Friday, September 23, 2011

Saturday September 24, 9:11 a.m.

It's almost like a temperature switch was turned off...Fall came here yesterday and it seems like the temperatures plummeted here almost as fast as the stock prices. Our lows are now the highs. A mere 24 degrees today with sun. Can't complain about this. The summer wasn't nearly as steamy as last year, but I'm not sorry to see it go. And if there's one thing that I will not miss about this country, it is the summer heat.

Strangely enough, we've got a couple of space-based news items which have been bursting onto the stream along with the Palestinian statehood talks, PM Noda's international debut at the United Nations and the "gripping" rock-paper-scissors AKB 48 championship matches. One is that NASA satellite which is tumbling out of orbit. It...or pieces of it...will be crashing into the Earth over the next several hours. Of course, the media has been doing a bit of Chicken Little about its possibility of hitting the Japanese archipelago. CNN basically put that news to rest by stating that most likely it'll hit somewhere in Africa...even if the country needed more explosions. The other is potentially much more significant although it has come in very quietly. Apparently, the folks at the CERN Hadron Collider in Europe are checking out the possibility that a few of their souped-up neutrinos may have broken the Speed of Light. Albert Einstein may be rolling in his grave. Trekkies are probably giving their Vulcan salutes in bliss. I would probably warn Leonard Nimoy about fans setting up temples on his front lawn.

As for me in my little world, I had my lone student yesterday. I hadn't seen The OL in a couple of weeks. Apparently, the stress of work had gotten to her and she got knocked out last week thus resulting in her sudden cancellation, or dotakyan, last Friday. She's one of the very students who has been generous enough to still supply the cancelled class' fee, so I had a bit more extra to deposit in my account last night. She even imbibed a bit too much of the liquor with her buddy on Typhoon Day on Wednesday, ending up (in her words) with a massive hangover that she's still kinda fighting off, although she was in good form during the lesson yesterday. Next week, she'll be away again...but for much happier and more adventurous reasons, as she and her mother head for a small vacation in Beijing. She said she would love to have Peking Duck there....although I've always thought that the famed Chinese dish is actually better made outside of Mainland China.

I have today off but tomorrow I've got my semi-monthly with Yajima. But then I have a reunion of sorts with some of my old club members at U of T in a Ginza izakaya, Gonpachi. One of the old members has apparently shown up in town so we old geezers will be having a lunch in his honor.

Over the years, I made my shift from viewing Japanese TV to foreign imports from America and Britain. Of course, there are the "NCIS" and "CSI" franchises, and "Leverage" and "Burn Notice" have started their new seasons here (although a few years behind from where the shows are now Stateside). But I've also started enjoying some of the more eclectic stuff such as "Monk" and the BBC "Hustle"....kinda like the British equivalent of "Leverage". Speaking of Timothy Hutton shows, I've even been watching his other project of a decade ago, "A Nero Wolfe Mystery"....very stylish and Hutton is in much more fey and wisecracky form there. Had no idea that it had been filmed in Toronto, although the casting of the late Maury Chaykin as the full-sized Wolfe and catching scenes of U of T were big hints.

Today, I just aim to enjoy the remaining six hours of solitude at the I-Cafe before having a simple dinner and setting up Yajima's lesson.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday September 22, 6:58 p.m.

Just came back from the conbini. Only picked up the kaki-P and a drink for dinner. I have to be careful nowadays about how much I buy....although I did pick up the fixins for hamburgers yesterday afternoon before Roke roared in. But I did keep the food bill last night under 1,600 yen. The bossman came in about half an hour ago. It's the first time since last Friday I'd seen him due to various factors such as national holidays and cancellations. I sometimes wonder about him, though. He informed me that he's in a bit of hot water with the parents of the kids at the kids' school since he actually did keep the school open during Typhoon Day yesterday. So some very drenched and angry mothers had to drag themselves through public transportation-less Tokyo last night to pick their charges up. "Live and learn" he said ruefully.

It starting downpouring earlier today just around the time that Ms. Schmoo and The German came in. When I went out there just now, the rain had basically decreased to a trickle. It did clear out the air of any residual humidity and I actually felt a shiver walking out there. Perhaps, Fall may actually arrive on time tomorrow.

