Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sunday Sept. 30, 3:07 p.m.

Well, for a month that roared in here like a bat out of Hell, September is leaving like a wet fish. It actually feels cold out there thanks to the rain...could only imagine how much more wintry it would feel if there were some wind. Not that I'm complaining too much, though...after being roasted alive this summer, I'll be more than happy to take some natural air conditioning.

The last time I made an entry here, I was going to head on off to Maruzen the bookstore in Otemachi after having The Chef's lesson at Speedy's. But then I decided to skip over to Nakano to the main arched mall over there. But before that, I had my second lunch at the next door restaurant called Chianti for that burger dish I'd had the first time. This time, the burger plate was at full price...1,200 yen. Now you might think that is a hefty price to pay for any burger, but you didn't see the plate. As was the case last time, the Chianti Burger is this humongous monster of a sandwich packed with lettuce, tomatoes, two soft slices of avocado, a strip of prosciutto ham, and two different gooey sauces. And, oh, there is a rather large beef patty anchoring things. It actually is a good is also a good deal messy. I wasn't sure whether to eat it with a knife and fork or to risk it all with hands. I went with the latter option and lost the bet. By the end of the meal, my hands were so coated with sauce that I probably would've left a wet & messy fetishist salivating.

Now, as for why I decided to hit the Sun Plaza in Nakano. Well, Shibuya may be the Teen Mecca of Japan and Harajuku the home for all the costumed folks and fans of eclectic fashion. But Sun Plaza is the home for Mandarake's flagship store. Mandarake is that chain specializing in all things manga and otaku. Hey, you say...what about Akihabara the electronics district? Well, since the area became "legit" in the eyes of the Japanese government, the otaku have been kinda dissing all those Starbucks and other clean places invading the formerly grotty area. So, you've got Anime Street in Ikebukuro just across from Sunshine 60, and there is Mandarake in Nakano Sun Plaza.
Since it was a Friday afternoon, the 2nd-4th floors which Mandarake has taken as its HQ weren't too busy so I could take a good look at the various stores which had all sorts of CDs, DVDs, figures and other old collectibles. In fact, if anyone outside of the country with the tags of collector and anime ever came over, I would recommend them to run, not walk, to this place. I'm not an least, not anymore...and haven't been for some years now. Still, I liked walking through the place since it brought me back to a nice, nostalgic place. It may be the faded beauty of Sun Plaza which has some resemblance to the really old-time charm of Nakamise Dori in Asakusa and the fact that I'd also dropped into that old secondhand CD shop with the 80s CDs just before Mandarake. Also, a lot of the stuff selling on the three floors of Mandarake are from several years to a few decades back which can give that feeling of, interspersed with the otaku shops are really old-style cafes and restaurants with dingy brown walls from years of cigarette smoke exposure and creaky outdated furniture. I could imagine if I were still an otaku, I could spend hours just browsing and eating through.

Yesterday was the odd day of nothing and noone to teach so I just ended up cleaning the place and hooking up the computer that had once belonged to Mrs. Travel. It wasn't too difficult at all (in fact, I got a wake-up call from her yesterday morning to thank me for the package of chocolate wafers). And then I bought the fixins for dinner...I decided to make my own go at Chicken Kiev after The Wild Thing's education last Sunday. There was still some frozen herb butter in the freezer. I was half-successful...I was able to get one of the parcels of chicken to cook right through, but the other came out a little raw necessitating some extra fry time. Still, it came out well.
Nothing says the changing of the seasons than the arrival of another 2 weeks of TV specials between serial dramas. Last night, the King of all Specials, the TBS All-Star Festival came on once more with tons of tarento answering quiz questions and running around TBS Studios. On Fuji-TV, there was the special with Cyril, the young magician wowing the tarento there. And on satellite TV, there was the Japan premiere of "Heroes" with my clone, Hiro Nakamura. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about it so I just came across the last few minutes of Episode 1. No matter...if I really want to see it, I'll just have to buy the DVD set.

