"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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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Same-Day Reservations For Imperial Palace Tours

Above, the Nijubashi Bridge at the Imperial Palace. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For those visiting Tokyo, the Imperial Household Agency announced that a same-day registration for tours of certain areas of the Imperial Palace has been implemented.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —The Imperial Household Agency on Saturday introduced a same-day registration system for guided tours of parts of the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo to enable visitors to see the place without prior reservation. 
The measure was taken in line with the government’s strategy to boost tourism as Japan aims to increase the annual number of overseas visitors to 40 million by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The tour generally takes about 75 minutes and the number of people per tour will be increased from 300 to 500 persons.

To read more, go here

Nice Outing

Above, Jes at the Lamplighter Restaurant wearing the
necklace I got her in Hawaii. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today was a pleasant day as I was out with my former roomie Jessica.

We began the day by heading to the Lamplighter Restaurant for breakfast.

Following that, we made a stop or two before heading to the Topanga Promenade shopping mall in Woodland Hills where she picked up a few things.

Funny thing, I was getting bored while she shopped so I found a chair in Target's patio furniture department. While I relaxed, she shopped to her heart's content without me around to nag her to hurry up. (The only "nagging" I did was to try to get her to go back to her natural hair color, jet black. She likes to experiment with different colors.) I managed to doze off in the chair (glad I picked a comfortable one). I don't know for how long I dozed, but when I woke up, she was in the next chair over, asleep. She said she must have dozed off for five or ten minutes.

She finished up her shopping and we went to the checkstand and headed out.

It was refreshing to be out with a gal and not have any drama during the whole time. Jes has always been straightforward and true blue. Her loyalty is unquestioned. Plus, we have a similar sense of humor. We're planning to go to the Ventura Beach RV Resort in a couple of weeks.

Brexit: Japanese Travel Companies In Wait-And-See Mode

Above, Kyoto Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Brexit matter has thrown a lot of things in flux. Nobody knows what's going to happen economically, socially or even with travel.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) reported that travel companies are taking a wait-and-see stance for now.

They wrote:
Travel companies in Japan remain uncertain of how Britain’s departure from the European Union will impact them. 
Unlike Germany, France and some other nations, Britain has not signed the Schengen Agreement, which allows people to move freely within the member countries without the use of a passport. Thus, the passport requirement for traveling from or to Schengen member countries will remain unchanged. 
“There will be no newly imposed restrictions on free movement in the wake of the latest development. So I doubt the number of [Japanese] tourists [to Europe] will drop,” said Toshiro Yajima, the head of public relations at the Japan Association of Travel Agents. 
But Yajima said that if Japanese companies withdraw from London and other parts of Britain, demand for business trips might decrease.
Meanwhile, this shouldn't affect tourism to Japan as they aren't a part of the turmoil in Europe. But, the dollar did take a big hit against the yen in Tokyo trading Friday in Brexit's aftermath, plummeting briefly below ¥100. It is currently at ¥102.

To read more, go here

Friday, June 24, 2016

When One Door Closes...

A friend posted this at Facebook earlier. It pretty much sums up this week.

Markets Tumble Over Brexit News

Yesterday's Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom sent market prices tumbling worldwide today.

According to Bloomberg:
The world’s 400 richest people lost $127.4 billion Friday as global equity markets reeled from the news that British voters elected to leave the European Union. The billionaires lost 3.2 percent of their total net worth, bringing the combined sum to $3.9 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The DOW dropped 610 points (-3.39%) in today's trading over the news that British voters voted to pull out of the European Union. My own retirement investment account lost 1.513% of its value.

However, this is just the initial reaction by jittery people. Over the long term, U.S. markets should benefit as the European Union crumbles (five more countries are contemplating exiting the EU). World investors would then turn to U.S. markets as they would see them as safer and stable.

We'll see how things go when the markets open again on Monday.

To read more, go here

"10 Reasons Why Japan is Awesome for Solo Female Travel"

Above, a JR Yamanote Line train in Tokyo. Public transit is safe, affordable and easy. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

This really doesn't apply to us guys, but it will be of interest to the ladies who may be contemplating a solo trip to Japan. Yes, there are female Godzilla/kaiju, anime and manga fans who may want to visit Japan.

As a man, it was very easy for me to travel solo to Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter), but women traveling alone may feel vulnerable in a different country. In seven out of eight trips to Japan, I traveled solo. Last year, I brought Denise Santos and her son Aiden with me. It was a different but enjoyable experience.

