"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

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Get the ebook edition here! (Click image.)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Haruo Nakajima's 85th Birthday

Above, Haruo Nakajima at the Mad Monster Party.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today is New Year's Eve, but in Japan, it is already New Year's Day and, most notably, Haruo Nakajma's 85th birthday.

As has been the tradition for the past several years, fans may post their birthday greetings to Mr. Nakajima in the comments section below and I'll see to it that they are sent to him via his daughter Sonoe.

"The Travel Daily" Picks Up Dollar/Yen News

A different daily online newspaper has picked up one of my blog posts today. This time it is The Travel Daily.

The post they linked to is on the dollar reaching ¥105.30 from yesterday.

To view The Travel Daily, go here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Dollar Climbs Above ¥105.30

The exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Japanese yen ended the trading year on a high note (pun intended).

The Japan Times reported:
The dollar climbed well above ¥105 in Tokyo trading Monday, the final market day of 2013, aided by Tokyo stock gains and speculation of wider interest rate differentials between Japan and the United States. 
At 5 p.m., the dollar stood at ¥105.36-40, up from ¥104.68-70 at the same time Friday.
The exchange rate makes Japanese goods cheaper for Americans, but the downside is that it makes American goods more expensive to Japanese importers. The upside is that American travelers to Japan are able to obtain more yen per dollar exchanged, making a vacation to Japan more affordable.

To read the full article, go here.

14 Major Cities Then and Now

Business Insider has posed a photo story of 14 major world cities, including Tokyo and Yokohama, of what they looked like years ago and what they look like today.

For example, here's Shibuya Crossing in 1952:

To see the photos, go here.

Best Burgers In Tokyo

Above, The Beat Diner's bartender. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If one happens to be in Tokyo for several days and after days of Japanese food (or if one doesn't like Japanese food), a craving for a good, juicy hamburger sets in, where do you go?

Naturally, there are McDonald's restaurants all over Tokyo. But, if one desires a burger much better than what McDonald's offers, Time Out Tokyo has a list of 20 "best burgers in Tokyo" to steer one in the right direction.

They begin it with:
The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that fast food chains dominate the Tokyo hamburger scene - being confronted with golden arches, bearded kings, and their Japanese competitors cannot be avoided, no matter where you are in the city. However, once you dig a bit deeper, there's a huge selection of speciality burger joints that compete for the juiciest patty, the most imaginative toppings, and the tastiest buns, making Tokyo an unlikely haven for those partial to America's greatest culinary export. The west side of the city has long been known as the better burger side, although noteworthy eateries have began to rise in the east as well in recent years. Here's our 20 top picks, ranging from cheap eats to Kobe beef-based luxury choices and from simple classics to some highly unlikely topping combos. 
During my last trip to Tokyo (in December 2010), I discovered The Beat Diner (it is situated under the shinkansen tracks dividing Ginza and Hibiya and where Becker's used to be) and found their burgers to be excellent. Unfortunately, The Beat Diner didn't make the list, but I would still recommend them. Besides great burgers, they also have classic rock playing inside. (See my December 2010 review of The Beat Diner by going here.)

The burger joints Time Out Tokyo lists are intriguing. I may give any one of them a try during my next trip. They say that each one will make you "forget all about the chain grub."

To see the list, go here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Oshogatsu, The Japanese New Year's Celebration

Two more days from now will be New Year's Eve. In Japan, New Year's Day is one of the biggest holidays that is celebrated. Oshogatsu [お正月[おしょうがつ]] is the word meaning "new year."

For the past few years, I have been attending the Oshogatsu New Year's Day celebration in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo section. Little Tokyo is near downtown Los Angeles and the Civic Center.

If one is in Los Angeles, or in any U.S. city with a Japanese center, I would recommend attending the Oshogatsu celebration. The accompanying photographs were taken at the Oshogatsu celebration in Little Tokyo.

Last (?) Batch of Travel Guides Mailed

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

The last (?) batch of copies of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan were dropped off at the post office yesterday. These are those who made it under the wire with their orders to get the holiday discount (and free shipping and handling) by mailing them with a December 24 postmark.

Thanks to those of you who bought a copy of the travel guide to Japanese giant monster movie locations and landmarks.

