Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday August 17, 8:59 p.m.

Well, I'm done here. I finished with the latest EIC student an hour ago. She has the latent ability but doesn't have much confidence in using it...a pity since she's normally an AEON student. Speedy has been hoping that she'll make a transfer to our school but frankly from today's lesson, I don't see that happening. Plus, it didn't help that I had to teach her in the sauna-like conditions of the regular classroom instead of the lounge. I remarked to her that if she were to imagine that my lesson could be akin to a refreshing session of hot yoga...

Still, I've completed my long day at the school and will be ready to head on home. I may just turn on the AC all night again since I woke up so cool and dry this morning. Plus, I think I've been a good boy by not having to turn on the air conditioner all day.

Tomorrow, I will be getting ready for 002's summer BBQ at her place. Gonna be enjoying a lot of yakiniku...
Friday August 17, 6:16 p.m.

I've gotten through The Nurse's lesson and dinner. Once again, it was the chicken stick, the cheese dog and the salad. Digestion is proceeding normally. In less than an hour, I'll have my final lesson of the day with this EIC student.

I took a look through "Orion's Arm" after several months of not visiting the site. They've got a few new updates but it's still a pretty heady slog to go through for those not accustomed to hard SF. Not advised after a starchy dinner.

Looks like one of The Anime King's gang will be heading over here. The questions are coming out about travel plans.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Friday August 17, 1:14 p.m.

Still a little less than 3 hours away until my next class with The Nurse. I actually have prepped for that class and even for the EIC student a few hours later. I've even gone through some of that curricula. At this rate, I'll probably be browsing through the DVD that accompanies the text to relieve some of the tedium. However, though I can't really browse YouTube here, I have been going through Wikipedia. I finished up all the stuff dealing with "Peanuts" so I naturally jumped to some of the other venerable and venerated comic strips such as "Doonesbury" (I used to see it in The Toronto Star daily but never really got into it...wasn't too political back then) and "For Better or For Worse", Lynn Johnson's magnum opus in my ol' hometown. I lost sight of the Pattersons when I moved over here 13 years ago, so it was revealing to see on my last trip back home to find out that the original kids have all grown up and gotten kids of their own. The death of Farley the Dog was a shocker.

I don't think Japan has any strips currently running which can match any of the North American strips I've mentioned above. However, there is "Sazae-san", the story of the prototypical can-do Japanese housewife surrounded by her loving extended family in residential Tokyo. The original strip, written by the late Machiko Hasegawa, ended its run in the papers decades ago but it has still held onto legendary status since it still lives on in television form on Sundays via Fuji-TV. In fact, the half-hour cartoon has usually signaled the end of the weekend when it comes on at 6:30.
"Sazae-san" has some distinct similarities and differences to its North American counterparts. Like "Peanuts" or "For Better or For Worse", there is a large group of regular characters in which Sazae's family, the Fugutas, is the core. And like Charlie Brown and the rest of his gang, the characters in "Sazae" exist in a time warp, never aging. However, the series has resolutely stayed away from anything approaching controversial such as homosexuality or racism; Sazae has only dealt with stuff no more threatening than with the latest naughty doings of her wayward brother...which usually consist of trying to shirk his chores or doing things which would only get a half-joking finger wag from an bemused cop. Snoopy is far more dangerous. Still, this isn't to belittle Japan's most famous cartoon. I can only wish that there were more people and neighbourhoods in The Big Sushi like the ones in the show....although I admit that the setting in "Sazae-san" probably has never existed.
Friday August 17, 9:25 a.m.

Another day of sizzling heat and humidity. But it was sure nice to have the AC on all night. I just decided that I would give the money to TEPCO and sleep in sweatless bliss. I actually felt a little shiver when I woke up. Of course, I got the rather rude awakening when I stepped outside. Hopefully, if the weatherguys are right, the fever should break tomorrow...just in time for 002' seasonal party.

It was also quite the quake day yesterday. First there were the three tremors which rumbled through Chiba, including one while I was making my last report here. Then, I heard about the major shake in Peru which has gotten our tsunami warning systems active. So far, no tremors today.

