June 19, 2015
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 9, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 8, 2015
By: Joyce Lee
Rainy season is approaching in Tokyo, so it was no surprise we woke up to scattered showers and gloomy skies. Nothing could break our spirits though! Umbrellas in hand, we braved the pouring rain to continue onto our planned day.
Our trip for the day had 3 main destinations, each one visiting diverse groups of people living in Tokyo. My project focuses primarily on how nationalism affects Koreans living in Japan– not simply through an understanding of diplomatic tension, but through analyzing how the average person feels the effects through everyday life. Most of my project is conducted through in-depth interviews and observations, which made today’s excursions to meet lesser-known groups in Tokyo exciting.
We started off our day at the American School in Japan, a high school located in Chofu City, Tokyo. The school follows American curriculum and closely resembles a stereotypical high school in the United States. With 98% of all ASIJ graduates going on to attend college, the school is ranked as one of the highest ranked international schools in the world.
We were given a tour of the school by 4 ASIJ students who were also Fall 2015 USC admits. Roughly 38 nationalities are represented within their K-12 grade system, which gives the students a uniquely diverse perspective within a homogeneous society like Japan. A significant amount of their student population is Korean, which was relevant to my topic on the effects of Japanese and Korean nationalism on Korean immigrants. Through interviewing students on the campus, speaking with a teacher of the high school, and observing the school’s social dynamics, I learned a lot about how nationalism affects the small group of Koreans attending the ASIJ in Japan.
Following this, we traveled to Joseon, a North Korean School. Somewhat contrasting the American School in Japan, Joseon placed significant emphasis on maintaining Korean roots, heritage, and pride. Recently the school has faced much protest and discrimination due to their ties to North Korea and as Zainichi-Koreans. Diplomatic tensions between North Korea and Japan as well as Japanese ethnic nationalism have played a large role in the school. We were able to interview the Vice Principal of the school and 4 students who talked about their sense of pride in culture and heritage, their awareness of discrimination, and their experiences living in Japan. The discrimination that they face on a daily basis reflects the general anti-Korean sentiment present across Japan today. Not all people living in Japan share this anti-Korean sentiment, but it’s clear through protests and demonstrations that this feeling exists. The trip was eye-opening and showed a real example of how intense nationalism can in some ways be damaging to groups of people within a nation.
Following our event in Joseon, we traveled to Shin-Okubo, Japan’s Koreatown, where we enjoyed a crazy elaborate dinner of Korean BBQ, abundant side dishes, ddukbokki, bibimbap, and soups.
The highlight of the evening was being able to interview the waiter (in Korean) about his experiences living in Koreatown, what brought him to Japan, and his insights to discrimination in the country. He was incredibly thoughtful and hilarious in his answers, often considering the different aspects of both Japanese and Korean culture. He handed me a 5-pack of Shin Ramen (A well-known Korean brand of ramen) on our way out with a wink.
Despite the crazy rain, we enjoyed an action packed day where we were able to experience Tokyo in different ways. As much of my project is based on in-depth interviews, I found today to be an invaluable opportunity to meet people one-on-one. For future travels on this trip, I hope to continue to experience these unique aspects of Tokyo and the amazing people the city has to offer!
By: Eric Parra
To a bunch of culturally naïve American college students, Japan has a lot to offer. There are lush green forests, an amazingly efficient train system, and loads of vending machines. My experience, however, has been driven through anime, which is literally anywhere and everywhere you look.
A particular favorite anime of mine is a show called One Piece, which coincidentally has an entire theme park dedicated to it in Tokyo Tower. If I had to think of a comparison, I would say that an American equivalent would be like Universal Studio’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, which is only slightly bigger. But this is a cartoon show based on a comic book series for young boys ages 8 through 15, and it’s been out for three months now, so I figured it would be pretty empty. What I saw instead was a large and diverse group of people that filled up multiple lines with waiting times of 40 minutes per attraction. There were young kids with their mom’s and older siblings, teen boys hanging out with their friends, 20 year old girls waiting to play themed games, and even a few couples on dates holding arms and eating in the One Piece cafes.
Back home, One Piece is an unknown series that I just happen to like. In Japan, everyone I’ve asked seems to be able to list off all of the characters whether they like the show or not, simply because of its large presence. Whether it’s anime, advertisements, or just word of mouth, series and cartoons like One Piece are just a simple part of daily life, whether you’re a kid or an adult.
I was able to ask a few people of what they thought about anime and manga, which feels like a weird question if I were to ask my friends back home, but the people of Tokyo all told me that anime and manga are staple entertainment. In fact, they were surprised when I mentioned that Americans think that cartoons are meant for kids. In Japan, cartoons are for everyone, and everyone recognizes the many characters that you see everywhere, whether they’re from a show or just on a bottle label.
