Episode 57: Ishiro Honda and Crimes Against Humanity

In this episode I tackle the issue of Ishiro Honda’s time during World War II administering a comfort women camp.

I was asked how he evaded punishment for committing Class C War Crimes (Crimes Against Humanity), and I have a definitive yet complex answer.

Honda’s films were supportive of human rights, and this is what we remember his place in history during World War II.

If Honda was an unnamed Japanese man who participated in these crimes, I would have wanted him to be brought to justice and served some kind of punishment for them.

However, there are many reasons why this didn’t happen.

So put on your thinking cap and listen as I explain how complex this situation is.



I received a question after I advertised a Q and A for YouTube. I did not receive them on Twitter publicly – they were all submitted privately. Given the nature of this particular question, I can see why it was submitted anonymously. I gave my initial reflections in Livestream 2, and in this episode I’m going to further address this issue.

First I’ll give you some background. In episode 4 of the show, I covered the issue of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. I utilized a few sources plus what I already knew and thought about regarding the subject. I’ve never shied away from a subject because it was too difficult for me to read about and process. But I’ll preface what I say with this: It’s not my place to forgive Ishiro Honda for what he did under the command of the Imperial Japanese Army. It also isn’t your place to forgive him. The only ones who can forgive him are the women (and men) who were put in the camps. And it isn’t Godzilla fandom experts’ place to downplay the significance of that chapter of his life. I can only give you my analysis of what I’ve learned and thought about.

Honda was in a command position at a comfort women camp during World War II. He administered actions there. He would have participated in “acquiring” women for the camp, also known as abducting, or kidnapping, and forcing them into sexual slavery. Human trafficking is another way to put this. These actions classify him as a class C war criminal, for crimes against humanity. He was not arrested, charged, or punished after the war was over.

The US only got around 5,000 of the war criminals, and some were charged by other countries like Australia. When the surrender took place the Japanese military and government destroyed the records, and the military personnel put on civilian clothes or went into hiding, or both. Without a record of who was connected to these war crimes, it’s hard to prove they did anything. Virtually everyone else threw themselves under the bus for Emperor Showa (Hirohito). Out of political expediency, the US gave Emperor Showa a way to out of it by not focusing on him in order to preserve the oldest imperial family on Earth. This action enabled nationalists in Japan and war crimes deniers, as well as anyone else who didn’t want to accept responsibility. Needless to say, denying these war crimes is beyond shameful. Nationalists say that the class A war criminals who were executed sacrificed themselves to keep the imperial family. The US also let the Unit 731 chemical and biological weapons scientists and employees free too, and judges at the tribunal weren’t even told about that.

The more you learn about the comfort women camps, the more shocking it gets. These camps were where some of the worst violations of human rights occurred during the war. Women were raped and beaten. They were pulled into a state-organized sex trafficking operation. Women were raped up to and exceeding 80 times a day in these camps. Many wished they were dead, some attempted or committed suicide, and they thought death would be better than this. It destroyed their lives. Their bodies were damaged from the abuse – some to the point that they couldn’t have children.

The US needed Japan in the struggle against the Soviet Union and China in the Cold War. The Cold War dominated US policy decisions. As the occupation was nearing its end, that was even more apparent. So this is an incentive for not going as hard on the war crimes perpetrators after the first 5,000 or so. I think if you want to ensure Japan is on your side, going after every single administrator of the whole war machine is not necessarily beneficial.

Class A war crimes are defined as “crimes against peace”. Those were the war criminals who were in the cabinet and who decided on the war. Emperor Showa was protected by General MacArthur. Class C crimes are like genocide or the Rape of Nanking and the list of other massacres committed, as well as crimes against humanity like the comfort women camps. Class B war crimes are more routine war crimes such as shooting and killing prisoners of war, which happened a lot. There are also some war criminals who were convicted of their crimes and then got government positions after the war, such as Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

The Ryfle and Godziewski biography of Ishiro Honda reads:

“From 1940 to 1941 Honda was assigned to help manage a comfort station, a euphemism for the hundreds of brothels the Imperial Army established in China and the occupied territories. As the Roman Empire had done in its far-flung conquests, Japan provided its soldiers with prostitutes, purportedly to curb sexual assaults on civilians, which were widespread in Shanghai, Nanking, and other places.”

