"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.)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

JNTO Honored With Travalliance Award

Above, Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The January issue (no. 98) of Agent@Home magazine cited the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) as the "Best Pacific-Asia Country Bureau" in their 2012 Travalliance Leisure Travel Leaders Awards.

They said:
It is gratifying to see travAlliancemedia readers recognize the incredible job that the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) did to revive its tourism from the March 2011 triple-headed catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant radiation leakage. 
In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, arrivals dropped 57 percent.  Despite that utter collapse, the JNTO and its partners through a carefully coordinated crisis management campaign were able to deliver 7.99 million arrivals for 2011, which doesn't compare badly at all to 2010's 8.45 million. 
This past June, the JNTO could report that travel to Japan was within 5 percent of what it was before the March 2011 disasters. 
These days, the JNTO is relieved to doing battle with a more familiar adversary, a strong yen.

The travAlliancemedia Leisure Travel Leaders Awards are based on a poll of their entire travel agent readership base, including more than 65,000 readers of TravelPulse.com, the more than 30,000 readers of Vacation Agent magazine and the more than 20,000 readers of Agent@Home magazine
They also asked their readers to give them a write-in vote based on their perception of the service provided to them and their clients by travel suppliers and destinations.

Agent@Home magazine is a monthly publication by travAlliancemedia and is geared towards home-based travel agents.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Patty Andrews, R.I.P.

Above, the Andrews Sisters.  Patty Andrews is at center with Maxine Andrews on the left and LaVerne
Andrews on the right..

The last surviving member of the famous Andrews Sisters has died.

CBS News is reporting that Patty Andrews passed away today at age 94:

Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the singing Andrews Sisters trio whose hits such as the rollicking "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" and the poignant "I Can Dream, Can't I?" captured the home-front spirit of World War II, died Wednesday. She was 94. 
Andrews died of natural causes at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge, said family spokesman Alan Eichler in a statement. 
Patty was the Andrews in the middle, the lead singer and chief clown, whose raucous jitterbugging delighted American servicemen abroad and audiences at home. 
She could also deliver sentimental ballads like "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time" with a sincerity that caused hardened soldiers far from home to weep. 
From the late 1930s through the 1940s, the Andrews Sisters produced one hit record after another, beginning with "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" in 1937 and continuing with "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," ''Rum and Coca-Cola" and more. They recorded more than 400 songs and sold over 80 million records, several of them gold (over a million copies).

I remember seeing the Andrews Sisters for the first time in the Abbott and Costello hit, Buck Privates.  I saw Patty Andrews in November 2005 at Noel Neill's 85th birthday luncheon party.

Along with many others of the era, the Andrews Sisters cheered up the country during World War II.  The Andrews Sisters were almost to the 1940s like the Beatles were to the 1960s.

To read the full article, go here.

Asia Urged To Prepare For Niche Tourists

Above, the Godzilla statue at Toho Studios is one place for tour companies
can bring kaiju fan customers, if only they get on the ball and offer such tours to
kaiju movie locations.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

A recent study indicates that traditional travelers are thinning but niche travelers are on the rise and Asian tourist markets need to adapt.

According to an article in Japan Today:

SINGAPORE —Asia’s tourism industry must prepare for major changes in the next 20 years, including a projected boom in travel by senior citizens and female business executives, a study said Tuesday. 
The days when Asians toured in large groups are disappearing, according to the study commissioned by tourism technology provider Amadeus, resulting in the industry being fragmented into niche markets. 
“Significant new traveller segments will emerge, such as the female business traveller, the small business traveller and the senior traveller, all of which have different aspirations and requirements from the travel experience,” it said.

Some travel companies are catering to "special interest" niche groups such as fans of manga and anime.  Untapped so far are fans of Japanese science-fiction and fantasy movies.  Thus far, only two kaiju-related tours of Japan by North American fans (not counting fans traveling on their own) have ever been organized.  Tour companies have dropped the ball by not offering such tours to monster places of interest to fans.

The market is there, but tour companies aren't taking advantage of it as yet.

To read the full story, go here.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

Jes's cell phone alarm went off at 4:00 this morning.  Thank goodness we went to bed at 9:00, so we got plenty of sleep.


It was actually worth getting up early as we watched a great DVD she checked out at school.  The title of it was, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  It is a 2011 documentary of then-85-year-old Jiro Ono who runs the three-star  (by the Michelin Guide) sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in the basement of a Tokyo subway station.  He is considered the greatest sushi chef in the world.

It was a fascinating documentary. It contains the story of Ono's life, how he got started, the apprentices, his relationship with his sons and grooming of his eventual heir Yoshikazu, his eldest son.  The documentary also has scenes of the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, Ono's hometown of Hamamatsu (including his trip there via bullet train) and a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation of sushi meals.

One does not just drop in to Sukiyabashi Jiro, reservations must be made months in advance and the price of a meal isn't exactly typical of sushi restaurants.  It costs ¥30,000 (roughly $300) per person.

This is such a good documentary that I plan on purchasing it.  Beware!  It shouldn't be watched while having an empty stomach!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spring Break Ideas

Above, camping in a national park such as Utah's Zion National
Park is one of many ideas the article suggests.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

New Year's Day was only a scant few weeks ago and some are already contemplating on what to do during this year's Spring Break.

