I had lunch at the Okura with Bill Ireton and Michael G. Harper, the outgoing assistant to U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker, and Mike’s successor, Jan Vulevich. Mike will still work “on the hill” (Washington) but out of Kansas City. His daughter Angela, by the way, works on the popular ‘IV series “West Wing.” Jan’s background includes three years working with Cokie Roberts on ABC News. All the best to Michael, a real friend, back home and to Jan here.
I did get to Osaka for Warner Brothers’ first-class all-theway junket for Tom Cruise and the Japanese stars at the “Last Samurai” press conference. Security was heavy at Kansai International Airport but, even so, what appeared to be about 1,000 fans showed up to welcome the superstar. Tom, as always, signed autographs for and shook hands with as many of the fans as he possibly could. There were about 400 media members at the conference at the ANA Hotel, a short ride from the airport. The Japanese members of the cast had taken their seats on stage and introduced themselves before Cruise, Director Edward Zwick and Executive Producer Chuck Mulvehill arrived. They included Hiroyuki Sanada, Ken Watanabe, Koyuki, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Shun Sugata, Seizo Fukumoto and Masato Harada (he’s usually a director). Tom said he was really looking forward to working with the Japanese actors. He and the director have high hopes of “paying homage to the samurai spirit and truly portraying the elegance and beauty of Japanese culture.” Other comments from Cruise included, “I had more physical preparation-studying karate, swordsmanship and just getting in top physical shape for this movie than any other.” He added, “This, by the way, is the first time I’ve ever done a press conference before the film.” There were four days of shooting “The Last Samurai” in the mountains of Hirneji, and one more in Kyoto at the Chiyoin Temple. Then Tom flew back to the U.S. and was back in Japan for just six hours in late October with Director Steven Spielberg to promote 20th Century Fox’s “Minority Report,” the opening film of the Tokyo International Film Festival. The cast and crew will go to New Zealand to complete shooting in January, and Warner will release “The Last Samurai” in 2004.
Still on films, I really enjoyed a very special sneak preview of Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” on Nov. 4, just a day after the London premiere at TIFF. Others there included Princess Takamado and her daughter Ayako, and U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker Jr. and his grandson Daniel (he goes to ICU). Also a VIP group from the American Embassy and leaders in the entertainment business here. You’ve got to see this film.
The ship was in, and what a ship! I’m talking about the magnificent Mexican Naval officers training ship, the Cuauhtemoc. The last time she was here was in October of 1990, and she was back at Harumi Pier for five days for a stop on her round-theworld training cruise. During the visit here, the ship’s captain, Alfredo Ortega Jaramillo, along with Mexican Ambassador Carlos Alberto de Icaza Gonzalez, and his wife Luisa hosted an exciting evening reception aboard the Cuauhtemoc. The weather was beautiful, and the view from the deck of the Rainbow Bridge spectacular of Odaiba and its huge Ferris wheel. Guests were treated royally and, after being piped aboard, they were served an excellent buffet and drinks. My no-alcohol margarita was the best I ever had.
Our other Latin American friends have been very busy as well. Guatemalan Ambassador Antonio R. CasteUanos and his wife Vera held a Guatemalan historical and cultural event at ARK Hills, and Bolivian Ambassador Eudoro Galindo held an exhibit of his photos prior to his departure from Japan.
Venezuela’s cultural week in Japan was a big success. Prince Takamado, an accomplished cellist who loves all kinds of music, went backstage after “The Rhythms of Venezuela” concert and tried playing one of the traditional instruments. He wasn’t all that bad; in fact, he was pretty good.
Dominican Republic Ambassador Fausto Sicard Moya and his wife Adalgisa were the main force in organizing an embassy NIP charity golf tournament. Photos on this later. Adalgisa is chairperson of this year’s International Ladies Benevolent Society (ILBS) Christmas Bazaar, and I hope to see you there-at Sacred Heart on Dec. 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The majestic Chilean naval officers’ training ship Esmeralda, here last year, was back again, and we’ll have more on this later as well.
One of the city’s most popular couples, former Swedish Ambassador to Japan Kirster Kumlin and his wife Ewa, were back for the many events which made up the much-anticipated cultural extravaganza Swedish Style, Oct. 7-14 in Tokyo. Niels Frederik Walther, chef at the Swedish Embassy, told me the many-faceted promotional event was better than ever.
To celebrate the 31st National Day of the State of Qatar, Ambassador Reyad Ali Ansari and his wife Muna hosted a glittering reception at the New Otani. Reyad looked great in Qatar national attire, and Muna’s Qatari dress was, as you can see by the photo, was very special. She always looks as if she stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Their daughter Maha has her mother’s radiant smile and wore a special Qatari dress as well, while their son Ali, who videoed much of the evening, looked like a typical jeans-wearing teen. A large photo of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa AI-Hani, was surrounded by rows of floral congratulations from many of the friends of Qatar here in Japan. A large screen had been set up, and there was an interesting and informative visual presentation on Qatar.
It was realty great seeing Bonnie Armacost, wife of former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Michael Armacost, at the Czech National Day reception. Bonnie was at the party with a few of her Japanese fellow pianists and is as fun and outgoing as ever. Enjoyed talking with former Japan Times columnist, author Jean Pearce, in Tokyo as were many other former Tokyoites, for the Nedeshiko Kai.
All kinds of sayonara, welcome and congratulatory receptions at the Austrian Embassy. On Sept. 12, Ambassador Hans Dietmar Schweisgut and his wife Kaoru, Vienna Chamber of Commerce President Walter Nettig, Vienna Tourist Board Managing Director Karl Seitlinger and Austrian National Tourist Office CEO Arthur Oberascher hosted a reception at the ambassador’s residence. The occasion was to say sayonara to Rainer Zoubek, Director of the Vienna Representative Office in Tokyo, and to introduce Volker A. Jaindl in the framework of the new office and the Austrian National Tourist Office as newly appoint- ed director. It was a rare opportunity to see some old friends and make some new ones. These are the people who make Austria, one of my favorite countries, and Vienna, one of my favorite cities, the cultural centers and enjoyable and safe places they are.
Really unhappy about having to miss what had to be a very wonderful evening at the home of Icelandic Ambassador Ingirnundur Sigfusson. It is not often one is able to meet an award-winning Icelandic singer and actress Ragnhildur Gisladottir “Ragga” and improvisational dancer Anna Richardsdottir. I want to thank Ambassador Sigfusson and his wife, Valgerour Valsdottie, for including me in this very special evening.
On the fashion scene, I was out of Japan when Jun Ashida had a showing of his 2003 Spring and Summer Collection at the Akasaka Prince Hotel’s Crystal Palace. It was nice when a couple of the models in the show dropped by the Lex a few days later and asked, “Where were you? We always see you at the show.” I like Jun’s shows and, if I’m here, I’m there.
Sorry, i could not get to Osaka for the opening of the Me & Ro jewelry store either. They create jewelry for so many celebrities Stateside. Just saw photos of South African one-time model, now superstar, Charlize Theron, wearing Me & Ro gold earrings, and “Friends” star Jennifer Anniston with a gold Me & Ronecklace. Check it out, ladies.
Also sorry, I had to miss the photo exhibition “Naked Tokyo” at Shibuya’s Le Deco Gallery. Tim Porter, one of Tokyo’s leading photographers, was curator, and exhibitors included Argentine Minister Fernando Ras.
*First published at the Tokyo Weekender