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Number 1 Shimbun

That’s entertainment!

08-1

 

If the professional activities are the soul of the Club, the entertainment events are its heart. Meet the committee that brings the fun.

 

By Julian Ryall

 

After a long day chasing down leads, cajoling ministry officials to share information or placating a disgruntled editor, a hack really needs to be able to let his or her hair down, says Sandra Mori. And even today, in an era of instant amusement in a city that has countless outlets for relaxation, it is important that the FCCJ continues its tradition of putting on a show, she adds. 

That task falls to the Entertainment Committee, the group behind a surprisingly broad range of events at the FCCJ – from the annual family Christmas party to golf and billiards tournaments, national evenings, celebrations of cities and regions around Japan and the Club’s consistently popular Saturday Night Live events.

“The committee is here purely to satisfy our members,” said Mori, a Club member for more than 40 years. She first arrived in Japan in 1946, when her father was posted to General Douglas MacArthur’s occupation staff. “We are here to entertain and even educate, to provide members with music and culture that they might not otherwise have a chance to experience, such as local varieties of sake that are only available when a prefecture puts on one of its event nights,” she said.

 

MORI FIRST SERVED ON the Entertainment Committee as board liaison in 1999. She presently serves as chair of the five-strong team – “five is a good number because we get things done quicker and better” she confides – that plots members’ amusement for the months to come. She is keen, however, to make sure that credit for the foundations of the committee’s work is apportioned correctly. 

“Much of the good work was done by Glenn Davis, who started the Saturday Night Live program all those years ago. I remember going to dozens of live houses and other venues to check out acts that we wanted to bring to the Club,” she said.

“Saturday Night Live was dear to Glenn. Even after he retired and went back to the US, he keeps calling to ask what is going on and who is coming for the next Saturday Night Live,” she said. Davis remains an adviser to the committee, as does former Club president, Dennis Normile.

“After all the hard work that Glenn had done getting Saturday Night Live up and running, it was Dennis who really put meat on the event, making sure that we were bringing in really good performers and making it what it is today,” Mori adds.

Pressed for a personal favorite in all the years, she pauses. But it’s clear the hesitation is only because there have been so many memorable nights over the years. The night that brought together no fewer than 12 nations from Southern Africa, complete with their cuisine, music and dancing, is one that has stayed with her. So have the Christmas parties with wide-eyed children sitting on Santa’s knee, the benefit event for the New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the evenings at which Japan’s legendary ninja got to show off some of their skills. A troupe of attractive dancers who put on a show at a Brazil night some years ago made for an unforgettable experience for everyone who was there, she added.

 

08-2

Entertaining discussion

Members of the committee at the piano in the Main Bar:
left to right, Masayuki Hattori, Akihiko Tanabe,
Suvendrini Kakuchi, Kaori Furuta and (seated) Sandra Mori.
Sandra has been a Club Member for more than 40 years and on the Entertainment Committee for 20.

 

MORI IS A PROUD promoter of the events, pointing to the impressive crowds they regularly draw. “National nights always bring in more than 100 people and sometimes we can get as many as 150. It’s about the same for our city or regional nights,” she said. In February, she even asked for a night-out pass from hospital in good time to be able to attend the Club’s SNL Mardi Gras, with Washboard Chaz and Steve Gardener providing an authentic New Orleans sound. 

It’s obvious Mori has a soft spot for Saturday Night Live, which she describes as the “crown jewels” of the committee’s work – rattling off The Moonshots, Jim Butler, Gardener and jazz performer Harvey Thompson as some of her favorites. “With no cover and no music charge, it is always full,” she said.

The weekly treat is not only a must-attend for music lovers; it has become such a key part of the city’s live performance scene that bands are lining up for a chance to play at the FCCJ, Mori says. “These are bands that perform all around Tokyo and further afield, but they still want to come here for our members,” Mori said. “Right now, every slot is booked up for the rest of this year and nearly all of them only get one evening. They love the ambience, they know they’re going to be performing to a good crowd and that it will be a fun night out for everyone.”

 

MORI REFERS TO KAORI Furuta, who is the Club liaison on the committee, as “Miss Saturday Night Live,” and Furuta seems to embrace the role. “I really enjoy it because I get to see performers I have never heard of before and would not have a chance to see,” she said. “I have realized there is such a wide diversity of music on offer in Tokyo.”

Furuta said working with the committee is relatively straightforward because it operates so smoothly and musicians are booked as much as a year in advance. “We don’t really have to do too much work to get them here,” Furuta added. “They come to us asking to perform.” The new Club location has also helped attract musicians, with some saying that they prefer playing at the new premises, in part because the tiled floor in the new bar is acoustically far superior to the former FCCJ building, where the carpet served to muffle or deaden the sound. 

But leaving the Denki Building location after so many memorable events did result in some mixed emotions. Just before the move, the Entertainment Committee oversaw a “Sayonara Yurakucho” evening, an event that Mori describes as bittersweet. “We turned Saturday Night Live into a sayonara event as it was the very last event to be held there. It just seemed so fitting,” she said. Now, however, it is time to look to the future. ❶

 

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

Published in: May 2019

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