Farewell Meiji, goodbye Japan

By: Geyu Chen

On June 8th, it is the third time we check in to Sakura Hotel Jimboocho, or “home sweet home” as said by one of our members. Everything remains the same and familiar and everything is no longer fresh and interesting – the front desk with worldwide beer selection in the fridge, the umbrella stands crowded by those bought from convenience stores with a few coins by previous residents here. And now, after spending 2 weeks in Tokyo, Yamanaka, and Kansai area, it is time for us to leave. I feel anxious about the farewell dinner.

After a free day back from Kansai, on June 9th, we walked fast to the Liberty Tower of Meiji University. I was nearly running, without being guided by Google map which I needed on the first day of the meeting. The wrap-up session was held by Prof.Kurashige and Rio, which reminded me that our days here are not only a tour but a course, a research study as well. Then we took the elevator to the top floor and walked into the meeting room.

People were giving speeches, but my mind was blown away. I can’t believe the time went so fast that we are forced to say goodbye. Everything was flooding up onto my eyes. The good time we went to 鳥貴族 (torikizuku), a traditional Japanese tavern or bar where you can order drinks or teriyaki at a very low price but very decent quality, and for the first time introduced ourselves to each other; the good time after at karaoke; the exciting and refreshing time when all of Meiji and USC students were grouped up on the bus heading to Yamanaka, expecting the Fuji mountain shining its snow top cover under the gently bright sunshine. The nervous time on the second morning of 合宿 (がっしゅく Gasshyuku), when everyone was busy preparing presentations collaboratively. Time was flying so fast, not even allowing us to talk to every Meiji student. I still have so many stories to tell, and want to listen far more.

@ 鳥貴族 (torikizuku), group selfie

Tokyo is too big to explore every its station and corner, and time is too short to say goodbye.

Refocusing my mind back to the farewell meeting – it is nearly over. We did toast 乾杯 (kanpai) just like the first day that we been here for the opening ceremony. And we did the farewell ceremony gesture together with a “yo” shouting out again just like the last day we dismissed after the 合宿.

@ Meiji Liberty Tower meeting room, Yu is guiding us for the farewell clapping

@Meiji Liberty Tower, Farewell dinner

Meiji students were making memorial pamphlets for each of us with our most interesting picture on the cover and goodbye memos from every Meiji student inside. It was a most impressive gift received, eclipsed what we had prepared from the USC bookstore rashly. I would definitely choose a better one if time and go back again.

@ Farewell dinner, Ruby and Yu with his little pamphlet

Throughout these two weeks, we learned so much about these Japanese particular customs. Though without knowing the actual meaning of them, we at least learned how to respect and found a way to fit ourselves into the Japanese society. This is considered to be very important throughout our studying and researching trip oversea.

Thank you and goodbye Meiji friends, goodbye Jimboocho, and goodbye Japan. I will miss everything here tomorrow, and every happy face of each of you.

To Kyoto

By: Verdinand Ruelos
Tuesday June 6, 2017

To Kyoto

The day started early with a ride on the bullet train to Kyoto.  We finally were able to ride the famous bullet train, and it did not disappoint with its streamlined speed and comfort.  I was able to catch up on some sleep on the journey to Kyoto.  Upon arriving at Kyoto, we travelled to Kyoto University where we met with Yu Tokunaga, or Toku for short, our guide in Kyoto.  While Toku admitted to the dominance of the University of Tokyo in terms of academics, overall, he claimed that Kyoto is best because of its progressive and liberal thinking.  After seeing both Tokyo University and Kyoto University, in my opinion Kyoto just did not have the same distinction, it simply wasn’t as elite as Todai, that being said it did have its advantages in that it was more relaxed.

Next we went to a temple near Gion called Kiyomizu temple.  It was one of the most beautiful temples that I have seen and there were many tourists who were wearing traditional kimonos.  We ate street food like Matcha ice cream and tokoyaki and walked around many of the shops looking for omiyage for our families back home.  On the way back down the hill from the temple, I made friends with some locals from Osaka who were in Kyoto for holiday.  They were very nice and one of them is actually a dietician who works in a hospital, so she might be able to help me with my research on healthcare, since she works in a hospital.  We later went out to karaoke.