USA Today's Passages 2013 By David Colton

Above, stop-motion effects artist Ray Harryhausen, just one of those we lost this year.

To many horror and science-fiction fans, the name David Colton is a familiar one. He is one of the moderators at the Classic Horror Film Board forum and he also oversees the annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

He wears another hat.

From USA Today:
David Colton is Executive Editor, and has been with USA TODAY since almost the beginning. He oversees all print products and occasionally writes a story or two himself.
One of his duties at USA Today is to compile the list of prominent people who passed away each year. He has compiled the 2013 list, "Passages 2013: Remembering Those We Lost."

It is one of the better tribute pages (even better than the annual Academy Awards tributes, who often annoyingly omits several passings of those in Tinseltown).

To see Colton's tributes, go here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Calamity Star Gorath" (1962)

Above, the DVD box art.

A rogue star 3/4 the size of Earth but with a mass 6000 times that of Earth has entered our solar system and is on a collision course with Earth. Mankind bands together to devise a way to prevent the catastrophic collision.

The star was named Gorath and that is also the name of the movie, Gorath (or Calamity Star Gorath). It was produced in 1962 by Toho Co., Ltd. and features a who's who of Toho actors, including Akira Kubo, Kenji Sahara, Kumi Mizuno, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata and Ryo Ikebe. It was directed by Ishiro Honda.

Above, actor Kenji Sahara and Armand.

It has been ages since I've seen Gorath. I recently purchased the DVD and finally sat down to watch it. The special effects were top-notch by 1962 standards (by Eiji Tsuburaya). The movie proved once again (at least to my eyes) that watching scenes of destruction with the use of miniatures is a lot more fun than with computer-generated imaging.

Gorath was an enjoyable sci-fi/disaster movie and my grade is A.

Toho Cinemas Bringing Clark Gable and George Reeves To Japan

Above, Fred Crane (left), Vivien Leigh and George Reeves.

Toho Cinemas in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo will be screening the 1939 classic, Gone With The Wind, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. The movie also features the screen debut of actor George Reeves as one of the Tarleton Brothers (also called the Tarleton Twins). Reeves went on to fame as television's first Superman. Gone With The Wind will be screening February 8-21, 2014.

According to Time Out Tokyo:
Toho's popular 10am Film Festival – a season of morning movie screenings that allowed audiences to revisit classics from Belle de Jour to Back to the Future – looked set to bow out in 2013, yet another victim of the switchover from celluloid to digital. But fret not, cineastes: after some last-minute wrangling, the event will be continuing in a new, all-digital format. That's not the only change, either – there are now four Tokyo-area cinemas taking part, with each film now getting an extended, two week run.
 For details, go here.

Phil Robertson's Back In...

...and so is the Amazon.com ad for the Kindle ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan, at least in The Drudge Report, anyway.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Prime Minister Abe Flicks The Scab Again With Latest Yasukuni Visit

Above, the Yasukuni Shrine. Wikipedia photo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine yesterday and angered China and South Korea. (See this story from NBC News.)

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued a statement calling the Prime Minister's visit “an action that will exacerbate tensions” with Japan's neighbors.

I know a little about the shrine and that it "honors" about a dozen or so World War II war criminals along with over 2 million war dead, but wondered why the Chinese and South Koreans go into a tizzy each time a Japanese government official visits the shrine.

An article in the Mainichi Shimbun explains the reasons behind the flap in a question & answer format.

Here's a snippet:
Question: Why is visiting the shrine such a big issue? 
Answer: The most problematic aspect of the shrine is that among the war dead it honors -- going all the way back to the Boshin War of 1868-1869 -- are Class-A war criminals from World War II. Class-A war criminals are politicians and military officers who, after Japan's defeat in World War II, were convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East -- or Tokyo Trials -- of "crimes against peace" and other war-related offences. 
When Japan regained independence after signing the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, it agreed to accept the outcome of the Tokyo Trials. Because Yasukuni honors Class-A war criminals, people may consider a visit by the Japanese prime minister as rejecting the verdicts of the Tokyo Trials and attempting to legitimize Japan's invasions of its Asia neighbors.
After reading the full article, I can see why visits to the shrine by Japanese government officials would be like "flicking a scab" of the wounds of the Chinese and South Koreans. Would the removal of the Class-A war criminals from the shrine help the situation?

