Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Yet another blog

Tuesday January 31, 3:43 p.m.

Crossover announcement here. I just started another blog dealing with my love of J-Pop oldies called "Kayo Kyoku Plus". It's even more niche blog than this one, but if you're one of the dozen fans in this country, please take a look. As for the explanation of the title, you can find out over there.

Nippon Express Part 2

Tuesday January 31, 3:23 p.m.

Well, made the drive to Brampton on the west end of the city to meet that lady at Nippon Express to clear my packages with Customs Canada. It wasn't too bad in terms of traffic since we went there at noon. The 401 was clear sailing. Nippon Express was located in an industrial park just off of  Hurontario.

Got there 15 minutes ahead of schedule which means that we were on schedule. My sales rep came out and made a couple of copies of my B-15 form that I'd gotten from Pearson Customs when I got home 6 weeks ago, and my passport. She predicted that things would go as smooth as silk, thanks to the B-15. Actually, the longest part of the whole thing was the drive from NE to the Customs centre nearby the airport and back which was a 30-minute round trip. The actual talk with the uniformed agent was only 1 minute. A bit of a waste in time and gasoline but as long as there were no hassles, I was grateful. The sales rep, Ms. Anderson, was a friendly young lady so the drive between NE and Customs went more quickly. Despite the name, Ms. Anderson is a Japanese woman who got married in her home country and then emigrated with her husband several years ago. We traded some of our war stories. She told me of some of the problems that she's encountered when transplanted Japanese businesspeople with very little English ability come to her   office without the B-15. So, the moral of the story is...you're coming here to stay for a while, at least? Welcome to Canada.....BRING THE B-15 FORM!

On the way back, we discussed about the delivery for tomorrow. She had quite the hangup about   whether or not the truck would be allowed to drop the stuff off in the visitors' parking. But I reassured her that I would talk to the super as soon as I got home. I didn't think we would have a problem. And sure enough, once I got on the phone with him, he was actually a bit surprised that I would even call him about it. I've sent Ms. Anderson the good news.

And so, 940 CDs will be arriving on my doorstep to adorn my room...and probably to aggravate my parents.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Nippon Express

courtesy of Flick nespodzany
Monday January 30, 8:18 p.m.

Well, when it rains, it pours. Not only did I get the next batch of translations from Cozy, but I finally got THE call from Nippon Express, my movers, whose Toronto branch is in Mississauga. The 12 boxes have arrived, and tomorrow Dad and I have to head on over to get them cleared through Customs. Dad's rather grumbly about it since he had assumed that "Door-to-door"meant what it said. But the Canadian government made sure that it's not so. Also, I got word from her that the truck cannot use the visitor parking to unload when the truck comes over on Wednesday morning. Well, where are they gonna unload? I've got the feeling that it could be a long 2 days.

Anyways, I had to cancel Wednesday's lunch with The Wild Guy and The Egg with the next opening on the following Tuesday.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

6 Weeks

Sunday January 29, 11:45 p.m.

Coming to the end of another weekend. My brother's family came over for dinner, and so I could play with my niece once more. She's not into the Flag Game anymore...she's gone slightly conventional with Hide N' Seek. At the same time, my sister-in-law gave me some more tips on  possible job openings via an organization called Costi and York Region...that latter choice is a bit removed from me. Strangely enough, one of my friends at last night's potluck also sent me the same web address for York Region via Facebook.

My mother went on full culinary power tonight. Sashimi, teriyaki chicken and tempura...it felt like a New Year's dinner...just without the osechi stuff. We briefly discussed about where we could take Dad for his birthday dinner in a couple of weeks. Nothing committed...I suggested Chako, that yakiniku place The Anime King had introduced me to a few weeks ago. There was also The Keg but for some reason, they don't take reservations on the weekends.

Anyways, as of tonight, it's been 6 weeks since I made my exodus back to Toronto. No job although Mark suggested that his wife's school may be calling me up in the next couple of weeks since I'm on the sub list. Still, I got those references and covering letter printouts from my brother, and he'll give me some estimates on inexpensive printers for home use.

A Good Ol' Potluck Party

Sunday January 29, 1:58 p.m.

It was a pretty dreary day yesterday...typical January weather in Toronto. But the Anime Chamberlain picked me up as scheduled to take us both to our mutual friend's potluck party at his apartment in Etobicoke. I had been relieved to hear when our host asked me to bring dessert since I could hop on over to Eglinton Square and pick up some boxes of chocolates at Laura Secord. But Mom would have none of that and instead made a sponge cake for me to take over. In her traditionalist mind, a potluck should consist of homemade, not store-bought, dishes.

Since we were rather early, The Chamberlain and I stopped off at an outlet shop of Mr. Christie's near the Lakeshore which sells bulk versions of their cookies. I ended up buying a large package of Chunks Ahoy chocolate-chip cookies for the parents and me. Looking at the size of those chunks of chocolate made me paraphrase the company's famed catchphrase, "Geez, Mr. Christie, you make good diabetics."

My friends had their potluck in the 1st-floor party room. It turned out to be a reunion of sansei folks from my past. And showing our age, we all got to play Trivial Pursuit 80s, Monopoly, and Scrabble. Those disco-going days are long gone. I didn't get to play Monopoly, but then again, I didn't really want to since it looked those guys were going at it hard and heavy...kinda like a more contentious episode of "The Lang and O'Leary Exchange" on CBC Newsworld...a lot of it due to The Anime Chamberlain who seemed to have inserted himself as negotiations expert/Devil's Advocate. On the other hand, I did enjoy the other two games since they both played to my strengths...a long legacy of crossword puzzles and trivia. Adding those to my old love of things Trek would secure the geek trifecta for me. If Johnny Galecki ever decided to leave "The Big Bang Theory"...

Between games and noshing, I had a few good conversations as well with some old friends. I met one who, like me, had her JET and private English-teaching experiences in Japan for several years before returning. And I met a friendly Russian couple of which the wife has been a long Japanophile who had lived in Tokyo for many years and could make a run for my money in Japanese fluency.

As with all of my social circles over the past few decades, food was the centre to attract everyone. In fact, next week, some of these guys are planning to head to arguably the best Japanese restaurant in Toronto, Ematei, for dinner. But unfortunately (or fortunately for my wallet), I have to decline since I have my first Skype lesson with Mr. Moriya here at home.