Writer Alyssa Ramos has written "10 Reasons Why Japan is Awesome for Solo Female Travel" for the Huffington Post. Here, she describes why Japan is such a great place for the female solo traveler.

She begins with:
I didn’t go to Japan looking to test out its safety or to see if it was or wasn’t a good place for solo female travel. I’m so used to traveling on my own these days that it seems normal to me, however I have to say, I was especially blown away by my solo experience in Japan. 
Not only did I feel safer in Japan than I usually do back home in LA, but I also felt more respected, welcomed, and able to freely and easily explore than I have in most countries. The people in Japan are some of the nicest I’ve ever met, and there was not one single millisecond when I thought I was in a dangerous area or situation. Japan was also fairly easy to travel around in, and even had specific transportation and accommodation options for females only! 
So as a an experienced solo female traveler, here’s what I noticed about Japan that made it one of my top choices for solo female travel:

To see the 10 reasons, go here

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Five Things You Should Not Miss In Japan

Above, our shinkansen train at Atami Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

An article has surfaced on the Times of India website, Economic Times on five things that visitors should not miss while visiting Japan.

I have experienced three of them already. Each are worthwhile.

The article begins with:
The picturesque destination of Japan is an intriguing 'Land of the Rising Sun' indeed. Gifted with great historic architecture, cutting edge technology, fascinating fashion and cultural extravaganza, Japan is the place to visit! Famous for its temples and shrines, you could spend weeks and months in cities such as Kyoto or Nara where you can feast your eyes on architectural marvels, unique cuisine and traditional highlights. 
The photo that accompanies this blog post is one of them.

To read more, go here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy (Belated) Birthday Martin Landau

Above, Armand with Martin Landau at the 2013 Monsterpalooza.

Sorry I missed this, but two days ago Oscar-winning character actor Martin Landau turned 88.

Landau was born on June 20, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York.

I had the honor of meeting him at Monsterpalooza in 2013. He is still acting.

He won the Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994).

Happy (belated) Birthday!

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

Above, Denise and Aiden at Sea World in February. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Since yesterday, I have received many queries on what happened between Denise Santos and me that made me to cease contact with her. (See this.)

Rather than re-type everything, I'll just post one of my email replies:
Sure, I'll miss Denise a lot, but I had to cut things off totally. As you said (and I suspected), she may have wanted to be friends just to keep me from suing her. Thankfully, I found out that Small Claims raised the limit to $10,000, so that would cover everything. She is very short-sighted. If she were really smart, she would have done her utmost to keep me in check, not play games to force me to end it then and there.

But, if she were really, really smart, she would not have fouled everything up this year. I think the best time we had this year was when we went to Sea World. Before New Year's everything (except some things that concerned me) was enjoyable. Las Vegas was the turning point. That's when the "honeymoon" ended and faults began to really come glaringly clear. It was a big mistake to get engaged. It is recommended that couples wait two years before taking that step. We rushed into it with sad consequences. Definitely a hard lesson to learn.

I was willing to take her and Aiden out this weekend. But she decided that she no longer wanted Aiden with us as he is starting to talk and she claims he would blab everything to her family and baby daddy. 
I told her that I took him half-way around the world and he will talk anyway. And, I said, "So what? Who you see is nobody else's business and if John [baby daddy] means nothing to you [as she always said], I don't see the problem. Who are you hiding me from now?" It just buttressed my suspicion that she may be trying to use him now or something. There was one excuse after another. That's when I got my epiphany that I was being fed more b.s. and decided to cut things off. Enough is enough.

The most I felt at the time when I did it was annoyance. No anger or sadness. So that told me that I had come a long way in healing. It was FTS. Now she has to face the consequences.
Along with queries, I also received several messages of good wishes and encouragement over the past 24 hours.

Here's some of them:
When you have to go cold turkey. Cool turkey never works. 
In principle, I have to say I agree...but in the case of my wife and I, I like to say that she kept chasing me away until she finally caught me! 
You're a good man, Armand Vaquer... 
You are best shed of her.  Anyone that truly loves you will want you in their life in every way possible, and be delighted to show and share the love you have for each other in a public and family setting.
Hang in there Cuz...you're doing awesome...I love you! See you soon...  
Good luck my friend. She was pretty hot though! But that is not enough.
Oh, she won't like that.  Stuff happens.  Especially when you're dishonest and play people. Well, will be interesting if someone Googles her.
That is kinder than she deserves.  I never believed she "lost" the ring anyway.* A clean break would be best no doubt for you. What a shame any of this had to go this way! 

