What’s Yoko Ono got to do with it?
Felix Posen and I first met in Japan in the 1960’s. I was a young engineer working for Exxon. I had a degree in Petroleum Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.
Exxon sent me to Japan to help develop Exxon’s first petrochemical businesses there. Felix Posen worked for Philipp Brothers, traders in commodity raw materials – metals, oil, etc. We had our families with us. Felix and Jane Posen had three children, Stephanie, Melissa and Daniel. We had four children, David, Glenn, Carol and Jeannie. Daniel, David and Glenn all went to the same school.
Our families were part of the rather small expatriate community in Tokyo at the time, and we saw each other often and occasionally played bridge together. We saw more of Jane Posen than Felix. He was often away on business.
Jane was a warm, compassionate individual who was always concerned about the welfare of families, especially children. She was born in New York City. Felix was born in Germany. He and his family fled the Nazi pogroms to New York where he was educated and joined Philipp Brothers.
Felix was quite unlike Jane in demeanor and personality. In an article about Marc Rich in the Aug. 1, 1988 issue of Fortune magazine, author Shawn Tully describes Posen this way: “The man behind Rich’s rise in base metals is the head of the London office, Felix Posen. World-weary and laconic, Posen lives outside the city in an exquisite 15th century mansion surrounded by a moat. Nicknamed “Sir Felix’ because of his imperious bearing, the German-born Posen is extraordinarily tenacious. He thinks nothing of calling associates at 3 a.m. to check on a deal. “He’d drag you out of church’, says one trader who knows Posen well.”
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As a family, we participated in many “things Japanese,” celebrating Japanese holidays, visiting shrines, making Japanese friends and adopting many of their customs.
A special event occurred early on when I found suitable housing for my family after a lengthy search. I leased a home in Tokyo that was quite large by Japanese standards. The home was situated on over a third of an acre, which was unusual for overly crowded Tokyo. The lady I leased from, Madame Ono, was rather difficult and demanding, but we finally agreed on a lease.
While checking on some renovation work at the house one afternoon, prior to our moving in, my wife and I saw a very pregnant young Japanese lady in the garden. She was standing near a pond on the property.
We introduced ourselves. She said she had hoped to meet us because she needed a place to stay and wanted to rent the teahouse in the garden. She obviously knew a lot about this property.
She related the legend of “gama ike,” the toad pond. Gama ike, she said, keeps the neighborhood safe from fire. In fact, the neighborhood was untouched during the fire bombings of Tokyo during World War II. However, many embassies were located here, and that might have had something to do with it.
The teahouse was no bigger than maybe ten tatami mats – about 180 square feet. The young lady in the garden said she had been disowned by her mother for marrying a “gaijin” – a foreigner. We told her she could stay there with her husband, rent free, until they could find suitable housing.
This Japanese lady was unlike anyone I had ever met. She had a bearing about her that was ethereal. It turned out she was also a teacher of third grade at one of the expatriate schools and my son David was in her class.
Her husband was a young American musician, movie-maker and poet. He was studying calligraphy so he could translate his poetry into Japanese. They stayed with us for a few months, had the baby, a daughter named Kyoko, and disappeared.
We were frantic, even thinking that perhaps they had committed suicide. However, they returned one day to pick up their few possessions. There had been a reconciliation with mother.
Who was this couple? She was Yoko Ono and he was her second husband, Anthony Cox. Anthony financed a lot of Yoko’s early artistic endeavors, which were usually interactive conceptual events.
One of note was her famous “cut piece” where the audience was invited to cut off pieces of her clothing until she was naked, an abstract commentary on discarding materialism. This was after she left us, and I wasn’t at the event.
In September 2003, Yoko repeated this event on TV. This time her underwear was off limits.
Years later, Yoko divorced Anthony Cox and became John Lennon’s companion. There was a nasty custody fight between Yoko and Anthony for the daughter. Yoko lost.
Biographers disagree as to whether there has been a reconciliation between mother and daughter. I have never talked to Yoko since those days in Tokyo. However, some day when I am in New York City I believe I will send her a note at the Dakota House where she lives and remind her of the legend of “gama ike.”
Serving the prince
Both the Posen and Clinkenbeard families lived in rather interesting neighborhoods in Tokyo. One of Posen’s neighbors was Akio Morita, the founder of Sony Corp. He visited Vail numerous times in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, often participating in the American Ski Classic event – where I first met him.
He was an elegant, refined gentleman. He loved to tell the story of how the name “Sony” came about. It was what he understood when the occupying G.I.’s sometimes referred to the Japanese as “sonny.”
Akio died in 1999. His oldest son, Hideo – “Joe” to most of us – was also a frequent visitor to the Vail Valley. He was a heavy investor in real estate and I tried to get him interested in Cordillera early on, even visiting him in Tokyo, but without success. He owned the Beaver Creek Inn for several years before selling it to Vail Associates.
My family lived near the Tokyo Lawn Tennis Club which had a rather eclectic but fascinating membership. Among the members were Shirley McLaine and her husband, the Crown Prince of Japan – now the Emperor – and his wife the Crown Princess.
Once I drew the Crown Prince as an opponent in a singles match in a club tournament. The match took place on a Sunday morning and as I walked out to the court, I noticed about 10 sumo-sized bodyguards sitting on each side of the court. Was I nervous? You bet.
It didn’t help when one of my regular tennis partners, a colonel in the U.S. Army, put his arm around me and said he had the Army band coming in. They would start off with “The Star Spangled Banner” and end with “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor!”
Ivan the spy?
Another interesting, but somewhat disturbing, tennis-related event occurred that year. I played tennis two or three times a week in the early morning with a Russian named Ivan who was in Tokyo, ostensibly with the Russian Embassy.
One day an American came to my office. He said he was an officer of the U.S. Embassy and asked what my relationship was with Ivan. I said I only knew him as a tennis player.
This was during the cold war period and I suspected the embassy official was really a CIA agent, but he wouldn’t admit to that and I couldn’t prove it. He suggested I stop playing tennis with Ivan, but I didn’t. I was tailed two or three times after our morning tennis sessions but then that stopped.
A few weeks later, Ivan disappeared without notice. I often wondered if he was a spy and what happened to him. Ivan, if you read this please call me. The cold war is long over.
Editor’s note: In keeping with a tradition that began with Dick Hauserman’s “Inventors of Vail” and continued with Pete Seibert’s “Vail: Triumph of a Dream,” the editors of the Vail Daily plan to serialize Bill Clinkenbeard’s “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” in weekly installments each Sunday. Bill can be reached at 748-0971 or via e-mail, billclink@comcast..net.