"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.

Buy The Amazon Kindle Store Ebook Edition

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Haruo Nakajima's 86th Birthday Coming Up

Above, Haruo Nakajima takes a break during the filming of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Photo courtesy of Sonoe Nakajima.

Haruo Nakajima will be celebrating his 86th birthday on January 1. He was born January 1, 1929 in Yamagata, Japan.

Mr. Nakajima is a Japanese actor and stunt man who appeared in Seven Samurai and other samurai movies of the 1950s, but he is best known for portraying Godzilla and other Japanese giant monsters from 1954 to the 1970s. He is still active today, he attends several monster conventions in Japan and around the world to meet his fans.

Above, Nakajima, at right, in Seven Samurai.

If you wish to extend your birthday wishes to Mr. Nakajima, post them in the comments section below and I will pass them on to him through his daughter Sonoe.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

4 Places To Find Extra Storage In Your RV

Above, the rack recently installed for cooking utensils. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Ever find yourself wondering where to put different things in your RV when space is at a premium?

DoIt ourselfRV.com has an article with four ideas on maximizing storage space in your RV. Some of them I have already adopted.

They start with:
Most of us have a serious lack of imagination when it comes to how we use our homes, and this extends into the world of RVs as well. We tend to accept the storage we’re given, and outside of purchasing shelving or containers, we don’t get very creative when it comes to where to put our things. 
In an RV, this can lead to over-crowded drawers and important gear that cannot be found until after an alternative has already been used. Here are four under utilized areas that can make great storage when coupled with the right hardware!

Read more: http://www.doityourselfrv.com/find-extra-storage/#ixzz3vjBRTUnS

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Facebook Page Tops 400 Likes

The end of the year is nearly upon us and The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan Facebook page has reached a milestone.

This week, the page reached and topped 400 page likes. My thanks to all of you!

Besides highlighting the print and ebook editions of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan, the Facebook page is a conduit to providing tips and news pertaining to Japan travel for the serious and casual kaiju fan.

To visit the page, go here.

Tokyo Cheapo: "Top 10 Cheapo Posts of 2015"

Above, the Kinkaku-ji golden pavilion in Kyoto. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tokyo Cheapo has been a great resource for finding things to see, do and buy in Tokyo for the budget-minded visitor. I have linked to many of their articles over the past year to pass on to readers of this blog.

They have posted a retrospective of their "Top 10 Cheapo Posts of 2015". If there's one you've missed or forgot to bookmark, here's your chance to do so.

They start off with:
It’s been a busy year for us cheapos—for both writers and readers alike. On our end, we’ve expanded our editorial team to report on wide-ranging cheapo matters, and you folks have helped double(!) our page views from 2014. That’s awesome. To help you reminisce about all the yen you saved this past year, we’ve compiled the top 10 cheapo posts of 2015:

We made great use of our Japan Rail Passes when we went to Osaka from Tokyo via shinkansen and taking the commuter train to Kyoto from Osaka. One of the top ten articles was "Tokyo to Kyoto: The Fastest and Cheapest Ways" (number 5 on their list).

To see the rest of their top ten, go here

Monday, December 28, 2015

Alaska Airlines To End Los Angeles To Vancouver Route In 2016

Above, the Celebrity Mercury at Juneau, Alaska. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Fifteen years ago, my mother treated my daughter Amber and I to a seven-day Alaskan cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises' ship Celebrity Mercury.

The ship departed for its cruise from their port in Vancouver, Canada. Included in the cruise package were round-trip flights to Vancouver aboard Alaska Airlines.

Now it has been reported that Alaska Airlines is ending its non-stop service to Vancouver this coming June.

According to Travel Weekly:
Alaska Airlines will end its nonstop service between Los Angeles and Vancouver, effective June 4, according to AirlineRoute.net.
The route was launched in 1996 by Alaska Airlines. Other airlines will continue the Los Angeles-Vancouver route after Alaska Airlines ends its service.

To read more, go here

The Travel Daily Picks Up Tokyo To Sapporo Blog Post

No sooner than one travel-related online newspaper picks up one of my blog posts, another one has.

This time, it is The Travel Daily. They picked up my blog post of today on traveling from Tokyo to Sapporo.

To see The Travel Daily, go here.

Camping News Picks Up Nomadic Fanatic & Campervan Kevin Sticker Article

It is interesting to see who picks up my blog posts.

