From the West to the East!

By: Chandler Zausner

Last week may have been a long week, which was a half of hard work, but we’re finally off to Japan. Since the first meeting in April, we’ve learned so much about government, business and politics- the Iron Triangle of Japan. We’ve watched movies about politicians, on outsiders as well as those of mixed descent. Now it’s time that we step into the shoes of Americans like Commodore Perry and General MacArthur who encountered Japan at various stages, as we make our journey to a new land. It doesn’t matter how heavy the suitcase or how long the line is at TSA, we are determined to get to our destination. Everyone woke up early to get to LAX, possibly woke up even earlier than necessary because of the excitement. At least the sun is up, unlike the Global East Asia China trip students who took off at 4:30 am!

The flight is eleven hours long, but strangely, it will actually be tomorrow afternoon by the time we arrive in Tokyo. I plan to use the time on the flight to sleep, practice phrases in Japanese, review my research, and plan our adventures! I am a visual anthropologist and transmedial storyteller. My interests are in amplifying the small voice of marginalized individuals and communities that are in danger of extinction. My work ranges from documentary essays, both written and film, to narrative fiction and abstract multimedia installations. My research topic in Japan is to explore one of those marginalized communities, to investigate the culture bound syndrome of hikikomori, which is when young individuals, mostly men, shut themselves away in their homes for months or years. I hope to visit local community centers, agencies and newspapers to understand how other Japanese view this issue. I’ll also be exploring how modern culture portrays hikikomori in an increasingly positive light and whether that affects the people themselves or those around them in a positive way. I’ve spent a lot of time watching anime and reading manga- purely research, of course!

The Plane to take us on our Fantastic Journey

Although our classroom discussions have centered on “Japan, Inc.,” I’m looking forward to experiencing “Cool Japan.” I’ve signed up for almost every sight to see on the class doc, everything from ancient temples to hedgehog cafes. Ancient Japanese art, literature and culture is something that was not included in this class, but are subjects that I’ve taken in the past, which have exposed me to treasures from The Pillow Book to Bunraku to Legends of the elusive Kitsune. I’m nervous about speaking the little Japanese I know and hope to find safety in the group, especially our Meiji partners. The more I think about it, it feels like a voyage to another planet but I know that we will discover more in common than I know.

Everyone seems to have a range of light and heavy loads of luggage, a of snacks and breakfast are being eaten and our classmates are coming into the airport from a multitude of rides. After meeting in the terminal and passing through TSA, we are gathered at the gate, waiting for our flight to be called, our bags by our sides, and our adventure to begin.

Everyone together

Looking for the Chinese in Japan

By: Sophia Li

When I purchased my roundtrip ticket to Tokyo less than two months ago, I was incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to explore a new country, no less one that has developed such a “cool” reputation. Everything from high-tech robots to Hello Kitty has made me want to come to Japan.

A street in Yotsuya.

A street in Yotsuya

And yet, as I was frantically packing at 5:30 the morning of my flight, I felt a little uneasy about engaging with Japanese culture. Both my parents grew up in China, and suffice it to say my mom does not exactly like Japan. The Rape of Nanking was not that long ago, and the fact that there are Japanese nationalists who refuse to own up to Japan’s dark history makes me rather uncomfortable. Of course, the United States has committed its own share of unspeakable crimes, and there are plenty of problems in America currently. Issues in Japan are not worse than issues in the United States simply because I am not as familiar with them, and I recognize that fact. At the same time, I think that in order to be a “critical tourist” as our guest speaker Ryoko Nishijima and Professor Kurashige have instructed us to do, it is necessary to take the good with the bad, and to not let Japan’s wonders blind me from being able to see its problems.

It is not enough to just make observations about Japan; my goal for the next two weeks is to contextualize my experiences within Japan’s political and historical landscape. With all of that being said, I have loved Japan thus far. I love that Japan is so pedestrian friendly. Los Angeles could learn a lot from Tokyo. The hardest thing I’ve had to do in my first couple days in Japan is find places to throw away my trash in public.

"Pedestrian Paradise" in Akihabara.

