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

July 17, 2014

Hiroshima

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:26 am

By Sarah Nakamura and Janet Hu

During our last week in Japan, we had the opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Itsukushima Island, or as it’s more commonly known, Miyajima Island. We arrived on Miyajima Island by ferry around 10:00 AM to begin our full day adventure in Hiroshima.   DSC00510 10526397_4383527443425_826140506_oSimilar to our experience in Nara, we were greeted by the wild deer that walk freely on Miyajima Island. Although the weather was hot and humid, we were lucky to avoid the typhoon that had been predicted to arrive during our stay in Kyoto. When we visited Itsukushima Shrine, we were lucky to go during low tide, allowing us the opportunity to walk up to the Torii Gate. During high tide, the lower part of the gate is submerged, and it supposedly appears to be floating on water. DSC00482 Itsukushima Shrine is the chief Shinto shrine of Aki Province. Although it was destroyed numerous times in the past few hundred years, the shrine still looks beautiful and astonishing. It is painted in the color orange, which is believed to be able to ward off bad spirits. Therefore, we could see the shrine and the gate clearly even from a distance on the ferry. DSC00493 Miyajima was very unique because the island doesn’t have any natural products that can be readily exported, and therefore the residents make special rice scoops that symbolize good luck. They are not made to be used for actual everyday use, but are rather meant to be used as decorations. After learning about these special rice scoops, we next tried the delicious grilled oysters that are also unique to the island. The oysters are harvested from rafts floating in the bay. Every year, during the second week of February, the island holds a festival where they serve their famous oysters at low prices. If you are ever in the area when this festival is being held, you will definitely have a great time with great food! After our visit to Miyajima Island, we went to eat okonomiyaki for lunch. Okonomiyaki is another specialty food in Hiroshima consisting of a savory Japanese pancake that contains a variety of ingredients. Okonomi means “to your liking” and yaki means “grilled,” and thus okonomiyaki is quite literally a pancake that you can grill with the ingredients that you like best! 10545525_4383492562553_1822386095_o After lunch, we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. On our way, we stopped by the actual hypocenter of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima in 1945. It was surreal standing in the exact location where the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II. After visiting the hypocenter, we went inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where we saw artifacts and remains from the atomic bomb. Rather than condemning the United States for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, the museum focused on promoting world peace and eliminating the use of nuclear bomb. This was a reflection of the kindness and respectfulness of the Japanese people, and their dedication to those living in Hiroshima. Located outside the museum was a memorial that held all the names of the individuals who were affected by the atomic bomb. Every year they have a ceremony to remember the names of those affected and to be reminded of the peace agreement to never drop another atomic bomb. It was very special to visit the site and to pay respects to those who were affected by this event. Although it is not a time that the United States is proud of, and it destroyed the lives of many citizens, it is important to highlight the event and promote peace rather than war. 10526341_4383495682631_694695372_oOne of the famous figures from the bombing of Hiroshima was a 12-year-old girl named Sadako Sasaki, an innocent victim of the bomb who died of leukemia. She is remembered through her story of the thousand origami cranes that she folded from her medicine wrappers while battling her illness. DSC00541There is a memorial dedicated to her near the museum, where people can come and donate cranes. People have come from all over the world to visit this famous landmark, and it continues to bring positive attention to Hiroshima. Some of the students in our group folded approximately 50 paper cranes before arriving in Hiroshima, and then donated them to the memorial when we visited it. It was amazing to visit this famous landmark in person and pay our respects to those affected by the tragic event. DSC00548After our very busy day in Hiroshima, we rode the shinkansen back to Kyoto, where we would stay for another day before returning to Tokyo.

July 11, 2014

GEA Journeys to Yokohama!

Filed under: Travel,Yokohama — geajapan @ 1:46 pm

by Natasha Cirisano and Stephanie Liang

Compared to Tokyo, our visit to Yokohama this Wednesday brought us into what seemed like a sleepier, smaller town that we could more easily navigate because it was not so dense and crowded. Instead, towering structures like several skyscrapers and a Ferris wheel served as landmarks that we could see from the street, while the highly condensed buildings and small alleyways of Tokyo seemed to close in on us. This new, quiet city contained lots of interesting sights, from the Emigration Museum to Chinatown to the famous Cup Noodles Museum, that we explored throughout our stay.

