Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday August 13, 5:05 p.m.

A bank of vending machines in Shinjuku. Honestly speaking, none of us would be surviving if it weren't for these life savers. The heat and humidity of this country pretty much makes juice machines a mandatory part of urban infrastructure. There are so many of these machines anywhere and everywhere that they should be getting voting rights. Plus, they're given the utmost of respect. Back in Canada, vending machines are basically considered extinct because like in the States, they're treated more like practice targets for vandals. Here, they're kings and queens of electrical urban structures and they repay our kindness with cola, ginger ale and Mountain Dew.

I finished my 6 hours of teaching today. It's been a while since I pulled off a marathon session like that. And I was lucky that all 3 students were all pleasant fellows. S-Tall wanted work on her upcoming presentation; I guess she was impressed by my mellifluous voice so that she actually recorded me giving her presentation by her I-Phone. S-40 wasn't as fluent or as accurate as her predecessor but she did quite well in her 2 hours. And finally, S-Art is this soft-spoken, low-key fellow but he has a very deep appreciation for art. He's been to Venice a couple of times and his wife is an artist of note.

In any case, I'm done here like dinner. I'm ready for some serious grub and then relax for my student-less Sunday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Saturday August 13, 9:28 a.m.

Here at Speedy's for a now-rare Saturday at work. The bossman begged me to do a Saturday to teach some of that incoming wave of students from the nearby company. So, I've got 3 2-hour lessons nearly back-to-back. I've got 15 minutes between each class but this will be quite a haul today. I'll make my money but I'm not sure I'll be in a great mood by the time I finish. I did have an extra breakfast of sorts at Vie De France since I probably won't have anytime for a decent lunch but I still brought the Kaki-P as a quick snack during the breaks.

O-Bon has definitely started. NHK reported the annual Shinkansen capacity levels for the folks heading back to their hometowns...unsurprisingly, it's over the 100% mark. In a way, I'm kinda glad that I did estrange myself from my relatives. Not a big fan of having to travel 3 hours standing up on a Bullet Train. Since the O-Bon festival highlights the need to give tribute to deceased loved ones, this year is more significant than most due to the ravages of the March 11th disaster, especially for those heading home to Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures. And it's also the 26th anniversary since the worst single airline crash in history took place in Gunma Prefecture back in 1985.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Friday August 12, 2:25 p.m.

Time for a bit of local foodie show n' tell here on the old blog. This was my lunch today since I figured that most of the restaurants would be crowded with the lunch time folks. A couple of rice balls courtesy of Seven-Eleven. For those who not quite with the language, the ball on the left contains flavored chicken while the other once contains tuna and mayo. As you can see from the prices, not too bad on the wallet.

This was actually last night's dinner, also from 7-11, although the one right next to Speedy's. Pretty nice little o-tsumami....spicy chicken bits with sesame seeds. Ought to go well with beer although I drank this with milk tea....yeah? Well, I still like it that way.

And the piece de resistance. Good ol' fashioned soumen. Perfect for the steamy summer we have right now. These carbs will go down within a minute...the noodles are just that smooth.

Only had The OL as the sole lesson today. We were once again esconced in that cubby hole only millimetres away from the neighbouring table. But it wasn't too bad. The OL and I could have our lesson without too much glare. She's heading out to Nagano with her family next week for a nice ol' O-Bon holiday hot spring vacation. Yup, I believe the summer holiday season gets underway from today. I don't particularly follow the custom, mostly due to financial reasons. I can hardly afford to spend even a night at some onsen.

My old student, California Girl, who has been living the past decade near San Francisco with her high-flying husband, is back in town for a few days of vacation herself. She had invited me to a potluck dinner at her friend's apartment in Shibuya. Her local friends here and my students, The Sisters of State and The Singer, are heading over but I politely declined. Frankly, if there is one thing I've learned about myself after almost two decades in this country, it's that I'm not much for parties anymore...especially where current students are concerned. One of my former colleagues from the NOVA days put it rather well....any social interaction between students and teachers should be kept at an absolute minimum. At the time, I had thought that the fellow had been growing a rather long vegetable in his rectum, but as I've gotten older and sadly wiser, I've gradually realized that I'm just not all that good with people outside of the classroom. That former colleague had been referring to social interaction of a romantic nature, but even on a purely platonic one, it's not all that comfortable for me to be with students in a non-academic setting anymore. Looks like that initially jokey Prime Directive has become quite serious now.

