Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sunday December 11, 11:48 a.m.

Happy Birthday to my mother. 64 years young today.

Last night was a quiet one. Just taped another show for the parentals and listened to some music of the season. One of the songs that has been getting a lot of heavy rotation in various forms is "The Christmas Song-Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire". I think maybe next to "White Christmas", it places second in terms of fame and number of cover versions. There are the usual suspects behind the songs: Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra...and maybe even the guy who wrote the song himself, The Velvet Fog - Mel Torme (yep, that same Mel Torme who always never seems to find Judge Harry Stone in "Night Court". He also had a son who was one of the main writers on TNG). Strangely enough, though, my favourite version of the song...just edging out the combination of The Manhattan Transfer and Tony Bennett. It just seems everything clicked on that version...whether it be Bennett on lead, The Transfer on backup or the shimmering orchestra.

I made that solo reservation for Fujimamas for Xmas Eve for that turkey dinner. I'm not even gonna bother asking anyone else since I had some lousy memories from that other Xmas dinner a couple of years ago. It was pretty easy. I did it by e-mail and I got that quick response for confirmation within a few minutes.

Looking pretty gloomy out there. The weather folks say that there won't be any rain, though. However, I've never trusted those guys completely. Still, I've got some wash to unload on the line.

I'll be taking off in less than a couple of hours for Shinjuku. I'll put those gift certificates to good use for some more presents for home and then some CDs for myself. Then I'll meet up with Movie Buddy and The Sylph for "Mr. And Mrs. Smith". As for "Memoirs of a Geisha", it looks like The Madame and I will be catching it just before we head out for the Speedy Xmas party. The TokyoWalker poll has had some interesting's a love/hate thing. So far, over 80% love it while a very small minority hate in-between. I frankly thought it would be the other way around. Oh, well...there's still time. The CNN reviewer seems to have hit the right tone with looks gorgeous but empty.

I see Richard Pryor passed away. I used to watch some of his films with Gene Wilder back in the 70s, the most notable being "Silver Streak" which was filmed in Toronto, although it was masquerading as Chicago. I still remember seeing the half-formed CN Tower (which is gonna be celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, by the way) in the background. The only other thing I remember about Pryor is, unfortunately, his attempt to become the human torch during that abortive freebasing thing.

The Montreal talks on the environment ended with everyone emotionally congratulating each other and giving a standing ovation....for deciding on having more talks. Man, if they can get so worked up over just being able to continue talking instead of doing something, then we are in serious trouble. That was the most pathetic report I've seen on BBC this year. I think the worst obstacle in getting this Earth healthy again is the concept of national interest. That's why the US never signed off on the Kyoto Protocols. In a way, I can't blame Bush for refusing to ratify the agreements. His job is to ensure that his people continue to live a good way of life...according to him and his government, that just wouldn't happen if he did sign. A lot of developing nations also need to rapidly industrialize if they are to catch up...which means the sacrifice of their environments....again, national interests. I think the only way that there will be any major headway made in the environmental cause is if humanity develops the concept of international interest or human interest. I frankly doubt that's gonna happen in my lifetime.
Saturday December 10, 6:22 p.m.

Well, back from the rarefied air of last night's party, it was off to see the kids once more. Did a workmanlike job with the both of them, although the mother later apologized for The Elder's bad mood. Hm...was she apologizing for just this morning or for the entire 2 years of my time with her, I thought with a slight taste of Machiavellianism? I just thought The Elder was acting her usual dour self. In any case, I did get my Xmas bonus from the mother in the form of gift certificates again. Hopefully, I can redeem them for some further CDs.

Went over to The Tea Room to see M + M. M1 has had a bit of a simultaneous setback and opportunity. She was understandably vague about it but apparently she had a bit of a recent incident with her boss which has concluded with her giving her 2 weeks' notice. She's also understandably worried about her future since she's the same age as me but she' s hoping that the sudden change in employment can provide some freshness into her life. As for M2, she was an hour late due to oversleep. The two of them went off to a bar after my session with them so that they could commiserate about M1's circumstances.

