Friday, June 22, 2007

Saturday June 23, 12:25 p.m.

Well, after the rain of yesterday, we're back to sunny and hot today. Not quite if the precip will do anything to help any possible rain shortages. Just got that EIC student for her final class before her debut in the actual cooking class tomorrow...again, I'm not holding out any hopes for a miracle for her. She's just a very low nervous lady. Then, I have The Dentist 90 minutes later. Not sure what's gonna happen with her in the next couple of weeks since I've got my time with The Dancer's family in Fujisawa next Saturday. Maybe Speedy will be taking care of her. In the interim, I think I'll probably be doing some more editing of all that curricula for the texts.

Tomorrow will be "The Pirates of the Caribbean 3" in Shinjuku. Yep, I know...I've said that I would probably avoid it unless Movie Buddy contacted me. Well, he did, and therefore I will. Speedy had seen it last week, and he said it was OK...just keep those expectations really low. Skippy will be joining us for dinner afterwards since she'd already seen the flick a couple of weeks previously. I don't know what she thought of Johnny Depp's latest.
Friday June 22, 4:16 p.m.

The service may be surly and kids may infest some of the other booths, but I can't deny that the computers here in the neighbourhood I-cafe are a whole warp factor faster than the ailing machine I'm stuck with at Speedy's.

Well, summer has officially arrived although the heat made itself known a week or so ago. So, it's somewhat ironic (and welcome) that today has seen quite a bit of rain coming down on the Kanto Plain. Believe me, we need it here. I don't think it's gonna really top up the reservoirs but every little bit helps. I really do not want to time my showers or have to invest in Saran Wrap to put around my plates so that I don't have to wash them.

Yesterday, I just had 002 and B2. 002 did even better than 001 in her test. Both ladies scored into the nineties; I jokingly remarked to 002 that I should be squeezing more salary out of Speedy. As for B2, my monthly meet with her went pretty well. In a way, it's been good that we've only been meeting now since it basically means that the lass is more accepting of the freer conversation route. However, she ended our lesson on a bit of a cliffhanger...she said that she may ask me to go back to the biweekly plan as of August. The lady has definitely set up some long-term goals for herself. She earned a certificate in aromatherapy last year, and now she's planning to take some etiquette courses in both Western and Japanese styles. If one is looking for the definition of ojosan (proper lady) in 21st-century Tokyo, give me a call. B2 is also planning to meet her old friend, and my former student, The Ballerina later this month.

Today has also been fairly easy. I was able to have a late wake-up call since I didn't have anything in the morning. I just came back from teaching The New Yorker just before she, her sister The Carolinan and their mother head out to Hawaii for a bit of a grander Girls' Night Out in a couple of weeks. Before that, I had my lunch at the neighbourhood tonkatsu restaurant before stopping in at Maruzen to actually pick up a book on the basics of go, the Japanese version of checkers...although it more resembles the famous game of RISK in terms of aims. I'd always had a passing interest in it although circumstances have prevented me from pursuing anything near seriously. For one thing, I don't even have the board or the black and white pieces.

I also picked up the weekly issue of METROPOLIS. A few weeks ago, there was "The Last Word", an editorial which can be provided by any freelancing foreigner with two cents to put in. The responses to "The Last Word" are often put out the week after with a fair balance of positive and negative reaction. So, as I said, a few weeks ago, I read "The Last Word"; a young fellow by the name of Yusuke Takahashi put in his opinion about the ridiculousness behind the fashion trend espoused by single or married middle-aged men called "choi waru oyaji" (literally, slightly bad old farts). Takahashi did his slight rant about how a large number of the geezers and daddies in this country have been following the style of a fashion-conscious Japan-based Italian tarento and investing tons of money in various fashion houses such as Prada, Hermes and Chanel to tart themselves up almost as badly as their spouses and daughters. He even accused his own father of becoming a Japanese version of Hugh Hefner.

Well, I figured that his article was gonna hit a nerve...and this week's METROPOLIS provided the synapse. The fellow, a guy who is in his forties and (according to him) fairly wealthy, struck back at the little whippersnapper for his temerity. Ah...I should've mentioned that near the end of the article, Takahashi kinda hinted that any middle-aged guy who's still single had some issues. In any case, the offended fellow wrote a literary spanking about how guys deserve some pampering for their hard-won work, and then denied that he was somehow damaged goods emotionally or mentally just because he was still single...pointing out he had lost his wife to cancer some years back and that he hasn't been able to find anyone to match her.

