October 1, 2014
By Andy Gause
I encountered some fascinating people during my stay in Tokyo and Kyoto. The three mentioned below are prime examples of the types of people I had the opportunity to befriend in Japan.
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Koenraad Hemelsoet - I met this scruffy-faced world traveler on the first night at the hotel. I was lounging on the porch, when he sat down to smoke a cigarette, drink Austrian beer, and read a French novella. I have never seen a more stereotypically ‘European’ man.
Over the next two weeks, I learned that Koenraad is a trilingual globe-trotter on vacation from his programming job in Belgium. He has two Masters and one Philosophy PhD (this dissertation was on Nietzsche, whom he frequently quoted), but admits that he still doesn’t know what to do with his life, beyond exploring the globe that is.
Most nights, we’d sit on the hotel porch reading and discuss the day’s events (usually the World Cup, remember he’s very European). One night, our conversation transitioned from ordinary small-talk into a heated discussion on the merits of nationalism and religion. We both shared similar world views, but with enough minor differences for a rousing debate. Next thing we know, it’s 3:30 in the morning and the hotel cashier is glaring at us like he wants us to leave, but can’t say anything. Koenraad was clearly a better debater, but he was gracious enough not to annihilate my opinions. Reasonable debate is a fine art, and all too rare to find. That nighttime conversation with Koenraad was an unique experience that I’ll treasure for quite a while.
Junki Mizuno - Junki was one of the generous and friendly Meiji students we encountered on the trip. Whenever the persistent rain or vacation exhaustion got me down, Junki was there with his beaming grin, ready to lift my spirits. He was always willing to take us to the best spots in Tokyo. Like the other Meiji students, he spoke excellent English and was beyond patient with my limited Japanese skills. I know I’ll stay in touch with Junki, and would love the opportunity to one day return the kindness and be as great a host to him, as he was to our group.
Rina Otake - Rina was the Mother Hen of the trip. She made it her mission to see that everyone had a great time. At Yamanaka Lake, she was one of the Meiji students in charge of planning our activities. She could always be seen prepping the meals, setting up the calligraphy station, and generally doing whatever was necessary for the trip. She worked vigilantly to plan group trips to Disney Sea, the Tokyo equivalent of California Adventure and the Studio Ghibli Museum. However, what stood out more than Rina’s drive, was her giddy demeanor and bubbly personality. She genuinely enjoyed facilitating our adventures and this joy was visible throughout the trip.
I’m glad we had a group leader as pleasant, prepared, and gracious as Rina. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t go on to great things as a politician or business leader.
By Kent Oya
I picked up dancing during the fall of my sophomore year, and I’ve loved it ever since. Therefore, during this program, I jumped at the chance to visit one of the most famous dance studios in Japan: En Dance Studio in Shibuya.
En Dance Studio is home to many legends in the dance community, from the s**t kingz (shoji, kazuki, NOPPO, and oguri) to Koharu Sugawara. They were the dancers that fueled my passion to dance, and instead of watching them through Youtube videos, I finally had the chance to visit their studio in person.
Here are some of my favorite videos of them:
Unfortunately, Koharu and the s**t kingz members were not holding any workshops during the time we were in Tokyo, but I still wanted to experience the dance culture in Japan, so I signed up for a workshop held by Denzel Chisolm, a professional dancer from MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE in Los Angeles. I eagerly went to the studio on July 1st…
And I got wrecked.
This was not surprising, as I am an intermediate dancer at best and the workshop was a master class, but the 40 other dancers who attended the class were absolutely amazing. I felt humiliated, yet motivated to become a better dancer. Hopefully, I will reach that level in a few years!
Check out the piece that I learned!
The dance cultures in Japan and America are rather different; I noticed a more serious atmosphere in Japan. No one was chatting with each other, even during stretching; they were there to learn from the teacher. I definitely felt a barrier between the teacher (Denzel) and the students. Meanwhile, the environment is more relaxed in America. During stretches, most people would be chatting with their friends and even with the choreographer. Here, the teacher is regarded as an equal, and the learning environment is casual. Nonetheless, the fact that a dancer from L.A. came to Japan just to teach is wonderful. Japan is well known for its isolationism and its distaste for foreigners, so the fact that this type of cross-cultural exchange is happening is a great step for both Japan and the United States.
