Monday, April 30, 2012

Oasis of the Seas, Part 2 -- Food

If you look at it one way, it resembles
that Ceti Eel from "Star Trek II"!
Still delicious, though.
Tuesday April 30, 5:06 p.m.

A few years ago, I saw a report on cruise ships and the reporter concluded that they were all floating buffet restaurants. He wasn't kidding. There must've been tons of foodstuffs on The Oasis of the Seas which gradually became part of our insides during the week at sea. Of course, a percentage of that stuff ended up going back....well, I think you get the picture.

A good portion of the price we paid to live out at sea went for food. Restaurants like The Solarium Bistro, The Opus Dining Room and The Windjammer offered all complementary fare. And all of us took advantage of that tighter jeans are proof positive. Almost all of our dinners were taken at the Opus Dining Room on Deck 4 where Waiter Markland Williams and Assistant Waiter Danny took care of us for the duration. The first night didn't go all that well due to a distinct lack of pacing which annoyed Mom and my sister-in-law to no end, but the guys got back on track for the other 5 times we were there. Above was my first main dish, a good rare slab of prime beef. By the end of the cruise, Markland and Danny were our best buds.

Up on the Boardwalk on Deck 6 Aft, there were restaurants that reflected that feeling of being near the sea in Jersey. Johnny Rockets was there. Though it was not part of the complementary plan during lunch and dinner, the restaurant served complementary breakfasts.

Sausages, potatoes, English muffins,
scrambled eggs
We had one breakfast at Johnny's. Of course, I opted for the carnivore's special. During my entire trip on the ship, I never opted for pancakes or waffles for some reason. I guess I needed a lot of protein to walk aimlessly all over The Oasis.

If you can identify every item on my dish,
you will have my eternal respect.
Buffets anywhere, whether they be on a massive cruise ship or definitively based in a landlocked restaurant, are always a hit-and-miss affair. The Oasis of the Seas was no different. We found that the Windjammer on the top deck had the overall best all-you-can-eat fare so we often had our lunches there. Even then, individual items hit our fancy more than others. My personal favorites were the mashed potatoes, the weiner schnitzel and the hamburgers. Desserts were OK but not spectacular.

The Windjammer overlooking Nassau
During the times that we were at port at Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maartens, the Windjammer wasn't too crowded but once we were on a purely cruising day, we made sure that we got there between 11:30 and 11:45. Luckily, there was a screen which showed crowd levels at the various restaurants onboard. Still, each time we got to the Windjammer, we could always find a table to seat all 6 of us. It's truly a huge restaurant.

In the middle of our cruise, the family decided to have one dinner at a specialty restaurant, so we chose the Japanese place, IZUMI, which was right next to the Windjammer. One of the stateroom videos showed the sushi chef presenting how to make the house favorite of Salmon Lovers' Roll. IZUMI was a bit more of an Asian fusion type of restaurant than a truly authentic place that I used to find in the wilds of Shinjuku and Asakusa.

Salmon Lovers' Platter
That is indeed the Salmon Lovers' Roll that was so lovingly made on the video. Just had to try it. Raw salmon, avocado and mayo! In back is the sashimi platter that we had also ordered.

I also had the sukiyaki nabe for dinner. Pretty hefty stuff, especially since the sukiyaki beef which is usually pretty thinly sliced was basically mini-steaks in terms of thickness. With dessert, I was one pretty stuffed fellow....not something that one can usually say after a meal at a Japanese restaurant.

IZUMI did have a great view of us launching from St. Thomas during dusk.

Finally, there were the smaller places like The Cupcake Cupboard peppered liberally along the Promenade. Here's my niece taking her sweet time making a decision on her cupcake. This was also a specialty place in that payment is necessary. It was so easy to find something to nosh onboard that gaining weight was an inevitability.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oasis of the Seas, Part 1

Sunday April 29, 9:54 p.m.

Well, I'm back! Got back from a 1-week Caribbean cruise on board The Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship on the planet (although technically her sister ship The Allure of the Seas is 2 inches longer...but I'm not gonna get into that).

This was a family event that was nearly a year in the making. Soon after I'd returned to Japan last year, my mother phoned me up to say that a cruise was in the planning with my sister-in-law spearheading the event. It kinda felt like The Olympics...all this planning with the final execution being last week and now it's all over.

Before I get too introspective, though, let's get into the overall trip. Last Saturday, my family got together at Pearson Airport. We had to take the Air Canada Toronto-Ft. Lauderdale circuit. Both going there and coming back had its trials and tribulations. Getting there involved one move to another airplane because of a technical problem which was enervating and frustrating, but in defense of the currently beleaguered Air Canada, this is pretty much the sign of the times anywhere in the airline industry. Just glad that our cruise liner didn't have to launch until 5 p.m.

My parents are decade-long cruise veterans but for myself and my brother's family, it was our first adventure on a cruise ship. Basically our exposure to cruising had been limited to reruns of "The Love Boat"and perhaps "Titanic"(believe me, the irony that I would be boarding the largest cruise ship on Earth in the centennial year of the sinking of the world's largest cruise ship of that time was not lost on me).

To say that The Oasis of the Seas was a ship would be kinda like saying Godzilla is a lizard with a thyroid condition. Boarding directly onto the main Promenade Deck (5) was entering the idealized main street of a small town. Basically, the ship was designed to encapsulate chunks of Americana. The Promenade is Disneyland with stylized cafes and shops siding along the weaving center road which links the fore Opal Theater and the aft Boardwalk.

