July 22, 2014
By David Collier
On our first full day in Japan, all the students went with Chad to Akihabara. While the main purpose of the trip was to visit Yodobashi, we also visited a Don Quijote store. Inside Don Quijote, we experienced our first arcade center in Japan. Some of us sat down to play Street Fighter, and at one point Andy played it against one of the locals. However, this guy had obviously played the game a lot and knew all of the combination moves and special skills. We could only stay in the arcade for a short time, and we didn’t get to play most of the games there, but I have since had several opportunities to go to other arcades.
All of the arcades that I’ve visited have had the same games, so you don’t need to go to a specific arcade to play a particular game. For example, every arcade has Taiko drum games, Gundam games, Street Fighter games, as well as an abundance of crane games. The word taiko refers to Japanese drums, and the game is comparable to Guitar Hero in the US. Though I haven’t played this game yet, I’ve watched other USC students play it, and even though it was their first attempt at the game, all of them played admirably. I have also noticed that even though there are more crane games here than in the US, they are not any easier to beat.
The game I’ve played the most is a rhythm game where there is a grid of 16 squares that light up, and you have to push them with precise timing as they light up. A song is playing at the same time, and the buttons light up in time with the music. Hitting combos (multiple squares) in a row is very satisfying, and the fast paced songs ensure there is no lack of combos.
It is disappointing that arcades are falling away in America because they are so much fun to go to with friends, as we saw here in Japan.
July 21, 2014
by Kent Oya and Ben Surbrook
On Monday, July 7th, our group arrived in Kyoto (after quite a hectic morning trying to get there), and immediately boarded a bus for Nara. Nara is a city about an hour south of Kyoto by bus, and is most well-known for its friendly deer that can be fed.
We first arrived at Todaiji (東大寺) Temple, which is the Buddhist temple in Nara where the famous deer live. An important point to remember about Japan is the difference between temples and shrines. Japan has a very interesting religious background, with two major religions: Shinto (神道), Japan’s indigenous religion, and Buddhism (仏教), which came to Japan from China. What makes Japan interesting is that many Japanese people practice parts of both religions, which leads to an intriguing religious combination. A great example of this is Todaiji Temple, because within Todaiji Temple there is actually a small Shinto shrine, showing the unique combination of Buddhism and Shinto that exists in Japan.
Todaiji Temple was very impressive, with a massive Buddha and two smaller Bodhisattva inside the actual temple. There was also a pillar with a hole called the “Nostril of Buddha” that some of our classmates managed to successfully crawl through. (We did not.)
July 17, 2014
By Sarah Nakamura and Janet Hu
During our last week in Japan, we had the opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Itsukushima Island, or as it’s more commonly known, Miyajima Island. We arrived on Miyajima Island by ferry around 10:00 AM to begin our full day adventure in Hiroshima. Similar to our experience in Nara, we were greeted by the wild deer that walk freely on Miyajima Island. Although the weather was hot and humid, we were lucky to avoid the typhoon that had been predicted to arrive during our stay in Kyoto. When we visited Itsukushima Shrine, we were lucky to go during low tide, allowing us the opportunity to walk up to the Torii Gate. During high tide, the lower part of the gate is submerged, and it supposedly appears to be floating on water. Itsukushima Shrine is the chief Shinto shrine of Aki Province. Although it was destroyed numerous times in the past few hundred years, the shrine still looks beautiful and astonishing. It is painted in the color orange, which is believed to be able to ward off bad spirits. Therefore, we could see the shrine and the gate clearly even from a distance on the ferry. Miyajima was very unique because the island doesn’t have any natural products that can be readily exported, and therefore the residents make special rice scoops that symbolize good luck. They are not made to be used for actual everyday use, but are rather meant to be used as decorations. After learning about these special rice scoops, we next tried the delicious grilled oysters that are also unique to the island. The oysters are harvested from rafts floating in the bay. Every year, during the second week of February, the island holds a festival where they serve their famous oysters at low prices. If you are ever in the area when this festival is being held, you will definitely have a great time with great food! After our visit to Miyajima Island, we went to eat okonomiyaki for lunch. Okonomiyaki is another specialty food in Hiroshima consisting of a savory Japanese pancake that contains a variety of