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

June 10, 2016

Sayonara Meiji

Filed under: Class,Culture,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:54 am

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.

June 5, 2016

Yamanaka Retreat Comes To An End

Filed under: Tokyo,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:02 am

By: Alexander Kil

While still recovering from the amazing dance party the previous night, both the USC and Meiji University students woke up to enjoy another amazing buffet-style breakfast that once again consisted of a mix of Western and Asian cuisine. I know I personally ate many servings of food and was delightfully full, contrary to the  healthy Japanese lifestyle advice that Jordan had presented where one should only eat until 80% full.

Following breakfast, we met in the presentation room one last time with all of the students and teachers to review the many themes covered throughout the two days of presentations. It was a great final meeting as I learned that just as the USC students had learned so much about Japan’s culture and society from the Meiji University students, they too learned a great amount from us. I truly feel that this is what cultural exchange should be, a mutually beneficial exchange that allows not only the sharing of knowledge and opinions, but the building of lifelong relationships. Soon after, we returned to our rooms and began the process of folding the traditional Japanese futons and blankets and cleaning up the rooms we slept in. While I personally had much difficulty sleeping on the futons in the traditional tatami (woven straw) floor rooms, I appreciated having the opportunity to experience such lodging. I especially loved the communal bath with the large, usually scalding hot, ofuro (traditional bath tub) that allowed me to relieve the pain and stress in my feet, legs, and joints accumulated from the legwork required of our daily adventures.

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Group photo of both USC and Meiji students and professors

However, our departure from the Lake Yamanaka Seminar House was not the end of our time with the Meiji students. Before heading back to Meiji University in Tokyo, we all rode together on a bus to Fujisan (Mt. Fuji)! While the rain poured and wind blew with a vengeance at our destination, a tourist visitor’s area midway up the mountain, all of the students were able to visit various gift shops and shrines. Some even bought various Mt. Fuji themes goods such as Mt. Fuji shaped melon bread!

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Mt. Fuji Melon Bread!

After we had spent about an hour at Mt. Fuji, we sadly had to make our way back to Meiji University. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” which was so true for this weekend which seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. I loved having the opportunity to interact intimately with the Meiji University students and practice speaking Japanese and learn more about their lives, interests, and general perceptions of life. The great memories made with them over such a short period of time made our farewell in front of Meiji University especially bittersweet. However, knowing that we would get to meet them one last time before the program ends made me content, but anxious, in anticipation.

The USC students quickly returned to our home base of Sakura Hotel Jimbocho, where we were able to do laundry, rest our tired bodies, and recharge before the next leg of our Japan adventure: Kyoto and Hiroshima.

June 1, 2016

Being Korean in Japan

Filed under: Culture,Tokyo,Uncategorized — geajapan @ 4:53 pm

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.

May 30, 2016

Hello Meiji!

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:22 am

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!

 

May 29, 2016

The Historic, the New, and Everything In-between

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 3:56 pm

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.

May 27, 2016

Our Trip To Japan~

Filed under: Class,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 3:55 pm

By: Tiffany Lam

Finally going to Japan! Most of us, including myself, did not sleep at all since we had to arrive to the airport by 4:15 am. Luckily for me, I was able to sleep through both of the plane rides. During the flight from Vancouver to Tokyo, an elderly Japanese lady who sat in the aisle seat tried to start a conversation with me, despite knowing only a little bit of English. She mostly spoke in Japanese, and although I could not speak the language at all, I was still able to understand a little bit of what she was trying to say through her gestures. It was an interesting experience because it reminded me of the main character Abby and the ramen chef from the film The Ramen Girl in that even though both had difficulty with communication, they were still somehow able to understand each other. I felt like it was the same situation with me and the elderly woman, but the conversation was more polite. The elderly woman was very kind and considerate, and I admired her bravery of trying to talk to a foreigner like me, even though she could speak little to no English. It was a memorable moment in the plane and it gave me the motivation to try to make an effort in learning Japanese so that I can try to communicate with the local people and have meaningful conversations. 

