Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friday March 25, 9:24 p.m.

It was slightly unusual riding in a car on a bright sunny day while the stereo was playing "Tron: Legacy" but that was the case as The Anime King and The Anime Chamberlain drove to this restaurant in Whitby called "Buster Rhino's".

The usual question which would apply to Whitby was "Why?" as in "Why would anyone go to Whitby?" I'm not sure if it would even be classified as a bedroom town for Toronto. And "Buster Rhino's" itself is located in an isolated industrial park...a bizarre location, to say the least, for a southern BBQ restaurant. In fact, the place was set up in a facility which was obviously more

appropriate as a distribution warehouse, and The King told me that Buster's had originally been set up to do just that instead of being an actual restaurant. But as Speedy would readily admit, the best laid plans tend to stray. The place sold hot and cold sandwiches, ribs and other BBQ-friendly goodies. I ordered the Hot Beef Brisket Sandwich with Hush Puppies on the side. The sandwich was fine but the hush puppies are an acquired taste. Or at least, there should've been a few less served.

Afterwards, it was back to Toronto to a Tim Horton's for a couple of hours of coffee and conversation. Talk ranged from anime to the real facts of the radiation seeping out of Reactor 3. It was there that the Chamberlain's very cynical side poked itself out which sparked a small argument between him and The King, a la McCoy and Spock. After 2 hours, it pretty much killed the conversation so the Chamberlain drove us home. However, the Chamberlain suggested getting together next week for dinner and maybe even a trip to Elmira for the annual Sugar Run. Apparently, due to the unusually long winter (even for Toronto), the maple syrup harvest has been late by almost a month. This would literally be a golden opportunity.

After having munched down a huge sandwich and those Hush Puppies, it was just my luck that Mom and Dad brought home a large pizza for dinner. I was able to survive the culinary onslaught.

Things haven't changed much in Fukushima. A couple of reactors are still spewing out steam. However, as expected, Stephen Harper's government has fallen and so begins 5 weeks of campaigning.
Friday March 25, 6:25 a.m.

I've woken up with the knowledge that one of the Fukushima reactors may have been breached, which may explain those irradiated workers. Still early hours, but that's not hopeful news. The past couple of weeks has been literally life-changing. Knowing full well about the time difference, I'll still say that this time two weeks ago, the only thing I had been worried about was paying annual taxes and how my lessons would go. Two minutes on March 11th changed everything. I'd had no idea that I would be spending a Canadian spring in self-imposed exile. Core breach? Up to this morning, those were two words I'd only heard on "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

Last Thursday, when I pulled the trigger and purchased my overpriced air ticket, I didn't realize that it would be the last time I would see the thorn in Speedy's side, Ms. Efficiency. She and La Fille were right beside me so they knew my plan. Still, as I remember it, the final parting between the oft-prickly Efficiency and me was appropriately light and breezy. There was no heavy outpouring of emotion but the departures of Ray and Miss London were along the same lines. Working as administrative staffers at Speedy's hasn't particularly engendered any sad farewells. I'm just worried that my temporary goodbye to Speedy may gain some more permanence.

It's not just Japanese reactors that are failing. It's expected that the Canadian government of PM Stephen Harper will be going down this morning, much to Opposition glee once the no-confidence motion is passed. And so, I will witness my first Canadian federal election campaign in almost 2 decades if not the actual election...hopefully.

Thursday March 24, 2:48 p.m.

Far better day today. Sunny and clear and not that cold. The TTC was in far better shape than it was yesterday.

I got to Sheppard Station, a good 40 minutes early so I decided to have a Cinnabon and coffee while reading The Sun. I would understand why Cinnabons never took in Tokyo...the incredible sweetness put even Krispy Kreme to shame.

