Archives for category: Culture

Reflections On Japan’s Preoccupation With Death

Haresh Shah

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Ray Falk
and Kayo Hayashi are scratching their heads to come up with something to do with Shah-san that evening. But I put their dilemma to rest. It’s my second night being back in Tokyo and we all have had an exhausting day – especially me, being grilled by the Japanese editors about them not getting the rights to Norman Mailer’s Gary Gilmore piece. Kayo drops me off at the hotel around half past five. I spend some time browsing the Imperial Hotel’s little bookstore  and buy a copy of the 1968 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Yasunari Kawabata’s novel, Beauty and Sadness. My intention is to read a bit of it after I have had a light dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants or just take it easy and order a sandwich and a beer from the room service. I don’t get around to doing either. Soon as I enter the room, I stretch out and close my eyes to relax for a while. The next thing I know, it’s past one in the morning.

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A Fleeting Glimpse At The Land Of The Rising Sun

Haresh Shah

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I have landed in Tokyo during the day on the Christmas Eve of 1977. I am enroute to Bombay with a non-business related stopover in Japan. Even so, Playboy has arranged for me  to be met at the airport by one of our Tokyo rep’s people. This is my very first trip to the land of the Rising Sun, and I am excited to be here, even for a short stay of 48 hours.

Arriving and negotiating through Haneda International Airport feels like a free fall into a total disaster area. Even considering that the Japanese like and thrive on things small, neat and functional, their international airport is ridiculously small, overcrowded and chaotic. And yet they somehow manage to maintain order within what would seem daunting to anyone else. As I claim my baggage from the carousel and look around, I see a huge easel, wrapped across it is a wide band of paper sign saying: Mr. Shah – next to which it is repeated in katakana using the Japanese characters for my name. When I present myself by the sign, a uniformed hostess walks up to me with Welcome to Japan and pins to my lapel a name tag and informs me that someone is waiting for me outside at the MEETING PLACE.  Keiko Shirokawa is there to pick me up and take me to the hotel Dai Ichi in the famous Ginza district – that bustles with restaurants, bars, night clubs, department stores and boutiques.

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Haresh Shah

Daring To Be Different

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When our Japanese partners were reported what Shah-san was up to all through the week, flabbergasted, the executives and the editorial team are in awe of the fact that an executive of Playboy Enterprises was in their country expressly for meeting with them and yet they would not see him for an entire week. They were equally astonished when heard from Ray Falk’s office that Mr. Shah, nay Shah-san, accompanied by Sasaki-san, was crisscrossing  their country and visiting places in an attempt to glean first hand some understanding of the land  and its culture, its people in general and the young existing and potential readers of the Japanese edition of Playboy in particular.

Even though they didn’t know what to make of this Shah-san, they were positively impressed and intrigued, not to mention amazed. And then approved of my itinerary as was set up by Ray’s office. The places I would visit and the people I would be exposed to should give me a fair idea of some of what they had hoped to communicate to me when Lee (Hall)  had originally conveyed to them what my mission would be working with the new team.  That my role would go beyond giving them pep-talk,, turn around and then catch a plane back home. That I would roll up my sleeves and work hand-in-hand with them, not only in making and re-defining the magazine itself, but also talk about and make possible ancillary publishing activities as an extension to the regular issues.

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Haresh Shah

My Not So Intimate Encounters With Italy And France

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The first time I landed in the land of Ciao Bella and O sole mio, they dumped our baggage on the tarmac next to the aircraft, barely said sorry and told us we would have to carry it to the terminal ourselves – that the ground personnel had just decided to go on a strike. A bit different story when I first arrived at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I am met at the airport by Gerrit Huig and the editorial assistant Ann Scharffenberger. They talk me into and I unwittingly agree to drive us through the city in our rented little Citroën. Though I had taken lessons in driving a car with manual transmission, this is my first time trying it out without an instructor sitting next to me. I haven’t yet gotten the knack of synchronizing the gears with the accelerator and the breaks. The car would shudder, stall and come to an abrupt stop in the middle of swirling rush hour traffic. Happens several times on the Arc de Triumph round-about. I get furious faces, obscene yelling  that I don’t understand, French version of the finger and then silly mocking giggles from my two passengers. But I somehow manage to survive both welcomes. Not exactly j’taime.  

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Lost In The Labyrinth

Haresh Shah

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I am at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, temporarily delayed because of the cancellation of Alitalia to Frankfurt, which is where I was to connect with Lufthansa’s overnight Frankfurt-Johannesburg flight. They have re-routed me on British Airways to London and then connecting there to onward journey to South Africa. Suddenly I have a couple of hours to kill. I avail myself of the first class lounge, leave my belongings there and venture outside to check out the renovated expanse of the airport. As I am walking down the glass walled passage bridging two wings of the terminal, I hear a timid female voice trailing me.

‘Uncle, uncle. Please! Please!’

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Still A Damn Indian? Call Me At The Bank

Haresh Shah

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Even though there is an alternative theory about how and why the native Americans came to be called Indians – which is: Christopher Columbus  having observed how ritualistic and religious the natives were of the new land he had stumbled upon, he defined them as the people of In Dios – In God, smoothly transitioned into Indians. But I still like the popular theory of Columbus believing that they had landed in India and therefore… Whatever! Can’t help but feel a certain amount of affinity, precisely because both of us being called Indians.

The night Jan (Heemskerk) and I spent at Fetzer Valley Oaks Food and Wine Guesthouse, we walk across the street to check out  Pomo Indian owned and operated  – Shodakai Coyote Valley Casino. It looked like an old shack. It wasn’t all that big and it mainly offered slot machines and some black jack tables. The hall was dimly lit and the trolleys serving free  soft drinks passed by the customers every so often.  No alcohol served on the premises.  The on site guard-PR-spokesperson Philip told us that alcoholism was  rampant among the Indians on the reservations. Philip talked to us about their Pomo tribe and the future plans for the  expansion.  The glow and the wonderment on his face was undeniable, probably at the thought of what good fortune their lot had been bestowed upon. Jan immediately assigns me to do a story for the Dutch edition of Playboy of what was then the recent phenomena of popping up of the casinos large and small across the American continent on what used to be the Indian reservations.

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The Domestic Arrangements South Of The Border

Haresh Shah

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I met Pepe Morales during a Playmate promotional jaunt in Acapulco. Our publishers have hired Pepe to cover the event – a young Mexican photographer and socialite of some renown . He seems to know everyone we run into and is greeted with the warmest abrazoz and pats on the back, while he bumbles around following the Playmates and documenting the weekend, with me taking additional photos whenever I am able to sneak some shots without neglecting my duties that of the Playboy executive on site.

Pepe and I hit it off right away. When back in Mexico City, we meet one evening for dinner. We have fat juicy steak dinners at Barbas Negras during which we drown three bottles of Los Reyes. Feeling absolutely no pain, Pepe asks:

‘What would you like to do now?’

‘I don’t know. This is your town. Maybe go cunt chasing?’

‘Why not? Let’s just get out of here and together we’ll paint the town red,’ he proclaims.

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