ingredients. Okonomi means “to your liking” and yaki means “grilled,” and thus okonomiyaki is quite literally a pancake that you can grill with the ingredients that you like best! After lunch, we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. On our way, we stopped by the actual hypocenter of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima in 1945. It was surreal standing in the exact location where the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II. After visiting the hypocenter, we went inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where we saw artifacts and remains from the atomic bomb. Rather than condemning the United States for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, the museum focused on promoting world peace and eliminating the use of nuclear bomb. This was a reflection of the kindness and respectfulness of the Japanese people, and their dedication to those living in Hiroshima. Located outside the museum was a memorial that held all the names of the individuals who were affected by the atomic bomb. Every year they have a ceremony to remember the names of those affected and to be reminded of the peace agreement to never drop another atomic bomb. It was very special to visit the site and to pay respects to those who were affected by this event. Although it is not a time that the United States is proud of, and it destroyed the lives of many citizens, it is important to highlight the event and promote peace rather than war. One of the famous figures from the bombing of Hiroshima was a 12-year-old girl named Sadako Sasaki, an innocent victim of the bomb who died of leukemia. She is remembered through her story of the thousand origami cranes that she folded from her medicine wrappers while battling her illness. There is a memorial dedicated to her near the museum, where people can come and donate cranes. People have come from all over the world to visit this famous landmark, and it continues to bring positive attention to Hiroshima. Some of the students in our group folded approximately 50 paper cranes before arriving in Hiroshima, and then donated them to the memorial when we visited it. It was amazing to visit this famous landmark in person and pay our respects to those affected by the tragic event. After our very busy day in Hiroshima, we rode the shinkansen back to Kyoto, where we would stay for another day before returning to Tokyo.
July 14, 2014
By Charlsie Hoffman and Tanya Yang
On Thursday, our class ventured to the National Diet of Japan. Upon our arrival, we first came across the Prime Minister’s residence and office. Instead of one building, the house and office stand separate but right next to one another. Our guide compared the buildings to the White House to help us understand, but the buildings’ modern styles barely resembled the white Neoclassical Federal style that comes to mind. Regardless, the buildings were impressive and possessed an air of dignity that informed the passers-by they were on hallowed ground. It was only about six more blocks until we reached the Diet.
Located on a hill in the Nagatacho district of Chiyoda City in Tokyo, the National Diet sits directly in front of of its members’ office buildings. We entered through the back and gratefully waited in the air-conditioned lobby for our tour guide to arrive. While waiting, we couldn’t help but notice the boxed cookies sitting outside of the souvenir cart that had a cartoon Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dressed as superman, flying over the Diet. Although very humorous at face level, the cookie box revealed a serious underlying issue for Japan: it needs to be saved. We then remembered just how important the Diet currently is for Japan, as it desperately needs structural reforms.
After only a few minutes of waiting, our tour guide arrived in a professional yet adorable uniform (we still don’t know how Japan does that mix so well). She then escorted us to the upper house cafeteria for lunch. The long carpeted hallways lined with office doors that led us to the cafeteria reminded me of the Representatives’ offices in Washington, D.C. The cafeteria itself also seemed reminiscent of the old-English feel of Washington, D.C., with only the curry and rice plate sitting at our table reminding us that we were still in Japan. We all sat down, customarily thanked the kitchen for the preparation of the food, and ate a very delicious meal that refueled our minds for the tour ahead.
July 11, 2014
by Natasha Cirisano and Stephanie Liang
Compared to Tokyo, our visit to Yokohama this Wednesday brought us into what seemed like a sleepier, smaller town that we could more easily navigate because it was not so dense and crowded. Instead, towering structures like several skyscrapers and a Ferris wheel served as landmarks that we could see from the street, while the highly condensed buildings and small alleyways of Tokyo seemed to close in on us. This new, quiet city contained lots of interesting sights, from the Emigration Museum to Chinatown to the famous Cup Noodles Museum, that we explored throughout our stay.
