June 5th – June 18th, 2009

by Bill Hersey

As the old song goes, June is bustin’ out all over. It’s a nice time of year, but unfortunately the warmer weather seems to bring out even more than the usual phonies, con men, con women, and miscellaneous other kinds of undesirables (I’ll save the steamy details for another column and a considerable number of chapters in the book I am working on). For now, just a warning, with hard times as they are, people often do strange things, and I have several friends for whom others have made major problems recently. Nobody really needs that. On the lighter side, I had an enjoyable, laid back Golden Week here in Tokyo, and really got into one of the things I like most—spending time with good and interesting people. After a swim at Hilton Tokyo I ran into Chris and Fumiko McDonald with the hotel’s general manager, Christian Baudat, in the hotel’s elegant Marble Lounge. Chris recently retired after 27 years of heading Rolex’s operations here in Japan. Believe me, the man keeps busy. In addition to being an advisor to the J. League (Japanese soccer league), he serves on the boards of many of Japan’s most prestigious clubs and is involved in many worthwhile community projects. Fumiko keeps busy as well. She’s a longtime leader in the International Ladies Benevolent Society (ILBS), travels often, and has friends all over the world. The McDonalds have two sons they are justifiably proud of. The older one, Roger’s scholastic background includes boarding school in England, a degree from the University of Wales, a certificate in peace studies at the European University in Austria, a master’s degree in mysticism and religious experience from the University of Kent and a Ph.D. in history and the theory of art. His work has included curating for museums and galleries around the world, writing exhibition catalogues, lecturing, and interpreting talks by artists and curators. He’s the deputy director of Arts International Tokyo and director of Making Art Different (MAD). Roger’s younger brother Peter studied at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. He has held exhibits all over the world and has received several top awards, including the prestigious John Moores Prize in 2008 for his painting Fontana. He was recently commissioned by the mayor of London to do a twenty-meter mural in one of London’s busiest public transportation stations. The McDonalds, as you can see, are an exceptional family. The New Lex was really happening on May 9 when director Kazuaki Kiriya and stars Yosuke Eguchi and Ryoko Hirosue of Warner Brothers’ box office hit Goemon came to the club to celebrate. Other geinojin (showbiz people) there that night included comedian Gorie, pop idol Jin Akanishi of Kat Tun, and members of the pop group News. Needless to say it was an exciting, fun evening with people who really know how to let their hair down and party. A few nights later, Korean pop star Se7en dropped by with his friends. He had just been in the US to release his first CD. Young Koreans, like the younger generation here, have really become Westernized.

Bollywood Night at Samrat Shinjuku

The Samrat Indian restaurant owner is a great host and always fun to be with. Kyoko Spector, Anri Schroff, and I joined him and a group of his friends at his beautiful location near Shinjuku station recently. The food was excellent, and the live show of Bollywood dancing fast paced, colorful, and entertaining. The music schedule at Shinjuku Samrat changes nightly and includes belly dancers, Latin sounds, Spanish guitar, Arab music, and more. You can check the schedule by calling 03-3355-1771. There is no show charge and food prices are very reasonable. Peruvian Cuisine and Culture at Hilton Tokyo

Peru is famous for its wide range of superb culinary dishes, and the recent Fascinating Peru gourmet and cultural promotion at Hilton Tokyo was proof positive of why. The Andean ingredients—potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and chilies, as well as botanical products and herbs—are not only delicious, but also have high nutritional value, and are fast becoming favorites of those into health and fitness. The opening reception gave me the opportunity to meet the new Peruvian Ambassador, Juan Carlos Capunay, and wish him a long, happy, and successful stay in Japan. He is already busy with all kinds of events to promote his country here. The Scannells’ National Day Celebration

As always, it was an evening of good food, wall-to-wall interesting people and warm ambiance at the home of Irish Ambassador Brendan Scannell and his wife Margaret when they invited friends to help them celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Once again, I really appreciated the hosting couple making sure I met people there that I didn’t already know. I especially enjoyed talking with their daughter Aoife who was visiting from London. It was also nice seeing Paddy Foley’s Irish Pub GM Neil Day (you have to try their new health and fitness menu), and race car driver Richard Lyons (he often parties at the New Lex). When I was leaving this great get-together the ambassador came over and said, “Bill, if you’d ever like to use our home for a party, just let us know and we’ll help you in any way we can.” Talk about generosity, friendship, and kindness…that’s the Scannells.

Sakura Party at Kichijoji Temple

A big thanks to Kyoko Spector for the invitation to join a very special group of her friends for a cherry blossom viewing party at the beautiful and tranquil Kichijoji Temple near Tokyo Dome. The temple, which I learned (and could see why) has been chosen as the final resting place for many famous Japanese, belongs to the family of one of Kyoko’s best friends, Nori Iwamoto. After a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and a tour of the Temple’s awesome facilities and gardens, everyone really enjoyed the first class buffet of Japanese and Western food that had been catered by the Okura Hotel. It really was another special and truly grand day in every way.

Missed but not Forgotten

As usual, a number of factors kept me from some very interesting and worthwhile events. These included a concert hosted by Polish Ambassador Jadwiga Rodowicz to mark the 90th anniversary of Poland-Japan diplomatic relations, another concert hosted by Croatian Ambassador Drago Stambuk, and Israeli Ambassador and Mrs. Nissim Ben-Shetrit’s reception at the Four Seasons Hotel to celebrate Israel’s 61st Independence Day. Over at the Egyptian Embassy there was Ambassador Abdelnasser’s monthly forum with interesting talks by two scholars, Dr. Nadia El-Borai and professor Masaichi Yamamura. Nadia presented an introduction to Ikebana, and Masaichi lectured on the nature of Qi (vital energy). I was also sorry to miss a sayonara dinner that Canadian Ambassador Jonathan Fried and his wife hosted at their residence for the Canadian Minister and Head of Mission Donald Bobiash. On the cultural scene, Ashley Associates brought in the International Theater Company London’s musical production of Romeo and Juliet to Tokyo. I’m sure it was excellent. I did get to Tokyo International Players’ production of the musical Oliver, and a big kudos to the production staff, the cast, and all involved. It was an evening of truly enjoyable entertainment. By accident, I met Portugal’s best known dancer and choreographer César Augusto Moniz at a small restaurant near my home. We became friends and later I got to meet the members of his dance group, Kamusuna Ballet Company, at a reception hosted by Portuguese Ambassador and Mrs. João Pedro Zanatti. I had to miss their performance, but plan on seeing them when they come back next year.

Seeing Stars

It’s that time of year again when major film companies here have been doing all kinds of promotional events for movies released in one of the top three seasons for moviegoers—school summer holidays. Warner Brothers brought in young superstar Zac Efron of High School Musical fame for his new film 17 Again. He made two stage appearances in Shinjuku to promote his film. Others coming in for Warner Brothers soon will be stars of the new Harry Potter film, due out in July. Sony Pictures brought in four people—superstar Tom Hanks, director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and Ayelet Zurer—to promote their controversial follow up to The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons. The visitors kept busy with a well-attended press conference and a big premiere, and Tom even threw out the first ball in a Yomiuri Giants baseball game. Paramount Pictures brought over several actors, the producer and the director to promote their box office hit Star Trek. Once again there was a huge turnout at the press conference, and the premiere was galactic success.