September 15, 2014
By Lisa Peng
When shopping in Japan, one will always encounter products with the sign gentei shouhin (限定商品), or “limited edition goods,” on them. This sign indicates that the products are only sold in a certain region, during a certain period of time, or under certain other conditions, such as the special sweets known as yatsuhashi (八ツ橋) that are only sold in Kyoto, fruit-flavored drinks that are sold only in the summer, Hello Kitty dolls dressed in special costumes that are sold only in Hiroshima, and special-shaped snacks that can only be found at the Tokyo SkyTree. Because of their scarcity and uniqueness, these goods give people an impulse to buy them. People think that if they don’t buy the goods right away, it is likely that they might never be able to find them for sale again. At the same time, these limited edition goods also create a great way for merchants to trap their customers into buying goods that are not actually necessary. For instance, I was often tempted to buy a summer-limited-edition plum-flavored juice (see photo) over other juice options even though it did not taste any better than the others. I only bought it because I knew I could get the other flavors at another time, or even outside of Japan.
Although these limited edition goods were created by businesses to boost sales, they still show some unique features of Japan. First, Japan is a country with four clearly-divided seasons. Thus, limited goods are often based on the seasons, because the climate and scenery vary greatly in each season. For example, many spring-limited products focus on cherry blossoms, while summer-limited products tend to focus on green tea, watermelon, ice, and fireworks. Second, although Japan is a small country, every major region is relatively isolated because of the country’s mountainous geography. As a result, each region was able to develop a unique culture, which has created a habit among those traveling to different regions of bringing limited, or area-specific, gifts back to give to their friends and families. In this way, regional limited goods are a popular way of advertising an area’s unique culture, while also serving as great gifts.
July 21, 2014
by Kent Oya and Ben Surbrook
On Monday, July 7th, our group arrived in Kyoto (after quite a hectic morning trying to get there), and immediately boarded a bus for Nara. Nara is a city about an hour south of Kyoto by bus, and is most well-known for its friendly deer that can be fed.
We first arrived at Todaiji (東大寺) Temple, which is the Buddhist temple in Nara where the famous deer live. An important point to remember about Japan is the difference between temples and shrines. Japan has a very interesting religious background, with two major religions: Shinto (神道), Japan’s indigenous religion, and Buddhism (仏教), which came to Japan from China. What makes Japan interesting is that many Japanese people practice parts of both religions, which leads to an intriguing religious combination. A great example of this is Todaiji Temple, because within Todaiji Temple there is actually a small Shinto shrine, showing the unique combination of Buddhism and Shinto that exists in Japan.
Todaiji Temple was very impressive, with a massive Buddha and two smaller Bodhisattva inside the actual temple. There was also a pillar with a hole called the “Nostril of Buddha” that some of our classmates managed to successfully crawl through. (We did not.)
July 14, 2014
by Charlsie Hoffman and Tanya Yang
On Thursday, our class ventured to the National Diet of Japan. Upon our arrival, we first came across the Prime Minister’s residence and office. Instead of one building, the house and office stand separate but right next to one another. Our guide compared the buildings to the White House to help us understand, but the buildings’ modern styles barely resembled the white Neoclassical Federal style that comes to mind. Regardless, the buildings were impressive and possessed an air of dignity that informed the passers-by they were on hallowed ground. It was only about six more blocks until we reached the Diet.
Located on a hill in the Nagatacho district of Chiyoda City in Tokyo, the National Diet sits directly in front of of its members’ office buildings. We entered through the back and gratefully waited in the air-conditioned lobby for our tour guide to arrive. While waiting, we couldn’t help but notice the boxed cookies sitting outside of the souvenir cart that had a cartoon Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dressed as superman, flying over the Diet. Although very humorous at face level, the cookie box revealed a serious underlying issue for Japan: it needs to be saved. We then remembered just how important the Diet currently is for Japan, as it desperately needs structural reforms.
After only a few minutes of waiting, our tour guide arrived in a professional yet adorable uniform (we still don’t know how Japan does that mix so well). She then escorted us to the upper house cafeteria for lunch. The long carpeted hallways lined with office doors that led us to the cafeteria reminded me of the Representatives’ offices in Washington, D.C. The cafeteria itself also seemed reminiscent of the old-English feel of Washington, D.C., with only the curry and rice plate sitting at our table reminding us that we were still in Japan. We all sat down, customarily thanked the kitchen for the preparation of the food, and ate a very delicious meal that refueled our minds for the tour ahead.
July 16, 2013
By Kalai Chik
Despite the damp, rainy day, we successfully made our way to Japan’s Diet. I was super excited because I’m really into world politics and Japanese politics is definitely one of the most interesting areas to study. As we passed the guards and stepped into the entryway, we saw a wall of lights with names within the lights. Like an attendance sheet, the Diet members press the button under their name to tell others that they have arrived. Our tour guide was Derek who has lived in Japan for around 10 years and speaks fluent American English and Japanese. (more…)