A few decks up on 8 was the smaller tony Central Park which had plenty of greenery and benches. Although a lot of the restaurants' fare onboard is complementary, there are a couple of  restaurants which require reservations and a fully-charged credit card. Of course, even further upwards are the more sporting decks such as pools and solarium and mini-golf...and even a zipline.

Pretty much once The Oasis of the Seas set off at 5 p.m., I felt as if we had all entered a different country of sorts. As my niece so precociously put it, we were in "No Country". We all had to go through another round of security checks (although we were spared the stripping of shoes and belts). But once we were all onboard, it was a rarefied atmosphere of strangely friendlier service and copious amounts of food. It was further enhanced by the epic size of the vessel and the Disneyland effect. The passengers also seemed a bit more narcotized than usual. There's something about being on a gigantic ship in the middle of a large ocean that could make people gain this somewhat Tahiti Syndrome.

Anyways, I'll go further into my weeklong cruise over the next couple of days.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Off I Go

Friday April 20, 9:56 p.m.

From tomorrow, I'll be going on a journey of sorts with the family. Perhaps it'll give me a chance at some relaxation, some peace of mind, some time to think about the past few months.

My depression wafted over me again for most of the day. It just comes in and out like a tsunami. I hope that this trip gives me something.

It hasn't been easy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Starbucks & The Mongolian Grill

courtesy of tebpp
 Thursday April 19, 1:51 p.m.

Got to get out for most of the day yesterday. First, went down to Christie Station and walked up north to Dupont where a Starbucks was housed inside a former old bank building. Made for a nice, interesting interior. I had their cheese & sausage muffin, which was a decidedly mediocre affair; too bad for that price. $8.02 with the tall latte. Last time I ever try that combination. I could get a fine hamburger & fries with gravy and a Coke from a U of T food truck for a twonie less.

courtesy of gdquerubin
of Flickr
Shard came by at around 11. Not too much about business but we had a good 3 hours gabbing about movies, music and the like. Starbucks may be a bit expensive and not serve the tastiest of savory fare, but it is conducive for good kaffeeklatsching.

At about 2, Shard went off north to pick up his kid and I walked east along Dupont. The neighbourhood has got that small town/inner city look. I saw a bit of the tops of Casa Loma as I walked across....I have to visit that place again someday. I made a turn down St. George, which was getting some major repair work done to the pavement, so I had to breathe in some dust during my walk to the station. I noticed quite a few institutes of religious learning on the way as well as some obviously well-to-do fraternities and sororities. It was a good walk since the weather was cool and bright.

I was planning to do a loop down the University Line and back up Yonge when I heard the announcement that there was a major delay (what else is new?) due to smoke in Osgoode Station. So I hopped on the Bloor Line a couple of stops to Bloor-Yonge where I found out Rosedale Station had its own issues with someone who had apparently jumped onto the tracks. So, there was another 5-10 minute delay while that got sorted out. It did, and the subway got moving. When we hit Rosedale, there weren't any nauseated commuters on the platform and the subway did get underway after only a few minutes, so I figured it hadn't been a suicide. And usually, The Egg once told me that there was a special code for that sort of tragedy that gets over the TTC speakers.

Took the Eglinton Bus over to Don Mills and walked the rest of the way up to my next destination which was the Mongolian Grill. But getting there an hour early, I just walked up a bit further into what was once my hangout area for about 4 years when I was a high school student at Don Mills Collegiate Institute back in the 80s. A few of us used to hit Don Mills Centre during the lunch period or when we just wanted to skip class to tackle the video games of the day such as Pac-Man and Defender at the bowling alley. DMC had the same sort of configuration as any regular mall with one or two major department stores with a food court and all sorts of smaller stores like a Coles in between. I was surprised to see that sometime in the last 30 years, it had become this man-made mini-village of fashion. Just a lot of trendy emporia attached to each other like neighbourhood blocks with cool restaurants spritzed liberally all over. Definitely not for teens although I saw a couple of groups of loud kids sitting in the outdoor seating areas. Most likely DMCI.

Got back to the Mongolian Grill about 15 minutes before The Entrepreneur got there. I was the first one inside. Except for one staffer, I wouldn't say that the service was particularly all that welcoming but again I never expected all that much from people working at a buffet place.
The Entrepreneur got in at about 5:30 and we spent a good couple of hours touching base on all sorts of things. He's been really busy with his own business and of course, there has been the issue of him being a father for a couple of years now. We also spoke on movies which made me wonder if I could ever get him and Shard to meet up with me all together someday. But with most everyone being family folk now, that could be quite the challenge, especially with a lot of them living out in the far-flung areas of the GTA.

As for the food, it was far better than the stuff I had gotten at the Mandarin back in February. The Mongolian Grill also has that gimmick where you stuff a bowl with meat, veggies, noodles and your choice of sauce and give the whole mess to a chef who fries it up on a huge cylindrical steel drum. Not sure how authentically Mongolian it is (I may have to ask a couple of sumo wrestlers), but it made for a good course. Of course, the dessert table had that chocolate fountain that so many Japanese women are always dying to try.

My old buddy was kind enough to give me a lift home although he was running a bit late to get back to Milton. When we approached the intersection of Don Mills and Eglinton, which is supposed to be the worst intersection in Canada to drive through, he told me how he used to love cars and driving but that driving in Toronto had pretty much leached that out of him. I couldn't blame his growing dispassion since probably the great majority of Torontonians share the same opinion. Strangely, a couple of cop cars suddenly came out of the woodwork and pulled a U-turn to chase down a malfeasant car to stress our point.

It was good to have seen Shard and The Entrepreneur again. Would be nice to meet up once more, but it will probably be at least a month.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark (1929-2012)

courtesy of Clotho98
of Flickr
Thursday April 19, 1:53 a.m.

