Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Sept. 14, 4:06 p.m.

Met up with Galahad yesterday in Suitengumae, an area most notable for being right where TCAT (Tokyo City Air Terminal) is. He and his wife are staying at the Royal Park Hotel. Apparently, it's quite popular with the foreign guests due to its proximity to the terminal. While Guinivere was off to meet her new minders, Galahad and I walked up the main road and very promptly entered Ningyocho, the somewhat inner-city neighbourhood where Brozer's, that hamburger eatery I'd been to...thanks to located. As usual, we caught up on old times and friends. We first had some coffee on his dime at the local Excelsiors coffee shop; Galahad remarked how the Japanese chain is kinda ripping off Starbucks with its similar font and colour scheme. I gave him a laugh by telling him that Starbucks actually did threaten legal action several years ago when Excelsior's font was even closer in design to its Seattle rival.
Then, we spent several minutes looking for some place to eat lunch. Galahad mentioned that his aunt had informed him of some sort of oyakodon eatery in the neighbourhood which is supposed to popular with the lunch crowd. Sure enough, it wasn't even noon but there was a phenomenal Krispy-Kreme-in-Shinjuku level lineup snaking its way around the corner. It must've gotten some airplay on one of the myriad food variety shows on TV. Being well-disguised Canadians, we refused to line up just for food. Instead, we ended up having lunch at a ramen always seems that Galahad and I end up eating ramen whenever he and wife come into town. Lunch was on my dime this time. We also came across a taiyaki bakery which already had a sizable lineup even before the baker fired up his brazier. Taiyaki is a sweet delicacy made with mashed azuki beans stuffed into a fish-shaped cake.
We hopped on board the Hibiya Line and just went over to Ginza to stretch our legs a bit. We took a look at some camera lenses at the corner Nikon store. It was intriguing to see that even in this day and age of the digital camera that these huge lenses costing several months' rent were still in demand. Galahad also expressed some interest in some eye drop medicine and even some of those energy drinks which are pretty much part of the salaryman's regimen here, so we crossed the street over to the local branch of Matsumoto Kiyoshi, a major drug store chain. I showed him the drinks, including the special brand of Yunker which contains a ton of royal jelly and costs a stratospheric 3,000 yen. Also, those MatsuKiyo staffers should consider selling cars...they were doing some major pushing of somewhat more expensive fare on us; Galahad was a pretty kind tourist...he ended up buying a few boxes of that more expensive eye drop solution.
Another item on Galahad's to-do list was to find a sporting goods store along the lines of The Sports Authority back in The Great White North. I asked a cop at the corner koban at Ginza 4-chome. He said that there was no such animal but there was an Asics shoe store near Shimbashi. We took a look inside Ginza Matsuya, the department store which was probably the closest to being more middle-class than the regal Mitsukoshi or Matsuzakaya stores. Still, its sporting goods department should've been re-named as merely the golfing goods department. Galahad remarked that the other department stores also had the same deal. I think he would have more luck in finding the real thing in Kanda.
We walked down the street to Shimbashi and then stopped at Hakuhinkan, the Japanese equivalent of FAO Schwarz in Manhattan. There was just some really weird stuff being sold there. For instance, there were some rather sedate versions of that old trendy thing, tamagotchi or whatever it was called. There was also a tiny computerized block with a screen display in which it asks you 50 questions to decide your personality. Sumiko Nishioka, the S&M tarento, was hawking that one with her whip. And there was a plastic guitar neck with a sensor for all those air guitarists...for those with too much time on their string-calloused hands.
Coming back to Ginza 4, Galahad took some shots of the Hermes glass palace. I told him that all of the blocks were specially imported from Italy which got him to whip out the camera. Then we spent several minutes inside of the Sony Building looking at the newest little gadgets for Xmas. Walking through Yurakucho Station and then Tokyo International Forum, my feet were starting to balloon so it was lucky that we could hit the subway finally to head back to the hotel. Mind you, we got in at Otemachi Station at the wrong end so we had to walk half a kilometre before finally popping on the Hanzomon Line. Not surprisingly, I conked out in the lobby armchair with my copy of The Daily Yomiuri like some old geezer after dinner. I was awakened by Guinivere a half hour later. She'd just gotten a new lucrative position in which she would be coming over to Japan quarterly so I may be seeing her a bit more often than usual.