I must admit that when I read the Takahashi article, I was initially stung to read the last part of all middle-aged singles being potential psychpaths. I do admit that I am still unwed and entering middle age....although rich I am definitely not. Aside from my glass of collected eyelids on my end table (hahahah...just joking...I don't have an end table), I would hardly think I am truly a danger to society because of my marital status. But then again, I realized that "The Last Word", an editorial, has to ask two things from its writers: a sense of humour (something that is admittedly subjectively reacted to) and a certain point of view. I gather that Takahashi achieved the latter condition and tried for the first one. In fact, it's entirely possible that the kid may have taken some poetic license (i.e. lying) to get his humour across; perhaps his father isn't the clotheshorse Frankenstein that was written. Over the years, I've given some great stories to my students....some of which were quite exaggerated in the hopes of getting that big laugh and in the ultimate hope of getting them to listen to me one minute more. In other words, nothing really to get worked up about. Plus, he's a kid (late teens or early twenties). Guys that age (including me) still manage to put their collective feet in their mouths a whole lot more during that time of life.

Now, in other news...

Corporate sordidness? Japan has got oodles, especially this week. The female president of Shiespa, the company whose employee annex blew up on Tuesday near The Lady's house was doing a lot of hemming and hawing when the press pressed her on the circumstances which led to the deaths of three of her employees. And the mud got worse when a number of companies involved in the maintenance of the annex started throwing fingers at each other faster than the shards which flung out within the blast radius. Then, there was the moron in charge of some sort of beef packing company who was also putting up smokescreens in front of the increasingly restive journos when it was found out that the company was smuggling in a bit of pork with the beef. But jaws started hitting the ground when the factory chief openly disagreed with his boss in at the press conference; the president started his own babbling a la Porky Pig. Then, another exec who just happened to be the suddenly besieged president's son quietly but firmly told Pops to stop lying and tell the truth. Pops then started baaing a much better tale. Just can't imagine what dinner must've been like around the family table last night.

Then, there will be more bowing and mutterings of rote apologies from the JR gang today. This morning, the JR Takasaki Line near Saitama City broke down due to some power line snapping. I saw this rather long forlorn rain-soaked line of humanity walking down the tracks like some sort of mix between that scene from "Stand By Me" and the usual lineup at Krispy Kreme. And before that, the commuters/suckers had to endure 2 incredibly arduous hours of standing/sitting/sweating in the air-conditionless cars before being allowed to disembark. I predict there are currently a lot of JR station staff with smacked faces and crumpled caps.

But in the midst of all this business gloom, Billy has arrived. Oh yes...Billy Blanks, the 51-year-old military exercise powerhouse behind "Billy's Boot Camp" landed in Tokyo yesterday with some of his fellow soldiers to bask in the accolades. It is probably the fastest pop-culture soar I've ever seen in this country. In the 2 months or perhaps even less that the frenetic commercial of BB and his crew crunching and grunting has been on, the DVDs have sold out faster than hotcakes and got themselves mentioned so much throughout the Japanese variety show zeitgeist. The proof in the pudding was having Billy show up on "SMAP X SMAP", that program which always has the international flavours of the moment appear. There was even Shingo Katori costuming himself SCTV-style as BB himself. Most likely, he's even popped up on Fuji-TV's "Waratte Ii Tomo". Some of my students have friends who are following the program or they are doing it themselves. Me? I'll stick to watching the commercial and having my canister of Chip Star.

