"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, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Blog Pick-ups

September is starting out with The Japan Daily picking up four of today's blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Copy of Action Comics No. 1 Sells For $3.2 Million

Above, Action Comics No. 1.

One has to wonder how many people who were kids during the late-1930s who collected comic books, and had theirs tossed into the trash can by their mothers, are now kicking themselves.

Last week, it was reported by Cleveland.com that a near-pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1 was sold on eBay for a whopping $3.2 million.

They wrote:
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A near-perfect copy of "Action Comics" No. 1 featuring the first appearance of Superman in 1938, sold on eBay this weekend for a staggering $3.2 million. 
The comic was created by Clevelanders Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their Glenville homes and originally sold for 10 cents. The creators tried to sell the concept to publishers around the country for five years, getting nothing but rejection. One publisher said the idea of a super man was too ridiculous. 
Hard to believe the book was sold on eBay and not through one of the prestige New York auction houses, but it worked. Part of the profits will go to The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. 
The previous record price for a copy of "Action Comics" No. 1 was a mere $2.1 million. It was a copy once owned by actor and comic buff Nicolas Cage.
The record sale came eight days after Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel's daughter Laura attended the Superman Celebration events in Los Angeles. The sale would have been an interesting topic of discussion had it occurred before.

Above, Laura Siegel Larson, daughter of Jerry Siegel, addresses the Superman Celebration Luncheon August 16. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
To read more, go here

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Back On Craigslist

Above, Yuu Asakura with The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It is a new month and it was about time to repost The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan ad over at craigslist.

August turned out to be a good month for sales of both the print edition and the Amazon Kindle Store ebook edition.

To check out the craigslist posting, go here.

Book: Japan's World Heritage Sites

The Japan Visitor blog has posted a review on a new book on Japan's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

They wrote (in part):
Most coffee-table photo books of Japanese scenes are destined to sit around as dust-collecting decorations rather than be consulted as bona fide reference works. But John Dougill's overview of Japan's UNESCO World Heritage Sites achieves the balance between attractiveness and utility that will ensure Japanophiles are hoisting it into their laps on a regular basis and using it to inspire them for the next trip in a country undeniably rich in both natural and cultural wonders. Given its scope, however, and the emphasis on photography befitting its coffee-table format, the book is an introduction to Japan's heritage rather than the definitive guide to it.
Most of the top tourist attractions are on the World Heritage list (I have been to some of them). If you are interested in visiting these sites, this book may be what the doctor ordered.

Japan's World Heritage Sites
John Dougill
Tuttle, 2014
Full-colour hardback, 192 pp
ISBN 978-4-8053-1285-8

To read the full review, go here.

L.A. To Tokyo Airfares Dropping

Above, a view of the Tokyo Skytree from Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Airfares between Los Angeles and Tokyo are signaling that the summer vacation season is nearing the end. They're dropping.

Last week, I reported that the Los Angeles Times Travel section found the price range in airfare were at $987 to $1,574 (bafore taxes and fees added in).

Yesterday (right smack in Labor Day weekend), the Times reported the L.A. to Tokyo airfares have dropped. They found the low prices to be at $888 and the high-end prices at $1,474 (before taxes and fees added in).

I did a check through my favorite source for airline tickets, GatewayLAX, and this is the lowest fare they came up with (with a September 15 departure with a September 29 return):

Since I am not overly fond of United Airlines (to put it mildly) these days, I looked a little further and found the same price from All Nippon Airways (ANA):

Personally, I would go with ANA.

The next report on airfares will be in October, unless something unusual occurs in prices (like a sudden and steep climb in prices).

50th Anniversary of Japan's Shinkansen

Above, modern shinkansens at Tokyo Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

This week marks 50 years since Japan conducted its first test run of the shinkansen (or bullet train).

The New York Times posted an article on the anniversary:
Fifty years ago this week, Japan conducted the first full-length test run of the Shinkansen, or what became known in English as the bullet train. A 12-car train ran from Tokyo to Osaka and back at an average speed of just over 80 miles per hour and a peak speed of 135 m.p.h. (217 kilometers per hour). 
In an earlier test run, the train had hit a peak speed of 150 m.p.h., but the president of Japan’s national railroad said it would be held to 130 m.p.h. in regular service for at least the first six months.
The article also contains a vintage photo of the ribbon-cutting ceremony held on October 1, 1964 of the bullet train that ran from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka.

To read he full article, go here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bits of Bat-News

Both stories from BBC.com.

In Chiba Prefecture, Japan:

Meet Chibatman - bringing smiles to the streets of Chiba

To read the story (and see a video of Chibatman in action), go here.

