"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." - President Ronald Reagan.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Old Tokyo Survives in Asakusa

Above, the Nakamise-dori approach to Senso-ji. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

One of my favorite places to visit in Tokyo is Asakusa. Here, there's plenty to see including wandering around Nakamise-dori and Senso-ji Temple. If shopping is your favorite thing to do, there's plenty of it on Nakamise-dori and the Shin-Nakamise shopping arcade. There are many restaurants at Shin-Nakamise to choose from.

Modern Tokyo Times has a good article on Asakusa's history along with nearby Kappabashi-dori, known as Kitchen Town for its many stores selling kitchenware. I visited Kappabashi-dori last month and bought my roommate a personalized chef's knife there.

Above, a giant chef overlooks Kappabashi-dori ("Kitchen Town") in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The article begins with:
Tokyo tourism provides an abundance of options because this highly developed city caters for so many tastes. This applies to amazing Japanese gardens, stunning art galleries, high octane fashion districts, a paradise for gamers, the beautiful Tenno palace, the beach of Odaiba and Rainbow Bridge, Meiji Shrine, mountain range of Takao, and so much more. Therefore, tourists who visit Tokyo are spoilt for choice in this amazing city. 
However, in this article the emphasis is on Asakusa because this lovely district is famous for the stunning Buddhist temple called Senso-ji. This notable landmark in Tokyo is dedicated to the revered bodhisattva Kannon. Also, you have other beautiful temples in Asakusa and throughout the year you have various festivals which highlight the richness of Japanese culture.
Above, a view of Asakusa and the Tokyo Cruise Terminal from the Azuma Bridge. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Across the Sumida River from Asakusa are the Asahi Beer Hall and the Tokyo Skytree. The station for Sumida River Cruises is also in Asakusa.

Above, Shin-Nakamise shopping arcade. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
To read the full article, go here

Godzilla "Demand To Know" Promo Poster

A new promotional image poster for Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Godzilla "demand to know" the truth.

Japan Hikes Consumption Tax To 8%

Above, a Kumamoto bakery. Baked goods, like everything else, now costs more. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan has raised its consumption tax today (it is April 1 there) from 5% to 8%, which amounts to a tax hike of roughly 60%.

Japan Today reports:
TOKYO —The price of everything from beer and sushi to cars and dishwashers increased across Japan Tuesday as shoppers were greeted by the first sales tax rise in 17 years, which has prompted fears of a drop in consumer spending. 
The government is hiking the levy from 5% to 8% as of April 1 in a bid to tame a massive public debt burden. The government is also mulling another rise to 10%, still modest compared some nations’ consumption tax. 
A key worry is that Japan’s last tax rise deterred spending and foreshadowed the drop into years of deflation—although other factors, including the Asian financial crisis, were also blamed.
To read the full story, go here.

Nerd Tour Japan 2014: Days 5 & 6

Above, a view of Osaka's business district. From a video by Armand Vaquer.

In this edition, Anime News Network's Zac Bertschy and Hope Chapman travel down to Osaka for shopping and checking out some of the city's famous eateries.

After this, they head back up to Tokyo and pay a visit to DisneySea. One of these days, I will visit DisneySea myself as I've never been there. I have no interest in Tokyo's Disneyland as it is almost a carbon copy of the original in Anaheim, California, which I've been the dozens of times (as far back when they still had 'E' tickets).

To see many photos of Osaka and DisneySea, go here.

Their next edition will spotlight Kyoto.

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Ebook Sales Shot Up

Above, Yuu Asakura with the print edition of The Monster
Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Yesterday, the Amazon Kindle ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan was number 63 on Amazon's "Best Sellers In Japanese Travel."

Today, it is now at number 23 in their top 100.

In another category, "Best Sellers In Travel," it is at number 51 of 100.

In still yet another top 100 category, "Best Sellers In General Travel Guides," it is at number 55.

To order, go here.

Tokyo Metro Unveils New App For Tourists

Above, the map of Tokyo subway and train lines and stations..

