Not bad. Not bad at all. With roughly twelve reading days left in 2018, my goal of 365 books (Yes, a book a day) looks well within reach. Granted, roughly 25% of those books were graphic novels so purists could argue I attained a much less impressive 275 titles on the year but still – I’ll take it.
As I prepare for my annual Best Of rundown, I took a closer look at my glorious reading year and discovered…
Over half the books I read were 2018 releases.
Of the 365+ books read on the year, I rated roughly 250 titles average (mostly) to poor.
Over 100 of the books I read this year I gave a rating of good (mostly) to excellent (all of 11).
I read across all genres, but noted General Fiction was far and away my most popular reading category followed my thrillers/mystery/suspense, sci-fi, non-fiction, horror, and fantasy (in that order).
Recommendations from established sites and award nominees and winners offered an very mixed bag – a few excellent reads but a lot of unimpressive offerings and even a few shockingly bad books. Still, I suppose it beats twitter.
I’m thinking that this time around, instead of posting my annual all-encompassing countdown, I would offer up my top picks across various categories including my selections for Best of Not 2018, books I read this past year that were published prior to 2018.
Would love to hear what 2018 releases made YOUR best of list. There still may be time for me to hunt down a copy!
This poor kid broke his arm playing in this parking lot. May what happened to him be a lesson to you all!
The interior garden in Akemi’s Osaka family home.
Akemi kicking back in Roppongi Hills.
Tonight, I’m making a rare foray into an industry event as I hit the Writers Guild of Canada pre-holiday bash. I plan to really tear it up – in the hour or so I’ll be there before heading home in time for my 10 p.m. bedtime reading. Partaaaay!
Hmmmmm. Received a most intriguing yet mysterious text this afternoon by someone with some very interesting news. But the number is not in my list of contacts and, while I can possibly guess the sender’s identity (New phone number perhaps?), I can’t be certain. My “Wait. Who is this?” response went unanswered and so, for the foreseeable future, I can only stew and consider the possibilities. All I can say is how bizarre yet absolutely amazing if true.
Cryptic enough for ya?
Pleased to report I have eight more books to read in order to complete by 365 titles in 365 days record reading year. I’m working on a breakdown and, so far, 183 of the titles were 2018 releases. Not bad. I’ve got 30 books on digital hold from my local library and I anxiously await the email notification informing me I’m good to go, while madly refreshing the hold page to see how far along the queue I’ve progressed on my various waits. #18 on 8 copies of Baby Teeth! #1 on 5 copies of River of Stars! #884 on 250 copies of Educated!
It is with great sadness I report the premature end to my fantasy football season in one league. My Snow Monkeys were undone by the underperforming likes of Alvin Kamara, Larry Fitzgerald, DJ Moore, and Baker Mayfield. Now, my hopes rest with my Snow Monkeys in my second league where they battle former Dark Matter VFX Supervisor Lawren Bancroft-Wilson’s L’s Legit Team. I’m feeling confident.
Some of the many highlights of our recent Japan trip that I didn’t have time to upload while traveling…
Our hotel was located close to the Takarazuka Theater which hosts nightly performances of an all-female musical theater troupe comprised of six groups numbering a total of 400 members (graduates of the esteemed Takarazuka Music School). Every evening, post-performance, a group of fans gather, all women, to patiently await their idols. On one night we happened by, we saw two of the actresses interact with their fans, greeting them warmly as they accepted what looked like theater programs (or fan letters?). According to Akemi, many of these fans respond to the lush sets, costumes, and love stories at the heart of the productions, but most feel a connection to the individual actresses, especially those who play the roles of idealized male figures.
Our visit to TV Asahi took us to a mini museum display of one of Japan’s most iconic manga/cartoon characters, Doraemon, a robot cat from the future. The manga ran for almost 30 years while the animated series boasts three different incarnations numbering over 2300 episodes. Over the course of his innumerable adventures, Doraemon made use of a slew of wacky 22nd century items he brought back with him. Among them: an Anywhere Door that can take you – well – anywhere, special shoes that let you step into a book’s story, a device that makes dreams a reality, a passport that forgives your sins, a pen that solves any problem, a flashlight whose light beam returns damaged items to their original undamaged state, a cupid-like bow and arrow set, a megaphone that makes lies come true, a bread that acts as a notepad for you to write things down so that once consumed you’ll always be able to recall what you wrote/ate, a clone-creating camera, a doll that creates a kooky clone of whoever touches its nose, a belt that inhibits you from doing wrong, a mirror whose reflections become a reality allowing you to create multiple versions of whatever you put in front of it, a snack that allows animals to understand you, and puppet that will answer any question you ask it.