*The Case of the "Missing" Engagement Ring

Since the engagement ring was mentioned...

On April 7, while we were dining at Gladstone's in Pacific Palisades, I noticed that Denise wasn't wearing the engagement ring. I asked her about it and she said that she set it down on the bathroom sink and Aiden took it and put it somewhere in the house a few weeks prior. She was afraid to tell me, she said. To this date, she claims that she hasn't found it.

Here is the ring set (only the engagement part (with the big stone) of it is "missing") before resizing:

Here is the engagement ring portion after resizing:

Caught In A Lie?

Last month (May 15, to be exact), after we got back from Hawaii, some good samaritan sent me (anonymously) a video that Denise posted on Snapchat. I sent it to my "honorary sister" Diane to look over as I had some questions. She spotted a ring on Denise's hand that looked very much like the "missing" engagement ring (this is amazing as I completely missed it and she just had eye surgery). She made an enhanced screen capture of the ring from the video.

Here's the screen capture:

The ring in the screen capture looks an awful lot like the "missing" ring. It will probably come down to the court to decide if this is the engagement ring or not. Regardless, under California law, since she broke the engagement, she has to return the rings to me or the cash equivalent (I would prefer cash anyway). I have never lost in Small Claims Court, personally or professionally.

Reactions to this:
Keeping the ring is just more evidence your decision to make the break was correct. That kind of dishonest behavior is really immature. 
No prisoners!
Incredible story, Armand. Nothing but good wishes to you. 
Hope you are ok dealing with all this!!!

New Sightseeing Center To Open At Shinjuku Station

Above, Godzilla can be seen not far from Shinjuku Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For those who would like to explore other areas of Japan, a new tourist center will be opening next month in Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. Shinjuku Station, by the way, is within easy walking distance to the Hotel Gracery and the Toho Cinemas, where Godzilla peers over the top of the complex.

According to The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun):
Keio Corp. and its group companies will open an information center and travel-related facilities for the rapidly increasing number of foreign tourists at an underground mall in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station in July. 
The group hopes to enhance the options available to such tourists by building a center specializing in trips to the Chubu region, where rich nature and a traditional way of life have been preserved. It will be open near the Keio Mall and Keio Mall Annex, which are adjacent to Keio New Line Shinjuku Station.
To read more, go here

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Walk Away And Mean It

Since last month, Denise Santos wanted to be "just friends" with me. Initially, against my better judgment, I somewhat agreed. There were reasons for this, which involves a couple of legal matters that have yet to be resolved, one of which is the return of the engagement rings or the cash equivalent. If remaining on friendly terms, it should be easier for us to resolve them amicably.

Three weeks ago, we agreed to "hang" together this weekend. But due to schedule conflicts (a concert) and something totally utterly ridiculous (that I won't go into here), those plans fell through. She wanted to move it to sometime next week.

All this brought back to me some of the reasons we had problems during the past few months. Trustworthiness in Denise was barely hanging by a thread anyway. Since I have been seeing others since our split-up, this isn't causing me any more feelings but annoyance, which indicates how far I've progressed. (Thank God for that!) As Maya Angelou said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."

Essentially, this all amounted to being put into the friends-zone, which doesn't work for me. I told her that weeks ago, but decided to wait and see (since the aforementioned legal matters still had to be dealt with). I am not at all interested in that. She was trying to set the rules, but they were unacceptable rules to me.

I also got to thinking: Why should I subject myself to the torture of seeing her and having her seeing whomever she wants and conducting herself as she pleases, while still having the feelings that I do? How is someone supposed to "move on" with things the way they are? Why prolong the agony? How am I supposed to find another, and possibly better, person to be with while still connected to Denise? It isn't mentally healthy to do so.

So, I decided to end all contact and I did it in a kind and loving way. It is better for the both of us. Things just didn't work out, so why be mad about it?

If the pending matters between Denise and I aren't resolved, I will have to have the Small Claims Court deal with them. Fortunately, I discovered that the top limit on Small Claims matters has been raised to $10,000. I'll only have to make one filing, if need be, as the total is $600 under the limit. And, I have never lost a Small Claims Court case, personally or professionally!

Sometimes, one has to just walk away and mean it. I did.

