Farewell Party- Goodbye Japan!

By: William Koch

As our time in Japan is winding down, I find myself both happy to get home and sleep in my own bed, and sad to leave a country that I have made such wonderful memories in. The farewell party hosted by Meiji was the perfect ending to our trip.

The party began with a group toast. Everyone filled a glass with green tea, orange juice or apple juice, and the whole room raised their glasses and called out one final “Kanpai!”. Meiji students, USC students and Northeastern students formed a long line for food, and ate until they were all full. Professor Power interrupted our food comas, and said some words to the students of USC and Northeastern, thanking everyone for fun, memorable weekends at Yamanaka Lake.

After this, a few professors from Meiji shared their experiences in the program, and invited everyone to come back to Meiji whenever they pleased. A professor from Northeastern shared some words, then Professor Katada gave a speech. Professor Katada shared that the GEA- Japan program has always been one of her favorite teaching experiences. She said that although students may forget what they learned in the class, or the name of their professor (we will never forget you, Katada-sensei!), she knew that students would never forget going to Japan, their experiences at Meiji, or the research they conducted abroad.

Next, some special words were shared by our fellow students, from Meiji and USC. Vincent went up first, and delivered a heartfelt speech, saying that although we may speak different languages, or be from different ethnic backgrounds, we were all united during our time in Japan over our yearning for knowledge and the great experiences we shared together. Ipsa went up next, and shouted out individual Meiji supporters for their helpfulness, kindness and energy.

Next, me and some Meiji supporters made our way to a grocery store. We scoured the grocery aisles, piling snacks and drinks into the small carts. We left the store with everyone’s arm straining under the weight of full grocery bags. We found the venue for the after party, and carried the bags up in the elevator.

Then the real farewell party started. Some students (that were above 20) may have ingested a beer or two. The under-age students sipped orange juice or green tea. We played music from Japan and America, and everyone had a great time dancing, singing and eating. American students tried out new foods, and Japanese students tried out new dances.

Pretty soon, someone revealed a microphone, and the karaoke started. Isabel and Ipsa started, belting out Beyoncé’s “Halo” like they had been practicing for weeks. Chandler performed an energetic rendition of Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot”, not leaving out any of the indecipherable onomatopoeia that Big Shaq is known for. Chandler looked comfortable with the mic in his hands; I think I see a budding rap career in his future. Max sang multiple Michael Jackson songs, dancing like the king himself. I was in awe of how well Max could move his slender frame up on that stage. It was clear to me that he was a natural dancer and performer. Kaori and Misako went next, singing a beautiful version of Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beast”. When the song got to Nicki Minaj’s rapping part, I thought the duo would tap out. But they continued, with even more poise and talent than before.

Then it was time for me and Tatsuya to get on the mic. We sang ” I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. My voice was crackled and pitchy, but Tatsuya sang with the voice of an angel. After the final chorus, I took a break from singing to look at the crowd. Many Meiji students and USC students alike had tears in their eyes. Some had to leave the room to hide their emotion (or avoid our terrible voices).

We took a break from karaoke to do more eating and drinking (water). After a while, it was time to start cleaning up. Teamwork made the dream work, and the entire room was spotless within 30 minutes.

Then we had some final karaoke songs. Everyone gathered around the mic and belted out “Say Something”, with even more tears in their eyes. Our last song was “How to Lose a Friend”, another tearjerker. I was too busy singing, but I soon realized that I had created a small puddle on the floor from all of my tears. It took an entire roll of paper towels to clean it up.

When the clock struck 11, we left the building and said our final goodbyes outside. There were lots of hugs, smiles and invitations to visit again. Happiness and sadness mixed in the air, and filled everyone with the feeling that although our time together was temporary, our memories would be forever.

I would like to say one final thank you to all the Meiji supporters and faculty that made this trip possible. I had an absolute blast in Japan, and I know that without the Meiji student’s guidance, jokes and language lessons, I would have just been another lost foreigner in Japan. I was shocked by the intelligence, efficiency and kindness of all the supporters. The Meiji students made us feel like family, and I think I speak for the entire USC group when I say that we are extremely grateful.

Until next time, Japan!