The latest is the online newspaper, Camping News. Up to now, I've never heard of it. But Camping News did pick up my blog post from two days ago about the Nomadic Fanatic and Campervan Kevin stickers.

I perused the other articles Camping News picked up and there's a lot of good ones on camping and places to camp.

To check out Camping News, go here.

Travel To Sapporo From Tokyo

Above, Sapporo's Odori Park. Photo: Nkns.

Hokkaido's Sapporo is best known to travelers (and others) for its winter snow festivals with their fantastic snow sculptures. Sapporo is also best known to kaiju fans as the first battleground between Gamera and Legion in Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (also known as Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion) (1996).

Sapporo is so far away from the main Japanese tourist meccas such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Mount Fuji that hardly anyone goes there in comparison. This is a mistake as Sapporo is really quite accessible and transportation to the city is surprisingly cheap.

City-Cost.com has posted an article on the different means of traveling to Sapporo and what each costs.

They begin with:
Sapporo (Hokkaido) is a long way from Tokyo (over 800 km as the crow flies). Getting there by any means other than a plane, is likely to turn into something of an adventure.  Still, it will be an adventure worthwhile, as Sapporo is regarded by many to be one of the most user-friendly cities in the country, and a gateway to Japan’s great outdoors.  And if adventure doesn’t appeal, well, a flight will have you there in less than two hours.  So, how much does it cost to travel there from Tokyo?
Admittedly, I have never been to Sapporo (or anywhere else in Hokkaido), but since I read the article, I might just go there. The closest I've been to Hokkaido was my 2006 visit to Sendai and Matsushima, but I was still on Honshu.

To see how much it costs to get to Sapporo from Tokyo, go here

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Westways Magazine Salutes National Park Service Centennial

The January/February 2016 issue of Westways magazine, published by the Automobile Club of Southern California, arrived in the mailbox yesterday and it salutes the centennial of the National Park Service.

I had mentioned in a previous blog post that 2016 marks 100 years since the founding of the National Park Service. It all began when President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir paid a joint visit to what is now Yosemite National Park in 1903.

The National Park Service didn't come into being for another thirteen years until the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. But, the Roosevelt-Muir visit to Yosemite was the "springboard" for the National Park Service's creation.

Fittingly, Amber and I will be visiting Yosemite in April.

The issue of Westways is one issue that those who are fans of our national parks should get.

For more on Westways magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California, go here.

Yahoo! Travel: "10 RV Vacations You Need To Take Right Now"

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

Yahoo! Travel has an article from March on "10 RV Vacations You Need To Take Right Now".

Of the ten places they recommend, I have been to one of them, number 7: Crater Lake National Park and one other (sort of), number 8: Horse Thief Lake, that is near Mount Rushmore. We've been to Mount Rushmore, but stayed at the Mount Rushmore KOA. We didn't go to Horse Thief Lake, but went to Deadwood instead.

It is interesting that America's first national park, Yellowstone National Park, isn't on the list. Crater Lake National Park (in Oregon) was nice, but outside of hiking down to the lake (beware, the hike back up is strenuous), there isn't really too much to see or do.

They introduced their list with:
Hitting the open road is an American dream. But doing it in an RV means that you can bring all your amenities with you. That’s living in luxury — virtually anywhere. RVing can be an ideal vacation for kids, and an inexpensive way to have that family vacation you always wanted. It may still be winter, but start planning for the roads ahead with these most searched RV vacation spots on Yahoo.
The places listed may be the "most searched", but I don't see the ones listed (except maybe a couple of them) belonging to anyone's "bucket list".

To see what the other eight places are, go here.

New Phone

One of the things I had to do last week was to buy a new phone. You can say it was a Christmas present to myself. It was a necessary purchase, though.

The phone I've been using was acting up, mainly from dropping it. It would occasionally (and it became more frequent) just go to a blank white screen. Then I would have to open up the back and pull out the battery to get it working again. I couldn't answer the phone or open the text mailbox while it was stuck in white screen.

It caused problems last Tuesday, so I decided to get another phone the next day. The problems began to ease a bit, but I needed something more reliable in case a call or text comes through.

So, I went to the local T-Mobile (my provider) store and bought a Samsung Galaxy Core Prime. It isn't Samsung's top-of-the-line phone, but since I am not a big phone freak, it is more than adequate. Plus, the price was right.

