Friday, July 15, 2011

Saturday July 16, 10:33 a.m.

Now, as for today, in my desire to avoid oven-like temps in my own apartment and yet conserve energy, I have sought refuge in my local I-Cafe. So, I am currently in Hour 2 of 8 in relatively air-conditioned comfort, having my I-Cafe lunch of all-you-can-drink Pepsi and Chip Star. I think my aspirations to look like Comic Book Man from "The Simpsons" may be coming to fruition.

The big news here has been that cesium-tainted beef which actually made the rounds through the rest of the country. So, folks in Japan, if any of you really has that glow about you...well, my condolences.

Had a good jolt from a Shindo 4 tremor in Chiba last night. The epicentre was in Tochigi Prefecture where it registered a 5 Minus. Made the news for several minutes on NHK.

The final entry in the decade-long "Harry Potter" series hit our shores this morning. So I'm sure a lot of cape-and-glasses wearing faux-Hogwartians are currently descending on theatres in Roppongi and Shinjuku to wave a tearful goodbye to their hero. Skippy and The Wedding Planner had asked me if I wanted to see it with them either tomorrow or on the holiday Monday (Marine Day) but I declined since I will be catching it with Movie Buddy. The ladies want to catch it in 3D but MB has been far from impressed with the new technology stating that only "Avatar" had lived up to the hype. I'm wondering if Daniel Radcliffe or other cast members have made the trip out here or will be in the near future....I would advise them to try to get out of their contracts about that. Britishers would just melt into puddles in this weather. I'm also wondering how Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson will fare now that their bread-and-butter is officially part of cinematic history. I have no doubts about the supporting players of thespians such as Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith but the three leads? I can compare them with the trio of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher from that other legendary but far smaller trilogy of the original "Star Wars". Only Ford made it onto the A-List for decades; Hamill later got a measure of fame as a voice actor, notably for The Joker on one of the many "Batman" animated series, and after a few roles in some middling flicks in the early 80s, Fisher is now probably more famous as a recurring voice actor in "Family Guy" and as an author. Going back to that other famed escapist flick trio, Daniel Radcliffe has already made some inroads with stage roles in "Equus" and a musical but I'm not sure about what will happen with the other two. I'm just kinda wondering if Grint will end up years later hawking some cutting device on an infomercial. As for Radcliffe, I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up as a future Doctor Who.
Saturday July 16, 10:13 a.m.

Well, I had my Cafe Day yesterday. It used to be that I had Hump Days during the week...those days in which my schedule was packed with lessons. Well, those days are gone now. Instead, I've got Fridays as Cafe Days. I had 4 students, all of whom I met at various cafes in Chiba and Tokyo.
First off was The Bass in our charmingly decrepit cafe in old suburban Funabashi. He gave his speech on his regular business trips to the the rest of us entrepreneurs, it hasn't been too easy over the past few months.
And then I hightailed it to tony Hiroo to the Starbucks to see Swank. The Arisugawa Chuo Library was closed again for its monthly dedication to energy conservation policy, thereby the need for an alternate site. It would end up being our last lesson for the next 6 weeks since she and her family will soon be heading over to Hawaii for their summer holidays. Geez, I sometimes feel like the Downstairs in "Upstairs, Downstairs" (yeah, you go look that one up...hint, it's from the UK).
Next, I went over to business centre Nihombashi to see The OL in the Ueshima Cafe in the Coredo complex. Not exactly cheap there but it does have some really good coffee and iced drinks. Had the Ginger Milk Latte....iced, of course. Still, the place isn't the best for teaching students. That was made abundantly clear while I was teaching The OL, admittedly the lowest of my four students that day. We were sitting in the back of the cafe where the coziest of the tables were. I'm always a bit nervous about teaching in close surroundings....there was one young lady beside who soon got out of Dodge after hearing our exchange, and then an incongruous teen couple schlumped in beside us and soon went into dormant mode. My cafe lessons seem to have that impact on neighbouring folks unless they're deep into their own chatter or they're holding English lessons themselves.
My final lesson was with The Godfather at a Tully's in Tameike-Sanno. By that point, I couldn't really take any more caffeine into my system so I bought a Mango Swirkle to flush out the jitters. The Godfather had officially launched his company earlier in the day, so he was on a bit of a Runner's High; the financing for his first big project came in which relieved him to no end. At the end of a Cafe Day, it was good to have someone who could talk fluently and at length about his aspirations. We had an absorbing conversation on comparative religions and the concept of epiphany.
Saturday July 16, 10:03 a.m.

