"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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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

JCB Plaza Kyoto Opens Tomorrow

Above, a bullet train's view of Kyoto Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In order to better serve foreign visitors in Japan, JCB, the Japanese credit card company, is opening a new tourist center, JCB Plaza Kyoto.

According to Nasdaq.com:
TOKYO, Mar 13, 2015 - (ACN Newswire) - JCB Co., Ltd.("JCB"), the only global payment brand based in Japan, is pleased to announce that it will open the JCB Plaza Kyoto customer service center for visitors to Japan on April 1, 2015. Located in the Kyoto Station Building, and designed to provide a calm, tranquil atmosphere based on the Japanese concept, the new JCB Plaza Kyoto offers JCB services to support travelers such as sightseeing information, restaurant and hotel reservations, free internet browsing and daily baggage check.

Members will have free access to computers, free mobile recharging facilities and free Wi-Fi.

Read more: http://www.nasdaq.com/article/jcb-opens-jcb-plaza-kyoto-customer-service-center-for-visitors-to-japan-20150313-00014#ixzz3VzFCBtX0

Tokyo Cheapo's "The Best Cheap Eats In Tokyo"

Above, a sushi meal in Asakusa. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If you've ever wondered where to eat "on the cheap" in Tokyo, you're in luck!

The folks at Tokyo Cheapo has compiled a list of "the best cheap eats in Tokyo." 

They start it with:
While Tokyo life may not be getting any cheaper, the city's appetite for great value food has never been bigger. Tokyoites love to eat out – a lot – and this has made it one the best cities in the world for quality at a low price. We set out on a quest to find the very best cheap eats in the metropolis, and came back with far too many eateries to include here. The spots listed below are our top picks, and constitute a complete A to Z of where to dine on a budget. 
Some of the venues in the list below are very traditionally Japanese, but they span a range of styles – ramen of course, but also yakitori, tempura, oden, gyoza, monja and okonomiyaki, curry-rice, soba and udon, and even (you guessed) sushi.

To read more, go here

Narita Airport Hospitality Program For International Transit Passengers

Above, Narita Airport's Terminal One Arrival Lobby. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Perhaps spurred on by the rise in international flights to and from Tokyo's Haneda Airport, Narita International Airport is ramping up the perks to attract international travelers.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization:
As part of ongoing efforts to become the airport choice of their customers, Narita Airport will further develop their hospitality program for international transit passengers, by including free use of lounges, use of showers at half-price and more events to introduce Japanese culture.
To read more, go here

Dollar Back Up At ¥120

The U.S. dollar rose above ¥120 in trading today in Tokyo.

According to the Japan Times:
The dollar hovered moderately above ¥120 in Tokyo trading late Tuesday, the final day of Japan’s fiscal 2014, with the upside capped by the Nikkei stock average’s sluggishness and the downside underpinned by buying on dips. 
At 5 p.m., the dollar stood at ¥120.20-20, up from ¥119.67-67 at the same time Monday. 
It is interesting to note that the dollar was around ¥104 a year ago.

To read more, go here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Getting A Japanese Chef's Knife For The Motorhome

Above, the motorhome's galley. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For the past few weeks, I've been purchasing gear and equipment for exclusive use in the new motorhome. This is so that I won't have to pack things up whenever we're to leave on a camping trip. I figured I'd buy everything now so I won't have to bother doing so later on.

Some of which are kitchenware including a cutting board, dish drainer, pots, pans and other things. Some items, I've had already in my camping gear boxes and are still usable. Others, unfortunately, were rendered useless due to rust or some gunk that leaked on them.

The latest was the need to order a chef's knife. I ordered it from the Kamaasa Shoten knife shop in Kappabashi, Tokyo. Last year, I bought a chef's knife for Jessica while I was in Japan. The original intent was get the same knife for the motorhome since we liked the knife so much, but Kamaasa was out of them and they don't expect a new shipment until four months from now.

Fortunately, they presented me with a couple of alternatives and I decided to go with one of them. While I was at it, I decided to buy another for my daughter.

This is it:

It is a V10SP Chef Knife Hammered 210 (in case you want to get one for yourself).

