September 18th – October 1st, 2009

Bill's People, Parties, Places - September 30th, 2009

If you watch BBC or CNN, you’ve probably heard that Japan, along with several other countries here in Asia, is pulling out of its recession. Let’s hope and pray that it’s true. So far (knock on wood) it hasn’t affected me all that much, but I have a lot of friends who have been going through some pretty rough times. These include older people who’ve been here a long time, have lost their jobs, and have returned home to God only knows what. It seems like young Brazilians (or half Brazilian/half Japanese) living and working in Tokyo and the rural areas have really been hit hard. Once they lose their jobs, as many have, they also lose other company benefits that often include the apartment or room where they live. I’ve talked to many and tried to help some, and believe me, it’s not easy for them. With all the construction going on everywhere it’s often difficult to even think about a recession. I visited friends at the Mexican embassy this morning, and it seems like every other building in the area behind the old Capitol Tokyu Hotel (soon to be a new, modern skyscraper) and in the area of the Diet building is being torn down, rebuilt, or at least completely redone. We see this every day, everywhere, with new apartment complexes, office buildings, boutiques, and restaurants opening or scheduled to open all over this amazing city. There’s been a lot of construction at the Mexican embassy as well. They’re really putting their newly opened auditorium/ event space to good use. Mexico has so much to show.

I found the article The Law in Japan in the August 7 issue of Weekender to be interesting and informative. There is no way the guys who wrote it could have covered everything, so I would like to mention another (relatively new) law that is quite easy to break if you don’t know about it. It is illegal to carry or have in your possession a pocketknife with a blade longer than six centimeters for a single-edged blade or five and a half centimeters for a double-edged blade. A few years ago a friend of mine’s driver was waiting for him and decided to take out a pocketknife he was carrying and clean his fingernails. A very observant young policeman saw him do this, and he ended up spending about five hours at the local police station, being questioned, photographed, fingerprinted, and signing endless forms the police had filled out for him. Don’t get me wrong: he broke the law and the police did their job. I do, however, feel that the officer in a Shinjuku koban I read about in a recent letter to the Japan Times could have been a little more understanding and flexible. According to the letter, a 74-year old, frail American tourist went into a koban in Shinjuku and asked where Kinokuniya bookstore was. He didn’t get an answer to his questions, but was asked if he had a pocketknife on him. He didn’t think anything about the question so answered yes, and took a knife on a keychain out of his pocket and handed it to the police officer. The man measured the knife and told the tourist that it was one centimeter over the legal length. The conclusion was that the American spent nine days in a holding cell. I don’t know all the circumstances, but frankly, I find this all a bit difficult to understand. Granted, the man unknowingly broke the law, but I do feel that the men in power could have shown a bit of flexibility and kindness. Kinokuniya lost business that day, and I’m sure Japan, a country which I love and respect, will lose a lot of tourists if the incident gets the international publicity that it should and probably will receive. These kinds of things happen all over the world, but I really feel sorry about them happening here. It really wasn’t right.

In closing this part of the column, I’d like to thank police officer Toru Akiyama for the updated information he sent me on the Roppongi cleanup. I met Akiyama-san when I visited the Azabu police station with the leader of the Guardian Angels here, Keiji Oda. He’s the deputy chief of the community safety section.

1. Czech Ambassador Jaromir Novotny, Brazilian Ambassador Luiz Augusto de Castro Neves, Philippine Ambassador Domingo Siazon, and Mexican Ambassador Miguel Ruiz Cabanas

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2. Zimbabwean Ambassador Stuart Comberbach, Madagascan Ambassador Jimy Ramiandrison, politician Yuriko Koike, and Eliane Ramiandrison

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3. Amal Ketrandji of Algeria, Alice Karekezi of Rwanda, Maria Luzia Cuna of Mozambique, Ezza Ould Jaafar of Mauritania, and Christiane Sar of Senegal

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4. Senegalese Ambassador Gabriel Sar

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5. Zomahoun D.C. Rufin of Benin, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, and Malawian Ambassador Roosevelt Gondwe

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6. Gabonese Ambassador J.C. Obame and Guinean Ambassador Mohamed Toure

Africa Day Celebration

The Africa Day celebration at the Roppongi Hills Club was very special as well. The many participating countries all prepared a wide variety of their national dishes. The food was fantastic—the only problem was deciding what to try. There was just no way anyone could even sample all of the many dishes in the lavish buffet. The evening was a kaleidoscope of color, with many of the women (and a considerable number of men as well) wearing their national costumes. Check out the photos and you’ll see what I mean. It was nice seeing Judith Atanga, and we talked about when we went club hopping in Roppongi several years ago with Robert De Niro. Judith was working at the Cameroon embassy then. Now she has a Cameroon restaurant, O’Village, in Higashi Ikebukuro. It was also nice to see former prime minister Yoshiro Mori. He’s pretty much travelled all over Africa, and keeps busy furthering Japan’s good relations with African countries. It was an interesting, meaningful, and laid back celebration. Congratulations to all concerned.