Our first Yokohama destination was the Emigration Museum, where we learned about the many stages of Japanese migration from the 1800s onward. We were surprised to see that passports existed even before there were photographs. Instead, the passport documents contained physical written descriptions of the people that held them! We were also interested in the fact that many Japanese settled in Brazil, of all countries, because the cultures seemed so vastly different. One observation our class made after our visit was that the tour guide felt the need to emphasize that these Japanese migrants were searching for ways to expand their experience and economic opportunity, not as deserters of their homeland. Later, we learned that the Japanese government gave false hope to migrants leaving the country in search of wealth, because it felt it could not support them, and that there have been efforts to rectify the way these immigrants were treated. This probably played into certain statements praising the migrants that were made in the tour. Since visiting the Japanese war museum near Yasukuni Shrine, we have been more sensitized to the variety of narratives and biases museums can have, and how they re-write history as much as they explain it.
Next, Chinatown in Yokohama fused Japanese and Chinese culture together. Having been to many Chinatowns in America, we noticed many differences between Chinatown in Japan and US Chinatowns. One of the biggest differences was the fact that many signs were predominantly written in Japanese Hiragana or Katakana. Many of the workers in the Chinatown restaurant we visited spoke Chinese, but were ethnically Japanese. The Chinatowns in America mostly consist of Chinese workers who sometimes speak only Cantonese or Mandarin. This led us to the conclusion that the Chinese population in Japan is not as dense as the Chinese population in America.
July 9, 2014
by Kelli Kosaka and Lisa Peng
This weekend we traveled to Yamanaka Lake at the base of Mt. Fuji with 19 students from our host school, Meiji University. This trip provided us with a great opportunity to bond with the Meiji students in a Japanese-style seminar house by the lake.
The first day was a chance for us to get to know each other through icebreakers and time spent together on the bus ride and during dinner. We also lit hanabi (fireworks) to celebrate Janet’s birthday. She turned hatachi (twenty), the age at which you become an adult in Japan. Thus people value this day a lot here.
June 30, 2014
by David Collier and Andy Gause
Early Tuesday morning the group visited the Tokyo Imperial Palace. We were immediately struck by the enormous ornate gates. We strolled across the gravel footpaths, admiring the lush foliage. It was quite impressive because we were able to see the foundations for the castles that once sat next to the palace. The scale of the peaceful complex was immense. We witnessed people painting the scenery, couples walking hand-in-hand together, and an older gentlemen napping under a tree. We took several fun group photos, including some in which we all jumped at the same time.
Next we visited Yasukuni Shrine, in which 2.5 million military casualties stretching back from the Meiji Restoration are enshrined, including fourteen Class A war criminals. We couldn’t take pictures inside of the shrine and the atmosphere surrounding the shrine was tranquil. If we hadn’t known the history, we wouldn’t have realized the controversial nature of the place.
Next we visited the nearby WWII museum. Our professor asked us to figure out the narrative presented by the museum. We came to the conclusion that there was some definite fact-stretching in the museum’s representation of the war. One of the placards claimed the battleship Yamato crashed its way into the enemy fleet. However, the battleship sunk before it ever reached the fleet. The museum also presented the invasion of Manchuria and other countries in Southeast Asia as an action of necessity. The segment at the end of the museum showing the faces of the (mostly young) men and women who died in the war was particularly harrowing.
The next day we were driven to Sky Tree, the imposing TV tower in the heart of Tokyo. Standing at 634 meters tall, the structure rose into the overcast sky. We went to the mall where there were several stores selling merchandise related to Japanese TV. One store in particular had some colorful products related to Pokémon, anime and other popular Japanese television shows.