Heard about the passing of Dick Clark yesterday. I didn't know him so much from his original show, "American Bandstand", but he was a fixture on my TV set due to "The $10,000 Pyramid" and the bloopers show he did with the late Ed McMahon. But of course, we all knew him from "New Year's Rockin' Eve".

He had that natural DJ-esque delivery which made him an ideal host for a game show, and for the longest time, he never seemed to age until the last decade. When it comes to music, he was probably one of the luckiest guys on the planet after introducing literally generations of singers to generations of fans. In that way, he was the ultimate arbiter of pop culture.

He lived a good long life but he will still be missed.

Foodie and Old Friends Day

Wednesday April 18, 8:57 a.m.

Nice morning and crisp temps. It's gonna be a rare full day out for me. I'm meeting up with Shard near his neck of the woods for that monthly coffee at a Starbucks. Then, later on today I'm gonna see my other old friend, The Entrepreneur, for the first time since the Holidays. Like CG, he's been extremely busy with his own projects, but has finally gotten a bit of free time. Plus, his client today is in the Don Mills area, so it's easier for us to meet for dinner.

I even got a call from The Wild Guy yesterday. We'll have to meet up in a couple of weeks, especially since he and his family are seriously thinking about moving out to Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Otsukaresama, Discovery

courtesy of Oregon Hiker
of Flickr
Tuesday April 17, 12:11 p.m.

Saw the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery this morning. Of course, CNN was right there when it landed at Dulles International.

I was still too young to remember the Apollo missions. I think I was barely four when the first moon landing took place in 1969 but I can't remember anything from that. The earliest I can remember is Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz linkups. But the shuttles I do remember. Right from when the first training shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in front of most of the cast from the original "Star Trek"series (interesting how Shatner wasn't there....wonder if they hated him back then, too.) and up to the very first launch of the Columbia in 1981. I distinctly remember waking up on the morning of April 12, and listening to ABC's Frank Reynolds, giddy as a boy on Xmas morning and just a couple of weeks after melting down on live TV during the Reagan assassination attempt, intoning the word "Go!"as the Columbia finally got off the ground.

Of course, the Columbia and the Challenger are gone now. But it was poignant seeing the oldest intact shuttle, Discovery, given its final ride to Washington for eternal display at the Smithsonian after 30 years of shuttle service. And I think there was the additional feeling of full circle since our very first views of a shuttle in the air was when we saw Enterprise piggybacking that 747. Our final view of Discovery was the same.

"Otsukaresama"is a daily expression used in Japan when someone leaves the office for the day. It literally means "You worked hard". It is basically the company conversational goodbye, but the term is still used especially when someone really did put the extra effort into something. I think both NASA and the remaining shuttles deserve that final greeting.

My only wish is that when the United States gets back into space exploration again, the next actual ship is called the Enterprise.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chestnut and Hot Dogs

Monday April 16, 1:37 p.m.

About once a week, I cook up a couple of hot dogs for lunch. Those are them to the right of you. I fry 'em dark and have them on toasted buns with relish, mustard and cheese. Back in my U of T days, I used to hang out at the International Student Centre where Vera's Kitchen always served a fine mess of Chili Dogs. Because I became a regular at the ISC, Vera used to give me a fair mountain of chili. Underneath all that magma were the dogs. I still have the odd Chili Combo over at Tim Hortons but I think I would put my stomach into severe gastrointestinal distress if I were to do the Chili Dog thing now.

Had my two for the week today, and strangely enough while I was reading leisurely at the local library this morning, I read an old beat-up July 2011 issue of "Vanity Fair"which had a small 1-page article about Joey Chestnut, the reigning hot dog-eating champion of the world. He's the fellow who can down about a few dozen furters in about 10 minutes flat. And he's also quite the multi-tasker: he has won a few other competitive eating contests such as burgers and asparagus spears. Reading the article, it's pretty clear that he's got quite the swagger and the self-assuredness of a champion, although he seems to come off as being quite a fairly normal guy..for a fellow who makes a living at being a human fast food compactor. Chestnut also went into some of his techniques for winning, one of which I wished I hadn't read a few hours before lunch.

Still, he sounds like a fellow that I could have a beer or two (or one thousand, in his case) with at the local pub. That's more than can be said for the fellow who Chestnut has defeated, the former champion from Japan, Takeru Kobayashi. He'd had his own string of championships at the annual 4th of July hot dog eating contest before finally getting dethroned by Chestnut a few years ago. What was kinda freaky about this fellow was that he looked like one of those slacker otaku...scraggly hair on top of a frame that a T-shirt could swallow up. And yet, this guy could shovel down a small bakery's worth of buns and a slaughterhouse's worth of beef franks. And unlike Chestnut, he never struck me as being the most convivial fellow. And there has been talk that he's gotten a bit more cracked now that's he's been defeated multiple times.

Kobayashi also never really hit it big with the media in his own country. Japan adores its athletes to a near-annoying degree and absolutely swoons when one of its own entertainers gets a rare Oscar nomination like Ken Watanabe. And anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time knows that television is just chock-filled with programs on food to elevate food porn to a national religion. And yet, Kobayashi is NOT a national hero. Even during his winning days, perhaps he may have gotten a bit of exposure on the news but I don't ever recall him being swamped at Narita Airport when he returned home (I'd heard that he had residency in America) or being interviewed on any of the morning shows. Again, he's not the most outgoing fellow.

