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Home: Gary J. Wolff's Blog: Gary J. Wolff's Blog Archives, October-December, 2019

Gary J. Wolff's Blog Archives
October-December, 2019

This page shows archived posts for Gary J. Wolff's blog from October-December, 2019.



Dec. 28, 2019 - 2019, The Year in Pictures (a video!)

A 3-min. movie of 2019 highlights, created with the "For You" feature in the iOS Photos app. Many of the pics are of my Feb. trip to Guam, LOTS of beautiful flowers, my August trip to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, my Sept. trip to Texas, and the stunning Tokyo Xmas illuminations.

The background music is "Soulful Strut," a 1968 #3 Hot 100 hit by Young-Holt Unlimited. Enjoy!

Best wishes for a super-duper Twenty-Twenty, the Year of the Tokyo Olympics!

2019 - The Year in Pictures
(If player above is not visible, you can view video at YouTube here.)

(The full-size versions of the 85 photos in this video can be viewed in my Flickr album: 2019 - The Year in Pictures)

Dec. 25, 2019 - NORAD Tracks Santa in Japan, Dec. 24, 2019

Unfortunately, NORAD was experiencing some technical issues with their site last night (I'm guessing WAY too many visitors!), so I was unable to get a good video this year. But have no fear. Here's NORAD's offical video of Santa's 2017 visit to Japan, captured in real-time by an official NORAD Santa Cam. Don't miss Santa flying over the cone of Mt. Fuji! This is a FIRST!!

NORAD Tracks Santa in Japan, Dec. 24, 2017 (NORAD video)
(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

On Xmas Eve 2017, Santa visited Japan around 11 pm local time. The main cities visited include Sapporo, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Yokohama, Hiroshima, and Naha, Okinawa. Here's the video I made on my home PC. Don't miss Rudolph's RED NOSE at the 4:18 mark, just a few seconds before he visited Tokyo! laughing icon

NORAD Tracks Santa in Japan, Dec. 24, 2017 (my video)
(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

BREAKING NEWS! Santa Claus & his 9 reindeer were captured last night by an official NORAD Santa Cam as he flew over my hometown, Houston, Texas, during his 24-hour journey around the globe:
Total gifts delivered this year: 7,574,576,003

Dec. 17, 2019 - "Silent Night," sung by Jelord Vergara

Jelord "Jay" Vergara began singing in front of audiences at age 6 and now performs at famous hotels and clubs in Japan. He has also served as a backing vocalist for numerous famous Japanese singers like Akiko Wada & Ken Hirai, as well as for other famous musicians like Stevie Wonder and Marlene. This song was part of "A Christmas Gift 2019," the 19th annual charity concert for the benefit of the children’s institutions in Japan and the Philippines. This concert, held Fri. Dec. 13, 2019 in Roppongi's Franciscan Chapel, was sponsored by "Because We Care," founded by world-renowned jazz vocalist Charito, whose charity works are committed to creating a better future for children in need in both Japan and the Philippines.

Without question, one of the most heartfelt & passionate renditions of the Christmas classic I think I've ever heard. By all means, don't miss Jay's last 2 lines, starting at the 4:05 mark!

"Silent Night," sung by Jelord Vergara
(If player above is not visible, you can view video at YouTube here.)

Dec. 8, 2019 - Odaiba Rainbow Fireworks - お台場レインボー花火 2019

This 5-minute fireworks show takes place at 19:00 every Saturday in December. The best place to watch them is in front of the Decks Beach shopping center (come early to secure your spot!). Don't miss all the beautifully-colored yakatabunes (屋形船, party houseboats), the colorful Rainbow Bridge as a backdrop, and the cute heart-shaped fireworks.

Odaiba Rainbow Fireworks - お台場レインボー花火, Sat. Dec. 7, 2019
(If player above is not visible, you can view video at YouTube here.)

Nov. 28, 2019 - Average Thanksgiving turkey dinner cost less than $5/person

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation's 34th annual survey of Thanksgiving Day dinner table items, the average cost of a classic turkey dinner for 10 people in 2019 is $48.91, or less than $5 per person.

This year's survey is based on over 250 volunteer shoppers checking prices at grocery stores in 38 states. On the Thanksgiving shopping list was turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee, and milk.

Wow, not too shabby! laughing icon Happy Thanksgiving everyone...

