USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

June 10, 2016

Sayonara Meiji

Filed under: Class,Culture,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:54 am

By: Laurie Okamoto 

As I watched the sun set through the narrow slats of the polished window, a somber sense of loss overcame me. I looked around at the faces, which in the past few weeks have become so familiar and precious to me, and smiled. This was our last day with the Meiji students. I looked again at my classmates, both Meiji and USC alike, and realized that not only was this our last day with all of the Meiji students, but that we would likely never see most of them again. I felt the corners of my mouth quiver slightly as the realization that our course was rapidly coming to a close truly began to sink in.

A view of the sunset from the fourteenth floor in Meiji University.

A view of the sunset from the fourteenth floor in Meiji University.

However, this is not a post about how much I will miss the students or the instructors, or even Japan.

I woke up today to a warm stream of morning light filling our room at Sakura Hotel. Only eight a.m.. I rolled over into the softness of the comforter only to realize that I was unmistakably awake. I glanced across the room to see that my classmate and good friend Tiffany was already awake and getting ready for our day. With mild reluctance, I quickly got out of bed and changed. Today was the last day of our “food adventure” and we had until exactly three o’clock to take our last samples of the foods of Jimbocho. For Tiffany and I, this meant Moss burger and soba (buckwheat) noodles. Enjoying the morning calm, we wandered around the area floating from stationary store to stationary store, and convenience store to convenience store, snacking on rice balls and crackers as we moved along. Finally, after a satisfyingly delicious soba lunch, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our last official class meeting.

Lunch with Tiffany - hot soba noodles (buckwheat noodles) and a chicken and egg rice bowl.

Lunch with Tiffany – hot soba noodles (buckwheat noodles) and a chicken and egg rice bowl.

After changing into classroom appropriate clothing, we met with the rest of the class and began our last walk to Meiji University. I idly chatted with my classmates as we walked, slowly regretting the decision to wear pants as the sun bore down on our backs and hair, which were gradually becoming damp with the humidity and sweat. Upon reaching the university, we all sighed in relief from the reprieve of the sun. I watched as the numbers on the elevator lit one by one, showing our ascent to the fourteenth floor. It was our last class discussion. We spoke freely of our impressions of Japan and the U.S., and asked ourselves critically what it mean for a country to truly globalize. After the discussion, we once again entered the elevator and rode to the 23rd floor to meet our Meiji students for a farewell dinner.

With our hearts light and eager to see each other again, we ate and listened to our class speakers as they gave their mini-speeches. Having the opportunity to work with and meet these students has been a blessing, an amazing experience, and a privilege by all accounts. We smiled and laughed as the slide show of the Lake Yamanaka retreat photos played on a projector. I looked again at my classmates, Meiji and USC, and tasted a bitter sweetness knowing that we would soon part, and this class and its experiences will have been over in all but less than a day.

Our Meiji student speakers giving a last goodbye speech to the class.

Our Meiji student speakers giving a last goodbye speech to the class.

The USC-Meiji students and instructors at the last goodbye dinner/farewell party.

The USC-Meiji students and instructors at the last goodbye dinner/farewell party.

These past few weeks have become more than I could ever have hoped for from any single class. I used to think that people were simply using a common phrase when they described something as, “having changed their life.” But this has sincerely been a life-changing experience, and one which I will certainly never forget. I came into this class expecting that I would enjoy the coursework, learn and experience many things, and gain a better understanding of the importance of globalization from different cultural perspectives. However, what I got out of the class was so much more than mere academic understanding of cultural and societal differences. This course has given me not only a first hand experience of Japanese culture and Japanese people but it’s also given me lasting friendships with both USC and Meiji students.

Academically, I now have a better comprehension of the roles of stereotypes in cultural identity and cross-cultural perceptions. I have come to realize that no single culture or identity is any bit superior or more advanced relative to another, rather, they are unique and both have strong sense of cultural identity and pride. Far be it from us to judge that which we cannot understand, we should endeavor to dispel inaccurate stereotypes and think critically about what our perceptions of others can indicate about ourselves.