Yesterday, I met up with The Madame once more in Shibuya for lunch at that Chinese tea house right by Mark City. They've got a pretty nice lunch set there but the fare could use a bit more seasoning although the waitress said that we wouldn't need any soy sauce or spices. Still, I've been weaned on fast food so my tongue's probably been numbed by all the artificial ingredients over the years.
Afterwards, the two of us tried to swim through the humidity in the neighbourhood and made our way to the Tokyu Department Store near The Lady's mansion. The Madame was trying to look for some new shoes. She found out from the information desk that the shoes she wanted were to be found at the Shibuya Station branch. One of the throwbacks from decades past, the information desk lady was still wearing a very Kennedyesque tea party uniform and was very informative...even calling up the Shibuya Station branch to see if those shoes were there. Sure enough, they were indeed there and the two of us, deciding to avoid any more heat, we hopped on the free shuttle bus which coursed through the area. I'd passed by the stop numerous times over the years on the way to and from The Lady's place but had never tried the shuttle. It was nice on our feet but it wasn't particularly all that cool and when we made a 4-minute stop at the Tokyu Hotel, the guy stopped not just the engine but also the AC with the door way open.
After about 10 minutes of riding, we finally got off at the East Exit of Shibuya Station where I thought I would say my goodbye to The Madame since I had to make that phone call to the travel agency about my ticket to Hong Kong. The guy I wanted to speak to was unavailable which meant another round of fax tag. So I ended up meeting with The Madame once more and acted like the dutiful boyfriend/husband while she shopped for her shoes. Another example of the still-fine service here in Japan, the shoe department clerks were waiting for The Madame's arrival since they'd got the heads-up from the information desk.
I gotta admit that in all the years I've known The Madame, I never knew she could be quite the negotiator with sales staff. She kept up quite the banter with the seasoned vet. However, it turned out that the saleswoman had recognized my friend from a couple of years back during her last major shoe excursion up in the Ikebukuro branch and apparently The Madame's sister is quite the Imelda Marcos when it comes to her shoe shopping; she made history when she cleared an entire shelf with her credit card one time.
After about an hour of solid talk and trying on shoes, The Madame snagged her purchase and we made one more stop at the underground cafe for 250 yen coffee. There was an interesting mix of old folks and Shibuya gals with their beaus. Of course, the gals were spitting out their annoying dialect at high volume. On the way up on the Hanzomon Line, we noticed a lot of young women were decked out in summer yukata, which usually means that there is a fireworks festival nearby. Sure enough, I found out this morning that there was such an event last night at Jingumae Stadium.

After finally parting from The Madame, I made my way up to Mitsukoshimae Station Starbucks where I had my monthly with B2. Yep, it's official...she's gonna try to get back her flight attendant status with her old company. So I was helping her with her covering letter. I told her it will help by namedropping The Ballerina's name. If she's successful, I will have lost a student by next May, but I'll have gained a happy friend.

Well, today is a long one. Just three lessons but they're separated by hours. The Judge is up in 10 minutes, followed by The Nurse at 4 p.m. and then a new EIC student at 7 p.m. At least, I won't be needing my AC today.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thursday August 16, 8:59 a.m.

It's been a classic case of Shake n' Bake this morning. On the 30th anniversary of the death of Mr. "I'm All Shook Up", the Kanto is going through this massive heat wave; but to add insult to injury, Chiba has had 3 fairly strong quakes within the last four hours. The first woke me up in the wee hours with the second and third tremors hitting around 8 a.m. Not sure if this is the sign of something big coming. Well, if we survive the next couple of days, the weather folks have said that there will be a break in the torridness during the weekend.

After playing a form of facsimile tag, I may have been able to secure a ticket for Hong Kong for that trip with The Class Act in October. Strangely enough, it's an All Nippon Airlines flight, not an air company that I would associate with discount ticket agencies but who's complaining? Anyways, I've informed The Lady so I'm sure we'll be entering the next stage when we meet on Monday.