They write later about how the women were told they would be performing other jobs, only to find that that they were being taken into slavery. So while they described the working conditions and how they were forced to perform sex acts dozens of times per day, their description of the women as “prostitutes” and the comfort women camps as “brothels”, is inaccurate. A prostitute is someone who sells their body for payment and a brothel is populated by prostitutes. The comfort women were not paid, therefore they were not prostitutes, they were sexual slaves. Therefore the place they had to do this was not a brothel, it was a prison essentially with a bunch of rape rooms. I think this is a valid and important distinction to make. Sex slaves in camps is different than prostitutes in brothels. It arguably is poorly worded, but this is also the official Japanese stance on the issue, is that they were prostitutes. The girls were as young as 14 so that’s not the time women would choose to become prostitutes anyway. Actually, some of the women were taken from their homes for manufactured reasons such as they were being taken to work in a factory. The book doesn’t state that he would have been involved in the procurement and kidnapping of these women but he most certainly would have been involved in that. The book doesn’t spend much time on this part of Honda’s life.

If this was Germany, the German government would have arrested him and he would have done time in prison. No question about that. They’re still finding out about and arresting men who were guards at concentration camps, for example.

The original question asked was, “How did Ishiro Honda escape being arrested for war crimes for his role at a comfort women camp?” My answer was that the US had a hard time going after war criminals because the Tokyo Tribunal didn’t go well. A couple of the justices stuck up for Japan, even. So that was how Honda escaped arrest and punishment, or got away with it, if you want to describe it that way.

The Japanese Communist Party (which is very much for going after everyone who committed war crimes) went after Ishiro Honda when he admitted to his involvement in the war crimes.

If he had done a period of time in prison for what he did, that possibly would have ended his career as a director. This is obviously significant because he wouldn’t have made the movies that a great many people enjoy and appreciate. But because he was not punished or faced consequences for his actions, it became a difficult subject. If you gloss this over or say it’s not a very big deal, you’re going to look soft on war crimes. That opens you up to being asked “Which other Japanese war criminals do you want to excuse?” This is also difficult if you’re Japanese because you’ll look like you’re not atoning for your nation’s actions. So if you excuse Honda’s role in this, you’re arguably excusing everyone who had that position during the war. That means you’re excusing those who committed less serious war crimes, and maybe even those who were at the top of the chain, such as Prime Minister Tojo. Concurrently, excusing Honda’s actions makes you look soft on the comfort women issue. If you’re American, it makes it look like you think Japanese war crimes weren’t a big deal, which they were. Americans, especially POWs, endured horrible treatment by the Japanese Empire.

If you’re Japanese, it looks like you’re sticking up for the Empire’s comfort women camps, which looks pretty bad too. This is a hotly-debated topic in some circles and regions of the world, of course between Japan and South and North Korea. There are also some Japanese who say that the comfort women camps never happened, that it’s all a lie. You have to be a big historical revisionist in order to go that far. In 1966, Japan had a phase of discussion about the comfort women camps. It was at this time that Ishiro Honda wrote an article for a magazine where he related his perspective of what happened. A film addressing the subject of comfort women during the Roman Empire had been released in Italy, and this is what spurred Honda to bring it up.

I am not sure if he was trying to get out in front of the issue of his own conduct or if he wanted to just say his view of it regardless. Also I’ll stress that this article is not an apology. He said he hated the draft and that he didn’t want to do the job he was ordered to do, and I believe that. He said that he would talk to the women sometimes when he did their medical paperwork. I think it’s safe to assume this was when someone examined them for sexually-transmitted infections and other health issues. The women would say how they were tricked into being there because they were offered a job unrelated to being a sexual slave. Honda said he didn’t want to be there either and he listened to their stories.

I don’t have the entire article, but here’s my take on it. Him listening to their complaints and pleas for help doesn’t really affect me one way or the other. After he listened to them, they went back to being raped up to and exceeding 80 times a day. These camps were extremely bad. They weren’t like a concentration camp where they were liquidated, but I’m sure it made a lot of the women wish they were dead. So when Honda talks about his experience, some might want to say oh who cares what you went through, compared to what they went through? Ishiro Honda, after all, was not the one getting raped.

