"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.

Buy The Amazon Kindle Store Ebook Edition

Buy The Amazon Kindle Store Ebook Edition
Get the ebook edition here! (Click image.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

American Airlines Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

American Airlines filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to high labor and fuel costs and the weak economy.

American's parent company, AMR Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.

This will allow the company to reorganize and to end costly union contracts with their underfunded pension plans.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

AMR Corp., which owns American, was one of the last major U.S. airline companies that had avoided bankruptcy. Rivals United and Delta used bankruptcy to shed costly labor contracts, reduce debt, and start making money again. They also grew through mergers.

LAPD Swings Into Action

The LAPD swung into action last night in clearing out the encampment of the Occupy L.A. protesters at City Hall Park.

The latest is that 200 persons were arrested.

Kudos to the LAPD!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tokyo Sky Tree Is "World's Tallest Tower"

Above, the Sky Tree under construction last December. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The new Tokyo Sky Tree tower, set to officially open in May 2012, has been certified as the world's tallest tower.

National Geographic News reports:

Rising like a space age Eiffel Tower on growth hormones, the newly built Tokyo Sky Tree won't officially open its elevator doors until May 2012.

Yet the 2,080-foot-tall (634-meter-tall) structure has already built a lofty reputation. Under construction since 2008, Japan's latest landmark was this month certified the world's tallest tower by Guinness World Records.

To read the full article, go here.

Above, the Sky Tree (background, left) and the Asahi Beer Hall from Asakusa. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Tokyo Sky Tree is replacing Tokyo Tower as the primary broadcasting tower in Tokyo. It was determined that Tokyo Tower is too short for digital broadcasting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Xmas Present (To Myself)

Today, I made a stop at the Turner's Outdoorsman store in Reseda.

Fortunately, they were in the midst of a Black Friday weekend sale and I picked up my Christmas present to myself: a Ruger P95 9mm pistol. Due to the 10-day waiting period, I pick it up on December 8.

According to Wikipedia:

Introduced in 1996, the P95 replaced the original P90 in production. The barrel length was reduced from 4.5" to 3.9", making it more compact than the earlier P series pistols. New models had changed from an aluminum frame to one made of fiberglass-reinforced polyurethane based on Dow Chemical's "Isoplast". This reduced the weight of the pistol by 4 ounces (110 g) and reduced manufacturing costs. Unlike other polymer framed handguns on the market at the time of design, the P95 had no metal inserts in the frame. The high strength polymer allowed the slide to ride directly on the polymer frame rails which simplified manufacturing and further reduced production costs.

In December 2004, Ruger was awarded a contract for 5,000 KP95D pistols by the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.

I'm looking forward to shooting this one!

L.A.P.D. Wimps Out

Above, L.A. City Hall. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Los Angeles Police Department announced that Occupy L.A. protesters must de-camp from City Hall's grounds by midnight last night.

The protesters are still there and the LAPD is telling the media that protesters will be moved out "on our timetable."

It looks to me and many others that the non-enforcement of the deadline is a "wimp-out" on the part of the LAPD.

What's the point in setting a deadline and not enforce it?

It has been reported that costs to cities across the country associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests (property damage, law enforcement, etc.) exceeds $13 million.

Good riddance, Barney Frank!

Good riddance, Barney Frank!

The Massachusetts Democrat and an architect of the housing crisis announced that he's not going to seek re-election in 2012.

For more, go here.

EPA regulations suffocating U.S. agriculture

The enviromental wackos in the EPA are trying to enact new regulations that would endanger family farms.

According to an article in the Western Farm Press:

In just the last three years, the Environmental Protection Agency has set in motion a significant number of new regulations that will significantly change the face of agriculture. The coming changes threaten the continued operation of family farms and ranches, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Testifying on behalf of AFBF before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said EPA proposals to exert greater regulatory control over agriculture will drive up the cost of producing food, fiber and fuel.

"EPA proposals are overwhelming to farmers and ranchers and are creating a cascade of costly requirements that are likely to drive individual farmers to the tipping point," Shaffer said. "The overwhelming number of proposed regulations on the nation's food system is unprecedented and promises profound effects on both the structure and competitiveness of all of agriculture."

In his testimony, Shaffer said that "EPA is literally piling regulation on top of regulation, and guidance on top of guidance, to the point of erecting barriers to economic growth," said Shaffer.

Just what we need, more regulations that will drive up the cost of food and put family farms out of business.

To read the full article, go here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Travel Ezine Picks Up Monster Japan Travel Guide Release

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

Traveler Ezine.com has picked up the press release on The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan holiday special.

