To start, I wanted to keep a promise I made in a recent column and update you on the amazing construction boom, as well as renovation of older buildings going on all over town.
By Bill Hersey
Over in Omotesando, the big and beautifully designed Apple Computer Store really adds class and color to the area behind the police box on Aoyama Dori. I think I can safely say that’s going to make things really busy in that already busy location. Across the street, the elegant Gucci Store has added color and class to their rather traditional building with a tasteful photo collection of their latest fashions.
There’s also a new building going up, next to Edward Suzuki’s Tokyo Union Church. Continuing across Aoyama Dori, you have endless fashion boutiques on Miyuki Dori. Japan’s top designer Issey Miyake has both men’s and women’s boutiques here: A bit pricey, but quite original. If you like really classy window displays, check out the French skiwear shop Moncler across from Cartier. They’re always perfectly coordinated and really upscale. Another big international boutique, Alexander McQueen, opened on Miyuki just off Aoyama Dori and looks very worthwhile to check out.
Walk up Miyuki to the intersection where the super chic Koto Dori Nezu Museum (lots of bamboo) is, turn right and walk to the Blue Note Jazz Club past lots of big brand name boutiques where you can spend lots of yen. Right after the Blue Note, turn left on Koto Dori and walk to the big intersection. On the corner, you’ll see talented and very creative designer Junko Koshino’s fashion building. Junko has designed costumes and won awards for pieces she has made for musicals, ballets, and other shows. You can see her work in performances by the truly sensational Tao drum rock group in their latest show Rin to Rin—running from July 16 through July 27 at the Galaxy Theater in Odaiba. For info and tickets, call 0570.550 779.
I’ll finish this part of the column with my old stomping grounds, Roppongi. Unforunately, this area and the clubs have really gone down over the last year or so. Fortunately community-minded people from powerful companies like Mori Buildings (Roppongi Hills), Mitsui (Tokyo Midtown), several beautiful museums, good restaurants, and many building owners have banded together to clean up the area. A perfect example is Naosuke Goto who’s tearing down his 35-year-old building on a side street near TGIF. This houses the New Lex Tokyo, a hostess club, and a few apartments that have all pretty much had it. The closing date for the building was set for June 26. Happy to hear Goto-san is keeping his big beautiful flower shop with Tully’s coffee shop on Roppongi’s main drag open.
Another long-time Roppongi business, the Ibis Hotel, has closed and is being rebuilt. Hope the Koyasu Pharmacy (next to the Ibis) with its great staff keeps going, as well as legendary Jane Scolinos’s pearl store on the 5th floor of the Arts Shop building near Roppongi crossing. That’s where Liz Taylor and countless other celebs bought—and still buy—their pearls when they’re in town. Ask for Jane’s daughter-in-law Linda, who knows what she’s doing and is really helpful.
Walking towards Tokyo Tower, you’ll see where they’re tearing down the Forum Building, which is next to the big Roi Building (I hear its days are numbered, too). A short walk to the big Iikura Katamachi crossing and you’ll see a new well-designed three-story glass building that occupies the corner property there. This circular glass structure will be a super Ferrari showroom. Let’s move on to old Edo’s busy social scene.
Europe Day Gala Reception
The Europe Day reception celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement and 40 years of EU diplomatic representation in Tokyo was held at the beautiful EU delegation building on May 9.
EU Ambassador Hans Dietmar Schweisgut and his wife Kaoru greeted what turned out to be a full house of VIP European Union members, their families, and friends. All of the 28 EU countries were, of course, represented there. The program included impressive and informative speeches by Ambassador Schweisgut and several prominent Japanese government officials. The delicious buffet featured a special selection of national dishes prepared by master chefs of each EU member’s embassies. Needless to say, it was really special. Guests were also treated to a program of musical entertainment by the Euro Jazz Quartet led by Maestro Paul Florea.
South African Freedom Day
This year’s South African Freedom Day was celebrated at Meiji Kinenkan at a crowded and colorful reception hosted by South African Ambassador Pheko. She, along with her executive staff, all wore fashionable South African costumes in the receiving line. The venue, which is first class, always provides an excellent buffet that includes many of the sponsoring country’s specialties. Things got lively later in the evening with some exciting drumming and dancing by a talented South African group. I also want to congratulate singer Prisca Molotsi, who not only looked beautiful but belted out a dynamic rendition of her country’s national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika.” Kudos as well to the Ambassador whose speech made most of us want to catch the next plane for a holiday in her fabulous country.