I was advised this morning that the two chef's knives have been shipped.

If you are in the market for fine cutlery or just a chef's knife, I recommend Kamaasa Shoten. When I was in Kappabashi last year, I saw several cutlery shops. But most were empty, except for one or two people. Kamaasa Shoten had a crowd inside their store. That told me that I came to the right place.

Their website: http://www.kama-asa.co.jp/en/

Tips On Buying Electronics In Japan

Above, the electronics meccs of Akihabara, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There are quite a number of Americans and other foreigners who have gone to Japan for vacationing and, also, to buy electronics, computers, software and cameras. Bargains can be found as well as models that are not available outside of Japan.

But, as the saying goes: "Buyer beware!" A big mistake (or two) may be made while buying electronics and other goods in Japan.

Gaijinpot.com has some tips that should be followed so that when you get your prized item home, you will find that it meets your expectations and works properly. Although the article focuses on Osaka, the same tips apply to goods that are purchased in places like Akihabara, Tokyo.

They begin their article with:
In Osaka, there are several places to go to for electronics. You can go to the big chains like Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera, or you can venture into Den Den Town. You can find just about anything you are looking for in Osaka, at a price. Sometimes that price is paid in frustration. 
Here are some steps you can take to avoid unnecessary problems.
To read more, go here

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The "Proper" Way of Eating Sushi

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

Many Americans are fans of sushi, but a great many of them don't know how to "properly" eat it.

Fortunately, Gaijinpot.com has posted an article on the correct way of eating sushi. So if you are in Japan and are about to sit down for a tasty sushi meal, this article will (probably) help you to enjoy it more and, at the same time, not raise a few eyebrows by the locals.

It begins with:
How do YOU eat sushi? Do you smear extra Wasabi on top? Pick up the sushi with chopsticks and dip the rice into soy sauce (and let it linger to absorb the salty juices)? I like to bite into the sushi to split it in half; then, I can feel the tenderness of the fish (and feel like I have more pieces to eat). Some people I know like to use mayo, Sriracha, or eel sauce on their sushi. I like to mix the wasabi and soy sauce together to form a greenish-brownish paste. And others remove the fish from the rice and enjoy them separately, or even discard the rice. 
Many people don’t know that there is actually a “proper” way to eat this beloved cuisine. Eating sushi comes with its own unique table manners that got lost with the rise in popularity and accessibility. However, knowing these rules can give you insight on what you are being served and how to show respect/gratitude to the chef.
To read more, go here

Mount Rushmore To Yellowstone Vacation

Above, Mount Rushmore National Monument. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If you cannot afford to go to Japan or just want to take a vacation this summer a little more closer to home, I have a suggestion.

This vacation involves camping, but if you aren't the camping type, you can still do it by staying in hotels or motels.

Back in 1990, I took my family on a camping trip (I had a tent trailer at the time) through some of the prairie and Rocky Mountain states such as Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.

We began the trip in Los Angeles and drove through central Utah for our first night's stay at a KOA Kampground in Lyman, Wyoming. In fact, all of our stays were in KOA Kampgrounds. While in Lyman, we toured Fort Bridger.

From there, we went across Wyoming to another KOA near Fort Laramie for the second night's stay.

Then, the next morning, we drove into South Dakota and stayed at the Mount Rushmore KOA near the Mount Rushmore National Monument. It was a bit crowded at the time as the annual Sturgis, South Dakota biker rally was taking place. We never saw so many motorcycles in our lives.

While in South Dakota, we toured Mount Rushmore National Monument, visited the under-construction Crazy Horse monument, rode a steam locomotive and visited Deadwood, South Dakota and took a tour of the town and the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried.

Above, Devil's Tower National Monument. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After South Dakota, we headed through northern Wyoming to Devil's Tower National Monument. Devil's Tower is best known for being featured prominently in Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977). Speaking of Close Encounters, there is a KOA Kampground near the entrance to Devil's Tower National Monument that screens the movie nightly during the summer vacation months.

