I was invited to the Japanese American National Museum dinner this past Saturday evening at the Marriott Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. No, not as a member of the press. That rarely happens. I was invited by Guy Watanabe, son of the late Taul Watanabe, who was one of the major contributors in the founding of the museum.

Guy is carrying on his father’s support of the museum as a Diamond sponsor, a category that includes American Airlines, The Boeing Company and Northrop Grumman Corp., which, needless, to say, makes it a very elite group.

Guy’s father, Taul, was a neighbor of mine in Gardena for many years, but more than that, a good friend. One who supported me and my career as a member of the press.

In fact, he got me an appointment to the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission. I served on the board for about a year, but trying to maintain my jobs with the Kashu Mainichi and with the Harbor Commission got to be too much for me, so I went back to “just being a newspaperman.”

Taul was one of the key figures in the redevelopment of Little Tokyo when Japanese Americans began returning to the West Coast after the wartime evacuation.

One of the key buildings in Little Tokyo during that era was called the “Taul Building.”  I know a lot of people not familiar with the area thought it was named so because it was the tallest structure in J-Town, but probably were confused at the spelling. Not “Tall,” but “Taul.”

Many of us couldn’t get into college because so many ex-GIs using the GI Bill filled the schools and also filled the only jobs available, so we hung around J-Town and got the name “Taul Building Leaners.”

Well, others in J-Town tagged us as “yogores.”

I guess it’s kind of amusing to look back to those days and to think that one of the “Taul Building Leaners” is now a columnist for the Rafu.

Oh well, let me get back to the JANM dinner.

Since the affair is primarily a fundraiser for the museum, it can be said that it was a success, as it usually is because it draws such a large gathering.

I would estimate that there were at least 1,000 in attendance.

Since the Rafu is one of the sponsors of the event, I’m sure Editor Gwen was in at attendance and she’ll do her usual great job in reporting on this aspect of the dinner.

I didn’t see her because of the large crowd, but I saw Photo Editor Mario with his camera, so I know there will be photos in today’s or tomorrow’s edition of the paper.

The event this year paid tribute to former Congressman Norm Mineta, who received the museum’s Distinguished Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement and Public Service.

I’m not a great fan of Mineta’s, but he is deserving of the award for his accomplishments for the Japanese American community.

I know. Most of you may wonder how I could make a statement about not being a fan of Mineta. I won’t go into details since he’s considered a “hero” in the JA community and I’m just a worn-out newspaper columnist.

One thing about the JANM dinner is that the food served is great. Usually, at functions like these, the food is just so-so. But the Marriott does a great job in serving a delicious dish.

One thing I learned about was the bar that serves refreshments to those who enjoy a drink or two. One attendee, who is a friend of mine, said he ordered a drink and was amazed at what he was charged.

Would you believe $22?

Glad I don’t drink. Well, I drink water, but that’s free.

I guess if the JANM was successful in raising funds for its project, the Marriott didn’t do so badly either.

I know there are quite a few readers who are horse-racing fans, so in my previous column, I tossed in the note that Corey Nakatani had a mount in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

As you all know, he finished about fifth from last.

What some of you might not know is that on the Kentucky Derby card, Corey won three races on the card, all long-shots, one paying over $30 and the other over $40.

This means, of course, that if any of you JAs put 20 bucks to win on every Corey mount on Derby Day, you would have collected over a 1,000 bucks for an $80 investment.

Not bad for a day’s work.

You older Nisei, especially those who were in the service, will get a kick out of this one, especially since today’s young folks (Sansei and Yonsei) forget that we old people had careers before we retired:

Charlie, a new retiree-greeter at Walmart, just couldn’t seem to get to work on time. Every day, he was 5, 10, 15 minutes late. But he was a good worker, really tidy, clean-shaven, sharp-minded and a real credit to the company, and obviously demonstrated the “older person friendly” policies.

One day, his boss called him into the office for a talk.

“Charlie, I have to tell you I like your work ethic. You do a bang-up job when you finally get here. But your being late so often is quite bothersome.”