I had to turn down a super invitation by a super couple—Philippines Ambassador Manuel Lopez and his wife Maritess to Manila for their 50th wedding anniversary. Tokyo friends of the special couple who did go included Bill and Charo Ireton, their busy actress daughter Roberta, Kuwait Ambassador Al-Otaibi and his wife Jamilah, Spanish Ambassador Miguel Ángel Navarro Portera and his wife Romana, Blackstone’s Daniel Fujii, Kyoko Spector, Lilo Maruyama, wife of Thai Ambassador Upatasin Monthip, Utako Arrir, wife of Moroccan Ambassador and Imperial Hotel President Sugeyasu. Hopefully I’ll get some photos of what I heard was a glittering and truly memorable event for the next column.
Sorry to read about actor Mickey Rooney passing away recently. The amazing performer was 93. I met Mickey several years ago backstage at the Broadway Show Sugar Babies when I was there to have coffee with his co-star, the sensational dancer, Ann Miller. Mickey, whose acting career spanned 85 years, still had a great sense of humor.
Happy to read that another showbiz friend, singer, dancer, and actress Rita Moreno, recently received the 50th Screen Actors’ Guild Life Achievement Award. Rita, who’s now 81, won an Academy Award for her role as Anita in the film West Side Story. I hung out with her for several days when she was in Japan. The Dance Theater of Harlem was in town and their director, Arthur Mitchell, gave me tickets for one of the performances. Rita’s real personality is much like Anita’s—she’s a fiery, don’t-hold-anything-back Puerto Rican. Her shouts of encouragement to the dancers (especially the guys) attracted almost as much of the audience’s attention as the show. She really camped it up backstage after the show, and the dancers loved it.
On the more conservative side, I saw a photo of Indonesia’s former Ambassador to Japan, Muhammad Lutfi in a magazine recently. He’s Trade Minister now, and still looks like a college student. He and his super chic Austrian wife Bianca have to be one of the best-looking couples in Jakarta.
I’ll save the grand and glorious opening party of the spectacular new Andaz Hotel “by Hyatt” on the top floor of the new Mori Buildings Toranomon Hills development. For now—a big congratulations to the GM, Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry and all those involved. It really all is top class in every way. For now, I’d also like to mention Tom Pritcher, the Hyatt Hotel’s chairman whom I got to know years ago when I showed him and his brother around Tokyo by night. They were college students at the time. The day after the opening, Tom was off to Amsterdam to present the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize to Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.
No Business Like Show Business
Tokyo never stops being a leader in offering all kinds of cultural activities—music, art, drama, dance: you name it, and it’s being done at a top level here.
The Min-On Concert Association, which is a subsidiary of the Soka Gakkai religion, is not only a leader in bringing all kinds of international shows here, it also takes Japanese shows all over the world. In the last few months, they brought in the traditional Irish band Taeda, top stars of the National Peking Opera Company, a Korean music show and a colorful Hawaiian show. Min-On knows no boundaries and recently presented special awards to famous artists they brought here – soul singer/songwriter Ben E. King, jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, and jazz legend Herbie Hancock. Whenever Min-On brings in artists, it really keeps them busy with full schedules all over Japan.
Thanks to the busy promoters at Kyodo Tokyo, whose artists include the Rolling Stones and Paul McCarthy, I met the rising star actor/singer/artist, Matte Kamaras from Hungary. I was happy to introduce Matte’s manager, Kyodo’s Shoko Inagaki. Thanks to Oakwood Premier Tokyo Midtown’s Martin, Eric, and Amy we had two fan club members’ parties at the luxurious Oakwood lounge. The many well-dressed fans were in their twenties and thirties, and Matte, who speaks some Japanese, kept them all laughing for two full hours. He’s coming back to Japan soon and will be the only foreigner in a musical that will be running August 16 to 27. More on this later.
Film buffs should be happy with the summer lineup. Thanks to film biz friends I went to a couple of very exciting premieres. The first was 20th Century Fox’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past. Lots of great special effects, and Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry have to have two of the best bods in showbiz. The second was Warner Brothers’ local production Rorouni Kenshin, the second in a series they’re doing. As part of the promotion, all the stars made appearances in Roppongi Hills Arena, and later on stage at the theater venue. The fans loved it all. The cast are great, and the cinematography—which was shot all over Japan—was gorgeous, and the samurai fight scenes were dynamic. Looks like WB is going to have another local production box office hit.