japan have been getting majorly dumped on with the white stuff. I can only assume that Tokyo's luck will run out eventually and the storms will hit here. Could be as early as Sunday when I have the sukiyaki party.

Another bizarro crime. Nope, no kid got slaughtered today but 30 dogs did. And out of a page of the Iraqi insurgents, the pooches were beheaded. Some poor guy came across a box filled with canine heads in a box in a river in Katsushika Ward. If a nutcase is willing to do that to a bunch of dogs, he can go up to the next level on the evolutionary ladder.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been getting tickets from various stores in the mall under my subway station. It must be Year-End Raffle season. I need 4 of these tickets to redeem them for a spin on the octagonal raffle wheel (kinda like a BINGO drawing ball) and then I could win a prize. Since the raffle will be on Sunday, perhaps me and The Madame can make our try for it then.

Can't believe it's been a week since that grand ball at The Lady's house. And in another week, it'll be Speedy's Xmas party. Getting busy...