"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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Saturday, May 31, 2014

I'm Big In Florida

Above, an introductory video/slideshow at the start of Haruo Nakajima's and Akira Takarada's
session. Both were watching from "the wings" while this was shown. Photo courtesy of Tim Price.

The Spooky Empire's MAY-HEM! convention is currently being held in Orlando, Florida.

The two top kaiju guests are Haruo Nakajima and Akira Takarada.  Tim Price (Big In Japan) took this shot from their session. On the screen are Nakajima and I from last year's Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was part of a "fan appreciation video" shown at the start of the session that was made by Price.

Nothing like being in Florida without actually stepping out of California!

Here's the original photo of Nakajima and I getting "photo-bombed" by Godzilla:

Japan Airlines Voted "Best Airline" In 2014 TripAdvisor Vote

TripAdvisor users have chosen Japan Airlines as the best airline in the 2014 "Travelers' Choice Favorite" voting.

According to The FINANCIAL:
The FINANCIAL -- Japan Airlines (JAL) was chosen as the best airline in the 2014 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Favorite in Japan, according to Japan Airlines. 
TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website offering travel advice and unbiased reviews from users. Since 2013, TripAdvisor Japan has invited its users to vote for their favorite brands on a wide range of travel-related categories. In 2014 TripAdvisor Japan Travelers’ Choice Favorite, voted for their favorite brands for 13 categories for overseas travel. JAL was chosen as the travelers’ most favorite brand in the airline category, which is newly added this year.
To read more, go here

Osaka Station 1940 Building

Above, the 1940 Osaka Station Building in 1947. Photo: Armand Vaquer collection.

While perusing my collection of photographs of postwar Japan, a photo of Osaka Station in 1947 caught my attention.

I became curious about the history of Osaka Station and so I did some checking around.

I found this brief history at Go Japan Go's website:
Osaka Station History
Osaka Station opened on May 11, 1874 as one of first railway stations in the Kansai region when the railway between Osaka and Kobe started operation. It was electrified along with the Tōkaidō Main Line in 1934. 
The existence of the station naturally made the area the primary transportation hub of the city. Railways that set Osaka Station as the terminal or built their terminal around Osaka Station include Osaka Railway (present-day east half of the Osaka Loop Line) in 1895, Nishinari Railway (west half of the Osaka Loop Line) in 1898, Hanshin Electric Railway in 1906, Minoo Arima Electric Tramway (Hankyu Railway) in 1910, and Osaka Municipal Subway in 1933. The regional railways tended to name their stations Umeda, the name of area, rather than the city name. 
The air raids in World War II flattened the blocks in front of the station. Immediately after the war the area turned into a huge black market, the atmosphere of which remained until the redevelopment in 1970s. 
The station building was rebuilt in 1901, 1940 and 1979 (north building). In 1983, a high-rise building, Acty Osaka, which housed a department store and a hotel, was added to the south of the station. Currently (as of 2008) a new building is under construction to replace the north building; when completed in 2011, the station itself will also have an atrium above the platforms connecting the two buildings, and a glass dome covering the complex.
After reading this, I started checking around for another photo of the 1940 Osaka Station building but could not locate any. It appears I have something quite rare.

In looking at the current Osaka Station, it is hard to believe that the photo at top is a prior incarnation of it.

The photograph of the 1940 Osaka Station was taken by my cousin's father-in-law in 1947 while he was stationed in the Osaka area during the Occupation of Japan. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yikes! Chicago's Willis Tower's The Ledge Has Cracks

Above, the Willis Tower (left, center). Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Chicago's Willis Tower has a tourist attraction called the The Ledge on the 103rd Floor.

For people were inside The Ledge (it is a glass enclosure, or ledge, that protrudes out from the building giving spectacular views of the city) when they heard cracking noises.

According to NBC-Chicago:
All four boxes of The Ledge, the 103rd floor tourist attraction atop Chicago's Willis Tower, were closed Thursday morning for what an official said was a routine inspection. 
The move comes hours after cracks appeared in what the official said was a coating designed to prevent scratches on the glass. 
"Skydeck Chicago is open today while the protective coating is being replaced," said Brian Rehme, a spokesman for public relations firm FleishmanHillard. "We have temporarily closed the four Ledge boxes for routine inspection we hope to reopen them shortly." 
The coating was replaced Thursday afternoon. Rehme insisted the structural integrity of The Ledge boxes were sound.
Since I am not very fond of heights, nobody would find me in that thing.