Thursday August 11, 6:19 p.m
As I mentioned yesterday, I was up on the observation deck, 45 floors up, in Tokyo City Hall. I decided to take some final photos of the mass that is Tokyo.
Looking at this photo to the right of me here, I can see where George Lucas may have gotten his inspiration for the design of the outer surface of the Death Star. There was a rather ominous thundercloud overlooking everything, but I couldn't see Mount Fuji beyond the thick cloud of smaze. Heck, it was even difficult just trying to find Tokyo Sky Tree.

This is a view looking out west. Tokyo Opera City is that big building right in front of you.

And then there is the bulk of the skyscrapers that populate West Shinjuku. The London Gherkin's cousin, The Cocoon, is right there.

Thursday August 11, 5:19 p.m.

Had my 2nd lesson with The Bossa Novan. She was cured of her cold but I think I may have run a bit too fast on the mouth with the lesson. I think she was left a bit winded. I'll have to apply the brakes a bit more next time, otherwise she'll just finish up with me by the end of the month.

I've just got The Carolinan and Mrs. Thursday tonight, so I'll have to think about grabbing a bit of dinner before they come in. I'm thinking of the prototypically summer dish of soumen...just thin white cold noodles eaten in a savory broth with chopped green onions. Still, I may want to put in some meat as well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thursday August 11, 1:12 p.m.

Over the past several days, I've been re-watching all of those Ken Burns "Jazz" DVDs that I'd managed to amass over several months. I've read that the series caught a lot of flak from various sources, including people who have a rather huge axe aimed at Wynton Marsalis' head. However, I've been enjoying watching the history of America's musical gift to the planet with Satchmo, The Duke, Lady Day and The King of Swing as the major players. And I've yet to see anything this comprehensive anywhere on the small screen. This set is definitely coming back with me home.

Thursday August 11, 12:21 p.m.

That's my neighbourhood. Looks rather non-descript but right now, that area is a sauna in disguise. All that pavement and concrete has been throwing back all that heat at us poor pedestrians for the past few days. We've got a forecast high of 36 degrees C but I'm sure that's just merely the air temperature. It's definitely a two-shower day today. I decided to be kind to student and staff alike by taking that morning shower and liberally spraying myself with AXE.

In fact, the biggest story on the news in Japan has been the weather. All around the country, temperatures ranging into the high 30s have become commonplace. Basically the only point in Japan that has anything reasonable is the easternmost point of Hokkaido which got a frigid 25 C. And the worst topping on the cake is that at least in The Big Sushi, we've got 60%~80% humidity. We are broiling here. And apparently enough people were broiling and pulling off cascade fainting spells in Yokohama that a male tarento had to stop his own outdoor show prematurely when about 3,000 fans crammed together outside in the hot sun to watch him perform. Once the first fan collapsed, the domino effect kicked in. Even the tarento had to grab someone from falling. On his blog, he wrote a very deep apology for having to even do the show in the first place, although I'm sure that his managers had that yen sign very much in mind when pushing for the show to go ahead. In any case, we are hoping that we may get some sort of respite over the weekend.

I may have mentioned that I had bought a Yumi Arai CD, "Misslim", with the remaining gift coupons. She has been known as Yumi Matsutoya for over 35 years but way back in the early 70s, she was known as this young lyrical songwriting genius and one of the tentpoles for the New Music movement in this country. "Misslim" was her 2nd album after "Hikoki Gumo", and has quite a few songs that I recognized such as the one used over the end credits of the Miyazaki movie "Kiki's Delivery Service". It's a wonderful album in which Yuming and her co-horts go into folk and City Pop. And her backing crew are no slouches either. Taeko Ohnuki, Tatsuro Yamashita (Sugar Babe), Harry Hosono and soul & funk queen Minako Yoshida, all of whom were and have become legends on their own, help her out here. For all of the hits on this album, arguably the best that Arai/Matsutoya has ever made, I was struck by one song that I'd never heard before called "Watashi no Francoise" (My Francoise), a really lovely ballad. Listening to it and the other songs almost helped me forget that my apartment was probably measuring about 32 C, even with the fan on.

Wednesday August 10, 9:30 p.m.

Finished off 001 and Kirk today. Was starting to get rather tired by the end of Kirk's lesson...not that he was boring me; Kirk has always been one of my more engaging students. But I guess I am beginning to become a victim of that phenomenon in Japan known as natsu bate....summer lethargy. You just end up having the stuffing knocked out of you by the suffocating heat and humidity. How does one fight it? Well, knocking back the drinks: alcoholic, vitamin and otherwise certainly doesn't hurt. And the so-called stamina dishes such as eel-on-rice and Korean BBQ can bring some of that energy back.

