June 19, 2015
By: Ye Sol Shin
When I woke up on the morning of June 12, my last full day in Tokyo, I felt relaxed and calm. I had just gotten a good night’s sleep, and I was ready to go to Shinjuku and hang out with my new Meiji University friend, Satomi. My plan was to have a fun and relaxing day: visit a cat café, eat good food, and buy a few souvenirs. I had no intention of planning out a long schedule and feeling rushed and hectic during my last full day in Japan. While I had initially planned to visit the Joseon School again, my plans fell through. It was disappointing, but actually worked out for me in the long run. Because I no longer had set plans, I could really enjoy my last day in Tokyo with no expectations or pressure to get from one place to the next.
Satomi and I first went to a cat café in the heart of Shinjuku, and I loved every moment of the time we were there. There were so many different types of cats, many of which I have never seen in the United States. Many were playful and would come up to you voluntarily; others were sleepy and refused to wake up from their naps. Satomi told me that there were mainly two types of people who visited a cat café: those who loved cats but could not keep pets at home, and foreigners who were visiting Japan. What Satomi said was true; there was clearly a divide between the people who were at the café just to read a book in the company of cats, and the people who were being obnoxiously loud and taking pictures every chance they got. Like David Mura from Memoris of a Sansai, I felt ashamed of falling into the foreigner group, and paid extra care to remain quiet and not disturb anyone who was there just to relax. However, I couldn’t help but silently laugh at the foreigners who thought I was a native Japanese. They assumed I couldn’t speak English and complained about the fact that I was hogging all the cats… right in front of me! In my head I thought, “Of course the cats won’t come to you. All you do is poke and annoy them!”
After leaving the cat café, Satomi and I decided to eat tuna-don bowls and then get coffee at one of her favorite café chains in Japan. It was really nice to have time to just chat with my friend instead of thinking about where I needed to go next. I’m so thankful that Satomi offered to spend the entire day with me, because I truly felt like a Japanese college student rather than a foreigner. We talked about our favorite bands, boys, and other normal things that college girls talk about. Just like how Reika helped David Mura immerse himself in Japanese culture and feel at home even though he was a foreigner, I felt at ease and at home in the little coffee shop talking to Satomi about her favorite idol group.
While I did not do any research on Zainichi Koreans during my day off, I had visited Shinjuku specifically because my friend Sae had told me that sometimes anti-Korean protestors would hold demonstrations near Shinjuku station. I did not see any demonstrations that day, but I could envision how noisy and hectic it would feel to hear the demonstrations in the busy streets of Shinjuku.
Time went by fast, and pretty soon we decided to head back to Meiji University for the farewell party. During the party, I was supposed to give a speech in front of the Meiji and USC students and faculty. I had planned my speech the day before, but when I got up to the stage and saw all the happy faces in front of me, I suddenly forgot everything I had planned to say. I felt a flood of emotions, because I realized that I might never see some of the people in front of me ever again. However, I accepted that, because I truly had one of the best times of my life, and I am so grateful to have met Meiji students even for a really short time period. This trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to have experienced it.
By: Steve Nguyen
Good morning Kyoto! Today June 11 is our last day in Kyoto and we have free time until 12:45 pm. A lot of us broke up into different groups. Some of us went to the arcade, others went shopping in the malls near Kyoto station, and I decided to rent a bike and ride down the Kamo River. The bike shop was just around the corner from the our hotel and the rates were really good. It cost me about $8 to rent a bicycle for a day. Going to the river is very easy because you just have to head in the general direction of the river until you see it. Almost every bridge has stairs or slope for people or bicyclists. I only had a limited time to ride on the river plain so I decided to head north because I was told it had beautiful scenery.
When I got to the river I noticed that the river plain was clean just like Kyoto and Tokyo. I found it very nice that we can find areas with nature, even though we are in a big city. The river plain was very pleasant and serene. It wasn’t very crowded this Friday morning, but I saw some people eating, chatting, and sleeping along the river. There were many ducks, swans, and cranes along the river enjoying their day as well. This scene reminded me of the scenes in Pico Iyer’s The Lady and the Monk when Iyer would walk with Sachiko in the beautiful and serene parks in Japan. Experiencing Japan’s nature in real life helped me grasp Japan’s respect for nature. In each place we have visited, mankind has coexisted with nature. As Iyer described in his books, Japan’s respect for nature is beautiful. Perhaps the Japanese respect for life and others stems from their respect for nature which can be seen everywhere in Japan if you know where to look.
