"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, January 26, 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 include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The National Art Center, Tokyo

Above, a view of The National Art Center from the Tokyo City View atop Mori Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last February, I went up to the Tokyo City View at the top of Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.

While I was photographing the views of the city, one building caught my eye as its architecture was quite unique.

It turned out to be The National Art Center, Tokyo.

Tokyo Drive posted some photographs of the architecture of The National Art Center, Tokyo. To view them, go here.

If, by chance, you take a trip to Tokyo and want to visit The National Art Center, Tokyo, here's their English website.

U.S. Ranks Low In Quality In Hotel Wi-Fi

Back in 2007 and 2010, I went to Japan with my laptop computer for downloading photographs and for Internet access. Previous to this, I had to use the hotel's computers (some were free to use, while others charged a fee). Unfortunately, they were useless for posting photographs online.

Also, I was at the mercy of the fussy Japanese keyboards. They would work in English, but if I hit a wrong key or something, they would revert to Japanese.

I figured I'd bring my laptop with me so I could get free Internet access through my own machine. But the fly in the ointment was that I had to plug in my laptop to their system and my plug-in cables did not match theirs.

During last year's trip to Japan, I stayed at the Tsukuba Hotel in Ueno who had free Wi-Fi available. Unfortunately, their system wasn't that good as the signal from their routers had a tendency to fade in and out (they were set up in each floor's hallway across from the elevator). Still, it was better than what was available during prior trips.

The Los Angeles Times has an article on worldwide rankings of hotel Wi-Fi systems. Oddly, the U.S. ranks low, and even behind Russia, of all places.

They wrote:
Bad news for hotel guests who love to update their Facebook status, stream YouTube videos and upload Instagram photos: When it comes to quality wireless connections at hotels, the U.S. ranks 40th worldwide, behind South Korea, Poland, Vietnam, Mexico, Russia and India, among many others.
The good news is that the U.S. ranks high in giving out WiFi free of charge. 
The ranking comes from a new study by Hotel WiFi Test, a site that takes WiFi data from travelers to gauge Internet speeds at hotels around the world.
 To read the full article, go here.

Some Airlines Drop Fuel Surcharges (Yours Isn't One of Them)

Above, oil prices have dropped and airlines have switched to fuel-efficient jets like the
Boeing 787, yet they still tack a "fuel surcharge" onto tickets. Why? Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Oil prices have plummeted in recent weeks, yet the airlines (for the most part) refuse to give up their "oil surcharge" fees.

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare has an article at the ABC News website on why this is so.

He begins with:
When I began writing for ABC back in 2008, one of my first columns was about the "madness" of fuel surcharges, which were high but so was oil, hovering around $130 a barrel. 
Today, oil has plummeted to less than $48, but the insanity continues. An example is the price of a ticket on a major U.S. airline's New York-London route, $1,092. It includes lots of taxes and fees imposed by both governments, but the really interesting part is the rest of the ticket. 
Base fare: $403 
Fuel surcharge: $458 
Crazy, huh? A surcharge costing more than the ride. Worse, $458 is the same surcharge levied back in August when oil was nearly twice the price. So why are so many airlines still charging so much money? Because they can.
It is still best to shop around for the best airfare prices. I have settled on GatewayLAX for airline tickets to Japan (and I have used them for domestic flights, too) as I have obtained the best prices through them over the years. I've used Priceline.com and Travelocity in years past, but GatewayLAX consistently has them beat.

To read more, go here

Tokyo Daily Life's "Summary of Yurakucho"

Above, the Yurakucho Mullion. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The areas of Hibiya, Yurakucho and Ginza is pretty familiar to Godzilla fans.

In 1954, Godzilla stomped through Ginza and demolished or torched the Wako Department Store at Ginza Crossing and the Matsuzakaya Department Store.

Hibiya is known as the place where the Godzilla statue stands on a pedestal in Hibiya Chanter Square.

Yurakucho is known as the location of the Yurakucho Mullion buildings where the Toho Nichigeki Theater once stood (it was also demolished by Godzilla in 1954 as an "inside" joke). This means that Godzilla made an appearance in Yurakucho.

