"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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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Japan's 2015 Tourism Record, Broken Down

Above, an up-river view of the Sumida River from the Tokyo Skytree. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan nearly reached their 2020 target goal of 20 million foreign visitors last year.

Nippon.com has an analysis on where the tourists are coming from, how much they spent and where Japan ranks in foreign tourism in the world.

They begin with:
Japan saw a record 19.7 million international visitors in 2015. This included almost 5 million Chinese tourists, more than double the number for 2014, whose extravagant spending helped push total travel outlays for the year to over ¥3 trillion.
To read more, go here

Annual Dinner

Above, (from left) Mike Collins, Mike Costelloe, Bob Kerns and Tom Cotrel. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

On this rainy day in the San Fernando Valley, I made the trek to the Studio City area for our annual get-together dinner of former Young Republicans (I guess you can now call us Old Republicans) and other political hacks from our college days. The gathering consisted those from California State University, Northridge, El Camino College, Pierce College and others.

It is hard to believe I've known most of these guys for over 40 years.

The dinner was held at The Man Cave Sports Bar. I had never been there before. Upon walking in, the first thing I saw was a blonde girl, nude, being painted. (Later, more nude women were getting painted.)

Unfortunately (or fortunately, it depends), they weren't a part of our group as we reserved an upper level dining area. So I have no clue what all that was about.

The dinner, as usual, was enjoyable. It was dinner number 44 since the tradition started in the early 1970s. A good time was had by all.

"Hail, Caesar!" Opens Friday

Above, George Reeves, just days before his death.

A new "screwball comedy" is set to open this Friday. It called Hail, Caesar! and is based on MGM's "fixer" Eddie Mannix. Josh Brolin plays Mannix.

Here's what the New York Post says about the movie (thanks to Brad Shey for finding it):

This should be an interesting movie to see.

End of January

Above, the front yard. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today's the last day of January and we are ending the month with rain, which is what we in California need.

Also, I am ending the month with an annoying head cold, which is what I don't need. I don't know where I came from but apparently Denise and I caught it at the same time from somewhere. Mine hit me a bit harder. Still, it is not as bad as the one that hit me back in November. That cold was brutal.

I am gearing up to get started on the updated edition of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan. The plan is to begin work while my "other half" is in Atlanta for three weeks so I am kept occupied during that time.

Right now, I am trying to decide what photograph to use for the cover. Having a lot of photographs on hand that could be used doesn't make the task any easier. It just complicates the selection process. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dollar at ¥121

After being mired in the ¥118 range for some time, the U.S. dollar is finally moving up against the Japanese yen.

At present, the dollar is at ¥121.06-121.08 in Tokyo trading. (Source: Kyodo News.)

Explore Yokohama's Historic Port

Above, a view of Yokohama's port from the Landmark Tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The port city of Yokohama often gets overlooked as a place to visit in Japan. But, there are things to see and do in Tokyo's next-door big city.

Japan Today has an article on exploring Yokohama's historic port.

They begin with:
YOKOHAMA —As you descend the stairs from the platform at JR Sakuragicho station, you notice two things. The music playing behind you to indicate that the train doors are closing is “I’ve been working the railroad” and on the walls are historical photos of the station over the past 143 years. For Sakuragicho is the original Yokohama station and one of the oldest train stations in Japan. As early as 1872, passengers arriving in Japan by ship would board the train for Tokyo from here. So it is only fitting that your exploration of Yokohama’s history as a port city should begin here.

Godzilla fans are keenly aware that Yokohama was the battle site in two movies: Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001).

To read more, go here

An Australian's View of Japan

Above, Tokyo residents boarding the JR Yamanote Line. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japanese are well-known for their natural politeness, which is nice to experience, especially during rush hour commutes.

For an Australian's perspective on a visit to Tokyo, News.com.au has an article on a visit to Tokyo and her thoughts on it.

She begins with:
THE first thing I notice when I got to Japan was how nice everyone on the peak hour Tokyo subway smelled. Like the delicate fragrance of clean hair and freshly washed linen. 
The second thing I noticed was the carriage was so quiet I was afraid to blow my nose, and a third of the passengers wore face masks. 
“It’s not because they’re afraid of catching your germs, it’s because they’re sick and don’t want anyone else to catch theirs,” my partner explained. 
To an Australian used to riding with the great unwashed, negotiating junkies, violent ticket inspectors and clouds of teenage girls’ Impulse, the Japanese are unnervingly respectful of other people’s personal space. 
Stand still and look confused, and within 30 seconds someone will have either offered you help, or else queued politely behind you (queuing is a phenomenon in Japan) for no apparent reason.
To read more, go here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

80% of South Korean Youth Want To Move Out of Their Country

An interesting article appeared in RocketNews 24 a couple of days ago.