To see the site, go here.

Leisure Ezine Picks Up Monster Japan Travel Guide Release

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

Leisure Ezine.com picked up the press release on the holiday special for The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

To see the site, go here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Ronald Reagan Statues Unveiled

Above, Ronald Reagan in Kansas City, Missouri at the 1976 GOP National Convention. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Eastern European countries are erecting more statues of former President Ronald Reagan.

The Mainichi Daily News has posted an article on the unveiling of a statue of President Ronald Reagan.

According to the article:

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) -- Georgia's pro-Western president has unveiled a monument to Ronald Reagan in the capital of the ex-Soviet state praising the 40th U.S. president for "destroying the Soviet Empire."

To read the full article and see a photo of the statue, go here.

And former Polish President and Solidarity union leader Lech Walesa unveiled another Reagan statue in Warsaw near the U.S Embassy.

From Fox News:

Lech Walesa said that there would not be a free Poland without Ronald Reagan, during the unveiling of a statue in Warsaw of the late American president on Monday.

To read the full article go here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Godzilla Thanksgiving

A friend sent me this...

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Holiday Sale Press Release

The press release announcing this year's holiday special offer of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan has been posted. It is currently being fed by the press release service to travel-related sites. To view the release go here. Right, Miki with "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan." Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, travel safely and enjoy your turkey!

Lennon's "Happy Xmas" Is 40 Years Old

An indicator of how time flies (and aging) is the realization that John Lennon's "Happy Xmas" (War Is Over) is now 40 years old.

The song was recorded at the Record Plant Studios in New York City in October 1971, with the participation of Phil Spector.

The song came out during the 1971 Christmas season, which was the last Christmas of my high school years in Hawthorne, California.

It was originally a Viet Nam War protest song, but it has since become a Christmas standard over the years.

Budget Cuts Threaten 10,000 Free Airfare To Japan Plan

Above, Miki Hayashi with "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan."

The plan to give away 10,000 free airfares to foreign tourists by the Japan Tourism Agency may not be a sure thing.

According to an article posted at Travel Weekly.com:

Japanese tourism leaders have admitted there is no guarantee that a plan to pay the airfares of 10,000 overseas visitors next year will go ahead as it emerged that the general budget for international markets will be cut by around 10%.

The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) is seeking 1.2 billion Yen to fund the Fly to Japan project but admitted nothing was certain.

JTA has even posted a message on its website saying the matter is "still under examination for government budgetary approval and is at this moment undecided."

To read the full article, go here.

Free airfares or not, go to Japan anyway and bring along The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Visit Rodan's Sendai Station

Above, Sendai Station during my visit in April 2006.

Up in northeast Japan is the city of Sendai. It lies in the Tohoku region of Japan that was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. Clean-up and repairs are currently undergoing in the area.

One prominent landmark featured in kaiju movies was the JR Sendai Station. I visited Sendai in 2006. The station was featured in two giant monster movies: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Gamera 2: Advent of Legion. Sendai Station suffered no major damage during the earthquake.

In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), the area near Sendai Station suffered major damage due to the shockwaves from a fly-by of Rodan (photo above). Just prior to Rodan's fly-by of Sendai Station, a fly-by along the coast near Matsushima Bay was shown. Matsushima Bay is noted for its 200 small islands and is often compared to Carmel, California in scenic beauty.

The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan showcases Sendai and its role in the two kaiju movies along with information on where to stay and other attractions to see.

Last November, I posted a spotlight article on Sendai Station. To view it, go here.

TNT: Travellers Turn Back To Japan

Above, Tokyo's Senso-ji temple in Asakusa.

TNT Magazine's website posted an article stating that Japan's tourism industry is on the upswing with increased interest.

The article reads in part:

However, searches for Japan have been rising since May, TripAdvisor reports, and in October searches were back to the same level they were during the same period in 2010.

A survey by the travel site also found that 80 per cent of British travellers said they would now feel safe travelling to the country.

To read the full article, go here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Special For Monster Japan Travel Guide

Ho! Ho! Ho!

The 2011 holiday season is now upon us. As soon as Halloween ended (maybe even before), the department stores became decked out in Christmas decorations.

Since we are now in the holiday season, I am discounting The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan 20% off the cover price, making the cost of the book $12.00. This special offer is direct from me, not from ComiXpress. So if you want the discount, you'll need to order directly from me.

It is the world's only Japan travel guide tailored to fans of Japanese science-fiction and fantasy films.