While all of this was lots of fun, the highlight of the day was eating at the Chinese restaurant, Tokaisaikan.  We also received a guest talk from one of the managers, and sons of the owner, Tsu Tsu Wu.  I remembered his name because of the anecdote he told about how at first it played as a disadvantage.  His name is blatantly Chinese, so when he introduced himself, people would automatically judge him as a foreigner.  But he figured out a way to turn this into an advantage because, people are more likely to remember his name, since it is not common.  I have run into similar situations, since my name is also very unique: Verdi.  Growing up, some people would make fun of it because it sounds funny, or it rhymes with birdie, or nerdy or dirty.  I never took it too seriously, but there were moments when I wished that I had a “normal’ name.  But now that I am a little older, I am grateful for my name.  It’s uniqueness is something that should be embraced.  People remember it, they have never met another Verdi, so the name is automatically associated with just me.  This is a special thing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Sure, I’ll never find a souvenir key-chain with my name on it, but I’d rather have a custom made one than have the same name as a million other people.

The food itself was superb, and the view was even better.  We ate out on the balcony on a beautiful summer day in Kyoto.  Gochisosama deshita!

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Trip to Hiroshima

By: Brenda

The day began with our arrival at Hiroshima. Immediately, I was overwhelmed because of the history that accompanies this city. Upon arriving in Hiroshima, we visited the peace museum. The museum was filled with old artifacts and photos about the United States and the War.

However, what was most shocking was the old torn up clothing and artifacts that demonstrated how terrible the bombing of Hiroshima was. Each artifact and piece of clothing had its own story. What nearly got me into tears were the stories of young school children dying in the arms of their parents. Many children didn’t even have the opportunity to return home to their parents after the bombing. Some parents only found the clothing of their children, or a name tag, and that is how they knew that their child was no more. In the United States, when studying about the bombing of Hiroshima, we usually just skim over the events and pride ourselves in ending the war. However, one does not really take into consideration all the innocent casualties that had to die in order to do so. I never really thought about the young children or families who died during the Hiroshima bombing. I had always seen the bombing of Hiroshima as a step towards ending the war. However, after visiting the Peace museum I realized it was an unnecessary act that caused the lives of so many innocent people. Thus, I was glad to see the Peace Park. In which there were statues dedicated to those who lost their lives during the bombing of Hiroshima. I was overjoyed to see that those who died on that fateful day are still being remembered.

Later during the day, we had the opportunity to take a ferry onto Miyajima Island. Although it was raining, the visit the island was still quite fun. The tide was low so we had the opportunity to take an up close picture with the historical gate located on the island. Miyajima island is known as deer island, and after spending some time with some deer I could see why. We had the opportunity to pet and take pictures with some of the local deer that were just standing around on the roads. After an hour of walking in the rain, Sam and I decided to go to a local cat café. Inside the café, there was a woman sitting with three cats on her lap. Immediately, Sam was jealous because we just couldn’t seem to attract any of the cats to come and play with us. Luckily, one of the cats came our way and we played with him for a couple minutes, until he dropped my hot chocolate. The rest of my time was spent cleaning the mess the cat had left. Overall, this was extremely fun and I managed to learn more about the bombing of Hiroshima. Which made me sympathize with the Japanese people and their call for Peace.

Tokyo University and Midori Sushi 6/1

By: Sam
We started the day at Tokyo University. The campus was lovely with beautiful trees and old buildings. We ate at their cafeteria, which was not only cheaper, but miles ahead of EVK. We met with Professor Yaguchi for a fascinating talk on gender inequality and the college system in Tokyo. We learned that the college process for Japanese high school students is vastly different from the American process. Rather than spending their time trying to work hard to keep up their GPAs, round out their application with extra-curricular activities, cozy up to teachers to get stellar recommendations, and cram for SATs, SAT IIs, ACTs, and APs, to get into Tokyo University students take a single entrance exam. The top 3,000 scorers are accepted, and nothing else is considered. Of course, at Tokyo University, they would argue that this is the fairest system. But Professor Yaguchi has some complaints.

The first problem is that Tokyo University becomes practically inaccessible to international students. The entrance exam is based on the Japanese high school curriculum and if students have not taken this curriculum, it would be incredibly difficult. It would also require international students to fly to Japan which isn’t possible for many. Professor Yaguchi had to argue to the university to allow international students to be admitted in a more “American” holistic style of college admissions. There has been an attempt to attract more international students by hiring more international professors, and creating a B.A. program in English, but there is still push-back from the university in further globalizing the school.

