USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

July 25, 2014

Staying Fit in Tokyo

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:58 am

by Kent Oya

Being the gym rat that I am meant that one of my first priorities after arriving in Japan was to find a good gym. Upon searching among many online travel forums, I found that the general attitude was “good luck finding a decent one.” Memberships are expensive, machines are preferred instead of free weights, and there’s some unique gym etiquette.

I knew I was going to eat a lot during my stay (and yes… yes, I did), so I continued my search for fitness and stumbled upon my perfect gym: the Chiyoda Sports Center.

Only one stop away from Sakura Hotel!

Only one stop away from Sakura Hotel!

One of Japan’s best kept secrets is the abundance of workout opportunities available to the public. Each ward, or ku (区), operates public sports centers that offer various sports, arts, and cultural activities. Therefore, one can learn kendo, play soccer, go swimming, practice golf swings, and much more. And here is the best part: these services are offered at a fraction of what private companies charge. For example, Chiyoda Sports Center offers all these services for a measly 500 yen per day (300 yen for ward residents).

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Pay for your ticket here.

I immediately broke many rules of etiquette during my first time at the gym. First, I was stopped from entering the room because I had worn my outdoor shoes, so I had to go back downstairs and rent a pair of clean running shoes.

Bring another pair of shoes to change into!

Bring another pair of shoes to change into!

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July 23, 2014

DisneySea

Filed under: Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:25 am

by Charlsie Hoffman

I had one goal I would not budge on when planning my trip to Japan: go to DisneySea. I set the precedent back in Los Angeles when I first met my Global East Asia classmates: “Hi, my name is Charlsie, and I am most excited to go to DisneySea in Japan.” The Meiji University students received very much the same introduction upon our first meeting. Luckily, from both the Meiji and USC students, I received positive feedback in the form of excited gasps, giggles, and a few high-pitched squeals. Together, we scheduled a full day for DisneySea, and thus Operation Storm Disney was set into motion. In the days before our visit, I shopped around Harajuku to find a cute Japanese-inspired outfit, as I felt more free and inspired to explore my fashion sense here than in the United States.

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When the day finally arrived, I rallied the troops and we started our long train ride to DisneySea.  Much like the monorail at the Disneyland Resort in California, DisneySea has its own train equipped with Mickey-shaped windows to transport us from the public station. Inside, instrumental versions of Disney songs played, and we all willingly sang along. At last, the train stopped and we were finally at our destination.

In front of Mermaid Lagoon

In front of Mermaid Lagoon

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July 22, 2014

Going to the Arcade

Filed under: Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 10:32 am

by David Collier

On our first full day in Japan, all the students went with Chad to Akihabara. While the main purpose of the trip was to visit Yodobashi, we also visited a Don Quijote store. Inside Don Quijote, we experienced our first arcade center in Japan. Some of us sat down to play Street Fighter, and at one point Andy played it against one of the locals. However, this guy had obviously played the game a lot and knew all of the combination moves and special skills. We could only stay in the arcade for a short time, and we didn’t get to play most of the games there, but I have since had several opportunities to go to other arcades.

The Taiko Drum Game

Taiko drum game

All of the arcades that I’ve visited have had the same games, so you don’t need to go to a specific arcade to play a particular game. For example, every arcade has Taiko drum games, Gundam games, Street Fighter games, as well as an abundance of crane games. The word taiko refers to Japanese drums, and the game is comparable to Guitar Hero in the US. Though I haven’t played this game yet, I’ve watched other USC students play it, and even though it was their first attempt at the game, all of them played admirably. I have also noticed that even though there are more crane games here than in the US, they are not any easier to beat.

Andy racing Junki (A Meiji student) at Mario Cart

Andy racing Junki (a Meiji student) at Mario Kart

The game I’ve played the most is a rhythm game where there is a grid of 16 squares that light up, and you have to push them with precise timing as they light up. A song is playing at the same time, and the buttons light up in time with the music. Hitting combos (multiple squares) in a row is very satisfying, and the fast paced songs ensure there is no lack of combos.

A Rhythm game being played by Lisa and Sarah

A rhythm game being played by Lisa and Sarah

It is disappointing that arcades are falling away in America because they are so much fun to go to with friends, as we saw here in Japan.

June 30, 2014

Our Trip to the Imperial Palace, Yasukuni Shrine, Sky Tree and Asakusa

Filed under: Class,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:44 am

by David Collier and Andy Gause

Early Tuesday morning the group visited the Tokyo Imperial Palace. We were immediately struck by the enormous ornate gates. We strolled across the gravel footpaths, admiring the lush foliage. It was quite impressive because we were able to see the foundations for the castles that once sat next to the palace. The scale of the peaceful complex was immense. We witnessed people painting the scenery, couples walking hand-in-hand together, and an older gentlemen napping under a tree. We took several fun group photos, including some in which we all jumped at the same time.