Batboat from 1960s fails to sell at auction

To read the story, go here. 

Struggling FujiFilm Jumps Into Medicine

Above, FujiFilm Square (background) down the street from Roppongi Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There was once a day when one of the great debates was who made the better photographic film (grain, saturation, color balance, speed, sharpness, etc.), Kodak or Fujifilm.

Since the advent of digital photography, one doesn't hear about photographic film anymore. Both Kodak and Fujifilm suffered major losses of revenue as people tossed their film cameras in favor of digital ones. Both companies, in order to survive, branched out into other kinds of business, many of which are totally unrelated to film or photography.

The Japan Times has an article on the manufacturing of medicine to fight the deadly Ebola virus through their subsidiary company, Toyama Chemical.

They wrote:
When Japan announced it was ready to supply a new drug to help combat the deadly Ebola virus, one unusual detail emerged — it would be made by Fujifilm. 
The company synonymous with cameras and photo booths said it could start producing Avigan, which Japan has already approved to treat the flu but which scientists think also could crimp the vicious illness. 
Fujifilm’s expansion from pictures to pills through health care subsidiary Toyama Chemical is a business move being echoed by other manufacturing giants, including Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba, as fierce competition, a shrinking domestic market and their fall from global dominance in electronics nudges them into new spheres.
The article also shows that diversifying into other areas of manufacturing isn't just confined to photographic and electronics companies.

FujiFilm has a big facility, FujiFilm Square, in the Roppongi section of Tokyo with museum exhibits, galleries and Touch FujiFilm where visitors can try out new photographic products.

To read the full article, go here.

Stephanie Shayne's Remarks At Superman Plaque Dedication

Above, Stephanie Shayne Parkin. Photo by Steven Kirk.

Stephanie Shayne Parkin, daughter of Robert "Inspector Henderson" Shayne, addresses the Adventures of Superman Plaque Dedication, August 16, 2014 in Tarzana, California.

"Death Valley Days" Episode Featuring Clint Eastwood & Stanley Andrews

Above, Stanley Andrews as "The Old Ranger" on Death Valley Days.

It is sometimes surprising while looking at old television shows that things are discovered.

Back in the late 1950s to early 1960s, my family used to watch Death Valley Days, an anthology show featuring true stories of the Old West, especially near Death Valley, California.

The host of the shows, The Old Ranger, was played by Stanley Andrews. Andrews was the sheriff in Superman and the Mole Men (1951). I vaguely remembered The Old Ranger and I was surprised that he was played by Andrews when I saw an episode last night. I never made the connection between him and Superman. It had been around 50+ years since I last saw any episodes featuring The Old Ranger. He also appeared in "The Ghost Wolf" episode of the Adventures of Superman (1951) as Sam Garvin.

After Andrews retired as host of Death Valley Days, hosting chores were picked up by John Payne, Ronald Reagan and others.

Here is an episode featuring Stanley Andrews as The Old Ranger from 1956. A young Clint Eastwood is in this episode, "The Last Letter."

Latest Blog Pick-ups

The great folks at The Japan Daily picked up several blog posts from yesterday to share with their readers as we begin wrapping up the month of August.

They include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Japan's Love Hotels Being Tapped To Ease Accommodation Pinch

Above, a lighter from a Tokyo love hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

With increased tourism to Japan, the demand for hotel rooms have gone up. Conventional hotels in the Kansai region are trying to meet the demand. To help ease the accommodation crunch, love hotels are being tapped.

According to an article in Japan Today:
TOKYO —Over the past several years, the number of visitors to Japan, and particularly the Kansai region, from Asian countries has steadily increased. The completion of the 300-meter-high Abeno Harukas, Japan’s tallest commercial building, and the opening up of a Harry Potter section at Universal Studios Japan have served as magnets to draw more foreign visitors, and this, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (Sept 11) has had the effect of raising the occupancy rate of the city’s hotels. As a result, not only are city hotels, but even budget and business hotels are finding themselves unable to meet demand. 
“By the weekend, we hotel operators get to talking. ‘Have you got any vacant rooms?’ they ask,” says a member of the Osaka Prefectural Association of Hotel Operators. “If the number of flights by those LLCs (low cost carriers) into Kansai International Airport increase any further—meaning more visitors from South Korea and China—the situation’s going to become huge mess as far as accommodations are concerned.” 
Not to pass up a business opportunity, the magazine reports, moves are afoot by people in the hotel industry to tap into the latent potential of the city’s love hotels. One of the ways to do this is to modify their exteriors, lobbies, and so on to make them resemble more conventional business hotels in appearance.
 To read more, go here.