M1 told me of another child murder this morning in Kyoto. Some juku teacher got into a quarrel with a 12-year-old girl at the school itself which ended up with the teacher stabbing the kid into the afterlife. Just a few minutes earlier, she had told me about this book which she was reading about the potential decline of Japanese society. I'd say that the decline has been well under way for more than a decade.

The Madame got back to me about the upcoming rash of parties. Looks like she's game for the nabe and Speedy's Xmas party on the 23rd. As for "Memoirs of a Geisha", she would prefer the 21st but I've got The New Yorker in the afternoon so that's a scratch. I suggested the 23rd before Speedy's party. Looks like I'm gonna be a solo on Xmas Day. Perhaps, I still can get a reservation at Fujimamas for turkey dinner.

Gonna confirm with Movie Buddy about tomorrow's viewing of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Saturday December 10, 7:04 a.m.

Well, the carriage has turned back into a pumpkin and the horses have changed back to mice, but it was a grand ball. I met Skippy and OA at the hugely crowded Hachiko statue in Shibuya (typical for a Friday night) and took them to The Lady's Xmas party. Both were definitely in party gear. It took a bit longer than usual to navigate through the rapids of humanity that were flowing through the main streets but we managed to get to the mansion by around 7:30.

The two ladies started getting a little nervous as we approached the house. The darkness of the neighbourhood served to enhance the mood of anticipation. Security at the gates was kinda like security at Narita...pretty lax but then again one of them recognized me as the regular Monday guy so he just let me and my companions in.

From then on, Skippy and OA were just Alices in Wonderland as they just gaped at the wealth and splendour of it all. It was the usual party that I'd remembered in my last couple of times at her house: a lot of well-heeled types milling about in their gowns and suits, bartenders making drinks, staff in white scurrying around to ensure that everyone had a drink in his/her hand, and the food flowing in the dining room. Of course, it was to the dining room that we quickly made a beeline for. I introduced my Alices to The Matron and her daughter. Her daughter was more down-to-earth about the proceedings since she's probably more experienced at these things than either Skippy or OA are. The food was the usual sushi to one side while the main table had a lot of Italian on display....pasta, prosciutto and a huge jambon on one platter.

Our first celeb sighting took place a lot quicker than I thought it would. One baseball player showed up just after 8. His arrival got a bit of appreciative attention but no one made a rush toward him to get his autograph; it just wasn't that sort of crowd. Besides, the man has been to the party annually as have been most of the guests so he really didn't have anyone gaping at him. Even OA and Skippy had their brief intake of air before moving on. However, they got a little more miha (starstruck) when a famous TV actor made his presence known an hour later; OA especially did a bit of hyperventilation as he saw him and his missus collect stuff from the buffet; she apparently called up her mother on the cellphone to give her an update.

Speedy finally made his way to the house about an hour later than expected due to work. At first, I thought he was pretty nonchalant about the whole lap of luxury thing. However, with the effects of champagne in his bloodstream...he started getting rather babbly (as he usually does when he gets excited) about where he was and who he was seeing. In fact, I think he was the most starstruck of my group. The four of us even "nonchalantly" went down to the basement to pretend to check out the wonders of the handball court. In reality, Speedy wanted to see the baseball player. Yup, there he was holding court with a bunch of others. I don't think there was any chance that Speedy was gonna get very close to his idol but at least he could say that he saw him.

Also met SIL there a couple of hours after our arrival. She was looking fine as well. And as for The Lady herself, she was playing her usual role as the perfect hostess....just scurrying here and there making sure everyone was having a good time. I can't speak for the other several hundred guests but I knew that Skippy, OA and Speedy had a good time. I think if I come back here next year, they'll be on the guest list...and I'll make sure Mrs. Speedy will be on the list as well.

I like the occasional night out in Shibuya. The only downside is getting home since apparently everyone else likes to go home at the same time I do. And sure enough, the trains were packed all the way to my station. It was also a very limited night of sleep since I had to get up early to get ready for my penultimate lesson with the kids this year. Back to reality. And definitely, the flock I shepherded to the party last night will also be getting their dose of reality when they come to my broom closet of an apartment next Sunday for hot pot.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Friday December 9, 1:39 p.m.

