"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, February 29, 2016

Passages

Above, Jerry Maren as a Mole Man holds the Electrolux ray gun (far right).

Sad news arrived in rapid succession this afternoon and this past week.

George Kennedy - An Academy Award-winning actor (for Cool Hand Luke) who has appeared in a number of movies over the decades. He was 91. He specialized in tough-guy roles, but he also had comedic talent. In a couple of Clint Eastwood movies, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Eiger Sanction, Kennedy was a scene-stealer.

Jerry Maren - From being one of the Munchkins of The Wizard of Oz to a Mole Man in Superman and The Mole Men, Maren was one of those recognizable actors but whose name may not be known. I met Maren around ten years ago and had him sign a Mole Man poster. He also appeared in commecials as "Little Oscar" for Oscar Meyer and as Buster Brown. He was 96.

UPDATE (MARCH 1): THE MAJOR NEWS MEDIA, WHO REPORTED MAREN'S PASSING, HAVE RETRACTED THE STORY AS HE IS, HAPPILY, VERY MUCH ALIVE.

Charlie Tuna - His real name was Art Ferguson, but we in Los Angeles knew him as radio DJ Charlie Tuna. He began with Boss Radio KHJ on through KIIS-FM. He was only 71. He raised $2.5 million for Children's Hospital of Los Angeles over the years with his "Tunathons". He was also honorary mayor of my community, Tarzana. He will be missed.

Humbert Allen Astredo - He was the suave and oily-slick warlock Nicholas Blair in TV's Dark Shadows. He also appeared in commercials, movies, Broadway and off-Broadway productions and in other soap operas. But he will be remembered most as Blair in Dark Shadows. He was 86.

R.I.P.

Retirement Does Have Its Advantages



Some good news on two fronts arrived in today's mailbox. Both are tied into my retirement and both show that there's advantages to being retired.

First, I received notice and a Benefits Identification Card from the State of California that I am eligible be on the state's Medi-Cal program. This is due to my monthly retirement income. No more Obamacare worries!

Second, I received my National Park Service Senior Pass. This is a lifetime pass for seniors over age 62 to the nation's national parks and other places that accept the pass. It also "admits the pass owner and any accompanying passengers in a private vehicle. For areas that charge a per person fee, the pass admits the pass holder and 3 additional adults (16 and older)." This means I can take Amber, Denise, Aiden or whomever to a national park for free! They just have to be passengers in The Beast.




ECV Membership Reactivated

Above, Glenn Thornhill, Abe Hoffman and yours truly in Amboy, the last clamp-out I attended.

Finally, after nine years, I have reactivated my membership in the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus.

I just paid my dues with the Los Angeles County Chapter, Platrix No. 2, through Paypal (that is sure handy) and plan on attending the spring clamp-out at the Tehachapi Loop in April.

Unfortunately, when I lost my job in November 2007, the jobs I had scheduled me to work weekends and getting time off was almost like milking a bull. I did manage to attend a plaque dedication or two since then, but no chapter camping trips.

Additionally, my 1985 Nissan Pick-up with a camper shell, kicked the bucket as I was on my way home from a Billy Holcomb Chapter's clamp-out in Amboy in October 2007. I had a tent to use, but the time-off issue was the main problem.

Since I am retired and my time belongs to me and now that I have The Beast, I can start participating in clamp-outs again (well, my "other half" permitting). (Hmm, wonder if Denise would like to go to a widder's ball next year?)

2015 Foreign Visitor Hotel Stays In Japan Rose 48.1%

Above, the Toyoko Inn Umeda Higashi
 in Osaka. Photo by Toyoko Inn.

The current boom in foreign tourism is paying dividends to Japan's hotel industry.

The Japan Times reported:
Hotel stays by foreign visitors to Japan rose 48.1 percent in 2015 to a record 66.37 million, government data showed Monday, amid a tourism boom helped by a weak yen and measures such as tax-free shopping and the easing of visa rules. 
Visitor stays are estimated by multiplying the number of visitors by days stayed.
We stayed in three different accommodations (2 hotels and one ryokan) during our October 2015 trip to Japan.

To read more, go here

Aramark Tells Delaware North To Shove It



In a last-minute ploy to stop the National Park Service from renaming iconic attractions in Yosemite National Park due to a trademark lawsuit, Delaware North offered to assign trademarks to Aramark. 

Aramark rejected the offer.

