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 6, 2016

Up, Up, and Away (On the Bullet Train!)

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:25 am

By: Fridaouss Nabine

Today has been fantastic! We took a bullet train (officially called the Shinkansen) to Kyoto, for our second excursion out of metropolitan Tokyo. It was my first time, as well as many other peoples’, and we reached speeds of up to 150mph. The entire ride took about two and a half hours from Tokyo to Kyoto. After arriving, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, conveniently located across the street from the train station, and headed toward Kyoto University, the second best rated college in Japan. There, we met with USC alum and former student of Lon-Sensei, Tokunaga-san, and discussed the idea of a transpacific identity. Toku-san was raised in Kyoto, and has a long lineage of Kyoto University attendants and professors in his family. Therefore, his identity is somewhat rooted in Kyoto. However, he also spent years at USC as a PhD student and had his first child there. Through discussion, we explored what it means to embrace two or more cultural and geographical identities.

Next, he took the group on a tour through Kyoto University, and talked about the school’s history with activism. Student activism at the university is very liberal, but it is not as popular as it once was. We encountered one person sleeping  in a makeshift home with pots and pans and clothes outside, as a sign of protest. Though the ability to protest in such a public manner was available, many students did not engage in it this way. After the tour, we arrived at Kiyomizu-Dera, a historically preserved place in Kyoto. The styles of the homes, shrines, and streets were the same as those from hundreds of years ago. We walked along the famed temple path, looking at handcrafted souvenirs and consuming frozen treats along the way. After walking through a section of the temple, we arrived at a location where we all had the chance to purify out mouths and hands before continuing through the temple. The process involved using a wooden ladle to retrieve water and wash both hands and then scoop some water into the mouth. For many, it was a first experience.

Learning about the history of protests at Kyoto University

Learning about the history of protests at Kyoto University

We then walked away from the temple and explored the surrounding area. We saw the statue of Kannon, a well respected Bodhisattva. We also came across many temples and shrines, including one dedicated to geishas. Throughout the day, we encountered many ordinary people who wore kimonos on their journey through the area. We learned from our Teaching Assistant Rio-san, that, many people do this as a way to connect and be a greater part of the traditional environment. Soon after, we settled at a park at the edge of downtown Kyoto. There, we hung out by the river. The location is known for local artisan goods and its restaurants. College students also frequent there during the weekend, creating a social and relaxed environment. Finally, we went to a traditional Chinese restaurant in the area. There, we enjoyed traditional Chinese dishes of egg fried rice, fried eggplant, and spicy fish soup, among others. The day was filled with a lot of cultural and historical excavations.

Jumping in front of Kannon statue

Jumping in front of Kannon statue

June 4, 2016

Presentation Day!

Filed under: Class,Culture,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:34 am

By: Shannon Thielen

We woke up early today for a buffet-style breakfast including a wide variety of Japanese foods. Then we had about an hour to put the final touches on the remaining presentations with our Meiji student groups. At 10:00, we started the second group of presentations. We started with Grant discussing gender disparities in Japan, followed by Shannon talking about LGBT issues. After a discussion reflecting on the two, Alex presented on Japanese social issues and youth involvement, and Erick compared the governmental structures of Tokyo and California and varying reactions to political scandal. After debriefing those two, we broke for lunch which we had all selected the day before with the Meiji students. Fridaouss started us up again after lunch with her presentation on the cultural significance of tea ceremonies in Japanese history. Then Laurie presented on the differences between Japanese and Western art aesthetics. To wrap up that group, Vincent discussed Japanese traditions and ceremonies. After a reflection on that presentation group, we took a short 20 minute break before beginning again. In the final group, Daniel explored Japanese fashion and Kylie reflected on the prevalence and appreciation of Hawaiian culture in Japan.

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This was the view from the dock of Mount Fuji this morning right after breakfast. We were very lucky to catch some clear skies!

Then we had about two hours of free time to relax, play sports, or go to the lake. Some people played basketball, table tennis, bought soft-serve from the shop down the street, rented swan paddle boats, or jumped in the lake. Then at 6:00 we gathered again for dinner which was really delicious fried chicken and salad along with a variety of other side dishes. We had about an hour of free time after that and then we met at 8:00 to go to this clearing in the forest to light sparklers. Some of them were really bright and sparkly, while others were “wabi-sabi” sparklers, so we had to admire the beauty in their imperfection. Then we heard aerial fireworks going off in the distance so we quickly ran down to the lake and a few of us made it to see the end of the show.

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These were some of our fun sparklers, or our “wabi-sabi fireworks” as we called them.

