Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

Tuesday January 1 2013, 1:10 a.m.

I'm not typing this as I decompress at the denouement of a New Year's Eve party. I'm at home in my PJs while the television is showing the rerun of the annual NHK Red-and-White Song Festival. My parents are taping the 4.75-hour extravaganza and don't know how to use the timer function on the VCR (yes, we still have that contraption). Therefore, I must stay awake until 2 a.m. when the show finally finishes up. The White (Men's) Team won....and pretty handily, I must say. The Red (Women's) Team had a few problems amongst its participants. I wouldn't say that singers like Ayumi Hamasaki and Mika Nakashima were solely responsible for their team losing, but they certainly didn't help with some wretchedly off-tune performances. My face automatically scrunched up at the aural horror unleashed upon me, and my brain wholly wished that the Japanese would invent an Auto-Tune microphone for these two if they are ever asked back. It was nice seeing Princess Princess getting a final chance on stage on their first, only, and final appearance at the festival.

Earlier today, I went out with The Wild Guy and his family to a mutual friend's house out on the West End for some lunch. Our host was nice to create a Chinese-themed meal....considering the spread she put out, it would've cost close to $40 if we'd had the same thing at a restaurant in Yokohama easily. I only had to pay with a contribution of Laura Secord.

I've been back in Canada now for a year and two weeks. It's been a transitional period although it hasn't had anything to do with any difficulty in settling back into life in the hometown. I've been quite comfortable here. However, over the last 12 months, I've seen myself shift out of teaching, something that I've done for a quarter of a century, and into translating and writing on a couple of blogs. What has kept things connected for me between Japan and Canada is social media. With sites such as Facebook, I have been able to keep pretty good contact with my old friends in Tokyo and Chiba, even though I can no longer meet them in person for the foreseeable future. Being back in Toronto, though, I've also experienced the realization that some of my old friends have become more distant due to family responsibilities and proximity, but other friends have become closer. Certainly, the Anime King is one such fellow and I have gotten a good grounding in what has been popular in the otaku field in my time back home....something that I probably wouldn't have had in the birthplace of anime itself due to the ever-present stigma. Being in a 'foreign' country has provided some measure of sanctuary. Strangely enough, the King is currently traveling in Japan right now and won't be back for a few more weeks.

Not sure what 2013 has in store for me. I can assume that translation will continue to be my new main source of income while people like Mr. Moriya and Swank will provide me with some wisps of my main professional least for a little while. I actually did a quick proofread of the latter student's application letter a couple of nights ago. She was quite appreciative of my efforts on the sudden request....I was surprised to get a far more generous deposit in my account than I warranted. One of my old friends, whom I hadn't seen in several years, said that she would try to set me up with a friend of hers. Hmmmm....I did ask to warn her friend that I was a burgeoning otaku/geek, but of course, she didn't reply to that. Well, I'll apply the same principle in this situation that I will apply to this year: Be hopeful but not expectant. Certainly when it comes to Toronto's professional sports teams, that is also a wise approach.

I hear "Auld Lang Syne" being played on the Red-and-White right now which means that things are closing down there.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holiday Outings

Friday December 28, 8:15 p.m.

The one sure thing about the Holidays, other than gaining weight, is the intense ritual of meeting up with friends and family. Did the Kinton thing on the 26th, and today I met up with Shard for lunch at the Madison Avenue Pub. Especially on a cloudy and cold day like today with all that snow on the ground, the Mad is a great place to meet for talk, beer and lunch. As usual, the two of us talked at length about movies and the writing process.

Shard brought up something that author Stephen King had written in his book about writing. Apparently, King has no love for the adverb. As an English teacher who would defend the sanctity of the Past Perfect Tense, for even an author like King to pooh-pooh a major grammatical ingredient irked me. However, I don't think it's that King wants the adverb to be banned. He just feels that the adverb is too much of a crutch for bad watered-down writing.

Case in point:   The old man with a cane walked haltingly down the street.
                          The old man with a cane shuffled down the street.

Now, if I ever do get around to writing that great Japanese-Canadian novel, I will use the adverb...but sparingly. There are plenty of amazing verbs out there, too.

The menu rather led me astray, though. I ordered my usual wings....the menu has been updated and re-worded. I saw the options for the chicken wings as "1 lb" and "2 lbs with fries". Well, I used my mental conversion meter of fajitas and thought that the one pound would be enough and order fries as the side item. My waitress seemed a bit nonplussed by my order since she thought I was making my decision based on the cost....which wasn't the case at all. As it turned out, my 1 lb of wings was smaller than what I'd ordered in the past. The 2 lbs was my normal order. Lesson learned. I may head back there next week for penance. But I did tell Shard that I would take him to Kinton next time since he has yet to try the ramen there.

And despite having taken my cold medicine before leaving the apartment this morning, regrettably, my nose was still running like a broken faucet all throughout our lunch. Luckily, Shard and I have known each other far too long to care really. Still, it was uncomfortable to have to reach for ragged Kleenex every thirty seconds for a nose that felt swollen inside.

