Friday, September 11, 2009

Saturday September 12, 2:22 p.m.

One down, one to go. Finished up with The Publicity Assistant about 20 minutes ago. One of her colleagues had taken care of Hugh Jackman during his time promoting "Wolverine", the movie that MB and I along with some others will be catching tonight. Apparently, he comes off as a real regular nice guy. Nice to hear, especially with the rumours swirling about that the sequel may be filming in Japan since Logan has quite a past with this land. I very much doubt that Tokyo will be involved since the authorities here are very tough in terms of restrictions when dealing with filmmakers. But then a lot of the Wolverine comics have taken place in the forests anyways, so probably no trouble there.

Anyways, I'm feeling famished so time for lunch.
Saturday September 12, 12:11 p.m.

I've started on the grand project of saving the school via this so-called Eiken 1 course that I have been asked to develop. I checked over the sample of the Eiken 1 test that I have in the hard drive and jotted down some notes and possible resources to help. The whole test seems to resemble the fictional Top Gun school in the movie of the same name....test the best of the best in English fluency. The written, listening and reading sections would be enough to evacuate an applicant's bowels...or vowels, but if and when that applicant passes through those hurdles, then he/she has to face the Big Boss in this one-player video game of a test: the Interview stage. (Feel free to imagine either the theme from "Dragnet" or "Duel of the Fates" from the "Star Wars" prequels.) Here, the interviewee, after going through the usual minute of introduction and chitchat, has to choose a topic (it could be on anything from the necessity of the United Nations in this century to discussion on whether honesty is always the best policy) and prep it in 1 minute and then give a speech on it for 2 minutes! And to add insult to injury, the interviewee has to run the gauntlet of Q&A for 4. Native speakers of English would probably be tongue-tied, and actually some native teachers of English have gone through it and went through shock when they failed. Yikes! However, for that very same reason, a successful applicant goes through Nirvana when they pass.
Saturday September 12, 11:27 a.m.

Did forget to mention the fact that September 9, 2009 was designated as Beatles Day. There was some sort of festival over at Abbey Road a few weeks back. On Thursday night, after The Carolinan's lesson and a long-overdue dinner at Foo Foo (I needed it), I walked over to Tower Records next to JR Shinjuku. On the 7th floor, there was a rather large display of stuff and videos playing overhead on the monitors commemmorating the remastered re-releases of the various Beatles albums such as "Sgt. Pepper's". There were quite a few people milling about and taking pictures. At 8 o'clock, there was some sort of tribute performance and talk...although passing the 7th floor again on my way back down to the station, I think the performers were definitely more for playing some of the quieter tunes. Over here, The Beatles are held in the highest esteem along with jazz and Bobby Caldwell. I'll leave you to mull over the choices.

Last night, just before I hit bed, I came across an hour's worth of tribute to The Beatles on MTV. The station patched together footage of some of their performances from the roof of Abbey Road Studios, excerpts from "The Yellow Submarine", and "Free As A Bird", that elegiac video released about a decade ago. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of The Fab Four, although it would seem that almost anyone born in the 20th century is a fan by default. I think just seeing the psychedelic stuff from "The Yellow Submarine" was enough for me to lose some sleep. Still, maybe I will pick up a couple of albums for posterity someday.
Saturday September 12, 11:05 a.m.

Lousy weather out there. Seems like there is a typhoon in Tokyo Bay.

Yesterday was basically an off day for me except for the juku lessons, and I almost ended up having just the half-hour with The Restauranteur but more on that later. The gas man did come and just gave my taps a few seconds of lookover before considering them safe. I probably won't see him again for another 3 years. During his visit, Speedy called up rather jauntily to say that Swank, the translator for the Japanese court system who was aiming to achieve Eiken 1 status, was apparently coming back into the fold. I can imagine that the bossman was pretty darn happy since she's bought new lessons although I don't think even a full ton of lessons will make too much of a dent in our debt. Anyways, it looks like I'll be making house calls to her new home in Hiroo from Monday mornings...since it's pretty much certain that The Class Act will now be a footnote in my career history. Actually, the juku boss and The Beehive seem to know more than I do about the whereabouts of The Madame and her fallen husband. There was some sort of update report on the duo after the collapse of his empire...they've been living a nomadic life of sorts...jumping from hotel to hotel. I'm pretty sure, though, that it's still first-class living all the way.