Just chilling in the interim before heading out for the big ball in a few hours. The Teacher was still in pretty good spirits. She got a great kick about reminiscing about one of her favourite teachers at the ol' school...a British fellow who was the quintessential Bertie Wooster in terms of appearance and attitude. The man could write his student comments in the most intricate and tiniest Gothic font...I always envisioned the lad garbed in a monk's robe esconced in a tower in medieval England writing scripture with a quill next to a drippy candle.

Today's topic was on Ken Watanabe, that Japanese actor who was in "The Last Samurai" and "Batman Begins" (barely), and who is now gonna star in "Memoirs of a Geisha". He's definitely had the run of good forture recently. Nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar last year, got his foot into the Hollywood door, recovered from leukemia and financial calamity...yep, he has rebounded. Now, whether or not he can parlay his newfound success into lasting fame, that would be something. The last time a Japanese actor was nominated for an Oscar was 37 years ago when Sessue Hayakawa got his nod. Does anyone remember him?

Speaking of "Memoirs", there was a feature on the Fuji-TV morning show on Ziyi Zhang. The feature showed her as a much younger girl practicing her dancing...pretty stunning. Then, there was the up-close-and-personal interview...very up close...the camera shot had her whole face taking up the frame. And she certainly looks somewhat older than her 26 years. She's got lines in her face showing some probably hard-earned maturity. So far, according to the IMdB, the movie has gotten some glowing reviews from the viewers for the most part although I think they're akin to the accolades given to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"....a movie which, though getting the lion's share of raves from Western audiences, got mere yawns and perhaps some derisive laughter from Asia...a lot due to Michelle Yeoh's and Chow Yun Fat's mangled Mandarin. I'm still wondering what the reaction will be from Japanese audiences.

As I was walking home, a thought of some impending disaster came into my head. Well, I checked CNN and found out about this plane skidding off the runway in Chicago. Once again, Golden Boy Anderson Cooper is solemnly reporting the aftermath. It's a little eerie sometimes when I have these premonitions.
Friday December 9, 9:04 a.m.

Yesterday was a fairly routine day. Before I met up with The Carolinan, I dropped off at Yamano Music in Ginza and picked up my parents' Xmas present: a Hiroshi Itsuki concert DVD for their first DVD player...generously given by my brother and sister-in-law. Hiroshi Itsuki is this long veteran of the enka stage. Well, I might as well get someone established for their inaugural DVD play.

The Carolinan was her usual steady self at The Tea Room last night. It was basically just us in the cafe for most of the session...usual for a Thursday night. The music box collection of Xmas hits had been playing ad nauseum for a few hours, replacing the usual baroque BGM.

When I got home, I prepped my parents' Xmas presents: a large calendar, the DVD and a couple of magazines that they like to read. Then, it was some ironing.

I've only got The Teacher today since SR is now an-ex least for the next several months...and I gave The OL the night off. Because of course, tonight is the annual ball at The Lady's mansion. I had received a couple of messages from Skippy, who along with OA and Speedy will be accompanying me, asking me whether she and OA should bring some chocolate to the party. With the knowing smile of someone who's been to the Lady's parties a couple of times already, I told her that it wasn't that sort of party...they don't have to bring anything. Besides, The Lady doesn't like sweets. I remember my first time at the Xmas party, I naively brought a funnel cake since in most other situations, one never goes empty-handed to a home party. But in her case...let's say that catering or The Chef is the only way to go there. I may have to ensure that the ladies' mouths stay closed so that no flies go flying into their traps when they enter the premises.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wednesday December 7, 10:34 p.m.

The New Yorker more or less passed her own kimatsu shiken (term test) when we did the review of the first four chapters of the text, but it wasn't a flying pass. I asked her to take one more look at a couple of pages. But I did tell her that she has improved her fluency since her nearly mute beginnings.