According to National Parks Traveler:
Delaware North Co.'s offer to assign trademarks to iconic properties in Yosemite National Park to Aramark Corp. pending determination of the "fair value" of those marks was rejected Sunday, with Aramark officials saying the trademarks "belong to the American people." 
"These names that rightfully belong to the American people could be preserved immediately if DNC chose to do the right thing and drop its lawsuit against NPS," Aramark spokesman David Freireich told the Traveler in an email.  
Delaware North has been publicly pilloried for demanding to be paid for trademarks it holds to the names of iconic lodges and properties in Yosemite. On Friday it wrote Aramark with an offer to assign those trademarks to the company's Yosemite subsidiary, Yosemite Hospitality, LLC, until a court could determine the fair value Delaware North should be paid for those trademarks. 
Without the transfer, names to The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, Wawona will be changed on Tuesday when Yosemite Hospitality takes over the concessions operations.
Aramark is right. Those trademarks belong to the American people.

To read more, go here

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Kaiju Trivia: Date Masamune In "Gamera 2"

Above, the statue of Date Masamune as shown in Gamera 2.

It had been a while since I've watched Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996), so I put it in the machine today. It is my favorite of the Shusuke Kaneko Gamera trilogy.

There is a scene in Sendai, Japan in which the Legion flower pod bursts into bloom, causing debris to cascade down on pedestrians in the street. Right after that, in a shot what just about almost disappears in a blink of an eye, news reporters are standing in front of statue on a pedestal.

Above, the statue of Date Masamune during my 2006 visit. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I hadn't noticed it in the movie before, but I visited that statue in 2006 when I visited Sendai. The statue is of Date Masamune, the feudal ruler of the Sendai region. The statue is located on a hilltop where Sendai Castle once stood.

Just a little trivia for y'all!

Yosemite Name Changes Coming In 2 Days

Above, a map of Yosemite National Park.

Thanks to a dispute with some assholes from Buffalo, Delaware North, the soon-to-be former concessionaire at Yosemite National Park, several of the park's attractions and landmarks will be undergoing name changes as of March 1.

According to the Minneapolis StarTribune:
Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel ­— one of the country’s storied lodges, in one of the great national parks — may soon be no more, at least in name. The structure, tucked into Yosemite Valley with a timbered dining room and oversized stone fireplaces, could soon be given a prosaic new moniker: the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. 
The Ahwahnee got its name in the 1920s, when the National Park Service built it. It is a National Historic Landmark.
A new name is also coming to Curry Village, a tent lodging option founded in 1899 by David and Jennie Curry, schoolteachers who couldn’t afford the going rate for a hotel room inside the park. It will be called Half Dome Village. Also, the historic Wawona Hotel is to become Big Trees Lodge. 
This unfortunate renaming, set to take effect March 1, stems from a business squabble. In June, the Park Service awarded a 15-year contract for running the hotels and other visitor services in Yosemite to Aramark, rather than the current concessionaire, Delaware North. Delaware North filed a lawsuit, claiming it should be paid $44 million for the names and trademarked logos, which appear on mugs, T-shirts and other souvenirs.
And that's not all, items with the name "Yosemite National Park" will be pulled from park souvenir shelves.

SF Gate reported:
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — The trademark spat that is prompting the National Park Service to change the names of a handful of treasured sites at Yosemite, including the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, has taken a startling turn — to the park’s gift shops. 
Merchandise embossed with the name “Yosemite National Park,” from T-shirts to coffee mugs to pens, will be pulled from store shelves this week because of claims by the park’s outgoing concessionaire that it owns the name for commercial purposes, according to the park’s new operator, Aramark, which is based in Philadelphia.
It will be interesting to see the changes caused by those Delaware North idiots when I visit Yosemite in two months from now. I am hopeful that the name changes will be temporary. This is one time I am in favor of the government winning a lawsuit.

In a related story, bi-partisan California legislators have introduced a bill protecting California's state parks and historical places from concessionaires who may try to trademark their names and attractions.



When I first blogged about this story, I called for a boycott of anything to do with Delaware North. I have not changed my mind.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Happy Birthday To Shogo Tomiyama!

Above, (from left), Shogo Tomiyama, Armand, Richard Pusateri and the late 
Koichi Kawakita at Toho Studios in 2001. Photo courtesy of Richard Pusateri.

A big Happy Birthday to former Toho Godzilla producer and Toho Pictures President Shogo Tomiyama.

Although it is February 28 now in Japan, it is still the 27th here in the U.S. and it is still his birthday here.

He turned 64 today.

I first met Mr. Tomiyama in 2001 at Toho Studios in Setagaya, Tokyo. We were reunited last October over dinner at the Imperial Hotel.


Don Glut's Monster Museum

Above, Jerry "Karlos Borloff" Moore and Don Glut. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Several years ago, horror host Karlos Borloff (Jerry Moore) of Monster Madhouse paid a visit to the "House of Glut" in Burbank, California. I met them later for dinner at a local Italian restaurant (if this is the same visit, I think it is). Above, is a photo of Borloff and Glut during that visit.

Earlier, Borloff shot a tour of Glut's home museum on video. It is posted on YouTube, but I have embedded it here so you won't have to search for it.