The Wild Guy showed up 10 minutes late but we still had plenty of time to go to The Memphis Smokehouse. the waitress was suitably sassy and friendly. When I asked for a table for two, she just thumbed us over to the back. Being lunch, we went for the specials. We opted for the Pulled Pork Sandwich. Of course, as has been the case with everyone I've spoken to since I got back to T.O., the conversation started with the current situation in Japan. Still, the Wild Guy being The Wild Guy, his irrepressible humour kept things light. He and his family are still aiming to leave Toronto for more fruitful pastures such as Vancouver.

When I got back home, The Entrepreneur called me so we had a nice chat while he was on his way down to see a client. We will be getting together at The Dancer's place in early April for lunch, but perhaps there's a small chance that we may meet beforehand.

The latest report from Japan hasn't changed much from yesterday: slight water contamination and a stabilizing situation in Fukushima. I'll take that as hopeful news. Meanwhile over here, we're getting close to a successful passage of a non-confidence motion against the Harper government due to the DOA budget. The campaign buses are already gussied up.

The last few days back in Toronto settled me down a lot. I've only just realized the amount of stress I'd been under since the quake happened. My sister-in-law has even offered one of her notebooks as a loaner computer so that I can keep in daily contact with Japan.

10:03 p.m.

A flurry of phone activity over the last several hours. I got in touch with The Egg. His Sendai in-laws and their house are fine although food is slightly difficult to get. Then I had a fairly long chat with The Tea Lady, an old friend of mine from Japan who's emigrated here. Finally, The Anime Chamberlain, The Anime King and I had another conference call to finalize plans for a lunch trip to their vaunted rib place all the way out in Whitby. Basically, tomorrow is the only opportunity for The King since he's back at work next week and the place is inexplicably closed on weekends.

Dinner tonight at home was steak. This would make it the first time in my recorded history that I've had steak 2 nights in a row. Unless one is filthy rich in Japan, this would nearly be financially impossible there.

Friday April 29, 11:10 a.m.

Yep, today is the big day between Will and Kate (I dunno, for some reason, I always envision a sitcom whenever I write their names down). There has been some coverage on the local channels here about the biggest nuptials this year, but understandably, news on the Fukushima disaster and the continuing problems in the Tohoku area have been taking precedence. And yet, amongst all the problems that have been hitting the news wires in the first half of this year, it is nice to see for once, some good news make the rounds in the 24-hour news cycle.

However, I am reminded of 30 years ago when, as a callow and far skinnier youth, I had seen the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Strangely enough, I seem to see my British Royal Weddings in Japan. Back in 1981, I was in the middle of my graduation trip from Japanese Language School in this country when that royal wedding took place in late July. I was watching it on TV with my Osakan relatives in their tiny apartment above my uncle's stationery shop in the Namba district. Man, that was an epic pageant of color. My main memory of that was just seeing Diana's wedding dress trail; I could imagine the cleaning bill on that alone.

Of course, that Cinderella-like fantasy ceremony crashed and burned like the Hindenburg several years later. Today's wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton will probably not reach the epic heights of that wedding, but I'm pretty confident that Will and Kate will have a better chance of seeing their new relationship through.

I raise my glass of bottled water in their honor....don't quite trust the tap water just yet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wednesday April 27, 3:17 p.m.

In a current world of Middle East turmoil, Japanese nuclear crisis and Canadian political inanities, I guess this Friday may turn out to be a bit of a tonic for all concerned. Of course, I'm talking about the Royal Wedding between Will and Kate. Yup, the media is in overdrive about the biggest world nuptials since Charles and Diana, but when I speak on behalf of a lot of Japanese who have been traumatized by the strongest quake in 300 years, seeing this fantasy wedding thousands of kilometres away may not be too bad a thing. And it's occurring on the official first day of the Golden Week holidays here. This Friday just happens to be Green Day (no relation to the 90s band), otherwise known as Emperor Hirohito's birthday. Ironically, I don't think anyone royal from the Imperial Palace will be attending the wedding in London due to recent events. Wouldn't be prudent.
Wednesday April 27, 2:57 p.m.

Just another excerpt of my time in Toronto.

Wednesday March 23, 9:04 a.m.

