Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday October 7, 5:46 p.m.

A rather incongruous combination of photos, but let me explain. I bought this Yasuhiro Abe Best CD at Towers in Akiba yesterday since he was in my "Japanese City Pop" book, and I did hear some of his stuff on YouTube. I listened to the first few tracks this morning and found him to be the prototypical J-Bobby Caldwell of the 80s. Pretty good with that glass of Evian.

I had The German in my last slot here at Speedy's today. As usual, we spent the 70 minutes gabbing on various topics. The last topic was on the anime that we had seen in our childhood. Of course, the iconic Space Cruiser Yamato was on both of our lists. She was somewhat flabbergasted to find out that "Star Blazers", the English-dubbed version of "Space Cruiser Yamato" had several scenes of violence and nudity excised....notably those of Yuki Mori. She wondered why those scenes would be pulled out when live-action movies had so much nudity and violence in the first place. Ah, I explained the cultural and religious differences between Japan and the United States. Nudity and violence simply don't have that taboo in kids' cartoons that they do Stateside. I told her that if the show had been shown full frontal in the States with scenes such as the robot Analyzer molesting Ms. Mori, there would've been a wave of angry phone calls from various PTAs to the producers.

It's been a nice day today. Just had the three students. In the morning, I had The Bass in Funabashi...luckily, he didn't mind my snub of his gig a few weeks ago. He let me know that despite the long layover between concerts, Rajaz fared pretty well in front of the prog rock audience. He also told me that the Funabashi Burger King is now kaput which struck me somewhat deaf and dumb. After the lesson, I went over and confirmed it. No more sign and no more Whoppers in Funabashi.

Then, I rushed over to Hiroo to see Swank. Looks like she's been burning the candle at both ends. She has that Tuesday night class on teaching Japanese in Nakano, along with taking care of her other duties at the courts and then her family.

Aside from Ms. Schmoo who had come in to take care of the tea for The German and myself, I've just been by my lonesome today at the school since the bossman and his wife have gone up to Morioka for the weekend to celebrate a friend's wedding. So I can take care of shutting everything down for the long weekend. Not that we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving here, too, but we have Sports Day on Monday in Japan. Quite the irony with the holidays. Here, we celebrate a bit of athleticism to take off the weight; meanwhile in The Great White North, we'll be putting on the weight.

Japan has also been mourning the loss of Steve Jobs of Apple fame. I saw my former student, The Journo, interviewing folks in Ginza where the Apple Store is. Lots of folks have been placing apples and flowers in front of the shop in tribute to the Thomas Edison of the 21st Century. Speedy and I also talked about him last night; apparently, one of the bossman's in-company clients involves a lot of computer software so a number of his students were marveling and mourning Jobs.

However, it seems as if the big news here has been the trial of Ichiro Ozawa, the kingmaker in the governing Democratic Party of Japan. He's been the Teflon Don of Japanese politics for several years, being able to deflect all those allegations of wrongful misconduct involving the Political Funds Control Law all the way back in 2005. Apparently, a few of his assistants have taken the fall but the big man himself has insisted that he had not done a single thing out of turn. I've got no idea how this is going to go, or even how long this will drag on.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Thursday October 6, 9:35 p.m.

Finished with Mrs. Thursday. She's a lot of fun to talk to and for the past 3 weeks, we've ended up not opening the textbook at all. But this time, after an hour of talking about Akiba and high school proms (she was curious), I decided that despite going overtime we would at least take care of one page very quickly. That we did.

Yesterday, I saw 001 for the first time in a few weeks. I hadn't seen her since before Typhoon Day last month. And thanks to her, I was able to stay home on that day since she had cancelled her lesson which would've been on that day due to the typhoon. However, 001 was not so lucky. I found out that she got trapped on the train heading back for Sagamihara for about 3 hours. But she took it stride, she was able to get a seat and take a nap for a couple of hours before the train finally got going.

Tomorrow, I've got three on the slate: The Bass, Swank and then The German here at Speedy's. I'm a bit nervous about meeting The Bass since I ended up not going to his gig; it turned out that his gig coincided with my dinner with MB at that The American Club House. He's a pretty laid back fellow but I hope I didn't hurt his feelings by not showing up.
Thursday October 6, 6:27 p.m.

Unlike the wet and cold of yesterday, today was a gloriously sunny and warm day....just the perfect weather for me to meet up with The Anime Chamberlain for lunch in Akihabara and then off to The Gundam Cafe.
Yep, you heard me...this place that had garnered some major lineups was now much more accessible since the buzz has worn off the place. Neither of us are major fans of this classic anime but since we were in the neighbourhood, we decided to give it a go for the atmosphere and tea.