Japan continues in its efforts to make things easier for foreign visitors.

The Japan Times reports:
Tokyo Metro Co. is providing a free smartphone application to help foreigners navigate the capital’s subway system. 
Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists will be available for Android phones through Google Play on Tuesday and “sometime soon” for iPhones at Apple’s App Store, Tokyo Metro spokesman Seiichi Yoneya said. 
The app, which also can be used offline, will tell the user how to get between two stations, including all transfer points — which tourists often find difficult to navigate.
Additionally, Tokyo Metro and the Tokyo transportation bureau are launching three new subway passes for tourists on April 22 called the Tokyo Subway Ticket.

To read the full story, go here.

Monster Japan Travel Guide Ebook At No. 63 At Amazon's Kindle Store

The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan Amazon Kindle Store ebook edition is at number 63 in Amazon's "Best Sellers In Japanese Travel" top 100 list.

Many people like using tablet computers and after several people queried me about putting out the travel guide as an ebook, I looked into it and had Amazon handle the logistics. When I was in Japan last month, I noticed quite a number of Japanese using tablet computers.

For ordering, go here. Make sure your equipment is compatible with Amazon's Kindle platform.

Jumbo Makes Last Japan Domestic Flight

The Boeing 747 made its last Japanese domestic flight for All Nippon Airways today. Here's a video from FNN News:

The plane took off from Naha, Okinawa and its destination was Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

Ten Most Dangerous World Cities

Above, a view of one of the most dangerous cities in the world for natural disasters. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Sometimes it is great to be ranked in a "top ten" list. Sometimes it is not.

The latter is the case for the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama as they were deemed the number one most dangerous cities in the world for natural disasters.

According to RocketNews24:
It’s always nice to be number one for something, even if it is number one in the “cities where the earth is most likely to kill you” ranking. That’s why we’re proud to announce that Tokyo and Yokohama were declared the cities at highest risk of natural disaster by Zurich-based Swiss Reinsurance (Swiss Re) in a 2013 study, whose findings were recently announced. 
Out of a total of 616 cities reviewed, Tokyo and Yokohama both rose to the top thanks to their location in both a seismically active region and on the East coast of Japan leaving them highly vulnerable to tsunamis.
Unfortunately, two more Japanese cities made this "top ten" list as has Los Angeles, where I live.

To see the list of cities and where they all rank, go here.

The Weekend

Above, Peter H. Brothers. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

As I mentioned several days ago, it was an "iffy" situation on whether or not I would be able to attend this year's Monsterpalooza in Burbank. As I said then, it all depended on the status of Jes's condition in the hospital. I felt it best that I stay pretty close to home in case I was needed.

I always figured that if I was going to go to Monsterpalooza, it would be on Sunday. It turned out that Jes was discharged from the hospital yesterday, so I ended up not going to Monsterpalooza.

Well, there's always next year and, before that, the Son of Monsterpalooza in the fall. It would have been nice to see Haruo and Sonoe Nakajima and Kenji Sahara again. But it wasn't in the cards.

The weekend wasn't a total loss. For the first time in about two years, Pete Brothers (Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda, Devil Bat Diaries) and I got together for lunch on Saturday at Crazy Tokyo Sushi in Tarzana. It was an enjoyable lunch as we caught up on things that have transpired since out last get-together. The restaurant is close to home, so I was able to break away.

We both marveled that this year marks ten years since the first G-Tour to Japan in 2004.

But, I am happy that Jes is home and we may have some good news. Hopefully, we will know more tomorrow.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

NTT Docomo Releases Video On Texting While Walking At Shibuya Crossing

Above, Shibuya Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

NTT Docomo has released a video, which reminds me a bit of the march of the wooden soldiers in Babes In Toyland (the Laurel and Hardy version), on "What if everyone was texting while walking at Shibuya Crossing?"

