Thursday, August 02, 2007

Friday August 3, 9:53 a.m.

Saraba...chikyuu yo...

Or, as we Canucks and Yankees heard it all those years ago: Goodbye, Mother Earth...

Yup, if you were a kid in Japan in the 70s or like me, a kid growing up in North America back in the early 80s, you would recognize those opening words to the theme song of one of the most classic anime, "Space Cruiser Yamato" or "Star Blazers". Hearing such an unusually orchestral and serious theme for a TV cartoon was pretty much unheard of back in those days, and it still resonates and even brings a lump to the throat even now.
Well, the lyricist behind those mighty words for the Yamato, Yu Aku, passed away a few days ago at the age of 70. His was a name that I'd seen in kanji in the liner notes of so many albums but I hadn't realized how wide his fame was until the tributes started pouring in. I was a bit surprised that the J-Pop forums that dealt with 70s and 80s music hadn't acknowledged Aku's passing so I'm writing my own little eulogy.
As I said, Yu Aku was a lyricist who had his fingers in a lot of the kayo kyoku genres. He may have written the theme song to "Space Cruiser Yamato" but he also wrote most of the hits for 70s aidoru duo, Pink Lady, including arguably their signature song, "UFO". In fact, he seemed to revel in making signature songs for a lot of the Showa-era artists such as Akiko Wada, Kenji Sawada and Masako Mori. He even wrote similar songs for enka singers such as Harumi Miyako. For a guy to whip up tunes that become one with their singers takes a certain sort of genius. I guess he would be the Japanese equivalent of a Hoagy Carmichael or a Diane Warren.
Not surprisingly, the two ladies of Pink Lady, MIE and Keiko "Kei" Masuda, have popped up on the screens for the past couple of days giving their thanks and tributes to the man who was basically responsible for them becoming one of the legendary, if brief, acts in Japanese pop music history. Apparently, a CD set of Aku's works is already out. I'm also expecting that there will be some sort of retrospective on the man coming out soon.

Well, tribute over....back to some of the more mundane things in life. While CNN was covering that Minneapolis bridge collapse, NHK was giving the same treatment to Typhoon Usagi for most of the night. We in the Kanto can only just imagine the power since the hurricane is coming nowhere near us. It'll be another torrid one here in The Big Sushi.

Just got The Ace tonight so today's devoted to getting household cleaning supplies in preparation for MB's arrival here tomorrow night. Not that the man is a major neat freak a la Felix Unger, but it's just that I'm an uber-Oscar Madison.

I sent out an envelope containing the latest proofread notes for The Chef. Not surprisingly, she just sent me an e-mail asking about the next lesson. I also got word from The Anime King; he's sending me the next supply of postage cash in prep for the next shipments of "The Idolmaster"; plus, he's throwing in a DVD of "300". Not sure why he chose that but it'll be interesting for me to see it.

The guys on that Fuji-TV morning show, "Mezamashi Terebi", were getting all tingly about the fact that fellow Canuck, Avril Lavigne, is planning to make a live appearance next week. Hmm..I'm not sure how a spiky-tongued Sk8er Boi like her will mesh with the oh-so-polished proceedings on that show.

Anyways, gotta check out those deals on the Net for tickets to Hong Kong.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Thursday August 2, 3:23 p.m.

Well, last night was pretty peaceful. Found out from Speedy that Mr. TOEIC will be heading to Toronto for a week's homestay in a couple of weeks so his next class should be geared towards Telephone and Directions English. The former I've already started on; hopefully, I can pull off some miracles with the latter. The Judge was his usual steady self.

It's another scorcher out there. All that stuff about Typhoon Usagi is just limited to Western Japan. Here, it's a lot of heat and humidity. The only good thing is that my laundry can now dry in less than an hour.

Kinda in a holding pattern here concerning the hangover that the LDP is suffering from right now. Prime Minister Abe insists that he'll be staying in his job despite the 22% popularity rating. He's probably the only guy in the G-8 who actually envies George Bush's popularity. Still, the week's not up yet. The main news here is that collapse of that highway bridge in Minneapolis. CNN is of course on it like tar. Paula Zahn must be feeling pretty wistful right now. She started her tenure at CNN during 9/11 and she's ending it with another disaster.

Well, Skippy suggested Yurakucho Mullion to see "Harry Potter" on Sunday. It's been a while since I've been to that complex to catch a flick. And there are quite a lot of restaurants to choose from for dinner purposes afterwards in Ginza. Meanwhile, MB is still slated for DVD night on Saturday.
Wednesday August 1, 7:12 p.m.