To add insult to injury, Nathan's, the hot dog emporium that has sponsored the hot dog contest in New York City, had made a go of it in Tokyo for some years. Being a hot dog buff and missing my franks during my long years in Japan, I considered myself a fairly regular customer at its 3 or 4 branches in Tokyo. But they all quietly disappeared into the ethos along with Cinnabons and a number of other foreign brands that for whatever reason didn't make it. I guess hot dogs are nowhere near the fast food fave that hamburgers are in The Big Sushi.

Well, I do miss my sushi, unaju and ramen. But still, it's nice to come back home to hot dogs on a regular basis.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fish & Chip Guy

Saturday April 14, 4:54 p.m.

Pretty nice start to the weekend. Cloudy, cool but not rainy. It would be the usual day for me to just cocoon, but I actually went down to The Olde York on Laird, south of Eglinton to meet up with my old friend, Chip Guy (I was using code names for my students and friends back in my former blog...a custom that I will continue to use for most of them) and most of his family. I hadn't seen them in about a year since we couldn't get together over the Holidays.

Both CG and his wife have been very busy. CG has his new job and new house in Oakville while his wife is busy taking care of the household and kids while starting her own side project. Hectic but nice situation to be in. We had a good talk on blogging and any new financial opportunities connected with them...something that we couldn't imagine as recently as a decade ago. His wife also  informed me of some local Japanese-Canadian media which could be interesting in terms of my music blog. So, I connected with their Twitter feeds.

The Olde York will probably be the fish n' chip place that I would recommend any visitors to try. It's a place with a pub-like atmosphere but without the flatpanel televisions to distract anyone from the food and drink. As well, it's located in an industrial/commercial nexus about 10 minutes walk south of the Eglinton/Laird bus stop, so a bit unusual, but the fare there is such that people don't care...if they make the f n' c, they will come. Heck, CG and his clan came all the way in from Oakville!

I got there about 20 minutes early, but the staff were very welcoming and I got to drink a Coke and read "Russia House" until CG and the family arrived. I had the creamy Clam Chowder...almost a meal in itself. But I did order my Cod and Chips; there was also the Scottish Meat Pie but it'll be awfully hard for me to switch from the dish du guerre. Good stuff but I was a tad disappointed that I only got one fish (albeit it was quite a big piece) since I remember getting two pieces when I had gone there with The Anime Court a year ago, but I guess economics determined that decision. However, getting the Apple Crisp A La Mode stuffed me up very well. CG went for the Deep-Fried Mars Bar....good golly, I'm a foodie but even I have to take pause at this trend.

The two hours sped by very quickly through our talk. Fastest 2 hours and 15 minutes I've ever experienced.

Did find out from CG what film they were making down on Elizabeth St. the other day. It's supposed to be a Robert Rodriguez action film called "Pacific Rim". No idea on the casting but just knowing the director is a good sign for me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Nightfly

courtesy of VeryDistorted
at Flickr
Friday April 13, 3:17 p.m.

Over the decades, I've collected a small rental shop's worth of discs. Most of them I hear perhaps once a year or even once a decade. But for Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly", I give it a listen a few times a year. I used to remember listening to "I.G.Y."on the radio as well as "New Frontiers". The former song just struck me as being this weirdly arranged tune sung by a fellow who sounded as if he were being strangled every few verses. Of course, the album has become an icon, going into its 30th anniversary this year, and its cover, at least for those who used to buy LPs and CDs, is amongst one of the most recognized.

But I only finally purchased the album just a little over a decade ago when one of my fellow teachers, who used to be a keyboardist for a band in California, kindly lent me the disc. As I said, I only knew the songs that had been released as singles. But though I didn't immediately catch onto all of the songs (with the exception of "Maxine"which is an urban ballad classic), it was good enough for me to get my own copy. Pretty soon, after a few listens on the stereo, I grew to appreciate "Green Flower Street" and the title track. And just over the last few years, I've finally gotten to enjoy the last few tracks such as "The Goodbye Look".

Through the Net, I've read about what a masterpiece "The Nightfly"is. I've read it on Wiki, which led me to some other online reviews, and the authors and commenters have been absolutely effusive in their praise of Donald Fagen's lyrical mastery. Of course, sound engineers have called "I.G.Y."the song to test any equipment out. However, I didn't buy or repeatedly listen to "The Nightfly"because it's a masterpiece. Frankly, I wouldn't know or appreciate or recognize a masterpiece if I saw one. I can only recognize masterpieces because experts or the media have told me they are so. "The Mona Lisa is a masterpiece!" "Rodin's 'David' is a masterpiece!" OK, Mona and David, you are masterpieces. Congratulations.

Nope, I bought "The Nightfly" simply because it sounds good. I'm not a lyrics man by any means. Some of the expert reviewers spoke of how Fagen lyrically managed to make himself sound tough and tender through some of the lines in "Maxine", especially focusing on one line. I can't remember that line or all that many of the lyrics, to be honest with you. What makes it a great ballad for me is the arrangement, the jazziness, Fagen's voice placed alongside it, and that saxophone.

However, I can say that after hundreds of listenings to it over the 3 decades, I do remember a lot of the words from "I.G.Y."and Fagen's somewhat satirical tribute to the Kennedyesque American's vision of a utopian future. Heck of a song to try to sing at karaoke, though.

Un, Dupe, Talk and Kyoto Deaths, Part 2

Friday April 13, 9:49 a.m.

Well, I was doing my usual post-dinner doze off in front of the TV last night...that fine North American pastime...when things got hopping between 7 and 8. North Korea finally decided to try out that toy of theirs. And just like any bumbling, accident-prone kid with a toy rocket, it broke one minute into playtime. But, boy did the media go nuts...just for a potential Broken Arrow. I can only imagine how they would've reacted if it did stray over Japanese or Philippine airspace. The Japanese announcers were breathless with breaking news as they seemed to get a piece of paper handed to them once every 10 seconds.