Yokohama skyline.

Yokohama skyline

Our first Yokohama destination was the Emigration Museum, where we learned about the many stages of Japanese migration from the 1800s onward. We were surprised to see that passports existed even before there were photographs. Instead, the passport documents contained physical written descriptions of the people that held them! We were also interested in the fact that many Japanese settled in Brazil, of all countries, because the cultures seemed so vastly different. One observation our class made after our visit was that the tour guide felt the need to emphasize that these Japanese migrants were searching for ways to expand their experience and economic opportunity, not as deserters of their homeland. Later, we learned that the Japanese government gave false hope to migrants leaving the country in search of wealth, because it felt it could not support them, and that there have been efforts to rectify the way these immigrants were treated. This probably played into certain statements praising the migrants that were made in the tour. Since visiting the Japanese war museum near Yasukuni Shrine, we have been more sensitized to the variety of narratives and biases museums can have, and how they re-write history as much as they explain it.

One of the first Japanese passports from the late 1800s.

One of the first Japanese passports from the late 1800s

Next, Chinatown in Yokohama fused Japanese and Chinese culture together. Having been to many Chinatowns in America, we noticed many differences between Chinatown in Japan and US Chinatowns. One of the biggest differences was the fact that many signs were predominantly written in Japanese Hiragana or Katakana. Many of the workers in the Chinatown restaurant we visited spoke Chinese, but were ethnically Japanese. The Chinatowns in America mostly consist of Chinese workers who sometimes speak only Cantonese or Mandarin. This led us to the conclusion that the Chinese population in Japan is not as dense as the Chinese population in America.

2014-06-25 11.59.53

Entrance to Chinatown

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July 9, 2014

Yamanaka Lake Retreat

Filed under: Travel,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 2:42 pm

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.

Group Photo at Yamanaka Seminar House

Group photo at Yamanaka Seminar House

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.

Hanabi

Enjoying Japanese fireworks (hanabi)

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July 23, 2013

Hiroshima: The Message of Peace

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 4:11 pm

By Jairo Hernandez
Gray, foreboding, and cloudy skies welcomed our group to the Peace Memorial Museum and Park in Hiroshima. After a rather quick guide through the museum, we were sitting in a room, listening to the chairman of the museum talk about world peace.

A world without nuclear weapons. That is the desire of the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. No revenge, no atonement. They just want a simple promise. World peace is no easy feat, and they realize that. Years, decades, or generations, no one knows how long it will take, but the survivors just want a promise: avid work from now until a time where a world without nuclear weapons is established. Our current security measure of giving threats is no real security measure and can cave in at any moment. Thus these surviving members just want a world with a security measure that revolves around peace and understanding, not fear and threats. This is their message and the message the chairman wants spread throughout the museum.

This trip had a great impact on me. The rainy skies and gloomy weather reflected my state of mind as I walked out of the room and museum, deep in thought and reflection. However, just as you exit the museum, there is a memorial park with three significant structures that also reflected my state of being in a more concrete manner.

Three monuments at Memorial Park that hold great significance to me.

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Miyajima & Hiroshima

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 3:51 pm

By Olga Lexell

After my peculiar encounter with the “naughty” deer of Nara, I was pleased to find that the deer of Miyajima Island were far more docile and less interested in cookies. The island itself is home to Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and important spiritual location, and the torii gate is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful views. Luckily the tide was low enough that we were able to walk all the way up to the torii gate, which was surrounded by yen! We guessed that people must have thrown them at the gate, perhaps for making wishes or other spiritual gestures.

This deer was particularly photogenic.

This deer was particularly photogenic.

Some familiar 5-yen (go-en, 五円 or 御縁, meaning "luck") in the pile!

Some familiar 5-yen (go-en, 五円 or 御縁, meaning “luck”) in the pile!

