Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saturday March 31, 5:27 p.m.

Feeling pretty tired. Went on a spending binge today; probably the first time in several months or even years that I bought as many CDs that I did today. Got myself three J-Pop CDs: the best of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, another Yuming double-disc compilation, and a remastered release of an old favourite from way back by Hiromi Iwasaki....arguably the one kayo kyoku singer with the best pipes ever. I even got the soundtrack for "Happy Feet"; the movie may have been just so-so but the music was pretty decent. I blew off a little over a man (10,000 yen) for the stuff but I think after a few months of somewhat ascetic living, I should give myself a little treat. I also picked up another one of those puzzle books for the Junior sister for her class tomorrow at Maruzen. In any case, my purchases should keep HMV and Yamano Music quite happy.

I was surprised that the food mall underneath the bookstore was fully operational considering it was a Saturday but I guess the business types must still work in Otemachi on the weekend. Anyways, I had a very nice lunch at my favourite Vietnamese eatery there, Com Pho. It was certainly nice that I didn't have to push through any major crowds to get there, either.

For the first time in 6 months, I finally got to see both M's for a chat session. While I met the older M last month at that health restaurant where I finally indulged in the bane of my culinary existence, natto, I hadn't seen the younger M since last November due to the rigours of her university classes. Well, younger M finally graduated and as of Monday, she'll start her new career as an occupational therapist in the small city of Yamato next door to Yokohama. Older M also finally got a break in her career. She got a part-time job at a Swiss watch company which could translate into something more permanent if she plays her cards right. Since the Tea Room is no more, we walked over to a smaller place called Cafe Des Etoiles closer to the station. I'd passed by it every time when I walked to my erstwhile home away from home but had never partronized it til today. It was a pretty nice place...not as old-fashioned as the Tea Room but a bit more lighter in atmosphere.

Here in Japan, New Year's is seen as the big season for cultural celebration. Well, right now, it's the season for the big media and corporate reset. It's kinda like what September is for TV back in the States. We're in another intermission between drama seasons so the specials are kicking into high gear, including the mother of all perennial specials, TBS' All-Star get-together which starts off in about 15 minutes. It's 5 hours of pelting quiz questions at a ton of tarento and real thespians from controversial (he has a penchant for smacking female staffers if they screw up) comedian Shinsuke Shimada, and a throw-in of athletic events such as the mini-marathon around TBS HQ in Akasaka. Japan's currently most popular governor, Miyazaki Governor Higashikokuburo, was a staple in the show in the past and I've got a feeling that he'll be popping up again.

Speaking of Governor Higashikokuburo (formerly Sonomanma Higashi), this is a guy who's managed to become the media darling and perhaps even the public one as well after less than 3 months of taking office in a surprise election win. I don't know of any celeb-turned-politician who's managed to garner so much good will in so short a time...certainly not Governor Shintaro Ishihara of Tokyo nor novelist-turned-Nagano Governor Tanaka. I don't even think that popular lantern-jawed wrestler Antonio Enoki got that much of a buzz when he became a Senator years ago. Sonomanma seems to have pulled off (so far, anyways) a minor miracle. Despite his promotion into higher office, he has been able to show up on all of the TV shows (including last Thursday's "Who Wants to be Millionaire?") and still act like one of the boys, although either stress or needed decorum has toned down his gestures a bit. I don't think he really has quite the charisma but I could compare him to former PM Koizumi in the impact that he's had.

In any case, along with the TV specials, there will be new TV shows popping up and old faves will be getting their annual makeover. And certain tarento will be getting some further rises on the media ladder. It seems that the next comedy duo to beat is a pair called Oriental Radio. Joining such other comic combos like 99, Downtown and Ameagarikesshitai, Oriental Radio are getting hosting duties for a couple of prime time variety shows from April to join their late-night one.

Anyways, I should be getting ready for dinner. The Ace gave me his recipe for jinja rossu, Chinese-style sliced beef and green pepper in oyster sauce. Tomorrow, I've got the kids and then I meet up with The OL, Betty Boop and another old face from the ol' school days in Shinagawa for some lunch.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Friday March 30, 11:18 a.m.