I had to get back to the hotel at 12:45 pm, but got lost on the way back because all the bridges that connect to the street look the same. Luckily Kyoto tower is a major land mark by our hotel. I went down the river until I was near the tower that looked like a giant daikon. I arrived safely and on time. Bye Kyoto, thanks for all the good memories! The ride back to Tokyo took about 3 hours, so many of us got some good rest and sleep.
When we got back to our home in Jimbocho Sakura Hotel, some of us went out to dinner with the Meiji students while some of us (myself included) decide to stay in the hotel and get some rest. Later that night Andi, Chris, and I headed out to Ikebukuro to go to the legendary Penguin Bar. Going to Ikebukuro station was easy, but finding the bar was a little bit harder. We got lost, but we found a lot of interesting things. Ikebukuro has a very interesting night life. There were many other young people looking for fun, host and hostesses advertising for their restaurant or club, and the fabled love hotels we have heard about. There were also many restaurants with delicious looking food around us. We went to a very busy ramen shop and ate some very delicious ramen. Nearby was a Don Quijote (a mega store chain in Japan that sells many cheap items) so we stopped by after dinner. While the ladies were looking around I was looking at Japanese gag shirts. I was really surprised to see that the Japanese also had their own versions of gag shirts. This goes closely with my research which is on western symbols and phrases on Japanese T shirts. What I noticed on Japanese gag shirts, is that most of it is written in Japanese. Perhaps shirts that meant to look cool or make a political statement are usually written in English while shirts written in Kanji are worn for humor. The types of gag shirts in the store reminds me of the shirts we find at a gag store in the United States called Spencer’s. Throughout the trip, I have experienced the same experience as Pico Iyer in his book where he realized that Japan and the west are not so different after all.
After doing some shopping, the three of us stumbled into a couples’ park. We think it was a couples’ park because there were many couples there and they were showing personal displays of affection, such as holding hands. This was interesting because we did not see many couples showing affection in public. At night there is a lot more freedom and anonymity so young couples like the ones in the park can express their love for each other in public. This reminds me of the concept tatemae and honne as discussed in class. For many Japanese people they have to maintain tatemae and keep a public face by acting like everyone else in society while honne, the true self, is only expressed at home or at night when they are anonymous. It was an interesting contrast to see young people loosening up, enjoying the night with their partner, and being themselves. It got a little uncomfortable watching the other couples in the park so we left for the Penguin Bar.
We originally did not know the directions to the Penguin Bar. Something interesting was that when we asked Japanese girls where it was, most of them pointed us to the general direction to the bar while men did not even knew it existed. When we arrived, it was clear that this bar is mainly catered to girls and couples. It was a very classy place with waiters and waitresses dressed up in vests that made them look like penguins. When we saw the penguins all of our heart beats jumped; the penguins were very cute. We all took pictures of them and Chris wanted to set them free. It was a very cute and cool bar.
We enjoyed ourselves in the bar for a really long time and had “Real-Girl-talk”. We enjoyed ourselves for so long, that we missed the last train home. It was fine though because there were three of us so it was not expensive taking a taxi home. In total it cost us about $10 each and interestingly this was only the second time we have ridden a car in Japan. What an amazing night in Ikebukuro. I’m looking forward to getting lost and finding my way with my friends!
By: Eric Parra
On the thirteenth day of our trip, we had a full schedule to visit Hiroshima and Miyajima island before heading back to Kyoto. Hiroshima was an amazing experience of tolerance, suffering, and regret. We learned stories of survivors from the atomic bomb, deaths and consequences, and the new-found hope it provided to those who visited. One of the biggest impacts the trip had on me was how much inspiration the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park aimed to give to the people who visited it. There were three main memorials to look at before we went into the peace park: the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Preservation Dome that survived the atomic explosion and is still standing; the Peace Flame, which was a statue shaped like two hands holding up a small fire that has been burning since 1964 and is meant to burn until nuclear weapons are gone; and the Memorial Centograph that has the names of all of the victims written on an arch in a way that you could see the A-Bomb dome and the Peace Flame through it.
Inside the gift shop for the Hiroshima Peace Museum were a bunch of items to support and remember the stories from the wartime and atomic explosion. A specific anime was playing called Hadashi no Gen that was a graphic retelling of the event as it happened. I bought a comic book that was an English translation of one child’s reaction to his parents dying in the atomic explosion.
