"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." - President Ronald Reagan.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

G-TOUR III Details Announced

Above, Miyajima in 2004. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

G-FAN has announced the itinerary and cost of G-TOUR III. It will be held from July 28 to August 8, 2015.

At first glance, it is pretty reminiscent of the first G-TOUR in 2004 in which 60 G-fans toured Japan during Godzilla's 50th anniversary year. This tour doesn't seem to be spending as much time in Tokyo as the first one (which also included a free day for people to do as they wished in Tokyo), but is spending additional time in the Mount Fuji, Hiroshima and Miyajima areas. Miyajima was a fun place to visit, so the tour's return there is a plus. Leisure time in Hiroshima should be considered another plus if one desires to explore the city on their own.

As in 2004, some time will be spent seeing the historical places in Kyoto with an optional chartered bus trip to nearby Osaka. While in Kyoto in 2004, most went to the big shopping districts during free time. I elected to explore Kyoto's backstreets instead on foot.

A bus trip is also planned to take the tour group to Kurihama Flower World to see the Godzilla slide.(Just hope the trams are operating that day, otherwise a big uphill hike would be required to get to the slide. At least there will be plenty of shade on the trail.)

A visit by bus to the Ogouchi Dam is on the itinerary.

Another interesting activity is a planned evening dinner cruise in Tokyo Bay.

If one is reluctant to take a trip on their own (solo or not), then this organized tour is probably what the doctor ordered.

Unlike G-TOUR in 2004, the price of the tour does not include round-trip flights to Japan. As the website states:
Price is for land only, flight is responsibility of individual participants, but MYK Travel will assist if desired.
More about flights in a moment.

The price of the tour is stated as follows:
Tour price is 330,000 yen (roughly $2725.00 U.S. at current exchange rates) and is based on double occupancy. Singles will be paired up if desired, otherwise there will be a single supplement price.
MYK Travel is a Canadian tour operator, which is interesting that they would price the tour based on the Japanese yen. One question I would ask is: Are there any taxes or fees that will be tacked on to the basic tour price? One should nail down the grand total before committing to the tour and so people will know how much to save. The "single supplement" could be around $300-500 +. If you are willing to be paired with another single traveler, you will save money.

Today's exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Japanese yen is 330,000.00 JPY =  2,754.54 USD. You can expect some fluctuation in the price. The current rate is roughly 119.802 yen per dollar according to XE Currency Converter. Expect to pay more if the dollar tumbles against the yen. But the exchange rate between the dollar and yen should remain relatively stable in the foreseeable future.

Regarding flights, although it is indicated that MYK Travel is willing to assist, I would also recommend getting a "second opinion" on flights. If you are strongly interested in joining the tour, I would recommend checking with GatewayLAX as a source for flights. I have used them since 2005 after finding that they provided better prices than Travelocity or Priceline.com. I have not been disappointed in their service. (I have no financial interest in GatewayLAX, by the way.)

Back in August, I posted a blog on whether to join a tour or go on your own in response to a query. Rather than re-hash the whole thing, here's the link to the post. However, I did say in the post that if one desires to go with a tour group (and if one's personality can handle it), try to find one for 10-days in the the $3,000 to $4,000 price range that includes flights. As this tour is in the $2,700 price range without flights, airfares at the time of G-TOUR will be anywhere between $800 to $1,500 (give or take). If you manage to get flight tickets at $1,300 or less, you will be within those parameters and I would consider the whole cost to be reasonable.

See my blog posts of June 30 (note the airfare GatewayLAX came up with), July 7 and July 28 to get an idea on what to expect in airfares next summer. These are Los Angeles to Tokyo airfares that the Los Angeles Times Travel section found.

One more word regarding flights. Try to get direct non-stop flights. I've been noticing that the airlines are setting up one and two-stop flights more often than back in 2004, and a lot of them make no sense. I saw one going from L.A. to Chicago and then on to Tokyo from Chicago. This is going backwards before going forwards! (I almost had to take a flight from Japan to L.A. that had layovers in Guam, Honolulu and San Francisco in February.) And, beware of those baggage fees!

G-TOUR in 2004 was fun and everything went like clockwork. Based on that experience (and considering that this tour resembles that one to a great extent), I would have no qualms in signing on. This would be a good tour for a first-timer to Japan to go on.