But the most interesting thing happened some hours afterwards. I'm not an expert North Korea watcher by any means, but my usual instinct was to assume that the operatic North Korean newsreading mouthpieces would just blatantly hail the success of their launch of their "satellite". Alternatively, the announcers would blame the Americans, NATO, or a seagull from Hell for downing the missile. However, instead, there was a terse announcement by the news diva that the missile launch had not been a success and that there would be an investigation into the causes.

Well, the international media, the international intelligence agencies and probably any organization with capital letters or "Think Tank" in their names are probably going full throttle in analyzing this rather unexpected admission of failure. Obviously, it's way way too early to start searching for the Korean linguistic equivalents of "glasnost" and "perestroika", but it's interesting that North Korea hasn't yet put any spin or out-and-out lied about this disaster. There has been no post-event press conference, mind you, but the international press corps are apparently still hanging about in Pyongyang....I would've thought that once the failure of the launch was made known, the journalists would've been trucked out and thrown across the DMZ with all due haste.

Still, this is a (government-controlled) media disaster for Kim Jong Un and his regime. Inviting international press all the way to the launch pad on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, only to have things literally collapse. I wonder if last night may be remembered in even fuller context in the years to come.

As Admiral Kirk said in "Star Trek II": "This is damn peculiar."

Now, as for the follow-up in that case involving the minivan which plowed into over a dozen pedestrians in downtown Kyoto a couple of days ago, police are now giving heavier credence to the theory that the driver, who had been diagnosed with an epilepsy-like condition, may have actually been conscious during the incident. According to additional eyewitnesses, the minivan apparently had done things like braking and turning during the killing spree. So, now, despite the fact that the main suspect is dead, police are currently looking at the premeditated murder angle. Still, these are eyewitness accounts along with a speeding minivan at a very chaotic series of moments, so the foundation is still pretty shaky.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kyoto Deaths

NHK started its broadcast this morning with a horrific car crash in the Gion district of Kyoto, Thursday morning JST. 16 people were mowed down by a minivan in the main intersection before crashing into a light pole. Half of the people are now dead, including the driver.

At first, I'd thought it was a return to one of those murderous killing sprees that had affected the nation a few years ago. Thoughts of the Akihabara Massacre returned to my mind. But it looks like it was a case of family desperation and tragic happenstance. In the report, the term "tenkan" came up repeatedly, so I looked it up in the translation dictionary. Found out it stands for epilepsy. The dead driver had "an epilepsy-like condition". I've been hearing reports that the driver had lost consciousness...which might strike me more as being narcolepsy. He may have literally fallen asleep at the wheel.

Apparently, his medical condition was known to authorities at a hospital. A doctor doing the press conference was almost in tears as he had implored the young man not to drive. But the man probably didn't heed his advice and didn't write down his medical condition when applying for his current job, a delivery driver. His family obviously knew of his condition since they admitted as much in front of the throng of reporters at their house. Was it a case of family pride that he didn't want to be seen as unemployable? At another press conference, this time held by what seemed to be a national association representing epileptics, the speaker asked everyone not to discriminate based on the disease which might explain but not excuse the coverup by the young man.

In any case, the young man's family will now have to bear the social stigma of now knowing that one of their members has destroyed at least 8 other families.

Shifting Schedules

Thursday April 12, 1:01 p.m.

I haven't had the most top-heavy of social schedules over the past few months. Money is one reason I haven't actively called on people for that lunch, dinner or coffee. It's always been the other way around for which I will never decline, bar other commitments. I was supposed to meet Mr. TOEFL, my old student back in Tokyo, for lunch this Saturday but he's been called to duty back in Guelph. However, as soon as I sent my regrets over to him, my even older friend, CG, asked me if I were available for the same time on the same day. I haven't seen him and his family since I got back, so it'll be good meeting him at The Olde York Fish N' Chips place this weekend.

Then, I've got that extremely busy president for whom I may be blogging for dough over the coming months. She had been thinking about seeing me for a face-to-face but it looks like her projects are  firmly tying her to the desk, so that may be next Tuesday. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to even see Shard one more time before I head off on vacation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1000 Awesome Things

Wednesday April 11, 10:23 a.m.

I read an article in the Star yesterday after getting home from another enh day of sub teaching. It was about Neil Pasricha's impending end to his "1000 Awesome Things" blog. Had never heard of it until I saw it in the article. Pasricha started it just to get himself out of a bad funk in his life about 4 years ago; in it, he blogged down an amazing wonderful universal thing to be grateful for each and every day.

Kudos to him. He's gotten tens of thousands of followers. And although he wouldn't allow advertising on the blog itself, he hasn't missed the financial winfalls...he's gotten book deals and speaking engagements. It's something that any blogger would be very happy for. And it was based on a whim to cheer himself up. I would love to convert my music blog into some cold hard cash but frankly my genre is simply way too niche.


Wednesday April 18, 9:41 a.m.

First off, you may have noticed not as many photos are going up in my last number of entries. Well, I got that dreaded message from Rogers....the provider service equivalent of the 2-minute warning in football when you're on the losing end of things. A few days ago, Rogers sent me the automatic message that I'd used up 75% of my bandwidth. In my 2 months with regular Internet access, that's the first time I got the word...most likely because of that abortive attempt at Skype group communications a couple of weeks ago with a potential employer....probably ate up my bandwidth like a buffet.

