Friday, October 14, 2011

Saturday October 15, 10:07 a.m.

"When it rains, it pours."

Yup, that was the case for me yesterday, literally and figuratively and ironically.

Here I was yesterday morning so worried about Swank missing my Facebook message to her about the change in meeting venue (as it turned out she did get the message; she didn't reply to me as she usually does because she was so busy). Everything was great with her. But then, I screwed up with The Godfather. I ended up going to Monzen-Nakacho, our usual place now, when I'd been told last week that we were to meet over at our old place of Tully's in Tameike-Sanno. I only remembered a half-hour into our supposed lesson wondering why he didn't show up. Man, after that it was a number of telephone tag messages between us before I ran off to Tully's although I knew that by the time I got there, it would be past the end of the lesson. Sure enough, he wasn't there. I had left my profuse apologies twice on his answering machine and I've just sent an e-mail in the politest possible Japanese, doing my own version of an o-gesa kneel of apology. I'm usually very good about keeping schedules so pulling a boner like this made me feel very small. I ended up just sitting by myself in the empty Tully's for a couple of hours in hansei mode. I did receive a couple of more messages from The Godfather...he didn't sound angry and actually asked me about what my schedule is for next Tuesday. I'm grateful but I'm still giving him a lesson on the house next week.

And of course, since I was feeling greatly sorry for myself last night, it also slipped my mind that there was a major rainstorm in the Kanto....and my laundry was on the line. I wasn't in a very good mood.

In any case, today I have my first goodbye party before I head on home for good with The Teahouse Ladies in Yurakucho. The party itself won't be til 12:30 but I wanted to check out Yamano Music and the Temple of Jobs, aka the Apple Store in Ginza.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday October 13, 7:43 p.m.

A bit of a struggle getting through The Carolinan's lesson although not for the same reason that it usually is for her sister. This time the bugbear was perhaps the beginnings of a cold. My nose started flowing about half an hour before game time and then it was pretty much making sure the Kleenex was right by me for the hour that she was here. I had a double dose of my nose spray to little avail which could mean problems for the next couple of days.

Speaking about other problems, apparently a reading of 5.82 microsieverts of radiation was picked up in a park in Funabashi which is not only in my neck of the woods but it's also the hometown of the current Prime Minister. But as one of my former students replied on my Facebook, it was merely a matter of time before there would be fallout, literally and figuratively. I gather that the head of the Tourist Agency will be having his nightly headbashing against the wall again.

In some nice news, though, one of my former students contacted me from her home for the past several years, Perth Australia. The Hawaiian has been enjoying her life there going to school and work. She and I had a bit of a chat online. And she now knows my situation about going home. I just hope that my odyssey home doesn't have to happen much earlier than expected.

Thursday October 13, 5:21 p.m.

Well, the head of the Japan Tourism Agency probably has his own head bandaged up like that of a mummy right now. How else to explain the fact that he most likely banged his head against the wall of his office several times last night on hearing that a radiation hotspot had been discovered in Setagaya Ward, an area just west of Shibuya in Tokyo? This after either he or one of his staffers had come up with a plan to give out 10,000 free round-trip tickets to Japan next year to boost the flagging tourism rate. And apparently a fairly high dose of strontium has been discovered in soil in the Yokohama area. I'm gonna be a bit generous with my gallows humour and say that perhaps the government ought to be offering 100 million one-way tickets from Japan instead.

As for today, I went over to Ichikawa City Hall to inform them of my intentions to leave Japan permanently in December. When I got to the Foreign Residents' Desk, the lady there informed that I was a tad too early. She did this in a most apologetic way which I inferred as her way of saying, "You jumped the gun, dude!" However, I still gleaned some info from the 3-minute experience in that I will have to head to the Citizens' Affairs Desk and the National Health Insurance Department in mid-November to handle my City Tax payments and NHI premiums respectively.

