Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wednesday July 26, 9:15 p.m.

Well, I guess my day at Speedy's was basically meant for dinner, chit-chat and e-mail....along with blogging. Not only did 007 once again dotakyan'ed, but my supposed model lesson student did a no-show. This isn't a common occurrence in the English teaching biz, but it does happen from time to time. The potential customer has a change of heart or has found another school more to his/her liking. The way it goes. However, Speedy may have another candidate for me as early as next week.

So, in actual fact, I only had the frustrating lesson with The New Yorker today. Tomorrow, I only have her sister in the evening but I do have two on Friday with the juku boss and The UL.

Back to my ruminations on Ultraman...

My first exposure to the Japanese superhero was back in the early 70s when I had gone on my first trip over here. It was the third Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, which was on the tube in prime time. The preceding Ultraman, New Ultraman, was in reruns during the afternoon. It was easy to fall for the hero as a (not-so-) little boy; all boys love huge dinosaurs and they love Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra in particular. So when a superhero alien comes by to battle the big and uglies, resistance is indeed futile, to quote a line from another successful sci-fi franchise. And just like those other franchises, Ultraman had the toys and goods to market. I remember getting an Ultraman book with the guide to all the monsters and the various weaponry and stances that the Ultramen used to defeat them. Then, there was a record that my mother had gotten me with the theme songs to Ultra Seven and Ultraman Ace. As with Star Trek and Doctor Who, the early Ultraman shows had their own instantly recognizable themes: vaguely military march in nature but geared to be sung by kids (kinda scary, actually, when you think about it). Nowadays, though, it seems that newer themes are being done by Johnny's Jimusho boy groups.

In the decades since, there has been quite a bit of Gorgonzola that has crept into the Ultra-merchandise such as an Ultraman exercise video (uh-huh...I guess the viewing boys and girls can get quite pudgy just watching their heroes) and even an Ultraman scat video based on the song stylings of the late Scatman John.

With the 40th anniversary of Ultraman, the tributes have been coming in on the satellite channels and other forms of media. But that's not apparently not the only Japanese superhero to get some accolades. I'm not sure if these other protagonists are celebrating exactly 4 decades, The Masked Rider (that's Kamen Rider to the locals) and The Power Rangers (at least, the original Japanese version...without the California boys and girls) are trying to keep up with the Ultraman celebrations. Kamen Rider has also had many different incarnations of the insectoid character, and there have also been many types of Rangers-type groups in day-glo uniforms.

And just like some of the actors and actresses on Star Trek, a few of the folks on Kamen Rider and The Power Rangers have even made that transition into regular TV dramas. The actor for the very first Rider has taken on the Shatner mantle and makes a number of appearances in the dramas and variety shows....although I have yet to hear of him actually cutting the ribbon at a new supermarket opening. And a ditsy tarento by the name of Tamao Sato was not too long ago the token Pink Ranger on one of the Ranger shows.

So, don't be surprised if you walk down the main avenue of Akihabara sometime this year and you see a whole bunch of life-sized Ultramen, Power Rangers or Masked Riders standing outside the various otaku stores. Heck, one day earlier this year, I was walking in the old neighbourhood of Asakusa when a little kid suddenly snapped from his mother's hand and raced toward something he'd just passed by. It turned out to be a larger-than-life figure of the original Ultraman, standing in the usual heroic stance of legs apart and hands firmly on hips. I'd say that Superman, Captain Kirk and GI Joe may have found their match in this country.
Wednesday July 26, 7:13 p.m.

On SuperChannel...oops, sorry, that should be Super Drama TV! (talk about changing to a more awkward title)...there have been a series of commercials before and after any of the Star Trek episodes talking about the 40th Anniversary of the sci-fi franchise. Scenes from what was apparently the Japanese version of a Trek convention pop up with a whole bunch of Sulu-types proudly showing off their movie-era and TNG-era uniforms. And the scary thing is that there was even the appearance of the Speaker of the Lower House of the Japanese Parliament, Chikage Ogi...herself a bit of a living symbol of pop culture run amok since she has retained her cosmetics regimen from her days as a member of the Takarazuka Troupe.

For that matter, Mission: Impossible is also celebrating its 40th. Although there is no rabid group of fans known as IMF'ers or Phelpies/Phelpers, I guess the release of M:I III must have taken care of any tribute although the Tom Cruise movie has very little to connect it with the original series.

However, over here, there has also been a 40th anniversary of sorts to celebrate for an icon that is just as recognizable to every Japanese man, woman and child as Mr. Spock would be to their American equivalents. It turns out that grunting giant superhero Ultraman is also getting its due.