Last night, the juku was pretty much back to normal. It was nearly the opposite of last week's situation; everyone showed up except for The Siberian. Dale showed up with Chip, Seven was back after attending her concerto last Tuesday, and Jolly came for the final slot. The Milds were also back after spending a number of days in Austria. I'd heard that they would be going there but I didn't realize it would be so soon. Anyways, I got some rather nice souvenirs in the form of some Mozart chocolates. I've been rather lucky having such travel-happy students. I know so much about Hawaii since that seems to be the destination of choice of a lot of my flock; I really don't need to go there anymore.

Today was pretty much a free day. Being the first of the month, I was able to pay just half-price for "Die Hard 4.0" at the neighbourhood theatre. It was nice to see Bruce Willis back as John McClane although it's too bad that the character has really fallen from the matrimonial cliff that he'd seem to pull himself from at the end of the first movie. However, I thought with the PG-13 rating, the movie pulled its action punches despite some of the crazy setpieces (a semi versus a jet...who knew?). So we got a strangely unprofane McClane, very little blood being spurted about and a rather quiet finish to the villain of the piece. I think Alan Rickman can still rest easy. If there is a "Die Hard 5", I hope that the R rating is reinstated, although I realize that's pretty much fat chance.

Afterwards, I found out that Mr. TOEIC has decided to come here tonight for the class that he had missed out on Monday. So, I've got him and The Judge. Hopefully, Speedy will be finished with the counseling session with that prospective student, so The Judge can get the good room. He intimated that he wasn't too thrilled with the other room which doesn't smell too good and is way too warm. I relayed his grievances to the boss who just looked askance and asked me to humour him.

The downfall of the LDP continues further. Looks like the Ministry of Agriculture has gotten the bull's-eye. After only two months in the job, Minister Akagi gave in his resignation this morning; probably he pulled the trigger on himself when he heard rumours that his boss, Prime Minister Abe, was going to fire him for that stupid taxation shell game. So, we've lost two Farm Ministers to suicide and scandal. One wonders when Abe himself will be falling on his own sword....half of those polled want him to go. But the depth is simply not there. If tradition holds, it would be current Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki who could take over. But hey, why not jumpstart the United States by several months and put in Japan's first female head of state, Yuriko Koike?

The rest of the week will be pretty slow. I've only got The Nurse tomorrow, then just The Ace on Friday....just as well since I'm planning to give the place a good cleaning out in prep for another visit by Movie Buddy. I figure it'll take a couple of days. I was looking at Tokyu Hands for a new toilet seat to replace the cracked one but I guess such things do not exist here, so I'm left with heavily taping the horseshoe like an ailing hockey player's knee, lest MB gets a rather nasty surprise during one of his trips to the loo.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tuesday July 31, 2:03 p.m.

After the cool and rain of yesterday, we're kinda back to the heat and humidity that's normal for this time of year. Looks like Typhoon Usagi has decided to go on the usual track and head for Kyushu and Shikoku instead, but we might catch the tail (?) end tomorrow or the day after.

Going into the summer schedule now. The Beehive is off for the next 5 week so I've got my morning free but I have 002 in about an hour and a half. And then, I've got the juku folks. I sent out feelers to the boss last night whether I'll have a repeat of the no-shows. So far, I've got one bite. The Siberian has canned out; ironically, he was the only one, aside from Chip, who showed up last week. Have to find out whether or not Mr. TOEIC will be showing up tomorrow. It doesn't really matter; I'm gonna have a pretty late start to my working day. Late enough so that I'll probably catch a movie at the neighbourhood cineplex. It's gonna be "Die Hard 4.0" with Bruno.

The Chipmunk sent out an all-points bulletin telling everyone that she's changed her cellphone number after a con man gave his victims her number before going on the lam. So for the past few weeks, she's had to field a lot of complaints. True to her nature, though, she's been making lemonade from these lemons and having some good conversations with the poor folks. But enough was enough, apparently, and she's changed her number.

I bought a DVD of another Mel Brooks flick from the 70s when he was still considered funny. Still, "High Anxiety" kinda comes under the category of "Doesn't Seem as Funny as I Used to Remember It". But there were a few zingers here and there. And Madeline Kahn was certainly the funniest hottie back then. Perhaps I'll see if I can get "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" sometime.

Just before coming to the I-cafe, I had lunch at the local Subways. In an "Awww..." moment that should melt your mozzarella, I was serviced by a shy young girl who was making her very first sandwich. Of course, the manager and the one other veteran were on hand to coach her through the scooping of the tuna to the wrapping of the sandwich (she had a bit of trouble there but she was OK by the end). I gave her some encouragement by telling her she did a good job. It didn't get me a discount but I was offered a hand to carry my tray and my heavier-than-usual bag to my seat.

I heard that legendary director Ingmar Bergmann had passed away. I guess that Death finally did pick him up. Probably for the funeral, the organizer wondered about putting a mirror by his face just so, so that attendees could see it both in profile and front forward. Ooooh, I can be so mean...heheheheh
Monday July 30, 8:44 p.m.