I was still feeling pretty tired when we finally parted company on the Hanzomon. But I had to teach The Carolinan and BC at the Tully's. The Carolinan was fine but BC still seemed to be lacking in energy. I kinda wonder if I'm gonna have to do the thinking for the both of us. Still, she was kind enough to refer a potential new student to me. It was about 10 when I finally hit home last night but I broke my cardinal rule of not snacking past 9 and hit the McDonalds. I figured that I've been a pretty good boy by not touching a Big Mac set for a couple of weeks.

Unlike the rest of this week, today has been mainly sunny and warm. Spent most of the day at home. The news was mostly on the Prime Ministerial Sweepstakes since Shinzo Abe decided to leave the farm on Monday. Apparently, Abe had to check himself into the nearest hospital for gastrointestinal distress, supposedly due to the stresses of his former job. The Wild Thing told me that Abe may actually not be suffering ulcers but just hiding out from the media, a conspiracy theory that may hold some water. But the Cigarstore Indian looked pretty haggard up to the time that he stepped down. In any case, now that Abe is persona non grata....the race for who'll become the President of the Liberal Democratic Party (and therefore the Prime Minister) started up in earnest yesterday. Hordes of media hovered around each possible candidate like flies around dung. Their persistence finally paid off this morning when former Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda threw his hat into the ring. Like Abe, Fukuda has some family connections; his own dad was a prime minister decades ago. Then, Taro Aso finally made his press conference confirming that he'll be going for the position as well. Since he's an avowed manga fan, he may be trying to get the geek vote in Akiba.

Before I came here to the I-cafe, I had lunch at Subways. I tried out one of the new sandwiches, a smoked salmon-and-taramosalata concoction. Not too bad but I still prefer plain ol' tuna. I've just got The Ace tonight. Tomorrow is the start of a long weekend, one of two consecutive weekends. I wouldn't mind that at all except that Mondays are usually one of my most money-earning days. Luckily, SIL and Mr. TOEIC have kindly shifted to Wednesdays.

I'll be meeting The Wild Thing tomorrow for dinner at Shinjuku. We may hit Foo Foo at the station for that spicy pai ko tan tan men. He said that he may bring his new wife...although I rather doubt The Enigma will come. I'll probably be looking forward to his analysis of the Abe situation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wednesday September 12, 9:45 p.m.

Well, another long Hump Day has come to a close, although somewhat sooner than usual. The Judge would be in this slot right now for my final class but he cancelled last night. So, the closer tonight was The Manhattanite. She's a pretty low student but has plenty of heart. 001 was even gabbier than usual so that we didn't even approach the next chapter in the text. She's only got a couple of more lessons on her current contract. There was talk between Speedy and me earlier today about her chances of re-signing (instead of resigning); 001 reassured the boss by saying that she'd like to hang on for at least another year.

The weather is no longer the downpours of this morning. It's been replaced by a rather pleasant coolness which should fit Autumn nicely. It's here a week early but after this blistering summer, who's really complaining?

I'll be outta here in the next ten minutes since most likely I'll be getting another call from The Wild Thing at around midnight. I got a heads-up from a mutual friend back in the ol' hometown stating that he may be thinking of asking me to be a witness for the official marriage ceremony between him and The Enigma. Well, he hasn't asked me yet and I think he would've done so last night, so unless I get ambushed tonight, I'll be meeting up with Galahad instead for lunch tomorrow before I meet up with The Carolinan and BC later. It'll be BC's first lesson with me since that little breakdown way back in July. I hope she's up to it now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wednesday Sept. 12, 2:42 p.m.

Well, that's quite a political broadside. I knew his days were numbered but I didn't know that Shinzo Abe would pull the trigger on his head that quickly. I just found out over the Net that the Prime Minister has thrown in the towel and will resign...just a week or so after forming his 2nd Cabinet. Apparently, according to a Fuji-TV poll, a majority of the pollees said that he's resigning too early. I think he should've resigned as soon as he lost that Upper House election but now I'm wondering why he even bothered forming a new Cabinet when all he was gonna do was leave after a fortnight. Not quite sure who's gonna be the interim leader...Taro Aso? And are we gonna have snap Lower House elections?