Speedy was in better spirits than on Monday when the erstwhile 005 torpedoed us. It ended up being another truncated session at the school as 003 called in to cancel her lesson. 001 wasn't as genki as she usually is due to the lingering effects of a cold. However, she was jovial enough to relate her overnighter at 002's place. Not surprisingly, it was a load of laughs. And it was good to hear that 002's only reason that she can't make it to Speedy's is because of the distance involved. Basically she lives in my neck of the woods. Maybe there can be a solution out of this.

Today is the first anniversary since the reunion between former North Korean abductee Hitomi Soga and the rest of her family from The Land of Il including hubby Charles Jenkins, a pariah in America. NHK just showed a feature on the aftermath of the family. A teary-eyed Jenkins, in response to a reporter remarking that it must have been difficult to live in the wilds of Sado Island (where the Jenkins' live now), said that compared to life in North Korea, Sado is paradise.

Since that horrible murder of that 7-year-old girl in the northern Kanto last week, patrols have been set up in the area to watch the kids go home. My neighbourhood has two elementary schools. I think my area is safe but it gets dark around 5 p.m. nowadays and there is that part of my street which runs between one edge of the school perimeter and a row of apartments. It's not particularly well lit so I still worry about kids walking that dark strip. I'm frankly not sure if most of the apartments have anyone back from work at that time and even if there is someone home, I wouldn't be sure if anyone would be able to hear any alarm or muffled screams in time if some psycho decided to make a grab.

Well, I'm just gonna listen to some music before bed...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wednesday December 7, 9:25 a.m.

Pearl Harbour Day...gee, I wonder why none of the networks are talking about that right now. Then again, The Anime King told me that the media back in the States have been talking about some potential illegalities concerning Sony about one of its products. If it weren't for CNN, I wouldn't have heard anything about it here. Japanese media says, "Shields up!"

After haranguing last night on the J-Pop Xmas song, I've just been following another obscure obsession of mine: looking for Chas Jankel's "Questionnaire". However, one of my questions has been answered concerning the mystery of why his CDs have been absent from the shelves. Well, I found out from a chatsite that the main inventory of his stuff had been deleted. What? It wasn't enough that the BBC deleted virtually all of the first decade of "Doctor Who", now they go on and assassinate a Blockhead's collection...just ki-i-i-ding. But that same source also mentioned that Chaz was able to get his own private inventory back into circulation. And sure enough, there is a re-issued disc of his first, I assume, self-titled album with his take on "Ai no Corrida" now selling in the stores here. Actually, Jankel was the one who wrote the song. Hm...I may actually get the album if I get spare the money. Chaz is apparently in negotiations to get the rest of his stuff re-issued so I may finally achieve my goal in 2006.

Why am I obsessing about this song which I only heard once in my life via the music video of the same name and artist? Y'got me...but I just found it and the video rather hypnotic. Back in my high school days when I was finally able to stay past midnight and catch "The All-Night Show" with Chuck The Security Guard on Toronto's Ch. 47, the multicultural channel, Chuck used to put on all sorts of old TV shows such as "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits". He also often put out some rather bizarro videos. One of them was "Questionnaire". It was pretty funky. Just Chaz Jankel singing the usual questions one gets on a census poll to a samba beat. The video had quite a number of then-cutting-edge computer effects including some stick figures doing a pretty mean dance. Since then, I've been hooked. I've been checking all over the Net but every site either doesn't have it (though they acknowledge its existence) or the album is still on old vinyl.

Speaking of obsessions, looks like The Wild Guy has got it bad. He's once again reiterated about how much in love he is with this lady. Sigh...well, I hope things do work out with him. But he's gonna come off his high sometime soon and like any addict, the fall may not be too pretty.

Anyways, time to clean up and get that coat.
Wednesday December 7, 12:00 a.m.

Well, now that the jolly season is here, it's time for a Yuletide version of commenting on another aspect of Japanese culture. This morning, it will be on the Xmas song.

In the West, Christmas songs are of two types: the religious ("Away in a Manger", "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", etc.) and the Santa/general holiday boisterousness ("Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", "Sleigh Ride", etc.). I'm sure all of the Season's collected works are being played ad nauseum in a Wal-Marts near you. I guess after hearing all those songs of love, happiness and amity over two hours in a crowded department store, you can probably add nausea to that list of yours.