Goodbye Japan and Meiji. A view of the sunset from Narita Airport - waiting for our flight back to LA.

Goodbye Japan and Meiji. A view of the sunset from Narita Airport – waiting for our flight back to LA.

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June 8, 2016

Off the Beaten Path in Kyoto

Filed under: Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:47 am

By: Vincent Bertoni

Because we started yesterday (our trip to Hiroshima) so early, I wanted to get a good rest and sleep late today. So, by the time I’d gotten up, everyone else had already checked out of their rooms and started exploring Kyoto. I heard from Matt, an alumni of the program, that there are plenty of bike rental shops around Kyoto station, so I decided to give my feet a rest and bike everywhere today. After paying for the one-day rental and stocking up on water, I used the simplified tourist maps to proceed to get completely lost only minutes after setting out. It’s not that the maps were wrong per-se, but they omitted some very important details (read: roads) that meant that if I ever got off of the map, it was nearly impossible to find my way back onto it. I ended up navigating using Google maps for the whole day, only consulting the map to make use of its extensive bicycle parking directory.

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Helpful rules for getting accustomed to riding in Kyoto; over the course of my day I watched locals break almost all of them.

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The first place I visited was Fushimi Inari-taisha (the shrine of one thousand torii). The entrance and main shrine were magnificent, but packed with people, making it hard to take in the calm majesty of the torii, each of which was donated to the temple as thanks for its donor’s business success.

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Too crowded to get a good picture

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Trying for the perfect picture against all odds.

As soon as I could, I took a side path that jutted off from the main avenue of people, leading to a secluded and almost abandoned trail up the East side of mount Inari. It didn’t have the titular torii of the main trail, but the calm quiet of the bamboo forests and intricately detailed shrines offered something else, a bit of peace from the bustle of the cities I’d been living in for the past two weeks. Almost every one of these was equipped with an unmanned store at the front (this being Japan, they weren’t worried about anyone stealing anything). At one, I think I may have arrived during the middle of a prayer or ceremony, based on the faint chanting and “do not enter” sign placed halfway along the walkway. Eventually, after many gratuitously expensive vending machines and quad-destroying switchbacks, my trail joined back with the trail of torii towards the summit. It seemed very few people were committed to reaching the top,  so it was just as empty as the backwoods trail had been. There weren’t any spectacular views (at least not from the summit), but the shrines (and accompanying gift shops) at the highest point were magnificent and worth the trip. On the way back down, I took the main trail and experienced the conventional Fushimi Inari-taisha experience, but backwards. Instead of gradually escaping the crowds and seeing the torii in their uninterrupted beauty, I progressed further into the crowds and aggressive shop owners as I traveled back down the mountain. Overall, I see this as an situation where I tried to avoid the well-beaten path, and got rewarded with some unique experiences for my troubles.

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At this shrine, all I found were sandals at the entrance, accompanied by the sound of pouring water, chanting, and singing coming from behind the “do not enter” sign.

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The most delicious tofu I’ve eaten in my entire life.

Back on my bike, I traveled to Yasaka shrine, where I ate at a restaurant that only serves one order, a course of the most delicious tofu I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Three different styles of tofu came together to form a complete flavor experience, complete with sweetness, savoriness, and richness, all from tofu! After that, I was planning on biking along the Philosopher’s Walk (a secluded riverside path lined with cherry trees), but I was waylaid by cats from a local cat cafe. They were way friendlier than I’d experienced from other cat-cafe cats (even when they’re on the clock!). By this point, I was already pushing it in terms of getting back to our hotel by the scheduled meeting time, so I wasn’t able to take any more pictures in my mad dash back to central Kyoto. In the end, between visiting shrines and other tourist hotspots, as well as biking through the streets and narrow alleys of Kyoto, I feel that I got a good mix of both the tourist and local experiences in Kyoto.