In totally different news, I think I've found another new drink to compare with my much-beloved Calpis Water and Coca-Cola. It's called Max Coffee, and for some strange reason, it doesn't seem to be sold in Tokyo, only east of the metropolis in Chiba and maybe even Ibaraki Prefectures (The New Yorker who lives there knows about it, much to her chagrin). It basically tastes like liquid chocolate popsicles which probably explains The New Yorker's dislike of it (she's more of the serious alcohol lover) and my love for it (having a sweet tooth as large as a T-Rex's incisor). To be honest, drinking it too fast has resulted in my real teeth shriveling at the high sugar's not something that doctors would recommended for diabetics. Not sure why it isn't sold in The Big Sushi, unless Governor Ishihara has rammed through a bill banning ingested WMDs. I told 001 about it last week and her face just puckered up...she's also more of an alky. Well, anyways, I just restrict myself to a weekly treatment.
Wednesday Sept. 12, 11:51 a.m.

Even though Typhoon Fitow has long gone, it still feels like its presence is very much with us. There has been some major rain just drenching the Kanto over the past several hours. I think this month will go down as one of the rainiest Septembers on record, if not the rainiest. I'm sure that the reservoirs are plenty full now. Just wonder what the rest of this Fall is gonna shape up as.

It's certainly been feeling rather nomadic with The Beehive. I only had the two former high school classmates, Mrs. Travel and Mrs. Alp at a new temporary venue, far from the station yesterday morning. I've yet to see Mrs Tee since summer hiatus came and went. As with last week, the Bees and I ended up having lunch together but this time, instead of the flash and style of a veggie buffet in Makuhari Messe, we had a simple pasta lunch at a chain called Tapas Tapas near Tsudanuma Station. One of the topics that came up was the revelation that all of Chiba would probably end up underwater if global warming went to the extremes. Considering the weather the past few days, that wasn't a particularly reassuring thought.

After the regular 002 home visit, I had my juku students once again. And once again, it was another dissipated showing. I only had the one kid, Chip, since his comrade, Dale, was under the weather. Then, Mrs. Mild showed up without her husband, followed by Jolly. All throughout, the lightning and thunder and rain dominated the atmosphere.

It's been another early morning for me since I had The Nurse for the first time in a couple of weeks. She and her hubby had done a few days of R&R up in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture...not too far away from Tokyo. Nasu is kinda like a resort area with plenty of onsen and ryokan. They've also been to Hong Kong a couple of times so I plied her with questions near the end of our rollicking hour about the place. It looks like Victoria Peak is the must-see. She is definitely a fan of the place.

It'll be several hours before 001 comes in. And then it'll just be The Manhattanite...provided that she doesn't dotakyan. The Judge has unusually cancelled his lesson tonight, so I may head home a bit earlier than usual. Not a bad thing since I'm feeling fairly tired already. However, I'm probably gonna be contacted by The Wild Thing near midnight for some reason. He came in last night with his wife, The Enigma, and contacted me by phone. Apparently, his past communiques with me have been through Skype, that supposedly hip computer-assisted phone transmission technology. Well, I'm not too impressed with it. Skype is pretty unstable and his voice kept dropping out often enough to annoy me; in fact, the entire line cut off at one point. Skype?...I think it's more hype than hip.

I managed to contact my old university friend, Guinevere, after my lunch with what remains of The Beehive. She'll be too busy with her lawyerly activities to meet me during the day but I'll be meeting up with her husband, Galahad, at their hotel near Tokyo Station tomorrow morning. It may be a bit of a walk, but I might take him to Genkatsu, that tonkatsu restaurant in Ginza which specializes in that mille-feuille katsu.

