November 6 – 19

Bill's People, Parties, Places - November 6th, 2009

In getting photos and material for my column, I drive all over this marvelous city, and have been doing so for a long time. Even so, the amount of construction on highways, new homes, business buildings, condominiums, etc. never ceases to amaze me. This is especially true when one hears about the recession and unemployment, as well as seeing more and more homeless people everywhere. The fashion business has much to do with the changing face of Tokyo. There are almost weekly openings of chic new boutiques, and I’m sorry to say that many of them, especially those dealing in expensive luxury items, always seem to be pretty empty. Recent openings of H&M in Shibuya and Gap across from Harajuku station prove that people, especially the younger people, are interested in trendy, moderately priced fashion. One of my all- time favorite menswear designers is Armani. Unforunately he isn’t doing too well in the Japanese market right now. I’m lucky, as I buy most of my Armani at tremendous bargain sales in Hawaii right after Christmas. Issey Miyake just added another boutique, Pleats Please, to his other shops on Miyuki-dori in Aoyama, and even though it’s a bit expensive, he seems to be doing very well. Once again, he’s proven that there is a market for quality and originality. Kudos, by the way, to the window decorators who do the many shops (D&G, Prada, Cartier, etc.) along that street. They come up with some great stuff and change the windows often.

While you’re in that neighborhood, be sure to visit the newly opened Nezu Museum. I haven’t been yet, but judging by the fantastic building and long rows of bamboo trees (my favorite), I’m sure it’s very special. From there it’s a short walk over to Koto-dori (a.k.a. Antique Street), where you can check out the antique shops, as well as one of Japan’s busiest fashion designers, Junko Koshino’s, big, modern building. There are lots of interesting shops and restaurants nearby, and lots happening in Omotesando as well. The landmark Hanae Mori building, with its boutiques, French restaurant, coffee shop, show venue, and antique shops, is now empty and will be gone soon. No one seems to know what the big building planned for the space will be. The busy McDonald’s across the street, as well as one of Fumio Kawashima’s hair salons and Mako’s boutique, is boarded up, and I haven’t been able to find out what’s happening there. Japanese construction workers never seem to know exactly what they’re working on―they just work, and work hard. A construction worker friend of mine was able to get permission to take a sneak peek of the huge new highway currently being built under Kan 7 from Shibuya to Ikebukuro. Believe me, it’s awesome. That same friend is now working on the renovation going on at Tokyo station.

The Iceberg, Audi’s ultra-modern, high-tech building on Meiji-dori was built in 2006. The design team from CDI Company were really looking ahead and really knew what they were doing. It’s futuristic, functional and comfortable. Fiat has also done a great job on their Aoyama-dori showroom, cafe and party venue.

I recently took a ride around Ginza in one of the India Tourism velo taxis― what a great way to see that world-famous part of Tokyo. I talked with Kei and Nobuko Kosaka at Spain’s national day party, and they told me about two buildings with a bridge that their company is building there to replace the prestigious Komatsu department store.

I will end this part of the column over in my stomping grounds…Roppongi. The corner Almond coffee shop, which everyone used to use as a place to meet friends, has been torn down, and a new one is going up. It’ll be interesting to see what that’s going to look like. There are still ‘for rent’ signs all over Roppongi, and I can’t imagine many of those new buildings filling up until times get better and things in that area improve. A new law in Japan requires those planning new projects to set aside some space for grass, trees, etc. Let’s hope it works.

Turkish Armed Forces Day Reception

On the occasion of the Turkish Armed Forces Day, Military Attache and Mrs. Eyyup Gurler hosted a well-attended reception at the embassy residence. The military staff of most of Tokyo’s many embassies were there, and the variety of uniforms and number of decorations was very impressive. As always, the bountiful buffet of Turkish food was amazing… and so good. I appreciated Ambassador Atacanli showing me some of the changes underway in the residence, which was still under renovation. The original building, which was designed by one of Japan’s best-known architects, Kenzo Tange, has held up well.

Altamirano Piano Concert

Mexican Ambassador Miguel Ruiz Cabanas and his wife Martha hosted an evening of marvelous music by one of Mexico’s top pianists, Jose Luis Altamirano. The venue was the new, bright Octavio Paz Hall at the embassy. It was a relaxing, enjoyable evening in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Yamaha Mexico and the 400th anniversary of Mexico- Japan friendly relations. Special guests that evening included Japanese singer/actress Yumiko Kokonoe, who gained fame in Mexico in the 1970s and 80s as the star of the popular TV show Senorita Cometa. Her husband Hiroshi Kato, who was also at the concert, is a singer as well.

Argentine Tango Festival

Kudos to our Argentinean friends and the many Japanese tango lovers as well. The dynamic, exciting and sensual 10 Tango Festival in Tokyo featured many of Argentina’s top tango performers. Thanks to Argentinean Ambassador Daniel Dziewezo Polski and his wife Norma, as well as minister Jorge Osella and his wife Graciela. I had the privilege of attending two of the festival’s main events. The first was in the Roppongi Hills Club, where a Buenos Aires tango club atmosphere had been created. Many of the guests there were top notch tango dancers, and they really showed their skill on the dance floor. Some of the fashion, both women’s and men’s, was really hot. The second event, the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt, had a show that featured the best Argentine tango musicians, singers and dancers. It was exotic, sometimes erotic, and beautiful. The audience loved every minute of it, and the artists often returned for encores. Local performers included a young Japanese accordian player, Ryota Komatsu. He really knew what he was doing. Needless to say, the festival was a huge success. Kudos to all concerned, and let’s hope they do it all again here soon.

Four Seasons Gala

Chris Hart, senior vice president of operations (Asia Pacific) for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, hosted an appreciation party at the Four Seasons Chinzan-so, where 32 Four Seasons associates from 25 hotels around the world and top executives from Canada and Singapore joined in making it a fabulous evening to thank their customers. The main venue, the hotel’s ballroom, was beautifully decorated, and the smoke from dry ice added class. On the main stage, an Australian jazz band performed many of the classics. The buffet had tables of gourmet dishes from each of the countries represented there. These included Thailand, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia and the Maldives. Guests also had the opportunity to enjoy the Italian food that was to be featured in the La Festa Italiana, which opened at the hotel the next day.

Don’t Miss

One of Japan’s top charity organizations, the International Ladies Benevolent Society (ILBS) will hold their annual Christmas charity fair at the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka on Saturday, November 28 from 11am– 3pm. The chairperson this year is Florina Beagu, wife of the Romanian ambassador. Both she and the publicity officer, Daniele Yoshikoshi, guarantee it’ll be a fun day with interesting people. The perfect place to pick up handmade holiday decorations, homemade baked goods, jewelry, gift items, ornaments, greeting cards, wrapping paper, etc. Proceeds go to many charities the ladies of ILBS support. For more information email ilbs_contact@yahoo.com.