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Here we see the Vincent in his native habitat, struggling in vain to understand how selfies work.

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June 7, 2016

Honoring Hiroshima and Miyajima’s Majesty

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima — geajapan @ 4:05 pm

By: Jordan Kondo

We started our day very early at 5:30 am and walked over to the Kyoto Station to see a rare sight; an empty station. The station soon came to life as early workers and students began commuting. We traveled via the Shinkansen to Hiroshima to see the Hiroshima Peace Museum. It was a powerful experience for myself and my classmates. In class, we read about the racism and hate-mongering exercised by both Americans and Japanese toward each other during World War II, that lead to wartime conduct that was savage, dehumanizing and merciless. It was moving for us to see the destruction that the atomic bomb had caused to Hiroshima. The museum displayed artifacts – clothes, rubble, skin – and the names and short biographies of the victims, which made the experience much more personal.

The A-bomb claimed over 100,000 lives in Hiroshima. During his visit to Hiroshima, President Obama said, “We must change our mindset about war itself and prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they've begun…We must reimagine our connection to each other, as members of one human race.”

The A-bomb claimed over 100,000 lives in Hiroshima. During his visit to Hiroshima, President Obama said, “We must change our mindset about war itself and prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun…We must re-imagine our connection to each other, as members of one human race.”

As the museum was quite graphic, I was surprised to see many young school children on field trips but felt that the museum emphasized the importance of peace to everyone. Outside the museum in the Peace Park, there were many beautiful memorials such as the Sadako memorial and the famous Genbaku dome. It was a reminder, especially in wake of President Obama’s recent trip, to strengthen understanding between different cultures as global ambassadors so that Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be remembered as the “start of our own moral awakening.”

The Genbaku Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was one of the few structures left standing in the central area where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

The Genbaku Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was one of the few structures left standing in the central area where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

After Hiroshima, we enjoyed traditional obento and lighter conversation. We took the train and a ferry to Miyajima Island. There, we were pleasantly surprised to see deer roaming peacefully around the island. While signs advised us not to touch the deer, they were very easy to approach and observe up close. In addition, Miyajima Island is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, an iconic landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The famous torii (traditional Japanese gate) found at the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine and symbolizes the transition from the profane to the sacred. During low-tide, the water recedes and you can walk through the gates.

The famous torii (traditional Japanese gate) found at the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine and symbolizes the transition from the profane to the sacred. During low-tide, the water recedes and you can walk through the gates.

There was much to enjoy on the island and as a class we visited various shrines, shopped for omiyage and feasted on grilled oysters, okonomiyaki and the region’s famous maple leaf shaped manjū. We spent some time relaxing and meditating at a shrine and found the respite very calming to be surrounded by Miyajima’s natural beauty. After a long day of traveling, we returned via the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were fortunate to have 7-day JR Rail passes because it made travelling by the Shinkansen and other JR trains much cheaper for us. I realized that even though it might be cheaper to take a flight across Honshu (main island), the Shinkansen is much more convenient – there is no TSA, times are exact, you can take anything with you and it is really easy to sleep because there is so much leg space! We were really lucky to travel across Japan using such an iconic mode of transportation.

Reliable Rio, our TA, caught Alex (left) and me (right) sleeping on the Shinkansen.

Rio, our TA, caught Alex (left) and me (right) sleeping on the Shinkansen.

When we returned to our Kyoto hotel, many of us made our plans for the following free day to explore Kyoto’s rich history!

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June 6, 2016

Up, Up, and Away (On the Bullet Train!)

