"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, June 30, 2014

Nakajima Ki-43-IIIa Hayabusa "Oscar"

Here's a photo I forgot I had.

It is yours truly with a Nakajima Ki-43-IIIa Hayabusa "Oscar" reproduction at the Seattle Museum of Flight. The photo was taken in 2005 when I went up to Seattle, Washington to visit friends.

According to the Imperial Japanese Aviation Resource Center:
The Ki-43 was the single most numerous fighter operated by the Imperial Japanese Army. Comparable to the A6M Zero-Sen, the Ki-43 was highly manueverable but fragile and tended to disintegrate when hit by .50 rounds. Later versions had some armor and self-sealing fuel tanks but all models suffered from a lightweight armament (though the IIIb tried to rectify this). The Ki-43 was popular with pilots and was the mount of a majority of the Japanese army aces. Unfortunately it was kept in production long after it was obsolete.

L.A. To Tokyo Price Check

Above, Yokohama Harbor and Cosmo World. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Since today is the last day of the month of June, I may as well do a check on the airfares between Los Angeles and Tokyo now. If there is a significant change next week, I'll post another update.

In looking at yesterday's Los Angeles Times Travel section, it appears that airfares between L.A. and Tokyo have risen since my blog post of June 9. As you call, the prices seemed to have fluctuated a bit. They shot up and then came down and then went up a little during the month.

In my post of June 9, the lowest airfare the Times came up with was $1,004.00 and the highest was $1,590.00. Keep in mind that these, and any other prices reported, do not includes fees and taxes that are added.

In yesterday's Times Travel section, the lowest they came up with was $1,154.00 and the highest was $1,740.00. It looks like the prices are climbing again, which is generally the case as we move further into vacation season.

I then checked my favorite source for airline tickets, GatewayLAX, to see if they can beat those prices and by how much.

I entered a departure date of Saturday, July 12 with a return flight on July 27. This is what they were able to come up with:

As usually the case, they were able to beat the lowest airfare the Los Angeles Times came up with. And, the flight (via Delta Air Lines) arrives and departs from Haneda, so you can avoid Narita International Airport altogether.

As I mentioned, if there's a significant change next week, I will do a follow-up price check.

"Godzilla" Advertising In Japan?

A friend sent this picture over to me. It apparently comes from JapanIsWeird.com, the "Strange and Bizarre Japanese Photos" website. They have lot of interesting stuff to see. You may want to check it out!

Back to the photo. Obviously, they're doing the Godzilla advertising right in Japan.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

NPR: How 'Professor Godzilla' Learned To Roar

William Tsutsui is a name that hardcore Godzilla fans should be familiar with. He wrote a book on his fondness (or obsession) on Godzilla a few years ago (2004, to be exact), Godzilla On My Mind.

For various reasons, many fans did not like Tsutsui's book. I have to admit, it was different, but it was an interesting read. Many, I think, just didn't understand it.

In the interests of "full disclosure," Tsutsui used some quotes from articles I had written and he also used my photo of a fan-made Mechagodzilla costume.

National Public Radio's (NPR) website has a new article on William Tsutsui. He is about to take the reigns of Hendrix College (not named after Jimi Hendrix, in case you were wondering) in Little Rock, Arkansas.

They wrote:
Hendrix College, a small school outside of Little Rock, Ark., is about to get a new president. His name is William Tsutsui, a Princeton-, Oxford-, and Harvard-educated economist, but he's best known for a certain expertise that has landed him the nickname Professor Godzilla.
A friend sent me an email with a link to the article. In reading the title of the piece, "How 'Professor Godzilla' Learned To Roar," I initially thought it was about how composer Akira Ifukube created Godzilla's roar with musical instruments.

A photo of Tsutsui with some of his Godzilla toys is included with the article.

To read the full article, go here.

Half of 20-Something Men In Japan Don't Know Gundam, Survey Says

Above, a close-up of the Gundam lift at the Bandai Museum. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Rocket News 24 posted an article about a survey with a stunning result (at least to Magazine R25): over half of 20-something Japanese males don't know Gundam.

