Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Thursday August 31, 2:35 p.m.

I think one of the biggest myths here about this country is that the Japanese diet is one of the healthiest. Anyone who says that is talking about something from perhaps 30-50 years ago. Sure, you still have tofu and green tea and seaweed but that's about it. Nope, thanks to the influx of American fast food over the decades and the fact that Japanese cuisine has its own artery-busting dishes, I'm afraid unless you're heading for the most ascetic existence amongst Buddhist monks in Kyoto, this ain't the place to become nice and slim.

Case in point: the buffet. Over here, it's also called viking. Yep, you heard it...just like that Hagar character in the comics. You hear it all the time amongst the folks here: "Hey, how about going to that viking in Shinagawa? It's got great roast beef." You can bet that it doesn't have anything to do with anyone in the Norwegian Embassy. I guess the term was coined as an easier substitute for smorgasbord. The Japanese linguists would've had major strokes trying to put that word into katakana.

Over the past several years, the buffet has insidiously penetrated itself into the Japanese culinary ethos. Anyone who still clings to the remains of the myth that the Japanese people are amongst the longest-living people in the world due to their diet will automatically be brought back to sobering reality once he/she goes into any large hotel in Tokyo. There are Chinese buffets, American buffets and the favourite amongst the ladies...the cake buffets. The hotel smorgasbords can ring up quite a cost from 4,000 yen upwards but during lunch, there are a lot of independent restaurants which offer lunchtime buffets for some pretty cheap yen. I, myself, hit a place called LAST in the modern complex known as Shiodome, just between the ritzy Ginza and the salaryman's paradise of Shimbashi. This LAST has a spread, calling itself a "country buffet" (yee-hah), which could also be called an ode to cholesterol. Fried chicken, fajitas, jambalaya, pizza, pasta...lots of stuff to stuff down...and that doesn't include the dessert tray. And all of it just goes for the measly price of 1,000 yen.
Thursday August 31, 1:45 p.m.

The last day of the month which means that I'm gonna be shucking out the yen today for the usual bills. Rent, health insurance and city tax among other things for the government...yeesh!

Well, Tokyo and Fukuoka were battling it out to see which city would get the so-called honour of being the national hopeful to try for the 2016 Olympics. The decision came down from the JIOC yesterday, and Governor Shintaro "Blinky" Ishihara and his cronies got the nod for Tokyo. But probably aside from them, the news was more than likely given a huge round of indifference or quiet grumbling. Apparently, what won Tokyo the possible privilege of hosting the Games was the ease of transporting the athletes to the venues. Still, I think a lot of folks are gonna be ruing the increased construction and maybe even higher taxes. Ah, but there I go again jumping too far ahead. The final decision by the IOC itself won't be made for another 3 years. And I'm fairly optimistic that Japan won't be getting the brass (or multicoloured) rings. For one thing, Beijing is getting the 2008 Games followed by London in 2012, and I frankly doubt that Dr. Rogge will be willing to give the Games to another large Asian city that quickly. I can see it easily going to an American or European one. Plus, I don't particularly want to have to share this already crowded city with thousands of athletes, their representatatives and media.

Back to more mundane matters, 001 was uncharacteristically in molasses mode last night. She warned me at the start of class that she was exhausted and it indeed showed. Still, as long as the jokes were pouring forth, she could keep awake. However, she'll be away next week so perhaps the longer absence will make the heart...and brain....grow fonder.

I sent off the missive to JJ about the status of any future lessons since I think that fax she'd sent a couple of weeks earlier was the equivalent of a "Dear John" letter. I'm not a huge fan of those indirect messages to save face. The "when in Rome" clause only goes so far with me, so I'm just asking for the straight situation.

I'm back here at the I-Cafe in Akihabara. The staff told me that there was only the VIP room available which is another 80 yen extra for the first 30 minutes. Well, I think I can afford that much since I have one of those discount tickets. The VIP room comes with an additional TV and printer for the user who wants to have that office feeling. I'll be here for about an hour and change before taking off. That still means I have a few hours before I see B2 and B2B so maybe another round on the massage chairs across the street may be in order.
Wednesday August 30, 4:25 p.m.