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:25 am

By: Fridaouss Nabine

Today has been fantastic! We took a bullet train (officially called the Shinkansen) to Kyoto, for our second excursion out of metropolitan Tokyo. It was my first time, as well as many other peoples’, and we reached speeds of up to 150mph. The entire ride took about two and a half hours from Tokyo to Kyoto. After arriving, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, conveniently located across the street from the train station, and headed toward Kyoto University, the second best rated college in Japan. There, we met with USC alum and former student of Lon-Sensei, Tokunaga-san, and discussed the idea of a transpacific identity. Toku-san was raised in Kyoto, and has a long lineage of Kyoto University attendants and professors in his family. Therefore, his identity is somewhat rooted in Kyoto. However, he also spent years at USC as a PhD student and had his first child there. Through discussion, we explored what it means to embrace two or more cultural and geographical identities.

Next, he took the group on a tour through Kyoto University, and talked about the school’s history with activism. Student activism at the university is very liberal, but it is not as popular as it once was. We encountered one person sleeping  in a makeshift home with pots and pans and clothes outside, as a sign of protest. Though the ability to protest in such a public manner was available, many students did not engage in it this way. After the tour, we arrived at Kiyomizu-Dera, a historically preserved place in Kyoto. The styles of the homes, shrines, and streets were the same as those from hundreds of years ago. We walked along the famed temple path, looking at handcrafted souvenirs and consuming frozen treats along the way. After walking through a section of the temple, we arrived at a location where we all had the chance to purify out mouths and hands before continuing through the temple. The process involved using a wooden ladle to retrieve water and wash both hands and then scoop some water into the mouth. For many, it was a first experience.

Learning about the history of protests at Kyoto University

Learning about the history of protests at Kyoto University

We then walked away from the temple and explored the surrounding area. We saw the statue of Kannon, a well respected Bodhisattva. We also came across many temples and shrines, including one dedicated to geishas. Throughout the day, we encountered many ordinary people who wore kimonos on their journey through the area. We learned from our Teaching Assistant Rio-san, that, many people do this as a way to connect and be a greater part of the traditional environment. Soon after, we settled at a park at the edge of downtown Kyoto. There, we hung out by the river. The location is known for local artisan goods and its restaurants. College students also frequent there during the weekend, creating a social and relaxed environment. Finally, we went to a traditional Chinese restaurant in the area. There, we enjoyed traditional Chinese dishes of egg fried rice, fried eggplant, and spicy fish soup, among others. The day was filled with a lot of cultural and historical excavations.

Jumping in front of Kannon statue

Jumping in front of Kannon statue

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June 5, 2016

Yamanaka Retreat Comes To An End

Filed under: Tokyo,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:02 am

By: Alexander Kil

While still recovering from the amazing dance party the previous night, both the USC and Meiji University students woke up to enjoy another amazing buffet-style breakfast that once again consisted of a mix of Western and Asian cuisine. I know I personally ate many servings of food and was delightfully full, contrary to the  healthy Japanese lifestyle advice that Jordan had presented where one should only eat until 80% full.

Following breakfast, we met in the presentation room one last time with all of the students and teachers to review the many themes covered throughout the two days of presentations. It was a great final meeting as I learned that just as the USC students had learned so much about Japan’s culture and society from the Meiji University students, they too learned a great amount from us. I truly feel that this is what cultural exchange should be, a mutually beneficial exchange that allows not only the sharing of knowledge and opinions, but the building of lifelong relationships. Soon after, we returned to our rooms and began the process of folding the traditional Japanese futons and blankets and cleaning up the rooms we slept in. While I personally had much difficulty sleeping on the futons in the traditional tatami (woven straw) floor rooms, I appreciated having the opportunity to experience such lodging. I especially loved the communal bath with the large, usually scalding hot, ofuro (traditional bath tub) that allowed me to relieve the pain and stress in my feet, legs, and joints accumulated from the legwork required of our daily adventures.

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Group photo of both USC and Meiji students and professors

However, our departure from the Lake Yamanaka Seminar House was not the end of our time with the Meiji students. Before heading back to Meiji University in Tokyo, we all rode together on a bus to Fujisan (Mt. Fuji)! While the rain poured and wind blew with a vengeance at our destination, a tourist visitor’s area midway up the mountain, all of the students were able to visit various gift shops and shrines. Some even bought various Mt. Fuji themes goods such as Mt. Fuji shaped melon bread!