They wrote:
It’s amazing how memory fades over time. Trying to recollect my favorite childhood programs is often a foggy mess. For example, I remember one cartoon where the good guys drove robot cars with arms and the bad guys were these weird plant cars. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of that show in spite of the deep-rooted hatred of trees and vegetables it instilled in me. 
Shows like that were great but as they say, the true classics are the ones that stand the test of time. Surely Gundam, arguably the most famous giant robot anime, is among that class, right? Magazine R25 suggests it might not be. Despite Mobile Suit Gundam’s long legacy of series, R25 claims that 51 percent of Japanese men in their twenties who were surveyed said they “do not know Gundam.”
To read the article, go here.

News On Japan's New Look

On occasion, a website will do a whole make-over and change the look of their sites and pages. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Many times I prefer the old layouts over the new.

The latest website I usually peruse (most of them I subscribe to and receive email notices) that did a complete revamp was News On Japan, a Japanese news website. I primarily read their travel and entertainment pages.

I didn't much care for their old look, but when I went to their website the other night, I was pleasantly surprised over their changeover.

This one works! I like it! It is easy to read, with subject categories that are easy to navigate.

At top of this blog post is a snapshot of their main page. To read News On Japan, go here.

Latest Pick-ups

The Japan Daily picked up three blog posts from yesterday.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gaijinpot: Kurihama Flower World: Relaxation, and ゴジラ

Above, the Godzilla slide with a dusting of snow during my visit. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last February, during a cold and snowy day, I made a trip down to Yokosuka to visit the Kurihama Flower World to see the Godzilla slide. I wrote about the visit on this blog and over at JapanTravel.

At the time, the tram train wasn't operating, so I had to hoof it up the mountain to see the Godzilla slide. It is a moderately strenuous hike (for those who aren't in condition or have physical limitations) to get to the slide.

However, during the spring and summer months, the tram is available to take people up to Adventure Land where the Godzilla slide is located.

Gaijinpot.com has posted a new article on the park, "Kurihama Flower World: Relaxation, and ゴジラ."

They begin it with:
If you’re looking for a way to stop and smell the flowers in the busyness of Tokyo life, take a side trip to this peaceful flower park located just outside Yokosuka city central in Kanagawa prefecture. 
Kurihama Flower World is well known for its beautiful varieties of flowers throughout the year. In a trip to this park you can experience everything from flower picking to foot baths, all while getting exercise and enjoying the great outdoors. 
When you first arrive in the park, it doesn’t seem like much of a flower world. In actuality, you have to either take a train or walk from the base up the mountain to where the flowers begin. It’s a relaxing ride, and lots of fun to see everyone so excited for what’s about to come. The train costs 210¥ for adults and 100¥ for children, one way.
Above, the area near the Kurihama Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

At the time of my visit, there wasn't much to see flower-wise, and the area around the Godzilla slide was either a big mud puddle or covered in snow. To get to the Kurihama Flower World by train, it is about a 15 minute walk from Kurihama station on the Keikyu line from Tokyo. Kurihama Flower World is spotlighted on page 32 of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

The Gaijinpot article provides information on the things to see at Kurihama Flower World and is worth a read.

To read the article, go here.

Movies That Make You Want To Travel

Above,  Atami Castle on the hilltop overlooking Atami's harbor. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Have you ever watched a movie where the center of action takes place in a foreign country and it makes you want to take a vacation trip to that country?

The Huffington Post's Travel section has a list of movies by country that conjures up those thoughts for many. Unfortunately, the writer left out Japan. Just about any Japanese Godzilla or Gamera movie would make some people want to visit Japan. Two non-kaiju movies of recent years, Lost In Translation (2003) and The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), immediately come to mind. Both of those movies featured Shibuya Crossing and Lost In Translation featured Atami (featured at the ending of King Kong vs. Godzilla) and Kyoto.

Before The Huffington Post goes into their list, here's what they have to say on the subject:
Movies embody escapism at its best: They transport you into another world for an hour or two, often taking you places you couldn't otherwise go. Essential to that experience, of course, is the movie's setting. Some movies just epitomize a place -- like Weekend at Bernie's and the Hamptons. 
OK, so maybe not that example. But with this idea in mind, we've rounded up a list of films that fuel your wanderlust with every re-watch. Each of these films makes you want to get off the couch, away from that bowl of popcorn, and on board the next plane to wherever it was you were just watching famous people doing cool stuff. 
Here's our list of destinations, broken down by country, along with the movies that'll make you want to move to each of them. Just don't go all Elizabeth Gilbert on us, expecting to find yourself in India.