Then we went back to the retreat building and those of us who hadn’t gotten to do calligraphy the day before did ours that night. It was quite a challenge but there were Meiji students helping each one of us and they were very patient and instructive. While that was going on, the rest of the students sang karaoke in the next room, with Lon-Sensei and Daniel singing “Piano Man” for the finale. After that, the whole group gathered together for late-night snacks and a dance party. It was a bit difficult to find common music that both groups of students knew, but we had a fun time dancing to both Japanese and American music. We rounded out the dance party with “Party Rock Anthem” which everyone loved and danced to, and one Meiji student, Andy, even showed us a bit of his break-dancing skills. Then we had to clean up the retreat building, but many students stayed up and talked in the dorm building into the early hours of the morning.

June 3, 2016

Finally- Lake Yamanaka!

Filed under: Class,Exploring,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:35 am

By: Daniel Olmeda

 After staying up last night with our Meiji peers to make sure our presentations were as coherent and concise as possible, it was finally time to head out to the destination we have been anticipating- Lake Yamanaka! With our luggage filled with clothes and the various omiyage (gifts) that we have picked up whilst exploring Tokyo, we headed to the Meiji University campus, the gathering point for our bus ride. Each of us sat next to the Meiji students during the bus ride, in order to continue our cross-cultural conversations! This was a great opportunity to ask the Japanese residents questions we have about the culture. I sat next to one of my partners, Leon, who I had an interesting conversation about popular music with. Apparently Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One-Direction are the most popular American artists in Japan. I must admit, I was disappointed that my partner had never heard of Drake.

 

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A joint picture of us and the Meiji Students throwing up those fight-on signs.

During the ride, we were able to enjoy breathtaking views of the beautiful landscapes. I was in awe of how quickly we went from being in a metropolitan setting to a scenic mountain range countryside. Many of us crowded the bus windows to take pictures of the small rice-farming towns encapsulated by never ending hills of green (I created a photo album simply dedicated to the landscape pictures I took).

 

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The picture speaks for itself. Amazing.

Before settling at the retreat house hosting us for the weekend, we took a quick stop at a lakefront to take a group photo at Lake Yamanaka! It was great to experience a view that many of us have been “googling” for weeks now! After taking 358912 photos and our knees were throbbing from jump-action photos, we arrived at the retreat house. There was free time before we had our first set of presentations, so we enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities. Some of us went back to enjoy the lake view, while many took advantage of the sporting equipment. Fired up table-tennis matches carried on until the end of our stay there…and lets just say some of the people that seemed inexperienced were the most competitive (Laurie).

 

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Probably one of our best jump-action shots. Of course I had to show off my hops.

Not long after, we had our first set of presentations via Tiffany and Jordan. Assisted by the Meiji students, we had thought-provoking presentations; one on discovering Japanese identity through analyzing a popular cultural character Doraemon, and another contrasting American and Japanese diets, attending to the western perception that the Japanese are immensely healthy and long-living. After Tiffany and Jordan finished, we had a discussion facilitated by Lon-sensei, where we addressed our questions and elaborations.

 

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The always Hawaii-reppin’ Jordan teaching us the about Japanese diet.

Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner, and were able to take part in karaoke and shodō (calligraphy), where Meiji Students taught us how to write our names in Japanese with traditional strokes. Since the karaoke machine was pretty outdated, we were stuck hearing Erick sing “Zombie” by the Cranberries on repeat…. With music and good company lasting the whole night, our first day at Lake Yamanaka is one we will never forget!

 

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Mood after 10 practice sheets and still not getting my shodō down.

 

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 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

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!

Kyoto, Here We Come!

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Kobe,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 10:33 am

By: Christina Brown

We were packed and ready for our excursion to Kyoto and hadn’t slept the night before (writing blog posts and journals, exploring the city in the wee hours of the morning, and just drinking a bit too much coffee). On June 8, we took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto–all of us catching a few hours of shut eye on the way.

Japanese Trains: Always Punctual

Japanese Trains: Always Punctual

When we arrived in Kyoto, we met up with our tour guide and went straight to a shrine to practice Zen Meditation. Zen Meditation was a true challenge for me–particularly sitting still and not letting my thoughts wander, but in the end, the class did a good job meditating quietly for thirty minutes. Afterwards we went to an old shogun’s palace. The most interesting thing was the “nightingale floors.” The floors back then were built in such a way that they creak with every step, sounding like little birds chirping. This was done in order to serve as an alarm system against ninjas. Naturally, the whole class ninja-walked through the entire tour trying to prove that we could’ve been S+ tier ninjas.