Above, a shot of The Beast by the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

So far, I am very pleased with it. I let it charge overnight and used it all day. When I went to bed last night, the power battery was only at 71%. The old phone's battery would have been dead by then. The power consumption (or lack thereof) of the Samsung is amazing.

I read some reviews on the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime and I have to disagree with them. The screen is bright. The colors look natural. The built-in camera works better than my old phone's (and this one has a flash). The above shot of The Beast was at 3.9 megapixels. But the camera can be set to 5 megapixels.

Most importantly, the speaker for the phone was very good, far better than my old phone's speaker.

Since I seem to have a knack for dropping phones, I bought a protective cover for it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Nomadic Fanatic & Campervan Kevin Stickers

There is one thing about the recreational vehicle community,most members are ready and willing to help out another RVer in need. Be it on the road, in a campground, an Internet forum or wherever, a fellow RVer will help out another.

In this case (or cases), two RVers were in need of a little assistance recently. Both of them have YouTube channels with thousands of subscribers. Each week, both post new videos on the events of their lives, generally good, but sometimes not-too-good events. They also provide ideas on attractions, campgrounds, boondocking, product reviews, technical tips and other topics while on the road.

The first one, Campervan Kevin, recently had a life-changing event: an impending divorce. Having been there myself, I can sympathize with him. To help out a little, I bought one of his Campervan Kevin stickers. He is no longer traveling around in a campervan, having just purchased a Big Foot Class C motorhome, in which he is living full-time with his three Yorkies. Kevin has been a very generous person as well. He helped the Nomadic Fanatic earlier this year when the Tioga motorhome ("Tilly") he was traveling in at the time was on its last legs in Florida. He donated an older Ford campervan to the Nomadic Fanatic to get him back on the road.

The second one, the Nomadic Fanatic, travels around the country with his cat Jax. He recently obtained a 1987 (I think that's the year) Tioga Class C motorhome (he named it "Olga"). About a couple of months ago, he began his latest cross-country trip from his home base in Olympia, Washington. However, he ran into a major problem while in the Bay Area of California: his transmission broke down. As he didn't have the funds to get the motorhome repaired and was about to be stranded, he asked his subscribers to purchase one of his stickers. Like Campervan Kevin, the Nomadic Fanatic's subscribers pitched in and bought a sticker (or more). Because of this, he was able to get the transmission rebuilt and he is back on the road. He is currently somewhere in Arizona at this writing.

The Nomadic Fanatic sticker arrived in the mail today along with a signed, personalized photo of him and Jax. Campervan Kevin also enclosed a signed, personalized photo with his sticker. I have to figure out where to put the stickers on The Beast. I may just get a board or something to display them. The photos and stickers are posted at top.

To access Campervan Kevin's YouTube channel, go here.

To access the Nomadic Fanatic's YouTube channel, go here.

Tsunagu Japan: "20 Special Souvenirs To Buy At A Japanese Ryokan"

Above, the front desk at the Atami Shinkadoya ryokan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

When staying at a ryokan (Japanese inn) or hotel in Japan, the furthest thing on my mind is purchasing souvenirs at those places. Unless, of course, they happen to have an attractive gift shop that is along one's pathway.

None of the ryokans I've stayed at had a gift shop or stand to make any purchases, at least I didn't notice any.

Tsunagu Japan has a list of S (and hotel). Some of them are very interesting.

In their introduction to their list, they wrote:
To remember and share your travel in Japan, special and unique souvenirs would be a great idea. In this article, we introduce original souvenir items you can find in Ryokan and hotels, so you can pick up your souvenirs comfortably during your stay.
To see the 20 items, go here.

Travel Industry Picks For 2016

Above, the pagoda at Senoji in Asakusa, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We're only days away from the new year and already top travel industry experts are making travel recommendations for 2016.

Japan Today has posted the top picks from such influential travel publications as Travel + Leisure, Frommer's, Lonely Planet, AFAR, Fodor's, Condé Nast Traveler and others.

To see what their picks are, go here.

2015 In Review

Above, the big purchase of the year, The Beast. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The year is almost over and, for the most part, I has been a great year. Here's my annual recap of the highlights of the year.

The year began with a major decision. It didn't come easy, but the economics were such that I had to make a move. I decided to sell the farm in Nebraska as property taxes have doubled since I inherited it five years ago. On top of that, corn prices have been mired around $3.00/bushel. The return for such low crop prices were such that paying the farm's property taxes didn't leave me with much left.