Also, the bossman slipped in that I needn't bother about that project for study-abroad students. I wasn't making too much headway on that anyways. Instead, I'm to start working on coming up with some sort of course material for folks who want to go for Eiken 1; an idea brought about by Swank's return and seconded by Ray. Yeah, whatever...

MB has deigned to give me some more time to get to JR Shinjuku for the movie tonight. 6:15. Yeah, whatever...

Just have The Publicity Assistant and The usual Saturday students from this afternoon.

Yesterday was indeed the 8th anniversary since the 9/11 attacks, and Obama's first as President. Apparently, there was some sort of kerfuffle involving a horribly mistimed Coast Guard drill in the Potomac as the President was attending a ceremony at the Pentagon. The CNN and BBC anchors acted as de facto parents of the nation with their tsk, tsking. Kinda reminds me of that asinine photo op with Air Force One flying low over Manhattan which brought out the panic attacks in the populace. Heads rolled then, heads will probably roll later.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thursday September 10, 1:05 p.m.

Will be off in about 10 minutes for Shinjuku. It was another happy, happy lesson with Miss Sedona. It'll be sad to lose her for good but it'll be good for her to gain a new perspective in Toronto. It's been understandably stressful for her these last several days as she prepares for the big voyage. She has to take care of the packing, the moving and all of the other rigamarole involved in big life changes. Plus, she and her boss have been at loggerheads again about who will be replacing her in the pharmacy. Yep, I hear her pain. I've had my share of battles with the staff at the ol' school.

I caught the pilot episode of "Criminal Minds" on Super Drama TV! last night. The cable channel has been pushing this show for the past several weeks, and now it's arrived. So, it's Gideon and his gang of profilers including a couple of fashion models and a geek. The pilot was an enjoyable timewaster although the last scene seemed a bit too Hollywood-y twist-y.

Anyways, heading out. I think I'm still feeling pretty annoyed about MB's attitude and that invite from 002.
Thursday September 10, 11:26 a.m.

A little more than 15 minutes away from Miss Sedona's penultimate lesson...I made a slight error earlier about it being her last class. In any case, Speedy may be biting his nails about her future with us although since she'll be leaving next month, I don't think there would be much point in doing so.

Miss Sedona will be my only lesson here at Speedy's today. Afterwards, it'll just be the privates in the form of The Bow and The Carolinan at different cafes. And if I'm lucky, I'll be able to hit home early enough to make some supper instead of doing the usual bento. In between, I hope to hit Recomints at Nakano Broadway once more since I got a flyer with the latest releases yesterday...and one of them happens to be a re-master of Ruiko Kurahashi's very first album back in 1980 or 1981. Yep, on the way to the school, I stopped off at the discount disc place yesterday and managed to scrounge around the bins and picked up 5 discs for 500 yen.

MB seemed a bit snippy in his latest e-mail...told me he needed to get an exact time instead of "early evening" from me about when I could meet up with him in Shinjuku for "Wolverine" on Saturday. I did say that I would be finishing at 5 at Speedy's and he knows how long it would take for me to get to Shinjuku from here. I tried to be nice in my response but I just couldn't help but show a bit of sting back at his little bile.

Speaking of sting and bile, 002 asked me, via 001, if I would be interested in coming out to her place on October 11th for dinner. She could've just contacted me directly by e-mail. But in any case, since I've got Mr. Mild's concert on the 4th and The Jyuppies would like at least one of the first two Sundays for their class, I think the chances of me heading out to her place for dinner are pretty slim. the annoyances out of the way. A lot of us...especially at Speedy's....may be singing the blues about the current economic crisis, but even the rich seem to have it bad. The most famous photographer in the world, Annie Leibowitz, seems to have found herself $24 million in debt for some reason. Maybe I shouldn't feel too sorry for myself.

Anyways, Miss Sedona is here...
Wednesday September 9, 8:29 p.m.

Interesting how about several months ago, Wednesdays were regularly called the Hump Day of the week...I had a mix of privates and regulars at Speedy's during the day and then the regular night lineup of 001, The Diver and The Fashion Designer. Back then, I think I openly wondered when all that would disappear considering the sinking economy.

Well, I'm now on the other side of that thought equation. No privates today since The Admin had to cancel today's lesson. The Diver quit several weeks ago and The Fashion Designer finished off her remaining lesson last week. It was just 001 tonight, and she's headed off for Australia on her annual overseas trip next Monday so there won't even be her next Wednesday. I may actually have a non-holiday totally free Wednesday next week. Does make me get a little wistful and philosophical.