Additionally, to even make your holiday dollars go even further, the $12.00 price includes shipping & handling! How's that for getting into the Santa spirit?

From today to December 24 (Christmas Eve), you can get The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan for $12.00 total! Orders postmarked within (and including) those dates will get the discount!

The mailing address can be found here (ignore the price listed on the page).

The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan makes the perfect stocking stuffer for that kaiju fan in your life (or for yourself)!

None of that "politically correct" "Happy Holidays" stuff around here! Here, we say Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

300,000 (And Counting)!

Overnight, Armand's Rancho Del Cielo clocked over 300,000 views!

The count started in July 2008 when the counter was added to the blog.

It is interesting to see where the states and countries where the viewer hits originated through ClustrMaps.

Thanks to all for stopping by for a peek at my musings!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Message From Buttons?

Above, Siren.

Until a week ago Tuesday, we had two cats: Buttons and Siren. Buttons passed away at age 16 on November 8.

This week, Jessica and I noticed something different about Siren. She started to occupy the top of our sofa's backrest where Buttons used to sit. Then she started sniffing our hair exactly the same way Buttons used to (she'd push in the back of our heads with her nose). Siren never did this before. Jessica said Siren started doing this three days ago, exactly seven days after Buttons died.

It is freaky that this started suddenly. I told my daughter Amber about this and she found this to be freaky as well.

Maybe Buttons was sending a message?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Now Listed At Travel4Press

Above, Armand with "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan".

Travel4Press.com invited me (and I accepted) to join their registry of travel-related journalists.

Here's Travel4Press's description:

Travel4Press is a free to use sourcing tool for journalists writing about travel. Owned and operated by one of the UK's leading news agencies, Adfero Ltd, it has been designed to incorporate tools and information that have been used successfully by our own journalists to write travel copy. Travel 4 Press is part of Adfero's news infrastructure which is home to a number of leading online news brands such as inthenews.co.uk, myfinances.co.uk and politics.co.uk. Adfero has been publishing news to a digital readership since 1998.

Key stakeholders and sources across the industry are tracked to ensure Travel4Press boasts the broadest and most up to date coverage of travel related news.

Not only do we monitor tens of thousands of press releases daily to select those that would be of relevance to travel journalists, we scour thousands of online news sites and blogs to provide a preview of what others are writing about within the travel arena. We also monitor the world's travel and tourist offices for up to date information on forthcoming events that might interest tourists and, as such, act as inspiration for travel feature pieces. In addition, a regularly updated directory of travel PR professionals is provided, acting as an online contacts book.

News is sourced from travel organizations all around the world in a variety of manners covering all industry aspects of the travel arena including; airlines, airports, aviation services, bus, rail, road, clothing and equipment, disabled travel, insurance, attractions, camping, caravanning, hotels, national park, shipping, regional, national and international tourist boards, tour operators, travel agents, relevant campaign, environmental organisations, public bodies and many others.

All of the information contained in this comprehensive sourcing tool is conveniently grouped into common sense categories to make finding news, events or organisations on a particular topic quick and easy.

In the forthcoming months, we shall be providing access to PR departments to enable them to update their profiles, upload digital photography and artwork, sponsor their releases and assist us in providing many other useful features.

To view my profile, go here.

Nipple Fruit

Nipple fruit. What the heck is that?

That's what we wondered this morning when seeing the headline to an article on it in The Japan Times.

To see it, go here.

You learn something new everyday!

Monday, November 14, 2011

When it rains...

It is weird how sometimes things work out.

First, my laptop decided to crash about a month ago. Thank goodness I just saved most of my files on CDs.

Then, my digital camera lens went on the fritz while doing a claims assignment. Fortunately, I got everything I needed to do with it already done before it went out. I was told today that the lens (an electronic gizmo) needs replacing.

Finally, my car decided to have engine trouble yesterday. It is now being dianosed.

If all this happened months ago, I'd be in a bind. The crop check arrived today and so I can afford to pay for all the repairs without blinking an eye.

It is now just a matter of getting off my duff and get everything done.

So, to celebrate the good crop year, Jessica and I are headed out for some sushi.

U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Constitutionality of Obamacare

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will decide the constitutionality Obamacare. The main issue of Obamacare is the individual mandate provision that requires all Americans to buy health insurance or be fined. This probision violates individual rights, according to opponents of the health care law.

Obamacare's consititutionality is being challenged by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.

In an unprecedented move, the Court will allow five and a half hours of oral arguments. Oral arguments would probably be held in late February or March.