Getting back to the Honda biography, the first sentence reads “Honda was assigned to help manage a comfort station.” “Was assigned to help manage.” Makes it sound a little like he was managing a gas station. “Help manage” is a better way of putting it than “command position”, so there’s the soft language, and using passive voice. The comfort women camps were in practice going back to 1931 all the way to the end of the war in 1945. Honda was in his position from 1940 to 1941, or for about two years. Honda was by most accounts a compassionate man, a Buddhist, who hated what he was forced to do. He and his films reflected and promoted human rights and common humanity. No question about that. His own writings reflect that too, very deeply, his original works say a lot. I think fans look at him for his work and revere him a great deal, but I don’t think they should forget this part of Honda’s life.

So it is difficult for me to look at Honda’s case without thinking about the issues connected to it and what you already think about those issues. War crimes, comfort women camps, Japan’s relationship with South and North Korea, and the Japanese relationship with the international community. As for war crimes, my position is that war crimes should not be excused or looked at as justified because someone was ordered by a superior officer to commit them. I don’t condone the denial of war crimes, something Honda of course didn’t do either. I acknowledge that both the US and Japan engaged in serious actions during the war, as it was the most brutal warfare that the world has ever seen. Honda stands in stark contrast to those in Japan who deny that comfort women camps even existed.

If Honda was an anonymous Japanese man who had been in this role at a comfort women camp and was never arrested or charged with those crimes, I would have wanted him to face justice. He ended up not being among the 5000 war criminals who were punished. Did the United States get the ones who instigated this and created these horrific regimes of crimes against humanity? Yes, except for Emperor Showa who gave many of these orders and knew what was going on. He was the commander-in-chief of the military during the war. And the US deserves some culpability in the way things went down because they didn’t capture as many war criminals, but at the same time it was extremely difficult to find them because the records were destroyed and every effort was taken to turn the comfort women camps into something else (hospitals, etc) when the war was over, in order to try to cover things up.

So, how do you feel about the war crimes is how you may end up feeling about Honda. But I will stress that Honda’s case is one of reconciliation and that he spent his post-war career focusing on issues such as human rights, and I believe him when he says that he hated the draft and he did not want to do what he did.

I initially found it unremarkable that in the Godzilla fandom, there is much more emphasis on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo in the war, and less focus on Japanese war crimes, the comfort women camps, and treatment of POWs by the Japanese Empire. I believe that’s the case because the nuclear bombings are essential to Godzilla’s identity. So a lot of Godzilla fans are quite well-trained in reacting emotionally to these events. So what I’m going to do is make sure that there is awareness about the other side of the equation regarding the war. When I started Kaijuvision, I told myself that I will say something when I speak, otherwise it’s not worthwhile. I’ve always tried hard to be original and add something new to the conversation.

I think anyone who managed these camps should be brought to justice. Supporting the brotherhood of man may involve supporting war criminals to be brought to justice. If Honda is to be recognized as such a paragon of human rights, then we must also remember his place in history, and especially remember the victims of the comfort women camps and the agony that they endured.


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Episode 56: Shin Godzilla, GMK, and Japanese Nationalism

Staying on Shin Godzilla-related content, I give my opinion on the popular article “Shin Godzilla vs. GMK: The Battle Over Japanese Nationalism”. It’s not 1947 anymore, and Japan has shown the world how good of a country it can be. At the end of the day, the Japanese should make their own decisions about their constitution and if they should grow their military. East Asia is a very dangerous place right now, and the US and Japan have many things in common. I believe these two movies are not opposites – they are two sides of the same patriotic coin.

Link to the article: http://www.godzilla-movies.com/news/shin-godzilla-vs-gmk-the-battle-over-japanese-nationalism



Welcome back to Kaijuvision. I’m Brian Scherschel. I’m going to continue with Shin Godzilla-related content. As I’ve been interested in politics and history since I was 7 years old, this has always been my interest and my specialty. So as they say on YouTube, let’s get right into it.