To read more, go here.

The Japan Daily Picks Up 3 Blog Posts

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

The latest edition of The Japan Daily picked up three recent blog posts of mine.

They picked up the posts on the U.S. dollar's surge against the Japanese yen, how tacked on taxes and fees impact airfares and the one on Kyoto Tower (Godzilla got a mention in that one).

To view The Japan Daily, go here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dollar Surges To A 5-Year High Against Yen

Here's some good news for travelers who are thinking about a trek to Japan. The U.S. dollar has reached another 5-year high against the Japanese yen.

According to The Japan Times:
The dollar hit a five-year high of ¥104.85 in Tokyo trading Thursday, backed by a brighter world economic outlook reflecting the recent strength of stock prices. 
At 5 p.m., the dollar was quoted at ¥104.76-77, up from ¥104.40-42 at the same time Wednesday. 
To read the full article, go here.

How Taxes and Fees Impact Airfares

Above, a commuter jet being readied at Cleveland International Airport. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The government is making moves about increasing taxes on increasing taxes and fees. They are already high, but they doesn't seem to satiate the government's apppetite to get more money out of travelers.

Peter Greenberg, known as the "travel detective", has posted an article on what the government is already charging in taxes and fees on the traveler.

He begins with:
We all talk a lot about airlines charging extra for services, but do you know how much of your ticket price goes toward airline tax and fees? The answer might surprise you. Right now, when you buy a plane ticket, you’re also paying government taxes and fees, airport charges, and surcharges imposed by the carriers themselves.
Earlier this month, I posted a blog about the taxes and fees I was charged on my round-trip airfare to Japan. What began as a $160 ticket price, ended up over $800. We can thank Uncle Sam for this. Greenberg's article focuses on domestic airfare taxes and fees.

To read the article, go here.

UPS and Fed Ex In Major Delivery Screw Up

Thousands of people had their Christmas ruined by the non-delivery of packages (i.e., gifts) by the United Parcel Service (UPS).

Now it is coming out that Federal Express (Fed Ex) has also screwed up in package deliveries.

Personally, I did not order any gifts that required delivery by either UPS or Fed Ex, but I did have to re-order a car part that was allegedly delivered on December 19. It was supposedly delivered, but no package was left at my door nor was there a note indicating an attempted delivery was made. Fed Ex allegedly handed it off to the local Tarzana Post Office. I contacted them, but all I received was hand-wringing.

I had to re-order the part (which is supposedly going to be delivered tomorrow), but the Fed Ex online tracking website has shown no movement activity since Saturday.

The sender will reimburse me for the missing parcel.

For more on this story, go here.

New ObamaCare Taxes and Fees Are Coming

The new year is less than a week away and you're already struggling to scrape by financially, but the coming of 2014 will not bring good tidings to Americans. New ObamaCare taxes and fees will hit people's pocketbooks.

According to the New York Post:
WASHINGTON — Here comes the ObamaCare tax bill. 
The cost of President Obama’s massive health-care law will hit Americans in 2014 as new taxes pile up on their insurance premiums and on their income-tax bills. 
Most insurers aren’t advertising the ObamaCare taxes that are added on to premiums, opting instead to discretely pass them on to customers while quietly lobbying lawmakers for a break. 
But one insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, laid bare the taxes on its bills with a separate line item for “Affordable Care Act Fees and Taxes.”
To find out what new taxes (gee, didn't Obama say there will be no new taxes under his administration?) and fees you can expect to pay starting next year, go here.

Also, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has a list of ObamaCare Tax hikes. To see them, go here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Visit Kyoto Tower

Above, Kyoto Tower in 2004. From a video by Armand Vaquer.
In 1993, Kyoto Tower, along with other buildings in Kyoto, Japan, was blasted to bits by Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

One Way Japan has a page of factoids on Kyoto Tower which includes:
Kyoto Tower ( 京都タワー Kyōto-tawā ) is an observation tower located in Kyoto, Japan. The steel tower is the tallest structure in Kyoto with its observation deck at 100 metres ( 328 ft ) and its spire at 131 metres ( 430 ft ). 
The 800-ton tower stands atop a 9-story building, which houses a 3-star hotel and several stores. The entire complex stands opposite Kyoto Station.
Above, the observation deck of Kyoto Tower. From a video by Armand Vaquer.

