Visiting Korean School – June 5, 2018

By: Manuel Valdez

The third-to-last day of the GEA Japan Maymester was full of ups and downs, respectively. We started the day off by having breakfast to prepare for what would be an eye-opening visit to the Korean High School in Tokyo. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were unsure of what to expect once we got there. Coming from the United States we knew very little about the lives of those who identify as North Korean or the country for that matter, other than what we are presented in our television screens. Needless to say, I was shocked and completely surprised at what we encountered at the school.

When we walked up to the gates, the first thing I realized was the sheer size of the campus. A field half the size of the campus was the first thing that caught my attention. Growing up in LAUSD schools, I am used to large campuses, however this school surpassed any I ever attended in cleanliness and order. As we walked into the main building we took our shoes off and slipped on some walking shoes that were provided for us. The second thing I noticed was the lack of students walking around, however I soon realized this was because classes were currently being held and students, for the most part, were in their seats. After waiting for the school Principal in a nicely furnished meeting room for a few minutes he came in to give us a short history of the school. Although he only spoke Japanese, Rio was able to elaborate and pass on what he was saying to the rest of us. At the end of his conversation he asked if anyone had any questions. I knew, as did we all, that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask questions very few people in the world could. Surely enough, many of us asked about things ranging from the school’s stance on political agendas, intramural sports, problems not being accredited as a school some years before, and even questions regarding the school’s current lawsuit against the Japanese government for exempting them from the universal access to High School policy that had been enacted allowing other schools, including international ones, to offer classes to those not willing to pay for it.

After answering our questions fully he took us on a tour of the classes. We visited at least four classes, English, Math, History, and a Japanese class, something I did not expect to find there. Despite the obvious pictures of North Korean leaders in the front of the classrooms these classes and more specifically, the students, were just as normal as any other their age. They would wave at us as we entered and ignore their teacher’s instructions because they were amazed and we were simply standing there. When Vincent, one of our classmates, was allowed to introduce himself he asked if any of them had any questions and like the teenagers they were they’d ask questions like, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” and things of the sort while giggling among themselves.

Before leaving, we were presented to about nine other students back in the meeting room where we first had our conversations with the principal. There we asked questions ranging from what they thought of the U.S. to what they wanted to be when they grew up. We even shared some laughs or two when students from either group would answer with things like, “My favorite hobby is sleeping.” After about three hours at the school we returned to our hotels to prepare for our farewell reception at Meiji University.

I would have to admit that everything I encountered at this school surprised me, in a positive way. Instead of finding the die-hard devotees of the North Korean government I found a community of young people that were just interested in their ancestry and culture. Coming from a bi-cultural background myself I understood the significance of learning the history, language, and culture of your predecessors country while living in another. Although I cannot agree with the leaders of the North Korean government I sympathized with these students who simply wanted to keep their culture alive while doing their best to integrate into the mainstream society of the country they live in. I left this school with a much more positive outlook on the people who attend it and with a new hope for the future of peace between the countries of Korea and Japan.

The Big T: Scenery from Tokyo

By: Vincent Jenkins

Skyscrapers, Trains, and People, oh my! A metropolitan characterized by its bustling neon filled streets, complicated metro system, and abundance of people, Tokyo is a place that is rivaled by no other.

While Tokyo is quite different to other metropolitan areas it is similar as well. Waking up to sounds of ambulances and trying not to get hit by a taxi are all familiar occurrences from my home of Los Angeles. With that being said Tokyo is different from Los Angeles in that Tokyo is not a city. By definition, Tokyo is a Japanese prefecture and within that prefecture are different wards and divisions such as Akihabara and Shibuya. Starting off my day meant walking to a part of Tokyo known as Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) to travel to our host institution, Meiji University. With all the familiarity of home one can find a McDonalds, with better orange juice than you’ll get back in the States, teenagers walking with their faces in their phones, and a bicyclist who is late to work.

