Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sunday October 30, 9:57 a.m.
It was Shrek's Halloween party in the wilds of Chiba yesterday. To contribute my part, I ran down all the way to Hiroo in what would've been my final purchase at the soon-to-shut-down National Azabu Supermarket, only to find out that they had run out of American pumpkins. So, instead, I went to that other expensive supermarket, Meidi-Ya right above the station and snapped one up for 3,000 yen. Yup, by the 29th, it was pretty much a seller's market.
The trip up from Hiroo all the way up to Kita-Kogane was pretty straightforward...only needed to go up the whole of the Hibiya Line and then transfer over to the JR Joban Line for about 20 minutes. Of course, the weather was so nice that a BBQ was called for. I guess before chestnuts do so, we need to have chickens roasting over an open fire (ahem).

Buzz Lightyear wasn't exactly going to infinity and beyond in this shot, but he still looked rather cute.

The kids were just able to hold their attention for a couple of minutes while I explained what a Jack O'Lantern was, not surprising considering their average age was 6. So, it was up to my old friend, The Chipmunk, who had never carved a pumpkin before, to do the honours of transforming the gourd into a Jack. Pretty nice job here, eh?

After 2 straight days off, I've got The OL in the afternoon but then I'm supposed to be meeting with The Anime Chamberlain in Akiba to get that Nintendo 3DS for The Anime King and then dinner. His two buddies may be showing up. But before all that happens, I'm gonna make a quick jump down to Shibuya since it is their special point card day at Tower Records.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friday October 28, 10:59 a.m.

I really have to confirm things up with people. It happened between me and The Anime Chamberlain a few weeks ago, and it's happened again just now. Shrek's plan for his Halloween party tomorrow has been in the works for a month, and he only now asks me about my plan to bring pumpkins over for carving. I just mentioned (at least that's what I think happened) about perhaps bringing some the gourds over if Shrek were interested but there was nothing confirmed about this. No huge problems since I don't have any lessons on Saturday but now I'll probably have to head all the way over to the soon-to-be demolished National Azabu Supermarket to pick up pumpkins before I head on over to Shrek's place all the way near radioactive Kashiwa.
Friday October 28, 10:14 a.m.

Nice, cool, and dry....what every armpit aspires to be. But in this case, I'm talking about the weather in Chiba. I have the day off today. As I mentioned, no lessons with The Bass and Swank is off in Manila with the kids while her hubby is doing business in Vietnam. Just spending the day surfing and blogging on the Net....the 21st-century version of perusing the paper leisurely with a cup of coffee.

My exodus plans have been pushed a bit further...I got some further intel via The Carolinan last night about potential moving companies. It's a star...Nittsu. My student gave me a name and number. I checked their website...the process looks very comprehensive but I do wonder about what their prices will be since they don't list any and won't until they do the inspection. I have a feeling if I go with these guys, I will be using my VISA. Also, I sent off my diplomas via air mail this morning. The lady at the post office expressed some concern that I hadn't put in any cardboard backing in the padded envelope (D'oh!) but at this point, I don't think I really care anymore if my diplomas get they may actually gain a bit of character. Right now, I've got a box that's getting filled with my summer clothing.

I received a rather odd letter from my old colleague, Bay. She's in Seattle right now but apparently her current boss over there will be coming to Tokyo next next week on business, and she wanted to "hire" me as an interpreter between the boss and her parents. She knows of my translation experience since I helped her translate a couple of Japanese documents into English, but I informed her that translating and interpreting are two different animals, and that in all good conscience I could not take on a paid role as an interpreter but that I would be happy to volunteer my services to help out. The money would've been good but just couldn't live with the pressure.

Friday October 28, 9:44 a.m.

Well, it's music time again on this blog. Thanks to The Satyr's b-day present of an Amazon e-gift certificate, I made a couple of purchases.

The one at the very top is "Kana", by Kanako Wada, a pop singer who had a pretty short career of perhaps 5 years in the late 80s. Like a number of J-Pop singers I admire, she never became a huge superstar like a Seiko Matsuda or an Anzen Chitai but she is known amongst the anime veterans as the vocalist for at least a couple of theme tunes for the well-regarded 80s show, "Kimagure Orange Road". But this fact I only discovered some years later. Actually, I'd bought her very first album on LP a couple of years before KOR back in Toronto's Chinatown...and it's the only Wada entry to not have been put to CD so I've got a bit of a prized asset in my closet back home...too bad I can't play it anymore since my parents threw out the old Victor. To be honest, I hadn't been all that impressed with her on that inaugural release so I kinda forgot about her for a few years until I re-discovered her via a 1990 Japanese soup commerical for which she sang the jingle, "Dreamin' Lady", a snazzy upbeat AOR tune which caught my attention. After that, I tracked down the song to her album "Dear" and after that, I was hooked again. She'd obviously improved her production staff. "Kana" is one of her earlier albums, and it's got a mix of that late 80s synthpop of that time along with some of the more bossa/jazz/pop that she would get into into her last releases.