It is not about Japan, but it is about South Korea. It appears that about 80 percent of South Korea's youth want to leave the country permanently.

RocketNews 24 wrote:
South Korea is a popular travel destination adored by many, but a recent survey suggests that almost 80 percent of its citizens want out. Why?

South Korea sees millions of visitors each year, with many tourists flocking to the nation for its seasonal beauty, exotic food, vibrant pop culture, and expertise in the beauty industry. To many K-pop and K-drama fans, South Korea might seem like a dreamland, but a recent survey by South Korean website Saramin suggests that, in reality, the majority of the population are longing to leave their homeland for good.
I wonder how many of them would rather live in North Korea?

To read more, go here.

The Real Reason You Got Sick On Vacation

Above, my room at the Hotel Fukudaya in Tokyo where I spent some time trying to shake a flu-like illness. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It's happened to me twice. First, in 2000 on an Alaskan cruise and, second, my first trip to Japan in 2001.

What was it? I got sick.

What happened to me in those instances was probably what an article in Travel + Leisure refers to as "leisure sickness".

They begin with:
Your bags were packed, your out-of-office reply was set, and you could finally relax for your much-needed vacation. And all of a sudden…your body ached, your nose was running, and you wound up staying in bed all weekend. Ugh. 
There’s actually a name for this: leisure sickness. Tilburg University researchers from the Netherlands coined this term in 2001 after surveying 1,893 Dutch people and finding that about 3% of both men and women reported flu-like symptoms, as well as headaches, fatigue, muscular pains, and nausea while taking time off. Many of the survey respondents believed their symptoms came from balancing a heavy workload, stress associated with travel, and having a hard time winding down when they had time off.

Since those two instances, I now prepare for a trip by taking Vitamin C every day for ten days prior to departure and during the trip. Since I began doing this, I have not since gotten sick on a trip. I cover this on page 8 in The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

To read more, go here.

Japan Picks 3 Cities To Be Tourism Role Models

Above, Nagasaki harbor. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japanese government has chosen three of its nation's cities to be tourism role models.

The Japan Times reported:
The government has selected three cities — Kushiro in east Hokkaido, Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture and Nagasaki — as model cities for luring foreign visitors to the countryside, tourism minister Keiichi Ishii announced Friday. 
The three cities will each create organizations to promote exchanges between the public and private sectors, polish the appeal of their tourism resources, such as traditional culture and nature, and strengthen PR overseas, Ishii said.

To read more, go here

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Japan's Police Told To Brush Up On Their Hospitality

Above, a police koban in Asakusa. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Japan is increasing their efforts in extending their best in hospitality to foreign visitors.

This is even extending to how they want local police stations (kobans) to interact with foreigners.

The Japan Times reported:
Police are joining nationwide efforts to brush up on their omotenashi (hospitality) as the country experiences a surge in overseas visitors and prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 
The National Police Agency on Thursday ordered police forces across the country to ensure smooth communication with foreign visitors through means such as placing staff who can adequately respond to them at police stations in popular tourist spots and entertainment districts. 
The agency also called on police stations to consider using telephone interpretation services or set up ad hoc police boxes in areas expected to be busy with travelers. 
It also called for police to swiftly secure a translator for any non-Japanese speakers that may need to be approached for crime investigations.
 To read more, go here.

New Bernie Sanders Slogan

"How To Dump RV Tanks"

Dumping the holding tanks of your RV is an essential thing when you're out on the road or in a campground.

I learned how to do it 26 years ago when I had my first motorhome. Prior to that, I had a tent trailer that didn't have holding tanks. What you'll need to dump your tanks is a sewer hose and sewer connector (see above photo).

Emptying your holding tanks is not at all difficult. About Travel has an article on "How To Dump RV Tanks".

They begin it with:
One of the common misconceptions about owning a RV is that dumping the holding tanks is a dirty job. Truth be told, it is, but not in the way you think. Dumping the holding tanks is an essential part of RVing. When you know how to do it right, it’s not a dirty job, but if you make a mistake, well, that’s where the dirtiness comes into play. We’ll show you the basics of dumping your holding tanks so you can avoid the mess.
If you are new to RVing, you should read the article.