 

GEA Japan at the aiport

When we finally arrived in Japan, the first thing that came to mind was all the delicious, authentic Japanese food that I will be able to eat. After exchanging the money and receiving our Suica cards, we had to take the Keisei Skyliner Express Train to get to Ueno Station. I was in awe watching the beautiful landscapes and architecture in Japan. There was a lot of greenery and rice paddies and I thought that the short and small houses and buildings were very unique in comparison to the tall skyscrapers in Los Angeles. Everything in Japan looked tiny and it was also cool seeing how many vending machines there were on every corner of a street.

Riding the Keisei Skyliner Express Train

Vending machines full of yummy, unique snacks!

Once we reached Ueno Station, we had to take the Ginza line to Mitsukoshimae and then the Hanzomon line to Jimbocho. While waiting for the Hanzomon line, I noticed that there were “Women Only” signs on the walls which I thought it was very fascinating.

“Women Only” sign in Mitsukoshimae train station

Apparently, the sign means that the trains during early morning rush hours allow only women and younger children to ride so that they can feel a sense of security and safety. I thought that it was an interesting aspect of Japan’s culture and it left me with the impression that Japan is serious and cares deeply for the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Once we made it to Sakura hotel, I think we were all pretty exhausted and hungry  from the plane rides and walking around with the luggage. After settling into the rooms and relaxing for a little while, we had our first dinner at a curry restaurant which I thought was delicious.

Enjoying our first dinner in Japan

Enjoying our first dinner in Japan

Spinach, Tomato, Potato, with Cheese Curry

Spinach, Tomato, Potato, with Cheese Curry

It has been a long and exhausting day and although we did not explore any places in Tokyo today, I am just excited to finally be here and I look forward to new places and new people we will meet, the yummy food I will get to eat, and the fun, long-lasting memories we will make while in Japan.

June 19, 2015

Last Day in Tokyo

Filed under: Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 2:22 pm

By: Ye Sol Shin

When I woke up on the morning of June 12, my last full day in Tokyo, I felt relaxed and calm. I had just gotten a good night’s sleep, and I was ready to go to Shinjuku and hang out with my new Meiji University friend, Satomi. My plan was to have a fun and relaxing day: visit a cat café, eat good food, and buy a few souvenirs. I had no intention of planning out a long schedule and feeling rushed and hectic during my last full day in Japan. While I had initially planned to visit the Joseon School again, my plans fell through. It was disappointing, but actually worked out for me in the long run. Because I no longer had set plans, I could really enjoy my last day in Tokyo with no expectations or pressure to get from one place to the next.

Satomi and I first went to a cat café in the heart of Shinjuku, and I loved every moment of the time we were there. There were so many different types of cats, many of which I have never seen in the United States. Many were playful and would come up to you voluntarily; others were sleepy and refused to wake up from their naps. Satomi told me that there were mainly two types of people who visited a cat café: those who loved cats but could not keep pets at home, and foreigners who were visiting Japan. What Satomi said was true; there was clearly a divide between the people who were at the café just to read a book in the company of cats, and the people who were being obnoxiously loud and taking pictures every chance they got. Like David Mura from Memoris of a Sansai, I felt ashamed of falling into the foreigner group, and paid extra care to remain quiet and not disturb anyone who was there just to relax. However, I couldn’t help but silently laugh at the foreigners who thought I was a native Japanese. They assumed I couldn’t speak English and complained about the fact that I was hogging all the cats… right in front of me! In my head I thought, “Of course the cats won’t come to you. All you do is poke and annoy them!”

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Her name is Kaede! So kawaii ~

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Sleepy cat.. Best not to disturb!

After leaving the cat café, Satomi and I decided to eat tuna-don bowls and then get coffee at one of her favorite café chains in Japan. It was really nice to have time to just chat with my friend instead of thinking about where I needed to go next. I’m so thankful that Satomi offered to spend the entire day with me, because I truly felt like a Japanese college student rather than a foreigner. We talked about our favorite bands, boys, and other normal things that college girls talk about. Just like how Reika helped David Mura immerse himself in Japanese culture and feel at home even though he was a foreigner, I felt at ease and at home in the little coffee shop talking to Satomi about her favorite idol group.

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Tuna-don bowl with raw egg! So delicious!

While I did not do any research on Zainichi Koreans during my day off, I had visited Shinjuku specifically because my friend Sae had told me that sometimes anti-Korean protestors would hold demonstrations near Shinjuku station. I did not see any demonstrations that day, but I could envision how noisy and hectic it would feel to hear the demonstrations in the busy streets of Shinjuku.