June 16, 2014
By Cody Uyeda and Ryan Bobell
After a ten-hour flight (complete with an incessantly screaming child), we weren’t quite sure what to make of our arrival in Japan. As the plane finally pulled into the terminal, the windows were pulled down, and it was still quite dim inside. It felt like we still could have been anywhere. Following such a long flight, it couldn’t properly hit us that we were actually in Japan. We could have been flying over the United States the past ten hours, for all we knew. Our sense of arrival didn’t set in until we finally stepped off the plane. Immediately upon entering the airport, there was something different about the very atmosphere. It was clean, quiet, and very orderly—a departure from the expected large crowds and noise. Everything was calm and efficient. Although Japanese was everywhere around us, signs posted in multiple languages made the transition much smoother than it otherwise could have been. After making bathroom and currency exchange runs, Tanya, Natasha, and we (Cody and Ryan) waited for everyone else to arrive in the airport. Little did we know that they were waiting only a couple of hundred feet away. Once the two groups finally discovered one another, there was little time to waste. With our fearless leader, Chad, at the helm, we all jumped on a bus to the Sakura Hotel, where we would be setting up shop for the coming month.
At the Sakura Hotel, the first thing we noticed was that everything seemed to be compacted or shrunk to fit the minimal amount of space needed, especially compared to the spacious American standard of living we had all been used to. The chairs seemed smaller, the beds seemed smaller, and the rooms were definitely smaller. In addition, the shower and sink setup is not what some of us had first expected. Rather than being set up in each room, they were set up by floor—a set of two sinks and two showers to be shared by everyone. Also, the shower had a mirror in it, which was more than a little disconcerting the first time you step into it. The toilets are interesting too. As you turn the knob to flush, a little sink on top of the toilet comes on for you to wash your hands. Convenient, but as usual, no towels are provided. Overall, though, the Sakura Hotel is a pleasant and convenient place to live. And it really defines the ideas of Japanese compactness and economically small living.
July 25, 2013
By Matt Wong
Recently, Japan’s various “theme cafés” have become widely known due to their depiction in anime and television programs, but perhaps relatively few people have actually set foot inside a ghost café, cat café, or maid café, to name a few that exist. (I was also told by a chef in Tokyo that bird cafés exist which feature various parakeets, but only near Hiroshima).
Immediately before coming to Japan I had just finished watching an anime which described the cat café as something akin to a “paradise on earth,” so it was the first item on my list of things to do in Tokyo. A few other USC students also were interested in cats, so on our first free day we head off to Shibuya’s「ハピ猫」(Happy Cat) Café as soon as it opened in the morning.
There was a waiting room between the entrance and the actual café. A posted sign explained that such a precaution was necessary so that the cats don’t leap out and escape. (In the photograph below, this waiting room was located immediately outside of the window at the reception desk.)
Upon entering, we were greeted by several varieties of cats, all of which were extremely well groomed and unafraid of humans. Some of them were wearing shirts, and the ones with pink shirts we were not allowed to touch, although we weren’t given an explanation as to why.
The pricing system was relatively simple: we each paid for a period of time to stay in the café (about an hour if I remember correctly), which also included one drink (different types of coffee and tea were available) and some small sweets. I paid an extra amount for a container of food to feed the cats.
July 23, 2013
By Jairo Hernandez
Gray, foreboding, and cloudy skies welcomed our group to the Peace Memorial Museum and Park in Hiroshima. After a rather quick guide through the museum, we were sitting in a room, listening to the chairman of the museum talk about world peace.
A world without nuclear weapons. That is the desire of the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. No revenge, no atonement. They just want a simple promise. World peace is no easy feat, and they realize that. Years, decades, or generations, no one knows how long it will take, but the survivors just want a promise: avid work from now until a time where a world without nuclear weapons is established. Our current security measure of giving threats is no real security measure and can cave in at any moment. Thus these surviving members just want a world with a security measure that revolves around peace and understanding, not fear and threats. This is their message and the message the chairman wants spread throughout the museum.
This trip had a great impact on me. The rainy skies and gloomy weather reflected my state of mind as I walked out of the room and museum, deep in thought and reflection. However, just as you exit the museum, there is a memorial park with three significant structures that also reflected my state of being in a more concrete manner.