But there is more to Yurakucho than just the Yurakucho Mullion. There are stores, bars and restaurants galore jamb-packed in a small area. One of my favorite sushi restaurants (a revolving sushi restaurant) is just under the shinkansen tracks.

Tokyo Daily Life has posted an article (with plenty of photographs) of Yurakucho.

The article begins with:
Yurakucho is a shopping district adjacent to Marunouchi and Ginza. Going south on Naka Dori Street, you can reach there. You can enjoy contemporary and neat Tokyo, such as the Tokyo International Forum and the redeveloped buildings at the east side of Yurakucho station. There are commercial facilities that have the advantage of fashions at the east side of the station, such as Hankyu MEN'S TOKYO, LUMINE and MARUI. On the other hand, you can also enjoy miscellaneous and common Tokyo, such as Japanese taverns at an area called Gado-shita (below the girder) including Yakitori Alley. Yurakucho is a very interesting area where various aspects of Tokyo can be seen. By the way, the boundaries between Yurakucho and Marunouchi or Hibiya are indefinite, so I introduce the area along Naka Dori Street on an article of Marunouchi, and Nissay Theatre and the Imperial Hotel on an article of Hibiya.
 To read more, go here.

Free Kindle App Available!

Did you know that you can get a free Kindle app for your smartphone, tablet or computer? Well, you can!

Amazon.com has this posted on the page for the ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan:

Why would you need a Kindle app? It is because of the formatting of some ebooks. Not all ebook formats are compatible with existing software.

I found out a few years ago that some devices will not properly display Kindle-formatted ebooks. Before purchasing a Kindle-formatted ebook, people need to find out if their browser, software, app or programs are compatible with the various ebooks so that they render correctly. One digital size does not fit all.

One fellow complained that the ebook was "unreadable" in his device (whatever that was). I checked with other people that obtained the ebook and they all said it looked fine to them. So it obviously wasn't compatible with the device he was using.

Since then, I have cautioned people to check their browser, software, app or other programs to make sure that the Kindle program is compatible before purchasing. I have received no complaints since.

Amazon.com is making it easier by providing a FREE Kindle app! Go here to get it and The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan ebook!

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

The good folks at The Japan Daily have picked up several blog posts, including one from Monster Island News, of yesterday.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Godzilla Via Satellite

Above, a satellite view of Kurihama Flower World. Can you spot the Godzilla slide?

The other night, I was looking up something in Yokosuka, Japan. After I was done finding what I was looking for, I decided (for the fun of it) to see if I can get a satellite view of the Godzilla slide at the Kurihama Flower World park.

Sure enough, once I located the park through Google Maps, I zoomed in on the park and hit the satellite view feature and was able to find the Godzilla slide pretty fast.

Above, a little closer view. The Godzilla slide casts a familiar-shaped shadow.

As you can see from the accompanying satellite photographs, Godzilla was relatively easy to spot by his distinctive shadow. The overhead power lines that I knew were there were also an aid to finding the Godzilla slide.

Above, zooming in on the Godzilla slide.

In the photographs, it is easy to spot the shadow image of his dorsal spikes and tail.

Above, a view of the Godzilla slide from the ground. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If Godzilla were a real creature and the Japanese Self Defense Forces had to find him via satellite, this would be what they would likely see to pinpoint where to direct their weapons.

The Godzilla slide is covered in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan on page 32.

Breakfast At Tsukiji

Above, a quick photo op before breakfast.

The historic Tsukiji Fish Market is set to close for good next year and the market will be relocated to its new facility that is to open in November 2016.

So, if you want to see the historic fish market and partake in an early morning breakfast at a restaurant next to it, now's the time to do so. I went to the fish market and had a sushi breakfast at a nearby restaurant four years ago. It was a very enjoyable experience.

Time Out Tokyo has an article with a list of the best places to eat inside and outside the market.