We're in our 3rd full day of Spring, and yet Southern Ontario is in the midst of a bout of steady snow. I won't be going out today unless The Anime Chamberlain's plan comes through. I've yet to hear anything from either him or The King but I should be giving one of them a call.

Well, it looks like BBC had the upper hand with its report that radiation had indeed seeped into the Tokyo water supply. NHK is finally reporting the sad but unsurprising fact which I'm sure had the masses rushing to the stores to stock up on bottled water. The powers-that-be are stating that using tap water should be OK but just in case limit its use. I'm sure folks like Anderson Cooper would probably shake their heads in indignant disbelief at the seeming mealy-mouthiness of the government announcements. However, in a society which traditionally treasures harmony over stark truth, the statement comes off as perfectly fine. It just means "Try not to use it" But the warning is aimed at young families with babies. There wouldn't be any lingering effects on full-fledged adults.

As for the root of the trouble, there was black smoke emanating again from one of the reactors which precipitated another temporary evacuation of personnel. But it looks like things are stabilizing and the fact that even on NHK, this news was relegated as the third story can't be all bad.

I called up Automan. He was in Hillcrest Mall with his wife, so was a little distracted. The missus will still head to Hokkaido this weekend, but Automan has re-scheduled his trip to the Fall.

I've been watching The Food Network to keep my mind at ease.

10:09 a.m.

Just heard that Elizabeth Taylor had died this morning. I've never seen a full movie of her, so I was never a fan but her departure means that our attachment to the Golden Age of Hollywood has pretty much been lopped off.

10:19 a.m.

Just left a message with The Anime Chamberlain. I'm now hearing some embassies in Tokyo are packing up and heading West. Hmmmm.....I wonder what that might signify. I'm sure the Canadian Embassy is not among the fleeing group, otherwise CBC would've said so. And PM Harper has yet to announce any emergency evacuation for Canadian nationals in Japan.

1:57 p.m.

Looks like dinner with The King and The Chamberlain is on. Through the wonders of technology, we had a 3-way confab on the line and figured The Keg would be our venue for tonight. Haven't had real Canadian steak in several years. The Chamberlain said he'd see if Automan were available although I have my doubts.

I just got off the phone with The Dancer. We once again compared notes on the quake. And we've made tentative plans for the 9th.

11:32 p.m.

Learned...or was the TTC could be on a regular snow day. I waited 20 minutes in the snow before three buses crawled over like a mechanical centipede. And it was a long 40-minute ride to Eglinton Station. But I was able to meet The King and The Chamberlain at Leslie Station. It was a short hop over to The Keg.

The Keg is kinda like an upscale izakaya in Tokyo. It's a slightly more expensive dinner option that can still bring in the masses, but with one exception. The Keg also comes with gregarious sitcom-friendly waiters looking for a tip. Our trio was joined by a friend whom I hadn't seen in about 25 years. Our respective parents still keep in contact with each other so I'm not sure how Mom will react.

A Keg steak is something I haven't eaten in several years so it was nice to have a steak that was thicker than a centimetre and didn't come with a pat of butter on it. When it comes to fried beef, I know where I stand....and eat. I didn't bring that much money so I had to settle for an 8 oz. sirloin but I found out that even that small but dense piece of meat suited me just fine. Age, jet lag or long years eating buttered microsteak....there must be a reason.

In any case, tomorrow I meet The Wild Guy for brunch. I'm hoping the TTC is in better shape.
Wednesday April 27, 2:37 p.m.

Looks like my holidays will be extended by another week due to Golden Week, although I don't think it'll be much in the way of golden. Travel may go down as much as 30% compared to the rates last year. And as for me, I always appreciate down time but when one hasn't made very much income in over a month, it's always a squeeze on the accounting.

I actually did see The Beehive for the first time in 6 weeks yesterday. It was never my intention but I ended up telling them that I will be pulling up stakes in Japan by the end of the year. Of course, there was sadness. And certainly, I feel bad about it since Mrs. Tulip and Mrs. London were planning to return to the fold early next year, but frankly, the past month's circumstances have changed...or thoughts on my future.

