"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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Friday, July 31, 2015

Gripeez - An "As Seen On TV" Rip-off!

There's an old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is."

That is an appropriate description of Gripeez, a product that is advertised on television that would hold pictures or other objects on walls and other surfaces around five pounds. And, they would leave no marks on walls when they are removed.

When I saw the ads, I thought those would be good for hanging pictures in the motorhome. Since the advertised price was only $10.00 (plus shipping and handling), I ordered some.

They arrived within a couple of weeks and I set out to give them a try.

The Gripeez set included five small plastic hooks and five large plastic hooks. For the heck of it, I hung a large hook on the bathroom door of the motorhome with one Gripeez pad. I followed the directions on using them and hung the hook on the door. It seemed to hold pretty well.

Next, I hung three 5 x 7" pictures and one 8 x 10" picture (all way below five pounds in weight). Within minutes, the 8 x 10" fell and broke the frame on a corner (it was repairable with Crazy Glue). Later, the other photos fell off the wall and the hook fell off the door.

Talk about a major disappointment.

Gripeez, I regret to say, was a total waste of money (enough money to buy cheap lunches for two at McDonalds) and a rip-off. It was a good thing they didn't cost much.

I ended up using Velcro on adhesive strips instead (I already had a supply of them) for hanging the pictures.

Save your money and don't buy Gripeez!

My grade: F.

Japan Already Surpassed Ten Million Foreign Visitors

Above, Nakamise Street in Asakusa, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan is moving closer to its goal of 20 million foreign visitors by 2020.

The Bangkok Post reported:
TOKYO — The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan this year has already passed 10 million, marking the third straight year the milestone has been reached, the Japan Tourism Agency said Thursday.

The government has said it expects this year's inbound travellers to total around 18 million, up from about 13.41 million last year, moving closer to meeting a goal of 20 million by 2020 when Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics.
According to the article, Japan surpassed 10 million foreign visitors on July 15.

To read more, go here

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Once Remote, Japan Now Welcomes Growing Tourism

Above, the business district near Tokyo Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Times have certainly changed in 40 years for foreign visitors to Japan.

This fact is driven home in a new article by Kathy Kemper, Founder and CEO of the Institute of Education in The Huffington Post.

She begins her article with:
In the late 1970s, I was part of the woman's pro tennis tour playing exhibition games throughout Japan. In many places, children would touch my freckles to see if they came off. They wanted to touch my blond hair because they'd never seen it in real life. 
Margaret Court was among the players with us, and many of the people we met were amazed that anyone could be so tall. 
How things have changed. Today, Japan is a major destination for tourists from around the world. A cheaper yen, more signs posted in English and websites with a wealth of advice make travel easier. And as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, a government campaign is putting out the welcome mat. 
Foreign visitors now exceed 10 million a year, compared to 8.3 million in 2008. The government's goal is 20 million by 2020. 
This means many more people are now discovering, as I have, a land of delightful surprises--a place of mystery and strong traditions with kind and polite people. 
To read more, go here.

Tsunagu Japan's "30 Must-Buy Souvenirs At Narita Airport"

Above, a box of Tokyo Banana cakes, minus two. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tsunagu Japan has posted a list of "30 Must-Buy Souvenirs At Narita Airport."

Of the 30 items listed, I purchased one of them: the Tokyo Banana cakes (number four on the list).

Before going into the 30 souvenirs, the post began with:
Some people prefer to travel light in Japan and save their shopping til the airport. Here’s a list of items you can buy at Narita Airport, your final stop in Japan. Sayonara to the burden of souvenir shopping and enjoy your stay!
 To see what the other 29 souvenir items are, go here.

Lunch By The Sea

Above, part of our lunch with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Denise Santos and I managed to head over to Pacific Palisades for lunch at Gladstone's 4 Fish (located on Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Blvd.).

There, we had oysters, crab cakes, cerviche, spicy shrimp and other delicacies. We had a nice outside window table which provided a view of Santa Monica Bay and the surrounding beach.

From Gladstone's we headed over to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Denise had never been there before, so I decided to show it to her. While there, we stopped in a Coffee Bean coffee shop for some coffee as we were both "suffering" from food comas from Gladstone's.

In one shop, a life-sized statue of Superman stood in a window (below, right). It was nice to see a Superman that actually looked like Superman, not the abomination that DC Comics is currently passing off.

We passed by the Cineplex Odeon where, eleven years ago, several of us Godzilla fans attended the last American Film Market screening of Godzilla x Mothra x MechaGodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd.). The theater looked a little run down to me. It is hard to believe that it has been eleven years since we last gathered in Santa Monica for an American Film Market screening.