Charlie responded, “Yes, boss. I know and I’m working on it.”

“Well, good. You are a team player and that’s what I like to hear.”

Somewhat puzzled, the boss went on to comment, “I know you’re retired from the Army. What did they say there when you showed up late so often in the morning?”

The old man looked down at the floor, then smiled. He chuckled quietly and then said with a grin, “They usually saluted and said, ‘Good morning, General, can I get you a cup of coffee’?

Okay, let me get on with my “usual” column.

It’s no secret that tourism to the U.S., especially from Japan, has been sagging, so is there anything being done to turn the tide?

Well, according to the latest report, the U.S. is for the first time marketing itself as a tourist destination in countries like Japan.

While tourism has increased around the globe, the U.S. has not been included in the sites frequented by visitors from around the globe.

The average overseas visitor to the U.S. spends $4,000 per trip and the Japanese top the list of high spenders. Of course, those spending more in the U.S. than the Japanese are the Canadians. Because of Canada’s location relatively close to our country, that’s understandable.

The value of the dollar vs. foreign currency plays an important role, too, and we know about the value of the yen vs. the dollar in recent years.

So maybe we may be greeting more visitors with “konnichi wa” in the year 2012.

Speaking of tourism made me think about some of the foreign travel I’ve taken.

I thought I would toss in the photo shown here because I was watching TV news the other night and saw the bit about wild bears roaming in the mountainous area of San Fernando Valley.

In some of the foreign countries I have visited (like Australia), wild animals are part of the neighborhood and the residents don’t think anything about them. They certainly don’t make the TV evening news as in the case of the wild bears in the Valley.

The photo here shows a koala bear sleeping on a tree branch in the garden area of the hotel where I stopped in Sydney, Australia.

At first I thought the animal would attack me or that my getting up so close would scare him away. Neither happened.

This one continued taking his nap.

I thought to myself, “I wonder if I could grab him, put him a box and take him back to the U.S.? He would make a nice household pet.”

When I asked an Aussie fellow, he laughed and said, “Oh, you Americans are all alike.”

Well, I’m glad he knew I was an American. He could have said the same thing about the Japanese.

Oh yeah.

Speaking of sagging Japanese tourism to the U.S., a recent report noted that there is a definite falloff in Japanese high school students who are willing to stay overseas, including America.

A poll taken last month indicated that Japanese prep students felt too comfortable studying in their home country and lacked the confidence to live alone in the U.S.

Of course, those who still want to go to the U.S. feel they can find a better educational environment in America.

A survey conducted in the latter part of 2011 indicated that 1,032 Japanese students would go to the U.S. to study compared to the 2,292 who would rather go to Korea.

Chinese and Koreans are now heading the list of foreign students expressing the desire to study in the U.S.

Well, since I’ll be heading you-know-where next week, I always find articles on gambling of great interest.

I read one the other day that I thought I would share with you readers who are also Vegas fans. “Vegas fans” actually means those wanting to gamble.

This article tells how a person can control his or her gambling and how it’s not so tough to cut back. I’m not sure if it’s as simple as the so-called expert says it is, but to cut back on gambling, one has to learn how to relax.

One way is through deep breathing or breath focus.

• Begin by taking a slow, deep breath. Let your abdomen expand fully and then breathe out through your mouth.

• Put one hand on your stomach, just below your belly button, and feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and  fall about an inch every time you exhale.

• Remember to relax each time you inhale so you expand fully.

Ten minutes of breath focus is the goal.

Well, the next time I sit down at my favorite slot machine and I find myself getting “carried away,” I guess I’ll give the foregoing a try. Then maybe I’ll just get up and leave the machine, something I find a little difficult to do when I’m thinking, “Gee, it only takes one good hand to win.”

I’ll let you Vegas lovers know how this experiment works out on my trip.

In the meanwhile, have your donations ready to place in my plastic cup when I’m standing on the corner of 1st and San Pedro … heh, heh.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.