Visiting Korean School – June 5, 2018

By: Manuel Valdez

The third-to-last day of the GEA Japan Maymester was full of ups and downs, respectively. We started the day off by having breakfast to prepare for what would be an eye-opening visit to the Korean High School in Tokyo. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were unsure of what to expect once we got there. Coming from the United States we knew very little about the lives of those who identify as North Korean or the country for that matter, other than what we are presented in our television screens. Needless to say, I was shocked and completely surprised at what we encountered at the school.

When we walked up to the gates, the first thing I realized was the sheer size of the campus. A field half the size of the campus was the first thing that caught my attention. Growing up in LAUSD schools, I am used to large campuses, however this school surpassed any I ever attended in cleanliness and order. As we walked into the main building we took our shoes off and slipped on some walking shoes that were provided for us. The second thing I noticed was the lack of students walking around, however I soon realized this was because classes were currently being held and students, for the most part, were in their seats. After waiting for the school Principal in a nicely furnished meeting room for a few minutes he came in to give us a short history of the school. Although he only spoke Japanese, Rio was able to elaborate and pass on what he was saying to the rest of us. At the end of his conversation he asked if anyone had any questions. I knew, as did we all, that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask questions very few people in the world could. Surely enough, many of us asked about things ranging from the school’s stance on political agendas, intramural sports, problems not being accredited as a school some years before, and even questions regarding the school’s current lawsuit against the Japanese government for exempting them from the universal access to High School policy that had been enacted allowing other schools, including international ones, to offer classes to those not willing to pay for it.

After answering our questions fully he took us on a tour of the classes. We visited at least four classes, English, Math, History, and a Japanese class, something I did not expect to find there. Despite the obvious pictures of North Korean leaders in the front of the classrooms these classes and more specifically, the students, were just as normal as any other their age. They would wave at us as we entered and ignore their teacher’s instructions because they were amazed and we were simply standing there. When Vincent, one of our classmates, was allowed to introduce himself he asked if any of them had any questions and like the teenagers they were they’d ask questions like, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” and things of the sort while giggling among themselves.

Before leaving, we were presented to about nine other students back in the meeting room where we first had our conversations with the principal. There we asked questions ranging from what they thought of the U.S. to what they wanted to be when they grew up. We even shared some laughs or two when students from either group would answer with things like, “My favorite hobby is sleeping.” After about three hours at the school we returned to our hotels to prepare for our farewell reception at Meiji University.

I would have to admit that everything I encountered at this school surprised me, in a positive way. Instead of finding the die-hard devotees of the North Korean government I found a community of young people that were just interested in their ancestry and culture. Coming from a bi-cultural background myself I understood the significance of learning the history, language, and culture of your predecessors country while living in another. Although I cannot agree with the leaders of the North Korean government I sympathized with these students who simply wanted to keep their culture alive while doing their best to integrate into the mainstream society of the country they live in. I left this school with a much more positive outlook on the people who attend it and with a new hope for the future of peace between the countries of Korea and Japan.

Sightseeing in Tokyo

By: Hannah Kreiswirth

With our trip to Japan coming to an impending close soon, many students (including myself) were rushing to find the time to complete our research papers before heading back home. Thankfully, however, I was able to find time to do some sightseeing and much-needed shopping before I secluded myself in the nearby Starbucks to begin working.

A group of friends and I decided to visit the Asakusa district of Tokyo. Located in the less skyscraper dense area of northeast Tokyo, Asakusa is known for its representation of more historical aspects of Japanese culture as well as its touristy nature. Streets were lined with kimono shops, stands that displayed a multitude of different types of omamori (charms used to bring forth good luck or fortune), and stores that sold any type of typical Japanese souvenir one could imagine.

Walking down the streets of Asakusa.

Our group made our way down to Sensō-ji, the main attraction of the Asakusa area. Sensō-ji consists of two main gates that lead the way to the main building of the temple, with each structure sporting the temple’s famous gigantic red lanterns. The path towards Sensō-ji was packed with those who had come to witness the intricate beauty and famed splendor of the famed temple itself. While my stay in Japan has felt more of a dream than a reality at times, witnessing the magnificence of Sensō-ji has reminded me once again of the sheer grandeur of this country.

The grandiose of Sensō-ji pictured.

After visiting Sensō-ji, I headed out to do some shopping for myself. One of the things I had been looking forward to the most during my visit to Tokyo was to go to the Studio Ghibli store situated in Tokyo Station. As a lifelong fan of the films of Studio Ghibli, being able to visit the official store was a dream come true. Despite the small size of the shop, I spent a large amount of time in the store and unregretfully an equally large amount of money on merchandise. The decoration and the aesthetic of the store I thought perfectly captured the calming, serene charm that accompanies many Studio Ghibli films.