The other album I got from Amazon was Taeko Onuki's "Aventure", but I'd already talked about that one in a previous entry. With my quickly dwindling supply of free Amazon cash, I managed to get the Blue version of "The Best of The Art of Noise" which has all of the remixes. From the distributing company, I think it's coming from somewhere in Germany which means I'll probably get it sometime in early November. Hey, "Peter Gunn" and "Dragnet" are classics by me!

The final album you see up there is "Songs" by 70s group, Sugar Babe. It was the first and final album by the group which consisted of the aforementioned Taeko Onuki and Tatsuro Yamashita as two of the three vocalists. Of course, along with Onuki, Yamashita has carved himself a legendary solo career as a pioneer of the New Music movement in Japan as well as all-round pop crooner and the writer/performer of the J-equivalent of "White Christmas", "Christmas Eve". The album cover itself has become one of the more recognized covers in Japanese music...two old curmudgeonly ladies in sepia drawing. And the album itself is considered to be a New Music classic. I've yet to take a listen to it since I don't think "Songs" is quite the album to listen in bed. However, I have listened to two of the tracks via other albums and YouTube. "Downtown" is a perennial J-Pop chestnut that has been covered by a number of artists over the decades, including a Japanese chip tune unit, YMCK. Yamashita sings the original version here but my favorite version is by the Queen of City Pop, EPO. The other one I've heard is "Itsumo doori" (As Always) by Onuki. From these two songs, my impression for the album is that it's a pop album in the vein of Carole King. Should be interesting.
Thursday October 27, 9:23 p.m.

It's gotten downright chilly in The Big Sushi tonight....that fish on top of the rice is getting frost forming on it. My lesson with Mrs. Thursday was such that it would make a bicultural pop culture enthusiast weep for joy. We ended up not even touching the text; instead we started out discussing the latest news on "NCIS" and then spending several minutes talking about what an "NCIS: Yokosuka" cast would be like (Ken Watanabe...we have a show for YOU!) before seguing onto the latest Hollywood adaptations of anime (not a good record there unfortunately;"Dragonball" anyone?) and then getting into kayo kyoku once again. It's a pity that I won't be seeing her until mid-November due to the fact that next Thursday is a national holiday and then the Thursday after that will have her and her family celebrating the Shichi-Go-San kids festival.

In any case, tomorrow will be a day off for me since I don't have The Bass or Swank. Swank is off with her kids to Manila. Instead, I'll probably do the 8 hours at the I-Cafe.
Thursday October 27, 7:40 p.m.

Finished up with The Carolinan. She's usually quite unemotional but today she was a bit more sullen than usual. Didn't delve into it since I've gotten quite accustomed to it, but I kinda wonder if she's not feeling too good about entering the 40s. She did appreciate my present of rice crackers. Should be quite happy about cracking the Miller open tonight.

The process for finishing my lease has begun. I sent the letter last week and I got a message on my machine from the local Able office. Of course, when I returned the call yesterday, I was informed that the man in charge is on his weekend and so most likely I will not be able to reach him until early next week.

In the "Oh, dopey me" department, I had made two letters last week: one going to my mutual funds company and another going to my old friend and former student, The Stick. I ended up sending the wrong letter to The Stick, but at least it did get a response from her. I hadn't heard from her in several months. She apparently moved again...this time to an apartment in Koiwa. And she gave me her new e-mail address for which I gave her a total accounting of my future plans.

I've got Mrs. Thursday coming here in about 15. I'll probably ask her about the rumour about that "Hawaii Five-O" and "NCIS: LA" tie-up. Mind you, she likes "NCIS: LA" far less than the original show.

I'll be meeting Movie Buddy on Tuesday for Foo Foo and "Captain America", and I'll be seeing The Anime Chamberlain on Sunday after The OL's lesson. The Chamberlain is currently traveling through very rural Kyushu via the Bullet Train.
Thursday October 27, 6:07 p.m.