To read further, go here

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Valentine's Day In Japan

Above, the Ginza Mitsukoshi Valentine's Day banner from two years ago. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We're approaching that time of year again! 

Specifically, Valentine's Day on February 14, which is on a Sunday this year.

An article on how Valentine's Day is observed in Japan caught my eye. It is from Savvy Tokyo.

In a nutshell, the way they do Valentine's Day in Japan:
The main difference between a Valentine’s Day here compared with Valentine’s Day in the West, is that chocolates are given strictly from women to men—all men. Even to the ones you don’t fancy. 
In the States or the UK, if you happen to receive something on Valentine’s Day, you can safely assume that that someone may be sweet on you. But if you live in Japan, don’t get your hopes too high. 
According to the article, the average amount spent by Japanese women on Valentine's Day is anywhere from ¥500 to ¥1,000 per male co-worker (that can easily add up to a lot of money). ¥1,000 to ¥2,000 appears to be the going rate for "significant others".

Men reciprocate on White's Day, where they are expected to give to women who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. White's Day is observed on March 14, one month after Valentine's Day.

To read more, go here.

Roppongi Hills To Offer Tax-Exemption and Visitor Services

Above, visitors walk past the "Maman" spider statue in Roppongi Hills. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

One of the nicest places I've visited in Tokyo in recent years is the Roppongi Hills complex.

There are many shops and restaurants for anyone's browsing and eating pleasure. Soon, there will be something more at Roppingi Hills to entice visitors to go there.

According to Japan Today:
TOKYO —Mori Building, a leading urban developer, has announced that Roppongi Hills will become the first facility in Tokyo to house both a one-stop tax-exemption counter for all purchases within the complex and a tourist information office staffed with full-time bilingual concierges, both targeted at foreign visitors to Japan, beginning March 14. 
The tourist information office, which already is operating, was registered in December as a Category 2 facility under the Tourist Information Center (TIC) program led by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
To read more, go here

Renew Your Passport NOW, State Dept. Says

Since I already renewed my U.S. Passport a few years ago, I don't have to worry. But people who have to renew theirs this year had better get on the ball and renew them.

Condé Nast Traveler reported:
Expecting a deluge of renewals and applications, State Department officials are urging Americans to renew sooner rather than later. 
Is your passport expiring soon? You're not alone: In 2006 and 2007, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, which for the first time required passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Millions of citizens applied, and the State Department is anticipating a surge in renewals of these very passports, creating a potential backlog. They're encouraging travelers to renew and apply as soon as possible. “We were overwhelmed then, and we are not going to be overwhelmed again,” Michele Bond, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, who oversees passports, told The New York Times.
To read more, go here

January 28, 1986

Above, STS-51-L crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair;
(back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

Thirty years ago tomorrow morning, I was at my desk at Maryland Casualty Company when my mom called me. She never called me at work before.

She called to tell me that the space shuttle Challenger exploded during launch (mission STS-51) and that all of the crew were lost. 

Above, the Challenger memorial in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

 Yes, tomorrow marks 30 years since the Challenger Disaster. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Safety Latches

Above, an installed safety latch on one of the cabinet doors. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Beast has three upper cabinets where I store pots, pans, coffee maker, bowls and other things. They are above the dinette.

On occasion, a cabinet door would come open and things would fall out while we're driving. Anyone sitting below would get beaned pretty badly. So, I've taken precautions and installed some safety latches to the three cabinet doors.

It took a while, but the job was completed faster since I bought a cordless drill a couple of months ago.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rainbow Bridge Offers Vistas of Old and New Tokyo

Above, the Rainbow Bridge. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge is best-known to kaiju fans when it was featured in Godzilla x Megaguirus (2001). It spans across Tokyo Bay to Odaiba.

There is another aspect to the bridge: its walkways.

According to Kyodo News:
The Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay is a symbol of the Japanese capital, but it is less known that the walkways of the suspension bridge offer a great view of the bay fringed by skyscrapers, including an island fortress built in the 19th century to counter Americans forcing Japan to open up. 
The bridge has a two-deck structure and the walkways are on the lower deck, along with the Yurikamome unmanned train system. The upper deck carries a portion of the Shuto Expressway. 
Shibaura Anchorage, about five minutes' walk from Shibaura Futo Station on Yurikamome, is the entrance to the walkways, which are free of charge and open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. between April and October and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. between November and March.
To read more, go here

Minato Ward Trying To Preserve Views of Tokyo Tower

Above, a view of Tokyo Tower from the Sumida River in 2005. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a similar view of Tokyo Tower from the Sumida River in 2015. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Tokyo's Minato Ward is taking steps in preserving the views of Tokyo Tower.