Tomorrow will be a mega-outing. I'll be meeting my old friend from my Japan days, The Satyr, for lunch down at a Chinatown institution, Kom Jug Yuen. He's been back for the Holidays for about a week but his family lives quite a ways north of Toronto. And then later on, I'll be meeting up with Automan and his group for dinner. Apparently, earlier in the day, the group will be splitting into two with one team catching "The Hobbit" and the other team seeing "Les Miserables" at Silver City. I've already seen one and I have no interest in seeing the other, so I will be catching them after their viewings. As for "The Hobbit", the word on the street about this 48 FPS gimmick seems to be rather negative. I was OK with it but I won't be crying in my beer if it did get the hook.


courtesy of
Friday December 28, 7:46 p.m. (All photos from Flickr)

Since Jack Klugman's passing, there have been a few more departures from this mortal coil. The King of Character Actors (what the press releases have been describing him as), Charles Durning, passed away. Usually with the prolific and respected character actors, viewers will point, snap fingers and exclaim "OH! Where did I see him? What was his name again?" But with Charles Durning, a lot of times people would known him by face and name. He's played many, many roles but I will always see him as the burly cop....both bad and good.

courtesy of
I knew General H. Norman Schwarzkopf from Desert Storm, of course. And of course, the media were more than happy to give out tons of details about him. Had no idea that the man had been sick, but it's been years since I had heard anything about him. Obviously, CNN, BBC, CBC will be talking about his military achievements and how he earned his stars. But for me, I remember a story about the time he proposed to his then-girlfriend by stating plainly that she would probably never get rich marrying him but that he promised he would keep a steady roof over their heads.

courtesy of billh
And then I was surprised to hear about the reluctant father of Supermarionation, Gerry Anderson, passing away. I was never a fan of "Thunderbirds" or the other examples of marionettes playing military heroes, and supposedly he wasn't too thrilled, either. But the theme song and "Thunderbirds are GO!" are etched into my memory. "Thunderbirds" is practically a legend in Japan.
But there were also his live-action series such as "UFO" and "Space: 1999" which were also part of my childhood growing up. The former often scared the bejeebers out of me and the latter thrilled me in the pre-"Star Wars" era. And being somewhat attuned to theme songs, both of those programs' songs are still pretty fresh in my minds.

I mean, especially with the theme for "Space: 1999", there must've been some serious ganja being passed around in the scoring room to come up with that theme....even in the era of progressive rock. Brilliant! Too bad the show hasn't dated all that well.

And since it is a Friday....and in the middle of The Holidays, for that matter....why not a disco mix?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ramen on a Cold Day

Thursday December 27, 10:42 p.m.

Boxing Day is always the biggest day for those sales, and two of my dining companions were taking advantage of that fact early yesterday at Best Buy, etc. For me, it simply ain't that important. Instead, I asked around a few days back and got my two friends, The Automan and his wife, plus The Anime Bishop to come to Kinton on Baldwin St. to partake in some good ol' hearty (and heart-ripping) ramen.

Now, if you ask any ramen fanatic in Japan, and there are millions of them, he/she will say that ramen is an all-year, all-weather dish. Perhaps, but I go for the more romanticized notion that ramen was ultimately made for Winter ingestion. Ramen is still sold in the Japanese neighbourhoods via mobile carts as well as in the established restaurants. And what better way to get that Japanese flavour by partaking in a bowl of those slurpy noodles and savoury stock outside seated at a cart under that portable roof?

And so at about 11 yesterday morning, I showed up as the very first person in line at Kinton. I was a bit surprised since Kinton's reputation as one of the most popular ramen joints in town had made me think that there would already be a fairly long snake of people, but things didn't get interesting until about 11:20 when the ramen pilgrims started showing up and lining up. It almost looked like the typical scene in Sapporo at a particularly popular ramen joint. Fortunately, my buddies were prompt.

By the time Kinton opened at 11:30, it didn't take long at all for the entire place (not that the restaurant was ever all that big) to fill up to the brim....I'd probably say that the seats were filled within 5 minutes. Luckily for the four of us, we were able to get the counter seats so that we could see the cooks in action. The staff was primed and ready....before the door opened, I heard them inside doing their customary rah-rah chant for psyching themselves up for their first big day after Xmas. I've only been to Kinton twice, but I can imagine that currently, it's probably the liveliest place on Baldwin St.

The first time I went to Kinton at the end of October, I had ordered the Extra Pork Ramen with the broth set at Rich. Great stuff but I almost literally bust a gut downing that bowl. So, I played it a bit more conservatively this time around, and ordered the Shio Ramen with regular broth. One other reason was that I also wanted to try the karaage....the Japanese-style fried chicken. As you can see, it came out with a few leaves of lettuce, a wedge of lemon to spritz on the golden clumps, and a dipping sauce. Several days earlier, I'd had the karaage teishoku at Ajisen, and mentioned that the pieces there were a bit too rounded. No such problem at Kinton. Good crunch and juicy thigh meat....yep, this was about as close to the authentic karaage that I've had since I came back home to Canada. Me so happy.

The shio ramen came soon afterwards with the topping of shoulder pork, soft-boiled egg, finely chopped green onion, bean sprouts and very chopped salty pork. The broth was indeed savoury but not too salty....this wasn't a Sapporo Ichiban instant mix. The ingredients worked together to bring that salt in. This ramen plus the karaage helped to balance things out for my lunch, and drove away the cold from my bones. The hot green tea helped also in trying to break up the fat that accumulated in my body....or so I tell myself.

The Anime Bishop actually went for the big guns in the form of the Extra Pork...but with the spicy broth. He could finish it....barely. He was quite happy with it, but I'm fairly sure that he probably thought the same thing that I'd thought on my initial visit....once every couple of months is sufficient.

With tax and tip, my bill came to about $20; another reason that I won't be going to Kinton with nearly as much frequency as I used to back in Japan. As we left, there was a sizable lineup. Don't let this picture fool you, the line extended further inside like an ingrown toenail. Not sure how the folks sitting at the front end table felt, but having waiting customers breathe down your neck as you eats is also a true thing that happens at some of the smaller ramen joints in Japan.

There is a postscript to this entry, and that is the Yakitori Bar exactly at 1 Baldwin St. I believed it opened up sometime in November. There are already a few Japanese places on the street, but Kinton and the Yakitori Bar are the two specialists....just like the places back in Japan. The four of us are wondering about when to tackle this place next.