Here's a more recent photo of Glut with yours truly (taken by Yuu Asakura with my crappy cell phone camera) during my stop at Glut's to present to him a plush toy of Dino, the mascot of Sinclair Oil. I had a quest to find some for Don and myself after I saw some at a gas station in Yellowstone National Park last June. I wanted to buy them then, but I was on a tour and time was pressing and the gas station was crowded.

Above, Don Glut and Armand in the kitchen with the Sinclair plush. Photo by Yuu Asakura.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Rondo Awards Voting Is On!



It's that time of year again when monster, horror and science-fiction fans vote on the various "best of" categories on books, articles, magazines, events, conventions, DVDs all kinds of other stuff.

Yes, the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards ballot for 2015 is now posted and you can vote on your favorites.

Here's how to vote:
–– All voting is by e-mail only.  Simply copy this ballot (cut-and-paste works fine) and send an e-mail with your picks to me, David Colton, at taraco@aol.com by Sunday night at midnight, April 10, 2016. 
— You can send a quick e-mail, or you can cut-and-paste the ballot and highlight your choices, or place an X next to your choices; or you can type your choices in an e-mail. And no, you do not have to vote in every category. 
— One vote per person, please. Every e-mail must include your name to be counted.  All votes are kept strictly confidential. No e-mail addresses or personal information will ever be shared with anyone. 
— Feel free to spread the word about the Rondo voting — go social on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; place Rondo banners on websites, urge friends and fans to vote. But please do not mass-produce or duplicate ballots; suspicious ballots will be rejected at the sole discretion of Rondo organizers. Let’s keep this a fun vote! 
— Again TO VOTE e-mail your picks to taraco@aol.com
To access the ballot, go here

Where To Buy Cheap English Books In Japan

Above, Amazon.jp is one source.

During my travels to Japan, I've been to a number of bookstores looking for kaiju-related books. However, sometimes I've stumbled on some bargains on English-language books.

Tokyo Cheapo has an article on where to find English-language books "on the cheap". I have followed a couple of their recommendations.

They begin with:
Everyone knows that books can be expensive, especially if they are being imported from overseas. So if you’re like me and don’t care about hard-bound, paperback, limited edition, or whether the book is in mint condition or not, then obviously secondhand books are the way to go. The best Cheapos are, after all, never choosers, but always winners in my book*. 
*Pun intended. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? 
While everyone here is doing their best to learn Japanese and boast their skills at finishing the latest Murakami, let’s face it, we still can’t resist a good English read. So here we go with my top picks on where to buy cheap English books in Japan:
To read more, go here

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gene LeBell In "Ed Wood"

Above, Gene LeBell as the ring announcer (left) in Ed Wood.

It is funny that after a few dozens of times watching a movie, little things can slip by without notice on occasion. Today was one of those times.

I was watching Tim Burton's Ed Wood today and noticed in the credits that Gene LeBell was the ring announcer for the wresting match scene of Tor Johnson.

Above, Gene LeBell and Armand at the Superman Celebration Luncheon in 2014.

I scanned the movie back and, sure enough, there was Gene LeBell. I met LeBell in 2014 at the Superman Celebration Luncheon at the Beverly Garland Hotel. In fact, we sat together during the luncheon.

He becomes the second actor of Ed Wood that I've met. The other was Martin Landau, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi. It took place at the 2013 Monsterpalooza (photo below).


U.S. Airlines Introduce Budget Fares To Compete (But There's A Catch)

Above, a United Airlines Boeing 787. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Major U.S. airlines have been feeling the pinch by being undercut by budget carriers. Now that oil prices are down and they're seeing record profits, they are responding with their own cheap fares.

Naturally, with them, there's always a catch.

Condé Nast Traveler reported:
Tired of being undercut by budget airlines Spirit and Frontier, Delta, United, and American are responding with their own cheap fares. But before you buy that $100 roundtrip to Miami, read the fine print. Your ticket might not include what you expect. 
First, the good news: Flush with the cash because of lower fuel prices, the big three are massively discounting some routes, especially between major cities. In recent weeks, United, Delta and American have sold roundtrips between New York and Chicago for as low as $71. You don't always even need to plan ahead—you’ll sometimes find a last-minute Los Angeles-Dallas ticket for about $100. 
But airlines know discounting to thwart competitors does not make sound long-term strategy, so they've hatched a plan: They'll match Spirit and Frontier, but rather than give away the full airline experience for $71, they're removing some perks from tickets bought by bargain hunters. So far, only Delta has implemented its plan—it calls its cheapest fares "Basic Economy” and has only introduced them in select markets—but American and United have signaled they'll likely follow with no-frills fares in the second half of this year.
To read more, go here

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tokyo/Osaka Shinkansen Trains Getting New Security Cameras

Above, an Osaka-bound shinkansen pulls into Atami Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last year, a man aboard a shinkansen train bound for Osaka from Tokyo set himself on fire, killing himself and a female passenger. This has led the Central Japan Railway to introduce new security cameras aboard their trains to monitor passengers.

