Tokyo’s longest running society page with Bill Hersey

As I mentioned in a recent column, some friends of mine who do a lot of walking convinced me that I should do the same. Well, they were right-on when they said I’d enjoy Tokyo more if I did.

In the last few months of short walks around our city, I’ve discovered so many fun and funky fashion shops, some good inexpensive restaurants, interesting coffee shops and I’ve also met a lot of nice people I wouldn’t have had I been driving or on the train.

Tokyo, with its many parks, museums and variety of people is certainly one of the most exciting and safest cities in the world to walk around and we really are lucky to live here.

I recently strolled from Fox Studios above the big Quicksilver store on Meiji Dori to Omotesando to check out the many bargain sales going on there but was surprised to see signs in a considerable number of big fashion stores announcing that once the sales were over they would be closing.

I also noticed several restaurants I like and a few clubs I visit from time to time have also closed down recently.

Well, as the band Queen sings in one of their big hits, ‘another one bites the dust’.

All those empty buildings and for rent or sale signs one sees everywhere are proof the economy is not as good as we would like it to be, yet even so, there’s construction going on across the city and new malls, stores, restaurants and clubs are opening almost every day.

I’m particularly looking forward to the grand opening of Shibuya’s new Hikarie tower in April, it looks stunning!

One thing that never ends is the 24/7 road maintenance work.

Not only does it help make Tokyo safe, it provides jobs for so many people. I’m an optimist and a strong believer that Japan is a survivor and things will get better; watch this space.

Media reports like the recent scare story of the ‘70 per cent chance Tokyo will have a major earthquake in the next four years’ are really hurting many businesses and I even know people who are so scared they are leaving this great country.

I’ve been hearing about ‘the big one’ since I first came to Japan over 40 years ago, so let’s be realistic, there are natural and manmade disasters somewhere every day of the year. We haven’t got much control over this and it’s pretty much ‘whatever will be, will be’. We should, of course, be careful and be prepared but it’s important to do your thing, help others when you can, and enjoy life!

December, January and even February have all been super busy months for me and consequently I’m further behind on my column than I’d like to be, so gomen nasai, I will cover all I can in this issue, include several recent events and, hopefully, will catch up soon.

So many of our Arab friends celebrate their national days in November and December. I am sorry about this but I have had to bunch up a few highlights from each of their wonderful receptions.

Oman held their colorful well-attended celebration at the New Otani and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar held their huge, joyful events at the Imperial Hotel.

All featured amazing Arab-inspired decor with colorful tents, carpets and awesome ice carvings. The lavish bountiful buffets at each event featured a wide variety of Arab, Western and Japanese food favorites.

I really enjoyed the 40th anniversary of the founding of the UAE and that special evening sure brought back wonderful memories of my visits there for both their 20th and 25th national day celebrations. Also at the 40th party was a huge replica of a fishery the UAE had kindly donated to the people of Tohoku after the 3/11 disaster last year.

I was also very impressed with the country’s new emblem: seven men in traditional dress all standing around a high-flying UAE flag, with the new slogan ‘spirit of the union’ underneath. The huge ice carving of this at the entrance to the party venue was a real work of art and I appreciated Ambassador Al Nowais giving me a beautiful scarf emblazoned with the logo and slogan, what a great souvenir!

There was a large group of beautiful Japanese children (mostly girls) in traditional makeup and all wearing colorful kimono at the Bahrain evening “We all belong to a dancing group,” as one outgoing ten year old, Yuko, told me.

The live music was provided by an Arab-Latino group called ‘Mi Tierra’ and an ensemble led by Yuji Tsunemi played traditional Arab music. There was a photo exhibition showing the resilience of the Japanese people after 3/11 and guests also had the opportunity to write a short message and sign three big flags that were later sent to Tohoku along with a gift of 100 soccer balls from the Bahrain embassy.

Qatar event

Qatari ambassador Yousef Bilal’s reception for the anniversary of the accession of the Sheikh Jassim Bin Mohamed Bin Thani, founder of the state of Qatar.

The dancers at the Qatar event, decked out in national costumes and carrying swords were truly exciting. At the UAE event, students living in Japan had also put on a lively show for their reception. All these parties were a kaleidoscope of color with the women wearing super chic, heavily embroidered, beaded and sequined long dresses. Door prizes included tickets to exotic destinations on Etihad, Emirates and Qatar airlines.

Grace Saito

Grace Saito’s 20th anniversary charity concert at Hilton Tokyo.

Our sincerest congratulations to Grace Saito on the 20th anniversary of her charity classic concerts. Grace, who does so much to help so many, works closely with the Rotary Club on many worthwhile projects. Proceeds of this concert went to helping the victims of 3/11 and to eradicate polio. The afternoon concert which was sold out, featured many highly acclaimed award winning tenors, mezzo-sopranos, guitarists, violinists and pianists and was wonderful to experience.

Wendy’s reopening by Higa Industries.

I don’t know any family that knows more about the fast food business than Ernie Higa and his sister Merle and I was really happy when I heard they were bringing one of my favorite hamburger restaurants, Wendy’s, back to Japan. The new restaurant (and I’m sure first of many) is now open in Omotesando, if you get a chance check out the filled baked potatoes!

Catching up with old friends

With so many things happening in Tokyo, breakfast meetings are the newest way to catch up with old friends and at one such meeting at the Hotel Seiyo I recently did just that with art dealer Norman Tolman of the Tolman Collections.

It seems that in order to see to the orderly running of his galleries in Hong Kong, Singapore and New York, Norman, with his hardworking P.A. Shin Mochizuki seeing to all the details, has spent about half of his time “someplace else”.

He said that he has spent so much time out of Japan that there are those who think he has left, though really he’s full of plans and schedules beyond belief.

Number one on his list is the publication and of a portfolio of prints by eight artists offering one print each on the theme of ‘hope for the future’. After last year’s many disasters this portfolio is to be released at Art Fair Tokyo 2012, held at Yurakucho’s International Forum.

At this major exhibition of Japanese art (with 160 exhibitors!!) the Tolman Collection will be at booth A09 and will feature the large, original paintings of Toko Shinoda, their star artist. Before that Norman will be off to see to the 2012 schedule of the Tolman Collection of Hong Kong and be back in time for the big Art Fair Tokyo.

Outside of Japan, all the Tolman Collections are involved with the prospects for museums and university exhibitions trying to stem the tide of only Chinese art representing Asia and putting Japanese prints back on the map. It seems as if Norman and his staff have as much to do out of Japan as they do here in Tokyo but he tells me that the Shiba Daimon gallery is still a popular place for art lovers.

Text by Bill Hersey