Well, I should've bought myself a lottery ticket. A little less than an hour when I hinted that Mr. TOEIC could either delay or cancel outright, we had to call him some minutes after his scheduled arrival time to find out that he couldn't make it tonight. He could've let us know but I gather that he was so bogged down that he couldn't fine the time. So, I'm basically done here and ready to head on out for home.

Looks like Speedy's regular dinner outing was a fairly raucous affair. Unlike the previous two organized parties, Saturday's do at Ebisu Garden Place had folks popping up all over the place without calling ahead without so much as a "May I..?" I didn't bother going for other reasons but I am glad that I didn't go to this one since having experienced and even organized such manic get-togethers in years past, I think I've gotten a little too old to take that sort of stuff anymore.

Recently, there's been a spate of Hollywood starlets gone bad. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and future loony bin resident, Britney Spears, have kinda done stuff that they would probably not want to tell their grandchildren, provided that they survive that long. Over here, the really bad stuff has all been on the male side....and it's been pretty perverted crud. A couple of comedians decided to blow up their careers by doing things such as looking up high school girls' skirts or have their way with them. Of course, over the course of the decades, both male and female entertainers have had their careers derailed by being discovered with drugs. On the wholly female side, crimes, if you can actually call them that, have been largely restricted to aidoru breaking their Prime Directive No. 1 which is publicly falling in love with a guy or...heaven forbid...getting caught smoking a Lucky's. You can probably check out the Wiki site on Morning Musume to pick out most of the offenses there.
However, there was an incident recently involving a geino by the name of Kenji Haga who was busted for extortion and intimidation. Haga seems to be just one of those lifelong losers with a checkered past but somehow he used to be able to get out of the problem and survive as an aging dancing/acting gadabout (no shortage of those in Japanese entertainment). But usually things don't get that out of hand for most folks in showbiz here.
It would also seem that a lot of US entertainers seem to have more lives than a cat and Time Lord combined...that or they have a very good lawyer. They can keep on screwing up and there will also be someone to bail them out of trouble. Just lay low for a while and then come back fresh as a daisy. Over here, everyone can get a second chance as well but that's it. Those two comedians I was talking about? After one of them got his chops busted for looking up those skirts with that customized mirror, he bleated repentance very publicly (unlike in the States, the apologies are very open and with a full court press) but then later on got busted again for other malfeasances and now he's persona non grata....that's it...he's probably washing dishes in the kitchen or picking up garbage in the early morning hours. The thing is that once someone screws up, everyone that's associated with him/her is also considered to have screwed up as well for not watching out for the idiot. Pretty humiliating, which would also explain the vehement public statements that the offender's (former) friends made after a second offence.
Basically, the moral of the story in Japanese showbiz is this: everyone loves a bad boy...on the surface, that is.
Monday July 30, 7:27 p.m.

It's unseasonably cool...downright comfortable. It feels more like April or October, certainly not the blistering weather we had during the weekend. Part of that can be due to that major storm we had last night during the election (omen for Abe?). Plus, we've got another typhoon possibly making a beeline straight at the Kanto on Wednesday. Nomenclature for typhoons on this side of the Pacific gets as strange as the weather here...this time, Typhoon No. 5 has been dubbed Usagi....Japanese for rabbit. Yes, apparently we're at risk by a storm named after a cute bunny. We might as well prepare ourselves the Miffy onslaught.

It has been a regular Monday in terms of work, but it'll be the last one for a few weeks since we are entering August. The Class Act goes off on their regular hiatus although SIL will keep up the side. The Full-Timer just told me she's off on yet another trip. And just like The Sisters of State a month ago, she'll be taking her mother for the first time to Hawaii. The lass had just come back from Thailand a fortnight ago. Must be nice to enjoy traveling so much. In any case, she'll be absent next week. Not sure about Mr. TOEIC. He's scheduled to be here in about 25 minutes (although he's prone to sudden delays or outright cancellations) but I wonder if he'll also decide to head out for some vacation time next month as well.

Basically this week will be the start of the quiet August. Today and Tuesday will be the only real busy ones and I've already gone through 75% of today and I start the next day at the ripe ol' time of 3:30 with 002. On Wednesday, my first and only class will be The Judge at 9:30 p.m. although Speedy has just informed me that he may put in another student at 7 in place of 001 who's off this week. Thursday will only see The Nurse and then Friday may just have The Ace. Might be time to put in some movie viewing even though Skippy is chomping at the bit to have us all see "Harry Potter" on Sunday. Speaking of which, George Clooney is in town to promote "Ocean's 13" which I am actually interested in catching despite the sophomore horror of "Ocean's 12".

