As autumn hits Tokyo, our inimitable columnist Bill Hersey finds festivals, openings and cruises to get excited about.

Finding it difficult to believe summer’s come and gone, I do hope it was a good one for you and yours. It did, as I mentioned in the last few columns, stay super busy in July and August, with all kinds of interesting people visiting Tokyo and a variety of great happenings all over Japan. I’ve always been a sun bum and enjoyed the hot weather, but its nice to have cooler days and less humidity. We’re looking at a pretty  full schedule for the rest of  2012.

First, there’s the popular F1 race and, thanks to Ceremony president Tsukasa Shiga, I’ll spend considerable time with many of the top drivers at the New Lex before and after the race. I may even get to the exciting event at Suzuka circuit on Sunday the seventh.

The National Azabu supermarket, Tokyu Hands, Don Quixote and just about all the 100 yen shops in town already have all kinds of crazy Halloween decorations and costumes for sale. Halloween, as most of you know, is October 31st and our Japanese friends really go all out on this one. Some Tokyo clubs have as many as seven nights of parties! With all the wild costumes and a pretty much ‘let it all hang out’ mood, it can be so fun.

Sri Lanka has long been one of my favorite getaways and the big Sri Lanka festival in Yoyogi Park on Sept. 8 and 9 sure brought back some great memories of my visits to that magical, exotic country. The Sri Lankan embassy brought in some great entertainment that included traditional drummers, gorgeous dancers and some of the island nation’s top stars.

There was a huge variety of Sri Lankan food, astrology readings, meditation sessions, herbal medicines, beauty products, massage treatments and even cricket classes for the kids. Kudos to the ambassador and his wife, Mrs. Karannagoda, their hardworking staff, the Sri Lankan Community and their many Japanese friends for all the time and effort they put in making the festival the big success that it was. You really should visit there while you’re in this part of the world.

Colombia held their annual festival too, this time at Hibiya park. As always it was a day of colour, good Colombian food, lots of fun, (sometimes pretty sexy) fashion, great music and lively dancing. The Latin spirit and energy is always a summer highlight of mine.

The Roos’s Tomodachi party and US Independence Day

It was truly an awesome red white and blue fantasy when US ambassador John Roos and his super wife Susan hosted a huge celebration at their home on the occasion of the 236th anniversary of American independence. Once again the popular diplomatic couple proved they know how to make any event they host a real happening.

John V Roos and his wife Susan, Dick Sano

The host couple, US ambassador John V Roos and his wife Susan, with Sony pictures executive Dick Sano

A large white tent and stage had been set up in the centre of the garden and the entire area was surrounded by booths of all sizes and shapes, serving America’s most popular fast foods. In addition to all that there was a very busy sushi bar, a US watermelon stand, a wine, cheese and crackers section and a salad bar with vegetables from the embassy’s kitchen garden. One of many highlights was the room where four of our city’s top chefs competed in a chili cook off.

Competitors included embassy chef Edwards with his ‘Tomoda-Chili’, chef Watanabe of Baker Bounce (Midtown) with his special recipe, a Brooklyn Hipster chili by Todd Griffin of Bubby’s restaurant (Ark Hills) and an MLB Cafe Stadium chili. I tried them all a few times, it wasn’t easy, but finally decided Bubby’s was the best for me. Guests took a break to have their photos taken with life size cutouts of Barack and Michelle Obama in the main reception area and several very lively Disney characters in another room. Those costumes looked great but had to be so hot.

The program that day featured a dynamic rendition of the American anthem by gorgeous Korean-American superstar Crystal Kay, a meaningful speech by the ambassador, a presentation of colors by the embassy’s US marines, music by both US navy and air force bands and red hot musical group The Young Americans. This group of young people, who come from all kinds of backgrounds really symbolized what the USA is. Believe me, they were as talented as the cast of Fox TV’s popular   music series, Glee.

One of the Roos’s favourite organizations, Tomodachi, which is involved in so many worthwhile projects, was very prominent that evening. Needless to say, the reception made me, even though I live here and love Japan, very proud to be an American.

Opening of National Azabu Supermarket

Thanks to another friend, business tycoon Banjiro Uemura, his son Tetsu, and the National Azabu staff, I had the opportunity of working with the new National Azabu supermarket in Hiroo.

John Ito, Dale Toriumi and Jake Reiner

The Market’s director, John Ito, GM Dale Toriumi and solar specialist Jake Reiner

The overall project involved the tearing down of the 50 year old building before readying and opening a brand new, modern, light, bright, very international and very well stocked market. One of the many special events for the opening was the packed barbecue on August 26.

The many friends there included the Komatsu store family, journalist Emily, Tokyo American Club’s Lance Lee, Coca Cola Japan President Dan Syre and family, top caterer Giorgio Matera and just too many more friends and VIPs to mention.

The store management spared no expense on giving their many guests a wonderful variety of Japanese and western food and drink. I especially enjoyed the wonderful New Zealand chicken, as well as of course a variety of Baskin Robbins ice cream. I don’t drink but the people I talked to who know a lot about wines kept praising the selection, too.

I really enjoyed watching and listening to a New Orleans band I had first heard at a big Earth Festival and later introduced to the store manager Dale Toriumi. Speaking of events at National Azabu, the annual Halloween party on October 28th will give you the opportunity to see me as one of the judges.

The store is really great and they are open seven days a week, from 8:30 – 21:00, for further info give them a call on 03-3442-3181. My congratulations on the opening!

Atami cruise on the Primavera: The epitome of luxury

I’m not all that much into karaoke, although my dear brother Chris (god bless his soul) was a professional singer who really did well in Vegas, the Bahamas and in Japan. I did however put my heart and soul into it when I belted out my version of   “Puttin’ on the Ritz” recently. I did this on a very hi-tech karaoke setup on my friend,    Ceremony President Tsukasa Shiga’s four-bedroom Italian yacht, Primavera, during a recent cruise from Yokohama to Atami.

Bill with Bill Ireton, his wife Charo, Oded Lifschitz and his son Adam

Bill with Warner Bros.’ Bill Ireton, his wife Charo, Hilton Hotel’s Oded Lifschitz and his son Adam.

Thanks to Tsukasa, his staff and crew, I was able to join a small but great group of friends for almost a full day on the water. I’ve always loved boats – I had a (very!) small sailboat when I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio and spent a lot of time sailing on the Maumee river.

I once made a longer trip, when I spent about two weeks on a Japanese freighter from Long Beach, California to Yokohama. Seeing Japan from the top deck of a luxury yacht really makes one realize what a beautiful country it is once you get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

The scenic trip to Atami, with an hour break anchored near an island so that we could jet-ski, took about four hours. Everyone aboard got the chance to relax, unwind and enjoy the good life. Australian captain Josh Shigas, executive secretary Hiroko and the other crew members made sure there was always an excellent buffet set up in the dining room and on one of the decks.

Once we docked, we had some free time before a huge fireworks display, so got off the boat and walked around the city. There was a small matsuri going on so we sampled the food, listened to a few of the participants in a talent contest and checked out some of the street stalls. The fireworks display was much longer and much more beautiful then I had expected. In fact it was really pretty fantastic.

Closing this part of the column, I’d like to say so long to one of our fellow passengers, Hilton Hotels’ Oded Lifschitz. After six years in Japan as area VP for the Hilton, he and his wife Genia (she’s Australian) are relocating to London, where he’ll have the title Hilton VP Metro. I certainly thank them for their support and wish them all the best.

Bill Hersey