One two three JUMP

One, two, three, JUMP

Next we visited Yasukuni Shrine, in which 2.5 million military casualties stretching back from the Meiji Restoration are enshrined, including fourteen Class A war criminals. We couldn’t take pictures inside of the shrine and the atmosphere surrounding the shrine was tranquil. If we hadn’t known the history, we wouldn’t have realized the controversial nature of the place.

A group photo at Yasukuni Shrine

A group photo at Yasukuni Shrine

Next we visited the nearby WWII museum. Our professor asked us to figure out the narrative presented by the museum. We came to the conclusion that there was some definite fact-stretching in the museum’s representation of the war. One of the placards claimed the battleship Yamato crashed its way into the enemy fleet. However, the battleship sunk before it ever reached the fleet. The museum also presented the invasion of Manchuria and other countries in Southeast Asia as an action of necessity. The segment at the end of the museum showing the faces of the (mostly young) men and women who died in the war was particularly harrowing.

The next day we were driven to Sky Tree, the imposing TV tower in the heart of Tokyo. Standing at 634 meters tall, the structure rose into the overcast sky. We went to the mall where there were several stores selling merchandise related to Japanese TV. One store in particular had some colorful products related to Pokémon, anime and other popular Japanese television shows.

The imposing Sky Tree

The imposing Sky Tree

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June 16, 2014

We Exist in Japan Now!

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 7:25 am

by Cody Uyeda and Ryan Bobell

After a ten-hour flight (complete with an incessantly screaming child), we weren’t quite sure what to make of our arrival in Japan. As the plane finally pulled into the terminal, the windows were pulled down, and it was still quite dim inside. It felt like we still could have been anywhere. Following such a long flight, it couldn’t properly hit us that we were actually in Japan. We could have been flying over the United States the past ten hours, for all we knew. Our sense of arrival didn’t set in until we finally stepped off the plane. Immediately upon entering the airport, there was something different about the very atmosphere. It was clean, quiet, and very orderly—a departure from the expected large crowds and noise. Everything was calm and efficient. Although Japanese was everywhere around us, signs posted in multiple languages made the transition much smoother than it otherwise could have been. After making bathroom and currency exchange runs, Tanya, Natasha, and we (Cody and Ryan) waited for everyone else to arrive in the airport. Little did we know that they were waiting only a couple of hundred feet away. Once the two groups finally discovered one another, there was little time to waste. With our fearless leader, Chad, at the helm, we all jumped on a bus to the Sakura Hotel, where we would be setting up shop for the coming month.

Our Tokyo living quarters: the Sakura Hotel

Our Tokyo living quarters: the Sakura Hotel

At the Sakura Hotel, the first thing we noticed was that everything seemed to be compacted or shrunk to fit the minimal amount of space needed, especially compared to the spacious American standard of living we had all been used to. The chairs seemed smaller, the beds seemed smaller, and the rooms were definitely smaller. In addition, the shower and sink setup is not what some of us had first expected. Rather than being set up in each room, they were set up by floor—a set of two sinks and two showers to be shared by everyone. Also, the shower had a mirror in it, which was more than a little disconcerting the first time you step into it. The toilets are interesting too. As you turn the knob to flush, a little sink on top of the toilet comes on for you to wash your hands. Convenient, but as usual, no towels are provided. Overall, though, the Sakura Hotel is a pleasant and convenient place to live. And it really defines the ideas of Japanese compactness and economically small living.

Our first meal in Japan! (Pork Shogayaki).

Our first meal in Japan! (Pork Shogayaki)

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July 25, 2013

Cat Café

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:51 am

By Matt Wong

Recently, Japan’s various “theme cafés” have become widely known due to their depiction in anime and television programs, but perhaps relatively few people have actually set foot inside a ghost café, cat café, or maid café, to name a few that exist. (I was also told by a chef in Tokyo that bird cafés exist which feature various parakeets, but only near Hiroshima).

Immediately before coming to Japan I had just finished watching an anime which described the cat café as something akin to a “paradise on earth,” so it was the first item on my list of things to do in Tokyo. A few other USC students also were interested in cats, so on our first free day we head off to Shibuya’s「ハピ猫」(Happy Cat) Café as soon as it opened in the morning.

There was a waiting room between the entrance and the actual café. A posted sign explained that such a precaution was necessary so that the cats don’t leap out and escape. (In the photograph below, this waiting room was located immediately outside of the window at the reception desk.)

Entrance of ハピ猫 as seen from interior

Upon entering, we were greeted by several varieties of cats, all of which were extremely well groomed and unafraid of humans. Some of them were wearing shirts, and the ones with pink shirts we were not allowed to touch, although we weren’t given an explanation as to why.

