Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sunday May 15, 2:22 p.m.

Strangely enough, I'm here at the I-Cafe on a Sunday since I had to send a message over to The Godfather. I accidentally gave him some wrong information about my availability next week, so corrected myself on that.

Since I heard that "Safety Dance" song again on "Family Guy", I can't get it out of my head. Then again, it doesn't help that I bought a CD of 80's remixes which includes that very tune.

In any case, in about another half hour I'll be making my way out to Roppongi Hills to catch "Black Swan" with MB and the guys.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Saturday May 14, 2:36 p.m.

Almost at the end of my 5-hour stint at the I-Cafe. Not sure what the weather is like although it was gorgeous this morning. I heard that it may be clouding up later this afternoon with some chance of rain.

On YouTube, I saw what was perhaps the earliest coverage of the death of that tarento, Miyu Uehara. It was the Fuji-TV morning wide show, and by the shocked looks of the hosts, it seems like the news had just come in mere seconds before. One of the panelists and a good friend of the late Miss Uehara, Kaori Manabe, was bawling her eyes out. Makes one think what is really important in life.

I'll be meeting with the Movie Gang tomorrow for "Black Swan" in Roppongi Hills. Skippy, as usual, has done her good deed by getting the tickets online. I've been getting warnings from abroad about this flick.

Saturday May 14, 11:17 a.m.

The young lady to your left was a pinup idol and then ended up becoming a popular TV celebrity on at least 10 variety shows here in Japan. This 24-year-old even had the time to publish her bio...which is virtually an obligation for Japanese celebs who actually make it to the big time.

This young lady is now dead.

Miyu Uehara was found with her neck in a scarf and some other article of clothing wrapped around a doorknob in her apartment in Tokyo early Friday morning. I've pretty much given up on Japanese TV so I really didn't know all that much about her, although I did recall seeing her the one time on late-night variety show "Pussuma" with one of the SMAP boys, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and loudmouth tarento Yusuke Santamaria. She just struck me as one of the dozens of PYTs that adorn the domestic airwaves. Her death has sent the local media into overdrive...due to her youth and her apparent popularity.

One of the daily morning wide shows yesterday devoted the first 30 minutes of the programme just for her before any introduction of the host and panelists was made. Suicides are sadly commonplace in Japan....for the 10th year in a row, Japan will probably have over 30,000 cases. However, suicide amongst show biz types is fairly rare despite all the hell that they have to go through with almost superhuman demands on their time for radio and TV appearances. Apparently most of them are able to develop a tough enough hide to survive their lucrative but demanding lives. But there were hints in recent days that Ms. Uehara was struggling with hers especially when it came to her love life. She was seeing someone but did write on her blog about the difficulty of finding true love. And then her father relayed that the day before her death, she had called him up tearfully to say that she wanted to come back home.

There have been famous suicides in the past several years...perhaps the most famous one being that of hide, the bassist for legendary rock group, X Japan. But he was somewhat older and a bit less seen, although his death brought thousands of mourners to his funeral in Tokyo. I guess the reason behind the media circus surrounding this young lady's untimely suicide is indeed because of how well-seen she was on the tube. Her death reminds me of the suicide of another young aidoru back in the mid-80s, Yukiko Okada. She was even younger than Uehara when she jumped out of a hospital window due to some breakdown in a romance.

What's also very sad about Uehara's suicide is that she was the youngest of 11 children. Even in the land of the Octomom, an 11-children family would raise eyebrows. Just imagine such a family in Japan, where the birth rate is less than 2 people per family. Uehara's oldest brother is 52 years old!...old enough to be her father. In such a large family, wasn't there any sibling who could take her under his or her wing?

Saturday May 14, 10:52 a.m.

My little old neighbourhood. Just took it this morning on my way over here to the I-Cafe. It's a nice Spring day here in Ichikawa....rather easy to forget about all the trials and tribulations of the past 2 months when walking outside. I'm indeed grateful that I no longer have to work on Saturdays.

Yesterday ended up being one of those all-cafe lesson days. I had The Bass at our usual place on the empty 2nd floor, Swank at our Roppongi Hills haunt (although that will be changing from next week), and The Godfather at an Akasaka Tully's, my newest student although I had met him for the introduction all the way back at the start of the year.