Once I made my decision, I did some research on farmland prices and contacted my tenant to let him know. Besides being the proper thing to do, it is also a requirement to notify tenants of the land being put up on the market.

His reaction was unexpected. He essentially said, "I'll buy it!" So we negotiated a very fair price and made the deal. I am glad that he has it now. It is in good hands!

Once the sale was completed, I made a second decision. I decided to buy an RV. Again, I did some research. I originally was going to buy a Class B (a campervan), but I found that the prices for those were much more than what I was willing to fork out.

Above, with my aunt Rose in Mission Viejo.
Then in February, I started looking at Class C motorhomes. I had a micro-mini Class C 25 years ago, so I am familiar with them. I checked out different makes and models and settled on Winnebago's Mini Winnie 22R. It is a 23 footer and is the right size for me and my parking space. Since I have a double parking space, I can park the motorhome and the car in it. There was just enough room. If I bought anything bigger, I would have had to find a RV storage facility to store it. Amber named it "The Beast" and the name stuck. Most of my friends and family now refer to it as The Beast. I bought it from La Mesa RV in San Diego. The local Winnebago dealers didn't have what I wanted and La Mesa had several models to choose from. We came to a great deal (it helps to pay cash) and I flew down to pick it up. La Mesa sent a representative to pick me up at the airport.

Once all transactions were completed, I drove The Beast home. Along the way, I stopped in Mission Viejo to visit my aunt Rose and cousins. I gave them a tour of The Beast.

Also in February, I bought myself a Canon Rebel camera. I am very pleased with it. I later bought a telephoto lens.

In April, I flew to San Francisco (photo, left) to give a presentation before the Japan Society of Northern California at the Roxie Theater, "In The Footsteps of Godzilla". My presentation was on Godzilla and other kaiju movie locations. The event included a screening of the original Japanese version of Godzilla (1954).

April saw some changes in my personal life. My longtime roommate, Jessica, announced that her father sold his Orange County condo and moved to Canoga Park and that she would be moving in with him. This came as a surprise, but her father would be able to provide for her care better when she receives a liver transplant. She moved out that month. We are still friends and we get together generally every week and I am her back-up for getting her to her doctor appointments. A few days after Jes moved out, I met Denise Santos. We seem to click together, despite our age difference. We've been hanging out together quite a bit since meeting.

Since I bought The Beast in February, I spent the next several weeks equipping it.

Above, Amber and Armand at
 The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
Also in April, Amber and I took The Beast for its "shake-out cruise" to Las Vegas for her to interview and take a swimming test for The Mirage Hotel's dolphin show as an intern. She didn't make it, but it was a fun trek and we visited with Barb and Jerry Weiler and my cousin Antoinette.

Memorial Day was a mixed bag of good and bad. The bad was that Amber was in a traffic collision in Santa Monica, which totaled her 2000 Mustang. (We later got her a newer Mustang. A convertible.) After picking up Amber from Santa Monica at the wrecking yard, I headed home. But, luckily, the day was salvaged (the good) when Denise called and asked me to join her, son Aiden and her cousin at Universal Studios Hollywood. We had a great time. I still marvel that she managed to talk me into going on "The Revenge of the Mummy" ride, a roller-coaster. I haven't been on a roller-coaster since I was a kid. It actually was fun, surprisingly.

In June, Amber and I took The Beast to Yellowstone National Park. It was her first vacation in ages and she was last there at age three, so she remembered nothing about it. We had a wonderful time. We stopped along the way in Beaver, Utah and spent one night at the KOA Kampground there. We also stopped at a roadside attraction, Yellowstone Bear World in Idaho. That was fun.

We stayed at the KOA in West Yellowstone and took two days of tours into the park with Yellowstone Buffalo Tours. Instead of fighting traffic in the park and trying to find parking, we let someone else do the driving and we concentrated on the wonders of Yellowstone. One the first day (on the Upper Loop Tour), we managed to see some bears.

After leaving Yellowstone for home, we took the route that goes through Grand Teton National Park. From there, we headed into Utah and spent one night at the Richfield KOA. After leaving Richfield, we drove through Zion National Park for the last leg of our return home. It was a great trip.

Above, Denise and I at Universal Studios.