The Willis Tower is the formerly-named Sears Tower (although many people still call it by its old name).

Source: http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/chicago-willis-tower-sky-deck-ledge-crack-261079001.html#ixzz33C2Gv5CX

The Average Tourist From Different Countries

Above, a Malibu Beach sunset with a Channel Island in the distance. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Generally, this blog's focus when it comes to travel is usually Japan and some places of interest in the United States (such as national parks).

Business Insider has posted some interesting trends about foreign tourists who come to the U.S. from nine different countries.

They begin with:
Australian tourists are relatively rich, Chinese tourists are relatively young, and Japanese tourists really like packaged tours. 
These are just some of the trends we observed in the latest data on visitors to the United States from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. Overall, 66.7 million visitors from around the world spent $165.6 billion in the U.S. in 2012. We focused on the nine countries with the most visitors, not counting Mexico due to inconsistent data.
Since this blog focuses mostly on Japan, I'll give you a little tease on what they wrote about Japanese tourists:
3.7 million people from Japan visited the U.S. in 2012, spending $16.5 billion. 72% of them visited for the main purpose of vacation.  
The average age of a Japanese male visitor was 44, while the average age for females was 36.
The nine countries are Japan, Brazil, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, South Korea, France, Australia and China.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-average-tourist-from-different-countries-2014-5#ixzz33BZ9KzZj

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Pre-Vacation Season Sale

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

The Japan travel guide to Japanese monster movie locations, landmarks and attractions available at a 20% pre-vacation season discount.

Tarzana, CA, April 17, 2014 --(PR.com)-- With vacation season only a few months away and the opening of Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. "Godzilla" coming May 16, Armand Vaquer, author of "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan," announced a pre-vacation season discount of 20% off the guide's cover price, making the cost of the book $12.00, plus $2.00 shipping and handling, for a total of $14.00 each.

"As vacation season is fast approaching and with the high awareness of the new "Godzilla" movie, it is time to launch the pre-vacation season sale of 'The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan,'" stated Vaquer. "From Friday, April 25 to Monday, June 16, the travel guide will be available at a 20% discount directly from me."

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" is the world's only Japan travel guide tailored to fans of Japanese science-fiction and fantasy films who want to see locations and landmarks from the movies.

Orders postmarked Friday, April 25 through Monday, June 16 are entitled to the discount. The offer expires in 18 days!

To order, send your check or money order payable to Armand Vaquer at 18618 Collins Street, #105, Tarzana, California 91356 or click the PayPal button below.

Sale over.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Wins FAA Vote of Confidence For Longer Flights

Above, a United Airlines Dreamliner at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" has obtained a vote of confidence from the Federal Aviation Administration in their approval of extended operations for the aircraft.

According to NBC News:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday approved extended operations for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, a move that will allow a wider range of routes and that marks a vote of confidence in the high-tech jet at a time of renewed scrutiny. 
The approval, known as ETOPS, will allow airlines to fly routes that are up to 330 minutes, or 5-1/2 hours, away from a landing field, versus the 180-minute, or three-hour, limit in place since the Dreamliner was launched in 2011. 
The FAA approval formally applies only to U.S. carriers, and within that group only United Airlines now operates the 787. But regulators in other countries typically follow the FAA's lead.
My round-trip flights to Japan last February were in United Airlines Boeing 787s.

To read the full story, go here

Shinjuku Kinokuniya Bookstore Reopens Expanded Foreign Language Book Section

Above, the Little Tokyo Kinokuniya Bookstore. Photo by Amber Vaquer.

The leading bookstore chain in Japan, Kinokuniya Co., announced that they have reopened the newly expanded Shinjuku South store's English and foreign language book section.

According to Kyodo News:
Japan's leading bookstore chain operator Kinokuniya Co. reopened its newly expanded section for English and other foreign language books at its main Tokyo store on Thursday. 
Covering the entire sixth floor of about 1,000 square meters at Kinokuniya's Shinjuku South Store, the new section offers a broader collection of fiction and nonfiction books, magazines and comic books totaling about 120,000 titles, twice the previous number, the firm said. 
The Tokyo-based company, which opened its first store in Japan in 1927, said the section named Books Kinokuniya Tokyo will be one of the largest of its kind in Japan.
The Little Tokyo (Los Angeles) Books Kinokuniya carries The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan and is one of my main stops whenever I visit Little Tokyo.