The Bass had some big news. Despite all the sturm und drang from the quake, tsunami and nuclear problems, he was able to get married with his girlfriend during my time back in Canada. He told me that he hadn't suffered too much in terms of any loss of his inventory although sales have plummeted (as I suspect has been the case for a lot of businesses here), and it looks like he isn't worrying too much....good attitude.

As for Swank, she's been doing well although her husband has been burning all sorts of midnight and midday oil because of the effects of the quake. Since Mr. Swank operates a company that manufactures seashore tetrapods, his business is currently in overdrive. Still, Swank did say that he would try to contact Speedy's sometime next week for a possible lesson with me. She also suggested that we move our venue from Roppongi Hills to a public library nearby her home, since she finds our cafe a bit noisy during lunchtime. To emphasize that point, there was a gaggle of very vociferous middle-aged women honking away next to us.

The Godfather's first lesson went very well. It was very much loosey-goosey in format since I think he just likes to talk in English although I had newspaper articles on standby. He talked about his one day of volunteer work up in Miyagi Prefecture due to the earthquake. He actually used to intern for one of the big politicos in Nagatacho years ago, and perhaps may be interested in running sometime in the future. I've labeled my newest student The Godfather since he's a huge fan of the eponymous movie and also for yakuza flicks. We had a good talk on Coppola's magnum opus.

Despite all of the coffee I'd ingested yesterday, I still managed to nod out on the way home. But I had a good bento...who'da thunk that my supermarket could make a decent tonkatsu bento? It also ended up being an "NCIS" night for me....caught episodes from Seasons 1 and 6 of Jethro and then one ep of "NCIS: LA".

For all three of my students yesterday, the launch off topic was, of course, the earthquake. Swank's family had actually been in Okinawa on March 11 so my student and her two daughters have yet to feel a major temblor but she told me that her kids warp right under the nearest table when an aftershock hits. As for The Godfather, he was in his office in an Akasaka skyscraper so he and the rest of the building's occupants raced down the stairs and ended up watching his neighbourhood swaying in the breeze....just like I did in Shinjuku.

Speaking of temblors, we had two fairly strong aftershocks this morning, the first one acting as my wake-up call. They weren't anything like the shocks immediately after March 11th, though.

TEPCO announced that most likely for the summer, all of us will have to conserve energy up to about 15%...whatever that means. In any case, we do this by pulling out plugs of appliances that we're not using, setting the fridge to medium and trying our best not to use air conditioning. That last one will be a toughie.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday May 12, 4:09 p.m.

I'm just in the middle of a holding pattern between The Shareholder and The Carolinan. The Shareholder was his usual button-down, laconic self. I think the key with him is just to be as patient as possible while waiting for his answers. I've made up some material for The Carolinan since she's no longer using a textbook. She's requested some refreshers on her higher grammar and I'm going to be exposing her to the Toastmasters' series of speech topics that I've unleashed on folks like Yajima and Mr. Swank.

Speaking of Mr. Swank, I've got Swank herself tomorrow for her first lesson in about 2 months. We'll be at the same place in Roppongi Hills. In fact, tomorrow will be quite the tight schedule since I'll virtually have to run from my class with The Bass in Funabashi to see Swank and then it'll be straight over to Akasaka to see my newest student, The CEO. Although we had the meet-n'-greet way back in January, I've yet to see him for his first official lesson due to various obstacles....such as an exodus from an earthquake. I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to suddenly cancel again.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thursday March 31, 8:31 a.m.

Slightly snowy out there, so I've decided to postpone my trip downtown for yet another day. I'll just head out for the Swiss Chalet.

Don't feel particularly festive since the parentals and I got on the topic of money. My father asked me: 1) whether I had any inclination of coming back home, and 2) whether I'd saved any money. In previous years, when my parents broached the topic of 1), I either scoffed or got irritated since they had always doubted my viability in Japan. But not for the first time, I answered that I was thinking about the possibility. As for the second question, I lied. How do you tell your parents that your bank account is less than half of what you had when you first finished arrived in Japan?

9:01 a.m.

