I usually find it difficult to start the column, but once I get started it’s difficult to stop.
Our hard-working new editor Alec Jordan had to cut 500 words last column, and since they’re not dated, I’ll take the time to pass along what I feel are interesting, and hopefully helpful discoveries that I’ve recently come across in this ever-changing great city of ours.
Continuing with Shibuya from last column, here are some mentions worth checking out. Starting with one of my favorites, Tokyu Hands and its seven floors not only have everything you could want to update your living quarters, but a huge variety of sporting goods including a great bicycle shop, the latest in luggage, accessories, fun fashion items, office, school, and art supplies, party decorations, and crafts and gifts from around the world.
Other unusual shops near Tokyu Hands include the 3 Coins Shop, where everything (and there’s a lot) cost 300 yen. The Weekender’s owner Ray Pedersen’s green thumb (He’s great with plants) rubbed off on me, and I got a half dozen great plants for my apartment there. If you’re looking for something a little cheaper there’s a super 100-yen store just downstairs from 3 Coins.
Nearby is the busy and always helpful Udagawa Police Box, and right across the street is the 354 Bar with a big sign in English that reads “The only bar on the earth where you can shoulder a portable shrine (Mikoshi).” I tried this in a local festival once, and was sore for a week.
Popcorn is really catching on in Tokyo. There are still long lines of people waiting for a bag of Garrett popcorn near Harajuku Station from about 10 am until early evening. There’s a new shop called Kukuruza popcorn where people are also lining up, in Omotesando across the street from Kiddyland. Even my favorite market—Azabu National Supermarket—just opened a Hill Valley popcorn shop on the veranda at the back of the store which is very popular.
Finally I’m sorry to say that I didn’t find fashion night on Omotesando very exciting this year. Japan, as we all know, has a great reputation for good fashion, but I just didn’t see that much glamour and glitz at the Vogue-sponsored event. I’ve met the Vogue people here and think they put out a really high-class magazine, but I feel they need to get their act together on their fashion night. I’d also like to mention—a recent issue of male Vogue looked more like an S&M magazine you’d pick up in West Hollywood than a fashion publication. With that, it’s time to move on to our city’s social scene.
Arab Day Gala Celebration—Mandarin Hotel
This year’s Arab Day was celebrated by a first class party all the way in the elegant ballroom of the Mandarin Hotel. The evening was organized and hosted by the Council of Arab Ambassadors and Heads of Missions in Tokyo.
The twenty-two member countries under the leaders of Palestine Ambassador Waleed Siam, who’s Dean of the Arab Diplomatic Corps made it a very special event in every way.
The huge Arabic-inspired centerpiece in the middle of the ballroom was beautifully created by a very artistic lady—Jamilah al-Otaibi, wife of the Kuwaiti Ambassador. Each of the Arab countries had their chefs prepare food for the buffet, and it was excellent.
Special guests included popular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and after his congratulatory speech he was swamped by guests trying to shake his hand, have their photo taken with him, or just be close to the amazing man.
Dewi’s Charity Banquet at Meguro Gajoen
As always Lady Dewi Sukarno’s Grand Imperial Charity Banquet (the 16th annual) to benefit the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, was one of the highlights of this year’s social events—“Maiougi,” the huge beautiful venue at Meguro Gajoen was wall-to-wall with about 550 of Japan’s (and some expat) rich and famous including a lot of entertainment and fashion personalities.
The dinner was excellent as they always are at Dewi’s events, as was the dinner show. The opening act was a dynamic violin solo by award-winning 11-year old Raika Tetsu who’s really talented and professional. This was followed by a colorful and exciting song, dance and shamisen by renowned entertainer Naomichi Hanazano. During his and his dance groups’ show, Dewi left our table, went to a dressing room and changed from her elegant evening dress to a colorful and elegant kimono in which she joined Naomichi for a graceful traditional Japanese dance. She looked and danced beautifully.
This was followed by a performance by one of Japan’s top singers Hiromi Go. I’ve known Hiromi about 30 years. He was a super pop idol when my brother Chris (God bless his soul) was here and doing concerts (he could really sing) with so many Japanese stars at that time. Hiromi’s 58 now, but looks much younger. He still has a great stage presence. By the end of his show, he had most of the more than 500 guests on their feet, dancing and singing along with the songs he had made famous. The evening ended with a charity auction of paintings, luxury handbags and jewelry and many brand name raffle prizes.
Looking back, I find it amazing how many wonderful people I’ve met and got to know through writing this column. These certainly include an exceptional couple who are right at the top—Philippines Ambassador Manuel Lopez and his dynamic lady, Maria Teresa. Mixing with them and the crowd at a recent Filipino festival in Yokohama made me realize even more how respected and loved they are by their big community in Japan. I feel so lucky to have them, and so many other wonderful friends out there. I often visit Midtown’s Oakwood Premiere residences to say hello to Oakwood execs Martin Fluck, Eric Ichimura and their super staff, and I have a space there with a great view of the park where I can work on the column.