I remember asking a Japanese student on the trip about what anime and manga is like in perspective to children and adults, and he told me that anime and manga are for everyone. There are some stories for kids and then there are some stories for adults, but anyone can read anything without much of a label. The anime and comic book iterations of the atomic explosion in Hiroshima made me think about how this subject does not seem like it’s for children, but it is still a learning tool for anyone who is interested and can serve both adult and child alike if they want to know about the tragedy Hiroshima suffered.
Comic books in the U.S. are mostly for entertaining value, but comic books like this one served as both entertaining and educational. They did not censor the imagery of people melting when the radiation and destruction hit the people, nor did they try to soften the consequences it had on the people who suffered through the event. There are not many comic books at this level in the United States, but I believe that is because no one is willing to believe or put any worth to comic books as educational tools. It is a sign of unacceptance that I think is holding people back from learning and retaining information that should not be forgotten.
After that, we went for an Okonomiyaki lunch. It was very tasty.
For the rest of the day, we took a ferry to Miyajima island. It was an amazing trip and possibly one of the most rural areas that we were able to see of Japan. Almost nothing was written in English and deer were rampant everywhere. I spent the trip hiking the mountain areas and looking at the shops. It was amazing to me how much of an influence anime and specifically One Piece had. There were even the shops on this island with souvenirs you could only find there, like of the One Piece characters feeding deer.
If anything can be said about this day, it’s that there’s a lot to learn from our Japanese counterparts. No one enjoys losing important things or people, and suffering is a universal tragedy that is relatable. It’s best to remember our mistakes and the mistakes of others so that we don’t fall prey to them again.
And also that deer are very cute.
By: Jotham Sadan
On June 10, we started our day off with a bullet train trip to Hiroshima to learn about how the Japanese teach the story of WWII. We left our bus at Aioi bridge, which was the original target of the first atomic bomb. Our tour guide led us to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a concrete building which served as a monument immediately after the war. Since most buildings in Hiroshima were made of wood, they were burnt in the initial head of the bomb. One of the few buildings left standing in the area was the one made of more sturdy material. Because much of the city was left in complete ruins, this building, which was one of very few in a large radius, became a spot for friends and family members to search for and leave messages for their loved ones who they lost during the confusion of the wreck.
After the memorial, we discussed the lasting effects, both physical and societal, of the bomb. Hiroshima was left hopeless, and to make matters worse, the burst of radiation to its citizens caused longer lasting health problems. One of those affected most notably by radiation was a girl named Sadako Sasaki. As an infant, she was in Hiroshima during the blast, but was unharmed by the initial force. Instead, she grew to the age of 12 before showing any signs of lasting damage. She was diagnosed with leukemia, one of the most prominent side effects of the radiation. While hospitalized, Sadako was told that folding 1,000 paper cranes would grant the folder their wish. So she made it her mission to do so with whatever scrap paper and wrappings she could find around. After reaching her goal, she continued to fold until she no longer had the strength to do so, and eventually passed away. After gaining national attention, Sadako’s story was immortalized through a statue in Peace Memorial Park, and the image of the crane has since then become synonymous with Japan’s desire of lasting peace.
Since my research project is partly based on American influence on Japanese education, being able to contrast how the Japanese and Americans teach the story of World War II in person was extremely helpful. In my experience with American public schools, our war with the Japanese was taught with an “us vs. them” mentality, which led to mixed sentiment both from my history teacher and from the students. It was taught in a very pragmatic and factual way, but the individual details, such as those of Sadako, were never addressed. In addition, the American education system goes over the morality of dropping the atomic bomb, but never conclusively denounces war because it is such a big part of US history. In contrast, Japan talks only of peace in this memorial, rather than addressing the war as a whole. Japan focuses a lot on the stories of the individuals and the emotional aspect. Often when we study statistics like war casualties it becomes easy to detach emotion from the inherent atrocities that war brings, but things like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial help to remind us how tragic each individual story is and how the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Until visiting the memorial, my project was focused on how Japan has caved to westernization in its education system, so it is nice to see that the teaching of one of the biggest pieces of Japan’s recent history has retained its own Japanese identity and has not changed because of foreign pressure.