In a way, though, I'm happy that The Admin did cancel this morning's meeting. The Tozai Line got hit by some sort of collision accident around 4 a.m. (didn't even realize that the trains ran that early), and the resulting chaos affected over a quarter of a million commuters; there was a helicopter shot of the crowds just milling around Nishi-Funabashi Station, a station that I have to go through whenever I see The Beehive or The Bass. It looked like an Obama campaign rally. I could imagine what it must've looked like at my station. Since The Admin cancelled, I didn't have to go in til mid-afternoon. By then, things were all cleared up.

Speaking of the Beehive, I saw them for the first time in about a couple of months. Mrs. Perth visited us from Sapporo; in fact, she headed off for Haneda Airport back home to Hokkaido right after the lesson and lunch. Because of the long summer vacation, the ladies were in an especially chatty mood. Just about everyone of the regular crowd was there: Mrs. Alp, Mrs. Tee, Mrs. Travel and Mrs. Jade along with the aforementioned Mrs. Perth. Mrs. Travel talked on her latest trip to Italy. She was crowing that she and her daughter had been able to grab a suite at a 5-star hotel by Lake Como (George Clooney's home away from home) after being double-booked at their scheduled 4-star hotel. I don't think even Japanese hotels are that generous. On the other side of the coin, Mrs. Tee related that she and her family had been involved in an auto accident; no injuries but the impression was that her husband may need to be retired from driving. Mrs. Alp got on her high horse and scolded Mr. Tee in absentia. Nag, nag, nag....

At my station, there is a branch of Pepper Lunch, a chain of restaurants specializing in hotplate-grilled beef. It had replaced the long-running Dosanko Ramen some years back, and in the last few months, received a makeover of sorts. Earlier this week, I noticed that the place was closed. Even when I got home at my latest...past midnight...Pepper Lunch was still running since it knocked off at 1 a.m. However, last night I read a sign reading that there had been an incident involving an ill customer who'd gotten O-157 virus from the restaurant food...probably the salad. Yikes! In any case, the restaurant did what any restaurant in Japan would do in such embarrassing circumstances: it has shut down for the next little while in penance.

My stint at the juku last night had me asking the boss how the big powwow went between the new teacher and the mothers of those kids on Saturday. The story went that the teacher was going to refuse to teach a trio of kids since one of them was just acting up all over the place which necessitated the intervention since the kids and the mothers wanted the group to stay intact. The boss was fretting a lot about it. Well, it looks like some sort of temporary truce was achieved, if not a detente. So things seem to be more The Two Koreas more than a reunified Germany. Still, the boss is thinking how much easier it would be if there were no Saturday classes.

I finally got to listen to Michael Jackson's pre-"Thriller" album, "Off The Wall" last night. It made for an interesting listening experience. It was kinda proto-"Thriller", actually. There were signs of the singing genius that Jackson would finally show on "Thriller" but "Off The Wall" was reminiscent of the last embers of the disco period. His voice back then was still trying to find its....voice, in a way. "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" was notable for the fact that he had sung the track totally in falsetto. However, "Rock With You" is the one tune that will be my favourite; just a great Rod Temperton composition. Aside from "She's Out of My Life", the others will probably have to grow on me over time. It was also interesting that I'd bought "Off The Wall" along with Mariya Takeuchi's "Miss M", since both were made at around the same time and both had used a lot of the same musicians. Still, this album can be considered to be a sister to Quincy Jones' classic "The Dude".

I also finally got to watch Disc 9 of Ken Burns' "Jazz" epic documentary. I haven't been buying the discs in order so there has been a lot of jumping amongst the decades and genres. Disc 9 dealt with basically the advent of West Coast Jazz, Hard Bop and Experimental Jazz in the 50s and 60s. The previous disc was Disc 5 which was about the apex of the Swing Era, so it was quite a jump to go from Benny, Duke and Louis in their prime to their slow fadeout, at least initially, and see names like Miles, Coltrane and Rollins popping up. Hearing and seeing the difficult and iconoclastic Miles Davis perform on the DVD has gotten me itching to pick up some of his CDs sometime in the near future.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Monday September 7, 10:43 p.m.

I promise...this is the last entry for today. Man, I am so beat. Only had two lessons with 8.5 hours between them, and yet I'm just so ready for bed after a round with The Medicine Man. He just especially sloggy tonight...he's never been the most ebullient responder, but tonight it seemed like every question asked him seemed to him to be the most in need of thought, no matter the topic. Ugh!

Just wanna go home now...
Monday September 7, 6:40 p.m.