A ruling is expected by July 2012, which is in the midst of the presidential election. It is certain that a ruling striking down Obamacare will set off political fireworks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bandai Museum, Mibu, Japan

Above, the old Bandai Museum building in Matsuda in 2005.

Six years ago, I took a jaunt to Chiba Prefecture in Japan to Matsuda to visit the Bandai Museum.

Above, yours truly on the Gundam lift at the old Bandai Museum.

A year later, the museum closed down.

Above, Gundam display at the old Bandai Museum.

Now, the Bandai Museum has been relocated to Mibu (壬生町, Mibu-machi) in Tochigi Prefecture. It is about an hour and a half train ride from Tokyo.

Above, the Bandai Museum's collection of Ultraman helmets.

The Bandai Museum features displays of Godzilla, Gundam, Ultraman and many other Japanese pop-culture characters. Besides displays, the museum has several gift shops to purchase toys of those characters.

Above, Godzilla toys for sale at the museum.

To get to the Bandai Museum, here are the train lines to take:

Tokyo 07:51 - Nippori 08:02 (JR KeihinTohoku line)
Nippori 08:08 - Kitasenjyu 08:16 (JR Jyoban line)
Kitasenjyu 08:21 - Tochigi 09:26 (Tobu Isezaki line)
Tochigi 09:39 - Omochanomachi 10:01 (Tobu Utsunomiya line)
Cost : JR 210yen, Tobu 1030yen

It is about a ten minute walk from Omochanomachi.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Daniel Craig Returns As James Bond in "Skyfall"

Above, Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig.

The title for the next James Bond movie and its release date have been announced:

LONDON, Nov. 3, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli today presented the cast of the 23rd James Bond adventure, entitled SKYFALL. The film, from Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is directed by Academy Award® winner Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig, who returns for his third film as James Bond 007. The screenplay is written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. SKYFALL, which goes into production on Monday, November 7th, will begin its worldwide roll-out in the UK and Ireland on October 26th 2012 and in North America on November 9th 2012.

Joining Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Director Sam Mendes were members of the cast of SKYFALL, including: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe. The filmmakers also announced Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw.

In SKYFALL, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

This is good news, but we have to wait a year before the movie's release. At least it won't be the long pause between Timothy Dalton's last Bond outing and Pierce Brosnan's first.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Godzilla" (1954) Screenings In Honolulu

Need something to do to close out 2011?

If so, and you find yourself in Honolulu, Hawaii at the end of December, then go to the Doris Duke Theater to screen the original, uncut Godzilla (1954).

The screenings take place on Thursday, December 29 and Friday, December 30.

Director: Ishirô Honda
Japan, 1954, 95 mins.
In Japanese with English subtitles

Restored print! The original Japanese Godzilla, directed by sci-fi master Ishiro Honda, is considered a classic of Japanese cinema .

It was also the biggest budgeted film in Japanese history at that time and spawned 50 years of sequels, countless rip-offs, and a new genre-the kaiju eiga or Japanese monster movie. Sold to an American distributor in 1956, it was recut, rearranged, dubbed and retitled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, to the dismay of subsequent generations of Godzilla fans.

We present the Japanese version in its original glory. Don't miss this opportunity to see a 30-story Jurassic behemoth destroy an exquisitely detailed miniature Tokyo as it was meant to be seen-on the big screen!

Doris Duke Theatre
900 S. Beretania St.
Entrance on Kinau
Honolulu, HI 96814

Phone: 808-532-3303

For details on the screenings, go here.

Time: "Japan After Fukushima: Is It Safe For Tourists?"

Above, Godaido temple at Matsushima Bay. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese tourism industry has been in the doldrums. Part of the problem for the decline in Japan tourist number has been due to the western media's coverage of the problems with the damaged reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The coverage had been borderline hysterical which led people to believe that all of Japan was a glowing, radioactive mess. Time magazine's website posted an article that seems to be a continuance of the misleading coverage.

In the article, the question is asked:

Eight months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan's tourism industry still hasn't rebounded. What will it take to convince tourists it's safe to visit again?

I wonder if anyone at Time bothered to look at a geographical map of Japan. If they did, they would find that the affected area in Fukushima is a relatively small area of northeast Honshu (the main island). The article mentions findings of traces of radioactivity in Tokyo, 150 miles south of Fukushima. I have read many articles on this and much of it is attributed to natural radioactivity. There are other cities around the world with higher radioactivity readings.

What will it take to convince people that it's safe to visit Japan? For one thing, ceasing misleading articles that feed into people's fears would be a major first step.