Japan Today wrote this about the video:
TOKYO —NTT Docomo, as part of its initiative to prevent accidents from texting While walking and to improve manners, has released the video “What if everyone was texting while walking at Shibuya Crossing?” which is a simulation using computer graphics. 
The widespread use of smartphones has resulted in an annual increase in the number of accidents caused by texting while walking, and this has become a social problem that has been widely covered by the media and other sources. 
To read the article and see the video, go here.

Caroline Munro Joins Cast of "Vampyres" Remake

Above, Caroline Munro and Armand at Monsterpalooza in 2012.

Actress Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me) is still keeping busy.

Space Station Nerva reports:
The actress Caroline Munro is now part of the cast for the new remake of Vampyres (A.K.A. Las Hijas de Drácula), Larraz’s cult movie from 1974. 
The movie is being produced by Artistic Metropol, and it is a revision of the classic feature film by Larraz himself and Víctor Matellano. Larraz worked in this project before he sadly passed away last year, so now Mr. Matellano is directing.
To read the full story, go here

Super Japan: On-time Metro

The efficiency of Japan's train system is legendary. But there's a good reason for this.

The Discovery Channel has a video, "Super Japan: On-time Metro" that shows an inside look at how trains run in Tokyo. The video shows new drivers undergoing simulator training as well as train car maintenance.

A 13-Foot Gundam Grave Marker?

Above, a Niigata cemetery. Can you picture a 13 ft. Gundam statue standing here? Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Kaiju fans and Japanophiles in general have seen some cool stuff come out of Japan. At the same time they've also seen some strange stuff as well.

The following would have to come under the strange category (at least, my strange category). Then again, a Gundam fan would probably think it's cool.

RocketNews24 reported:
For a few years now, whenever online chatter of a new statue based on the machines of the Gundam universe goes on the picture above seems to always pop up. But exactly where is this MS monument of mourning? Is it even real? 
In the photo, the Gundam headstone appears to be lined up with the other graves outside of the stonemasonry shop, standing proud at around four meters (13ft) tall and weighing in at 10 tons. With that we might assume it’s a custom made incredibly ostentatious yet cool monument to the deceased.
Yes, it does appear to be a possible headstone for a deceased person who was a Gundam fan. RocketNews24 seems to be unsure of the purpose of the stone statue. It could be for someone's grave, but it also could be for a garden decoration for someone.

They are leaning towards the grave marker theory as "it can be found outside of a Kise Sekizai Boseki Center in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. Kise Sekizai is a chain of Japanese grave makers in the area."

If someone wishes to be laid to rest under a 13-foot tall Gundam statue, who are we to judge them?

Still, if someone were to come up with a Godzilla grave marker, I can think of several people who might be tempted to get one.

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

Japan Mint To Produce More One Yen Coins

Coin enthusiasts in Japan (if there are any) should be cheered by the news that the Japan Mint in Hiroshima is minting new one-yen coins.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun:
HIROSHIMA -- For the first time in four years, the Hiroshima Branch of the Japan Mint is producing 1 yen coins for regular circulation, expecting that more of the coins will be used after Japan's consumption tax increases to 8 percent on April 1. 
Japan Mint officials say that production of 1 yen coins has been decreasing in recent years, as more people use electronic money. A small number of the coins continue to be produced for collectors' sets, however.
Frankly, I think the idea of raising consumption taxes (from 5% to 8%) at a time when Japan's economy is just beginning to recover is a dumb idea. Now is not the time to take away more money from consumers. Allowing consumers to dispose of their income as they see fit would better serve the Japanese economy. It is the politicians' fault that the government amassed a huge debt.

I have a small bag of Japanese coins that I have accumulated during seven trips to Japan (admittedly, I had fewer one-yen coins left over from my most recent trip than from prior trips), the most being are one-yen coins. Perhaps I should bring them with me to Japan on my next trip.

The one-yen coin is an odd coin. They are made of aluminum and weigh very little. The U.S. penny weighs more.