According to News On Japan:
Security cameras are being introduced in passenger seating areas of Shinkansen bullet trains between Tokyo and Osaka. 
Trains operated by Central Japan Railway previously had 60 cameras only at the entrance doors and in hallways. The trains will now feature an additional 45 security cameras to monitor passengers. 
The first fully equipped train went into service on Tuesday.

To read more, go here.

Senior Park Pass Kit



One nice thing about becoming a baby-boomer geezer is that I now qualify for the lifetime National Park Service Senior Park Pass.

The Senior Park Pass comes as a kit. The pass itself is only $10.00, but when ordered, the total amount is $20.00 (which includes the processing fee).

Above, the General Grant tree at Sequoia National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Since I have reached the tender age of 62, I now qualify for the Senior Park Pass Kit. I ordered it through the United States Government Survey website.

The kit includes:

America The Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass (kit, includes brochure & hangtag). The Pass will have the Customer Name Printed on it.

To provide proof of eligibility, that is, a document that proves your age, etc. has to be included with the order. A photo of your driver's license or passport would do the trick. It can be uploaded with the application. It was actually an easy process.

To order the 2016 Senior Park Pass Kit, go here.

The Beast's Anniversary, Part 2

Above, during our visit last year.

As mentioned yesterday, today marks the first anniversary of my purchase of The Beast.

I also mentioned yesterday that on the way home from La Mesa RV in San Diego, I stopped in for a visit with my Aunt Rose and cousins in Mission Viejo (since it was on the way).

Unknown to me then, it would be the last time I would see my aunt alive. She passed away last month.

I cannot begin to say how grateful I am for taking that opportunity to visit with her a year ago. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Beast's Anniversary

Above, The Beast at the Yellowstone Park/West Entrance KOA. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tomorrow marks one year since I bought and brought home The Beast. My daughter Amber came up with the name.

Since my retirement was not too far in the distant future, I had been researching different RV models and brands and settled on the Winnebago 2015 Minnie Winnie 22R. The next step since I decided on that model was to find one with the exterior and interior color schemes and, of course, the right price.

Above, the sign that greeted me at La Mesa RV. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I checked with one local dealer in Ventura. They had one, but it wasn't what I wanted. If I am to make a major purchase in excess of $50,000, I won't settle for just anything.

I then checked with another local dealer in Valencia. They had none.

I also checked with a dealer in Colton, they had some but their Yelp ratings were not very good where customer service is concerned. They have since ceased being a Winnebago dealer. So it was a good thing I passed them up.

Above, La Mesa RV's sale office. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Next, I checked with La Mesa RV in San Diego and they had several models to choose from. They had more than one, some came with the color schemes and accessories I was looking for. Then I saw The Beast. It had everything I wanted. Plus, La Mesa had a pretty good Yelp rating.

Thankfully, La Mesa had an excellent website with virtual "tours" of every RV on their lot. Plus, a buyer can make an online offer for any particular unit.

So, I made an offer online. Within hours, a representative called me and I bought The Beast for just $1,000 more than my initial offer. Not bad, if I say so myself!

I then sent a deposit to them and arranged to fly down to pick it up once it was all prepped and ready to go. The date was February 24, 2015. Since I was heading down to San Diego on sort notice, the airfare was about $200 (Yikes!) with United Airlines. But, since I came to such a good deal (well within the amount I wanted), I didn't gripe about it.

On the date of pick-up, I took the Van Nuys Flyaway bus to LAX to catch the flight. It was a nice clear day and on one side of the plane, one could see the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains and on the other side, a beautiful view of Catalina Island.

I was in San Diego within an hour after the plane left LAX. La Mesa RV arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport and take me to the dealer.

When I arrived in the sales office lobby, a sign greeted me with a list of customers who are picking up their new toys.

Soon, the paperwork began. During this, I contacted my auto insurance company to add The Beast to the policy. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they do not insure RVs. So they directed me to Progressive Insurance. I told them what I just bought (the dealer doesn't let anyone drive off without insurance, I found out later) and they said the monthly premiums were for full coverage, what seemed to me, a ridiculously low amount. Stunned, I asked what's the full year's premium. They told me $487.00. Then I told them, "Hell, I'll just pay the full premium now and not have to worry about monthly bills." So I did.

Once that was done and the final paperwork completed, I was given a walk-through tour of The Beast. This is customarily done so that new owners are familiarized with the RVs features.

Once that was completed, I was ready to head back to Los Angeles. I then jumped in and drove off to L.A.