This utterly insane collection of exquisitely detailed cakes on display at The Imperial Hotel.
We cannot move to Japan. One in every three girls you find cute.
Akemi (December 6, 2018 – Tokyo)
Well, we’re back home and settled. Ish. I fell asleep at 1:30 a.m. last night. Woke up two hours later, took a Benadryl, and slept in until 10:00 a.m. Hopefully, tonight, I’ll be able to sleep straight through – until one of the dogs has an accident on the bed.
So, I may have mentioned that, prior to my Tokyo departure, I pitched my uber-secret Untitled Awesome Project to a broadcaster. The pitch, I thought, went very well, but experience has taught me to temper expectations. So even though I was incredibly excited about the project (which I’ve likened in tone and theme to Dark Matter with a potentially broader appeal) and despite the positive response to the pitch, I vowed to put it out of my mind while I was on vacation. And then, on my last day in Tokyo, I received a message informing me that we’ve been given the go-ahead on a pilot script, a sign the broadcaster sees some real potential here. So, still in the development phase, but a HUGE step forward.
Check it out! Akemi found a rice cracker shaped like The Destiny. Is this a sign?!!!
The trip back was surprisingly smooth sailing (in so far as we actually flew rather than sailed). The flight left on time, Akemi and I slept through the first 6-7 hours, then we woke up and watched a movie: Sex and the City and Three Identical Strangers. I leave you to figure out which of us watched what.
We actually got into Toronto early, got home a little after 6:00 p.m. and then, after unpacking and a quick dinner (greek yogurt, protein powder, peanut butter, and blueberries – a far cry from my Japan culinary itinerary), we went and picked up the dogs.
They seem happy, but exhausted. But not too exhausted to model some of the fabulous hats Akemi picked up for them while we were away!
Going to try to finish a book before bedtime tonight. Trying to hit 365 on the year for a book a day which means I need to read another 15 titles in the next 25 days.
In addition, I need to turn around notes on a couple of outlines and a script.
And, oh, hey, I received some fantastic news regarding our Untitled Awesome Project. But more on that in tomorrow’s blog entry.
A quickie blog entry today as we are in the airport, waiting to board, much relieved we got Akemi’s PR card in time because it would have been a major hassle getting home without it. Our only other option would have been a 28 hours flight to Buffalo followed by a two hour drive to Toronto. As luck would have it, however, it all worked out and we’ll make it home in half that time.
We capped off our Tokyo visit with lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Esquisse. It’s a favorite of ours for many reasons. First and foremost is the food – always wonderful, always beautifully presented. Then, there’s the impeccable service. And finally there’s Chef/Owner Lionel Beccat who is always a delight. Nine years ago, he was the Head Chef at Michel Troisgros where Akemi and I had our very first date. We’ve all come a long way in those nine years, and it’s always nice to reconnect and celebrate his success every time we come to town.
With time running down on this Japan trip, I’m trying to make the most of the day and a half I have left. As a result, today was packed full o’ fun.
First up, was a trip to Roppongi and a visit to the Mori Art Museum where I took not one, not two, but THREE different exhibits –
There was the Cardcaptor Sakura Exhibit with original artwork, interactive rooms, and insights into the popular manga/anime series.
Then there was an exhibit profiling manga artist Fujiko Fujio’s massive body of work covering everything from slice of life to sci-fi.
Then there was the main exhibit, Catastrophe and the Power of Art, that focused on art’s place in chaotic times.
Damnit. Missed snapping a photo of the artist but I enjoyed her surreal take on the traditional family unit.
Oliver Laric’s Versions was inspired by a 2008 incident in which Iran released an official photo of a missile test depicting four missiles being launched – only to be mercilessly lampooned when it was discovered they had actually photoshopped in an extra missile. These are a few of the photos from the series in which the artist offers his own take on the incident
Ikeda Manabu’s Foretoken has become evocative of the tsunami that hit the Tohoku region.
These were just a small number of the works on exhibit ranging from the provocative to the baffling. And then there was this mesmerizing piece –
From art to curry. I caught a quick subway ride to Akihabara where I enjoyed a 5 level spice chicken katsu curry at Coco Ichi!