L.A. To Tokyo Airfares Still Dropping

Above, a view of Odaiba and Tokyo Bay from Tokyo Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last week, I reported that the Los Angeles Times Travel section found that airline flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo had dropped a tad from the previous week.

That downward trend continued as the Times reported that airfares have dipped to $885.00 on the low end and $1,409.00 on the high end. These are before any taxes or fees have been added. Last week, the fares were at $934.00 on the low end and $1,459.00 on the high end. Again, these prices are before the addition of any fees and taxes.

Unless fares make a drastic change (one way or the other) the next report will be in January 2015.

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

The good folks at The Japan Daily picked up several of yesterday's blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Surging Dollar Boosting International Tourism

Above, Fukuoka Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The current surge of the U.S. dollar against several foreign currencies is making international affordable for U.S. travelers.

According to CNBC:
It may be time for U.S. tourists to pack their bags for destinations abroad—and they have the dollar to thank. 
On Friday, the U.S. Dollar Index hit its highest level since March 2009. The greenback's strength against other major currencies has presented opportunities for American travelers to jet off to more exotic places. The dollar's bull run, especially against European and Asian currencies, has made buying goods and leisure travel more affordable in those countries.
This includes visiting Japan. They wrote:
The U.S. dollar has appreciated more than 14 percent over the Japanese yen in the last year, making food, hotels and even electronics cheaper for American travelers in Japan.
To read more, go here

Japanese Cities Named Top Destinations In 2015

Above, Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall from the Asakusa
side of the Azuma Bridge. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan is currently setting new records in foreign tourism this year. 2015, according to CNBC, is also going to be a banner year.

They wrote:
Japanese cities are the top destinations for Asia-Pacific travelers next year, Hotels.com told CNBC. 
Tokyo was ranked the number one vacation spot, followed by Osaka in second place, eclipsing previous favorite Hong Kong, according to data compiled from the accommodation booking site. The cultural capital of Kyoto came in at tenth on the list.
To read more, go here

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Ebook Now Available At Amazon Netherlands Kindle Store

Fans of Japanese giant monster movies (daikaiju eiga) from the Netherlands (Holland) are now able to get the Amazon ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan at the Amazon.nl Kindle Store.

This makes the ebook edition available at Amazon Kindle Stores in 13 countries. The others are the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, France, Italy, Japan, India, Canada and Australia.

To go to the Amazon Netherlands Kindle Store page for the ebook, go here.

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Ebook Zooms Up To Number 81

No sooner than after I posted about the Japanese government's plan to tax ebooks and other electronic media, The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan ebook edition at Amazon's Kindle Store zoomed up to number 81 in their Best Sellers in Japanese Travel category.

As my blog post of yesterday indicated, the Japanese government plans to add a consumption tax to ebooks and electronic media (such as music downloads) from foreign sources. The tax is supposed to start in October 2015.

To get the Amazon ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan, go here.

Make sure your tablet or other device is compatible with the Kindle platform before ordering.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Japan To Levy Consumption Tax On Ebooks and Other Electronic Media From Overseas

Above, Japan will levy a consumption tax on foreign-based
ebooks such as
The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

The Japanese government has decided to levy a consumption tax on ebooks, digital music and other electronic media sold online from firms based in other countries.

According to News On Japan:
The government has decided to levy consumption tax on e-books, digital music and other electronic media sold online by overseas vendors from October, according to sources. 
Currently, goods and services distributed in electronic formats by firms based abroad to consumers in Japan are not taxable. This has led to mounting criticism mainly from domestic booksellers, who call the system unfair. 
Under the envisaged system, digital media sold by vendors whose headquarters are located outside Japan will be subject to taxation, the sources said. Such firms include Amazon.com Inc. in the United States and Kobo Inc., Rakuten Inc.'s affiliate in Canada.
The ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan would be subject to Japan's consumption tax beginning next October under this scheme. So, if someone from Japan should order the ebook (it is also available on Amazon Japan (images below)) they would also have to pay Japan's consumption tax.

As October nears, I predict that there will be a big rush in Japan to buy electronic media from overseas before the tax kicks in.

As former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said about government's insatiable appetite for more taxes (before he went wobbly in his second term):
"From the time they get up in the morning and flush the toilet, they're taxed. Then they go and get the cup of coffee, they're taxed....This goes on all day long. Tax, tax, tax."