Anyways, it's really no different over here. Since November, all of the cafes I've taught at and even the shopping arcade underneath my subway station have been playing tons of Xmas stuff. Of course, pretty much most of the stuff is of the second type mentioned a country in which the percentage of practicing Christians can be counted on one finger, "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" is simply not gonna be put on heavy rotation. For some reason, though, "Silent Night" is. In fact, it's been given Japanese lyrics along with a lot of the other old favourites such as "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". However, a lot of times the songs are just played in their original English.

But as is true with a lot of aspects in Japanese pop culture, the Xmas song has been given its own Japanese twist. Not only have Japanese singers sung the foreign classics but they have been making their own original contributions to the Holiday season for a few decades now. "Samui yoru dakara" (Because It's A Cold Night)? "Silent Eve"? They're both J-Pop Xmas classics.

We can, though, start off with the mother of all J-Pop Christmas songs. That would be the tune known as "Christmas Eve" sung by Tatsuro Yamashita. Released in 1982, a good 40 years after the song that it's most compared to..."White Christmas" by Der Bingle, Yamashita's "Christmas Eve" actually does share a couple of things with its older cousin. One is that they are instantly recognizable, and the other is that both relay a message of longing. However, what that longing is in each song is different. "White Christmas" talks of the yearning to see the typical scene of snow blanketing the area around home. On the other hand, "Christmas Eve" talks of the longing to have a loved one close by. But that pretty much reflects what Christmas is like over here in Japan. It's not the family time that it is back home in the States or Canada. It's more like New Year's Eve's a time of partying and romancing, and perhaps even commiserating over a breakup.

"Christmas Eve" may have debuted in the early 80s but it didn't really hit the big time as the song that most befits the season until its usage as the jingle for a series of Japan Railway ads in which separate scenes of a bittersweet courtship are played out on the platforms of a Bullet Train station. Ironically, the falsetto-stricken Yamashita had usually been known as the singer-songwriter for summery tunes replete with Beach Boys-like vocal reverb. And yet when his long career comes to a close, this song will probably be the one that he's known best for. It is a minor-key ballad, something that a lot of the J-Pop tunes have followed.

However, sometimes, upbeat numbers have come up over the years. Yumi Matsutoya, the Queen of J-Pop, came out with "Koibito wa Santa Claus" (My Lover is Santa Claus....don't worry, the lyrics aren't as creepy as the English translation of the title sounds), a rollicking rock n' roll number backed up by wailing guitars giving away its late 70s/early 80s roots. Tatsuro Yamashita's wife, Mariya Takeuchi (not a slouch in the singer-songwriting area herself) came out with a recent hit in "Hearty Party" whose lyrics pretty much describe the title in much more detail. And AOR singer, Junichi Inagaki, may have had a pretty low-key career but he will probably best be known for his Xmas song, "Christmas Carol no koro ni wa" (During That Christmas Carol), a dramatic high-paced number compared to Yamashita's languid magnum opus.

It just goes to show that everyone who is anyone in the world of J-Pop has released his/her own Xmas song. From rock band Glay to idol queen Seiko Matsuda to girl group SPEED to veteran duo Chage & Aska...just about the entire spectrum has put out something red and green. This Christmas has also had Namie Amuro release her so-called first Christmas tune called "White Light/Violet Sauce" (go figure on that title), so the tradition is continuing. So if one is tired of hearing the reggae version of "Joy To The World" for the umpteenth time, he can just come over here. There's a huge new batch of Xmas songs, albeit in Japanese, to listen to. All these Yuletide ditties...from the largest secular non-Communist country in the world.
Tuesday December 6, 11:48 p.m.

I was able to get through the juku night more or less unscathed. The little kitten is pretty much a permanent fixture there as I'd expected. The juku boss has cheerfully resigned to her fate of taking care of the little one, and I, for one, am quite glad.