Summer Nanny.com has compiled 25 blog entries (I counted 24) with ideas on what to do on Spring Break.

The article begins with:
The week of Spring Break typically falls in March and was created to give students a break from their studies before coming back to finish out their school year strong. Many families like to travel during this break and enjoy quality time together. Some families will choose to get out of the cold and head to a warm destination, while others will choose to take advantage of the last skiing and snowboarding days of the season. Then there are those families who aren’t able to travel and are looking for ideas to keep the kids busy during Spring Break while staying at home. These 25 blog entries will help with all of these scenarios.

To read the full article and check out the blog entries, go here.

Japan's 2013 Goal: 9 Million Tourists

Above, Asakusa Crossing.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan fell slightly short of its 2012 goal of 9 million visitors at 8.37 million.

Now, Japan has set its 2013 goal.

According to Kyodo News:

The Japanese government on Tuesday embarked on a plan to craft measures by this spring to achieve its goal of attracting 10 million foreign tourists in 2013. 
"In addition to revitalizing the economy, tourism is extremely important in promoting friendly ties with other countries," transport minister Akihiro Ota told the first meeting of a new task force aimed at coming up with programs to attract foreign visitors. 
The task force, headed by Ota and composed of senior officials of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, will discuss what they can be done in areas such as aviation, rail transport and city planning to allow foreign visitors to stay more comfortably in Japan.
It is possible that Japan can reach this year's goal, especially with an influx of American tourists.  The U.S. dollar has been gaining in value against the Japanese yen and it stands today at about 90.79 yen per dollar (give-or-take) exchanged.  This makes a Japan vacation more affordable to Americans.

To read the full article, go here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Futile Exercise, But An 'A' For Effort

Above, Tokyo Tower.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For the past couple of years, I have (somehow) been placed on the emailing list of Tokyo Tower.  They periodically send me news on special programs or events taking place at the Tower.  They are trying to compete with the new Tokyo Sky Tree for visitors.

Unfortunately, their emails are all in Japanese (I can't read Japanese) and, therefore, not usable to post on this blog.  It would be nice if they'd hire someone who is bilingual in Japanese and English to send out their news to English-speaking countries in English.

Tonight, I received their latest email.  To give you an idea on what I'm saying, here's a snippet of what they sent:
Armand 様 
━━━━━★━━━━ 東京タワーニュース━━━━━★━━━━
東京タワーニュース vol.104  《2013年 1月29日配信》
http://www.tokyotower.co.jp (バックナンバーもご覧頂けます。)
▼日本中に届け、希望のメッセージ。「GRAND HEART 2013」点灯中!
▼日本中に届け、希望のメッセージ。「GRAND HEART 2013」点灯中!
願い、初の試みとなるイルミネーションイベント「GRAND HEART 2013」を
【開業55周年記念イベント GRAND HEART 2013】
●開催期間  3月31日(日)まで
●開催時間  17:00~22:00(最終入場21:30)
●会 場   フットタウン屋上
●料 金   展望台からのお帰り時ご覧いただけます 
As you can see, nothing is usable here (although, some of you reading this may be able to read Japanese).

I still have to give them credit for trying.  An 'A' for effort.

Tohoku's Tourism Rebound 80% Below Pre-Earthquake Levels

Above, a Matsushima Bay islet that helped shield the town from
catastrophic damage.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While Japan as a whole has recovered almost to pre-earthquake levels, but the same cannot be said for the Tohoku region where the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11, 2011.

The Japan Times reported:

Tourism levels at hotels and inns in the Tohoku region, which was clobbered by the March 2011 megaquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, remained below 80 percent of their prequake levels in the first half of fiscal 2012, the Japan Tourism Agency said Monday. 
Lingering concerns over the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture, as well as a lack of sufficient accommodations in disaster-affected areas, are slowing the recovery of tourism in the region, observers said, noting the trend could drag down its recovery from the disasters.
 The Tohoku region doesn't have much in kaiju-related sites or attractions to draw kaiju fans, except Sendai Station (featured in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Gamera 2) and the Fukushima Airport (where a statue of Ultraman has been placed in the airport's terminal building).  But the coastal town of Matsushima is worth a visit (Matsushima is often compared to California's Carmel coastline in scenic beauty).  Businesses at Matsushima Bay were shielded from catastrophic damage from the tsunami by the 200 islets that dot the bay.

Remedies for the situation aren't going to come anytime soon, but as the article states:
Yuji Oashi, an official of the Development Bank of Japan’s branch covering the Tohoku region, said, “The entire northeastern region needs to deepen cooperation to lure tourists through such measures as developing attractive tourist routes.”
To read the full article, go here.

"Enterprise" Photos Submitted To Intrepid Museum

The Intrepid Museum tweeted a request for photographs to be put on display at the museum and at their website of the space shuttle test vehicle Enterprise.  Their request included any photos from 1977 to 2012.

I submitted these photos of the Enterprise in 1977 in its NASA hangar at Edwards Air Force Base:

Above, yours truly with the Enterprise in the background.

Above, yours truly and Mitch Geriminsky with the Enterprise.

To view the Intrepid Museum's photo gallery, go here.