While we were walking around, a nut-job was screaming and cussing at the top of his lungs, annoying people. I supposed it is to be expected, after all, we were in Santa Monica.Another stop was at Brookstone's where we checked out the latest gadgetry they had to offer. Denise tried out a massage lounge chair while I browsed around the store.

We were thinking about going to a movie when we got back to the Valley, but it was cutting too close (time-wise) as Denise had her evening baseball league game to play in.

We headed back to the Valley via Topanga Canyon (known to us as "the scenic route") as the San Diego Freeway (I-405) would be a mess with rush-hour traffic.

Above, Denise in the massage chair at Brookstone's. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

All in all, it was a pleasant excursion for a few hours.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Japan Converting Office Buildings To Meet Rising Hotel Demand

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

With the dramatic rise in foreign tourism in Japan, the hotel industry has been in a losing struggle to keep pace with the demand for more accommodations.

Fortunately, there are some creative minds in Japan and they found a way to increase the supply of hotel rooms.

According to Reuters:
Record tourists to Japan are stretching the ability of hotels to accommodate them in a sector constrained by high costs, forcing developers to think out of the box for means to quickly increase lodging options without breaking the bank.  
Japan is on target this year to beat the record 13.4 million visitors in 2014, helped by a weak yen and easier visa requirements for some Asian countries. The government is aiming to attract 20 million visitors by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics, to revitalize the world's third-biggest economy. 
The rising influx of tourists is already squeezing existing accommodation supply in Tokyo, which has about 100,000 hotel rooms. Just 7,600 rooms are scheduled to be added in the next three years, according to STR Global, a research firm for the hotel industry.  
The slow pace of growth is due to rising land prices and construction costs. One quick solution: convert old office buildings into hotels with tiny but stylish rooms that can rent for under $30 a night, less than half the rate for a cheap business hotel.
To read more, go here

A Visit To The Auto Club

This morning, I went over to the local Automobile Club of Southern California office to take care of a vehicle registration matter thanks to a screw-up by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Once that was done (it only took a few minutes), I purchased a couple of campground directories by Woodall's that they had for sale. Since the price was a very reasonable $5.95 each, I bought two different directories. One was for the Far West and the other was for the Frontier West, Great Plains and Mountain States.

The Auto Club has ceased to put out their own campground books and now sell directories and guides by Frommer's, Lonely Planet, Woodall's and others instead. They still put out their TourBooks and I picked up several of them, including Colorado & Utah, Northern California, Southern California and Arizona & New Mexico. The TourBooks are still free.

Along with the books, I also picked up some maps of Northern, Southern and Central California Public Lands Campgrounds and California's Gold Guide Map (featuring the late Huell Howser). The maps, too, were free.

And Without A Paddle...The Lois Lerner/IRS Case

Some good news has come out of Washington, D.C. on the Lois Lerner/IRS abuse of power case conserning Tea Party groups.

Judicial Watch posted:
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced that U.S District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan today threatened to hold the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department attorneys in contempt of court after the IRS failed to produce status reports and newly recovered emails of Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the IRS, as he had ordered on July 1, 2015. 
During the a status hearing today, Sullivan warned that the failure to follow his order was serious and the IRS and Justice Department’s excuses for not following his July 1 order were “indefensible, ridiculous, and absurd.”  He asked the IRS’ Justice Department lawyer Geoffrey Klimas, “Why didn’t the IRS comply” with his court order and “why shouldn’t the Court hold the Commissioner of the IRS in contempt.”  Judge Sullivan referenced his contempt findings against Justice Department prosecutors in the prosecution of late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and reminded the Justice Department attorney he had the ability to detain him for contempt.  Warning he would tolerate no further disregard of his orders, Judge Sullivan said, “I will haul into court the IRS Commissioner to hold him personally into contempt.”
As a friend said about this case, "Now the fun begins!"

It would be fun to see some of those IRS and DOJ lawyers in jail for their shenanigans.

To read more, go here

Boy Scout Japanese Phrases

This year's international Boy Scout Jamboree is being held in Japan.

As a communication aid for the attendees, they Boy Scouts came up with this:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

London Bridge Watercraft

One of the things on my "bucket list" was to try out jet skiing. Finally, I can now cross that off my list (although that's not stopping me from doing it again) as I went to Lake Havasu last week and rented a jet ski from London Bridge Watercraft.

London Bridge Watercraft is located on the banks of Lake Havasu at the Crazy Horse Campgrounds in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. While checking for a campground to stay at, we found that Crazy Horse Campgrounds was the only campground with on-site jet ski (and boat) rentals.

While planning the trip to Lake Havasu, I contacted London Bridge Watercraft and reserved a jet ski to use all day while we were there.