This morning, it was just The Younger for her 1-hour lesson. She had to run off to a volleyball game immediately afterwards. Her mother was lamenting about how full her daughter's schedule is: my English lessons along with frequent volleyball practices and games, her piano lessons on Thursdays, her own juku session and even her time as lead vocal for her band (?!). Apparently, this shy little girl whom I've been teaching for the past 3 years is now fronting an Aiko tribute group. I remarked that life has been training her for the often clogged life of the average Japanese adult. The mother could understand that and even said that The Younger actually enjoyed her hectic lifestyle. Well, as long as she enjoys it, that's all that matters...still haven't seen any gray hair or wrinkles yet on her.

However, I'm sure the President of beleaguered NOVA, Nozomu Sahashi, must have sprouted quite a few of both over the past several months. I can just see the headlines now: "NOVA Implodes!" or "NOVA Goes Supernova!" A Sword of Damocles has apparently appeared over the largest English-teaching chain in Japan. On Friday's "Japan Times" alone, there were no less than 3 articles devoted to my old employer, two of which were journalistically playing the musical version of the Death March. And yes, things look pretty bleak. Teachers were wondering if they would be getting their pay this month...not a good sign..or maybe it is a bail out. Still, perhaps ejecting those smaller schools may bring in some much-needed cash but whether or not it'll be a tonic or just a used bandage remains to be seen. I'm not quite ready to plunge my sword into NOVA just yet but I remember with some wistfullness at that NOVA higher-up all those years ago at my orientation session in NOVA HQ in Harajuku saying "NOVA is too big to die."

Those guys in Tokyo could be forgiven for believing that Mondays are now considered part of the weekend. I found out from the Younger that tomorrow is a holiday for Tokyoites since it is Tomin-no-hi...basically the Tokyo equivalent of Simcoe Day in Toronto...a civic holiday. With the last two Mondays off for national holidays and then yet another one of those on October 8th, these guys will have gone through a month without working Mondays. Still, I'm back on my regular shift with The Class Act, SIL and The Full-Timer. Not sure what Speedy has for me tomorrow night since Mr. TOEIC has yet to call in for his next lesson.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Friday Sept. 28, 11:23 a.m.

I should stop speaking so soon when it comes to the weather. As soon as I say the temps are finally coming on down, the next day has summer heat and humidity once today.

Had a rather teeth-pulling lesson with The Nurse. One thing you don't ask her about is movies. Apparently, she doesn't see much of them. I may decide to rein things in a bit when it comes to her lessons for the next few weeks, at least. Unfortunately, it'll be another early one for her next Wednesday after another late Tuesday at the juku. Mind you, one good thing that came out of yesterday's arduousness was her advice to check out a chocolatier called Pierre Marcolini in Ginza. I checked out their website in Japan...aye, carumba...about as far from the Glico brand in terms of price as one can get.

Went down to the Ginza/Yurakucho area to find a box of candy for Mrs. Travel. However, I first wanted some place to grab a bite to eat, so I first checked out the INZ plaza near the station. There was a Chinese buffet restaurant on the 2nd floor (Chinese, buffet...two words that go splendidly together like peanut butter and chocolate); I was mightily tempted but decided ultimately that I shouldn't go too crazy with the funds and the calories. So I ended up having a Wendy's. I also searched for Ume no Hana, that tofu place where The Madame and I will be going to next week. I couldn't find it during my recce but discovered it a few minutes ago on the website. It just happens to be right behind Wendy's.

I found a literally twisted building in the bowels of the area that The Satyr, an architect by education, might find interesting. Then I went to the HMV near Mullion where I relented and picked up a Total Film issue for keeping-myself-from-going-stir-crazy-on-the-subway purposes. I saw that the lead singer from jazz/rockabilly unit Ego-Wrappin' has released a solo album...a kinda of a rather soft ballad type of deal. Listening to it on speakers, I was reminded of the solo album by Maki Watase, the lead singer from 80s/90s J-pop band Lindberg. Same sort of thing...a departure into AOR territory.