They begin with:
The Tsukiji wholesale market is one of Tokyo's most prominent sightseeing spots, always attracting hordes of both tourists and locals. Although a culinary experience here usually involves sushi or other seafood fare, Tsukiji connoisseurs know it's not all about raw fish. Here's our list of the best places both inside and outside the market for everything from classic curry rice, surprisingly tasty bread, and the obligatory super-fresh sushi, so set your alarm clock and start the day with a truly extraordinary breakfast. Don't bother to get up early on Sunday or holidays though - the market is always closed on those days (as well as on certain Wednesdays). 
To read more, go here

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

The fine folks at The Japan Daily has picked up some blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

February 2014 Tokyo Snowstorms

Above, the morning after the February 14 storm in Ueno. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

On February 8, 2014 (almost a year ago), I arrived at Narita International Airport for a business vacation in Japan.

Unknown to me at the time of my arrival, so did one of the biggest snowstorms to hit the Tokyo area in years. Snow is not unusual in Tokyo, but the severity of the two storms (the second one arrived the night of February 14) to hit within the week were unusually strong.

It also snowed lightly between the two storms during the week.

I noticed that several people took videos of the February 8 and 14 snowstorms. I thought I would post some for your enjoyment.

Free Wi-Fi Campaigns Tempting Foreign Tourists

Above, NTT Docomo Tower in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The competition on Wi-Fi service for foreign visitors to Japan is tempting those visitors. 

One of the major complaints foreigners have about Japan is the lack of free or easily accessible Wi-Fi service. Japan is out to change all that.

According to the Japan Times:
As tourists visit Japan in increasing numbers, mobile phone operators are moving to tap the market by providing better Wi-Fi services. 
NTT Docomo Inc., the largest domestic operator, and Wire and Wireless Co., a part of the KDDI Corp. group, have both rolled out trial Wi-Fi services for foreign tourists using their vast Wi-Fi infrastructure. 
The lack of convenient Wi-Fi connections is often one of the major complaints of foreign visitors, and the two firms are taking separate approaches to win more of their business. 
Docomo is betting on a paid Wi-Fi service that it launched in August. 
Wire and Wireless, also known as Wi2, has created an app for smartphones and tablets that lets people get online for free.
According to the article, Wi2′s Travel Japan Wi-Fi is only available for tablet and smartphone users, so laptop users will be out of luck.

To pay or not to pay? That is the question. Depending upon the price, I would much rather pay for a good Wi-Fi service than use a free one that is inundated with annoying advertisements.

To read more, go here.

Famous L.A. Restaurants and Bars As Filming Locations

Above, Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Los Angeles City Hall has appeared in a number of movies and television shows over the years. It doubled as the Daily Planet Building in the 1950s in the Adventures of Superman. Other buildings and landmarks in Los Angeles have also appeared in movies and television shows.

According to L.A. Weekly's website, restaurants and bars in Los Angeles were also used in many movies and television shows. They have posted an article with 70 photographs on different filming locations featuring restaurants and bars in Los Angeles.

Right off the bat, I see that Miss Donuts in Reseda, Frank's Coffee Shop in Burbank, the Dresden Restaurant in Los Feliz and the Prince (when it was the Windsor) Restaurant in mid-Wilshire were all used as filming locations and I have been to each of them at one time or another. Most recently, a 1950s style coffee shop in Hawthorne, Chips, was used in Hollywoodland.

According to L.A. Weekly:
In a city with thousands of restaurants and bars, it can be a daunting task for film or television production to find the perfect location for an eating or drinking scene. Does the film take place in modern day or 1950s Los Angeles? Does the script call for an Italian restaurant or a coffee shop, a dive bar or a lounge? Can the screenplay be adjusted in order to better suit the story and fit the budget?  
While for most business comes first, appearing as a location in a film or TV show no doubt has its merits and, in more cases than not, brings additional customers through the door. Here are some of L.A.'s most memorable movie restaurants and bars. 
To see the gallery of locations, go here.

Thanks to Mike Triggs for the article information.

What's A Torii?

