Mt. Fuji

By: Amanda Curtis

While most British people make comments about the rare sunny days as a form of greeting, everyone we met in Japan said, “I hope it’s clear when you go to Mt. Fuji”. In the days leading up to our Lake Yamanaka retreat, locals and students alike would check the weather forecasts in hopes we would avoid the clouds and enjoy a rare sunny day on Japan’s tallest mountain. The forecasts were promising, but hopes were not too high, as Professor Katada said she only experienced a cloud-free day at Mt. Fuji once during her time leading this maymester. 

It seems that we were indeed extremely lucky. Not only did we avoid the clouds, but the sky was so clear we could see all the way to Lake Yamanaka. Some people said they could even see the giant swan boat that was docked near where we stayed. 

Professor Katada’s photo of Mt. Fuji being reflected on Yamanaka Lake.

As we started the ride up the mountain, we were graced with lush green trees and unrivaled views of Japan’ landscape. While we did not climb any part of Mt. Fuji, our bus was able to drive up to the fifth stop, a bustling tourist area filled with souvenir shops, food, horses, and look-out spots. 

We had an hour and forty minutes to explore this part of Mt. Fuji however we desired. Some students immediately rushed to the restaurants while many more started exploring the overwhelming amount of souvenir places, looking for gifts for friends and families. 

One of the many views on Mt. Fuji. Lake Yamanka can be vaguely seen in the distance.

In the alley between two large shops was a red tori gate, signaling the way towards a Shinto Shrine located at this part of the mountain. People got their fortunes told and others appreciated the beautiful architecture of the shrine. Next to the shrine was a small look-out, with a crystal-clear view of Lake Yamanaka. While this shrine and view was stunning, it was crowded and not as serene as some of the other Shinto Shrines in Japan. However, located at the top of Mt. Fuji, is supposedly a breathtaking shrine, overlooking all of Japan. The trip up might be strenuous, but I’m sure that makes up for it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to see that view for myself. 

View of the peak of Mt. Fuji from the 5th stop on the mountain.

After our time was up, we all meandered our way back to the bus, some with ice cream cones in hands, others with arms full of souvenirs. As we started driving down Mt. Fuji, the sky became dark as mist rolled in. It looked as if we were actually driving through the clouds. It seemed as though Mt. Fuji held off the cloudy weather until we were done enjoying our time. 

Supposedly we got stuck in traffic, but I’m sure no one even noticed, as everyone was pknocked out the entire bus ride back. That night, some of us, sadly me as well, were suffering from altitude-related headaches, but it was all worth it. Not many can say they were able to see across Japan on Mt. Fuji. We were graced with perfect weather and will have memories of the beautiful views and clear air for a long time to come. 

Lake Yamanaka Retreat


This weekend we headed to Lake Yamanaka for our retreat with the Meiji Students. Lake Yamanaka is one of the 5 lakes surrounding Mount Fuji and is known to be a tourist location for many Japanese natives and international visitors. We started Friday morning with a 3 hour bus ride to the retreat. Despite being a long bus ride, due to a nice lunch break at a rest stop, where we were able to have surprisingly delicious food at a very decent price (something we probably could never find in the US).

As we drove towards Lake Yamanaka, we were greeted with one of the most beautiful scenes of Mount Fuji. The whether was extremely nice and it made for a clear photo, something that Professor Power said never happens during this time of the season.Once we arrived, after unpacking and settling down, we had some time to explore the Meiji University owned lodging and our surroundings. We decided to play some tennis but after about 15 minutes of doing so, we were all tired and ready to get ice cream. After walking down the main street for about 20 minutes we decided to get some Shingen Mochi flavored Ice cream. I didn’t expect to like the flavor as much as I did but I loved it!

We walked back and worked on our research projects until dinner with our respective Meiji Students. We had a homey dinner prepared by the Meiji staff which consisted of a bunch of different side dishes, rice, soup, and chicken. It was delicious and was the perfect compliment to our new countryside surroundings.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing in the bath with the other Meiji students, enjoying a small drinking party with them where we got to know each other better in a less academic setting, and ended with a great night’s sleep in a traditional futon.

Saturday was a very hectic day. We started with another traditional Japanese breakfast and then our presentations were ready to begin. The first group consisted of my topic as well as Verdi’s topic. Then came Renee and Felix, followed by Rubi and Kayanne, and ended with Brenda and Sam. Each session ended with a short group discussion regarding the respective topics. This was interesting as the Meiji students weren’t as familiar with group discussions in their classes, however, they caught on and contributed a great deal to our discussion.