Anyways, I was watching the 9 p.m. news on NHK this morning, as I've usually done since I got back home. And NHK once again, over the past couple of days, confirmed what its top priority news items will always be. More than a potential North Korean missile launch, more than the latest machinations in Nagatacho, more than another psycho assault or killing....if the news item is either a major quake or the latest feat by an expat Japanese athlete, then it gets the automatic lead for anything from 5 to 15 minutes.

I can certainly understand the earthquakes. Earlier this morning, there was a major M8.7 tremor in the Indonesia area which sparked fears of tsunami. As Japan and quakes go hand in hand, you can bet that journalists and other citizens alike were at the very least curious about the aftermath. And yes, NHK led with that story for the first quarter of their broadcast, and then the second quarter was pretty much filled about the impending North Korean missile launch. As my former journalist English student once told me, if there is a quake in Japan which measures more than Shindo 5, every reporter will drop whatever they are covering and report to the TV studios immediately.

I'm a bit more jaded when it comes to Japanese news covering expat sports stars, though. It seems that Japanese broadcast least...may have a bit of an inferiority complex. Or it may be acting like that obnoxious father with that SONY Handicam who just has to scream his encouragement to his kid during a Sports Day event. Case in point: the day before, NHK spent its first 15 minutes of precious news coverage on Yu Darvish, the bad boy prince/baseball pitcher in his Major League debut as a Texas Ranger. 2 or 3 onscreen talking heads gushed about the fact that Darvish has made it big in America....despite the fact that Japanese have been a regular presence on American baseball fields for almost 2 decades and despite the fact that Darvish was just very lucky that he managed to eke out a win after allowing a number of runs on just a handful of pitches early in the game....I'm sure some of the folks in the stands were experiencing Matsuzaka Sticker Shock. Even Darvish rebuffed a fan's complimentary tweet after the game by mildly admonishing the dude (or dudette) for saying nice things about that pitching performance. Not particularly an auspicious start. But then again, Japanese broadcast journalism seems to be more than satisfied enough knowing that one of their stars is working in a foreign constellation. NHK and the other stations are not interested in Major League Baseball per se; Japanese baseball keeps them busy enough. They always loved Ichiro getting those hits and fielding those plays despite the Mariners losing all the time. Ichiro could've been playing for the Cubs, and there would've been dozens of Japanese reporters cramming the stadium...just and only for him.

A lot more pressing news than a gangly Iranian-Japanese pitcher's mediocre debut performance to start off a prime time broacast.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Welcome Back to Loser City! Come and Join Us!

Tuesday April 10, 10:21 p.m.

Well, a blue-and-white team lost horribly to a cascade of boos and derisive cries last night. The big problem was that it wasn't the Leafs...they slunk out last Saturday. Nope, these were the Blue Jays in their home opener, for heaven's sakes! After winning their first two games in extra-inning thrillers, the Jays were shot down in their last game in Cleveland in a heartbreaker 3rd game, and just bollixed up at SkyDome last night (yup, I categorically refuse to refer to the stadium as the Rogers Centre) in the 9th inning. The goat was a relief pitcher by the name of Santos. The only relief he provided was the relief on his face after moping out like Charlie Brown. There were 50,000 Lucy Van Pelts vocally raining their derision on him. Perhaps, it was pretty harsh in just their 4th game, but after suffering from a collapse like no other with the Leafs, and with the Raptors doing their usual ugly worst, I guess Torontonians have all become Howard Beale from "Network", and have gone to their proverbial windows and have started screaming "I AM AS MAD AS HELL, AND I AM NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!"Understandable. The beer probably helped, though.

As for the Leafs, it was a "Good Cop-Bad Cop"day to wrap up things with the media. The Leafs organization took out a page in every major newspaper in the GTA and gave an official apology. Then, Brian Burke came out to have one of his old speak-and-rants with the amassed reporters. I was viewing the reaction to the apology. Torontonians reacted unsurprisingly icily, and a professor remarked that the apology was a wrong-headed move which made the Leafs look even weaker. I don't blame the fans for their reaction but I think the professor has spent too much time on the Klingon homeworld. After 7 years of non-playoff appearances, something tangible had to be done and the apology was the only quiver left. I'm sure those millionaries that make up that sorry bunch of hockey players are probably relieved that it was done that way instead of having reporters pull a tribute to Mike Wallace and force apologies from each and every one of them.

Toronto to Tokyo?

 Tuesday April 10, 10:06 p.m.

I had a couple of days substitute teaching downtown. When I turned the corner onto Elizabeth Street in the oldest Chinatown in Toronto in the downtown district, I had a literal  deja vu of sorts...saw a whole ton of kanji, hiragana and katakana all over the place. And the focus seems to be on this rather oddly-named faux-elementary school known as Banjogawa.
 Obviously, they were filming some sort of movie here...Toronto isn't called Hollywood North for nothing. Elizabeth Street was made up to look like a big Japanese city...presumably Tokyo. It was just the crew during the daytime. The stars truly did come out only at night!
That sign on the right there says "Usagi Owashi"....say what? Usagi means "rabbits"in Japanese, but I have no idea what the Owashi is referring to. It's the linguistic version of putting fat guys into puffy loincloths on American music videos and calling them sumo wrestlers.

Cars were props, too. The front end had the usual Ontario license plates but it was obvious that the back end was going to be filmed. That is a Tama plate. There is some sort of cellphone bar code beside the numbers. Even the real Tokyo hasn't gotten quite that progressive.

But you can see all that ash on the car and on the street. Methinks that this is gonna be some sort of disaster movie involving volcanoes. Overall, I find it intriguing that they would film Toronto as Tokyo. Usually, the farthest they've gone is New York City.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A good Friday

Sunday April 8, 8:55 a.m.

