Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sunday March 4, 11:57 a.m.

Balmy-with-a-capital-B day. Up to 17 degrees C in the sunshine today...I'm sure all you East Coasters must be cursing with a passion on reading this. New word for today: danto. It means warm winter...and yes, Tokyo has been having one summer of a winter. It's gotten so bad that the weathercasters have been pathetically predicting that the first snow here may be sometime this month. As if people really want snow here... Anyways, the surprising news is that the Japan Meterological Agency is reporting that this may be the first year in several years that Tokyo will be completely snow-free. I say it is surprising because I'd always thought that Tokyo was mostly snow-free...I only see a few flakes once every few years in any case. I guess they must be referring to the Mount Takao area, the small corner of Tokyo that actually looks rural.

Back on Friday night, my juku boss reminded me of that semi-deal about killing two birds with one stone....getting a new residence for me and a new site for her juku. Apparently, her friend told her that she (the friend) owns a house on the verge of getting remodeled and is offering to rent it to her for a ridiculously low price. As usual, she was pretty breathless about it; as usual, I was much more sanguine about it in the too-good-to-be-true vein. Still, having my rent slashed to less than half is nothing to turn my nose at.

Saturday was another light day. I had The Coffeemaker and Tully at the usual place. The class went pretty well. Then I headed off to Shinjuku to see if I could find some writing material for my newest student, BC, for this Thursday. Couldn't find anything but I saw that Krispy Kreme is still attracting the long lineups. Just surprised I haven't heard of any staffers snapping and dousing customers in hot oil from the donut machine.

Then, it was off to 002's place in what is becoming a bimonthly ritual of home parties. It was a slightly smaller group than January's gig with The Baker and her vegetarian teacher. It was very meaty this time around. Last night's meal was chankonabe...yep, the legendary stew that the sumo wrestlers always have to fatten themselves up. Well, actually to be fair, the stew is quite healthy. It's just that the sumotori feast on tons of it along with a ton of carb-heavy rice. In my long history of ingesting Japanese hot pot, I've usually gone with yosenabe, the most conventional version or mizutaki, the family favourite with Chinese cabbage, chicken and tofu in boiling water. This was the first time for me to have the sumo hot pot, though looking at me, you may be quite surprised that this was the case (actually, I've had lots of gaping mouths when I've revealed that I hardly drink despite the presence of a beer belly).

Chankonabe consists of veggies such as Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, tofu and the meat portion is fish chunks and minced chicken balls stewed in a dashi broth. No rice but the hot pot was delish. Afterwards, 002 followed tradition and made some zosui with the remaining flavourful broth. She threw in some cooked rice, beaten eggs and chopped leeks for a great shime (end) of a meal. I also contributed to the culinary satisfaction by bringing in some snacks, including a Pringle-style canister of corn chips with a little pot of salsa. Love those Japan Nabisco folks. Apparently, noone else in the party had ever had corn chips before. I really miss those things. The closest we can get to corn chips in this country is Dorito Nachos.

It was just 002, 001, 002's hubby and myself. The Baker was supposed to have come with her mother's prized apple pies but she got mired in sudden work thanks to an incompetent assistant there. The ladies remarked that, though they've never seen her in that mood, they could imagine that The Baker could be as frightening as Medusa when angered. Apparently, the lass during her aggrieved cancellation call stated that she was appropriately punishing her young charge. Still, it was another fine dinner out.

I got a call from The Wild Thing yesterday morning. He and his wife have now settled in their new neighbourhood of Shinagawa. I'm supposed to be meeting my old friend after my lesson with The Polynesian. Since I'm meeting him in Shinjuku, I'll either take him to Foo Foo or the nearby tonkatsu restaurant. In one of the weirdest coincidences, I was heading home from 002's through the plaza connecting JR Funabashi and Keisei Funabashi Stations when I ran into a mutual friend of The Wild Thing and me. I hadn't seen him in a few years since The Quarterback's wedding. The mutual friend hadn't been aware of The Wild Thing's plans so he was doubly surprised. Apparently, both him and The Wild Thing are at a it was appropriate that we met in a connecting walkway. The Wild Thing and his mate are trying to make a new life here while the mutual friend and his significant other are considering heading back the other way. In any case, my latest call from The Wild Thing this morning revealed that the mutual friend beat me to him about our coincidental encounter.