For those folks who aren't into Japanese anime, manga or TV, Ultraman was the name of a benevolent silvery, goggle-eyed alien from a faraway planet who often came to the aid of the world...notably surprisingly resilient Tokyo (it was a good thing that the government did decide to take out that Godzilla insurance for all of its buildings)...when under attack by some gigantic alien monster. Taking host within a chosen young telegenic man, Ultraman set the mold for all of the other Japanese superhero shows to follow (including The Masked Rider and The Power Rangers) by popping up only in the last few minutes of the episode when the situation becomes critical; the host brings out some sort of amulet or ring and instantly metamorphoses into Ultraman. Ah, but there is an inconveniently strange reason for the brief last-minute cameo...apparently Ultraman can only battle the bad guys on Earth for 3 minutes before conking out, something that is signified by a beacon attached to his chest called The Colour-Timer (must've been the ancestral idea behind the bus for "Speed" ).

I gather that one of the factors behind a long-enduring TV series is the universe that generates around the show. That is certainly true for Star Trek and Doctor Who, and it also explains Ultraman's popularity. For one thing, every episode has a new monster. And the folks at Tsurubaraya (I think I got that right) Studios never limited their imaginations when it came to the nemeses. For every fire-breathing dragon and Barutan-seijin, there has been an evil cactus or meatball to threaten Japan. To Ultraman, silliness never eclipsed evil. At the very least, the monsters provided another action figure in the stores for the little kids to snap up; of course, that was after they'd gotten the Ultraman dolls. Of course, televised universes don't just consist of the enemy. Star Trek has its various starship classes, the United Federation of Planets and the characters. Doctor Who has The Time Lords, the various rooms and gadgets in the TARDIS and Companions. Ultraman, in its various incarnations, has been represented by various space-evil-battling organizations with acronymistic names filled with archetypal characters (wise squad leader, token woman, overeager soldier), and each Ultraman has its own unique abilities. Ultraman has his specium ray (horizontal left arm perpendicular and under a vertical right arm...presto...dead monster) while his replacement, Ultra Seven, had the feared Eye-Slugger, a sharp boomerang lodged nicely in the back of his head.

And as I've just mentioned in the last sentence, it is a band of Ultramen defending the Earth in what seems to be a mandatory tour of duty for the members of the Ultracorps. Just like Doctor Who, the hero changes periodically. The original Ultraman did his year of duty and then he was replaced by the more squinty-eyed Ultra Seven, followed by New Ultraman and then Ultraman Ace, and so on...each with his own distinctive look (FYI, after Ace, there was Taro, Leo and then Ultraman 80 before I lost count and interest). In 40 years, there are now probably more than 20 of these defenders in existence (like Trek, Who and even Bond, there were years in which the show in question didn't pop up for various reasons). And just like a reappearance of a Classic Trek character in a TNG episode or the reunion of Doctors Who, it is a rather big event (at least for kids and otaku) when Ultramen join forces in that extra-special ep to battle a decidedly powerful foe.

More later....
Wednesday July 26, 5:12 p.m.

Well, it looks like we've got a brief respite from the rain today. But the heat is back on full thrust. According to the weatherfolk, the precip will return for the next few days. Yesterday was just a sauna out there. My shirt collar felt and looked like it was marinated.

I had my last Beehive class before the summer holidays. And it was the last time to see Ms. Tulip before she heads out for Toronto. However, it wasn't in class but at her house. She was understandably tied up with some last minute moving stuff; her house certainly looked it. After the lesson, the remaining bunch of us (Ms. Travel is off in Portugal and Ms. Alp was off doing something else) held an informal lunch, thanks to Ms. Tee's thoughtful gesture of making a whole bunch of different sandwiches and rice balls. Tulip was her usual laid-back self although she admitted that it's been hard keeping her cool this week with all of the preps for the big move to Canada. In this heat, I couldn't blame her. The timing was perfect for me since The Teacher is now off for her holidays so I was able to make it out to the house. There was an impromptu free Sayonara Sale of sorts since Tulip was trying to get rid of a lot of stuff. I was able to procure some packets of coffee, a jar of caramel creme, and some huge bags of chocolate chips along with a few other doodads. Unfortunately, all those things added up to some serious weight issues, and in this heat, I really didn't want to marinate my entire shirt so I unloaded some stuff on Student 002 whom I saw right after lunch. Her class was also a breeze; I even got invited to her BBQ this Saturday. I asked 002 to keep my appearance a secret since 001 and their mutual giggly friend will be there. Should make for an interesting scene.