"...and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God"

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” - President Ronald Reagan, January 28, 1986.

Above, the Challenger Memorial in Little Tokyo.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

JapanTourist: "Shibuya: Where Monsters Meet"

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

My latest travel article for JapanTourist is now "live."

It is titled, "Shibuya: Where Monsters Meet."  I did notice one error.  The reference to Starbucks' dining room view wasn't used in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (although Shibuya Crossing is featured prominently in that movie), it was used in Lost In Translation.  I asked them to change it. [Update:  It's been changed.]

To view it, go here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Japan Times: "What's in a Japanese name? More then you might expect"

Above, the stern of the Lucky Dragon No. 5.  "Maru" is clearly shown. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japan Times has an interesting article on the hows and whys boats are named the way they are.

They begin with:

Last year I went to Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo’s Koto Ward to see a museum housing the 第五福竜丸 (Dai-go Fukuryu Maru, aka No. 5 Lucky Dragon), the ill-fated fishing boat that inadvertently sailed too close to a 水爆実験 (suibaku jikken, thermonuclear test) at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in March 1954. 
This led me to wonder why many Japanese ships were named 丸 (maru); but nobody I asked seemed to have a satisfactory explanation. It eventually dawned on me that the authoritative “広辞苑 (Kojien)” dictionary ought to know, and in it I found an amazingly straight forward explanation: Maru was simply a variation on the male suffix “maro,” which is applied to personal names, as well as to swords and ships.

If you've ever wondered about Japanese boat/ship names and other things, then check out the article here.

Latest Submission To JapanTourist: Shibuya

Above, the Tokyu Dept. Store and Shibuya Station at night.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.
I just submitted my latest Japan travel article to JapanTourist.

It is on one of the most-used Tokyo locations in kaiju movies since 1999: Shibuya.  Here, Gamera battled several Gyaos birds in Gamera 3 and Megaguirus flooded the district before sonically blasting it in Godzilla x Megaguirus.  It was also shown prominently in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift.

I will post a notice with a link when the article has been approved and posted.

The Federalist's Sunday Comics

Over at The Federalist blog, this and other political cartoons are posted for your enjoyment.  They take a look back at some of the events of the past week.

To see more, go here.

"Gorgo" Blu-ray

VCI Entertainment now is advertising the upcoming Gorgo (1961) Blu-ray.

The story:

A volcanic eruption in the North Atlantic brings to the surface a 65-foot prehistoric monster. Two treasure divers capture the creature and take him to London where he made the star attraction at a circus. A scientist is thoughtful enough to point out that the sailors’ bonanza is only an infant, and that a full-grown specimen would be over 200 feet in height. Sure enough, Gorgo’s mama comes thundering ashore, reclaims her offspring and heads back to sea — but not before, she trashes a generous portion of London.

I saw Gorgo in 1961 during its release at the Rio Theater in Los Angeles (Western Ave. at Imperial Highway).  It was paired with Babes In Toyland.

The Blu-ray is scheduled to be released on March 19.

For more on the Blu-ray release, go here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Who Killed Steve Ballreich?

Above, Steve Ballreich.  Photo: Ballreich family.
On the night of Nov. 14, 1991, Stephen (Steve) Lynn Ballreich was shotgunned to death across the street from the Ramona Convent at the 1700 block of Marguerita Avenue in Alhambra.

Ballreich received two 12-gauge shotgun blasts: one to the face and one to the back.

To date, this murder is still unsolved.  Allegedly, the Los Angeles County Sheriff has some leads, but has been tight-lipped about them.

Ballreich was once the mayor of Alhambra at age 26, after having been elected to the Alhambra City Council in 1974.  He was also a political campaign consultant.  I knew Ballreich in 1972 when he was campaign consultant for state assembly candidate James Knapp in Inglewood, California.

Ballreich's modus operandi in campaigns was to have the campaign rent an apartment for "political purposes," which were mainly for his rendezvous with women.  I remember him being interrupted several times when we showed up for campaign signs in the dead of night.  He didn't get upset over the interruptions, but he did sport a sheepish grin.

Several former associates of Ballreich's complain that the authorities have not pursued the case.

According to an article in the Pasadena Weekly:

Ballreich's death was quick, brutish and seemingly well orchestrated. Residents who heard the shots summoned Alhambra police. Witnesses said they'd seen a dark, 1970s-era Camaro fleeing the scene. Nothing apparently ever came of that lead. 
In the immediate aftermath, fear clenched Marguerita Avenue. The nearby elementary school - the same one that Ballreich attended in the 1960s - went into lockdown after someone reported a prowler lurking. It was not the last suspicious sighting, not with a murderer running loose.

Police discovered Ballreich lying face up with what the coroner's office said was "massive open head trauma." The second wound came from a shot that struck him in the upper left side of his back and exited through his chest leaving a roughly seven-inch gash. Either of these gunshot wounds was lethal. 
The autopsy report said three salvos were fired, but only described two of them. Ballreich, it said, appeared to have been "walking on the sidewalk" when he was killed. This may be critical. While he was an avid runner, Ballreich was wearing underpants but not an athletic supporter at the time he died. Some have wondered whether he was meeting somebody that night.

Above, the 1700 block of S. Marguerita Ave., Alhambra.  The Ramona Convent is to
the left of Marguerita Ave.