New JAL Domestic Airfare For Foreign Visitors To Kyushu

Above, Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome that is familiar to Gamera fans. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Those of you who are Godzilla or Gamera fans are in luck!

Japan Airlines has announced a new domestic airfare for Kyushu of ¥5,400.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —Japan Airlines (JAL) is offering a new domestic fare - “oneworld® YOKOSO/Visit KYUSHU Fare” for overseas visitors in order to stimulate travel demand from overseas to the Kyushu region. 
JAL said it hopes the new fare will help invigorate the local economy by attracting more overseas travelers to visit Kyushu through its enhanced domestic network.
Gamera, Godzilla and Rodan made appearances over the years at various locations in Kyushu. This would be a great opportunity for fans to visit the island, especially if time is limited and one can't take an all-day ride on the shinkansen from Tokyo or Osaka.

To read more, go here or here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Japan Tourism Agency To Survey Foreign Social Media

Above, Odaiba and the Rainbow Bridge. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To better meet the needs and desires of foreign tourists to Japan, the Japan Tourism Agency will be surveying social media posts by people who have voiced opinions on their experiences in Japan.

According to The Japan Times:
The Japan Tourism Agency plans to survey and analyze social media posts by foreign tourists to understand their needs during visits to Japan, sources said Monday. 
From Tuesday, the agency will publicly seek a firm to undertake the project, which is set to start in August. 
The planned survey will search for posts about Japan trips on social networking websites such as Twitter and China’s Weibo, as well as travel review sites including TripAdvisor.
To read more, go here

111° In Tarzana!

Above, here's a nice snow scene of Japan of two years ago. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

According to the Weather Channel app on my cell phone, it is 111­­° in Tarzana right now. My patio thermometer indicate 90°. We're only in June! We should be having cooler and overcast days ("June Gloom").

These are Death Valley or Barstow temperatures!

This isn't too surprising, Los Angeles is basically built on a desert. People seem to forget that, instead blaming heat waves on "global warming" or other such nonsense.

Thank goodness I have central air conditioning!

Father's Day At The Reagan Library, Part Two

Above, Amber and I waiting for the library to open.

When Amber and I visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Air Force One in Simi Valley during Father's Day yesterday, I must have taken over 40 photographs.

I posted 13 of them yesterday, but here are some more:

Above, a GOP elephant. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the main entrance. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the Ronald Reagan statue at the main entrance. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the library pay station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Air Force One. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Air Force One with the Father's Day banquet set up below. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the tail. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a nice setting for a luncheon banquet. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, visitors boarding Air Force One. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a view from the Air Force One Pavilion. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, looking towards the Reagan tomb. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the book section of the gift shop. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Going Through Old Family Albums

Above, my dad and I at Morro Bay in June 1963.

Following our visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Air Force One, Amber and I migrated to her apartment to go through family photo albums in my mom's cedar chest.

I haven't seen these photos since before my mom passed away over six years ago.

While looking through them was bittersweet, it was a good bonding activity for the both of us. Where I could remember who they were, I identified many relatives and friends to Amber.

Since today is Father's Day, the above photo of my dad and I would be appropriate to post here. I was looking for a photo of us that I hadn't posted before. I found it in one of the albums today.

It was a good, fun day today.

Father's Day At The Reagan Library

Above, the statue of Ronald Reagan at the main entrance. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For Father's day, Amber too me to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Air Force One in Simi Valley, California.

We wanted to the the special exhibit of artifacts from the Vatican.

We got to see all that and the rest of the library and toured the inside of Air Force One (SAM 27000).

This was the busiest we've seen the library. A special Father's Day luncheon is to take place below Air Force One. We decided to skip that.

Here's some more photos of our time:

Above, the main entrance. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the replica Oval Office. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the forward section of Air Force One. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the aft section of Air Force One. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the luncheon set-up below Air Force One. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Amber enjoying the view outside of the Air Force One Pavilion. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a chunk of the Berlin Wall. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a visit to the tomb of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the headstone. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, our souvenir photo. Photo by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Above, while waiting for the library to open.

Above, at the Air Force One Pavilion.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day and Summer

Above, got my Trump hat!

Tomorrow is Father's Day. Monday is the Summer Solstice.

Amber and I are planning to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Air Force One tomorrow in Simi Valley for Father's Day. They currently have a temporary exhibit, "Treasures of the Vatican", which, although I am not a Catholic, I think will be interesting to see. This will be our first visit there since former First Lady Nancy Reagan passed away. She is entombed at the library with her husband.