As I have for the past week and a half, I've been regularly watching one of my comfort channels, The Food Network. The shows I've been drawn to are the morning ones: "Ricardo", "French Food at Home" and "Chef at Home". I think of the three, "Chef at Home" is probably the only show whose dishes I can even approach making, but watching the chefs whip up their delicacies is oddly comforting to watch. I sometimes have to question which way Ricardo swings, though. As for Laura Calder, she comes off as someone's sexy but loopy aunt who just happens to be a master French chef.

10:53 a.m.

Looks like the weather has improved but I've still glad I'm staying home. I was talking about the TTC yesterday. Well, the news about TTC personnel not being able to strike wasn't the only bombshell. The TTC also got the go-ahead for 2 major expansion projects to be completed in a decade. Toronto hasn't had enough traffic capacity in many, many years, so it may take ten years but this expansion will hopefully alleviate a lot of commuting headaches.

Well, according to the CBC, radiation levels are continuing to rise and the Japanese government is now considering expanding the evacuation zone. Perhaps that choice about whether I'll stay in Japan or come home may be getting easier to make.

2:04 p.m.

Listened to "The Nightfly" by Donald Fagen, one of the discs that I'd brought back with me. Not surprisingly, it's one of my favourites and there isn't a single wrong track in the album. Kinda ironic listening to this one considering the situation in Fukushima since the album's overall theme is the 50s' naive idea of a future society. The video for "New Frontier", one of the premier tracks on "The Nightfly" talks about the fears of nuclear armageddon. But Fukushima seems to be death by a thousand paper cuts. "IGY" still remains my favourite track of a strong bunch, but "Maxine" makes for a thrilling ballad.

10:00 p.m.

Just back from dinner at The Swiss Chalet on Vic Park just south of the legendary Johnny's Hamburgers. It was five of us: the Anime King, the Anime Chamberlain, Automan, myself and an old friend of the Court, The Anime Knight. The Knight graduated from The Court several years ago when he became a family man. Again, some of our talk was based on the Fukushima Crisis. The King half-jokingly asked me whether I should consider extending my stay by a few more months, considering some of the most recent news. Well, unless the hot zone is expanded by another 200 km in the next 3 weeks, I still intend to return to Ichikawa. As usual, I'll stay tuned.
Thursday May 12, 12:14 p.m.

It was a circuituous ride home last night. Adding to the downpours influenced by Typhoon No. 1 (I used to remember typhoons as being a late summer-early fall phenomenon) was just a bad day for Tokyo Metro and Toei. A number of the lines were screwed up; at first, I'd thought that there had been another major aftershock but it turned out that every line just had its own problems ranging from an ill passenger, or as in the case of my Tozai Line, mechanical problems. So when I saw the mass of commuters waiting in front of the closed ticket gates at Iidabashi Station, I didn't hem or haw...just made a beeline for the JR Sobu Line and took that all the way to Nishi-Funabashi Station. Luckily by that time, the Tozai Line was back in operation. I just found it interesting that there was a mass of commuters just at the bottom of the stairs waiting to bulldog it onto the subway, when with a bit of footwork, I was able to get onto the end car which was virtually empty. Ah, the wonders of being a lemming.

I've got a somewhat larger problem this time, though. Some weeks I may have mentioned that before my exodus back home, the juku boss had called me up to state that she wanted to cancel her guarantorship of my apartment due to her fears about my continued presence in this country with all that has happened up in Tohoku and all. At first, I'd thought it was her panic attack back in action. But it looks like the attack has held and she sent me the message that her husband has told her to cancel the guarantorship. Whether or not she's telling the truth, I don't think I can really veer her away from this decision, although it is indeed possible that she may be suffering from financial problems that would seriously dent her chances of continuing to be my guarantor. I sent a neutral response and said that we would talk about this next Tuesday. The extra few days would give me time to think about who to approach to be my guarantor for my remaining months in Japan. I may be looking at Cozy, although he has just moved into his new condo and therefore may not be too financially confident right now.

Well, I got my second dotakyan in as many days. After the sudden cancellation of The Businesswoman last night, La Fille informed me that Mrs. Thursday sent in her regrets this morning. So, it'll just be The Shareholder and then The Carolinan tonight. I did get word from The Bass; he's still up for tomorrow morning.

Wednesday May 11, 5:29 p.m.