I've got a lot of donut days coming up. In fact, I'd say that everyday except this Friday will be hole-y. I had The Nurse this morning and since then it's been nothing but blogging and working on that project from Speedy. We lost another staff member who'd been with us for about a year; she's gonna be heading over to meet her husband in jolly ol' London to start a new life there.

As usual, I've got The Medicine Man in the last slot tonight. Tomorrow, I see The Beehive for the first time in almost 2 months. It'll basically be catch-up day so I don't expect to use any new material. Mrs. Perth will be making her periodic visit from Sapporo so I'll be joining them for lunch.

There was a CNN online article which featured Patrick Stewart who had been at one of those sci-fi conventions. Of course, the lineup to see him was extremely long. Heck, if he'd been here in Tokyo, I would've been more than willing to line up. He said that "Star Trek" is now a fond memory, but a memory nevertheless. But he said that the Xavier-Magneto storyline can still be squeezed for some more mileage. I can certainly agree....that one scene at the beginning of the first "X-Men" nearly a decade ago was easily the highlight for me. They can take turns reading The Yellow Pages on stage, and the combo of Stewart & MacKellen could still ensure a full house. I had to chuckle when someone asked him about what it was like to work with the Shat. He just remarked that "...he is a piece of work, isn't he?" I don't quite think that it was a full endorsement.

Monday September 7, 5:30 p.m.

And even before all the MB weekend, I had found myself with a rather empty Friday since The Bass decided to cancel his class on the 4th. So I decided to take a recce and did a couple of walks in The Big Sushi hours before my stint at the juku. I started out in Shibuya since I hadn't been there in quite a while (my stints with The Class Act all seem like a faded memory now). Just started clicking away at the camera like a regular tourist before I walked up Route 246 Aoyama Dori towards Aoyama and Omotesando. Came across some funky architecture such as the Ami Hall in the left picture. Continued walking up 246 until I made it to Gaienmae. Then I hit the subway and took it up to Ginza.

After checking out Yamano Music as usual, I just walked it up all the way to the Imperial Palace. That's Nijubashi you see up on the right...Nijubashi is translated as "double bridge" since the real thing clearly reflects its image in the moat water. Of course, the usual tourist groups were there walking around the area since they couldn't go inside the compound itself.

Despite my large amount of faux-sightseeing, I did purchase some stuff. At Tower Records, I picked another couple of discs from Ken Burns' "Jazz" epic documentary, along with Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" album. Have yet to hear the whole disc though I did listen to "Rock With You". I also picked up a J-Pop album from Mariya Takeuchi from her early years: "Miss M". I can safely say that noone could ever mistake that album with any by The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler. I'd been getting the latter releases by Takeuchi from the 90s onwards which has shown her to be a serene middle-aged beauty just lounging about. "Miss M" was released in 1980, when she was all of 25 years of age and perhaps just before marrying her equally famous husband, Tatsuro Yamashita. Young Mariya looked like a prettier and classier type of pop aidoru back then...all twinkling eyes, teeth and bangs with that look of "Aw gosh...I really am in Hollywood!" expression, all wrapped up in a suit that a member of a barbershop quartet would just adore.

The early 80s, as far as Japanese New Music was concerned, was practically synonymous with American AOR. It seemed as if a lot of the Japanese singers at that time like Takeuchi, Hiromi Iwasaki, Anri and Naoko Kawai were just begging to be produced by the likes of David Foster who had been behind a lot of the hits for AOR/R&B legends like James Ingram and Bobby Caldwell. "Miss M" was Mariya's contribution to binational AOR diplomacy. Half of the songs were done in LA with the aforementioned Foster and a lot of the familiar names one would see in American AOR album liner notes. What got me to buy the album was the first track, "The Sweetest Music", which I'd seen via YouTube last week with Mariya and backup girls sashaying due to a disco beat....yup, she's been around that long. At that point, Mariya had already been giving her tribute to the Great American Songbook via the Connie Franklin chapter, but with "Miss M", she didn't just throw herself into AOR but also into a bit of disco, balladry and even cool jazz. Quite a revelation for an old kayo kyoku fan like me who's been accustomed to seeing 54-year-old Takeuchi being most notable recently for her annual Xmas jingle for KFC.

Monday September 7, 5:06 p.m.