The Studio Ghibli Store.

To end my day of sightseeing one of the most symbolic places in Japan, I went to go eat at probably the most un-Japanese restaurant I could have chosen. Savoy Pizza is an intimate shop where only twelve customers at a time are allowed to take a seat at an L-shaped bar surrounding a single pizza oven. The menu consists of only two types of pizzas to choose from: marinara and Margherita. Despite the limitedness of choices, however, Savoy boasted one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my life. The perfected simplicity of the pizza is what really won me over, where everything down to the tomato sauce tasted as if it had been masterfully prepared.

Though the time I have had to do sightseeing in Tokyo has been limited, I am so ecstatic that I have been able to experience so much of this city’s unique culture. From ancient temples to small pizza joints, I feel that I have done it all.

Mt. Fuji

By: Amanda Curtis

While most British people make comments about the rare sunny days as a form of greeting, everyone we met in Japan said, “I hope it’s clear when you go to Mt. Fuji”. In the days leading up to our Lake Yamanaka retreat, locals and students alike would check the weather forecasts in hopes we would avoid the clouds and enjoy a rare sunny day on Japan’s tallest mountain. The forecasts were promising, but hopes were not too high, as Professor Katada said she only experienced a cloud-free day at Mt. Fuji once during her time leading this maymester. 

It seems that we were indeed extremely lucky. Not only did we avoid the clouds, but the sky was so clear we could see all the way to Lake Yamanaka. Some people said they could even see the giant swan boat that was docked near where we stayed. 

Professor Katada’s photo of Mt. Fuji being reflected on Yamanaka Lake.

As we started the ride up the mountain, we were graced with lush green trees and unrivaled views of Japan’ landscape. While we did not climb any part of Mt. Fuji, our bus was able to drive up to the fifth stop, a bustling tourist area filled with souvenir shops, food, horses, and look-out spots. 

We had an hour and forty minutes to explore this part of Mt. Fuji however we desired. Some students immediately rushed to the restaurants while many more started exploring the overwhelming amount of souvenir places, looking for gifts for friends and families. 

One of the many views on Mt. Fuji. Lake Yamanka can be vaguely seen in the distance.

In the alley between two large shops was a red tori gate, signaling the way towards a Shinto Shrine located at this part of the mountain. People got their fortunes told and others appreciated the beautiful architecture of the shrine. Next to the shrine was a small look-out, with a crystal-clear view of Lake Yamanaka. While this shrine and view was stunning, it was crowded and not as serene as some of the other Shinto Shrines in Japan. However, located at the top of Mt. Fuji, is supposedly a breathtaking shrine, overlooking all of Japan. The trip up might be strenuous, but I’m sure that makes up for it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to see that view for myself. 

View of the peak of Mt. Fuji from the 5th stop on the mountain.

After our time was up, we all meandered our way back to the bus, some with ice cream cones in hands, others with arms full of souvenirs. As we started driving down Mt. Fuji, the sky became dark as mist rolled in. It looked as if we were actually driving through the clouds. It seemed as though Mt. Fuji held off the cloudy weather until we were done enjoying our time. 

Supposedly we got stuck in traffic, but I’m sure no one even noticed, as everyone was pknocked out the entire bus ride back. That night, some of us, sadly me as well, were suffering from altitude-related headaches, but it was all worth it. Not many can say they were able to see across Japan on Mt. Fuji. We were graced with perfect weather and will have memories of the beautiful views and clear air for a long time to come. 

Yamanaka-ko Gassyuku

By: Ipsa Agnani

We arrived at Yamanaka-ko in the afternoon after a scenic bus ride through the picturesque hills covered in lush green forests gently touching the horizon of clear blue sky and fluffly white clouds. The beautiful drive was a precursor to the serene environment of the lake itself. After disembarking the bus, we took pictures in front of the magnificent Mt. Fuji to commemorate the beginning of our retreat. Unfortunately, we could not see the snowy peak of Mt Fuji when we took the picture but some of us came back to the lake shore after dropping our luggage in the dorms and that was when Mt Fuji’s shy peak graciously greeted us with a peek through the clouds.