Growing up in a rather large city like Los Angeles, being in Tokyo seemed familiar and during my time here I have found myself feeling at home. With class at Meiji University over in the morning it was time to navigate Tokyo’s complicated metro system to get to Shinagawa (品川) for a meeting at Microsoft Japan. In terms of public transportation, Tokyo, and by extension Japan as a whole, has the entire Western Hemisphere beat in efficiency and reliability. When the schedule says a train is leaving at 9:33 that train is leaving at 9:33, with or without you. For someone who has never ridden on a large public transit system the task can be overwhelming but with English signs, a color coded line system, helpful station personnel, and an even more helpful transit app, navigating Tokyo public transit can be done. A transfer and a few stops later I found myself in the heart of Shinagawa’s business district, surrounded by business people during the lunch rush.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Ochanomizu, Japan

Finishing my meeting at Microsoft I was now free to go about my day. I could return to Meiji to work on research or find somewhere a little more scenic. While on the platform at Shinagawa station I made a last second decision and decided to hope on the train to Shibuya. Navigating through the construction within Shibuya station I was greeted by the famed Shibuya crossing. With billboards on billboards and lights that could be seen from space it was indeed a sight to behold. Surrounded by tourists and their cameras I spotted something that everyone on USC’s campus is all too familiar with – Starbucks. With its location in Shibuya this particular Starbucks was filled with people but a decent amount of said people were not there for Seattle’s best, but instead wanted a glimpse of the Shibuya Crossing Rush from a higher vantage point. Not able to get a glimpse of the rush from a window myself I settled with doing paperwork for the next few hours at a nearby viewless table. With paperwork done and exhaustion settling in, it was time to head back to Meiji University, but what awaited me was something that I hope to only experience once.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

With the help of my Japan transit app I figured out the fastest way back to Meiji was via the Saikyo Line (埼京線) and to say this was a bad idea is an understatement. One of the more notable videos about Tokyo’s metro system consists of passengers being pushed into packed trains by station personnel hoping to keep everything on schedule. I can now say confidently first hand that I have experienced such an event and would not recommend it for the faint of heart. With no concept of personal space we were all packed into a steel tube on wheels until reaching our individual destinations. Assaulted by an assortment of smells, weird glares of trying to figure out who pushed who, and the occasional coughing riding the Saikyo Line during rush hour on a Tuesday is not a fun experience. Luckily for myself I only needed to ride said train for one stop and walking off of, or rather being pushed off of that train, was a relief I haven’t felt since finals season ended.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

At the end of the day one thing cannot be disputed, Tokyo is a large metropolis. It has a population of over 37.8 million people, a transit system that, while sometimes cramp, is rivaled by no other, and more ramen places that one hopes to try in a lifetime. With its large population and humid weather it is a marvel of human ingenuity and persistence to survive the day to day of work and social life. Tokyo you are a crowded and complicated city like no other, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

From the West to the East!

By: Chandler Zausner

Last week may have been a long week, which was a half of hard work, but we’re finally off to Japan. Since the first meeting in April, we’ve learned so much about government, business and politics- the Iron Triangle of Japan. We’ve watched movies about politicians, on outsiders as well as those of mixed descent. Now it’s time that we step into the shoes of Americans like Commodore Perry and General MacArthur who encountered Japan at various stages, as we make our journey to a new land. It doesn’t matter how heavy the suitcase or how long the line is at TSA, we are determined to get to our destination. Everyone woke up early to get to LAX, possibly woke up even earlier than necessary because of the excitement. At least the sun is up, unlike the Global East Asia China trip students who took off at 4:30 am!

The flight is eleven hours long, but strangely, it will actually be tomorrow afternoon by the time we arrive in Tokyo. I plan to use the time on the flight to sleep, practice phrases in Japanese, review my research, and plan our adventures! I am a visual anthropologist and transmedial storyteller. My interests are in amplifying the small voice of marginalized individuals and communities that are in danger of extinction. My work ranges from documentary essays, both written and film, to narrative fiction and abstract multimedia installations. My research topic in Japan is to explore one of those marginalized communities, to investigate the culture bound syndrome of hikikomori, which is when young individuals, mostly men, shut themselves away in their homes for months or years. I hope to visit local community centers, agencies and newspapers to understand how other Japanese view this issue. I’ll also be exploring how modern culture portrays hikikomori in an increasingly positive light and whether that affects the people themselves or those around them in a positive way. I’ve spent a lot of time watching anime and reading manga- purely research, of course!