In any case, I took the Sobu Line over from Moto-Yawata Station all the way to Shinjuku. I had my lunch at Jukeifu, my favourite Chinese eatery in the Shinjuku area. They serve a mean 1,000-Year Egg and Tofu Mix, and then a few hours later, I taught The New Yorker upstairs in the Starbucks. After all these years, it's still a struggle to get her to give full sentences with proper syntax. I should be seeing her sister in about 20 minutes here at Speedy's. Once again, I'm the only one in the school.

Ah, as for the kid in the picture. Her name is Kylee Saunders, and she is a half-Japanese, half-American 17-year-old being groomed to make her J-Pop debut. Born and raised in Arizona, she's been notable for putting on crowd-pleasing performances of the US national anthem at sports venues but now the fully bilingual girl wants to hit the big time in Tokyo. The reason I mention this is that she was featured on one of the morning wide shows today. Kinda reminds me of Hikaru Utada over 10 years ago except that Kylee doesn't seem to sing anything like the R&B that Utada started out with "Automatic". She's definitely more on the 21st-century idol pop beat. Still kinda nice to see someone come over from the States again as an alternative to all that K-Pop that's been hitting these shores for the past couple of years.

Anyways, time to get ready.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday October 12, 8:09 p.m.

Finished with my lesson with The MedTech. She's a quirkily charming young lady. We didn't discuss too much about her training in Stockholm last month since apparently there wasn't too much time for her to see the sights there. And also she wanted me to go over some highly technical articles concerning certain radiation therapies for very small print. Plus there were some photographs of post-op surgeries that I could've done without after dinner. Still quite an interesting talk.
I'm done for the day, but tomorrow I gotta head on out to Ichikawa City Hall first thing in the morning and let them know that I'm heading home for good since that entails the eventual return of my Alien Registration Card, vernacularly known as the gaijin card. The return of this card will also affect on how much more of my City Tax payments and National Health Insurance premiums I'm obliged to pay since I will be leaving before those payments are up. In any case, this is just the next step in my Operation Exodus.
Afterwards, I've got The Sisters of State at different times: The New Yorker at 2 and then The Carolinan at 6 with Mrs. Thursday wrapping things up for me.

Thursday October 12, 5:24 p.m.

I'm writing this just before I get some dinner at the local conbini here.

I found out from CNN and The Japan Times websites that the Japan Tourism Board has initiated a programme in which it will give free round-trip tickets to 10,000 folks who come to Japan next year. Yes, you folks from the States, Russia and other countries reading this, that means you! The only catch is that you have to shuck out the big yen for accommodation and food...and you also have to blog your adventures. The second condition shouldn't really be a problem; ahhh, the first, though...well, depends on how you want to go and how much moola you have. If you're a fellow who's used to living rough or you have a very deep travel stash of money and other liquid assets, then no problem.

Of course all this is for trying to bring back tourism to this country after the March 11 Earthquake and all those radiation scares. Look, for the record...yep, I did flee back to Canada for a month but only because my family practically begged me to return home. Coming back to Japan, I have often wondered if I should've even bothered. It's basically back to normal here in Tokyo: the supermarkets are well-stocked, traffic jams still exist, and the lighting (even under setsuden policies) isn't all that dim frankly. Of course, the big question is the radiation level. I've been back here now in the Kanto since late April...I haven't started losing hair (at least not beyond the usual rate for a guy my age and stress levels) or throwing up at inconvenient times. And my friends, The Amiables, have been traveling through Japan for a couple of weeks. I don't think travelers should really about much....unless, of course, the reactors suddenly decide to explode...nah, won't happen. Look, as long as you don't have a death wish for cancer and head into the 30-km circle surrounding Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant, there will be very little chance of you getting hopelessly irradiated. You will probably get more roasted on the plane coming over here.