The juku classes were, in contrast, not all that satisfying. Kewpie, that first student who had seemed to be progressing in leaps and bounds, must've gotten pretty lazy in her studying since she was slow as molasses in her test. But I couldn't get on her case so much since she was also practicing for a piano recital on Monday. The Frenchman was OK although there's only so much I can do with him in just half an hour.

The slight tension between The Milds and The Salaryman came to a head. Nope, no fisticuffs were thrown. However, after the somewhat askew lesson last night, Mrs Mild called the boss to say that she would drop out if there wasn't a change in the class...namely, The Salaryman gets booted out. Granted, The Salaryman's ability is somewhat higher than that of The Milds and there doesn't seem to be any personal animosity between them. But I just couldn't help feeling a tiny bit that Mrs Mild was acting a bit selfishly about the situation. She's not the type to come up for a challenge. In any case, after some consultation between the boss and me along with the phone calls to the affected parties, we were able to get some sort of detente in that The Salaryman will now have his own half-hour late on Friday nights. Not particularly thrilled that I have to teach that late just before the weekend but it does mean that I can make that extra money. Another reason that I was slightly miffed at The Milds was that they had admitted to the boss that they preferred to be with McGirl. And the boss informed me that there was a small chance that the teen may be coming back into the fold. I have nothing against the girl but she's frankly an underachiever when it comes to my class. It's no wonder that The Milds appreciate her presence.

Of course, The Siberian was again absent due to his workload at university. The boss has finally broached the topic of perhaps letting the boy go. It's always been a case of just free chat with him whenever he could show up. I think I would rather have someone who actually needs my help.

I almost felt like jettisoning The New Yorker this afternoon. Couldn't form a Simple Past question or sentence to save her life, despite the homework and the classes. Obviously, home study isn't a huge priority. I dished out a bit of punishment (although I didn't refer to it as such when I assigned it) in the form of having her write 5 questions and answers everyday for the next week.

Once again, 007 has pulled off another sudden cancellation. So I've gotten another few hours of nothing before my latest model lesson. I've got a potential student who says that she has nada ability in English. That's what they all say...and end up proving otherwise. I think that Japanese sense of modesty should have some limits.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Monday July 24, 8:59 p.m.

After last week's Marine Day, today was the more conventional day of seeing The Class Act, SIL and The Part-Timer. It looks like The Matron and her family had another great time in Seoul. A lot of the jabber between her and The Lady focused on how many fake Pradas and Hermes they could purchase.

Getting to Speedy's today for The Part-Timer, the bossman and I had a heart-to-heart about my availability. Looks like he's been singing the hiring blues. This last guy he hired for teaching seems to be turning into a clueless bust. I've sent out word to Movie Buddy to see if he knew of anyone who could come and help things out. As usual, it was like getting blood from a rock when it came to squeezing any more hours into my schedule. With my time at the juku and my privates with people like B2 and The Carolinan, I could only sheepishly offer late Friday nights. My problem is that I have a very empty Thursday morning and afternoon to fill up but of course, Speedy needs the nights taught.

I also did my fair share of shopping today as well, but I didn't have the luxury of gift certificates to cover me. I lost the left nosepad on my glasses some time ago and the exposed metal was stabbing that part of my nose something awful. The last straw was that I had to put some aloe vera cream and a bandaid there. The Lady suggested I try the Megane Supaa (Glasses Supermarket) near her home. That I did and was happy to get a new pad attached within 5 minutes for a measly 157 yen. However, I did fork out a lot more than that at Tower Records a half-hour later. Most of my money went to the latest book of the original Peanuts comics but I also picked up a Bonnie Pink CD....I'm not a particular fan of her latest release "A Perfect Sky" but I bought it anyways so that I could get over the 6,000-yen line of purchases and therefore get double points on my card. Still, financially, it wasn't the best move this month since it was a fairly lean period at Speedy's in June and I have those hefty premiums to pay along with the rent.

However, just before I feel sorry for myself, I'm able to stop myself since I know there have been a few bigger losers in the world of sports and entertainment last week. The really big loser was a fat comedian by the name of Yamamoto who was one-half of the veteran duo, Gokuraku Tombo. Apparently, he, all of 37 years of age, and an underage girl had a bit too much to drink in Sapporo and ended up having a little immoral fun in a hotel room. Well, the unchi hit the fan in the media, and he's been summarily fired from the huge comedy conglomerate, Yoshimoto Kogyo, faster than you can say Fatty Arbuckle. He is now persona non grata. His now-former partner, Koji Kato, who has been enjoying some solo gigs, broke down in tears on his morning show. However, the duo still had some current gigs on some pretty big shows, radio and TV, which now have a sizable hole. The one that I know the best is Fuji-TV's Saturday night variety show called "Mecha Mecha Iketeru" hosted by the duo 99. Gokuraku Tombo had quite a large role in that program and there were a number of characters created by them. I could imagine what the Yamamoto scandal must have done to last Saturday's edition. All of Yamamoto's appearances were probably roughly cut out and maybe there could have been a brief written announcement addressing the situation at the beginning of the show, or even 99 themselves could have come out on a dark set and very soberly apologized for their former colleague's actions, finished up with very deep bows.