To read the full story, go here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Skytree Model Video

One souvenir that caught my fancy during my trip to Japan last month was a tabletop model of the Tokyo Skytree.

The model lights up and it has a feature where it will light up in different colors.

Here's a video I shot with my phone (I don't know why the arrow thingy stays on, this is the first time I've used the video feature):

"Rodan's Saikai Bridge" Article Link In 9Pages

Above, the Saikai Bridge. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

9Pages.com has posted a link to my article at JapanTravel (formerly JapanTourist) on "Rodan's Saikai Bridge." They have a full page on Saikai, in Nagasaki Prefecture in Kyushu.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Saikai Bridge, it was featured in Rodan (1956) when the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (航空自衛隊, Kōkū Jieitai) (or JASDF) pursues one of the Rodans to Sasebo City and then later to Fukuoka City. Also featured during the Saikai Bridge sequence were the Hario Wireless Towers, which transmitted the orders (in code) to the Japanese fleet to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Above, the Hario Wireless Towers. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Saikai Bridge and the Hario Wireless Towers are near Sasebo City, Kyushu.

To view the page on Saikai, go here.

The Saikai Bridge and Sasebo are spotlighted in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan on page 48.

Southern California's Shakin'!

A flurry of earthquakes centered around the La Habra and Brea areas hit last evening.

Fortunately for me, I felt none of them. I was on the road at the time. It is just as well as I felt the one centered near the Sepulveda Pass near Westwood last week.

Tokyo Brushing Up On English For The 2020 Olympics

Above, the driver of this Roppongi taxi may be taking English courses for the 2020 Olympics. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are just six years away, but already employees of Japanese companies who cater to foreign tourists are brushing up on their English skills.

According to The Japan News:
More people in more business sectors are increasingly enthusiastic about improving their English conversation skills to offer better hospitality for foreign tourists before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. 
Informal English conversation groups have flourished among taxi drivers and geisha—two professions with frequent interactions with foreign visitors. 
The Tokyo Fire Department will send firefighters to the United States to study English in an effort to help build a force of firefighters and rescue team members with high English proficiency, able to assist and reassure foreign tourists in the event of illness or injury.
To read the full story, go here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Haneda Expanding International Flights

Above, duty free shops at Narita International Airport. The airport has everything for international
travelers, except snow-proof transportation to and from Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The hassle in trying to get into Tokyo from Narita International Airport due to a snowstorm last month exposed to me a big flaw with the airport's location. It is too far from Tokyo (about an hour away) and if a snowstorm can prevent travelers from getting into Tokyo in a timely manner, then alternatives must be explored. Besides buses, taxis and airport limousines, the above-ground trains are the only means of getting into and out of Narita International Airport. Even if a subway to Narita from, say, Ueno were to be built, it would take years before it is ready for passenger use.

Narita has been the prime airport for international flights to Tokyo. Until 2010, Haneda Airport in Tokyo was used only for domestic flights. All that has changed and recent expansions of Haneda (including new terminals and runways) are opening up slots for more international flights.

According to the Japan Times:
To counter cutthroat competition from hub airports elsewhere in Asia, Haneda airport will expand its international flight capacity Sunday when it takes the wraps off a more spacious terminal.  
The expansion is a serious move by Haneda, situated as it is in the heart of Tokyo. The terminal expansion is expected to spark competition with other Japanese airports, especially Narita International, and goad them into upgrading their services, experts say. 
 Unfortunately, there are still some limitations for flights to North America:
But the flights to Europe and North America were limited to night time so the daytime flights could be devoted to services in Asia, and to avoid allegations of unfair competition with Narita.
Personally, I wouldn't mind arriving in Tokyo during the night or at other odd times at Haneda. Unless airfares are competitive into Haneda from Los Angeles, I will continue to fly into Narita, but it might be prudent to avoid Narita during the winter months in the future due to possible snowstorms. Lesson learned.

To read the full Japan Times article, go here.

Ishiro Honda: Exposure

Above, Ishiro Honda.