Finally got to the basement of Mitsukoshi at Ginza-4-chome. As expected, the various arteries on the food floor were clogged with onlookers and prospective purchasers of confectionaries of all tastes and sizes. I did a recon for a few minutes before descending upon the area covered by Yoku Moku, a confectionary specializing in cigar-shaped cookies. However, I bought a box of After Eight-like wafers instead. Pretty easy...I just had the girl there fill out the courier form to have the box sent directly to Mrs. Travel's house. I'm sure I'll hear something from her today or tomorrow. It didn't kill my wallet too badly...just 1,575 for the 1,200 yen box plus shipping.

After taking another brief dip into Yamano Music, I just went up to the roof garden on top of Mitsukoshi and just cooled my heels there for an hour. The construction boys were building some sort of twisted building nearby. I guess there must be a new trend for building structures that intentionally look like they're on the verge of tremor-influenced collapse.

When I got to Ichigaya, I contacted The Wild Thing. Looks like he and The Engima have settled in a weekly mansion just across from SDF HQ....right in Ichigaya. I wouldn't be surprised if he struck up a debate with some soldiers jogging in the area. An hour later, I had my lessons with The Carolinan and BC. The Carolinan told me that she and The New Yorker would be interested in Skippy's favourite curry place, Mo-Yan up in Shinjuku. I also told BC about it and so it looks like this new dinner club will be having its second meeting on the 21st after I get back from HK. As for BC, I made some copies from "Gateway to Canada" for her to nosh on. We didn't actually go through the pages themselves but they served as a touchstone for a lot of banter on Canadian authors such as W.O. Mitchell and Margaret Atwood...hey, as long as she was talking away, I was happy. I was surprised that in spite of her Canuck-o-philiac nature, she hadn't heard of the one and only Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I told her to run, not walk, and find a biography of him. He makes Junichiro Koizumi, the most flamboyant Japanese PM since Yasuhiro Nakasone, look like a shrinking violet. I remember that the Japanese decades ago were very interested in Trudeau's flower-child wife, much so that there was a bar named for her in Tokyo. I was also quite surprised to find out that she had never heard of Anne Murray, so I told her to search for "Snowbird".

I contacted Skippy on a number of fronts...since she's about the closest to me in terms of culinary deals, I asked her about Pierre Marcolini; she's heard of it but hasn't ever been to the shop in Ginza. I also invited her to the latest Mo-Yan outing on the 21st. And there is also what to do for food for that koto outing by the juku boss' troupe; still not sure if she's gonna come with me for that one.

The big news today is about a Japanese journalist who was one of 9 people shot and killed during the Myanmar government's crackdown on the thousands of protestors. The wide shows even showed the man getting shot by the soldier at point blank range in the right chest and leaving him there to die. The media here certainly doesn't flinch from showing some graphic images either on TV or in the tabloids.

I've got The Chef in about an hour so I'm good to go for her. And then, it'll be several hours before The Ace. May just head on down to Otemachi before spending some time in the Urayasu Starbucks before I finally hit the juku.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thursday Sept. 27, 9:25 a.m.

Another early start to the day, another McBreakfast, another 10 o'clock with The Nurse. However, I'm glad to say that I was finally able to sleep in my own bed once more after 8 nights on the sofa. Mind you, it was only less than 6 hours of sleep since I got home past midnight and woke up at 6 a.m. The Wild Thing had cleared out and left the spare key as expected. He also left his wife's umbrella behind the used computer that Mrs. Travel had brought me. I've informed the man but I'm sure that he and his wife had somewhat "busier" concerns after being separated for more than a week.

