Friday, November 23, 2007

Saturday November 24, 4:40 p.m.

Just finished off both The Manhattanite and The Dentist. The former was very grateful for my photo collage of Hong Kong and the various name cards since she and her friend will be heading there in January. Not sure if they'll be able to afford something like Wu Kong but they can try out that reflexology clinic, Happy Foot. The Dentist was her usual happy self. She wanted to prep herself for her first solo trip to Boston to see her daughter there.

I witnessed a virtuoso performance by the staff at my local Subways sandwich shop. I got there around noon and was part of a rather long lineup, but the two staffers there were just flying behind the counter as they whipped together the various sandwiches. They had to juggle around the different breads, vegetable stuffings and other additions but they surprised and impressed their customers with their adept memories. Almost felt like applauding.

Yesterday was that reunion in Kinshicho. Kinshicho is a smaller city hub just a few stations east from Akihabara on the Sobu Line. The station was a classic example of Urban Geography 101; the station was the core of commercial activity. There I met up with Automan, Shrek and his family, another young lady and another of the old group...a man that I hadn't seen in over 15 years, TC, and his own young brood. It was definitely holiday mode yesterday since there tons of families. The local branch of Baqet, that bakery/restaurant, had an impromptu parking lot for baby carriages. We ended up having lunch at a tonkatsu restaurant where I enjoyed wrapping my chops around a thick slab of hire tonkatsu. It was very much talking about old days.
Now that some of the alumni were family men, we spent some time on the kiddy goods' floor. It was there that I reaffirmed my luck at staying childless thus far. There were just so many laughing/running/bawling children. I managed to keep my sanity intact. Then we made our way downstairs for some coffee.
The families took off for home...having families usually means early to home. However, Automan and I returned to Akihabara in the early evening since he still had some more to check out in Yodobashi Camera. He also had some urge to visit a lot of the 100-Yen shops between Akiba and Ueno. We managed to find a kaiten sushi place across from Ueno Station. It'd been nearly a year since my last visit to the conveyor belt restaurant. It was great to sink one's teeth into negi toro and shime saba once more. The final stop was at a coffee shop nearby called Rim. Rim had been around since before the first of the Starbucks invaded Tokyo. The prices were still pretty stiff for a cuppa...500 yen for a Royal Milk Tea which probably explained the relataive sparseness while the Starbucks across the street was packed to the gills. Made my goodbyes to Automan after that.

Will probably be heading home shortly...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Friday November 23, 8:57 a.m.

Windy and cold but sunny....more like January than late November. Still refreshingly bracing out there. Back in the States, people are probably just tucking into their turkeys and stuffing. Over here, it is also Labour Thanksgiving but the only birds being eaten are probably the ones from the Colonel.

