Richard Branson and Ireton Family

Bill’s Partyline July 19th, 2002


Richard Branson was in Japan for the opening of the new Virgin Cineplex in the city of Ebina, about 30 minutes from Tokyo. As always, the world-famous entrepreneur did things his way … big, interesting and different.

Invited guests for the press preview gathered at Tokyo Station where they boarded the Branson Express for Ebina. I had the privilege of being in Car No. 1 with leaders in the film distribution business here, and a few top hotel execs. Branson will open a Virgin Cineplex next to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo in the huge new Mori Complex (Roppongi) next year.

Guests were served an excellent obento, and Richard moved through the cars dressed in the uniform of a ticket-taker. He’s a very down-to-earth sort of a guy, and he took time to talk with just about everybody.

From Ebina Station, it was a short walk through a trendy shopping mall to the theaters. After a tour of the 10 theaters, everyone was seated in the largest for a huge screen TXH sound trailer of Buena Vista’s “Monsters Inc.”

My thanks, by the way, to B.V.’s man-in-Japan Dick Sano for his invitation to Princess Takamado and her daughters for a Tokyo showing of the popular animated flick. It was nice seeing the always-busy Konishiki at the reception.

The former sumo star, now a big (in every way) entertainment personality, really adds his own special touch to any event he attends. After short speeches by Richard and Virgin’s man-in­Japan Mark Yamamoto, guests moved to another venue for the press conference and reception. A great day in every way and perfect for the occasion.

Robin Berrington, in Japan for about a year as U.S. Cultural Attache, has left. He was called out of retirement to temporarily replace the last attache who had to return to the U.S., and his appointment was effective until the government found a replacement. The new U.S. Cultural Attache, Mark Davidson, will arrive in August. All the best to Robin in his retirement in Washington, D.C., and to Mark here in Tokyo.


It was another one of those super nights at the home of Swedish Ambassador Krister Kumlin and his wife Ewa. The theme of their party was “Jazz in the Summer.” Keiko McNamara, very popular in Europe, is a real showbiz personality and a great jazz pianist and singer who can really belt out the blues as well.

Special guests that evening included Kagechika Matano and his wife Reiko. I first got to know Kagechika many years ago when he was head of the Immigration offices here. He’s been a good friend and a big help. After his work with Immigra­tion, he was appointed Japanese Ambas­sador to Sweden and spent several years in the Kumlins’ beautiful country.

As always at the home of Krister and Ewa, it was a laid-back party and several of the guests joined in the fun, took the mike and did their thing. It was a special evening with interesting people, good music and a superb buffet.

As expected, it was wall-to-wall peo­ple for the cocktails and buffet dinner at the beautiful home of one of Tokyo’s most popular couples, AIG Chairman Ron Anderson and his wife Maria. They are very active and know an endless list of people from all walks of life and, in addi­tion to seeing a lot of longtime friends at their party, I met a lot of other interesting people.

I had met Tokyo Gas Chairman Takayuki Anzai several times at the Brunei Embassy, but this was the first time I had met his wife Emi. It was nice of her to tell me her sister, Empress Michiko, had shown her a collection of photos I had sent of her late and great mother, Mrs. Shoda.

Maria had really gone all-out to make the buffet very special. Her Arab food in the dining area was the best I have ever had, and I have had good Arab food the world over. Out on the patio, a catering company was preparing a huge pan of paella that not only looked artistically beautiful but also tasted fantastic.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening with Ron, Maria and their friends. Maria, by the way, is from Lebanon, and that country should be very proud that an active, popular woman such as her repre­sents them here.

On July 5, Ambassador of Nepal Khedar Bhakta Mathema and his wife Kohinoor hosted a mid-day reception on the occa­sion of the 56th Birthday of King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Our congratulations.


One of Japan’s top restaurateurs (Nobu’s, Roy’s, Soho’s), Soho Tsukikawa, has certainly brought a bit of New York’s trendy Soho area to Tokyo. His new restaurant, located on the top (fourth) floor of CDI Aoyama Studios’ new V28 futuristic building (designed by British architect Benjamin Warner) on Omote-Sando, is really quite spectacular.

High ceilings, lots of space, huge ikebana arrangements, high tech decor and a velvet-curtained VIP room all add up to one of the finest venues in Tokyo. The menu is as international as the international crowd that considers Soho’s their favorite eatery. Emphasis is on Italian food, but they serve Japanese and French dishes as well, and prices are very reasonable.

The opening party was an interna­tional blast at its best. The huge crowd was made up of Tokyo and international “beautiful people,” and Soho, Chairman and CEO of Soho’s Hospitality Group, along with his son Atsuyuki, the Director of Soho’s Hospitality Group and Soho’s Hawaii, and their staff kept busy greeting the endless line of guests and making sure they enjoyed themselves.

I saw so many friends there that evening, including top businessmen, members of the trendy media, models and familiar faces from the fashion, arts and entertainment worlds. It had to be one of the most glamorous openings Tokyo has seen for a long time.

Check out the Zara fashions on the first two floors of V28, work out in the spacious well-equipped Gold’s Gym on the third floor-and eat at Soho’s. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays.

Enjoy the Summer Asian Breeze Festival at Hilton Tokyo. Chefs have been flown in from each respective country for the Thai Food Promotion July 15-31, Korea and Shanghai promo Aug. 1-9 and Asian Breeze Festi­val featuring a great diversity of dishes from Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and Shanghai Aug. 10-29.

Drop by the Lexington (Lex) disco in Roppongi Satur­day, July 27, for the club’s annual Summer Matsuri party. The street festival mood, food and entertainment all add up to something special. That night, you may well run into some of the bands here for the Fuji Rock Festival scheduled July 26-28.

*First published at the Tokyo Weekender

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