For today, it's a stay-at-home. I spent an hour thinking about how to present my talk next week at Sam's church, and then my brother's family comes over for dinner.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Anime

courtesy of TheMentes via Flickr
Saturday January 28, 11:10 a.m.

As usual, after the bountiful dinner at Jerusalem, the two of us high-tailed it over to his place. I sat in his chair and listened to several of his anime songs. I had warned him beforehand that I would most likely doze off due to age and amount of food ingested. But no problems there. As soon as I started to nod off, he put on the frantic "Ielvan Polka", an anime video staple from several years back via YouTube and Nico Nico Douga. Just combine the Vocaloid Miku Hatsune and a classic Swedish song. Less grating than "Nyan Cat".

But the feature of the evening was another anime by the name of "Ben-to", adapted from a manga. Another hilariously whacked-out series which combines daily shopping and "Fight Club". They even have rules in these boxed lunch battles. Saw a couple of episodes of those before The King took me home. Some of these animators just have this ability to combine two forms to create classic absurdist theatre.


Rice Pudding

Round 1
Saturday January 28, 10:48 a.m.

Would've loved a bigger flash here
As it turned out, it was just The Anime King and I who headed out to the Leslie Ave. branch of Jerusalem last night. The Anime Bishop pulled out at the last minute. The place did not disappoint. Not exactly cheap at $23 a head, but it wasn't difficult to get totally stuffed. As I remembered from my buffet master, pacing is key to the whole enterprise here.

This was definitely an omnivore's paradise. Lots of meat on display such as roast beef and variations on chicken but to counter them, there was also a sizable salad bar. Plenty of breads as well, including a really zesty number with all sorts of spices and herbs baked in. Of course, there was a dessert table that The King and I visited several minutes after our last bite of the main courses. As I said, pacing is key here. The tiny baklava was wonderfully flaky and sweet but not cloyingly so. But the winner for me was the rice pudding with raisins.

Still, despite my master's mantra in my head, my girth was threatening to smash our table into my eating partner. And of course, the inevitable buildup of methane made me feel like one of those honey ants in the southwestern United States. Didn't see any sign of belly dancers, though. Mind you, leaving the place I think my belly was doing the meringue all the way to the King's house.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Another Buffet, Another Anime

courtesy of mypapercraft at Flickr
Friday January 27, 10:59 a.m.

I've got another dinner outing with The Anime King tonight and his buddy, The Anime Bishop. It's a buffet place called Jerusalem up on Leslie. There are apparently two locations but the Leslie branch apparently has belly dancing...performers, not customers. But we are going just for the good food...if you knew us, you would know that that is indeed true. Had a bit of a close call, though, on the phone when The Anime Chamberlain called up some minutes ago. Apparently, he is NOT aware about tonight and was calling me about a meet-up tonight with him and another friend. Over the past couple of get-togethers, I've noticed a rift starting to form between The King and The Chamberlain; the latter can be rather argumentative and obnoxious while the former has some strong feelings underneath his placid exterior. In any case, I had to use some verbal dexterity.

Speaking about anime, it's ironic, but I actually find out more about the leading Japanese pop cultural export here in Toronto more than I ever did in Japan. Anime is still seen more as a subculture to be obsessively dissected by otaku in the originating country. My friend, The Anime King, has been more than happy to inform me over the years about some of the cutting-edge stuff coming out. The last time we met, he showed me a few episodes of one such anime called "Mawaru PenguinDrum". It is definitely not cut out of the same fuzzy cloth as "Pokemon". From what I can relate about it, it's about a family of two brothers and a possessed sister who are contacted by three mute but sentient penguins which are probably not from Antarctica. Supposedly, I'm gonna get a downloaded file of the next several episodes from The King tonight.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mighty Symbol of Japan

courtesy of merne72 Flickr
Thursday January 26, 8:40 p.m.

I was watching the NHK Morning News at 7 p.m. tonight (tape delay and Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of us), and the first shot was of a breathlessly happy reporter showing the world's most beautiful mountain (from a distance at least) atop a hill in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo. It's a common tactic by the media there to show the weather is cold, crisp and clear. But I had to stifle some laughter when the reporter was telling how frozen he was outside with the temperature at -0.8 degrees C. Zero degrees over here in Toronto is just plain balmy...time to do that windsurfing on Lake Ontario.

Mt. Fuji... meteorological bellweather, tourist must-see and dream catcher. It's said that if one's first dream of the New Year is Mt. Fuji, then fortune will just glare at you. Of course, most people usually end up dreaming of either more sake or aspirin during the first 3 nights. I don't think anyone has ever told me that they had actually seen Mt. Fuji in their dreams.

Japan's tallest mountain is also a popular target for the young and hardy. Hundreds of climbers endure the 9-hour walk up Fuji on New Year's Eve so that they can see the sun rise on the morning of January 1st. Mind you, for some of them, seeing what they'd had for dinner the night before on the side of the mountain path is probably more common...altitude sickness (kousanbyou) is a perennial plague on the way up. In both situations, plenty of tears are shed.

There is also another weather phenomenon for the folks in Tokyo, known as "Diamond Fuji" during the Winter where the sun sets directly behind Mt. Fuji. Not sure if that is also a harbinger of good luck generally, but I'm sure a lot of photographers may think that. And if the folks at Paramount ever needed to shake up their logo...

Clean Up and Plan

Thursday January 26, 8:08 p.m.

After yesterday's odyssey downtown, it was nice to keep things inside at home. Just wore my loungewear all day, and did the long-needed cleanout of my bedroom. I've had it back for nearly 6 weeks now, and with all of the parcels and CDs strewn all over the floor and on top of the bed, it was about time that I got at it before the parents got at me. The pathetic thing is that all of the above has been written by a 46-year-old, not a 16-year-old.

Anyways, those discs you see are just a fraction of what I had to rearrange and place on my shelves, and that fraction is a mere fraction of what will be arriving sometime in the next two weeks. in 11 parcels courtesy of Nippon Express. Maybe my parents will still have at me after all.