After my lesson with The Carolinan on Thursday night, I walked her over to her subway station and ended up in East Shinjuku. So, being the amateur shutterbug, I decided to take some night shots of the area. This is Yasukuni Dori looking east...if the area looks familiar to some of you film nuts, it just happens to be what Bill Murray's character saw from his taxi in "Lost In Translation".

I think I may have been using the Sundown setting when I took this shot. It was taken from a pedestrian overpass weaving between the Cocoon Building on the left and another office building. In any case, this is the skyscraper-filled area of West Shinjuku.

This is the massive LABI Shinjuku store of electronics in the eastern part. With all of the energy conservation policies in effect, LABI has also shut down a lot of its neon.

Yup, this is my unintentionally artsy picture. Tried to take it with the Cross function of my digital camera. It was supposed to be a heads-up shot of two of the taller skyscrapers in West Shinjuku but somehow the computer in my camera must've gotten drunk on power. With my luck, I could just enter it in some European photo contest and make myself a million....dollars, not euros.

Saturday July 16, 9:54 a.m.

When Japanese tourists come back from Hawaii, inevitably the omiyage of choice is Chocolate Macadamia Nuts. Now, when those folks come back from a domestic trip to Okinawa, a lot of them bring back chinsuko.

Chinsuko is a dense cookie for which the main ingredient is...pig lard. Yep, you must be thinking that some guy from "Saturday Night Live" must've thought up this thing. But no, it is truly a confection from Japan's southernmost prefecture. And it tastes just like a Peek Frean's (is that how you spell it....I've been away from Canada too long) shortbread cookie. In any case, The Carolinan got it to me for her omiyage, and there is enough of it to last me for a few breakfasts. Believe me, with the amount of fat in it, it should be designated as an emergency supply in any earthquake kit.

Saturday July 16, 9:39 a.m.

News of the World? I can honestly say that this is literally nothing and virtually everything right now. About 2 weeks ago, any mention of this phrase on a Google search would've brought about the biggest and most controversial tabloid paper in the UK. As of this moment, this phrase has become its own meaning. The paper may be gone but its legacy and notoriety are now fully into legendary status.
Rupert Murdoch....this is a name and face that I've seen over the years as someone who I liken to William Randolph Hearst or his filmic namesake, Citizen Kane. And it seems as if Murdoch the Mogul may be entering that point in the movie where he finally says "Rosebud". Or perhaps in this case, "Rebekkah". I think choosing this slightly constipated photo of him may be reflective of his current mood. In any case, this man, to whom even the highest of the highest politicians had often kowtowed, has been laid least for now...getting the jeers and screams of an outraged British public as he went into some building to meet with the family of a murdered girl whose cellphone messages had been hacked by some of his staffers.
Although probably meek by Fleet Street standards, Japan also has a tabloid culture through magazines such as "Friday". Within the insular nature of Japanese celeb culture, there is plenty of fatty meat for the journos to uncover. The local paparazzi just love to take pictures of actors and starlets hitting the supermarkets or supposedly kissing secretly, and the rumour mill is rife with various supposedly sordid tales of infidelity or running around with the yakuza.
There hasn't been all that much coverage of the "News of the World" collapse in the local papers and other media outlets since the consequences of the March 11 earthquake have been hanging over the country like the ghost of Hamlet's father. But I'm sure that certain folks in the press are keeping close tabs on the story, if only to see a cautionary tale in the making.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday July 14, 4:06 p.m.

Not sure if I'm entering some sort of funk but it was a bit difficult getting up this morning. Not because of the heat but because of the other stresses I've been feeling over the past few months. It hasn't been good wondering how long my bank account can hold out. I mean my account hasn't quite been emptied out but I just wonder if it's gonna start depleting any further. The bills I'm gonna have to start paying....I got my National Health Insurance premiums...I haven't opened the envelope up yet since I don't have to start paying my first one until the end of this month. Plus, I still have that guarantor thing to get resolved. I sent word over to Mrs. Travel of The Beehive since Speedy looked pretty iffy about signing my form.
I've been trying to keep my food purchases down to a bare minimum. Basically, my chicken bento that I had a few hours ago will be my only major meal today. I no longer have any yen bills in my wallet...just a little over 500 yen to pay for the coffee at the Starbucks when I teach The Carolinan. A year ago, I wouldn't have even imagined this situation.
I hope that I don't end up like Mr. White....get all jittery and majorly depressed. Basically, the English lessons are done at the juku.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thursday July 14, 2:42 p.m.