The New Kid was better in attitude today. We focused solely on his English Proficiency Test (Eiken) practice. He had quite a few stumbles in the Listening part today so I basically gave him the entire package to try at home for homework. The Beauty Pair was not as proficient as last week but the two still managed to put out a pretty good performance. It was just Mrs Mild in the 8 o'clock slot since her hubby was away on business and McKid has a term test to study for. And I kept The Siberian enthralled by bringing in my old university kanji dictionary.

Man, it has really gotten colder tonight. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a little frost on the ground in the morning.

Earlier this afternoon, I was writing a blog entry when all of a sudden the power just cut out. So my contact with Blogger was lost for about half an hour. Then my doorbell rang. I figured that would be the case, so I just answered. Sure enough, some public works guy apologized and said that he needed to cut out the electricity to check on the water. Huh?! Once the power was back online, he and another fellow called me up again to ask me to turn on the water. I opened the door to let them know that everything is OK. The guy was your prototypically grizzled utilities veteran: his face looked like a topographical map of The Grand Canyon.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tuesday December 6, 1:15 p.m.

The JR was acting up again this morning which meant a lot of delays on the other lines. Luckily, I just needed to go over to Urayasu to pay off that National Health Insurance premium. When I forked over my 26000 yen, I kept saying to myself that NHI would save me in case of accident and kept remember to those sad early days in 1998 during my convalescence.

The Beehive was sparsely populated with just Mrs Travel and Mrs. Perth for most of the session. Even they didn't know what had become of the others. Mrs Tee finally came in the last 15 minutes to say that Mrs Tulip couldn't make it but she didn't know what had happened to Mrs Alp or Mrs Jade. The three of us who were there were mentioning about how much colder it has gotten in the past couple of weeks. It's been a rather dramatic sea change from the blazing summer. Perhaps I've gotten older but it just seems that the nation has gotten distinctly wintery a whole lot sooner than usual. In the Kanto, the temps have dropped into the single digits around 0 at night which is more January/February than early December. I'm betting that snow will fall in Tokyo by the time the Holidays roll around. Most of Japan, even Osaka, has gotten its dusting of the white stuff yesterday.
Tuesday December 6, 7:17 a.m.

Had a pretty melancholy end to my day last night. 004 cancelled the lesson just before I was due to arrive at Speedy's. But that wasn't it; 004 had warned beforehand that she would often bail out due to sudden work demands. Nope, it turned out to be 005. After telling me twice in the past few weeks that she would like to re-sign, she ended up resigning. After the lesson, which I thought was probably the best yet for her, Speedy had a consultation with her since she finished her total of four initial lessons. I'm not sure what transpired between the two of them because I thought three would be a crowd, but it ended up with her politely stating that she would not be able to come for the rest of the month. It didn't mean right then and there that that would be the last of her enrollment but for the first time in my yearlong association with him on a professional level, I actually saw some negativism on Speedy's face. He wasn't too positive that she would return in January according to the tone of her comments. Once again, he reassured me that it wasn't me professionally or personally. Once again, it was a matter of money and her motivation. 005 had that polite plastic noncommittal smile which said volumes.

To be honest, there were some retrospective clues in last night's lesson that perhaps the end was nigh. For the past couple of lessons, she never brought her pen and paper which is now gonna be my early warning sign. Also, she kept moaning in her laconic way that "her brain wasn't working". I muttered internally that perhaps it was more her attitude that wasn't working.

For about 10 minutes after her departure, Speedy and I were left just analyzing, commiserating and pacing about the outer office. It was all ado about nothing. We did the best we could but in the end I'd have to say it was probably better that she left. She really wasn't one of our more committed students. And I can actually go home earlier now instead of getting back close to midnight. Shades of Fall 2003! Speedy really wasn't too happy though. He told me that there haven't been any signups since mid-November although one moneybags student threw in a whole pot of money which should take care of the rent for about a month.

Earlier in the day, my lesson with The Class Act went pretty well with a lot of the talk on the upcoming party on Friday night. Looks like the cream of high society will be flocking to The Lady's home. I've got my shoes and my shirt. All I need is that coat and I'll be ready to go.