The second half of our day was a short trip to Miyajima island to get a small window into what life on the islands was like, seeing as there were over a hundred of them. While the first part of the day was much more education focused, this trip was more about enjoying ourselves and exploring our surroundings. One of Miyajima’s most famous features is that it has tame wild deer who roam around the island, so in between getting to hike the surrounding trails, eat traditional maple leaf sweet “momijimanju,” and visit the local temples, we got to play with the deer.
This was easily one of our busiest days in the entire trip, having started off in Kyoto, going to Hiroshima, Miyajima, then back to Kyoto for the night, and I can think of no better way to have spent one of our last days in Japan.
By: Christina Brown
We were packed and ready for our excursion to Kyoto and hadn’t slept the night before (writing blog posts and journals, exploring the city in the wee hours of the morning, and just drinking a bit too much coffee). On June 8, we took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto–all of us catching a few hours of shut eye on the way.
When we arrived in Kyoto, we met up with our tour guide and went straight to a shrine to practice Zen Meditation. Zen Meditation was a true challenge for me–particularly sitting still and not letting my thoughts wander, but in the end, the class did a good job meditating quietly for thirty minutes. Afterwards we went to an old shogun’s palace. The most interesting thing was the “nightingale floors.” The floors back then were built in such a way that they creak with every step, sounding like little birds chirping. This was done in order to serve as an alarm system against ninjas. Naturally, the whole class ninja-walked through the entire tour trying to prove that we could’ve been S+ tier ninjas.
Next, we had a few hours in Kyoto’s main commercial area Shi-Jō and San-Jō (4th and 3rd street) to explore shops and the large shrines and temples. Collectively we bought scarves, bags, jewelry, postcards, anime toys, and lots of matcha!
We met up at Touka-Saikan, an old, authentic Chinese restaurant that our very own TA, Toku, worked at during college.
Before the meal, his manager, a Chinese man who grew up in Japan and continued the family business of traditional Chinese food– and not changing his family name (like many Chinese and Koreans do to avoid discrimination) to ensure the whole package of authenticity of Chinese food. He spoke about the discrimination in Japan, the life of Chinese people living in Japan, and of course about food! The meal was SOOOOO good. Especially the egg rolls. I could eat ten right now as I write this. The food, while authentic Chinese food, had very subtle changes to fit the Japanese palate. It was interesting to see the differences, mainly in terms of how spicy it was. Studying the slight ways a particular cuisine changes to fit the palate of the native people is an interesting and unexpected way to gain insight into a certain culture (FYI: Japanese food in France is WEIRD). After dinner, most of us were pretty tired and knew we had to be up fairly early for our excursion to Kobe and Osaka. It was a great first day in Kyoto and I was thrilled to finally see our beloved TA’s city and to hear how adored he was by his old colleagues at Touka-Saikan–which of course came as no surprise! Yay Kyoto!
By: Steve Nguyen
Good morning Tokyo! Or as the Japanese say, Ohayou! (Sounds like Ohio). In the morning of June 4, we went to Meiji University to listen to guest speakers Professor Gayle Sato and Mr. Wayne Graczyk. We left late for being early so we sped-walked over there. Someone told me that Japan is not the same as in the anime and that I would not see girls running late to class with bread in their mouth, but today I got to see our very own Joyce speed-walk to school while eating bread. Close enough, art reflects life.
When we got to Meiji University, we listened to Professor Gayle Sato. She discussed her Japanese American heritage and how she became a professor in Japan. She discussed the differences between the Japanese and American education system. I was very surprised to hear that Japanese high school students have to decide what major they want to specialize in before they enter college and that it is very hard to change major or have more than one major. I am very grateful that I study at USC, and that I am able to pursue a Human Biology and East Asian Languages and Cultures major and a Cinematic Arts minor. Professor Sato mentioned how that some universities such as the Tokyo University have adopted the American system for certain departments. That’s good to know. If I were Japanese I would want to go to Tokyo University, assuming that I was a strong enough candidate to enter the school. She also discussed the difficulties of being Japanese American. Because she is Japanese American she is called Professor Gayle, even though the other professors are called by their last name. Furthermore because she looks Japanese she is expected to speak perfect Japanese and act like a proper Japanese woman. She said that being discriminated as a Japanese American is difficult, but she also says that she loves Japan and being in the academic college setting, so she plans to retire there. That’s good to know; I too want to live or work in Japan one day.