My TV viewing habits here in Japan have pretty much stressed cable stuff from Stateside. I very rarely catch anything of the domestic stuff, although I did see "Pussuma" last night. Basically, my tolerance level for anything dramatic, musical or variety-based has reached bottom.

Instead, I've been watching a lot of my news from CNN and BBC, and my need for teleescapism now comes from stuff like "NCIS", "Bones" and other action-thrillers, including the two posters you see here.

I've been catching "Burn Notice" off and on for the past few years, and currently the adventures of Michael Weston are in Season 3 here in Japan. Also, I've started seeing episodes from "Human Target" which started airing last month. The latter show isn't exactly the most innovative program in terms of plot and arc...there are the usual main characters with intersocial tensions, a mythological arc which has become part and parcel of any hourlong action-based show since "The X-Files", and the de rigueur 3-act structure with epilogue. Still, I've enjoyed the series thus far because of that great theme song by Bear McCreary and the appeal of the actors, especially former Bad News Bear Jackie Earle Haley as the mellow-and-deadly sidekick Guerrero.

So, such is the mercurial nature of the Nielsen audience that "Burn Notice" will be going on ahead with a 5th and 6th seasons while I just heard that "Human Target" has been shot down barely into its 2nd season. Such is life on TV.

Wednesday March 30, 1:28 p.m.

The events of the past 3 weeks have made me think about what my future is in Japan. Unless things go really pear-shaped in the next 3 weeks, I still aim to return there. But with the juku boss going paranoid about my apartment's guarantorship and the brutal fact that 16 years of life in Japan haven't exactly helped me financially, I have to seriously think whether it's worth it to keep on teaching in a traumatized expensive country at my age. And yet, returning here permanently would signal a failure on a number of levels. Could a mid-forties teacher really find a decent paying job in Toronto? I have my doubts. I've figured that I would need to return someday if the inevitable happens to my parents, so perhaps coming back within the next year may be an option. Over the past decade-and-a-half, I've experienced a lot of wonderful people and things. Tokyo and Ichikawa have the edge over Toronto on a number of points, but the opposite can also be said, especially on a geological level. But the fact is, although I've tried to keep a balance between fiscal austerity and having some fun, especially in the last few years, my bank balance is a lot lower than where I started from back in 1994. Mind you, recent events have made things worse than they should be, but I may be approaching a point where I may not be as resilient in my attitudes as I once was. There's frankly not as much pulling at me to stay in Japan as there used to be. I tend to avoid local TV and music nowadays, and I've even started to question dedication to my craft. If the latter is indeed true, then my days in the country that I've had a deep interest in for 30 years may truly be numbered.

As for the latest media coverage on the Fukushima Disaster, there has been a certain stability even within the coverage itself. Western media seems to have put itself into a rut of "Chicken Little" journalism whereas Japanese media has maintained its stoic and straightforward approach. However, the one interesting item I've just gotten is that the head of TEPCO himself has checked into a hospital for hypertension. With his latest appearance at a press conference, he did look like death warmed over. Some people are probably sneering that the president is getting his just desserts.

The news also came in from NHK that the upcoming summer may be a tough one in terms of electricity. My response is...well, DUH. Taking into consideration how hot it was last summer and how much air conditioning gets pumped into houses and offices every year from July to September, this could truly be the Summer of Discontent for everyone in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. A number of options have been discussed on NHK on how to alleviate the situation ranging from re-instituting Daylight Savings Time to setting up transformers so that 60 Hz Kansai generators can get energy to 50 Hz Kanto generators. My solution is for the government to urge its citizens, if financially possible, to get out of Japan during the O-Bon season. Just get out of the country for 2 weeks to a month. Decreased usage of electricity and smaller heat island.
Wednesday May 11, 4:32 p.m.

It's been exactly two months since the Big Quake hit and changed the vast majority of our lives in Japan. At this point, it's expected that the death toll will be around 25,000 due to the quake and the tsunami. Thousands are still living in evacuation centres. It seems like Fukushima is still continuing to reach some sort of stabilization; nuclear plant staffers have finally entered Reactor No. 1 for the first time since the disaster hit and started to fix things so that improvements can continue even further. Meanwhile, the Chubu Nuclear Facility has decided to close down until further notice with unusually high speed although officials there have asked the Prime Minister for help in terms of the 2,800 employees there who will be out of work. As for Prime Minister Kan himself, he declared that he would cut himself off from his PM's salary until the nuclear crisis is over...this would ordinarily get a lot more respect from me, except that he is still earning his salary as a parliamentarian...I don't think he will be suffering too much financially.