In this episode I’m going to address an article called “Shin Godzilla and GMK: The Battle Over Japanese Nationalism”, which was written by Gman in 2017. It’s about how Shin Godzilla is supposedly nationalist propaganda, but in reality, this article itself reads like propaganda. Propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular cause or point of view.

I’ll start by saying that I have a master’s in public administration with a concentration in comparative and international affairs from the best public administration school in the country. It’s ranked higher than the Kennedy School of Government. I have read a great deal about Japanese nationalism, and I’ve covered over 50 topics on Kaijuvision, so this is not really a new topic for me. I’ve never addressed an article like this on the show before, but I am now because the Godzilla and the kaiju community is really missing a lot of perspective on this topic in particular. Fans of Godzilla and kaiju deserve to hear updated information to be able to make good decisions. There are others in the community who have it right by disagreeing with the conventional wisdom. It’s not that hard to understand, it’s just that people have been getting outdated information for so long, and it’s time to move forward.

When I released my “Politics of Shin Godzilla” episode, I came up against only a little bit of push-back. The feedback was largely positive. Most of the negative responses were hilarious to me, calling me Fox News and a populist, among other things. They called Shin Godzilla Japanese militarist nationalist propaganda, and the “Triumph of the Will” of Godzilla movies, which is a comparison to the Nazi regime’s propaganda. I think the criticisms of Shin Godzilla have been so over the top. One person said I didn’t mention GMK from 2001 and pretended to have this sort of “gotcha” moment. I don’t think he listened to anything I said in the video either, but maybe he did. But when he mentioned that, he reminded me of this article about GMK and Shin Godzilla.

So getting into the article, right out of the gate, it sets up GMK and Shin Godzilla as opposing political forces. It says how GMK represents Japan’s pacifist ideals and Shin Godzilla represents right-wing nationalism. So here’s why this is a false setup from the outset: Both movies are patriotic. They’re two sides of the same coin. Patriotism is faith in one’s homeland: political, historical, cultural, ethnic, and patriotism is defensive, inward-thinking, and fulfilled. Nationalism is inseparable from the desire for power and promoting national identity, culture, language, race, religion, and political goals, and nationalism is offensive, outwards, and power hungry. There’s nothing in GMK or Shin Godzilla about how the rest of the world needs to be more Japanese, and the military in neither movie is ever used offensively against another nation or people.

Setting up these two movies as diametrically opposed to each other depends on looking at Japan through a heavily-biased American lens. This goes back to the era immediately after World War II. Back then, we wrote the Japanese constitution, in which Article 9 denounces the right of belligerency of the state and renounces the right of Japan to use military force to resolve conflicts. It was 73 years ago that America wrote this constitution, which is a pretty long time ago, when Japan was a much different place. Japan has a whole new set of arguably more challenging problems now. But this mentality that “the US won the war, and Japan has to do what we say forever” is growing outdated more every year. How many years will it take before we recognize that Japan has proven itself to be worthy of more independence and autonomy? This also relates to the heavy-handed American foreign policy that has been around for a long time. I think when you’re from America, it’s easy to take it for granted that America has a tendency to smother its allies. And while this article was written in 2017, it really comes from a foreign policy era that is more in tune with 2008 or 2009.

The article doesn’t take into account really any large-scale changes in East Asia going from 2010 to 2017, so it’s ignoring the elephant in the room, which is China’s expansionist policy in the South China Sea and the increase of tension regarding the Senkaku Islands dispute. Indeed, this article talks some about Japanese history and Japanese politics, and it mentions North Korea, but at no point does the article mention China with regards to the national security threat it presents to both the US and Japan. And by 2017, we’d already had seven to nine years of Chinese aggression and willful disregard for international law. Maybe the author knows about China but just doesn’t think it’s that important in this discussion, but it is because it’s a really huge blind spot in this article to not mention something like this.