I think I'm gonna have to correct myself about the weather. Just when I thought 002's premonitions were coming true about the temps starting to make their inexorable slide into Fall, the last couple of days have been back to steamy Summer. The temps themselves aren't to blame; it's the humidity as usual.

It looks like this week will be the one for just night classes. I only had the juku group last night and even then it wasn't a full crowd. The Parisian pulled out suddenly although the boss let me have the full rate and Mr. Mild was also off on a business trip. Mind you, I did have Seven and The Siberian for 90 minutes each. A bit of a bonus from each one: Seven gave me some further souvenirs in the form of little cheesecakes and sweet potato pies...not sure what the occasion was; before I come to any conclusions, I'm much too old for her and she's already got a guy. Unfortunately, I'd completely forgotten about the cheesecakes once I got home last night and let them just sit in my bag until nearly noon today. I decided to devour a couple of them as part of my damage control. The other three sticks are now doing an emergency cooldown in the fridge; perhaps the extended time at room temperature may even enhance the flavour. As for The Siberian, we were able to get onto a good conversational hook so that we could last the 90 minutes without gasping for ideas. He'll be gone for the entirety of September due to his upcoming university training trip to Seoul. It'll be the loss of potential income of 12,000 yen in total but at least I get a bit of mental relief not having to wonder what I'm gonna talk to him about next. And at least, I've got a new student at Speedy's who'll be a 90-minute customer which means more money in the bank.

Today, I've only got 001 so it'll be a pleasant time. Just doing Passives with her today so it'll probably be another homer out of the park. Then, tomorrow night it'll be B2 and B2B for the first time in about 3 weeks.

I haven't heard anything yet from MB about catching "Superman Returns" this Sunday on confirmation but Skippy has given me the meeting time and place for that trip to the star-filled Korean restaurant in tony Akasaka after the movie. The Madame has contacted me about the following Sunday for lunch. I'm starting to notice that she's keeping a bit of distance from the others after that kerfuffle between her and MB all those weeks ago about her way-out spiritualism.

Ah, yes, a bit belated but Pluto did get that demotion, didn't it? Hm...a pity. The Japanese students always had a mnemonic system of remembering the planets in the solar system via kanji. Now, they have to drop the last kanji representing Pluto. I can imagine Jon Stewart and The Onion having a field day with this story. The Onion could do headlines like "Pluto Ousted Due to Size Issues....Plutonians Conferring with Viagrans for Help" or "Pluto Demoted...Invasion Cancelled Due to Humiliation".

Speaking of humiliation, that DA in Boulder, Colorado was eating some really meaty crow today about the John Mark Carr fiasco. She was getting some rather nasty calls suggesting that she be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town. But to her credit, she took the high road and owned up to her gambling loss...and besides, it did get rid of one wacko who needed to get put off the streets...whether it be in Bangkok or Boulder.

I think I may be one of the minority who actually enjoys seeing Bill Maher on Larry King. Whenever he comes on, I actually do stay tuned for the entire hour. I say that I am in the minority since I can't believe that he can be liked by the majority of Americans since he's gone on the record that he doesn't like religion or marriage or Republicans or Democrats. That's a big chunk of the US.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday August 28, 8:07 p.m.

Well, I see I've got a bit of time here. Decided to get dinner a little later since I wanna time it so that I don't have to end up smack dab in the middle of the last rush hour of the night. Besides, I've got virtually the entire day to sleep in tomorrow...well, then again...I do have "The Untouchables" in the morning.

I see The Emmys got done and done well, thanks to Conan. Perhaps David Letterman will be brooding a bit especially after that Oscar fiasco several years ago. "24" finally got its Emmy; mind you, I haven't seen anything after Season 2 (Chip Guy had been kind enough to lend me his box sets when he was still here). "Lost" is still lost on me...never really caught onto that one but then again, I think I had to be there from the very beginning and to stay there; not possible in my line of work. Alan Alda got his Emmy for "The West Wing" to add to all those he got for "MASH". I guess I'll be happy to see him on the show, once his episodes come here in about half a decade. Mind you, I'm enjoying perky Emily Proctor as Ainsley Hayes.

