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Number 1 Shimbun

Tales from the Round Tables: Bare Breasts, the Prince and the Chindonya

 

W

ITH THE CLUB’S 70TH Anniversary fast approaching, the Round Table has been abuzz with memories of FCCJ celebrations past.

In the postwar frontier days of impoverished Japan, shortages of just about everything were a daily reality. That we were so resourceful in producing entertainment on a legendary scale in those bleak days is testament to the esprit de corps and rugged survival instincts of the early Members. No curtains to hide the drab windows? No problem: plenty of parachute cloth available. Music entertainment for the big opening? Hallelujah! The kind folks at NHK have a piano they’re willing to lend.

On that august occasion, however, we seemed to have given NHK the wrong date, so the movers showed up again before the big event to collect the broadcaster’s treasured instrument. What ensued was a hilarious Keystone Cops hide-and-seek, with Members scrambling to hide the piano on one of the elevators, traveling up and down as the exasperated movers searched floor to floor in the other. NHK went home empty handed that day, but 600 grateful guests and organizers made sure they became part of the Club’s party lore.

 

The 40th anniversary found itself in the annals

 as the occasion that saw then Crown Prince and Princess

dance in public for the first time.

 

Gems like this fill the pages of Foreign Correspondents in Japan, the Club’s history lovingly compiled for its 50th anniversary celebration. Chief editor Charles Pomeroy reminisces with particular fondness about the skits that were regularly put on by correspondents at these parties. Lou Cioffi, the ABC bureau chief in the late ’60s, starred in a perennial favorite, parodying the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) as FARTS. Bursting with raw thespian and comedic talent, Club stalwarts led the charge with side-splitting, irreverent renditions of everyone from MacArthur and Mao Tse-tung to Castro. Jazz luminaries Dolly Baker and Helen Merrill dazzled the crowds.

Another popular act was the Two Bares, an attractive Japanese girl duo that graced the parties intermittently from the ’50s well into the ’70s, with – you guessed it – no tops. Sandra Mori is still crazy for the Moonshots, the feel-good band that regularly played for the anniversaries and still appears at our Saturday Nite Live events to this day. “They represent the kind of tradition that is so important to our Club,” she says.

The 40th anniversary found itself in the annals of Japan’s history as the occasion that saw then Crown Prince and Princess dance in public for the first time. What made the party “one of the happiest memories of my life in Japan” for key organizer Geoff Tudor, however, was something that brought a smile to the faces of the imperial couple. Geoff had hired a chindonya troupe, street musicians in loud kimonos, wigs and heavy Kabuki-esque make-up, to march around the ballroom of the hotel to promote raffle ticket sales.

The wailing tunes, backed by drums, gongs and bells, were commonplace on the streets back then, most often as attention grabbers for store and event openings. When the Imperial Household Agency informed Tudor that the Crown Prince and Princess would be attending, there was concern that the garish entertainment might be disrespectful, so Tudor consulted with the Agency, only to be told, “It is your party. We are the guests.”

The anniversary was a stunning success. At the end of dinner, Tudor was called to the top table to hear a very happy Crown Prince complimenting him on the entertainment. “I have never seen chindonya before,” the prince said. “I thought they were fascinating. Thank you very much.”

Of course, the prince is now emperor, but the FCCJ remains the place where His Imperial Majesty learned of a street tradition beyond the reach of his palace life. If the Imperial Household Agency would permit, Tudor would be delighted to be forevermore, ‘By appointment, supplier of chindonya to the Emperor of Japan.’

 

– The Shimbun Alley Whisperers

 

 

Published in: September 2015

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