by Bill Hersey

Here in Old Edo, just like everywhere in the world, there’s both good and bad news. Recent good news includes the setting up of a serious and determined Clean Up Roppongi commitee—proof (I hope) of their intentions are the big signs, in both English and Japanese, that they’ve put up all over Roppongi. They read like this: “WARNING You will be punished if you do any of the following acts against passersby: To call them to stop as prospective customers; To block their ways, or keep tagging along with them.” The signs are issued by the chief of the Azabu police station and the mayor of Minato-ku, and even feature a little cartoon policeman and policewoman.
In talking with people in the know, I learned they’re installing more surveillance cameras and working not only with the Guardian Angels, but volunteer citizen groups as well. It’s sad, but as often as it happens, the bad behavior of some foreigners on Roppongi streets has reflected poorly on many people who work or just hang out there. Bad happenings, as well as negative media reports on the Roppongi area, have really hurt many of the legitimate businesses there.
I’ve always felt that countries like the U.S.A. and Japan that have money should, whenever possible, allow people from poorer countries to come in and hopefully make a better life for themselves. Those allowed in should, however, obey the laws and assimilate into the culture. I really find it difficult to understand why some foreigners think they can break the laws here and get away with it, when they would be jailed or worse for the same thing back home. It seems that authorities here are going to go all out to correct the situation. Let’s hope that they do just that.
On the down side, I recently saw a petition from the Sanyu-kai charity group on the bulletin board at the Franciscan Chapel, requesting people to sign to help reverse the ban on distributing food to the homeless under the Komagata Bridge over the Sumida River. It seems some people in the neighborhood were afraid their children might see or come into contact with the homeless. With TV, manga, and the world the way it is today, there’s no way you can’t or shouldn’t be aware of reality. Sanyu-kai has been distributing food for a long time, and now, when there are more and more people who need help, they should be allowed to continue their good work.
I also heard that another charity organization was told they had to stop giving food and medicine to the needy in one of Tokyo’s poorest districts, Sanya. It seems that someone has plans to turn Sanya into a popular backpacker’s destination, like Khao San Road in Bangkok (I remember that one from the book and film The Beach). I’m a big fan of Japan and the Japanese, but I do find it difficult to understand the reasoning and lack of compassion when it comes to the less fortunate. Like everywhere, most of these decisions and laws are not made by the people on the street, but those in power.
Enough for now, let’s move on to our city’s always busy social scene…

Bangladeshi National Day Celebration

It was wall to wall people at the Sheraton Miyako Hotel’s Daigo Hall for Bangladeshi Ambassador Ushraf Ud-Doula and his wife Jasmine’s reception to celebrate their national and independence day. Highlights of the colorful evening included lively dance performances by two young Bangladeshi girls and a lavish buffet catered by Tokyo’s top Bangladeshi restaurant, Basmati (tel. 03-3621-0270). I really enjoyed talking with Yasuyuki Nambu, one of Japan’s top businessmen and a real environmentalist and philanthropist. His projects include bringing young Bandladeshi here to study Japanese agriculture. The only downer of the evening was hearing that Ashraf and Jasmine would be leaving this autumn. It seems Bangladesh has a relatively young retirement age for diplomats. It’s a shame, as the popular couple have done so much to further relations between their country and Japan, and I’m sure they have so much more to offer.

Refugees International Charity Exhibition

I had to get up and out early for the opening ceremony of Refugees International Japan’s 19th annual Art of Dining charity exhibition at the Westin Hotel. Believe me, it was worth the effort. HIH Princess Hitachi, chic and nice as always, was there to join RIJ members at the ribbon cutting ceremony and visit each of the 21 exhibits, which were all original, special, and very creative. RIJ is a nonprofit volunteer organization that contributes over 30 million yen a year to emergency, health, and education projects around the world. Kudos to the many caring people who take time out of their busy schedules to put so much effort into the many worthwhile projects of Refugees International.

Dinner for the Andersons

Over at the Tokyo American Club, Sho and Mary Katayama hosted a beautiful dinner party for former Tokyoites Ron and Maria Anderson, who were here visiting from New York. If you’re lucky enough to know the Andersons, you know that when they were here they were one of the most popular and busy couples in town. From all reports, this is pretty much the same for them in the Big Apple as well. During their Tokyo years, Maria served a term as president of the International Ladies Benevolent Society (ILBS), and she has countless friends from her involvement in so many worthwhile projects here. This is reason enough for them to come back every year for the ILBS Cherry Blossom Ball and to visit their son and his family, who live in Hanoi. Ron’s work in Tokyo took him all over Asia, and he became friends with the leaders of many Asian countries. They also took time to visit several of these friends after leaving Tokyo. The Andersons, as you can see, are exceptional people. The Katayamas had many special people there that evening, including not only HIH Princess Takamado, but also her parents Shigejiro and Fumiko Tottori. Lots of interesting people, a great dinner, and a laid back ambiance made for a very nice evening.

Party at the Imperial Hotel

The Imperial Hotel’s spring press party in the luxurious Hikari Room was a first-class evening in every way. The hosts were the hotel’s president Tetsuya Kobayashi and general manager Hideya Sadayasu. Special guests included Honolulu-based Hotels and Resorts of Halekulani CEO Peter Shaindlin and VP Patricia Tam. The Imperial now serves as the reservation center in Japan for accommodations at the five-star Halekulani on the beach in Waikiki and its sister hotel, the Waikiki Park (tel. 0120-489-823). It was nice seeing a lot of longtime journalist friends, and the Imperial’s PR guru Skip Cronin made sure I met some of the other interesting people there as well. Kudos to the hotel chefs who created a fantastic buffet. The Imperial, by the way, will celebrate its 120th anniversary next year.

Just Talk

At a lunch with the head of the Guardian Angels, Keiji Oda, I learned that the nonprofit volunteer organization celebrated its 30th anniversary in New York City this month. The organization was established in the Big Apple by Curtis Sliwa, and has grown from a band of 13 young men in their red berets and jackets patrolling the subways and streets to a worldwide operation with chapters in 137 cities in 12 nations. My sincerest congratulations to the many members (both men and women) who put so much time and effort into making this world of ours a happier and safer place to live in.
I’m sure many of you have received those emails from alleged sons of royalty, former military leaders, etc., asking you to deposit a certain amount of money into their accounts and in a short time you’ll receive a huge payback in return for your help. By now most of us know that these are all from professional con men who will do anything to cheat people out of whatever they can, but I had one nice Dutch friend who fell for this and put $30,000 into what looked to be a legit investment. He ended up going to Nigeria and finding the office of the company he was dealing with was a very old, deserted warehouse. Needless to say, the local law enforcement was no help whatsoever.
Someone out there has been sending out letters claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service of the U.S. (IRS), asking you to complete an enclosed form and fax it to them in a week. Information requested on the form includes your social security number, mother’s maiden name, bank account name, account numbers, dates accounts were opened, etc. and a copy of your passport. The letter is signed by David Smith, director of information. I hope if you get this letter or anything like it you’ll check with the embassy before filling it out and faxing it back. Times are tough and there are even more phonies out there than usual, and that’s a lot.