Now, JTB actually has to pass this by Parliament, so it's not a done deal yet. I'm sure there will be some fiscally conservative MPs who may go apoplectic at the thought of giving 10,000 foreigners free airfare....but then again, Japan was able to do the same for participants on the JET Programme. But if it's cool in Nagatacho, it'll be cool in Japan. So if you have some time next year, take over my reins for a while and come on over!

Wednesday October 12, 4:58 p.m.

Yup, still on the Taeko Onuki kick. But well worth it. She is a fine singer-songwriter. I gave my rave review on her 1980 changeover album "Romantique" last week but I think her 1982 "Cliche" is still her most accomplished work during her Sakamoto collaboration period in the 80s.

I've already talked somewhat about the album itself so I just wanted to pick out one tune that has been a pleasant ditty to listen to often, but has never been put on any of her BEST albums. It's called "Tourbillon", one of her French-titled tunes, and appropriately so. Of course, Onuki is the composer and lyricist while Ryuichi Sakamoto arranged it. The first few bars of it threatens to sound like a minor techno piece but then it quickly morphs into a jaunty musical equivalent of Charles Boyer walking down the Champs-Elysees on a warm Spring day. It even has some pretty convincing synthesized strings and accordion to give its Gallic flavour. At just a bit over 3 minutes, it fulfills the label of "short and sweet".

Just check it out on YouTube.

Wednesday October 12, 4:16 p.m.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. We go from one of the late 20th-century's deep thinkers to...dessert. But then again, Marshall McLuhan made it OK for us to actually study about pop culture seriously. So, I digress.

But this isn't too serious here. I would like to illustrate Japan's ability to try to pull off a hybridization of two popular sweets into one, a la America's invention of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

This is the Hokkaido Custard Purin Roll. Now, purin is basically the Japanese linguistic bastardization of the word "pudding", but even the formerly mellow Bill Cosby wouldn't have been able to crack that code (for you readers outside of the States, Bill Cosby is a famed African-American comedian and actor who had hawked Jell-o Pudding for might say that he was the Will Smith of the 60s and 70s).
Additionally, Japanese purin and American pudding are far different animals. The local product here is more reminiscent of a wobblier and softer Creme Brulee. And it has been a popular sweet staple....along with roll cake. The Japanese love their cakes all rolled up in forms such as the German baum kuchen and the Christmas buche de Noel.

So I gather that someone in the industry got a light bulb blazing away over his or her head and came up with this culinary merger. Therefore, we have this dessert of a spiral of sponge cake surrounding a moat of whipped cream with the purin as the castle. A bit on the rich side but a fine addition to convenience store shelves everywhere.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wednesday October 12, 3:46 p.m.

I got my periodic delivery of "U of T Magazine" from my alma mater, The University of Toronto yesterday. There was an article on Marshall McLuhan, the great Canadian scholar and philosopher, who had come up with the famous quote: "The medium is the message". My knowledge of the man until a few hours ago was basically restricted to that saying. But after reading this article, I just wonder if the Editor-In-Chief was also a Prophet-In-Chief for this issue, considering the passing of Steve Jobs last week.

Of course, I say this with tongue fully in cheek since the magazine couldn't have known that Jobs was going to die, and the article was probably started several weeks before his passing. But I just thought it very interesting that the Thomas Edison of our time has passed away in the year that Toronto is commemorating the 100th birthday of the so-called Patron Saint of the Internet (he passed away 31 years ago). I found out that McLuhan had predicted the rise of what has become the biggest technological phenomenon in human history thus far along with its good and bad points. And I also discovered that he had this theory of extensions via his book "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" (1964) in which Man creates something that can extend the human body or mind. A U of T graduate sending a letter to the editor gave an example of the invention of the chair to extend our ability to sit.

Well, it would've been interesting to have gotten McLuhan's assessment of Steve Jobs had he lived past 1980. At that time, Jobs and Wozniak were still getting Apple off the ground. Had he survived to this year, McLuhan could've given Jobs an award for proving his extensions theory right. Jobs may not have invented the Internet (and neither did Al Gore) but he certainly knew how to extend the individual's brain and senses via technological marvels such as the iPod and iPad.