After Professor Sato’s lecture, other USC students and I went to go to the Meiji University cafeteria to eat lunch. It was very different from USC’s all you can eat buffet style dining halls. It was more like a school cafeteria you see in the movies where you chose what you want. What was really good was that they had a variety of ramen, udon, rice, and pasta dishes for about 400 yen (less than $4). There were also many drinks you can choose from the vending machines and ice cream too. I decided to get the curry udon. Although school food in general has a reputation for tasting bad, I thought it was delicious. The cafeteria was very convenient, economical, and ordering was very fast and streamlined. It was very foreigner friendly because outside had plastic models of every food and the students were very nice and open to help if I wanted to ask them something. I definitely felt omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) in the dining hall. I can see that Japanese people are raised to be polite and courteous to others. Even though I’m a foreigner, I felt very respected.
After lunch, we listened to Mr. Wayne Graczyk’s talk about his experience working as a foreigner in Japan. Mr. Graczyk is an American who writes English articles about baseball for a Japanese newspaper. He talked about how he got his job back in college when he read a Japanese newspaper’s baseball column and corrected the mistakes it had. The newspaper company saw that he was very knowledgeable about baseball and asked him to write about baseball for them. He also discussed how foreign baseball players are like “hired guns” because they are hired to do a certain job. The typical Japanese baseball player can not hit home runs or throw really fast balls, so often times foreigners are hired to do those jobs. It was interesting to find out that foreign players often times gets paid more than Japanese players and that there is a limit of 4 foreign players playing on field at one time to balance the game. This wage discrimination is very interesting because it resonates with Dower’s concept in War Without Mercy, how that during World War II although the Japanese demonized western leaders by making them look like monsters in propaganda, they respected westerners to an extent because of their military strength and technological advancements. After all, it was the Prussians and other military leaders from the west who helped Japan militarize their navy and army. Today something similar is happening: the Japanese baseball teams are bringing in foreigners to help their team throw fast balls and make hard hits. I suspected that there might be some complaints with Japanese fans and players with the rising number of foreign players with higher pay checks; however, Mr. Graczyk said that there was little to no conflict between the players because there is a limit of 4 foreign players that can play on field at a time per team. Regarding foreign players in baseball, one of the students asked Mr. Graczyk why both foreign and Japanese players’ baseball jerseys are written in English rather than katakana (the alphabet the Japanese use for foreign names and words). He said that one of the big reasons why he thinks that English is written on jerseys is because the Japanese respect Major League Baseball and that baseball is an American game. I find this peculiar because not everyone in Japan speaks English well. Furthermore, Mr. Graczyk explained that it is not expected for a player to know Japanese. In other words, foreign players just need to know how to play the game and they will have translators to be their ears and mouth. A major concept in Dower’s War Without Mercy is that racial differences creates sides (self or other, ally or enemy, Japanese or foreigner) and this causes stereotypes and misunderstandings to the extent that people will kill each other. This reminds me of the film Mr. Baseball because the main character Jack Elliot often misunderstood how to act in Japan and was also misunderstood by his Japanese teammates and manager because of the culture and language barrier. Instead of killing each other, they often fought in the film. Mr. Graczyk assured us that currently the way foreign players are treated is not like the way foreign players were treated in the film Mr. Baseball and that they are respected members of the team. Another student from USC asked Mr. Graczyk if he felt if he was discriminated in Japan. Unlike Professor Sato, Mr. Graczyk said that he felt little or no discrimination as a foreigner in Japan and that he is doing what he loves as a career. Then again, he is a man who works in a completely different field than Professor Sato. So the rules of the game are different. From these two speakers, I found out that it is possible for me to follow my dream to work in Japan. Even though I will face challenges because I am an American, it is very possible for me to be successful in Japan.
The misunderstanding that comes from cultural and racial differences goes with my research on the use of English on Japanese T-shirts. I noticed that many shirts with English on them are associated with American pop culture and quotes from American celebrities like Lady Gaga. I think it is good that the Japanese enjoy the same entertainment that I enjoy. However, I believe that if the Japanese only associate American culture with entertainment, that could also cause misunderstandings and conflicts. Many Japanese shirts that I have seen written in English usually have lines about partying or having fun. One of the many English shirts I have seen while in Japan says “Play Hard Life Slow.” It seems like the United States has a reputation for partying. I disagree because the majority of Americans do not party. Future discussion could explain to Japanese people that America is more than just what they see on TV. It is like when I try to explain to my friends that USC is more than just a party school, but they insist that it is because of the small part they see. In my future research, I will investigate why Japanese associate American culture with party culture and why they decide to wear shirts relating to the partying life.