I met up with The Beehive. Actually, it was just Mrs. Jade and Mrs. Alp for the 90 minutes yesterday. Mrs. Alp relayed to me about Mrs. Travel's situation. The de facto leader of the Beehive has been in Okinawa for the past couple of weeks with her daughters and grandchildren there since both families were basically evacuated from the Kanto area. Her grandchildren are still less than a year old so the fears about irradiated water and air are very germane, and apparently the usually optimistic Travel has gotten into a bit of a depression. However, she should be back here in a couple of weeks, so her friends would like to take her out somewhere to cheer her up. At this point, the air in Chiba is only measuring 0.05 microsieverts per hour...far within safety limits for most adults. And as for water, I've been using the bottled stuff since I got back from Toronto.

Mr. White at the juku canceled once again so I had the rest of the day off yesterday. Since he's currently my only student there, and as luck would have it, he cancels fairly frequently so for the meantime, it looks like my appearances there will be limited. But at least, I could chill at home and have a nice homecooked meal.

The weather has been quite topsy-turvy. Yesterday, Tokyo hit the big 28 C and sun; west of here, the thermometer even hit 33...July levels. Well, today, we've plummeted down to just 16 with a lot of rain. Tokyo is feeling a bit like Toronto.

Just have a couple of lessons tonight. 001 is returning for the first time after my temporary exodus back to Canada. I've got a feeling that things will be fairly freewheeling. And then The Businesswoman will be passing by as well. I came in some hours early and ended up having an hour's worth of chat with La Fille by showing her the photos from Toronto.

MB, The Satyr and Skippy have all responded positively to my offer of catching "Black Swan". Looks like Sunday will be day of viewing. MB has asked me once again about another DVD Night at his place.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Wednesday March 30, 12:16 p.m.

By myself today at least, I'm the only Homo Sapiens...there is the cat. My parents are off in Niagara Falls for the day for some gambling. The presence of the cat has made it difficult for them in the past to take trips since my sister-in-law has never enjoyed pets and my niece has a few allergies. So, with me around, my parents found a ready catsitter. However, the crunch time won't be until 4:30 when dinner time comes around. Still, I've already done one round of kitty litter duty.

However, I did make it out to a Starbucks some 15 minutes' walk away sporting my brother's Samsung laptop. There was a slight snafu but I was able to get my Wi-Fi connection and get some e-mail out to Movie Buddy and Speedy. MB has been fine although he mentioned that the food hoarding is still continuing. I got word finally from The Carolinan; nothing too informative aside that she and her sister are fine and that she hopes I'm doing OK. I also got word from CG asking whether I would be free for Greek since his visiting in-laws have never tried it.

Spoke with Ol' Sam last night. Looks like lunch is out but we're looking at next week for dinner. So, I may be able to try the St. Lawrence Market tomorrow for lunch after all, followed by a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame and some pics of renovated Old Toronto before meeting up with The Anime Chamberlain's bunch for dinner.

1:22 p.m.

Finished lunch. It's interesting to write this in a living-dining area that's bigger than my entire apartment in Ichikawa. Living abroad certainly gives perspective as to what one has in one's own country.

I just saw Toronto Council pass the law which strips the TTC of the ability to go on strike. The TTC is an essential service. I have somewhat mixed feelings on this. The Toronto Transit Commission once had the reputation of being the best transit service in North America years ago, but since then morale and service have devolved to the point that the TTC is perhaps next to The Leafs as Torontonians' punching bag. I'm no big fan of the TTC though I acknowledge that without it, my hometown would be crippled. My policy for the past 2 decades when it comes to TTC personnel is, if at all possible, not to approach them. They've often come across as surly, embittered types. It's a bit of a vicious circle. Commuters mouth off at bus drivers and fare collectors which make transit workers increasingly stressed out so they take it out on commuters which in turn get them further riled up. Having nearly a strike a year hasn't helped the reputation of the besieged workers in the eyes of commuters, either. Still, I have some sympathy for TTC personnel. Imagine working in a pressure-cooker atmosphere and then finding out that a major tool to help your situation has been yanked. My feeling is that I'm now even more hesitant about asking a TTC worker for any assistance. I can't even imagine anything like this happening in Tokyo.

