June 12, 2015
By: Lian Eytinge
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.
June 9, 2015
By: Sophia Li
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.
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.
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.
By: Andrea Munoz
I awoke to the bright Japanese sunrise peering though the window. Today, June 5, was the day we all set off to Lake Yamanaka. I had gotten ready in record time, so I turned on the TV in my room at Sakura Hotel. Since my research project is about how American comic books influence Japanese culture, I was curious to see which morning anime was being aired. Surprisingly, anime wasn’t as prominent on TV as most Americans would think. Most channels aired the news, talk shows and one channel featured a show on DNA. Only one channel had cartoons but it was geared toward very small children.
At 10:00 am, equipped with our bags, we walked to Meiji University to meet up with the Meiji Students. The bus ride to Lake Yamanaka was about 2 hours. My bus buddy; Haruka, and I spent the time talking about music (she enjoys the band Owl City) and playing card games with the other Meiji Students. They knew many of the card games I had grown up playing. For lunch we stopped at a food court and I had the chicken curry, which was very good! There was a popular ice cream shop near the bus so many of us grabbed a cone before resuming our trip.
The views on the way to the lake were amazing! Mt. Fuji stood in our sight. The image appeared as though a postcard, the beauty of Mt. Fuji surrounded at its base with houses and forests made for an unbelievable memory. We arrived at the Lake Yamanaka Seminar House and unpacked in our Japanese traditional rooms. I roomed with Chris and three Meiji students: Rina, Misaki and Haruka. They were pretty awesome.
Dinner started at 6:00 pm sharp but before we all went to eat, I checked out the traditional baths. It was really relaxing. After dinner, there was a little downtime before the 9:00 pm party. Almost everyone took this time to work on their presentations, based off of their research topics. In my presentation, I discussed the popularity of American comic books in Japan and how the Japanese felt about them. Yuri and Misato allowed me to interview them. I was surprised by their thoughts on American comic books. Misato said she read Spiderman but never watched any of the movies. Yuri told me she disliked American comic books because they were not かわいい (Kawaii = cute). This concept of かわいい is very important to Japanese culture and its influence is very prominent in Japan.
After finishing the presentation, we did a quick ice breaker to recall everyone’s name then….we had a party with the Meiji students!!!!! It was so fun! We all were dancing, eating and talking. It was great to get to know the Meiji students during this time. I can’t wait for tomorrow so we can all share our presentations and learn what everyone else has been working on during our stay in Japan.
June 8, 2015
By: 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.
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.
October 1, 2014
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.
canadian pharcharmy online
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.
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.
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.
August 8, 2014
by Natasha Cirisano
Japanese calligraphy in four words: Harder. Than. It. Looks. On our first Saturday at the Yamanaka Lake retreat, the Meiji students set up a calligraphy lesson for us to learn to write our names. I’m a design major, so I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult… but I was wrong. Three characters might seem easy at first, but the calligraphy really showed me the care and importance that goes into every stroke of Japanese writing. In Japanese language class, we learned how to write the alphabet with an emphasis on the stroke direction and stroke order of each letter. At first I thought this was just a tedious, extra element to memorize, but when we did calligraphy I saw how these ideas really stemmed from the way the ink medium worked when these letters were written with a brush back in the old days. The direction and order of the strokes are crucial to create the particular weight and balance the letter needs, and passing the brush across the paper in the wrong direction makes the letter much harder to draw because it is against the flow of the ink.
Compared to Western calligraphy, which also depends heavily on the direction and order of the strokes, the Japanese version is much more about showing motion even though the letters are static forms. While I usually picture monks hunched over parchment paper with quill pens painstakingly shaping every letter, Japanese calligraphy is more like a dance between concentration and spontaneity. I felt like the letters were people doing ballet or maybe even martial arts – one stroke, an arm jabbing to the right, the next, a leg kicking up and then coming down again. The art is mental as much as it is physical, and I had to train my muscle memory as much as my mind to make it beautiful. For example, to be successful, I had to get used to holding the brush upright at a 90-degree angle from the paper, which feels awkward at first, but provides a lot more control over the thickness and thinness of the strokes. Kenta, my teacher, kept correcting me when I fell back into holding the brush like a normal pencil! Next, the composition was the mental part; I had to pay attention to the angle of the strokes or else everything would look awkward and out of balance. It’s funny, because even though I could not read the characters, I could tell when a stroke “felt” wrong. Good design is a universal language. It seems that even people who come from two different sides of the world can “sense” compositional oddities and imbalances, even if one person (me!) first sees the characters as abstract art rather than as instruments of ideological and symbolic meaning.