Of course, Kyoto Station is best known to kaiju fans as the final battleground between Gamera and Irys in Gamera 3.

To read One Way Japan's write-up on Kyoto Tower, go here.

Mt. Fuji Fee Set At ¥1,000

Above, the summit of Mt. Fuji from the timberline. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The experiment started last summer in collecting a ¥1,000 fee from climbers on Mt. Fuji will be re-instituted again this summer.

According to Kyodo News:
Local prefectures on Wednesday agreed to collect a 1,000 yen admission fee from climbers on Mt. Fuji from next summer on a voluntary basis. 
Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, which the volcanic mountain straddles, will allocate the revenue from the scheme to environmental projects and safety measures around the trails to counter the increasing number of climbers, prefectural officials said. 
Upon Mt. Fuji's registration on the UNESCO world heritage site this year, the local authorities are speeding up the measures to accommodate an increased number of climbers, including restoration of toilets and first aid stations along the trails.
The fee is roughtly $10.00 U.S.

To read the full story, go here

No More Heinz Ketchup At Local McDonald's

Above, an Asakusa toy store next to a McDonald's in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I just got back from the local "Scottish restaurant" and found that they are no longer serving Heinz ketchup, but some watery and tasteless crap called "First Street."

The change was announced a couple of months ago. Apparently, the local McDonald's had quite an inventory of Heinz ketchup in their basement as only now the new brand is now being served.

McDonald's had been serving Heinz for over 40 years.

It appears that the new CEO for Heinz ketchup is an ex-Burger King executive and good ol' Ronald McDonald doesn't particularly like the fellow.

Here's the story behind the intrigue.

New Rack

A few weeks ago, my daughter Amber asked me what I wanted for Christmas. The only thing I could think of was a CD rack as one of mine broke a couple of years ago and the CDs have been sitting on the floor.

Amber came through and got me a combo CD/DVD/Blu-ray rack with adjustable shelves.

Here's the finished product:

Christmas Eve 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Scotty and The Colonel

Last July, Scotty Irving was in Japan with The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. He shared a photo this morning from that trip:

Scotty wrote: "MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL MY FRIENDS IN JAPAN! ENJOY YOUR KFC!!! Here is a picture of me asking Colonel Sanders for directions with the Armand Vaquer book 'The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan' in Tokyo this past July during the Clang Quartet tour. My vegetarian wife looks on in pseudo horror!"

Wondering what KFC has to do with Christmas in Japan? Go here to find out.

Pilot Who Shot Down Korean Airliner Says He "Performed Duty"

Above, the New York Times headline on the downing of KAL 007.

The Mainichi Shimbun has posted an interesting article on the former Soviet pilot who shot down Korean Air Lines KAL 007 in September 1983.

Here's a snippet from the article:
MYKOP, Russia (Kyodo) -- The former Soviet fighter pilot who shot down a South Korean jumbo jet in 1983, killing 269 people on board, has said he carried out his duty as a military officer but that he has had frequent nightmares about the incident. 
Gennady Osipovich, 69, a former lieutenant colonel, made the comment in a recent interview with Kyodo News in Mykop, capital of southern Russia's Republic of Adygea, where he now lives. 
Osipovich was 38 when he flew one of the 10 Soviet fighters which were scrambled from various air bases in Russian Far East after a Korean Air Lines' Boeing 747 intruded into Soviet airspace over Sakhalin on Sept. 1, 1983.
Congressman Larry McDonald (D-GA), a conservative Democrat (are there any of those around today?), was a passenger aboard KAL 007. He was a member of the national advisory board of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and had spoken weeks earlier in Los Angeles at the YAF National Convention at the Bonaventure Hotel. I attended the banquet that McDonald addressed.

To read the full article, go here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Japanese Site For Gareth Edwards's "Godzilla" Has A Game

Have you ever imagined yourself as Godzilla and set about destroying cities and killing other monsters?

The Japanese website for the Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Godzilla has an arcade game where you can do just that, along with sound effects!

