Friday, February 15, 2008

Saturday February 16, 3:58 p.m.

Just had The Manhattanite an hour ago. She's doing OK...having her Italian singing lesson right about now. Yep, that's also been a popular activity among some of the women here.

Will be heading off shortly for Nihonbashi to teach The OL. It'll be a shoring up of things forgotten over the past year. Still have yet to hear from Tully and The Coffeemaker about tomorrow. However, The Coffeemaker did propose the 17th so I'm assuming everything's online for that one...but just not sure what I'll be doing with them.

Got another rush job done for Cozy. Just a little memo but I'm sure he appreciates that I have gotten the first three jobs in for him quite a bit ahead of time...although I'm unsure of the quality.

Tomorrow's the 2nd annual Tokyo Marathon redux. Last year, the runners had to face rain and some mighty cool temps. This year has been downright cold, and so we can probably only hope for some sun. 002 will be enjoying the race from the comfort of her living room this time around but her hubby will be in for his second try. And The Yogist will be making her debut as a marathon runner. She couldn't come for her Thursday class because she had to register for it; she was pretty nervous but I'm sure she'll do well. Just have to wonder how this race will affect the subways on the way to Ichigaya tomorrow.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Friday February 15, 4:22 p.m.

Gotten a few more chocolates from the students. The Sisters of State were the latest folks to bring tribute to their old teacher. And the Admin was also very generous as well. Looks like I'm gonna have to make way in the March budget for the vengeance on White Day. Speaking of the sisters, The Carolinan has given me her say-so to start thinking about that outing to Spyros, the Greek restaurant in Roppongi. Probably won't be for another 6 weeks, though.

BC seems to be on a more even keel now since she started at Speedy's back in January, although I think the bossman has paid a price. BC may have been an emotional wreck last summer but she's gotten back her second wind...and using it to blow back some arguments against her new boss. She's said that she doesn't really mean to scare him but I think she's a little less patient with his rapid-fire ways than The Admin and me. As for The Admin, who has been with us for almost a year, has officially given her notice to the boss since she needs to stay closer to home in Izu. So I warned BC that she may be top dog for a while or that she'll need to help train a new assistant.

Today, I just have The Ace later tonight. Usually I would just keep it within the neighbourhood on Fridays just to save myself a bit of money...although considering the annual income tax mugging and my lease renewal, it hasn't meant much at all. But today I had to get a present for the juku boss since her husband has consented to be my guarantor for aforementioned renewal which gets me off the hook from an uncle I hardly ever make contact with. So since I would be in Ginza, I decided against better health judgement and indulged in my Chinese buffet in Yurakucho. Yep, I got myself stuffed nicely on the siu mai and ma bo dau fu although I never went overboard in my foodie tendencies. It cost me 1,800 yen for all-you-can-eat. However, across the hallway was the relocated Thai restaurant, Siam, offering its lunch buffet for just a measly 945 yen. I'll have to give that one a shot next week.

I ended up getting the juku boss and her husband a box of Harrod's tea and a small jar of marmalade from the depachika of the main Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza. Busy as usual but probably not as nuts as it was yesterday due to Valentine's Day.

I got word from The Coffeemaker for the first time in almost 2 months. I thought she and her buddy, Tully, decided to break things off with me. Instead, she asked about my availability to resume lessons starting on Sunday. I've sent her a positive response with a counterresponse pending. Speaking of work, I'm gonna be massively backloaded on Monday. I've got my veterans of The Class Act, SIL and The Full-Timer before the lineup of Mr. TOEIC, The Diver and Medicine Man. I'll probably be properly baked by the end of that night.

