Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday August 15, 10:47 a.m.

Well, I'm back from that long-awaited physical. It'd been more than a couple of decades since my last checkup. I'm sure if I were in Ontario right now doing the same thing, those guys from OHIP would probably be giving me a ticker-tape parade and a red carpet in front of the clinic. As it was, I just walked almost a kilometre in searing heat (it's 35C outside as I type) to the Gyotoku Central Clinic without having had anything to eat or drink for 12 hours. Actually, despite a few grumbles from my stomach, I didn't feel too bad.

I got to the main reception area about a half-hour before the desk opened up. It was your typical waiting room in Japan...a lot of old people reading newspapers and talking to each other in very loud voices. The plasmavision was showing the NHK morning serial. Unfortunately, it would be another few hours before Olympic coverage started. I had to fill out an application form as a first-timer and then hand it in with my NHI Card and the voucher from City Hall telling me to go to the checkup in the first place.

It didn't take long for my name to be called. The staff there seemed to be divided into three castes. There were the doctors, the nurses and the admin staff. The last of the three were all women and decked out in Bank Teller Casual. One of them came up to me and asked me whether I would be going for the options such as having the scope inserted into one of my two main orifices. It didn't take me too long for me to decline their kind invitation. I filled out another form which had a questionnaire about my medical history.

And that seemed to be the theme for my one hour at the clinic. Paperwork and waiting. I had to fill yet another form while sitting in front of the examination room which concerned Hepatitis. Basically the rest of my time there consisted of waiting and then examining. The staff there were a well-oiled machine....they kept the tempo at a pretty jaunty rate; I didn't have a chance to get too bored. I gave my urine sample first followed by a quick EKG. Then, it was getting measured. My waist was wrapped around in that metabolic syndrome measuring tape...the one with the red zone; it's safe to say that I was safely in that zone. Getting that flyer afterwards labeled "For Metabolic Syndrome Sufferers..." pretty much iced my cake. I sometimes think that the tape should have a black zone at the very end with a death's-head.

Then, I gave them my blood along with a blood pressure reading. And after another 5 minutes of waiting, I actually met the doctor...all of other stuff was done by the medtechs and nurses. He showed me my EKG readings and the analysis of my urine. Nothing out of the ordinary, thankfully. And then after he checked my glands and did the stethoscope thing, he let me go. The doc was a young one with a full mane of hair who kinda reminded me of those young actors who regularly star as doctors in trendy dramas. I waited once more in the main reception before I finally got my official card from the desk. And that was all she wrote. I celebrated by having my first can of juice outside and then going for a zesty set at KFC by the station. The results of my checkup will be out in about a week.

And so now, I will try to relax for the next three days.
Thursday August 14, 8:09 p.m.

Still no sign of him...Speedy is joking that Slim's decided that he's had enough of me. That may not be too far from the truth.

I've just been spinning my wheels here...I'm pretty sure that he won't show up but I'm sticking around until 9 p.m. I just read an article on "The Japan Times" website about the fact that Maid Cafes have now started to invade the continental United States...namely California (of course, it usually has to be The Golden State). What Tojo and his fanatics couldn't do in the early 40s can apparently now be done by a bunch of dark-frocked women. Of course, the format had to be tweaked for American tastes. For one thing, there isn't any of that cutesy song-and-dance and greetings of "Go-shujinsama" that's de rigueur in the original Akiba cafes. In fact, the American versions are much larger and come off as being a bit more art gallery-like. And the Maids will converse with you on their favourite anime or manga. There was even a statement from a junior high school teacher...kinda wonder how long he's gonna hold his job.

However, the United States isn't anywhere near being the first non-Asian country to import this recent addition to the bizarro world of J-Pop Culture. My own city of Toronto has a Chinese fellow who decided to jump the gun on the phenomenon about a couple of years ago and set up a Maid Cafe in the outer reaches of Scarborough. The Anime King and his court took me there one winter's eve. Basically, it was just any ol' Chinese coffehouse with a couple of waitresses decked out in frilliness. It still managed to get a lot of newspaper copy, though, according to the articles that had been framed and posted on the walls.