Average 2019 Classic Thanksgiving Dinner Cost
for 10 people
2019 Price
16-pound turkey
Pumpkin pie mix
Milk, 1-gallon whole
1-pound veggie tray (carrots & celery)
Pie shells (2)
Green peas, 1 lb.
Fresh cranberries, 12 oz.
Whipping cream, ½ pint
Cubed stuffing, 14 oz.
Sweet potatoes, 3 lbs.
Misc. ingredients
Source: Supermarket News

turkey dinner
Thanksgiving turkey dinner
(photo credit:

Nov. 22, 2019 - A little taste of Texas right in the heart of Tokyo

On the occasion of their band's 5th anniversary, the "New Departures" country band, featuring lead vocalist Sanae Kuwahara, performed live at Little Texas, "The World's Smallest Texas Honky Tonk" right in the heart of Tokyo on Thurs. Nov. 21, 2019.

Don't miss the Country & Western 2-step dancers and footage of some of the amazing relics in this place that'll make you swear you're inside a real live Texas honky-tonk!  laughing icon

More info on the amazing Little Texas honky-tonk, including menu, concert schedule, and map are here:

Yee hah!!

"Red High Heels," performed by the "New Departures" country band in Tokyo, Japan
(If player above is not visible, you can view video at YouTube here.)

Nov. 18, 2019 - Venus/Jupiter conjunction this Sunday, November 24, 2019!

All passionate stargazers including myself are already looking forward to the conjunction this Sunday, November 24, 2019 of the sky’s 2 brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter. 

These 2 brilliant beauties will pop out low in the southwestern sky at dusk and hover rather close to the sunset point on the horizon. Day by day Venus – the brighter of the 2 – is climbing upward, away from the sunset, while Jupiter sinks downward, and this coming Sunday 11/24 they will pass within a scant 1.4 degrees of each other. That’s about the width of your index finger at arm length.

Venus will appear about 30 minutes after sunset, and then Jupiter will be visible about 15 minutes later. So the best time to view the conjunction is about 1 hour after sunset, which today occurred at 4:32 pm in Tokyo. Even if the weather isn't so good this Sunday, the conjunction should still be nice a day or 2 before or afterwards.

The last Venus-Jupiter conjunction happened 10 months ago, on January 22, 2019, and the next one will occur on February 11, 2021. So there will be no Venus-Jupiter conjunction in 2020.

In the words of Bruce McClure, the lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004, "Because Venus and Jupiter beam as the 3rd and 4th-brightest celestial bodies, respectively (after the sun and moon), Venus-Jupiter conjunctions are particularly spectacular and photogenic."


Venus/Jupiter conjunction on Sun. Nov. 24, 2019
Venus/Jupiter conjunction on Sun. Nov. 24, 2019

Nov. 17, 2019 -  Andrea Bocelli's "The Music of Silence" movie

As part of this year's birthday celebrations, I had the opportunity last night to catch the Andrea Bocelli movie "The Music of Silence," based upon Andrea's 1999 autobiography which chronicles one of the world's most famous tenor's childhood upbringing and professional career.

Being a HUGE fan of this remarkable Italian blind man, I was especially moved by the movie, which included a superb performance by Antonio Banderas as Andrea's maestro. At the very end of the movie, during the rolling of the credits, was a letter that Andrea once wrote to his wife and children.

The letter touched me in such a profound way that I decided to share most of it here:

Every life is a wonderful story worthy of being told. 

Every life is a work of art, and if it does not seem so, perhaps it is only necessary to illuminate the room that contains it. 

The secret is never to lose faith, to have confidence in God’s plan for us, revealed in the signs with which He shows us the way. 

If you learn to listen, you will find that each life speaks to us of love. 

Because love is the key to everything, the engine of the world. Here is the secret behind every note that I sing.

And never forget that there is no such thing as happenstance.

—Andrea Bocelli—

I loved this movie and if you admire Andrea as much is I do, I think you might enjoy it as well. The movie trailer can be viewed here.

Nov. 13, 2019 - Austin, Texas sucks

Well.....not really. But my all-time favorite city in Texas, and where I spent 4 years of my early life as a college student, has experienced an astronomical growth rate over the past several years. In fact, it shows up consistently on those "Best Places to Live" lists we've all seen.

So this poster, first shared on this site 4 years ago, is a comical, tongue-in-cheek attempt by locals to somehow stem the tide. laughing icon

Austin, Texas sucks
(Image credit:

Nov. 10, 2019 - Japan's Emperor and Empress draw thousands for enthronement parade

Emperor Naruhito & Empress Masako
Emperor Naruhito & Empress Masako in Tokyo, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019
(photo credit: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshik)

Today Japan's new Emperor and Empress thrilled thousands of people in Tokyo and around the nation with a lavish procession through the streets of the capital city.

An estimated 119,000 people gathered around the Imperial Palace early in the morning and along the route with their Rising Sun national flags to secure a place for a good look at the Imperial couple and celebrate  the historic occasion of the enthronement. It all occurred against the backdrop of the city's federal government buildings and the colorful fall foliage on an absolutely beautiful, sunny day.