Just getting some blogging in at the neighbourhood I-cafe before I take off for 002's weekly lesson. I've got a feeling that there will be some additional black jokes about the risks of me making house calls from now on after that murder of that British English teacher in my neck of the woods. As for that matter, the scum is still on the loose which should make me somewhat nervous since he could still be lurking about nearby. BBC has been naturally devoting coverage on the situation but they haven't said much about the neighbourhood where Ms. Hawker had lived, Gyotoku...they just mentioned Chiba by name. Well, let me elucidate. Gyotoku is part of my city of Ichikawa, basically one big bedroom town for the masses in Tokyo. It's on the Tozai Line of the Tokyo Metro, and ever since I arrived here 12 years ago, I've known it to be an area that seems to be populated by and popular with the foreign population. There are apparently quite a few gaijin bars around the station. It's just a typical quiet residential neighbourhood.

Yesterday was a nice one to take a much-needed all-day break. At Speedy's, between students, on Wednesday, I was so burnt out that I was just going through the "Battlestar Galactica" version of Wiki; Speedy caught me doing so but, as he has so generously done, he just chuckled and didn't say anything. Perhaps it was because he's so burnt out as well. I know that I was; I just couldn't think about tackling any curricula planning.

So, what did I do? I went up to Akiba and did the search for that legendary prepaid cellphone. It stayed legendary...I checked out all the stores including the colossus of Yodobashi Akiba by JR Akihabara Station. Nada...just the usual phones with the tons of contracts needed to be signed. Sorry, ain't doing that. I did notice that McDonalds put up yet another branch, squeezed into the walkway between the main and Yodobashi exits of the station. Man...just like mushrooms.

Another phenomenon popping up like mushrooms on a wet tree has been the shopping complex in The Big Sushi. Over the past several years, we've had Roppongi Hills brightening up the somewhat seedy area, Omotesando Hills taking over the former site of the Dojunkai Apartments, and MaruBiru across from Tokyo Station. Well, as of today, there is a new kid on the block...Midtown. In what seems to be the gradual but inevitable Manhattanization of Tokyo (in nomeclature, at least...Takashimaya Times Square, a New York-themed food court in JR Shingawa, a number of shopping avenues labled 5th Avenue), another high-rise, high-priced complex just started full operations less than an hour ago on the site of the former SDF HQ less than a kilometer away from its older sister of Roppongi Hills. Of course, the morning wide shows have gone out of their way to give a video tour of the facility...just like the aforementioned Hills, the stores are all of the brand name variety and there is the latest addition to all of the big international hotel chains that have just swarmed into town recently. This time, it's the Ritz-Carlton. And true to its reputation, the big suites are going for no less than 200,000 yen a night. The cub reporters have been wide-eyed and awe-struck by the luxury and big-city doubt, since they probably won't get anywhere near the suites again in their lifetimes. One of the newest students at Speedy's, a cooking teacher, will be starting her job there at a cooking school that's nestled into the complex.

Well, as I've said, I've got 002 in little more than an hour, and then it's just The Ace at the juku tonight. Not too bad a schedule.

I did enjoy, in a creepy way, watching Karl Rove dancing like a white man on CNN's "Larry King" this morning. His comrade-at-arms, Alberto "Speedy" Gonzales may have to do a bit of dancing on his own after that testimony by his former chief of staff. And Arianna Huffington does need to lighten up...perhaps she should drop the first seven letters of her last name.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wednesday March 28, 8:25 p.m.

This case about Lindsay Ann Hawker is getting curiouser and curiouser....I had last read that the psycho who killed her in my city of Ichikawa was in custody. Now it seems that the media outlets are saying that he's still at large. I just hope that he isn't just out to get English teachers regardless of gender.

002 came in with her usual vigour and I was able to rise to the occasion despite my fatigue. But I'm back down from my 001 high and am fit to be tied. I'm going to sleep well tonight. But I still plan to head over to Akihabara during my rare day off tomorrow and hunt for that prepaid cellphone.
Wednesday March 28, 5:58 p.m.

Well, found out some more about that murdered English teacher from Britain. She just happened to have worked for one of my old companies, NOVA...yes, that NOVA. She was assigned to the Koiwa branch in easternmost Tokyo. The cops did get their man and his mug shot kinda reminds me of that SNL sketch over 20 years ago when Buckwheat (played by Eddie Murphy) was assassinated by a psycho (also played by Murphy). The running gag there was that the media asked the local townsfolk about the nutbar; they all said that "...he was a nice boy, a bit of a loner", and then when asked whether he would be the type to kill The Little Rascals star, they all replied to a man, "...oh, yeah, absolutely". Well, this guy, Tatsuya Ichihashi, had that same dull, heavy-lidded look to him. You can place your "Ichi, the Killer" jokes here. I'm sure the current campaign commercials for the McDonalds of English Teaching, "We are NOVAtomo (NOVA buddies)" just took on a more sinister tone.

