July 25, 2013
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.)
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.
July 2, 2013
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!
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.
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.
June 25, 2013
…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.
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.
June 24, 2013
By David Gero
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.
June 12, 2013
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.
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.
June 11, 2013
by Lawrence Burns
This is the face you make when you have waited 20 years to experience something and it finally happens. I never dreamed an airport could constitute such a significant accomplishment, but nevertheless I found myself overjoyed having finally arrived in Japan. The last born of several cousins on my father’s side of the family, I could often do nothing but listen as they discussed their personal experiences in Japan, as well as how those experiences granted them further insight into that particular aspect of our heritage. Arriving here has undoubtedly brought me to the realization of just how much I have left to learn about myself, and I could not be more eager to begin. Right before leaving for LAX my Aunt told me that the biggest difference between Japan and America was that the people here were “absolute,” and genuinely threw themselves into the task at hand. I intend to be nothing short of that during my stay here, as I am finally able to witness first hand what my family has made out to be a fairy tale. I have arrived.
July 5, 2012
By Diana Yan
One of the most fascinating experiences in Japan was getting to see and experience so many of my favorite buildings. As an architecture student I spend a lot of time looking at photos and floor plans of the famous buildings but in Tokyo I had the chance to walk through and experience many of buildings I could only previously stare at photos of.
The first building I knew I wanted to see was the Prada store by Herzon and DeMeuron. It was one of my favorite buildings that I learned about in class. On our last day in Tokyo, Kevin and I made a quick stop to stroll around. It was quite the experience.
We went to the roof of the neighboring building to see this view. You can kind of see the inside since we couldn’t get any photos inside.
There was so much to see in Tokyo. Tokyo is so dense with fascinating architecture that I stumbled upon these other buildings.
June 18, 2012
By Ki Bum Kim
To kick off our third week in Japan, our class visited the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to learn more about some of the major symbols of Japan’s economy. As a business major in the Marshall School of Business, I had been looking forward to these visits so that I could gain a more international perspective on fiscal policy and trading, especially since I took a “Trading and Exchanges” course with Professor Larry Harris back at USC.
Our first stop was the Bank of Japan, which was only a couple of subway stations away from the Sakura Hotel, where we are staying in Tokyo. As we entered the courtyard of the fortress-like building, we could see why the BOJ is widely known as a significant cultural landmark. The stately Old Building, built in 1896, contrasted greatly with the modernized buildings that surrounded the bank. As our guide explained later on in the tour, the bank had survived the Great Earthquake of 1923 and the firebombing during World War II, which made it one of the few buildings that remained from the Meiji era.
However, despite how impressive the bank looked from the outside, the most intriguing part of the building may have been the underground vaults. Protected by three doors, including the enormous 25-ton outer door, the vault had many unique features that represented some of the most cutting-edge technology at the time. For example, the architect included a feature that allowed bank officials to reroute water from a nearby river to flood the vault as the last line of defense from thieves. Although the bank floor and the hall of past governors were interesting to see as well, walking through the vault was definitely one of the highlights of the day. (Unfortunately, the BOJ didn’t allow visitors to take pictures, so you’ll have to visit there yourself to see what it looks like!)
After a quick lunch at a nearby shopping complex, we walked over to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where we were guided into a room for a video presentation. The video, led by a cartoon character named “Arrows,” covered the basics of trading and described the transformation of the TSE from a trading floor to an electronic exchange.
Because the TSE is now an electronic exchange, the only people working there were a few regulators that looked over the stock exchange to ensure that there was no fraudulent activities happening in the markets. This meant that we were actually able to walk through and see most of the entire stock exchange (and take lots of pictures without bothering people).
While we were leaving the TSE and getting ready to call it a day, I realized how important the BOJ and TSE are to the economic infrastructure in Japan. Through the changing conditions both in Japan and the world as a whole, the BOJ and TSE were two of the few constants that led the country for the past century. As we learn more about the Japanese economy in our classes this week, I’m sure that our visits will help us gain a greater understanding of the BOJ and TSE’s role in Japan’s economic development.
June 15, 2012
By Keanne Okabayashi
Upon our arrival at The National Diet of Japan, we were informed that we would receive secretary passes for the day—meaning that we had the same level of access to the Diet as the secretarial workers.
With our access passes secured, we could then enter the Diet cafeteria for lunch. As we entered the cafeteria, our group shared a collective gasp at what a far cry the Diet cafeteria was from our memories of the freshman dining halls. We slipped into the embroidered seats and gazed at the ornate molding and wood paneled wall, sensing the prestige of those who dined there.
Following lunch we had the opportunity to see the Speaker Drawing Room, the Chamber of the House of Representatives, the Emperor’s room, and the Central Hall.