Took a look at some of the menu. The Yakitori Bar seems to follow the same hours as Kinton, although it didn't open yesterday until the evening. I have to say that I am alternately intrigued/terrified of the thought of Kimchi Poutine, but hey, that's why I'm a foodie. Gotta try new things. It might be something when The Anime King gets back from his Asia odyssey.

The weather was cold but the big snow came several hours later. Can't imagine what it must've been like on Baldwin today.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nice Quiet Christmas

Squirrels would have had a difficult time getting run over
Wednesday December 26, 8:29 p.m.

As usual, December 25 was as quiet as church mice. I took a walk for an hour outside in my neighbourhood. There was traffic but it was quite subdued, and there were patches in which I could've easily imagined I'd stepped into a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie....with very well-preserved buildings.

 It certainly says a lot about how special Xmas is when even the neighbourhood Tim Hortons is closed for the day. No double-doubles, no Timbits, no double-glazed donuts. There was indeed a hush throughout the world yesterday.

Dinner at my brother's last night indeed included the big bird with all the trimmings, including potatoes and stuffing.

But there was a Japanese component in it in the form of inari sushi. Gotta have the inari in a Japanese-Canadian Xmas dinner, doncha know?

And for dessert, there was Buche de Noel, otherwise known as the Xmas log roll cake. In Japan, it's known as the former, and has a near-fanatical following there for some reason. An Amazon Forest's worth of these logs are sold every year there, and there are cooking shows galore on TV which present how these confections are created. Of course, most viewers just like to watch it out of some vicarious thrill; most just race out and get it at the closest patisserie. Probably this, the German stollen, and the Fujiya Strawberry Shortcake are the Big 3 in terms of Xmas desserts in Japan.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jack Klugman (1922-2012)

courtesy of Gary Dunaier
from Flickr
Monday December 24, 11:26 p.m.

I was about to sign off for the night when I came across the headline that Jack Klugman had passed away. I knew that the man was well on in years, but it still kinda hit me about his death, especially so close to corny as that does sound.

Jack will always be Oscar Madison to me. I knew he'd had a career on TV, movies and stage long before the TV version of "The Odd Couple"came out and became the long-running hit on ABC. But that Noo Yawker face and voice which could show hilarious anger and a goofily adorable smile at the prissy Felix Unger (the 70s Sheldon Cooper) was a vital ingredient to that sitcom's success. I remember certain scenes with pristine clarity: when Oscar went on a sleepwalking rampage because he was trying to suppress his usual frustration at Felix, when he was trying to play the drums, when he had to deal with another frustration in the form of his slouchy secretary, Myrna Turner.

I also watched and enjoyed most, if not all, of his episodes as the famed TV medical examiner on "Quincy". Though humour did pop up in the show, sometimes his character's fiery earnestness kinda made me wish to take another viewing of his old sitcom. Certainly, SCTV's Joe Flaherty often liked to take a poke at Quincy because of that.

Having talked about "The Odd Couple", there is a "Twilight Zone" episode, "In Praise of Pip" that will always come across as one of the most poignant, throat-lumping ones in the history of that legendary series. Klugman had done a number of episodes for Rod Serling, but this one had him as a low-rent wheeler-dealer who gets in too deep to survive AND finds out that his son has been seriously injured in Vietnam. The ending is a killer. Not too many episodes of any show can get me to start the lachrymal fluid flowing, but this would be one of them.

It was good to have known ol' Jack. Hope he and Tony get together for an eternal blast.

Another Christmas

Monday December 24, 8:22 p.m.

Well, in less than 4 hours, Christmas will arrive in the Eastern Standard Time zone. Christmas Eve is firmly esconced into the Toronto firmament with the the cars having cleared out of the parking lots and Lance Brown of CTV having done his annual singing of the sports report. And we can truly thank the heavens that it is only an annual event.

Did my last-minute Xmas shopping this morning at the nearby Bay. As I was walking over, the parking lots certainly looked a whole lot fuller than usual, but the department store itself wasn't all that bad in terms of shopping. I got the presents for my parents. I was talking with one cashier, and he told me that the real panicked customers don't come in til about 2:00, and then it's open season until the closing time of 6 p.m.

Had the first of what will probably be three get-togethers over the Holidays. Yesterday, I met up with some old friends from Japan so a number of us oldtimers from U of T got together at Spring Villa up in Markham for a round of dim fact, it was probably one of the largest amounts of dim sum I've had in a long time. Boxing Day could be a get-together with a bunch of the Anime Court. I've still gotta get confirmation from the Anime Bishop about whether we will head over to Kinton for some ramen. One other member of the Court asked about dinner that night....I'm all for it. As for the King himself, he is now en route to Japan for his month's holiday in Asia. He gave me a call last night for one more chat before the big trip. Finally, on January 5th, there will be a belated New Year's party of sorts at another friend's place. Ah, did forget about one more gig on New Year's Eve for an afternoon; can't really do the nights anymore. I prefer to just stay home and watch all of the craziness on television.

Of course, tomorrow will be the usual dinner at my brother's. I've got everything wrapped up and ready to do. And I'm gonna enjoy a totally relaxing day.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Abe's Back!

of JapanVisitor
from Flickr
Saturday December 22, 10:34 p.m.

Last Sunday, Japan held its Lower House elections. I had figured that the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan would lose and the Liberal Democratic Party would come back after three years in the Opposition wilderness. I didn't figure that the win would be a landslide, but I guess the public was so fed up with the DPJ's floundering (et tu, Hatoyama) that the 50-odd percent that actually voted decided to do so with a protest vote. I say protest vote since I don't particularly see the new (old) guy as a ray of sunshine but the DPJ just couldn't do the job.