Across the pond in the media pool of CNN, I have to ask myself, "What is up with those guys at CNN USA?" They should be changing their call letters to IHPHD...i.e. I Hate Paris Hilton Dammit. Apparently, one of the journos there got TVNewser's attention with her public dissing of the world's most glamourously dysfunctional woman. And then I saw Anderson Cooper all but roll his eyes and bang his carefully coiffed head on the wall when he mentioned the heiress to the hotel fortune. He wouldn't even mention her name. Frankly, I'm no fan of the woman myself but to see these guys, supposedly representing the world's foremost 24-hour cable news network, openly heckling her like that just doesn't smack of the greatest professionalism. But then again, a lot of us did applaud Anderson Cooper during the hell of Hurricane Katrina a few years ago when he let the mask slip and take a Louisiana pol to task for patting herself on the back for some supposed good work. Perhaps this is the dark side to "Keeping Them Honest". Still, when I see anchors and reporters acting like elitist high schoolers dissing the nerds, I actually do pine for the days when their predecessors just reported the news dispassionately and left the griping to the editorialists. So, Anderson, Betty and T.J., do me a favour and do what a lot of civilized people do when they don't like someone. Don't say anything.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wednesday June 20, 5:46 p.m.

I knew there was something that I'd omitted. Reading the newspaper, I came across the article about former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori possibly entering the Upper House elections in July. Ahhh...American politics may be my favourite spectator sport (thank you, CNN) but occasionally, the local variety of parliamentary politics can throw me for a loop as well. One of the chuckleheads in one of the smaller opposition parties here formally asked Fujimori if he would run for election for his party; apparently, said chucklehead liked the cut of his jib, as "The Simpsons" evil boss, Mr. Montgomery Burns would say. Of course, the guy didn't mention anything about the fact that the former head of state is also a wanted criminal in Peru. If Fujimori were actually successful, he could become the first former head of state of another country to become a standing MP in this country. What helps his cause is that as a descendant of Japanese nationals, he was able to claim back Japanese citizenship.

Also, in the aftermath of NOVA finally getting its wrist slapped by the government (for the record, I don't think the president, Mr. Saruhashi, really has any regrets about some of the stunts he tried to pull; he's just sorry he got caught), the teachers have started to gripe about the working conditions in the beleaguered school. Just brings back memories from a decade back about the hobby of NOVA teachers to complain. Hmm...I wonder if it's just time for another student-impregnated-by-teacher scandal to arise to tip the school over the edge.
Wednesday June 20, 5:31 p.m.

A little more than half an hour away from the triple pack of 001, that EIC student and The Judge. Barely had anything ready for any of them up to 15 minutes ago but with all of quick copying and just-as-quick scanning of the lesson plans, I'm good to go.

It was another dinner by Mickey D's...induced by the bossman himself. Since I was heading out to get something to eat, Speedy asked me to grab a couple of cheeseburgers and an apple pie at the Golden Arches so I decided to indulge myself as well with The Big Mac set. The MegaTeriyaki Mac has reared its terrible double head since its progenitor, The MegaMac was an unexpected hit earlier this year. As I'd been telling some of the students such as The Full-Timer, I like teriyaki and I like The Big Mac but unlike Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and any other hybridized foodstuffs, I just can't get my mouth around a Teriyaki Mac. There are just some ingredients that should never be put together.

But McDonalds hasn't been the only international brand name to bring in a new dish for us to taste test. Coca-Cola has also launched two new drinks to join regular and Diet Coke. Coke Zero is Diet Coke's evil brother: jet-black label and all. According to Shard, it has an ingredient which could be construed as an alcohol....which would explain the slight buzz...and the sudden urge to jump in front of an express train. The other drink is one that I haven't seen yet: a Coke with the slight refreshing (allegedly) taste of cucumbers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wednesday June 20, 3:12 p.m.

The news was just soberly exchanged between The Siberian and the juku boss last night in the juku itself. When I asked what they were talking about, they informed me about the big blast in Shibuya yesterday afternoon. I'd already gone the I-cafe making my last entry, as it were...when the explosion occurred in some sort of bathhouse at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Terrorism didn't hit my mind as it might in any other situation; the fact that it took place in a spa of sorts made me first go to a yakuza attack or retribution. All I knew was that 3 people were dead and a lot more were injured.

My thoughts went out to The Lady whose mansion was located in the tony neighbourhood of Shoto which abuts Japan's Mecca for Teens. Did she hear the blast? Then when I got home and turned on the TV, I found out how right I was. The explosion didn't just take place in Shibuya Ward; it was right in the Lady's neighbourhood! I recognized every place that was filmed, including the location where the spa literally blasted itself apart due to some possible methane gas reaction. The spa was located in a very narrow road (almost an alley, really) on my way up to the Lady's house.