In July, I went to Lake Havasu with Denise and Aiden, Arizona to do some jet-skiing. I always wanted to try a jet ski (it was on my "bucket list"). We camped at the Lake and on the first day, we rented a pontoon boat for a couple of hours and rented a jet ski the next day. It was a great little trip and we plan on doing it again next year.

In August, my cat Siren became ill and very frail. We took her to the vet and he thought it was something that could be cured. For the next month, Amber and I administered medications to Siren. At first, she seemed to show improvement, but towards the end of September, she began to decline again. She passed away on September 29. Amber and I took her loss very hard. She was 18 years old. One could not have asked for a better cat for a companion.

Also in August, my great-uncle Alexander Charleston passed away from cancer in Alabama. He was a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

Shocking news came in September. Actor Jack Larson suddenly passed away at home. Even though he was 86, he seemed in robust health and we last saw him the year before at the Superman Celebration. Many of us attended his memorial service at the James Bridges Theater at UCLA in December. He was always there for us at different events, so we were there for him.

In October, I needed to go to Japan for more material for my planned updated edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. So Denise, Aiden and I headed off. We spent time in Tokyo, Atami, Osaka and Kyoto. While in Tokyo, I hosted a dinner at the Imperial Hotel for friends from Toho. We had a great time.

Above, Amber and Armand at Gibbon Falls in Yellowstone National Park.

In November, Amber and I went to my cousin Julianne's in Lake Forest for Thanksgiving dinner.
Also in November, I retired from my "parachute" job at Lakeside Golf Club. So now, my time belongs to me. Good thing too. The calendar was against me again this year as I would have had to work during Christmas had I not retired. Since I did, we spent Christmas at my cousin Maria's in Wildomar.
Above, Sierra.

After Siren died, I was debating on whether or not I would get another cat. But, that decision was made easier as Amber spotted a kitten named Claire at the South Bay Adoption Center's posting on Facebook. She passed it on to me. After repeated looks at the posting, I took a chance and called the Adoption Center to see if she was still available. She was. I went down to the center in Hawthorne and adopted her. She has been renamed Sierra Claire. Her personality is like Siren's.

In late November, I went on a weekend jaunt to the Gen. Patton Memorial Museum in Chiriaco Summit to locate my dad's brick (found it, with some help) and to Joshua Tree National Park. I went solo this time as everyone else had to work or had other things to do. I still had a good time camping at Joshua Tree, although it was very cold.

Already, plans are being made for 2016, including a trek to Yosemite National Park. Stay tuned!

Tokyo Getting New Exhibition Space

Above, a view of Tokyo from the Skytree. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

New exhibition space highlighting the history of Tokyo and features of Japan is being planned to be ready for visitors by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) reported:
An exhibition space designed to introduce Tokyo’s charms and Japan’s latest technologies to visiting foreigners in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is to be established, it has been learned. 
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the Tokyo metropolitan government and other entities plan to establish the space by fiscal 2019 at a public facility in Tokyo. They expect it to become a centerpiece for tourism in Tokyo.
To read more, go here

Friday, December 25, 2015

Foreign Visitors Discovering Japan's Business Hotels and Hostels

Above, a typical single room at the Tsukuba Hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

With increasing numbers of foreign tourists flocking to Japan, the resulting demands for accommodations are putting strains on the Japanese hotel industry. But, foreign tourists are discovering Japanese business hotels and hostels.

The Japan Times reported:
With the drastic increase in tourism, the lack of lodging in the nation’s biggest cities, particularly Tokyo and Osaka, is providing a major opportunity for those running two types of accommodations: “business hotels” and hostels. 
Japan’s so-called business hotels are known for offering simpler rooms at more affordable prices than typical hotels. While they were traditionally patronized by budget-minded Japanese businessmen, frugal international travelers have caught on and are now among their major patrons in bustling Tokyo. 
Hostels, on the other hand, are not familiar to many Japanese but are frequented by foreigners on shoe-string budgets searching for something beyond the ordinary hotel experience.
The only business hotel I've stayed in while in Tokyo (in 2005 and 2014) was the Tsukuba Hotel in the Ueno section of the city. The rooms are tiny (I had a work cubicle about the same size as the main room), but the prices were very reasonable. The rooms were a tight squeeze, especially with my big suitcase. The only window in the room was in the bathroom.