Above, Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

 To see what they came up with, go here.

19th International Sons of the Desert Convention, Hollywood

Laurel & Hardywood - Convention Update #46
The following is a sample of the dealers and their products during the convention. The Dealers’ room is opened all day Friday and after the brunch until 3:00 on Sunday.

There will be a raffle at Pottsville, anyone wishes to donate items may bring donations to the event that night. There will also be a silent auction for two Stan Laurel checks. One written out to The Hal Roach Studios and the other to Mae Busch who endorsed the backside. Both are hand signed by Stan Laurel.

Author Chuck Harter will be selling copies of his book “Little Elf: A Celebration of Harry Langdon” for a special price of $40 instead of the usual $50 tag.   chuck.harter@earthlink.net

Fez-o-rama is happy to be returning for its second Sons of the Desert Convention – and we’re going to be bringing the licensed Sons of the Desert fezzes with us! Each fine embroidered velvet fez is hand-made in the USA, and features our artistic design on the films iconic imagery. You’ll find us in the Dealers Room Friday and Sunday, or visit us on-line at www.Fez-o-rama.com

I. Joseph Hyatt will be in the dealer’s room on Friday selling his two books, “Stan Laurel’s Valet – The Jimmy Murphy Story” & “The COLOR Ultimate Hollywood Victory Caravan Scrapbook”

Jimmy Murphy was Stan Laurel’s valet and close friend, and his life is now documented in “Stan Laurel’s Valet – The Jimmy Murphy Story“. Photos from archives and other private collections, including Jimmy’s own are used throughout the book. Special attention has been paid to the recreation of the two major American theater tours of Laurel and Hardy. Complete dates and locations of their U.S. Tours are published here for the first time. Amazing interviews with Jimmy Murphy, the crew, musicians and stars that worked with the team recreate these shows as if you were present.

The Ultimate Hollywood Victory Caravan Scrapbook captures the USA’s largest bond tour during the war years. Full color movie frames capture and recreate the entire show. Travel with the troupe to all 12 cities. Extra information includes the Mexico pre-show and the San Francisco post-show. Souvenir programs, ticket stubs and crew badges are reproduced, as well as advertising, interviews with the stars and publicity photos. See what it was like to travel with Laurel and Hardy from Mexico to San Francisco!

Author Bill Cassarawill bring Edgar Kennedy books, L&H stills and misc. paper items. He can be reached at Slowburnbill@aol.com

Jordan Young will be selling “The Comedy World of Stan Laurel” (centennial edition signed by John McCabe), “Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies” (1st edition hardcover by Randy Skretvedt, who will be signing) and “Reel Characters” including Anita Garvin (by yours truly). Also other L&H and vintage comedy books and collectables.

Lori Jones/Way Out West Tent will be selling autographed photos, records, Pratfall Magazines and Collectibles

Mike Strauss will be selling the following items:  michaelstrauss44@yahoo.com

dealer1 dealer2 dealer3

For more information on the Sons of the Desert International convention, go here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Godzilla Earned $478,485,100 As of June 26

Above, a Godzilla bus shelter ad in Burbank. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

As of yesterday, Godzilla has raked in worldwide $478,485,100 in box office receipts. Also, as of yesterday, the Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. production took in $196,085,100 domestically. These figures came from Box Office Mojo.

Once Godzilla opens in Japan on July 25, it should go over the $500 million mark worldwide.

To read the full report from Box Office Mojo, go here.

Great Choice: Japan To Adopt Boeing 777s As Government Aircraft

Above, the Korean Air Boeing 777 that I flew to Japan on. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japanese government is about to make a decision. They are to decide to adopt the Boeing 777-300ER as their new government planes.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun:
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan is likely to adopt the Boeing 777-300ER as its new government aircraft to be used for overseas trips by the prime minister and imperial family members, government sources said Wednesday. 
The government plans to make a final decision by the end of August about the new government planes to be put into service from fiscal 2019, the sources said. 
Europe's Airbus S.A.S. has withdrawn from the bidding, according to the sources.
The new planes will replace the more "gas-guzzling" Boeing 747s currently in use. Those planes entered service in 1993. The Boeing 777s are more fuel-efficient.