After Wayne’s speech on baseball, the USC student’s and I went to the Tokyo dome to watch the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants face off the Osaka Orix Buffaloes. We had free time before the game so some of us went to Tokyo Dome City, which is the amusement park next to Tokyo Dome. In Japanese amusement parks, you pay per attraction which is usually 800 yen (A little under $8) or you can buy a day pass for a little under $40. Luis and I bought day pass while Eric paid per ride. The ticket machines were very easy to use because it was mostly numbers and pictures. There was also an English option for English speakers. In Tokyo there is an English version of every sign and most ATM machines have an English option. I heard about how easy it is for a foreigner to go around before I went to Japan. After going to Japan, I can see for myself that it is because of the English on every sign and the willingness for Japanese people to help others.
When we went to the game, I was in awe to see the energy of the fans. Every baseball player on the Giants had their own fight song and cheer. Something interesting is that the fight songs for not only the foreign players, but also the Japanese players were sometimes English songs. It is really interesting that a little more than half a century ago, anything that was western or had English in it was banned in Japan. Now, English is ubiquitous in Japanese culture. This week I found out that some of the factors that contribute to the coolness of English and western pop culture is the respect that the Japanese have for celebrities and athletes for being strong, independent, and not afraid to stand out. I find this interesting because in Japanese society “the nail that stands out gets hammered down,” meaning that it is not good to speak up or stand out. I find it paradoxical that many Japanese people admire western celebrities even though standing out is not a good thing in Japanese culture. In my future research, I will investigate more reasons why Japanese people admire western culture and whether they consider celebrities from western culture as role models.
The night ended well when the Giants defeated the Buffaloes. It was like the ending of a sports movie, the home team came out to hug each other and the USC students also cheered and hugged each other in celebration. Tonight was a good night in Japan and I’m looking for many more good nights.
June 15, 2015
By: Joyce Lee
Today June 9 marks the twelfth day of the trip! Despite having a long traveling day yesterday, we were all still excited to experience two great cities of Japan: Kobe and Osaka.
Our experiences in Kobe began at the Kobe Center for Overseas Migration and Cultural Interaction (formerly known as the National Emigrant Center). The site acted as a home base for emigrants before they departed Japan. Today, the center seeks to be both an educator of overseas immigration and a promoter of multicultural integration. For students like me researching minority groups in Japan, the center provided a great introduction about many Japanese who had left for foreign countries such as Brazil and the historical context for why their descendants and other immigrants came to live in Japan today.
Many people living in and outside of Japan are unaware of the diversity of immigrants living in the country. Although Japan is 98% ethnically Japanese, living in Japan are people with ties all around the world. This includes regions like South America, Southeast Asia, China, Europe, North America, and the Korean peninsula.
One of the most inspiring aspects about the Center was that it did more than just educate visitors about the history of emigration from Japan to Latin America. The center pushes visitors to gain an understanding of the past in order to analyze the present and predict future immigration and diversity issues in Japan. For example the center asks visitors to consider how globalization, both from workforce immigration and foreign students staying after graduation to work in Japan, can help create a richer society. It leads visitors to wonder what needs to improve in order to create an environment full of equal and harmonious relationships across all cultural backgrounds. I especially appreciated this aspect of the Center because I have been considering how to fix the mis-perceptions of Koreans living in Japan. Hearing the Center worker’s perspectives on how to mediate these tensions across all different ethnic groups was extremely influential to my research.
One of my favorite exhibits of the Center was one that showed the growth of society’s acceptance. Many events have encouraged mutual understandings across different cultural groups. For example, the Kanto Great Earthquake in 1923 culminated in the massacre of many Koreans and Chinese. This tragic chapter in Japanese history reflects the racism and discrimination that Koreans and Chinese had faced for years up until that point. Nearly 72 years later, another devastating earthquake occurred, but ended in many people coming together to overcome the struggles following the event.
The Center was a great pit stop for our group to gain a greater understanding of Japan’s history and current diversity issues. I’m sure everyone learned a lot about the historical issues shaping Japan today. Our time here in Japan is running short, but visiting insightful sites like these makes me confident that we’ll be making the most of our time here.