Above, a different view of a single room at the Tsukuba Hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To read more, go here

Christmas 2015

Above, "Mrs. Claus" and I having a laugh over something I said while Amber seemed contented with Santa.

Christmas Eve and half of Christmas Day were spent down at my cousin Maria's home in Wildomar, California (Lake Elsinore area). I got back home today about and hour ago.

We got to Wildomar at about 6:30 last night as daughter Amber had to work. We left as soon as she got to my place in Tarzana.

Above, the kids greet Santa and Mrs. Claus upon their arrival. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We were greeted by my aunt Gloria, cousins and dinner. Amber and I were famished.

After dinner, we all visited for a while until it was time for Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived to hand out presents to the kids.

After that was over, we relaxed out in the patio and had some rain downpours. For us in California, it wouldn't be Christmas unless it rained. We caught up on life's events as I hadn't been at my cousin's since 2013.

Amber and I had to wait for a downpour to end so we could retire for the night in The Beast. We both slept great. We marveled that we seem to sleep better in the motorhome than at home. Go figure!

Once I woke up at around 7:00, I heated up some water to make some instant coffee. Amber slept for about another hour. We were greeted by blue skies, clean air and 41­­° temperature.

Above, The Beast on Christmas morning. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After a while, we joined the rest of the family in the house for breakfast.

After breakfast, I gave everyone (who was up) a tour of The Beast, as this was their first time seeing it.

Then, Amber and I headed off to the San Fernando Valley. It was a very enjoyable Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Tips On Handling Holiday Travel

Today is one of the busiest days for holiday travel.

To help you deal with it and to keep your sanity while on the road, Condé Nast Traveler has some tips for you. I have to drive 90 miles later today, so this is timely!

They begin with:
Holiday travel is a hassle from the get-go, but hours of car karaoke, incessant questioning, and backseat drivers only make matters worse. Now, with AAA predicting 90 percent of Americans will hit the highway for a holiday road trip, drivers’ frustration will be at an ultimate high. And while avoiding the busiest driving days of the season (December 23 and December 24, according to Waze) will certainly help keep most spirits bright, holiday stress comes for some no matter what day the road trip begins. In order to keep holiday cheer up for everyone involved, the great-great-grandson of the ultimate etiquette expert Emily Post, Daniel Post Senning, has a few tips to keep everyone—even the in-laws—sane.
To read more, go here

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Eve Camping

Above, with my cousin Maria Christmas Eve in 2012.

This year has zoomed by so fast that it is hard to believe that tomorrow is Christmas Eve. It seems like only yesterday that we were in Yellowstone National Park and, later, Lake Havasu.

It will be nice to get out of L.A. tomorrow for an overnighter in Wildomar, California (the Lake Elsinore area) at my cousin's. Amber and I will be "camping" at my cousin's Christmas Eve night in The Beast. That way, we won't have to deal with fighting traffic that night while going back to the San Fernando Valley. She has a big lot with plenty of room for The Beast.

[One side note, there is a vacant lot next to her property (thankfully on the opposite end from where we will be parked) and there was (maybe he's still there) some old guy in his 80s or 90s who lives in an RV (I think he's a squatter or some family member owns the land) who occasionally goes outside of his RV in his "birthday suit". As my daughter would say, "Ewww!"]

It will be nice going to Wildomar to hang out with the family. I was last there for Christmas Eve in 2012 and the calendar worked against me in 2013 and 2014 and I had to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If I were still working, the same would happen again this year. Now that I'm retired, I don't have to worry about that anymore. My time now belongs to me.

I was thinking on stopping at Riverside National Cemetery on the way home to visit my parents' grave, but the cemetery is closed Christmas Day as a national holiday. Maybe, if we get out of town quick enough, we may be able go there tomorrow on the way to Wildomar. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Foreign Visitors To Japan Tops 19 Million

Above, the Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) reported that the number of foreign visitors to Japan exceeded 19 million as of last Saturday.

They wrote:
The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2015 exceeded 19 million as of Saturday, up more than 40 percent over the annual record set last year, transport minister Keiichi Ishii said Tuesday. 
The number is expected to break the 19.5 million mark by the end of the year, and will likely surpass the number of Japanese tourists who headed overseas, which is expected to be around 16 million, for the first time since 1970. 
The number of foreign visitors to Japan reached 19.01 million last Saturday, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said, representing an increase of more than 10 million in the three years since 2012, when a figure of 8.35 million was recorded.
To read more, go here.