The 4.6-kilometer parade started at the Imperial Palace and after about 30 minutes, the Emperor and Empress arrived at their residence on the grounds of the Akasaka Estate.

26,000 police officers were mobilized from across the country, and the motorcade consisted of 46 vehicles, including police motorcycles.

The Imperial Household Agency's parade vehicle which carried the Emperor and Empress is a one-off, Toyota Century convertible 4-door sedan reported to have cost nearly $750,000.

Oct. 31, 2019 - Off-season Mt. Fuji climber falls 700m to his death while YouTube live-streaming his ascent

On Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, an off-season Mt. Fuji climber fell 700 m (~2300 ft) to his death while YouTube live-streaming his ascent up the snow-covered peak. This page shows the terrifying 22-sec. video which captures his slipping down the nation's highest peak to his death. Over the past decade, I've read uncountable stories about uninformed or ill-prepared Mt. Fuji climbers who sadly met their maker because they didn't have a clue about the many dangers awaiting them when they attempted an out-of-season ascent. Let this be a sobering lesson for us all...

Oct. 21, 2019 - Jose Altuve's walk-off homer sends the Houston Astros to the World Series

For the 2nd time in 3 years, my hometown team Houston Astros have won a trip back to the big dance... the WORLD SERIES!

The video below captures beautifully the absolute pandemonium and on-field team celebration that erupted after 2nd baseman Jose Altuve from Venezuela hit the game-winning homer in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 6 in the American League Championship series. Go Astros!!

Jose Altuve's walk-off homer sends the Houston Astros to the World Series
(If player above is not visible, you can view video at YouTube here.)

Oct. 16, 2019 - Typhoon Hagibis death & destruction

I’ve been a weather geek ever since the age of 13 when I earned the Boy Scout weather merit badge, and I suspected strongly and warned any of my friends and colleagues within hearing distance that this would be the strongest storm of my entire 28-year tenure in Japan.

I was right. Typhoon Hagibis is the strongest tropical storm to hit Japan in 60 years and wreaked widespread havoc and destruction. While I am still reeling and gathering my wits a full 3 days after the storm passed, here are just a few of the sobering statistics so far:

- 74 deaths
- Over 200 injuries
- Around 140 landslides across the country
- More than a dozen rivers overflowed and 73 levees collapsed on 47 rivers
- Over 13,000 homes flooded & around 1100 homes damaged or destroyed
- Over 670 schools damaged
- Still more than 5000 people remain evacuated
- 1/3 of the Hokuriku shinkansen bullet trains (120 carriages) were inundated & damaged by the flood waters and there's no timeline of when they can resume service
- More than 200 people at a nursing home in Saitama Prefecture had to be rescued Sunday evening by boat and by helicopter
- Tens of thousands of households still remain without power or water service (Japan’s health and welfare ministry reported yesterday that at one time more than 133,000 households were without water supplies in 13 prefectures)
- Hakone, the famous hot spring resort just southwest of Tokyo, received nearly a meter (~39 in.) of rain in only 24 hours.
- Meteorological officials say up to 40 percent of yearly rainfall was recorded in only a day or 2 in many areas.
- Early in its formation near the Northern Mariana Islands, Typhoon Hagibis' central pressure plummeted from 992 hPa to 915 hPa (making it one of the world's most intense tropical systems of 2019) and it grew from a 60-mph tropical storm to a 160-mph Cat. 5 typhoon within only 24 hours, the 9th-most rapid intensification in recorded history.

As for me, I feel blessed to have gotten thru it unscathed. But let's be clear...  it was a pretty stressful 24 hours for me, trying to keep track of the latest developments and refreshing my evacuation to-go kit, just in case like millions of others I was ordered to leave my home.

Within the next few days, I hope to compile an album of some of the website screenshots and photos I’ve collected from the Internet that paint a clearer picture of the trauma and destruction that just occurred. Please stay tuned...

Typhoon Hagibis elderly rescue
Typhoon Hagibis elderly rescue, Kawagoe, Saitama
(Photo credit: NHK World)

Mar. 1, 2020 update - I finally finished my photo album: Typhoon Hagibis in Japan - Oct. 12-13, 2019

Oct. 5, 2019 - The Texas Food Pyramid

From the bottom up, pecan pie, Blue Bell ice cream, Texas BBQ, tacos, chicken-fried steak, Mexican food, and of course, at the very top, STEAK! laughing icon

Texas food pyramid
The Texas Food Pyramid
(image credit: "Texas Dreaming" Facebook page)

Japan-Texas ebook cover thumbnail
A FREE download at Smashwords

Pattaya ebook cover
Only $1.99 at Amazon
(¥214 at アマゾン日本)

Alaska ebook cover
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Summer 1974 hitchhiking trip ebook cover
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