Miyajima Island was among the most traditional places I’ve seen in Japan. From its Edo-inspired architecture and lack of amenities like traffic lights, to the numerous people we saw in kimonos, Miyajima Island was the polar opposite of Tokyo. The island prides itself on its spirituality, and for a long time women were not even allowed to visit to maintain the island’s purity (which is luckily no longer the case). Itsukushima Shrine was beautiful. I’m always amazed at the care and effort put into maintaining Japan’s many religious and spiritual sites; there was not an inch of peeling paint in sight on any of Itsukushima’s bright red pillars. The views of the torii gate from the shrine were breathtaking as well, and I wish we had gotten the chance to see how the shrine looks at high tide.

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July 22, 2013

Week of Fun: Traveling in Kyoto and Nara

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 1:55 pm

By Evan Brown

This week we traveled west to the Kansai region and experienced a more traditional side of Japanese culture than the bustling life of the ultimate metropolis, Tokyo. The group departed for Kyoto early Monday morning, but David and I were already in Kansai having taken advantage of the seven-day rail pass in order to travel to Kobe and Osaka. Sally Kim visited a friend in Osaka, and John went back to Tohoku, where he had lived for a few months in high school.

Tsuna Doggu is part of any balanced Japanese meal.

Tsuna Doggu is part of any balanced Japanese meal.

We all converged at Kyoto Station at lunch time on Monday without much trouble, and everyone found food quickly before we boarded a bus to Nara. I was pleasantly surprised by the serious supply of my favorite convenience store food, Tuna Dog, at the Family Mart in Kyoto Station.

Olga befriends deer.

Olga befriends deer

In Nara, there were a lot of deer in the area surrounding the temples we visited, and constantly being fed by humans had made them a little bit naughty. It was, for the most part, fun to feed and play with the deer, but their aggressive behavior was also somewhat disconcerting, as Olga soon found out.

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July 19, 2013

First impressions of Kyoto and Nara

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 11:03 am

京都と奈良についての第一印象

By Matt Wong

The city of Kyoto (京都)  is difficult to write about because it can be perceived in drastically different ways, depending on the individual and his or her present circumstances. For instance, I’ve read passages by a few Tokyo natives who felt that Kyoto offered an escape from the dirty, gritty atmosphere that characterized their hometown. On the other hand, some other Tokyo-dwellers feel that Kyoto doesn’t have the lively, urban charm of Japan’s current capital.

Vista Hotel Lobby, Kyoto.

Vista Hotel Lobby, Kyoto.

Of course, as an American student, my impression of Kyoto is quite different from that of either Tokyo or Kyoto natives. It is also quite limited in scope, as I haven’t lived in either location long enough to make hasty generalizations about their differences. That being said, there are several characteristics beyond the obvious historical differences that stood out to me about Kyoto.

Firstly, the main streets of the city seem a bit more spread out, and there are more large trees. It might be my imagination, but I also felt that the sky in Kyoto is more open, often filled with dramatic light and clouds. On the other hand, residential areas are composed of narrow, neat streets (roji, 路地) packed tightly with houses and small shops, most of which make liberal use of wood on their exteriors, as well as several small potted plants in various shapes and sizes, metal mailboxes, and an endless assortment of signs, vending machines, statuettes, and posters. One morning, while wandering around with no destination, I stumbled upon some stray cats (noraneko, 野良猫).

Stray Cats, Kyoto

Stray Cats, Kyoto

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July 1, 2013

Yokohama Day Trip (Wednesday, June 19, 2013)

Filed under: Travel,Yokohama — geajapan @ 11:22 am

By Sophia Mostowy and Leila Wang

To learn more about Japan’s international relationships, we stepped outside of our normal classroom in Liberty Tower at Meiji University for a field trip to Yokohama! Just before 10am, we met up with a few of the Meiji students and left for about a 40-minute train ride. It was a little overwhelming how confusing the train stations were with the multiple floors and countless number of corridors, but we were all able to make it through with some guidance. Although the train ride was long, it allowed for some enlightening conversations with some of the Meiji students about things like roller coasters, the prohibition of biking to elementary school, and the difference between combini (コンビニ) in Japan and convenience stores in the United States.

USC students talking with Meiji students on the train.

USC students talking with Meiji students on the train.