Automan and I got together finally yesterday afternoon. I asked him where he wanted to go: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza, perhaps? He said Akihabara. OK, I replied. Then I asked where he wanted to go there: Yodobashi Camera, a cafe, a DVD store? He wanted to go for coffee. I then suggested Excelsior, Starbucks, Caffe Veloce. He hesitated a bit...ahhhh. I just went Ah! Maid Cafe! He could've just told me straight.
I met him at the Electric Town gates for JR Akihabara. He showed his Canadian-ness by showing up in his T-shirt, despite the very cold winds coming in. I was probably showing how acclimated I've become to this country by wearing a heavy coat and sweater. But he quickly donned the jacket and we were off. Actually, we first tried out the beginners-level Maid Cafe that Skippy had taken me to almost 2 years ago. When we got there, though, there was a foreign film crew inside doing its job. movie? Well, I decided that it was time to go for the gusto. It was finally time to go to the place that started it all....the At Home Cafe on the 5th floor of the Don Quixote store.
In previous entries, I'd mentioned that various folks and I went up to the fateful 5th floor but since those were Sundays, there was no way to get into At Home due to the huge lineups and the mass of otaku dancing and, wailing...while all these pretty maids in a row were prancing about on the stage.
But it was a Thursday mid-afternoon so there was none of that hilarity. Still, there were a couple of folks sitting and waiting patiently before us. Automan and I, both of us careening into middle age, were greeted nonchalantly by one of these Maids with high-pitched voices. After finding out it was our first time, she then politely explained the procedure. We could choose from a counter seat to a table in the "living room". I asked for the counter seats. We were then escorted in to a chorus of "Okaerinasai, Goshujin-sama!"
The counter area was a narrow sliver of real estate. Basically it was two rows of smooth white tables. Our Maid gave us a menu from the other side of the counter which consisted of cakes, hot & cold drinks, and some hot dishes. We went for just some hot drinks...a cafe au lait and cocoa. In front of us on the wall was the list of rules to follow...stuff like no asking the Maids for e-mail addresses or phone numbers, no touching them, and no stalker-like behaviour. I thought we could follow those rules pretty easily.
So far, just a regular cafe, eh? Well, the Maid part came when our Maid came with our drinks. In her Minnie Mouse voice, she asked the two of us...and remember, we are two grown make a valentine with our hands. So, we cooperated. Then she did the At Home prayer of sorts to bless our drinks which involved her chanting some sort of nonsensical rhyme while moving her hands from side to side. We obliged and we moved our heartmarks from side to side while both of our tongues from side to side between our cheeks. She thanked us and asked us to enjoy our time there.
We weren't bothered again by them but there were notices on the table in which we could request to play games with of which was "Paper, Scissors and Rock". However, over the next hour that we stayed there, we did notice a few local otaku coming in...and boy, did they ever look otaku....somewhat disheveled types with goofy grins and horn-rimmed glasses. One fellow went for the whole course and ordered a lusty plate of some pasta Carbonara-style and a huge parfait. The other guy on the other side had a goofy conversation with his Maid and did the game. It was the usual bartender-barfly conversation filtered through The Smurfs.
However, we realized that the At Home cafe had gone legit when we saw two women come themselves. And these weren't teens with manga dreams...these looked like typical careerists. Then, we saw a group of salarymen pour into the living room where they were serenaded by a gaggle of Maids for which the guys lustily cheered. Man, I guess the wives and girlfriends were out of town yesterday. The clincher was when an entire family showed up including a middle-aged mommy. I can imagine the hardcore geeks are now crying in their Sailor Moon mugs.
I was kinda crying in my wallet. The drinks cost 500 yen each but there was a service charge of 500 yen per person. Plus, Automan wanted to try the purikura machine with one of the Maids to get a memento of the occasion. That little investment set me back 1,000 yen. 3,000 yen for the privilege of indulging in one of the decade's biggest pop culture trends. Still, I'm sure Skippy and The Anime Court may be looking at me with some more respect. As we left, we were sent off with the girls yelling "Itterasshai, Goshujin-sama!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wednesday November 21, 5:30 p.m.

Forgot to mention that those guys from Michelin...not the tire guys with Bib...but the folks who put the stars on various gourmet restaurants finally put out their 3-star places in Japan for the first time. In a foodie-and-gourmet crazy country like this one, the much-awaited announcement was suitably breathless. The critics had been here since around the summer sampling various places in Tokyo.
I haven't read the whole list as of yet but apparently the first restaurant with those coveted 3 stars is a place called Kanda, a wa-fu joint...I guess maybe it's located in the Kanda district of Tokyo. You can bet your bottom yen that that place is now having its phone being run off the hook for reservations. Another one is a ritzy sushi bar.
The Beehive ladies and I were discussing the Michelin ratings over lunch yesterday in a cheap pasta restaurant (pretty much no chance that a Michelin critic would ever be in Tsudanuma). None of us were all that impressed. I just feel that having some food critic ubergod bequeath the full mitsu-boshi on a restaurant could be the kiss of death. Imagine having to live up to the pressure of being a 3-star restaurant...the first thing to suffer will be the quality. Also, there is simply the fact that everyone's tastes are different. The ladies sniffed with disdain over the fact that Joel Robuchon's Taillevent also got the three-star treatment. They had gone there before for lunch and were far from impressed with the fare there. The drubbing almost sounded like something The Lady of The Class Act would say.
I can just see it now. There will be a new food variety show in which the tarento will only go to 3-star restaurants. They're gonna have to come up with some new adjectives to match the fare.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wednesday November 21, 4:12 p.m.