Will Maid Cafes take hold in America? I really depends on how long J-Pop Culture continues to have a hold on the youth (and adults) there. But I can't really see cutesy meshing in with American culture. Cutesy is perfectly fine in Japan where most women can achieve only that and men feel less intimidated by it. But America is indeed the home of the brave and the beautiful...not really characteristics that Maid Cafes are known for. Maybe one of the key moments for this craze for all things Japanese will be next Spring when Hollywood's take on "Dragonball" will hit the big screen. "Speed Racer" certainly didn't do it.
Thursday August 14, 7:48 p.m.

Waiting for Slim...doesn't have quite the ring of "Waiting for Guffman" nor does it have the humour. Yep, this could be his third time of misinterpreting the time of his lesson. The ominous undertone here is that this is his last lesson on his current contract, and cynical me is thinking that he may be just throwing out his last one and just not showing up. He certainly didn't seem all that enthused the last time I saw him, although I chalked that up partially due to his jet lag from Germany. And besides the text that I have him looking at is basically a review of the previous ones...if I were him, I would be asking whether I should be paying good money for reruns. So I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last we'll see of Slim. In any case, his raison d'etre to be here was to prepare for his business trip to Munich; well, he's gotten that out of the way now. It's just too bad, though...if indeed he's gonna pull off this dotakyan...I didn't think he would be this way. I thought he was a bit more of a straight-shooter.

However, as for Miss Sedona, she's still good to go as the countdown to her trip to the States is now at one week. In fact, she's reserved one more lesson for next week, on the eve of her departure. The Carolinan came in as well and did her stint with me. We spoke on BC...she was kinda holding back on something about her but I just let it go. She also told me that she and her sis along with one other friend went out for The New Yorker's birthday last week to her favourite restaurant, The Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi.

Well, coming up to the 8 o'clock mark now and still no sign of Slim. AK has phoned...or tried to, anyways, his cell but the signal is blocked. Not a good omen. I've just gone ahead and ingested my final meal before tomorrow's check. I'm well beyond the 10-hour hiatus on eating that I've been instructed on. Not quite sure what the purpose of fasting is before a checkup here. Maybe the doctors need us docile and easier to manage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thursday August 14, 3:24 p.m.

The weather is getting unsettled out there. Heard a few rumbles of thunder in the distance but no rain as of yet.

The Yogist came in a few hours ago. It'd been about a couple of weeks. She had quite the busy schedule: plan a friend's wedding party, go up to Karuizawa and Mt. Fuji. It was the first time for her to scale Japan's highest mountain, and she paid a price for it in terms of altitude sickness and fatigue. But she did it make it up to the top and just 20 minutes before sunrise. I asked her if she would do it again and it was an unequivocal no which goes with the saying that if one goes up Mt. Fuji once, he's seen as a hero but if he goes up a second time, he's a fool.

Nearly halfway through the day. Miss Sedona should be on her way here in about half an hour. It could be her final time before her big trip to the States, although theoretically there is one more Thursday before she takes off next week.

I've had my second-last meal before the big physical tomorrow morning. Made the most of it with a pasta salad and chicken-cheese fingers. Got three tiny rice balls as my dinner after Slim's lesson tonight. Speedy reminded me that it's his last class before renewal. Will he do so? Not quite sure about that...we got onto a new text but I think it's basically the same as the one before.
Thursday August 14, 11:51 a.m.

Just about killed Grandma Dynamite by asking her to give directions to get to her house from the school. Didn't quite do it so it should make her stronger....and there were signs that I was able to accomplish something. Still, I'm feeling pretty tuckered myself. I guess I pulled off the English conversation equivalent of Mutally Assured Destruction.