We had a few hours of free time before our dinner so we decided to go down to the lake. We walked down the dock and were greeted with really friendly Koi fish. We spent some time taking pictures and feeding the fish, however, a swan approached us and after having some bad experiences the previous day with the swan attacking some of our students we were really scared as the swan swam closer and closer towards us. The swan attacked us once again, biting a student’s shoe and then a phone was dropped into the lake! We were shocked and wanted to grab it immediately as the water wasn’t that deep, however, the swan was in our way and we couldn’t do anything until it moved away. We moved all the koi to the right by throwing the food far away from where the phone dropped and then Verdi went into the water trying to find the phone. Another student went to go get a shovel and then another man named Mr. Fujii came to help find the phone. After hours of searching we were able to find the phone. Yay! Verdi grabbed the phone and ran it up to the cabin where he immediately put it in rice.

Due to all of his help, we invited Mr. Fujii to join us for dinner and expressed our gratitude with a bottle of sake. We enjoyed our dinner again and the rest of the night included us writing our names in Japanese calligraphy, another comforting bed, and another fun drinking party where we celebrated a fun weekend.

Yamanaka Retreat Comes To An End

By: Alexander Kil

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

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


Group photo of both USC and Meiji students and professors

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

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Mt. Fuji Melon Bread!

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

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

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.


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.


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.



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).



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).



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.



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!



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


Last Day at Lake Yamanaka

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

The Journey to Lake Yamanaka

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.

Adventure to Lake Yamanaka

By: Andrea Munoz

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

USC & Meiji Students waiting to go to Lake Yamanaka.

USC & Meiji students waiting to go to Lake Yamanaka.

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

My lunch.

My lunch

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

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

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

View of Mt. from the bus.

View of Mt. Fuji from the bus.

USC & Meiji checking into the seminar house at lake Yamanaka

USC & Meiji checking into the seminar house at Lake Yamanaka

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

Yuri, Misato, Steve & Andi working on presentations

Yuri, Misato, Steve & Andi working on presentations

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

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

Dinner with USC and Meiji students.

Dinner with USC and Meiji students.

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

The after dinner dance party!

The after dinner dance party!

Perceiving the Other

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.

Kindred Souls: The People of Japan

By Andy Gause

I encountered some fascinating people during my stay in Tokyo and Kyoto. The three mentioned below are prime examples of the types of people I had the opportunity to befriend in Japan.
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Koenraad Hemelsoet – I met this scruffy-faced world traveler on the first night at the hotel. I was lounging on the porch, when he sat down to smoke a cigarette, drink Austrian beer, and read a French novella. I have never seen a more stereotypically ‘European’ man.
Over the next two weeks, I learned that Koenraad is a trilingual globe-trotter on vacation from his programming job in Belgium. He has two Masters and one Philosophy PhD (this dissertation was on Nietzsche, whom he frequently quoted), but admits that he still doesn’t know what to do with his life, beyond exploring the globe that is.
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Most nights, we’d sit on the hotel porch reading and discuss the day’s events (usually the World Cup, remember he’s very European). One night, our conversation transitioned from ordinary small-talk into a heated discussion on the merits of nationalism and religion. We both shared similar world views, but with enough minor differences for a rousing debate. Next thing we know, it’s 3:30 in the morning and the hotel cashier is glaring at us like he wants us to leave, but can’t say anything. Koenraad was clearly a better debater, but he was gracious enough not to annihilate my opinions. Reasonable debate is a fine art, and all too rare to find. That nighttime conversation with Koenraad was an unique experience that I’ll treasure for quite a while.
Junki Mizuno – Junki was one of the generous and friendly Meiji students we encountered on the trip. Whenever the persistent rain or vacation exhaustion got me down, Junki was there with his beaming grin, ready to lift my spirits. He was always willing to take us to the best spots in Tokyo. Like the other Meiji students, he spoke excellent English and was beyond patient with my limited Japanese skills. I know I’ll stay in touch with Junki, and would love the opportunity to one day return the kindness and be as great a host to him, as he was to our group.

Junki and his constant grin

Junki and his constant grin

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Rina Otake – Rina was the Mother Hen of the trip. She made it her mission to see that everyone had a great time. At Yamanaka Lake, she was one of the Meiji students in charge of planning our activities. She could always be seen prepping the meals, setting up the calligraphy station, and generally doing whatever was necessary for the trip. She worked vigilantly to plan group trips to Disney Sea, the Tokyo equivalent of California Adventure and the Studio Ghibli Museum. However, what stood out more than Rina’s drive, was her giddy demeanor and bubbly personality. She genuinely enjoyed facilitating our adventures and this joy was visible throughout the trip.

I’m glad we had a group leader as pleasant, prepared, and gracious as Rina. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t go on to great things as a politician or business leader.