I could not finish off my marathon posting session without paying homage to the lovely lady on my right, one Akina Nakamori. For those who are in the know in the world of J-Pop, Ms. Nakamori was one of the biggies when it came to aidoru-dom in the 1980s. At one point, she even eclipsed the Queen of the Aidorus, Seiko Matsuda. Well, it was her 46th birthday yesterday (yes, that is indeed a picture of her in her far younger days). I did make that point known to folks like 001, Mrs. Thursday and Kirk for which I got hearty laughs and a headshaking acknowledgement of my knowing far too much about the local pop culture.

Still, it's a bittersweet thing with her. After her attempted suicide back in 1989, she disappeared for a couple of years and then made some sort of a comeback but she never regained the superstardom of her early years. Too bad, too, since she's got that husky voice which could have gotten her into better music. And except for an appearance in a pachinko machine commercial (pretty much a death knell for a career, aside from performing in hotel Xmas concerts) last year, that's been it for her. I heard that she'd fallen ill with something recently. At this point, I would just like her to get better. Any comeback to the top of the charts would be one for the ages.
Thursday July 14, 2:35 p.m.

It's been an interesting 24 hours. When we get our good news/bad news, the Japanese media like to go all out. On the bad side is that some cesium-spiked beef got out of Fukushima and into the stomachs of some unwitting folks via restaurants in the Kanto. Talking about tenderizing. And on the other side, the Japanese representative in the Women's World Cup in Germany, Nadeshiko Japan, got into the finals last night by surprising Sweden 3-1. So, it's the Japanese vs. the Americans. Somehow, though, I don't think the Japanese women will be shedding their clothes...and frankly, I'm grateful.
I had my lesson this morning with Mr. Swank in West Shinjuku. My package on how to talk about the Japanese economy in English got some dividends so it made for a nice satisfying walk back to Speedy's, despite the blistering heat. In about a couple of hours, I've got The Magician and then I've got to run out to teach The Carolinan at the Starbucks in Shinjuku.

Thursday July 14, 2:25 p.m.

Continuing on with my calvacade of photos, this is a shot of the main intersection in Nakano-Sakaue, just west of Shinjuku. It's usually known as one of the bigger wind tunnels, but a couple of days ago, it got converted into a gigantic oven. Not one of the most comfortable places to be in Tokyo.
Of course, during a typically skin-broiling summer in The Big Sushi, I'm often much more appreciative of refreshments. I had a nice drink of Peach Tea with some Sakuranbo Cherries. At this point, I'm just guzzling down the liquids with absolute abandon. Heck, I'm even back into knocking back the tap water despite the admittedly tiny risk of cesium radiation.

Just another one of the summer customs in Tokyo. Along with the annual New Year's Day Jumbo Lottery, there is also the Summer Jumbo with the big lines forming in Yurakucho. The grand prize is the usual 300 million yen or around 3 million bucks. Nope, a bit downsized when compared to some of the nutso amounts given out Stateside but in this economy, we'll take anything. But I betcha the winning person here will most likely put most of the winnings into his bank account accruing 0.05% interest.

Thursday July 14, 2:16p.m.

I've been taking my fair share of shots over the past couple of days. I was taking my walk through Ginza and I took a picture of the newest additions to the ritziness of one of the most expensive shopping areas on the planet. The GAP store opened up sometime in May, I believe.

Took this one walking down westward from the main intersection of 4-chome in Ginza. Yep, it felt even hotter than it looked when I took this pic. The ladies had their parasols up like starships with shields. Not that it mattered too much....the concrete was just reflecting the heat and sun back at us.

This is a shot of West Shinjuku from the 17th floor of the Nittochi Building where I teach Mr. Swank. Just has that metropolitan look all over it. Walking from there back to Speedy takes about 20 minutes. In a Tokyo summer, that would be enough to shed a kilo or so. Luckily, there are plenty of vending machines and convenience stores to prevent pedestrians from collapsing on the sidewalk. Good thing, too, since if they did land, they would end up sizzling like fried eggs.

Wednesday July 13, 4:52 p.m.

Just one of my latest additions to my CD collections over the past few weeks. And since I'm not only on energy conservation, but also on financial conservation, I got this one for just a hundred yen at the nearby Recomints in Nakano Broadway.

Yep, Mariya Takeuchi looks rather plain Jane-ish for some reason considering that she was one of the few singers in Japanese pop in the 80s who also could have struck up a pretty decent career in modeling.

But I guess the photographer wanted her to be relatively cosmetic-less for her shot in her 1987 release of "Request" since she was doing covers of her own songs written for other singers...going the chameleon route, so to speak. I believe this was her second album since coming back from her 3-year hiatus. Even though she didn't come off as a typical aidoru singer in her early period, she made a comeback with an even more maturer sound although her songs still retained a bit of that 50s Connie Francis touch, especially with the track "Kenka o yamete" (Stop Fighting) that would've been perfect backing a scene with Tab Hunter and Sandra Dee having a spat.