The scandal doesn't just end with Yamamoto's ouster though. He was also a player on a somewhat gimmicky amateur baseball team called The Golden Golds, managed by a show business legend named Kin'ichi Hagiwara. On the night of the crime, Yamamoto had been drinking with two other players when they came across the wanton women. That guilt-by-association was enough to taint the team so much that last Wednesday, Hagiwara (or Kin-chan, as he is more affectionately known) tearfully announced the disbandment of the Golds. No ouster of Yamamoto, no suspension of the team from regular play for a year, not even the honoured resignation of Kin-chan to take responsibility. He decided to destroy the team in massive penance. Well, how Japanese....only thing is that he reneged on his promise yesterday due to the outcry of many of the fans pleading with him to keep the team together. There are a lot of relieved sponsors out there but I'm feeling just a little cynical and think him greatly hypocritical for going back on his promise.

Even the hallowed halls of sumo weren't immune to scandal last week. A Russian sumo wrestler did the unthinkable by not only attacking a couple of photographers Sean Penn sytle but also smashing a glass shower curtain in frustration while one of the higher-ranked wrestlers was inside. And to further add insult to injury, he dissed ozeki (a 2nd-rank sumotori, just under the level of yokozuna Grand Champion) Chiyotaikai by not bowing to him after a practice match and even glaring at him. This, my friends, even beats the Zidane a country kilometre. The Sumo Association couldn't even find a punishment in the rulebooks since the malfeasance had never been dared done. The Russian could only be suspended for 3 days from the Nagoya Tournament which had just been completed. But his oyakata stablemaster seemed to get the worse of the punishment by having his salary cut by 10%. I'm sure the Russian is getting a lot of unrecorded punishment from his superiors or even his fellow stablemates for bringing shame to the stable, though.

Well, almost done here. I've got another long Tuesday ahead of me. I've got The Beehive with Ms. Tulip's last appearance before taking off for Toronto and then there is 002 followed by another stint at the juku.
Monday July 24, 8:38 p.m.

Sunday was just my time with the kids. The Elder was in her sullen "Violet Parr" mode so I was quite happy that I won't be seeing her or her sister for the next several weeks. Then I was off to use some of those gift certificates that their mother had kindly given me as an Ochugen gift. I could only use the certificates at the long-established department stores such as Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi so I had figured that the products there would be a bit pricey. My aim was on a blender. Yes...a blender...I had been strangely entranced by a variety show whose tarento were making up their own frappes. Earlier last week, I visited the neighbourhod Yamada Denki to check out their wares. I could get a blender for the low, low price of 2,000 yen. The Takashimaya wares were starting at around 21,000 yen! Uh....I decided to buy some CDS there instead with the certificates.

I finally got that Yuming single called "Still Crazy For You". Nope, it's not a redux of Madonna's ballad from the mid-80s. Far from it. For some reason, the Queen of J-Pop and New Music decided to put out a swing jazz piece with the help of an old comedy-music group from the 60s called The Crazy Cats. She and the trombonist do this little duet which is just dripping with nostalgia about the old days....more of The Cats' old days than Yuming's since the Queen started out as an early 70s folkie. It isn't a well-sung tune despite the fact that Yuming herself had written the music and the lyrics. Her best vocalizations have long peaked and the trombonist is best as a trombonist. The charm lies in the tune and the chemistry between two oldtimers having the karaoke equivalent of a long-awaited drink in a bar that they haven't visited in decades.

The second disc is on the other side of the musical spectrum. It is Misia's latest called "Luv Parade". If Yuming is the Queen of J-Pop, then Misia is the Princess of Disco J-R&B. And the petite princess had been missing again for another few years. She seemed to have decided that balladry was her permanent niche in her career and coming up with songs for video games was her new sideline. Ugh! So I was glad to hear that she has come back with an upbeat number reminiscent of the happier dance days of the mid-late 70s. A few more like that and she'll back on the boards again.

