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.

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.

Sayonara Meiji

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.

Honoring Hiroshima and Miyajima’s Majesty

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!

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

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

Presentation Day!

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.

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.

Hello Meiji!

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!

 

The Historic, the New, and Everything In-between

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.

Welcome back to Tokyo

By: Steve Nguyen

Good morning Kyoto! Today June 11 is our last day in Kyoto and we have free time until 12:45 pm. A lot of us broke up into different groups. Some of us went to the arcade, others went shopping in the malls near Kyoto station, and I decided to rent a bike and ride down the Kamo River. The bike shop was just around the corner from the our hotel and the rates were really good. It cost me about $8 to rent a bicycle for a day. Going to the river is very easy because you just have to head in the general direction of the river until you see it.  Almost every bridge has stairs or slope for people or bicyclists. I only had a limited time to ride on the river plain so I decided to head north because I was told it had beautiful scenery.

Here we go! I cruised along the Kamo river on this bicycle

Here we go! I cruised along the Kamo river on this bicycle.

When I got to the river I noticed that the river plain was clean just like Kyoto and Tokyo. I found it very nice that we can find areas with nature, even though we are in a big city. The river plain was very pleasant and serene. It wasn’t very crowded this Friday morning, but I saw some people eating, chatting, and sleeping along the river. There were many ducks, swans, and cranes along the river enjoying their day as well. This scene reminded me of the scenes in Pico Iyer’s The Lady and the Monk when Iyer would walk with Sachiko in the beautiful and serene parks in Japan. Experiencing Japan’s nature in real life helped me grasp Japan’s respect for nature.  In each place we have visited, mankind has coexisted with nature.  As Iyer described in his books, Japan’s respect for nature is beautiful. Perhaps the Japanese respect for life and others stems from their respect for nature which can be seen everywhere in Japan if you know where to look.

The river plain by Kamo river was serene and beautiful. There were many wildlife and many people jogging, eating, chatting, and resting along the river plain. If I had more time I would do all of that and more along the river!

The river plain by Kamo river was serene and beautiful. There was lots of wildlife and many people jogging, eating, chatting, and resting along the river plain. If I had more time I would do all of that and more along the river! 

I had to get back to the hotel at 12:45 pm, but got lost on the way back because all the bridges that connect to the street look the same. Luckily Kyoto tower is a major land mark by our hotel. I went down the river until I was near the tower that looked like a giant daikon. I arrived safely and on time. Bye Kyoto, thanks for all the good memories! The ride back to Tokyo took about 3 hours, so many of us got some good rest and sleep.

Kyoto Tower is a major landmark near Kyoto station. To me it looks like a giant Daikon. I got lost a little bit but thanks to Tokyo Tower I was able to get back on time.

Kyoto Tower is a major landmark near Kyoto station. To me it looks like a giant Daikon. I got lost a little bit but thanks to Kyoto Tower I was able to get back on time.

When we got back to our home in Jimbocho Sakura Hotel, some of us went out to dinner with the Meiji students while some of us (myself included) decide to stay in the hotel and get some rest.  Later that night Andi, Chris, and I headed out to Ikebukuro to go to the legendary Penguin Bar. Going to Ikebukuro station was easy, but finding the bar was a little bit harder. We got lost, but we found a lot of interesting things. Ikebukuro has a very interesting night life. There were many other young people looking for fun, host and hostesses advertising for their restaurant or club, and the fabled love hotels we have heard about. There were also many restaurants with delicious looking food around us. We went to a very busy ramen shop and ate some very delicious ramen.  Nearby was a Don Quijote (a mega store chain in Japan that sells many cheap items) so we stopped by after dinner. While the ladies were looking around I was looking at Japanese gag shirts. I was really surprised to see that the Japanese also had their own versions of gag shirts. This goes closely with my research which is on western symbols and phrases on Japanese T shirts. What I noticed on Japanese gag shirts, is that most of it is written in Japanese. Perhaps shirts that meant to look cool or make a political statement are usually written in English while shirts written in Kanji are worn for humor. The types of gag shirts in the store reminds me of the shirts we find at a gag store in the United States called Spencer’s.  Throughout the trip, I have experienced the same experience as Pico Iyer in his book where he realized that Japan and the west are not so different after all.

Here is an examples of gag shirts in Japan. They are often have a simple design and is written in Kanji

Here are examples of gag shifts in Japan. They often have a simple design and are written in Kanji.

After doing some shopping, the three of us stumbled into a couples’ park.  We think it was a couples’ park because there were many couples there and they were showing personal displays of affection, such as holding hands.  This was interesting because we did not see many couples showing affection in public. At night there is a lot more freedom and anonymity so young couples like the ones in the park can express their love for each other in public.  This reminds me of the concept tatemae and honne as discussed in class.  For many Japanese people they have to maintain tatemae and keep a public face by acting like everyone else in society while honne, the true self, is only expressed at home or at night when they are anonymous.  It was an interesting contrast to see young people loosening up, enjoying the night with their partner, and being themselves. It got a little uncomfortable watching the other couples in the park so we left for the Penguin Bar.

Here is picture of the couples park we went to. It was a beautiful sight to see tatemae and honne in real life, but we got uncomfortable watching so we left.

Here is picture of the couples’ park we went to. It was a beautiful sight to see tatemae and honne in real life.

We originally did not know the directions to the Penguin Bar. Something interesting was that when we asked Japanese girls where it was, most of them pointed us to the general direction to the bar while men did not even knew it existed.  When we arrived, it was clear that this bar is mainly catered to girls and couples. It was a very classy place with waiters and waitresses dressed up in vests that made them look like penguins. When we saw the penguins all of our heart beats jumped; the penguins were very cute. We all took pictures of them and Chris wanted to set them free. It was a very cute and cool bar.

After getting lost numerous times we were glad to enter the legendary Penguin Bar.

After getting lost numerous times, we were glad to enter the legendary Penguin Bar.

We enjoyed ourselves in the bar for a really long time and had “Real-Girl-talk”. We enjoyed ourselves for so long, that we missed the last train home. It was fine though because there were three of us so it was not expensive taking a taxi home. In total it cost us about $10 each and interestingly this was only the second time we have ridden a car in Japan.  What an amazing night in Ikebukuro. I’m looking forward to getting lost and finding my way with my friends!