The other big thing today was doing some preliminary planning for this talk I will give on the 5th at Sam's church on my 17 years in Japan. So far, about 10 people have said that they will attend; they either want to hear about travel experiences or they are interested in working in Japan...most likely, teaching English. Still, I don't want to make my 90 minutes into a job seminar...just want to let them know how I lived there. I'm sure the earthquake may be one big topic. I actually did a bit of research on the radiation levels in the Kanto region, thinking that some of the attendees may ask the question, "Is it safe to go there?" And I came across this Facebook community called "Tokyo Radiation Levels"which has an updated map of Japan showing what the current hourly radiation levels are throughout the country. If the figures are accurate, then Tokyo may end up having a total average even less than that of the USA. Still, plenty "hot"in Fukushima, though.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Wednesday January 25, 8:56 p.m.

Well, I put on that Zegna suit that I'd inherited from my student's now-slimmed-down husband a few years ago and went downtown. My first stop was City Hall to apply for that Social Insurance Number card since I will need it for work. The officer there was pretty good to me; I told him that I was going to a job interview afterwards, and he immediately put my application onto the fast track. It cost me $10 to set things in motion, but it sure was a whole lot easier than getting the OHIP reinstatement started.

I spent the next couple of hours at the Chinatown Starbucks at Dundas and Chestnut. Just wanted some time to go over the notes for the interview (don't laugh...it's been 15 years since my last one) and have a bit of lunch. Outside, we had our noontime entertainment in the form of a scruffy, somewhat unhinged-looking guy being patiently interrogated by the cops.

The interview itself went pretty smoothly. I answered any and all questions posed to me, and , explained my 25-year career and its motivations as best I could. I wasn't expectant about any job offer, but initially anyways, I was slightly deflated after my explanations and her encouragement when the best she could offer was a spot on the substitute teacher list. Beforehand, she had mentioned that the faculty was all unionized, so I could imagine that it would take a rather desperate situation before the school would call me up. Union teachers will probably take the Japanese route and come to work with as much medicine and tissue as possible before having me come in.

All I can say is that I got it over with. And I'll keep on going.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Switching Climates

Flickr -- Matthew Lamb
Tuesday January 24, 8:42 p.m.

Toronto is gonna end up with the 2nd-driest January in recent memory with perhaps 7 cm of the white stuff falling...unless we get walloped with a couple of snowstorms between now and the 31st. Not that we're complaining too much here...Xmas has passed, so there isn't that driving need to get a Winter Wonderland anymore.

Meanwhile, a lot of Japan, including Tokyo, has been getting clobbered with snow over the past several days. The Kanto region had a major snowfall (though it would actually be called a regular snow day here) with even the capital getting 5 cm. Although Tokyo used to get snow regularly in the past, during my 17 years there, it was more of a meteorologically pleasant rarity...something to behold for 24 hours before things normalized and the whole thing melted completely away....Japanese service indeed. But it seems for 2012, past is prologue. NHK, and I assume the commercial networks, is showing plenty of city scenes of commuters slip-slidin' away on the black ice...almost on a pornographic level. I can imagine someone setting up a secret fetish website specializing in slippage videos.


Tuesday January 24, 8:25 p.m.

Today was a major shopping day for me. Now, I have no connection with "Sex And The City", so my idea of a major shopping day and that of those ladies are far and wide. For me, getting dress shoes and a belt counts as a major. Where I used to live in Ichikawa City, there was a discount shoe store with a big shoe section, and a Daiei department store (kinda like a Walmart), so getting clothes didn't make a huge dent in my wallet...rather strange considering the country I lived in.

So, shucking out $90 for a pair of dress shoes was a big deal for me, since I only paid about half that for a similarly-sized pair. Mind you, these new ones may actually last me beyond a year. And luckily, I was able to bring back my Italian suit with me in my suitcase. I inherited it from my former rich student whose husband dropped a ton of weight which therefore negated his need for it...and activated my guilt about my own weight.

All this for my interview tomorrow at that language school. I was happy to get that covering letter and list of references out to the school's director of programs, especially with my haunted computer. This hand-me-down from my brother has been erasing, suddenly expanding and shrinking my fonts, and just throwing new screens in front of me every few minutes. I'm keeping patient but I think when I can afford it, it'll be time to get something nicer. Getting back on topic, it's been a long while since I had a job interview so I've been going over the school's website doing my research and getting my questions ready to pose. Keeping my fingers crossed although I'm not so desperate that I will immediately grab any offer.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Alcatraz The Series

Moony 85 from Flickr
I've caught the first 3 episodes of J.J. Abrams' latest series after "Lost", "Fringe" and "Alias". Abrams' penchant for one-word titles isn't the only point in common. It has that core group of 3 or 4 unusual characters mixed up in a completely wacko situation with a very wide mythology. And with the exception of "Lost", the other shows also have women as the spiritual leads. Pretty soon, if not already, Abrams will end up becoming a genre unto himself, like Alfred Hitchcock.

Hey, it's got Sam Neill in it. He gives good glower!


Monday January 23, 11:15 p.m.

Well, there's been some movement on the job front. My friend, Mark, told me that his wife had relayed my resume to someone in HR in her English language school. And sure enough, I got a call from that person today to ask me to come in on Wednesday afternoon for an interview.

Which of course means that I have to buy some good shoes at The Bay tomorrow. Luckily, Size 9.5s are a regular thing here, unlike back in Japan where they are only sold at stores which cater to big feet.

And at yesterday's dim sum fest, another old friend informed me that he may need some help with some Japanese to English translations sometime. May get quite busy. I'll have to get started on getting that replacement Social Insurance Number as well. I'll probably head on down to City Hall to get that process started before heading to the interview.

Dim Sum

 Monday January 23, 10:59 p.m.

Had that big dim sum powwow in downtown Chinatown yesterday morning. I was rather surprised that the area on Dundas was pretty sparse considering this was Chinese New Year weekend. Still, we managed to get our 20 people to show up. And by the time we left, the restaurant was full.
 I hadn't been in the downtown Chinatown in several years since most of my friends prefer having dim sum in the suburban Chinatowns where the food is supposedly better and the parking is free. The largest ethnic community in Toronto is indeed Chinese so T.O. has got about 5 Chinatowns at least. I think even Vancouver would have a hard time topping that.
  A few tastefully arranged dim sum dainties on my plate. I had no problems with the fare there. It was all good for me. They even brought out the chicken feet as well, but I will spare you the appearance of those.
 But the nice thing about yesterday's big outing was seeing a lot of old faces that I hadn't seen in almost 15 years. We had still been connected to university, but now, a few of them were bringing their kids and spouses along for the ride. As with reunions, there was much discussed about what we all used to do and who with.
I was never much for reunions. The one I went to for University of Toronto years ago wasn't a whole lot of fun which soured me on the whole notion of reunions. But I was glad I made it down to  yesterday's gig. I think the key is who attends.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Sunday January 22, 1:01 a.m.