Above, toriis near Hakusan Park in Niigata. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

People just getting interested in Japanese culture who have visited Japan for the first time or have seen pictures of torii gates may wonder, What's a torii?

Above, a torii at Lake Ashi. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I've been to Japan seven times and I have seen torii gates of different sizes at many places.

But to answer the question what a torii is, here's what Wikipedia says:
A torii is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred (see Sacred-profane dichotomy). The presence of a torii at the entrance is usually the simplest way to identify Shinto shrines, and a small torii icon represents them on Japanese road maps. They are however a common sight at Japanese Buddhist temples too, where they stand at the entrance of the temple's own shrine, called chinjusha (鎮守社, tutelary god shrine) and are usually very small.
The photos that accompany this blog post are just some of the torii gates that I have seen.

The most famous torii gate is the one at the Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima.

Above, the torii gate at the Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Batman Stamp In The Mail

Above, the Golden Age Batman stamp.

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Caped Crusader, the United States Postal Service issued commemorative postage stamps honoring Batman last year.

The stamps depict Batman in four different "ages": the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age and the Modern (or current) Age. The Bronze Age Batman stamp is by Neal Adams.

Above, the USPS Batman stamp set.

The set of stamps has met with some mixed reviews from stamp collectors. Some called the issuing of the stamps "cheapening" stamp collecting.

The reason I am posting this is that I received a piece of mail yesterday that had the Golden Age Batman postage stamp. To be honest, I liked it and will keep it.

The USPS Batman stamps look a lot better and more representative than the Canadian Superman stamps that were issued two years ago without a Curt Swan version of the Man of Steel. Unconscionable!

Obama A Leftist Ideologue Who Won't and Cannot Change

Above, Monica Crowley.

One didn't have to watch President Obama's State of the Union speech the other night to see that he's the same old Obama recycling the same old leftist, socialist dogma. I just followed the commentaries on Twitter as the speech in real time and was able to know what he was spouting out.
However, columnist Monica Crowley did watch the speech and skewers the "General Secretary" over his speech.

She wrote (in part):
To paraphrase The Who, the self-proclaimed new, “fired up” boss looks a lot like the old boss. 
It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. President Obama keeps giving us the same thing — the same policies, rhetoric and tone — over and over again. 
I’m not sure he expects a different result, though. And that’s the point: he’s neither insane nor stupid. He’s a pure leftist ideologue who will not — indeed, cannot — change.
Hopefully, to take another line from The Who, we won't get fooled again.

To see what else Crowley had to say about the speech, go here.

Latest Blog Post Pick-ups

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

They include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Top Ten Favorite Sightseeing Spots For Foreign Tourists In Japan

Above, the torii gate at the Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima near Hiroshima. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japanese Info posted late last month the "Top Ten Favorite Sightseeing Spots For Foreign Tourists In Japan."

I have visited several of them over the years.

Japanese Info begins the list with:
Today I am going to bring you the top ten sightseeing spots recommended by foreign tourists visiting Japan, as presented on TripAdvisor. 
The top-ranking spot is exactly the place you would expect!

To see the top ten (with plenty of photographs), go here

WaPo: "Why You Should Stay In A Japanese Ryokan"

Above, the Bansuitei Ikoiso Ryokan in Sendai. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Washington Post's online Travel section has posted an article on "Why You Should Stay In A Japanese Ryokan."

I have stayed at three ryokans (Japanese inns) over the years. The first being the Hotel Fukudaya in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo in 2001. The next was the Bansuitei Ikoiso Ryokan in Sendai in 2006. And the last was the Kumamoto Kajita Ryokan in Kumamoto in 2007. Each were family owned and operated and their hospitality was excellent.