Speaking about accomplishing something...the US may have Michael Phelps, but Japan is still making inroads in the pool. Kosuke Kitajima pulled off another Gold less than an hour ago. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of kids wanting to enter swim clubs skyrockets after these Olympics.
Thursday August 14, 8:27 a.m.

Another hot one out there. Man, that heat was just spewing out of the concrete this morning. Luckily (or unluckily), I'm inside the school for pretty much the whole day. This is the Hump Day that was supposed to have been yesterday but wasn't. However, the next three days will be off, although tomorrow will be spent at the clinic getting my physical. Not quite sure how vigourous that will be. I'm sure it'll make for a blog exclusive, though...the Japanese Medical at 11.

Japan has been doing pretty well in its first week at The Beijing Olympics. 9 medals so far, including two yesterday for judo and fencing. And it's in the Top 10 in the medal count. As for my home country of Canada...well...I was searching the standings and I just couldn't find that Maple Leaf anywhere. Even Togo was up in the chart. According to, the Canadian Olympic Chief has been imploring some angry Canucks to calm down and smell the roses...and perhaps flop sweat. However, Japan feels Canada's pain. There is that rather pathetic performance in Turin, Italy for the Winter Olympics 2.5 years ago. Japan only got that one Gold for Figure Skating.

The Entrepreneur sent his weekly missive to me, The Dancer and The Doctor...the old guys from U of T. He and his missus enjoyed the Niagara Peach Festival...ah, must be nice to have all those desserts and fresh peaches. And I certainly envy the coolness over there. While we're sweltering in 30+ temps and humidity, Toronto has just been celebrating 20 degrees as a high. Is there really such a thing as air conditioning anymore over there? Also, my old friend mentioned that The CNE has started up again. I don't particularly miss Canada's oldest exhibition and symbol of late summer but there is a niggling sense of nostalgia.

I read the review of "The Dark Knight" in the METROPOLIS magazine (nope, no Superman pun intended here). Usually, the reviewer is pretty snarky...just like The Joker himself...about the movies he looks at (and not without reason), but he was pretty glowing though not gushing about this Batman. And from what I've read of the synopsis (yep, I've given up...I did see the Wiki entry for it), he is right...this is a real tragedy of a superhero story. Even he's gotten into the mania to nominate the late Heath Ledger for Oscar.

Well, let's just get through this day, shall we...? Those cicadas are already whining away out there.
Wednesday August 13, 7:51 p.m.

Finished off my smaller dinner of hot dog and peach nectar. I've decided to have my last junky dinner tonight instead of tomorrow night...just to be on the safe side before getting that physical. I'm not sure what it's like in other countries, but over here people have to go without food for 10 hours before a checkup...which is probably why many folks would like to get their checkups done in the morning. Since most of those 10 hours will be used up in sleep, the hunger pangs won't be nearly as bad.

Well, the international media is in its uproar mode on hearing that the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics may not have been as genuine as expected. What did you expect of a Communist country? Yep, so some of the fireworks were actually computer graphics. And yep, that little girl was really lip-synching a more talented but homelier lass, a la the two female stars from "Singin' In The Rain"...kinda figured something looked strange about her. But when it comes down to it, who really cares? It's not as if London is gonna do something chintzy as that in 2012, and the Opening Ceremonies are history now. Let it go.

Just got the lesson planning done for The Fashion Designer and the folks tomorrow. Thursday should be The Hump Day that today wasn't. Got 5 up to bat: Grandma Dynamite, The Yogist, Miss Sedona, The Carolinan and Slim. Then I head on home and get some sleep before schlepping off to the clinic.
Wednesday August 13, 5:29 p.m.

Back from my little sortie out into Shinjuku. Had my lunch at that Chinese eatery in the basement of The Maynds Building. Actually, it only cost me 900 yen for that spicy little dish with bottomless amounts of rice, stir-fried veggies and dumplings...and of course, water.

As I made my way across from the building over to Takashimaya Times Square and Kinokuniya, there was an even longer lineup for Krispy Kreme....a 35-minute wait. Not nearly as long as those insane 2-hour snakes in the early days but I thought things had finally started to slow down to 25 minutes.