Might be wondering why I'm still up typing away here. Promise you I won't be too long; I have to get some sleep before that massive dim sum party later today.

Had an initial successful Skype video call with my student from the swanky district of Tokyo, known as Den'en-Chofu. Kinda feeling like Scotty from "Star Trek" in that I'm praying that the bandwidth holds together for the first official lesson in a couple of weeks. I think our images were clear enough; just have to think about things like payment and Skype-influenced lesson format. My parents will probably be asking me about what the heck was going on in my room.

I've got Kate Bush's "Babooshka" going on in my head. Gotta hit the hay.

Shinobu aftermath

Saturday January 21, 10:37 p.m.

Dined at Shinobu tonight with my friends up at Yonge-Lawrence. The experience was alright but not as sparkling as I'd hoped it would be. For one thing, I think the service was a bit green. We had a young waitress who still seemed to be grasping the English language...there were a few moments of her nodding her head rather blankly. As a result, there was a mixup in one dish which slightly irked my dinner companions, especially since they had a couple of kids along acting up a bit. Felt a bit sorry for the waitress but I kinda figured that she was paying her dues. In retrospect, I think I should've done a bit of interpretation but had thought at the time that she understood enough. I had the sushi platter which was good, especially the smooth-as-silk salmon. And the recommended deep-fried chicken skin was delish, if not necessarily heart-smart. Just needed a bit more salt.

Shinobu is a small place. Maybe 15 seats at most. Reservations are a must. If the service had been a bit more poised, it would've gotten an extra star from me.

Seirogan and Shinobu

Mycol of Flickr
Saturday January 21, 2:18 p.m.

Ahhhh....yes, just 2 hours before I head on out to meet Laura and the family for dinner at Shinobu up on Yonge. my stomach starts to do backflips and I accede to its plaintive wails with at least one trip to the washroom so far. Not sure what the problem is...I think I've been eating plenty of fruits and veg recently. This brings me to the first half of this post's title (yes, it isn't actually the Japanese equivalent of "Rizzoli & Isles".).

Seirogan is the tougher, more pungent Japanese cousin to Eno and Tums. It is an antidiarrheal (oops, guess cat's out of the bag, huh?) kampoyaku (herbal medicine) whose smell has the blast radius of a low-level nuclear dirty bomb. With its most famous ingredient being creosote, Seirogan has the malodorous mix of the worst medicine and fried bacon. But generations have relied on it to resolve any gastrointestinal issues, especially during year-end party season in Japan. Judging by some of the street monjayaki I often saw on the subway platforms, I realized that even Seirogan has limits. Still, my mother was able to bring back a box of the stuff (one of the most recognizable items in the country with its orange box and trumpet logo)...heavily wrapped, of course, so that I could take three of the little black balls. If ever you suffer from the J-version of Montezuma's Revenge while in Tokyo, you can try some of this bottled chemo.

Now, as for Shinobu, I heard from The Wild Guy that this restaurant is one of the better Japanese establishments in Toronto, and it's not too, too far away from home....up on Yonge north of Lawrence. The Toronto Star's Amy Pataki gave a good review on it, so I'm looking forward to the experience since she hints that there is actually some more authentic izakaya fare there. It also serves natto, apparently, but I'm still looking forward to it.

Kate Bush

Saturday January 21, 9:26 a.m.

There is a Saturday night variety program hosted by Osaka comedian Akashiya Sanma which has the bucktoothed loudmouth (not being racist here...he does have a sizable overbite) overseeing a literal harem of young women who look as if they just came in from the hostess clubs of Shibuya, and the atmosphere is that of "Kids Say the Darnedest Things". It's a long-running hit but the premise annoys me to no end.

However, the only redeeming thing is that the theme is the opening excerpt from Kate Bush's classic "Wuthering Heights". Not sure if anyone on the show is aware who Bush is or what the song's title is. I'm not sure why the producers even chose this song. But hearing those opening notes of tinkly piano and then her ethereal voice always has me running to YouTube to listen to the song in its entirety.

There is actually a Japanese singer who, vocally, has a passing resemblance to Kate Bush, and that would be Akiko Yano, also an accomplished pianist and composer. She doesn't have the full range of Bush but she has those high whooping pipes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

To Each His/Her Own

Friday January 20, 4:17 p.m.

I was just going through the YELP site which has reviews of Toronto restaurants. I'd actually been looking for the name of that dim sum restaurant that all of us will be descending on as one huge mob on Sunday (for some reason, noone will give the name). Found it as Dim Sum King. And the address turns out to be that building on the south side of Dundas, between Spadina and Huron, where I and my old university buddies headed for dim sum back in the old days. That 3rd floor has seen a lot of Chinese restaurants come and go over the decades...I think one owner ended up getting executed by a mobster some years ago.

Well, it's Dim Sum King now. And the reviews are unsurprisingly all over the place with some praising it while others are burying it. Checked it out with a couple of the Japanese ramen places such as Kenzo and Ajisen. Again, admirers and detractors. Just goes to show that probably a majority of the places will simply have good and bad days and have customers of varying tastes. It's really all up to us.


Friday January 20, 3:15 p.m.

When I had first arrived in Japan for my long tour of duty in 1994, sumo was at the peak of its popularity. The young Hanada brothers, Waka and Taka, had become sibling grand champions, yokozuna in the ring, and superstars outside of it. Takahanada (his name at that time) had even been engaged to actress and It-Girl Rie Miyazawa for a time.

Amazing what can happen in 17 years. Sumo is just coming out from under some major doldrums. A stablemaster and some of his underlings are indicted for beating a fellow apprentice to death a couple of years ago, and last year, a match-fixing scandal brought the entire sport to its knees. Pretty much an annus horribilis. However, there was one bright note in that current and lone grand champion, Hakuho from Mongolia, had that amazing run of wins that made him the greatest champion in the postwar era. Now, although it's still way too early to tell, even NHK is wondering aloud whether change is in the air.