I had planned to stop en route to visit my Aunt Rose in Mission Viejo. Thank goodness I did, since she passed away last month. I gave her and my cousins a tour of The Beast. After a visit for a while, I then headed off for L.A.

Above, The Beast at home. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It is a good thing that I have a double parking space at my apartment (it can accommodate two cars) so I wouldn't have to park the motorhome on the street or have to rent a space at an RV storage lot. One reason I chose the 22R as it would be just the right size for it and my car to be parked there. It is actually 23 feet long. Anything longer wouldn't work.

Since I bought The Beast, we have taken it to Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, Lake Havasu and other places. Except for a minor bathroom roof vent problem, The Beast has been problem-free.

Unless I decide to take off on the spur of the moment, the next trip in The Beast will be Yosemite National Park in April.

What Does Nowadays Japan Really Look Like?

Above, a Skytree view of Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Source: TravelWires Press Release

Everyone knows some traditional Japanese elements such as Buddhist temples, floral arrangements, gardens, kimonos and traditional art However, Japan means much more. Worldwide, for example, many products and components in the field of communications, entertainment and transport are made in Japan. Therefore, many visitors ask themselves this question long before arriving in the Land of…

Everyone knows some traditional Japanese elements such as Buddhist temples, floral arrangements, gardens, kimonos and traditional art

However, Japan means much more. Worldwide, for example, many products and components in the field of communications, entertainment and transport are made in Japan. Therefore, many visitors ask themselves this question long before arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun: How does Japan feel like?

We all know the picture, already commonplace, with Mount Fuji covered with snow, the cherry blossoms and maybe a girl wearing kimono siting in the foreground. This image symbolizes the way the Japanese see themselves. They never ceases to highlight that the old arts, crafts, traditions coexist in harmony with modern technology. No other country given the old cliché of tourist brochures as land of contrasts wears this label with such naturalness and elegance.


But maybe this is not so surprising. Coming in 1860 from the isolation imposed by its leaders for 300 years, the Japanese have made as much effort to modernize, as well on how to keep their cultural identity. Therefore, the real Japan can be a matter of personal preference, that can determine the itinerary: Tokyo multiculturalism or cultural areas such as Kyoto, the older and quiet roads in the west of the country. Depending on the season you can go biking, skiing, enjoying landscapes and bathe in hot springs. Wherever you go, you’ll always encounter one of the most fascinating countries and cultures in the world.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Efforts To Promote Tokyo Sightseeing Boat Cruises To Foreign Visitors Started

Above, the Hotaluna water bus, designed by manga and anime artist Leiji Matsumoto. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There is one way to both enjoy the sights of Tokyo and, at the same time, relax. That way is to take a cruise down one of Tokyo's waterways and Tokyo Bay. Unfortunately, not too many foreign visitors are aware of this.

I have taken a cruise down the Sumida River to Tokyo Bay twice. The first time was in 2005 and then ten years later when Denise, Aiden and I went to Japan last October. Each cruise was relaxing and enjoyable. For kaiju fans, this is one way to see some locations used in various Japanese monster movies such as Tokyo Tower, Odaiba, the Rainbow Bridge and the Kachidoki Bridge.

Above, Denise and Aiden heading back to Asakusa on the Sumida River boat last October. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japan Passenger Boat Association is trying to get tour boat operators to promote their services to foreign visitors.

The Japan Times reported:
A trip to Tokyo does not necessarily mean elbowing your way through crowds. You can get fine views of the capital from a boat on the bay. 
With a drink or a meal, a short cruise is relaxing way to tour, and it shows parts of Tokyo and its history that cannot be seen from a sidewalk or a bus. 
Operators are keen to tap the steady flow of foreign tourists but bemoan the lack of information reaching them. 
At a recent gathering of industry representatives, some remarked about this missed opportunity, calling for greater efforts to publicize the many cruise options available to tourists. 
The Japan Passenger Boat Association, which represents cruise line operators, invited travel agents for a trip around Tokyo Bay on Feb. 4 to show them what is on offer and what clients can expect to see.
Above, the Kachidoki Bridge. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I heartily recommend a cruise down the Sumida River to Tokyo Bay from Asakusa.

To read more, go here.

Original Edition of "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Still Available

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

All of a sudden, there's been a spurt of interest in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

As I have been concentrating on producing the revised/updated edition, I have not promoted the original edition lately.

However, I do have under 100 copies available and if you are interested in grabbing a copy (discounted, I might add), go here.

Marriott Is Moving In Next To Mount Fuji

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

Since foreign tourism to Japan has been surging for the past several years, the strain on existing accommodations has been noticeable.

However, there's good news as Marriott International is expanding its presence in Japan.