5 Common Mistakes Travelers Make in Japan

Above, apartment buildings near the Sumida River in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Every so often, travel sites put up posts on etiquette mistakes that some visitors to Japan make. I have posted some here on occasion and it is always good to occasionally review them for old-timers and for newbies alike.

Condé Nast Traveler has five of the more common mistakes visitors make. These are easy ones to make and to overcome.

They begin their article with:
With its baroque rituals and ancient traditions, Japanese etiquette strikes fear in the hearts of even seasoned travelers. But no need to worry: It’s effort—not execution—that matters most to the Japanese. “Everybody understands you’re from a different culture,” says Yuko Ehara, a Tokyo-based tour guide and etiquette expert. “If you make a sincere effort to learn, we are appreciative and forgiving of mistakes.” Now, the Palace Hotel Tokyo has launched Cultivating Tokyo, a series of private etiquette seminars to help business and leisure guests avoid faux pas (81-3- 3211-5211; two-hour lessons from about $170). We asked Ehara to share five of travelers’ most common mistakes—and what to do instead.
To see the 5 common mistakes, go here.

"Godzilla - Operation Lucky Dragon" Special Feature

Godzilla will be coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on September 16, but one special feature, "Godzilla - Operation Lucky Dragon" can be seen now.

ComicBookMovie.com has the feature posted on its website.

To view it, go here.

Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Tourist Pass

Above, Osaka Castle. The rail pass will get you free admission to this and other attractions. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There's another reason why people should visit Japan during the fall and spring months (plus winter in-between). Starting in October, a new rail pass will become available to foreign visitors to Japan.

According to japan-guide.com:
The Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Tourist Pass is a rail pass for exclusive use by foreign tourists available from October 2014 through June 2015. It provides pass holders with five consecutive days of unlimited travel along the popular Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen (including Nozomi trains), free use of designated local transportation and free admission to selected sightseeing spots.
Osaka Castle is one of the selected attractions that the rail pass will provide free admission to. As Godzilla fans know, Osaka Castle was the location of the final battle between Godzilla and Anguirus in Godzilla Raids Again (1955).

Osaka Castle is spotlighted in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan on page 42.

For more details, go here.

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

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

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Print Edition Copies of Metropolis Magazine's "Godzilla Issue" Arrive

Above, one of the copies of the "Godzilla issue" of Metropolis
 magazine and the mailing envelope. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If mailboxes could smile, mine certainly did today as some mail came in from Japan.

The mail consisted of several copies of Metropolis magazine's "The King Is Back!" or "Godzilla issue" from a month ago. I wrote the "Go Go Godzilla!" travel article on the top five attack locations in Tokyo. Fans can visit these and other places while visiting Japan.

You can download the complete issue in .pdf format by going here.

Which Country's Hotel Rooms Are The Cleanest?

Above, Tokyo's Shiba Park Hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The average person doesn't enter a hotel room with a CSI kit to check out the cleanliness of the room before staying in it, but one can generally tell whether or not a hotel's housekeeping staff is doing a good job or not.

The Wall Street Journal has posted an article on which cities in the world has the cleanest hotel rooms.

They wrote:
Tokyo’s hotel rooms may not overlook any white sandy beaches or have gorgeous frescoes dating back to the Italian Renaissance, but tourists say there’s one key factor that’s driving their popularity. 
Based on the opinions of more than six million users, hotel booking portal Hotel.info said that Tokyo has the cleanest hotel rooms among selected international cities. 
Japan’s capital scored 8.93 on a scale of one to 10, where 10 is best. Warsaw placed second with 8.76, followed by Seoul’s 8.73. Slovakian capital Bratislava and Bulgaria’s Sofia tied for fourth with both scoring 8.54.
I am really not surprised that Tokyo scored at the top. I have never seen a hotel room in Tokyo that wasn't immaculate. 

To read more, go here.

Recall Campaign Against Centinela Valley Union High School District Board Started

Citizens in the Centinela Valley Union School District (the Hawthorne-Lawndale area of Los Angeles County) have taken the initial steps in recalling the district's school board members for fleecing the district's taxpayers by:
  • Giving Superintendent Jose Fernandez a fat $663,000 salary.
  • Giving Fernandez a sweetheart $900,000 loan at 2% for 40 years.