On the geino front, this year has seen the arrival of another "It" girl here. I spoke to you about Anna Tsuchiya, who apparently is half-American/half-Japanese according to the sites, instead of the half-Russian label I'd stated before. Well, the newest arrival is this young lady by the name of Leah Dizon from Las Vegas, Nevada. She's all of 20 and is the offspring of a French-American mother and a Chinese-Filipino father. Well, she was discovered online via her own website by a Japanese talent scout and invited late last year to come on over. Since then, her life hasn't been the same. She's been hitting the shows and fashion magazines like Matsui with an easy pitch, and she's even released her first Japanese-language single. Her ability with the Japanese language has come along quite swimmingly. I think it won't be too long before she hits her first drama role.

And I finally found out that last year's "It" girl, Rie Kaela Kimura, is half-British....just like that Becky girl.

Anyways, time to hit the road.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thursday March 1, 2:43 p.m.

One of those blank Thursdays...nothing going on. Just slept in late, got a Wendy's set and I'm now doing the 3-hour gig at the neighbourhood Internet cafe. As it turned out last night, Speedy took his now-former admin assistant, me and his wife to one of his usual haunts near the school, this rustic family-operated Japanese equivalent of Ye Olde Tavern...a nomiya, in other words. The place looked like something lived in from decades past. In fact, there were only two customers at the counter when we came in. The two tatami rooms were dark until the mama-san turned on the lights. Like any Mom-&-Pop operation, the food was homecooking at its finest but I think the best dish was the final one of rice cooked with flavoured chicken and burdock root (gobo). Still, I was a bit dismayed at the 4,000 yen price tag, but then again, we were also treating the assistant.

Once upon a time in Tokyo, it was the usual thing for nighttime commuters to race for their subways and trains at midnight, heels clacking away on the hard floor like crazed castanets. I could imagine Cinderella doing the same thing after her ball. However, unlike the fairy tale, Tokyo Metro didn't turn into pumpkins...they just disappeared after the strike of 12. Kinda weird that in the world's largest city with all of the nightlife on display, mass transit died after midnight.

Well, not anymore. Over the past several months, Tokyo Metro has subtly extended operations for an extra half-hour. The partygoers can rest easy and enjoy that final nightcap in Shibuya or Shimbashi. Still, old habits die hard. My fellow commuters were walking nonchalantly at 11:50 last night for the Tozai Line while I huffed and puffed up 3 flights of escalators...almost earned myself a coronary. Having crowed about TM's light of insight about the dynamics of nighttime Tokyo, the Tozai is still majorly crowded at midnight.

Got back home...well, most of the laundry actually hung on. My only casualties were an undershirt and a dress shirt.

My last entry last night before Speedy told us to pack up for dinner was about how this Tommy Tomita of Harlem was able to get so-called J-R&B king, Ken Hirai, into the Apollo Theatre, only to see him nearly get booed offstage. Again, I reiterate...I'm not surprised although I felt sorry that a popular-in-Japan singer could get so humbled like a reject from a Simon Cowell thrashing. For one thing, I never thought Hirai was that good a singer...let alone one in the R&B genre. As one of his hit songs here goes, ..."I wanna be a popstar". And for another, I think his best hit was that rendition of "Grandfather's Clock". "Grandfather's Clock"? That's a song that only junior high school bands play. Basically, Hirai is a pop singer. Apollo only entertains the best in black music. And if you think I'm harping on the inadequacies of Japanese musicians, I can mention that in that same article on Tomita, the writer mentioned that an 11-year-old boy brought down the house at the Apollo with his rendition of a Whitney Houston song. Man, talk about Hirai getting hoist on his own petard.

The terms "Made in Japan" and "Big in Japan" seem to have particular relevance when it comes to J-Pop. Perhaps for the first expression, the words "only for" ought to be thrust in place of "in". The great majority of hit-making Japanese bands and singers would probably never get past the receptionist in an American talent agency. SMAP? No way! Kumi Koda? Nah. Ayumi Hamasaki? Can't see it. Even Hikaru Utada, the turn-of-the-century wunderkind with her R&B-tinged hit, "Automatic", was diffidently referred to in a TIME magazine article a few years back as just a pop starlet. As for Puffy Amiyumi, they had that "Sukiyaki"-like unexpected stardom in the States a couple of years ago but now they're just known for a couple of theme tunes on The Cartoon Network as well as their own little anime for kids. The news isn't all bad, though. I think there are a few acts which may get some sort of legitimacy on the Western hit charts and with the critics (the fans are there, though, as the J-Pop forums will attest to). Kanye West seems to see something in the special unit known as The Teriyaki Boyz, a collective of J-R&B artists from other bands. The female singer who broke out a couple of years ago, AI, could make it Stateside if she wanted to. And perhaps there are a few others out there who could find binational success overseas, but for the most part, I think the musical barrier between Oricon and the American charts will remain far more solid than anything the Department of Homeland Security can come up with between the US and Mexico.
Wednesday February 28, 8:32 p.m.