This morning, I got a call from Mom on a rare weekday. Unsurprisingly, she called up about my situation concerning Typhoon Roke. Since my parents get NHK on cable back in Toronto, they were privy to all of the craziness last night in Tokyo. She was relieved to find out that I had been home all day yesterday due to 001's cancellation. Also, she called me up to inform me that the family is planning some sort of Caribbean cruise next year. Since I'll be back home for good, it looks like I may actually end up on The Love Boat. I figure I'm getting on one of those liners perhaps 20 years early considering who usually sails on those things.

Bits of my past are coming to greet me. Recently, one of the ol' Teahouse Ladies, a trio of former students from the ol' school in Ichigaya that I used to chat with on Friday nights at this wonderful but now deceased teahouse nearby, re-contacted me via Facebook. I informed her about my permanent departure and she asked whether I would be available for lunch or something on October 15th. Then today I also received contact from The Persian, another old friend from U of T days and my apartment's preceding tenant. I also told him about my impending repatriation. I may also be facing a reunion of sorts in Ginza on Sunday after my lesson with Yajima. One of the gang from my old club at the university is visiting for the first time in several years so a number of the old boys are getting together at some sort of izakaya for lunch.

I did forget to mention that I had caught "Green Lantern" with MB and The Satyr on Sunday at the Shinjuku Milano. A prelude of things to come appeared when we had the bad luck to find out that despite the discount tickets, we had to shuck out an additional 400 yen per person for 3-D glasses. MB has a pretty violent allergy toward almost all movies 3-D and is rather ticked off when he found out, especially since none of the ads he had seen for the movie indicated that this would be a 3-D flick. Then when we were looking for that Burger King nearby, we found out that it had been replaced by a 7-11. But we were able to get a quick lunch at a Pepper Lunch.

As for the movie itself, both The Satyr and MB despised it. I thought it was a pretty mediocre flick as well but quietly thought it wasn't that far down from "Thor" which MB seemed to like more than I did. Green Lantern is a second-tier DC superhero although I think what a hero can do with his ring is pretty nifty in itself. However, it's too bad that someone like Martin Campbell, who had rejuvenated the Bond series with "Casino Royale" several years ago, couldn't do anything A-level with this B-level hero. It just seemed that Campbell and the writers simply just checked off the usual tropes for a superhero movie. Origin story? Check. Father issues? Check. Love story? Check. Tortured villain? Check. And so on...but without any real panache or overall coherence. I've heard that it made enough money so that a sequel is possible, if not probable but I think a re-think...starting with a change in the crew...will be needed. In any case, I think that was 1700 yen that could've been better invested.
Thursday September 22, 5:54 p.m.
Had my usual fun with The German for about 70 minutes. Once again, we didn't touch the text. We gabbed on the typhoon of course along with my trip to the American Club House with MB last Saturday. In her case, she was able to get home early via the Marunouchi Line yesterday afternoon since she only needs to ride the red line for just a few stations and those stations are safely underground.
We also had a talk on the comparison between American steak and Japanese steak. I like both....good for my taste buds, bad for my heart. Of course, all of you folks in the States know your steak to be big, thick, juicy and chewy with the glistening fat ringing the lovely meat. Over here in Japan, steak is seen as small, thin, buttery and melt-in-your-mouth. Those last two adjectives must strike you as being highly unusual. Well, it's kinda like a filet mignon...and at comparative prices. It's a big thing to get a steak in this country....back home, steak is merely Friday night. The one thing I had to get over when it came to eating the beef here is that the Japanese love to serve their steak with a pat of butter sizzling and melting away on it. That initially struck me as....WHOA! Who would put a big pat of fat on a steak?! Well, then again, it does add flavor (and extra calories), and of course, roast turkey gets the butter treatment during the 4-6 hours of oven time. Why not beef? Still, it took some time to get over my provincial hangups. But I still appreciate chewing on that that chunk of T-Bone for 5 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thursday September 22, 3:15 p.m. Well, I'm gonna have to get through this one quickly since I've got The German in about 15 minutes here. Unlike some of the tension involving The Bohemian in my last entry, I had a great time with Movie Buddy last weekend in Jiyugaoka. MB told me about this place called American Club House, famous for its ribs. For a city whose knowledge of ribs is primarily restricted to the Tony Roma or Hard Rock Cafe chains, we were itching to try it.

As MB would say several times during and after the meal, it was sublime. We went for the 4,000-yen course...a relative bargain for what we got. The starter was this tomato-mozzarella cheese-avocado salad. Wonderful combo of flavors here, and we would become food critics after that.