As expected, Kirk had cancelled his lesson for tonight at Speedy's, so I probably won't see my school for at least another 10 days. La Fille called me up to say that The Shareholder has reserved a lesson for next Friday.

Newswise, the wide shows have been paying tributes to a former 70s aidoru-turned-actress, Yoshiko Tanaka. She started out as one-third of The Candies, a legendary trio of teen idols pre-dating even Pink Lady by a couple of years which had come up with pop tunes that are even remembered now such as "Haru Ichiban" and "Toshi Shita no Otoko no Ko". At that time, her cute name was "Su" but all that changed in the 80s when she decided to come back to show biz after a few years of retirement to become an actress. And basically, most people under the age of 30 only know her as a veteran thespian. However, that all ended a few days ago when Tanaka passed away at the age of 55 due to breast cancer.

Still on the topic of the late Ms. Tanaka, any preconception of the Japanese as being inscrutable goes out the window when it comes to celebrity funerals. In the West, celeb funerals are often very private affairs in which the paparazzi risk getting their heads and cameras handed back to them by angry mourners. Here, it's almost an obligation for the bereaved of a late celeb to show up in front of the cameras, microphones and breathless geino reporters to talk about their loved one's last few days and weeks on Earth. As with Japanese celeb funerals, the one for Yoshiko Tanaka had the cameras inside the funeral hall taking pictures as family members and fellow celebs tearfully gave eulogies. Another interesting observation of these funerals is that eulogists face a huge smiling picture of the dearly departed and speak to them directly. There is more drama wrenched out of these scenes than in a typical episode of a soap opera. There was even more drama than usual for Ms. Tanaka's service. A 3-minute, 18-second tape of her final words was played for all in the hall as the clearly dying actress rasped out her message of hope for all those affected in the recent earthquake.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Monday April 25, 1:26 p.m.

The flight home from Toronto to Tokyo was the usual arduous affair. And once again, Delta had us watching movies via the old-style single screen on a bulkhead. So it was the latest in the "Narnia" series, the "Harry Potter" series and a romantic flick called "How Do You Know?" with Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd. This last movie was singled out as one of last year's biggest duds. Yep, it seemed like two stories with nowhere much to go with the usual romantic-comedic angst about the horror of relationships. Still, I'm not sure if it had been a Stockholm Syndrome of being captive aboard a flying tin can, but the movie wasn't too bad overall with me.

Tuesday March 22, 6:36 p.m.

Had my first official outing since coming back. The Anime King and I had lunch at one of his favorite eateries in Scarberia: China Cottage where I had a Szechuan Chicken lunch for the ridiculously low price (especially for someone who lives in Japan) of $6.25. As a Szechuan dish, it had plenty of heat but seemed a bit off-balance in the seasoning department.

On the drive up to China Cottage, the King and I talked on the current situation plaguing the Kanto and we both agreed that although events are serious, there has been too much doomsday news that hasn't been warranted. Apparently, the people fighting the fires in Fukushima have attached....finally...the power lines to the reactor cooling systems, although I'd heard the seawater had damaged at least a few of them beyond repair.

After lunch, there was a pit stop at his favorite Second Cup for some coffee and biscotti before dropping by his place for a couple of hours of listening to his anime and game soundtracks. It's become an annual tradition.

Tomorrow might be a larger outing with The Anime Court. At least the Anime Chamberlain is supposed to be planning something for dinner. And I've got lunch with The Wild Guy on Thursday. Looks like my comfort level is increasing.

The big news today? PM Harper's new budget was DOA. Therefore, there is the probability that another federal election is in the offing.

Tuesday March 22, 9:26 a.m.