I remember when Shinzo Abe had his first run as the Prime Minister 5 years ago. Back then, he came into power after 5 years of the steadily ebbing Junichiro Koizumi. Here was a tall strapping fellow with nary a gray hair in his head (the youngest politician to become PM in the postwar period), who held hands with his wife in public (gasp) and had a couple of dogs. There was an Abe Honeymoon of sorts for a few months in the media, but it turned out that Abe merely talked the talk and not walked the walk. Pretty soon, he got mired in all the usual political mess that characterizes life in Nagatacho, including all sorts of woe befalling successive Agricultural Ministers, and within a year, he pretty much slunk out of office with a mea culpa of illness and an albatross of unpopularity. I only saw bits and pieces of his resignation speech, but he looked as gaunt as Munch's "The Scream".

Come back to 2012, and suddenly the guy who had been the dour face of the LDP for 3 years, Sadakazu Tanigaki, lost the party leadership to a resurgent Abe, who then came back in a big way by winning the election. I had thought the LDP would get the brass ring again but only with a coalition with some of the other minor parties. All he needed was the New Komeito to steamroller the DPJ into submission. I dunno....maybe he has learned the lessons to be needed to be a better leader in the five years, but I'm thinking of the phrase about leopards and their spots. Plus, I see him as a hawk which may not bode well for future relations with China and South Korea. And the second-most powerful Opposition party in the Lower House just happens to be the very right-wing Japan Restoration Party with former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara as a major player, and he's the last guy who I would ever want as a Foreign Minister, even a shadow one. Within the Japanese media, it looks like they're portraying the new rulers as ones prioritizing the economy, but the international media is painting them in terms of international relations. Not sure which one will be taking the helm. Frankly, from what I remember of Shinzo Abe in his first try at PM, I see him as the Japanese equivalent of former Canadian PM Joe Clark.....a Conservative who may once again be pulled in all directions by many LDP puppetmasters.

A Carol for Another Christmas

Saturday December 22, 7:27 p.m.

Turner Classic Movies have done it again. The channel pulled out another movie that hadn't seen the light of day publicly in almost half a century, and has aired it twice: last Saturday and today. I was just lucky that I put it on just 10 minutes into the coverage.

"A Carol for Another Christmas" is Rod Serling's 1964 modern take on "A Christmas Carol" via a television movie. Basically, it comes out as an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone", Serling's masterpiece. Even at the time, it was boasted as an all-star production about how one embittered Daniel Grudge rails for American non-interventionalism years after his son is killed in battle. And that's when the Ghosts of Christmases come in. Basically, it's a promo for the United Nations and the striving for world peace.

Considering the UN's reputation nowadays, my eyes rolled a few loops but it was interesting to see for the star power. I did mention that even at the time it was star-studded, but that didn't include some of the supporting cast who have gone on to become very familiar faces or even screen legends. There was Sterling Hayden, who I remembered as the crazed general in "Dr. Strangelove", and the shocking appearance of singer Steve Lawrence as the tell-it-like-it-is soldier Ghost of Xmas Past. And the stars just kept on rolling in: Eva Marie Saint, James Shigeta, Pat Hingle, Robert Shaw from "To Russia With Love" and "Jaws" as an almost unrecognizable Ghost of Christmas Future, Ben Gazzara, Percy Rodrigues, and the stunner....Peter Sellers as a loony leader with an American accent in a post-apocalyptic civilization. All on TV, shown just once. It was basically done as a stageplay with large sets and stage as it was done way back in the early days of television, and the sermonizing was laid on pretty thick, especially by a considerably slimmer Hingle as the gluttonous Present. And Steve Lawrence seemed to have been channeling Captain Kirk's cadence, a full 2 years before that character actually made it to screen.

Definitely an interesting take on the Scrooge tale. And it's notable that there hasn't been any videos of it on YouTube, except for the Henry Mancini theme.


Saturday December 22, 12:22 p.m.

Well, we finally got that snow. So we have a White December 22, but whether or not that can be extended to a White Xmas is debatable. And the stuff out there is more powdered sugar than a blanket. Weather Canada has officially said that the probabilities of getting a White Christmas in Toronto in the 21st-century is basically down to 33% compared to 66% back a few decades ago. So, may one-third of your Christmases be white.

 A few days ago, I got a nice little care package from my former students Shiho and Ayumi. They even themed it for the New Year's. Included in the package was a few packets of Maru-chan Seimen; I guess they meant it to be consumed on December 31st since the tradition is to eat toshikoshi soba or noodles of any sort as a way to link (figuratively through the noodles) the Old Year with the New Year. I remember one year back in Ichikawa when I stayed there for the Holidays and I made myself some of those toshikoshi noodles with a couple of huge shrimp tempura. Ended up stuffing myself to sleep during the Kohaku Utagassen.

It'll be a quiet day today....will just be blogging throughout the afternoon and then I've got Mr. Moriya's final lesson for the year tonight. Tomorrow will herald the official start of the Holiday social calendar as I meet up with some friends for possibly some dim sum downtown.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Porcetta and Karaage

 Friday December 21, 10:06 p.m.

Ah, yes, the First Day of Winter in Toronto. And indeed on schedule, it's starting to freeze and we may have about 2 cm of the white stuff by this time tomorrow. And strangely enough, we're all looking pretty hale and hearty for folks on The Last Day of Earth.

In any case, the title above doesn't refer to an Italian and Estonian crime-fighting pair. It is what I had for my food intake last Friday between the Christmas Market and "The Hobbit".
Over the past year, I'd been reading about one of Toronto's foodie fads which happened to be this barbequed pork called porcetta. Newspapers were listing restaurants which served the crackly-on-the-outside and tender-on-the-inside slab of pig, and so I was intrigued about giving it a shot myself, but didn't get the chance until I walked over to St. Lawrence Market. It's been pretty amazing over this first full year I've been back in Toronto in that I had never visited St. Lawrence in my entire life before going to Japan for nearly 2 decades, but just this past year, I've visited the market a number of times already. In any case, I decided to try out The Sausage King and ordered the Porcetta on a Bun with the works. It wasn't too crackly but then again, I had to bite through several layers of veggies so probably any sound was muffled. However, the pork was really juicy and tender and nicely spiced. The sandwich may look pretty big but I went through that sucker really quickly and if I were younger, I would've gone for another round.