Just to prove that we actually went inside, here is the picture of my iced milk tea with The Gundam Cafe logo on the side. The menu is pretty much on family restaurant steak and pasta for the most part, although they're shaped into Gundam-like objects.

Of course, being a theme cafe, there has to be a gaggle of Gundams in the display case.

Oooops....I guess they were going into warp.

Now, what has stolen all the thunder from The Gundam Cafe? Well, just next door, the AKB 48 Cafe and Souvenir Shop opened last week right beside it. I guess for some mysterious reason, young cute girls trump giant robots every time. And I gather that it must've been a very light work week judging by the number of businessmen lining up outside. That line uttered by a disgusted William Shatner from that classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch on "Star Trek" comes to mind.

Of course, Akiba means weird vending machines. And this is one we found on one of the side streets.

There is actually iced coffee sold in this one which is pretty normal. However, I did come across a can of tan tan men....or noodles with spicy meat topping. For those who feel that Dr. Pepper just isn't spicy enough.

Then, of course, there are the cans of Hakata-style ramen...with extra pork fat. Mmmmm....something Homer Simpson would just love. Mind you, 300 yen has to be shucked out. But then again, a similar bowl of ramen would cost at least twice as much.

I came across this sign for The Granvania Maid and Cosplay Cafe/Bar near JR Akiba Station. I guess "getting medieval on your ass" takes on special meaning here.

Thursday October 6, 5:50 p.m.

I'd heard about Steve Jobs' passing about 10 minutes after the initial announcement had been made on CNN...around 9 a.m. this morning. Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta were in gravitas mode as they talked about the life and legacy of the 21st-century's Thomas Edison.

I think all of us knew that the end was near for Jobs; still, when I turned on the news, an "Oh!" instinctively emanated from me once I saw the BREAKING NEWS flash. The media must've gotten wind that Jobs was ready to pass into history since CNN already had a tribute montage set to music already prepped to go.

I haven't owned an Apple product in almost 20 years...I'd bought an Apple IIsi after returning to Canada from my stint on the JET Programme back in 1991. And I think that was when Jobs had been sent into the cold...well, over to Pixar anyways. Obviously since then, he not only returned to the fold with Apple, but he came out in relatively short succession, three of the biggest consumer computer gamechangers: the iPod, iPhone and the iPad. I may not own any of these...yet...but pretty much everyone else has at least one of these products or knows someone who does. And way back when, there were those cute candy-colored iMacs as well.

Steve Jobs was one of those rare people who not only had a genius-level intellect when it came to computers but he was a master marketer. Since I teach Presentation English occasionally to the local business people here, Jobs would be a person that I would heartily recommend for my students to take a look at via YouTube. He combined planning and passion with a light sense of humour in his presentations...the ideal recipe for an excellent presentation.

I think over the next few days will see a torrent of tributes coming in for him. But I also expect that there will be some small bricks thrown at him as well. A chief executive on his level of fame makes enemies, and I've heard that he didn't suffer fools gladly.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wednesday October 5, 5:34 p.m.

The rain is coming down pretty steadily right now, so I think this would be a good segue into "Grey Skies". As some of you may know, I've been getting into the oeuvre of Taeko Onuki, a singer of New Music for nearly 40 years. Over the past several days, I've been listening to some new discs of hers that I've purchased.

The one on the left is her 1976 "Grey Skies", her first solo album after splitting up with just-as-legendary singer Tatsuro Yamashita from their unit, Sugar Babe. The album boasts not only a fairly iconic cover as kayo kyoku albums go (Onuki usually doesn't smile a whole lot on her albums) but it has her singing a nice mix of City Pop tunes and folk ballads. Yamashita's characteristic happy-go-lucky West Coast sound is very apparent on some of his arrangements. At the time, she was only about 23 years old, so there is a bit of rawness in her vocals as contrasted with the light and smooth assuredness of her 80s stuff...very appealing.

The middle album is "Mignonne"...which begins her phase of French-titled LPs in 1978. This album is notable in that it was red-flagged as being, arguably, Onuki's weakest release. Even the singer herself castigates it in the liner notes. In it, she talks about how difficult it was to work with her producer, who had been one of her harshest critics in previous years and then became her boss. She fully admits that it was not easy for her and that she ended up hating the business of music and lost any confidence in her abilities. For a Japanese singer to say this in her own liner notes can only hint at some of the hell that she must've gone through. As it is, despite the fact that no hits came out of the album at the time, there are a few tunes such as "Yokogao" (Profile) and "Umi to Shonen" (The Ocean and the Boys) that have become standards. I certainly didn't have too much of a problem listening to it, although I could see that "Mignonne" sounded a bit uncertain on her part...and it seemed like she was trying to transition into something else...albeit reluctantly.