By: Andrea Munoz
Tuesday morning I awoke to the sound of the busy Kyoto traffic. Everyone was spending their second day in Kyoto at the Ibis hotel, right across from the Kyoto Station. Kyoto and Tokyo are located pretty close, but both cities are very different. Tokyo tends to be more polite (everyone says “excuse me” and bows a lot)… Tokyo is referred to as the ‘NY of Japan’. Breakfast at the hotel was buffet style in the hotel but it featured Japanese styled foods (tofu, miso soup, eggplant….). Lon-sensei joined me for breakfast and we discussed Japanese and Mexican foods.
Around 9:15 am, everyone met up and we set off for the first stop in our day: Kobe. While on the train, I sat with Ye Sol and I found 10 yen- the signs of a good day to come! In Kobe, we went to the Kobe Immigration Museum. In 1928, Japanese citizens immigrated to Brazil in search of a better life. They worked in coffee fields while studying the Portuguese language and its culture. In 1971, the building was closed and later became an earthquake emergency center. Today, the local government protects the building. Cool fact: There are more Japanese-Brazilians than Japanese-Americans! The museum contained photos and personal articles belonging to the immigrants.
After the museum we traveled to Kobe’s Chinatown to eat lunch. The main street was Kobe Motomachi and it was filled with vendors selling intoxicating Chinese delicacies. After drinking several bobas, I was tempted to change my research topic to focus on the “bobalization on Japan”. To everyone’s relief, I stuck with my initial research idea: American comic books’ influence in Japan. I didn’t think I would find any comic book related things in Chinatown. To my surprise, Spiderman was a big influence in Chinatown. Several Kobe beef restaurants had a larger than life Spiderman decorating the exterior. I asked one of the restaurant’s workers why they had Spiderman. The simply replied; “Spiderman is cool.”
We took the JR to Osaka to visit the Osaka Castle. The castle is on a cliff surrounded by walls and motes. Sadly, the elevator was super slow and only went up to the 5th floor, so instead I ran up to the Castle’s top floor. The view was amazing. Osaka Castle is surrounded by nature but still has sky scrapers visible in the distance. For dinner we went to a Italian restaurant. We all ate so much. It didn’t really have any Japanese features but it was good. #SquidInkPastaForTheWin
After our 3 appetizers, 4 pastas and 7 pizzas, we got ready to do the must anticipated KARAOKE!!!!!!!!!! It was a special time for Chris, Luis, Steve and me. When we first met (weeks ago) we went to a karaoke place and sang. Toady we relived that moment by singing the same song (“All Star” by Smash Mouth). It was so fun!!!!! The songs ranged from Alicia Keys to Mumford and Sons to Journey. Everyone sang! Even our TA; Toku, sang about 4 songs. It was awesome.
June 12, 2015
By: Jennie Lam
3:45am on June 8, the day had finally come. Excited, I woke up two hours before the meeting time without any help from my many alarms, which is very unusual for me. We were saying our temporary goodbyes to Tokyo and heading to Kyoto, one of the prefectures on my Top 5 places to go see in Japan. We checked out of Sakura Hotel and took the shinkansen (bullet train) to the former capital with the use of our new Japan Rail passes, which allowed us to take unlimited rides on any JR transportation for a week.
After approximately two hours, we arrived at Kyoto Station and met our tour guide for the day. We quickly checked into Ibis Hotel, dropped off our luggage and got onto the tour bus. First on our schedule was the Zen meditation at Kounji Temple, an unconventional “tourist” activity. It was a first experience for everyone. We were led by a scholarly monk who told us about the history of the temple and how it was supported by the local empress. He continued with teaching us the techniques for clearing our minds and meditating. We began our 15 minutes of silence, counting our exhales and inhales and drawing circles in our minds. Once the session was over, my legs were numb and I realized how hard it was to concentrate and think of nothing. I kept thinking about how the day was going to play out, financial issues, and of course I was worried about my research question.
Although going to Kounji Temple (as well as seeing other sites such as Nijo Castle) was intriguing, I didn’t really see the connection to my research topic of the adaptations of Chinese food in Japan. I thought the day was going to be empty of findings until we had dinner at Tokasaikan, a Chinese restaurant that our TA used to work at.