A little anime-themed shopping took me from Akihabara to Tokyo Station where we perused a character alley with rows of shops dedicated to some of Japan (and the world’s) most beloved characters –
My haul included a Detective Conan Black Organization t-shirt and a capybara t-shirt.
From there, I went to Omote-sando and raided Kiddyland for a bunch of Snoopy swag for sis.
Made it back to the hotel in time to change, and then head out for a kaiseki dinner at Uchiyama followed by drinks at Bar Goya in Ginza.
I’m exhausted but still have much to do – and maybe half a day to get it all done tomorrow!
I woke up this morning feeling as though I’d gargled glass shards, leading me to believe either: a) I was coming down with something or, b) Someone had tampered with my bedside water bottle. After clearing the water bottle, it became apparent that I was, in fact, suffering from some sort of nose and throat thing. On the one hand, it hurt to swallow. On the other hand, I had two and half days of Tokyo fooding to pack in so I didn’t have the luxury of whining about it. Instead, I picked up a couple of soothing candies, one with a flavor remarkably similar to apple juice; the other tasting like a Chinese apothecary.
Feeling as good as could be expected, I forged ahead with my day. Our first stop was Tokyo Station where Akemi tracked down my favorite Japanese treat: Hattendo cream buns. I couldn’t decide between the cream, custard, matcha, and the new red bean and butter, so I got all four. I had the matcha bun for breakfast (wolfing it down in the hotel lobby before anyone could catch me as our room was being serviced at the time), then squirrelled the rest away in our hotel mini-bar before heading for…
Lunch – Round 1! We met up with my old friend, Moro-san, for lunch at Pizza Seirinkan, profiled on David Chang’s Ugly Delicious as one of the world’s best pizzas. Moro-san had introduced it to me some five years ago and it’s been on my to-eat places every time I come into town. They only serve two types of pizza – margherita and marinara – and stop serving when they sell out. I say they and, although there’s a staff, it’s only one guy – owner Susumu Kakinuma – slinging pies. Outstanding.
Lunch – Round 2! We took a ten minute stroll and found ourselves, not by accident, at the Wagyu Mafia Sandwich Shop, notorious for its pricey wagyu sandwiches. The menu offers a variety, from the modest $30 knuckle sandwich to the $350 60-day dry-aged kobe beef. On this day, they were out of the dry-aged beef so we settled for the Kobe Chateaubriand. Equally outstanding. The place apparently caters mostly to foreigners and, when we walked in to order there were two large English-speaking groups already there. It’s cheap but it’s a singular experience.
We took another walk and eventually found ourselves at Green Bean to Bar Chocolate, one of the city’s premiere’s bean to bar chocolate shops. There, we enjoyed a chocolate medley including one of the thickest chocolatiest chocolate drinks I’ve ever enjoyed.
We returned to the hotel for a quick change, and then we were off again – to Roppongi where we spent the better part of the late afternoon strolling through Midtown and the Hills before making our way to our dining destination, Eneko, where we enjoyed one hell of a meal.
We were escorted into a reception area where we were present with drinks and picnic basket containing an assortment of goodies: an eel brioche, lemon foie gras brulee, something called Kaipintxa that was a delicate gel bubble bursting with red wine flavor.
We were ushered upstairs into a garden set-up where we were greeted by our second host who explained what we were eating. Halfway through his overview, I noted how, so far, dinner was proceeding like a video game where each food room was a level – which, I suppose, made him one of the bosses. He pretended not to understand what I was saying and politely pressed ahead. This round included something called sea txakoli which Akemi likened to a green drink, a spicy tomato cornet with crisp egg roll wrapper cone, a hazelnut and foie gras bonbon, and a curious mushroom praline.
Finally, we were shown to our private dining room where the real eating games began: an egg yolk which was injected with a 6-hour truffle solution that semi-cooked the whole, a prawn and vegetable puree with ginger slush, and a sea urchin.
Next came the warm starters: the Basque-style eringi mushrooms (Akemi’s favorite), a quadruple textural artichoke offering with pesto and goat cheese, and lobster with coffee butter.
For the mains, it was tempura fish with roasted red pepper sauce and pickled daikon to start, then one of two meat dishes: the Matsusaka beef with aubergine and sweet potato, and the deer with chestnut puree and blueberries.