Next, the article talks about Nippon Kaigi, which is a nationalist group in Japanese politics. There aren’t very many members, only 38,000, but they do have a lot of influence. It’s a very conservative group. I don’t agree with their historical revisionism, the war crimes denial, or minimizing the comfort women issue. If you want to learn more about these issues, check out episode 4 of Kaijuvision. The topic is the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Next I’ll talk about GMK. A significant part of GMK is about how the Japanese people shouldn’t forget the past because otherwise they’re doomed to repeat it. People in the movie seem to have forgotten about the past and most seem to believe that the Self-Defense Forces defeated Godzilla and not Dr. Serizawa and his oxygen destroyer. The main idea in GMK is that Godzilla represents the spirits of the dead from the war, meaning the Japanese, Chinese, Americans, and so on. The author of the article declares GMK an anti-nationalist movie, and that it enshrines the idea of a defensive military that is best when it doesn’t have to fight at all. GMK might not be a nationalist movie but it is still a patriotic one. It thinks within the borders of Japan. It’s thinking inwards. It instills an allegiance of the Japanese people to the land and the ideals of Japan. The guardian monsters represent the connection between the Japanese people and their homeland.

While the movie should be commended for not wanting history to be forgotten, the defenders of GMK forget something important. While it is great when a military doesn’t have to be used, it can and should be able to adjust to a quickly-changing security environment in East Asia. In other words, it should evolve as the threat matrix evolves. It never stays the same, either. GMK was made in 2000 or so, and released in 2001, not long after North Korea tested missiles that went over Japan. So the military should still hopefully not have to be used, but it should be able to respond to threats in a proportional manner. Even in 2001, East Asia was rapidly becoming a much more dangerous place compared to back at the end of World War II. So, sure, have a defensive military, but it should be able to perform the job it might have to do one day. Having a strong enough military to deter conflict is a very important part of keeping the peace, just as having too weak of a military invites potential conflict. And wanting to have a stronger defensive capability is not in and of itself militaristic or nationalistic – it’s a prudent measure to take in order to deter conflict and save lives. What’s the point of a defensive military if it can’t adequately defend against anything?

Now, here’s the very important part of what I have to say about this article. Once the article starts up on Shin Godzilla, things start to get weird. It reads, “Shin Godzilla proposes the country should become stronger to defend itself from foreign threats and national crisis.” What is the reader supposed to think upon reading that? Like, “Oh, the horror”? I didn’t think that. The East Asia of 2015 is a very different place than the East Asia of 2000. Beginning in 2010 and 2011, China built military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea, claimed the entire South China Sea as their exclusive territorial waters, and heavily built up their military might and started using it against their neighbors. And when the region becomes a more dangerous place, yes, Japan should ensure that they’re able to defend themselves proportionally to meet that larger threat. But this article didn’t tell us that important information. That new information may change your mind about the need for Japan to deal with the new security environment.

The article briefly summarizes the 3/11 disaster, and then reads “The entire scenario is a jumping point for Shin Godzilla’s true dialog. Many fans seem to view the film as an allegory to Fukushima, but that’s not quite the goal”, which is strengthening Japan’s military. I almost have to laugh here because the article acts like this is a sinister goal that is masterfully hidden by this expertly-done propaganda that fools everyone but them. I think it’s pretty obvious that the movie touches on this topic where parts of the constitution are splashed onto the screen and the characters are trying to find out how many hoops they have to jump through to be able to defend themselves. This isn’t lost on most American audiences by my experience. I think it is very telling that a stronger Japan is viewed in this article as a sinister thing. The article goes onto criticize Prime Minister Abe’s move to reinterpret Article 9, which that occurred in 2014. This move allows Japan to be able to defend the US should the US get in a military conflict in East Asia. Again, I guess the article thinks the reader should recoil in terror, but I view this interpretation as a prudent measure considering how things are so volatile and unpredictable in the region.

He goes on to write that Abe and Nippon Kaigi feel the constitution is illegitimate for being influenced and “imposed” by an American agenda. Well, it was imposed, that’s a fact. The article mentions that Abe magnified the North Korea threat in order to increase US-Japan security cooperation. I don’t know that Prime Minster Abe needs to amplify any threats to Japan at this point to get anything done considering how difficult things are over there. This would also be the place for the author to mention China, but he shockingly ignores the elephant in the room.