July 9, 2014
by Kelli Kosaka and Lisa Peng
This weekend we traveled to Yamanaka Lake at the base of Mt. Fuji with 19 students from our host school, Meiji University. This trip provided us with a great opportunity to bond with the Meiji students in a Japanese-style seminar house by the lake.
The first day was a chance for us to get to know each other through icebreakers and time spent together on the bus ride and during dinner. We also lit hanabi (fireworks) to celebrate Janet’s birthday. She turned hatachi (twenty), the age at which you become an adult in Japan. Thus people value this day a lot here.
June 28, 2013
By Sally Fu
(This is Part 2 of a two-post series on our trip to the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House)
Day 3: The drizzling rain softly woke us from our slumber. Last night was a festive and insightful night at the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House. Not only did the USC students bond with the Meiji students through various activities such as Japanese calligraphy (shodou) and karaoke, but the past few days allowed for much cultural exchange, as we all stayed together in a Japanese-style retreat at the base of Mt. Fuji.
While the night was fun, the lack of a curfew ended up hindering many students from eating their breakfast. When I arrived at the cafeteria around eight or so, only a couple of students were there, which meant I could allow myself to devour more food. After eating, we all returned to our rooms to pack up our things. Even though the director of the Yamanaka Lake trip, Tom Power, had asked the students to simply fold the futons, my Meiji roommates also wiped off the table and sink in our room to restore it to the original condition in which we found it.
After breakfast and packing up, the Meiji and USC students joined together for a discussion session. The session involved topics such as improving cultural exchange and the differences between Japan and the U.S. The Professor divided us into groups, and our group discussed how much more efficient and conservative Japan is compared to other countries such as the U.S. One thing that really shocked me after coming to Japan is the way people always finish their food; they leave nothing behind on their plates. In the U.S., I’m used to taking my unfinished meals to go, but Japan does not really offer such a service, and so everyone usually finishes all of the food they ordered at that one sitting at the restaurant. Furthermore, navigating the intricate subway system not only provides a great opportunity to exercise, but it is also inexpensive and very efficient. Our group also discussed how people should step out of their comfort zone to allow for greater cultural exchange. The discussion also broke down common stereotypes held between the USC and Meiji students. For example, we found out the Japanese do not eat sushi or sashimi every day, and they discovered that Americans do not eat hamburgers every day, either.
Before departure, our instructors took many photographs as if we were magazine models. We tried various poses and locations, but the instructors were not alone in wanting to preserve such precious memories; I also hoped to obtain an eternal memory of this wonderful experience.
By John Carlson
(This is Part 1 of a two-post series on our trip to the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House)
Days One & Two: As part of our exchange with the students here at Meiji University, the 14 USC students in Japan with Global East Asia traveled to Yamanaka Lake near Mount Fuji with 21 students from our host school, Meiji University. Having gotten a chance to meet students in the prior week, our hope was to engage in cross-cultural communication, sharing our perspectives on Japanese culture and society and also opening discussion on trans-pacific exchange.
The first day of the trip was simply a chance for us to sit down with Meiji students and get to know them better, and the following day, the students from USC presented on various topics of interest in both Japan and the U.S. The topics came specifically from something that we had observed during our visit to Japan, including, but not limited to, advertising, LGBT rights, entertainment, transportation, and Japanese concepts of beauty/art (i.e., Wabi-Sabi). It was a great opportunity not only to share the perspective of an outsider observing Japanese society, but also a great chance to engage in a two-way discussion of societal values, issues, and challenges in moving forward.