The second big problem he has with the entrance exam and the admissions process at Tokyo University is the rampant gender inequality. Toyko University is about 82% male. The management team argues that there’s not really anything they can do as their entrance exam is (at least in theory) gender blind. Professor Yaguchi sees this as a weak excuse. Because not only are women not being accepted, but they’re not even applying. Of the tenured professors, only 5% are women. Even in fields dominated by women like pharmacy, most of the teachers are still male. Women might not feel welcome on a campus so dominated by men both in the student body and the faculty. There is also great stigma in Japanese society associated with women who attend Tokyo University. They’re seen as too smart and therefore undesirable. The social circles are made up of men from Tokyo University and women from other universities; Tokyo University women are explicitly banned. This issue has been brought up to the university as discrimination, but Tokyo University feels very strongly in not interfering with their students, particularly in their social lives. Compared to schools in the West and even schools in Asia, Tokyo University’s gender equality is starkly behind.

But Tokyo University is falling behind internationally. The main reason is has fallen in the rankings is its failure to integrate international students. Tokyo University, which regards itself as the best school in Japan, has begun to fall behind other schools in Asia. If the ranking systems decided to include gender equality as a factor, it would fall even sharper. But why is the university so reluctant to change? Tokyo University feels that it’s first in the nation and doesn’t need to adapt to globalization.

After the heady talk, we all certainly needed a big meal. We had an amazing, massive meal, at Midori sushi. Platter after platter of fresh delicious sushi came out. We were all absolutely stuffed and couldn’t even finish the incredible sushi – as badly as we wished there was more room in our stomach.

We ended the day with a quiet meeting with a few of our Meiji supporters and finished up our research presentations.

Visit to Joseon – May 31, 2017

By: Renee

Today we ate Korean barbecue in Japan. The eight of us met Rio in the cafe of Sakura Hotel— I wish I could say we were all on time, but unfortunately that was not the case. We still arrived at the restaurant with more than enough time to spare, though.

All-you-can-eat Korean barbecue!

We replaced our shoes with slippers and sat in two separate tables back to back. Since it was difficult to get in and out of the tables, the meal really was a task of teamwork, with people sitting on the outside helping others get food and drinks. We had an unofficial but intense competition on which table would eat more— I wish I could say my table won, but unfortunately I’m not sure if that was the case either. But I can safely say that all ten of us ended up full and satisfied.

Brenda was completely in her element at Koreatown. She really stepped up during Korean barbecue; she was helping Rio cook the meat and everything. After the meal, when we were walking around, she knew all of the songs that the restaurants and stores played and sang along in Korean. Watching her interact with Korean culture in Japan was super cool.

After that, we made our way to Joseon in the heat and humidity. Joseon is a North Korean school where many fourth-generation Korean-Japanese students go to strengthen their Korean culture. They learn the same subjects and follow the same standards as other Japanese schools, but also learn Korean history and Korean culture. We were warmly welcomed by the principal and other teachers, who took us on a tour of the school. All of the students were very studious and happy to see us. Then we had a Q&A session with a smaller group of students. Most of them mentioned that they wanted to attend a Korean university in Japan after high school. I found that very interesting, especially as an “ABC,” or American-born Chinese. I love the idea of a Chinese high school in America, where I could develop my connection to Chinese culture, and I would definitely want to attend one. But though I feel very Chinese, I also feel very American, and think that even if I did attend such a Chinese high school in America, that I would still want to attend an American university. But as there are no such schools in America, I can’t be sure.

Music class at Joseon!

We spent the late afternoon eating doughnuts and exploring Ikebukuro, then rushed back to Sakura Hotel to make our meeting with the Meiji students. We were tired but excited to spend time with our new friends. Since it was Kayanne’s birthday, Lon Sensei brought her a cake and we all sang to her. By this meeting we’d all grown more familiar with each other, so we had even more fun and were even more productive with our research.

Midway through the meeting, all of us decided to go out for ramen because none of us had had ramen in Japan yet. My team had either already eaten or had dinner waiting for them at home, so we ended up hanging out in a study lounge. Though I’m a little sad I missed out on the ramen, I’m more glad that I got to spend some time just relaxing with Nami, Tsukasa, and other Meiji students.