It is odd that the Alhambra Police nor the L.A. County Sheriff have vigorously pursued the murder of someone so prominent in the San Gabriel Valley.

Theories of Ballreich's murder run the gamut of revenge over bad drug deals, political retribution, angry boyfriends/husbands to Bill and Hillary Clinton ("The Clinton Body Count").

The Pasadena Weekly article seems to have brought out a few details on Ballreich's life and detectives decided to take another look.

Chip Jacobs wrote that Ballreich's murder may have been due to gambling in an article from November 30, 2006.  The article indicated that detectives were pursuing this motive following the Pasadena Weekly article.

However, since the Jacobs article, there has been no word on the investigation into Ballreich's murder.

The Ballreich murder continues to sit unsolved.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Starbucks In Japan Pouring Less Coffee

Above, Starbucks offers a bird's eye view of Shibuya Crossing.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Starbucks Japan is pouring less coffee into cups of Japanese customers.

The Tokyo Times reported:

Starbucks Company, one of the world’s largest coffee-shop operators, stated recently that it reduced the amount of coffee poured into each Japanese cup by 9 millimeters. 
The company said the decision reflected customers’ request, in order to avoid spilling coffee and to have more room for adding milk.

I've been to several Starbucks in Japan, most notably the one whose dining area provides a bird's eye view of Shibuya Crossing (photo above) in Tokyo.

To read more, go here.

Top 5 Tourist Traps In Japan

Above, one of the moats of the Imperial Palace.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Tokyo Times has posted an article on the "Top 5 Tourist Traps In Japan."

They start it with:

Foreign tourists in Japan are overwhelmed with advice regarding must-see places, but many of them are disappointed when they arrive and realize the locations are not actually that great. Reddit website published a list of the most disappointing tourist places, based on the users’ recommendations. Among them there are Roppongi, Tokyo, and Disneyland.

There's two I've been to on the list that I would disagree on: the Imperial Palace and Roppongi.  Visitors don't actually go in the Imperial Palace grounds, but seeing the Nijubashi Bridge, the moats and gardens weren't disappointments to me.  I've had some good times in Roppongi whenever I've gone there.  One just has to know where in Roppongi to go to.

Tokyo, in general, is a fun place to me.  There's always something to do and see there.

To read the full article, go here.

Japan Tourism Rebounded In 2012; Dollar Gains Against Yen

Above, nighttime at the JR Niigata Station.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

A new report by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) reported today that tourism rebounded in 2012 after the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and radiation crisis.

The New York Daily News reported:
TOKYO - The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2012 surged 34.6 percent from the previous year as the tourism sector rebounded after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, the government said Friday. 
Overseas arrivals totaled more than 8.3 million, just short of the record 8.6 million seen in 2010, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/foreign-visitors-flock-post-disaster-japan-article-1.1247547#ixzz2J0rfG3dl


Also, the U.S. dollar continues to gain value against the Japanese yen.

According to Jiji Press:
Tokyo, Jan. 25 (Jiji Press)--The dollar climbed above 90.50 yen for the first time in about 31 months in Tokyo trading Friday, aided by hopes for overseas economic recovery and speculation over additional monetary easing in Japan.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Feinstein's "Assault Weapons Ban of 2013"

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced her 2013 "Assault Weapons Ban."

The Daily Caller posted the list:

WASHINGTON — California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein staged a dramatic press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill with 10 weapons at her side and unveiled legislation instituting a government ban on more than 150 types of firearms, including rifles, pistols and shotguns.

It should be noted that Feinstein admitted in 1995 that she had a concealed carry permit.

Go to hell, Dianne Feinstein!

To read the list, go to: http://dailycaller.com/2013/01/24/feinstein-calls-for-banning-more-than-150-firearms-during-dramatic-press-conference/#ixzz2IwtnKdLX

Mad Monster Party Second Page of Guests Added

The Mad Monster Party website has added a second page of guests and yours truly is listed among them.  (Click on below image to view larger.)

To see the page, go here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Godzilla In "Japanorama"

Godzilla in Japanorama, Season 6, Episode 1, Part 1:

What really happened to the Hindenburg...

A friend (who happens to be an airship enthusiast) sent me this:

Airfares: Aggregators vs. Online Ticket Agencies

Above, a Korean Air Boeing 777 being readied for a flight to Japan at LAX.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.
Years ago, I used to use online ticket agencies Priceline.com, Travelocity.com and Expedia.com for round-trip airline tickets to Japan and elsewhere.

As the years went on, I found that I wasn't getting the bargains I was used to and expected.  It just so happened that I spotted an ad was in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Travel section for GatewayLAX.  I decided to try them out to see what airfare bargains I can get.

As it turned out, GatewayLAX saved me hundreds of dollars on airfares, so I've been using them ever since. Korean Air has provided the lowest-priced airfares to Japan through GatewayLAX, I have found.  I've flown Korean Air three times to Japan.

Arthur Frommer, one of the top gurus of travel, has an article on their website on using aggregators when searching for lower airfares.