Now that I've gotten the food reviews out of the way...

the non-culinary portion of my weekend at MB's consisted of movies and video games, the usual itinerary at my friend's home. Saturday evening was a double-bill of "The French Connection"...1 and 2. As a movie buff, I have to admit to some embarrassment at the fact that I'd never seen Gene Hackman's magnum opus of the early 70s. Of course, I'd heard of what had been cinema's greatest rendition of a car chase in the first "French Connection"...that is, until the car chase in "Ronin" eclipsed it.

The first "French Connection" gave a gloriously gritty depiction of New York jungle life. And Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle was one of its most dangerous beasts. I hadn't realized what an anti-hero Doyle was until finally watching it. This guy could give Vic Mackey of "The Shield" a case of cold sweats. Doyle is NOT a nice man. Even after getting kidnapped, forcibly hooked on drugs and going through withdrawal in the sequel, Popeye remains a jerk throughout. I could've imagined any other writer or producer showing that arc of redemption, but it would seem that the producers were hell-bent on ensuring that he never becomes a new good man....even to the point that the movie finishes off extremely abruptly half a second after he finally gets his man in chance to see any tender moments (not that the character would probably ever show them) at the airport between him and his French hosts. It's kinda no wonder that Hackman seemed to get more villianous or morally conflicted roles ("Superman", "The Firm", "Unforgiven") later in his career.

However, it's with the first movie that Popeye is obviously in his element and that the story shines with Manhattan acting as a supporting's fascinating to look at but I wouldn't ever want to step into it for real. I could see where the contemporary police procedural shows like "Law & Order", "Hill Street Blues" and "Third Watch" found their muse. Ironically, a TV version of the movie quickly went down in flames in the 80s.

Monday September 7, 4:58 p.m.

My weekend at MB's was definitely a gastronomically satisfying one. I had El Pescador on Sunday night, but the night before, MB, The Sylph and I had another fine dinner...this time, at a yakiniku shop.

It'd been a few months since our last trip to Korean BBQ...I think the restaurant was in Yoyogi and one of The Sylph's friends had introduced us to it. Grilled and marinated beef is one of those food items that, along with peanuts and chips, can never be stopped at just one slice. It turns us fans into devouring machines. For some reason, there seems to be a direct relationship between the number of slices of yakiniku eaten with the increase in capacity of the human gastrointestinal tract. Luckily though, MB and The Sylph are more gourmet than gourmand, so they helped me keep in culinary control. We had the de rigueur plates of salted beef tongue, kalbi, bulgogi and chicken with generous helpings of salad and kimchi, and MB & I drank it all down with Guinness (!) Of course, my way to end the feast is to always order kalbi kuppa, the hearty stew of marinated kalbi beef, rice and veggies. Despite the amount of cow that we all had, we were still able to take down the kuppa just fine.

Monday September 7, 4:43 p.m.
The restaurant so nice, its photos I put up twice. Yup, the Burger Tour Gang followed the clarion call of Movie Buddy about this place, El Pescador, in Jiyugaoka and amassed last night for what would become a symphony in culinary expertise. For days, MB and The Sylph raved about the fare there. Since they went there as a couple, their choice in dishes to enjoy was limited....unlike me, they don't have black holes where a G-I tract should be. So, they decided to call in the whole gang of me, Skippy, The Satyr and Miss Ivory and Frodo along with his wife.
We weren't disappointed at all. In fact, even the guys were raving throughout the dinner at the various dishes that came out one after the other. Usually, the squeals of "Oishii! Oishii!" are from the domain of the women, but this time the men were also more than happy to echo the sentiments. And for good reason....there wasn't a false note struck during the entire meal. From the above shown Lamb Chops to the two brands of paella to the salad to the bountiful dessert plate and others....this would go down as one of the best repasts I've had in the many years I've been here. Usually I'm not a lamb person since the rather pungent aroma and taste have turned me off in the past. But this tender and juicy dish pretty much destroyed that myth as completely as having that uni at that sushi restaurant that The Jyuppies had taken me to a couple of weeks before. There was the usual amount of chatter amongst us, and Skippy was getting giddy as she usually does, but there was also a lot of appreciative talk about the food. Heck, even Frodo was getting high on his espresso...even had a second cup, which would mean that sleep was probably non-existent for him that night.
During the evening, the chef and other staff had to turn away a number of folks who had erroneously thought they could get in sans reservations. No can do at this's just too small and too good to pull that sort of thing off. Reservations are mandatory. Jiyugaoka has had a number of gastronomic pleasures for me each time I've visited the area with MB, but El Pescador comes down as one of those places I would go for a second trip the next time I head out that way.