Time went by fast, and pretty soon we decided to head back to Meiji University for the farewell party. During the party, I was supposed to give a speech in front of the Meiji and USC students and faculty. I had planned my speech the day before, but when I got up to the stage and saw all the happy faces in front of me, I suddenly forgot everything I had planned to say. I felt a flood of emotions, because I realized that I might never see some of the people in front of me ever again. However, I accepted that, because I truly had one of the best times of my life, and I am so grateful to have met Meiji students even for a really short time period. This trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to have experienced it.

Group shot with Shiko, Shun, and Yuri!

Group shot with Shiko, Shun, and Yuri!

One of my best friends! Her name is Sae!

One of my best friends! Her name is Sae!

Welcome back to Tokyo

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Tokyo — geajapan @ 2:17 pm

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!

Mr. Baseball in Real Life

Filed under: Class,Culture,Tokyo — geajapan @ 10:24 am

By: Steve Nguyen

Good morning Tokyo! Or as the Japanese say, Ohayou! (Sounds like Ohio). In the morning of June 4, we went to Meiji University to listen to guest speakers Professor Gayle Sato and Mr. Wayne Graczyk. We left late for being early so we sped-walked over there.  Someone told me that Japan is not the same as in the anime and that I would not see girls running late to class with bread in their mouth, but today I got to see our very own Joyce speed-walk to school while eating bread. Close enough, art reflects life.

When we got to Meiji University, we listened to Professor Gayle Sato. She discussed her Japanese American heritage and how she became a professor in Japan. She discussed the differences between the Japanese and American education system. I was very surprised to hear that Japanese high school students have to decide what major they want to specialize in before they enter college and that it is very hard to change major or have more than one major. I am very grateful that I study at USC, and that I am able to pursue a Human Biology and East Asian Languages and Cultures major and a Cinematic Arts minor. Professor Sato mentioned how that some universities such as the Tokyo University have adopted the American system for certain departments. That’s good to know. If I were Japanese I would want to go to Tokyo University, assuming that I was a strong enough candidate to enter the school. She also discussed the difficulties of being Japanese American. Because she is Japanese American she is called Professor Gayle, even though the other professors are called by their last name. Furthermore because she looks Japanese she is expected to speak perfect Japanese and act like a proper Japanese woman. She said that being discriminated as a Japanese American is difficult, but she also says that she loves Japan and being in the academic college setting, so she plans to retire there. That’s good to know; I too want to live or work in Japan one day.

Guest speaker Gayle Sato and Professor Kurashige discussing globalization

Guest speaker Gayle Sato and Professor Kurashige discussing globalization

After Professor Sato’s lecture, other USC students and I went to go to the Meiji University cafeteria to eat lunch. It was very different from USC’s all you can eat buffet style dining halls. It was more like a school cafeteria you see in the movies where you chose what you want. What was really good was that they had a variety of ramen, udon, rice, and pasta dishes for about 400 yen (less than $4). There were also many drinks you can choose from the vending machines and ice cream too. I decided to get the curry udon. Although school food in general has a reputation for tasting bad, I thought it was delicious. The cafeteria was very convenient, economical, and ordering was very fast and streamlined.  It was very foreigner friendly because outside had plastic models of every food and the students were very nice and open to help if I wanted to ask them something. I definitely felt omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) in the dining hall. I can see that Japanese people are raised to be polite and courteous to others. Even though I’m a foreigner, I felt very respected.