The pricing system was relatively simple: we each paid for a period of time to stay in the café (about an hour if I remember correctly), which also included one drink (different types of coffee and tea were available) and some small sweets. I paid an extra amount for a container of food to feed the cats.

Cat sitting on air conditioner

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July 2, 2013

Tokyo Stock Exchange and Bank of Japan

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 10:19 am

By Annika Linde

An eventful and tiring day – we had two tours after class covering the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Bank of Japan. The stock exchange was very welcoming and took a few minutes to replace some of the screens, usually filled with stock prices and statistics, with a welcome message just for us!

Our welcome message at the Tokyo Stock Exchange

Our welcome message at the Tokyo Stock Exchange

Later, we were lucky enough to witness a ceremony initiating a new company to the stock exchange! Only 66 companies were added to the TSE last year, so we were lucky to witness such a rare event.

Announcing the ceremony

Announcing the ceremony

The ceremony itself was quite short and to the point. It consisted of company executives ringing a ceremonial bell five times – one of japan’s several “lucky numbers.”

Another interesting thing we noticed in the stock exchange was that the numbers on the ticker were opposite in color from those on the NYSE. Red being a lucky color in Japan is assigned to the positive numbers, while the negative numbers are, counterintuitively for us, green.  Our tour guide said she thought of the red numbers as the market “heating up” – but offered no explanation for the use of green. I think it’s just to confuse Westerners.

colors! an up and down day

Colors! An up and down day

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June 25, 2013

Famous Landmarks and Museums

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:00 am

…and a Lot of Walking.

By Sally Kim

In only a single week, I feel like we saw everything an average tourist in Tokyo would see in a month: the Yasukuni Shrine and Museum, the Imperial Palace, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and Asakusa… wow! So allow me to take the next few minutes to break down every moment.

(But before I officially begin:) Tuesday after class, a group of us had lunch at Go! Go! Curry! (ゴーゴーカレー), and I ordered from a machine for the first time. The efficiency looms high in this nation.

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Who needs pen and paper when there’s touchscreen?

During the lecture that day we briefly touched on the Tokyo Trials that tried various war criminals, including military officers and political officials, which meant we also mentioned the controversies of the Yasukuni Shrine, where they’ve enshrined the spirits of those leaders who died, that is, the war criminals.

The weather had been really gloomy that day with sporadic showers, so visiting the Yasukuni Shrine felt more solemn than I think it would normally seem. There is a museum adjacent to the shrine that exhibits and honors those who fought in WWII. Looking at the torpedoes and kamikaze planes, and seeing actual letters and cards sent by the pilots to their families reminded me of my IB history class days during high school. I thought back to the essay I wrote on the trial of General Yamashita and my presentation on the kamikaze pilots. That day I was finally able to place faces on those assignments, and I felt my heart really sink in the museum. I wondered if there could be any way I could truly understand the Japanese position of creating an entire museum full of such tragic history and stories.

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June 24, 2013

Yasukuni, Asakusa, and Lots of Tempura!

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 2:49 pm

By David Gero

The honden at Yasukuni Shrine

The honden at Yasukuni Shrine

The other day we visited Yasukuni Shrine, a location surrounded by controversy. Yasukuni was criticized when it made the bold move to enshrine some of the Class A war criminals from WWII. Since then, politicians like former Prime Minister Koizumi would enflame the issue when visiting the shrine while in office. Fortunately, we did not draw much controversy with our visit.

The grounds outside were very peaceful and serene with a long path leading up to the main shrine, or honden. However, because the main shrine is closed to the public, our group spent most of its time in the Shrine’s museum. Inside were several documents and relics from World War II. There was also a hall filled with old machinery such as a plane, submarine, and tank. I found it especially interesting to be inside a museum that represented a regrettable war for the nation. In regards to the United States, only the Vietnam War and Civil War come to mind as engagements that might embarrass the country. However, even the Vietnam War, though unpopular, was intended to combat the spread of communism. The United States was not trying to conquer Vietnam. And the Civil War would only embarrass those states that fought for the Confederacy.

A Japanese fighter plane

A Japanese fighter plane

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June 12, 2013

First Day in Tokyo!

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 7:38 am

By Yael Freiberg

We arrived in Tokyo late at night on Saturday, so Sunday was our first full day in Japan. Because it was a free day, four of us decided to go on a tour of Meiji Jingu organized by our hotel.

Meiji Jingu, or Meiji Shrine, is a large forested area located right next to Harajuku Station. It’s bustling with tourists and, according to our guides, boasts the largest torii, or gates, in all of Japan.

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Meiji Shrine torii

We walked along a wide muggy path overhung with deep green trees, stopping along the way so our guides could tell us more about this Shinto shrine. Something they told us that stuck with me was that visitors to the shrine are supposed to walk on the sides of the path because the center is where the gods pass.

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Walk on the sides of the path

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