According to The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun):
Minato Ward, Tokyo, home to the 333-meter Tokyo Tower, will ask developers not to obscure views of the tower with new buildings. 
It is extremely rare for a municipality to seek such scenic preservation. 
The effort to preserve views of the tower will be included in the ward government’s landscape plan that will become effective in April 2016. 
With the increase in the number of condominiums in central Tokyo, the number of places where people can obtain an unobstructed view of the tower have been decreasing. In response, the ward decided to try to preserve such spots. 
The ward has designated five “viewing spots” where people can enjoy a full view of the tower: the approach to Zojoji temple; the area around the entrance to Shiba Park near the Onarimon intersection; the area around the center of the grass square in Shiba Park; the grass square at the Prince Park Tower Tokyo hotel; and the south side of the Akabanebashi intersection.
It is good that the municipality is taking steps in preserving views of Tokyo Tower.

To read more, go here.

Airport-Style Duty-Free Shop Opens In Ginza

Above, the Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Ginza now has its first airport-style duty-free shop.

The Japan Times reported:
Mainland Japan will get its first duty-free shop outside of an international airport when the Japan Duty Free Ginza debuts at the Ginza Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward on Wednesday, a top company official said a day earlier. 
“We are looking forward to further energizing Ginza — Japan’s most famous shopping district — by making it more accessible to foreign customers,” said Heichi Yamamoto, president of Japan Duty Free Fa-So-La Isetan Mitsukoshi Co. 
Customers must present their passport and plane tickets at a reception counter in the store before shopping. Once done, they will receive a voucher that can be exchanged for items at pick-up counters beyond passport control at Narita and Haneda airports.
To read more, go here

Monday, January 25, 2016

AsiaOne Travel: How To Survive 10 Days In Japan With Just $400

Above, according to the article, Yoshinoya is a good source for cheap meals. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

If your find yourself in Japan but are low on funds, there's a way to survive ten days in Japan on $400. AsiaOne Travel has tips on how to do so.

They have tips on accommodation, food, travel and activities.

They begin with:
Ahhh, Japan. A fantasy land of sashimi, kimonos and kawaii, where toilet seats are pleasantly heated and bowls of ramen are ordered from vending machines. Quirky, charming and often out of this world, Japan is a hot choice for those of us with the itch to travel. 
But what if you're running tight on cash? Don't give up on the dream quite just yet. The experienced folks over at tabinu specialise in planning trips to Japan whatever your budget may be, and they have quite a bit of insider information on the subject.
To read more, go here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mission Burrito On Vanowen Is Closing

Above, the Canoga Park Mission Burrito. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

A Valley landmark will be shutting its doors at the end of the month for good.

Mission Burrito at 21425 Vanowen St. in Canoga Park will be closing on January 31.

However, do not fret! A new Mission Burrito will be opening in the area on Victory Blvd. shortly thereafter.

Monster Madhouse T-Shirt, Cleaning & Etc.

Above, in my new Monster Madhouse t-shirt. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Spring Cleaning came early.

Today's been cleaning day (at least where my bedroom is concerned). I'll do the living room another day.

While cleaning, I wore my new Monster Madhouse t-shirt that arrived the other day from Jerry "Karlos Borloff" Moore.

Speaking of Jerry Moore, strange thing happened, during cleaning I found an envelope of photos of the visit to the House of (Don) Glut in Burbank by Jerry and I. It is hard to believe it was four years ago (January 20, 2013, to be exact) that we were there. We were joined by Jerry's then-girlfriend, Marta. As Glut said, "The Moore, the scarier!"

Here's some shots of that visit:

Opposing View: Don't Change Temple Symbols, Educate Instead

Above, the manji symbol at Senso-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Japanese government is considering changing some map symbols as some of the ones currently being used are either confusing of offensive.

The only reason why any would be "offensive" is that they resemble something else.

Change.org has posed an article with a petition to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) asking that these "offensive" symbols should be kept and the focus should be on educating people instead.