Just waiting for 001...
Wednesday March 28, 5:36 p.m.

Starting to hit that wall due to that early morning wake-up call. And I'll have to do it next Wednesday as well since The Nurse is coming back for another 10 o'clock next week. Could really do with some coffee right now. I would be doing something more work-related, but frankly, I'm just too tired. And I have 001 for her class in about 20 minutes. Ooh, I hope she can absorb a lot of yawning without taking too much offense. Speedy says that he's definitely closing up shop once 001 leaves. I will be more than happy to concur.

Glad that I actually have the day off tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wednesday March 28, 1:16 p.m.

Did forget to mention in the whirlwind that is news in Japan these days that one of those ex-Musume truly got the boot earlier this week. Ai Kago, all of 18, was one of the littlest members of that once-ubiquitious all-female singing group. And she definitely had her cache of devoted fans (and still does). All that kinda went down the wayside when one of the paparazzi of Friday, that Japanese gossip magazine, caught her smoking a Slims in some restaurant early last year. That got her busted from media appearances for a good year and then she was slowly being rehabilitated through good ol' fashioned hard work in the office of her production company when those Friday guys struck again last week and caught her not only puffing away like a chimney stack but also was hand-in-hand with a boyfriend 20 years her senior. "Rock the cradle!" like The Clash said. That was the last straw apparently, and now she's floating out there.

Did take a look in some of the J-Pop forums. It was initially odd to see reports of her fans celebrating but then I saw the dates and realized that it was just a few days before the news of her firing broke. Actually, the same magazine that did her in had been able to snag an interview with her, and that's when it hit the fan. Then, the tone of the reports just nosedived. But the fans also looked on the bright side of her life and mentioned that she's truly free. Plus, from what I've heard, she's only been fired from that company....there's always hope she could be signed as a free agent by one of the other many talent agencies. But the geino reporters didn't seem too optimistic...right now, at least, she's striking people as a cute living hunk of Kryptonite.

Speaking of banished celebs, there was that Fuji-TV announcer, Kikuma something or other, who got thrown into the dungeon for not only trying to seduce a far younger member of the Johnny's Jimusho boy-harem but somehow instigating him to drink himself into a stupor and cause chaos in a park. Well, I thought she was basically gone from any sort of TV coverage, and yet on the same day that Kago got the boot, she showed up presenting a feature on something else on the "Tokudane" morning wide show. No, she wasn't exactly hosting anything anymore but it was still a minor miracle to see her anywhere on TV.
Wednesday March 28, 12:55 p.m.

Just came from lunch for the nearby China Quick...a bit of a misnomer since the service is anything but. However, to be kind, the restaurant only had 2 wait staff for 2 floors' worth of customers. With the coffee & cigarettes from the local Doutor this morning, and the garlic from the lunch special, I should be smelling quite funky by tonight.

While I was watching the coverage of the death of that comedian, Hitoshi Ueki, I was surprised to have found out that former Tokyo Governor, Yukio Aoshima, had passed on just before Xmas last year. I was back in Toronto at that time but since my parents get NHK International beamed over, I would have expected to hear something about that. Aoshima was the rather ineffectual governor just before current fire n' brimstone Shintaro Ishihara, and was also one of those celebs who decided to make a play in the political arena. However, his stint in The Big Sushi's big chair was notable only for him to provide bayside Odaiba's nickname, Rainbow Town, with him crooning Judy Garland's signature song at a press conference. Otherwise, he was basically a do-nothing sort. Before and after, he was known as a comedian along the lines of Ueki and the rest of the Krazy Kats, and had a much notable reputation dressing up like his most famous character, this garrulous old woman who would complain about everyone and everything.
Wednesday March 28, 11:19 a.m.

My first morning at Speedy's. And man, did it begin early. It's been a few years since I last had to get up before the crack of dawn. But since I refuse to break the law of two objects occupying the same space...namely, the Tokyo rush hour....I always take the early trains to work. And so I did this morning. Got to the area by 8 a.m. and just spent the hour reading The Japan Times and a Japanese text over a coffee. Must admit that the early breakfast has gotten my stomach growling right now.