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Mt. Fuji Melon Bread!

After we had spent about an hour at Mt. Fuji, we sadly had to make our way back to Meiji University. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” which was so true for this weekend which seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. I loved having the opportunity to interact intimately with the Meiji University students and practice speaking Japanese and learn more about their lives, interests, and general perceptions of life. The great memories made with them over such a short period of time made our farewell in front of Meiji University especially bittersweet. However, knowing that we would get to meet them one last time before the program ends made me content, but anxious, in anticipation.

The USC students quickly returned to our home base of Sakura Hotel Jimbocho, where we were able to do laundry, rest our tired bodies, and recharge before the next leg of our Japan adventure: Kyoto and Hiroshima.

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June 4, 2016

Presentation Day!

Filed under: Class,Culture,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:34 am

By: Shannon Thielen

We woke up early today for a buffet-style breakfast including a wide variety of Japanese foods. Then we had about an hour to put the final touches on the remaining presentations with our Meiji student groups. At 10:00, we started the second group of presentations. We started with Grant discussing gender disparities in Japan, followed by Shannon talking about LGBT issues. After a discussion reflecting on the two, Alex presented on Japanese social issues and youth involvement, and Erick compared the governmental structures of Tokyo and California and varying reactions to political scandal. After debriefing those two, we broke for lunch which we had all selected the day before with the Meiji students. Fridaouss started us up again after lunch with her presentation on the cultural significance of tea ceremonies in Japanese history. Then Laurie presented on the differences between Japanese and Western art aesthetics. To wrap up that group, Vincent discussed Japanese traditions and ceremonies. After a reflection on that presentation group, we took a short 20 minute break before beginning again. In the final group, Daniel explored Japanese fashion and Kylie reflected on the prevalence and appreciation of Hawaiian culture in Japan.

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This was the view from the dock of Mount Fuji this morning right after breakfast. We were very lucky to catch some clear skies!

Then we had about two hours of free time to relax, play sports, or go to the lake. Some people played basketball, table tennis, bought soft-serve from the shop down the street, rented swan paddle boats, or jumped in the lake. Then at 6:00 we gathered again for dinner which was really delicious fried chicken and salad along with a variety of other side dishes. We had about an hour of free time after that and then we met at 8:00 to go to this clearing in the forest to light sparklers. Some of them were really bright and sparkly, while others were “wabi-sabi” sparklers, so we had to admire the beauty in their imperfection. Then we heard aerial fireworks going off in the distance so we quickly ran down to the lake and a few of us made it to see the end of the show.

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These were some of our fun sparklers, or our “wabi-sabi fireworks” as we called them.

Then we went back to the retreat building and those of us who hadn’t gotten to do calligraphy the day before did ours that night. It was quite a challenge but there were Meiji students helping each one of us and they were very patient and instructive. While that was going on, the rest of the students sang karaoke in the next room, with Lon-Sensei and Daniel singing “Piano Man” for the finale. After that, the whole group gathered together for late-night snacks and a dance party. It was a bit difficult to find common music that both groups of students knew, but we had a fun time dancing to both Japanese and American music. We rounded out the dance party with “Party Rock Anthem” which everyone loved and danced to, and one Meiji student, Andy, even showed us a bit of his break-dancing skills. Then we had to clean up the retreat building, but many students stayed up and talked in the dorm building into the early hours of the morning.

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June 3, 2016

Finally- Lake Yamanaka!

Filed under: Class,Exploring,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:35 am

By: Daniel Olmeda

 After staying up last night with our Meiji peers to make sure our presentations were as coherent and concise as possible, it was finally time to head out to the destination we have been anticipating- Lake Yamanaka! With our luggage filled with clothes and the various omiyage (gifts) that we have picked up whilst exploring Tokyo, we headed to the Meiji University campus, the gathering point for our bus ride. Each of us sat next to the Meiji students during the bus ride, in order to continue our cross-cultural conversations! This was a great opportunity to ask the Japanese residents questions we have about the culture. I sat next to one of my partners, Leon, who I had an interesting conversation about popular music with. Apparently Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One-Direction are the most popular American artists in Japan. I must admit, I was disappointed that my partner had never heard of Drake.

