Working on the column mid-March, and the weather’s been great. If the old saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” holds true, we should be having some good weather from now on.
April, as always, will be busy. The International Ladies Benevolent Society (ILBS) Cherry Blossom Ball happens Friday the 14th and, with Muazaz Kasrawi (Jordan) and Maria Edileuza Guimaraes Reis (Brazil) as co-chairpersons, it is bound to be one the best yet. I just heard the Kasrawis, after almost 10 years in Japan, will be returning to Jordan in June. More-lots moreon the popular couple later.
Talked with Kay Brennan the other day. She and her husband, United Airlines V.P. Jim Brennan, will, as you know, be moving to Hong Kong soon. Kay’s not really happy about not doing their cherry blossom party this year, but they, as you can imagine, are super busy right up to the day of their move.
Good Friday is Apr. 21 and Easter Sunday the 23rd. For that true feeling of Easter, you might want to get away to the Philippines, Guam or Saipan. Plan and book your flights early.
Many of our Japanese friends take off as many as 10 days for what they call Golden Week. This officially starts Saturday, Apr. 29, Green Day. May l is Labor Day, Wednesday the 3rd is Constitution Day, Thursday the 4th is Citizen’s Day, and Friday the 5th Children’s Day. If you must travel during that period, book now. Remember, rates go up prior to and during Golden Week.
Enough about the future; let’s go back and go over what’s already happened here in ol’ Edo.
Egypt’s Year in Japan
River in the Desert, an excellent account of modern travels in Egypt by Paul William Roberts, begins with a quote. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Herodotus said, “Concerning Egypt, I will now speak at length, because nowhere are there so many marvelous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness.” I completely agree with Roberts who says Herodotus’ statement is still true.
Thanks to the efforts of former Egyptian Ambassador to Japan Nabil Fahmy and his wife Nermine, current Egyptian Ambassador to Japan Mahmoud Karem, his wife Yasmina, the Egyptian Tourist Authority and Egyptair, their fascinating country is getting the recognition and respect it deserves here in Japan.
Last April, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Japan’s Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi designated the year 2000 as Egypt’s Year in Japan. To start the year of Egyptian festivals and events, there was an Egyptian Night Festival at the Nippon Press Center, and the program included speeches by Ambassador Karem and several Japanese dignitaries, the screening of a special film on Egypt and a buffet dinner.
A few nights later, Ambassador Karem and Yasmina held a glittering reception at their home on the occasion of launching Egypt Year in Japan. The scene was wall-to-wall interesting people, and the program included a welcome speech by the ambassador, the tapecutting ceremony in which several high-ranking Japanese officials joined the ambassador, live entertainment, door prizes and a superb buffet of Egyptian foods.
In addition to all that, guests had the opportunity to meet the Karems’ son-in-law, lhab Fahmy (he’s with the Foreign Ministry), eldest daughter Myral and their 1-year-old daughter Kenzy. They had flown in from Cairo to join Myral’s parents and two younger sisters, 17-year-old Reem and 7-year-old Anina, in helping to host this very special evening.
In May, traditional dancing and music troupes will visit here to participate in Egyptian Cultural Week, followed by Egyptian Film Week in June and the opening of the Pharaotic Antiquities exhibition, a second meeting of the Japan-Egypt Business Cooperation Council and investment seminar.
Going back a bit, one of my most interesting trips to Egypt was with top models Jun Adams and Linda Yamamoto to shoot fashion on location in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. Both girls are Japanese-American. Jun is now Jun Tsukamoto who, among other things, owns the popular J-men Club. Linda became a singer and still does shows and TV guest appearances.
Anyway, we were coming down the elevator in the Cairo Hilton when it stopped and the great boxer Muhammed Ali got on. We talked as much as his two hang-on “assistants” would allow, and Ali did not make any effort to hide his infatuation with Jun. Talked to him later when I showed up at one of the shootings and actually got to spend some prime time with the man later.
One night I came back from the Khan Khalili Bazaar quite late and ran into him walking in the hall barefoot. I said “Hi,” we talked a minute, and he invited me to his suite for a drink-juice. We rapped for an hour about anything and everything and, needless to say, this was one of the most memorable experiences of my life of memorable experiences.
I was really happy last year when this exceptional man who, in spite of his illness, does so much good, was named Athlete of the Century. Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, Diego Maradona and a few other sports celebs could learn a lot from the man.
HARI RAYA RUASA
Malaysian Ambassador Dato M.N. Marzuki and his wife Dalin Nora invited friends to their home for Eid. This is an important part of the Hari Raya Puasa which is to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. In Malaysia, it means housecleaning, new clothes, prayers for forgiveness, gifts for the poor and needy and visiting the homes of friends and relatives
Guests at the Marzukis’ that evening included Japanese officials, diplomats and familiar faces from business and social worlds. I really appreciate Mimi Kuriyama whose husband is a former ambassador to the U.S., introducing me to several of her interesting friends. It was also nice meeting another chic and international lady, Yoko Naito, wife of the Chief of Protocol. The interesting people, special food and warm, laid-back mood all added up to a truly enjoyable evening.
TRAVEL TALK – VIENNA
It’s pretty much an undisputed fact Vienna is the world center for the very best in classical music. That beautiful city also offers a wide variety of contemporary entertainment. While there in January, I checked out what was happening and what was scheduled for the next few months.