I have posted several articles on this blog focusing on how safe Japan is to visit. Japan is taking public relations steps to convince people that the country is safe to visit. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga have also spoken out in support of the Japanese tourism industry. The Japanese tourism industry is also planning to offer 10,000 free round-trip airfares to foreigners next year.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2099119,00.html#ixzz1dQFp1uDr

Autumn In Tokyo: Japan At Its Best

Above, nearly bare trees at the flood control canal next to Toho Studios. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last month, I ran a promotion for autumn Japan travel by offering The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan at a 20% discount off the cover price.

WNEM-TV Channel 5 has an article on visiting Japan during the autumn season.

Their article reads in part:

Many travelers, from first-timers to old-hand Japanophiles, consider the autumn months the single best time to visit Japan. The punishing heat and humidity of summer have burned away, and there's no threat of drenching rains. But for locals, there are two more important reasons to welcome fall: koyo and shun-no-aji -- the "changing of the leaves" and the "flavors of the season." While spring cherry-blossom viewing parties are better known, Japanese treat the changing of the leaves with equal reverence, particularly in places where they form a beautiful backdrop for temples and shrines. In the Tokyo area, the leaves generally begin to change in late October, with colors peaking in mid-November and lasting until early December.

Above, Shibuya in late-October. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I have visited Japan three times during the autumn season (2001, 2005 and 2010) and I have to agree that the autumn months are some of the best times to visit Japan. I also feel that the spring season is a great time to visit. The temperatures during both seasons make for a pleasant vacation and there are fewer tourist crowds at major attractions. Also, prices for airfares and lodging are lower during these months.

To read the full article, go here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Max Borenstein To Pen Legendary Pictures Godzilla

Above, Armand Vaquer with the Godzilla statue at Toho Studios in Setagaya, Tokyo.

Cinema Blend and The Hollywood Reporter are reporting that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' Godzilla project has a new writer.

The new writer is named Max Borenstein, who is taking over from Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer.

According to reports, Borenstein is relatively new to Hollywood. He wrote and directed a low-budget movies Swordswallowers and Thin Men back in 2003.

It is not known if this change is a good one or not or if this will either speed up production or slow it. Stay tuned!

American Airlines and Japan National Tourism Organization Offer Tips for Making the Most of Travel to Japan

Above, the moon and Tokyo Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

American Airlines and the Japan National Tourism Organization have teamed up with special offers and tips on making the most of a vacation to Japan. The below press release was issued through the press release service I use for The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. Kaiju fans wanting to go to Japan may want to consider these special offers.

American Also Promotes AAdvantage Deals and AAVacations Special Offers for Customers

FORT WORTH, Texas, Nov. 10, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- American Airlines and fellow oneworld® alliance member Japan Airlines (JAL) currently offer convenient travel options to Japan from New York, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Beginning in spring 2012, service from Boston to Tokyo will also be available.

In addition, American Airlines is expanding the benefits of its agreement with JAL by offering customers opportunities to earn and redeem AAdvantage miles when flying on JAL from North America to Tokyo and beyond. (Details below).

To remind customers of how accessible Japan is and everything the country has to offer, American Airlines has teamed up with the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) to share travel tips and highlight deals for travelers visiting Japan this fall and winter.

Preparing for travel to Japan:

Customers can visit AA.com/Tokyo to find dining, shopping, events and attractions information – courtesy of Frommer's Unlimited – or explore the new "Travel Tips" tab on American's Facebook page at Facebook.com/AA. JNTO's website, www.japantravelinfo.com, also has useful information and recommendations.

On flights to Japan, American Airlines offers customers the option to request a traditional Japanese meal by calling 1-800-433-7300 24 hours in advance.

While in Japan

Food enthusiasts will be excited to know that, according to the 2012 Michelin Guide, Japan has been named the country with the most restaurants that have three Michelin stars.

Visitors who want to explore the region can take advantage of free local tours guided in English and other languages by JNTO-registered Systematized Goodwill Guides.

Travelers can also find a surprising urban oasis in the city center at the Imperial Palace East Garden; visit the Meiji-Jingu Shinto Shrine, which offers a serene, wooded environment; enjoy a view from Mt. Takao; or try one of Japan's onsens (hot springs).

From Feb. 6-12, the Sapporo Snow Festival attracts more than 2 million people every year, boasting hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures (http://www.snowfes.com/english/index.html).