The choice of the Boeing 777-300ER is an excellent one if, as expected, they are chosed as the new government aircraft. I have flown aboard the Boeing 777 (with Korean Air) and it is a very comfortable plane. Inside, it looks as big as the Boeing 747. The thing about the 777 that sticks out in my memory was the "basement" below the passenger deck.

To read the full story, go here

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Howard Baker Dies At 88

Above, Howard Baker in 1989.

Former U.S. Senator, U.S. Ambassador to Japan and White House Chief-of-Staff Howard H. Baker of Tennessee died at age 88.

According to an article in Japan Today:
Baker, who served in Tokyo from 2001 until early 2005, died Thursday at his home, according to an email distributed at the law firm where Baker was senior counsel. He died as a result of complications from a stroke suffered Saturday, the email said.
Baker was a member of the Senate Select Committee investigating the Watergate break-in and came up with the memorable question, "What did the president know and when did he know it?"

I met Baker at a dinner at the Hollywood Palladium in 1973 and photographed him at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas as we both stood in line to buy rolls of film. Baker was a well-known shutterbug.

Baker served as President Reagan's Chief-of-Staff during the last two years of the Reagan Administration.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf For Food and Nightlife

Above, the Nagasaki Dejima Wharf. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If you should find yourself in Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu and spent a day (or two) touring the city, visiting the Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum or even a boat ride to Gunkanjima (Hashima Island), that was featured in the latest James Bond thriller, Skyfall, you might want to unwind over dinner and drinks at the Nagasaki Dejima Wharf.

Above, great views of Nagasaki's harbor can be seen from Nagasaki Dejima Wharf. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf is a fairly recent development at Nagasaki Harbor. It is a two-story facility with several seafood restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. It has great views of the harbor and Mt. Inasa. It is close to Dejima, an artificial island that was frequented by Dutch traders during Japan's Edo period. It is also near the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf is also known for its nightlife at its several clubs and bars.

Here is the official Nagasaki visitor's guide.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tokaido Shinkansen Line To Mark 50th Anniversary In October

Above, a view inside a Tokaido Shinkansen car. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

October will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen.

According to the Japan Times:
NAGOYA – The Tokaido Shinkansen Line is set to mark its 50th anniversary in October, having carried more than 5.5 billion passengers since its 1964 debut.

The Tokaido Shinkansen Line began operating between Tokyo and Osaka on Oct. 1, 1964, nine days before the start of Tokyo Olympics. It drastically improved the transportation capacity of the Tokaido Line, which was nearing its limit, and carried more than 100 million people in its first three years.
Above, a 300 Series Tokaido Shinkansen at Tokyo Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In the fifty years the Tokaido Shinkansen has been in service, there has been no fatal accidents with the train. I have ridden the Tokaido Shinkansen several times, most recently in 2007 on the 300 Series (now retired) trains.

To read more, go here.

Ten Things You Need To Know About Air Turbulence

Above, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Modern technologies available to today's
aviation has made severe turbulence episodes even rarer. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The worst "white-knuckle" flight I ever endured was a short flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in April 1976.

I was heading to Las Vegas for a friend's wedding. My parents were already there, but due to a Saturday morning photography class I was taking, I decided to fly there after class. The flight was only an hour long and it was aboard a Boeing 737.

As we flew over the San Gabriel Mountains that skirted the Mojave Desert, we hit some severe turbulence. It was so bad, I remember a lady across the aisle taking out her rosary beads to pray. The weather was clear, but as the desert along the mountains was heating up, it caused the turbulence. The flight reminded me of the old Flash Gordon serials with the bouncing rocket ships of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Condé Nast Traveler had posted an article in February on the ten things you should know about turbulence. If you have a fear of flying, perhaps this article will help you endure air turbulence better.

Before getting into the ten points, they wrote:
Sure, it's terrifying stuff—but don't cancel your next flight just yet. We spoke to a number of pilots and aviation experts to get the facts about turbulence-related injuries and what's really happening when your plane is tossing violently (spoiler alert: it doesn't mean the plane's about to crash).
With new technologies available to modern aviation, violent air turbulence episodes are becoming rarer.