Now, in between major meals, I did stop off at a Second Cup at Empress Walk since I got there a full 90 minutes before my meeting with The Anime King. Of course, being the Yuletide and all, I enjoy having my coffee, dessert and newspaper at one of the many coffee shops in T.O. Had the latte and a Linzer Cake....a somewhat dense cake with raspberry jam in there. Fit the bill quite nicely.

 Met up with The Anime King and we decided to just walk up Yonge and have dinner at Ajisen. No, not the greatest ramen in ramen-happy Toronto, although it's still above the instant stuff. But this time, instead of the noodles, I went for the karaage meal. Japanese-style fried chicken was frankly a staple during my time over in the country for many, many years. Anyone's who has read my previous blog will have seen my photos of the various karaage bento and perhaps even my odes to the ultimately unhealthy but divinely delicious dinner (or lunch) option. And since I got back, I hadn't eaten a single morsel of the stuff. Talk about going cold turkey (or chicken).
Chicken is frankly my favourite meat, so I was quite happy with dinner, although the karaage wasn't exactly like its equivalent in Japan. Karaage over there is craggier and chunkier, kinda like Tommy Lee Jones' face. Last week's karaage, my long-time-no-see dinner, was more Justin Bieber....kinda like mutant chicken nuggets. However, the karaage did come with the right sauce....Japanese kewpie mayonnaise. Yep, another reason for the dietician to tsk tsk. But I was one satisfied diner on a cold night.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Market and The Hobbit

Thursday December 20, 8:12 p.m.

Been a while. I've always wanted to take a look down here, so last Friday I took the Parliament 65 bus past my old neighbourhood of nearly 40 years ago, St. James Town, and Cabbagetown. Finally, I got off at the Distillery, an area that I've heard so often about over the year I've been back in Toronto but had never visited. Much like Cherry Beach, my old images of the area consisted of deserted fields and old sugar mills. Obviously, not anymore.

The weather was frankly un-Xmas-like. Balmy for December and so of course, not a flake of snow to be seen or felt. But with the Market finishing up on the 16th, I couldn't wait for the weather to make things appropriate. And of course, being the morning, the atmosphere was that much more un-Xmas-like (Christmas markets are probably far more festive in the evening with the illumination on). Still, with a bunch of high school kids having fun, and scenes like this one to the left here, the Market did have its charm.

I also got a chance to partake in my first stollen. I'd seen a program back in Japan which featured the famous German dessert being sold at the Xmas markets over there. This one I bought was actually produced in Peterborough, but I wasn't complaining at all. I think for those folks who treat the annual fruitcake as a seasonal punchline would probably enjoy a stollen far better. The texture is between that of a cake and a bread, and it has a slight sweetness instead of the hazy booziness of a fruitcake. It'd be perfect for dunking in coffee.

I enjoyed my little stroll through the Market, but next year, I'll see if I can come during a meteorologically appropriate night, although some of the weather folks are saying that a snowless December is probably gonna be the norm in T.O.

Later in the evening, I met up with The Anime King and The Anime Bishop over at Empress Walk in North York to catch "The Hobbit". I was never all that much of a Tolkienite, but I did catch the entire trilogy of "Lord of the Rings" with MB in my Japan days and enjoyed it. But like those three movies, "The Hobbit"was one of those movies that I probably wouldn't have gone to see if I hadn't been invited. We definitely got the full effects with this movie. Peter Jackson had thrown in the 48 frames/second gimmick (not ready by any means to call it a revolution), and it was in 3D.

First off, I saw the 9-minute prelude for the next "Star Trek"movie. Yep, happily, it was much better than the similar presentation for "Tron: Legacy". Still, I'm not sure if it was a prelude or if it's something I'm gonna see as part of the main movie next May. J.J. Abrams is continuing to knock down sacred cows....hasn't killed off any other major characters yet but he's got the Enterprise going as the 23rd-century's most famous submarine. Looks like fun, although from the prelude, I wonder if this version of the franchise seems to be emulating a space-age version of "American Pie" with a less horny bunch.

As for the main feature, "The Hobbit"did its job. The 3 hours whizzed by quickly enough; never looked at my watch even once, although I think the first several minutes could've been easily cut.  I guess Jackson still has that problem that he had with "King Kong"several years ago. Now, as for that 48 frames per second....well, it didn't make me nauseous at all, but it did feel like I was watching a giant video presentation of a BBC drama. And although the characters' faces didn't look exactly like moving representations of craggy topography, they took on a more detailed hue which may be potentially interesting if the gimmick is ever used in some of the legendary dramas such as the ones by Shakespeare. Still, I'd love to see Clint Eastwood or Tommy Lee Jones being filmed that way.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trailers Galore

Thursday December 13, 1:52 p.m.

Still no snow out there and we're approaching the midway point of December. Would like at least a White Christmas or failing that a White Doomsday on the 22nd. The snowsweepers were probably having orgasms last Sunday when they got onto the roads to get rid of some sleet...that's how desperate it is.

Went out to the local walk-in clinic to get that free flu shot with Mom. Not a problem....just fill out a form (since it was our first time there), show the OHIP card and get the needle. We did our due diligence and waited 15 minutes just to make sure that neither of us were going to start convulsing; I felt a bit warm but nowhere near what the average mug of beer does to me. The Star was free today as well; nothing wrong with that....considering that I never got that with the far thinner "The Japan Times" back in Ichikawa.