View of Mt. Fuji from Lake Yamanaka

After we had explored the area to our heart’s content, we met in the lobby of the main building for some ice-breakers, and then enjoyed a delectable dinner together. Before we knew it, the sun had set, and it was time to light some fireworks in celebration of newly-formed friendships. We made merry under the canopy of tall trees while lighting sparklers, my favorite one being a fragile, thread-like sparkler (senko hanabi) that burns softly and forms a red bulb at the bottom which then bursts into gentle sparks. Katada sensei, while teaching me how to light these unique Japanese sparklers, called them “poetic”, and I agreed that that was an appropriate description of not just those sparklers but the entire evening itself. Later, we washed off the day’s fatigue in hot Japanese communal baths called ofuro.

Japanese sparkler

The Meiji students are excellent hosts. Their warm hospitality was once again evident in the party that they had graciously organized for us. We played card games and enjoyed Japanese snacks and beverages. My favorite was the soft chocolate-vanilla cookie.

After a long day of relaxation, exploration, celebration and socialization, our second day at the Yamanaka-ko Gashuku (Japanese for Yamanaka Lake Workshop) was mostly spent indoors. Having completed one week of research in Tokyo, it was now time to share our findings with our classmates. The classrooms located in the main building of Meiji University’s Yamanaka retreat house provided a serious setting amidst the serene, laid-back environment of the lake itself. Now that we had explored Japan in person, it was easier to contextualize the findings from our research. The feedback from Meiji students each presentation also provided a unique perspective. Our class covered a plethora of diverse topics ranging from LGBTQ representation in anime to Black diaspora experience in Japan, socioeconomic impacts on single mothers, and the experience of mixed-identity (hapa) individuals.

Our learning did not end there. In the evening, we met up again to practice shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. Meiji students Saori and Honoka had written all our names in Japanese and demonstrated the art of calligraphy to us. Kaori, another Meiji student, helped me write my name and helped me master each individual stroke of the brush. She taught me the difference between tomei (straight stroke) and hanei (curved stroke) so I could write my name correctly. After about 10 practice rounds, we all wrote our name on long sheets of calligraphy paper and displayed our masterpieces on the wall of one of the classrooms.

Me, with my mentor and friend Kaori, gleefully displaying my calligraphy skills that Kaori helped me master.

Our night culminated with another round of snacks, games and dancing to Cupid’s Shuffle and the Macarena with the Meiji students. Overall, the two days at Yamanaka-ko could not have been better.

Sakura and Jimbocho – May 30th 2018

By: Ananya Anand

Today’s day started like the previous one. We woke up in our cozy rooms at Sakura Hotel and got breakfast before heading to the second lecture of our trip given by the very knowledgeable Professor Kato of Meiji University. We had previously learned about the depopulation issue in Japan but Kato Sensei went into depth about the different factors contributing to the fast decreasing replacement rate as well as delved into the adverse effects of a changing labor force participation rate. I found it extremely interesting to see the falling male work participation rate. From 2014, the 65.9 million labor force will decrease to about 58 million in 2030. He explained that this declining labor force will severely harm the economy, one that is already vulnerable to market pressures as we learned in Professor Takeda’s economy the day before.

Group photo after Kato Sensei’s lecture

It was interesting to learn about the government’s efforts towards attempting to increase female participation in the labor force. Since Japan has an aging population, the incorporation of elder people (65 years and above) into the labor force will also help strengthen economic growth, which may help offset increasing social expenditure due to aging. The M-shaped curve of female labor force participation, that professor Katada had mentioned during our classes back at USC, is symbolic of the lack of balance between work and child-rearing that women in Japan find difficult to establish. The absence of social institutions to support women and more importantly, the minimal mature consciousness of society towards this difficulty are some key themes that we have learned about and that Professor Kato reiterated on during his informative lecture. Some other topics he covered were the characteristics of the Japanese traditional employment system, non-regular workers engaged in the economy whose proportion increased significantly after the asset price bubble burst as well as foreign population and immigration issues.