Only ended up picking up the issue of METROPOLIS from last week. The cover article is on the annual battle between the ultrarightists and leftists at Yasukuni Shrine on August 15th...the anniversary of the day of Japan's surrender in 1945. Perhaps I'm rather lucky that I'm going to be probed on that day in Gyotoku.

However, I did find out that Kinokuniya was having a sale of discounted foreign books on the 11th floor of Takashimaya. Didn't think I would buy anything since I only had a thousand yen on me, and sure enough, there was a reason that these books were discounted. Not much interesting there. At the same time, there was some sort of big carnival for some cartoon character next to the bins of books.

Went up to the next floor to take a look at HMV. In the classical section, some woman was doing English covers of J-pop songs...the song on the speakers just happened to be Yuming's oldie, "Sotsugyo Shashin" (Graduation Photo). There have been many Japanese covers of the tune, and even one other English cover by an interesting trio of African-American Yuming tribute singers named R.S.V.P. back in the early 90s. The song I heard today seemed to refer back to the very original version with that certain 70s jauntiness.

Then when I went into the main section, a CD of Studio Ghibli tunes done jazz-style was playing on those speakers. I guess it must've been "Tribute to J-Pop Day". Actually, it was Double Point Day. I also did notice...and just notice...there were some roman poruno DVDs being sold on the shelves; I would just love to know who would dare bring those discs up to a straight-faced female cashier.

Ended up doing the entire loop of the Oedo Line which took about an hour. It was still way too early to head on back. As Speedy just mentioned just now, I was still a little less than 4 hours away from my next and final lesson. I kinda wish that The Fashion Designer has a sudden fashion disaster to contend with so I can go home early. I do have another early start to the day tomorrow.

Looks like Japan's got another medal to add to its total. This time, it's a Bronze by another swimmer, Matsuda. However, the pool is a buzz about American superman, Michael Phelps, who's become the greatest medal winner in history thanks to yet another win. It's almost becoming boring to see this guy pump his arms in the air and whoop it up after a race now.

Speaking of both The Olympics and music, I gotta say that the theme songs for these Olympic Game broadcasts have become pretty limpid over the past several years. I'm not a huge Mr. Children fan (although I have CD single discs of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "[es]" which are good tunes), so it's pretty easy for me to say that the band's contribution to the NHK telecasts is pretty narcoleptic. But then again, recent J-Pop contributions to Olympic broadcasts have been in the same vein: guitar-based ballads of solemn inspiration....more like solemn need to sleep. It would be nice to have something like, say, the official tune for the NHK broadcast of the Atlanta Games in 1996: "Atsukuninare" (Get Passionate!) by 90s singer Maki Oguro. I listened to that disc yesterday on the old Discman after having to go through another rendition of Mr. Children on TV, and Maki Oguro just blows everyone away with this rousing tune of synth, snares and brass seemingly driven by Michael Phelps and Kosuke Kitajima themselves. I distinctly remember the NHK editors getting in on the act whenever they played highlights of the events with the song playing in the background. Made for a great sports video. Mind you, when The World Cup had come to Japan and Korea in 2002, Vangelis did make a good theme song for the punters. I think NHK and J-Pop should think about something pretty driving for London then in 2012. Maybe something in the vein of Cool Britannia?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wednesday August 13, 12:10 p.m.

Just finished up with The Pessimist. Discovered that he's as much miha as I am. What's that, you might say? Miha? Miha refers to the state of being knowledgeable about all things pop cultural. He started mentioning things such as the fact that his old high school of Horikoshi, which is in the neighbourhood, is a place which has a better-than-average population of future showbiz types or geinojin. So, he did rub elbows (in passing; he didn't become buddies with them) with aidoru like Noriko Sakai and Shizuka Kudo (aka Mrs. Takuya Kimura).