I'll be out all day tomorrow....rather nice since I now have my work and personal life under the same roof. I'm going down to The Distillery district near Parliament and Front Sts to take a gander at this Christmas Market that's been there for the past few weeks. The event will be closing up shop on Sunday. I'd been hoping that there would be snow by now, but since that won't happen anytime in the next few days, I'm gonna head on down and take some pics. Maybe pick up a fruitcake or if I'm very lucky, a Baum Kuchen. Baum Kuchen is basically a giant iced roll cake that is far more well-known in Japan than in Canada...used to buy the convenience store version a fair bit on the way home from work.

There is a bakery right on the Ginza that I used to see during my strolls on the main street on a Sunday when it was closed off to vehicular traffic that made Baum Kuchen in the display window. Someone had the foresight and the equipment to film it above.

In any case....trailers. I'm off to see "The Hobbit" tomorrow with The Anime Court. But I've already seen a couple of trailers that will be preceding the main feature via the Net. Both movies I will be anticipating with some enthusiasm.

Of course, being a semi-retired Trekkie (i.e. I actually did get a life of sorts), I was keen on seeing what this "Star Trek: Into Darkness" was all about. The 2009 feature was a big success to the movie-viewing public at large, and more polarizing amongst the I guess J.J. Abrams' take was the anti-"Star Trek V"...but I enjoyed it as being a far happier lark than the funereal final flight of "The Next Generation" crew a decade ago, even though the story of Jim Kirk's fasttrack promotion was hilarious at best. However, the trailer for the next entry with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto looks like it's veering truly into "Dark Knight" darkness. Not sure if Benedict Cumberbatch (any distant relation to Englebert Humperdink?) is playing a souped-up Khan Noonien Singh or Gary Mitchell with a Patrick Stewart fetish, but it appears Abrams will be doing some more sacred cow slaughtering. Considering that this cast is the first "Star Trek" crew that has never come up from television and that most likely they probably won't wanna do 6 films, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the beloved characters get phasered out (et tu, Pavel Andreivich?). There are swan-diving starships but didn't see any space scenes in this trailer. Maybe they've still yet to be fashioned out in post or Abrams is holding his cards close to his chest. Apparently, tomorrow before "The Hobbit", there will be a 9-minute prelude concerning this movie. Just hope that it's not like the thing that came out for "Tron: Legacy" a couple of years ago.

Then, there is "Man of Steel" under Chris Nolan's aegis. Several years back, I'd seen "Superman Returns" with Brandon Routh, and felt underwhelmed although a bit of that nervous rationalization crept in just like when it had when I finished seeing "The Phantom Menace" (that was....kinda good, wasn't it? Well....wasn't it?). It looks like Nolan and Zack Snyder may be taking a few pages out of "The Dark Knight" playbook here as well. Certainly, having Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent answer of "Maybe" to young Clark's "Should I have let them die?" has got me intrigued. And then there is the poster of Superman being led away in handcuffs with a military squad surrounding him. The marketing folks are working this, people. I also read that the John Williams' theme will not be back, but then again, I think the producers are going for a completely clean break from their predecessors.

Not a huge Tolkien fan, although I did see all of the original trilogy for "Lord of the Rings". Case in point, the only thing that got my blood even remotely racing was reading that Sylvester McCoy (the 7th Doctor Who) was in "The Hobbit".

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chained to the Desk

Wednesday December 12, 3:12 p.m.

Well, it's the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of the 21st century. This will be the last time for numerical alliteration for me at least in my lifetime....unless immortality is discovered sometime in the next 50 years.

It's been a bit of a slog over the past few days. Nothing but translation which means I've been pretty much tied to my chair and desk for many hours a day since Monday. Not too bad, but I'm happy that I'll get a chance to get out tomorrow and Friday. I've gotta get some Christmas stuff done over the next couple of get a flu shot nearby.

Had lunch at the neighbourhood Pizza Hut yesterday since my parents were out all day. Quite a few more customers in there than usual, but that just meant that the place was one-third full. Perhaps the nights are brimming with pizza lovers, but I can't honestly believe how long this branch has stayed open with the seeming emptiness of the place. They had their buffet on so I was able to have my 6 slices of various types of pizza, plus a couple of runs to the salad bar for salad, pasta and garlic bread. Believe me, I am semi-retired now when it comes to engorging. It's one of the things I'm grateful for since returning to Canada last year since except for one particular franchise, none of the big pizza chains in Japan have sit-down restaurants; it's all delivery there. That one lone franchise is a domestic deal named Pizza Salvatore, and it's an expensive one....$35 for a medium pizza! Quality fare, though.

Speaking about Japan, the other shoe finally dropped across the Japan Sea. North Korea finally fired off that missile yesterday to much fanfare and celebration in the Hermit Kingdom of Kim Jong Un. CNN reported that the missile flew over Okinawa but Japan didn't fire a shot. NHK told a somewhat different story by showing that the missile actually went due south...perhaps shaving over the very southernmost little island in the Ryukyus. If we're to follow NHK's report, then Taiwan or The Phillipines had more of an issue to shake their fists than Japan did.

That tunnel collapsing in Yamanashi Prefecture got me thinking about the state of Toronto's Gardiner Expressway. Today, the news outlets here have been talking about the report that the decrepit highway may be in even worse shape than was previously thought. I'm just wondering when we're gonna get that CP24 Breaking News of cars falling through the pavement.

And I hear that Mayor Rob Ford has cancelled his annual New Year's Levee at City Hall. Gee, I wonder why....