Back to the blender again. Well, I guess I'll be getting that cheapo one at Yamada Denki sometime this week. Or perhaps I can get a few more features by buying the 2nd-cheapest one instead.
Monday July 24, 8:01 p.m.

I managed to get through the rest of Saturday fairly intact. I had 008 for her biweekly lesson. She's coming along fine but due to re-scheduling difficulties, I won't see her again until the end of August. I found out that she's also an Osakan so she was quite impressed when I threw some of the old neighbourhoods of my relatives. That EIC student was a no-show for her 2nd lesson although she had already paid for all 3 lessons so it isn't a case of escape. And then I had The Ramen Lady for her 2nd visit to the video. Problem is (or not) that she really doesn't like "Friends"; however, she has been quite happy to chat away. She has owned her own ramen restaurant not too far away from here. Her specialty is tsukemen, a more modular form of ramen in that one is given the noodles separately from the soup so that one has to dip them in to eat them.

Then I scooted over to JR Shinjuku to meet The Engineer and his new squeeze. I didn't find that out until they showed up at the East Gate. It was good to see that he was back in the dating game again after his rather brief first long-distance marriage. I had an even briefer phone conversation one time with his first wife; I didn't get a particularly good impression of her even with the short conversation we had so good on him. The three of us ended up going to a shabu-shabu restaurant just across from the station. The Engineer had earlier suggested the dish in his e-mail so I was looking up stuff on the Net during the free time that was supposed to have been for the EIC student.

Shabu-shabu, for those not too familiar with the dish, is thinly sliced marbled beef quickly seared in a pot of boiling water or broth. The shabu-shabu name comes from the supposed sound (perhaps it's a translation of swish-swish) that the meat makes while it's being swished around in the liquid by chopsticks. This place was a little different in that the meat du jour wasn't beef but pork....good pork from a pig known as kurobuta (black pig). I ordered the course set for 2500 yen for each of us. The Engineer's girlfriend struck me as being quite young...she acted as if she had just come out of college. She reminded me in looks of Paddy's fiancee but she was far less outspoken which kinda added to that youthful trepidation. It was hard to read her initially...I wasn't sure if she were jet-lagged but it was hard to determine if she were having a good time with her dinner. I knew she wasn't too thrilled with the nankotsu (deep-fried cartilage) but then again, I wouldn't know too many folks from the hometown who would immediately dive for rubbery pieces of pseudo-bone from a menu. She's definitely not a purveyor of sushi or sashimi. In fact, it was her first time in Japan. I would have thought that the crowds would have absolutely overwhelmed her, and she did give the "nice place to visit" line but she did admit that she was a peoplewatcher, and there is no better place than Tokyo to do that.

Despite wondering if the young lady were gonna be able to get through the meal, I actually was OK with the course. I was quite full by the end of the meal. However, I don't think the restaurant will merit a second visit since I just thought the various dishes were off in taste in one way or another. The huge pork meatballs tasted as if they had gotten a little too much mirin, and the shioyaki pieces of fried pork were a little too fatty. The main course of shabu-shabu was OK but were on the light side. Despite being middle-aged struggling English teacher, I still retained some gallantry and paid for everyone. So The Engineer made the deal that he would treat me to dinner at one of Toronto's finest, Canoe, when I got back home this Xmas. He had my agreement on that.

We did a bit of walking in crowded East Shinjuku. The Engineer's girl may have been a people watcher but she also could fit in with the sapphic half of Tokyo's population since she made a quick beeline for the brand name shops like Coach and Tiffany's which weren't too far away. I hope that The Engineer is making enough money.

The three of us even did that beloved of Saturday night activities in the big city by heading to Karaoke Kan around the corner. Unsurprisingly, the lobby was filled with young'uns reserving their rooms. I felt my age like a beesting when I had to write it down for some reason along with my reservation. My "40" stood out like a sore thumb next to all the "20" littering the rest of the page. We didn't wait too long for our room to come up despite the crowds by the front desk. We would only be there for an hour, which I think for karaoke isn't quite enough. However, when we had asked for an extension, the front desk said that it was way too crowded to allow that. So we had to quickly go through the menus to get as many songs up there as we could. Luckily, The Engineer's girl was far from the exhibitionist type so it was just the two of us mangling our tunes. Now I could understand why my interest in karaoke has waned considerably over the years. I couldn't even stand my own voice during my rendition of "Sledgehammer". I think there should be a rule against lousy singers in a karaoke box like there should be a rule against ugly people prancing about in a nudist camp. So, perhaps my 20-year-long love affair with karaoke may finally have gotten its walking papers.