Monday night had me grumbling with Speedy about that low, low student I have for TOEIC practice. We even had to spend a lot of time just trying to decipher the instructions for him. Speedy told me that he only has a couple of lessons before renewal; I just laughed bitterly...this guy won't renew since it would take a major miracle for him to get through anywhere near a decent score on the test.

Luckily, I had a very pleasant time yesterday morning with The Beehive. We had that long-awaited lunch at Manuel Casa De Fado in Yotsuya. All of us got into our dress blues, me in my suit and Mrs. Tee in her kimono. We did make reservations but as it turned out, they weren't really needed. The place wasn't empty but I think we could've gotten a table for even the 7 of us if I hadn't made the call. The ladies and I were quite satisfied with the meal; it made for an interesting scene as the Beehive went into heavy analysis of the various spices, tastes and textures that went into our course lunch. It was one of those cooking variety shows mixed in with an NHK Educational seminar. Hey, as long as they enjoyed themselves...Afterwards, we took a nice leisurely walk along the long park which ran along the Sobu Line all the way from Yotsuya through Ichigaya to Iidabashi. The cherry blossoms have started to open up, and the ladies also enjoyed identifying the various flowers on display.

Made a quick trip home to pick up the heavy artillery for the juku classes. I only had the one kid, Dale, for the first class since Chip and his family are out in Okinawa on vacation. Then, I had Seven for her test...passed it with flying colours. The food du nuit from her was extra-slim Pockys. Jolly AWOL'ed again which probably means that he may stay away for good, although the end of March is a pretty tense time at the companies. Then, Mr. Mild showed up alone again. Looks like Mrs. Mild's company is trying to squeeze every last drop of effort from her before she retires this week.

My neighbourhood...or the neighbourhood next to mine, to be exact...has gotten on the world map for an entirely sinister reason. The media over here has been buzzing about the murder of a female English teacher from the UK at her student's apartment over the weekend. Apparently, she was beaten to death and her nude body was dumped into the guy's bathtub filled with sand...and the bathtub was even dismantled from the bathroom and dumped out onto the balcony. Just how twisted is that?! The news has even made CNN...which probably means that I'll be getting a call of concern from if 002 would even try to bump me off.

Also woke up to hear that one of Japan's most venerated comedians has died. Hitoshi Ueki, 80, departed this Earth yesterday. He was from the Golden Age of Japanese TV and motion pictures in the 60s when the comedy was even broader than it is today. He was one of the members of this group known as The Krazy Kats, a comedy troupe/jazz-ish band that had its heyday in the 60s. Ueki played the role of an unrepentantly feckless salaryman, a Japanese Economic Miracle version of a fop who tried to duck work as much as possible which was a comedic foil for all those company men in real Japan who were hungry enough to work those long hours to get their country back on its feet again. He even had his own theme song, a jaunty little number called "Sudara Bushi" which made a comeback of sorts a decade ago during the economic malaise in the 90s. Until he got ill this year, he was probably better known as the smiling old guy in those Polident commercials. But I do have that CD of that duet between fellow member, Kei Tani and the Queen of Pop Music, Yumi Matsutoya, where he has a small vocal part. I can just imagine that we'll be seeing the specials roll out for him in the coming weeks.

Well, got through with The Nurse's second class. No problems there. Got a new one in a few hours, though.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday March 26, 7:46 p.m.

Did OK with The Part-Timer although I smell of coffee and cigarettes. It might sound romantic in a jazz club sort of way, but when you have to keep on working for another couple of hours, great it ain't.

Today was sunny and warm. Balmy? That's a term for's Spring now so it's warm. 20 C and I'm in my short sleeves for the first time this year.

I started my day with SIL. A nice way to earn 5,000 just talking on everything from the skating wins yesterday to the legacy of The Beatles. For a woman who supposedly loves The Fab Four, she sure doesn't like a lot of the hits. She hates "Yesterday" (then again, karaoke killed that one), "Hey Jude" and basically anything sung by Sir Paul. And then, she doesn't seem to like a lot of stuff by John Lennon. During her checkoff, she came to the realization that her love for the lads from Liverpool may not be as encompassing as she had once thought.

