Friday, February 26, 2010

Saturday February 27, 12:20 p.m.

Well, the news was tragic, and regrettably not unexpected. Walter Koenig, the original Pavel Chekov, has lost a son. Andrew Koenig was found dead in a Vancouver park a couple of days ago. There is apparently a video now online showing the grieving parents exhorting anyone thinking about suicide to talk to friends and family before taking that last step. One of the worst things that anyone can experience is having a child go before you do. I'm just a bit surprised that the Mixi Star Trek community hasn't seemed to have picked up on it.
Saturday February 27, 11:55 a.m.

For Japan, the Olympics are pretty much over except for the Closing Ceremonies, and I don't know too many people who would take the time to TiVo that over here (I don't even think you can TiVo here). The big show, the Women's Figure Skating is all done and gone, and the analyses have begun in earnest on the morning wide shows (yep, they also happen on Saturday mornings, too). As I'd thought, there have been some ungrudging admissions that Yu Na Kim was indeed the better performer yesterday. "The Japan Times" front page said it very bluntly: "Elegant Kim Glides to Gold; Shaky Mao Settles for Silver". Good golly...I didn't think Mao Asada was that bad, although Mao herself would disagree.

So, unless we have some further upsets, Japan is gonna end up with four medals from Vancouver: 2 Silvers and 2 Bronzes. I can say, somewhat sarcastically, that Team Japan was able to increase its total haul from Turin by 4 times. However, it would seem that the gleam of Gold shines far hotter than any Silver or Bronze take. Sure, The Japan Olympic Committee was wringing its hands at how poorly Japan did in 2006 but Shizuka Arakawa's lone Gold performance in Figure Skating took quite a lot of the tarnish off. And "Turandot" became one of the best-sellers of that year. Not to bring down the competitors in Speed Skating and Figure Skating this time around, but it seems that the glow of four medals hasn't really outshone that one medal four years ago. One of the officials of Team Japan gave a pretty grumpy press conference a few days, stating how disappointed he was in the results. At first, I thought rather Pollyannishly that the man doth protest too much and that it was an honor just to be selected to perform at the Games; however, reality bonked me upside the head. Yep, just performing there is great but there is also a lot to be said about bringing in a huge medal haul in terms of money, prestige and national pride...and even more importantly, future sponsorship in those sports. Not finishing in the medal rounds or even in the Top 8 (for some reason, Japan seems to be on the Base 8 system, not the Base 10 of much of the rest of the planet when it comes to rankings) tends to tighten up those coffers. So I think the JOC will be doing some major rethink when everyone comes home next week.

Now, as for the home country. I think it would be safe to say that Canada has had a pretty good Games. No, we're nowhere near the U.S. or Germany in the total medal count, but we're all tied when it comes to Gold...and you've just read my point about Gold and those two other medals. The Women's Hockey Team just grabbed their 3rd Gold in as many consecutive Olympics, and Joannie Rochette got that Bronze in Figure Skating. And while that event was Japan's big raison d'etre to watch, the highlight for Canada is still more than a day away...right on the final day of Vancouver 2010, when we find out whether The Men's Hockey Team will get their Gold. A pity that if there is any chance at all to see in here in Japan, it will be in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Saturday February 27, 11:44 a.m.

Yep, that is indeed the third entry in McDonalds Japan's "Big America" campaign: the one and only Hawaiian Burger, following in the footsteps of the Texas Burger and New York Burger. I had this behemoth on Wednesday night after work since I finished relatively early (9:30 p.m. is early for me). Unlike the first two times, when the Speedy staff and I had gone for a group tasting, I did a solo since I was rather hungry and the local Golden Arches was really the only quick viable alternative. At first thought, I had believed that it would be sold out since the first two sold like hotcakes (McDonalds, of course). But strangely enough, there were still plenty of the Hawaiian variety.

As can be seen above, the Hawaiian Burger comes loaded to bear with bacon, cheese, a fried egg over the patty all slathered in a dark sweet sauce which brings to mind the local Hawaiian fast food, loco moco. The burger did me right in filling me up, but I can't say that it topped the last entry, The New York Burger since I've never been a fan of the combination of a fried egg and beef...I guess that combo of coagulated white and meat is just not my thing.

So, it's on to the next and final entry of The California Burger in a couple of weeks' time....which brings up the question of what would be some other possible "state" burgers. I think the Illinois Burger (Chicago, home of deep-dish pizza and ribs) and the Louisiana Burger (Cajun cuisine) are absolutely viable next steps. Probably down at the bottom would be the Alaska Burger (arctic char in a bun? uh, no) and the Vermont Burger (in Japan, Vermont stands for apple-and-honey curry...a crime against culinary humanity).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friday February 26, 1:46 p.m.

Well, for a few minutes, probably most of Japan stood still and crowded around their televisions anywhere and their homes, offices, restaurants and perhaps in front of store windows in Akiba. They were watching the showdown....only in Japan could two lithe female skaters could elicit the sort of hyperbole usually meant for championship boxers or NFL teams in The Super Bowl.