Pedestrian Paradise” in Akihabara.

Luckily, I’ve been able to get by on the 10 or so Japanese phrases I know. Most Japanese workers know enough English, even if only a few words, to bridge the language gap. Something that has surprised me is I have not yet met or spoken with any Chinese people (that I know of). This is surprising to me considering our Teaching Assistant Yu “Toku” Tokunaga taught us that Chinese immigrants make up the largest foreign population in Japan. I have probably interacted with Chinese workers without recognizing that they were Chinese, but I have not noticed their influence on Japanese society. In comparison, Koreans are a smaller foreign population as far as nationality is concerned, yet their influence can be seen with the popularity of Korean culture and a large number of descendants of Korean immigrants live in Japan.

Japan has exploited Chinese labor through “trainee” programs, which claim to prepare Chinese workers for jobs but in reality just contract out minimum wage work. These programs are three-year contracts, at the end of which Chinese workers must leave Japan and return to China, often with no better skills than the ones they entered Japan with. For example, Toku once interviewed a Chinese trainee who wanted to become a tour guide but her work consisted of inspecting computer chips for several hours every day. At least from what I have observed so far, the Chinese immigrants who work low wage jobs seem to function as an invisible minority in Japan, particularly because many factory jobs are located in rural areas, out of sight from Japan’s metropolitan areas. Even though there are Chinese people who do work in visible places, like convenience stores, I have been unable to find “Chinese” elements in Japanese society other than kanji, Chinese written characters that are used in the Japanese written language.

I hope to speak more with scholars from Meiji University in the next week to get a better understanding of how Chinese workers function in Japanese society.

Big Day in LA! (5/26)

By Lian Eytinge

Tuesday, May 26 was a big day. First, we met in class and discussed travel plans and Dower’s historical book, A War Without Mercy. That was the day we talked about how race influenced the way in which Americans viewed the Japanese during WWII. This was a very valuable discussion for me in particular because for my final research project I am looking at Japanese perceptions of Japan in response to globalization. By learning about how America perceives Japan I can gain a deeper insight into the kind of position Japan had in the international sphere from a historical standpoint. The racially charged viewpoint of Japanese as vermin or lesser has shifted over time and so it is good to see some of the original misconceptions and how modern perceptions have developed from this old view of Japan. For example, the Japanese people were dehumanized during the war by being represented as monkeys, rats, and other vermin needed exterminating. Dower called it “photocopies of the same person” and “an obedient mass with but a single mind” which made it easier for American soldiers to indiscriminately kill.

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Classes at USC

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Global East Asia Japan at Dodger Field

Guest lecture from Scott Akasaki

Guest lecture from Scott Akasaki

After the lesson, we went to Dodger Stadium and took a tour of the place. It was a really special thing to do as the stadium only offers two public tours a day! From learning more about the history of the Dodgers, we were able to understand how a traditionally American game opened up and accepted Japanese players and how there is a mutual respect for each other because of shared reverence of the game. This was a really interesting experience for me since I had never gone to a Dodger’s game or been to the stadium before! Once the tour was done we all went to speak with Mr. Scott Akasaki. He is a Japanese-American who went to live in Japan and through his passion for baseball, gained experience in the Japanese baseball field and was able to get a job focused around what he is passionate about. He told us about how rewarding it was to sign two Japanese players to the Dodgers as well as frustrating stories about the difficulty of translation and cultural difference. It was really inspiring to hear about how he learned Japanese and created his career path.

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Japanese American Museum and Hello Kitty

The Japanese American National Museum was next on our list. We went to the Hello Kitty exhibit and saw how a tiny coin purse turned into an international icon for cuteness. Seeing how the Japanese Hello Kitty, or “Kitty-chan,” was able to warm the hearts of people around the world was very cool because it showed how the Japanese “cute” culture is accessible and attractive to people all around the world. Other than the Hello Kitty exhibit there was the permanent installment of the history of Japanese-Americans. This museum is so important because it shows what kind of struggles racial minorities face in America and acts as a home to the important history of the hybrid culture of Asian-Americans and specifically Japanese-Americans. Going to this museum was such an eye-opening experience. You can learn so much from the pieces and the people presented in it. If you’re ever in the Los Angeles area you should definitely check it out!