To read the article, go here

Bunch o' Pick-ups

Several of today's blog posts were picked up by The Japan Daily this evening.

They include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Eli Wallach Dies At 98

Sad news. Actor Eli Wallach passed away at age 98.

The New York Times reported:
Eli Wallach, who was one of his generation’s most prominent and prolific character actors in film, onstage and on television for more than 60 years, died on Tuesday. He was 98. 
His death was confirmed by his daughter Katherine.
I first took notice of Wallach with his performance as Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966). He virtually stole that movie.

He was also one of the brighter spots in The Godfather: Part III (1990) as Mafia Don Altobello, who gets poisoned by Michael Corleone's sister Connie during an opera.

To read the full article, go here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Japanese Americans Can Be Bridge Between U.S. and Japan

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

Irene Hirano Inouye, the widow of late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), has an interesting Op-Ed article in the Asahi Shimbun on "Japanese Americans can be bridge between U.S., Japan."

I thought it was a good Op-Ed piece and it prompted a reply by yours truly.

Inouye's article begins with:
The rise of China has led some to believe that the United States has begun to make light of Japan, but that is an overly simplified view. Japanese Americans can play a crucial role in bridging relations between the United States and Japan. As an American of Japanese descent born in the United States, I want to broaden the relationship of other Asian Americans and women to Japan, ensuring a broad mutual understanding. 
The mission of the U.S.-Japan Council is to create a strong and sustained people-to-people relationship at the government, business and civil society levels. We believe that, in the long term, leaders who know each other can not only work together on opportunities for new aspects of U.S.-Japan relations, but also support each other when there are difficulties in the relationship. 
When we founded the U.S.-Japan Council in 2008 and opened our office in Washington, D.C., in 2009, people talked about “Japan passing,” a phrase used to describe the rise of China and the ensuing loss of interest in Japan by the United States. Many of us believed that that was not the case. We knew that there were people who were very interested in Japan, and that it was just not that visible because there were other bilateral relationships that the United States had, with China, South Korea or other countries. We established the council with the belief that we had to be much more visible about the opportunities and importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship.
My response was that if there was a lack of interest in Japan in the United State, it was that Japanese-Americans have been lax in being a "bridge" to Japan for a long time, but all that seems to be changing in recent years. 

Above, a taiko drum performance at Little Tokyo's 2014 Oshogatsu celebration. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I wrote:
Interesting article. It is great that Japanese-Americans are (finally?) getting active to be that "bridge" to Japan. It seemed to me that they have been somewhat lax during the past few decades in being a bridge to Japan as well as Japanese culture. 
I worked for California State Assemblyman Paul T. Bannai, who was the first Japanese-American elected to the California legislature. It was in that position I was exposed to and came to appreciate the Japanese-Americans in Bannai's district (primarily Gardena, California) in the 1970s. The Japanese-Americans were vibrant and active in their community. Then, in later years, things seemed to go into the doldrums. The Japanese-American enclave, Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, appeared to be becoming neglected. Many wondered if it would even survive. Recently, it seems to be making a comeback with more culturally-oriented activists involved and events held.  
Unfortunately, the annual Japan Expo in Los Angeles seems to have died off. It was one of the most enjoyable annual shows. I don't know if it was the Great Recession or lack of interest that did it in, but it is a show that I miss going to. 
I would like to see more Japanese-Americans pick up the torch and get things moving again in the U.S. Ms. Inouye's group is a good start.
Above, former Assemblyman Paul Bannai and Armand in Little Tokyo, New Year's Day 2014.

To read Ms. Inouye's article, go here

Monster Japan Travel Guide Amazon Ad Popping Up

Amazon.com's ads for the Amazon Kindle ebook edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan is popping up here and there again. I saw it last night at two websites.

It showed up this morning at The Drudge Report, one of the most-viewed news websites.

The ebook edition is available for $4.99 at Amazon's Kindle Store. Before ordering, make sure your device is compatible with the Kindle program.

For ordering the ebook at Amazon.com, go here. The ebook is also available at the Amazon Kindle Stores of the following countries: United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy, India, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Australia.

The print edition is also available. Go here for ordering details.