Above, the travel section of the Little Tokyo Kinokuniya Bookstore. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To read the full article, go here

Latest Blog Post Pick-Ups

Three blog posts were picked up by The Japan Daily.

The first two were on the Japanese World Heritage Sites (1993-1998) and (1999-2013).

The last one was on the availability of PayPal for the pre-vacation season sale of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

To view The Japan Daily, go here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Japanese World Heritage Sites (1999-2013)

Above, the peak of Mount Fuji from the timberline. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

This is the second part of MATCHA's listing of Japanese World Heritage Sites. These were entered into the listing during the years of 1999 to 2013.

Of this list, I have visited one of them. As with the first list, the entries are accompanied with beautiful photographs.

MATCHA, The Japan Travel Web Magazine begins the second list of entries with:
Following the previous entry, we will introduce the Japanese World Heritage Site registered from 1999 to 2013. Please read and feel the beautiful Japanese old architectures and grand nature.
To see the entries, go here.

Japanese World Heritage Sites (1993-1998)

Above, Kinkaku-ji "Golden Pavilion" in Kyoto, Japan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

MATCHA, The Japan Travel Web Magazine has articles listing World Heritage Sites in Japan.

They are divided into two entries. The first one covers 1993 to 1998. I have visited some of them. One of them is pictured above.

Before listing the sites (along with photos), they began the article with:
Do you know how many World Heritage Sites are in Japan at this moment (2014.5)? 13 Cultural Heritages, and 4 Natural Heritages so totally here are 17 World Heritages Sites. 
We gathered them on two entries. Let’s go on to the first half!
To see the first entry, go here.

​Godzilla vs. Hawaii: The cost of replacing paradise

Above, the destruction in Waikiki by Godzilla.

Godzilla first appeared in 1954 and other giant monsters followed in the ensuing years. During all that time, I don't recall anyone bothering to do some "numbers crunching" on what their attacks on Tokyo, Yokohama, Fukuoka and other places would cost the local (and national) economies as well as the costs involved to repair and rebuild them.

Finally, someone has.

Pacific Business News took a look at what it would cost the Hawaiian economy should Godzilla's and M.U.T.O.'s attacks on Waikiki and the Honolulu International Airport were real. The resulting numbers are astounding.

They begin their article with:
In real life, the filming in Hawaii of key scenes for the latest Godzilla remake pumped some money into the local economy last year. But anyone who has seen the film knows that parts of Oahu — SPOILER ALERT! — get thoroughly trashed by a fight between Godzilla and a skyscraper-size parasite called a MUTO. 
The carnage is impressive and rendered so realistically that we wondered how much it would cost to fix the damages if this Hollywood fantasy actually happened. Crunching some numbers quickly reminds one how essential Waikiki and air travel are to our economy.
 To read the article, go here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Godzilla, Guardian of the Universe

Above, the star. Photo: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

Thanks to yesterday being Memorial Day, I finally got out to see Godzilla at the ArcLight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks.

It was a 10:35 PM showing and there were only about a half dozen of us in the auditorium. Good! No distractions!

I'll start this out with the cinematography and the sound. Both were excellent. No complaints in either department from me.

Many critics complained that Godzilla doesn't show up until about an hour into the movie (I guess they weren't counting the prologue of the movie where Godzilla's spikes were prominently displayed). I found that this was not a problem as the first hour was quite riveting and added to the build-up for Godzilla's first full-body appearance. The first hour went by very quickly. There was no lack of monster action as the time was spent on M.U.T.O. and its escape from the former nuclear power plant in Japan.

When Godzilla made his first big entrance, I used a word in my mind that I haven't used in ages: Bitchen! Godzilla was very impressive!

At least Godzilla looked like Godzilla and acted like Godzilla, right down to his atomic breath!

Above, my ticket to Godzilla. A great souvenir until it fades.

As for the overall movie, it played like a Heisei Gamera movie (many have already noted this). At the end of the movie, I was almost expecting to hear Kow Otani's Gamera march. Gamera could have easily been substituted for Godzilla in this movie.