The Oakwood lounge is always busy, and have really met some interesting people. These include sumo great/entertainer Konishiki and his gorgeous wife Chie who do much of their charity work for many causes outside of Midtown. Others include baseball, soccer and rugby players and F-1 drivers. Then there’s usually a business leader on two that include Pasona President Kazuyuki Namba. The place is usually a beehive of activity with wine tastings, special parties, and volunteer workers from “Hands on Tokyo” and Blackstone wrapping gifts for Konishiki’s “Kona Santa” projects in Tohoku and elsewhere. Two of the primary donors are “Toys R Us” and Lego. Konishiki by the way has a new blonde, red, and green hairstyle. He’s a fun guy.
Malaysian Celebration at Chinzanso
Malaysian Ambassador Shaharuddin Md. Son and his wife Datin Nora Sikin both looked super chic in Malaysian national fashion at the reception they hosted to celebrate their beautiful country’s National Day at the Chinzanso Hotel. They’re a popular couple and as expected, there was a big crowd event at the early evening. The program included an excellent speech by the Ambassador, another by a Japanese dignitary, the playing of the Malaysian and Japanese anthems and a toast.
2014 has been designated as “Visit Malaysia” year, and there’s a full calendar of special events to make this an even bigger and full schedule of events, bargains and great experiences in Malaysia.
I thank this former Ambassador and his wife H.M. and Noni Khatib for a fantastic two-week trip all over Malaysia. They provided me with a cool Malaysian car—a Proton Saga. After several days in colorful exciting Kuala Lampur, I drove to Penang, took a ferry boat to Langkawi, back to Penang, up to the Cameron Highlands and back to K.L. There was another trip to legendary Malacca with its pink church, and back to K.L. before flying down to Sarawak and Sabah, back to K.L. and home to Tokyo. It was a truly fantastic travel experience in every way. Had another great trip to the exotic rain forest music festival later. Believe me my friends you should visit Malaysia and Visit Malaysia 2014 is the right time to do it.
I, by the way, would like to thank Zimbabwe Ambassador Harold Stuart Comberbach and his wife Bicky for the ride to Chinzanso. They are certainly one of the coolest couples I know.
Min-On Brings Cuba to Japan
“Oops They Did It Again.” As I mentioned before, Soka Gakkai’s Min-On concert association is a true leader in bringing cultural shows from all over the world and taking Japanese cultural programs overseas. One of the most recent was a dynamic Cuban musical show by world famous sax player and bandleader, Cesar Lopez, and Habana Ensemble. The program was a two solid enjoyable hours of a wide variety of Cuban music by the 10-piece orchestra, the popular singer Ana Iris, and four (two guys, two girls) really hot dancers. Min-On worked with a really nice couple, Cuban Ambassador Marcos Rodriguez Costa and his wife Rosa and the Cuban Ministry of Culture on getting this all together.
A few weeks later Min-On had a jazz concert featuring headliner Herbie Hancock. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it. Got to know Herbie over the years when he dropped by the New Lex Tokyo. He’s a member of Soka Gakkai. Also sorry when I heard two friends who also belong to Soka Gakkai, world’s top Australian model Miranda Kerr and actor Orlando Bloom recently divorced. They’re both so busy, it was difficult to spend much time together.
Colombia’s “Gloria” visits Japan
This magnificent Colombian Naval officer’s training ship was docking at Harumi Pier for four days. I’ve had open houses for the cadets and crew of Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc, the Chilean Esmeralda and several other countries’ training ships over the years at the New Lex Tokyo. I met with Colombian Ambassador Patricia Cardenas and her staff and planned on doing the same for those on the Gloria.
Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans that included a typhoon. The Gloria arrived and anchored at Harumi, there was a small ceremony and the Japanese officials, noting the approaching typhoon, requested that the Gloria leave Harumi and I guess sail around a few days until the weather cleared up. This cut two days off the three and a half days they were in Tokyo. They were able to extend their stay for one day, and hosted a marvelous evening of Colombian hospitality on the ship. This included music, dancing and a show by a group of cadets (guys and girls) who changed from their uniforms to colorful Colombian festival costumes for a dance show. I regretted having to cancel the New Lex Tokyo parties, but hopefully we can do this the next time the Gloria visits Japan.
Main Image: Noriaki Sano, Executive Officer/SVP (Sony Pictures Japan); Tom Hanks; and Masao Morita, Representative Director (Sony Pictures Japan) at the Tokyo International Film Festival.