After the lecture, Yuni and I met with our Meiji supporters – Tokio and Honoka – to discuss our forthcoming presentation at Yamanaka Lake. While they didn’t know much about the anime part of our research, they showed a keen interest in helping us investigate the treatment of the LGBT community in contemporary Japan. We gave them a list of interview questions we had prepared and they offered to circulate them to provide us with data to support our research. After wrapping up the meeting, Yuni and I took the Chuo line to Tokyo Station and headed to the famous Tokyo Ramen Street. The Tokyo Station itself is a work of art and the surrounding areas of Marunouchi were really fun to explore. It almost reminded me of midtown Manhattan, with its modern architecture and prevalent fashion and professionalism in every corner. We sat at a café and worked on our presentation for 3 hours followed by which we met Julie, Ipsa, Taylor, and Hannah for the famous delicacy – Omurice at Taimeiken. After that, we walked to Ginza and went to the Muji flagship store. Though I’m vegetarian and it has been hard on some days to find substantial meals, the food that I have encountered here in Tokyo has absolutely blown me away. Not to mention, my matcha obsession is being sufficed with every dessert shop Yuni and I manage to visit in between conducting field research at various different anime stores around Akihabara, Harajuku, and Ikebukuro.

Ramen lunch!

It’s an unsettling realization that we have already completed half of this program, but I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that this is going to be one of the most memorable cultural exchanges any of us have taken part in.

The Big T: Scenery from Tokyo

By: Vincent Jenkins

Skyscrapers, Trains, and People, oh my! A metropolitan characterized by its bustling neon filled streets, complicated metro system, and abundance of people, Tokyo is a place that is rivaled by no other.

While Tokyo is quite different to other metropolitan areas it is similar as well. Waking up to sounds of ambulances and trying not to get hit by a taxi are all familiar occurrences from my home of Los Angeles. With that being said Tokyo is different from Los Angeles in that Tokyo is not a city. By definition, Tokyo is a Japanese prefecture and within that prefecture are different wards and divisions such as Akihabara and Shibuya. Starting off my day meant walking to a part of Tokyo known as Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) to travel to our host institution, Meiji University. With all the familiarity of home one can find a McDonalds, with better orange juice than you’ll get back in the States, teenagers walking with their faces in their phones, and a bicyclist who is late to work.

Growing up in a rather large city like Los Angeles, being in Tokyo seemed familiar and during my time here I have found myself feeling at home. With class at Meiji University over in the morning it was time to navigate Tokyo’s complicated metro system to get to Shinagawa (品川) for a meeting at Microsoft Japan. In terms of public transportation, Tokyo, and by extension Japan as a whole, has the entire Western Hemisphere beat in efficiency and reliability. When the schedule says a train is leaving at 9:33 that train is leaving at 9:33, with or without you. For someone who has never ridden on a large public transit system the task can be overwhelming but with English signs, a color coded line system, helpful station personnel, and an even more helpful transit app, navigating Tokyo public transit can be done. A transfer and a few stops later I found myself in the heart of Shinagawa’s business district, surrounded by business people during the lunch rush.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Ochanomizu, Japan

Finishing my meeting at Microsoft I was now free to go about my day. I could return to Meiji to work on research or find somewhere a little more scenic. While on the platform at Shinagawa station I made a last second decision and decided to hope on the train to Shibuya. Navigating through the construction within Shibuya station I was greeted by the famed Shibuya crossing. With billboards on billboards and lights that could be seen from space it was indeed a sight to behold. Surrounded by tourists and their cameras I spotted something that everyone on USC’s campus is all too familiar with – Starbucks. With its location in Shibuya this particular Starbucks was filled with people but a decent amount of said people were not there for Seattle’s best, but instead wanted a glimpse of the Shibuya Crossing Rush from a higher vantage point. Not able to get a glimpse of the rush from a window myself I settled with doing paperwork for the next few hours at a nearby viewless table. With paperwork done and exhaustion settling in, it was time to head back to Meiji University, but what awaited me was something that I hope to only experience once.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

With the help of my Japan transit app I figured out the fastest way back to Meiji was via the Saikyo Line (埼京線) and to say this was a bad idea is an understatement. One of the more notable videos about Tokyo’s metro system consists of passengers being pushed into packed trains by station personnel hoping to keep everything on schedule. I can now say confidently first hand that I have experienced such an event and would not recommend it for the faint of heart. With no concept of personal space we were all packed into a steel tube on wheels until reaching our individual destinations. Assaulted by an assortment of smells, weird glares of trying to figure out who pushed who, and the occasional coughing riding the Saikyo Line during rush hour on a Tuesday is not a fun experience. Luckily for myself I only needed to ride said train for one stop and walking off of, or rather being pushed off of that train, was a relief I haven’t felt since finals season ended.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