He explained it this way:

The aggregators don't actually sell you the air tickets whose bargain price they've discovered; they simply relay that information to you and depend on the airline itself to actually sell you the ticket. Nevertheless, the airlines incur a small commission expense when an aggregator directs you to the airline's site, and therefore all the airlines are busily engaged in creating all sorts of advantages (priority boarding, increased frequent flyer mileage, advance seat reservations, reduced cancellation fees) designed to bring you directly to the airline's website without first consulting an aggregator. 
The airlines are even more determined to avoid selling their tickets through one of the so-called Online Ticket Agencies (OTAs), whose names are Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity; they need to pay a heftier commission to Expedia et al., and therefore they're working hard to persuade the public not to go that route.

GatwayLAX is an aggregator, and the difference in airfare pricing is substantial.

Frommer recommends the following when searching for low airfares:
What's the lesson to heed from this dizzying array of sources? It is to go first to one of the aggregators, then to one of the OTAs, and finally to check what all of them are offering against the fares offered directly by the airline, by going to the airline's site.

He has one more recommendation, but I will let you go to his article to see what it is.  If you are planning on traveling internationally or domestically, you should read his article first.

Read more: http://www.frommers.com/community/blogs/blog.cfm/arthur-frommer-online/its-foolish-disregard-aggregators-search-low-airfares#ixzz2Ip5j3a30

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Taiko Drumming Getting Foothold In U.S.

Above, a taiko drummer performs in Little Tokyo at New Year's celebration.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japanese taiko drumming seems to be taking off in popularity on the West Coast of the United States.

The Japan Times reports:

KANAZAWA, Ishikawa Pref. — With the dream of raising Japanese "taiko" drumming to worldwide prominence, a centuries-old maker of the traditional instruments is creating a business foothold in Los Angeles. 
Encouraged by a steep increase in sales of taiko drums in the United States, Asano Taiko Co. has been preparing to open a Los Angeles shop and launch a course in taiko lessons in July since setting up a U.S. subsidiary last June. 
In recent years, ensemble taiko drumming has become a popular pastime, particularly among Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. Nationwide, roughly 300 taiko ensembles have sprouted up.

I have seen taiko drumming performances at Oshogatsu (New Year's Day) celebrations in Little Tokyo and they are quite entertaining.

To read the full article, go here.

1957 BBC Documentary on the Spaghetti Harvest

Here is the 1957 BBC documentary on the spaghetti harvest along the Swiss and Italian border:

Remembering "Going Postal"

A new shooting at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas today is just another in an epidemic of shootings in the nation's campuses.  Ironically, Lone Star College is allegedly a "gun-free" campus.

I don't have any scientific proof, but it seems that many of these shootings could be from the over-saturation of news coverage by the mainstream media who are allied with liberals who want to disarm Americans.  I wonder if these killers are acting as "copycats" by all the media coverage.

Over twenty years ago, the targets in mass shootings were co-workers and supervisors at U.S. postal facilities (and other workplaces) by irate workers who felt wronged.  This is where the term "going postal" came from.

According to Wikipedia:

Going postal, in American English slang, means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a post office or other workplace environment. 
The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1983 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public in acts of mass murder. Between 1986 and 1997, more than forty people were gunned down by spree killers in at least twenty incidents of workplace rage.

I've known a number of evil supervisors who, by their underhanded actions, would be prime targets by employees they've screwed over.  I remember an instance where one supervisor (at Allianz Insurance Company) was such an asshole that I overheard someone say (referencing the then-recent May 6, 1993 Dearborn, Michigan post office homicides that occurred only hours apart), "Mark had better watch out!"  Karma got him anyway: he succumbed to thyroid cancer a few years later.

Glendale City Council's Exercise In Feel-good Stupidity

Liberal idiots never quit.

CBS Los Angeles reports:

GLENDALE (CBSLA.com) — City council members will consider a proposal Tuesday evening that would ban gun shows at the Glendale Auditorium. 
The Glendale Gun Show has been held at the auditorium since 1992 and is next scheduled to take place in March.

How is banning a gun show going to prevent massacres such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut?  People buying guns at gun shows in California have to go though the screening process which involves a 10-day waiting period, just as they have to do if they were to buy one at a gun store.

This is just another exercise in feel-good stupidity.  If gun shows are so bad, why do police and sheriff departments set up recruiting booths at them?

Freedom-loving gun owners should show up tonight at Glendale's city council meeting at the Glendale City Hall.

To read more, go here.

United Airlines Providing Satellite Wi-Fi Service

United Airlines is introducing on-board Wi-Fi on their wide-body international flights.

According to Japan Today:

United Airlines has introduced onboard satellite-based Wi-Fi internet connectivity on the first of its international widebody aircraft, giving customers the ability to stay connected while traveling on long-haul overseas routes. 
The aircraft, a Boeing 747 outfitted with Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s Ku-band satellite technology, serves trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes. 
Additionally, United has outfitted Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi on two Airbus 319 aircraft serving domestic routes, offering customers faster inflight internet service than air-to-ground technology (ATG). The company expects to complete installation of satellite-based Wi-Fi on 300 mainline aircraft by the end of this year.

This will allow passengers to use their wireless devices such as laptops, smart phones and tablets while flying to their overseas destinations.  This will make planes virtual "hot spots" for these devices.

To read more, go here.