We were fortunate enough to meet and talk to the manager of the restaurant, Mr. U Shuchu, whose grandfather came to Japan from Shandong, China about 90 years ago. His grandfather started the family business in Kyoto to avoid the competition of other Chinese immigrants who settled in the different Chinatowns of Japan. Although Mr. U stated that the restaurant serves “real mandarin style cuisines,” later he provided a more nuanced explanation of his restaurant’s food when I asked whether or not the dishes had changed over the past 90 years to accommodate for Japanese tastes. He did mention that he wanted to keep the food served as traditional as possible. So although there have been changes such as having milder dishes and using Japanese soy sauce, he has the desire to preserve the traditional dishes as much as possible. Despite this, the restaurant is more popular among Japanese than Chinese, but that may be because Japan is an ethnically homogeneous country with 98% being Japanese and 2% being all the other minorities. It was a great opportunity to be able to have a discussion with the manager about the food and then sampling some of the dishes right after. Getting to try the food for myself was a great hands-on experience.
Many of the dishes we had such as the fried spring rolls and the fried rice tasted really similar to dishes I’ve had back home, but there were also some dishes I’ve never tried such as the shrimp with chili sauce. Even those dishes that tasted similar weren’t prepared exactly the same. The soup, for instance, was a different version from the ones in Los Angeles. This restaurant added in crab meat and blended the corn with the soup while the same soup back home had the actual corn pieces without the crab. I also noticed that a lot of the dishes had bamboo shoots in it, which isn’t as abundant in dishes from China or America. According to my observations bamboo shoots are used in many Japanese dishes such as ramen, yakitori, and bento boxes. Perhaps the addition of the bamboo shoots in many of the dishes was one adaption that he mentioned before our dinner. Even the dessert wasn’t what I think was traditionally Chinese. We were served fried mochi balls with red bean paste and powdered sugar. Although mochi with red bean paste is common, fried mochi is not familiar to me, let alone served with powdered sugar. The Chinese mochi desserts I know are smaller and served with a sweetening soup, which sometimes include sesame seeds. It would be better to say that the dessert was a combination of mochi and a doughnut.
The mix of both cultures within the dishes helps support the claim that the dominant culture, the Japanese culture, definitely has an affect on the minority cultures, in this case Chinese cuisine.
By: Lian Eytinge
June 7 was our last day at the Meiji University Lake Yamanaka Seminar House. After a delicious breakfast, we talked with the Meiji students in the classroom. This was a really important talk for me because we mainly focused on Japanese and American perceptions of each other.
Since my research topic concerns foreign and domestic perceptions of Japan in an international stage based on current Japanese pop culture, I think that both the Meiji students and our perceptions were very interesting to hear about, especially after spending three days together. One of the most interesting findings was learning that Japanese students didn’t have experience in participating in discussion-based presentations and even in this ideally safe space, most students were reluctant to join in the conversation unless an individual was prompted by another speaker. This was very interesting to me because I come from a different kind of mindset derived from the culture I grew up in. In my mind if I were in their positions I would see this discussion and presentation style as an opportunity to try out a different learning style. However when I try to look at it from a cultural perspective different from my own, I see how even speaking up in this situation is akin to talking to the teacher after class, or raising attention to yourself, which could make you stick out within the group setting in Japan.
This kind of Japanese student mindset got me thinking about Japanese schools and how different they are from American ones. A couple of days ago, during the Lake Yamanaka retreat, I was talking with a second year Meiji student named Noriko. She really helped me a lot in understanding what kind of information is taught at a Japanese school. I asked her about her opinions on current Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s controversial interpretation on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and her views were very moderate and thoughtful. I was happy to hear that she learned of this issue in her public high school. I think it’s really great that they discuss current issues and allow the students to come up with their own opinions. This also tells me that like most other things, current conflicts are introduced within schools and ideas the government wants are affirmed through popular culture.
Going back to the day’s final wrap-up discussion, I think it was interesting how out of all of the aspects of Japanese foreigners the USC students brought up through presentation, the only one that the Meiji students really responded to was about education. This made sense because as students, they are very familiar with the Japanese education system, however it was strange to me to see how unresponsive they were to aspects of Japanese popular culture. I believed that since the students were also consumers of popular culture they would be comfortable discussing that as well but they weren’t. This has taught me that even though popular culture is around them and they are familiar with it, the kind of culture each individual likes is different from that of another, unlike the education system, in which every student goes through with generally the same experience.
Overall I thought the discussion was worthwhile however I felt like there should have been a more conclusive ending. While we had a list on the board of generalizations made of both cultures, there was no greater meaning behind those differences. I thought that instead of leaving everyone feeling separated and differentiated by culture, we could instead conclude that even though there are definite general differences, those differences have cultural counterparts, like what Pico Iyer said in his book, The Lady and the Monk.