The price for the rental was reasonable ($200), but keep in mind that customers also have to pay for the gallons of gasoline they use. At least gasoline was about $2.00/gallon cheaper in Arizona than in California at the time.

Above, London Bridge Watercraft's rental office. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The jet ski we rented was a Kawasaki Wave Runner. It was easy to use and it handled nicely. Along with the jet ski, the price also included life jackets.

The staff was very friendly and they will walk customers through all the workings of the jet ski with all of the "how tos" that go along with it before allowing the watercraft to leave the premises.

The day before, we rented pontoon boat from them for a couple of hours. That, too, was a lot of fun.

Above, Denise and Aiden on the pontoon boat. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There are several other jet ski rental businesses in the Lake Havasu area (they are mostly clustered on the canal near the London Bridge) to choose from. Since our experience with London Bridge Watercraft was a pleasant one, we wouldn't hesitate to use them again.

So, if you are thinking about going to Lake Havasu for jet skiing, I recommend London Bridge Watercraft.

My grade: A.

Decorating The RV

A motorhome to some, is just a vehicle to take one out for recreational activities, hence the words recreational vehicle (or RV).

To others, it is the above along with another word: home. After all, it is a "home away from home" to many.

Some RVs are very elaborate, almost akin to Saddam Hussein's palaces, such as Class A motorhomes. (Well, maybe not quite that, but not too far away.) Many are decorated with furnishings that would be fit for a king. Most, while nice inside, are a little on the plain side.

Mine, while nice inside, begged for some additional color. So, today I had some photographs from our recent Yellowstone National Park trip printed up and hung inside.

Adding some photographs also make the RV more home-like.

Here they are:

Above, a photo of the Upper Yellowstone Falls faces the entry door. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, three more face the dinette. Photo by Armand Vaquer.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Countdown Has Begun For Tsukiji Fish Market's Move

Above, a vendor at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The countdown has begun for the moving of the Tsukiji Fish Market to its new location.

According to the Asahi Shimbun:
About 200 vendors and wholesalers turned out at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market on the morning of July 27 for the unveiling of a board showing the countdown to the market's relocation in the Toyosu waterfront in Koto Ward. 
The digital board, erected by the association of vendors, intermediate wholesalers and wholesalers of vegetables and fruits at the Chuo Ward market, showed 469 days to the opening of the Toyosu market.
If you want to see the current, and historic, Tsukiji Fish Market before the big move, now is the time to do so. I visited the fish market in 2010 and it was a highlight of that trip to Japan.

To read more, go here

Japan Using British Model To Draw Tourists

Above, the Shin-Saikai Bridge at the Hario Straits in Kyushu. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japanese tourism industry is continuing to find new strategies for drawing tourists to places "off the beaten track."

The latest is that they appear to be following the model by VisitBritain.

According to an article in Japan Today:
TOKYO —Promote regional gems: that is one of the strategies being adopted by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) to attract more inbound visitors. The approach is in striking synergy with plans, unveiled by VisitBritain in February, encouraging tourists to get off the beaten track and explore the length and breadth of the UK. Ryoichi Matsuyama, president of JNTO, wants tourists to journey beyond the “Golden Route” of Tokyo and Kyoto. 
“We have so many hidden treasures across Japan as you know, but they are not so well promoted or understood”, Matsuyama told the audience at a BCCJ luncheon at the ANA InterContinental Tokyo hotel. “We have to cultivate hidden regional tourism resources”.
This push will include increasing promotion of the country as a skiing and snowboarding destination, due to its quality powder snow. 
Part of the reasoning behind this strategy, said Matsuyama, is to provide relief for hotels in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, which currently have an occupancy rate of more than 80%.
To read more, go here

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fukuoka's Seaside Momochi

Above, Fukuoka Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There is an area in Fukuoka, Japan on the island of Kyushu that attracted both Godzilla and Gamera during the 1990s.

It just so happens that Gaijinpot.com has an article on this section of Fukuoka. It is "Fukuoka's Seaside Momochi."

Within Seaside Momochi are Fukuoka Tower, featured in 1994's Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla and the Yafouku! Dome in 1995's Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.

The Gaijinpot.com article begins with:
People that come to Fukuoka tend to focus on Tenjin and Hakata. This is understandable because these two areas are very much the heart of the city; you can shop till you drop, see all of Fukuoka’s most famous temples and try all of its best food in these areas. 
It surprised me then, when a friend of mine came to visit last week and said, “Lets skip Hakata and head to Momochi instead!” Seaside Momochi (シーサイドももち) to give it its proper name is an area created in 1989 from reclaimed land along Hakata Bay in the north of the city. It’s an incredibly attractive part of Fukuoka with wide streets lined with trees, no phone or electricity lines above ground and plenty of interesting architecture to gaze at whilst you walk.
I visited Seaside Momochi during my trip to Kyushu in 2007. I took a special bus from Fukuoka's Hakata Station to get there.

