If you traveled over the holidays, even for just a few weeks, I’m sure you’re surprised at all the changes in our city in such a short time.
By Bill Hersey
I decided to stay in Japan for Christmas and New Year’s. There were meetings with lots of nice students I knew from before, back from schools they attend all over the world. A dozen or more breaks in my favorite coffee shops (Mostly Segafredos), a full calendar of seasonal cultural events, and several parties. Traffic was relatively light, so I drove around a lot, checking out some of the almost daily changes in this truly amazing city. Highlights of my holiday happenings were a great evening with Christmas masses by Father Russell and Father Grimm, as well as an inspirational music presentation by some of the very talented members of the Franciscan Chapel. Another night, thanks to designer Junko Koshino, I saw the latest dynamic performance of the show “33 Samurai” by the group Drum TAO before they left for an extended tour all over Europe. Junko’s costumes, I might add, were perfect for the energetic and multi-talented cast.
Just before the holidays, the Hilton had a huge opening party for their super chic new 2nd dining floor, Tsunohazu. Photos later, but for now I strongly recommend that you check out any—or better yet, all—of the super outlets: the Metropolitan Grill, Zatta bar and lounge, Dynasty Chinese restaurant, and Junisoh Japanese cuisine. I also suggest you visit the pastry counter. The sourdough bread is delicious. There were about 1,500 people there that night—all enjoying the food, drink and ambiance.
Shibuya stayed busy over the holidays. The Don Quixote shop was open 24 hours a day, every day, and was pretty much full of foreigners. Many of them were from Europe and their Euros were worth a lot here—some even brought extra suitcases to fill with all the bargains they found at “Donki,” Uniqlo, Labi, Tower Records, and the like before heading home.
I played couch potato quite a bit during the holidays, and thanks to the Uemura family (Tohoku Shinsha, National Supermarkets), I have five or six Korean channels on my home system. I don’t mind admitting I’m a real fan of K-pop, and am really impressed with how professional young K-pop artists, male and female, have become in such a short time. Korean promoters and producers are really surpassing J-pop with super sets, original fashions, a huge variety of all-color/all-style hair, unbelievably well coordinated dancing, and lots of talent. They’re fast gaining popularity all over the world and I recently saw a TV presentation of a huge popular Korean musical show in Brazil. If you visit Tower Records and follow showbiz trends here, you know what huge fascination Japanese women, both young and old, have for K-pop.
When I think about the rise of these K-pop stars, I can’t help but think about Japan’s idol maker Johnny Kitagawa, whom I worked with for 10 years—his groups include SMAP, Arashi, Kattun, and Kiss-My-Ft2. They are talented, but seem to be too much under the control of promoters. One example is singer/actor Jin Akanishi. He pushed too hard on his dream of being an entertainment artist: not a pop star. His dream resulted in the cancellation of many of his projects, and even blacklisting.
In closing, this long opening will touch on something more heavy—a letter I received from the US Embassy just before the holidays, titled “Drink Spiking in Roppongi.” The letter said that the embassy continues to get reports of drink-spiking incidents in Roppongi. The victims unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been mixed with a drug, rendering them unconscious for several hours. Their credit card is stolen and used for large purchases. Some victims regain consciousness in the bar or club, while others wake up in a side street or other unknown locations.
US citizens also said they were charged exorbitant tabs in some bars and clubs. When they complained, they were threatened with guns or knives, and some have reported being beaten.
If you or anyone you know has problems like this, contact American Citizen Services—24 hour telephone service is available at 03-3224-5000. Mori Buildings and Mitsue are behind a “Clean Up Roppongi” campaign—but it’s going to take time.
New Zealand Ukulele Concert
It was a fun colorful noisy evening at the New Zealand Embassy when the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra presented a lively concert to guests of New Zealand Ambassador William Mark Sinclair. Those there had the opportunity to meet and mix with the performers, who wore wild clothes, and were all really outgoing and talented. Kudos to the embassy chef! The buffet was original and excellent.