Last night, in the air-conditioned confines of Speedy's, I taught my 3 hours with 001 and The Judge. Both folks were a little sluggish...not surprising considering the natsubate (summer fatigue) they must be suffering from. I'm not exactly at 100% power myself. Meanwhile, The Admin has been off for the past several days on leave, so her sub is some sort of high-powered translator (I'm not sure how she feels about having to serve tea and greet students). Nice young lady but as quiet as a mouse.

Another sign of the dog days of summer in Japan....those controversial visits by the politicos to Yasukuni Shrine. And sure enough, there was a Koizumi sighting yesterday at the famed burial site for the war dead. A lot of media there but there was nowhere near the sturm und drang that used to accompany his visits when he was the PM. And he refused to add anything to the fire by staying resolutely mute.

Today, I'm seeing The Madame for lunch, then I gotta call the travel agency to make sure everything is OK before I see B2.
Wednesday August 15, 4:14 p.m.

Forgot to mention that tomorrow is also a rather auspicious day. It's the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. And just like today being the 62nd anniversary of V-J Day, I'm not sure if much of the younger generation anywhere has much interest in ol' Swivel Hips outside of seeing those commercials hawking his distinctive visage and old hits, or even catching the grandparents listening to "Love Me Tender". Perhaps to the kids weaned on the Johnny's Entertainment Group bands here in Japan or on any of the hip-hop acts back in the States, Elvis Presley must come across as pretty creaky....or, horrors, just plain square; that's rather ironic, considering that the man had his lower half blacked out during a televised appearance, lest the view of his gyrating pelvis overly arouse the female persuasion.
But as I said about V-J Day in the last entry, that's not such a bad thing. Personally, I would be very worried if there were still teenagers in the millions going nuts about a guy who's been dead 30 years. Do I really want to see thousands of kids in the 2030s still lining up to put flowers for that dead guitarist from X Japan, Hyde? I think the contemporary acts would be so insecure and music wouldn't really be progressing as fast as it should. Not to say that Elvis and The Beatles should be swept under the garbage heap of history (and we all know that will not be possible), but I think it'll be enough that there is either a niche group of diehard fans to carry the flame or a large population who can still remember a tune or two from these guys.
And besides, all of us still remember that amazing pop artist from hundreds of years ago, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his songs. Not everyone is a classical music buff (I'm not) but his memory is still alive and well. The Golden Age of Jazz may be long gone but people here are still into Swing or Bop. And so, Elvis (and Stevie and Nirvana) will still be fondly remembered long after we've also left this mortal coil.
Certainly, the former Prime Minister of Japan is an ardent fan, considering his cute if embarrassing display of air guitar prowess in Graceland in front of George W. Bush, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley last year (I gather that Junichiro Koizumi's display was a bit of revenge for having Dubya's father throw up on late PM Miyazawa back in 1989). And much more locally, my student SIL is a good fan of Elvis, not only in terms of his songs but also some of his movies although both of us agreed that he never really threatened anyone at the Oscars.

Completely off-topic, but I did catch a funny video on YouTube yesterday. It was the mashup between that hit song of two years ago, "Hey Ya!" by Outkast and "A Charlie Brown Christmas". You really haven't seen Linus or Sally boogie until you've seen them dance to this song.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wednesday August 15, 2:56 p.m.

It's another blazing day...perhaps the hottest one yet this summer. Up to about 35 C in Tokyo, although that's just the air temp. The actual temp from the concrete is probably 5-10 degrees higher. We are truly in the midst of a heat wave, or moshobi, as it is called here. Still, I'm glad I'm not up in Saitama. Because the folks up north live in a basin, or bonchi, they have to suffer even worse temps.
However, adversity has brought out the creative side in the urban management folks. Meeting places such as Roppongi Hills have attached mist dispensers to key spots on the walls so that fine sprays of water can keep the masses cool and watered. Apparently, the idea came from the farmers who usually do the same to their cows during summer. Not to say intimate that humans and cows are very similar, but rush hour and cattle calls seem to share certain values.