I read the latest opinion piece in METROPOLIS last week in which the author talks about the extreme dumbing-down of Japanese popular culture. Well, he won't get much of an argument from me. Last Saturday, I saw one of the most obnoxious tarento anywhere, Lou Oshiba (whose sole claim to fame is that he high-falutingly peppers his native speech with English words), on a variety show that featured him searching for a McDonalds in Egypt. This morning, the big news on the entertainment beat was the oh-so-nailbiting saga of a potential divorce between a Mama Boy traditional entertainer and his much put-upon wife, a former tarento whose mother-in-law could be a Mommie Dearest. Believe me, I wouldn't mind it if this family just disappeared into the Black Hole of Calcutta. With stories like these, and the usual pin geinin infesting the airwaves, it's no wonder that Western celebrities look so bewildered whenever they show up on one of these programs. I distinctly remember many, many years ago when Puffy Amiyumi (during their heyday in Japan and before Puff Daddy made the girls stick on the "Amiyumi" under threat of legal action) interviewed Harrison Ford when he came to Japan to promote "Air Force One". His rather bemused "O......K..." look was priceless as he contended with these kimono-wearing trollops.
But allow me to posit a theory behind all of this determined mindlessness behind Japan's TV pop culture. Sometimes, a society that has all these pressures of modern life and industry may actually need to check their collective brains at the door and depressurize via scampering comedians in tight Speedos or wacked-out tarento overly praising the dishes of some obscure restaurant in The Big Sushi. What better way to completely forget the verbal thrashing from your boss than to watch Ken Shimura with his umpteenth plastic turd on his head? How more relaxing it is to recover from seeing those gas prices and yen rise by watching the remnants of Morning Musume in cat ears dragging along a doll and exploring the bygone alleys of inner city Tokyo (personally at that time, I'm watching I-go Day in Japan on NHK Educational)? Yup, it's all Duhsville on the level of Homer Simpson but perhaps there is an anthropological method to the madness. Frankly, there should be a new equation made for this field in which there is an inverse relationship between the intelligence quotient of a country's popular culture and the power of that nation's economy. It could certainly explain the United States' love affair with so-called "reality" TV...and the ability for dimbulbs/borderline psychos like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton to keep coming back like bad pennies.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday Sept. 10, 5:23 p.m.

It was a quiet weekend. I spent Saturday re-watching the DVD of "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow". It's an underrated flick although some of the writing and performances (I'm looking at you, Ms Paltrow) were even more hackneyed than the lines from the original 30s movies. Still, despite some of the summer stock vibe, it was definitely more satisfying than "Transformers"...yes, I am still harping on that one. Sunday was even more sedate. Since the mother of the Younger had cancelled her daughter's lesson, I was able to catch "I-go Day in Japan" for the 3rd week in a row; not exactly as fiery as "Hockey Night in Canada" but did have its gripping moments.

Did get some updates from a number of folks. It looks like The Wild Thing will be holding off on his reservation at my place by about a week. It seems as if his enigma of a wife managed to convince him to stay at a hotel. At least, I'll get a full weekend to prepare for his arrival. Also, I received a bit of a surprise from a friend of my brother's, Galahad. He and his wife (also a good friend from university days) are in town, so I may be able to catch them for lunch sometime this week.
It would seem that my Fall could be quite full. Aside from the folks above, I've got members of The Anime King's court coming in next month and then my own trip to Hong Kong.

It's another busy Monday. I had The Class Act today...more talk on that trip to Hong Kong. In fact, for the regular eats that accompany our lessons, we had some Thousand-Year-Old Eggs (pitan, as it's known here; pidan in Cantonese) as the snack du jour. The green jellied ovules are admittedly an acquired taste but the three of us like them. Usually when I've had other brands of the eggs, they were fairly hard like hard-boiled eggs but these ones which come from this supposedly acclaimed shop in HK Central which is only open for 2 hours everyday were as velvety as butter. The Lady swears by them. In any case, one of our targets there will be this shop and to see if we are lucky enough to grab a case of them.
My time with SIL was the usual rollicking time. I found out from her that she's never been to an Internet cafe or a karaoke box. The I-cafe was no real surprise but it was a revelation to hear that she'd never visited a SHIDAX or a Big Echo for karaoke. So, just like updating Rip Van Winkle, I gave her the lowdown on the 21st-century entertainment emporium: how we no longer need to write requests on a slip of paper and that we could use tricorder-like handhelds to order songs. She was sufficiently impressed that she may see if any of her friends may try a box out. I suggested the Big Echo in Yurakucho.

Well, I've got The Full-Timer in about 15, followed by Mr. TOEIC for his 60.

I did forget to mention that I did receive two surprise messages on Saturday from a couple of old faces: SR and The Beach Girl. Apparently, the two former classmates tried to contact me since the latter was back in town. They invited me to dinner but I couldn't understand anything Beach Girl was saying when I accessed the messages from a public phone (damn her Californian fluency), and I didn't hear SR's message until I got home. I gave them my apologies.

Well, the gauntlet has been thrown down. PM Abe has said that he would step down as leader if the bill for extending the SDF's time helping out the Allies in Iraq weren't passed. Not exactly a balls-to-the-wall risk since his party has a solid majority in the Lower House but I wouldn't quite say it was a no-brainer either. However, the Democratic Party of Japan is smelling blood in the water.