Besides the Gamera feel of the movie, much of it reminded me of Cloverfield as well (some of the music score reminded me of the ending theme from Cloverfield). Some shots of the M.U.T.O.s looked a lot like the Cloverfield monster.

The special effects were impressive, but I still prefer the "old school" method of using detailed miniatures.

During the Las Vegas sequence, an old Elvis Presley song was heard. I guess it means there were two kings in the movie.

Godzilla fan John DeSentis said that he liked the movie, but didn't love it. That also pretty much sums up my feelings about the movie. It is light-years better than the Sony/TriStar 1998 monstrosity. About the only thing the Sony/TriStar Godzilla got right was the monster's roar. I was not impressed with Godzilla's roar in this movie. It was blah to me.

Although Akira Takarada's scene didn't make the final cut, at least he did get listed in the ending credits.

Godzilla was entertaining and I recommend it. My grade: B+.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Survey Reveals Foreign Interest In Japanese Cuisine, Travel

Above, an Asakusa sushi restaurant. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The results of a recent survey of people abroad on what interests them about things Japanese has been released.

According to The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun):
People abroad have strong interest in things Japanese, including cuisine, travel and fashion, according to a survey on Japan brands conducted by major Japanese ad agency Dentsu Inc. 
In order, Japanese cuisine, travel and fashion were ranked the top three items when participants were asked about their interests regarding the country, followed by Japanese gardens and hot springs.

Conducted in April, the survey queried 3,600 people in their 20s to 50s in 18 countries and territories, including the United States, European and Asian countries, by listing 32 items to choose from that represent Japan brands.
To read the full article, go here

"A Photo Journey Through Zion National Park"

Above, can you spot Darth Vader's helmet on this rocky mountain in Zion National Park? Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It is fitting to post this as today is Memorial Day.

One of my late parents' favorite places to vacation at was Zion National Park in Utah. It is also one of mine as well.

Zion is a day's drive from Los Angeles on a route that will take you though Las Vegas and Mesquite, Nevada, a tip of Arizona, the Virgin River Gorge and St. George, Utah.

The World Is A Book website has posted an article, "A Photo Journey Through Zion National Park" that will provide the reader with great photographs and informative text.

It begins with:
We have many attractions we’ve visited largely in need of a “do-over” due to lack of time or weather. In honor of National Parks Week here in the US, this is our re-visit to Zion National Park in Utah. Our trip last month was a stark contrast to our visit a few years ago when it was covered with snow and we practically had the park to ourselves. Zion is popular among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts and a natural spectacle of canyons and cliffs. 
It was designated as a National Park in 1919. Zion is Utah’s oldest and most visited park.The Mormon pioneers who settled in the area in the late 1800s called the canyon “Zion” which was a Hebrew word for refuge or sanctuary. We entered the park this time through the East Gate along Mt. Carmel Highway after our trip from Lake Powell and the Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Our last trip was through the South Gate and the town of Springdale. The reddish-brown paved road was a welcome sight. It almost seemed natural and blended in nicely with the surrounding red rocks.
Some trivia: Some scenes of The Eiger Sanction that starred Clint Eastwood were filmed in Zion National Park. One of the scenes at Zion was the swimming pool bar scene with the late Jack Cassidy meeting a bikini-clad girl named "Buns." The swimming pool was at the Zion Lodge, but was removed in the late 1970s.

To read the full article, go here.

Magazine Assignment On Godzilla Travel

Above, the Wako Dept. Store in Ginza with Jonathan Bellés in the foreground. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I just completed the first draft of a magazine travel article on our favorite kaiju (the one that has made a major theatrical comeback recently) and sent it off.

Essentially, what they are looking for is:
We're now planning our feature on Godzilla and definitely want to pursue a Godzilla-themed travel piece of about 700 words with photos. I'd suggest some of the more interesting places he or other kaiju attacked. What are your top 5?
Since today is a holiday, I figured I would write it up now and send it as the deadline given is mid-June.

Depending upon any need for changes in the article, all that needs to be done is to shoot over some photographs to compliment the article.

Try Traveling To Japan During The Off-Season To Save Money

Above, Nagasaki Wharf during the spring months. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

A couple of blog posts ago, I noted that the cost of a round-trip airfare from Los Angeles International Airport to Tokyo jumped almost $500 ($475 to be exact) since my airfare report of May 5. Naturally, the airlines will hike up their fares during the peak traveling season. (As Los Angeles is a major travel hub for Japan on the West Coast, it will probably be even more expensive for people departing from mid-West and East Coast regions.)