Today is feeling rather cool and dry out there....downright Arrid, you might say. I can only hope for the umpteenth time that Autumn is here to stay. After The Nurse, I have some more prep work to do and then it's off to the grand department stores in Ginza to get a box of sweets for Mrs. Travel in compensation for the computer. Y'know how it is over here...get something, give something back in return. I was able to get the home address from her old classmate, Mrs. Alp. Then, it'll be The Carolinan and BC tandem. I hope the latter is more on the ball tonight.

I got in contact with The Cap, a friend of both The Wild Thing and me from university days. He's in Hong Kong and told them I could meet with him soon. When I told him that I would be staying at the legendary Mandarin Oriental, he asked if I knew that famous Chinese actor Tony Leung had committed suicide there several years back. In fact, I did know and rather off-coloredly remarked that if and when we do meet, he could show me where Mr. Leung made his final impact. I hope his sense of humour hasn't shriveled too much over the years.

And yet another scandal has given a body blow to the world of sumo. After seeing disgraced yokozuna Asashoryu slink off to his native Mongolia after pulling his most public display of hooky in front of the Japanese population, including his minders at The Japan Sumo Federation, a young rikishi-in-training has ended up bringing the JSF into some more mud. Like Asashoryu, Tokitaizan will not show up in front of any microphones to explain himself. However, unlike Asashoryu, he was born as native Japanese Takashi Saito...and it isn't because of shame that he won't be in front of the media...he's dead.
Apparently, the 17-year-old Saito succumbed to the trauma of being virtually lynched by his fellow sumo stablemates and his own stablemaster, Tokitsukaze, for having tried to escape from the stable. He was punched and kicked, and Tokitsukaze even smashed a beer bottle on his head. Am I sorry to hear of this? Of course. Am I surprised? Not at all.
Japanese society has kept its martial leanings in just about everything it does...from the corporate open-plan offices to the sumo stables to the baseball fields and to the schoolyards. Everything is about military-level training on a daily basis. And sports is especially close to the Sparta-style lifestyle. I've always heard about coaches and even senior players berating or beating supposedly wayward members for various malfeasances from students and other sources over the years in what is supposed to be known as disciplined instruction. In Japanese, it's called ai no muchi...the whip of love. Of course, back home it may be akin to tough love.
Well, it looks like Tokitsukaze went a little too far with his whip. He has a dead teenager now. And while the media will probably dogpile all over this one for a while, this sort of tough love will continue to be practiced in the other sumo stables and sports arenas for the foreseeable future.
Wednesday Sept. 26, 8:41 p.m.

Got through the lesson with 001. She was pretty stumbly with the language today for some reason; I don't think she hit a bar or a vending machine with a One Cup Ozeki in it. However, I finally fulfilled my promise and showed her a bottle of Max Coffee. That's the brand of coffee milk that for some mysterious reason only gets sold east of Tokyo in Chiba, Ibaraki and Tochigi. Since 001 hails from the other end of town in Kanagawa Prefecture, she has never seen it.
Well, her reaction was more positive than I'd expected. Since she has more of a taste for alcohol than for sweets, I thought she would've scrunched up her face in disgust but she actually enjoyed it though she did acknowledge the heady sweetness. She did read the ingredient list and found out that condensed milk was the key thing. That would put a lot of barflies in diabetic shock.
With all that talk on Max Coffee, the two of us have forgotten that the lass has reached a milestone tonight. She finished her 100th lesson with me. Anyone who's manage to last through me for over 2 years deserves all the Max Coffee she can get for life.

There is a window of 90 minutes between 001 and The Judge so I've used some of the time to create some curricula for people like BC and The Cook whom I've got in the next couple of days. Both have been somewhat tough to plan for. However, I was lucky to find a very glossy book here at Speedy's called "Gateway to Canada" that has some good stuff on Canadiana for BC to munch on tomorrow. And I've managed to scrounge up enough stuff for The Chef for her class on TOEFL and Travel English.
Wednesday Sept. 26, 4:31 p.m.