Now the part about the tanks, this astonished me. The article states, “Ishiro Honda’s 1950s to 60s depiction of demoralized tanks retreating from a lost battle is nowhere to be found.” What? Yes there are. They’re at exactly 57:58 into the movie. I saw them with my own eyes. Tanks are destroyed by Shin Godzilla, tanks are wildly retreating, one of the tanks is buried under a bridge as its trying to escape. Like, did we watch the same movie? It’s right there, it’s right there in the movie. He’s using this supposed lack of retreating tanks to imply how the military is filled with more pride, when in actuality, they’re retreating in tanks just like an Ishiro Honda Godzilla movie. I’m not sure what the movie was supposed to do with these tanks that they didn’t do already in order to satisfy how this looks like an Ishiro Honda movie. I really don’t.

Another problematic sentence reads, “Where as GMK’s Admiral Tachibana found honor in peace, the JSDF in Shin Godzilla is proud to be deployed for their country.” That’s making it far too simple I’m afraid. I think the self-defense forces in both movies are proud to be deployed for their country AND find honor in peace just as most other military forces around the world are. It’s normal for the military to have more than one emotion at one time. So are the Japanese not supposed to have any faith or pride in their country’s military – in perpetuity? I don’t see much evidence in Shin Godzilla pointing to the JSDF having all the pride that this article implies that they have.

The most shocking material in the article is in the conclusion. And by “shocking”, I mean that Japanese people reading this article are the ones who would be shocked by it the most. The article reads, “The question is, which image should the Japanese people heed?” What he means the GMK version or the Shin version, since the article implies they’re so opposed to each other. It reads, “There’s a beating heart at the bottom of Tokyo Bay warning Japan to take responsibility for their past, and a tail-splitting amalgam of frozen humanoid beasts inspiring them to become a stronger, independent nation…It should go without saying.” Full stop. What? “It should go without saying”? Obviously he’s saying take responsibility for their past. But who does this? So you’re creating a binary false choice completely divorced from reality. You’re presenting them with an ultimatum essentially, and you’re saying “do as you’re told.” So it’s okay for Japan to be this anime wonderland, and a tributary state of the US, but they shouldn’t get any funny ideas like doing more to defend themselves, which is the right of most other nations? This article in fact plays into everything Nippon Kaigi wants to argue against. Here’s an American telling them that their destiny is not their choice, presenting them with an ultimatum, telling them they can’t become stronger, can’t become more independent, saying they have no choice and to do what they’re told. It should be up to Japan to make these kinds of decisions. They’re a United States ally, but this article treats them like World War II just ended last year. As if elected leaders of the US haven’t told the Japanese that they fought bravely in the war. Japan is the first line of defense against China and North Korea, and this article demands that Japan abandons the very idea of building up its defenses against more than one clear and present danger. Denying Japan the right to become stronger puts them and us at a disadvantage. And why can’t Japan take responsibility for their past AND become stronger and more independent? Why is it this odd, binary, false choice – one or the other? The right answer is both. Both of these movies are patriotic. Neither is nationalistic or militaristic. There will be no more Japan if they can’t defend themselves. But I just can’t with the way that Shin Godzilla is just jammed into this anti-nationalist and, at times, almost imperialist argument. The Japanese public isn’t supportive of an offensive military anyways. As of right now, Japan has one aircraft carrier. They depend on us for their defense, and they pay us about 2 billion dollars a year for that.

If you think I’m wrong about any of this, please be sure to let me know your opinion. I graduated from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Bloomington with a concentration in comparative and international affairs. I love to talk about issues like this, and I think discussions about Japan enrich the overall level of dialogue, whether you’re a Godzilla fan or not. Have a wonderful rest of your day, stay safe, and thanks so much for listening.

If you’d like to send some feedback, I’d love to hear from you. The e-mail address is feedback@kaijuvision.com. You can also follow the podcast on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Kaijuvision Radio is available on Kaijuvision.com, YouTube, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Blubrry, TuneIn, and Podcast Addict. I’m Brian Scherschel, and this is KVR, Kaijuvision Radio. And I will see you next time.

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