On top of that, you have to pay taxes on those airfares and be charged additional fees by the airlines. Chances are, prices are bound to go up even higher as we get further into the summer months.

Likewise, tour companies will also hike their tour prices during the summer months.

You don't have to be at the mercy of the airlines or tour companies if you are able to take your vacation to Japan (or anywhere else) during the off-season of the autumn and winter months. Accordingly, the airlines and tour companies will offer better prices during the off-season. Plus, there's the added bonus about going to Japan during the off-season: you won't be subjected to the miserable humidity and high temperatures of the Japanese summer. And, you will also avoid the summer vacation crowds. You will still be subjected to taxes and fees by the airlines, but at least the taxes will be based on the lower fares. As for finding the best tour at the right price, it pays to shop around.

Also, you can make the trip without signing onto a tour by doing the do-it-yourself method. With the Internet and the different travel guides (such as Lonely Planet and Frommer's or the kaiju-oriented The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan) at your fingertips, you can plan your own itineraries and save even more money. You can even consult with travel agents for finding the best prices at little or no cost. Make a list of the things and places you want to see and then check around. Plan a budget for how much you are able to spend each day on vacation (food, ground transportation, souvenirs, lodging, etc.).

The Japan Tourism Agency and the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) are two great resources for planning your trip. The JNTO will provide maps and brochures on places of interest for FREE. All you have to do is request them through their website.

If you plan to travel outside of Tokyo to other cities (such as Nagoya, Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Sendai), on JR-run bullet trains, you should look into getting a JR Rail Pass. The JR Rail Pass will save you a lot of money!

For people with children, it is harder to be able to take a vacation during the off-season as it is also school season. But, if you can arrange it, you will still be able to enjoy the fall colors of Japan by going in the autumn or see the cherry blossoms during the spring. Both seasons are pleasant with moderate temperatures. I prefer traveling during the off-season.

The idea is to get more out of your travel dollars. If you can go during the off-season, you will still be able to enjoy Japan and, also, save money.

Would-Be Shoppers Daunted By Japan's Duty-Free Rules

Above, the former Ginza Matsuzakaya department store (center, background) being renovated. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Previously, I posted about Japan's efforts to re-tool and expand their duty-free shopping for foreign visitors. This includes stations at department stores where foreign tourists can arrange to shop duty-free and the expansion of kinds of merchandise that can be purchased duty-free.

However, in every new system a government implements, there always seem to be a few bugs that need to be ironed out.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that there are some problems with a new duty-free program Japan has implemented.

They report:
TOKYO -- Japan welcomed a record 1.23 million visitors in April, topping 1 million for the second straight month. But though the country is moving closer to its goal of attracting 20 million arrivals by 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics, cumbersome duty-free procedures are putting a damper on foreign visitors' shop sprees.
The article goes on to list some of the problems and proposed remedies and why they only add to the problems and not worth the effort.

One other interesting part of the article is about the former site of the Ginza Matsuzakaya department store (that was trashed by Godzilla in 1954, by the way):
Construction is well under way at the former site of the Matsuzakaya Ginza department store in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district. The site is being redeveloped into a huge shopping complex scheduled to open in 2016.
To read the full article, go here.

LAX To Tokyo Airfares Jump and Latest In The Japan Daily

Above, newly arrived travelers in Narita Airport's Arrival Lobby. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

My monthly airfare check isn't due until next week, but I did notice that airfares from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Tokyo have climbed since my May 5 report.

In that report, I noted that the lowest round-trip airfare found by the Los Angeles Times between LAX and Tokyo was $829.00 (not counting taxes and fees). I took a look at yesterday's L.A. Times Travel section and the lowest they found was nearly $500 more. Their lowest was $1,304.00, and that also does not include any taxes or fees.

We'll see if the prices change next week when I do my June check. Will they be lower? Higher? Or the same?

This tells us that we're headed into the vacation season when the airlines do raise prices.


The Japan Daily has picked up two of yesterday's blog posts.

The first is on being able to use PayPal to order a print copy of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. This has come in quite handy as I don't have to wait for checks to clear before shipping the travel guides out. I can do so immediately once PayPal sends over the confirmation. A bunch of them should be hitting mailboxes tomorrow (Tuesday) as there's no mail service due to today being Memorial Day.