After lunch, we listened to Mr. Wayne Graczyk’s talk about his experience working as a foreigner in Japan. Mr. Graczyk is an American who writes English articles about baseball for a Japanese newspaper. He talked about how he got his job back in college when he read a Japanese newspaper’s baseball column and corrected the mistakes it had. The newspaper company saw that he was very knowledgeable about baseball and asked him to write about baseball for them. He also discussed how foreign baseball players are like “hired guns” because they are hired to do a certain job. The typical Japanese baseball player can not hit home runs or throw really fast balls, so often times foreigners are hired to do those jobs. It was interesting to find out that foreign players often times gets paid more than Japanese players and that there is a limit of 4 foreign players playing on field at one time to balance the game. This wage discrimination is very interesting because it resonates with Dower’s concept in War Without Mercy, how that during World War II although the Japanese demonized western leaders by making them look like monsters in propaganda, they respected westerners to an extent because of their military strength and technological advancements. After all, it was the Prussians and other military leaders from the west who helped Japan militarize their navy and army. Today something similar is happening: the Japanese baseball teams are bringing in foreigners to help their team throw fast balls and make hard hits. I suspected that there might be some complaints with Japanese fans and players with the rising number of foreign players with higher pay checks; however, Mr. Graczyk said that there was little to no conflict between the players because there is a limit of 4 foreign players that can play on field at a time per team. Regarding foreign players in baseball, one of the students asked Mr. Graczyk why both foreign and Japanese players’ baseball jerseys are written in English rather than katakana (the alphabet the Japanese use for foreign names and words).  He said that one of the big reasons why he thinks that English is written on jerseys is because the Japanese respect Major League Baseball and that baseball is an American game. I find this peculiar because not everyone in Japan speaks English well. Furthermore, Mr. Graczyk explained that it is not expected for a player to know Japanese. In other words, foreign players just need to know how to play the game and they will have translators to be their ears and mouth.  A major concept in Dower’s War Without Mercy is that racial differences creates sides (self or other, ally or enemy, Japanese or foreigner) and this causes stereotypes and misunderstandings to the extent that people will kill each other. This reminds me of the film Mr. Baseball because the main character Jack Elliot often misunderstood how to act in Japan and was also misunderstood by his Japanese teammates and manager because of the culture and language barrier. Instead of killing each other, they often fought in the film. Mr. Graczyk assured us that currently the way foreign players are treated  is not like the way foreign players were treated in the film Mr. Baseball and that they are respected members of the team. Another student from USC asked Mr. Graczyk if he felt if he was discriminated in Japan. Unlike Professor Sato, Mr. Graczyk said that he felt little or no discrimination as a foreigner in Japan and that he is doing what he loves as a career. Then again, he is a man who works in a completely different field than Professor Sato. So the rules of the game are different. From these two speakers, I found out that it is possible for me to follow my dream to work in Japan. Even though I will face challenges because I am an American, it is very possible for me to be successful in Japan.

The misunderstanding that comes from cultural and racial differences goes with my research on the use of English on Japanese T-shirts. I noticed that many shirts with English on them are associated with American pop culture and quotes from American celebrities like Lady Gaga. I think it is good that the Japanese enjoy the same entertainment that I enjoy. However, I believe that if the Japanese only associate American culture with entertainment, that could also cause misunderstandings and conflicts. Many Japanese shirts that I have seen written in English usually have lines about partying or having fun. One of the many English shirts I have seen while in Japan says “Play Hard Life Slow.”  It seems like the United States has a reputation for partying. I disagree because the majority of Americans do not party. Future discussion could explain to Japanese people that America is more than just what they see on TV. It is like when I try to explain to my friends that USC is more than just a party school, but they insist that it is because of the small part they see. In my future research, I will investigate why Japanese associate American culture with party culture and why they decide to wear shirts relating to the partying life.

Wayne Graczyk gave a very insightful lecture on baseball in Japan. Fight on!

Wayne Graczyk gave a very insightful lecture on baseball in Japan. Fight on!

 

After Wayne’s speech on baseball, the USC student’s and I went to the Tokyo dome to watch the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants face off the Osaka Orix Buffaloes. We had free time before the game so some of us went to Tokyo Dome City, which is the amusement park next to Tokyo Dome. In Japanese amusement parks, you pay per attraction which is usually 800 yen (A little under $8) or you can buy a day pass for a little under $40. Luis and I bought day pass while Eric paid per ride. The ticket machines were very easy to use because it was mostly numbers and pictures. There was also an English option for English speakers. In Tokyo there is an English version of every sign and most ATM machines have an English option. I heard about how easy it is for a foreigner to go around before I went to Japan. After going to Japan, I can see for myself that it is because of the English on every sign and the willingness for Japanese people to help others.

Buying tickets for the rides were easy because the prices were clearly labeled and there is an English setting.

Buying tickets for the rides was easy because the prices were clearly labeled and there is an English setting.