- See more at: http://newsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/110736.php#sthash.0TM5sgr2.dpuf

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

The good folks at The Japan Daily picked up several of yesterday's blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

JAL & JTB Team Up With New Tour Packages

Above, Osaka Castle. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For those who are reluctant to take a trip to Japan on their own, Japan Airlines and JTB Group have teamed up to plan and create some package tours that they may find attractive.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —Japan Airlines (JAL) and JTB Group (JTB) announced this week that they have jointly planned and created new domestic package tours, Experience Japan “JAL Special Package,” for individual travelers from overseas to Japan. 
Customers who purchase Experience Japan “JAL Special Package” are able to: 
- Enjoy the convenience of JAL’s continually expanded network with more than 120 routes throughout Japan 
- Visit distant destinations where sightseeing bus or Shinkansen (bullet train) may not reach 
-Easily access to JAPANiCAN.com (http://www.japanican.com/) to book your tour in Japan or consult with the eligible travel agency
The article then goes on to outline the different tour packages being offered.

To read more, go here

Remembering Tom Dougherty

Above, Christmas Day 2010 in Ginza with (from left) Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Koizumi
Diane Dougherty, Tom Dougherty and Akira Takarada. Photo courtesy of Clawmark Toys.

In any fandom, there are the good guys and there are the not-so-good guys (for various reasons). In the case of Tom Dougherty of Clawmark Toys, he was definitely one of the good guys.

I learned this evening from Loren Portillo's posting at Facebook that Tom passed away.

About two or three years ago, I contacted Tom about sponsoring a Godzilla celebrity for an appearance at an upcoming Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles. Tom replied that he was unable to do anything at the time. He said he was recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS).

This came as a big shock as Tom was one of the most enthusiastic and active Godzilla and kaiju toy dealers around. Not long before, Tom sent me several photos of an event held in Ginza by the Godzilla Fan Club that he and Diane attended to post on this blog that featured Godzilla actors Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Koizumi and Akira Takarada. Tom looked like his usual enthusiastic self in one of the photos (it is posted above).

With the news that Tom gave me, I knew then that it was a matter of time when the neuro-degenerative disease would eventually claim his life. So when Loren Portillo posted the news on Tom's passing, I was not too surprised. But it was tough news nonetheless.

He and his wife Diane lived in Japan (off and on) and he would regale us at G-FEST with stories of their roadtrips around Japan in their search for toys to sell though their Clawmark Toys business.

I probably first met Tom at a G-FEST convention around 1999 or 2000. We had a great time in Japan in 2001 when Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Following the movie, several of us (we must have had a group of 30), including Tom and Diane, then headed to Nakano for a dinner party at a Chinese restaurant at the Broadway Mall. The dinner party included Kenpachiro Satsuma (the Heisei Godzilla), among others. It was a night that I, for one, have never forgotten.

Tom's Clawmark Toys was one of the best dealers in Godzilla/kaiju toys and other collectibles. He was fair in his pricing and one can always rely on fast delivery from Clawmark.

His presence at fan events will be greatly missed. A big void has been left behind by his passing.

My condolences go out to his wife Diane and the Dougherty family.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Kinkaku-ji Under A Blanket of Snow

Above, Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While in Kyoto in 2004, I took the above photo of the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion.

This past week, much of Japan has been hit by heavy snowstorms. Kyoto wasn't spared from getting dusted by snows, but when Kyoto does get hit by a snowstorm, it makes for postcard-perfect photographs.

Rocket News 24 has posted an article on the recent snowstorms in Kyoto with a photograph of Kinkaku-ji under a blanket of snow. It is a view similar to mine.

To see it, go here.

Seattle Times: A Good Time To Travel In Japan As Yen Tumbles

Above, the Godzilla slide in Yokosuka. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Confirming (again) what I've been saying for years, the Seattle Times posted an article stating that now is a good time to travel to Japan as the yen tumbles. Visiting the land of Godzilla is a lot more affordable.

They wrote:
A record 11 million foreign tourists visited Japan in the first 10 months of this year, up 27 percent from the same period in 2013, with more than half from elsewhere in Asia, government data show. The tourism boom may signal a lower yen is starting to help the world’s third-largest economy, which last quarter slipped into its fourth recession since 2008. 
The yen has depreciated against 27 of the 31 most-traded currencies since mid-year as well. Earlier this month it fell to a seven-year low of 121.85 to the U.S. dollar.
If kaiju fans plan to go to Japan now, they can also get The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan at a reduced close-out price of $9.95 (plus $2.00 shipping and handling) before going so they can walk in Godzilla's footsteps.