Of important note was the simple concept that in order to move forward, open discussion is needed on both sides. While for Americans this may come rather naturally, for Japanese people such open discussion often seems to be of greater difficulty. We spent a good amount of time discussing this concept, as well as what to do when open discussion becomes more prevalent. Following the presentations, we had a great time hanging out with the Meiji students while enjoying the mountain retreat. A lot of close bonds were formed among both students and faculty that will assuredly serve us well not only in our coming studies, but in our future as well. It was a great opportunity to share both in the classroom environment and on a more personal level.
Continued in Sally Fu’s post: http://dornsife-blogs.usc.edu/gea-japan/?p=537
June 13, 2012
By Amanda Vu and Tatiana Taylor
Last Friday morning began our trip to Yamanaka Lake, at the base of Mt. Fuji. Our straggled line of now semi-experienced foreigners marched through the streets with bags in tow, off on our first adventure outside of Tokyo. We arrived at Meiji University and clambered onto the bus; each USC student was asked to sit next to a Meiji student. At first, we awkwardly danced around each other as people often do when they when they are just getting to know one other. Despite the language barriers, we began to get to know our Meiji supporters and bonded with them over the toils of long bus rides, cute puppies at rest stops, and glimpses of Mt. Fuji. Before getting to our final destination, we made a brief stop to take a group photo and admire Yamanaka Lake, cold on that breezy day and surrounded by forests greener than any I have seen in California.
Our home for the weekend was the Meiji University Yamanaka Lake Seminar House, a gasshuku facility (gasshuku: a kind of school retreat for clubs, groups, and various school events) tucked into the trees, where we were to open our minds and focus on cross-cultural communication for the weekend. We spent our first night there playing ice-breaker games to get to know each other’s names (a bit more challenging than the usual ice breaker when the names sound foreign to you). Our hosts were kind enough to prepare a dinner they called “East Meets West,” serving hamburger, French fries, and crepes alongside salmon, taro, and miso soup. After dinner, most of the USC students dutifully scuttled off to complete our presentations for the next day. We were comforted to learn that procrastination is not a foreign concept to Japanese students either…
We ended the night with a party of snacks and drinks. USC and Meiji students traded card and drinking games; Egyptian War for the Japanese version of Spoons, King’s Cup for “Go, Back, Jump.” In happy spirits by bed time, we retired to our traditional Japanese tatami rooms. Our Meiji friends taught us how to lay out our futons (“Shikibuton, then shiitsu (sheets), then kakebuton!”) complete with rice-filled pillows. Those of us brave enough “went native” and used the traditional communal bathhouses to wash up.
Saturday was largely dedicated to the PowerPoint presentations we USC students prepared for Meiji students to share with them our thoughts on those aspects of Japanese culture and society that most intrigue us. The topics presented included Japanese subcultures, food and dining, efficiency, social responsibility, collectivism, architecture, education, and politeness. Following each presentation, we opened the floor to questions and were able to hear the Meiji students’ comments and criticisms about our visions of Japan. It was riveting to learn the difference between each of these topics as they exist in Japan versus in America.
Saturday night was a treat for all of us, as we learned of a surprise fireworks gathering on the beach! Some Meiji students started blasting Katy Perry’s “Firework” on their phone and a huge group of us sang and laughed about the small commonalities between us as we walked to the lake shore to light the fireworks. The other amazing experience that night, aside from dancing, singing, and karaoke, was watching two Meiji students perform shodo, traditional Japanese calligraphy. Some of us stayed for hours following their skillful demonstration to learn and practice the art of shodo.
The following day’s discussion with the Meiji students was about improving cross-cultural communication. We were first divided into several groups, each with both USC and Meiji students, and then discussed the topic in our individual groups. For both sides, this exercise proved to be a real illustration of the challenges of interacting with a new language in a new culture.
The final event of our trip had originally been planned as a trip up Mt. Fuji, and was a much anticipated event by everyone. Despite a light rain that morning, we were not deterred from our plans. However, there was yet another challenge awaiting us that day: the road up Mt. Fuji had been closed for a cycling event, preventing us from going any farther. In the end, even though we weren’t able to climb Mt. Fuji, we were content to simply see the summit on the first day, and also be able to spend the entire weekend so close to its presence in such a great environment.