A reminder, the sale (at a 20% discount from the cover price) is still on until June 16. Go here for ordering.

The second was on my blog about staying at a Japanese ryokan (Japanese inn) instead of hotels for that "Japanese experience."

To see The Japan Daily, go here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tatami Floors In Japan Heading To Extinction?

Above, G-goods on a tatami floor in a Tokyo ryokan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Here's something that I would never have thought would happen.

Tatami floors in Japan are disappearing.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —If you imagine a Japanese room, chances are you think of something like the picture above: a simply furnished room with sliding “shoji” doors, a “tokonoma” with a hanging scroll, and a tatami mat floor. These are examples of the virtues of traditional Japan that many foreigners often hear extolled. When they occupy such an important part of Japanese identity, you wouldn’t think they would be in danger of disappearing anytime soon. 
However, the demand for tatami mats has gone down by one third in the last 20 years and many artisans are worried the trade will soon be lost, as more and more of them find themselves rapidly aging with no successors to continue the business. Why is it that tatami floors are becoming rare now, after enduring for so long?
The only places I've had the pleasure of having a tatami floor were in ryokans. There are several reason cited for the slow demise of tatami floors in the article.

Find out why by going here

Godzilla Political Cartoons

39 years ago, Jaws was released and political cartoonists made good use of the Jaws poster, and shark images in general, to make political points.

Now that Godzilla is out in theaters, well, you'll see.

Try Out A Ryokan In Japan

Above, Bansuitei Ikoiso Ryokan in Sendai. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Previously, I blogged about budget hotels. Now we shift to another form of accommodation that is unique to Japan: ryokans (Japanese inn).

One of the things I would recommend to visitors to Japan is to stay at a Japanese ryokan instead of a hotel for a truly "Japanese experience."

Wikipedia describes ryokans this way:
A ryokan (旅館?) is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan's highways. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner.
During my first trip to Japan in 2001, I stayed at a ryokan (Hotel Fukudaya) in the Shibuya district. It was roomy and the owners were very hospitable. In fact, all of the ryokan rooms I've stayed in had more room space than a business hotel.

Above, Hotel Fukydaya ryokan in Shibuya, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I have stayed at three ryokans over the years. The second one was in Sendai (Bansuitei Ikoiso Ryokan) and the third was in Kumamoto (Kumamoto Kajita Ryokan). All three were enjoyable. The daughter of the owner of the Sendai ryokan attended L.A. Harbor College in Southern California and she spoke pretty good English.

The owner of the Kumamoto ryokan insisted on driving me to the Kumamoto train station instead of me taking a taxi.

Above, Kumamoto Kajita Ryokan in Kumamoto, Kyushu. Photo: Google +.

Each ryokan that I stayed at served excellent meals. The room rates were comparable, and some were actually cheaper, to hotel room rates. All were family-owned and operated. They were also all friendly and helpful whenever I had any questions.

Above, my room at Bansuitei Ikoiso Ryokan in Sendai. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I have found that in longer stays in Japan where I would venture out of Tokyo for several days, ryokans were more economical than hotels. This website has information on different ryokan styles.

If you are the more adventuresome type, I recommend a stay in a ryokan.

Here are some sources for booking a stay at a ryokan:


Yado Nihon

Japanese Guest Houses

Japanese Inn Group

The Weekly Standard: "Godzilla Sans Giggles"

Above, the Godzilla statue at Toho Studios in Setagaya. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The media buzz on Godzilla has been coming from all quarters.

The latest is from the right-tilted The Weekly Standard, the weekly magazine founded and edited by William Kristol. The article is from their June 2 edition.

They begin their article with:
Why does it feel like a modest triumph that the new version of Godzilla is actually not bad? This is really the best thing to say about Godzilla—if said in a surprised, huh, who’da thunk it? kind of way: Hey, not bad! It’s an achievement of a kind when a film about a rubber-suited character featured in some of the most infamously ridiculous pablum ever made (Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla) doesn’t make you giggle. Whatever its flaws, and they are many, this Godzilla never does.
One can tell by the article's title, "Godzilla sans Giggles" that the article would be favorable. In a later paragraph, writer (The Weekly Standard's movie critic) John Podhoretz wrote:
But by not showing us too much of the giant monsters, as last year’s dreadful Pacific Rim did, Gareth Edwards makes sure we remain unsettled by them. And watching Godzilla doesn’t give you a headache the way Michael Bay’s movies do.
Granted, John Podhoretz is not too thrilled by the plot (although he calls the first half-hour "terrific—ominous and compelling"), but overall, he feels Godzilla is "a thrilling change of pace."