To read more, go here.

Osamu Tezuka Celebrated In Tokyo's "Astro Town"

Above, a Niigata bank's "Astro Boy" window display in 2010. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There's an area in Shinjuku where manga creator Osamu Tezuka and his character creations are celebrated. It sounds like an interesting place to visit.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) reported:
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Osamu Tezuka, known as the “god of manga.” Events and exhibitions are being held nationwide, with stage performances scheduled in the metropolitan area during the year-end season. After the end of World War II, Tezuka moved from Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, to Tokyo, where he left behind numerous masterpieces. Even a quarter-century after his death, many people are still enchanted by his work. 
Whenever a train on the Yamanote Line departs from JR Takadanobaba Station in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, the “Astro Boy” theme song reverberates throughout the area. Outside the station, characters from Tezuka’s works can be seen on a gigantic mural 2.7 meters high and 16 meters wide, and streetlights along the shopping street in front of the station bear plates depicting well-known creations of the manga artist.
I remember first watching Astro Boy cartoons around 1963 on a Los Angeles television station. Later, I discovered new Astro Boy cartoons were made in the early 1980s and a new batch were made in 2003. I saw a few of the 2003 episodes while flying aboard Korean Air to Japan. While visiting Niigata in 2010, I saw a bank near Niigata Station with a huge Astro Boy display. And, at Niigata Station, an ATM booth was decorated with Astro Boy images.

Above, JR Takadanobaba Station is three stops above Shinjuku Station on the Yamanote Line.

I decided to skip the Astro Boy 2009 movie as it didn't look right to me.

To read the article (the first of a series of articles on Tezuka), go here.

Stewardess Salaries Drop, Some Turn To Part-Time Prostitution

Above, an ad for a Yokohama "delivery health" outcall service with a flight attendant theme.

It appears that salaries for flight attendants in Japan aren't what they used to be.

The Tokyo Reporter has posted a story that says slumping salaries are forcing some flight attendants to take up the world's oldest profession on a part-time basis in order to supplement their incomes.

They reported:
According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, salaries for Japan’s flight attendants have slumped significantly over the past decade. 
From 2004 to 2013, the average annual wage of a stewardess, aged between 25 and 29, dropped from 4.98 million to 3.91 million yen, the report said. 
This has lead to some stewardesses engaging in a selection of sultry services on the side, reports Shukan Post (Dec. 26), which provides a number of confessionals.
One such service is a "delivery health" outcall sex service that specializes in stewardesses.

Coffee, tea or me?

To read the full article, go here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Japan Smoke-Haters Going After Smokers With A Vengeance

Above, salarymen at a smoking area at Kyoto Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan is becoming more like the United States with anti-smoking Nazis running amok.

Japan Today has an article on some extreme cases where anti-smoking militants are harassing smokers.

It starts with:
TOKYO —People who resent being exposed to cigarette smoke at the workplace, in restaurants and in other public places have been becoming increasingly militant in demonstrating their dislike. 
Spa! (Dec 23) presents four somewhat extreme case studies of these “psychotic” smoke-haters.
 To read the cases, go here.

The Fair Play For Cuba Committee Finally Gets A New Chairman

Japan's Must-see World Heritage Sites

Above, the A-Bomb Dome and Hiroshima Peace Park are World Heritage Sites. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Amy Chavez has an article on "Japan's Must-see World Heritage Sites" over at the Huffington Post.

As of August 2014, there are 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan.

She begins her article with:
What to see, how to avoid the crowds, and how to enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage Sites on your own terms. 
Although I have been to many of the World Heritage Sites myself, to learn the details on absolutely all of them I turned to the book Japan's World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature by John Dougill.

To read more, go here.

Sony Wimps Out And Cancels Release of "The Interview"

Above, the Three Stooges in You Nazty Spy. Photo by Columbia Pictures.

Let's see. Dictators in the past have always been lampooned by Hollywood. Hollywood is now being run by pansies.

Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator and The Three Stooges' You Nazty Spy come immediately to mind (to read an interesting article on these and other movies, go here). Both Chaplin and Moe Howard lampooned Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

It is interesting that The Three Stooges' You Nazty Spy was released by Columbia Pictures. The current parent company to Columbia Pictures is Sony Pictures Entertainment, the same Sony who has decided to cave in to threats by not releasing a new comedy on a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

According to Japan Today:
NEW YORK —Sony Pictures on Wednesday abruptly canceled the Dec 25 U.S. release of the comedy which has angered North Korea and triggered chilling threats from hackers, reportedly suspected to be ordered by Pyongyang. 
The Hollywood studio announced the decision after the majority of U.S. theater chains said they would not screen “The Interview” about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. 
“In light of the decision by the majority of our (theater) exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” it said in a statement.
According to an article in Variety, U.S. authorities have found linkage that North Korea ordered recent cyberattacks against Sony, including the threats.

The Interview will eventually be released. This episode of North Korean cyberterrorism will only make people more curious to screen the movie to see what the fuss was all about.

Sony should have not caved in and kept to the December 25 release schedule.

As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, "With the Sony collapse, America has lost its first cyberwar."

ObamaCare Fines Are Looming

As we get nearer to the end of the year, time is running out for those who are uninsured to get health insurance under the ObamaCare law (I refuse to call it by its official name, which is a big lie) or be socked with a hefty penalty at tax time. People have until February 15, 2015 to do so.

The Hill reported:
People without insurance are running out of time to avoid the hefty ObamaCare penalties that the IRS will be handing down in 2016. 
Consumers face a Feb. 15, 2015, deadline to buy insurance, after which those without coverage could be hit with fines of $325 per adult or 2 percent of family income, whichever is higher.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the penalty is a "tax," despite the Obama Administration's claims that it wasn't (a big lie) until they got before the court, everyone has to get health insurance whether they want it or not.

The other lie, "If you like your health insurance, you can keep it" was a "selling" point the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress told everyone. That proved to be false as people lost their coverage by the millions.

Small wonder so many Democrats lost their House and Senate seats in last month's election.

If you can get health insurance coverage through your place of employment, do so. It is a lot cheaper than though those state or federal exchanges.

To read more, go here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

The good folks at The Japan Daily have picked up several of today's blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

ANA Increasing International Free Baggage Allowance

Above, ANA's booth at a Los Angeles travel show. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In a move to enhance customer benefit and to strengthen the competitiveness on international routes, ANA is increasing international free baggage allowance for economy passengers.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —ANA is to increase the free baggage allowance for passengers traveling in economy class on international flights. 
With tickets issued on Jan 8, passengers will be able to check in two pieces of free baggage as opposed to the one piece under the current rules. The free allowance for weight and size will remain unchanged, as will the free baggage allowance rule for first and business class passengers.
To read more, go here

New Tokyo Fish Market To Open In November 2016

Above, the current Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It looks like the opening month of Tokyo's new wholesale fish market has been set.

The Japan Times reported:
A new wholesale market will open in early November 2016 in Tokyo’s Toyosu district to replace the storied Tsukiji fish market, the construction committee decided Wednesday.
If one wants to see the historic Tsukiji Fish Market, time is running out to do so.

To read more, go here.

Weak Yen Brings 12.18 Million Tourists To Japan In 11 Months

Above, Tokyo's Kitchen Town (Kappabashi). Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan is well on its way to another record-breaking year in foreign tourism. Japan has already surpassed last year's 10 million foreign tourist record. As Japan has already broken last year's record, the only question is what will be the total for 2014.

According to The Japan Times:
The estimated number of foreign visitors to Japan in the January-November period exceeded 12 million, figures showed Wednesday, as a weaker yen made hotels, food and travel more attractive to foreign-currency holders. 
At this pace, the number of foreign visitors for the whole of 2014 is almost certain to surpass 13 million, well above the record of 10.36 million logged last year, Japan National Tourism Organization data show.
To read more, go here

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

U.S. Federal Judge Rules Obama Immigration Action Invalid

The current bunch of GOP congressional leaders may not have "grown a set" in resisting Barack Obama's executive orders and memoranda, but at least there are some federal judges who have.

The Japan Times reported:
WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Pennsylvania declared Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to curb deportations for millions illegally in the U.S. is unconstitutional. 
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said Obama’s order in November amounts to “unilateral legislative action” in violation of the Constitution. Schwab issued his opinion in a criminal case involving an immigrant here illegally from Honduras.
To read more, go here

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