August 29, 2014
By Tanya Yang
One of the first things you’ll notice in Japan is the abundance of bikes — maybe not as dense as rush hour on Trousdale, but it’s getting there. Walk through the streets of Tokyo and, within just a block or two, you could count up to hundreds of them, neatly parked on the sidewalks.
While this didn’t surprise me too much, I didn’t expect to see such a wide variety of people using a bicycle as a way to commute. Having lived in LA my whole life, I’ve been accustomed to seeing people driving around most of the time, or spotting the odd health-conscious soul biking around downtown or Santa Monica Beach. Before coming to Japan, I had assumed that most people walked or took the subway to work. However, the reality is that wherever you go in Japan, you can observe businessmen, gaggles of schoolgirls, women in heels, young children, and mothers pedaling their way around the city on bicycles. One thing that caught my eye was the amount of baby-friendly bikes with seats attached to the back — you’ll often see one or two toddlers perched there.
By Ryan Bobell
On a very dark and rainy June 23, I made one of the most important nerd pilgrimages of my life; I traveled to the Pokemon Center in Tokyo. Pokemon Centers, for those who may not know, are stores dedicated solely to selling merchandise from the Pokemon franchise. When we arrived I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; I had only heard of friends of friends who had made the trek before bringing back large quantities of Pokemon goods to the United States as presents and souvenirs.
As we ran up the rain slicked stairs from the metro station, the large Pikachu themed storefront came into view. Despite the depressing weather, I was stoked. After posing for a photo (see below), we charged on inside, where, sadly, we were not allowed to take any photos.
Inside the Pokemon Center, I quickly realized that it went far beyond simply being a Pokemon toy store. As I walked along the rows of merchandise, I found anything and everything Pokemon-themed. The shelves were stocked with everything from plushies to key-chains, and from cups to office supplies.
While most of our group made their way around the store casually perusing the goods, I methodically (and perhaps a bit maniacally) looked through every single item on every single shelf of every single isle of the store. I had brought with me a long list of my friends’ and siblings’ favorite Pokemon characters; I didn’t want to pass up a neat gift for anyone. Pokemon Centers are famous for their rare and exclusive Pokemon goods that you really can’t find anywhere else.
August 13, 2014
By Ryan Bobell
Getting around Tokyo was surprisingly easy.
I don’t mean to say that the public transportation, road infrastructure, and city planning were well designed, although they clearly were, and the excellent quality of Tokyo’s infrastructure was one of the most impressive things about my stay in Tokyo. As an English-speaking person with zero experience outside the United States, Tokyo was shockingly easy to navigate because of the extreme prevalence of English throughout the city.
The use of English on restaurants, store signs, road markers, and throughout the metro system was so abundant that it appeared as though English was nearly as common as Japanese throughout the city. This made exploring Tokyo safely and effectively a very simple matter. In fact, I would say that my experience using the Tokyo public transportation system was much easier and efficient than my experiences with that of my own hometown, Los Angeles.
Having such easy access to English road, metro line, and city district names really helped when traveling around Tokyo. While using the system, I often found myself wondering why English-language signs were so common in a nearly homogeneous Japanese population. I imagine, and light research backs my theory, that part of the common English usage is that the Japanese government is trying to proactively encourage foreign travelers and businesspersons to visit Japan. This, especially coupled with the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and a variety of multilingual signs and services, will be increasingly helpful to foreign tourism.
The only problem with having so much English in Tokyo (and it really is a problem) is that it often makes it harder to become fully immersed in the Japanese language. Whether a foreign visitor is wanting to jump into Japanese for fun, as a challenge, or to improve their speaking skills, the fact is that when there is so much English around they will inevitably use it as a crutch. I know that without so many signs in my native language I would have had to delve deeper into practical Japanese and further develop my conversational skills when asking for assistance or directions. Ultimately it becomes a debate of convenience versus immersion, and chances are that convenience will win out simply because the positives of an increase in foreign travelers and business are so important to the Japanese economy.
I will, however, concede that when I became (mildly) lost in Shibuya one day, the English-language signs and directions really did save my day.
August 7, 2014
By Stephanie Liang
Tsukiji Fish Market has the best sushi. Period. I visited the market around noon after deciding not to brave the usual 3am tuna auction, or the subsequent 6am lineup for freshly caught sushi. Besides, I don’t think my palette is refined enough to taste the difference between sashimi caught an hour ago and that caught 6 hours ago.
The first thing we saw when we entered the market was a giant tuna sitting out in front of a restaurant. It was by far the largest fish I had ever laid eyes on. As we walked through the market, various vendors offering fresh seafood bombarded us with sales and special prices.
We decided to wander around the market some more before sitting down for lunch. There were many food stands selling various items, such as Himalayan salt, almonds, dried seaweed, dried fish, and even sushi-shaped candy. It was a great place to buy souvenirs. We also found a store selling various cooking supplies.
Unsure about which restaurant to visit, we simply chose the restaurant with the longest line. Originally we had wanted to try Sushi Dai, but it was unfortunately closed on Sundays. We waited approximately 45 minutes for what would be the freshest, most delicious sushi I’ve ever tasted in my life. After being seated at the counter, the chef immediately greeted us and recommended a some menu options.
August 5, 2014
by Benjamin Surbrook
Near the beginning of our trip to Japan, one of the Meiji students asked our group if any of us wanted to go to a baseball game. Of course I immediately said yes as I had heard from many friends that Japanese baseball games were extremely exciting and entertaining because the fans are so into the games.
So, on Sunday, July 6th, Kenta, one of the Meiji student supporters, took a group of us to a game at the famous Tokyo Dome. Because there is so much to do there, we actually arrived about two hours before the game started. Upon arriving, we immediately went on the roller coaster right next to Tokyo Dome (fun fact: it goes 130 kilometers/hour!).
After that, because we still had some time before the start of the game, we decided to go to the batting cages. As someone who hasn’t played baseball in 13 years, I will admit this was a bit of a challenge, but it was still a lot of fun (even if the elementary aged children could hit more balls than I could).
July 29, 2014
by Sarah Anne Nakamura
During our first week in Japan we had the opportunity to visit Asakusa, where we went to our first Buddhist temple called Sensou-ji. This was one of the most fascinating places we visited during our program because the area was divided into two main areas: the temple and a small market called Nakamise-Dori.
Before walking to the temple, we made our way through the Nakamise-Dori market, which I calculated to have about 90 stores. Some of the stores had omiyage (souvenirs), shoes, clothes, bags, and unique sweets. I had the chance to taste fresh ningyou-yaki, which is a traditional Japanese cake that is often molded into a Japanese design. The name literally means “fried doll,” which is exactly what we got. I had a bird design, but other students got flowers and lanterns. We could see the ningyou-yaki being made right in front of us with a machine that did everything: pour the batter, bake the cakes, and then individually wrap each one. It was one of the best sweets I had the pleasure of trying in Japan.
July 25, 2014
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.
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).
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.
July 23, 2014
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.
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.
July 22, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.