The district is comprised of only three high schools with a combined total of 6,500 students. This hardly warrants giving the superintendent a salary of $663,000. The superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District has a much larger district with many more students, yet his salary is nowhere near as much. The loan was granted at a time when the superintendent had already declared bankruptcy. He sure sounds like great risk for a $900K loan, doesn't he?

Although the board recently fired Fernandez, that doesn't let the board members off the hook for voting for the extravagant salary and the the sweetheart loan.

The recall campaign has set up a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Recall-Centinela-School-Board/1456803904593704

And, they have also set up a Twitter page: https://twitter.com/RecallCentinela

If you agree that these board members must go, visit either (or both) sites.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Superman+ T-Shirts

Visiting Japan: Go On A Tour or Go On Your Own?

Above, the Godzilla statue in Hibiya. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Yesterday, I was asked whether it is better to go to Japan with a tour or go on one's own.

This isn't the first time this was asked of me. It probably won't be the last either. But, I will answer the question in general.

The decision on joining an organized tour involves a lot of "depends upon..." things that only you, the traveler can answer.

The first things to consider are how much time do you have available and how much can you afford for a trip to Japan. (Do you have a valid passport? If not, go get one. Otherwise, this whole exercise is moot.)

Are you uncomfortable about going to Japan on your own? If so, then an organized tour is probably best for you. If you feel fine going on your own, that's great! There are plenty of tools to help you along.

Above, a train station sign. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In regards to the language barrier, I was asked, "If I go clueless, with no knowledge of the language, will I be able to get around/survive?  Or will I be fair game for everyone?" The answer is yes, you can get around fine. And, no, you will not be fair game, the Japanese are well-known for their honesty. Most signs are in Japanese and English, or the Japanese words are written in readable Romanji (see photo above). There are plenty of guidebooks and maps in English available everywhere (including your hotel lobby). There are also tourist centers sprinkled around Tokyo and other cities who have staff able to speak English to answer your questions. The major train stations will have information centers, as do the airports.

Above, a tourist information center at the JR
Niigata Station.Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Then, the inevitable question came up: HOW MUCH? Again, that depends. There are so many tour companies available who specialize in Japan tours, all you have to do is look around and see what they have to offer. There are some with five-day, seven-day and ten-day and 14-day tours (and more). Each has their own pre-set itineraries. They tend to book their tour members into more upscale (around $150-200/night) hotels instead of budget hotels. The problem with tours, there's very little free time for people to do what they want. You may want to keep that in mind. On occasion, I post tour advertisements from JAPANiCAN. I would look into on what they have to offer.

I would recommend choosing one that will go to the places that are on your "must see" list and whose prices includes round-trip airfare and not set to the prevailing foreign exchange rate. Not all tours are created equal. You may want to talk to a travel agent. Try to find a 10-day or 12-day tour that's in the $3,000-4,000 price range that includes airfare.

Going on your own will always cost you less. Going during the off-season (spring or autumn) will cost you even lesser still. Figure that airfares will be around $500-800 per person (from Los Angeles). You can find budget hotels or ryokans (Japanese inns) for under $100/night (I've found ryokans for $30/night). If you plan to venture out of Tokyo to visit other cities like Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc., get a JR Rail Pass. For around $265 (give or take), you can get a 7-day rail pass which will allow you unlimited use of JR trains (and shinkansens) at no extra cost. They even have 14-days passes. As far as food is concerned, Japan is like the U.S., there are expensive restaurants and then there's McDonalds, Yoshinoya, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Denny's. And plenty in-between. Budget for food like you do at home.

Another reason for avoiding summer in Japan: its high temperatures and humidity. Spring and autumn seasons have much milder weather.

The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan has all the basics for Godzilla fans to plan their own Japan vacations. Other good sources are the Japan travel guides put out by Frommer's and Lonely Planet. Also, check your local public library's travel section.

Above, examples of maps from JNTO.

Online, one of the best sources for information (plus free maps and brochures) is the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

On my own, my 10-day Japan trips average around $2,600.

So, should you go on an organized tour or go on your own? That is really up to you, the individual. Would you feel comfortable going on your own or would you prefer joining a tour? Since you know your own personality, including likes and dislikes (can you stand being with other tour members you may find irritating for several days?), only you can decide for yourself. Personally, I feel right at home in Japan and have no problem in getting around (and, no, I don't speak Japanese). 

Godzilla Stomps Back On Ultra HD

Above, Godzilla in the original film. Imagine this without scratches
and other blemishes and with "hidden" information revealed. Photo: Toho Co. Ltd.

Somewhere in Tokyo, a laboratory is working on Godzilla, bringing new life into the giant beast. 

