DAY ONE: July 10, 2012

 In Newsletters

Well!  It’s finally the day.   Later this afternoon I am off to Japan for 12 days to speak about “Thunder Dog”,  blindness,  and whatever else my hosts wished me to discuss.  This trip has been in the making almost from the time that “Thunder Dog” was published in the US.  Japan is one of several countries in which my and Susy Flory’s book has been published.   However,  the owner of the Japanese publishing company, Mr. Shirai, wanted me to come to Japan to help publicize the book.  Mr. Shirai also has a physical disability.  He has worked with Thomas Nelson Publishing Company to bring other books to market in Japan.

While I am not familiar with all of the behind the scenes work that Mr. Shirai and others did in order to make this trip possible, about a year ago I learned that “Team Africa” had been formed.  A number of people are part of the team including the four businessmen who orchestrated the endeavor.  They came to visit Karen and me last October in order to finalize arrangements and to get my commitment to come to Japan.  I will talk more about some of the preparations during these blog entries.

Now I have to go finish packing and make final preparations to leave.  Karen’s and my personal assistant and business manager, Tony Vucci will be driving me to San Francisco airport.  This was a last minute change as the gentleman who usually dries me, Ari Silva, had an unexpected medical appointment.  More later.


July 11, 2012.

This is part of my July 10 entry because I want to finish up the day before moving onto the events of July 11.  Over the past eight months I have been working with Mr. Shirai and Yoshie Inoue to get Africa cleared for our visit.  Yoshie is the lady who translated “Thunder Dog” into Japanese for Mr. Shirai.  Yoshie and I have communicated much right from the beginning.  She has served as the e-mail voice of Mr. Shirai as well as being the bidirectional translator for all documents as we have proceeded.

It was a long and hard struggle to get Africa cleared for our visit.  It shouldn’t have been, however, because of bureaucracies we had to face several challenges.  The biggest was that Africa had a three-year rabies vaccination on July 17, 2008 and had her next one on July 19, 2011.  Because of the extra two days over the three-year vaccination period, Japanese government officials had a bit of a conniption which caused us to have to conduct 2 rabies titers tests on Africa, the first one in August of 2011 and then a second one to prove that Africa still had rabies immunity in June of 2012.  In addition, although Africa had a rabies vaccination in July of 2011 she had to undergo another one in June of 2012.

During the first half of 2012 the scanned and e-mailed documents flew back-and-forth between Japan and Novato.  Africa was scheduled to have her final official certification by a USDA veterinarian on July 2, 2012.  Africa did not have to be present, but the documents did have to be signed officially.  While I was at the NFB convention in Dallas, Tony went to the USDA office in San Francisco and got the appropriate signatures.  The Japanese government insisted on seeing all signed documents before we left the US.  This past Sunday we scan and e-mail the documents to the government through Yoshie and finally they blessed the trip.

Even with all the challenges and the assumed blessing of the government in Japan Africa and I arrived at the airport at about 530 yesterday, July 10, and whizzed through all check-in procedures.  I brought two large suitcases, a large flat box with gifts for Mr. Shirai and Yoshie, as well as a small carry-on case and my usual briefcase.  This is more than I usually take, but hey, were going to be gone for two weeks and I need to bring gifts home as well.  I should also say that we brought a number of other small gifts to use along the way.  These gifts were in part requested by Yoshie.  Yoshie asked that I bring 20 copies of the GDB Soulmates video.  I wanted to provide more than this and since my publicist, Celia Black, and her cohort in crime,, Gwen Jones, had just completed our own new Michael Hingson intro video.  So Tony, Karen, and I created a bunch of folders which included both videos, our new one sheet speaking brochure, our new Braille business cards, and a “Thunder Dog” bookmark.  Speaking of bookmarks, I carried a bunch in my shirt pocket and distributed them liberally to JAL personnel, the flight crew, and others.  I was surprised at how much of a hit they are and how many people were excited just to receive that little strip of paper.  It must be Ron Burns’ picture on the bookmark that makes them so exciting.  If people want to see and get their own copy of Ron’s picture, please visit

We left San Francisco 10 min. early at 7:15 PM and landed roughly 11 hours later in Tokyo’s Haneda airport at 10:15 PM July 11, 2012.  I negotiated business class for this trip, so I must say that the ride was comfortable.  The food was great, and the flight crew was tremendous.  We flew on a Boeing 777 aircraft.  One thing I noticed was that the in-flight entertainment system was fairly usable.  On most US flights you can only control the system through a touchscreen.  On this airplane everything was controlled with buttons.  So, I could scroll through the movies, the music, and TV channels.  I didn’t know what all of them were and there was no way for me to read the titles, but at least I could go through the channels myself which to me was a good thing.

After we landed with some assistance I went to customs and presented my forms.  One of the flight attendants help me complete the forms on the airplane before we landed.  Going through customs was a breeze.

Next we got to animal quarantine.  No matter all the muss and fuss and challenges we had over the past eight months, this part of our entry into Japan concerned me.  Was I surprised when we had absolutely no problem and shot right through the process!

Finally I got my checked luggage, went through immigration, and came out the other side where most of Team Africa was waiting with cameras in hand and smiles on their faces.  Nobody could’ve been smiling bigger than I especially with all of the quarantine fears.

We stood there in the middle of the airport and chatted for a few minutes.  We then all got loaded into a van and began our trek to the Rose Hotel in Yokohama.  Along the way we stopped and let Ms. Africa take her first shot at relieving herself on Japanese soil.  She did herself proud all around.

We got to the hotel a little after midnight and checked in without difficulty.  By one o’clock I was ready for bed.  I had slept a little on the flight over with Africa lying on top of me when I reclined my seat to make a mostly flat bed.  Never let it be said that Africa doesn’t look for comfort when she can find it.  Since it was still a bit early to try to contact Karen I went to sleep at 1 AM.  I’ll cover July 11 in my next entry.


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