All of us went to church on Friday after being invited by my sister-in-law. It was a 90-minute service in which the guest speaker was very animated and entertaining, though not to the level of a high-rising televangelist. Still, it was religion which meant that 90 minutes had me dozing off at points. Unfortunately, I was caught literally napping by my niece who dutifully told her mother; felt bad about that but most likely my sister-in-law simply told her daughter, "Let's pray for him." I kinda understand now the dynamic between Sheldon Cooper and his mother.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, I always feel like an interloper since I will treat any sort of sermon as an observational exercise of organized religion. The main pastor was gladhanding everyone in the room, and even gave all of my family a verbal (and in my case, a literal) slap on the back and spoke a few words of Chinese although we are Japanese. My brother shrugged and smirked at me; I just remarked how closely he resembled Ned Flanders.

As seems to be the case with every service I've attended since meeting my sister-in-law, there has always been a concerted effort to attract new members to the church. And last Friday, there was even a short video of a fellow who had been an atheist but has now turned to the Word of God. He spoke about how lost he had felt during his dark days of atheism before feeling better when he saw the Light. Perhaps irrationally, I had half-expected my sister-in-law to turn to me with a facial expression that said, "See?"

Ah...nope. I didn't see. Still don't. If that video fellow has felt better because he decided to believe in a deity, that's fine with him. I just don't really correlate the two. I can't say I'm a particularly happy person but am I going to seek religion despite my non-belief just so that I can be happy? Too much of a leap. And I've just seen too many bad things happen, supposedly under "God's watch", to ever believe in a deity.

Do I have faith? Not much. But I have faith in family. My parents have supported me during this time of transition without griping (at least not too much griping), and if my sister-in-law invites me to a church service, I will go because she is family and it is important to her. Plus, my niece wishes it, too.

It was a good Friday, though. Got to get out with the whole family. And had a nice dim sum afterwards.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The One That Got Away

Saturday April 7, 4:09 p.m.

Back on Monday, I had a chance to walk through the trendifying area of King West downtown for a few hours. And seeing that there was a fish n' chips place, I decided on that as my lunch venue. Back in Japan, although I knew that Tokyo was a fine place for foodies, fish n' chips was still a work in progress over there. Not quite the stuff I knew and loved as a lifelong Torontonian. So, I went inside "The One That Got Away".

I got there a bit on the early side. I mean, the place opens at 11, but even getting there at 11:20, I was the only one there for a good 30 minutes before the lunch crowd finally came in. I ordered up the Haddock N' Chips. Good batter/fish ratio with creamy tartar sauce. And the fries were just like the fries I used to know in that fish n' chip place in my old neighbourhood of St. James Town. Although I had the ketchup and lemon there, I swiped a bottle of vinegar from the front windowsill to complete the dish.
It was a glorious day on Monday. As the place was empty during that time, I felt it had that Sunday morning cafe feel to it. Of course, a half-hour after this picture was taken, the place got filled up pretty quickly.

The Haddock N' Chips cost just under $9, so I'm kinda considering getting the Seafood Plate next time I'm there. Thinking of bringing fellow foodie Shard with me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Jays Get Into the Record Books!

courtesy of Bob Hahn
of Flickr
Thursday April 5, 11:54 p.m.

Well, the Jays were just blowing out the competition in the Grapefruit League this Spring, and a number of the players were getting downright cocky that they were ready to kick some Major League butt...pretty risky thing to say considering that they hadn't been in the playoffs since that amazing 1993, and especially with a Toronto fan base very sore at the Maple Leafs.

Then, today in Cleveland on Opening Day, the Blue Jays pull off a magic trick for the ages. They're losing 4-1 to the Indians when they claw back to not only tie the Tribe but finally win 7-4! Not only that but the Jays and Indians collaborate to create the longest Opening Day game in Major League history...16 innings!

Just one official game in, and the Jays have already created some major watercooler talk....too bad, tomorrow is a statutory holiday! Well, maybe the churchgoers will be talking it up after the service.

Back to School

Thursday April 5, 5:41 p.m.

Looks like I got drafted again by my conversation school as a substitute after 2 months of no contact from them. Frankly, I had thought I was let go. My three days back in February were not particularly all that fun. But I got a call a couple of days ago from another director there and asked me if I could sub for one teacher next Monday and Tuesday.

I went down to the school today and had a powwow with the regular teacher about what is to be taught. It'll be the Passive old friend of mine from my Japan days.

Although it'll be nice to get some money again, I do wonder a bit about if I'm really all that much into teaching anymore. I've devoted a fair share of my energies over the past several weeks into writing. The regular teacher told me when I'd told her about the long layover between then and now that I would have no need to worry. When the summer hits, I may be on 24-hour call. Well, now that I'm kinda geared toward writing and blogging, I'm not sure if I'm gonna be all that excited about that prospect.

I've Created a Monster!

Thursday April 5, 5:23 p.m.

It's amazing what the right niche blog can do. My sister blog on Japanese popular music of the 70s and 80s,, has accomplished in 9 short weeks of existence that my very first blog on life in Japan couldn't do in 9 years. It's already garnered over 2,500 pageviews, almost doubling the pageviews that I'd ever had on "A Canuck in Emperor Akihito's Court", and far outstripping what I've gotten for this blog, although this blog has more posts and started a few weeks earlier.

But the superburst in traffic started a few days ago when an article I'd posted a few weeks ago got attention from an otaku website by the name of The Japanese techno girl unit, Perfume, was being featured there and the author compared them to an old girl trio from the early 1970s by the name of The Candies. He or she found my article on The Candies, and suddenly Kotaku's viewers flooded into my little niche world of music. I can only hope that these folks will also take a gander at some of the other artists as well.

