Saturday, January 27, 2007

Saturday January 27, 5:11 p.m.

J-Pop may have found its newest heroine to join the ranks of pop tart/jailbait X-Tina clone Kumi Koda and more indie-ish Kaela Kimura. To break up all those K's, we have one Anna Tsuchiya. Half-Japanese, half-some nationality in looks, she's also a mix in terms of occupation: she's a model, actress and now riot grrrl. She's got the face of a slightly more devilish Drew Barrymore but the song stylings of Joan Jett. She could probably eat the entire Morning Musume for breakfast and pick her teeth with the members of AKB 48.

I think that YouTube has been a godsend in terms of catching some obscure gems in pop music and Star Trek bloopers. Speaking of which...I saw a fanboy's labour of love in the form of a What If? concoction of showing what would happen if TNG's Enterprise-D met up with the Death Star. Simply named "Star Trek vs. Star Wars", the 7-minute video is a choppily-edited affair (it wasn't difficult to see where the seams were with all those bridge officers changing hairstyles and uniforms) but a rather interesting end result to see how Picard handled The Emperor himself. Personally, I would love to see James Bond vs. Doctor Who.

At the same time, YouTube has also been allowing excerpts called "Soramimi" from the late-night Japanese variety show, "Tamori Club". Translated directly as "sky ear", the "Soramimi" segment in the middle of Tamori's more eclectic TV-Asahi program is really the only thing I want to see (the main segment which brackets the segment has often dealt with topics like train otaku and new buildings). For years, people have been sending in sound clips of famous non-Japanese songs (anything from The Beatles to German death metal bands) in which the lyrics could sound like Japanese expressions. Sometimes, the similarity is a bit reaching but at other times, it's hilariously spot-on. And the videos concocted for the clips could just about elicit laughter from a rock. Not quite sure how non-Japanese speakers could really get the humour but there are several clips posted.

Also, I've been hearing that a lot of those Japanese commercials featuring Hollywood celebs have also been popping up on guess where...YouTube. Boy, I bet folks like Scarlett Johannsen, Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt must be cracking their heads against the wall (and their agents' heads) in actorly angst at seeing the relevance of those international non-disclosure clauses rendered useless. There's that current ad for Seattle's Mt. Rainier Iced Coffee in which new spokeswoman Johannsen (who follows Winona Ryder and Queen Amidala) is walking through the London Tube while sipping said product and intoning some catchphrase like a dying robot.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Saturday January 27, 4:55 p.m.

The UL and The Polynesian, though they've never met, shared one thing in common in the last couple of days that I met them. They were both rather exhausted from work (long hours, stress, etc). For the UL, since her base of operations is a university, she was getting konked out from the transition period of prepping for graduation and then getting ready for the new kids. As for the Polynesian, she's been having problems with her micro-managing supervisor.

Last night's party with the alumni started off very slowly. I got to the restaurant at about 7, thinking that everybody would already be there drinking it up. Instead, there was a very empty table. The main waiter was rather tense when he came up to say that he was a bit concerned that despite that our official sitdown time had started, noone showed up. Well, I apologized and just shrugged that I didn't know what had happened to everyone. And in actual fact, MB, Scully and one other fellow straggled in at 7:30 before most of the others came in between 7:30 and 8: not exactly something that impressed me. It was The Barmaiden's call on the party. Why didn't she schedule it for a later time if people were just gonna come in like a bunch of Brazilians? It was the first time to see MB in 6 weeks. Looks like he and The Sylph have been enjoying their love affair with skiing.

For the second party, most of the group stayed intact. In fact, only MB had to shuffle out early since he was going skiing today to Gala Yuzawa as well. The rest of us just went up Dogenzaka to the Maruhan entertainment complex and went up to the 8th floor where another izakaya was. This place was rather nifty since instead of calling out to waiters or waitresses to give our orders, all we did was just make our requests through GUI monitors on our tables. Matching restaurants with Blackberries? Ingenious.

Just finished off the first EIC lesson with a very comely young lady. I'm glad it worked out well with this one. Hope this may translate into a more permanent student. In another hour, Speedy will be heading out for my second party in an as many nights, that Portuguese place in Yotsuya called Palace de Fado.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Friday January 26, 3:46 p.m.

Once again I'm typing in an alien location...back at the Otemachi Kinko's. They have the most expensive rates so I'm rushing through this entry.