ANA Expands Customer Service Center Hours and Languages

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

For those flying to or from Japan aboard All Nippon Airways (ANA), they are extending their customer service center's hours.

Japan Today reported:
TOKYO —ANA is further improving its customer service by extending the operating hours of its customer service center to handle requests for new reservations or changes in international flights. ANA now offers the service 24 hours a day 365 days a year, and takes inquiries in English and Japanese.
To read more, go here

Surprise Cameo In "The Force Awakens"

Above, Daniel Craig in Skyfall.

Last night, I was having dinner at my favorite local sushi restaurant, Crazy Tokyo Sushi, and they had a television on a few feet away from where I was sitting.

The television was tuned to a Hollywood magazine show and they were discussing Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. During the discussion, it was mentioned that there was a cameo in the movie. The actor wasn't recognizable as he was dressed as a First Order stormtrooper.

The cameo was by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig.

Monday, December 21, 2015


Finally, I completed the last of this year's Christmas shopping. I had to brave drizzle to do so, but I got it all done.

Now I don't have to go out and struggle to find parking, bad drivers, annoying people and crowded stores.

Well, at least for a year.

"Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens"

Above, the official poster.
Today was the day for me to go out to see the J. J. Abrams Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.

Denise and I decided to see it today as there would likely be fewer crowds to fight on top of the traffic jams at the local malls for the final few days of Christmas shopping.

We began the day with breakfast at Coco's up in the Chatsworth area. Following that, we headed over to the Pacific Winnetka Theaters for the movie.

The auditorium was about one-half to three-quarters empty, so we had no difficulty to find seats that suited us.

Following the fifteen minutes of coming attractions trailers, the movie began. It struck me odd that the only studio logo card before the usual start of the Star Wars movie was for Lucasfilm, Ltd. There was no Disney logo card (or even Touchstone Pictures). I was wondering how they were going to handle that. I missed the 20th Century Fox logo card and fanfare.

Getting into the movie, the story begins 30 or so years after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. A new bunch of baddies, the First Order, are trying to pick up the fallen baton of the former Empire. It is kind of like Vladimir Putin's efforts to rebuild the Soviet Empire. The Rebellion has been replaced by the Resistance. Same thing, different name.

Much of the first half of the movie is introducing new characters to the saga, which, in my opinion, made the film drag. It was at least about 40 minutes or so before we get to see the first familiar characters from the first trilogy, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Rather than go into the story and spoil it for everyone, I'll just give my initial impressions.

First, the movie was beautifully photographed. I am happy that J. J. Abrams did not go overboard with his "glare" lighting effects as he does with the Star Trek movies. There were none of those here. The special effects were excellent.

Second, it was good to see Ford, Mayhew, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill back. Seeing them as they are now is a bit of a shock since it seems like only yesterday (actually about 31 years since their last appearance together) they were battling Jabba The Hutt and the Empire. Alas, time marches on and we all can't stay forever young, can we?

Third, I liked this movie more than the "prequel" trilogy as a whole, although I enjoyed the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) very much (has it really been ten years since that one was released?). There is much more suspense here as we don't know where the series is headed, whereas, we pretty much knew ahead of time were the prequel trilogy was headed. That's my main beef with prequels.

Fourth, there were no cute teddy bears (Ewoks) or annoying Jar Jar Binks characters to mar the movie. It played pretty straight.

Fifth, of the new characters introduced, I liked scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) the best. The others, meh.

Overall, I don't see this movie deserving of the raves that some of my friends gave it. It was okay. It doesn't top Star Wars (1977) or Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Empire is my personal favorite). I found the two recent Abrams Star Trek reboot movies more satisfying. This almost seemed like a pale remake of the original Star Wars.

My grade: B+. I would have given it an A- had the first half didn't drag so much.

Japan Working To Improve Tourist Access To Wi-Fi and SIM Cards

Above, a Tokyo Tully's coffee shop where I've managed to get good Wi-Fi access. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan lags to a certain extent when it comes to Wi-Fi services for foreign visitors. But they're working on it.