They start with:
The Japanese government is considering to replace the Japanese manji symbol which indicates the thousands of temples all over Japan, because in the eyes of some visitors to Japan it might be confused with the Hakenkreuz (Nazi's swastika) symbol. 
I agree with the article and signed the petition. There will always be ignorant people around who will assume things instead of getting the facts.

To see both, go here

Saturday, January 23, 2016

FamilyMart To Install Foreign Currency Exchange Machines

Above, a FamilyMart store in the Asakusa area of Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To better able to assist foreign tourists, Japan's FamilyMart convenience stores are planning to install foreign currency exchange machines in some of their Tokyo stores.

Japan Today reported:
TOKYO —Convenience store chain FamilyMart plans to install automatic foreign currency exchange machines in some of its stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area, starting Feb 1.
The machines will be able to handle 13 foreign currencies including U.S. dollars. The machines will convert the currencies to yen.

To read more, go here

I Should Get One Of These

Even though I'm retired, I should get myself one of these. This was my last job title at Crittenden Claim Services.

Historical San Fernando Valley Map

Above, the historical map at the Lamplighter restaurant. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today, I had breakfast with my former roomie Jes at the Lamplighter restaurant in Canoga Park.

On the wall near our table I saw an interesting tour map (pictured above). It is of the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles.

What fascinated me was seeing a map of the Valley without any freeways. Instead of Interstate 5, it shows U.S. 99 from the north (Ridge Route) on down to Burbank. There is no Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) or San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405).

And, the area that is now Woodland Hills was called Girard.

Too bad the map didn't indicate when it was published.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tokyo Cheapo's Trains, Toilets and Trash

Above, a JR Yamanote Line train in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

When I first visited Tokyo in 2001, I marveled at how clean the city's streets and sidewalks were. Not a scrap of litter could be seen.

But then, I noticed a lack of trash receptacles to even toss a candy wrapper into. How could a city be so clean-looking when there's no trash cans to be found?

A new article by Tokyo Cheapo will answer that question and will answer questions regarding to toilets and trains.

They begin it with:
When you first come to Japan there are quite a few major cultural differences that you might encounter. Being aware of the differences can really ease your transition to life in Japan, so we’ve outlined the basics to the three Ts—trains, toilets, trash—to help you do just that. Equipped with this knowledge, we ensure you won’t get pegged as a newbie…at least not right away. 
In regard to trash cans, I have since learned where to find them.

To read more, go here

Japan's Hotels More Accommodating For Solo Travelers

Above, on one of my solo trips to Japan, I paid a visit to Toho Studios in the Setagaya section of Tokyo.

Up until last year, I have always traveled solo to Japan.

This did not present a problem for me as I know people in Japan and the people there are so friendly that I've never felt alone.

Last year, I traveled to Japan with my girlfriend Denise and her son Aiden (age 2). Since they've never been to Japan before, I was their tour guide. Apparently I did a good job as Denise just loved the trip. Plus, she has a very agreeable personality. Food-wise, we like the same foods and she has actually encouraged me to try different things. It was a joy for me to see her experience the country for the first time. She wants to go back.

But, if you should be a single person or there's just nobody available to travel with you to Japan due to work or other obligations, that's really no problem. There's advantages to traveling solo. You can wander around at your own pace, see what you want and eat the foods you like without a companion who may have a personality that weighs on you like a ball & chain.

Asia One has an article that may convince you to take a solo trip to Japan.

They begin with:
Traveling alone is becoming increasingly popular, particularly among the young. More people are opting for the freedom to trot off on a journey whenever they feel like it. Hotels and inns are taking steps to better accommodate the needs of solo travelers. 

To read more, go here

2015 A Record-Breaking Year For Narita International Airport

Above, Terminal One Arrival Lobby at Narita International Airport. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

2015 was a year that broke travel records in Japan. 

Narita International Airport also broke records: passengers and the number of flights.

The Asahi Shimbun reported:
NARITA, Chiba Prefecture--Passenger and flight numbers at Narita International Airport scaled new heights in 2015, the airport’s operator announced on Jan. 21, providing further evidence of Japan’s continuing foreign tourism boom. 
The number of passengers using the airport reached a peak for the second straight year, at 37,328,213, a 5-percent increase on 2014, Narita International Airport Corp. said.
The feat was largely fueled by the sharp increase in the number of foreign fliers on international flights to 12,499,430 people in 2015, a 23-percent increase compared with the previous year. 
The operator said the airport saw a 1-percent increase in overall arrivals and departures in 2015, amounting to a total of 232,182 flights. It was the fourth consecutive year for the airport to break its own record.
To read more, go here

Japan Duty-Free Retailers At War For Tourist Cash

Above, the Ginza Mitsukoshi department store. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

There's a war within Japan. It's not a bad war, but one is raging.