To give it a try, go here.

2013: A Year In Review

Above, Little Tokyo's 2013 New Year's Day celebration. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

2013 sure did come and go fast! It is incredible that we're already in December. It seems like only yesterday that I celebrated the new year at Little Tokyo's Oshogatsu (New Year's) celebration. I plan on doing the same this coming New Year's day. Whenever I do, it always seems to bring good luck during the year.

My "roomie," Jes is still with me and we are getting along very well. It makes life much better having someone around who also enjoys movies and the same varieties of food. Plus, she's a great cook!

Another plus, I didn't have to attend any family funerals in 2013 (knock on wood). That is always a good thing. I hope this trend continues in 2014.

Above, Haruo Nakajima and actress Lea Thompson at Mad Monster Party.
This is probably my favorite photograph of the year. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The first quarter of 2013 was very productive as I worked as Haruo Nakajima's "wrangler" at the Mad Monster Party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Mad Monster Party is an excellent convention away from the wilds of Los Angeles in NASCAR country. Besides helping out Mr. Nakajima, I also sold quite a number of copies of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan at an adjoining table.

The event went very well despite the efforts of some jealous malcontents who tried to sabotage the convention by spreading untrue rumors that Mr. Nakajima canceled his appearance and accused the convention organizers and I of "browbeating" him to change his mind, which was a lie. The main perpetrator was exposed for his actions. It is weird how some people make it a purpose in life to poke their noses into other people's business. Get a life, kiddies!

A few weeks later, I attended a special screening of The Black Cat, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The event was put on by the organizers of the Mad Monster Party and included some memorabilia from the movie in the lobby. It was a great treat to see this classic Universal thriller on the big screen that was the first pairing of the two horror greats. It was a very enjoyable event.

The year's second quarter is notable for Monsterpalooza 2013 at the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. I attended the show and it was (as usual) chock-full of exhibits and celebrities. My highlight was meeting Martin Landau, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994).

Above, Armand with actor Martin Landau at Monsterpalooza.

The second quarter ended on a high note (at least for me) for two things: first, reconnecting with an old (well, not that old as she's my age) college friend in May. We've been chatting online regularly since. Second, I gave a slideshow presentation that was well-attended at Distant Lands Travel Bookstore and Outfitters in Pasadena. The slideshow was on monster movie locations and landmarks in Japan. I also sold several travel guides at the presentation and Distant Lands now carries The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

Above, at Distant Lands Travel Bookstore.
The second half of the year, and the third quarter, began with a nice Fourth of July bar-b-que at Les Geriminsky's home in Hawthorne. He had a nice turnout and we had a great time firing off (not-too-kosher) fireworks.

Later in July, my second cousin Chrissie got married and I went down to Wildomar (near Lake Elsinore) with daughter Amber to celebrate.

Unfortunately, the George Zimmerman verdict in July brought out the worst in some people, including those who were friends. Without going into it further here, just read what I posted in July on the topic by going here. It only proves that intolerance of other people's opinions or political positions originate primarily from those of the liberal and leftist persuasion. The recent flap involving the A & E cable network and Duck Dynasty is another example of leftist intolerance. The guy involved has strong religious beliefs, although he did state them in a rather coarse manner.

The rest of the summer was relatively quiet except for work. I did manage to meet several celebrities while on the job, including singers Shakira and Christina Aguilera. I did mention to Aguilera that we shared some pages in Tokyo's Metropolis magazine a few years ago.

I was going to join Haruo Nakajima at a horror convention in Indianapolis in July, but the Nakajimas were dissatisfied about the arrangements and what they felt was a lack of communication by the organizers and decided to pull out. I had just made my room reservations the day before.

I connected with Spanish producer/director Jonathan Bellés during this period. He is producing a documentary that is set for release next year called Godzilla and Hiroshima: The Dawn of Kaiju Eiga. I have been advising and assisting him in securing interview appointments in Japan. I will be joining Bellés in Japan next year to show him around and introducing him to some prominent figures in kaiju movies. I will also be gathering more material for an updated edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan while there. I expect a full schedule there.