Stopped off at Maruzen after a much-needed walk through Yurakucho up to Otemachi. I wanted to see if I could find some book on Business Japanese since I'm doing those translations for Cozy. No luck....and that translation yesterday took 5 hours straight at Speedy's. I was feeling mighty stiff after that session. And still, I wasn't too satisfied with it. But ready or not, I have to hand it in tomorrow. However, I did come across the Anglicization of yet another manga series, "Dr. Slump".
Recently, there's been a spate of English-translated versions of popular manga. "Dragonball" has now got English running through its pages as well as "Death Note". And several months ago, Skippy had lent me a few volumes of "Nodame Cantabile" in the English format.
"Dr. Slump" is special, though, since I had received a couple of the original Japanese books all the way back in 1981 by my homestay sister. This series had been the first big success story for Akira Toriyama before he came up with his magnum opus of "Dragonball" a few years later. I ended up getting the entire series over the next decade and it's still sitting somewhere back in Toronto. I enjoyed the story of Arale, the perpetually toddleresque android, with her lecherous, Kansai-ben spouting inventor, Dr. Norimaki, because Toriyama unabashedly mashed up his anime style of drawing with elements of Hollywood parody (guests like Superman and Mr. Spock appear side by side with Japanese icons Godzilla and of the main characters' fathers is Clint Eastwood!), raunchy humour and fourth-wall breaking absurdism. For anyone who enjoys "Dragonball", I would recommend "Dr. Slump" wholeheartedly.

Sticking the pop culture, I caught the latest video by Kaela Kimura, Japan's poppier answer to Avril Lavigne. I'm not a huge fan of hers but I think her new song and video, "Jasper" is quite catchy. And I find out that she had some help from the techno guy Takkyu Ishino who has come out with some fun hooky tunes of his own. "Jasper" is the tie-up song for "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" which is supposed to hit town this weekend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thursday February 14, 8:57 a.m.

Well, another Valentine's Day. I've managed to score chocolates from 002, Mrs. Mild and one of the grandmotherly students so far. I'm sure all of the depachika chocolate outlets as well as the chocolatiers will be doing volume business.

Managed to finish off the classes last night without pulling a muscle. 001 was her usual self; one of the highest forms of praise that I can get is when a student remarks how quickly time flew in the class. 001 said so. The Diver was also quite happy with her third lesson. Kept things strictly to the text and lots of drills. And I finished things off with Medicine Man. As for 001, she's off to Hokkaido for yet another run on the slopes....this is her second time in as many weeks. I guess 11 years at the hospital can have its benefits. And then in another 2 weeks, she's off to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis for the first time.

I had to close up the shop last night since The Amazon was only meant to be here til the beginning of my class with Medicine Man. So I tried to fulfill Speedy's wishes and turn off the power. I thought I did but came in this morning and found out that I hadn't switched off one heater properly. I'm lucky that Speedy isn't the upbraiding type. I've only got The Nurse at the school while I have The Carolinan and BC as my privates.

Man, quite a few people leaving this mortal coil this year. Roy Scheider of "Jaws" fame passed on this past weekend. And then the main news this morning is on the death of Kon Ichikawa, another one of the big directors here.

Really cold this morning. Kinda surprised that my pipes didn't freeze.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wednesday February 13, 4:56 p.m.

The winds of Hell have been blowing around here for the past couple of days. Not too many casualties in terms of people but there are a whole lot of bicycles and pylons which have seen better days.

The juku crowd was generally OK except for Chip N' Dale. I'm kinda wondering if the Wall has inevitably arrived for the kids. Dale was pretty listless. I've never been a great fan of teaching kids and the end usually begins when the light goes out of their eyes. However, I did get some Valentine's Day goodies from The Milds (as I also did from 002); incidentally, the new retirees will be heading for a week's tour of India from late next week. Man, I hope they survive the experience. As for The Siberian, the young lad spent most of the long weekend hitting his favourite izakaya three times in as many days...doesn't remember too much either. Jolly helped cap the night with a good go in his lesson.

I've got the night group tonight with 001, The Diver and Medicine Man. Most of this morning was spent watching the latest primaries in the US. Amazing what this Obama guy is doing. He's finally gone ahead of Hillary in the delegate count. And as the CNN guys were also noticing, there's quite a difference in style of delivery between Barack and John McCain. Obama is addressing arenas of screaming young folk as if he were Freddie Mercury, while McCain has a pretty subdued audience with the old guard behind him.

Just found out that Mr. TOEIC has cancelled yet again his double on Saturday...which just leaves me with The Manhattanite for the sole class at the school. I'm sure Speedy will be really thrilled at that news since he really wants to save on the upkeep, and opening up a school for just one student doesn't really do that. However, for me, I'm lucky enough to have The OL afterwards in Nihombashi.