 

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A joint picture of us and the Meiji Students throwing up those fight-on signs.

During the ride, we were able to enjoy breathtaking views of the beautiful landscapes. I was in awe of how quickly we went from being in a metropolitan setting to a scenic mountain range countryside. Many of us crowded the bus windows to take pictures of the small rice-farming towns encapsulated by never ending hills of green (I created a photo album simply dedicated to the landscape pictures I took).

 

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The picture speaks for itself. Amazing.

Before settling at the retreat house hosting us for the weekend, we took a quick stop at a lakefront to take a group photo at Lake Yamanaka! It was great to experience a view that many of us have been “googling” for weeks now! After taking 358912 photos and our knees were throbbing from jump-action photos, we arrived at the retreat house. There was free time before we had our first set of presentations, so we enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities. Some of us went back to enjoy the lake view, while many took advantage of the sporting equipment. Fired up table-tennis matches carried on until the end of our stay there…and lets just say some of the people that seemed inexperienced were the most competitive (Laurie).

 

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Probably one of our best jump-action shots. Of course I had to show off my hops.

Not long after, we had our first set of presentations via Tiffany and Jordan. Assisted by the Meiji students, we had thought-provoking presentations; one on discovering Japanese identity through analyzing a popular cultural character Doraemon, and another contrasting American and Japanese diets, attending to the western perception that the Japanese are immensely healthy and long-living. After Tiffany and Jordan finished, we had a discussion facilitated by Lon-sensei, where we addressed our questions and elaborations.

 

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The always Hawaii-reppin’ Jordan teaching us the about Japanese diet.

Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner, and were able to take part in karaoke and shodō (calligraphy), where Meiji Students taught us how to write our names in Japanese with traditional strokes. Since the karaoke machine was pretty outdated, we were stuck hearing Erick sing “Zombie” by the Cranberries on repeat…. With music and good company lasting the whole night, our first day at Lake Yamanaka is one we will never forget!

 

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Mood after 10 practice sheets and still not getting my shodō down.

 

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June 1, 2016

Being Korean in Japan

Filed under: Culture,Tokyo,Uncategorized — geajapan @ 4:53 pm

By: Erick Morales

After the excitement of meeting our Meiji student research groups and receiving a scholarship from the Japanese government, our Global East Asia class went back to exploring Tokyo, this time visiting the city’s Koreatown-esque neighborhood.

Our TA, Rio, led us to Pungumu, where we met up with Lon-Sensei and ate at an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant.  The restaurant was designed so that a customer could stand up and choose the meat and banchan (Korean side dishes), as they desired.  With thirteen voracious eaters in our class, you can imagine that it got a little crowded at the buffet table.

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Shannon, Fridaouss, Laurie, and Tiffany enjoying a delicious lunch.

Soon after we had our lunch, we were given some free time to explore the area.  Some of us chose to walk north and ran into an arcade, where we found an electric slot machine and other games. After a few plays, we returned to Shin-Okubo to board the railway line to Jujo station.

At Jujo station, we walked a bit to get to the Tokyo Korean School, where we got a tour of the facilities. The principal took us into several classrooms, where we saw the students studying English and Korean.  Before the tour, the principal informed us that the intent of the school was to instill Korean values and spirit in the hearts of students, even though they might be fourth-generation Zainichi Koreans, fully enveloped in the Japanese culture.  These aspects were certainly reinforced by posters throughout the school’s hallways, declaring “우리 말” (woori mal), or “Our language” in Korean.