When I got there today for the rare Wednesday morning lesson, there was a huge mass of humanity consisting of media types and cops milling about the street that I usually use to head up into the neighbourhood. A yellow ribbon cordoned off the alley street from the rest of the public. The Lady's street herself was just as normal as usual. However, when I spoke with The Lady's housekeeper, she mentioned that there was this huge rumble sounding like a massive clap of thunder and some tremors.

As usual, there was the inevitable press conference in which the top brass would try to explain the predicament and then bow deeply in (often mock) contrition. Nothing mock here. And what was different here was that the president of the spa was female. She wasn't doing a Seiko Matsuda and crying crocodile tears; she looked absolutely mortified and humbled....then again, building a spa over a bed of a huge gas field in a residential neighbourhood in which the residents had vociferously protested against its building, and then having said building blow up with many casualties would bring a person down. I've got a feeling that this story will take up most of the wide shows and news shows for the next few days.

Otherwise, I was able to get up here in plenty of time to teach The Nurse. She's an interesting one...she can be both happy and sad, resolute and confused at the same time. Certainly could sap all energy from a less experienced teacher. Got through that but I've got three more lessons to do before the end tonight.

The movie day is taking shape. So far, it's the Three Amigos of me, The Satyr and MB for "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" on Sunday. Not sure if the latter two's better halves will be joining us. Skippy has already seen the flick so she'll be heading out with us for dinner instead. Looks like it'll be that curry place that she'd taken me some months before.

Anyways, gotta get some food into me...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tuesday June 19, 3:32 p.m.

A real scorcher out there today. They said it would get up to about 28 C. Well, I think it's quite a bit hotter right now. Just checked out the weekly magazine, Tokyo Walker. Their cover feature is on the fireworks festival. Nothing says "Summer's here!" more than that.

The Beehive session was another heavy sidetracking talkfest. Our main topic was on the history of Toronto (research for their upcoming trip) but we were getting heavily off topic. In fact, somehow we started talking about the new Miss Universe, Rio Mori. We were all wondering how pretty she really was....all that exoticism in her looks has left us scratching our heads. Speaking of Rio, she showed up on Bistro SMAP last night; yup, she's quite the Amazon Princess. She said she was 180 cm without heels. She certainly made Nakai-kun look even smaller than he usually is. I kinda noticed that considering her sophisticated looks and now international stature, she is all of 20 and she speaks as if she were far younger.

Got back home and rustled up some German Potatoes using some new potatoes from the supermarket. Yup, threw in some bacon, sausages and onions with some further seasonings. That should tide me over until breakfast. I ended up watching "Yumereji" on Music On TV via SkyPerfect. It's a program in which a supposed apartment block houses a lot of musical talents who talk on and on for an hour with each day focusing on one apartment resident. Today is Tuesday so that means Shokotan (nee Shoko Nakagawa, the uber otaku girl). She had Osakan singer, aiko, as a guest. They went through a lot of her music videos. Kinda interesting how noone notices how much aiko's songs sound all alike.

Speaking of J-idols, I kinda wonder how much longer Morning Musume has before the decade-long ship of girls finally drydocks permanently. In the last half-year, three mainstays have jumped ship: one through delinquency, one through pregnancy and one through intimacy (I really wanted to say romance-y but that would've been going a bit too far). Now, the tabloids have reported that the Hello Project, the umbrella company which manages MM and all of the other related groups and singers, has sent an SOS of sorts to a former member, Asami Konno, who had graduated last year, supposedly to head off to college. Tsunku and his cronies invited the lass to come back to the fold...probably with a lot of sweaty "pretty please"s. And the strange thing is that Ms. Konno was never one of the bigger lights in the least, not to me anyways. The lass has accepted the offer, though.

The big surprise for me yesterday was that "Premiere" magazine, one of the monthlies that I've picked up to get my movie buzz and to keep me from going stir crazy on the trains has gone belly least as a print journal. Everything is now explanations about why. Well, at least I save up some money.

Anyways, gotta do my usual gauntlet of juku classes tonight.
Monday June 18, 5:11 p.m.