Travel Offers to Japan and Beyond

America and Japan can be redeemed for as few as 50,000 miles. American Airlines Vacations(SM) also has several flight and hotel package deals available to destinations such as Tokyo and Osaka. Current offers require customers to book by Nov. 20 and travel by Dec. 11, 2011. Visit AAVacations.com/deals/Asia-Japan for full details. Terms and conditionDuring the off-peak season between Oct. 1 and April 30, round-trip AAdvantage® MileSAAver® award tickets for travel in Economy Class on American Airlines between North s apply.

AAdvantage promotions for travel on JAL are as follows:

Earn double AAdvantage miles flying nonstop on JAL on purchased, published Business Class and selected Economy Class fares between Vancouver and Tokyo through Feb. 29, 2012. Register at AA.com/offers using bonus code JLYVR.

Book a round-trip Business Class award for a reduced rate of 50,000 AAdvantage miles and a round-trip Economy class award for 30,000 AAdvantage miles for nonstop travel on JAL between Vancouver and Tokyo Narita through Feb. 29, 2012.

Book a round-trip Business Class award for a reduced rate of 50,000 AAdvantage miles or a round-trip Economy class award for 30,000 AAdvantage miles for nonstop travel on JAL between San Francisco and Tokyo Haneda through Feb. 29, 2012.

Earn double AAdvantage miles flying nonstop JAL routes between Tokyo and select destinations in Asia on purchased, published Business Class and selected Economy Class fares through Feb. 29, 2012. Register at AA.com/offers using bonus code JLSEA.

For more information about these promotions, including the terms and conditions, please visit AA.com/offers.

"We hope many travelers visit Japan and discover a Japan they didn't know before," said Yuki Tanaka – Executive Director of the Japan National Tourism Organization in New York.

"Japan is a wonderful country to visit, with rich culture and friendly people," said Cathy Berg, American's Vice President Sales – Western Division. "Whether you've been saving your AAdvantage miles for a memorable experience or are looking for vacation packages with a free night at a hotel and discounts, now is a good time to visit Japan – and American can get you there conveniently."

About American Airlines

American Airlines, American Eagle and the AmericanConnection® carrier serve 260 airports in more than 50 countries and territories with, on average, more than 3,400 daily flights. The combined network fleet numbers more than 900 aircraft. American's award-winning website, AA.com®, provides users with easy access to check and book fares, plus personalized news, information and travel offers. American Airlines is a founding member of the oneworld® alliance, which brings together some of the best and biggest names in the airline business, enabling them to offer their customers more services and benefits than any airline can provide on its own. Together, its members and members-elect serve more than 900 destinations with more than 10,000 daily flights to 149 countries and territories. American Airlines, Inc. and American Eagle Airlines, Inc. are subsidiaries of AMR Corporation. AmericanAirlines, American Eagle, AmericanConnection, AA.com, and AAdvantage are trademarks of American Airlines, Inc. (NYSE: AMR).

About the AAdvantage® Program

The AAdvantage program was the first frequent flyer program, and was established in 1981. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the AAdvantage program, which now has more than 67 million members worldwide. Members can earn miles at more than 1,000 participating companies, which include 27 hotel chains representing more than 60 brands, more than 20 airlines, eight car-rental companies, 11 financial companies, and over 500 brand name retailers. In addition, members can earn miles when making purchases with one of more than 100 affinity card products in over 40 countries. In 2010, AAdvantage members redeemed more than 165 billion miles to claim just fewer than 7.2 million awards for flights, upgrades and car rentals. For more information and a listing of AAdvantage program participating companies, visit www.aa.com/aadvantage.

About the Japan National Tourism Organization

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) is an independent administrative corporation which, in cooperation with the government's Japan Tourism Agency, is dedicated to promoting and supporting inbound tourism to Japan.

The Japan National Tourism Organization maintains 13 offices around the world. Tasked with promoting Japan tourism in the United States and South America are the New York City and Los Angeles offices of JNTO. The offices of JNTO pride themselves on working closely with both international and domestic travel agencies, tour operators, airlines, vendors and other travel professionals to promote Japan as a top international travel destination.

JNTO, along with the support of the Japan Tourism Agency, assists all brands of media in the United States, Central and South America with informational support, resource gathering and media trip planning. As well, JNTO offices provide travel assistance in the form of brochures and email/phone help to anyone interesting in traveling to Japan. The Japan National Tourism Organization maintains various websites including: the JNTO American website www.japantravelinfo.com and the JNTO International website www.jnto.go.jp.

Current AMR Corp. news releases can be accessed at http://www.aa.com

SOURCE: American Airlines Press Release

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bil Keane, Family Circus Creator, Dies At 89

Bil Keane, the creator of the "Family Circus" comic strip, died at age 89 of congestive heart failure.