Yeah, I'm still at it but that's only because the three of us are waiting for Mrs. Speedy to show up so that we can all go out for dinner; probably be another 20 minutes.

I got word from The Wild Guy. He and his mysterious missus will be heading to Japan to perhaps start a new life. I hope Japan is ready for him.

Well, how about that? Just started typing and Mrs. Speedy shows up.

I was reading an article in The Japan Times about this fellow by the name of Tommy Tomita, a Japanese resident of Harlem who took up residence in his adopted home in Manhattan since he fell in love with the neighbourhood a couple of decades ago. He claims it is safe despite being shot twice in the torso and being held up at knifepoint 10 times...yeah, I think it's kinda delusional, too. In any case, he's been helping out the Japanese tourist trade by providing tours of the area including setting up gospel-singing workshops and trips for some soul food. He has also brought none other than singer Ken Hirai to try his chops at the legendary Apollo Theater...almost to disaster. Apparently, the ever-demanding crowd nearly booed the man off the stage. But as sad as it is, I'm not too surprised...but I'll continue this line later since Speedy has given the all-clear to clear out.
Wednesday February 28, 8:22 p.m.

Well, 001 finally came after a 3-week absence. She was none the worse for wear; I'd think she'd be quite refreshed after a nice little vacation in Hokkaido. In any case, I'll be seeing her, 002 and The Baker for another round of hilarity on Saturday when we do the nabe thing.

I thought I would be doing some more curricula planning but it's one of our assistants' last day here and since there are no more classes tonight, the boss has decided to take the lass out for a drink in the next half-hour. And since I have no classes tomorrow, I may as well indulge myself with the folks.

I won't be making any income but at least I can get my income tax done before taking it to the tax office...and pay my pound of flesh.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wednesday February 28, 4:35 p.m.

Fairly breezy day today which probably means most of my laundry is now flying somewhere in the stratosphere over Kamchatka...

In any case, my Tuesday was fairly draining. For one thing, I was sporting a full suit and long coat for my interview and for another it was 15 C and sunny yesterday. Luckily, The Beehive was as happy-go-lucky as usual. In face, we had a surprise visit by the lady that had introduced me to the ladies almost a decade ago, Mrs. London. She's quite the vivacious one despite her age and wears an air of regality; I'd say that in a past life, she was probably British royalty. Although a lot of the ladies were happy to see her, I had a bit of an impression that Mrs. Jade and Mrs. Tee weren't as enthused. They were a bit quieter than usual. I'm not sure if it were due to some past animosity or if they were intimidated by the perceived English ability. As it were, Mrs. London was a bit rusty in her English. I think Mrs. Perth and Mrs. Alp rather ranked above my benefactor. In any case, next week will be a scratch with them since Mrs. Travel and Mrs. Perth are off to Morocco today for about a week. Their long trip will include stopovers in Osaka, Oman and even Tripoli before the final destination of Casablanca....a grand total of 24 hours up in the air. They should be properly ragged by the end. I did ask them not to end up being on some sort of NHK emergency report on abducted tourists.

My interview took me to Chiba City, some 20 minutes away from Tsudanuma on the Sobu Line. I hadn't been to the place in over a year when the juku boss took me to a museum showing there and before that, it had been several more years. I used to be a regular commuter there during the early years of my time at the ol' school since I was teaching at one of the major manufacturing firms for a few years. I was glad to see that it hadn't changed all that much.

I hopped on the Chiba Monorail for just one front of Chiba City Hall. The monorail was one of those where the rail was over, not under, the train so I did get a bit of vertigo looking outside and seeing nothing but air under me. As for the area around City Hall, it was located in the port area so there was a mix of salty types and regular polyestered salaryment mingling about, and not much else. There were the bland government buildings but nary a McDonalds or a department store to be see...well, there was a Yamada Denki appliance store but since I wasn't buying anything electrical or electronic, I gave that a pass. Of course, I got to the school, a full half-hour before interview time so I was doing a bit of walking...not great under a suit and coat.

