Archives for category: Japan

Flying Free Like A Hawk

Haresh Shah

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“You’re doing a good job if you manage to piss us off fifty percent of the time, and piss our partners off another fifty.” Our boss Bill Stokkan would often tell his managers, usually during one of his pontification sessions. More true of his international divisional heads who had not only to deal with the products but also with the cultural nuances of the people from several countries. In my case, it also worked to my advantage that I was not an American born American. Especially the people I worked with from the non-European and Asian countries felt that I understood them better just because I was born and grew up in India. That I brought a different sensitivity to our working together. Equally so with my American management, because by then I had spent as many years in the West. As difficult as it could be sometimes, I had developed a close rapport with the people on both ends and had earned their confidence and the respect.

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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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A Postcard From London Carrot

Haresh Shah

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Keiko (Shirokawa) of Ray Falk’s office takes me out for what I thought to be the most expensive Chinese dinner. Apparently, what is French cuisine is to us in the West, in Japan, Chinese cuisine is considered a notch above any other kind – exquisite and exclusive.

After dinner, we stop at a cozy little whiskey bar. It reminds me of the Booze & Bits in Chicago, located right in the heart of the hubbub of Rush Street, invisibly tucked away behind an inverted L-shaped narrow passage north of Oak Street. Must have been a storage room turned into a nice little watering hole for the people in the know. A bunch of us at Time Inc. used to hang out there frequently and collectively we all had incredible crush on Sherry – the blonde bombshell of the bartender. No one could ever touch her, but she did well with her smiles, excellent service and bit of a coquetry thrown in.

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Haresh Shah

The Rituals Of Wine And Women And All That Jazz

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Imagine this: If you have ever been to Tokyo and cruised Ginza after hours – the people, the traffic, the shuffle crossing at multiple cross roads where the traffic comes stand-still at every street corner and hoards of shoppers and revelers crossing streets this way and that in each every direction, and the crowds of salarymen making ruckus, drunk out of their minds, some carried by the group up above their heads like a soccer player having just scored the winning goal, and the roaring loud cacophony of it all. It’s a different world, nothing you have experienced anywhere else on the planet. Otherwise straight-laced and well behaved like poor little lambs, after-hours the Japanese let themselves loose. No one you would recognize the next morning when you walk into the office for your long drawn out meetings.

Imagine then, that twelve of them having won Playboy Japan’s reader contest are transposed to the Lincoln Park Playboy Club in  Chicago, sitting around the tables pulled together side-by-side with the bustling Bunnies making fuss over them, serving drinks with their smooth seductive Bunny Dips, big sparkling smiles on their faces, being as sweet as they can be. They   know that these young men have won Playboy Japan Reader’s contest and that their role is also to play gracious hostesses to our guests from the faraway land. The young men are all around twenty five – self-conscious and shy and in awe of the VIP treatment they are afforded. Far from being their drunken and rambunctious selves in Ginza, they are extremely well behaved, amazed and feeling like kids in the candy store.

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