"The Family Circus" was based loosely on his life. The strip was about the
challenges and adventures of a suburban family of six.

I remember seeing the "Family Circus" characters in the KOA Kampground Directory.

His son Jeff now draws the strip. Bil Keane, Family Circus Creator, Dies At 89

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Death In The Family: Buttons, 1995 - 2011

Above, Buttons in 2007.

There's one thing that many of pet owners have to face sooner or later, and that is losing that pet. As pet lovers know, losing a pet is having a death in the family.

I had to face that reality today. Buttons, our 16 1/2 year old grey tiger tabby, died today as we were on our way to the veterinarian to have her euthanized. She had been rapidly declining for the past two weeks. Her breathing became laborous and she lost a lot of weight. She had be pretty fat all her life. She started shedding weight about a year or so ago.

We had taken her to the vet last Saturday and the vet said it was "old age." He gave us some Nutri-Cal goop that is loaded with nutrients and calories. We were hoping that she would get her old energy back. But it was to no avail.

I was in Gardena this morning when my roommate Jessica called to tell me that Buttons was extremely weak and seemed that she could die any minute.

I got home and found that Buttons barely had enough strength to crawl on the floor. I called my daughter Amber and told her of the situation and we need to end her suffering. She got to the house and we debated on whether we should have her euthanized or let her die at home. We decided that she could linger in misery for days and it would be more humane to have her "put to sleep." So we headed off to the vet for the sad task.

Buttons had other plans, however.

At about 2:35-2:40 today, Amber, Jessica and I were on our way to the vet. Amber held Buttons in her arms as we drove. Buttons squirmed a bit, seemingly to get more comfortable, and suddenly just went limp. We were hardly a block away from home when Amber said, "I think Buttons just died." We continued on to the vet, all the while Amber kept stroking Buttons' fur. We got to the vet and they confirmed that Buttons did pass away.

Amber took Buttons' passing hard (well, we all did, including Jessica), since Buttons was her cat since Amber was eight.

Buttons was born in our downstairs neighbor's apartment in 1995 when I lived in North Hills, California. Amber chose her within days of her birth. We waited a few weeks for Buttons to be weaned off her mother's milk and ready to join our household. Amber named our new kitten Buttons after my cousin Maria's cat Buttons.

She was not particularly a lap cat. She only wanted attention on her own terms. She liked to lie on top of my sofa's backrest and allowed me to use her as a pillow to rest my head. She also had a fetish about people's hair, especially hair just washed. She loved to stick her nose in it. She also had a loud meow and used it frequently.

It stuck the three of us that it was as if Buttons timed her passing for Amber's arrival and to die in Amber's arms instead of on a cold, stainless steel examination table. Before we left the house, one of us noted that Buttons was purring.

Needless to say, the ride home from the vet was very quiet. No one said a word.

It won't be the same without Buttons at home. She'll be missed.

Ex-BOJ Board Member Predicts Japanese Economy Collapse Unless Yen Weakens

It has been a while since I last took a deep look into the moribund exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen. Things don't look good.

According to Bloomberg.com:

The yen surged to a postwar record of 75.35 per dollar on Oct. 31, spurring the government to intervene in markets for the third time this year. The currency, which traded at 78.03 as of 9:14 a.m. in Tokyo, hasn’t been at 100 since April 2009.

It appears that the latest intervention by the Japanese government did very little to stop the further sinking of the dollar against the yen. It is disheartening to see that the dollar hasn't exchanged for 100 yen since 2009. For my April 2007 trip to Japan, I was able to get 116 yen per dollar exchanged. Last year, the dollar/yen exchange was in the 80s. I got around 85 yen per dollar exchanged.

It used to be the axiom about Japan travel that travelers should spend all money exchanged to get full value. Now, it is the opposite. Travelers to Japan should save as much as they can to get more dollars for every yen exchanged. Last year, I got $115 per every ¥10,000 exchanged at Narita Airport.

All this doesn't help the Japanese tourism industry, merchants or Japanese exporters (Toyota, for example). This leads to exporters' overseas profits to drop, causing major concern amongst Japanese economists. If tourists (who do come to Japan) don't spend their money on goods and services, Japanese businesses will be headed to bankruptcy.

A former Bank of Japan board member said:

“The Japanese economy will collapse unless the yen weakens to 100 per dollar,” Nobuyuki Nakahara, who served as a policy board member between 1998 and 2002 under then BOJ Governor Masaru Hayami, said in a Nov. 4 interview in Tokyo. “It’s never too early to hammer out further stimulus.”