Nikkei Asian Review reported:
TOKYO -- Marriott International is expanding in Japan, targeting tourist destinations where global hotel chains are few and far between. 
     The U.S. company on Monday said it plans to open five hotels in Japan under its flagship Marriott Hotels brand -- all of them in rural locations. It has struck a franchising deal with Japan's Mori Trust Hotels & Resorts, which will renovate five existing facilities and rebrand them.  
     One is by Lake Yamanaka, at the foot of Mount Fuji. Another is near Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, not far from Kyoto. The remaining three locations are Karuizawa, a summer resort close to Tokyo; Shuzenji, a hot spring spot near the capital; and Nanki-Shirahama, a hot spring and beach resort near Osaka. Japanese hospitality companies dominate the accommodation markets in these places, which have been popular with domestic tourists for years.
Although Marriott International is taking over existing hotels, if the projects prove successful, they are sure to build more hotels in Japan.

To read more, go here

Sunday, February 21, 2016

National Diet Building At Night

While Denise was with her family at Legoland down near San Diego today, I stayed home (except for a run to Baskin-Robbins for a hot fudge sundae) and watched a couple of movies that I haven't watched for over five years (at least).

They were Godzilla x Mechagodzilla (2002) and Godzilla x Mothra x Mechagodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).

While watching Tokyo S.O.S., a scene with Godzilla and Mechagodzilla behind the National Diet Building reminded me of a photo I took of it last October from our dinner table window at the Imperial Hotel.

Here's the photo I took (it is a little fuzzy, probably due to the glass messing with the focus):

Above, the National Diet Building at night. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Here's the scene from the movie:




Exploring Shinjuku's Neighborhoods

Above, Godzilla surveys Shinjuku from over a rooftop. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

One of the fun things to do in Tokyo is just wandering around on foot to explore the neighborhoods of the city.

The Big Sushi, Little Fishes blog has an article on exploring Shinjuku.

According to the article, there is much to see in Shinjuku. Of course, a visit to the Toho Cinemas complex and the Hotel Gracery to see the giant Godzilla peering over the area is a must.

It starts off with:

From time to time, the question arises on travel discussion forums: which is the best neighbourhood in Tokyo? Never mind the vagueness of the question. If I had, say, 36 hours in Tokyo, I’d head to Shinjuku, a city-within-a-city. There’s no better place to get a feeling of 36 million people living together Blade Runner-style than in this west-end microcosm of The Big Sushi. 
It’s where I first landed in Japan 18 years ago. Then, I spun a jet-lagged fugue through Shinjuku’s neon canyonlands, elevated footpaths, tatami sidestreets and alleys, and in the labyrinthian train station. You know: the setting for Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bill Murray? That was me, minus the hair — and Scarlett Johansson. 
Now, Shinjuku still pulls me into its orbit whenever I want some “bright lights, big city” excitement in my suburban commuter life.  Familiar landmarks – the massive, six-storey Kinokuniya bookstore on the Southern Terrace, Shinjuku Gyoen park and garden, the warren of dive bars in Golden Gai – calm my nerves, and help re-center my wanderlost spirit. 
After almost two decades of exploring this multi-nodal city, Shinjuku is still the single neighbourhood which best embodies Tokyo high city and low. 
For the same reason, Shinjuku ranks first in places I recommend for first-time visits to The Big Sushi.
To read more, go here.

New App Will Help Navigate Shinjuku Station

Above, Denise and Aiden with service dogs outside of Shinjuku Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.


The train and subway system in Tokyo is one of the most efficient transit systems in the world.

However, sometimes it can be bewildering for a newbie to navigate some of the enormous stations in Tokyo. To help visitors, a new app has been introduced for Shinjuku Station.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —Tokyo’s efficient rail system makes getting from one part of the city to another a snap. What’s not always so easy, though, is getting around the stations themselves. 
Shinjuku Station, located on the west side of downtown, can be particularly intimidating for the uninitiated. It’s not just the busiest station in the city, but the entire world, with 3.6 million passengers making their way through the train and subway hub every day. Of those, roughly 750,000 are using East Japan Railways’ trains, so the company has released a new smartphone app to help them navigate the JR portion of Shinjuku Station. 
The app is actually an updated version of a similar one released last year for Tokyo Station. The new edition can be used in either Shinjuku or Tokyo Stations, and can be configured for either English or Japanese menus and displays.
To read more, go here

Trump Takes South Carolina

The South Carolina GOP primary is over and Donald Trump won it.

Trump won 32.5% of the vote and took all 50 delegates.



Meanwhile, Jeb Bush has "suspended" his campaign. Which means, he's out!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Hail, Caesar!"



I just returned from seeing Hail, Caesar!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you would have read some blog posts about Eddie Mannix, the former vice-president of MGM back in the 1930s to the early 1960s and his possible involvement in the George Reeves case.