The Cat has confirmed my arrival in her neck of the woods for next Saturday afternoon.

A little over a year ago, Japan saw yet another celeb become governor of a prefecture. The guy's stage name was Sonomanma Higashi...a comedian with the head of a sausage but with the mentorship of none other than Beat Takeshi. With his entry into a more sober world, we also discovered why he chose the stage name...his real name is the unwieldy Hideo Higashikokubaru. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
I certainly thought that he would have much impact on the political scene as some of his predecessors like former comedians-turned-governors Yukio Aoshima of Tokyo and Knock Yokoyama (both dead now) of Osaka...basically none or bad. The former was pretty much a non-factor while the latter got ousted for sexual assault on an assistant. Strangely enough, though, the new governor of Miyazaki Prefecture has probably become one of the most popular and well-known regional rulers in recent history....and considering that he had to immediately take care of the crisis of culling bird flu amongst tons of chickens in his realm. In the year that he's been in charge, he's become quite the eager salesman and booster for his province that even Governor Ishihara of Tokyo can only wonder about.
And another successful point about Higashikokubaru's reign is that unlike past geinojin-turned-seijika, he hasn't totally toned down his hilarity. He's still getting regularly asked to appear on the variety shows as himself, and he's more than happy to blurt out the one-liners. I even saw him on an episode of Utaban...which strictly has only musical guests on. I don't think even former Prime Minister Koizumi had this much pull in the entertainment world in the early part of his rule. Basically, the Governor of Miyazaki has now set the bar high for any entertainer who may be entertaining ideas of hitting the stump.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tuesday February 12, 4:28 p.m.

It's another cold and rainy one out there. It was supposed to be mid-afternoon snow but I guess the temps didn't fall far enough.

Yesterday was the latest chapter in The Burger Tour. The newest stop was near Jiyugaoka Station, about 15 minutes west of Shibuya by Tokyu Toyoko Line. I'd been to Jiyugaoka a number of times in the's basically a suburban hub with all sorts of little stores, restaurants and what-not surrounding the station. It was the usual crew...Skippy, MB and The Satyr along with myself. The Satyr's squeeze, Miss Ivory, was also supposed to show up but she's gone down with the cold. The Sylph won't go anywhere near meat anymore so, obviously, she was a no-show. Looks like I won't see her much then from now on.
It was a 10-minute bus ride to Komazawa Park, a relatively huge piece of greenery in western Tokyo. And just across it was AS Classics, the famed burger joint. I'm not sure where the name came from but then again past burger joints we've gone to have names like Brozzers and Baker Bounce, so I can't really cast too many aspersions on this place. Skippy had made reservations but they weren't really necessary since there were plenty of empty tables available. The place was typically American Diner in decor, and there was even a small wood stove burning near our table.
As has been the case the last few times on the Tour, the burgers were the great attractions while the sides were pretty mediocre. I had the Cheeseburger which was another huge mother. MB and I ordered Fish n' Chips and were given two large tablets of batter-fried fish with home fries and a mysteriously large plop of what looked like freeze-dried-then-thawed tartar sauce. Again another strikeout looking for a decent platter of FnC. I think the last place that had good stuff was the Australian pub in East Shinjuku. MB and I decided that we should start an alternate tour looking for fine Fish n' Chips...and Buffalo Wings, for that matter. The restaurant ran out of the wings...not a good sign, frankly...good spicy and meaty wings have been hard to find since The Maple Leaf closed up shop last May. Basically, we had a good time there but I wouldn't go there again anytime soon since it's so far away from my neck of the woods.

On the way back to the station, Skippy told me about the so-called scandal around Kumi Koda, the singer to dethrone Ayumi Hamasaki as J-Pop Queen. I'd heard bits and pieces for the past few days but didn't really get anything concrete. Apparently, the Osakan singer said something rather impolitic on a radio show. Her manager or her manager's friend was having trouble having a baby for which Koda jokingly blurted out that after 35, a woman's ovaries tend to go to pot so best make them children ASAP. Well, something hit the fan...and the complaints rolled on in which forced her to make a taped apology.
I rather rolled my eyes at this. I mean, back in the West, a comment like that would be called into bad taste of course but the celeb offender would backhandedly apologize or defiantly not apologize, citing free speech. However, over here, things are somewhat different. Anyone studying Japanese Culture 101 will know that Koda doesn't say things for herself but for her in-group, and since Japan has a shame culture, even a little nasty joke like that can reflect badly. What compounds things, though, is the grafted Western tabloid culture that has hit mass media over here. And another Western...or perhaps human...trait is that people just love to break down people they've brought on up.