The very first tournament of the year which is taking place in Tokyo's Kokugikan in Ryogoku is coming to a close this weekend, and a not-Hakuho will be getting The Emperor's Cup for clinching the overall win. The fellow in the picture is named Baruto, and he hails from Estonia. He got his sumo name from the fact that he's from a Baltic nation (apparently, the sumo world has a sense of humour). The amiable guy got his very first championship as a rikishi, 3 years after he had gotten promoted to the 2nd-highest rank of ozeki. Pair that fact with Hakuho losing an unbelievable 3 matches this tournament, and I guess breathless journalists can be forgiven for wondering if an era is passing. Still, any more victories like this for Baruto, and ultimate promotion can't be that far away.

I'm sure, though, that there will be many who dream of the day that a native Japanese son will once again take that yokozuna title. But for right now, the sumo world will just be grateful to bring back its pride and popularity.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Massive Dim Sum

Thursday January 19, 11:34 p.m.

A few hours ago, an old friend I hadn't heard from in several years (read: 20) contacted me via Facebook to invite me to a dim sum reunion this coming Sunday in downtown Chinatown. Ironically, this outing is all about someone I met back in Tokyo just a little over a month ago for one final lunch before my exodus back to The Great White North.

In fact, I just finished chatting with Reza via FB. He's saying that there will be anywhere between 20 and 30 people showing up. That will be one massive dim sum outing! Not sure how that will be pulled off. Especially since this weekend is Chinese New Year. If there's one thing that Toronto has over Tokyo, it's dim sum. Yum cha, as it's called over there, is quite a bit more expensive and the setup is basically a course meal in which around only 6 steamers are provided. There would be a revolt in any Chinese restaurant that had that policy!

This will be my first foray into a Chinese restaurant in Old Chinatown in some years. Recently, it's all been about heading to the suburbs for dim sum since the newer suburban Chinatowns supposedly have the better eateries now. Whatever...it's all good for me.

Yu Darvish

by Flickr Keith Fujimoto
Thursday January 19, 9:10 p.m.

The news was perhaps given some minutes into the typical sportscast here in Toronto, but it was the top story on NHK on every newscast over the past 24 hours. Yu Darvish, the half-Iranian, half-Japanese pitching wunderkind, is officially a Texas Ranger. Of course, any major Japanese athlete who makes the big leagues in America is gonna be Story One. Perhaps like a lot of other nations, whenever a native son hits the big time (i.e.big in the USA), the Japanese (media) go into a major feeding frenzy. Houston had better be prepared for the Japanese onslaught in terms of reporters and tourists.

I'm not a huge baseball fan here...it comes in a distant second next to ice hockey. I was even less of one in Japan. Just to appease the students, I often answered either The Tokyo Giants or The Chiba Lotte Marines (Bobby Valentine's old team) whenever I was asked what my favorite Japanese League team was. However, I knew about Yu pretty early on. 

He first appeared on national screens when he was a high school senior in the semi-annual Koshien High School championships which has as much viewing clout as the Stanley Cup playoffs do here in Canada. He had a buzzcut back then...high school baseball clubs have that very militaristic bent to them. The scouts saw something the raw talent in him, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters got him.

Darvish quickly attained superstar status not only because of his obvious talent, but also because of his exotic looks and his very American height (6'5"). He was a rock star. He also had a rock star's notoriety...got in big trouble for being caught smoking underage in a pachinko parlor (not exactly scandal-inducing in regular society but for celebs, well...), then much later, apparently showed a very lackadaisical attitude when confronted by his wife about his romantic extracurriculars, which is now why they're heading into divorce court. And he did a spread in  fashion magazine An-an, wearing nothing more than a bedsheet and an attitude. I wonder if he should've gone to the Dodgers instead.

In any case, the Japanese will soon get an eyeful of The Lone Star State via NHK, Fuji-TV, TV Asahi, etc. and they'll find out about the wonders of Tex-Mex cuisine, BBQs and brisket. In addition, Mr. Darvish has a very headline-friendly name, so ballpark posters and newspaper headlines will have lines such as:

"Yu is the Man!"
"We love Yu!"
"Thank Yu!"
"The Whirling Darvish!"

The big question of course is whether Japan's greatest pitcher will be the next Ichiro or the next Hideki Irabu.

Never Gonna Give You Up

Thursday January 19, 1:53 p.m.

I've always seen American electoral politics as a bit of a spectator sport. I guess this morning's events would count as the equivalent of a rink-shaking bodycheck on an opposing player.

Let's see...one Rick pulls out of the race and supports the Newt. Then at the same time, the other Rick ends up winning the Iowa Caucus after all. The CNN announcers were virtually skipping around the newsroom...meanwhile, I'm sure the Romney campaign HQ was feeling somewhat the opposite, and just before the debate preceding the next big primary.

I guess Mitt now knows what it feels like to be Rick-rolled!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Students' Fuel

 Wednesday January 18, 8:51 p.m.

Pretty good day. The most recent 800-kg gorilla in my life until this morning was getting my OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) reactivated. After a couple of aborted tries, I finally got that bank statement to prove my residency here, and got the ball rolling at the ServiceOntario branch downtown. But since I was in the neighbourhood, I also dropped by my alma mater.
 Ah, my lovely lunch. Nothing like eating a burger and fries with gravy in -5-degree weather. Ate it in front of Sidney Smith Hall since the front foyer itself was packed with students. In previous visits here during my long life in Japan, I'd always come during the Holidays, so it was a very different scene with U of T being virtually empty. I was just surprised to see any food trucks on St. George at that time of the year. The U of T food trucks are the students' lifeline, especially at noon. Tried to get something there at that time but decided to come back at 1.

Got my grub at that brown truck. That truck has been serving Sid Smith for well over a quarter of a century. I would know...it was there since I was a freshman.  However, that old guy who reminded me of John Belushi's character ("Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, Coke, Coke!") on "Saturday Night Live"was no longer there. Instead, it was probably her daughter. But since I'm not a generationist, I was happy to renew my acquaintance with the brown truck. And just $6 got me my lunch. Even after I forked over my cash, the lady asked me if I wanted some gravy with my fries. Since I neither have a Rob nor a Ford in my name, I was only too happy to agree.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Taste For Tests

by suhakri_hsu via Flickr

Tuesday January 17, 10:02 p.m.