A retrospective of non-kaiju films by noted Godzilla director Ishiro Honda will be held April 6 through June 7 in Tokyo.

Time Out Tokyo reports:
Best known for his kaiju movies and as director of the original Godzilla, the late Ishiro Honda also had an eye for less grandiose projects like quiet dramas and romantic comedies. Asagaya's Laputa theatre is now showing nine rare Honda films, including the melodrama People of Tokyo, Goodbye (1956) and marriage comedy Song for a Bride (1958) – check out the full nine-week program on the official website (Japanese only).
This sounds like something worth going to Japan to see.

To see Time Out Tokyo's page, go here

The Top 10 Airports For 2014

Above, Narita International Airport's moving walkway. But Narita didn't make the list. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The top ten airports in the world for 2014 have been announced by Skytrax, the airport ranking agency.

The top ten airports are:
  1. Singapore Changi Airport
  2. Incheon International Airport
  3. Munich Airport
  4. Hong Kong International Airport
  5. Amsterdam Schipol Airport
  6. Tokyo International Airport
  7. Beijing Capital International Airport
  8. Zurich Airport
  9. Vancouver International Airport
  10. London Heathrow Airport
The only North American airport making the list is Vancouver, British Columbia's Vancouver International Airport. The Tokyo International Airport that made the list was not Narita International Airport, it was Haneda.

No U.S. airports made the list. 

For details on the categories, go here.

Japan Transocean Air Places $1.1bn Boeing 737 Order

Above, a Japan Transocean Air Boeing 737-400. Photo courtesy of Spaceaero2.

Boeing is having a great month in sales of new planes to Japan.

Earlier, it was reported that All Nippon Airways is ordering 40 new planes from Boeing. Now, it is being reported that Japan Transocean Air is ordering 12 Next-Generation 737-800 jets to replace its aging 737-400 planes.

Breaking Travel News reports:
Boeing and Japan Transocean Air have announced the airline’s selection of 12 Next-Generation 737-800 airplanes. 
The selection, valued at $1.1 billion at list prices, will mark the start of the airline’s fleet renewal program with the new airplanes scheduled to enter into service from 2016. 
As part of the agreement, JTA will have the flexibility to switch to the 737 MAX family of airplanes.  
“JTA has been the wings of Okinawa for almost 50 years,” said Manabu Sato, president of Japan Transocean Air and executive officer at Japan Airlines. 
“The Next-Generation 737-800, with its greater reliability, superior economic and environmental performance, and passenger-pleasing Boeing Sky Interior will allow us to continue to provide the highest levels of service, comfort and convenience to the people of Okinawa.” 
A member of the Japan Airlines Group, JTA is based in Naha, Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island chain.
To read the full article, go here.

Japan Airlines Renews "Guide To Japan" Section On Website

Above, Akihabara, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

eTurboNews is reporting that Japan Airlines (JAL) is renewing its "Guide To Japan" section on its website.

They report:
TOKYO, Japan - Japan Airlines (JAL) renewed the "Guide to Japan" section on its overseas homepage (http://www.jal.com/) on March 27, 2014 to attract overseas visitors to Japan by distinctive introduction on Japanese cultures and current trends, JAL staffs' recommendations of original travel experiences, an easy guide to the information about ramen, hot springs, world heritages, festivals and places to visit in the country. 
To read the full article, go here

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Boeing Boosted By ANA's 777X Order

Above, ANA's display of Premium Economy seats at the L.A. Travel & Adventure Show. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

They should be breaking out the champagne bottles at Boeing as All Nippon Airways ordered 20 Boeing 777X planes.

According to News On Japan:
ANA Holdings Inc (9202.T) restored Boeing Co's (BA.N) momentum in a Japanese market it has long dominated by ordering 20 new generation 777X wide-body jets after a stinging defection by Japan Airlines Co (9201.T) last year to rival Airbus Group NV (AIR.PA). 
Japan's largest carrier announced an order for 70 jets worth 1.7 trillion yen ($16.62 billion) at list prices and its biggest order ever, to replace aging planes while expanding its overseas fleet by 30 aircraft. Nearly half the list value was for the 20 777-9X wide-body jets.
This appears to be a part of the order of 70 planes by ANA (40 ordered from Boeing, 30 ordered from Airbus Industries).