Well, it looks like some of that energy into my lesson schedule is coming back. I've gotten those extra classes thanks to Speedy's corporate client. And even The Businesswoman, whom I haven't seen in some months, is gonna be coming back next Wednesday. I also got word from The Godfather; he'll be scheduled for next Tuesday. And finally, the juku boss has sent me e-mail stating that she will be moving into her new apartment next week. Perhaps once things have settled down for her in her new life, she'll have me and Cozy over for tea. She's apparently gonna be moving over to Maihama which is just across from Tokyo Disneyland. I think things are definitely gonna be getting noisier for her.

Wednesday August 10, 6:02 p.m.

Nope, that is not a picture of one of my relatives after one too many Asahi Beers. This 68-year-old fellow is none other than one of the members of the legendary comedy team, The Drifters, by the name of Cha Kato. And he has become the latest celebrity to get married a 23-year-old woman. Yup, he has decided to go for someone 45 years his junior. Definitely got the gossips' tongues wagging. I'm sure his tongue has been wagging...uh, sorry.

And then, some days later, it was reported that another of his contemporaries, TV personality Masaaki Sakai, just got married to a woman 20 years his junior. I'm sure a lot of folks in the izakaya, especially the men, are just nudging each other lasciviously at these acts of cradle-robbing. Or especially in the case of Cha Kato, uterine malfeasance.

Wednesday August 10, 5:51 p.m.

Nothing says more like a Japanese summer than the buzzing of a cicada. Yup, with the efficiency and dedication of the swallows (sparrows?) of San Capistrano, millions of these insectoid noisemakers, known as semi in Japanese, have returned to the trees of Japan. Well, I shouldn't say "returned" since last year's batch have all died. This year's population is the next generation to burrow themselves out of 17 years of life underground. And when they crack out of their old shells and then fly to the nearest tree, they start vibrating like mad and create this near-deafening chorus which reminds everyone of the heat and humidity that is swamping us right now. As usual, there are quite a few dead, upturned cicadas on my street and on my floor just outside my door. Luckily, there are plenty of crows in my neighbourhood that love to feast on the dead things.

Wednesday August 10, 4:53 p.m.

I could've been excused for initially mistaking the riots in London for one of the battle scenes in "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2". I think the only good thing that has come out of that is that there have miraculously been no fatalities there so far. That whole situation there in the UK makes me rather grateful that I live in Japan where there has been no serious incidence of riots and looting in decades...perhaps even a century. It's just not in the Japanese nature to go into anarchy mode. I mean, even Toronto has seen its share of strife in the streets when the G8 came to town last year. And to think that a few short weeks ago, everyone's eyes had been been on Oslo. The sad thing about all this is that this has probably been brewing for years, and Whitehall and Scotland Yard couldn't do anything about this. And on top of that, London is now less than a year away from its Olympic Games. Do you think anyone will want to go there right now? I've got my old friends, The Ballerina and Paddy living there. I'm not too worried about Paddy since he lives just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace (not that I'm intimating that he regularly goes over there to borrow a bowl of sugar). But The Ballerina has put an entry on her Mixi page stating that she has a friend who is living in one of the areas that got beat up and that she has been hearing sirens nonstop for the last few days.

As for me, the only thing that we've been fighting here is the heat. The moushobi, or heat wave, is coming down on us like a hammer on anvil. Probably 35 degress C out there right now. There was no way I could stay in my apartment so I left it several hours before my two lessons here at Speedy's. I decided to get off at a couple of stops between Iidabashi Station (my main transfer station) and Nakano-Sakaue Station (my final destination) just to see what it was like. Well, not much to say except that I did visit a couple of libraries just to escape from the relentless heat and discovered where The Ministry of Internal Affairs is located. Plus, I've managed to take a lot of opportunities at the vending machines for copious amounts of drinks. I just have to remember not to overdo it on the cold stuff since I've had to race to the intestines get a bit cranky if they only have to handle cold liquids.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Monday August 8, 8:28 p.m.

The intensity of the summer in Tokyo is directly proportional to the number of empty pop cans in my Non-Burnables garbage bag. In the non-summer months, it takes me weeks to fill up that bag, but I've managed to stuff one bag in about a few days. Yup, after a glorious 2-week respite of comfortably cooler weather, the typical blisteringly hot and humid Tokyo summer is back to torture us.