To read the full article, go here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Study Finds Bacteria Can Linger On Planes For A Week

It is a good thing I keep antiseptic wipes and a small can of Lysol spray with me on trips (although you can't use the spray on planes as the TSA won't let you carry them on) judging from the following story from Japan Today about bacteria on airliners.

They wrote:
WASHINGTON —Dangerous bacteria—the kind that cause vomiting and potent infections—may be able to survive on airplane surfaces for up to a week, researchers say. 
Researchers at Auburn University tested the ability of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli O157:H7 to survive on surfaces commonly found in airplanes.

These disease-causing bugs made their homes on armrests, seat back pockets and other common surfaces, said the research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
 To read the full story, go here.

More Porcelain Godzilla

Above, a Godzilla porcelain figurine purchased near the Misawa Air Force Base in 1985.

A note was recently sent to me regarding my earlier post on porcelain Godzilla figurines.

Craig from St. Cloud, Florida wrote:
Hi -
I recently found your webpage concerning the porcelain Godzilla
mystery and, having one of these my sister bought, I left a
comment in that regard (repeated by mistake).
After talking to my sister, I just wanted to add a little more information.
She says the porcelain Godzilla came from a shop just outside the
back gate at Misawa Air Force Base in Misawa Japan. They sold masks,
porcelain monsters/ action figures and noritake china.  Possibly a
shop called China Pete's.  This was in August of 1985.  Hope this
helps your investigation. 
St. Cloud, FL 
Thanks, Craig! Yes, it does help as, for the first time, we have a location where some porcelain Godzilla figurines were sold. Craig also included the photo at top of this blog post.

Anyone else have one with a good story to tell?

UPDATE (7/25/17):

According to Sean Linkenback, who wrote a book on Godzilla collectibles, these porcelain Godzilla likely originated from China.

Japan Times: Baffled Foreign Tourists Get Little Help On Trains

Above, a sign in Japanese and English at Tokyo Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The primary mode of transportation Tokyo and the rest of Japan is by subway and other trains.

Fortunately, for those of us from English-speaking countries, Japan has bi-lingual signs (Japanese/English) that makes figuring out if you're at the correct track or train much easier. Tourists from other countries aren't so fortunate.

The Japan Times reported:
Although Asian tourists are flocking to Japan in greater numbers, many are at a loss in railway stations, where few signs are written in languages other than Japanese and English. 
Several railways, including East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), are making modest efforts to present station names in Chinese and Korean, but Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), which operates the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, has decided to offer announcements in English only.

Although signs in other languages outside of Japanese or English are extremely rare, there is one tool that JR Tokai provides to help those outside of the Japanese and English language sphere:
For those who do not speak English, brochures in French, Chinese and Korean are available at information counters. And some directions on signs are given in the form of symbols rather than words.
Most railways cite the limited space on their signs that preclude them from adding other languages. They would have to install bigger signs in order to accommodate other languages, some railway companies say.

To read the full article, go here.

2 Blog Posts Picked Up

The Japan Daily has picked up a couple of blog posts shared by followers of this blog.

The first is about the newly set-up PayPal means of purchasing copies of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. It reached The Japan Daily through European Travel.

The other, through Backpacker, was on Japan's April 2014 foreign tourism numbers in which the number of inbound foreign tourists exceeded the number of Japanese departures for the first time since September 1970.

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Hiroshima Peace Museum Exhibits Getting Face-lift

Above, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with the Memorial Cenotaph in the foreground. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is renewing its displays on the atomic bombing of the city that occurred in August 1945.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun:
HIROSHIMA -- The city of Hiroshima on May 22 announced plans to renew displays at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to comprehensively showcase the horrors of the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945 from its immediate aftermath to the saga of hibakusha and the sorrows of family members left behind. 
As part of a face-lift now under way, the museum in the city's Naka Ward will boost the number of photos and materials to be displayed and use images by computer graphics and touch panels to help the young generation better understand the tragedy.
One display item was mentioned in the article, which caught my attention. It is the before and after dioramas of Hiroshima.