Well, after a week, The Wild Thing has left the apartment building. As expected, he was manic, passionate/sanctimonious, giggly, bombastic...all the traits that have marked him for the 20 years I've known him. But I did learn about one new trait...his lovey-dovey side. Yup, he's very much in love with his new wife, The Enigma...kept pitching his voice way on high while he made kissy noises on his cellphone. Tried to keep my gorge in place. It's gonna feel a little quiet now with him gone. However, there is still a chance that he could be putting up stakes here in The Big Sushi.
But this morning, the two of us watched the Yankees and Tampa Bay go at it live on NHK. Yup, our nighters are in the mornings. Just couldn't believe that Matsui and the rest of the Bronx Bombers allowed TB to come back from a grand-slam-assisted 5-0 hole to win the game 7-6...especially when the Yanks could've clinched their berth for the playoffs right then and there.
Speaking of Godzilla, apparently, my old student...The Soldier...managed to get a picture of her and Hideki Matsui in Toronto recently when she spotted him eating at a Japanese restaurant, Ematei. Nice to see her rubbing shoulders with the big leaguers.

It was another regular night at the juku last night. The kids, Chip n' Dale, arrived for their 30, followed by The Milds some 90 minutes later. And then luckily, Jolly came in to replace The Siberian who cancelled again. The boss told me about her troupe's koto concert on Sports Day on October 8th. I said I would go...I asked The Madame and Skippy. The Madame declined but Skippy may be biting.

It's yet another new Prime Minister and Cabinet in Japan. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda made his customary trip to the Imperial Palace to be officially given the powers of state by Emperor Akihito yesterday. Not surprisingly, his cabinet isn't much different from his predecessor's cabinet. It's way early to tell but I think Fukuda doesn't need a mop or bucket to identify himself as a caretaker. However, I'll give him about a month...if he doesn't do anything to improve matters, I can just imagine that his Opposition number, Ichiro Ozawa of The Democratic Party of Japan, will be chomping at the bit to demand snap elections.

It'll be nice to come back to an empty home again but unfortunately it'll only be for less than 6 hours since I gotta be back here in the morning for another early session with The Nurse.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tuesday Sept. 25, 1:27 p.m.

The second of three long weekends in a month ended in a culinary frenzy. The Wild Thing, the man who has an opinion for just about anything and anyone, is also a bit of a gourmet. I like to cook but I'm more of the Rachael Ray type. However, my old friend is more on the lines of a Cordon Bleu graduate. He shows the same sort of intensity that he brings to just about anything else he does. On Sunday night, he went about whipping up some Chicken Kiev. He created the herb butter from scratch as well as butterfly the chicken breasts. Unfortunately, the breast rolls were a bit too thick so when we sliced into his concoctions, they were still quite raw inside. He verbally cursed himself mightily...well, I gather that a guy who can be harsh on himself can merit the right to be hard on others. Still, his Kiev still passed muster.
Last night, it was ratatouille. Yep, just like the movie with Remi. That took quite a bit of time...and gas...since he wanted to fry each vegetable separately. However, the results were very delicious although the presentation was a bit rougher than Remi's version in front of Anton Ego.

Today, it's back to work. The Beehive is off this week but Mrs. Travel and her hubby managed to fight traffic and the circuitous nature of getting to my home (that GPS system in their car must be paying dividends) to give me their old SONY computer. The couple did meet The Wild Thing briefly before we brought up the stuff back home. So now, I have two dormant computer setups in my tiny apartment. But no problems...The Wild Thing, being the seeming polymath, also knows his way around computers as well.

The two of us met up with The Chipmunk a few hours ago for lunch. The Wild Thing and The Chipmunk have been buddies since their Toronto days. We four (The Chipmunk brought her 6-month-old munchkin) ended up at my neighbourhood tonkatsu restaurant before we dropped by the nearest Mister Donuts for coffee. I think that's where they still are right now.

Since The Beehive is off today, my first class will be with 002 and then it'll be the guys at the juku. It'll also be another late start tomorrow with 001 starting things off before The Judge.