Monday, December 10, 2012

Darwin The IKEA Monkey

Well, I guess Toronto is getting its 15 minutes in the spotlight this week with Darwin the IKEA monkey on his odyssey  in the parking lot and the famous store. I don't think I've seen that many YouTube videos on a particular simian uploaded within a 24-hour period. And it was the IKEA that my family got their furniture from last year. At least he was dressed like a proper Torontonian. And he now has fame, comfort and proper care. Can't say that about the owner....he's lost his monkey, $240 and perhaps some pride although his name hasn't been released...yet.

My day yesterday was far more mundane. Just had the family outing at a nearby Kelsey's with only a brief but intense sleeting outside the only exciting event of the day. Mind you, trying to drive home in that sort of weather had its own uninvited excitement.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Sunday December 9, 12:22 a.m.

Japan has undergone a few trials and tribulations this past week, and none of them have had anything to do with the upcoming election. There was the tragedy of some concrete roof panels in a tunnel in Yamanashi Prefecture collapsing on top of some cars, killing nine. Then, there was the sudden passing of kabuki master Kanzaburo Nakamura XVIII, and finally that Shindo 5(M 7.3) tremor which kicked the country in the shins on Friday. I took a look at the quake map....almost the whole of Honshu was slathered in Shindo 4s and 5s with the epicentre in the same area where the March 11 quake struck. Can only imagine the terror that the people felt there.

My brother came by and blithely remarked that a Shindo 5 couldn't have been that strong. He must've been joking. I know what a 5+ is was the same strength that hit me in the Shinjuku Starbucks when Tokyo felt the 3/11 quake. It ain't no massage, believe me. Skyscrapers were swaying like palm trees, and I ended up doing a major odyssey getting back to my apartment in Ichikawa that night.

Been a pretty quiet day. Still looks very gloomy out there....nothing Christmas-like at all in the weather department, although CTV says that snow may be on the way later today. Meteorlogically speaking, I care about the last week before Xmas. Do we get a White Christmas or not? Nowadays, it seems like a coin toss. I got another translation done in the preliminary stages yesterday. All I need to do is give it that once-over before handing it into the boss before tomorrow. And I taught Mr. Moriya tonight over Skype....seemed pretty drowsy but then again, he had just come back from a busy business trip in Fukuoka the night before.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Goodbye, Dave!

Thursday December 6, 11:07 p.m.

Well, it's been a pretty quiet week although no less busy. I've gotten a fair amount of translation work in the past few days, and in fact, I even got to meet my fellow translators for a powwow last night over a beer. But it's been interesting now that I really no longer need to go downtown anymore....not too bad a thing considering that TTC token prices will be going up next year. Still, the odd trip downtown would be nice just as a bit of a respite for being at home most of the time. Did meet a bit of the urban residents before and after the meeting. While I was waiting for my two colleagues, a homeless man approached me for some money. Nice enough fellow and fairly erudite...I just gave him what little change I had in my pocket; I'm sure he didn't get nearly enough for that Burger King Whopper Set he was looking for, and I'm not sure if that's what he was aiming for, but at this time of year, I'm not gonna pooh-pooh a man for being hungry and cold. On the bus ride home, a clearly deranged lunatic was trying to pick a fight with the driver over some sort of "injustice"he had suffered in some sort of fight with another TTC employee which supposedly cracked the crackpot's tooth. I got off before anything major happened but considering I didn't see anything on CP24 this morning, I assume there was no other follow-up to the first fight.

Got the first of my Japanese CDs that I'd ordered through the other day. Not nearly as easy to get them anymore obviously since I'm back in Canada but certainly far better than 20 years ago.

Speaking of music, my hat is going off to Dave Brubeck. I came across his surprise obituary in the Toronto Star today. He lived a good, long life. And he's part of the reason that I got into jazz, along with Bill Evans. I think "Take Five" is a great song to get into the genre with. It's probably one of the most recognized jazz songs for even non-jazz fans.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kanzaburo Nakamura XVIII

Tuesday December 4, 7:33 p.m.

I only heard the news on NHK just half an hour ago, but kabuki actor Kanzaburo Nakamura XVIII passed away less than 6 hours previously in hospital. I was never a kabuki fan but his face and name were very well known to anyone who watches TV in Japan due to his fairly frequent appearances on talk shows and commercials. Of course, his stock in trade was on the stage portraying his various characters.

An acquaintance of mine back in Tokyo was his acupuncturist, and he told me that the actor had always been a very introspective deep thinker. The story of his death was the top story on NHK, and it looks like a lot of the commercial stations' morning shows were scrambling to get a fitting tribute story done for him. I was surprised to hear that he had passed since he was only 57 years old, although I knew that he had suffered from early stage esophagal cancer.

I think this video of him and his troupe performing in Berlin back in 2008 will give a tiny insight about his life as a kabuki actor.

Anime and Foodie Day for December

Fish and Chips Platter at Eggsmart
Tuesday December 4, 3:47 p.m.

Well, the mall Santas are out in force, the Xmas songs are blaring out, and I've started my shopping and sending out of cards. Must be the Yuletide, right? Someone forgot to tell the weather. Toronto didn't just break a temperature record.....the Big Smoke obliterated it like a phaser on full power. We got up to 16 C! Mind you, the temps are slowly but inexorably sliding now, but hey for December, this is practically Summer! Not really Xmas-y weather at all, but the joggers and, I suspect, most Torontonians are not complaining one iota.

Anyways, a couple of days ago, it was another anime and foodie outing with The Anime King. It's probably gonna be the final one for the year since most likely the 16th will be the dinner outing with the Anime Court, and then the King heads out for Japan and Vietnam for a vacation. We started out with a bit of brunch (breakfast for him) at Eggsmart. I'd already had my bacon and eggs back home, so I settled with the Fish n' Chips Platter. Not too was a tad dry, though.