After my stint at the Ai Cafe last night, I walked all the way from Akiba to Ichigaya...took me about 40 minutes. It was a good workout. I took up base at the Tully's Cafe where I meet Tully and the Coffeemaker, and an hour later, The Carolinan showed up. We did another trade of souvenirs: the Canadian calendar to her while I got a package of mentaiko (cod roe)-flavoured crackers, only available in Nagasaki, where she had just come from a company trip. Not too bad although they're a bit greasy.

Today, I met up with The Madame for a bit of lunch in the Tobu again before heading out to that cafe that she had been talking about the other day. It was her type of place....old-fashioned wood decor with dim lighting. Tried out the's supposed to be the most popular item in the place but I didn't particularly find it all that memorable although it did taste like cheesecake should.

I've got The UL in about 90 minutes and then I head on out to Shibuya to meet up with the alumni for that dinner.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thursday January 25, 2:07 p.m.

Another week, another dismemberment story. Looks like not a day has gone by this year without some crime in which the body was chopped up like lumber. This time, some guy by the name of Matsumura has been arrested with the alleged murders of two distant relatives. The latter of the two had the guy's body chopped into two with the lower half buried in Ibaraki Prefecture while the other was wholly somewhere else. Of course, the morning talk shows have covered this story like a blanket. And so far, every picture of the suspect has been very creepy. His eyes had that unfocused stare of a psychotic. Apparently, he also had a bit of a double life. There are pics of him in typically sober salaryman garb while one pic had him dressed like a biker punk. More (bodies?) to follow, I'm sure...

The latest celeb-turned-governor, Higashi Sonomanma (actually NHK did identify him by his real name of Hideo Higashikokubara), jumped right into his new job with all the gravitas needed. And he needed every bit of it...since Miyazaki Prefecture is in the throes of a bird flu problem. There he was in the seemingly regulation jumper outfit that governors tend to wear out in the field assessing the situation at a chicken farm with a full court press. Strangely enough, on Fuji-TV that same time, there was a quiz show with a whole bunch of tarento including Sonomanma as his goofy persona. The show was careful to tell everyone that it had been filmed back in November.

It really looks like that Fujiya has been taking its contrite rehabilitation very seriously. On the way back home from Speedy's, I noticed that every branch of the confectionary store I'd passed on the bus was shut up tight. But the biggest sign was at my own station. In the mall underneath the tracks, the neighbourhood Fujiya shared its space with a liquor shop. Well, the liquor side of the store was in full operation but the Fujiya side looked forlornly abandoned: the display case that had once proudly shown its wares of strawberry shortcakes and chocolate confections was completely empty, and Peko-chan was nowhere to be found.

Since 001 had cancelled her lesson last night, the only reason to go to the school was just do some prep work for EIC. Because of the computer problems Speedy had been suffering, my old computer has been taken out from the classroom and into the outer office. which means that my boss is now the third person to know about this blog. Luckily, he didn't see anything about the personal stuff involving the code names, but frankly I would have preferred that he hadn't found out. Speedy has been in close touch with the school's benefactor who's been waiting for the past few years for the school to get some sort of healthy sign. Well, he and we are still waiting. Yesterday's call from the benefactor had him finishing with a very loud click that I could hear metres away from the receiver. Yikes! Not a good start to the year for Speedy. A couple of nights before, Speedy once again talked my ear off in that half-giggly, half-frenetic tone he gets whenever he's stressed out. I feel really sorry for him but I'm starting to wonder if he really thought things through when he made his plans for the school. Ach...but I digress...I've always been the glass-is-half-empty type.

The next few days will be hard ones on my wallet. I've got that party with some of the ol' school alumni tomorrow after my lesson with The UL. Then, Saturday will have the Speedy dinner at a Portuguese restaurant, and finally I'm meeting up with Skippy and the bunch for "The Departed" on Sunday.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wednesday January 24, 2:45 p.m.

An unusual day off although I am at Speedy's right now. Last night, I got the call that 001 had to cancel tonight's lesson. Still, I had to get some prep work done for 002's class tomorrow and that new EIC lesson on Saturday. Plus, it got me out of the house. I actually went to LAST, the buffet restaurant at Shiodome City Centre for lunch today. I really am slowing down. I couldn't really even considered myself engorged...just full. That had never stopped me before.

