Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The sweet and good life in Chiba, and EBTG



The day before I left Tokyo for Manila, I accepted an invitation from a friend to stay at his weekend estate in Chiba Prefecture, about 80 minutes from Tokyo and also about 80 minutes in another direction from Narita Airport.

ANOTHER SIDE TO CHIBA


It was a pretty interesting drive via Haneda Airport and the industrial suburbs next to Tokyo.  Everything was about gray and brown factories and smoke stacks, and bunched together they looked like a scene from a science fiction movie about the end of the world.

Then we made a left turn somewhere and then turned into the longest underwater tunnel in Japan that links Tokyo to this part of Chiba. Even driving fast, it's over 10 minutes under water on that tunnel -- so yes, it's pretty creepy if you're claustrophobic.

I'd never taken this way before, because I hardly ever go to that part of Chiba. In fact I hardly ever go to Chiba except to pass through to and from the airport. But this part of Chiba, where I spent my last night in Japan, is a mass of greenery right by the sea, and it's very far from most people's idea of what Chiba prefecture is.



THE HEDGE FUND WORLD

My hosts for the weekend were a long-term hedge fund manager in Japan and his wife, who runs her own business. For some reason, lots of my friends in Tokyo are in the finance industry, and if you have any experience with this industry in Tokyo, you'll know that the hedge fund world is particularly populated by nice but incredibly competitive people who think they are super smart and far better than everyone else.

They usually are, by the way, because being a successful hedge fund manager in Japan takes brains, guts and lots of chutzpah bordering almost on megalomania. Almost everyone is a Type A personality so I have lots of experience with this kind of personality type.



Hedge fund managers often have a need to achieve, outpeform and out-anything everyone else. And they usually also have egos the size of small countries, but I don't mean this in a bad way. It's a necessity for staying power in this industry.

This is why they're good at what they do, because successfully running a hedge fund needs razor sharpness and a certain can-do-at-all-costs mentality. I also appreciate the fact that what you see is what you get. There's no hypocrisy or false humility here. In fact, there's no humility at all. Haha.



A DINING TABLE BY COURIER SERVICE

One hedge fund manager, for example, designed his own dining table for his weekend house in the Fuji Lakes area and then had it made somewhere in Southeast Asia. It was finished by the first week of December and just waiting in the factory for a shipper to get it packed and on a boat. This process takes a couple of months, door-to-door, of course.


But this guy wanted to eat on this very table he had designed by Christmas Eve, in his weekend house in the Fuji Lakes; and cost was no object. Of course, shipping it from Southeast Asia to the Fuji Lakes area takes even longer than just shipping it to Tokyo or Yokohama, so the odds were stacked up against him.

So what did he do instead? He had the table for 16 persons Fedexed -- or at least he used some kind of door-to-door courier service -- to Mount Fuji from somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Do you know anyone with enough chutzpah to get a very large dining table Fedexed? I Fedex papers all the time, but I'd never get a 16-seated dining table Fedexed. But that's a hedgie with an I-don't-know-the-word-NO attitude for you. And yes, he was eating on his table in his weekend house in Mount Fuji by Christmas Eve.



A WOW KIND OF HOUSE 

So when this hedge fund friend invited for a stay at his estate, I was expecting a pretty nice house. All the hedge fund people I know in Tokyo have great weekend houses, and many of them collect houses around the world like it's a Monopoly game.



They also buy vineyards in France, drive fantastic cars and have all the fabulous lifestyle accessories for success to compensate for a pretty complicated, high-stress, high-stakes life.

Lots of people have wow weekend houses and great lifestyles in the Philippines, too; but Japan is the most expensive country in the world, so here, wow takes on an entirely different dimension.

WHAT A HOUSE

And what a weekend house it was. The main house was a centuries-old renovated farm house which he'd transported piece by piece from somewhere in Central Japan, and then he'd literally spent a fortune fixing the insides so that it had 21st century technology -- blinds, lights, heaters and coolers that all opened and closed with a remote control, and an amazing wine cellar, among many other things.

It was truly the best of both worlds.

Then he had a guest house put in the back of the property, also out of an antique farmhouse but smaller than the main house. This was where I stayed and it was wonderful.



ALL THE REQUISITE PERKS

And from a very large piece of land that was literally nothing when he'd bought it, he'd put in an all-season heated swimming pool, a tennis court, and hired a garden designer to create a garden covering the entire estate and a large waterfall on his property, complete with all the requisite lighting for the evenings, and foliage.

He'd also created a long driveway leading from the discrete electronic entrance to the house, and lined this with bamboo trees and antique stone lanterns.



The garden designer usually does the landscaping of luxury hotels; and for ordinary folks in Japan, it's unthinkable for this kind of designer to be doing private houses. But lots of hedgies do hire people like him for their gardens; and this guy hired him to create a garden and also a waterfall.

What a lovely effect it turned out to be, to have a private mountain with a bamboo forest, with two ancient farmhouses and an infinity pool on the opposite hill, and a waterfall and a bubbling brook in between. It was a scene straight out of Kyoto, except we were on someone's private estate in Chiba.



Then we had dinner, with organic rice, vegetables and meat from his own farm adjacent to the property. Earlier, upon arrival, I'd seen a rice field next to the property and I'd asked him: "Is that the neighbor's rice field?"

He'd replied: "Nope, it's mine. I didn't want the neighbor spraying pesticides on the rice field and having those pesticides coming onto my property somehow. So I'd bought the rice field from him to solve the problem."

Yes, that's a hedge fund manager for you. They think big, talk big and live big.

LITERALLY, A HOUSE WINE

Then, over a very delicious dinner, he'd opened a bottle of wine for all of us. He said: "This is my wine."



I thought he meant that he'd opened a bottle from his collection, instead of opening the bottle I'd brought, which was a very nice bottle of wine, by the way.

It turned out to literally be his wine -- as in he'd bought the grapes from a merchant in Bordeaux and had it bottled, labeled and packaged and shipped to Japan exclusively for his own use, under his own label, as his own house wine for the weekend house. The wine had a label with the name of his estate on it.
Everyone joked that I should think about doing that too, for my own weekend house, which is nowhere near his in size and anything, by the way.

I laughed and said: "I think that, in my case, it'll be far easier to just buy five cases of some obscure wine from France and name my weekend house after it. Then I'll have some private label house wine, too."

GRAPES AND EBTG



The next day, we all went grape picking nearby, and so I'd come home to Manila with boxes and boxes of the juiciest grapes in the world -- and I'd picked them myself. Then after we'd finished picking grapes, we'd all gone back to the house and had a very nice lunch outdoors by the pool, with music from Everything But The Girl playing all over the property.


Yup, he'd wired his entire property -- no kidding -- so that there were speakers everywhere and you can hear the music from the house wherever you are outside, even by the pool or the waterfalls. It was fantastic, actually, but surreal -- especially since I just bring my iPod and speakers along if I want music outside.

What's on my iPod this week
to Amman and Jerusalem

I Feel Pretty
from Glee -- would you believe?

And then, all too soo, it was time to leave and head to the airport for my flight to Manila. It was back to reality. At least for a few days.

We're back on a plane and headed for Amman, Jordan for another never-ending round of a Travelife very soon. I'm flying halfway across the world for a dinner in Amman, a trip to Petra (finally!), and some R&R at a nice resort by the Dead Sea somewhere between Jerusalem and Amman.

Yup. Chiba, Tokyo, Manila, Amman, Petra, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Kota Kinabalu all in about a ten days. Just another week in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.





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