Looks like I've got that new business student starting from Monday. And since she's a 90-minute one, she should make up financially for The Teacher's absence.

Since I've got about half an hour before I finally do take off, I can actually do some ruminating, something that I haven't been able to do here since I usually use this blog just to talk about the daily stuff.

Over here, the musical genre of AOR (Adult Oriented Radio) or Adult Contemporary or Smooth Jazz or whatever the hell you wanna call it seems to be alive and kicking (or should I say, basking with a glass of Perrier?) Y'know....Bobby Caldwell, Boz Scaggs, Christopher Cross, etc. It's anything covered with a flugelhorn (a trumpet with a thyroid condition) or a Fender Rhodes keyboard, and often played on those old AM stations (woe be the DJ who dared play it on FM).

Over in Canada or the States, an HMV probably doesn't have an AOR section since anyone who braved trying to browse in front of one would be jumped and given a wedgie by the guys browsing at the Punk/Alternative sections. Well, over here, as they say, AOR is "big in Japan". Surprisingly enough, the sections are allowed to exist in perfect safety in the major CD stores. I think one reason is that there is still a sizable number of musicians who are or who have released AOR-friendly stuff. That would include artists like Yumi Matsutoya, Junichi Inagaki and Miki Imai. Sure, most of J-Pop is now crowded with J-R&B folks such as Orange Range and Ken Hirai or the techno idols represented by Morning Musume (although I think the countdown to irrelevancy for them is fast approaching zero), Kumi Koda and Ayumi Hamasaki. However, there is still that quiet, crooning corner of Japanese popular music that's not Puffy Amiyumi or SMAP.

One such band is Sing Like Talking...yes, the name sounds like something you'd see on one of those twisted English Japanese T-shirts. However, this is a trio led by the just-as-unusually-named Chikuzen Sato who started up in the mid-80s. To give the veteran J-Pop fans a time of reference...sometime around the beginning of the second big 80s idol boom of Miho Nakayama and Shizuka Kudo. However, I didn't discover these guys until the mid-90s. And it was purely by accident, too. I had been watching an episode of the long-running Fuji-TV music show, "Music Fair" and heard this group playing a tune which I liked enough so that I decided to look for the disc. As it turned out, I couldn't remember the name of the band so I had to guess, and as it further turned out, I found this disc which I had thought was the name of this band. Well, I was was Sing Like Talking. And fortuitously enough, the album was titled "Discovery".

Sing Like Talking is the Japanese equivalent of TOTO, Chicago and perhaps even a bit of Steely Dan. The aforementioned Chikuzen Sato has a falsetto voice fronting a guitarist and keyboardist. And the music is firmly rooted in pop of the AOR variety...which means a lot of midtempo tunes and ballads backed often by a horn section or tinkly synths. Yup (and as I write this, I'll be standing up and raising my right hand like an AA recruit), I'm an AOR guy. And I like SLT. To be honest, as J-Pop goes, this band is quite accomplished in that they create some interesting hooks. For example, on the "Discovery" CD (released in 1995), the first track "Subarashii yume no naka de" (In a Wonderful Dream), the tune starts out like a down-home country ditty replete with horse clopping which then makes a sudden musical hairpin curve into a section which seems to be influenced by a sitar from a Beatles song during their ashram days before settling into its AOR self but as the song continues, there are some more weird veerings before it finishes off. In the first track from their previous release, 1994's "Togetherness", the song "Together" actually samples the first 20-30 seconds of an old Django Reinhardt tune "Diane" before things just explode into a funky heavy-horned uptempo number. And Sato and his boys also do interesting covers of 80s tunes such as Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time". I don't know of too many other bands who innovate this way in the J-Pop pantheon. Not to say that every song is hook-friendly. SLT is an AOR J-Pop band but at least it's one that a J-Pop rookie should look into.

Now, it's dinner time.
Monday August 28, 6:48 p.m.

The strangeness of this summer continues. I certainly don't expect the actual dates of the seasons and the actual climate to match up anymore but today it feels like Fall has gotten a head start on the arrival of September this Friday. It actually felt cooler and drier outside...although I still had to reach for those mentholated wipes a couple of times.