From there, the plan was to go to the George Armstrong Custer battlefield at Little Big Horn, but we encountered some strong winds that caused some damage to the trailer. So we headed straight to Yellowstone National Park and stayed in a cabin at the West Yellowstone KOA (thank goodness we already had reservations there and they had a camping cabin available).

Above, Upper Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We toured Yellowstone National Park and then headed down to nearby Grand Teton National Park before heading back to Los Angeles.

If you don't mind driving and want to see a lot of historical places and great scenery, I heartily recommend making this circular vacation route.

March 28 Blog Post Pick-ups

The fine folks at The Japan Daily picked up several blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How To Do The Tsukiji Fish Market Right

Above, lots of seafood for sale at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In December 2010, I got up early (a little earlier than planned due to an earthquake) to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

I had always wanted to visit the fish market, but somehow never got around to do so until that trip. I entered the fish market through a side or back entrance and wandered around without any difficulty. But I don't recommend this as I was told by the main gate guard that the market was closed to tourists during that period (supposedly it was their busiest part of the year) when I reached the main gate. By then, I saw all that I came to see (lucky me).

Inside Japan blog has a helpful article on "how to do it right."

They begin with:
Tsukiji Fish Market is one of my tip-top favourite Tokyo experiences, but what with increasingly unstable relations between the vendors (for whom this is their livelihood) and tourists (for whom it is a fascinating attraction), it is important to know how to “do” Tsukiji properly. 
Located right in the middle of Tokyo, next-door to Hamarikyu Gardens and near the upmarket Ginza district of town, Tsukiji is the largest seafood market in the world, and makes a fantastic (and free) addition to any Tokyo itinerary. 
And since it was announced that Tsukiji will soon be moving from its current location to a site in Toyosu (a 20-minute bus or train ride from its current spot), you really will have to get in there quick – before it changes for good!
To read more, go here.

Japan's Goal of 10,000 Tax-Free Shops Already Met

Above, there are many duty-free shops to be found in Tokyo's Akihabara "Electric Town." Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It is always great news when targets that are set for a certain number by a certain year are met much earlier than expected.

Such is the case of Japan's goal of 10,000 duty-free shops by 2020. They've already achieved that goal.

According to Customs Today:
TOKYO: Japanese stores are offering tourists tax free shopping. In fact, the government’s growth target of 10,000 tax-free shops by 2020 has already been achieved since it was implemented in October. 
Tax free Shopping have hit their government target five years early, as the number offering the service shot up by 60% in the last six months. 
As of October 1st, duty-free products in Japan, previously limited to electronics and clothing, included items like food and cosmetics.
 To read more, go here.

Blog Post Pick-ups of March 27

The good folks at The Japan Daily picked up several of yesterday's blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They include:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"In The Footsteps of Godzilla" News Making The Rounds

The news release on the April 26 "In The Footsteps of Godzilla" is now making its way around the Internet through various websites, news organizations and news aggregators.

The event is sponsored by the Japan Society of Northern California. It includes a screening of Godzilla (1954), a presentation by yours truly (with Q & A) and a V.I.P. dinner. For details and ticket information, go here.

Along with that, the Roxie Theater in San Francisco has the event posted on their website. To see their website's posting, go here.

The event will benefit the Japan Society of Northern California and will help them to put on future programs.

U.S. Caves In To Iranian Nuclear Demands

Above, the Drudge Report's banner headline and a favorite ad of mine.

The idiocy of the Obama Administration knows no bounds. 

U.S. negotiators for a nuclear deal with Iran have caved in to Iranian demands.

According to the Washington Free Beacon:
LAUSSANE, Switzerland—The Obama administration is giving in to Iranian demands about the scope of its nuclear program as negotiators work to finalize a framework agreement in the coming days, according to sources familiar with the administration’s position in the negotiations. 
U.S. negotiators are said to have given up ground on demands that Iran be forced to disclose the full range of its nuclear activities at the outset of a nuclear deal, a concession experts say would gut the verification the Obama administration has vowed would stand as the crux of a deal with Iran. 
Until recently, the Obama administration had maintained that it would guarantee oversight on Tehran’s program well into the future, and that it would take the necessary steps to ensure that oversight would be effective. The issue has now emerged as a key sticking point in the talks. 
Concern from sources familiar with U.S. concessions in the talks comes amid reports that Iran could be permitted to continue running nuclear centrifuges at an underground site once suspected of housing illicit activities. 
This type of concession would allow Iran to continue work related to its nuclear weapons program, even under the eye of international inspectors. If Iran removes inspectors—as it has in the past—it would be left with a nuclear infrastructure immune from a strike by Western forces.a administration has vowed would stand as the crux of a deal with Iran.
To read more, go here