The school was really just a narrow little one-room office in one of the bland buildings. And there were only two people: the Japanese fellow who I'd spoken to over e-mail and phone, and the co-founder, a former JET like myself. The Japanese fellow looked and sounded a bit like a younger version of the manager of the ol' school. I gather that he was the young Anakin Skywalker to the evil Darth Vader at the ol' school. Still, the interview went pretty pleasantly. Basically, there is no school to talk about. The pair there instead just act like matchmakers of sorts, pairing up teachers and students at cafes for lessons. Most of the business, though, seems to revolve around home tutoring with kids. Anakin was nice enough to pick up on the fact that I didn't want to have anything to do with the children so after some talk, signing and information, I became an employee of sorts. Now, I just have to wait for some potential students to hover into my neighbourhood.

Although the interview was pleasant, I was still pretty sloggy and famished by the end so I hopped back on the monorail to Chiba Station. After a bit of a search, I did find a fairly cheap kaiten sushi place. As it was cheap, so was the half-frozen or cardboard sashimi, to be sure but I think the old conveyor belt sushi restaurant in my station could handily beat it. I hung about Chiba for about an hour or so, even going up the station's Sogo Department Store, one of those old commercial behemoths of yesteryear. Then, I got back onto the JR and headed back toward the juku.

My ex is a card-carrying nutritionist so she would've had me flayed alive if she'd found out that I ended up having an additional Big Mac set at the station's Golden Arches after getting out. My excuse or rationalization (let's not beat around the bush about that) was that by the time I got out of the juku, it would've been way too late for dinner so I might as well load up on the carbs and empty calories. As it turned out, there were two factors which rendered my excuse null and void. For one thing, The Siberian did his usual sudden cancellation so I only had to work until 9 and then the boss offered me some meat sauce spaghetti (I learned early on not to refuse any of her dishes). In an O.Henryesque irony, with all of the calories that I'd ingested within the 6 hours, the boss had one of those balance balls rolling about in my room. When I decided to sit on it, I would've sworn that the boss ducked and put her fingers into her ears. Going back to the House of Ronald, it's been a real surprise how successful the Mega Mac campaign has been. Branches all over the Kanto have put up notices apologizing that due to the popularity of the Double Big Mac, supplies have basically dried up by mid-morning. Oh, yes, but of course....what says healthy living than a mid-morning Mega Mac? It's a wonder that we all don't end up like Americans by mid-century.

I got the impression that the honeymoon period for Chip N' Dale, especially Chip, was now waning. The lass was looking slightly piqued. Well, they are kids but I'll see what I can do to rectify the situation although I think I already am pulling out all the stops for the kids. I was doing quite a bit of cutting, pasting and copying before their class. Seven showed up for her lesson; I'm thinking that I may have to rev things up with her as well. Jolly is definitely on the TOEIC Listening track. He's having problems catching the questions so my job is cut out for me. And once again, it was Mr. Mild for his 3rd solo lesson in a row. He assured me that his wife would be back next week although considering her sieve-like memory, I wonder if I'm gonna have to start from the beginning of the text.

Luckily, I didn't have 002 until the early afternoon so I could sleep in somewhat. In her class, she stated that 001 was a bit nervous about her lesson with me in less than an hour since she'd been away for most of February. I reassured her that I would just merely bite her on the ankles. She's getting revved up for her latest dinner party this Saturday. The theme for that party will be nabe.

Newswise, the only scandal in town right now involves, appropriately enough, The Kano Sisters. The Japanese equivalent of Hilton/Richie (only in terms of both pairs' unique ability to gain celebrity on almost no perceivable talent at all...actually, not that difficult in this country), the pneumatic "sisters" are crying foul at one of their own, yet another mystery sister, who has apparently absconded with some valuables. The mystery sister defiantly stated through her lawyer that all of the stuff was hers. The only other thing of note is about a veteran enka singer, Shinichi Mori, who apparently extended the lyrics of his theme song, "O-Fukuro" (Mom); the problem is that he failed to tell the songwriter, some old fogey who has ear hair the size of harvestable wheat. Well, that started a bit of a war with the fart quietly banning in a press conference that Mori no longer has his permission to sing the song. Mori has tried to visit the writer's hotel suite in Tokyo and even the old guy's home in Aomori Prefecture to apologize or at least explain himself but the writer has refused to deign him an audience.