Just had to help Speedy bring in the air conditioner from the ledge and back into the closet. Getting ready for winter, I suppose.

Anyways, getting back to the first of the Xmas shopping. I picked up 5 calendars for my family, The Dancer's family and The Entrepreneur. The rest I'm just getting cards for. Still have a few gift certificates left so I'll see if I can get some greeting cards. Considering the mess that Canada Post is in, I may need to get things out by next week if the cards and calendars are to get back home by Xmas.

Yesterday, I had my lesson with The Beehive. The ladies are still swooning over their Canada trip although that ended nearly a month ago for them. Next week, there will be a full-blown reunion with the gang with Mrs Perth coming in from Sapporo and Mrs Potter coming in from Okayama, both places being hit with heavy snow this past weekend. There will be a lot of photos exchanging hands at Mrs. Travel's house on the 27th.

Looks like I may have the entirety of Christmas Day off this year. As you may know, Xmas is just like Halloween in that it's not a statutory holiday in Japan (some nonsense about less than 1% of the population being Christian and all that). 002 stated that she would probably need to work at her company that day. With the Beehive off for the Holidays and getting that night off from the juku boss, I've got the 25th for myself. Now, what do I do?

As for the juku, I only had the kids and one Mild last night. Mr. Mild is recovering from the cold, and both Jolly and The Siberian didn't bother coming in. Jolly did ask about this Friday but it's a national holiday and I didn't want to set any precedents for working on holidays.

Yesterday, Narita Airport started its own program of screening newcomers via fingerprinting and retina scans. The policy had been widely advertised for several weeks and there were a couple of articles in the papers last night. Of course, a lot of foreign residents here are howling about it. Yep, the lineups may be hellish but again it's all much ado about nothing...much. I'd always thought that Narita at least seemed to be a bit lax about Immigration. Usually when I get home from Canada or elsewhere, I get swept through the gate in almost nothing flat. Unless there's a hidden camera looking at me on the inspector's desk, I swear that the officer never looks at me. I realize that the chances of an Al Qaeda operative sneaking into this country are fairly remote...not that I think the security is that excellent here...but to be frankly honest, people from the Middle East do stick out more here; plus, I just don't think Bin Laden is all that interested in us from a strategic angle (knock on wood).
Also, I don't think Japan has been selected solely for this heavier-handed treatment. Just look at our neighbours across the Pacific, then do a leapfrog across the Atlantic in England. Not exactly free sailing through the Immigration gates there, eh? I'm just surprised that it took more than 6 years to get this program started. After all, Japan is still very much the "How high?" lapdog to America's "Jump" master. And Yasuo Fukuda is not Junichiro Koizumi. Even Koizumi lost it whenever he went to America...i.e. his air guitar performance at Graceland. So folks, we're (and I also refer to the Immigration officers as well as the tourists) just gonna have to get used to seeing security gates and clean digital ink pads for the foreseeable future. Don't blame (for once) the Japanese government. Blame the lunatics of 9-11.

However, there may be a lunatic out there somewhere. The big news in crime this week is about the mysterious disappearance of two little sisters and their grandmother from their home. The only clues are a rather ominous blood stain in the house and a dead cellphone. Not a good omen.

