March 19 – April 1

Bill's People, Parties, Places - March 30th, 2010

by Bill Hersey

Certainly one of the best things about getting this column together over the years has been the opportunity to meet and build friendships with so many wonderful people from all walks of life.

This week I’d like to start out with a tribute to a group of truly exceptional women—the wives of the ambassadors who are posted here. As the wives of their countries’ top representatives in Japan, they have an interesting, busy and often hectic schedule that gives them the chance to travel, come into contact with many cultures, meet interesting people from all over the world, and, along with their husbands, do so much to promote their own countries and cultures to the Japanese and others they meet. In many ways it’s a glamorous, enviable life, but I know it can also mean long hours and hard work, and is by no means all fun and games.

Diplomats are usually posted for three or four years in a given country, and during their careers they sometimes move to and live in half a dozen countries or more. For the wife this means packing up, moving, setting up a home in a new and often completely different environment, and helping her children say goodbye to old friends, enroll in a new school, make new friends, and adjust to the culture of their new home. The wives themselves have to make new friends, establish themselves in the community, and get involved in the culture and society of their new posting.

Here in Japan I know many who study calligraphy, tea ceremony, ikebana, etc. They all get involved in charity projects that help out worthwhile causes both here and back home. On top of all that, they are always there when their husbands need them, which is often. Even with their busy schedules, I’ve known many who somehow manage to work. Here’s a few examples: Heather, the wife of former US Ambassador Tom Foley worked full-time at a law office during their stay in Japan. Mrinalini, the wife of Indian Ambassador Hemant Singh, is a marvelous artist, and often exhibits her beautiful paintings of flowers. She’s also one of the most spiritual people I know.

Martha, wife of Mexican Ambassador Miguel Ruiz Cabanas, was absolutely glowing when she recently told me that she’s now working with a clinic here on cancer research. She has an MD and PHD, and is the devoted mother of two beautiful children, Juan Miguel and Anna Lucia. I’d like to extend a big and sincere kudos to the ambassadors’ wives in Japan and thank them for their friendship and support.

Over at the Imperial Hotel, Bahraini Ambassador Dr. Khalil Hassan and his wife Dr. Salwa Almahroos hosted a glittering evening on the occasion of their country’s national day. Both Khalil and Salwa are medical doctors. He specializes in children’s surgery; she in diabetes. The compassionate couple are very popular, and there were so many of their Japanese and international friends there that evening. The Arabic food was excellent, and a talented young group of Japanese musicians played Arabic music. I visited Bahrain several years ago, and I have really fond memories of the country and its people. Congratulations to them on this special occasion.

As always, it was a full house at the Tokyo Prince Hotel for Ikebana International’s annual exhibition and bazaar. The flower arrangements, of course, were awesome, and I’m happy to report that the bazaar booths set up by many ambassadors’ wives and selling handicrafts, fashion, jewelry and more were very busy. HIH Princess Takamado, patron of the event, checked it all out with Natalia Belaya, wife of the Russian ambassador, who was chairperson of the event. Entertainment included a performance by a gorgeous Russian singer and colorful folk dances by Russian students. I enjoyed meeting and talking with Vyacheslav N. Alikin, who heads Aeroflot Russian Airlines in Japan and Australia. He gave me a rundown on all the improvements his company has made, including the addition of new Airbuses. Proceeds of the busy day went to charity.

With the World Cup in South Africa fast approaching, Ambassador Gert Grobler and his staff have been super busy with all kinds of events (as I mentioned before). One of the most colorful was the concert by the award winning group the Soweto Gospel Choir. They’ve performed all over, and had a special appearance at last year’s Oscar awards ceremony. It was a great show with an interesting variety of music. I loved the gospel songs. There was a lot of moving to the music, both on and off the stage, and the full house loved it all. A special thanks to Gert for the opportunity to meet and mix with the dynamic singers and dancers after the show.

One of the many opening events for Turkish Year in Japan was a concert by well-known pianist Gulsin Onay. I’ve heard the lady play several times and she really is talented. The music, the superb buffet of Turkish food, and the guests all added up to the special kind of evening for which Turkish Ambassador Sermet Atacanli is famous.

Thanks to hotelier Xavier Destribats and his wife Tatiana, I started out the new year with almost a full day of superb food, great conversation and fun with many of our city’s movers and shakers in the warm ambiance of the Destribats’ beautiful Aobadai home. Many of the guests were Tokyo’s top hotel GMs, and it was nice to see them there relaxing with their families and having the time to really enjoy the day off. Tatiana is a very in demand cooking teacher, and she invited the Grand Hyatt’s legendary executive chef Josef Budde, as well as a couple of her restaurant owner friends, to help prepare the all-day buffet. The duck, which isn’t normally one of my favorites, was excellent, and I had several servings. Each chef had prepared something special, and just about everyone there probably ate more than they should have. I don’t drink, but guests who really know their wines had nothing but raves for the selection available. This really was a great day in every way. Xavier, Tatiana, their friends, and their friends’ kids really know how to party.

The luxurious, comfortable lounge at the Oakwood Premiere Midtown has proven to be a perfect venue for everything from large business events to fun pop shows. Recently, thanks to entrepreneur Broderick Morris (one of Michael Jackson’s best friends), I had the opportunity to go to Oakwood for a rocking mini concert by J. Haliday. I also got the chance to meet many of his gorgeous fans and enjoy an excellent buffet. It was fun to get to know Oakwood executive Martin Fluck. He’s Swiss, outgoing, and has a great sense of humor.