JAL To Provide Free Wi-Fi Hotspot Access

Japan Airlines has announced that free Wi-Fi Internet hotspot access across half of Japan will be provided to passengers to Japan starting in July.

According to the Australian Business Traveler:
From July, passengers on Japan Airlines flights arriving into the airline’s home nation will enjoy free access to WiFi hotspots across half the country. 
Covering 17 cities and valid for up to 14 days, access will be provided through partnerships with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corporation (NTT East). 
Japan Airlines’ website will shortly be updated with the new functionality, allowing travellers to apply for a free Wi-Fi ID and password to use the service.
The free Wi-Fi service will be available in the following areas: Tokyo, Hokkaido, Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Kanagawa, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Tochigi, Yamagata and Yamanashi.

To read more, go here.

Monocle Names Tokyo No. 2 "Most Livable City"

Above, the Tokyo Skytree from Kappabashi. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tokyo and two other Japanese cities were named in the "top ten" list of the "Most Livable" cities in the world by Monocle, a global affairs and lifestyle magazine.

According to an article in Rocket News 24:
Everything has been coming up Tokyo lately. Recently ranked no. 1 on a Trip Advisor survey, Japan’s capital city has now come in at No. 2 on Monocle’s list of most livable cities for 2014. That’s two positions up from their ranking last year! 
Cities across the world were ranked based on criteria such as economics, society, functionality, as well as ease of everyday living and happiness of people. But it’s not just Tokyo that’s feeling the love recently – two more Japanese cities made it onto the list of great places to live! 
Monocle, a global affairs and lifestyle magazine, has been publishing a list of the “Most Livable Cities Index” since 2006. This list rates cities based on the aforementioned categories and also, but not limited to, crime rate, health care, public schools, public transportation, as well as access to nature, culture, sunlight/climate, number of electronic vehicle charging spots, and ease of starting a new business. And in 2014, they added tolerance as a new category.
Copenhagen, Denmark came in at number one on Monocle's list.

To see the other cities, go here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Latest Pick-ups

The Japan Daily has picked up some of today's blog posts.

In Leisure:

And, in Business:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Narita Adds Automated Gates At Immigration

Above, a moving walkway at Narita International Airport's departure gate area. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While U.S. airports (the TSA, in particular) seem determined to make the airport experience more burdensome and miserable, Japan's airports are taking the opposite route.

Jiji Press reported:
Narita, Chiba Pref., June 23 (Jiji Press)--Narita International Airport near Tokyo has added automated gates at the immigration control that allows preregistered travelers to go through examinations quickly. 
On Monday, the airport serving as a key gateway to the Japanese capital began operating the newly added automated gates, now allowing those visiting the airport for shopping, seeing people off and other purposes to preregister as users of the gates.
In the U.S., unless one has a plane ticket or boarding pass, nobody can go beyond the TSA screening stations to see people off or shop.

Four Japanese international airports, Narita, Haneda, Chubu and Kansai, have this automated system. All one needs to do to get through the gates is to have their passport and fingerprints scanned. This is only a 20-second process.

To read the full article, go here.

TSA Sticking It To Travelers...Again!

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is sticking it to the traveler again on July 1.

Travelpulse.com reports:
Travelers and travel advocates have known since last December that Transportation Security Administration fees, which are added to ticket prices, would rise on July 1 with the start of a new fiscal year. What they didn’t know was how the TSA would be re-defining what each leg of a flight really means, and they’re incensed. 
Congress in December agreed to raise the TSA fee from $2.50 for a non-stop flight to $5 for a trip with a layover and a flat rate of $5.60 for each leg of a trip. But now the TSA is looking to charge an extra $5.60 fee for each leg of the flight where there is a connection of more than four hours. That’s a changing of the definition of a round trip but that’s what will be published in the Federal Register today; it will take public comment for the next 60 days.
According to the article, Steve Loucks, the spokesperson for the nationwide travel agency Travel Leaders, told Fox Business News that travelers will blame the airlines for the fees when isn't their fault. He also said, "This hurts fliers who have to endure long layovers through no fault of their own." No kidding!

We know whose administration is in charge of the TSA, don't we? This should not come as a surprise.

To read the full article, go here.

