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

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.

June 12, 2015

Last Day at Lake Yamanaka

Filed under: Class,Culture,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:23 am

By: Lian Eytinge


Thank you Meiji students and Lake Yamanaka Staff!

June 7 was our last day at the Meiji University Lake Yamanaka Seminar House. After a delicious breakfast, we talked with the Meiji students in the classroom. This was a really important talk for me because we mainly focused on Japanese and American perceptions of each other.

Since my research topic concerns foreign and domestic perceptions of Japan in an international stage based on current Japanese pop culture, I think that both the Meiji students and our perceptions were very interesting to hear about, especially after spending three days together. One of the most interesting findings was learning that Japanese students didn’t have experience in participating in discussion-based presentations and even in this ideally safe space, most students were reluctant to join in the conversation unless an individual was prompted by another speaker. This was very interesting to me because I come from a different kind of mindset derived from the culture I grew up in. In my mind if I were in their positions I would see this discussion and presentation style as an opportunity to try out a different learning style. However when I try to look at it from a cultural perspective different from my own, I see how even speaking up in this situation is akin to talking to the teacher after class, or raising attention to yourself, which could make you stick out within the group setting in Japan.

This kind of Japanese student mindset got me thinking about Japanese schools and how different they are from American ones. A couple of days ago, during the Lake Yamanaka retreat, I was talking with a second year Meiji student named Noriko. She really helped me a lot in understanding what kind of information is taught at a Japanese school. I asked her about her opinions on current Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s controversial interpretation on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and her views were very moderate and thoughtful. I was happy to hear that she learned of this issue in her public high school. I think it’s really great that they discuss current issues and allow the students to come up with their own opinions. This also tells me that like most other things, current conflicts are introduced within schools and ideas the government wants are affirmed through popular culture.

Going back to the day’s final wrap-up discussion, I think it was interesting how out of all of the aspects of Japanese foreigners the USC students brought up through presentation, the only one that the Meiji students really responded to was about education. This made sense because as students, they are very familiar with the Japanese education system, however it was strange to me to see how unresponsive they were to aspects of Japanese popular culture. I believed that since the students were also consumers of popular culture they would be comfortable discussing that as well but they weren’t. This has taught me that even though popular culture is around them and they are familiar with it, the kind of culture each individual likes is different from that of another, unlike the education system, in which every student goes through with generally the same experience.

Overall I thought the discussion was worthwhile however I felt like there should have been a more conclusive ending. While we had a list on the board of generalizations made of both cultures, there was no greater meaning behind those differences. I thought that instead of leaving everyone feeling separated and differentiated by culture, we could instead conclude that even though there are definite general differences, those differences have cultural counterparts, like what Pico Iyer said in his book, The Lady and the Monk.


Wrap-Up Discussion

June 9, 2015

The Journey to Lake Yamanaka

Filed under: Class,Culture,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:45 am

By: Sophia Li

The USC and Meiji University students after our arrival at Lake Yamanaka (featuring Mt. Fuji in the background).

The USC and Meiji University students after our arrival at Lake Yamanaka (featuring Mt. Fuji in the background). Photo by Yu Tokunaga.

We woke up bright and early morning on June 5 to travel with Meiji University students to Lake Yamanaka. I ended up sitting in the back of our charter bus with three Meiji boys. After we introduced ourselves I began interviewing the three students about their awareness of Japan’s foreign labor exploitation and their perceptions of Chinese people in Japan. I was not expecting Meiji students to know much about Japan’s “Technical Intern Training Program.” The Japanese government claims that the program helps prepare foreign trainees succeed in their home country’s economies, but it has been used more often to facilitate cheap labor in small to medium Japanese companies. Even though the Japan Times, Japan Today and the U.S. Department of State have all written about problems with the program, such as withholding wages and taking away foreign workers’ passports and bank cards, there has not been any widespread effort in Japanese society to amend the program’s rights violations. That is why I wanted to interview Meiji students; I wanted to understand why there has not been more done to stop the injustices of Japan’s foreign trainee program. The lack of action in Japan led me to suspect that people in Japan, especially Japanese youth, lack awareness of labor exploitation. I speculated that one potential reason young people might not know about the trainee program is if they do not pay attention to the news.

Three of Meiji University students I interviewed about Chinese workers in Japan.

Three of Meiji University students I interviewed about Chinese workers in Japan.

To test this idea, I first asked students if they knew what the trainee program was – my teaching assistant Toku helped me pronounce the name in Japanese as “Gaikokujin Ginou Jishu Seido.” For those who claimed they knew what the program is, I then asked each person to describe certain aspects of the program. “Which ethnic group makes up the most of the trainee program? Can you describe any problems with this labor?” I was shocked by some of the answers I heard. All three boys claimed they watched the news either daily or almost every day, and two boys also claimed they read news on the internet every day. Despite this, none of the students I initially interviewed knew about Japan’s labor violations. Two boys spoke of problems between Chinese trainees and Japanese companies as rooted in the countries’ “different cultures.” One of them said he thinks Chinese workers benefit from the trainee program and claimed that the Chinese interns, not the companies who use them, were the troublemakers. The third boy mistakenly thought the program was costly for Japanese companies, when in reality it is actually a cost-cutting method that makes its profits off the backs of low-wage workers.

One of my Meiji supporters sneakily took this photo while I was interviewing another student.

One of my Meiji supporters sneakily took this photo while I was interviewing another student.