Yesterday, we had that New Year's party at Mrs. Travel's house in Makuhari Hongo in Chiba Prefecture. Her place has that feel of a Japanese version of a Norman Rockwell house. I also got filled there with qualitatively superior food made by the Beehive ladies...all great Japanese dishes like koyadofu (tofu that has been freeze-dried and cooked...interesting texture), shredded crab salad and some of the juiciest & most succulent yellowtail sashimi I've ever feasted my stomach on. And of course, the alcohol was liberally flowing which may explain why I quickly slowed down my ingestion. Mrs. Alp's hubby even showed up, normally an unusual thing for a Japanese man at that time of the day except that he had recently retired so he's got a lot of time on his hands. For years, Alp had always told me that her hubby has had a special affection for the portly Mrs. Tee and yesterday, we got to see that in action. Mr. Alp and Mrs. Tee were just giggling while the former was being obnoxiously flirtatious with her. Mrs. Alp bemusedly sat nearby; not sure if she had the rolling pin in her bag just in case. The party was also a farewell for Mrs. Plate since she'll be heading with her family to the wilds of Okayama Prefecture from next week for a long while.

Yesterday was quite good in that my usually slower students were unusually on the ball. The New Yorker was gabbing with me in halting English for the first few minutes of our lesson; not exactly purring along like an Oxford professor but I'll take it. Actually, I was about 5 minutes late for her since I missed the Sobu Line but I think the wait must've done good by her. And then the Milds later that night were also running on high octane. Even the hubby had done some unassigned homework on his own which surprised his wife and me. Mr. Mild also showed me his skill with his Cat's Cradle, that old hobby in which one can make various patterns and objects out of string and two hands. On the good news at the juku was that the two kids who were there for the model lesson took the bait. I'll be seeing them from November, and I may even be getting another adult student. Jolly went AWOL again which pissed me off since I had gone to the trouble of prepping some TOEIC stuff for him, not exactly the lightest stuff to tote to a class. Seven was back for another round of hilarity. She told me that her idol, Will Smith, was to show up on a program starring a rather acerbic fortune teller, the Japanese Simon Cowell if you will, who used to be a grande dame hostess with a yakuza ex-hubby. Gotta wonder how that went.

I caught the Oscar nominations last night on CNN live. Nice to see that "Little Miss Sunshine" got nominated for Best Movie although I don't think it has a snowflake's chance in Hell of winning. I can actually say that I will have seen two Best Movie noms by the time the Academy Awards roll around on February 25th since this Sunday, I'll be catching "The Departed" with Skippy and the rest of the gang. It was notable that "Letters from Iwo Jima" got the nod (won't get it...Clint Eastwood has won too much) and a Japanese actress by the name of Rinko Kikuchi got nommed for "Best Supporting Actress" for her deaf-mute performance in "Babel". I would normally say that she also has a snowball's chance but since that child actress from New Zealand, Keisha something-or-other, grabbed it from nowhere a few years ago, I can't slag her chances quite yet. Of course, within a half-hour of the live announcements, NHK and the other commercial stations trumpeted the Japanese noms. Rinko Kikuchi is not a household name here although I'm not sure what the nomination will mean now for her career. Her father in the movie is none other than Mr. "Shall We Dance-The Original", Koji Yakusho. Y'know...I would like to see "The Queen" with Helen Mirren. Of course, Mirren is the one to beat for "Best Actress" but I would just like to see it for that scarifyingly good performance by Michael Sheen as PM Blair.

Well, let's see....there was that stupid natto kerfuffle on Fuji-TV. Now, it's legendary confectionary conglomerate, Fujiya. The mascot for the company is Peko-chan, that cute little fat girl with the tongue sticking out of her mouth in anticipation for the candies to get shoveled into her maw. Well, it looks like the company got its wrists majorly slapped by the government when it was learned that it had been using ingredients well past its expiry dates and then selling the finished goods also past its expiry dates. There was an editorial cartoon in today's "Japan Times" which summed it quite nicely: the picture shows Peko-chan in a hospital bed with her tongue hanging out once again, but this time not so happily. There is a Fujiya store in my station mall. It's probably closed in contrition. Corporate Japan working for the people, folks.

Now, I know why the former entertainer-turned-Miyazaki governor-elect, Higashi Sononmanma, has held onto his stage name. The guy's really called Hideo Higashikokubaru (geseundheit)...doesn't exactly run off the tongue like a river. Well, he's started off his new career as soberly as possible. He has to...his successor had to resign in disgrace due to a bid-rigging scandal.