Bloomberg Notes Japan's Record Number of Foreign Tourists

Above, Nakamise Street at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The record numbers of foreign visitors to Japan has been duly noted over at Bloomberg.com.

They wrote, in part:
Japan is poised for a record number of foreign visitors in 2014, attracted by a weaker yen and easing of visa rules, with spending by incoming tourists in April exceeding that by Japanese going abroad for the first time in 44 years.  
The number of visitors to Japan in the first five months of the year was a record 5.2 million, with most coming from Taiwan, South Korea and China. JTB Corp., Japan’s biggest travel agency, projects 11.8 million people will travel to the nation in 2014. 

Japan hopes to triple the annual number of foreign tourists by 2030.

To read the full article, go here.

Kinkaku-Ji and ¥100 Shops Picked Up

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

In their Leisure section, the blog post on Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion was posted:

And, in their Business section, the blog post on Japan's ¥100 stores was posted:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Summer Vacation Idea: Durango, Colorado

Above, one of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad trains. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If a trip to Japan this summer is out of your wallet's price range, you may want to consider something a little more local.

If you have a good enough car (or can afford to rent one), you may want to take the family on a road trip to Durango, Colorado to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad through the Animas River Gorge in Southwestern Colorado.

I discovered the Durango train in the early 1980s and have ridden it several times. Durango also has river-rafting on the Animas River, if you're so inclined. I have rafted on the Animas River twice and they were both fun trips.

Above, the train is 300 feet above the Animas River at Highline. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

What prompted this blog post is that the Los Angeles Times Travel section has a new article on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

It starts with:
Without railroads and mines, what would the American West be? Less populous, less prosperous, less polluted. And the town of Durango might not be anything at all. 
Durango, sporty and historic, stands 6,520 feet above sea level among the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado, its downtown streets skirted by the Animas River. Look past the runners, rock climbers, kayakers and fly-fishers, past the rampant Subaru wagons, the snowboarders of winter and the second-home-owners of summer, and you'll notice the narrow-gauge rail tracks alongside the river, leading into the mountains. 
This is the route that brought the town to life in the 1880s. Built by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in an 11-month blitz of blasting and trestle construction, this track for decades carried gold and silver from the mines outside Silverton (45 miles upriver), following a path that clings to cliffs and squeezes through narrow canyons.
The former Denver & Rio Grande no longer carries ore out of the mountains, but now carries tourists under the banner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It is a spectacular ride and will thrill family members of all ages.

If you are a camper, there are plenty of campgrounds in the Durango area.

To read the L.A. Times article, go here.

Roppongi, Tokyo

Above, Roppongi Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Roppongi is one district of Tokyo that has a mixed reputation. It is located near many foreign embassies and is a favorite entertainment district for embassy staffers. Roppongi Crossing is the district's center.

The nightlife/entertainment center of Roppongi has many restaurants and nightclubs to choose from. In 2004, the Roppongi T.G.I. Friday's restaurant was the scene of the G-TOUR dinner featuring Yoshimitsu Banno, Shinichi Wakasa, Wataru Mimura and Hiroshi Kashiwabara in attendance. Roppongi also has a Hard Rock Cafe.

Roppongi also has several gentlemen's clubs, such as Tantra and Seventh Heaven. There are even some "lower scale" clubs of what could be considered of "ill repute" in the district.

Unlike some of the other entertainment districts in Tokyo, Roppongi's restaurants, bars and clubs are accessible to foreign visitors.

Above, the Almond Cafe. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

One of the favorite meet-up points in Roppongi is the Almond Cafe at Roppongi Crossing. The Almond Cafe is over 60 years old.

Above, the Tokyo National Art Center. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Roppongi gained a little more favorable reputation in recent years after the opening of the Roppongi Hills complex and several art museums, including the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. Roppongi has developed into a cultural center in Tokyo. In 2007, the Tokyo National Art Center opened in Roppongi.

One can say that Roppongi has "something for everybody."

Above, one of the Roppongi Station subway exits near Roppongi Crossing. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To get to Roppongi, take the Hibiya or Oedo Subway Lines (exit Roppongi Station) or the Nanboku Subway Line (exit Roppongi-Icchome Station).  

For more on Roppongi, go here.

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