During the fourth quarter of the year, I attended the Son of Monsterpalooza Convention in Burbank. There, I met Akira Takarada. (Son of Monsterpalooza is a slightly smaller-scale version of Monsterpalooza, but held at the same venue.) Our meeting drew some chuckles with the small crowd that was gathered at Takarada's table. While he signed my poster, I was signing for him a copy of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan that I brought along as a gift. "Dueling Sharpies"?

Above, Akira Takarada and Armand at Son of Monsterpalooza.

I helped Bellés in arranging for an interview with Haruo Nakajima while Nakajima was in Germany for a horror convention. An almost "last minute hitch" came close to derailing the interview as fees were requested and Bellés (stunned, as he already paid for his airfare and hotel room) asked for my assistance. It all boiled down to, "Who's getting the fees and for what?" As it turned out, they were not unreasonable as a portion was for the supplied translator. I advised Bellés accordingly and offered to chip in for the cost (he managed to negotiate a better price as the documentary he's working on is a doctoral project). The interview went off nicely.

Work involving insurance claims had been slow for the better part of the year, but it has recently picked up. I just hope this trend continues. Thank the stars that I have "more than one oar in the water."

Last month, I participated (again) in a panel on Japanese monsters and robots (specifically, Godzilla and Pacific Rim) at this year's Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. We had a fully packed room and, despite not having the audio/visual equipment we requested, it went quite well. Following the panel session, I sold some copies of the travel guide. Attendees seemed revved up to see Godzilla next July. Kudos to our moderator Jessica Tseang in putting it all together.

Above, the "Pacific Rim" and "Godzilla" panel at Comikaze Expo,

There are many things to look forward to in 2014. The year will begin with the 21st anniversary of my 39th birthday for starters. Then a return to Japan. Upon returning from Japan, work will begin on the updated edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. Then, we have the Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Godzilla to look forward to in the summer. Beyond that, it is anyone's guess on how the year will turn out (as is normally the case).

Best wishes for an enjoyable and safe holiday season!

End of Year Airfare Check: LAX To Narita

Above, Osaka Castle. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The December airfare check on what the Travel Section of the Los Angeles Times came up with was posted on December 2. Since we are near the end of the year, this'll be the final one for 2013.

I checked yesterday's Travel Section and the prices they came up with were up significantly from what they posted earlier this month. Back then, the prices they came up with were unchanged from November's. They were $1,171 to $1,359 (not counting taxes and other fees the airlines have been tacking on).

The Los Angeles Times published their latest prices on December 22 and they ranged from $1,351 to $1,891 (not counting taxes and other fees the airlines are tacking on). Perhaps the hike in airfares is due to the holidays (New Year's is one of the biggest holidays in Japan).

After this, I then went to my favorite airfare supplier, GatewayLAX, and they came up with this for a round-trip based on a December 30 departure from LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) to NRT (Narita International Airport) with a return trip on January 6:

As you can see, GatewayLAX has the Times's fares beat again. The above fare is the lowest they came up with, quite a bit higher than the fare I received of $160 (plus taxes and fees) earlier this month (again, likely due to the holidays). I wish I just had to pay the $160, but the airlines nail you with the taxes and fees. Those made my total price $860.60. I'm glad I got my tickets when I did.

The next airfare check will be next year (in January).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Godzilla Snowed On

Shimmering Shibuya

A Big G Christmas!

Hot Times At Mount Aso In Kyushu

Above, the main lobby of the Mount Aso Volcano Museum. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Back in 1956, the two Rodans in Rodan met their demise at the Mount Aso volcano.

Today, there are no Rodans flying about, but there are plenty of visitors to Kyushu's Mount Aso Volcano National Park.

The Japan Times has an article on a visit to the park and what visitors can expect to see (weather and volcano permitting).

Here's a snippet:
Across the plateau, tour buses disgorged their passengers at the Aso Volcano Museum. With a yawningly large collection of rocks and limited English signage, it’s not a place all visitors will want to linger. Yet on days when access to the crater is barred for safety reasons, it’s the one place to get a bird’s-eye view of the seismic action. 
Cameras installed around the rim of the Nakadake crater continuously broadcast a live feed to the museum’s massive video screens, giving visitors the only glimpse of the volcano they can get when the wind is blowing the wrong way and poison-gas restrictions are in place. 
Thankfully, nothing was stopping us seeing the crater, and we made the final ascent up the toll road to its rim.
I visited Mount Aso in April 2007. But it may as well have been in the dead of winter as a blizzard was taking place at the time of my visit. Still, it was a fun adventure and it was interesting to see the inside of the volcano caldera on the video screens in the museum.