I talked to a student at an American school in Japan named James, who told me that some manga is specifically intended for adults. You can see kids reading their manga on the playground and businessmen reading their manga on the trains. James also told me that manga is a valuable learning tool that taught him how to read and write at an early age. It’s an essential and daily use for anyone.
It seems clear to me that there is a big difference in how cartoons are portrayed in the media between the United States and Japan. Americans are starting to recognize the value of mature themed graphic novels, like the Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, but you’ll still get a strange look if you’re flipping through a comic book in a public place. Japan however, knows that there are comics for kids, and comics for adults, and like any form of entertainment, they help pass the time and provide something to think or talk about with others. I’m interested in seeing what other influences cartoons have had in Japan and if there’s a difference in opinion on anime between Tokyo and Osaka or Kyoto.
June 5, 2015
By: Christina Brown
A good handful of the students started out their day with a scenic run around the Imperial Palace (we later realized at least three or four students separately took almost the same picture of the route). The class headed over to Liberty Tower–a twenty-three story skyscraper that blends in so well in the urban scenery of central Tokyo, you would hardly know it was part of the campus of Meiji University. We discussed Ruth Ozeki’s novel, foreign perceptions of Japan, and how the seemingly stark contrasts between Japanese and American children are more like two sides of the same coin rather than incomparable differences–a great topic to segway into the highlight of the day: finally meeting the Meiji University students! The professors and international coordinators all gave a few words before starting the mixer (our own Professor Kurashige of course managed to work in the course material AND a few jokes into his speech). During the speeches, a Meiji student leaned over to me, her eyes fixated on the buffet, and whispered, “I didn’t eat breakfast. I’m SO hungry. You are American, you can push to the front of the line so we can eat first.” As soon as the speeches concluded, she bolted to the front of the line. The Meiji students were absolutely delightful. Speaking to us in English and warmly receptive of our broken Japanese, they showed true enthusiasm for getting to know us and showing us around their city. We played ice breaker games, talked about places we wanted to see in Tokyo, some geeked out about our favorite anime, comics, and games, and made plans to explore the city and meet back up for dinner at Liberty Tower.
Some students went to Asakusa to see the Sky Tree, temples, and shops, but my group quickly went back to the hotel to change into our cosplay before hitting up Akihabara, the otaku (nerd–in a good way of course) and anime center of Tokyo. Steve and I dressed up as Kurisu and Hououin Kyouma from “Stein;Gate” and Andi sported her yukata and a pink wig. Our guide, Meiji student Hiroki, bravely lead the three crazy gaijin to a nerd’s paradise. We went into cosplay shops and anime stores–the only kind of shopping these two tomboys can handle–and then to an arcade to get our pictures taken at one of those photo booths that puts makeup on you! After a few hours in Akihabara, we headed back to Meiji to meet up with the others for dinner.
Rina, one of the Meiji students had just found out she got a job, so everyone was ready to celebrate! We went to a trendy Teppan Yaki restaurant nearby (Teppan Yaki is a Japanese style of cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook the food). We ordered the “mixed” dishes and I’m not exactly sure what was in it, but it was SO good! The restaurant had just recently opened and we were all very excited to give the waiters and cooks our feedback that the food was cool and delicious.
We decided there was no better way to conclude our fabulous first day with the Meiji students than with the ancient Japanese art of karaoke. We ordered a pitcher and sang Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Queen, Elvis, and Jimmy Eats World (little known fact, Jo rocked Billie Jean)! We danced, laughed, and bid farewell to Rina and Yuri–making plans to go to the beach and temples of Kamakura for the next day.
It was a long day, full of action, and we all went to bed having no doubts that Professor was spot on when he said we’d forge strong friendships with the Meiji students!!!! By the way, Steve, Andi, and I are writing our research papers about Japanese perception of Western pop culture and the global youth culture that comes from the world-wide appreciation of anime, cosplay, games, and manga–SO even though it SOUNDS like we were just having fun, it was actually very serious research!
By: Sophia Li
When I purchased my roundtrip ticket to Tokyo less than two months ago, I was incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to explore a new country, no less one that has developed such a “cool” reputation. Everything from high-tech robots to Hello Kitty has made me want to come to Japan.
And yet, as I was frantically packing at 5:30 the morning of my flight, I felt a little uneasy about engaging with Japanese culture. Both my parents grew up in China, and suffice it to say my mom does not exactly like Japan. The Rape of Nanking was not that long ago, and the fact that there are Japanese nationalists who refuse to own up to Japan’s dark history makes me rather uncomfortable. Of course, the United States has committed its own share of unspeakable crimes, and there are plenty of problems in America currently. Issues in Japan are not worse than issues in the United States simply because I am not as familiar with them, and I recognize that fact. At the same time, I think that in order to be a “critical tourist” as our guest speaker Ryoko Nishijima and Professor Kurashige have instructed us to do, it is necessary to take the good with the bad, and to not let Japan’s wonders blind me from being able to see its problems.