The war is between duty-free retailers who are vying for tourist dollars. This is great news for foreign tourists, who stand to benefit from the competition.

The Japan Times reported:
Retailers are fighting tooth and nail to lure foreign visitors, mainly from China, as Japan set third consecutive record high for tourism in 2015. 
In Tokyo’s posh Ginza district, two giant, separately owned duty-free shops are slated to open by the end of March inside the Mitsukoshi department store run by Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., and in Tokyu Plaza Ginza, a new shopping center run by Tokyu Land Corp. 
Unlike standard duty-free shops, both will operate just like the ones in airports, exempting shoppers from the consumption tax as well as the liquor tax and customs duties.
To read more, go here

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Beast's Renewal

Above, The Beast at the Beaver (Utah) KOA. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

A year is fast approaching (next month) since I bought The Beast, and one of the things that the anniversary means is that the insurance coverage on it will be up for renewal.

That task was been taken care of today.

I was thinking that a renewal notice should be arriving anytime soon and it arrived this morning via email. It included some good news. My annual premium went down to under $469 for the year for full coverage through Progressive Insurance. I'm saving around $20 from last year's policy premium.

The reason the rates are so low is that, theoretically, people don't drive RVs as much as they do other vehicles. Therefore, since there's less of a risk involved, the insurance premiums are much lower.

So, everything's been taken care of pertaining to my vehicles. Their registrations have been renewed and now insurance coverage for each has been taken care of.

I don't have to "worry" about it until next year.

Tourists To Japan Spent In Record Numbers In 2015

Above, shopping in Shibuya. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Along with record-breaking numbers of foreign tourists visiting Japan, they are also spending a lot while there.

News On Japan reported:
The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2015 reached 19.74 million and these travelers spent an estimated 3.48 trillion yen ($29.6 billion), both hitting new record highs, the Japan Tourism Agency said Tuesday. 
The number of visitors, increasing partly due to a weaker yen which encourages tourists to visit and spend when in the country, comes close to the Japanese government's target of 20 million visitors from overseas by 2020 when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held.
To read more, go here.

JNTO: Best Country Retreats

Above, this has to be the most spacious room I've ever stayed in while visiting Japan. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Another reason to get out of Tokyo and other major cities in Japan is to stay at a country ryokan where a visitor will enjoy Japanese hospitality at its best. Ryokans are great places to relax and unwind after running around big cities like Tokyo.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO):
For a complete appreciation of Japan, a journey through its stunning countryside is a must. Getting off the beaten track need not involve abandoning luxury, with countless indulgent accommodation options found on every island. The most famous of these are undoubtedly Japan’s famed ryokan. 
Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns with a 1,300-year history and an impeccable reputation for hospitality and comfort. Imagine staying in a top quality ryokan, enjoying a relaxing soak in a private hot spring with a view of the nearby mountains or town, followed by a delectable Japanese meal brought to your room. 
Unlike standard hotels, a ryokan guides you towards comfort and luxury through their Japanese-style room (washitsu).
I have stayed at several ryokans over the years, but none of them (at least, so far) tops the hospitality we had last October at the Atami Shinkadoya. There, we had our own private hot spring bath on the terrace outside, plenty of space (where you're not bouncing off the walls) and great meals (we were literally overstuffed from dinner).

Above, our terrace bath. Believe it or not, there was plenty of room for three. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I plan to make it a point to stay at a ryokan during future trips (at least for one night), especially ones with a hot spring bath.

To read more, go here.

Tourists To Japan Venturing Further Afield

Above, our view of Atami from our ryokan terrace. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

As the numbers of foreign tourists rise in Japan, so, too, will the crowds in popular destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto.

Nikkei Asian Review has an article on how more "seasoned" tourists are venturing "off the beaten path" to visit other areas of Japan. I have done this on several occasions. I have gone up north to Sendai and Matsushima and south to Kyushu to see Sasebo, Mount Aso and Nagasaki.