Check Out Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) For Your Ebooks

Over at the Classic Horror Film Board, the question concerning converting magazines (such as Famous Monster of Filmland) into digital ebooks has come up.

As has been stated by USA Today's David Colton, digital publishing formats (or platforms) are not created equal.  That's putting it mildly.

I had no plans to have The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan available as an ebook until several people asked in forums if I was going to do so.  I then looked into it and tried several ebook conversion companies. What I found during this process was that the programs to convert were "awfully damn picky and complicated."  On top of that, the operators were not helpful to people trying to make it through the process.  It seemed that they had no interest in making money.

I was about to give up on the idea until I decided to give Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) a try.

Well, to make a long story short (and sweet), not only did my .pdf file of the travel guide sail through easily, the folks at KDP were very helpful.  On top of that, I had the backing of Amazon's promotional machine so that advertisements for the travel guide began to pop up all over the Internet (samples shown with this blog post).

Today, I received KDP's emailed newsletter which included the following "Tip of the Month," which is on the topic of uploading content.

They wrote:

Tip of the Month
Uploading Content 
Have KDP lets you convert your content from several formats. For best results, we recommend that you upload your content in either Microsoft Word or HTML format. 

KDP accepts the following formats:

Zipped HTML (.zip)
Word (.doc and .docx)
ePub (.epub)
Adobe PDF (.pdf)
Plain Text (.txt)
MobiPocket (.mobi and .prc)
For more information on KDP accepted formats, click here.

If you are planning to publish an ebook, you may want to check out Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.  They do a great job and they will also save you from a lot of headaches.

"40 Blogs For Couponing Your Way To Vacation"

This item arrived in my email.

It is "Forty Blogs For Couponing Your Way To Vacation."  If you can clip coupons to save money at the supermarket, I suppose you can do the same to get vacation deals.

It starts with:

Couponing has become quite the craze. There’s even a show called Extreme Couponing on cable now. If you’d like to learn what all of the fuss is about and get in on some of the big savings you keep hearing about, you will want to check out these 40 blog entries. Learn the basics of couponing, how to stay organized, how to find coupons and other tips and tricks for being successful. All the money you save from couponing could help you save enough money throughout the year for a vacation.

If you would like to know more about couponing, go here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Moon and Jupiter

Stepping outside, I saw that Jupiter was near the Moon.  I went in and grabbed my camera.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a tripod handy.  I took several shots and this one is the best of the bunch:

Cruise Ship "Celebrity Mercury"

Above, the "Celebrity Mercury" at anchor at Juneau, Alaska in 2000.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While perusing the collection of literature I picked up at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show (yes, I do read the literature I pick up at shows), I was reading Celebrity Cruises's 2013/2014 Cruises and Cruisetours book.

Above, my mom and daughter enjoying the view of Alaska aboard the "Celebrity Mercury."  Photo
by Armand Vaquer.

Back in 2000, my mom, daughter Amber and I took a cruise aboard the Celebrity Mercury in Alaska. The book didn't list the ship for any of the company's cruises.

Above, my mom and daughter having lunch aboard the "Celebrity Mercury."  Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I then Googled Mercury and found in this article that the ship had been retired from Celebrity's fleet in February 2011.  It has been transferred to TUI Cruises and renamed Mein Schiff 2.  Now it sails the waters of Europe with destinations including Arabia, Dubai and Emirates, Eastern Caribbean, Eastern Mediterranean, Mediterranean, Transatlantic and Western Mediterranean.

At least the good ship is still sailing the seas somewhere.

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" and Dreamliner Problems

Above, Ai with "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan."  Photo by Armand Vaquer.
2013 is starting off good in regard to sales of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

For the first time since the Amazon Kindle ebook editon was launched last year, sales for the hard copy over at ComiXpress.com are in the lead.  The Amazon ads for the ebook edition were back up today at the Drudge Report.

The big push this year is for hard copy sales at the Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, North Carolina that is set for March 22-24 at the Blake Hotel.


Speaking of Japan travel, the problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner seems to be centered around the lithium batteries that are overheating and catching fire.  The Dreamliners of the two major airlines in Japan, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, have been grounded pending a thorough investigation.  It doesn't appear that they will be cleared to fly anytime soon.  Hundreds of flights have been cancelled as a result.

Tofugu: "Japan's Weird, Themed Restaurants"

The website of Japanese culture, Tofugu.com has an interesting article on Japan's weird themed restaurants.

To give you an example, the first one is Alcatraz E.R., which has the theme of a medical prison and the patrons are the patients.

The article has many more examples.  It is a kick to read.  I just might try out one of these themed restaurants the next time I go to Japan.

To view the article, go here.

Supporting The Second Amendment

If you don't believe that this government isn't capable of turning against its own citizens, just ask the Japanese-Americans who were put into concentration camps in the 1940s.

Above, the Manzanar Relocation Camp in California.

"The Three Stooges Hollywood Filming Locations"

One of my favorite subjects when it comes to movies is locations and landmarks that were used.

Back in the 1980s, twice I took the Laurel and Hardy tour of their filming shoots locations in Los Angeles with the Way Out West Tent of the Sons of the Desert organization.  We visited such places as The Music Box stairs in the Silverlake area and the Big Business house (that they tore up) in Cheviot Hills.