Our first stop in Yokohama was the JICA Japanese Overseas Migration Museum. This museum documented multiple aspects of Japanese emigration and the lives of Japanese natives in other countries. Probably the most intriguing and memorable fact we learned was that the Japanese government promoted overseas emigration. It was also interesting to see how the Japanese were able to preserve their heritage while also incorporating aspects of the new dominant culture, most easily displayed in their food. However, acculturation was very difficult and unfortunately left many Japanese with identity crises; in their new countries, the emigrated Japanese yearned for the Japanese culture, but upon returning to Japan, they missed many of the aspects of their foreign country’s traditions. It was also heart-wrenching to listen to the personal stories and learn of the many hardships the Japanese endured while abroad, especially in America during WWII. Overall, the museum was an incredible hands-on experience that allowed for a personal connection and the type of educational experience that goes beyond the classroom.

Japanese emigration routes

Japanese emigration routes

Japanese food incorporating international cultures

Japanese food incorporating international cultures

We also learned that the new Cupnoodles Museum was close by, so we swung over there with the little time we had before our lunch reservation in Chinatown.

Cupnoodles Museum

Cupnoodles Museum

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July 5, 2012

Free Day in Kyoto!

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:15 pm

By Kevin Leong

The day after our Hiroshima trip was completely free. Unfortunately, the good weather from that day didn’t carry over and it started to rain again. Our group did many things, such as shop around our hotel/Kyoto Station area, visited Himeji Castle/Himeji Zoo, or head down to Osaka. I spent my day in Osaka. The Osaka Station is also a huge mall, and at the top of the south building there is a Pokemon Center, where we all relived our childhood.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!
Our group at the Osaka Pokemon Center!

From there, a few of us went to the Osaka Aquarium, and the rest went to Dotonbori. This area is known for its wide variety of restaurants and a lot of shopping. We got a lot of souvenir shopping done in Osaka, even though it wouldn’t stop raining all day.

By Alex Karpos

Another group of us decided to visit Himeji Castle on our free day. After a fairly long train ride, we arrived in Himeji, a city to the south west of Kyoto. Though the city was drenched in seemingly never-ending torrential rain, we decided to slog through the downpour. It was a decision we would not regret. Himeji Castle is truly an astounding complex. Last updated an astounding 400 years ago, this structure is considered the prototypical model for the medieval Japanese castle. The castle is surrounded by a truly amazing complex consisting of several walls, guardhouses, and open lawns surrounding the castle. Though the main, and most recognizable, tower of the castle is under restoration and thus covered from outside elements, this proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Main tower of Himeji Castle, covered in scaffolding for restoration

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June 28, 2012

The Many Faces of Hiroshima

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 6:00 pm

By Erika Klein and Alex Karpos

Arriving in Hiroshima this morning after our second, and more relaxed, Shinkansen experience of the month, we immediately boarded a bus to visit the city’s well-known sites. Our guide, Masako, began her introduction with the suggestion that “perhaps the name Hiroshima reminds you of the first atomic bomb.” While she went on to mention some statistics related to the bomb, however, the first part of the day unexpectedly focused on less-popularly known aspects of Hiroshima, reminding us that the city is much more than one tragic event. Having learned that Hiroshima is Japan’s largest oyster-producing area, we observed the flat collection of rafts on the Seto Inland Sea as we traveled by ferry to the sacred Miyajima Island to visit Itsukushima Shrine.

Oyster docks surrounding Miyajima

Like Nara, the island was inhabited by half-tame deer, worshipped as divine creatures in Japan and unafraid of approaching humans and attempting to snag food or brochures for a quick snack. Besides photographing the antics of the deer (and those whom they surprised), we took pictures from every angle of Otorii Gate, which appears to float in the ocean during high tide.

Deer Standing Peacefully with Torii Gate in the BackgroundDeer Standing Peacefully with Otorii Gate in the Background
Jumping for joy in front of the Otorii Gate

The gate, serving as a barrier between the Shinto gods’ home on the mountainous island and the human realm of Hiroshima, shared the same orange, evil-expelling color as the ancient shrine, which we explored next.

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