To read the full article, go here.

ANN: Nerd Tour Japan Day 4

Above, the entrance to Nakano Broadway. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Anime News Service (ANN) posted "Day Four" of the Nerd Tour Japan 2014 and this time Zac Bertschy and Hope Chapman visit several otaku-oriented places. They have plenty of photographs to show for it.

First, they stop at the Ghibli Museum. Then, they head over to the Nakano Broadway, where Mandarake, Robot Robot and other collectible stores are clustered. Afterwards, they head over to Harajuku to the Bunny Café, where rescued rabbits can be adopted or, for a fee, can be cuddled. Across from the Bunny Café is a cat café where people can hang out with the kitties.

Their next edition will be Osaka and Disneysea.

To see the photos and read about them, go here.

Lucky Dragon No. 5 Write-up

Above, the stern of the Lucky Dragon No. 5. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Transcend Media Service posted a write-up on the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident back on March 3, two days after the 60th anniversary of that sad event. The article was written by Jeff Kingston of The Japan Times.

They included a couple of my photos of the Lucky Dragon No. 5 with their article. The boat can be visited at Dream Island Park in Tokyo.

To view the article, go here.

The Lucky Dragon No. 5 is spotlighted on page 25 of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

Monsterpalooza Opens Tomorrow In Burbank

Monsterpalooza is opening tomorrow and it features not one, but two, stars of Toho's Godzilla series: Kenji Sahara and Haruo Nakajima.

Above, Kenji Sahara and Armand in 2009.

It will be held at the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, just across the street from the Bob Hope Airport, March 28-30.

Monsterpalooza is one great show that all fans of horror and science-fiction would enjoy.

Above, Armand with Haruo Nakajima in 2013. Photo by Jeff Blanken.

Right now, my attendance at Monsterpalooza is a bit "iffy" as my roomie, Jes, had to be re-admitted yesterday to the hospital. She was released last Friday. We are still battling Medi-Cal to get her on the liver transplant list. We have requested a hearing on her case. As I don't know what her status will be over the next several days, I cannot say for certain if I will be able to attend Monsterpalooza this weekend.

For more information on Monsterpalooza, go to their official website here.

All Nippon Airways To Order 70 Planes

Above, an ANA jet at Narita International Airport. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

ANA Holdings, Inc., the holding company of  theAll Nippon Airways (ANA) group is ordering 40 planes from Boeing and 30 planes from Airbus, according to an article by Kyodo News.

They wrote:
The aircraft will be delivered to ANA between fiscal 2016 and 2027, which ends in March 2028.
This represents the biggest-ever order of aircraft by ANA in terms of the number of aircraft and cost.

To read the article, go here.

ANN: Nerd Tour Japan 2014 Day 3

Above, Shibuya Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Anime News Network's Zac Bertschy and Hope Chapman have penned day three of their trip to Japan and this time the focus is on Shibuya, Tokyo.

There's several places in Shibuya they visited, including some familiar names such as Mandarake, Animate, Tokyu Hands and Loft. There's plenty of photographs of merchandise that these stores have to sell. The duckbill dog muzzle is hilarious. They also include the Hachiko statue.

Part four will include Ghibli Museum and Nakano Broadway (another familiar place to kaiju collectors)!

To see the full article and photographs, go here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

James Bond Tour: Even The Russians Are Joining In

An interesting article has been posted at the BBC website. It is about a James Bond tour that has even interested Russian tour operators in secret agent 007 of the British Secret Service.