I did say that I did catch "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2" today. I'm not sure if Daniel Radcliffe or any of the other actors had shown up to do press in The Big Sushi earlier in July when the movie had debuted here. I can only say that if they had shown up today, they would've ended up like Lord Voldemort in the last few minutes of the movie....just disintegrate into ashes. I met up with Movie Buddy at the Wing Shopping Mall just across the street from JR Shinagawa Station this morning. Usually, our cinematic haunts are either in Roppongi or Shinjuku but the theatres there, though showing the movie, didn't have the right times for us so we ended up in Shinagawa...which made for a nice change of scenery. We first had lunch at the Anna Miller's above the McDonalds. In the past, that Anna Miller's had earned a reputation for waitresses wearing short skirts and frilly dresses which regularly drew the Akiba cosplay crowd. But since a lot of women wear pretty outrageous clothing nowadays, the waitresses employed there now no longer need fear the prying eyes of creepy otaku. Instead, the restaurant is now back for being famous for its pies.

I have yet to tell MB about my plans to return to Canada permanently. I just didn't feel it was the right time to land the bombshell. He and The Sylph will be away for the rest of the month to see the in-laws and then for a week's trip in New York City. So I'll let him know in September. After the movie, we just headed for some Mango Frappucinos at the local Starbucks in JR Shinagawa. Not much air conditioning inside but at least the drinks kept us hydrated.

Got back to Speedy's for my lone lesson today with Miss Genki. It looks like some of my financial distress may be alleviated with the news from the bossman that there will be some students coming in from one of his corporate client companies for some intense study before heading out to the States. So, I've got some 6 hours' worth of classes this Saturday for starters. Luckily, I've got neither Yajima nor The Jyuppies this coming Sunday. JT was there assisting the school once more. Boy, is she a cheerful one. As she was leaving the school today, she yelled her goodbyes to me all the way from the genkan.

It was just another gab session with Miss Genki. We spoke on the Potter movie and the phenomenon of geekdom before she segued into her experiences with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Yep, she had actually seen a local stage production of it some years back and she was just shocked at the dress of some of the audience. But that was about it. I told her that she should go to one of the yearly revivals in the States and see how she feels about throwing toast at the screen. Then we started going back into our favorite decade, the 80s, and of course, the music. Pretty smooth and easy hour.

I'll be heading home. I've got my early with Cozy and then it'll be several hours before I teach The New Yorker at our regular haunt of the Shinjuku Starbucks. Just wondering how hot it's gonna be tonight. I'll probably have the fan right by my head all night. And I'll be filling up the Non-Burnables bag some more most likely.

Monday August 8, 6:42 p.m.

Japan has a very trend-conscious society. Almost 30 years ago when Boy George and Culture Club entered the national consciousness, tons of young men (and perhaps some young women, too) of this country dressed up and slapped on the face paint like a bunch of Japanized New Romantics. When the tamagotchi held sway 15 years ago, there were lineups at Tokyu Hands that would've rivaled those for the newest pachinko parlors. And then there has been the decade-long "Harry Potter" series. Countless kids and adults put on their Hogwarts uniforms whenever the latest movie had come out in Tokyo and other major cities. Well, I was never a true fan of the movie series (it had only been 50/50 at very best for me) and I've yet to pick up a Rowling book. The "Half-Blood Prince" and Part 1 of "The Deathly Hallows" were frankly just plain deadly to watch...I know, I know, some of you Harry Potter fans out there are now looking for your Elder Wands to aim at me. You could but you would fail...I'm somewhat larger than Tom Riddle so I can absorb more.

So be happy when I say that when I caught the very last movie this afternoon in Shinagawa, I was actually impressed with the final chapter in the saga...and this is before I read that Part 2 had been universally acclaimed critically and that it has become the 3rd -largest grossing movie in history. I could actually watch this movie without looking at my watch or just drop my head into my right hand. Basically, it had to have been a no-brainer....from what I've heard, the book of The Deathly Hallows was all warfare. And the director finally translated that well enough to the big screen with a rousing finale, plenty of death scenes, and a sweet passing of the baton to the next generation. The consummation of the attraction between Ron and Hermione was just a blip in comparison. And there was the redemption of Professor Snape and his role as probably one of cinema's tragic figures. I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to put this last movie on a pedestal as so many critics have, but I'm just happy that the series has ended on as satisfying note.