A few fans and I pinpointed some locations used in the Adventures of Superman, one of which will receive a plaque in 2014 in celebration of George Reeves's 100th birthday.

I even went so far as to go to Japan to see the locations and landmarks used in Japanese science-fiction and fantasy movies, which resulted in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan (ComiXpress, $15.00).

Many of these places are still with us and it is interesting to see how they look today and compare them with photographs of how they looked in the films.

Now there's a new book on location shoots of The Three Stooges by Jim Pauley.  It is called "The Three Stooges Hollywood Filming Locations" (Santa Monica Press, $39.95). 

The book (with plenty of photographs) will take the reader to such places as Larchmont Village near Hollywood, Franklin Canyon Reservoir near Beverly Hills in the Santa Monica Mountains and in Silverlake.  Silverlake must've been a favorite location shoot spot for old-time comedy teams.

So, if you are a Stooge fan, or just like seeing old filming locations, this book is for you.

2013 Marks 40 Years Since Bannai Special Election

Above, Governor Reagan with the Bannai family during the special election campaign..

Forty years ago in 1973, the GOP took an assembly district that was considered "safe" to the Democratic Party in a special election.

The special election was called for as the incumbent state assemblyman, Larry Townsend, suddenly passed away of a massive heart attack.    The district was the 67th Assembly District.

The primary campaign began with a number of Democrats contesting for their party's nomination, to be held in May with the general election to be held in June. 

On the Republican side, there were three candidates, George Reis (who ran unsuccessfully against Townsend the year before), Mike Halliwell and Gardena City Councilman Paul T. Bannai.

The district included Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena, Torrance and parts of unincorporated county areas.

At the time, I was a student at El Camino College at the "ripe old age" of 19.  I had worked in the Nixon campaign in Hawthorne the previous year and after that election, things were kind of dull outside of studies.  I was also working at Old Towne Mall (now gone) in Torrance at the time.

At El Camino, a group of us from the Nixon campaign banded together to form the Young Republicans.   (We formally applied for a charter with the Los Angeles County Young Repubicans (LACYR) during this time.)  We discussed the upcoming special election campaign and we agreed that Bannai had the best chance to win with his name recognition and his ability to raise funds for the campaign.  So, we all got involved in the Bannai for Assembly campaign.

As we figured, Bannai won the GOP nomination.  On the Democrat side, Torrance City Treasurer Thomas Rupert (left) won his party's nomination.  However, what people didn't know at the time, he didn't actually live in the 67th Assembly District.

Rupert rented an apartment in the 67th district in order to run for the assembly seat while still maintaining his actual residence outside of it.

Fortunately, we had some excellent and experienced campaign management who saw this as an opportunity to put Rupert on the defensive.  The campaign arranged to have Rupert's in-district apartment photographed as well as his real residence, a single-unit house. 

The Gods must have been on our side when our photographer went to Rupert's home; he photographed it with a car parked in the driveway with a Rupert bumper sticker.

The Democrats have a history of having opportunistic candidates "carpetbagging" their way into other districts.  (Bannai had to face another carpetbagger in 1974 by the name of Maurice "Jack" Mayesh, who was backed by the Henry Waxman-Howard Berman machine.  One can see how pleased I was when Berman was defeated by Brad Sherman last year.)

The Bannai campaign sent out numerous mailers showing the in-district apartment and the out-of-district home with the question boldly asking, "Should our elected officials obey the law?" 

Governor Ronald Reagan and Lt. Governor Ed Reinecke made appearances in support of the Bannai campaign.

As it turned out, the voters didn't think too highly of the carpetbagging issue and Bannai won the special general election by a comfortable margin (54% to 41%).  Plus, it didn't hurt that Bannai was a popular city councilman in Gardena with a lot of name recognition.

Above, Diane Booth and Armand discussing the chartering of the Young Republican of El Camino College with  David Lorenzen, LACYR Chairman at the Ambassador Hotel in June 1973.  Photo courtesy of The Trunkline.
A week or so after the election, while at a political picnic, Bannai asked me to join his district office staff as a field representative.  This I did (on and off, college permitting) for the following two years.   It was while serving in this capacity that I "learned the ropes" of press relations, which has come in handy in the succeeding years.

Above, Field Representative Armand Vaquer (left) presents Assemblyman Bannai with a
stuffed frog novelty he picked up during a vacation in September 1974.  
In 1974, the redistricting of California legislative districts put Bannai into the newly-formed 53rd Assembly District.  This new district did not favor the Republican Party as much as the old 67th District in registration.  But Bannai was able to hold onto his office until 1980 when he ran against an aide to State Senator Ralph Dills, Richard Floyd (a rather crude and buffoonish character, but that’s still another story).

It was while I was listening to the radio and some songs came on from that period that jogged my memory.   It suddenly hit me that this year will be the 40th anniversary of that special election victory.