Was doing a bit of shopping today in Shibuya. After picking up a large envelope in Tokyu Hands, I came across this place right next door called "L&L Hawaiian BBQ". Being a veteran of daytime Shibuya, I used to frequent this place when it used to be a McDonalds up to a few years ago. Then, it was an Okinawan ice cream joint, but apparently now this restaurant has popped up. I've found out that this place is yet another American transplant along with Krispy Kreme and Eggs N' Things to tantalize the Japanese palate.

Well, being a "Hawaii Five-O" fan and after having that scrumptious dinner at Eggs N' Things a couple of weeks back, I decided to give this place a shot. There was a fellow in his mandatory Aloha shirt taking orders, so I asked for the regular BBQ Chicken plate. I decided to stay on the first floor where there were a few tables in a peoplewatching position. About 10 minutes or so passed before I got my platter of chicken, shredded cabbage, rice and macaroni salad. And with a mango juice, the lunch special came to 780 yen. Not too bad.

Yup, this is the 1st floor area. I read on another blog that the writer, who has been to the original restaurant in Hawaii, felt that a possible obstacle to this far-flung branch's success is the fact most pedestrians will only see this exposed area and assume that this is the only seating area. As someone who used to know and frequent the McD's that had once stood on this site, there are two more floors but a lot of people aren't aware of this fact. In addition, apparently customers can now only get to the 2nd and 3rd floors by elevator only (what if there is a fire?) since the stairs are now off-limits for some bizarre reason. The Aloha guy told the customer in front of me to take the elevator to the 2nd floor, but I'm not sure if that is particularly the most efficient way of informing potential customers. And I didn't notice any signs on the 2nd and 3rd-floor windows. Something to fix, I believe.

Something a restaurant always cherishes...the cardboard bromides with autographs of famous customers. Apparently, a number of tarento have come through the doors of this place. The band DefTech is one of them. It's a duo consisting of one Japanese and one American who sing a lot of mild pop-rock. They've got a fairly catchy tune out right now.

The BBQ Chicken passed muster although it was reminiscent of the usual teriyaki stuff but then again, the Hawaiians have adopted a lot of culinary influence from the Japanese.
I'll have to come back for the loco moco next time.

Managed to pick up a birthday present for The Carolinan who should be here in about 10 minutes for one of her final lessons with me. Her sister informed me yesterday that instead of the sweets, she prefers something salty and Japanese....I was gonna remark with "Akiko Wada" but my brain got back on track...and so I bought a bag of rice crackers from a branch of Kinokuniya Supermarket located under Bunkamura. The Carolinan has always appreciated snacks that go well with a glass of beer.

Thursday October 27, 4:11 p.m.

Now, this is something that Steve Jobs would weep for joy about. I came across this vending machine in JR Funabashi Station...on the platform for the Sobu Line, to be exact...which works with a touchscreen. Basically, it's an iVending Machine...heck, let's call it an iPop. When it's not being called upon for some juice or coffee, the screen is showing some cute animated commercial.

But when you touch the screen, it transforms to show you its range of drinks. All you have to do is touch the drink you want after putting in the coins...or just use your commuter's pass to pay. I just had to try it myself and went for a can of coffee. Considering I'd had a cuppa for breakfast and then another at the cafe where I teach The Bass, I was pretty much bouncing off the walls by noon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thursday October 27, 3:56 p.m.
Last Saturday, I met up with The Anime Chamberlain and The Bohemian in JR Shinjuku for dinner. Now the two of them have both annoyed the hell out of me at different times, so I had been wondering what would have happened if the two of them were put together. Do they get along swimmingly or would they end up eating each other alive? Luckily, the two got along although they both traded opposing sides at a couple of points during the meal. The meal, by the way, was in Okubo, aka Tokyo's Koreatown just north of Shinjuku.

Not surprisingly, we had dinner at a yakiniku (Korean BBQ) joint and went for the 3,480 yen all-you-can-eat meat and all-you-can-drink (of course, this was The Bohemian's idea)
plan. This little bowl was an interesting number to start off with. It's carrot congee...rice soup with some added fiber. But luckily, none of us had any sudden need for the washroom during our 3 hours there.

Naturally, no self-respecting Korean restaurant would serve dinner without the appetizers of sesame sprouts and deep-fried tofu skin. The Anime Chamberlain is remarkably picky about his food (he has been quite disappointed by Tokyo's ramen since he feels that the noodles have all been un-freshly made), but he really liked these condiments.