For several months, the media in both Japan and Korea have been crazy reporting about the exploits of Mao Asada and Yu-na Kim...if they were Klingon, there would've already been a song written about them to drink over their Rokeg Blood Pie and Gagh. And now the party's over.

It was pretty much expected amongst the masses that Kim would get the Gold Medal. Her James Bond routine had both artistic and technical merit in spades. Well, she just about splatted the competition into paste right now...scored tens of points ahead of Mao. Mao did her best but artistically, she has a ways to go yet. So, to Mao goes Silver. No shame in that. And I think things worked out as best as they could realistically. Kim deservedly gets her Gold, Mao gets the Silver for being technically perfect, and Joannie Rochette of Canada gets the Bronze.

Now, come the days-long analyses on morning TV.
Thursday February 25, 5:45 p.m.

Being a Trekkie, it was interesting to actually see a rerun of "Boston Legal" on cable, which means seeing William Shatner as the zany Denny Crane. This is a cheerfully debauched old guy who could be mistaken as the younger brother of Jabba The Hutt, except for the hair. Then, I later see an old "Star Trek" episode, "The Tholian Web", with the leaner, far more heroic Shatner as Captain Kirk.

Keeping on the same theme but on a darker tone, Walter "Chekov" Koenig's son is missing. And the background doesn't sound too good. Apparently, the son has been pretty depressed recently, and departed his L.A. apartment after having sold all of his possessions. Not gonna predict anything yet, though.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thursday February 25, 1:22 p.m.

Well, Canada managed to steamroller past the Russians in hockey just now. Final score: 7-3. And Vancouver is a very happy place to be. Now, if we can just win two more games... Hockey is not a popular sport by any means in Japan, so somewhat regrettably we expat Canadians will have to rely on what scraps we can get from various sources. If we are very lucky, we may get live coverage of the final in the wee hours.

Finished with Grandma FON about an hour ago. Her memory was faltering a bit but the drive was still there.
Thursday February 25, 11:26 a.m.

The balminess continues. It's gonna go up to 17 degrees C in The Big Sushi, but then the rains will start coming from tomorrow. However, at least, the cedar pollen will get washed out from the air when they do come in. Yep, hay fever has arrived once more to plague the population. I did take my medicine, though.

Was lucky to have been able to get The Hawaiian Burger from McD's last night for dinner. This time, I was by myself in trying the 3rd in the Big America series of burgers from The Golden Arches. I'd already gotten some background on the's basically styled from a local Hawaiian fast food known as loco moco...a big meat patty slathered with sauce and a fried egg, all put on rice. I was never all that fond of having a fried egg put on any sort of meat, although I make a very big exception for Eggs Benedict. It was kinda weird, therefore, to be sinking my teeth through several millimetres of coagulated egg white before hitting the patty. Not too bad, though, and it was fairly big.

The TV commercials have been getting a lot of airplay...all to the tune of "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins. The 80s will never die in Japan.

Just have 3 today. I should have Grandma FON in a few minutes...she's running a bit late. Then, much later on I've got The Carolinan followed by Mr. TOEFL.

Wednesday February 24, 8:50 p.m.
Well, this is the end of a pretty relaxing day. Just had 001 although I've been here since 12 noon. Basically, I've been popping away at the Internet. 001 had her usual ski trip up to Hokkaido. This time, she and her cronies skiied away in Furano, and she got me those famous Marusei Butter Cookies with the cream and raisins which promise to increase my cholesterol by about a thousand degrees.
However, we had our tea session with these things to the left of me. These are yatsuhashi...basically, bean paste-filled pasta-like envelopes which come from Kyoto. They're a delicacy in Japan, and I'm a pretty big fan of them. The ones in the box here are trendy little variations with the pink ones being sakura-flavoured while the green ones are matcha. The usual ones are beige in color and dusted in kinako, a powdery spice, most reminiscent of cinnamon. As with cinnamon, there are supporters and detractors, but I'm one of the former. I actually knew a student back at the ol' school whose last name was Yatsuhashi, and she confessed that she was probably related to one of the family responsible for the production of these confections. The fact that she is also from Kyoto cements that theory.
Well, I'm basically done here, but I do have to mention that as far as I know, it seems as if the Women's Figure Skating has gone accordingly. The Korean skater, Kim Yo-na is out in front while Mao Asada is just behind her by a point. As much as I want to see Mao win the big prize, I don't think it'll be happening at these Olympics. Plus, my heart is going out to that Canadian skater who lost her mother tragically just a couple of days ago, just when she was about to skate her heart out to her parents from Montreal. Nothing sadder than that.
I've joined another community on Mixi for a singer by the name of Mariya Takeuchi. I can probably say that she can be called the Queen of J-AOR.
Anyways, I'm gonna see if I can grab that Hawaiian Burger at McDonalds before I head on home.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wednesday February 24, 3:32 p.m.