Well, Wednesday was another great day in Tokyo. I wake up every day and go to sleep every day ridiculously happy to be here, and we’re not even at the halfway point of this trip. I can’t wait to see what other adventures await (and hopefully the crepe cake is among them).

Meeting Meiji Students

By: Rubi

After a great weekend exploring Tokyo with the crew, we finally got to meet all of the Meiji students! Thanks to my wonderful West Coast jet lag, I woke up around 6:45am despite having gone to sleep only a few hours earlier around 1am, after karaoke. For some inexplicable reason, I thought it could be a good idea to run around the Imperial Palace despite my obvious dehydration. The loop happens to be a 5k and is filled with great scenery – and other runners. Unfortunately, I managed to get lost in Otemachi and the run took me almost an hour.

Nevertheless, I quickly got my things together to get downstairs on time and we walked to Meiji from the hotel. We were formally greeted by two Japanese hosts and a university professor. We got our packets with info about the campus, the students, and most importantly, instructions on how to connect to WiFi.

We moved to a bigger room with all the Meiji students. We exchanged excited greetings but were quickly quieted for welcoming speeches by some professors and the dean of the political sciences college. In fact, there was a finance professor educated at the “other” school in Los Angeles… I wasn’t sure whether to be enthusiastic or disappointed. Prof. Kurashige also gave a speech, which included an interesting love story between a Meiji student and USC student…I wonder who they were??? After a round of applause, it was a mad dash to the banquet as everyone was starving. A variety of Western and Japanese food was served, and my favorite was the salmon.

The Meiji students were so excited to meet us and everyone had a diverse background or hometown. Many of them studied abroad in the US before. After chatting and exchanging some jokes we did some icebreakers. Writing down things in common with people we had never met, let alone people that were from a different country, was very hard. In the end we came up with liking tonkotsu broth the best, cup over cone, dark chocolate over milk chocolate, and tea over coffee.

Afterwards, we went on a tour of Meiji and they showed us the bookstore (basically a konbini on steroids) and two restaurants: Marukamen, a well-known udon shop, and Echiopia, a curry shop. They told us that Jimbocho was famous for its many renditions of Indian curry. Some time around there, we also found an avocado cafe.

We decided to head back to the hotel after that – we were tired and sleep deprived. We were not far from the hotel, so it only took a few minutes to get back. After this, we realized we should probably get dinner. We asked the front desk for some recommendations, and were given three. We decided to go to the one that wasn’t “Kyushu” style since someone had apparently not liked that. On arrival, we thought that because everything was in English, it couldn’t have possible been good (assuming too much?). Thus, we decided to check Marukamen since the Udon shop was in walking distance. There was a line outside, but two minutes later we were forced to decide what to order and were thrust into the restaurant. Ordering was not difficult, but we didn’t realize we had to order everything at once. The waiter got mildly annoyed that we ordered a few drinks and tempura at the table. I had a feeling they wanted us to eat quickly and leave. Everything was out of this world and when we walked outside, a line of 20+ people had formed, no wonder.

Later on we met with our research groups. After exchanging some omiyage, we got right into it, and we all explained our presentations and topics. We interviewed them briefly and I was able to get some good info from Makoto, who was helping me out today. It was a fun evening, and somehow, yet again, we decided to eat. This time, 300 yen Doria. It’s similar to risotto, but more filling and cheesy. After saying goodbye to the Meiji students, we called it a night to prep for our free time the following day. Successful I would say.

Being Korean in Japan

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.

Kindred Souls: The People of Japan

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Junki and his constant grin

Junki and his constant grin


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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.

En Dance Studio

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

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

En Dance Studio x MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE

En Dance Studio x MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldIrKtocobc

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.

Japan-exclusive MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE T-shirt!

Japan-exclusive MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE T-shirt!

The “Trap” of Limited Edition Goods

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.

Regional (Kyoto, Kyoto Station, Tokyo, and Sky Tree) limited products

Regional limited products (Kyoto Station, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sky Tree)

Seasonal limited products (desserts, alcoholic drink, juice, and fries)

Seasonal limited products (desserts, alcoholic drink, juice, and potato chips)

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.