I love innovative cuisine, but my fun stops at dessert as I find the more daring mixing of ingredients never fares well when it comes to sweets: an avocado and mango dish that Akemi really enjoyed, a yogurt in textures, a back and yogurt lollipop, a raspberry macaron (that tasted minty and reminded me of toothpaste), a berry and pepper jelly, a lemon bonbon, and a wine bonbon. We were served tea accompanied by a fragrant dry ice five-spice display.
A terrific meal and, to top things off, our waiter was a huge Stargate fan!
Alright. Off to bed. Tomorrow is our last full day in Tokyo and I have a lot to pack in including the Mori Arts Museum, Akihabara, Omote-Sando, and Coco Ichi, a Japanese curry chain!
Another whirlwind day in Tokyo following yesterday’s Osaka to Nara to Kyoto to Tokyo jaunt. We now have approximately two and a half days to squeeze in: Harajuku, Omotesando, Roppongi, Naka-Meguro, and Akihabara. Looks like Odaiba, Toyosu, and Kichijoji will have to wait until next time.
Akemi has been hankering for some vegetables and so, last night, we checked out a vegetarian restaurant. With predictable results. It was a resounding “meh” from me. Akemi overheard a Japanese couple at a nearby table chatting about the difference between vegetarian restaurants in Japan and vegetarian restaurants outside of Japan. Outside of Japan, they make an effort to include some sort of protein as part of the meal plan. In Japan, you’re getting your veggies because – hell – that’s why you came for, isn’t it? And that’s what we got on this night.
But the evening wasn’t a total loss. We swung by a green tea-themed dessert restaurant in the new Hibiya Midtown complex where I enjoyed a super dense matcha cake and ice cream.
Today, I met up with my old friend Tomomi who has moved back to Tokyo following a stint in Vancouver. We lunched at a little french restaurant in Ometesando called Lature. The multi-course game-themed meal was as inspired as it was delicious.
Even though lunch included dessert, Tomomi knows me too well and took me to the Dominique Ansel in Omotesando where we sampled a dessert medley including the frozen s’more, the cookie shot, and a couple of cakes. Akemi was all about the frozen s’more while I had to go with their version of cookies and milk
My food guide on this day – the lovely Tomomi.
For dinner tonight, we took up on hotel concierge on her recommendation and visited Sushi Aoki in the Ginza neighbourhood. A fantastic and varied array of dishes.
Finally, thanks to a tip from blog regular nantokanaru77, we ended up paying a visit to our old friend Yamasaki-san, formerly of Star Bar, now running things at his own place Bar Goya in Ginza.
Rejoice! Akemi’s PR card arrived today. She will apparently be permitted to enjoy adventures in Canada.
As I said – we’re running out of time so we’re going to have to start cramming as much as we can into the remainder of our stay – starting tomorrow with a double lunch at Pizza Seirinkan and the Wagyu Mafia sandwich shop!
On our last night in Osaka, we met up for dinner with Akemi’s old university friend, Ayaka, for some long overdue yakitori. The girls had a great time catching up while I just tried my best to KEEP up. Fortunately, on the occasions when the conversation went over my head, there was the food to command my focus –
We all did skewers while Ayaka and I had a couple of beers. The standout plate of the evening, at least as far as I was concerned, was the horumon bowl – sauced offal crowned with an egg yolk.
After dinner, I was in dessert mode. We took a stroll and ended up at the Miyazaki-inspired Maison de Gigi for some chocolate-dipped waffles and a hazelnut latte.
I was exhausted and went to sleep as soon as we got back to the hotel. Then, of course, woke up at 1:00 a.m. But managed to fall back asleep at around 2:00 and stayed asleep. Until 6 a.m.
We took one final walk around Osaka and grabbed several breakfast bites along the way –
Akemi helped herself to some convenience store open. The floating white clouds (super fluffy fish cakes) are her favorite!
I perused some of the amazing baked goods, among them THE chocolatiest chocolate croissants ever made, but ultimately settled on –
A breakfast bonanza that included the ubiquitous curry pan (deep-fried and stuffed with sweet curry pork), a five-pack of butter caramel cookies, a super Hokkaido creamy cream bun, and the Ruby Kit Kat, presumably made from the rare ruby cacao bean. Despite its fruity undertone, I quite liked it, possessed as it was of a nice sweet and ever so slight sour balance.
Oh, and lest I forget – we also grabbed the famed Osaka pork bun – Go Go Ichi! There are always line ups outside these stands and now I know why. Plump, sweet, delicious!