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In front of the Tokyo Korean School

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Walking through the halls of a Korean high school

After our tour we had the opportunity to talk to some of the students at the school.  We were presented with four student leaders who we were able to converse with and ask questions.  Our questions ranged from the school’s affiliation with the DPRK to their relationship with Japanese identity.

After visiting the school, a few of us went to Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City, a mall that houses a Pokemon center and several other stores.  At the Sanrio store, I made a bet with Grant that I would wear a Hello Kitty towel if he purchased it.  I’ll admit I didn’t actually expect Grant to purchase it, but before I knew it, Grant, Rio and Lon-sensei all pooled their money together to pay for the towel; being a man of my word, I wore it.

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Grant in front of the Sanrio store

 

Later, a few students went to Meiji University to meet with their student groups.  I made plans to meet with my students another day; I’m even more excited to go to Lake Yamanaka as the day approaches!

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Dropping Japan’s hottest new album next year.

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May 30, 2016

Hello Meiji!

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:22 am

By: Kylie Popovich

After 3 long days filled with activity after activity, it was nice to finally get a chance to sleep in. We didn’t have to be downstairs until 10:45am, but jetlag got the best of me and I was up by 7:30am. With nothing to do for three hours, my roommates and I decided to brave the rain and go around to the convenience stores and try out different onigiri (rice balls filled with all kinds of goodies such as fish, plum, or fish eggs). By the end, we each had 3 or 4 and were absolutely stuffed!

Once we got back the hotel, it was finally time to go meet the Meiji students! Armed with umbrellas, we all left Sakura House for the short walk to Meiji University at Liberty Tower. I was surprised that it looked much more like an office building than a school. The elevators also only went to the odd floors, which was a little strange at first, but turned out to be very efficient. We started off meeting with the Japan Student Services Organization and Professor Power, who gave us a brief overview of our schedule for the upcoming retreat at Lake Yamanaka. We then headed over to the Welcome Reception where the Meiji students were eagerly awaiting our arrival. At first I was pretty nervous about meeting them, but they were all so warm and inviting and I was instantly put at ease. They all spoke amazing English and were receptive of our broken Japanese. They even helped me to learn a few new phrases! After short speeches by university professors and our own Professor Kurashige, it was finally time for lunch! Everyone rushed to the buffet filled with a variety of delicious food. Once everyone had eaten (many of us a little too much), Satomi gave us a tour of the Meiji building where we got to see the cafeteria, bookstore, and classrooms, oh and every type of vending machine you could imagine! Finally, we said goodbye to the Meiji students full of excitement for the upcoming weeks and returned to another meeting with Japan Student Services Organization where we received the best news of the day: we would all be receiving 80,000 yen from the Japanese government!! After many cheers and a few tears we left with big smiles on our faces.

 

Tiffany and Mami at the Welcome Luncheon!

Tiffany and Mami at the Welcome Luncheon!

The class with our $$ from JASSO!

The class with our money from JASSO!

We then faced the ultimate challenge: finding our way back to our hotel. With no WiFi or Google maps, it was definitely an adventure. After 35 minutes, multiple wrong turns, and asking 3 convenience store employees, we finally managed to make it back.

We decided to reward ourselves with takoyaki from across the hotel.

We decided to reward ourselves with takoyaki from across the hotel.

After a short nap, it was back to Meiji to meet our group mates and start working on our individual research projects. My two partners, Makoto and Ayaka were both very enthusiastic and excited to talk about my research topic, Hawaiian culture in Japan. All the talking made us hungry, so we decided to get dinner with another group of students. We once again braved the cold and rain and ended up at a simple Japanese restaurant. However, instead of sitting down with a menu, we had to first order from a machine by the door, get a ticket, and then give that ticket to the waitress. I had never been to a restaurant like this and I thought it was super cool and efficient! All in all, it was a great day of meeting new people, exploring new places, and eating good food! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has to offer!

Grant, Daniel, Makoto, Shun, and I at dinner after working on our research projects

Grant, Daniel, Makoto, Shun, and I at dinner after working on our research projects!