She kinda deserted her career for a period of several months (apparently she was doing backup vocals for some of her contemporaries while writing for other singers) until 1980 when she came out with "Romantique". In a way, this was a rebirth of sorts for her. As "Grey Skies" was to her City Pop era, "Romantique" was the beginning of Onuki's foray into more interesting and more adventurous European pop idioms. "Mignonne" may have been the first of her "French" titles, but this release was really her re-introduction. I've already listened to it twice and she definitely re-invented herself with a vengeance. Perhaps with the exception of the very last track which is a self-cover from that Sugar Babe album, she dabbled with European styles and one song struck me as an attempt to pay homage to Blondie...which didn't quite succeed. As has been the case with her previous albums, her contemporary, Oscar-winning composer and one-third of YMO, Ryuichi Sakamoto, was there with the arrangements. And the first track on the album, "CARNAVAL", which has gone on to become a perennial entry on her Best albums, was a gutsy choice for her to start her rejuvenated career. It is the only overtly technopop song in the album but of course that was a huge departure for her stylistically after the City Pop that had come before. Reading the Japanese Wiki entry on the song itself, Onuki mentioned that despite her need to re-invent herself, she didn't want this tune to end up being a Yellow Magic Orchestra song since she wanted to ensure that every song of hers was a definite Taeko Onuki original. With Sakamoto arranging her composition and the other two members of YMO, Harry Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, handling the instruments, that would've been a tall order by her. But actually, all four of them pulled it off. "CARNAVAL" has the synths backing her up but it doesn't come off as a YMO hit like "Firecracker" or "Rydeen". Although Onuki would probably want it to be known as her own tune, I'd say that the lead track is a smooth hybrid of hers and the band's. "Romantique" was the launch of the new 80s Taeko Onuki.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Wednesday October 5, 12:46 p.m.
Was going through the photos that I'd taken while I was taking The Anime Chamberlain and my two other Canuck friends through Shibuya on Saturday. And I came across one of the urban institutions of this great city: the costumed commercial campaign guy.
I see them from time to time in the big commercial and pop culture centres such as Shibuya and Akihabara...young folks who need a part-time job putting on costumes such as a giant Pikachu or in this case a vitamin drink bottle to make a bit of yen.

This specific fellow was standing in front of the Tokyu Hands household goods flagship store. I always tell folks who come here...if you want some nifty souvenirs that don't look tacky and may even be useful in the home, go to this place.
The one difference between being a costumed commercial campaign guy here and being one over in North America is that being one in Japan doesn't necessarily entail the risks of being beaten into a pulp by a gang of youths.

This is what the guy was hawking: a vitamin drink imbibed before heading to that big drinking party or feast. It has the power of Ukon...some sort of root with restorative powers. With the bonenkai season around the corner, these drinks will come in especially handy.

It's been the coldest day so far this Fall. It's been amazing how quickly we've gone from blistering heat a couple of weeks ago to needing the blankets in the past couple of days. It's only heading up to 17 C in The Big Sushi, which practically means time to sip the hot cocoa and wrap those scarves in this country.

Yesterday, I just had my cafe lessons. Because the Tobu Community Centre is too full, I had to meet The Beehive ladies (it was just Alp and Jade) at Cafe Nard in Funabashi. We kinda went over old times, including that very first day I'd met them back in September 1998. Yep, that's right...anyone born in that month is now attending junior high school. That sound I hear is my joints cracking in age. Then a few hours later, it was The Godfather at the Mosburger near Monzen-Nakacho Station on the Tozai Line. He's still existentially trying to rid himself of the effects of that con artist who had swindled him and his partners back in the summer through talking it out. But we also touched upon "The Godfather" and Al Pacino's "Scarface". I should actually get his feelings about "Goodfellas".

Over the past few days via Facebook, Skippy and I have been negotiating about a meet. And sure enough, she's confirmed that she, me and our other friend from the ol' school, The Wedding Planner, will be hitting that Rabbit Cafe on the 16th before we all get into the lineup for the Tokyo branch of "Eggs N' Things". I think as long as the restaurant isn't serving Welsh Rabbit, we should be fine. Of course, I don't think MB or The Satyr will attend. However, Mrs. Speedy looked absolutely excited when I'd relayed my plans to her and her husband. The bossman himself looked more bemused than anything else.

Looks like there's an AKB after all in the United States. But this would be "Amanda Knox Be Free". There hasn't been all that much coverage here in Japan (something about a Rock-Paper-Scissors competition with AKB 48 that's been hogging the news) but both CNN and BBC even got the return of the young lady and her family to Seattle live this morning. All I can say is that there will probably be some sort of Hollywood treatment sometime in the next few years. The title will probably be the Italian word for vindicated followed by "The Amanda Knox Story".