Monday marks the Summer Solstice, which (for the unsophisticated) is the first day of the summer season. It is already hot in the San Fernando Valley. According to my Weather Channel app on my phone, it is 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside in Tarzana.

The summer will bring to television views the political conventions and the general election campaign will begin. It will probably be a rough campaign. I have my campaign paraphernalia for Donald Trump (including the famous "Let's Make America Great Again" baseball cap). Trump may not be a polished or anywhere near the "perfect" candidate, but he alternative of electing Hillary Clinton to the White House is unthinkable, especially after the disasterous eight years of Obama.

Amber and I are planning on heading up the California coast in The Beast to the Monterey-Carmel area for this year's vacation. We have yet to decide when to go. We'll have to decide soon so that reservations can be made for campgrounds and RV parks.

Mt. Fuji-Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini

Above, a ferry on Lake Ashii. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Some of the most scenic areas of Japan is the Mount Fuji-Shizuoka area of Japan.

G-TOUR 2004 paid a visit there, which included going to one of the Fifth Stations on Mount Fuji, a fireworks festival at Lake Kawaguchi, an overnight stay in Hakone and a boat ride on Lake Ashii.

Above, the fireworks festival at Lake Kawaguchi in 2004. Photo from video by Armand Vaquer.

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) as a new tourist pass for the Mount Fuji-Shizuoka area.

They announced:
Central Japan Railway Company successfully launched the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass and Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass in efforts to attract more overseas tourists to the Shoryudo region of Japan. 
The newly-launched Mt-Fuji-Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini allows overseas visitors to tour the Shizuoka area focusing on Mt Fuji. 
Enjoy a trip to Shizuoka, full of great tourist attractions and feast your eyes on the magnificent Mt Fuji while taking rail, bus and ferry.

Above, a view of Mount Fuji from the shinkansen. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I am planning a return visit to the Mount Fuji-Hakone area during my next Japan trip, so this will come in quite handy!

For more information on the tourist pass, go here.

With Bikers

Above, the bikes, all Harleys. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last night was spent hanging out with Dawn, her sister and friends, who just happen to be bikers. It was an enjoyable time and the guys livened things up.

You may wonder how would I get along with bikers? Well, it was not too difficult. They were pretty much in my age group and are actually nice guys. They were not Hell's Angels types by any means. One reminded me of my cousin's husband.

In high school, as I didn't have a car at the time, I had friends who were surfers and low-riders. Therefore, I wasn't stuck at home. It worked out great. So hanging with bikers was almost a natural for me. I generally get along with anyone.

It wasn't the first time I hung with bikers. 26 years ago, we went on a camping vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. During that time, the annual biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota was being held. If I remember correctly, it was the 50th anniversary of the Sturgis rally. We were at the Mount Rushmore KOA and the place was virtually taken over by bikers. I mingled and had a few beers with some and had an enjoyable time.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Baggage Forwarding Service Frees Up Japan Tourists

Above, our train to Osaka arrives at Atami Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last year, when we visited Japan, our original plan was to go from Atami to Osaka with a quick stopover in Nagoya to see Nagoya Castle (featured in Mothra vs. Godzilla in 1964).

What stopped that idea was that I was unsure (despite much checking around) that Nagoya Station had lockers or facilities to store our luggage while we were wandering around. I also considered a luggage forwarding service. I inquired with the innkeeper at the ryokan we stayed at in Atami if such a service were available. Well, I didn't get much of a response, so we dropped the idea of stopping in Nagoya. Who wants to drag around big suitcases while exploring?

But, as you can see from the following snippet by News On Japan, baggage forwarding services are growing in Japan.

They wrote:
A growing number of service centers support "hands-free tourism," accepting baggage such as suitcases and souvenirs and delivering them to accommodation facilities and airports on the same day. 
Although the service is geared toward foreign tourists visiting Japan, it is also available for use by Japanese people.Why not give it a try if you're planning to travel domestically? 
In the spring of 2014, Sagawa Express Co. opened its Tokyo Service Center in Tokyo Station. From early in the morning, tourists hauling large suitcases visit the center one after another. In addition to storing baggage at a daily rate of ¥800, they also deliver baggage to Haneda Airport or any ryokan or hotel within Tokyo's 23 wards on the same day if it is brought in by 11 a.m.
To read more, go here.

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