Singapore National Day
The many people from all walks of life at the Imperial Hotel for Singaporean Ambassador Chin Siat Yoon and his wife Wang Lee Moi’s National Day reception were proof positive of Japan and Singapore’s good relationship. There were welcome speeches by the host and several Japanese government officials. The opening ceremony closed with the dignitaries on stage cutting a big cake. After that guests mingled, mixed and enjoyed the superb variety of Singapore food. The Imperial’s food is always good, but they were very smart in being the first to allow embassies to bring in food from their countries’ best restaurants in Japan. The satay, duck and chicken dishes were all very special. Had coffee with top foreign entertainer here, Steven Haynes, who had just gotten back from doing a New Year’s Eve show at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. He said the countdown event was a super happening in every way.
Hersey, Hilton, Weekender Annual Orphans Party
This was my 17th annual Christmas party for orphans. The venue, as always, was the marble lounge that the Hilton staff had, as always, turned into a winter wonderland. Their huge tree decorated with hundreds of teddy bears was beautiful.
Happy to report we had a great turnout of generous caring people who did a great job of taking care of the beautiful little boy or girl they were paired off with for the day. These Santa’s helpers included many Ambassador’s wives, showbiz personalities, community leaders, guardian angels, and more.
The program started off with a welcome speech by Hilton Tokyo’s generous and congenial GM Mike Williamson. This was short and sweet, and as soon as it was over, the full of energy and happy kids headed for the buffet tables that had everything children love—hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and sushi, as well as Christmas cookies, cake, fruits, ice cream, and more. The hotel food and beverage staff had gone all out to make it colorful, artistic and delicious. During the meal there was a Cirque du Soleil mood with clowns, balloon animals, face painting and magic tricks. Each beautiful little boy and girl was then escorted by their parent for the day out to super Santa (the Dutch clown Rene Bosman), from whom they received their big gift from their sponsor, and a big bag of smaller gifts from sponsors that included Mercedes-Benz, Lufthansa, Paramount Pictures, Shintoyo Enterprise, Spector Communications, Walt Disney Co., Tohokushinsha, National Azabu Supermarket, Toho-Towa, 20th Century, Warner Bros. and Yodobashi Camera.
Then it was showtime and this year we started with the multi-talented Matthew Ireton, who got the kids singing in both English and Japanese. Japan’s #1 foreign entertainer Steve Haynes was there, and as always, was tons of talent and fun. This year, in addition to his playing the part of Rudolph the Reindeer in full costume, he led the kids and their new adult friends in dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA” and other songs. Steve also brought 7-year-old Michi Sagara who did a great Michael Jackson dance number.
My sincerest thanks to all the kind and caring friends who took time out of their busy holiday schedules to help make it the fun, successful event it was. A special thanks to Hilton’s PR gal Momoko Gonohe. She had really been busy with the opening of Hilton’s renovated 2nd floor, but still took time out to really help with the kids’ party.
Tokyo-Manila Jazz & Arts Festival
The Tokyo-Manila Jazz & Arts Festival three-day went full blast in Tokyo, from November 28 to 30. The vibrant cross-cultural celebration of music grooved into its third year, more powerful and energetic than ever. Super performances from renowned musicians from Japan and the Philippines’s jazz worlds included Tetsuro Kawashima, Yuki Arimasa, Boy Katindig, and Noel Cabangon. One voice that really stood out was the ever-passionate voice of Japan-based Filipino artist Charito, who set up the the concert series as a means of uniting the two countries.
Over the past two years, the Festival has grown beyond what the producers’ expected as it treats audiences to music from top talent like Terumasa Hino, Makoto Ozone, the AMP Big Band. Sitti and Mon David—and of course Charito, who performs each year. TMJAF hopes to continue to keep the bridge called jazz stronger than ever, bringing two cultures and two countries together. Mabuhay!
Elegant Evening at Italian Embassy
A classical concert series by the world famous Orchestra Dell Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Roma played to full houses all over Japan during their winter tour here. The orchestra, with its more than 100 members, is a favorite with classical music lovers here.
During their stay in Japan, Italian Ambassador Domenico Giorgi and his wife Rita hosted a reception at their beautiful home. Special guests included noted music director Antonio Pappano and violinist Ayako Suwanai. Other lucky local guests included both Italian, French, and of course Japanese members of the fashion, arts, entertainment and music industries. Enjoyed talking with Antonio and hope to take him up on his invitation to the opera in New York. It was a perfect evening of interesting people, Italian food at its best and Domenico and Rita’s hospitality. They should be back in Tokyo by now after a holiday in exciting Cambodia.