Being the middle of O-bon, there's been a lot of traffic coming and going out of Tokyo. I do not envy the families their ordeal of driving on expressways-turned-parking lots. However, I am sympathizing with one motorcyclist who had a rather grisly end to his little trip. Yesterday, he accidentally banged into a guard rail on the highway...he lost a little chrome, a little paint and, oh yes, his lower leg. Apparently, the fellow kept riding for another 2 kilometres until he started feeling somewhat faint (massive blood loss and shock can do that to one), and then he realized that he was missing something vital. His rescuers managed to find what was left of his leg but it was too late to re-attach it.....decomposition, high heat and a very unsterile environment made that a foregone conclusion.

However, there is somewhat good news. The heat wave will break...a this weekend. Perhaps, we'll be down to the chillier temperatures of 30 C.

Yesterday, I had a day off since both The Beehive and the juku were on summer vacation. Just ended up hitting the I-cafe for a few hours since I didn't want to give too much more money to TEPCO. Still, I'm sure the bills for this month and September will be quite inflated. Today, it's back to business. I've got 001 and The Judge for a few hours tonight. Can't complain...both are fine students. Tomorrow, I'm meeting The Madame again for another lunch and chat before I see B2 for her monthly session. Looks like Friday will be somewhat full...I've got The Judge, The Nurse and a new EIC student. Actually, I've got them spaced out by several hours; a bit of a drag but again the students are good.

Let's see...the big entertainment news...and true to the supremely superficial nature of geinokai stuff, one of the tabloids has reported that Masayuki Nakai, the leader of SMAP, and the big pop singer for the last couple of years, Kumi Koda, are apparently an item. I'm sure a press conference will follow.

But the significance of today's date is that it's been 62 years since Japan officially surrendered to the United States in World War 2. The media has been asking some of the younger folk about what August 15th meant to them. All of them had blank looks and admitted that they didn't know. Of course, the reporters and wide show panelists probably tut-tutted and lamented the reaction while thinking about that proverb about those not remembering history are doomed to repeat it. Then again, those finger-wagging journos should think a little further...the Japanese live in a time in which war has been so far gone from these shores that the younger generations remember little about it. I don't think that's so much of a bad thing. Obviously being complacent about potential problems such as North Korea isn't good either but believe me, I'm happy that kids in Japan aren't drawing pictures of planes bombing villages and dead people cut into pieces like their counterparts are in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday August 13, 5:29 p.m.

Found out that Merv Griffin passed away. I just barely remember him from his talk show back in the late 60s and 70s. It was really just because of Rick Moranis' hilarious take on him during the SCTV years that Griffin still exists in my memory. I guess he won't be before I get accused of being sick here, that's what the guy joked when he was asked about what would be written on his epitaph.

Just finished off making some answer sheets for the curricula. The Full-Timer got my acknowledgement about tonight's cancellation so I've just got another 2.5 hours before The Judge comes into view.

I was listening to one of my CDs that was gathering dust on my shelves. It's an old J-Pop one; well, it's from a band from the 80s called PSY-S. In an era when tuneless aidoru were all over the airwaves, PSY-S was an interesting combination of poppy synths (probably a Synclavier since it seemed to sample a number of instruments) and a petite woman, Chaka, who had a voice which was pitched high to near helium levels but could probably cut steel at the same time. The band's offbeat tunes (with titles like "Fuzzy Pain", "Parachute Limit" and "Woman-S") were also quite apart from the non-aidoru new music musicians such as Yumi Matsutoya or Anzen Chitai; I can posit that it was the precursor to all those Shibuya-kei entities such as Kahimi Karie, Cornelius or Pizzicato Five.

Speaking of Karie, I finally got to see a few of her videos on YouTube. Man, that "Little King Kong" was intriguing. Rather indie, mod and retro all at the same time. May have to consider picking up a Best Of CD sometime...if she has issued one. These auteur types can be a bit snooty about releasing compilations.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Monday August 13, 3:08 p.m.