We caught the shinkansen to Nara. After prepping by watching a slew of Nara-themed youtube videos, I was fully expecting to be swarmed by the famed deer that roam their streets. Unfortunately, according to Akemi, the deer are confined to a specific park and, sadly, don’t share the roadways with cars and pedestrians.
Along the way, we stopped at the city’s most famed mochi shops where the glutinous rice desserts are made by hand (and wooden mallet), beaten into a sticky, goopy consistency that Akemi is such a fan of.
Eventually we arrived at our destination, the Aota family temple where Akemi’s father was laid to rest. Akemi’s mother, older sister, and younger brother were in attendance along with about a dozen other close family members. After a short ceremony presided over by the temple monk, we were preparing to head back to the station and start our long journey back to Tokyo when Akemi’s sister waved me over and handed me a bottle. She informed me it was a final gift from me from Akemi’s father.
I couldn’t believe it. A bottle of Yamazaki 18, my favorite whisky, incredibly expensive (at $500 dollars a bottle) and almost impossible to find. I am touched.
We got into Osaka last night and got a room at the hotel where the memorial for Akemi’s father was to take place. Since it was a last minute reservation, we were left with a choice between smoking room and a room behind the elevator. We chose the latter and, after dining on a half a 7-11 egg salad sandwich, a giant pork bun, and an ice cream bar, I settled down for another fitful night’s sleep.
I woke up this morning to the news that I had been drafted as the event photographer, tasked with snapping photos of the service and various goings-on. Akemi told her sister it would be a bad idea. “Joe not great. Cuts off arms and legs.” I looked over and, for a second there, I thought she would try to cover with something along the lines of “Because you are serial killer and have to get rid of bodies!”. But no. She just shrugged. The truth hurts.
At 10:00 a.m. this morning, we headed downstairs to one of the ballroom that had been decorated for the event: flowers, photos, and a looping video remembrance. We were served okashi and matcha (sweet bean dessert and ceremonial green tea). Then, I got my camera and started snapping anything and everything. Ultimately, I didn’t mind as it kept me busy. I must have taken close to three hundred photos over the course of those three hours, all of mediocre quality. Akemi, however, armed with her new Pixel Android phone, was blowing me out of the water. Yet another reason to consider switching from Apple to Google.
The actual memorial was short, lasting all of twenty minutes or so, the first five dedicated to speeches and the last fifteen to the offering of condolences to the immediate family. The event was capped by a catered meal.
Akemi and I checked out of the hotel, crossed town, and checked into our new hotel. Tonight, we have dinner with her old friend Ayaka and then, tomorrow, there’s another memorial service for her dad, this time at a temple in Nara after which we head back to Toronto.
Some of the sights we’ve taken in so far…
Don’t mess with Godzilla – Ginza.
Akemi and some random guy.
The seasonal Matcha-Pistachio Latte at Dean & DeLuca is, quite possibly, my favorite latte ever. And infinitely better than the cheese tea latte I tried while walking around Osaka this afternoon. I took a sip, wanted to ditch, looked around for the nearest garbage bin and remembered – there are no public garbage bins in Japan. Rookie mistake.
Star Bar opens its fourth location, this one in the new Hibiya Midtown just steps away from our hotel. When I get back into Tokyo, I have got to stop by and say hi to Master Kishi-san, Yamasaki-san, and Yoshida-san.
These were a couple of the interesting dessert offerings at this little bakery in Omotesando. I was intrigued by the Chocolate Ball Bread, assuming they would melt the chocolate, resulting in a Nutella-like offering but no. The chocolate is served cold. Odd.
Kooky window displays in Ginza.
Tadaa! The 1000 preserved roses display at The Imperial Hotel.
Akemi lands on Santa’s naughty list.
That poop is as big as the dog who made it!
Vending machines offering everything from hot coffee to corn soup (also hot!).
Now that is some smoky fish!
In Osaka, we got the Dick Van Dyke Show matrimonial beds. Akemi settles in for the night.
The PR Card Saga continues. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it arrived in the mail just hours after we left Toronto. Ivon picked it up for us and sent it UPS. It was due to arrive on Thursday. Then, it missed a scheduled transfer in Kentucky, delaying it by a day. Then, it missed a scheduled transfer in Anchorage, delaying it by about another day. Last I heard, it’s supposed to arrive at our hotel on Monday.
I leave you with a little something from the pillow menu. What’ve you got a hankering for?