Above, the blizzard bus ride I took in 2007 at Mt. Aso.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Fortunately, the writer of the article had much better weather to enjoy the park in. To read the article, go here.  

Japan Expected To Reach Another Tourism Record In 2014

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

The number of foreign tourists to Japan totaled over 10 million this year, which is a record for Japan.

However, the Japanese tourism industry expects to top that in 2014.

According to an article in The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun):
The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2014 is expected to increase 14.3 percent from the previous year to 11.8 million, hitting a record high for the second consecutive year, the travel agency JTB Corp. has said. The expected growth will be backed by the yen’s weakness, which makes trips to Japan less costly for foreigners. 
The registration of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain, and washoku traditional cuisine on UNESCO’s World Heritage list is expected to give an additional boost.
It will be interesting to see if Japan will reach 11.8 million next year. I will be doing my part as I am headed there early in the year.

To read the full article, go here

Two Items In Today's The Japan Daily

Today's The Japan Daily picked up two things from the blog.

The first was the "Snapshot of the Day" of today's Drudge Report featuring the Amazon ad on the ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan and the flap over the patriarch of the Robertson clan of Duck Dynasty.

The other was on the few days left before the holiday sale on the print edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan ends.

To view it, go here.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Godzilla Goes Christmas Shopping

This photo showed up over on Facebook. I don't know the story behind it, but it is a cool photo.

If I were to write a caption, it would be, "This is one guy who wouldn't get an argument from the returns counter clerk!"

Snapshot of the Day

Above, a screen snapshot from the top of today's Drudge Report.

Japan Finally Reaches 10 Million Foreign Tourists

Above, Shibuya 109 from Shibuya Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan has reached its goal of 10 million foreign tourists yesterday.

According to the Bangkok Post:
TOKYO - Japan has met its target of drawing 10 million foreign visitors in 2013, according to government data released Friday. 
The 10 millionth visitor, from Thailand, was greeted at Narita airport near Tokyo on Friday evening by Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota and other officials during a celebratory event at the airport. 
"Today is a brilliant day, as we have been hoping to break 10 million visitors for a long time," Mr Ota said in an opening speech.
It was long in coming, but the goal of 10 million foreign tourists to Japan was finally reached, although a few years late. Congratulations!

To read the full story, go here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Monster Japan Travel Guide Ebook At No. 60 and 4 More Days Left To The Holiday Sale

The Amazon Kindle ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan has climbed back up to no. 60 on the Best Sellers In Japanese Travel list.

On the print edition, the holiday sale has four more days left to go. I dropped of another stack to the post office today. As long as future orders are postmarked on or before December 24 (Christmas Eve), you will be able to save 20% and shipping and handling. A handy order form has been created. Just go here and print it. Then send it to:

Armand Vaquer
18618 Collins Street #105
Tarzana, CA 91356

Thank you for ordering!

"King Kong vs. Godzilla" and "Gorath"

My DVD (or Blu-ray) buying just wrapped up (or, at least until I see something that I want) when the mailman delivered two that I ordered from Far East Flix. Both are 1962 Toho productions.

The first is the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). I have a VHS copy of it, but it is time to retire it and I bought the DVD to be its replacement. It is a fun movie, if you can get past the horrid Kong suit. The design for Godzilla is one of the best, although the suit seems (to me) stiffer than those before and after it. The U.S. version (1963) was the second Godzilla movie I saw in a theater. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) was the first, but since I was two years old at the time, I have no memory of it.

Above, the Toho DVD box art.

The other movie (in DVD) is one I haven't seen since I was a kid, Gorath (1962). It was released in Japan as Calamity Star Gorath (妖星ゴラス Yosei Gorasu) and it was directed by Ishiro Honda and stars Ryô Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Akira Kubo and Kumi Mizuno. The movie is about a rogue star, Gorath, that is on a collision course with Earth. I vaguely remember the movie since I haven't seen it since the mid-to-late 1960s.

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