It's nice to have that connection with Japan via NHK over here in Toronto. The news related on that annual custom involving thousands of third-year high school students all throughout the country: Examination Hell. Yup, they are studying, cramming, burning the midnight oil....and eating their way to pass the much dreaded exams for university.

Katsudon and Kit Kat are the big ticket items right now this month. Tonkatsu restaurants are probably seeing higher-than-average numbers of teens tracking through their doors while convenience stores are double-stocking their supply of one of America's famous chocolate bars. And why is that?

Well, it all has to do with puns. Over here, deep-fried pork cutlets on rice and Kit Kats would probably evoke emergency runs to a heart specialist eventually, but over there, they all have to do with WINNING (maybe Charlie Sheen could use them in his next tour of America). Katsu also happens to mean "to win"in Japanese, hence the superstitious value in katsudon. And Kit Kat pronounced in katakana sounds like kitto katsu :"surely win". Good luck food as well as comfort food. Not necessarily healthy food, but when these items could possibly warp probability fields in favour of Taro or Akiko to get to their desired institute of higher learning, why not?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Mad--Always Nice to Come Home To

 Monday January 16, 10:34 p.m.

Talking about Winterlicious last entry has gotten me wanting to talk about one of my old faves in restaurants: The Madison Ave. Pub on its namesake street near Spadina and Bloor.

This is a place that I've visited since the late 80s when I was a student at U of T. Even during my decade and a half in Japan; whenever I visited Toronto over the Holidays, I would always come here with Shard for a basket of BBQ Wings, fries and gravy. Nope, not exactly the healthiest of fare but what pub's food is? Then again, the basket does come with veggie sticks.

Since Shard and I come over around noon, the place is virtually empty; I think the last time I came here when it was filled with folks, Reagan was still the US President. Not that I mind too much, though. It's nice to talk face-to-face without having to shout while enjoying good ol' pub fare...especially wings and fries.

Because of my long patronage, I did find out about the next door boutique hotel owned by the same people. In fact, a few years ago, one of my veteran groups of students stayed at the Madison Ave. Hotel during their tour of Toronto a few years ago. I've already been there once since coming back this time, and I think that'll continue as a fine culinary pattern for the rest of this year and beyond.


Monday January 16, 7:28 p.m.

Over the past month that I've been back, I've been hearing from my sister-in-law and another friend about Winterlicious,  which along with its sister festival Summerlicious, has been Toronto's version of Oktoberfest. From what I've read, it all came about kinda as a Judy-and-Mickey type of solution to the falling restaurant attendance rates nearly a decade ago when the SARS epidemic made landfall here. I took a look at the official website and found that around 175 restaurants has gotten onto this year's select list chosen by "The City of Toronto".

That stopgap solution has now become a semi-annual pagan to foodie-ism and fine dining. And therein lies the rub. I'm not the sharpest tack in the toolbox, but even I could see a couple of problems. One is that even with the rising number of restaurants being included in the list, 175 restaurants seem to be a drop in the bucket in one of the foodiest cities in the world, especially when the original purpose was to help financially ailing eateries. I recognized a few of those places because they are famous (Canoe, Il Fornello, etc.); perhaps their chefs and ingredients explain the high prices but I just don't get the impression that they are ailing right now. I'm sure there are plenty of other restaurants which serve good food, are located not too far off the beaten path, and could use the publicity. But perhaps the raison d'etre has changed over the decade. Maybe it's now  just about the good AND famous. The second gripe that I've read seems to be accusations from patrons about chefs and restauranteurs hedging their bets and using somewhat inferior ingredients in the prix fixe meals. Kinda hard to prove on that one since one person's foie gras is another's rotten wax (I'll have to talk about my stance on "natto" in a later entry). However, if any chef is indeed hedging, then that is poor sportsmanship considering that his/her restaurant was chosen into a supposedly elite group.

My initial impression of Winterlicious was that it was a grander version of "A Taste of the Danforth", the annual Greektown festival that I have heard about every year even while I was in Japan. Greek food...now that is a cuisine that I will return home for.


Monday January 16 5:03 p.m.

It's back to balmy...or at least above zero here in the GTA. And luckily, it's been pretty clear, too. But we're expecting some precip later tonight in the form of either snow or rain....or a hybrid of sleet.

Well, here I was yesterday lamenting that I was in this existential limbo when I got a call from my old friend, Sam, asking me whether I would be willing to give an informal seminar at his church sometime in a few weeks for some people who may be interested in doing what I did...work in Japan. Of course, this is purely voluntary...I can't really charge folks a consulting fee for what I have to offer, and I made that crystal clear to my friend. He was asking whether I was knowledgeable about PowerPoint and yada, yada yada. I've just been back for a month; a bit too early for me to throw out the dog-and-pony show. At this point, I can make it a pleasant little Q-&-A with some photos and then some samples of my grammar exercises. I've already asked my former boss in Tokyo, Speedy, to send a few sheets over.

Speaking of Speedy, he only wrote a few lines before he started launching into shop talk with me (yup, he's truly an entrepreneur). He asked me whether I had my Skype set up (that would be a yes), and if I would be willing to do some proofreading and maybe even some Skype English lessons. Hey, anything to pay the bills. I've sent a message over to my brother to see if we can give the Skype a dry run sometime this week.

As part of my "formal"blog training, I've been reading that I should look for similarly-themed blogs that I could possibly link up with. I came across some English-language ones, including one by a native Japanese who had been living in Toronto. However, they all had their most recent entries all the way back in 2009. The Japanese-language ones are up-to-date, though I'm not sure about linking up with them. I'm now wondering if I should start up a Japanese-language blog. It would be great practice for my second language, although I think any readers would have a field day with my skills...or lack of them.

Still, it is reassuring to come across these buds of opportunities.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Nice Family Weekend

Sunday January 15, 10:08 p.m.