At the Chamber of the House of Representatives, I was really able to imagine the proceedings of a plenary sitting. Seated in the balcony designated for foreign diplomats, we looked down to the floor where the tour guide pointed out the semi-circle of Members’ seats, row of Cabinet Minister chairs, the Prime Minster’s seat, and the Speaker’s chair.
Next, we were led past the most exquisite and expensive room of the entire building—the Emperor’s room. The room’s entrance is framed by a giant slab of marble and the interior is made of Japanese cypress. The room is used solely by the Emperor, as it only contains a single chair. The cost of such a beautiful room for the use of a single person? $200 million, which is 10% of the entire building’s cost. Unfortunately, photographs of the Emperor’s room were not allowed.
After seeing the Emperor’s room, we moved to the nearby Central Hall 33 meter high ceilings and light streaming in from many stained glass windows, it was easy to see why this housed the Central Entrance. The Central Entrance is only used for the Emperor during the Opening Ceremony, for Diet members’ first convocation day after election, and for State guests.
My favorite part of the tour came as the tour guide pointed out the red carpet leading up to the Emperor’s room. Standing at the base of the stairs, we were forced to move aside as a group of people swept by. As they briskly moved past us, all eyes were on the man leading the group. Following his passing, Professor Katada informed the group that the man was DPJ Chairman Koshiishi. To me, that moment really captured Japan’s transformation. As we stood at the base of the stairs used for the Emperor’s ceremonial entrance, we were quickly confronted with the present as Koshiishi moved past us.
May 30, 2012
By Alex Norby and Michelle Armstrong
The day was Tuesday. It was our fourth day in Japan and second day in class when our professor Saori Katada reached to erase the yellow chalk on the long blackboard. Upon brushing the eraser, the black fiber left almost no trace of residue on the surface. “This, this is why I love Japan,” Professor Katada unexpectedly blurted out, catching her face in the palm of her hands. “The little things, the details…” she went on to talk about how even the staplers always work in this country, jogging my own memory back to all those times the Leavey one failed me right as the class I needed to turn my paper into was starting. If only we had proper staplers, I wouldn’t have been late to class. But, then I thought, if I were a Japanese college student, there would be no chance of me procrastinating so egregiously. As our gang of Angelenos traversed the city on Sunday, we were astounded at the complex efficiency of the Tokyo Subway, the mass organized choas of Shibuya Crossing, the perfectly ordered maze of walkways at Shinjuku Station. It occurred to me that the essence of Japan is one that finds greatness in the smallest things. To appreciate such things requires holding them to a higher standard. Some might say perfection. I would call it respect. In LA, especially in our public spaces, we often find this sorely lacking, creating a society that can at times seem as at odds as a 5pm traffic jam on the 110. In Tokyo, respect is a way of life. It is the unspoken force that bonds its citizens together, as strong as the structural steel that holds up Tokyo Tower. As I stood on the 45th floor of the North Tower of the city’s Metropolitan Office buildings, I gazed at the vast cityscape below. I thought that I, a half Chinese, half Norwegian-American, would do my best in this city to observe this way of respect. Because while something, like chalk residue, may seem small to us, Tokyo has taught me that it is in things, little things, with which we can find greatness and harmony in life.
After an 11 hour plane ride, we arrived safely in the late afternoon at the Narita airport ready to start our adventure. We got on our private bus and traveled to the Sakura Hotel, where we will be staying for the next month. We settled into our rooms and then we enjoyed our first dinner in Tokyo together.
On our first real day in Japan, we explored various places such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. In Shinjuku we went to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and enjoyed the view of the city. Afterwards we headed to the fashion district, Harajuku. Before heading to Meiji shrine, we watched some yakuza impersonators and some older Japanese men and women dance. At Meiji Shrine we were able to learn how to cleanse our souls before praying and how to pray, as well as able to buy good luck charms and omikuji (fortunes). We then walked through the famous street called Takeshita. The street was super narrow and crammed-pack with people and clothing stores! Next we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Shibuya. It was oishii!
On Monday we had our first day of class. We walked as a group over to the university and had our first class. After class we had our welcome reception and met the Meiji students over lunch. After lunch we had a tour of Meiji’s library, cafeteria, museum, and gift shop. The museum had a lot of torture devices, books, and other interesting artifacts.
After our tour we went out to dinner at a Champon restaurant with some of the Meiji students and then headed back to the hotel and played games and bonded.
Tuesday was our second day of class and we discussed a brief history of Japan up until WWII. Afterwards we had free time and everyone split up into groups and explored different parts of Tokyo!
A group of us headed to Tokyo’s brand new Sky Tree with our new friend from Meiji, Fumi. We couldn’t go into Sky Tree because reservations are booked for the next two months, but we were able to look at the tower and go into the department stores. It was really windy by Sky Tree. Afterwards, we explored Shinjuku, ate at Yoshinoya (which is a lot better in Japan than America), and talked!