I'm back. And I've been back for a little less than 48 hours now. So far, I've been decompressing in the comfort of my own home. The flight back from Tokyo would've been one of the easiest..getting processed through Narita and Pearson was an absolute breeze but Detroit was a pain. It was a combination of bad luck and incompetence with Delta Airlines (overbooking, preflight stupidity) which reminded me of the good sense not to make connections Stateside if at all possible. However, the 198,000-yen price tag on a direct Air Canada flight rendered the point financially moot. The lone flight attendant on the Detroit-Toronto run barely concealed her discouragement at having to handle a simmering group of passengers who, like the Fukushima reactors, occasionally exploded. And I distinctly saw her mouth "OMG" and turning away from our collectively dour demeanor. Obviously, she wasn't a particularly polished veteran. Still, it says something about getting away from a potential nuclear fallout disaster that I could gripe about something as mundane as the near-inevitability of a bad connection.

In previous years, my returns to Toronto were based on fun and relaxation. This time, the feeling is more of relief, escape and comfort. For me, comfort food, comfort images and comfort sounds have been paramount. I still have access to the sorrowful and frightening scenes of Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures respectively via NHK World, but aside from the one daily report that I watch more for possible strategies rather than enjoyment, I've been trying to shun anything concerning those failing reactors. Again, CNN and BBC have been displaying doomsday scenarios about the home for over 16 years while NHK has been trying to keep a better face on things. All media have reported on the contaminated milk and spinach but only the Western sources have mentioned about radiation seeping into Tokyo tap water. It's hard who to believe. Is CNN or BBC still overblowing the situation or is NHK or TEPCO hiding information to stress comforting harmony over harsh truth? That's part of the reason for my return. The month is long enough for me to come to a conclusion about where Japan is going. Will it be able to contain and stabilize those 6 reactors so that life, if not return to the normalcy before 2:48 p.m. on March 11, will at least be livable for that 10% of the national population? Or will the Kanto end up as Target No. 1 for dangerous nuclear fallout? The juku boss won't like it but I've created a contingency plan if the worst-case scenario does indeed come to pass.

As I said, it's all been about comfort. I've had a greater appreciation for food, friends, music and TV since I got back on Sunday night. Mom made hamburgers and miso soup for all of us, and it was mizutaki last night. I've been watching "Family Guy" and the various shows on The Food Network. I've been listening to some of my favorite CDs that I'd brought back. It's been my existential morphine.

I've started calling folks since I got back. I called up Shard, The Wild Guy and The Anime King yesterday. I'm actually meeting The King in an hour for lunch. He was actually supposed to be in Tokyo but with the new reality, he's had to cancel and so now has a week of nothing to do. However, unlike the Holidays, I've been reminded indirectly by Shard and The Wild Guy that these are un-Holiday times and that these are regular work days which mean that they couldn't offer up immediately days and times to meet. That's OK...I'm not in a joyous mood.

It says something about the comfort of Canada when the biggest news is whether the Harper government will actually survive this week.
Monday April 25, 12:01 p.m.

Well, definitely a long time since my last entry. Yup, back in Japan again...much to my parents' slight nervousness. I got back last Thursday. So far, so good, I guess. Although the situation in Fukushima is far from settled, it seems like things have gained a lot of normalcy here in Ichikawa and in Tokyo. However, power conservation has rendered things like lights and escalators in subway stations mostly dark, and the ATMs are now operational for just 11 hours a day. Also, although it looks like radiation levels in the water have apparently gone back to the negligible zone, I'm still buying bottled water for drinking, cooking and teeth-brushing purposes just to be safe.

I've had my first three students since my return from Canada. I had Yajima, The Jyuppies and Cozy, and my month-long break has helped me to get my lessons from getting lazy. It will be a slow couple of weeks, though, since we're entering Golden Week, although I can't see a lot of people in the traveling mood. Cozy informed me that this year's ohanami proceedings have been mostly a bust due to the subdued mood. Major tragedies such as earthquakes and deaths of emperors have a way of cancelling happy events such as weddings and travel plans.

I did a lot of jotting down of my time in Toronto for the past month so I'll be providing excerpts of those in blue, intermixed with the current stuff.