They wrote:
TOKYO -- From robots that look like they are straight out of science fiction, to 1,500-year-old Shinto shrines, Japan offer the visitor a myriad of cultural experiences, both modern and ancient.  
But these days, more overseas visitors are looking for a different take on Japan, one that takes them beyond famous destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto. 
First-time visitors to Japan often take the so-called Golden Route, which runs more-or-less in a straight line from Tokyo to Osaka, around 500km to the southwest. The route covers the major tourist meccas -- Tokyo, Hakone, Mt. Fuji, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. Some seasoned travelers, on the other hand, prefer to get off the beaten path.
One of the places mentioned in the article was the hot spring town of Atami, which is about an hour's ride out of Tokyo via shinkansen:
According to Rakuten, an online retailer with a big travel business, Atami in Shizuoka Prefecture saw 282.7% more foreign tourists last year than in 2014, the biggest year-on-year increase. The town, known for its hot springs and fresh seafood, is less than an hour by train from Tokyo. Visitors can also enjoy Atami Castle, traditional shopping arcades, shrines and temples.
We spent an enjoyable night in Atami last October. Besides the hot bath, we enjoyed the view we had from our room and the fact that there were no crowds.

Above, Aiden and Denise at one of the outdoor baths at the Atami Shinkakoya. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Although Mount Fuji is a popular destination for foreign tourists, and is part of the Golden Route, Denise and I talked yesterday about trying out the new train to Mount Fuji later this year. (I wrote about the train here.) There should be fewer crowds during the time we plan to go (in autumn).

To read more, go here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tokyo To Promote Boat Tours

Above, a yakata-bune drinking and dining boat moored on the Sumida River. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

In an effort to further promote Tokyo's charms, the Tokyo metropolitan government is going to promote boat tours and will be building new facilities to accommodate passenger traffic.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) reported:
With an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo metropolitan government will start promoting boat tours to attract foreign visitors in the new fiscal year, which begins on April 1. 
The metropolitan government will launch a portal website with information about boat transportation services in several languages and also develop a new route between Haneda Airport and the waterfront areas where several Olympic venues will be built. A boat terminal will be built in the space now occupied by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market in Tsukiji, Chuo Ward, after the market is relocated. 
The metropolitan government is aiming to attract an increasing number of foreign tourists by conveying the capital’s new charms. 
Shinji Uchiyama, president of yakata-bune pleasure boat tour operator Galleon in Koto Ward, Tokyo, said his firm tends to rely on repeat customers or word of mouth. “More people will be interested in our tours if there is a portal website [to introduce our services],” he said.
According to the metropolitan government, there are a total of 13 regular routes connecting Haneda Airport, Odaiba, Asakusa and other locations in the capital, with about 60 services operated daily by four entities. Different tour boats and yakata-bune pleasure boats, on which passengers are able to enjoy eating and drinking, are also available.
Above, plans include a new boat terminal at the site of the Tsukiji Fish Market which is closing this year. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

 To read more, go here.

M & M Day

No, I'm not talking about chocolate candies that "melt in your mouth, not in your hand". Instead, I am referring to a day that began with breakfast and then a massage and movie.

Denise had the day off today, so we decided to spend the day together. After picking her up at home, we headed off for breakfast after running a few errands.

From there, we went to our favorite massage place near the Northridge Fashion Center. We were both aching. She was aching from her boxing workouts and I was aching from my martial arts workouts and dismantling and lugging the old bed out to the dumpster. That thing was heavy and awkward.

Following the massage, we then went to the Northridge Fashion Square's theaters to see the new Leonardo DiCaprio flick, The Revenant.

According to Wikipdedia:
The Revenant is a 2015 American frontier revenge film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Written by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, based in part on Michael Punke's The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, the film is inspired by the experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass. Set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass, and co-stars Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson.
The film was nicely shot with beautiful scenery (shot in the U.S., Canada and Argentina). It had lots of blood, snow, rivers and pine forests (I felt almost compelled to ask out loud, "Where's the RV park?"). It was rather long (156 minutes). My grade: A.

And, no, DiCaprio's character does not get raped by a grizzly bear.

Kinkaku-ji Covered With Snow

Above, Kinkaku-ji before the snows in October. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Winter has arrived in Japan bigtime this week.

NHK has posted an article with a video of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto covered in snow.

They wrote:
Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto and its UNESCO World Heritage site temple, Kinkaku-ji, are covered in a blanket of snow. 
The Kyoto meteorological observatory says snow began falling early on Wednesday and had reached 4 centimeters of accumulation by mid-morning.
One of our tour stops last October was to Kinkaku-ji.

To see more, go here

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