It is not enough to just make observations about Japan; my goal for the next two weeks is to contextualize my experiences within Japan’s political and historical landscape. With all of that being said, I have loved Japan thus far. I love that Japan is so pedestrian friendly. Los Angeles could learn a lot from Tokyo. The hardest thing I’ve had to do in my first couple days in Japan is find places to throw away my trash in public.
Luckily, I’ve been able to get by on the 10 or so Japanese phrases I know. Most Japanese workers know enough English, even if only a few words, to bridge the language gap. Something that has surprised me is I have not yet met or spoken with any Chinese people (that I know of). This is surprising to me considering our Teaching Assistant Yu “Toku” Tokunaga taught us that Chinese immigrants make up the largest foreign population in Japan. I have probably interacted with Chinese workers without recognizing that they were Chinese, but I have not noticed their influence on Japanese society. In comparison, Koreans are a smaller foreign population as far as nationality is concerned, yet their influence can be seen with the popularity of Korean culture and a large number of descendants of Korean immigrants live in Japan.
Japan has exploited Chinese labor through “trainee” programs, which claim to prepare Chinese workers for jobs but in reality just contract out minimum wage work. These programs are three-year contracts, at the end of which Chinese workers must leave Japan and return to China, often with no better skills than the ones they entered Japan with. For example, Toku once interviewed a Chinese trainee who wanted to become a tour guide but her work consisted of inspecting computer chips for several hours every day. At least from what I have observed so far, the Chinese immigrants who work low wage jobs seem to function as an invisible minority in Japan, particularly because many factory jobs are located in rural areas, out of sight from Japan’s metropolitan areas. Even though there are Chinese people who do work in visible places, like convenience stores, I have been unable to find “Chinese” elements in Japanese society other than kanji, Chinese written characters that are used in the Japanese written language.
I hope to speak more with scholars from Meiji University in the next week to get a better understanding of how Chinese workers function in Japanese society.
By: Ye Sol Shin
On Sunday, May 31st, we visited the shrines of Asakusa as well as the busy streets of Akihabara. There was a stark contrast between the two locations, in terms of the buildings, people, and more. However, both Asakusa and Akihabara make up critical components of the foreign, or “western” perception of Japanese culture. Asakusa is a district in Tokyo that is considered an “old town” part of the city. We saw very elaborate and traditional temples, including the Sensoji temple, which is a very famous Buddhist temple built in the seventh century. Asakusa was swarmed with tourists, specifically foreign Asian tourists from China. We also walked down a famous street for shopping called Nakamise, which sold many traditional souvenir-type goods and Japanese snacks. Many tourists were popping in and out of the vendors’ stores throughout Nakamise, and buying things like traditional Japanese fans, katana swords, and good luck charms. It was amusing to see how at the food vendors stalls that sold small Japanese snacks, tourists were touching and grabbing at different snacks, even though there was clearly a sign that said “Please do not touch, the shopkeeper will attend to you.” However, even when the shopkeeper saw the tourists grabbing at the snacks, he did not show anger but rather politely asked them to stop doing so with a worried expression on his face. I felt like David Mura from his memoir Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei, in which he felt embarrassed for his wife when she was talking loudly in the subway train in Tokyo. Because I am a Korean American and can be easily associated as an Asian tourist visiting Japan; I felt almost ashamed to see other fellow tourists act rudely in front of Japanese shopkeepers. While we were in Asakusa, we saw a traditional Shinto wedding take place at one of the temples; it was so interesting to see this quiet, ceremonial ritual take place and then look outside the temple to see the hoards of people walking about and yelling at each other. To me, the Shinto wedding taking place in a hugely popular “touristy” attraction in Tokyo validates the fact that traditions and Japanese culture still prevails in a newly globalized Japan where technology and tourism play such an integral part of society. While the Japanese have embraced technology and tourism into their everyday lives, this does not mean that they have completely changed into a western society, or else the bride and groom would be wearing the traditional wedding dress and tuxedo, not traditional Japanese ceremonial clothing.