Opening of the New Indian Embassy

My sincerest congratulations to the high profile, always active, and always helpful Indian community in Japan on the opening of their beautiful new embassy near Yasukuni shrine. To celebrate the occasion, Indian Ambassador Hemant Singh and his wife Mrinalini hosted several special events, including a soft opening, a formal opening, and a national day reception. Mrinalini, as many of you know, is a very accomplished artist, and her paintings of flowers are beautiful. Her knowledge and love of art played a very important part in making the spacious, ultra-modern new embassy complex the cool, relaxing place that it is. Even if you don’t have business there, you should drop by and check out the beautiful contemporary and traditional Indian art in the lobby and other public areas. Earlier this year, thanks to Tom Yoda of Gaga Communications, I set up a private screening of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire for Hemant, Mrinalini, and some of the embassy staff. It was really nice of Tom to loan a copy of the film to be shown in the new embassy’s auditorium for the soft opening.

Autumn is a very busy time for our Indian friends. One of the biggest events on the Indian calendar, Diwali, falls on October 17 this year, and there’s a big, colorful festival in Yokohama on October 17 and 18 to celebrate the occasion. There’s also the fun and entertainment-packed Indian festival at Yoyogi Park on September 26 and 27. See you there.

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1. Indian tourism regional director M. Sadana and businessman Atul Parekh

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2. EU Ambassador High Richardson, South African Ambassador Gert Grobler, Turkish Ambassador Sermet Atacanli, Indian Ambassador Hemant Singh, and Egyptian Ambassador Walid Abdelnasser

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3. Indian Ambassador Hemant Singh, his wife Mrinalini, Colombian Ambassador Patricia Cardenas, Uruguayan Ambassador Ana Maria Estevez, and Gaga Communications CEO Tom Yoda

Toshiro Mifune Restaurant

Last month in Roppongi the family of one of Japan’s best-known actors, the late Toshiro Mifune, opened a fashionable new Japanesestyle restaurant in memory of Toshiro. I got to know the man well over the years, and thanks to his actor grandson, Riki, who’s a student at St. Mary’s, I received an invitation to the opening. Following tradition, customers take off their shoes at the entrance, and are taken to one of the tables, where they sit on the floor. There’s one elevated private room that sits about eight people, and the decor reflects Toshiro’s main characters samurai. The menu offers a choice of meat and vegetables, is healthy, and reasonably priced. The crowd there was interesting. I enjoyed talking with William Saito, who is a good friend of Bill Gates and also works with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of the girls with him told me, “Everything he touches turns to money.” That must be nice. For information on the restaurant check www.mifune-project.com.

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4. Shiro Mifune, Bill Hersey, soccer star Yasuto Honda, his wife Yumiko, and their daughter Sara

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5. Yuga Salzman, Ken Esparza, Riki Mifune, and Sun Jae Oh

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6. Raymond Johnson, Anna Sado, and Steve Oie

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7. Eri Terai, Koto Mifune, and her son Riki

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8. Hitomi Tsujita, Michiko Sugita, and Intecur president William Saito

Mexican Naval Party

I’ve always had a love of the sea and boats of all kinds. I even came to Japan for the first time on a Japanese freighter that took almost two weeks from Long Beach, California to Yokohama, and I made several trips back and forth from Japan to Hawaii on the President line. After that, needless to say, I was looking forward to (and really enjoyed) the evening that Mexican Ambassador and Señora Ruiz Cabana, the officers, cadets, and crew hosted aboard the visiting Mexican naval cadets’ training ship, the majestic Cuauhtemoc, which was docked at Harumi pier for several days. Guests at the reception included Japanese government officials, diplomats, Japanese naval officers, members of the Mexican community in Japan, and even a guest Korean naval cadet. It was a beautiful evening, with a marvelous view of the Rainbow Bridge. The superb buffet of Mexican favorites featured a big cake in the shape of the ship, complete with sails, miniature metal sailors, and lights on the masts. It really was a work of art. I’ve visited the ship on its last four visits to Japan, and it’s always a great and memorable experience. This time, as always, I had the privilege of getting to know many of the officers, cadets, and crew who partied at the New Lex. It was all very Mexico, and all very special.

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9. Paulka Fried, Korean naval cadet Park, Canadian Ambassador Johnathan T. Fried, British model Tina

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10. Mexican economic counsellor Armando Arriga, his wife Serok Lee of Escada, and a young Cuauhtemoc officer

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11. Mexican Ambassador Miguel Ruiz Cabana, president of the house of councillors Satsuki Eda, and Cuauhtemoc commanding officer Jose Francisco Gonzales Galindo

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12. Uruguayan Ambassador Ana Maria Estevez, Nicaraguan Ambassador Saul Arana, Haitian Ambassador Jean Claude Bordes, and Mexican Ambassador Ruiz Cabanas with his wife Martha

To Do

We all know that Japan is a literal treasure chest of culture and tradition. What makes it all even more special are the many opportunities that the government, schools, businesses, and even individuals offer to visitors to help them learn more about the many things that make up Japanese life. For those into Japanese sake, here’s an upcoming event that’s well worth checking out. National Azabu supermarket in Hiroo has joined with the Sake Association of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, in a ‘Learn and Taste Japanese Sake’ seminar. The lecture and experience will take place on September 26 and 27 and October 3 and 4, times are 1–2:30pm and 4–5:30pm, and the lectures are in English. Space is limited to 15 people per seminar. For registration and more information drop by the supermarket. The event, which is free, is supported by Nara prefecture.