I've been back in Toronto now for exactly a month. If this had been the usual vacation, I would've already been back in Japan teaching and giving out the usual souvenirs of Canadian calendars. But I no longer have that responsibility. I'm now in a bit of limbo...the usual limbo inhabited by folks who have finished one major stage in their lives but have yet to start the next one...kinda like divorce. I'm poking through the Net searching for prospective schools and have targeted one place downtown with a resume and covering letter. Yup, at my middle age, I'm getting those prepped. Fortunately, I have that one translation assignment completed and sent out back to my old student, Cozy, so that I don't feel completely useless. Holiday vacations are fine as long as there is an end to them; if they are indefinite, not so great.

My brother came back from that annual CES thingie in Las Vegas. I've always seen those on TV. Can't imagine what they must be like in person. He's been to CES every year for the past few years, and he usually doesn't return feeling supremely starstruck. But this time, he was able to see a couple of members from that other Korean girl group, Wonder Girls, and actually got to see the band, Chicago, perform. Because of his job, he and his team didn't go the cheapo buffet route; it was winin' & dinin' over lobster.

He and his family came over today for the 2nd day in a row to complete the mission of setting the new flatpanel up in the living room. Last night, it was to construct the IKEA TV stand, so today was the actual introduction of the newest gadget in our place to electricity. "Taira no Kiyomori"came in loud and clear on TV Japan, pockmarks and spittle included.

Had Chinese takeout for dinner tonight with everybody. Maybe the others thought that this was rather run-of-the-mill, but over in Japan, I never had the stuff although the service does exist. Domino's was the only thing I ever had delivered to my apartment. It was therefore great to have Sweet N'Sour Chicken and Beef N' Broccoli once more.

My sister-in-law cottoned me onto this semi-annual food festival here in Toronto. The January festival is known as Winterlicious, and as a foodie, my eyes and ears are pricked up for it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Quiet Saturday

Saturday January 14, 10:26 p.m.

It's been another bitterly cold day. But things will be warming up again next week. And it's been a real sports day today with all-day and all-night "Hockey Night In Canada", and the NFL playoffs. Homewise, it's been re-arranging the furniture with my brother and his family coming over to help set up the new TV stand before putting up the new flatpanel.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Caught at Last!

Friday January 13, 11:16 a.m.

For the last several years, it seems that everytime I've come back home there's been some big story either here or in Japan. And this time, it was in Japan. Some days ago, NHK reported that one of the three remaining Aum Shinrikyo members on the run after the sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway back in early 1995 had been caught. Well, to be more accurate, Mr. Hirata turned himself into the authorities after tiring of the fugitive life. For years, I'd seen his face on the wanted posters throughout the subway stations of the Tokyo Metro along with one other male member and one female member. Probably all of us were wondering if all of them had just copied members of the Japanese Red Army and fled to the Middle East. But it turned out that Hirata had hidden out within Japan for 17 years with the help of another former cult member.

I still remember that March day well. I'd been teaching for NOVA and it just turned out that Monday was my day off. I woke up at the relatively late hour of 10 a.m. and turned on the telly to get that first scene of a helicopter shot of a whole mass of ambulances and dozens of first responders taking care of commuters in downtown Tokyo. At first, I didn't know what was going on but I gradually gleaned about the attack. The manhunt began. And a few weeks later, the Jabba-like cult leader, Shoko Asahara was arrested in some hiding place within rural compound. It's strangely appropos how these psychopathic leaders end up falling off their delusional podia and ending up discovered cowering in some dirty alcove.

Just to update, Asahara is still alive and on death row. And noone knows...probably not even the new Justice Minister, when Asahara will finally go to the gallows.

Snow Day

Friday January 13, 11:06 a.m.

Yes, it is indeed another Friday the 13th. And for commuters, it's probably quite unsurprising. The snow is wreaking some havoc on the streets, according to CP 24. Luckily, I'm again warmly esconced within my home for the day. Our superintendant is supposed to be coming over to fix the lighting fixture in the kitchen. He didn't seem too happy on the phone this morning. Can't blame him...he's gotta deal with the snow outside, he got an earful from Dad yesterday for some neglected work which was responsible for water leaking into the master bedroom, and when he came by last night to try to fix the kitchen lighting, my parents had to abort since they were cooking. Gonna have to be easy on him.

Winter has definitely come back with a vengeance today. We have the snow pelting down, and there's been another Extreme Cold Warning issued. Certainly not Tokyo here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

St. John's Eating Crowe

Thursday January 11, 12:47 p.m.

Saw some of "Republic of Doyle" on CBC last night, since there had been a huge campaign to tout this week's very special guest, Russell Crowe. Apparently, either the star or the creator of the series had some connections with Crowe via "Robin Hood". Those connections must have been very hearty ones to bring the Oscar winner tens of thousands of kilometres from Australia all the way up to Newfoundland. But he was very obliging and cooperative. Didn't hear of a single phone being flung at all. And the residents there were also very kind to him. Crowe was impressed that the nearby Newfoundlanders considerately left him alone. Sounds downright Japanese. Ken Watanabe remarked that Tokyo citizens would discreetly smile and point...maybe even a few dared to take pictures with their cells but that was about it.

Still, from what I saw, Crowe seemed to have just terse, grumbly lines. But I did like him getting humorously tasered...would never have imagined The Gladiator taking that sort of abuse (yes, I know...temporal non sequitur).

It seems as if there has been an international cross-pollination of stars via TV shows recently. Of course, Canadians have been infiltrating Hollywood for decades (William Shatner, Michael J. Fox, etc.), American and British actors thesped together in the latest "Torchwood"season, and even Queen of the Idols, Seiko Matsuda, did a "Bones"episode a couple of seasons back. I guess there's a New World Order coming on the acting level.

George Clooney..."Doctor Who", an idea whose time has come?

How Cold Is Cold?

Thursday January 12, 12:19 p.m.

Rainy but a balmy 4 degrees C outside. However, when I was watching NHK News via TV Japan this morning, the top story was how Tokyo was entering a deep freeze...at the temperature of 7 degrees! I stifled my laughter within my centrally-heated apartment.

I remember Tokyo winters as the glorious season for a Canuck like myself. Clear, crisp and sunny...and with the odd flurry. Perhaps every few years, there would be a freak snowstorm in The Big Sushi. But true to the much vaunted Japanese service, that snow would disappear overnight or by the late morning at the latest, instead of morphing into a dark glutinous mass on the verge of evolving in early March.