It's been an interesting week. I had a very stacked Monday, and will probably do so for the foreseeable future, with 7.5 hours' worth of teaching. Basically, I'm looking at leaving the apartment at 6:30 a.m. and coming home at the stroke of midnight. I had Cozy for his usual 8 a.m. lesson. But then Swank is back in the saddle again requesting 2.5 hours per lesson in Roppongi Hills. I'd been worried about how such a long haul would go. But the first session at least went quite swimmingly. It may have been quite Spring-like outside for the past few days but still not warm enough to merit sitting in the outdoor table area for 25 minutes, let alone 2.5 hours, so we had our class in the Espresso Americano, a slightly more swankier cafe than Starbucks. Swank kept things going very well about her Eiken scores and on other topics so that the 2+ hours sped by. I can only hope that this continues.

Then, it was the usual 90 minutes of fun and games with SIL followed by the first official class with Miss HGL (happy-go-lucky) who just seems to be happy to be alive. For a very long day, the students made things very easy for me. Even The Medicine Man, who is considerably more mute though a very nice guy, kept things going fairly smoothly.

Yesterday, after my session and lunch with The Beehive, I did my annual visit to the Ichikawa Tax Office in Onigoe to pick up my income-and-expenditures sheet. I just mixed up one syllable in my Japanese request and two officers there were left flabbergasted. And I felt like a dumb tourist with a map. Well, at least, I got two copies of it...perhaps so that I won't have to ask them again next year. Anyways, I'll be getting my taxes done this weekend.

My Tuesday nights are also pretty packed now since my juku schedule is now nearly filled up, except for the 6-7 hour. Happy to see that Mr. White is back to his jolly self and that Sugar & Spice are still enjoying the lessons although I think some of the stuff I'm using may be a bit too tough for high school kids. The Milds are fine as always. And then there is my newest student, Mr. Nice Guy. He can haphazardly string sentences together but his English is kinda like a car put together with string instead of nuts, bolts and welds. Gonna be working rather intensively with him, which must be fine with him although he's a friendly and/but intense fellow. The boss pointed out that he IS from Osaka. Anyways, I think the early part of the week will probably have me reaching for the vitamin drinks.

Actually, I just have one lone class today, and it is my veteran, 001. I only had one other lesson with The Music Man, but he dotakyan'ed to next week. And even The Restauranteur has had to cancel her lesson this Friday since she's gotta go to another service involving her recently departed uncle.

As for The Olympics, things have settled into a good rhythm. We were able to reap 3 medals from the first week, so basically the monkey is off our backs for at least another 4 years. However, all eyes are now on the ice rink to see who will win the battle between South Korea's Kim Yo-na and Japan's Mao Asada. Both are 19, virtually the same height and going for the same medal. You couldn't get a more dramatic showdown than this. But I think when all is said and done, it'll be Kim who'll get the Gold, unless she suffers a major catastrophe.

Wednesday February 24, 3:14 p.m.
That emblem to the right is that of Toyota, one of the more famous logos on the planet and, along with the company itself, a source of national pride. However, that logo is now the corporate equivalent of the Scarlet Letter. The president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, is in Washington D.C., literally and figuratively being put on the carpet to answer questions from a US government panel about the problems that the Prius and some of the other lines of cars have been suffering.
The news has been so big in Japan that it has rivaled even the news about the titanic battle between Kim Yo-Na and Mao Asada in the Women's Figure Skating at the Olympics. The showdown, though, will be between middle-aged folks, not young and pretty athletes. Still the results in the committee room, instead of on the ice, will potentially have far more resounding consequences.
Mrs. Alp of The Beehive yesterday morning, despite her laryngitis, was pretty vocal about the fact the Japanese people themselves have to step up to the plate and defend their automobile company. She kinda struck me like Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith" heading up to Capitol Hill. The rest of the ladies nodded in sage agreement, although they wondered aloud what they could do. And I have to say that I also feel for some of the victims of these cars. Please imagine being behind the wheel of a recent Toyota when it suddenly pulls a Stephen King "Christine" and accelerates without your say-so. That would be true terror, not the literary kind. Perhaps, pride and jobs may be lost not only in Japan but also in Toyota's subcontractors in the States, but some of these families have lost loved ones, so I can't really join Mrs. Alp's caravan.
There was also an article in the paper this morning about how limited Mr. Toyoda's testimony will be in front of the Congressional representatives. Akio Toyoda is indeed the President of Toyota but he is also a figurehead. The big cheeses of corporations and ministries are there for show, but the real movers and shakers are at least a level below...the vice-presidents or parliamentary vice-ministers or even lower. The American pols may be wringing their hands in frustration as they try to get through to a fellow who has limited English fluency and an inability to really make much of a dent in policy.
At least Mao and Yo-Na can control their destinies to a certain extent.