Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday August 25, 5:14 p.m.

For years, I've been hearing about goya champloo, which is one of the most famous dishes in Okinawan cuisine. Its main ingredient is goya, or bitter melon, and as the name suggests, this vegetable, which looks like a warty cucumber, has got a taste which would pucker anyone's mouth if that person had the bad luck to ingest it as is.
Goya champloo is a stir-fry dish consisting of sliced goya, sliced fatty pork, tofu, eggs and bean sprouts all mixed together. I seasoned the pork with soy sauce and sake beforehand. And then I just added a bit of salt and pepper. Mrs. Alp, who was the student who had kindly presented me with the goya on Tuesday, also suggested the secret ingredient to hold it all together....soba tsuyu...the flavored dipping sauce for soba noodles. A lot of folks use miso but Mrs. Alp swears by soba tsuyu. And sure enough, the tsuyu has that combination of rich soy sauce, salt and sugar to add that kick. Since it was the first time for me to whip this stuff up, it came out a bit soupier than I had intended but still, it made for a satisfying dish on a summer day.

Thursday August 25, 4:55 p.m.

Please take a good look at this fellow. Perhaps by this time next week, he will be the new Prime Minister of Japan. His name is Seiji Maehara, and he used to be the Foreign Minister in PM Kan's government until a scandal forced him to vacate the post earlier this year.

He looks young, and is indeed young for a guy who may be getting the top job...I don't think he's even reached 50 yet. And frankly, he's a bit of a dumbass. I don't have many high hopes for Maehara. PM Hatoyama was wishy-washy, PM Kan was in over his head with all that has happened this year, but Seiji Maehara strikes me as being just plain dumb. A few years back, when he was an up-and-coming politician and the leader of the then-Opposition Democratic Party of Japan, he pulled a Chicken Little by ranting and raving over a supposed e-mail that showed a parliamentarian of the then-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a compromising situation. The e-mail proved to be a false one and Maehara had to resign in humiliation. But second and even third chances are given liberally in Japanese politics, and Maehara came back to have posts in the Cabinet. But his time as Foreign Minister was cut short when it had been found out that he had accepted political donations from a foreign resident which is a no-no and summarily had to resign once more.

However, after another few months in the political wilderness, Maehara announced his candidacy to become leader of the party, and now the pundits are predicting that he will get it next week. Prime Minister Kan will most likely announce his resignation tomorrow since all of his conditions have been met for him to step down. It's time to pass over the bull's-eye. And since the DPJ have the majority in the Lower House, whoever gets the leadership of the DPJ gets the Prime Ministership.

Oh, I just hope he isn't our equivalent of George W. Bush.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday August 24, 8:05 p.m.

One down, one to go. Finished my lesson with 001...just the usual gab with her about the usual Arashi. I've just got Kirk and then I'll be done for the day.

Heard about Jack Layton's passing today. When I was back in Toronto in March and April, that was the first time I had actually seen anything of the leader of the NDP. People had told me that he had looked far more robust, but even at that time, he was looking fighting trim for a guy who was going through cancer. But then I saw his very final press conference on YouTube today and realized that this was a guy whose days were very numbered. During the debates for Prime Minister in the Spring, he came across as the most amiable and most likely to chum around with. But, though it sounds cold, I'm glad that he didn't become PM because of the obvious final results. I wouldn't have been able to imagine the chaos of having to go through another election to replace Layton.

Wednesday August 24, 5:41 p.m.

Since I had most of the day off, I went over to Oshiage to see how Tokyo's latest architectural behemoth was doing. Tokyo Sky Tree is now basically complete although it won't officially open until next May. The last time I'd been there was last April when it had just passed the 450 m mark. Now it's at its mature 634 metres....and with a baby brother building next to it.

Kinda too bad that I won't be here next year to see the grand opening, but then again, I had my opportunities granted when the CN Tower opened up way back in 1976.

Wednesday August 24, 4:56 p.m.

Last night at 10 p.m., a severe-looking man came into a room filled with journalists and photographers and even flashes to send the most battle-hardened media watcher into seizure. And for an hour, he held everyone spellbound as he explained his errors and deeply apologized. Nope, I am not talking about Muammar Khadafy (as if he would ever be humble in front of the world media), but about Shinsuke Shimada, probably one of the most recognized figures in the geinokai, or the Japanese world of show business.