The traditional architecture in Asakusa was completely different from the tall buildings in Akihabara. The LED signs on the buildings of Akihabara were hard to turn away from – they were everywhere and all displayed different things, such as maid cafes, anime, and more. Akihabara was a colorful and chaotic jumble of people walking quickly around you. While the same sort of organized chaos existed in Asakusa, the difference was that most of the people at Akihabara looked like average Japanese locals. Akihabara may be a tourist attraction for foreigners, but it’s also a place for Japanese locals to hang out and shop. The goods that were sold at Akihabara were also completely different – instead of traditional Japanese souvenirs, Akihabara sold electronic merchandise at every corner. There was one particular electronic goods vendor that stuck out to me in Akihabara – there was a shopkeeper in front of his shop unloading batteries into a box in front of his shop. What was interesting was that people literally surrounded the shopkeeper and watched him unload the batteries, visually picking out which ones they wanted to buy after he was done. This kind of behavior was completely different from the behavior I saw from the tourists in Asakusa – each person was patiently waiting to buy a pack of batteries in an overcrowded street. At Akihabara, I was looking for things to purchase that I could “only buy from Japan,” such as small trinkets and souvenirs. Again, I felt a connection to David Mura, who also observed the “commercial mecca” (Mura Kindle 253) of Japan but did not feel a need to eagerly buy goods. Mura states, “the commercials on the TV screens, the ads in the magazines, on the billboards, were not designed for my desires or my American ego” (Mura Kindle 253). I felt exactly the same way. While everything looked fascinating, shiny, and new, I did not have any urge to purchase the goods and rather observed the Japanese consume around me. The maid café in Akihabara was also an entirely foreign experience for me and other USC students who went together. Again, while I found it fascinating to see Japanese locals come in and order elaborate parfaits and purchase services from maids dressed up in French maid costumes, I felt no desire to purchase the same goods or services. The 1,000 yen I gave up to go into the maid café wasn’t entirely a waste, but that one experience at the maid café was enough for a lifetime. While it is easy to think critically of the Japanese for liking and paying money for services that may seem to be derived from a fetish, my TA gave me an interesting explanation for why these types of services exist. Many Japanese “otaku” men who came to Tokyo from a smaller town or village may have never been able to share their love for anime with other people around them. The maid café was like a haven for these men who could enjoy the anime “maid” culture, interact with others who are interested in the same things, and overall have a fun time. Like Mura, I felt “disburdened” (Mura Kindle 253) by the fact that I don’t necessarily need to understand the totality of Japanese culture in order to immerse myself in the culture or have a fulfilling time.
In general, it was fascinating to see two entirely different parts of Tokyo. The Japanese really do a good job of integrating new into the old; even though it seems that the Japanese are obsessed with “new” and shiny things, that is not necessarily true. The consumer culture of Japan most definitely “attested to the Japanese fascination with newness” (Mura Kindle 253) and beautiful objects. However, the Japanese do not “equate beauty with frivolity” (Mura Kindle 253). The Japanese are eager and admire the fact that their country has invented and come up with beautiful and technological advanced products, but there is still an appreciation for the beauty of traditional rituals, such as the Shinto wedding that happened in Asakusa. Japanese consumerism can be portrayed as a successful capitalistic economy, but it also has deeply rooted cultural meanings that I plan on exploring more throughout the rest of the trip.
By: Jennie Lam
On only our second day in Japan, we were fortunate enough to have a free day. With such freedom there was so many things to do and see that I couldn’t decide where to begin. In addition, I felt I had to pick a place or activity that related to my research of exploring the Japanese’s perception on Chinese food as well as the contribution of the dominant culture on the current adaptations of the foods. I stopped myself from becoming overwhelmed and decided to start simple and get some breakfast down in the lobby of Sakura Hotel in Jimbocho. While I drank my tea, I decided to temporarily ignore my responsibilities as a student and allowed the traveler in me to take over. I thought about where I wanted to go most and remembered that there was a small town in Tokyo that I had seen pictures of, that fascinated me. It had lots of trees and some interesting old fashioned looking shops and homes. It was the “perfect” little neighborhood that I could walk around and just enjoy the balance of nature and civilization that Japan is well known for.
I took the train to Shimokitazawa with a few of my fellow classmates and found something I wasn’t expecting. The town was more western than it appeared in the pictures I had seen. There were even more western styled restaurants than Japanese style. It turned out to be a mini hipster shopping town. Despite that, I didn’t want to dwell on my drop in excitement and came to a conclusion to make the most of it and walked around anyways. There was still the hint of the harmony between civilization and nature, which eased my slight disappointment. During my walk, I spotted another Family Mart, the fifth I’ve seen since arriving in the country. I thought to myself that it must be a big chain convenience store in Japan, and ended up going in to get a small snack.
While looking around, I realized that there weren’t that many Chinese products besides instant ramen. To my knowledge convenience stores are on an exponential rise in popularity among the youth in Asia, especially in Japan. I’ve also noticed that all those stores sell pretty much the same things, which shows what products are most popular among the Japanese and reflects their tastes in food. This leads me to wonder whether or not the Japanese enjoy Chinese food. Why aren’t there a lot of Chinese food products sold in convenience stores? Does preference really have that much of an influence or is it just because this is Japan and there should naturally be a dominance of native food. What are the Japanese’s opinions on this lack of Chinese foods in convenience stores and why do they think that is? Or perhaps Chinese and Japanese foods aren’t that different and there is a blend of both that isn’t that noticeable to them yet. These are all questions I plan to address in my future excursions.