Back at the King's basement palace, we went through the latest of the "Yamato 2199" reboot. The first of the four episodes was basically a remake of the original contemplative episode following the ship's first major battle with the Gamelan gun base on Pluto. The crew made their final communications with family back on Earth, there was a celebratory party, and there was even a full reprise of the secondary theme song, "Bright Red Scarf". But unlike the original, there was quite a bit of fanservice, anime's version of cheesecake via the drunken nurse, Captain Okita actually widened his eyes, and there may be a love triangle of sorts forming amongst Kodai, Yuki and the ace female pilot, Yamamoto.

However, the highlight of the presentation was a show that The King has been raving about for the past few weeks: "Girls and Panzer". Over the past year I've been back in Canada, I've seen high school kids duking it out over supermarket lunches, a high school girl becoming the high priestess of a ghost-ridden temple, a family of orphaned teens involved in a mind-warping thriller with penguins, and teenage girls who become space pirates. "Girls and Panzer"is another one of those "Only in Japan"fantasies in which high school girls can choose to join tank crews in the same way that students can join the volleyball club or the band. This anime is the equivalent of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup: the anime otaku and the military otaku have found their Valhalla.

The video above is the opening scene from the pilot episode. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the animation, and the details in the tanks. There is love in those studio hard drives. And the music brings back memories from just about every World War II epic made in the 60s: "Kelly's Heroes", "The Dirty Dozen" and even the TV sitcom, "Hogan's Heroes". Plus, there's the fact that the show has (at least) 22 characters....mind you, the five core girls are the ones that get the most characterization, but the fact that everyone gets seen at all in every half-hour is still something to be commended. And finally, I never thought I would ever hear a Donald Sutherland character get a shoutout in an episode.

Of course, all that viewing of tank battles can earn quite an appetite, so the King and I decided to drive out to Scarberia for dinner. We came across a modern strip mall underneath a condo around McNicoll and Midland where Toronto's only attempt at a Maid Cafe rose and fell several years ago. The restaurant there, Tasty Tasty, specializes in Szechuan BBQ, and came highly recommended by the King's brother.

We went with the large bowl of a soup called Fish with Salty Vegetables. Very savoury fare, and went well with the rice. However, the soup itself was much more on the sour side...quite a bit of vinegar in there. But it definitely made for a fine dish.

Of course, there was also our more conventional choice of Stir-Fried Bok Choy and Garlic. No less delicious, though. Both dishes were great on a much cooler night. Both the King and I were thinking about having the year-ender with the rest of the guys at Tasty Tasty, but there are plenty of other choices out there.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Saturday December 1, 3:22 p.m.

Yesterday,  I met up with The Wild Guy for the first time in a little over a month. I think the last time I caught him was back in Chinatown in October before he took off for Japan to pick up his family in Osaka. At his recommendation, we went over to Jetsun's Juicyburger, north of North York Centre.

When we got inside, we didn't see a soul. The Wild Guy had to ask me to make sure that we hadn't come in before opening time. Well, the sign said that it opened at 10:30, and it certainly was an hour later. We needn't have worried. Within a few minutes, the high school crowd literally flooded the zone. We were lucky to have placed the order as early as we did.

As hamburgers go, the Juicyburger was fine, nothing spectacular. It was your typical burger joint with homemade patties, and with your choice of toppings. Fries were OK too with the complementary jellied gravy. On a cold day like yesterday, I'm sure Jetsun's Juicyburger can make a pretty penny.

As usual, The Wild Guy was venting about his usual frustrations at work....we never even touched upon the trials and tribulations of Toronto's mayor.

If It's December, It Must Mean Turner Movie Classics

Saturday December 1, 2:52 p.m.

Yup, the Xmas season is once again upon us. The weather is cold outside but very little snow....just some white embedded in the sidewalk cracks, and that'll be disappearing by tomorrow due to a jump in the temperatures. (Up to 11 C?! Good Grief!) However, just about every shopping mall has got its Santa taking care of terrified moppets, and the annual Christmas Market has started up again down at The Distillery.

It also means for me that urge to watch the old black-and-white films on TCM; it's kinda like the urge for adult salmon to swim upstream again to breed. Whenever the Yuletide is nigh, I gotta watch Bogie, Bette and Cary again. Not sure what it is...perhaps it's that psychic connection amongst old movies, Xmas and jazz that gets me.

I got started a day ahead of schedule with a 1949 flick that wasn't quite a Film Noir....more of a Film Grise. Titled "Red Light", it starred George Raft and Virginia Mayo. However, I was quite surprised to also see a young weasley Colonel Sherman Potter and burly psychopathic Perry Mason up to no good. Yup, Harry Morgan and Raymond Burr had supporting roles in villainous roles before they became good guys on television. As I said, it wasn't quite the Film Noir that it had hoped to be. For one thing, not all of the roles were irredeemable, and there was a definite good end. Not a particularly great film, but it does its part on a cloudy day.

Then, this morning I caught "The Judge Steps Out" with Canadian actor Alexander Knox as a burnt-out Boston judge who just ups and leaves his high-class family and finds bliss as a short-order cook in desert California. I had thought it would be another one of those romantic comedies with the improbably happy ending, but it actually did so on a very bittersweet note....stress on the bitter. As one commenter put it, it was ahead of its time.

And I caught another one in the RKO movie series of "The Saint" by Leslie Charteris. Decades before Roger Moore ever put on the halo, George Sanders played the suave antihero. I never caught his Oscar-winning performance in "All About Eve"; I remember him from his guest roles on TV playing Mister Freeze on "Batman" and another nemesis for Jim Phelps to put down in "Mission: Impossible".

Give it another few days. I'll probably be catching "Holiday Inn" and "Miracle on 34th Street" in no time. Ah, there are also the various episodes of Xmas for "SCTV".