These are pork bellies frying up on the slanted teppan with onions, sweet potatoes and kimchi. Yep, pork bellies. Usually they would be part of a culinary punch line back in the West but over here, they are part and parcel of a fine Korean dinner. Probably the reason that pork bellies don't have as much popularity back home is because of the thick fat. Ironically over here, they're loved for that same reason.

The pork bellies were cooked and then the eagle-eyed waiter came by with some very sharp scissors and snipped the long strips into bite-sized pieces. The teppan is slanted, by the way, so that the excess oil can run down and collect in a trough at the bottom.

Next to the teppan was a wooden plate filled with fresh lettuce and other greens...known here in Japan as sanchu.

And just before it disappeared deep into the abyss known as my gastrointestinal system, here had been a piece of pork belly about to be wrapped in a piece of green. Ironic, a belly going into a belly.

Wednesday October 26, 7:32 p.m.

This ordinary skyscraper in Shinjuku wasn't here some 7 months ago. Instead, there was a crane doing construction work, and on March 11th, it took on the added job of swinging helplessly like the trunk of an addled elephant. Yup, the construction site was next door to the Maynds Tower, where I usually teach The New Yorker at the Starbucks. I can only hope that this building will hang in there during the next major quake.

Speaking of The New Yorker, I met her at Starbucks today as well. She was actually a bit more lucid than usual; it would be nice to end my tenure with her on a high note. And earlier on, I saw The Kimono Nurse. It was another ball of laughs, but I think I'm gonna have to be a bit more serious with her in future lessons. I will be having Kirk in about 45 minutes.
Wednesday October 26, 7:15 p.m.

I've been hearing some interesting tidbits from the world of entertainment. First off, I heard that there will be some sort of crossover between the new "Hawaii Five-O" and "NCIS: Los Angeles"; apparently, Agent Bly will be heading over to meet McGarrett's task force for a joint mission. All I can say is that sometime in the future, I wanna see McGarrett vs. Gibbs! And I would love to see an encounter between Max and Abby in the lab.

As for the 2nd tidbit, looks like Lindsay Lohan will finally be doing that nude pictorial in Playboy. I don't think that's much of a surprise...more an inevitability.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wednesday October 26, 1:24 p.m.

In my list of "Things I Won't Miss About Japan", there are those monthly premiums for National Health Insurance and City Tax payments. They do take a sizable chunk out of one's pay packet. But I also realize that NHI goes a long way when it comes to being in a hospital. Hospital stays and treatments demand a hefty price without insurance they do in a lot of other countries. However, on the NHI plan, the government picks up the tab for about 70% while the citizen gives out for the remaining 30%. In fact, Mrs. Travel of the Beehive told me that for her husband's pacemaker surgery a couple of weeks ago, NHI was responsible for paying 95% of his hospitalization and treatment...millions of yen. I'm not sure how the government was willing to pay virtually all of his medical bills, but I'm sure that the family is not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

As for City Tax, I also tell myself that we do need our mail delivered and our garbage picked up and our streets patroled by the police.

The hook, though, is that the payments for the current year are based on a percentage of one's income for the previous year. That means that if one is having a bad year after a good one, well, there's a reason that the Japanese love to save their income. I'm gonna have to find out next month the fate of my remaining payments once I leave for home for good since they go well into 2012.

Wednesday October 26, 12:13 p.m.

Yup, Halloween Week is once again on us here in The Big Sushi. I've had to be gently reminded again by Movie Buddy that his country of Australia doesn't celebrate the holiday when I had asked him about his plans for October 31st. Still, I think next to Canada and the U.S., Japan has become one of the big hubs for the Witching Hour in the last several years. I never saw a glimpse of this when I first came to Japan in 1994, but now it's a volume business, at least in Tokyo. A lot of the nightclubs in Roppongi, Shibuya and Shinjuku now regularly hold Halloween bashes and actually I'll be heading to a party myself this Saturday over at Shrek's place all the way up in his neck of the woods. It's gotten to the point where that infamous custom of gaijin taking over one car of the Yamanote Line for one full loop is pretty much considered passe.

Last night, I met The Carolinan's friend, The Button-Down Girl, in front of Shinjuku's Studio Alta. As expected, there was a massive throng of people waiting for other people. Still, I had e-mailed a photo of myself to her and given a description of what I would be wearing and holding so it didn't take too long for her to spot me. The touts were out asking folks whether they would be interested in coming to their izakayas. The two of us ended up going to a Cafe de Crie underground since the nearby Starbucks was probably packed to the gills and the Nakamura Bakery decided to move addresses all of a sudden.