And I just found out that the Toronto Blue Jays got its own Japanese player...some journeyman pitcher by the name of Oka. Not sure if they were trying to get onto the "Heroes" bandwagon.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday January 22, 9:38 p.m.

Well, another night of heartbreak. 009 decided to call it quits after 12 lessons...says she's enjoyed the lessons and would be willing to come back in a few months after she passes the TOEIC hurdle. Yeah, well...I'll believe she'll be back when she is back. Methinks she's long gone. Just goes to show that I'll never be able to accurately predict who'll stay and go. I've had The New Yorker for close to 2 years...has made a snail's progress in all that time and yet she's stuck with me. Not to say that 009 was the most grammatically accurate lady in the world but she was certainly much more fluent. Still, I'm grateful that The Part-Timer is hanging in...for now; she's just about at her 1-year mark with me.

Yesterday, I met The Madame for the first time in several weeks. Strangely enough, unlike my prediction that she would spout off on her spiritualist beliefs like the usual Wiccan, she was pretty much off that topic for most of our 4 hours together. The reason she gave was that she was in the doghouse with her spirit guide. Hopefully, that falling out will be permanent. In any case, we went for lunch at a Vietnamese place in the TOBU Department Store in Ikebukuro before finding a hole-in-the-wall place in south Ikebukuro which specializes in Taiwanese tea. Very peaceful in a redecorated apartment but it cost me 1,500 yen; doesn't exactly merit weekly trips. We've got another meeting of sorts on Friday.

Tomorrow, I've got that party at Mrs. Travel's place for the entire Beehive before I have to rush off to see the aforementioned New Yorker for her first of the year. Then, it's back to the juku for Seven, Jolly and The Milds. The Siberian is off drinking.
Monday January 22, 5:28 p.m.

Well, quite a few things on the news front over the weekend. We've got another celeb-turned-governor in this country. A former tarento by the name of Sonomanma Higashi (a stage name since the first word means "just like it is") pulled off a surprise by winning the gubernatorial election in his native Miyazaki Prefecture. To be honest, celeb governors haven't exactly had the most sterling reputations here compared to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (although he and Bill you-know-who have had their names dragged in the mud as well). Previous Tokyo Governor Yukio Aoshima who used to be and is now back as a comedian was pretty much an ineffectual leader and former comedian-turned-Osaka Governor Knock Yokoyama resigned in Clintonian disgrace when he tried a little slap-and-tickle on a female assistant in his limo years ago. Sononmanma isn't exactly lily-white either; he'd had a reputation playing around in the lower depths of Kabukicho during his entertainment days. Mind you, in today's session with The Class Act, the ladies mentioned that despite his dalliances, the governor-elect had taken the past year off to clean up his act and earn his fellow Miyazakans' good graces. So we shall see if the guy will actually be a good ruler.

Speaking about embarrassments, I was planning to watch Aru Aru Daijiten ("There! There! The Big Dictionary") last night, a program from the latest genre of information-gathering and disseminating for the masses. The program is hosted by comedian Ken Shimura and tarento Masaaki Sakai and focuses on health matters; specifically, the show finds certain foods and illustrates how wonderful and magical they are for our bodies. Well, back on the 7th, the show was focusing on the benefits of natto, that fermented bean stuff which has a love/hate reaction amongst the population (I'm definitely the latter). I would've thought that it would have been a slam dunk topic...even the detractors state that it is a healthy foodstuff (with the emphasis on stuff). They had data on all sorts of experiments and interviewees with the final say that if one ate natto twice a day for two weeks, there would be a noticeable weight loss. Well, if Aru Aru Daijiten said so, then it must be true, the viewers thought. And so, after the program aired, natto just flew off the shelf....

...and the bottom fell out. Instead of getting the usual episode of day-glo graphics and happy panel led by Shimura and Sakai, I got a rather sober announcer bowing deeply in front of the camera and explaining that all that data had been made up, before/after pics falsified and even the dubbed interpreting of American doctors misinterpreted. One thing about Japanese TV, when someone screws up noticeably enough so that it can't be covered up, the so-called deep apologies just pour on out. The top guys at Fuji-TV had done a press conference a few days earlier and did the prerequisite bowing but I think the president should've also done the apology last night instead of having the announcer lackey do it. Of course, the other commerical stations were having a field day crowing about their rival's goof on the morning wide shows today.