I'm having a pretty routine Monday so far. Since the Class Act was off again today, I just headed over to Oazo in Otemachi and had my lunch at Com Pho. Yes, that pho ga sure hits the ticket at just 730 yen with all the free bean sprouts and Rice Krispies puffs you can add to the soup. But after 11:30, it does start to fill up. I chose to eat at one of the standing tables; there were empty seats at the sit-down counters but frankly I'd rather eat bark than slurp my noodles just centimetres across from another person. By the time I finished off my noodles, there was a small line forming.

I popped into Maruzen and got my weekly issue of METROPOLIS for SIL. I also came across guides on how to play Go, that Japanese version of checkers...although I think RISK is a much better analogy. I'd always had a passing interest in the game but with just a thousand yen in the wallet, I had to hold off any purchases. Not that I would be able to devote any major time to it any time soon anyways.

Then, it was off again to Yurakucho to check out HMV. Again, it was just mere window shopping due to the dearth of yen in my pocket. I did come across a CD by that new techno unit, Ryukyudisco. The boys have got a new single out with a collaboration with the pop-punk band of the moment, Beat Crusaders, but it was the B-side that got my fancy. It's a cover version of YMO's classic "Absolute Ego Dance"...perfect for all the Donald Trumps out there. Still walked down to Ginza Yamano Music just because I still had an hour to kill before SIL's class. Speaking of music, I finally did get through my purchases from last week. Hall & Oates' "Big Bam Boom" was OK since it also included the remixes of some of the hits from the album, including "Out of Touch", "Method of Modern Love" and "Dance On Your Knees". Some of the other entries will always remain filler.

My two discs on disco were interesting backtracks into musical history. The one compilation certainly held tributes to Earth, Wind & Fire. No less than 3 of their finest graced the CD: "September", "Boogie Wonderland" and one other tune I forget. Of course, "Soul Train" was there and even "I'm in the Mood for Dancing" by the Nolans, a tune that seems to have far more legendary status here in Japan than Stateside. The song is known as "Dancing Sisters" here and its latest posting is as the theme tune for Softbank's latest generation of cellphones with Cameron Diaz doing her mime-like performances.

The second disc was less on actual disco and more on 70s R&B although the title of the CD was "Soul". It's one of those cheapo purchases at a mere 1,000 yen and it only comes with the flappy cover liner notes and not even an inside cover listing the songs and their times. Still, I could listen to stuff that I now realize have been sampled to death by today's artists on both sides of the Pacific. For example, the very first track was James Brown's "It's a Man's World" with that ubiquitous horn fanfare at the beginning. Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" was a revelation....I could see where J-Pop Queen Yumi Matsutoya could've gotten some of her pop inspiration. And Gloria Gaynor's "Never Could Say Goodbye" contributed one riff to Morning Musume's only megahit "Love Machine".

However, what I bought the disc for was the one entry by Love Unlimited, "Love's Theme". It's a pulsating early disco instrumental which could've been the blueprints for any other meshing of orchestra and pop in that era. I remember it being used as the theme song for Toronto TV station CBLT's 6 o'clock news program, "24 Hours" back in the early 70s, and it's been used as a theme song for a lot of other sports and news programs all over the continent. Heck, CITY-TV still uses Maynard Ferguson's "Rocky" theme for its newscasts, some 32 years after its debut for Sylvester Stallone's masterpiece. The one thing I hadn't known about the band was that it was Barry ("Oh, baby, baby, baby") White's unit.

Well, MB finally contacted me about "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" this morning. It seems that The Satyr is cool with it for Sunday. Skippy has already seen it but hasn't given in her two yen; I'm sure that will come during the dinner hour. However, Speedy did catch it back on Saturday. He just said not to go in the theatre with very high expectations although it wasn't a total bomb.

I ought to be having The Full-Timer in about 15 minutes. I don't think I'll be returning to the school after that. The bossman hasn't come up to me about any of the curricula stuff and frankly, I would like to know what a weeknight off feels like after several weeks.

Ah, I did forget to mention one thing. Last week, Coca-Cola Japan launched Coke Zero, that zestier version of Diet Coke. Well, apparently, there's another new Coke now with the added zip of cucumbers. Yes, you heard it....some Brainiac decided to add the crisp flavour of proto-pickles to the legendary drink. Not sure what colour it is (remember Clear Coke?...i.e. weird 7-Up) but gotta try this sucker out.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Monday June 18, 10:20 a.m.

