Philanthropist Haruhisa Handa served up a colorful Christmas fair this month featuring special guests from the worlds of sports and cinema: an Olympic medalist, a champion golfer, a two-time Oscar-winning legend and a screen action star with strong ties to Japan.
Held from Dec. 6 to 10 at the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba Hotel, Handa hosted equestrian Zara Tindall and 24-time European Tour tournament winner Lee Westwood, both from Britain, and American actors Dustin Hoffman and Steven Seagal. The event included a Christmas market featuring watches — Handa heads timepiece company Misuzu Corporation — and artwork he painted.
Sports philanthropy is something close to Handa’s heart and the gathering was a chance to showcase that passion.
The International Sports Promotion Society, or ISPS Handa, supports charities and works with organizations and leading international names in sports, politics and society to sponsor global goodwill events. It emphasizes helping those with challenges participate in sports through activities including golf for the visually impaired and other disabilities.
Handa also believes in the power of sports to bring people of diverse backgrounds together and break down boundaries.
“Sports unites the people, unites the nations” is a trademark phrase, which he repeated during a talk show-esque event with Tindall on a stage in the banquet room where the market was held.
“We at the International Sports Promotion Society have continued for 12 years under the slogan of using the power of sports and the value of sports to make many people happy, better off and to improve society,” Handa said.
Before they sat down, Tindall poured Champagne into an illuminated pyramid of stacked glasses as the crowd watched the bubbly slowly flow down until all were filled. Handa, an enthusiastic opera performer, sang the aria “Libiamo, libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (“Let’s drink from the goblets of joy”) from Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” while clad in a kimono of a hue similar to green tea.
A member of the silver medal-winning British equestrian team at the 2012 London Olympics, Tindall is the eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II. She recounted how her exposure to horses came from her mother — Princess Ann The Princess Royal — and father — Capt. Mark Phillips — both noted equestrians.
“I was very lucky,” said Tindall, who serves as an ISPS ambassador and is married to former England rugby captain Mike Tindall. “I grew up with horses and learned from both my parents. I can’t remember a time when horses weren’t in my life.”
Handa asked about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Tindall said she will be in Japan to watch, but whether she competes remains uncertain due to her current “quite inexperienced” horse.
Tindall was asked by reporters if, as a royal, she has special feelings for Japan as she too comes from an island nation off the coast of a continent with a monarchy, long history and rich traditions.
“I would love to see more of Japan, but I definitely do feel a similar affinity to home with the culture, the history, which we very much have on our small island back at home,” she said.
Seagal later took the stage, sporting a circle beard and wearing a dark blue Chinese-style tunic and blue jeans, to chat with Handa. Prior to this, the host performed a tea ceremony for the actor, who once taught martial arts in Japan and is fluent in Japanese.
The 67-year-old star of action films including “Above the Law” and “Under Siege” reminisced about meeting Japanese cinema luminaries such as auteur Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.
“I think as an artist he was a genius, an incredible genius,” Seagal said of Kurosawa, director of classics such as “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai.” “The best director ever in the world,” he added, suddenly breaking into his native English.
Hoffman, during his appearance, shared memories of a career that includes Best Actor Academy Awards for “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Rain Man.”
He described how the divorce he was going through during filming the former helped him portray a character experiencing a breakup, rather than just approximating the feeling from studying someone else’s experience.
“Here, I felt like what I am going through on a daily basis, I can just go right to work and do and feel and try to portray exactly what I’m going through now,” he said of his feelings at the time.
The 82-year-old recounted with affection how he and co-star Katharine Ross in “The Graduate” were coached by late director Mike Nichols through the climactic scene on a bus, which he explained was done out of sequence halfway through filming.
After his remarks were interpreted into Japanese and drew applause from the hundreds of standing attendees, Hoffman looked heavenward and blew a kiss in a gesture of respect for Nichols, who died in 2014.
Hoffman revealed he didn’t know about Handa before being invited to the event, but subsequently learned of his charitable activities at a hospital in Cambodia, and expressed admiration.
“God bless you for doing that because you’re bringing it home and it’s important,” Hoffman told him. “And I thank you,” he said, drawing applause.
Earlier, Hoffman expressed curiosity about Japan with reporters, asking why people bow.
A Japanese journalist cited the need to live in harmony on crowded islands, invoking a traditional saying that one “starts with respect and ends with respect” as an explanation for the custom.
“I find that very moving,” said Hoffman, trying out a bow of his own before leaving.