Well, my weekend was pretty nice. I had a couple of classes at Speedy's on Saturday. Farrah returned after more than a month away. She was out in Osaka for a week or so. She remarked that it was pretty depressed in more ways than one out there which is a big surprise for me. Osaka has always been the boisterous, rowdy kid brother to the uptight and straitlaced Tokyo, and so for me to hear that the home of the Hanshin Tigers, Yoshimoto Kogyo and the Japanese merchant has gone down on its luck is rather saddening. I remember being in Sapporo a couple of years ago and actually experiencing that sort of economic downfall in its downtown. Hope that the Kansai can get back on its feet. After Farrah, I had that musical student for her 4th of 5 classes. She's improved since her first class back last Monday. Those two were the only lessons at the school so Speedy and I ended up having some ramen together near the station.

Yesterday was even better in that I was able to get nearly 11 hours of sleep. I really needed it. I further pampered myself with a pancake breakfast. It was also a day without classes which also helped out in my physical and mental rehabilitation. Actually, the only thing for that night was meeting up with MB, Skippy, The Satyr, The Sylph and The Satyr's girl for dinner at this pizzeria called Savoy in Yutenji, a station on the Tokyu-Toyoko Line, west of Shibuya.

Skippy once again spearheaded this latest foodie outing. She first heard about Savoy from the lead Italian tarento on TV. And so I gather that if a native Italian can recommend a good pizza place out of all the Domino's/Pizza Huts/Saizeriyas in the Kanto, then this place has gotta be good. We did generate a good appetite walking up to the place from the station, though. I kinda wondered if Savoy were actually closer to Naka-Meguro Station. Still, it was interesting traversing all of the side streets. Yutenji reminded me of a smaller Jiyugaoka in that both were station-based neighbourhoods which were rather plain but were peppered by some well-to-do housing.

We finally got there some 10 minutes later. It occupied the first floor of this rather tony apartment building. Skippy had made reservations for the 6 of us but the wait staff, who were more Orange Range than Black N' White Penguins (as the name Savoy might connote), kinda gave us an initial "deer in headlights" look. Strike One right there! To be honest, I would probably say that the service as the dinner went on was more on the disappointing Royal Host side of things. Still, we were there for the good pizza, and on that part, we weren't disappointed. There were only two pizzas on the menu: Margarita and Marinara. We ordered two rounds of each. They were indeed delicious with one type being especially buttery good. The other dishes weren't up to the great standards, though. We also had a dish of prosciutto with balls of mozzarella cheese. I could taste the ham well enough but the cheese was just tasteless blobs. Well, at least the other 5 enjoyed the red wine. So, I can say that Savoy is definitely worth a first shot but considering where I live, I wouldn't be making the long trip there even for their good pizza. I'll save that love for Baker Bounce, that burger place in Sangenjaya. And certainly, the tab wasn't cheap.

Strangely enough, The Lady of The Class Act stated this morning that she and her hubby have been to Savoy a few times. She reflected what I'd experienced the night before: good pizza, ho-hum sides and sullen service. Speaking of whom, it was a pretty talky set of lessons today. It was just The Lady since her partner, The Matron, was out on some duty. Then, I had SIL who is usually more of the conversationalist than an actual student. Finally, I had that musical student from Saturday for her final one of five. Speedy and I were encouraged that she was very praising of our abilities; I certainly hope that she'll sign up for more. I was also happy to hear that my model lesson from a couple of weeks ago has decided to sign up for several more lessons starting from next Monday. On the other hand, I think that JJ is gone for good although I will send her a message asking what her intentions are; and now I'm kinda wondering about The Part-Timer...she's gone for at least a couple of weeks.

It'll be a pretty sparse week this week. I've only got the night juku classes tomorrow. The Teacher contacted me stating that she'll be missing for all of September due to her medical problems. That kinda sucks. And with 002 off in Hawaii, I won't have anything for most of Wednesday or Thursday aside from 001 on the former day and B2 on the latter day. Friday's also gonna be just a night venture starting with The UL.

Well, time for dinner...