The weather’s been fine the last few days, traffic’s relatively light, and there’ve been all kinds of special happenings around town.
I got back Apr. 26 in time for the concert by multi Grammy-winning Carlos Santana and his group. The super show could not have been more exciting, and Santana’s friend (mine, too) Eric Clapton was in town and joined the group for the last half of their concert. Eric was also here to see the Pride no-holds-barred fight at Tokyo Dome on May l.
A lot of the legendary Gracie brothers were here to fight, and they dropped by the Lex to say hello. These are nice guys, really mellow when they’re not in the ring.
I planned my trip to be back in time for the South African Freedom Day celebration, hosted by Ambassador Karamchund Mackerdhuj and his wife Suminthra, and the Asian Ladies Friendship Society annual Asian Festival Bazaar. More later on these special events.
On Monday, May 1, pop idol Britney Spears, here promoting her new CD, “Oops, I Did It Again,” dropped by the Lex with her entourage. They partied on into the a.m.
On May 4, I worked with A-Project chairman Shozo Tanimoto and his son Atsushi on a show /party for about 120 mentally handicapped kids at the Kingyo show club.
My thanks to Warner Brothers’ Bill Ireton for the WB animated character pens, Nestle’s Guenter H. Spiess for some great chocolates and to Japan Air Lines for bags, T-shirts and other items for the kids. I also want to thank former prime minister Tsutomu Hata and Yemen Ambassador Abdelrahman M. AlHothi for their contributions. Tsutomu opened the party with a brief speech, and Abdelrahman brought his two children, 6-year-old Shaza and 10-year-old Sharah to help out.
I was out in Roppongi all night on May 5, so passed on Johnny Kitagawa’s invitation to a huge, as-always sold out Johnny’s Jr. concert in Yokohama on the 6th. Bill and Charo Ireton were able to take two of their kids and said it was a real showbiz spectacle, as are all of Johnny’s productions.
My biggest regret the last few weeks was not being in Tokyo for the sayonara for Ecuadorean Ambassador Juan Salazar Sancisi. After three years in Japan, the tall, personable and outgoing diplomat has returned to his country’s beautiful capital, Quito. Highlights of Juan’s posting in Japan included the visit to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands by Prince and Princess Hitachi, and the Toei production of a 3-D film on the remarkable islands.
Had a great, laid-back Golden Week but, believe me, things have really picked up since. Austrian Ambassador Hans D. Schweisgut and his wife Kaoru hosted an evening at their residence for members of the visiting Vienna Boys Choir. Great kids, great music.
Worked with Warner Brothers on a four-day promo for their box office hit, “Romeo Must Die.” Joel Silver, the world’s top action producer, was here with martial arts superstar Jet Li and his co-star, singeractress Alliyah.
Had dinner with the Iretons, Bill’s executive staff and the visiting celebrities at Inakaya on May 8, and I had the privilege of sitting by Jet. What an interesting guy! Our congratulations on the birth of his new daughter. More on all this later.
Like those clever TV ads with the bunny, where the main theme is “Eveready batteries just go on and on,” Kozo Hasegawa’s Global Dining company does just that. It seems like every week I receive an invitation to the opening of yet another one of their new restaurants. The most recent was not for one, but four, eateries, all in the new large-scale entertainment restaurant zone, Glien Passage, in Odaiba.
In addition to Global Dining’s well-established chains, La Boheme, Zest and Maison, they’re introducing a new concept in Japanese cuisine at Gonpachi. Over at the Hilton Tokyo, I pigged out on their superb Moghul Curry Lunch Buffet. Kudos to Pakistani chef Abdul Rashid who flew in from the Colombo Hilton. The ¥1,500 charge is really a bargain for pricy Tokyo.
ALFS THANK-YOU LUNCHEON
I enjoyed chatting with Pakistan Air’s G.M. Japan and South Korea Naushairwan Khan at an ALFS thank-you luncheon at the Thai embassy recently. Pakistan, as you probably know, has some of the best mountain climbing and trekking in the world. I was there last May and hope to do a travel story on my experiences soon. Many Japanese are avid climbers and trekkers, and the Japan-Pakistan flights have been heavily booked.
I love Thai food and am sorry I couldn’t stay for the dinner hosted by Thai Ambassador Sakthip Krairiksh and his wife Benchapa in honor of Prince and Princess Hitachi, but am glad I dropped by for cocktails. Benchapa’s cousin Siri Chalerm is a real expert on Thai food with regular cooking classes on TV and cooking columns in several publications in Thailand, and had planned and helped prepare the dinner. I was talking with Princess Hitachi a few days later, and she said it was excellent.
A week or so later, I was able to stay for a dinner hosted by the Krairikshes for Hisanaga Shimazu and his wife Takako. He’s with Sony; she’s the sister of Emperor Akihito. As at the dinner for the Hitachis, the evening started out with a program of Thai classical dancers.
At dinner I had the privilege of sitting between two of Tokyo’s nicest, and my favorite, people, U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley and Tessie Abe. Interesting people, lively conversation and wonderful Thai food added up to a super evening.