A better-than-average weekend, I suppose...

On Saturday, I think I may have had the optimum student for those dreaded DVD classes. This one was engaging, enthusiastic and, best of all, she actually laughed at the "Friends" jokes. Yes, this one is a keeper. Now, if we're lucky and she also has buddies who are at her level, we may finally get this carcass re-animated. The good news is that she's locked for the next session on the 25th.

After that, Speedy and I went down to the newest Shinjuku theatre chain, Wald 9, near Shinjuku San-chome. There we met Skippy and Mrs Speedy to catch "Ratatouille", the latest Pixar classic. Before that, we had dinner on the 8th floor of the complex, the main restaurant floor. Skippy had to hem and haw a bit but we finally decided to have our meal at Matroishka, a Russian eatery. I'm not sure if this were the same restaurant that had moved up to better digs from the old basement corner near Isetan Department Store, or if it's a second branch. In any case, I went for the Burger Plate Special (yes, I's a Russian place) which, despite its American main course, did come with the requisite borscht appetizer.
We all remarked that considering it was a Saturday, the restaurant was not all that full. Then, Skippy came out with the sage comment that movies were running up above us so we had the lucky timing of eating out between major dinner crowds.

"Ratatouille" was a most charming piece of entertainment. I had heard "Cars" the year before wasn't exactly the blockbuster that "The Incredibles" was a few years ago, but I think this new flick (or should it be, flic?) will probably be a see-again for the whole family just like "The Incredibles". And just like its superhero older brother, "Ratatouille" has funny and sympathetic main characters such as Remi the Rat, his brother Emile, and his human buddy, Linguini, along with a moustache-twirling villain. And Linguini even has a romantic interest, Collette, who is probably the spikiest female character in the entire Pixar family. Not surprisingly, she is voiced by Janeane Garofalo. The movie also wins in that some of the effects are truly incredible; case in point, the early scenes of Remi braving the sewer pipe rapids. But the fact that a lot of the mundane kitchen duties of the characters such as chopping vegetables or putting in ingredients into the soup are almost seen as live-action truly illustrates how far computer animation has come since the days of "Toy Story".
The other Pixar touches are there: director Brad Bird has a cameo, Michael Giacchino brings in his Gypsy Jazz sound as compared to the Lounge Swing of "The Incredibles", and there is a barnstorming finale as the rats come to the rescue in the kitchen (as distasteful as that may sound). Kudos also go to Peter O'Toole for his mellifluous voicing of Anton Ego. However, I didn't see John ("Cliff Claven") Ratzenberger's name up there in the credits; you'd think with a name like that, Bird would've made him a key player. I thought the story in the last third of the movie was a bit rushed but the ending made for a nice twist. Things did work out but not in the way that a conventional approach would've demanded. All in all a great movie and I'm now even more looking forward to an "The Incredibles 2".

Yesterday was a love letter to Japan's Con Ed...TEPCO, thanks to my blasting the air conditioner all day long. I had no place to go to so I just stayed in my little apartment and just vegged. Didn't touch anything related to English teaching....just needed to cleanse the palate, so to speak.

And it looks like that palate will be further cleansed. I've got The Judge today for a double but The Full-Timer sent in a cancellation notice for tonight. Well, I'm out of 3,000 yen cash but at least I avoid the smell of coffee and cigarettes infusing itself into my clothes. And on a steamy day like today, that would unleash a multitude of sins onto my fellow commuters later tonight. Basically, I'm looking at a pretty lean week. I've got the students who've gone onto summer hiatus (The Class Act, SIL, The Beehive and The Junior). Plus, the juku is on O-bon holiday this week. If it weren't for the fact that The Judge has asked to cram in a lot of classes this week, I probably would've been virtually on a week's holiday myself. Still, I've got absolutely nothing tomorrow but I really don't want to give TEPCO any more tribute than is necessary so I may be stepping out somewhere despite the torrid heat out there.