It's definitely been interesting where these pageviews have been originating from. Of course, the United States, Canada and Japan have been well represented but I've also been getting tapped by nations like Ecuador, Costa Rica, Sweden and India. Perhaps the tappers are nostalgic Japanese expats but they could actually be anime-swooning natives. Africa had been the only continent that hadn't made its presence felt but I finally got that pageview from Egypt a few days ago.

Now, if only I could somehow harness all this amazing worldwide interest in kayo kyoku into financial rewards...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Tuesday April 3, 12:36 p.m.

It's been whacked-out in Japan meteorologically speaking for the past several hours. What is basically Typhoon No. 1 for 2012 has been battering Honshu. The usual scenes of long commuter lineups at Shibuya Station in Tokyo, people with self-destructing umbrellas and diagonal postures, and tipped-over trucks have been filling the screens on NHK. This was something that had been foreseen a whole day in advance, with a representative of the Japan Meteorological Institute warning of transportation disruptions, and even so, people still went to work before being told to get home in the early afternoon. Such is the feeling of corporate duty.

Of course, my old subway line, The Tozai Line, which pierces through the megalopolis from the western suburbs of Tokyo to PM Noda's hometown of Funabashi, Chiba, suspended operations for the aboveground portion...which is where I lived. Basically, I would've been stranded in my neighbourhood....not a bad thing, though since I can just watch carnage from the safety of my apartment with a coffee mug in my hand. The ironclad rule is that once winds are measured going above 20 m/s....which I calculated to be 130 mph, all trains and aboveground subways shut down immediately. The winds were whipping around at 25 m/s.

A number of my Facebook friends in Japan are relating war stories right now, whilst I watch the first typhoon from the safety of my hemisphere.

Usagi Drop

I've gotten started on The Anime King's latest flash drive loaner (oh, to think long ago when we borrowed laser discs the size of pizzas) that had been lounging about in the bottom of a paper bag for several weeks while I got through "Mawaru Penguindrum".

This anime is called "Usagi Drop", or as it is translated into English, "Bunny Drop". It started out as a manga series and then got its 15 minutes of fame by not only becoming an anime series last year but it also got its live-action treatment via flavour-of-the-month child actress Mana Ashida and actor Ken'ichi Matsuyama.

Saw the pilot episode and it has that languid feeling with all the pastels, seemingly pencil-drawn animation, and slice-of-life Hayao Miyazaki-like story. The story is about a young feckless man, Daikichi, who has to race back to the family home to participate in the funeral of his grandfather who supposedly left an illegitimate child, Rin, much to the family's horror. After a couple of days of haranguing and bickering about what is to be done with the precocious Rin, an annoyed Daikichi decides to take her in on his own.

Obvious thing to say, but "Usagi Drop"(probably not a few foreign anime fans have snickered about calling it Usagi Droppings instead) is a lot more down-to-earth than "Mawaru Penguindrum". I like them both in their different ways. The opening theme song, "Sweet Drops" is sung by PUFFY, the same female duo who made a splash at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas over a decade ago (cannot believe it's approaching 20 years since they first debuted), and the ending theme is a pretty nice tune by Kasarinchu called "High, High, High"....almost like a song that The Traveling Wilburys would've tried out. It's featured in the video above.

Monday, April 2, 2012

High Winds and Tough Training

courtesy of yoshimov
of Flickr
Monday April 2, 9:58 p.m.

Now that picture on the right is of a proper typhoon hitting the Kanto. The true situation is supposedly not quite that bad, but apparently the area where I used to live is gonna be smacked with some pretty high winds today. I guess the wacky weather is also continuing over there after Tokyo basically stole our Winter. Over here, we're supposed to be having some gorgeous weather although the temps will be a lot more seasonable than what we had a couple of weeks ago.

courtesy of Iimi
of Flickr
Another interesting feature I got from NHK News tonight was about the start of the new fiscal year. Everything starts over again from April 1st in Japan: school, business and the TV season. This, of course, means that companies start training the newbies. The fresh faces from universities dress up in their  suits and head to work, preparing to be indoctrinated into their new workstyles.

NHK came across this one company based in Shizuoka Prefecture, some 2 hours by car from Tokyo out in the west. For their training, the boss had their recruits try something that comes right out of "The Amazing Race". They were split into pairs and told to hitchhike all the way from Numazu City to some hotel in Chiba their suits.

Now, hitchhiking is relatively rare in Japan when compared to the rest of the world...something about being a burden on the driver and so forth. It's simply not something that is done readily in the country. So, just imagine 1st-year company freshpersons being forced by thumb to make their way across four prefectures to keep the big boss happy. Not easy.

And in fact, they didn't do it by thumb. The whole intent of this elaborate and imaginative exercise was to force the kids (who, I assume, will be going into sales) to communicate and negotiate a way out of their transportation dilemma. One fellow was a soldier in the Self-Defense Forces who admitted that he wasn't thrilled about haggling. Another half of a duo kept approaching women because he was afraid of being chewed out by other male drivers. But in both situations, the pairs had to confront their fears and get to the hotel in Chiba. Of course, the tape was edited so the focus was just on those two pairs and just on the drivers who were kind enough to take them through various legs of the trip. So, we didn't get to see some of the more negative replies.

But it was obvious that they all made it to Chiba in the end. The one pair that was featured was the very last pair and got the booby prize....7 hours. But the president was magnanimous and gave them a hearty welcome back home. And perhaps a lesson was learned as well. And much beer was imbibed afterwards. Still, I'm not sure whether an imposed hitchhiking odyssey is still enough to prepare the young'uns for the harsh world of salesmanship in Japan.