 

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May 29, 2016

The Historic, the New, and Everything In-between

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 3:56 pm

By: Grant Yoneoka

Sunday the 29th, and it is a sunny and bright day. We were definitely more rested than the day before, and I think most of us were starting to adjust well to the local time here in Tokyo. We began our day bound for the Edo-Tokyo museum, which is this futuristic looking and monolithic structure in the middle of Tokyo. Inside the museum was quite interesting and contained a wide collection of Tokyo’s history spanning from very ancient times all the way into World War II and the modern era.

Underneath the Edo-Tokyo museum

Arriving underneath the Edo-Tokyo museum

During our stay, a very enthusiastic tour guide led us around the museum and gave us a lot of background history as well. We learned that the reason the museum is called the Edo-Tokyo museum is because Tokyo was once called Edo back in Japan’s feudal era. We also learned a lot about the Edo (or Tokugawa) period and how the Shogun and his Daimyos (feudal lords) ruled Japan with relative stability for 300 years through a system of social and economical hierarchy. The tour was very interesting and offered an intricate overview of Tokyo’s history. Towards the end, we got also to see a little glimmer of traditional Japanese entertainment through the art of koma (spinning tops). I thought it was really nice to see that there are still people who try to preserve traditional Japanese culture, and I can definitely see how Tokyo, more than most modern cities, is a real cosmopolitan of both traditional and modern culture and values.

We saw some amazing top skills

A performer at the museum displays some amazing koma skills

After our visit to the museum, we made our way to a chankonabe restaurant for lunch, which was located very close to Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Tokyo’s famous sumo wrestling hall). Chankonabe is basically sumo wrestler food and is a stew made out of different types of meats and vegetables. I suppose you could call it kind of a concoction of foods, but it was done in a way that all of the flavors complemented each other, and it was quite delicious.

GEA Japan takes on chankonabe and wins!

GEA Japan takes on chankonabe and comes out victorious!

Lon-sensei enjoying some sumo food after exploring the museum

Kylie, Erick, and Lon-sensei enjoying some sumo food after exploring the museum

Our last destination together that day, and perhaps the strangest, was Akihabara, or the electric city. Akihabara is really famous for its electronic, manga, and anime scene, and it is really a bustling place. They even closed the streets that day (they close the streets every Sunday in fact) so that pedestrians could walk through the district without worrying about incoming traffic. While we were there, we visited a maid café, which was a very bizarre experience. All of the workers there were young girls dressed up as cute maids. The place itself reminded me of something straight out of Disneyland, and it was definitely a very unique environment. Most of us ordered drinks like coffee or milkshakes, and I was surprised to find out that the maids even drew a picture of whatever we wanted inside of our drinks with syrup. After we were done, a lot of us left to go explore Tokyo on our own.

This place has everything!

Akihabara has every electronic you could imagine and even the ones that you haven’t!

I spent the rest of the day browsing through the streets of Ueno and the nearby park. Ueno itself kind of reminded me of Korea town in Los Angeles. There was a lot going on and the place just seemed so alive. The backstreets of Ueno was mostly filled with clothing shops and the like, and it was very easy to get immersed in all of the action. I tried not to stay long, however, because I did not want to spend all of my money on clothes. As the sun started to set, I decided to spend the last few hours browsing through Ueno park.

There is no shortage of temples in Ueno park

There is no shortage of temples in Ueno park

My first impression of the park was that it was absolutely huge. It contained a pond filled with lotuses, temples, amusement park, and even a zoo complete with a panda. There was also a bonsai festival which showcased many different bonsai trees along with various foods from around Japan. I thought it was really cool to see how interactive everyone was and how people were not afraid to explain things, even if it meant speaking in English. By the time I was done exploring the festival, the sun was almost done setting, and I decided to call it a day. Although it was only our second full day here, I think we saw and experienced a ton, and we were definitely excited to meet the Meiji students the next day.

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