And it looks like my countdown has begun. The gun has been fired. I got my ticket for home via Air Canada yesterday. And so Operation: Exodus has started in earnest.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Monday October 3, 8:25 p.m.

Bright lights, big city. Of course, I took my guests from the calm of Meiji-Jingu to the Teen Mecca of Shibuya. As is usually the case on a Saturday, Shibuya was packed to the gills.

My childhood friend was looking for any "Space Cruiser Yamato" DVD so at The Anime Chamberlain's suggestion, we took a dip into the Mandarake manga-and-anime store. This is the entrance here. As it turned out, we didn't have any luck although I suspect The Chamberlain chose this place so that he could do some window shopping of his own. My friend did better at the nearby Book Off discount book/CD/DVD shop where he managed to buy that anime sequel of Yamato done back in 2009.

I didn't intend to have the lens focus on that rather pensive young lady. Just took the shot and there she was. But she was probably the only one who was standing still. The area around Hachiko is forever a fluid mass of humanity on the weekends. People looking for people...cellphones are a definite must here.

The main crossing in front of Shibuya Station. If you want to know how crowded an intersection can be, come to this area on a Friday/Saturday or even a Sunday afternoon or night. It is a tribute to the Japanese sense of patience that there have been no knife fights to the death amongst the pedestrians trying to negotiate this area within the one minute given to cross this expanse.

Monday October 3, 6:44 p.m.

Continuing from last entry, the next stop after the madhouse that was Harajuku was a much more tranquil walk through Meiji-Jingu...ironically just across the street. After seeing all sorts of quasi-human figures and bizarre boutiques, ambling down the pebbly path into one of the rare large parks in Tokyo was quite refreshing.

Here's the de rigueur well allowing for folks to refresh themselves with a dipper of water for their hands and mouth.

And there were quite a few wedding ceremonies taking place. All of them were in the Shinto style...the bride and groom in traditional dress while the rest of the party was in formal Western wear. The bride here looked quite serene but she was probably gleefully chortling inside at being a celeb for a day. There were a lot of tourists more than willing to act the paparazzi.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Monday October 3, 3:00 p.m.
After downing a ton of fish and rice, the four of us then turned the corner from tony Omotesando and went into kiddie Harajuku. Tons of kids on a Saturday. We even came across the official AKB 48 store...people need a reservation to enter the establishment. I guess the staffers have to keep the pedophiles in a straight line.

Since out of us four Canadians, there was just one person who actually looked gaijin (that would be my friend's wife), she was able to get away with getting a Harajuku Girl to pose for the camera. Yes, that is a live human being, and not a mannequin.

Again, not a mannequin but a live young man hawking at the top of his lungs for some sort of sale. Hmm...he could even audition for a glam rock band.

Of course, what would Harajuku be if it didn't have a store for frilly dresses? Essential for any cosplay party!

Did I say there were tons of kiddies?

This was a relatively less crowded section in what was otherwise a typically jam-packed Takeshita Dori on a Saturday.

Monday October 3, 2:48 p.m.
As promised, I met up with my old childhood friend and his wife at the Grand Palace Hotel in Kudanshita on Saturday. Surprisingly, The Anime Chamberlain also showed up on time as well.

Our first stop was at a famed kaiten sushi restaurant in fancy Omotesando. Since we got in around lunchtime, it was fairly packed but we only had to wait less than 5 minutes before getting seats.

Probably one of the few times I'll ever show a friend of mine on this blog; it's the jowls of The Anime Chamberlain waiting to snap up the next plate of goodies from the conveyor belt.

Yup, the place even serves plates of fried chicken and fries. Believe me, nothing to write home (or Kentucky) about.

The plates of sushi just keep going round and round....just like life.

And there's even dessert and juice for those folks with a sweet tooth. The fellow behind the belt was our main server. He wasn't exactly the most outgoing of fellows but at least he wasn't as surly as those jackass ganko ojisan who operate some of these ramen or sushi restaurants. I would probably place him somewhere close to a TTC employee in friendliness.

And saving the best for last, this is a 650 yen plate of assorted sushi...not too bad a price for a plate of glistening maguro, toro and minced toro. Managed to down 9 more of these plates of varying prices before crying "Uncle!" I did the gallant thing and treated everyone to lunch. Came out to a grand total of 9,875 yen.

Monday October 3, 2:41 p.m.
As I did mention in my last entry on Saturday morning, I did hit the Burger King in Roppongi on Friday to check out the Japanese debut of the XT Steakhouse Burger.

This is the 150-gram relative monstrosity that ended up slamming on my table. All those cholesterolphobes can now faint.

Took out a bite. Yep, it's pretty thick along with a good slab of onion and cheese. Pretty juicy, too. OK, she's a keeper!