The Japan Times reported:
The government kicked off a campaign Monday to give tourists access to SIM cards and Wi-Fi routers, aiming to offer a better quality communications environment. 
The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) said that while the government has been working to spread free Wi-Fi availability for international travelers, it isn’t possible to provide blanket coverage nationwide. 
Yet Japan has high quality mobile communications networks all across the country, and this is something tourists can take advantage of, officials said.
To read more, go here

Dollar Around ¥121.30 In Tokyo Trading

Unless things change in the next ten days, the dollar/yen exchange rate won't be ending 2015 on a high note.

According to The Japan Times:
The dollar lost further ground to trade around ¥121.30 in Tokyo trading on Monday, battered by continued falls in oil and stock prices. 
At 5 p.m., the dollar was at ¥121.28-29, down from ¥121.79-80 at the same time Friday.

To read more, go here

Sunday, December 20, 2015

New Travel Policies Targeting Foreign Tourists In Japan

Above, the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Have you ever purchased travel insurance for a vacation to Japan or, for that matter, anywhere else?

I have. Once. I bought travel insurance through Sita World Travel, who was handling the 2004 G-TOUR to Japan. The rate was good and, since I was not in control over different aspects of the trip (ground transportation, etc.) and I would be with 59 other people who could possibly pass on a virus or something requiring hospitalization, I thought it would probably be a good idea to buy it.

It actually turned out that one member of the tour had to use his travel insurance as he became deathly ill at the time we were in Kamakura visiting the Great Buddha. He had to be taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then he was transferred to another hospital in Yokohama. He ended up being hospitalized in Japan some time after we had returned home. So, his travel insurance policy came in very handy in his case. Imagine the bill he would have received had he not had travel insurance!

Since then, I have not purchased travel insurance to any of my subsequent Japan trips (or to anywhere else). I am probably taking a chance not doing so. But that's just me. Maybe I will as I get a little more older and, statistically, more fragile.

But, some people don't even give travel insurance a thought. Maybe they'd buy some if the opportunity glaringly presented itself.

But, our good friends in Japan are making that task a little bit easier for foreign travelers as some Japanese insurers are making travel insurance available to them in Japan.

According to the Nikkei Asian Review:
TOKYO -- Japanese nonlife insurers are developing and selling travel insurance in a bid to capitalize on demand from the record number of tourists flocking to the country. 
The number of foreigners traveling to Japan between January and November jumped 48% on the year to 17.96 million, data from the Japan National Tourism Organization shows. Around 30% of visitors reportedly lack travel insurance. 
MS&AD Insurance Group units Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group and Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance will launch in late December insurance for Japanese hotels and leisure facilities. Companies will pay an average of around 2,000 yen to 3,000 yen ($16.20 to $24.29) per person to provide coverage for their guests, aiming to attract tourists hesitant to buy insurance themselves.
This sounds like a good idea and it may even be cheaper to buy travel insurance in Japan as the exchange rate between the dollar and yen makes Japanese goods and services a bargain for U.S. travelers.

To read more, go here.

Tokyo DisneySea Photos - Part Two

Since I took a lot of photos while at Tokyo DisneySea, and the ones I am posting here and at Part One hardly scratch the surface, here's some more for your enjoyment.

Above, a crowd gathers for a show at the S.S. Columbia. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Mount Prometheus at the Mysterious Island section. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Mount Prometheus erupts. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the show at Mediterranean Harbor. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the Mediterranean Harbor show. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the crowd swarms Goofy at the Main Entrance plaza. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, there are plenty of souvenir shops in the park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the Tower of Terror. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tokyo DisneySea Photos - Part One

Although Tokyo DisneySea seemed like it had at least half of Tokyo's population inside the park (it was on a Saturday) and the wait to get on any rides was too long, it was still fun to go there to wander around and catch some shows. We saw roughly half of the park.

We headed over there after returning to Tokyo from Osaka. After taking some local Tokyo Metro trains to get there, we boarded the park's shuttle train. Besides Tokyo DisneySea, the train also stops at Tokyo Disneyland and some hotels.

Here's some photos that I took during our visit:

Above, the train had Mickey Mouse-shaped windows. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a view of Tokyo Disneyland from the train. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Tokyo DisneySea main entrance plaza. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Mediterranean Harbor. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, looking toward American Waterfront. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, performers put on a show for the crowd near Scrooge McDuck's store. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Scrooge McDuck's department store. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, another show at American Waterfront. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, Denise and Aiden taking in a show. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, "vintage" signs adorn the American Waterfront. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

See more photos in Part Two.

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