Since we're on the topic, I was switching back and forth between The Olympics and regular TV last night and found out for the first time (since I'm always teaching at the juku 50-51 Tuesday nights a year) that there was a Shoko Nakagawa program...which was ironically on its final episode. Shokotan is that unique geinojin who's an absolute tarento (TV personality) and absolute otaku (geek) for all things anime, manga and Bruce Lee. And like The Pessimist and I, she's also quite miha. I also discovered that her father was an 80s rock singer who had died tragically early in life only in his early 30s.

To add further insult to my own injuries, I listened to the whole album of Genki Rockets last night. Gotta admit that while the songs hold together still, the writing still strikes me as being something from Teenage Songwriting 101. Neither Carole King nor Yumi Matsutoya need look behind their shoulders.

Well, I'm starting to get hungry but I'm gonna hold off until 1 p.m. since the lunch crowd is probably still scrumming in the restaurants. Not sure where I'm gonna go but since I've got the all-day commuter pass today, I may just head over to that Chinese eatery in Maynds Building in Shinjuku. They've got those filling 980 yen specials. Otherwise, the sky's the limit.
Wednesday August 13, 10:17 a.m.

Well, that Hump on my Hump Day has shrunken into barely a pimple. Actually, it's now a Donut Day. I've got The Pessimist in 45 minutes and then I'll have to wait over 9 hours before The Fashion Designer comes in. The Big Lug, 001 and The Diver have all cancelled their classes, and I'm not 100% sure about The Fashion Designer. So, I've got a huge hole in my schedule. Not gonna be hanging about at the school for 9 hours; I'm awfully tempted to catch "The Dark Knight" but I'm trying to be loyal to Movie Buddy.

There's another new heroine and group of heroes in Japan. Ayumi Tanimoto got herself another judo Gold last night with a classic ippon throwdown of her French opponent. Earlier in the day, the Men's Gymnastic Team earned themselves a Silver...which was pretty much the very best. China just had to get the Gold for this one. However, in every silver lining, there is a cloud. Japan's best chance in the Women's Marathon, Noguchi, has had to pull out of the Olympics due to injury.

Speedy's response to my letter concerning 002's parting of the ways with the school was pretty even-handed. He only expressed regret that we didn't just go to copies instead of the whole textbook. On the other hand, I would rather have her have a text instead of having her deal with a bunch of loose leaf copies. In any case, I've got her payment with me.

In any case, gotta get ready for The Pessimist.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tuesday August 12, 1:27 p.m.

Well, she said I figured ever since Speedy told me that her contract was up for renewal last week. 002 today informed me that she wouldn't be renewing for another year with the school. Actually, I'm not too disappointed since she wants to continue with me in a private capacity...ok, no snickering...just English lessons. I sent the bad news to the bossman via e-mail; it'll be interesting to see how he reacts.

I'm actually off for the rest of the day since the juku is on a week's hiatus, so I can actually take it easy. I've been reading those graphic novels that The Lens had kindly donated to me last Thursday. They were Batman's "Broken City" and Daredevil's "The Devil: Inside and Out". You couldn't get any noirish than these two. Great reads, both of them. One sign at how mesmerizing they are is that I almost regretted having to get off at my station last night; was thoroughly engrossed in them during the commute home.

Speaking of Batman, I accidentally came across the BIG spoiler about "The Dark Knight". But, it had crossed my mind when the media mentioned about a funeral in the movie. It had to happen.

The wide shows and newspapers have been ablaze with Kosuke Kitajima's scintillating world-record-breaking swim yesterday. Hiro Nakamura has nothing on this guy....Japan has got a true hero now. Strangely enough, Japan's total medal count thus far is 4 times as much as it was for the nation's count at the Winter Olympics in Turin a couple of years ago.
Monday August 11, 7:32 p.m.

Made it through the long wasteland of waiting between The Pessimist and The Full-Timer. The Full-Timer and her mother had their jaunt through Hong Kong and Macau last week. They had a good time there; got the usual omiyage in the form of Macau Cookies...the equivalent of Taiwan's Pineapple Cake. They actually did go to that Jade Garden Restaurant near the Peninsula Hotel where The Class Act and I had gone last October. It passed their taste test with flying colours.