Well, Hail, Caesar! has Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) in it, but this Eddie Mannix is with a fictional movie studio, Capitol Pictures. Like the real-life Mannix, he is the "fixer" of problems that crop up involving the studio and its contract actors.

While a docu-drama on the real Eddie Mannix would be quite an interesting picture, this one is actually a screwball comedy.

According to Google:
In the early 1950s, Eddie Mannix is busy at work trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest assignments involve a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a beautiful swimmer and a handsome dancer. As if all this wasn't enough, Mannix faces his biggest challenge when Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped while in costume for the swords-and-sandals epic "Hail, Caesar!" If the studio doesn't pay $100,000, it's the end of the line for the movie star.
One of my favorite scenes was when Mannix bitch-slapped around Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Maybe it's because I really can't stand Clooney. The period of the early 1950s was nicely re-created.

My grade: A. 

Dollar Down To Around ¥113 In Tokyo



The U.S. dollar continues its slide against the Japanese yen in Tokyo trading.

According to Jiji Press:
Tokyo, Feb. 19 (Jiji Press)--The dollar dropped to levels around 113 yen in Tokyo trading on Friday, as a fallback in Japanese stock prices fueled risk aversion among investors. 
At 5 p.m., the dollar was at 112.94-95 yen, down from 113.93-94 yen at the same time Thursday. 
This will make a trip to Japan a little more expensive for American travelers. 

The Cost To Stay At A Love Hotel In Japan

Above, the entrance to an Osaka love hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Due to the small size of Japanese apartments, the Japanese custom of entertaining outside of the home, living with parents and other reasons (including convenience), the love hotel industry has been flourishing.

You may wonder how much they cost to stay in. You're in luck as City-Cost.com has an article that will tell you.

They begin with:
Sandwiched as we are between Valentine’s Day and White Day (here in Japan, at least) it seems as good a time as any to further facilitate feelings of love and lust by opening the doors to Japan’s default location for doing that which your mom and dad told you never to do: love hotels / ラブホテル. 
There are plenty of blogs, mad photos, and intros out there about love hotels.  What we want to do here is find out how much money you’re going to need to get in, do what needs to be done, and get out, and hopefully avoid knowing glances from people in the street, Oh yea! We know what you just did, you!!
Above, a love hotel's price sign. Aiden, at left, was probably wondering
 why I was taking a picture of a sign. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

During our trip to Osaka last October, we accidentally found a cluster of love hotels in the Dotonbori district when we made a wrong turn. The photo above shows a price sign of one love hotel.

To read more, to here.


Fukuoka Is Now Japan's 5th Biggest City

Above, Fukuoka Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It may have been attacked by Godzilla and Rodan, but Fukuoka City in Kyushu has risen in population to become the 5th largest among major Japan cities.

Jiji Press reported:
Fukuoka, Feb. 18 (Jiji Press)--The Fukuoka municipal government said Thursday that the southeastern Japan city's population has risen past Kobe to the fifth biggest among the 20 government ordinance-designated major cities.  
According to the Fukuoka government's own national census tally as of Oct. 1 last year, the number of residents in the city had increased by 74,767 from the previous nationwide population survey five years ago to 1,538,510.

To read more, go here

Friday, February 19, 2016

13 Covers: A Curt Swan Birthday Celebration

Above, a classic cover featuring the Fatal Five by Curt Swan and George Klein. 

My most favorite comic book artist of all time was the late, great Curt Swan. Swan drew the Superman Family of comic books for over 30 years although he is known as "the definitive Superman artist".

Two days ago would have been Curt Swan's birthday and comics historian Arlen Schumer has an article of 13 of the best Curt Swan covers, some of which I have in my collection (one of which is posted above).

If you are a Curt Swan fan or are an art fan in general, you'll like the article.

To read it and savor Swan's art, go here.

"5 Cultural Tips For Taking Photos In Japan"

Above, Jonathan Bellés, Yoshikazu Ishii and Armand in Tokyo. Did we goof by having Ishii-san in the middle? 

Everyone who travels does so with a still camera (film or digital) or a video recorder of some kind. I have been such a traveling shutterbug since I was a kid.

In Japan, photography is a very popular hobby or advocation. But, when in Japan, there are some guidelines that a visitor should follow so not to upset anyone.

Japan Today has an article on "5 Cultural Tips For Taking Photos In Japan" that should help you to keep out of trouble.

They begin with:
TOKYO —Believe it or not, there’s a Japanese way of taking photos. We’ve compiled some cultural guidelines as well as language tips to help you take happy snappies on your next trip to Japan. 
Naturally, the first rule of photography in any country is to obey the rules. Always look for signs at tourist areas to make sure it’s okay to take pictures. If you see the “No photos” or “No flash,” do comply, no matter how much you want to capture the moment. 
But there are other not-so-obvious things to consider when taking snapshots in Japan, especially when local people are involved. The following hints should help you understand photography protocol in Japan. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, just guidelines based on our collective experience working and playing in Japan. No one says you have to follow them, but you know, when in Rome…
To see what the 5 tips are, go here

The Cheesecake Quest



As posted last night, neither Denise and I could finish our meals (mainly due to the appetizers we had) at The Odyssey Restaurant.