Anyways, I had my lone lesson yesterday with The New Yorker. She and her sister, The Carolinan, had had their trip to Okinawa last week. Although The New Yorker has been to Japan's southernmost prefecture a few times, this was The Carolinan's first foray. The New Yorker assumed that her big sis had had a good time; it's always a mystery with The Carolinan since she has a rather good poker face on a lot of things. In any case, I did get a box of Taco Rice Mix (a delicacy in the Ryukyus, thanks to some good ol' Tex-Mex influence) and an Okinawan cookie which I scarfed down for breakfast this morning.

I finally relented this morning and turned on the air conditioner for the first time this morning. It was nice not to have been sweating most of my bodily fluids in my own living room although I almost burned off my fingers when I pulled out the plug of the AC before heading out. I guess it's pretty darn old.

Had lunch at my favorite Chinese place, Jukeifu, in the Maynds Tower in Shinjuku...I was stuffing myself with free dumplings so that I wouldn't go hungry tonight since I won't be having dinner per se. I've got a rare busy night tonight with 001, Mrs. Thursday (it seems she likes switching her nights from time to time) and then Kirk.

After lunch, I went over to Kinokuniya and Tower Records...just to browse of course. I saw the magazines hailing the final Harry Potter movie coming out this Saturday here. Looks like the movie is getting some grand treatment from the reviewers. Would be a good way for it to go out....I just haven't been all that impressed with the series as a whole. If I could just see a halfway decent movie as the finale, I would leave Hogwarts with some level of satisfaction.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tuesday July 12, 10:17 a.m.

These have been uncertain times for me (read: crappy). My juku days are pretty much done since The Milds have left the building, Mr. White is battling his depression and The Journo is now busy catching up on his career. There has been a dropoff in my work at Speedy's, and I've got those hefty bills of city taxes and National Health Insurance premiums to pay. Plus there's the fact that I will probably have to pay a chunk to have my real estate agency guarantee my apartment in the remaining time I have here. Of course, there is also the problem of moving and air tickets.
I've been trying to save up on spending but it's gonna be rough. I don't want to, but I may have to ask the parents to help me out. Of course, Dad will harangue me about why I even bothered moving to Japan in the first place.
But I finally found out the real reason that the juku boss has been exhorting me to get her off as my apartment guarantor. She's finally decided to divorce her husband. Her husband has always struck me as being taciturn but not a bad sort. However, he is a 180-degree switch from his overexuberant wife, and finally that difference snapped the bonds over the past couple of months. She's been looking for a new place, and as such, she probably would not want to have the burden of apartment guarantorship.

Tuesday July 12, 9:56 a.m.

Back on Sunday, I met up with Cozy and the (former) juku boss for our 4th annual dinner. This year, we decided to try out the inner city area of Tsukishima near Cozy's neck of the woods.

Whenever anyone mentions Tsukishima to a local here, his/her mind will invariably conjure up the image of monjayaki. Monjayaki is not very well known (if even that) in the West...even considering that gyudon has become a staple in American airports. And the reason for that is the second picture from the top. As you can see, it kinda looks like

something that someone egested instead of ingested. And I have to admit that I've often referred to some of the messes that the Friday drunken sots leave on the subway platforms as street monja.

Monjayaki is the ugly Tokyo stepsister of the pancake-like Kansai okonomiyaki which apparently has made sort of inroads (we've had an okonomiyaki restaurant in Toronto for decades). The solids consist of cabbage, chosen meats and other ingredients...rather like the stuff that goes into the drier okonomiyaki. However, what makes the difference is the soup that makes monja initially unpalatable.

The soup is made from fish stock, water and cornstarch. Also, there is a somewhat more complicated process in making monja in that the dry stuff has to be put on the oiled griddle first without dropping the soup in. When the cabbage is cooked and chopped up, then the ingredients are shaped into an atoll, and the soup becomes the lagoon. With the cornstarch in the soup, it quickly becomes this plasticky goop that is combined with the dry stuff to make the final product.

As I've said, Tsukishima is the home of monjayaki. The main street, Nishinaka-dori, was bracketed by several monjayaki restaurants. The three of us ended up going to this place called Okame for our monja. It took me a long while to get to like the stuff but I can say that I can eat it quite happily now. And with so much of Japanese cuisine, a lot of Western variations have come into the mix (no pun intended). We had three monja with the first being Corned Beef Monja. Neither Cozy nor the boss had ever tried this one but it turned out to be the best of the bunch.