Got a message from Paddy. He and his missus will be headed back here in about a month. My old friend was actually here last month since his father finally succumbed to his illness. Of course, he was too busy to see anybody else aside from family. Meanwhile, Automan is seeing if the two of us can get together tomorrow afternoon for lunch. The Wild Guy is still off in Hong Kong for the next couple of weeks.
Wednesday November 21, 3:59 p.m.

It's starting to feel a little more like Christmas. The winds are getting colder, the lights are up in Ginza and I've started my shopping for the folks at home. After my lesson with The Nurse this morning, I had my lunch at China Quick before heading out to Nihombashi with my final wad of gift certificates from the family of the Younger. Went to Takashimaya there and bought various calendars for family and friends. Ahhh..Speedy is summoning me...later

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday November 19, 9:23 p.m.

Automan is back in town.

It's been a while since I've seen the man. I didn't get to see him last Xmas and it has been a while since he made his way back to these parts. The Wild One gave me the heads-up on his return here a while back so it wasn't with any surprise that I got a phone call this morning from Automan. He'll be here for just a week so I will be able to see him just once or twice. He's already got something lined up for the holiday Friday...Labour Thanksgiving. Shrek and his family will be joining us.

The last couple of days have been pretty cold for Tokyo. Just hovering around 12 C. Pretty balmy for Toronto but over here, that's the signal to bring out the heavy coats and mufflers. Some of the outlying areas in Tohoku and the Japan Sea side have already gotten dumped on with the white stuff...a bit ahead of schedule. At today's session with The Class Act, The Lady told me that she'd heard there is a possibility that this could actually be a snow year for the Kanto. I'll believe it when I see it.

Yesterday, I had my final class with The Junior. It was all very civil and pleasant. No major crying jags but I did manage to shake hands with everyone. The mother generously gave me my o-seibo gift in the form of the usual gift certificates (will definitely help in getting gifts for the family). She also said that perhaps in a few years, she may ask for my help in prepping her daughters for studying overseas. Well, we'll see but I'm not holding out much hope there. In any case, it was the last time for me to set foot in that neighbourhood for the foreseeable future after 3 years of their family, plus The Hawaiian and The Polynesian who live nearby. So I'm happy that I got that out of the way.

Today was just about a normal day except that Mr. TOEIC cancelled his lesson. But I had The Class Act, SIL and even The Full-Timer for the first time in a couple of weeks. Her grandmother had passed away several days ago from breast cancer. Looks like she was doing pretty well considering.
I may actually be gaining yet another student albeit on just a monthly basis. One of the Tuesday night students wanted to get some more talking time so she upped for a Monday class. I met her briefly one day...quite a cracker in personality so getting her to speak up won't be the problem...getting her to shut up will, though.

Smurfette and I have started a running conversation over our new medium of Facebook. Apparently, she had been a NOVA receptionist for a little over a year until near the end of that erstwhile school. Unsurprisingly, she didn't like the working conditions but she said that she appreciated the chance to use English regularly.

The Lady set an invitation cap for the annual Xmas party on the 14th. I could bring two people. Well, unfortunately, she'll see twice that since Speedy will be bringing his missus and Skippy will be bringing OA. I had been thinking of even inviting The Sisters of State and BC but that's out the window. Apparently, The Lady is expecting about 200 for her shindig.

Now, CD-wise. Yep, it looks like I may be picking up at least two discs before the end is out. One is the Tony Bennett Xmas has the definitive big band version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". Diana Krall comes close, though. The other is by that former vocalist for 80s proto-Shibuya-kei band, PSY-S, Mami "Chaka" Yasunori. She's been back to her jazz roots for the past decade and I checked out her homepage on MYSPACE. She had a copy of one of her tunes, "I'll Be Walking Alone" and it was quite a revelation. There was just an echo of her old high-pitched but powerhouse voice but it has been overlaid with that whiskey-&-cigarettes mellowness that a lot of torch singers possess in their larynxes. I was quite impressed so I'm now on the search.

Anyways, almost time to take it home.