Then came what was arguably the best course of the evening, although everything was great in our estimation. This was a seafood concoction with some of the tastiest broth I'd ever had. We were very tempted to take the empty bowl and drain it of every last drop, but decorum prevailed. It was almost a pity that complementary bread hadn't been provided, but MB rightly pointed out that it would've been difficult to finish off the other courses with carbs inflating our stomachs.

Yep, that's roast duck there with an umami sauce. Nothing more to say....just great!

And came the ribs themselves. Perhaps not as big or as plentiful as one would get in an American restaurant but the BBQ sauce was nicely tangy and the meat was plentifully there.

For some strange reason, we got penne right after the ribs. MB and I both thought that this would be something before them, but I guess with the tanginess of the ribs and the sweetness of the dessert, there had to be something to divide the two dishes. Still, we had no reason to complain. The penne was creamy and delish.

And finally, there was the apple pie a la mode. Pretty fancy-schmancy. Perhaps a bit more crust than I'd expected but that would just be quibbling.

Just a great dinner there. And great dinner companion, too. No worrying about whether he would embarrass himself or me.

Thursday September 22, 2:56 p.m. And right after Ice Cream City, The Egg, The Bohemian and I made our way to Nakano Station via the JR so that The Egg could check out some cheap CDs in Nakano Broadway. He didn't find anything that he had wanted by himself but I did discover an old album by novelty act, The Go-Bangs, that I remembered he had liked. He grabbed that album pretty quickly.

Soon after, The Bohemian needed to resolve our need for dinner. So, he went through his cellphone and found a Korean place called Gut's Soul near Nakano Station. Not sure if the name was a clever pun on a musical compliment, but it is kinda well named when one considers what Korean BBQ can consist of. And at 4 p.m., we were the first customers of the day there. The pleasant waitress took us to our table where we would put most of our orders via this Geordi LaForge PADD. Looked more "Blade Runner" than "Star Trek", though.

As you can see, that beef is just sizzling deliciously away on the grill there. If I'm not mistaken, that's probably kalbi. Since we were taking advantage of the one-price all-you-can-eat option, we were mostly ordering the most expensive and tenderest cut of meat. We didn't try for the horumon, or intestines, although I'm perfectly fine with them since they didn't seem to enter The Bohemian's intent to get the best value for money.

Basically, the three of us just slogged away at our meal for the next two hours. The Bohemian more than made it worth his while to drink since he also ordered the all-you-can-drink option.

This is a side dish called cha-siu gohan. Cold fatty BBQ pork on rice mixed with chopped green onion and seaweed. Not bad but I think the Chinese restaurants in downtown Toronto like Kom Jug Yuen still beat this dish hands down.

The Bohemian didn't get as bad as he did the previous Friday with his sad drunk persona. However, he did get into his unfortunate habit of trying to chat up the waitress. She was from China instead of Korea, and The Bohemian did everything in his power to talk to her about something by using probably broken-down Mandarin each time she brought the latest round of meat to the table. By the end, she was getting visibly annoyed by him...of course, The Bohemian either couldn't or wouldn't notice, and so I had to quickly thank her so that she could get away. Afterwards, I did notice that she was nowhere to be seen and that it was just the male staff running around taking orders. I didn't admonish him for his behaviour as I had in past years, mostly because he would probably just shrug it off and just say that he couldn't really help himself and that he had already declared himself a loser.

Thursday September 22, 2:42 p.m. Continuing on with that culinary voyage through Tokyo with my old buddy, The Egg, last week...I think my last entry talked about our lunch at The Gyoza Stadium in Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro. Well, next to The Gyoza Stadium...or I should say above on the next Ice Cream City. Yes, of course...when one wants to cleanse one's palate of garlic and meat, ice cream is just the thing. Or perhaps when one wants to cleanse one's bowels very quickly....

In any case, as you can see, Ice Cream City is a much more day-glo affair in terms of decor. This is the main dining area...kinda like a food court with the various outlets of ice cream shops surrounding the sitting area.

There is also another section adjoining the dining area, lined with freezers selling various types of ice cream in cups. Of course, there are the conventional flavors of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. Then there are the more adventurous ones such as Garlic & Mint which seems to be a contradiction in terms. Sully and freshen one's breath at the same time. And I also caught flavors such as Mackerel and Miso Noodles. I kinda wonder if the crew of "Jackass" had something to do with the selection process here.