Following a meal of that superb Thai food, guests got a real bonus. We moved into the main reception area where Benchapa sang popular songs, including “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” and the theme from “Titanic.” (That’s not easy.)
Thailand’s beloved King Bhumipol loves music and not only plays the saxophone but also composes music. Benchapa sang one of his compositions, “H.M. Blues,” in Thai and English. The song is known not only as “His Majesty’s Blues,” but also by “Hungry Man’s Blues.” It seems King Bhumipol wrote it when he was sitting in with a jazz band and missed his meal.
Pamela Mori was there, and she’s always fun. Pam had just returned from a short holiday at Thailand’s Hua Han beach resort and “loved it.” She also had the privilege of meeting and talking with Queen Sirikit. Pam is married to Hanae Mori’s son Aki and, after five children, three of whom are now young adults, she still looks like the model she was when Aki first met her.
On the 13th, the Krairikshes hosted a Song Kron (traditional Thai New Year) celebration at their home. The program included classic dancing, kickboxing and, of course, lots of Thai food at its best.
Twentieth Century Fox man-in-Japan Geoff Boissiere loves Thailand as much as I do and told me it was a special evening in every way. Two of Fox’s recent releases, “Anna and the King” and “The Beach,” dealt with historical and contemporary Thailand.
There will be a big weekend Thai Food Fair in Yoyogi Park this fall, on Saturday, Sept. 30, and Sunday, Oct. 1. More on that later, and it’s nice to see Yoyogi Park opening again.
Tokyo restaurateur Junichi Matsumoto, fast to pick up on international trends, has just redecorated and changed the long-established Charleston in Roppongi to the House of Chili. The menu includes nachos, Cajun spicy chicken, Mexican salad, curries and pasta. Drinks include a variety of margaritas, sangria, tequila, rum and, if you don’t drink alcohol, strawberry and mango smoothies.
There was a huge turnout at the New Otani when the Italian State Tourist Board Director, Japan-Korea and Oceania, Enrico Maggi, joined Luigi Momo, visiting Piemonte tourism director, for the launching of the Piemonte promotional campaign. The evening began with a very informative seminar and press conference. There was a lavish buffet of Italian food at its best, with an assortment of famous wines from the Piemonte area.
A few weeks earlier, Enrico, with the general manager of several of the prestigious Baglioni Hotels Group, hosted a press conference/sit-down dinner. The Baglionis had flown in a few of their executive chefs who prepared a dinner fit for a king.
GREEK NATIONAL DAY
Got lost when I tried to find the home of Greek Ambassador Elias Katsareas and his wife Maria, so felt lucky when I spotted an embassy car and followed it. The problem was they were as lost as I. We went around and around and when we finally arrived, the Katsareases were hosting a mid-day reception to celebrate the Greek National Day. It was well worthwhile. There was wall-to-wall interesting people, all enjoying the festive mood-and the delicious Greek food.
A few days later, Maria flew to Paris to visit the Katsareas’ daughter Eftehia who attends school there. I hear she’s a real knockout. I have met Alexi, the son of Elias and Maria, who dropped by the Lex a few times while visiting Tokyo.
Alexi attends Georgetown University, he’s a classical guitarist, writes music, worked as a D.j. and has his own band, Bananashelf. With his looks, personality and talent, I’m sure he’ll do well in all his endeavors.
I love a parade and, believe me, the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Omote Sando on Sunday, Mar. 12, was bigger and better than ever. U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley joined Irish Ambassador Declan O’Donovan and two visiting Irish parliamentarians, Patt Rabbitte and Sean Doherty, in leading the long, colorful and very enthusiastic procession of bands, bagpipes, Irish dancers and local Irish, dressed or made up in Ireland’s colors of white, orange and green. Declan Collins was grand marshal! of this year’s very successful and special event.
After the parade, joined VIPs at the Irish pub The Pint where they continued to celebrate. Always busy Ambassador Foley had to leave early to “hop on one of Continental’s convenient flights for Texas.”
Others at the parade included Estonian Ambassador Mark Sinisoo and Hilton lnternational’s V.P. Manfred Pieper and his son Mark who goes to Arizona State University where I got my degree in Anthropology. He’s majoring in Journalism.
Baseball fans were in all their glory at the U.S. Embassy on Mar. 29 when Tom Foley hosted a reception in honor of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB Players Association head Don Fehr. They were in Japan for the first official Major League games, as the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs opened the 2000 regular season with two games at the Tokyo Dome.
This was the first time in history regular MLB games were played outside North America and, in addition to the two-game regulation series, the visiting teams played pre-season exhibition games against the Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions.
The Foleys’ spacious residence was wall-to-wall people on out into the garden, with baseball enthusiasts who included Japanese government officials, sports personalities and Japanese business leaders. They and the embassy staff and Marine guards kept baseball superstars Mike Piazza of the Mets and Sammy Sosa of the Cubs and some legendary retired players busy signing baseballs, caps and other items, and posing for photos.
The Hall of Famers included all-time Major League home run king Hank Aaron, former Cubs stars Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Lou Brock, and ex-Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
Ambassador Foley made a great introductory speech, and I appreciate him introducing me to Minister of Justice Hideo Usui.
*First published at the Tokyo Weekender