The final few lines of the article consisted of a quote by McLuhan in an interview to "Playboy" (I'm sure he read the articles, too) which also seemed very prophetic on the Nostradamian level:

"In the electronic age of instantaneous communication...our survival, and at the very least our comfort and happiness, is predicated on understanding the nature of our new environment. If we understand the revolutionary transformations caused by new media, we can anticipate and control them; but if we continue in our self-induced...trance, we will be their slaves."

He may have conceptualized the otaku.
Wednesday October 12, 1:16 p.m.

It's been a quiet week for me here...nice in all ways except financially, of course. I only had Cozy for his morning lesson and then it was 8 hours at the I-Cafe where I made my last entries to this blog.

Today, I've got two lessons. One is with The Kimono Nurse in about 45 minutes. She's been a pretty genki young lady so far. Hopefully, I can keep that good vibe going unlike the lost Bossa Novan who lasted about 8 lessons before giving up the ghost. The other student is actually Speedy's but since I don't have 001 and he's gonna be busy with counseling, I'll be teaching her later at 7 p.m. The MedTech isn't a high speaker in the language but she's definitely no shrinking violet. I've taught her before and she's pretty confident and sharp despite her linguistic improficiencies. She should have come back from her conference in Norway a few weeks ago. She might have some good insights about going over to a vastly different country.

The Anime Chamberlain has kept me updated. As expected, my old friends from Toronto, The Amiables, have returned to Tokyo after traveling through places like Kyoto and Nikko over the past week. They're due to head back to The Great White North this Saturday although I am concerned about this potential strike action by Air Canada. The Chamberlain will be seeing them tonight and tomorrow night for dinner and whatnot; they're staying for the last leg of their Japan trip at The Shinjuku Southern Tower Hotel across from Takashimaya Times Square, not too far away from where I'm teaching, but unfortunately I've got lessons over the next two nights. The next best chance for me will be Friday night.

We reached the 7th month since the March 11th quake. Once again, all of the media outlets noted the monthly anniversary like a tolling bell. It's starting to become a bit annoying to me but I gather that the updates are needed to make sure that none of the victims have been forgotten. As it is, apparently, the last of the quake refugees have been able to leave the shelters and find more permanent housing elsewhere.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuesday October 11, 12:08 p.m.

Another screen capture shot, this being of the show, "HEY, HEY, HEY! Music Champ", one of Japan's longest-running music programmes. In fact, it had debuted just a couple of weeks before I flew into Tokyo on my current stay here....almost 17 years ago. As of last night, it started its 18th season on Fuji-TV. The format has changed from time to time over the nearly 2 decades it's been on, but the hosts have always been the comedy duo of Downtown, Hamada and Matsumoto. I don't get a chance to see the show since I usually teach on Monday nights but there's now a bit of wistful nostalgia when I do get a chance to catch it. In fact, when I reached my temporary NOVA apartment that first night back in Japan, the TV was showing this very show. Currently, it's all about the Korean pop stars, Arashi and AKB 48, but when I first caught it back in the mid-90s, it was all about Tetsuya Komuro and his harem. At the time, Komuro (ex of 80s techno group, TM Network) was on top of the world with his trance-influened pop sound which permeated his acts such as a teenage Namie Amuro, TRF, and Globe. The feeling wasn't lost on the show...TRF showed up to do a medley of their hits.
Monday October 11, 11:52 a.m.

It was indeed Sports Day in Japan yesterday, so instead of folks gobbling up turkey in Canada for Thanksgiving, folks here were getting involved in sports...the biggest being surviving marathon traffic jams. As you can see from these TV image shots from Mt. Takao, it wasn't too deserted. Mt. Takao happens to be the absolute western end of The Big of the very few countryside areas in the world's biggest megalopolis.