Two superstars of their genres met in an unlikely conversation on Friday night. Sheena Ringo, the Queen of Shibuya-kei pop/rock, and Ichiro, the King of all that's Japanese in the Major Leagues (although he may have a usurper in the form of Dice-K) met on "Bokura no ongaku" (Our Music). The show has been one of those programs wrapped up in urban class as singers and non-singing celebs get together for 25 minutes of gab on the big picture. I'd seen Ringo in a past episode with a kabuki great. Then, she was the one definitely handling the S&M whip...she had the master panting and ducking like a schoolboy in his very first crush. Last Friday, it looked like Ichiro had her on the ropes instead. I think it's safe to say that fans saw a fairly different heroine. I thought that she was about to break into tears when the master batter alternately slammed and complimented her. Of course, Ringo gave her performances of her latest singles...liberally sprinkled with jazz tones thanks to a huge swing orchestra. I couldn't really decipher her English but it sounded good enough that I would break my CD fast for her.

It's been getting more and more nostalgic on the satellite channels. One of the karaoke stations has been televising episodes of this ancient NHK show called "Let's Go Young" which figured prominently for the youth of 25 years ago (that would include me). I got to see a very young Seiko Matsuda, the Queen of Idols, singing along with other idols of yesteryear such as Yoshie Kashiwabara and Hideki Saijo (yup, I don't know any of these names..just look them up on the J-Music forums). It was weird watching all of the cutesiness, big hair and nearly unwatchable choreography of 80's idol pop on this show and then switch to MTV Japan and see the current hip-hop of 21st-century J-Pop such as Dragon Ash, Kumi Koda or Soulhead. But I'll say it again....the new stuff is arguably better sung and danced but the old stuff was more uniquely Japanese. On another channel which specializes in oldie TV shows, I got to see some of the variety stuff of veteran comedian Ken Shimura. His stuff came in the era of the early 90s...the age of Juliana's (a popular disco in Tokyo during that time notable for huge feathery fans and bodycon tight dresses), and long straight hair on the ladies and short square hairstyles on the guys.

Anyways, time to get prepped for 001...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday February 26, 7:49 p.m.

Well, it was a nice try but Rinko Kikuchi didn't quite get her Oscar. But despite all the (minor) hoopla about the actress (Daisuke...or should that be Dice-K [as if he were a new hip-hop star]...Matsuzaka still beat her soundly in the media sweepstakes), she lost out to Jennifer Hudson from "Dreamgirls", the more relatable role to the Academy folks. The morning news show hounds ambushed her outside of her hotel...the lass took things with aplomb although when one of the Fuji-TV folks pelted her with some fractured English, I swore that Kikuchi gave a slight "F*** off" look; I guess that all that filming in Shibuya rubbed some of the attitude onto her.

Still, despite the loss on the Japanese side ("Letters from Iwo Jima" didn't score either), I was happy to see Martin Scorsese finally get his Oscar for "The Departed", a movie that I'm proud to say that I actually did catch a few weeks previously. I bet that was one huge elephant that got off his back.

More mundanely, I had my usual slate of Monday students including The Class Act after a 2-week absence. The Part-Timer did pretty well at the Doutor Cafe by the station although my sweater now smells of Camels due to the useless regulation of no-smoking & smoking sections in an unpartitioned coffee house. However, she'll be away next week since she and a buddy are doing the Hawaii thing again. Now, that I'm back at Speedy's, I'll be doing some more curricula stuff for the next couple of hours.

One thing that I kept forgetting to mention is how quiet my floor in my apartment block is now. For the last third or quarter of last year, I had that Filipino "family" two doors down (though I suspect it was just the crew of one of the hostess clubs near the station) plus the weirdo next door who seemed to insist on moving anything not nailed to the floor all over the place, and slam doors entering and leaving. However, since I got back from Canada, it's been all quiet on the southern front. I've been noticing that flyers squeezed into the cracks of the doorways have yet to be plucked out and the mailboxes are getting stuffed with junk mail. I'm wondering if the folks there just decided to do a yo-nige (escape under darkness). If so, I feel sorry for my management company but I'm not complaining myself. More than likely when Spring comes around, there will be some new residents...I'm hoping for some quiet unassuming transferred salarymen.