Thursday March 29, 4:18 p.m.

Met up with The Egg at Yonge-Eglinton. We had lunch at Grazie, a suitably upscale Italian place. Not cheap but worth every Loonie with special kudos to the Goat Cheese Salad. The restaurant's been around for years and has a very loyal clientele. And its location across from a major cineplex makes it the ideal pre- or post-movie dinner site.

While we were noshing away, Egg gave some insight about his job as a veteran theatre manager. He currently is in charge of the 2nd-busiest theatre complex in Canada down at the Queensway which often has to handle an average of 10,000 people a day when a big movie is in town. A challenging task, to say the least, but the Egg has such a calm and collected personality that he can pretty much handle a hurricane with aplomb.

When I got back home, there were 3 messages from The Entrepreneur, Ol' Sam and the Anime Chamberlain. Ol' Sam asked me whether in lieu of lunch on Thursday, dinner might be possible. Unfortunately, I've already got dinner plans that night with Automan and The Anime Court up at the Swiss Chalet. I'll have to send my regrets but will ask if he can re-schedule.
Monday May 9, 2:57 p.m.

I've begun my first full week at work since the quake. I had my Sunday folks yesterday and then it was Cozy this morning. I've just got two more today...The Magician and Miss Genki. Both should have their own stories about post-quake Tokyo.

I was a bit surprised at getting a larger pay packet than expected from Speedy back on Friday, so I didn't feel too guilty today when I went slightly crazy and bought stuff at Shibuya Tower Records. One of my purchases will be gong to Shard since he was interested in some 80s stuff on disc, and since 80s music is basically dead and ready for carbon-dating back in Canada, Tokyo is strangely the best place for 80s.

I do feel guilty about not realizing that yesterday was Mother's Day. Thought it was next week. But I called up Mom to give her my good wishes and get her assurances that I need not send over a card. Just as well since the stationery stores have all gotten rid of Mother's Day cards and filled the decks with Father's Day cards instead.

Got a message from Ol' Sam stating that he and his family will be coming over to Japan later this month instead of late September as he had once put it while I was back in Toronto. I'll be keeping the last week open then for him.

At this point, I still have at least one lesson at the juku starting tomorrow. Mr. White is now my sole student there in Urayasu since The Milds have stopped permanently and The Restauranteur has decided to take at least a year off...which will basically mean permanently since I plan to head on home forever in December. The Journo may still return in June once his leg is all healed up.

"Black Swan", that ballet horror movie that garnered Natalie Portman her first Oscar...and a baby, to boot, is scheduled to be released here in Tokyo on Wednesday. I'm wondering whether the movie gang of MB and The Satyr would be interested in catching that. There's not much of quality out there otherwise.

Ah, as for the nuclear question here...PM Kan did a full court press over the weekend, recommending that the Chubu Nuclear Facility in Hamaoka, Shizuoka Prefecture be closed down in light of the Fukushima Disaster. Apparently, according to our beleaguered head honcho, an independent investigative panel reported to him that the Chubu facility is right over a fault that could produce a M8.0 quake sometime in the next 30 years. So, basically this quake can come in the next 2 minutes or when I'm in the retirement home. My question is: How does a PM merely recommend that a nuclear plant be closed down in the face of potential catastrophe? He's supposed to be the big guy...he should be able to order the facility closed but apparently his request is legally non-binding....which makes me wonder what good is a Japanese governmental chief executive when he can't adequately take care of a nuclear crisis. Just like those non-believers when it comes to the death of Bin Laden, there are a lot of folks out there who think that Kan's superficial expression of concern for the Japanese people is merely a political ploy and nothing more.

A bit of good news, though. Apparently, there may be a chance that there may be enough, or at least more, electricity saved up for the summer than had been predicted. Still, I'm getting prepared to open up a sauna in my apartment later on.