While the Japanese tourism industry is showing signs of recovery since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, the problems of the too-strong yen vs. foreign currencies will further hamper recovery efforts in the months ahead.

To read the full Bloomberg article, go here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Publisher Seeks Celeb Help To Revive Japan Tourism

An interesting article captured my attention on Kyodo News.

In, the article states:

After the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami put on hold publisher Yasuko Suzuki's plan to launch a free English magazine introducing Japanese culture and travel information to foreign visitors, the next idea that occurred to her was to turn to celebrities known to be fans of Japan for help.

With a sharp decline in the number of Japan-bound foreign tourists after the disaster that triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Suzuki and her staff randomly e-mailed more than 300 cultural figures abroad to seek their help in reviving tourism and 41 of them offered to cooperate, listing what they would recommend to travelers to Japan.

According to the article, several celebrities have responded to her request. Japan has a number of its own celebrities known to American movie fans who would be more (in my view) persuasive to potential tourists (Haruo "Godzilla" Nakajima is one).

To read the full article, go here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Monsterpalooza 2012

As you can see from above, Monsterpalooza 2012's dates have been announced (April 13-15, 2012). It will be returning to the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center.

There's lots to see (definitely an understatement) and do at the show. It does get crowded at the show, so I would recommend getting there early in the morning so you can find yourself a parking spot.

The Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center is located on Hollywood Way directly across the street from the Bob Hope Airport. If you are from out-of-state, you may want to seriously consider taking advantage of the special Monsterpalooza room rates. The Marriott Hotel is first-class and there are plenty of fast-food restaurants across the street, so you won't be at the mercy of hotel food prices (unless, of course, that's what you prefer).

Here's some pictures from the 2011 show:

Above, yours truly following the "Scene To Seen" presentation.

Above, Haruo Nakajima ("Mr. Godzilla") with Miki Hayashi.

Above, a werewolf stalks prey in the Monsterpalooza museum.

Above, Miki Hayashi with Godzilla suit-maker Shinichi Wakasa.

Above, Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein again in the Monsterpalooza museum.

Above, Carla Laemmle, the last surviving star of "Dracula" (1931).

November Off To A Good Start

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

November is off to a good start.

First, corn crop in Nebraska was harvested last week. The check is en route. It'll be nice to have a big nest egg in the bank again.

Second, claim assignments are coming in. I attended to one this morning in Koreatown in Los Angeles.

Third, the first sale of the month came in yesterday at ComiXpress for The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. Others have come in directly to me (I have a supply on hand for faster service, go to the link in this paragraph for more details).

My roomie and I took a jaunt yesterday to Pasadena to see the culinary school facilities of Le Cordon Bleu. She is thinking about taking their (one-year) course. We were very impressed with their program and their cooking classroom facilities. They also have cooking programs for consumers who may want to take specialized cooking classes. The prices for these were so reasonable that I am even considering taking some for the fun of it!

And, the second rainstorm within the past seven days rolled in this morning. The local mountains have a nice dusting of snow. And, I got a free car wash out of the deal!

Before we know it, the holidays will be here. Actually, we stopped off at Macy's in Sherman Oaks on the way back from Pasadena and did some shopping. The place was packed with shoppers! We got some good deals on some items. The Christmas decorations were all out in full force.

Taiwan Sees Surge In Japan Tourism

Above, a colorful building in the Ginza-Yurakucho section of Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Travel professionals in Taiwan report that interest in traveling to Japan is on the upswing. At least on the part of Taiwanese tourists.

Taiwan News.com reported:

Taipei, Nov. 6 (CNA) People involved in the local tourism sector have said they had seen travel to Japan surge in recent months and the country regain its status as one of the most desired travel destinations for Taiwanese tourists. With the coming of Taiwan's largest travel fair in mid-November, travel agencies expressed optimism about Japan's tourism market, which suffered after a massive earthquake devastated the country's northeastern region in March. "Demand has been high since summer," Jophia Fang, manager of Japan Airlines' passenger sales department, said recently.

According to latest Tourism Bureau statistics, more than 457,000 Taiwanese visited Japan between June and September, a 5.6 percent increase over the same period last year.

Above, a Nagasaki streetcar. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

They also note that interest in Japan tourism "remains hot" despite the appreciation of the Japanese yen.

To read the full article, go here.

Monster Japan Travel Guide Picked Up By Recommended System Requirements

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

Recommended System Requirements.com has picked up the Japan Visitor review of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan from last year.

They also picked up other feeds on the travel guide.

To view the site, go here.

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