Bill Hersey meets the stars of the Hobbit, parties in Tokyo and takes a trip to one of his favourite Asian cities this month.

Firstly, Happy New Year and my sincerest best wishes that 2013, the year of the snake, is a really good one for you and yours. December, as always, was super-busy with all kinds of colorful, exciting events and lots of interesting VIP visitors. These included Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli, Haitian president, Michel Marcelly and Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg.

Of course December had, as usual, lots of National Day receptions as well. The UAE’s was Dec 2, Bahrain’s the 16th and Qatar the 18th. Our Thai friends also celebrated the birthday of their highly respected and much loved King Bhumibol’s birthday on the 5th.

Sokka Gakkai’s Min-on Concert Association, under the direction of their president Hiroyasu Kobayashi was really busy, with a wide variety of international cultural exchanges in late 2012. These included a beautiful musical with a cast of 50 talented young entertainers from China, a dynamic tango show from Argentina, a colorful performance by the Ghana Dance Ensemble and a sophisticated evening of classical dance from both northern and southern India.

Other sort of different but really good Min-on events included getting my long time friend, percussion drummer Naoki Ishikawa, together with the Boston Brass for a concert of classical and pop favorites and bringing over a group of young street dancers from Russia to compete with a group of young Japanese dancers in a breakdancing/hip hop contest that was really fun and full of energy.

Multi-talented fashion designer Junko Koshino did all the costumes for the awesome Taos Contemporary drum group. With the talent, the music, the dancing and of course Junko’s creations at Bunkamura for two nights, this had to be one of the best staged and most exciting shows I’ve seen for a long time. Judging from the applause – and standing ovation – everyone there for that very special evening loved the show.

I took some time off in early December to travel to one of my all time favorite getaways, Manila, and what a super six days that turned out to be. I spent two nights in the luxurious Peninsula Hotel in Makati and four more in a nice four room apartment in one of Rockwell’s ultra-modern highrises. Rockwell is the Beverly Hills of the Philippines and really has the best of everything.

The Peninsula, Rockwell and much of Manila were decorated for the holidays as only the Philippines can be – it really was magical. Friends who were also in Manila while I was there included Rockwell’s chairman and his wife, the Philippines’ ambassador to Japan, Manuel Lopez, his wife Maria Teresa and Warner Bros.’ president in Japan, Bill Ireton and his wife Charo. I was able to spend considerable time with two of their five children, William and Roberta, who were staying in Manila and involved in endless worthwhile projects. William played for the Philippine national team in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Taipei and Roberta, who has grown up to be a real beauty, is enrolled in an acting workshop.

Prior to being appointed ambassador to Japan and doing a great job at that, Manuel was and still is one of the Philippines’ top business leaders and he and Maria are certainly one of the best known and most popular couples in their country. Through them and Bill and Charo I was able to attend some great events, meet a lot of long time friends again and also some of the Philippines’ most important people for the first time. I especially enjoyed seeing entertainment personality Johnny Litton as well as running into singer Leo Valdes, who was playing the king in a great local production of The King and I.

I first met Leo a considerable number of years ago when he would sing duets with Imelda Marcos at her holiday happenings. He’s a real talent. I also really enjoyed talking to Makati’s young mayor, Erwin Binay jr. His father, Jejomar, is vice president and both powerful politicians seem popular with the people. It was a marvelous six day break but was a shame to miss some very worthwhile events here in Tokyo.

I was sorry I had to miss Sony’s premiere of Skyfall as well as Toho Towa’s premiere of Les Miserables. Hugh Jackson was in town for that one and he always enjoys bartending, DJing and shaking his booty at the New Lex!

I did get back in time for Warner Bros.’ people packed premiere and event for Peter Jackson’s, The Hobbit. Frankly I haven’t been a big fan of 3D but the film, with the beauty of New Zealand locations, the awesome battle scenes and the strange cast of characters added up to 2 hours and 50 minutes of solid entertainment and, believe me, the 3D was beautiful.

Richard Armitage

Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, at the Hobbit premiere

When you see the film, you really should try and catch the 3D version on a big screen. Guaranteed, you’ll really get into and enjoy it.

As always the Christmas and New Year holidays have been busy with all kinds of parties and special events. These included my 15th annual orphan’s holiday celebration at Hilton Tokyo’s chic Marble Lounge. The kids were beautiful and so much fun. The Hilton staff really went all out to make this one of the best parties ever and it really was.

More on that later but for now a huge thank you to the many kind, giving friends and companies who took time out of their busy schedules to make it a happy and memorable day for a lot of super little kids and donated so many great gifts again. Domo arigato.

Happy New Year and God bless.

Welcome reception for Panama’s president and delegation

My sincerest thanks to Panamanian ambassador, Alfredo Martiz, and his wife for the invitation to the welcome reception for their President, members of his family and a VIP business delegation during their recent visit here. The opportunity to meet and talk with these people really made me understand why there is such a strong and good relationship between Japan and Panama.

I really liked the outgoing, friendly attitude of president Martinelli, who mixed and talked with most of the guests there. I did notice him noticing me and later found out why when his sister, Gloria, told me: “He likes your fashion and thinks you are the spitting image of our father!”

I jokingly said, “when he was younger, of course,” adding he must be a very good-looking man. She laughed, told the president and we all ended up laughing. With a leader like that – cool and down to earth – its easy to see why Panama is doing so well. He and his delegation’s visit was, as I was sure it would be, a big success in every way.

Gracekai charity concert at Peninsula Hotel

It was a full house at the ballroom in the peninsula hotel for Grace Saito’s winter gala charity concert. Grace’s only daughter, Mari, was an accomplished classical pianist as well as a devoted daughter who traveled to many places with her mother. Not long ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors only gave her a short time to live.

This, of course, was very difficult for Grace as well as the many who know and love this great lady. Mari had been a real friend and fan of the extraordinary pianist Hiroshi Arimori for twenty years. Grace knew what it would mean for Maria and arranged for Arimori to play in the concert that day and arranged for Mari to come from the hospital to the concert venue with her doctor.

Believe me, Arimori is a true virtuoso and really played from his heart for Mari that day. People at the concert who were sitting near Mari said she was smiling throughout the whole performance. Mari sadly passed away a few days later.

Sincerely I wish I could do a better job of writing about Grace’s love for her daughter, and what a wonderful woman Mari was, and I send my condolences to the family and everyone who knows them.