I was surprised by the news of the fire and subsequent collapse of Namdaemon, that huge structure in Seoul last night. I remember taking a picture of it when The Class Act and I had gone to Korea a couple of years ago. And it was basically the de rigueur backdrop to any news report from Korea. So seeing it go down like it did was a shock to if The Imperial Palace in Tokyo or The CN Tower in Toronto had come crashing down. Apparently, some aged homeless man did the foul deed.

Just had The Beehive. Ms. Perth made a surprise visit since her father was ailing. And also Ms. London, the one who had introduced me to the ladies nearly a decade ago, also came as well. It would have been a full hive if Ms. Pottery and Ms. Tulip had been there. They were all gabbing about their latest travel project, a few days in Croatia later this Spring. We continued the discussion at a pasta restaurant in Funabashi for which I was plied with the noodles the ladies couldn't eat...which meant I felt like the first victim in "Seven".

Then, it was back to see 002 for her second lesson of the year. According to her, The Baker has been having a tough time at work recently. 002, 001 and I had always been joking about the fact that The Baker would be a rather tough boss to work for and that Tokyo Bay was probably littered with the remains of those assistants who didn't meet her very stringent standards.
Well, it looks like one of her staff finally had enough. The Baker was recently a victim of gyaku-ijime....reverse bullying. Someone had stolen her laptop and left a rather nasty note. It's never easy and always lonely at the top.

Well, I have the usual cast of characters at the juku tonight...except for Mild Jr. who's double-shifting. Apparently, one of his colleagues had also been having problems with his superior and took off suddenly.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday February 10, 10:39 p.m.

Saturday night was pretty miserable in terms of weather. Apparently, neighbouring Tokyo and Saitama got the snow that had been forecast, but my neck of the woods in Chiba just got doused in cold, cold rain. Also, had a dinner which wasn't the most comfy...for the second time, I went to Yayoiken, that sit-down bento restaurant which had been built in the station mall a few months ago. The only other time was right on its first day. The food was pretty good then, as it was last night. Karaage bento, if you must know.
The only problem was in the timing. I came in at about 7 p.m....the time when most of the salarymen drag their sorry asses for something other than instant ramen. Also, the kitchen must've been filled with a bunch of greenhorns. For a restaurant that works on the ticket-dispensing machine system, the staff was pretty slow. And the drill sergeant manager made them know that fact pretty sternly...just a few metres away from we customers. Not exactly the most inviting dining experience.

However, today was quite pleasant and balmy. Up to 11 C. Still ended up bringing the scarf and mittens. With the unusually cold winter this year, one can't be too careful. I met BC at JR Shinjuku and we went out to Saboten, that tonkatsu restaurant in Odakyu Mall. Then, we headed off to Nakano to her friend's niko concert at Zero Hall. The niko is that Chinese string instrument which popped up a lot during movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
Actually, the concert had started around 2:30 p.m. with an intermission. We got there about 7:30 since her friend was due to play in the very last performance. We like the niko but not to the extent that we would risk economy-class syndrome. Not surprisingly, the various performers played traditional Chinese tunes as well as covers of pop songs from Japan and abroad. One group played "My Heart Will Go On" from "Titanic", but I forgave them for that because they also brought out some really Yoda-like masters for the finale. The Carolinan showed up at about 7:30 p.m.
The concert ended an hour later, so the three of us just headed on out to a nearby Caffe Velocce for some coffee and cake. We've already gotten started on the plans to head out to that Greek restaurant in Roppongi that Speedy and I had gone to a number of months back.

Well, got National Foundation Day tomorrow...which will merely mean an extra day for me to clean up the apartment before heading out to meet my other group of buddies for the latest chapter in The Burger Tour.