Above, a room at a ryokan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Here's a snippet from the article:
Japanese inns, called ryokans, are found all over the country, though they are typically in scenic areas and towns that feature hot springs. There are also ryokans in larger cities, but they are older and often not as pretty as those in smaller towns. Ryokans were developed in the 1600s to serve Japanese travelers journeying between Tokyo and imperial Kyoto. 
Today there are more than 60,000 ryokans, ranging from small family-run inns to larger, modern ones. The buildings are often at least 100 years old and have the traditional Japanese architecture of wooden buildings, pointed roofs, bamboo and greenery. Many have beautiful gardens. Ryokans have simple and serene guest rooms with sliding paper screen doors separating sitting and sleeping areas, tatami (reed) mats, low tables and closets to hide the bedding. Linens cover the telephone and television, lest they upset the soothing environment.
One thing I noticed about ryokans is that they are generally cheaper than hotels in Japan, especially those in more rural areas. The ryokan I stayed at in Kumamoto was under $40 a night.

To read more, go here.

Kelsey Smith Safety Awareness Seminar

Above, Sen. Greg Smith.
After posting about the upcoming (February 17) Investigation Discovery documentary on the Kelsey Smith case this morning, I found videos of the Kelsey Smith Safety Awareness Seminar conducted by her father, Kansas State Senator Greg Smith (Overland Park) at YouTube.

It is one complete seminar divided into 8 videos shot by photographer Tim Galyean in 2010. These videos should be seen by everyone, especially by those who have young daughters.

It would be best to view them with your children.

Here are the videos (in order):

Current Tourist Surge Bodes Well For Boosting Japan's Tourism

Above, Fukuoka Tower in Kyushu. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) has posted an article on the recent surge in foreign tourism to Japan and that it bodes well for Japan's goal in attaining 20 million foreign visitors by 2020.

They wrote:
In 2014, the number of foreign tourists to Japan reached 13.41 million, an increase of 29 percent from the previous year and setting a new record high for the second consecutive year. And while visitors were in Japan during 2014, they spent over ¥2 trillion on shopping and other travel expenses for the first time. 
The government has made boosting the number of foreign visitors a key pillar of its economic growth strategy. It has set a goal of welcoming 20 million tourists annually by the time the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are held in 2020. We believe that achieving this target has taken on a touch of real possibility. 
The biggest tailwind behind these figures has been the weakening of the yen in recent years. It is significant that traveling to Japan and shopping here has become relatively cheap for foreign visitors. In October 2014, the government expanded the list of goods on which foreign visitors do not have to pay consumption tax to include cosmetics, food and other items at designated shops, a move that also has yielded positive results.
The government hopes to broaden the tourist destination base to areas outside of the current areas of concentration: Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. They believe that if other areas can be established into popular tourist spots, then jobs will be created in those places and young people would encouraged to live there permanently.

To read more, go here

Kelsey Smith Story On Investigation Discovery's "See No Evil" February 17

Above, Kelsey Smith.

Ever since I began this blog, I have posted links to the Kelsey Smith Foundation, whose mission is to educate women on personal safety.

Investigation Discovery is starting a new show, See No Evil. Their first episode, to be shown Tuesday, February 17 will be on the Kelsey Smith kidnapping and murder of June 2007. The title of the episode, "It Looked Like An Ordinary Shopping Trip."

Here are are the promos of the episode:

The program will also feature Kelsey's parents, Greg (now a Kansas State Senator) and Missey Smith.

1.25 Million Page Views!

Tonight, this blog has reached another milestone.

Last year, Armand's Rancho Del Cielo reached one million page views since its beginning in 2008. Well, it just hit a quarter million more page views. At this writing, it is at 1,250,265 page views.

Thanks to all who have made this a widely-read blog from all corners of the globe. How do I know that this blog has a worldwide audience? See the map above.

Each red dot in the above map shows where page hits originated from. The size of each red dot indicates the number of page views from that area. The larger the red dot, the more page views originated from there.

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 include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Ebook At No. 52

2015 is off to a good start at Amazon's Kindle Store where the ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan is now at number 52 of the top 100 for Best Sellers in Japanese Travel.

The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan ebook is on the Kindle program. Before ordering, check to see if your browser, software, app or programs are compatible with the Kindle program so that it renders correctly for you. One digital size does not fit all!

Note: Amazon does not carry the print edition. To order the print edition, go here.

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