At the end of the day one thing cannot be disputed, Tokyo is a large metropolis. It has a population of over 37.8 million people, a transit system that, while sometimes cramp, is rivaled by no other, and more ramen places that one hopes to try in a lifetime. With its large population and humid weather it is a marvel of human ingenuity and persistence to survive the day to day of work and social life. Tokyo you are a crowded and complicated city like no other, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Second Day in Kyoto

By: Yuni Ye

Our second day in Kyoto was sunny and bright. After visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima on the previous day, we were able to get plenty of time to recover from extensive traveling and everyone was excited to explore Kyoto on our free time. Recognized as the tourist capital in Japan, the city of Kyoto distinguished itself from other metropolis with its unique history and numerous temples and shrines. I was able to visit one of those incredibly beautiful shrines – Kamigamo-jinja – in the morning. As the date of our visit to Kyoto actually coincided with the monthly Handicraft Market held at Kamigamo-jinja, the shrine was perfect for both sightseeing and shopping. The Handicraft Market had over 250 stalls all clustered on the east side of the shrine grounds. It was lovely to walk around by the creek looking at different handmade products. I got a cute bracelet as souvenir and visited many food stalls selling handmade cookies and bread.

After visiting Kamigamo-jinja in the morning, I went to one of the most-visited temples in Kyoto – Kiyomizu-dera. The temple was said to be a must-see attraction in Kyoto and had a brilliant view across the entire city. Although it was extremely crowded and very much commercialized, the temple did have a wonderful view overseeing the Kyoto city and the temple compound surrounded by trees on the hill certainly looked amazing. Part of the temple compound was going through renovation but we were still able to go inside and appreciate the interior of the main hall. It was also a lot of fun visiting some souvenir shops on the hill outside the temple and getting snacks at different street food stalls nearby. The Matcha cream puff at one of those stalls was by far one of the best desserts I got in Japan.

Our group then came back to the Kyoto Station and got lunch at a Chinese gyoza place called 551 Horai inside the department store Isetan. It was located on the underground floor completely occupied by different food stalls selling bento and other Japanese dishes like tempura, katsu and udon. The pork bun and shrimp shumai at the gyoza place were both superb. When we were looking for a place to sit, we ran into an orchestral competition held at the Isetan department store. The participants were all students from different middle schools in the Kyoto area and one of the songs they played was actually from Star Wars. We ended up sitting on the stairs watching the competition and enjoying the music performance while we were eating.

We headed back to Tokyo together at night, taking the bullet train again. I have heard many great things about the Shinkansen in Japan before I went on this trip. But I was still surprised by how fast and comfortable it was. It took us less than three hours to come back to Tokyo from the Kansai area and we got to Sakura Hotel by 10:30 pm. It felt good to be back and I was excited to start doing field research in the city and to meet with our Meiji partners on Monday.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park

By: Taylor Shigezawa

The exterior of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

After an eventful morning and early afternoon at Miyajima, we arrived at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

A landscape view of the Atomic Bomb Dome and Ōta River.

Our first venture led us to the Atomic Bomb Dome, or the preserved remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Exhibition Hall. The original building was in close proximity to the hypocenter of the explosion on August 6, 1945, and the people in the building, along with parts of the structure, were subjected to the blast of the atomic bomb. Now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Atomic Bomb Dome has become a symbol of the tragedy of the atomic bombs. After seeing the broken remains of the original hall, it was really hard for me to believe the structure had once held so many people whose lives were lost in the bombing.

Cranes displayed in Children’s Peace Monument at the Peace Memorial Park.

Standing a few minutes away from the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Children’s Peace Monument was created in remembrance of Sadako Sasaki and other children lost because of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako Sasaki, who passed away at the age of 12, was a young girl who developed leukemia after exposure to the atomic bomb radiation. During her lifetime, Sadako folded cranes in hopes that her wish for healing would be granted after folding 1000 cranes. Today, folded cranes serve as a symbol of peace for many individuals, and bunches of cranes (usually strung up in groups of a thousand) are displayed in glass cases at the monument. Fours year ago, my high school had also brought cranes to display in the cases, but they receive so many cranes every year that I was unable to find my school’s work.

Cranes donated to be displayed later as part of the monument.