According to the article:
Russian holiday operators are to be given a guided tour of Scottish places connected to James Bond. 
Russia has been the inspiration for famous 007 villains such as Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love and Alan Cumming's Boris Grishenko in GoldenEye
Many of the stories have also been set in Cold War and the later collapse of the Soviet Union. 
VisitScotland will take the tour operators to sites in the Highlands, Argyll and central Scotland.
To read the full article, go here.

Cost of Living In Tokyo

Above, a view of Tokyo from Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If you ever thought about living in Tokyo, first you should get an idea what the cost of living there is.

GaijinPot.com has an article on what you should expect to pay while living in Tokyo.

They start with:
Tokyo is known as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, but how much does it actually cost to live here? 
On this episode of the GPod, Anthony is joined by Reno Tibke from AkihabaraNews to discuss the true cost of living in Tokyo. 
We break down our monthly fixed living expenses, cover various transportation costs, internet connectivity and annual taxes that you will be required to pay. 
While the cost of living in Tokyo can vary greatly depending on the location, these numbers should give you a rough estimate of what it costs to start you new life in Tokyo.
The article was posted early last month and it drew a number of responses from people who also provided their cost of living expenses outside of Tokyo. Some of them are incredibly cheap (at least by U.S. standards).

To read the full article, go here.

The Beat Diner Lives Again!

While going through my photographs of my February trip to Japan, I came upon one photo that I took of the closed-up front of the former location of The Beat Diner.

Above, this is what greeted me at the location of The Beat Diner under the shinkansen tracks. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Beat Diner was located under the shinkansen tracks that separate Ginza and Hibiya (the former location of Becker's) and across the street from the Yurakucho Mullion. I first tried out, and liked, The Beat Diner back in December 2010 and blogged about it here.

Above, part of the dining area of The Beat Diner adorned with classic album covers. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After looking at the photo, I decided to do a search to see if there is anything online about the closure of The Beat Diner. My search located the website for The Beat Diner's parent company and found this page for The Beat Diner.

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

As it is in Japanese (unfortunately, I don't read Japanese), I copied and pasted the information to Google Translate and it came up with this very rough translation:
Store a list of store results The Beat Diner ※ There is a case to change from period to period, such as year-end and New Year holidays.

Store name access business hours phone number Suica use Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower store
March 20 Open!
First floor Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower underground   11:00 to 23:00   03-3510-1238   
Top Store finder 

Please click on [Search] to select the station or brand you are looking for from the pull-down menu.
I am assuming from this (provided I am reading the rough translation right), The Beat Diner re-opened March 20 on the first floor of the Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower underground (subway?). If this is the case, it is good to know that there is still a place in Tokyo that serves great burgers and pizza (along with adult beverages) with classic rock 'n roll!

Well, as I was wrapping up this blog post, I received a confirmation email that said, "It says it has re-opened at Mitsui Tower in Nihonbashi on 20 March."

That's great to know!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Burai - Standing All Alone" Opening April 25

Three friends of mine, Kyoko Okazaki, Yuu Asakura and Masa Kanome, will be in a new Japanese samurai play starting in April:

Looking for a unique theatre? Interested in Japanese Katana, Samurai, Kimono, Geisha, Sword Fight, or all of the above? If so, this is the place to be! 
BURAI -Standing All Alone-
an original scripted drama, is a Japanese Samurai Play performed in English.

 "There once was a young man who had never held a sword before.
 Now it is time for him to face his destiny..." 
 We will take you to Japan in the 1840s, where samurais still existed. Experience the authentic sword fighting right in front of your eyes. Time travel with us and witness the world of BURAI! 
 At: Theatre Theater
 5041 W. Pico Blvd,
 Los Angeles, CA 90019 
 April 25th (Fri) 8pm
 April 26th (Sat) 8pm
 April 27th (Sun) 2pm
 May 2nd (Fri) 8pm
 May 3rd (Sat) 8pm
 May 4th (Sun) 2pm
 May 9th (Fri) 8pm
 May 10th (Sat) 8pm
 May 11th (Sun) 2pm
 Tickets at the Door:$25
 Online Pre-sale (Eventbrite): $20 + Fees