UPDATE:  I sent this blog post to the Gardena Valley News.  Perhaps they will do their own story on the 40th anniverary of the Bannai special election.  We (in Bannai's district office) used to have a lot of contact with the Gardena Valley News, particularly with Polly Warfield.  She was one great lady!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Haruo Nakajima Autograph Price Considerations

Above, Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) approaches Nagoya Castle in
"Mothra vs. Godzilla" (1964).  From the personal collection of Armand Vaquer.
Discussions are currently underway with the Nakajimas in regard to prices for autographed photos at the Mad Monster Party that will be held this coming March 22-25 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

From what I've been reading, most guests are charging around $20-$25, with Bruce Campbell, Gary Busey and Lea Thompson at $30 and Peter Criss at $50.  Depending on the celebrity (and whether or not proceeds will go to a charity), I think anything over $30 for an autograph is a bit outrageous.  Maybe that's just me.

One thing we have to take into consideration is the exchange rate of the dollar and yen.  The Nakajimas would be losing some when they exchange their dollars into yen when they return to Japan.  Although the exchange rate has lately improved (it is currently ¥90 per dollar), they will get a little bit of bite when they get back home.

As Haruo Nakajima is the "big headliner" for the convention, pricing will have to be in keeping with this and what the other celebrities are charging.

Sonoe Nakajima sent several photos of her father for print-making.  I am checking around for a good photo  company who can provide a sizable quantity of prints at a reasonable price.  She sent some very nice photos of her dad during his Godzilla days.

As far as The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan is concerned, I will happily sign them at no extra charge.

For more information on the Mad Monster Party, go here.

Digital Publishing: Is Your Software Compatible?

Above, the ad banner that appeared at the Classic Horror Film Board.

Over at Amazon's Kindle Store, one guy posted a complaint about the ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.  

He wrote:
I don't know if there was a problem with my download or if this guy just needs an editor/proofreader in the worst way. This book was pretty unreadable. Paragraphs end abruptly or meld into others without any rhyme or reason. Sentences end with no punctuation. They just stop. Sections of the book just seem to be dropped into chapters that have no relevancy.

I checked it and I found no such problems and I suspected it had to do with the program or software he was viewing it with.

Recently, the issue of digital publishing (including Kindle) came up at the Classic Horror Film Board in connection with a planned ebook edition of Famous Monsters of Filmland.  It explains the situation with digital publishing.

David Colton of USA Today wrote in response to the discussion:
I know nothing about the FM situation, but will say that digital publishing is an extremely complex endeavour. Even at USA TODAY, where we have great minds and resources, getting a product to render correctly on all platforms is maddeningly difficult. 
An app that plays fine on the latest iPad sometimes crashes on an original iPad. Apps for Android devices similarly need to be tailored for each OS (Jelly Bean or Ice Cream Sandwich -- yup, that's what they are called). On desktops, which browser you use can cause problems -- what displays on Firefox sometimes won't play as well on Safari; what's good on Chrome freezes on IE.

Videos that use Flash won't play at all on Apple iPads and iPhones, which don't use Flash and instead need HTML5 language. Plus, the screen resolution people use on their computer can make a huge difference in how displays of a magazine page can look. 
It is the craziest tech world ever, with so many things open source and not standardized it is as if a car battery will work fine in a Buick but not in a Chrysler, or a Sunbeam toaster won't work with rye bread. It is amazing anything works, truth be told. 
Anyhow, I don't know if anything I just said has anything to do with FM's digital magazine or YUDU, but sadly, one digital size does not fit all.
My response at the CHFB:
I am glad the Kindle subject came up. I had The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan converted to a Kindle ebook at Amazon a few months ago. One guy complained about it. Everyone else who has seen it had no complaints. I suspect that whatever program software he was viewing it on wasn't compatible with the Kindle program.  
While checking around for ebook conversions beforehand, I found that conversions are as very complex as [Colton] stated. Issues like uniform sizes and font embedding, etc. came up (many of which I never even heard of). It was a hassle. I was about to abort the idea of an ebook until I went to Amazon.
I guess the bottom line in all this is to make sure you have the correct software, app or programs compatible with the various ebooks so that they render correctly for you.  As David Colton stated, one digital size does not fit all.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Gun Appreciation Day"

Above, the newest gun in my arsenal, a Ruger P95.

Today is "Gun Appreciation Day."

According to Fox News:

Firearms owners and their advocacy groups headed to gun shops, shooting ranges other places Saturday as part of "Gun Appreciation Day." 
Organizers are encouraging gun-rights supporters to "send a message" to President Obama two days before his second inauguration by "lining up around the block" at gun shops, ranges and shows with a copy of the Constitution, U.S. flags and a "Hands off my Guns" signs.

I will stop off at a gun shop after dropping off my roomie at work.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/19/firearms-owners-advocacy-groups-head-to-ranges-gun-shops-for-appreciation-day/#ixzz2ITEqkTbx

Monsterpalooza Program Ad

Since Monsterpalooza is just three months away, the gnomes working on the show are already getting things done in preparation.

One such gnome is the great Jessie Lilley, who is handling the show's program.  Back a few months ago, she emailed me about getting signed up for ad space in the show's program.  Since the price was right, etc., I agreed to run my ad again (below) for The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.  She said then that she would remind everyone later concerning paying for the ads.  Well, she got in touch this week and said the fee for the ad is due by February 15.

Since I had the cash anyway, I went ahead and sent it in today so I wouldn't have to worry about it later.  Efficiency!

As the poster above states, the show goes on at the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on April 12-14.  The hotel is located across from Bob Hope Airport.

For more information, go to Monsterpalooza's official website here.

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