The Button-Down Girl is around the same age as The Carolinan, that hazy area between young and middle-aged. Her English is quite good although she's pretty soft-spoken which meant that I had to turn on the ears to 11 in what was a rather noisy cafe for a Tuesday night. She also spent a year in Vancouver and Toronto, which may have triggered The Carolinan to suggest me as a teacher. She'd been to Gaba, one of the remaining big English school chains in Tokyo, with not all that much satisfaction. Basically, I think the company spent a lot of the money on their interior decorators rather than on good training and materials. Anyways, I'm now at her service for my remaining 5 weeks in this city. I did get some intel from her in that The Carolinan will be celebrating a birthday on November 4th, so I'll have to get something for her by tomorrow night.

It's back to a seasonable Fall day here. None of that humidity annoying us anymore. I've got The Kimono Nurse in about 90 minutes before I do a quick scoot down to Shinjuku to teach The New Yorker and then it's back here for Kirk.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tuesday October 25, 3:45 p.m.

Nowadays when the title "Casino Royale" is bandied about in conversation, everyone thinks of the rebirth of the James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig. But being a middle-aged guy, I also think about the 1967 farce with Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. I've seen it over the years on television (I was less than 2 years of age when it originally came out but even if I had been 20 years older, I don't think I would've ever shucked out the money to see this one), and to this day, it still comes as one of the craziest noble cinematic failures.

I say "noble failure" since it tries so hard to wring laughs out of the audience in a way reminiscent of a 3-year-old girl trying to copy a Mary Lou Retton routine to get Daddy's love. Gags are thrown on the wall like so many used diapers with most of them just not sticking. And I'm sure that having Peter Sellers could not have been easy for anyone involved in the production. But it does show a microcosm of what the fantasy of life must've been like in 60s Swinging London, and of course, Barbara Bouchet and Joanna Pettet are awfully easy on the eyes. Probably the only lasting success from the movie has been the music. "The Look of Love" (no, not the 1982 ABC hit) is a Latin jazz standard, and the Herb Alpert theme is still heard from time to time on Japanese variety shows.

Yup, I did catch it this morning....makes for an interesting thing to view over breakfast.

Tuesday October 25, 2:03 p.m.

For this week's "Things That I'll Miss About Japan", I've chosen the dependable and ubiquitious vending machine. Whereas a vending machine seems to only exist as a punching bag for vandals in Canada, over here they seem so numerous that they ought to be getting voting rights. Especially when the extremes of weather appear in the Summer and Winter, a lot of these machines act as mechanical St. Bernards, providing hot and cold drinks to get us through the days and nights.

And as part of the technological integration between public transportation and public sustenance, a lot of the stations for JR and the subways have vending machines which can accept taps from the commuting passes such as Suica or PASMO. No need to fiddle for loose change, just press the button of the drink you want then tap the pass on the sensor to get that drink. The vending machine automatically deducts the amount from your pass.

Tuesday October 18, 1:49 p.m.

Been a while. Not all that busy today. I met up with The Beehive at Cafe Nard as I usually do. We just focused on the Steve Jobs article that we'd started last week but there was some talk about the ladies' second trip to Toronto next May...this time with me on the other side. Looks like they're set to stay at The Madison Avenue Hotel again. I've got The Magician at 4:30 today. Since she's gone through all of the relevant texts that we have in the school, it looks like I'm gonna have to bring out some of my own stuff. It won't be too much of a challenge, though, since she's still not super fluent. Only coming once every 4-6 weeks hasn't helped, and most likely I'll probably only see her one more time before the end.

Then, I'm going to meet a referral by The Carolinan in Shinjuku in front of Studio Alta. Studio Alta happens to be one of the landmarks in the area, and so tons of people use that spot as a meeting place. So, even on a Tuesday night, the place should be plenty packed. Luckily, I sent a photo of myself to the young lady so that she may have some advantage in finding me through the throngs. In all probability, she will be my very last new student before my permanent departure; she's aware that I will be here for less than 2 months so I can only assume that she really needs some English practice under her belt.

There's been a bit of an early Indian Summer in The Big Sushi over the past few days. Although the heat and humidity haven't reached the sweltering levels of August, thank heavens, it hasn't taken much to start working up a thin screen of sweat under my clothes. But it looks like the typhoons are gone for the rest of this year.