Been a while...have a few things to unload...

On Thursday night, after having taught The Carolinan and BC in Ichigaya, I was walking back to my place from the station along the northern side. It was the usual gaggles of folks traipsing back home from the company or from the izakayas. Suddenly, there was an angry scream. Apparently, there was a short but intense altercation which cleared the air of all sound. I saw a suit walking back the opposite way looking rather rumpled, angry and chastened. Meanwhile, there was another suit who felt he wasn't through with his battle. He just stomped the other way muttering to himself and then turned around and just kept screaming all sorts of epithets periodically. He didn't seem slurring, but he was rage personified. Not sure what the fight was all about but I think I had seen him before. On the exact same stretch of road some months back, there was a similarly dressed fellow who went out of his way to kick pylons and garbage cans. Not sure if this is a guy who needs some mental help.

The next day on the telly, I cut in midway through a news item in which some fellow was arrested for approaching the home of a local government official with a knife as a negotiating tool. The neighbourhood looked familiar, so my thoughts immediately went to that guy from the night before. Apparently, the suspect had some major grievances about his Citizen's Tax going up.

Friday, I was lucky to have most of the day off. Just The Ace and Jolly. Saturday, though, was a fairly busy day. I had The Coffeemaker for a solo before the Speedy classes with the Manhattanite and The Dentist.

Sunday was another day off. But it was also a trip to the boonies of Chiba Prefecture. Mrs. Alp of the Beehive had invited some of us to her place for a summer BBQ. She couldn't have asked for a better day to have it. It was sunny and hot out there....rather atypical for the rainy season. In fact, it's been a bit worrying. We've been hoping for some precip to alleviate any potential water shortages.

It was a fairly long haul trip. Getting to Chiba Station from my area took about 35 minutes; I met up with Mrs. Jade and Mrs. Perth along with her husband there and then we took the Chiba Monorail for another 25 minutes or so. By the time we reached our final destination, we were in a fairly small city atmosphere. Mrs. Alp picked us up by car and it was another 5 minutes or so before we got to her place. She and her hubby live in a pretty well-to-do neighbourhood with all new houses obviously made by different companies which gave the area an eclectically pleasing appearance....something that urban planners ought to consider when trying to avoid the sameness of suburbs. The area reminded me a lot of the suburbs ringing outside of Toronto, such as Richmond Hill or Markham.

We had the BBQ on the front yard which was luckily obscured by a high hedge. It was a very pleasant time with Mr. Alp clearly enjoying his time as regaling host. He was definitely a good's been a while since I had such good grilled Japanese fare. We had sashimi, grilled fish and butter clams, and even some nicely smoked sausages to add that European flair. Of course, wine and beer liberally flowed. Afterwards, for an hour, Mrs. Alp took her dog for a walk with the Perths, Jade and me following. Not 10 minutes walk away, we were deep in a forest peppered with bamboo along with more deciduous varieties of trees and then we found ourselves walking amongst rice paddies and small green hills. It was very refreshing to walk in clean cool air away from the usual urban stuff. I couldn't believe we had walked a solid hour. I did get the beginnings of a sunburn on my forearms, though. We stayed for another half-hour at her house for some last-minute imbibing of icewine that I'd gotten from someone. It was the usual long-necked thin bottle but it was perfect for all 6 of us.

Mrs. Alp said that though she and her husband loved living in the wilds of Chiba, she also pointed out that any commutes to the big city are major exercises. Just to get to our weekly meetings in Tsudanuma takes about an hour. I think if I ever retire, the Alps' area would be great for me but by that time, I would probably need to be a successful writer with just a small cadre of students surrounding me in a tight circle. Don't think I could let go of the convenience factor of Ichikawa just quite yet.

Well, gotta head on out soon. Got my usual 90 with SIL but I gotta pick up her weekly METROPOLIS in Otemachi. And then it's just The Full-Timer. Not sure if I'll head back to Speedy's afterwards. I may just call it a fairly early night. This week doesn't seem too heavy, schedule-wise, although Wednesday will be a killer.