Just imagine David Letterman in the States hosting 6 weekly TV shows with those shows scattered throughout the networks, and you'll get an idea of how prevalent Shimada is on TV. And all this doesn't include the various specials and commercials that he appears on. In Japan, there isn't that presumed barrier about TV stars appearing on rival networks that firmly exists in the United States. Anyone who is in the upper echelons of TV stardom is pretty much required to have at least a half dozen programs. Shinsuke Shimada hosts those 6 variety shows, two of which have his name stamped onto the title, and there is one of his shows tonight on Fuji-TV called "Hexagon", a quiz variety show starring some of the allegedly dumbest tarento this side of a box of table legs.

Well, those show may now be history for the next little while at least. Fuji-TV may be or may have been sweating mighty bullet trains about what to do for its 7 p.m. time slot tonight. The reason is that last night at that press conference in Shinjuku, Shimada promptly resigned from show business. And though the media attention around this resignation may have rivaled that of the departure of Johnny Carson from "The Tonight Show" in the early 90s, the circumstances were far from happy last night.

Apparently, all this has come about due to some past dalliances between Shimada and the yakuza. It had come to light in the past few days that some years ago when one of the kings of Japanese TV had been in a spot of trouble, he had got in contact with an old friend who turned out to be a gangster. That gangster, who had earlier denied that he had been one, in turn, contacted a fixer to resolve the problem. The problem was apparently resolved discreetly. It may have involved the incident in which Shimada had punched out a female manager in one of his companies back in 2004.

Well, any established contact between show business and organized crime is a definite no-no, according to the media and entertainment....although I think anyone who's been anyone in show business prior to 1985 (when the yakuza were officially considered persona non grata by the government) most likely has had some sort of relationship with the J-Mob. I've always thought that there was a bit of a buddy-buddy relationship between the two, just like Frank Sinatra and the Mafia in Las Vegas. Now, the e-mail which showed the contact between Shimada and his gangster buddy was way back almost a decade ago. But it was enough for the president of his management company, Yoshimoto Kogyo, to call him in immediately after one of his programs and discuss the matter before Shimada decided to call it quits after more than 30 years on the telly.

Shinsuke Shimada had first started out as one half of a comedy duo back in the late 70s and rode the first wave of a comic duo boom. He and his partner became regular players on a popular "Saturday Night Live"-like variety show called "Oretachi wa Hyokin-zoku". And when his duo broke up in the mid-80s, he morphed into a popular host of TV shows starting with a Best 10 music show. His quicksilver Osakan wit and stylish looks basically got him to the top of TV.

My take on him, though, was ambivalent at best. I was never a big fan of manzai comedy, and though a lot of the natives here enjoyed his straight-talking style and his occasional live chewouts of celebs and civilians (on his talk shows), I initially and up to the time of his press conference last night found him to be another arrogant self-righteous celebrity. And that incident of him clocking one of his employees far from impressed me although he did hold a press conference in which he deeply apologized. However, after seeing his press conference last night and then witnessing former actress-turned-TV personality Miho Takagi tearfully showing gratitude to him on a Fuji-TV morning wide show for all of his encouragement during a tough time in her life, I'm wondering if I should just label him as just a flawed mercurial person. Apparently, despite all of the pompous bluster that he has shown on his programs, he has also helped a lot of his junior colleagues through their careers on TV.

Shinsuke Shimada may have left the stage last night and left some huge (scheduling) holes, but I don't really think any of us have seen the last of him. Just like superheroes...and the comics, Japanese celebs have often found a way to return to glory. Plus, Shimada's contrition in front of the cameras does get bonus points in a society where the deepest apologies go a long way to reforming a person in front of public eyes. Still, as the reporters have said all this morning, there is still a lot of the maelstrom surrounding the departed Shimada that has yet to be revealed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday August 22, 8:29 p.m.

Ahhhh....doesn't this look appetizing! A nice hearty bowl of ramen to finish off the day. Well, I would be able to eat this if it were just a bit cooler and less humid. As it is, I would probably end up melting into a puddle of cholesterol.