But here's the thing. Commuting between work and home was fine during January and February, but most apartments are still not centrally heated, and insulation is still a fairly alien concept, and windows are single-paned. So, at home, things can still get rather cool inside. Bring out the sweaters, blankets, heaters and kotatsu (a low table with a heating element underneath). Waking up in the mornings in Ichikawa could get a bit dicey: getting out from under two heavy moufu in the bedroom to head over to a nicely chilled bathroom. Yup, there's nothing like the steam of urine to wake one up in the wee hours (nicely played pun, sir!).

Still, I couldn't complain about winter in my ol' neck of the woods. But I cannot complain about this winter in Toronto, either. Aside from a deep freeze early last week, it's been gloriously warm. Not quite windsailing weather (although I have yet to check Lake Ontario for any die-hards) but I haven't exactly been putting on the longjohns and steel-toes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Wednesday January 11, 7:20 p.m.

Went up to the IKEA up in North York this afternoon to pick up a TV stand for our new flatpanel. I finally found out what the prime name in home furnishings stands for....something that I will never be able to remember. All I can say is that the inventor of acronyms should have gotten that Nobel Prize.

IKEA has been a mainstay in this part of the hemisphere for decades, but it had only encroached Japanese shores within the last 5 years. Foreign brands seem to have a 75/25 chance of making it big in Japan. Some enterprises, such as Sephora and Boots, for whatever reason, don't last more than a couple of years. Others such as Starbucks and Century 21 become fully welcomed into the Japanese commercial world. IKEA is definitely one of the latter. In fact, customers there have given the Swedish giant's name a distinctly Japanese pronounciation: i-ke-ya...as if the founder were named Mr. Ikeya. Probably there are a lot of folks who think that IKEA is a Japanese firm.

The picture above is not of a Toronto branch, but of the branch in Makuhari-Messe, one of Tokyo's premier convention sites, in Chiba-ken. I'd never been there since I never owned a car during my time in Japan, and I think a driver's licence is pretty much a must to get inside. As with all successful foreign imports, the crowds flooding into the IKEA parking lot rival those entering Tokyo Disneyland every weekend. In a way, it's kinda like touring a museum of Swedish furniture exhibits except that the patrons can actually buy the art at low, low prices. And the modular nature of the goods is a perfect match for the small and austere apartments that the local demographic live in.

Just kinda wonder if the Japanese branches sell hot dog combos like they do over here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Comfort Food

Tuesday January 10, 9:01 p.m.

Ahhh...I will be looking at the picture on the right for some time with some wistfulness. It was my final meal in Japan before I boarded AC 002. Found a nearly empty family restaurant in the plaza between the North and South Wings of Terminal 1 of Narita Airport, and had the prime example of yo-shoku (Westernized Japanese food): hamburger topped with grated daikon, shiso leaf and a ponzu sauce. Some of my friends will probably pooh-pooh my choice, stating that I should've gone for sushi or real ramen....but it's all good for me, the mantra for the eternal foodie.

And now for the Canadian...or Torontonian....comfort food. Swiss Chalet, of course. This restaurant is an institution along with Tim Hortons in my city. A Half-Chicken Plate is what I always dream about when I'm on that plane for 12 hours. Believe me, after going through no sleep (and I cannot sleep on planes), mediocre plane food, and the long lines at Customs and Immigration, I can see Heidi jumping out at me when I leave Pearson....or is it Clara that jumps out of the wheelchair?
I know about the controversy surrounding the BBQ Sauce. I consider it manna from heaven....manna that is liberally sprinkled with MSG most likely. Others consider it dishwater.

Comfort food is a very personal choice. And what better cities to discuss about this than Tokyo and Toronto? Japan has traditionally been praised for its diet, but in recent years, the country has seen its shores invaded by all sorts of comfy cuisine: there is a McDonalds on nearly every corner in the Kanto, Black Forest Cakes and Zacher Tortes now often populate every shelf in a Starbucks, and karaage (J-fried chicken) and hamburger and tonkatsu bento are daily displays in every supermarket.

Now I'm not here to bury Caesar Salad...in fact, over the last several years in Japan, I've come to enjoy vegetation. I don't think I've been this regular in previous decades. But the current generations of Japanese have definitely come to embrace their inner glutton. Diet goods have started to pop up all over the tube and magazines, and it looks like every group of elementary school students I saw after school had one gargantuan fellow in it. And even the healthier members probably nosh on a biggu makku or choko from time to time. Frankly speaking, I made it a daily ritual. Strangely enough, since I'm now living back here in Toronto with my family, I've been eating far more healthily than during my time in Chiba. Still, Xmas and New Year's were and will always be a concern.

Do I miss my J-comfort food? A bit...but I've got plenty of choices here to help me forget.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Prodigal Son

Monday January 9, 10:20 p.m.

Kinda feel like Dr. Frasier Crane after jumping from "Cheers" to his own show in Seattle. Lived 17 years, 1 month and 11 days in the bedroom town of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture (sorry, all you cyberpunk fans...no flesh vats or jacked-up Neo wannabes there). In fact, the picture on the right is of my old neighbourhood. I lived in Room 301 of the white apartment, Maison Asami, for virtually the entire time that I have just listed above. It was a safe, quiet and very convenient area for me...except for the fact that a psychopath had killed a British English teacher in an apartment a few blocks away some years ago. But hey, property values didn't change one whit.

I also had a blog about my experiences via Blogger which I will be finishing up with one more entry before I steer any remaining readers (thank you, all six of you in Russia and America....glad I can help out with East-West diplomacy) over here...you can check out the 8 years of Ä Canuck in Emperor Akihito's Court"...find out what was happening with my long career as a journeyman English conversation teacher in the world's largest city.

As for this new sequel blog? Not sure if I'm doing this more for educating anyone out there about my new life back in Toronto or about my previous life in Japan than it is for me to just alleviate stress through typing. But perhaps I can help the following 3 categories of people: 1) anyone who is going over to Japan as a Tokyo tourist, a teacher or foodie; 2) any "Flashpoint" fans who want to know what Toronto is really like beyond the SRU; and 3) folks who have a very large amount of time on their hands.

I am also planning to create a sister blog, either here or via WordExpress, on my love of Japanese popular music...but more on that later. Anyways, that's my first entry for now. I will give my thoughts on the past month that I've been back in The Great White North.