Yes, there are even lineups to get up a mountain.

Of course, being Sports Day and all, means that there are a lot of real marathons going on as well. Not that I would ever participate in one.

Ahhh...only in Japan. There's currently the trial of a major political kingpin in Tokyo, and the Arabian Spring, but one of the big stories on the news was the sudden snapping of a rope used in a tug-of-war contest. Of course, having 14 people, including some kids, injured in the fall is nothing to laugh at, but I think it's almost cute how much seriousness this rope story got. This is the suspect right here.

And since we are in the midst of specials between drama seasons, this is a shot of one such special starring the legendary Tamori. As I have mentioned in past entries about the guy in the black cardigan and sunglasses on the right, Tamori is the Japanese equivalent of Johnny Carson on TV here. But he hasn't only presided over his Fuji-TV noontime flagship show of "Waratte Ii Tomo" for nearly 30 years, but he also hosts "Music Station" and "Tamori Club" on TV Asahi. Usually his contribution to the inter-drama season specials is a 3-hour nighttime version of "Waratte Ii Tomo" in which the stars of the upcoming drama season come on to plug their shows and partake in various party games. However, this time, Tamori went for a different approach last night and held a home party on an elaborate home set which is far bigger than the actual home I live in. Along with a couple of members of SMAP, all of the major drama stars came on for a ton of food and drink. It was like watching a very congenial reality show of celebs eating yakiniku and karaage.

Tuesday October 11, 11:32 a.m.
Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have named this blog, "A Canuck in Emperor Akihito's Kitchen" instead with all of the food pictures I put up. But then again, since I'm almost down to my final two months in Japan, I'm trying to upload and load up on as many examples of authentic Japanese cuisine as I can before the final takeoff...then again, Air Canada is probably going on strike so I may be "forced" to stay a bit longer. In any case, this is my neighbourhood ramen restaurant, Kagetsu Ramen, one of a chain of noodle joints. In terms of Japan urban geography, the placing of a ramen restaurant in a station mall is a no-brainer. When you take into consideration the reasonable prices and the near religious devotion to ramen (there are monthly...perhaps even weekly....magazines published just for ramen), the existence of such a place pretty much guarantees as much of a multiplier effect as building the station itself.

And this is the bowl of ramen itself. Of course, the fans eat it all year but it's in the cool months that it is most appreciated. Over the noodles, there are the de rigueur pork slices, boiled egg, menma (stewed bamboo), chopped scallions and seaweed. Not sure what the soup is made from, but often restaurants make this a corporate secret. Kagetsu Ramen is notable in that it tried to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for cramming in as much garlic into one bowl of ramen as possible. I think the Guinness assessor may still be in a coma after talking with one satisfied customer. It is one of the zestier bowls I've had in this country. Pretty much once I leave, everyone walking by me probably knows where I've been.

My branch of Kagetsu has that ticket vending machine where you put in the yen and choose your ramen and side dishes. My choice has always been a plate of gyoza and a bowl of rice topped with stewed garlicky minced pork and chopped onions. As if my breath couldn't already burn down Tokyo after having the world's most garlicky bowl of ramen. And yup, I do eat all of it with gusto.

And here are the gyoza dumplings once again. Kagetsu only serves 3 per order, as opposed to some other places which serve 4 or even 5 of the stuff. But then again, these ones are a bit larger than usual.

Condiments are absolutely necessary. There are the bottles of chili oil, soy sauce and vinegar to whip up the dipping sauce for the gyoza. And what is unique to Kagetsu is that there is even special sauce (on the bottom left) to pour on the ramen itself.

Yup, I'd say that ramen will be one of the things that I'll miss once I head on back to The Great White North. I'll have to munch on a lot of soulvaki in Greektown to make me forget about the ubiquitious ramen shop in the Kanto. Well, back to Sapporo Ichiban.