The taste of monja is obviously very savory, or umami. But usually a lot of monja neophytes wonder about the texture due to its resemblance to something very unpleasant. However, despite the plasticky nature of the soup, the cabbage and the other solids help to give it a grateful bite and crunchiness. Now along with the 3 monja, we also ended up having a couple of rounds of yakisoba to finish things off. Our waitresses were definitely very salt-of-the-earth types. When it was obvious that I was not doing things correctly cooking up the stuff, the veteran waitress immediately jumped in to help things along the right path. And I was grateful that she was nice about it. Some of these rustic places are famous (or infamous) for employing grumbly impatient asses just to add some of that Showa-era atmosphere. Definitely one aspect of Japanese culture I will never care for.

Despite being here for 16 years, I had never been to Tsukishima before. A bit of a pity that I've only come to explore it now.

Monday July 11, 8:37 p.m.

Finished for the day. I had my usual early morning with Cozy and then it would be several hours of traipsing through Ginza before I made my way to Shinjuku to teach Mr. Swank and then back here to finish off with Miss Genki. It'd been several weeks since my last visit to Ginza; made my way to Yamano Music...didn't buy any CDs since I'm trying to be very careful with my money but I realized that the place also sells some of those rather obscure discs that I'd assumed would only be available at discount stores like Tacto in Jimbocho and Recomints in Nakano Broadway. And the cost isn't too bad since we're talking about oldies.
I had a talk with Cozy about his annual translation requests since I won't be around Japan as of the end of the year. I suggested my former colleague, AK, as my replacement since she's a professional translator. And I figure that I owe her one for giving me some work with her TV stuff. I've sent word to her; hopefully it will be a positive reply.
Tried to work some magic with Mr. Swank with some work on Japanese politics; a bit iffy. The vocabulary is still an issue with him so I'll have to bring some further structure when I see him next on Thursday morning.
Miss Genki was not quite as genki as she usually is since we were pretty much focusing on the text today. But we did have our "Glee" moments. I actually a couple of episodes from the 2nd season last night on cable. I'd gone through the "Glee" DVD of Season 1 earlier in the year but the show hasn't manage to last with me. There have been some obvious changes in the dynamics since the last year, but I'm still not really all that willing to catch up with Season 2.

Monday July 11, 6:34 p.m.

Definitely into the summer. Today's high was about 33 C, which probably means Shinjuku was 38 degrees. But we're slowly getting used to the new temps and so far we haven't blown a major area-wide fuse.

Saturday was another Movie Day and DVD Night with MB. Started off with another stint at Foo Foo, our favorite ramen restaurant in Shinjuku Station.

Yes, you must be wondering what insanity went through our brains to actually choose hot spicy ramen as our lunch in brain-melting weather. Well, it was foodie insanity. And we were indeed sweating like Richard Simmons at a Hell's Angels meeting. And for the converted, ramen is good at any time of the year, even during blistering July and August.

Our first movie of the weekend was "Thor", the B-tier Marvel superhero. Forgot that it was master thespian Kenneth Branagh who had directed this mid-level superhero flick. Nowhere near "The Dark Knight" but nowhere near "Elektra" either. It was just a nice little intro to the Odinson. It rather felt more like a prelude to a bigger movie (which will be "The Avengers" in 2012) than it did an individual movie in its own right...along the same lines as the very first "X-Men" movie when compared to "X2". MB wondered aloud the necessity for the romance angle with a largely wasted Natalie Portman (I guess she felt like slumming after her tour de force in "Black Swan"), but again it seems foredestined that a love interest has to accompany any of the superheroes. Of course, all eyes over here were focused on the guy playing the dour Hogun of The Warriors Three, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano. He had more than a cameo appearance but it was obvious that he stuck very much to the phonetically written script lines given to him.

Afterwards, we got out of the sauna that was Shinjuku and headed overe to MB's neck of the woods in Jiyugaoka. Ended up having dinner at at Italian place called La Baracca which had a very nice atmosphere complete with wood-fired pizza oven. That picture above was of my dinner, the Asparagus and Garlic Penne stuffed with ground meat. Good dinner but it did wipe out most of my wallet.

The DVD of the night was "Speed Racer"...yep that one by the Wachowski Bros (or should I now say the brother-sister act of the Wachowskis?). It had come out more than 3 years ago with a lot of stinky reviews. But after watching it, I thought it was a pretty OK homage to the Japanese original which got a bit of a bum rap for being too original....kinda like how "Dick Tracy" was treated 20 years ago. Not nearly as bad as the critics said it was. And Christina Ricci is never bad for the eyes although being a kids' flick, her clothes were very much stuck to her.