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Japanese American Historical Exhibit

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Japanese ramen in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

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Baseball game Dodgers versus the Braves

Lastly we went to the Dodger’s game! After some quality ramen, we watched the ball game against the Atlanta Braves that night at Dodger Stadium. We beat them 7-0, it was a great game to see before leaving for Japan. While we’re in Japan we will be seeing another professional baseball game, so it will be interesting to see the difference in Japanese and American baseball.

Overall, this was a fun-filled, insightful day where we got to not only learn more about Japan and American cultures, but also about Los Angeles itself by going to all of these different places this amazing city has to offer!

Global East Asia Japan 2015

By Jotham Sadan

This year, Global East Asia scholars are participating in the USC Dornsife Problems without Passports (PwP) program, a month-long program aimed at teaching students through problem-based learning and experiences that go beyond the classroom. As a part of this program, we will spend two weeks in the US gaining a theoretical understanding of our problems of interest in class, spending time with guest lecturers and preparing research projects for execution abroad. The latter two weeks will be spent in Japan researching individually chosen topics and experiencing firsthand the issues we studied prior to our Japan trip.

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Group meeting at a park near the Japan Foundation

We are focusing on historical cultural misunderstandings between the United States and Japan: where they originated, why they happened, and how to analyze modern issues of similar nature by applying what we learned in the case of the US and Japan. More specifically, we are examining American stereotypes of Japan and Japanese stereotypes of America: starting with the 1980’s when US-Japan tensions were high, then looking back at their presence in World War II, and then using this knowledge to make broader statements about the prominence of these stereotypes today.

We spent our first two days of discussion pinpointing stereotypes of Japan from the past thirty years, both from personal experience and using Pico Iyer’s The Lady and The Monk and David Mura’s Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei. While both memoirs detailed very different experiences of foreigners in the same country, one of the themes that appeared frequently in both works was that Japan was viewed as an enigma by the West. According to individual accounts within both books, Japan was the complete opposite of the US in many ways. Where the US praised individuality and creativity, Japan emphasized being a cog in the machine. Where the US prided itself as being an equal opportunity country, Japan had strict gender roles that oppressed women, as evidenced by Sachiko throughout Iyer’s book.

Once the discussion was opened to analysis of these claims, we quickly began to discover that several of the ways in which we viewed our country were the same as the Japanese viewed theirs, and that all of these radical ideas we attributed to the Japanese could just as easily be applied to the US. This trend is most easily demonstrated in John W. Dower’s War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, in which the author examines stereotypes like the ones above in World War II propaganda. Speaking specifically to the issue of inequality, the US made accusations that the Japanese mistreated the Chinese and Koreans (Kindle Loc 466), and that the United States was fighting for the free world. On the other side of the war, the Japanese pointed out that the States’ treatment of African Americans was inhumane and that the imperialist West was treating its constituent colonial citizens as sub-human, and that in fact Japan was the true freedom fighter.

All of the examples we studied afterwards all pointed to the same message: for two countries that consider one another opposites, the United States and Japan have a whole lot in common. Moreover, the idea of Japan being an “enigma” was less a matter of its culture being completely different and more a matter of perspective.

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The instructor (left) teaching us how to say “ありがとうございます (Arigatou gozaimasu = Thank you).

During our trip to the Japan Foundation, we discussed this topic briefly, but focused more on preparing to travel to a country whose native language most of us do not know how to speak. In the hour and a half clinic, they taught us etiquette in public places and a few important phrases, such as “なになにはどこですか” doko desu ka, or where, and “ありがとうございます” Arigatou gozaimasu, or thank you,  to help us navigate and communicate during our free time.

The more I prepare for our flight next Thursday, the more excited I get. Having spoken to several of my fellow classmates, I know they feel the same. We may only have two more days of class left before our trip, but we definitely have a lot more to discuss before we travel to the Land of the Rising Sun.