Events included fhe local production of “The King and I,” Roman Polanski’s musical “Vampire,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Music of Fats Waller” and “Mozart.” London productions of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat” and “The Rocky Horror Show” have opened by now.
Pop artists scheduled for Vienna concerts included Sting and the Pet Shop Boys. In addition to all that, more than 500 Brazilians were going to Vienna for “a spectacular show,” “Gala Brazil.”
The cathedrals and street musicians also provide some beautiful and interesting music in Vienna, all for just a few shillings donation. My timing was right, and I dropped by the magnificent St. Stephen’s as a special religious music program was in progress.
Another evening while walking down Kartner Strasse, I heard a haunting version of Ravel’s “Bolero” by a lone flutist I learned was from Argentina. A block or so away, two Russians in ethnic costumes were making some very happy music on an accordion and balalaika.
Still further was one of those serape-wearing groups of flute, guitar and drummers you see and hear everywhere from Shinjuku Station to the Red Earth Native American Festival in Oklahoma. Music knows no boundaries.
While we’re on Vienna, I’d like to update you on one of my very favorite airports. The International Airport at Vienna is just a 20-minute, $6 bus ride from the City Terminal to the Vienna Hilton Hotel.
The airport is relatively small but has just about anything travelers would want and somehow maintains the orderliness and quaintness of Austria. Once you’ve checked in, and before you go through customs, check out the shops at the far end of the check-in area. There are snack bars, a body shop, a pharmacy, and an American bookstore and a variety of gift shops.
Just before you enter the departure area, there’s a Harrod’s (London). In addition to prestigious fashion, luggage and accessories, you can relax at the long bar.
The departure area has aisle after aisle of fashion outlets that include Hugo Boss, Versace, Wolford’s, Austrian fashion and top brand sportswear and Bally shoes.
Specialty shops sell the best in Austrian products: Swarovski Crystal and a huge variety of chocolates. There is also a well-stocked electronics shop, a camera shop and a music store with the latest American and European CDs.
The food outlets which include the Rendezvous cafe, Take Off snack bar, a Viennese cafe and the almostmandalory Irish Pub are excellent and reasonably priced as well. Just prior to boarding my flight from Vienna to Tokyo, I had a substantial slice of hot apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and a cappuccino, all for about ¥500.
If you do buy tax refundable items in Austria, you may be able to get someone from Customs to look at it when you check in. Otherwise, carry it with you. If Customs doesn’t see it, there’s no refund, and they are not allowed to be flexible about this.
I’m well aware of the controversy on some of the recent political developments in Austria. I, of course, find these, like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi movements and other such organizations in the U.S., objectionable. Most Austrians seem to share my feelings.
Even so, Austria remains a wonderful and safe place to visit. The culture, history, music and Austrian hospitality add up to a truly memorable travel experience.
The first party I attended in the New Year (the Millennium) is certain to be one of the most memorable of the year for those who had the privilege of being there. Two of our city’s (they actually live in Utsunomiya) most illustrious hosts, Mitsuo and Lilo Maruyama, invited friends to lunch aboard the beautiful restaurant ship Vingt Et Un.
It had rained the night before but, almost magically, the clouds moved on and the sun came out for the Maruyamas’ special day. Guests enjoyed the Tokyo Bay cruise which took us past Odaiba and gave us a great view of the Tange-designed Fuji-TV headquarters building. This was my first time to sail under the Rainbow Bridge, and it really is an impressive sight and structure. The Maruyamas’ son Helge was there to help guests have a good time.
Over at the Tower Records bookshop in Shibuya recently, I saw that Lonely Planets’ Thailand was among the Top 10 bestsellers. Proof positive, if you need it, that Thailand is a favorite getaway for people living here.
If you’re going in April, try to plan your visit during the annual Songkran Festival. In the past, this was the traditional Thai New Year’s. It’s a fun time when the Thais really let loose by throwing water and sometimes pastel-colored powder on friends and passers-by.
During the four-day festival, wear casual clothes you don’t mind getting wet. Cotton shorts and a T-shirt are ideal, and waterproof plastic covers for your cameras are a must. The people in and around the northern city of Chiangmai go all out in celebrating the festival.
In addition to the water throwing, there arc beauty contests, concerts and cultural programs. Join the Thai people in one of their most festive events, and you’re sure to have one of the best times of your life. This year’s festival date is Apr. 13, with all kinds of happenings from the 12th through the 15th.
My thanks to 20th Century Fox Japan General Manager Geoffrey Boissiere who made it possible for me to invite Thai Ambassador Sakthip Krairiksh and his wife Benchapa, Thai Air G.M. Bhukkana Wallop and his wife Jaruwan, and Thai First Secretary Pornpong Kanittanon to a special screening of “The Beach.” The much-anticipated film based on Alex Garland’s book of the same name will be released in Japan on Apr. 22.
At the St. Patrick’s Day celebration put on by Irish Ambassador Declan O’Donovan, Irish Press Attache Aisling Braden told me she grew up in Thailand and speaks Thai. Wow! She also said Thailand’s beloved King H.M. Bhumibol, an avid saxophone player, did a special rendition of “Danny Boy,” and this has made the Irish classic quite popular throughout Thailand. Music really does make the world smaller.
to United Airlines’ Dan Berube on his recent promotion to become National Sales Manager-Hong Kong and Japan. It’s hard to imagine how Dan could be more busy than he’s been with just Japan under his wing, but he’s bound to become much more involved in our region. I’m certain he’ll handle it very well.
*First published at the Tokyo Weekender