Just one other thing on the entertainment scene. Just a week after Princess Tenko suffered a near-death occupational hazard with one of her sword-absorbing boxes, the trouper was back in form here performing the same trick. However, it was obvious she was still suffering..she had a stylish mask covering the right side of her heavily made-up face and she could only whisper any words since her broken ribs ensured that normal speaking would be an experience in agony. For all those budding magicians out there, she should be your role model.
Monday July 30, 5:20 p.m.

The weekend was personally a fairly quiet one although things around me were pretty swirly. It was also one in which all of us had thought that The Rainy Season had definitively come to an end. A lot of heat and humidity was thrown at us like a fireball during Saturday and Sunday.

Met up with The Coffeemaker, and this time, Tully was back after his tour of duty at the world-famous Georgetown University in June. He didn't get to meet George Tenet but his class got visits from the EPA, purely cordial....they came to give lectures. The Coffeemaker got some commemorative stamps as a souvenir, while I got South Beach Diet chocolate chip cookies. Not sure if Tully had meant to send me a message in that.

On Sunday, I saw The Junior for the first time in a few weeks. I swear that the girl is growing like a week everytime I see her. Ironically, after that time, it'll be 5 weeks before I see her again since August is usually their holiday month, although it apparently won't be much of one for the lass. Even though class is now out for her, she has to attend volleyball practice like the rest of us have to go to work. I got my semiannual O-Chugen gift money from the mother which I quickly used to get that DVD set of "Zen'in Shugo Hachiji da yo!" (Everyone Gather Round! It's 8 o'clock!), the big comedy-variety show that was the centrepiece of The Drifters, the legendary comedic troupe. It was a favourite of the family's during the early days of VCRs. I also used the opportunity to get Michael Buble's latest, "Call Me Irresponsible". Another solid piece of pop and jazz. I'll definitely have to consider seeing him in concert next time he's in town.

The past weekend also had Fuji-TV give its annual summertime 27-hour telethon-that's-not-really-a-telethon. There is no Jerry Lewis, no Ed McMahon, no maudlin videos of kids suffering from MS and no tote board. It's basically the longest variety show of the year. In past years, the entire show was hosted by SMAP leader, Nakai-kun. But I guess Nakai-kun finally decided that sleep was more important, so the reins were taken up by the goofiest SMAP, Shingo Katori, since he's got his big movie out right now, "Saiyuki". He's not only the goofiest member of the group, but also the one with the most costume changes. He dressed up as a couple of his previous incarnations, Oha Mama and Nin-Nin The Ninja (you can imagine that these are kiddie heroes), and at one point, he even came out (cross-)dressed as transsexual-of-the-moment Ikko. It made for easy viewing as a couch potato.

However, Fuji-TV was one busy station as were all of the other stations on Sunday night. After 27 hours of variety programming, it went straight on into the Upper House Election coverage. Boy, I bet PM Shinzo Abe (if he still keeps his job by the end of the week) had been wishing that he could've enjoyed some of the hysterics during the telethon. He and the Liberal Democratic Party got majorly creamed. Even the pundits hadn't predicted the LDP would get some much wrath from the population, but then again, losing half of their pension records can incite some pretty big tirades. In any case, for the first time since the LDP came to power all those decades ago in the postwar era, the party has had to concede Senate power to the Opposition. The LDP Secretary-General and one other old party hack have given in their resignations; some people are waiting for Abe to do the same but the fact is that there is noone else to fill the PM vacuum if it comes to that.
Of course, the LDP debacle was the big story, but the 2nd-biggest was inexplicably the rise of a former TV Asahi announcer into the seat of the Senate. And she got into the LDP...the losing side! I was first introduced to Tamayo Marukawa about a decade ago when she probably first started her career as an announcer when she was part of a battery of bilingual newsreaders for a late-night program of just 5 minutes long announcing the main news stories from CNN, of which TV Asahi is one of the affiliates. Her English, when compared to the others, was something out of this world but it certainly wasn't natural. Just couldn't understand the dialect she was using; I needed to get another interpreter to hear her interpret the news. Well, I can only hope that her diction has vastly improved since then. One wonders if she may have to climb a similarly steep learning curve in her new job as a Senator. NHK did a feature on her which played like a Cinderella story...something that the commercial stations would usually do, complete with John Williams soundtrack. There she was in the rain trying to get anyone to shake her hand and utterly failing, there she was bowing her head in deepest shame after divulging that she hadn't voted in the last 3 elections, there she was showing off her bare feet growing a bulging mass of veins and arteries due to the heavy amount of walking she's had to do, there she was getting those handshakes in the late moments of the campaign during a fireworks festival and then finally getting that win in the proportional seat election race. Man, Julia Roberts can play her in the biography. All this in the last couple of months. To think, at the beginning of this year, she had been still playing sidekick to Tamori on "Music Station" and "Tamori Club".