The reason for the picture? Well, I had my lesson with Miss Genki. And once again, we eschewed the text for something heartier. She and her sister had just come back from their Guam vacation last week and we ended up talking about what they had noshed on during their 4 days there. Baby back ribs, Chinese crab, tons of food. What else is new? Our conversation went through the myriad dishes of dim sum before we came onto the talk of ramen. And so of course, I just had to mention the Ramen Museum near Shin-Yokohama Station. For someone who adores ramen like Miss Genki, it was a bit of a shock to find out that she had never been to the Mecca of All Things Noodly. So, I took her to the website and she took down the images as if she were really eating a bowl of the stuff. As for me, I would like to go there myself one last time before I head on back to The Great White North, but I just can't be sure considering my financial picture.

Speaking of other people who have seen better days, CNN is reporting that Muammar Khadafy is currently missing. No surprise there. I think the term is "...gone into hiding". I just didn't think that the regime would fall this fast but then again the media may be jumping the gun on this. I'm sure when I get home I'll be seeing "BREAKING NEWS" ad nauseum posted up in black & yellow all night.

Just got word from Swank in Hawaii. Looks like she may cancel her first lesson this Friday since she may be rather busy decompressing after a month in The Aloha State. Can't say I blame her. After enjoying an entire month in paradise, I think she would need some time to recover.

Monday August 22, 5:01 p.m.

Did want to mention that The Godfather proudly informed me that his second child into the world last Friday. For all the horrible stuff that had been put on the poor man over the past few weeks, I think this news has been very welcome. Anyways, I won't see him til next Monday. It's looking like a busy Monday though with Cozy, The Bossa Novan, The Godfather and then Mr. Swank squished in between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Speaking of Mr. Swank, his wife should be back in action this Friday when I see her for the first time in a month since coming back from their annual vacation in Hawaii. Over the past few weeks, Swank has been uploading various pictures from The Aloha State to her Facebook page. Must be nice to be rich.
Looks like most of this week will be characterized by night classes, except for The Beehive tomorrow and then Swank and The OL on Friday.
Monday August 22, 4:46 p.m.

Still unseasonably cool although the humidity is definitely up there. I actually wore my casual otaku jacket although by the afternoon it was definitely helping to build up a sauna around my body. Starting from tomorrow, the temps are gonna gradually be rising again until Friday when we'll back into the heat wave once more. A number of folks around me actually thought that the summer was gonna be over, but I know from long experience that nowadays Tokyo summers last well into September.

On Saturday, I got a call from my old friend, The Cat, from up in Nagano Prefecture. I've known her for almost 20 years when she was a working-holiday student in Toronto hanging out with us in our university club. She is one of the friends whom I've already told about my intentions to leave Japan for good this December. As usual, The Cat asked me a number of questions on English since she also teaches kids as a part-time job. She also informed me that Paddy is planning to come back to Japan soon to check up on his mother who's been ailing of late. I'd never heard anything about this from Paddy in his last e-mail last week, so I'm assuming that he may not have time to see me which may explain why he hasn't told me about his plans.

Today I had Cozy for his usual 8 a.m. session. The rains were coming down this morning although things have become far drier since then. After reading my comments on Mixi concerning Junko Ohashi the singer, he promptly fed his nostalgia genes and ordered 3 CDs by her via Amazon, and then showed them to in class. Nice to know that I can influence people this way.

Since I have a huge hole in my schedule between Cozy and Miss Genki in about 2 hours, I visited Akihabara for the first time in several weeks. Checked out Tower Records and the like before having my usual doner kebab for lunch. Saw the usual maids on the main strip giving out the leaflets. I guess Maid Cafes still pull them in.

Over the past several days, I've been watching the situation in Libya. As one talking head put it on a BBC show, noone can predict as to what will happen between Khadafi and the rebels. But to noone's doubt, the endgame is here. The rebels have entered Tripoli, neighbouring Tunisia has even formally declared that the rebels are now the provisional government, and when Khadafi's mouthpiece started blaming the entire world for this mess, I kinda figured that the Colonel's days...or hours....were numbered. And indeed, CNN is reporting that a number of his sons have been captured, and that the country was now on the brink. Should be interesting when I get home. I don't believe that the Battle for Libya will be won by tonight my time but I think several things will be in play that might enhance it when the time comes.