After some window shopping, I went with the ice cream-filled crepe of PariPari ChocoBanana...sounds perfect as an example of Japanese pop culture. I had the berry-filled concoction which the pretty young staffer cooked up.

And this is the finished product here, complete with spoon. Crepes have become institutionalized in this country. There are plenty of stores selling the stuff in places like Akihabara and Harajuku. And the word "crepe" here is pronounced with the long "a" instead of the proper short "e" in its native France. One of my old fellow JETs who has a Gallic background has always wanted to strangle anyone who would dare pronounce it in the Japanese way.

Thursday September 22, 2:10 p.m.

Well, with just a minute to go before she was due to show up, The Bossa Novan called in to cancel her lesson. I get paid since it was a toujitsu kyanseru (on-the-day cancellation) but it was also her final lesson on her current contract which always gets me suspicious. She has sacrificed at least 5,000 yen for her 90-minute lesson. I'm not sure if she will renew. In the seven lessons that she's had with me, she seemed OK with what I had to offer although not particularly enthusiastic, especially when it came to doing the homework. Ach, we'll see.

Anyways, I've managed to listen to all of the old CDs I'd bought over the past few weeks. I found the one pictured above at the Shibuya RecoFan for a mere 100 yen. The CD is in fine condition; it's just that the liner notes have become somewhat yellowed through age. I can take that. The album is by a young 23-year-old Mariya Takeuchi back in 1978 who would become one of Japan's most popular singer-songwriters. The cover depicting this grainy somewhat amateurishly photographed young lady kinda hints at what I heard in this debut album, appropriately titled "Beginnings". She's had a long career of some lovely adult contemporary tunes ranging from her early homage to American novelty tunes of the 1950s to her later more straight-ahead West Coast stuff. "Beginnings" has her singing a mix of styles reminiscent of Connie Francis and Carole King and even one track of near-disco (remember this was 1978). A couple of the songs from this album have made it onto her recent Best album but basically her debut is one of a proto-Mariya...not quite there yet but very promising. According to the Japanese Wikipedia, and not the English-language version, Takeuchi had done a year at Rock Falls High School in Illinois in the early 70s which explains her good ability in singing in English. I can see how she absorbed some of the Americana book of music such as the West Coast of The Eagles but I can only speculate that she must've searched for the 50s songs....although I do recollect that "Happy Days" debuted on TV at around the same time.

Thursday September 22, 1:28 p.m. We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for this news on Typhoon Roke...aka Typhoon No. 15, as it is far more plainly labeled in Japanese. As some of you may already know, this behemoth managed to ram through Japan like an irate elephant through a wall on Wednesday. I was very lucky that 001 had cancelled her lesson for that night on Tuesday night. She, like me, lives out far away from Speedy's so her cancellation helped me in avoiding the worst commuting day and night since March 11. I had no other lessons yesterday so I was able to stay home all day except for a quick surgical strike at around 1 p.m. at my neighbourhood supermarket to get fixins for dinner (it was hamburger, by the way, the de rigueur menu for typhoons).

The left photo is what I took on the way home from the supermarket. It doesn't show up, but it was raining rather heavily at this point with the winds starting to blow. A few hours later at around 5 p.m. was when things really started to go nuts with a whole lot of whistling and horizontally moving precip. In contrast, the picture above shows this morning in about the same place: clear, sunny and hot.

But I did feel very sorry for the hundreds of thousands of commuters who got must've felt a rather unfortunate case of deja vu as they waited for hours and hours for the JR, subways and trains to come back online again. There were just a lot of incredible scenes of folks lining up stoically at the sealed-off ticket gates and bus and taxi stops at stations such as Shibuya as the winds and rain just assaulted them. And all of the TV stations were giving out nonstop coverage on what was probably the worst typhoon to strike the Kanto in several years. I don't think I've come across anything this fierce since 1995. Roke definitely went for broke.

Of course, the big pink elephant in the room was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Everyone was casting a very wary eye on how this danger spot would react to the high winds and driving rain, but by midnight last night, the boys from TEPCO gave the all-clear that there wouldn't be any contaminated water overflowing into the system.

Today, I actually have three students in what has got to be one of the sparsest work weeks I've ever experienced thanks to two national holidays (Respect-for-the-Aged Day and the First Day of Fall) bookending this week and yesterday's cancellation. I've got The Bossa Novan in about 20 minutes, The German immediately after and then Mrs. Thursday for her usual evening class. No doubt what the opening conversational gambit will be in all three classes.