Japanese Inns and Hotels Set New Record In 2014

Above, the Godaido temple at Matsushima Bay. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

New Japan tourism figures for 2014 have come in and they show that Japan enjoyed a big surge in foreign tourists in Japanese hotels and inns.

According to the Asahi Shimbun:
The number of "overnight guests" in Japan rose to a record high in 2014, but the disaster-stricken Tohoku region is still struggling to reel in foreign tourists. 
Japanese and foreign tourists stayed 472.32 nights at hotels and inns in Japan last year, up 1.4 percent from 2013, according to Japan Tourism Agency figures released March 26. 
The figure is ascribed to a surge in the number of foreign visitors, who stayed 44.82 million nights, up 33.8 percent. 
The comparable figure for Japanese tourists, however, dropped by 1.1 percent, with the increase in the consumption tax rate in April 2014 cited as a key factor.
Foreign tourists are missing some great scenery in the Tohoku region by not visiting. The tourist industry in Tohoku could use the big lift that increased foreign tourism would give. I visited Sendai and Matsushima Bay in 2006.

To read more, go here.

Japan's Foreign Tourist Spending Tops ¥2 Trillion For First Time Ever

Above, Nakamise Street, a popular shopping area for foreign tourists. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Foreign tourism to Japan brought smiles to the country's retailers and tourism-related businesses in 2014.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) says the amount of money spent by foreign tourists in 2014 surpassed the preceding year by 43.1%, totaling 2.0278 trillion yen and exceeded two trillion yen for the first time ever.
 To read more, go here.

March 26 Blog Post Pick-ups

The good folks at The Japan Daily has picked up several of yesterday's blog posts for sharing with their readers.

They are:

To read The Japan Daily, go here.

"In The Footsteps of Godzilla" News Release Distributed

Just a few scant minutes ago, PR.com, the press release service that I have used for the past five years or so, distributed the news release on the Japan Society of Northern California's "In The Footsteps of Godzilla" event that will be taking place on Sunday, April 26 in San Francisco, California.

To view (and distribute) the news release on your website or news site, go here:

Japan Society of Northern California's "In The Footsteps of Godzilla" to Feature Travel Guide Writer

Thursday, March 26, 2015

JNTO Japan Travel Newsletter - March 2015

JNTO Newsletter Title
News of the Month
http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1OlrcblQrQKLlnvgZ   http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1Olrd0vsY9DHMIHwZ   http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1Olrct46EXNnYD7gZ
Useful information
http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1Olrd8fj93Sl0IKgZ   http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1OlrfCnbqWF4EAdQZ   http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1OlreP-m8povA4mQZ
Event in Japan &U.S.
http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1OlrdC7VJXEMFYgAZ   http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1Olrd0Sp54leNTkgZ   http://www4.webcas.net/mail03/u/l?p=PFwvxo1OlrfWDjc3HWsU8QZ
Special Package
Tour   Airline
What is the name of the city on the last stop of the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train), the Japan’s newly extended Shinkansen line?
Hint: The Hokuriku Shinkansen has just opened its doors to new passenger service on March 14th, 2015 connecting Tokyo to the Hokuriku region. The city is known as the historical capital with its castles, gardens and temples.
Prize: Three lucky winners will be selected among those who answer correctly. The prize will be “a pair of chopsticks”.
How to enter: Enter your answer by April 25, 2015, at https://jp.surveymonkey.com/s/ZBHNTXK
The answer for the Newsletter Vol. 39 (February issue) was: e. all of the above.
Thank you for your participation!
Japan Travel News Letter Quiz Official Rules

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