Well, not on the beast itself, but on his movies. Japan Today has a special feature article on our favorite kaiju.

It begins with:
TOKYO —At a humble Tokyo laboratory, Godzilla, including the 1954 black-and-white original, is stomping back with a digital makeover that delivers four times the image quality of high definition. 
The effort with “4K” technology is carefully removing scratches and discoloration from the films and also unearthing hidden information on the reel-to-reel. 
Experts say the chemical reactions used to make old movies stored far greater detail than was visible with the limited projection technology of the era, as well as with subsequent digital updates. 
If all the hidden information of a reel-to-reel is ever brought out, quality would approximate 8K, they say. 
Only one minute from the original film and from each of the sequels has been turned into 4K so far but the results are stunning enough.
Looks like we'll have to buy some new equipment that will properly play ultra HD in the not-too-distant future.

To read more, go here

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Like Airlines, Hotels Are Getting Fee-Happy

Above, the Hotel Asia Center of Japan in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There's a trend among hotels these days that mimic the airlines: fees.

I haven't noticed this trend very much in Japanese hotels, except for the more upscale ones, but it is something that is on the rise in U.S. hotels. Hotels in Las Vegas are notorious for this.

According to an article in Japan Today:
NEW YORK —Forget bad weather, traffic jams and kids asking, “Are we there yet?” The real headache for many travelers is a quickly-growing list of hotel surcharges, even for items they never use. 
Guaranteeing two queen beds or one king bed will cost you, as will checking in early or checking out late. Don’t need the in-room safe? You’re likely still paying. And the overpriced can of soda may be the least of your issues with the hotel minibar. 
Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay, especially because many of these charges vary from hotel to hotel, even within the same chain.
You many want to read the full article (if you dare) to see how hotels are socking it to their guests. Some of the fees are just plain outrageous.

One example:
Even moving an item in the minibar can generate a fee. 
The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, like many other hotels, bills items to guests’ rooms if sensors in the minibar note they have been removed for more than 60 seconds — enough time, hotels say, to read the nutritional information and make a decision.
To read the article, go here

Save "Phantom of the Opera" Stage Petition

It is rumored that Universal Studios in Hollywood is planning to demolish the historic Phantom Of The Opera stage (Stage 28) to make room for things related to the studio tour.

There's a petition to sign urging Universal to preserve it. I just did.

Here's the petition's overview:
Incredibly sad news! It seems Universal Studios Hollywood will be tearing down their historic "Stage 28," originally built in 1924 for "Phantom Of The Opera" starring Lon Chaney Sr. which still houses the oldest standing set in Hollywood, most likely in the world - the Paris Opera House set. The set was built for the 1925 "Phantom," also used in the Claude Rains Technicolor remake, in "Man of a Thousand Faces," Hitchcock's "Torn Curtain," "The Sting" and countless other films at Universal. It is a part of cinema history; by rights it should have been declared an historic landmark by the government.

I hope something can be done to stop the demolition of this amazing set, and "Stage 28" itself. The Opera house set is constructed of wood and re-inforced plaster -- even if it could be moved, damage is very likely, due to it's age. Evidently Universal needs more room for their tourist theme park. If so, they should turn the opera house set into an elaborate movie dinner theater, and show Universal features there. It is in great condition, there is no reason why they can't use it as part of the tour. It would be a real tragedy if this is lost! See footage which features the set when it was restored for filming the recent "Muppet Movie" as Kermit's theater: http://vimeo.com/73591242
To sign the petition, go here:

Why You Should Travel With A Polaroid Camera

Above, a Nagasaki streetcar. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

With the advent of digital cameras, cell phones with built-in cameras and Wi-Fi, I fail to see the practicality of bringing along a Polaroid or other instant print cameras on vacation. Especially since most hotels have Wi-Fi service where one can instantly email their downloaded photos to family and friends.

But, a writer for Condé Nast Traveler feels that having an instant camera is still practical in this day and age.

She wrote:
Cameras are often at the top of travel packing lists when venturing off to see a new destination—for me, anyway. These days, we’re living in a digital world of Facebook photo albums and documenting travel destinations with hashtags. But that's why it can be nice to take a break every once in a while with good old-fashioned print photos. 
In particular, instant film cameras (first created by Polaroid in the 1940s) may just be one of the best suitcase staples ever.
She then goes into the reasons why an instant camera would be useful and some sample of different instant cameras.

Unless the quality of instant print photography made big strides over the past 40 years (I had a Polaroid camera and the photos always seemed muddy or washed out), I would personally stick with a digital camera. But that's just me.

To read the article, go here.

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