So, for breakfast, I finished my prime rib. And, for lunch (or at least part of it), I had my slice of cheesecake and berries. As I was consuming the cheesecake, Denise text me from work that she's having her leftover steak and her cheesecake for lunch at that moment and sent the above photo. Great minds (or stomachs) apparently think alike.

I told her that the cheesecake reminded me of Shogo Tomiyama, the former president of Toho Pictures. She immediately knew what I was referring to (since she was there).

Above, the dinner gathering last October at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

Last October, I hosted a dinner at the Imperial Hotel. Mr. Tomiyama was one of the guests. I was looking around the dessert buffet table for some cheesecake and found none. I mentioned this when I returned to our table. After this, Mr.Tomiyama got up for a "mini-quest" to find a slice of cheesecake for me. It looks like being a former head of Japan's biggest studio paid dividends as he returned to bring a slice of cheesecake to me. What a man!

Great memories! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Odyssey Restaurant

Above, the outdoor patio dining area. Odyssey Restaurant photo.

Tonight, Denise and I went out to dinner at a place that I haven't been to since the late 1980s: the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills, California.

The Odyssey was the site for the annual San Fernando Valley Claim Adjusters Association's annual Christmas parties that I used to attend. One year, I won a VCR there.

Above, our shrimp and crab cakes appetizers. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Odyssey offers fine food, drinks and spectacular views of the San Fernando Valley from its hilltop perch. It has huge rooms for special events like weddings, parties, banquets and meetings.

We were a bit full from the appetizers and the soup (clam chowder) and salad (Caesar) that we had, so we brought home our cheesecake desserts and meats (steak and prime rib). Denise proclaimed the Caesar salad was the best she's ever had. It is just as well we didn't over-stuff ourselves since we plan to go to Hawaii in a few months (Denise has been taking crossfit classes to tone up).

For more information on The Odyssey Restaurant, go here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

24 Hours Later...

Above, the Explorer delivered in the rain. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

What a difference 24 hours makes.

Yesterday, it was warm-to-hot in the San Fernando Valley. We even had a tree go up in smoke in Tarzana (I reported on this yesterday).

Denise's Ford Explorer decided to overheat from either a hose or a radiator pipe going out last evening. (I am guessing a pipe, as a hose would be obvious and easy to replace.) Her dad was supposed to see what the problem is and get it fixed.

Well, I just got home about a half hour ago while awaiting the Auto Club tow truck to deliver the Explorer to the mechanic's shop in Reseda. Yes, it still hasn't been fixed. (The old saying goes, "If you want something done right, do it yourself!")

And, to cap things off, it is raining and cold here! It is not a big downpour, but it has been a steady rain since at least about 2:00 this afternoon (I was taking a nap and it was raining at 2:00 when I woke up). I was becoming concerned since we need the rain and February is usually our rainy month and it has been warm here for the past two weeks.

I went out into the rain to pick Denise up from work, take her home and then meet the tow truck in Reseda.

I neglected to bring a jacket and came home tonight with a drenched shirt. Oh, well.

At least the Explorer will be definitely fixed tomorrow. After we pick it up, we'll be going out to dinner at the Odyssey Restaurant. I haven't been there since the early 1990s.

The GOP's "Spinal Jeopardy"



You won't find any fans of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in this household, but I do have to applaud his stance on not confirming any nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia put forth by President Obama.

However, the GOP squishes in the Senate are already showing their lack of backbone.

This is from the liberal website ThinkProgress.org:
Senate Republicans’ widespread vow to automatically block any Supreme Court nominee President Obama puts forth may be wavering. 
Within minutes of Justice Antonin Scalia passing away on Saturday, Republicans declared that they would automatically block any replacement Obama would appoint during the 11 months he has left in office. Soon after, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced his intention to block any replacement until a new president takes office in 2017. 
But a conservative senator from North Carolina is breaking with his colleagues and calling for the GOP to at least give consideration to a potential replacement. 
Appearing on The Tyler Cralle Show on Tuesday morning, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) cautioned against vowing to automatically block any nominee. 
“I think we fall into the trap if just simply say sight unseen, we fall into the trap of being obstructionists,” Tillis said.
President Obama himself called for not confirming a Supreme Court nominee by President Bush while he was in the Senate. His whining now is laughable.

Thanks to Bob McArthur for the headline. It is a play on "final jeopardy" (for you Jeopardy fans).

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