After exploring the Peace Memorial Park, we arrived at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Because the museum will be under construction until 2019, we were only able to see a more condensed version of the museum. Nonetheless, I was extremely thankful for the opportunity to even visit this place again after four years.

The “Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace,” also known as the Cenotaph for A-Bomb Victims, contains a vault with the names of the atomic bomb victims.

One of the things that always strikes me most about the museum is how well the museum captures the tragedy and the history of the bombing of Hiroshima. Growing up in the American school system in a time decades after the incident, I had never felt directly connected to the atomic bomb calamity. I was able to recognize the disaster that affected the country, city, and lives of the people living throughout the nation, but reading about an event in textbook never quite captures an experience like a historical site or museum. Throughout the museum, belongings of the victims lost to the bombing were displayed along with pictures of victims burned by the flash and written accounts of the tragedy. I could better understand the weight of the devastation families felt throughout the aftermath of the 1945 bombings and connect the large number of victims to personal stories and individuals. Through viewing the personal accounts and the items of the victims, I was able to feel more connected to the incident and really understand the impact the bombing of Hiroshima had on Japan and the world.

Former President Obama’s letter and one of the cranes he presented during his visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

One of the most interesting displays in the exhibits we were able to see was a glass case containing former President Barack Obama’s handwritten note and cranes. In his letter, Obama recognizes the tragedy of incidents such as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and presents his hope for a world without nuclear weapons. During his visit to Hiroshima, Obama also presented two cranes he presumably folded himself. I was definitely thankful that our former president was able to address a calamity caused by the United States, recognize a need for peace, and advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Overall, this experience has been my favorite memory of the Maymester trip. While many of my classmates’ research projects do not deal with the bombing of Hiroshima, I believe it is so extremely important for us to take the time to learn more about the history of Japan and how much harm humanity has caused. I hope in the future people will continue to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and I hope there will no longer be disasters as devastating as this one.

Miyajima Island

By: Julie Ho

It’s already our second day in the Kansai region (area of Japan with major cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara) and we’ve already hit so many famous spots during our trip. Today we went to Miyajima Island to do some sightseeing because it has so many historical and nationally recognized monuments. I was super excited to go because it was my first time visiting there and it’s always been a goal of mine to visit the island.

We took the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima and then got on a charter bus for a 45 minute drive to Miyajima Island. The trip to the island was breathtaking because the latter half of the ride was by the sea, and we got to see many ports and fishing towns along the coast. When we got nearer to the island, we had to transfer to a ferry since the island is accessible only by boat.

After a 15-minute boat ride and many photos later, we arrived on the island and set out for the infamous torii (traditional Japanese gate). Because the tide was low when we got to the torii, we were able to walk very close to it. The gate had such a large presence when I stood next to it, and it just amazed me how the islanders were able to build such a grand structure so long ago.

The island is also home to a lot of wild deer that wander the area, which while extremely adorable, is a somewhat terrifying experience if you have food in your hand. Don’t make the same mistake that I did and wave food in front of their faces, which lead to one deer following me for a good ten minutes.

Afterwards we went to Itsukushima Shrine where we explored the floating temple atop of the ocean. The shrine was surprisingly well kept and serene to walk through because of the open area and the ocean breeze blowing throughout the shrine. There were many things to do in the shrine such as making prayers, getting one fortune’s told, or buying souvenirs from the priests and priestesses.

After a short photo session by the creek with some of the girls, we headed back to the main area of the island where all the shops were to get lunch with the group. Getting back to the restaurant was somewhat of a battle because the alleyway was full of people trying to buy gifts and souvenirs from the colorful shops that lined the road, but it was a fun experience being part of the hustle and bustle. Yuni and I bought a curry bread on the way back to the restaurant (it didn’t spoil our appetite though), which had a Miyajima oyster in it and was a great snack before the main meal.

For lunch we had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is similar to a savory pancake, but with noodles, vegetables, and meat. It was so delicious that I was tempted to order another one, but refrained from doing so in case I wanted to grab more food at the stalls outside.

After lunch, Yuni and I went around the stalls and bought beef buns and traditional Japanese sweets, both of which were super yummy and filling. Once we were done shopping for souvenirs, we met up with the rest of the group at the dock and took the ferry back to the mainland. I would definitely recommend this island as a stop on any trip to Japan because you get to experience something that you wouldn’t get to see in a big city like Tokyo.