 Writer, Director, Producer: Naoki Fujiyama
 Assistant Director: Masa Kanome
 Assistant Producer: Kohki Watabe
 Choreographer: Keiya Tabuchi
 Stage Manager/
 Light and Sound: Mai Kobayashi
 Music: Mali Matsuda
 Costume Designer: Sueko Oshimoto
 Assistant Costume Designer/
 Photographer: Kentaro Terauchi
 Hair&Make Up Supervisor: Akiko Matsumoto
 Camera: Doug Ito, Tatsuya Suzuki
 Organizer: Kyoko Okazaki 
Masa Kanome
Takuma Anzai
Richard Lee
Hiro Matsunaga
Toshiya Agata
Eiji Inoue
Toshi Toda
Sachiyo Kanbayashi
Nobuo Inubushi
Moeko Yamazaki
Miho Ando
Steve Huang
Naoyuki Ikeda
Akiko 亜希子 Katagiri
Yuu Asakura
Tatsuya Shirato
Ryota Tatsumi Keiko Ki-ki
Mika Santohi
Kyoko Okazaki
I will try to attend a performance. I usually work the nights it is being performed, perhaps I can swap shifts with someone.

Above, from left are Kyoko Okazaki, Armand and Masa Kanome in 2010.

Above, Yuu Asakura and Armand in 2010.

Ultraman's Family and Friends Pitching Hawaii Vacations

Photo: Ultra Hawaii Facebook page.

Japan's super-hero, Ultraman, his family and friends, are pitching Hawaiian vacations to Japanese citizens.

Hawaii's tourism association has been conducting a campaign, Ultra Hawaii, in Japan to entice people to come to Hawaii for vacationing by enlisting the aid of the Ultraman Family and friends.

To see the official site, go here.

Japan's Dept. Stores Looking To Tourists For Big Sales

Above, the Mitsukoshi Dept. Store at Ginza Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

With the weaker yen, Japan's department stores are looking to foreign tourists for big sales.

According to the Japan Times:
Many major department stores are zeroing in on foreign tourists and other visitors exempt from paying the consumption tax if they spend over a certain amount, anticipating that sales of luxury items will plunge following the sales tax hike next Tuesday. 
Department stores have enjoyed solid growth in the past few months thanks to robust sales of luxury products such as jewelry and paintings as well as a rise in foreign visitors. 
Since last May, the monthly number of foreign visitors shopping at department stores has doubled on a year-on-year basis on the back of the weaker yen.
To further entice foreign tourists, the Japanese government has expanded the tax exempt list to include cosmetics and other goods.

To read the full story, go here.

Cherry Blossom Season Begins In Japan

Above, sakura at the Chidorigafuchi moat, Tokyo Imperial Palace. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Spring (Vernal Equinox) officially arrived on March 20 in the northern hemisphere, but in Japan, Spring officially arrived when the cherry blossoms (sakura) begin to bloom.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —Spring officially arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday when Japan’s weather agency announced the start of the cherry blossom season. 
Forecasters watching trees at the capital’s central Yasukuni Shrine said the city’s first blossoms had appeared there, marking the beginning of two weeks in which Tokyo’s parks, temple grounds, schools and streets will explode in pinks and whites.
I was able to see the country covered in cherry blossoms in April 2006 when I took a shinkansen trip up to Sendai and Matsushima. I am not really into horiculture, but I have to admit that the pink blossoms were impressive even to me.

To read more, go here.

Japan Daily Blog Post Pick-ups

The Japan Daily picked up several of my blog posts from yesterday.

They include blogs about Japan's farewell to the Boeing 747, the charms of Sendai and the top ten souvenirs from Japan (as chosen by foreign tourists).

To view The Japan Daily, go here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Godzilla Front View Poster

Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures have released a new "full frontal" version of Godzilla poster. The movie is set to be released May 16.

Here's a textless version of the poster:

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