When we went to the game, I was in awe to see the energy of the fans.  Every baseball player on the Giants had their own fight song and cheer. Something interesting is that the fight songs for not only the foreign players, but also the Japanese players were sometimes English songs. It is really interesting that a little more than half a century ago, anything that was western or had English in it was banned in Japan. Now, English is ubiquitous in Japanese culture. This week I found out that some of the factors that contribute to the coolness of English and western pop culture is the respect that the Japanese have for celebrities and athletes for being strong, independent, and not afraid to stand out. I find this interesting because in Japanese society “the nail that stands out gets hammered down,” meaning that it is not good to speak up or stand out. I find it paradoxical that many Japanese people admire western celebrities even though standing out is not a good thing in Japanese culture. In my future research, I will investigate more reasons why Japanese people admire western culture and whether they consider celebrities from western culture as role models.

The night ended well when the Giants defeated the Buffaloes. It was like the ending of a sports movie, the home team came out to hug each other and the USC students also cheered and hugged each other in celebration. Tonight was a good night in Japan and I’m looking for many more good nights.

Tonight was a good night and we are looking for many more good nights in Japan

June 9, 2015

Adventure to Lake Yamanaka

Filed under: Tokyo,Travel,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:24 am

By: Andrea Munoz

I awoke to the bright Japanese sunrise peering though the window. Today, June 5, was the day we all set off to Lake Yamanaka. I had gotten ready in record time, so I turned on the TV in my room at Sakura Hotel. Since my research project is about how American comic books influence Japanese culture, I was curious to see which morning anime was being aired. Surprisingly, anime wasn’t as prominent on TV as most Americans would think. Most channels aired the news, talk shows and one channel featured a show on DNA. Only one channel had cartoons but it was geared toward very small children.

USC & Meiji Students waiting to go to Lake Yamanaka.

USC & Meiji students waiting to go to Lake Yamanaka.

At 10:00 am, equipped with our bags, we walked to Meiji University to meet up with the Meiji Students. The bus ride to Lake Yamanaka was about 2 hours. My bus buddy; Haruka, and I spent the time talking about music (she enjoys the band Owl City) and playing card games with the other Meiji Students. They knew many of the card games I had grown up playing. For lunch we stopped at a food court and I had the chicken curry, which was very good! There was a popular ice cream shop near the bus so many of us grabbed a cone before resuming our trip.

My lunch.

My lunch

After lunch mochi ice cream on the bus. (Blurry because it's too awesome to be in focus)

After lunch mochi ice cream on the bus.
(Blurry because it’s too awesome to be in focus)

The views on the way to the lake were amazing! Mt. Fuji stood in our sight. The image appeared as though a postcard, the beauty of Mt. Fuji surrounded at its base with houses and forests made for an unbelievable memory. We arrived at the Lake Yamanaka Seminar House and unpacked in our Japanese traditional rooms. I roomed with Chris and three Meiji students: Rina, Misaki and Haruka. They were pretty awesome. :D

View of Mt. from the bus.

View of Mt. Fuji from the bus.

USC & Meiji checking into the seminar house at lake Yamanaka

USC & Meiji checking into the seminar house at Lake Yamanaka

Dinner started at 6:00 pm sharp but before we all went to eat, I checked out the traditional baths. It was really relaxing. After dinner, there was a little downtime before the 9:00 pm party. Almost everyone took this time to work on their presentations, based off of their research topics. In my presentation, I discussed the popularity of American comic books in Japan and how the Japanese felt about them. Yuri and Misato allowed me to interview them. I was surprised by their thoughts on American comic books. Misato said she read Spiderman but never watched any of the movies. Yuri told me she disliked American comic books because they were not かわいい (Kawaii = cute). This concept of かわいい is very important to Japanese culture and its influence is very prominent in Japan.

Yuri, Misato, Steve & Andi working on presentations

Yuri, Misato, Steve & Andi working on presentations

A few studious USC students working very hard on their upcoming presentations.

A few studious USC students working very hard on their upcoming presentations.

Dinner with USC and Meiji students.

Dinner with USC and Meiji students.

After finishing the presentation, we did a quick ice breaker to recall everyone’s name then….we had a party with the Meiji students!!!!! It was so fun! We all were dancing, eating and talking.  It was great to get to know the Meiji students during this time. I can’t wait for tomorrow so we can all share our presentations and learn what everyone else has been working on during our stay in Japan.

The after dinner dance party!

The after dinner dance party!

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