Got nearly a couple of hours to go before Medicine Man comes by for the final class of the day. The Diver called in to cancel her class for Hump Day; said she's not feeling too well. However, tomorrow will be far from Hump Day. Just 002 and that will be all she wrote. If I'm lucky, I may be able to see some more Gold Medal-winning performances.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Monday August 11, 12:28 p.m.

It's been a bittersweet weekend for Team Japan in these Olympics so far...well, the more accurate word would be tangy, actually, since the news has had more good than bad. On Saturday night, the perennial darling of the Japanese Olympic movement for more than a decade, Ryoko Tani (nee Tamura), aka Yawara-chan, lost her bid to get Gold for the 3rd Olympics in a row in Women's 48kg judo after losing to the eventual champion, a woman from Romania. She had to settle for Bronze. Basically, after losing that semi-final, the real drama was wondering whether she would be up for the consolation round for 3rd since her face looked very dark.

However, as I said, it's been more good than bad. One guy by the name of Uchishiba got his Gold in judo and a teenager was able to get a Bronze in her first try at The Olympics. But the other big win was just in the last couple of hours. Swimmer Kosuke Kitajima who got his first Gold in Athens 4 years ago did it again this morning in the 400 m. Not too bad for 3 days' work.

After seeing Tully and The Coffeemaker yesterday morning, I met up with Skippy at JR Shinjuku. We and one other fellow she knew from her old employer, IBM, were supposed to head on out to see some old folk houses at an outdoor museum in Kawasaki City. However, the other guy had to dotakyan that morning so it was just Skippy and myself. The museum is run by the Kawasaki City government and is known as a minka-en. It was plenty hot when we got there but we managed to survive as we wove in and out of these surprisingly large buildings from the 18th-century which not only housed people but also horses and equipment for farming. They had an almost Medieval European look to them....none of these thatched-tile roofs; these roofs were fully straw and the houses rose about 2 floors. One of the buildings seemed to have a medical purpose in mind. Despite it being 32 degrees C outside, there was a brazier inside burning away some incense liquid while visitors could step on a long row of green bamboo poles as a form of reflexology. I walked on them in my stocking feet and didn't feel much pain; hopefully, that will bode well for me when I go through my fully Westernized checkup this Friday.

Skippy and I then walked back to the station to have a bit of a snack at McDonalds, before we took the train back into Tokyo, specifically Ikebukuro, to have dinner. We ended up having a Chinese dim sum buffet at the top of the Tobu Department Store. Really filled myself up. Found out that Skippy enjoys going to karaoke boxes by herself to sing anime songs. The fact that she sings just anime songs explains why she goes alone. I would've volunteered to accompany her but I got the impression that she prefers the solitude. In any case, I think she and Shoko Nakagawa just have to meet each other.

Got home to find out from CNN that there were some propane explosions in Toronto the night before. I didn't expect to hear anything bad concerning my family, but just in case, I decided to drop a line to Mom. It turned out that the explosions took place in the west end of town. However, I did find out that there was a family emergency of sorts which had taken place about a week previously. Dad came down with some sort of bladder infection which necessitated a 911 call and an ambulance. Mom, however, la-di-da'ed it off as just a minor matter although Dad had to stay at Sunnybrook Hospital for a few days. The fact that I only found out about it a whole week after the fact kinda emphasized that all things were pretty much under control.

Was also surprised to find out from CNN that Isaac Hayes of "Shaft" and "South Park" fame had just passed away. And now Bernie Mac of the "Ocean's 11" crew has gone to that stand-up revue in Heaven.

It'll be one of those spread-out days today here at Speedy's. I've got The Pessimist in little more than an hour, followed by The Full-Timer (will be looking forward to her report on Hong Kong) and then Medicine Man in the very last slot of the night.