According to the article:
The museum says it will replace a diorama of the city with a five-meter circular model of the heart of the city before and after the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing. It will visualize aviation photography of the city within a radius of 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter before and after the bombing and project it into the model. Pre-bombing images will include those of ships sailing in the river.
Currently, there are two dioramas that depict Hiroshima. One shows the city as it looked before the bombing and the other shows the city in the aftermath of the bombing. I photographed the two dioramas in 2004 and combined the two photos (below).

To read the full article, go here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Japan To Offer Free Wi-Fi To Foreign Tourists

The Japanese government, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Group and other agencies will be offering free Wi-Fi to foreign tourists beginning in fiscal 2016.

According to News on Japan:
Foreign visitors will receive IDs at airports or tourist spots by showing their passport, which will allow them to use free Wi-Fi at train stations and tourist spots nationwide. The ID will also be downloadable via a smartphone app.
To read more, go here.

Travel Guide Orders Shipped

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

Thanks to the addition of PayPal for ordering The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan (details here), several orders arrived in the last 24 hours. This tells me that I should have set this up with PayPal a long time ago. Better late than never.

Since Monday is the Memorial Day holiday, there will be no postal services on that day (meaning, no mail pick-ups or deliveries), I mailed the orders that came in this afternoon. They will likely arrive at their destinations on Tuesday.

Japan's April Tourism Numbers

Above, the main entrance to the Imperial Palace. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan's April tourism numbers are now in and it appears that the number of foreign tourists coming into Japan exceeded the number of Japanese tourists leaving the country for the first time in 44 years.

Japan Today reported:
For the first time in 44 years, the number of foreign visitors to Japan in April has exceeded the number of Japanese departures. 
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the number of foreign visitors increased 33.4% compared with the same month in 2013, Fuji TV reported Friday. The total number of visitors in April was 1,231,500, the highest number ever. 
On the other hand, the number of Japanese people who headed abroad was about 1.1 million, a decrease of 4.4% from April 2013. The last time the number of inbound visitors topped Japanese departures was in September 1970, Fuji reported.
The increase in foreign tourists coming into Japan was attributed to the weaker yen, which was beneficial to foreign tourists as they were able to obtain more yen in foreign exchange, visa waivers for some Asian countries and an increase in international flights to Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

To read more, go here.  

Facebook's Blue Dinosaur

If you, as a Facebook user, haven't seen this cartoon character pop up on your computer screen while perusing, you soon will.

A friend sent me a story on Facebook's newest gizmo, a blue cartoon dinosaur.

The story came from the San Bernardino County Sun. In it, they wrote:
NEW YORK — More Facebook users can expect to see a blue cartoon dinosaur popping up in their feeds, reminding them to check their privacy settings. 
No stranger to privacy fiascos, Facebook had already made the tool available to users who were posting public updates. The feature is designed to remind people how widely they share posts, what apps they use and other privacy issues.
When I saw the little blue dinosaur, my first thought was, "I wonder if it looks too much like Godzilla (note the back spikes), prompting Toho to take action?"

To read the full story, go here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

PayPal: "Why didn't I do this before?"

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

It looks like I made the right decision to set up PayPal for print edition sales of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

I've had a PayPal account for years, but I used it only when I bought something at eBay. I think the last time I did so was probably around ten years ago.

Due to "popular demand," I set up my PayPal account (I wasn't sure it still existed since I hadn't used it for a long time) to be able to accept payments for the travel guide.

Already, orders are coming in through PayPal and it has me thinking, "Why didn't I do this before?"

For details, go here.

Keisei Skyliner To Downtown Tokyo

Above, the Keisei Skyliner at Terminal One of Narita Airport. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Since I was staying in the Ueno area of Tokyo during February's trip to Japan, I decided to try out the Keisei Skyliner train from Narita International Airport to Ueno. It is touted as the fastest train to downtown Tokyo from Narita (36 min.).

Unfortunately, the snowstorm that struck the day of my arrival caused the train line to shut down, so I couldn't give it a try. The fare is ¥2,475 (roughly $25.00).

But, here's a YouTube video on the Keisei Skyliner so you can see what they have to offer:

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