Above, the Yafouku! Dome. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Kaiju fans can see the aforementioned two monster movie locales very easily as the Yafouku! Dome and Fukuoka Tower are within easy walking distance.

The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan spotlights Fukuoka on page 45.

To read more on Seaside Momochi, go here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mitch McConnell Lied, Says Ted Cruz

An interesting email arrived yesterday with the following (I don't know where it came from originally):
Ted Cruz to GOP leader: You lied. 
Firebrand Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz did something surprising in the Senate on Friday: He accused the head of his party, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of lying to his colleagues.

“We know now that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false,” Cruz (Tex.) said. “That has consequences for how this body operates.”

Cruz’s remarks laid bare, in the most august of settings, simmering tensions between the conservative activist wing of the Republican Party and the mainstream GOP establishment. In his 20-minute speech, Cruz accused McConnell (Ky.) of running the Senate in much the same manner as his Democratic predecessor as majority leader, Harry M. Reid (Nev.).  
“There is a profound disappointment among the American people because we keep winning elections, and then we keep getting leaders who don’t do anything they promised,” Cruz said. “We’ve had a Republican majority in both houses of Congress now for about six months. . . . This Senate operates exactly the same, the same priorities.”

On the Senate floor, Cruz accused "career politicians" in Congress of "looting the taxpayer to benefit wealthy, powerful corporations."

Prompting the outburst was McConnell’s move to prepare amendment votes on a must-pass transportation bill. After senators voted to consider the bill, McConnell set up votes on two controversial issues — a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.  
The move incensed Cruz, who had announced his intention to offer other amendments and who, like many conservatives, strongly opposes the bank’s reauthorization despite the support it enjoys among a supermajority of senators. That puts him at odds with McConnell, who has attempted to keep major legislation moving steadily through the Senate and has struck deals and engaged in procedural maneuvers to avoid getting bogged down, with uneven success.

Though McConnell has personally spoken against the Export-Import Bank’s reauthorization, Democrats said in June that he had agreed to schedule a vote on the bank in order to get highly divisive trade legislation passed.

Cruz said Friday that McConnell, in a private Republican conference meeting, denied that any deal had been struck to pass the trade bill.

“I asked the majority leader very directly: What was the deal that was just cut?” Cruz recalled. “The majority leader was visibly angry with me that I would ask such a question, and the majority leader looked at me and said, ‘There is no deal, there is no deal, there is no deal.’ Like Saint Peter, he repeated it three times.”

Cruz said Friday that McConnell, in a private Republican conference meeting, denied that any deal had been struck to pass the trade bill.

“I asked the majority leader very directly: What was the deal that was just cut?” Cruz recalled. “The majority leader was visibly angry with me that I would ask such a question, and the majority leader looked at me and said, ‘There is no deal, there is no deal, there is no deal.’ Like Saint Peter, he repeated it three times.”

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to comment. 

Lake Havasu Sunset

On the first evening we spent at Lake Havasu, we were treated to this beautiful sunset. There were still some clouds from the spent hurricane that came through from Mexico.

Above, sunset at Lake Havasu. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tokyo's Best Outdoor Art (Guess Who's Included)

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

If you are an outdoor art lover (or even a Godzilla fan) and are planning a visit to Japan's capital city, Tokyo, then you may want to read an article posted by Time Out Tokyo.

They include three Godzilla art pieces: the Godzilla statues at the Hibiya Chanter Square and at the main entrance to Toho Studios in Setagaya and the new Godzilla head that towers over the Toho Cinemas complex in Shinjuku.

They begin their article with:
Tokyo is filled with museums, alternative art galleries and exhibitions. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay to see some of the best art in the city – heck, to see these pieces, you don’t even have to go indoors. Here’s our list of some of the best outdoor art around town.
To read the full article, go here

Tsunagu Japan's "47 Tourist Attractions In Japan's 47 Prefectures"

Above, the waterfront of Yokohama's Minato Mirai 21. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The "Japan Travel Information Platform" Tsunagu Japan has posted an interesting list of attractions in Japan that they feel people should visit.

The list consists of "47 Tourist Attractions In Japan's 47 Prefectures."

They begin with:
Japan consist of islands stretched across north and south. And thanks to such geographical trait and difference in climate, each prefecture has its own unique features. We have selected one must-see tourist attraction for each and every prefecture.

I have visited several of the listed attractions at one time or another, such as Matsushima Bay (number 4) and Minato Mirai 21 in Yokohama (number 14).

To see these and the other 45 attractions, go here.

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