The Plane to take us on our Fantastic Journey

Although our classroom discussions have centered on “Japan, Inc.,” I’m looking forward to experiencing “Cool Japan.” I’ve signed up for almost every sight to see on the class doc, everything from ancient temples to hedgehog cafes. Ancient Japanese art, literature and culture is something that was not included in this class, but are subjects that I’ve taken in the past, which have exposed me to treasures from The Pillow Book to Bunraku to Legends of the elusive Kitsune. I’m nervous about speaking the little Japanese I know and hope to find safety in the group, especially our Meiji partners. The more I think about it, it feels like a voyage to another planet but I know that we will discover more in common than I know.

Everyone seems to have a range of light and heavy loads of luggage, a of snacks and breakfast are being eaten and our classmates are coming into the airport from a multitude of rides. After meeting in the terminal and passing through TSA, we are gathered at the gate, waiting for our flight to be called, our bags by our sides, and our adventure to begin.

Everyone together

Meeting Meiji Students

By: Rubi

After a great weekend exploring Tokyo with the crew, we finally got to meet all of the Meiji students! Thanks to my wonderful West Coast jet lag, I woke up around 6:45am despite having gone to sleep only a few hours earlier around 1am, after karaoke. For some inexplicable reason, I thought it could be a good idea to run around the Imperial Palace despite my obvious dehydration. The loop happens to be a 5k and is filled with great scenery – and other runners. Unfortunately, I managed to get lost in Otemachi and the run took me almost an hour.

Nevertheless, I quickly got my things together to get downstairs on time and we walked to Meiji from the hotel. We were formally greeted by two Japanese hosts and a university professor. We got our packets with info about the campus, the students, and most importantly, instructions on how to connect to WiFi.

We moved to a bigger room with all the Meiji students. We exchanged excited greetings but were quickly quieted for welcoming speeches by some professors and the dean of the political sciences college. In fact, there was a finance professor educated at the “other” school in Los Angeles… I wasn’t sure whether to be enthusiastic or disappointed. Prof. Kurashige also gave a speech, which included an interesting love story between a Meiji student and USC student…I wonder who they were??? After a round of applause, it was a mad dash to the banquet as everyone was starving. A variety of Western and Japanese food was served, and my favorite was the salmon.

The Meiji students were so excited to meet us and everyone had a diverse background or hometown. Many of them studied abroad in the US before. After chatting and exchanging some jokes we did some icebreakers. Writing down things in common with people we had never met, let alone people that were from a different country, was very hard. In the end we came up with liking tonkotsu broth the best, cup over cone, dark chocolate over milk chocolate, and tea over coffee.

Afterwards, we went on a tour of Meiji and they showed us the bookstore (basically a konbini on steroids) and two restaurants: Marukamen, a well-known udon shop, and Echiopia, a curry shop. They told us that Jimbocho was famous for its many renditions of Indian curry. Some time around there, we also found an avocado cafe.

We decided to head back to the hotel after that – we were tired and sleep deprived. We were not far from the hotel, so it only took a few minutes to get back. After this, we realized we should probably get dinner. We asked the front desk for some recommendations, and were given three. We decided to go to the one that wasn’t “Kyushu” style since someone had apparently not liked that. On arrival, we thought that because everything was in English, it couldn’t have possible been good (assuming too much?). Thus, we decided to check Marukamen since the Udon shop was in walking distance. There was a line outside, but two minutes later we were forced to decide what to order and were thrust into the restaurant. Ordering was not difficult, but we didn’t realize we had to order everything at once. The waiter got mildly annoyed that we ordered a few drinks and tempura at the table. I had a feeling they wanted us to eat quickly and leave. Everything was out of this world and when we walked outside, a line of 20+ people had formed, no wonder.

Later on we met with our research groups. After exchanging some omiyage, we got right into it, and we all explained our presentations and topics. We interviewed them briefly and I was able to get some good info from Makoto, who was helping me out today. It was a fun evening, and somehow, yet again, we decided to eat. This time, 300 yen Doria. It’s similar to risotto, but more filling and cheesy. After saying goodbye to the Meiji students, we called it a night to prep for our free time the following day. Successful I would say.

Sayonara Meiji

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.

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

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

Presentation Day!

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.

Finally- Lake Yamanaka!

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.

 

Hello Meiji!

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!

 

Our Trip To Japan~

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.