One of the other topics that came up was that other small news item sandwiched between the skating heroics of Ando & Asada and the earthquake in Ishikawa...that bizarre item about the guy who apparently threw himself off of a Bullet Train...while it was speeding away through a tunnel at warp. Interesting bit of can operate the emergency doors on a fully operational Shinkansen. Well, the poor fellow used that fact to his tragic advantage. The authorities speculate it was a suicide. I'd certainly say so. He even threw his dental card out so that the cops could find it. Just by luck, a Fuji-TV producer was on the train with her cameraman when what was left of the body was found (human flesh doesn't tend to look too good after hitting the ground at over 150 kph). The producer remarked that there wasn't too much of a head left to identify. However, since the deceased was kind enough to leave some identification, he was apparently a fairly young man from Tochigi Prefecture.

Time for my final lesson of the day...
Monday March 26, 5:31 p.m.

Well, Sunday was a bit of a pip for errors. No particular problems with The Coffeemaker and Tully, although I'm getting the impression that the former may be itching for something more challenging or a bit more correction from me.

I went over to Shinjuku to have my occasional hot dog at the Hansen's in the basement of the Nomura Bldg...only to find out that famed restaurant has closed up shop...ach! Hope that doesn't mean the great hot dog experiment from NYC has died. I ended up going to the nearby Freshness Burger for the frank...not bad, but it wasn't Hansen's. And the wiener was one of those that nearly cracked when you bit it...the type that the Japanese inexplicably love; my brother couldn't stand those snapping sausages when he came here on that business trip a few years ago. Plus, the other complaint about the Freshness Burger brand of hot dog is that it was so loaded with chopped onions that my first bite set off a small explosion.

Took a walk toward Kinokuniya after lunch. It was cold and drizzly out there but the Krispy Kreme still had that huge lineup. Man, these are people you should rent to take your spot in line for the next Spiderman movie while you take a break. I wanted to check out a textbook and then came across a little media scrum on the 5th floor walkway between the bookstore and Takashimaya next door. I was to find out that it was some sort of photobook signing thingie for a Korean actress named Ara. I could get a small glimpse of the young lady, all of 17. She didn't come across as the usual gravia idol tartlet but there were quite a few mouthbreathers there in line.

Found out that the reconstruction is nearing its end in Times Square. Tokyu Hands has been decimated (in the true sense of the word) somewhat with its first floor being taken over by one of the major fashion houses. Now, that's one exit I can no longer go out of; try to imagine a schlep like me daring to enter a place like Hermes...

Well, the big bust came when I got to my intended cafe to have my supposed lesson with The Polynesian. She had re-scheduled her time the night earlier, so I dutifully got there by the new time of 3 o'clock. Well, I waited...and waited...and waited. After 15 minutes, I figured I'd been stood up again by her. So I just did what I did last time....partook in some eats there and just quietly walked out in an annoyed mood. I checked my messages and found out some person tried to leave a message on my machine four times without leaving anything. I assumed it was her...and sure enough, from a sheepish e-mail from the lass just now, it was. She's come down with the flu, poor lass. But that didn't prevent me from letting out some of the piss on her although I think I was mostly gracious...letting her know in uncertain terms to leave a proper message next time.

So, I got home sans 3,500 yen and got into my latest culinary project of making paella since I had received some of that saffron from Mrs. Travel and Mrs. Perth from their recent sojourn to Morocco. Well, it was more tomato risotto than paella but I knew that the Spanish dish is one of the bigger challenges for novice cooks so I wasn't too dismayed at the results. And actually, the dish was pretty tasty. I still have some of the fixins for the stuff so I'm gonna try again on my next day off of Thursday.

It was quite a busy weekend on the sports front. A year after Shizuka Arakawa won Japan's only (gold) medal in Turin, her former compatriots, Miki Ando and Mao Asada, got their golds in the World Championships. The two with the same initials are now the newest sports heroines in champion-starved Japan, and so their skates will be put on heavy rotation all over the TV for the next several days from their first triple lutz to the final bawl of joy. The girls themselves have already been going through the gauntlet of live interviews on all stations. Then, there are the Swimming Championships in Melbourne. We've got a gold medal winner from Athens going for another win tonight.

Unfortunately, that good news here has been balanced with some pretty bad news from Ishikawa Prefecture with that huge temblor that hit there on Sunday morning. Looks like we'll be hearing more from there for the next several days. And Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui is from the area.

Anyways, time to see The Part-Timer.