Later in the day, I spoke to another Meiji student who was slightly more knowledgeable on the trainee program. While she was unaware of certain labor violations, she understood that most trainees cannot actually find work in Japan once their 3-year contracts are filled and that they often become desperate after their contracts run out. The most shocking thing about my exchange with these four students was the way most of them spoke about Chinese stereotypes. According to news these students saw on TV, Chinese were seen to be loud, rude, and in some ways incompatible with the social norms of Japanese society. Despite these negative media portrayals, all four students spoke highly of their Chinese friends. It gave me hope to hear that meeting Chinese people in their everyday lives opened the eyes of Meiji students and allowed them to see the Chinese beyond their stereotypes. Given that the students cannot seem to rely on media to resolve conflicts between China and Japan, it is reassuring that they can still have strong interpersonal relationships with Chinese people.

June 8, 2015

Perceiving the Other

Filed under: Class,Culture,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 10:55 am

By: Luis Vidalon-Suzuki

June 6 is our second day at Lake Yamanaka, and we are finalizing our presentations that we will be delivering to the Meiji students. In these presentations, we will be displaying what we are researching and what its significance is to globalization. Some of us were nervous, but we all felt confident in our research material. We have definitely been having fun in Japan, but we never lost sight of being a critical tourist. These presentations would show the Meiji students that we have developed insightful topics and have analyzed them in thought provoking and insightful ways. For me personally, I used this presentation to work on my essay as well as presenting to the Meiji students. I organized my slides in that they would flow in a similar manner as my essay. By organizing my slides like this, I know exactly what I will be looking for in my time at Japan.

Before my presentation, many of my classmates gave fascinating presentations about their diverse and deep research topics. It is clear that we are all passionate in the topics that we have chosen. One topic that struck me was the status of Zainichi Koreans in Japan. Prior to my trip to Japan, I was not aware of the discrimination that this minority faces in Japan, both legally and socially. My classmate, who has been researching on this topic, presented the material in a manner that made me critically analyze Japan and its role in dealing with minority groups. Japan is not very different from the United States. Both appreciate minority groups to a certain extent yet discriminate against them through social and legal manners. By showing the similarities between the two cultures, it gave the Meiji and the USC students a more tangible way of expressing the heavy burdens facing this community.


USC student Joyce Lee speaking about Koreans in Japanese society.

This tied into my research project as well. In Japan, the English education is sub-par at best, and countries like China and Korea are vastly outperforming them in terms of speaking and listening in English. This compares to the education crisis in the Unites States. Right now, funding is being cut in education, and more focus is spent on testing the students rather than engaging them in the course material. There is a similar state of education in Japan. Although I am not entirely sure of the testing culture in the Japanese public education system, strong parallels can be made of the other aspects between the Japanese and American systems.

This reminds me of a concept that was presented to us on the first day of the course. In The Lady and the Monk, Iyer explains that perceptions of other cultures are subjective; this means that the same criticisms that can be made to other societies can also be made to one’s own. After listening to all the presentations today and reflecting on my own topic, I have come to realize that there are significant weaknesses in both Japan and America in terms of education. The roots of the problem are, in my opinion, similar. For the remainder of my time in Japan, I am going to take Iyer’s concept into mind and try to make comparisons and contrasts between Japan and the United States.


USC students Andi Munoz and Steve Nguyen enthusiastically presenting about anime in Japanese culture, all while cosplaying in their favorite characters.

American School, Korean School, and Shin-Okubo: 3 Diverse Areas of Tokyo

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 10:50 am

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.



The American School in Japan on a rainy day.

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.

Principal Kathy Krauth pointing out the clean and sleek facilities inside the ASIJ High School.

ASIJ teacher Kathy Krauth pointing out the clean and sleek facilities inside the ASIJ High School.

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.

A look inside the Joseon middle school classroom.

A look inside the Joseon middle school classroom. The kids are learning English.

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.

An array of side dishes, Samgyupsal meat on the grill, and a choice between tea and water cluttered our tables at dinner.

An array of side dishes, Samgyupsal meat on the grill, and a choice between tea and water cluttered our tables at dinner.

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.

The Shin-Okubo restaurant owner fighting on with us.

The Shin-Okubo restaurant manager ‘Fighting On’ with us.

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!

June 5, 2015

A-Meiji Experiences

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:48 am

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.

Turns out Andi, Eric, and I all separately stopped at the same spot for a photo during our run! lol 2 cool

Turns out Andi, Eric, and I all separately stopped at the same spot for a photo during our run!

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.

El Psy Congroo

Andi, Steve and I in our cosplay

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.

I think I said "totemo oishii desu" four times!

What a good looking group of kids! Congrats to Rina on her acheivment!

Yuri is simply delightful. She's spunky and full of energy. She took to calling Eric Totoro because he's cute a loveable...could professor be onto something???

Yuri is simply delightful. She’s spunky and full of energy. She took to calling Eric “Totoro” because he’s cute and loveable…could professor be onto something???

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.

Andi and I singing Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie (S+ Tier Stuff)

Andi and I singing Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie (S+ Tier Stuff)

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!

Proof that we are studious  even on vacation

Proof that we are studious even on vacation

Looking for the Chinese in Japan

Filed under: Class,Culture,Los Angeles,Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:36 am

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.

A street in Yotsuya.

A street in Yotsuya

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.

"Pedestrian Paradise" in Akihabara.

Pedestrian Paradise” in Akihabara.

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.

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