Jo loves posing for candid pics

Jo loves posing for candid pics

Toku in his natural habitat; in action

Toku in his natural habitat; in action

Next, we had a few hours in Kyoto’s main commercial area Shi-Jō and San-Jō (4th and 3rd street) to explore shops and the large shrines and temples. Collectively we bought scarves, bags, jewelry, postcards, anime toys, and lots of matcha!

exploring the bustling streets of Kyoto

exploring the bustling streets of Kyoto

Luis, Ye Sol, and I posing for our karaoke album cover

Luis, Ye Sol, and I posing for our karaoke album cover

We met up at Touka-Saikan, an old, authentic Chinese restaurant that our very own TA, Toku, worked at during college.

It's called Touka Saikan, but we liked to secretly call it Toku Saikan <3

It’s called Touka Saikan, but we liked to secretly call it Toku Saikan <3

Before the meal, his manager, a Chinese man who grew up in Japan and continued the family business of traditional Chinese food– and not changing his family name (like many Chinese and Koreans do to avoid discrimination) to ensure the whole package of authenticity of Chinese food. He spoke about the discrimination in Japan, the life of Chinese people living in Japan, and of course about food! The meal was SOOOOO good. Especially the egg rolls. I could eat ten right now as I write this. The food, while authentic Chinese food, had very subtle changes to fit the Japanese palate. It was interesting to see the differences, mainly in terms of how spicy it was. Studying the slight ways a particular cuisine changes to fit the palate of the native people is an interesting and unexpected way to gain insight into a certain culture (FYI: Japanese food in France is WEIRD). After dinner, most of us were pretty tired and knew we had to be up fairly early for our excursion to Kobe and Osaka. It was a great first day in Kyoto and I was thrilled to finally see our beloved TA’s city and to hear how adored he was by his old colleagues at Touka-Saikan–which of course came as no surprise! Yay Kyoto!

One of the wonders of Kyoto...can't decide if he's kawaii or KOWAI

One of the wonders of Kyoto…can’t decide if he’s kawaii or KOWAI

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 15, 2015

Emigration and Immigration in Japan

Filed under: Class,Culture,Kobe,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Osaka — geajapan @ 3:05 pm

By: Joyce Lee

Today June 9 marks the twelfth day of the trip! Despite having a long traveling day yesterday, we were all still excited to experience two great cities of Japan: Kobe and Osaka.

Our experiences in Kobe began at the Kobe Center for Overseas Migration and Cultural Interaction (formerly known as the National Emigrant Center). The site acted as a home base for emigrants before they departed Japan. Today, the center seeks to be both an educator of overseas immigration and a promoter of multicultural integration. For students like me researching minority groups in Japan, the center provided a great introduction about many Japanese who had left for foreign countries such as Brazil and the historical context for why their descendants and other immigrants came to live in Japan today.

Some kind words greeting us at the Kobe Immigration Center

Some kind words greeting us at the Kobe Center for Migration and Cultural Interaction

Many people living in and outside of Japan are unaware of the diversity of immigrants living in the country. Although Japan is 98% ethnically Japanese, living in Japan are people with ties all around the world. This includes regions like South America, Southeast Asia, China, Europe, North America, and the Korean peninsula.

Learning the history of Japanese emigrants to Brazil

Professor Kurashige talking about the Japanese diaspora

One of the most inspiring aspects about the Center was that it did more than just educate visitors about the history of emigration from Japan to Latin America. The center pushes visitors to gain an understanding of the past in order to analyze the present and predict future immigration and diversity issues in Japan. For example the center asks visitors to consider how globalization, both from workforce immigration and foreign students staying after graduation to work in Japan, can help create a richer society. It leads visitors to wonder what needs to improve in order to create an environment full of equal and harmonious relationships across all cultural backgrounds. I especially appreciated this aspect of the Center because I have been considering how to fix the mis-perceptions of Koreans living in Japan. Hearing the Center worker’s perspectives on how to mediate these tensions across all different ethnic groups was extremely influential to my research.

Part of the exhibit reflecting the center's goals for diversity

Part of the exhibit reflecting the center’s goals for diversity

One of my favorite exhibits of the Center was one that showed the growth of society’s acceptance. Many events have encouraged mutual understandings across different cultural groups. For example, the Kanto Great Earthquake in 1923 culminated in the massacre of many Koreans and Chinese. This tragic chapter in Japanese history reflects the racism and discrimination that Koreans and Chinese had faced for years up until that point. Nearly 72 years later, another devastating earthquake occurred, but ended in many people coming together to overcome the struggles following the event.

The Center was a great pit stop for our group to gain a greater understanding of Japan’s history and current diversity issues. I’m sure everyone learned a lot about the historical issues shaping Japan today. Our time here in Japan is running short, but visiting insightful sites like these makes me confident that we’ll be making the most of our time here.

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