June 19, 2015
By: Jotham Sadan
On June 10, we started our day off with a bullet train trip to Hiroshima to learn about how the Japanese teach the story of WWII. We left our bus at Aioi bridge, which was the original target of the first atomic bomb. Our tour guide led us to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a concrete building which served as a monument immediately after the war. Since most building in Hiroshima were made of wood, they were burnt in the initial head of the bomb. One of the few buildings left standing in the area was the one made of more sturdy material. Because much of the city was left in complete ruins, this building, which was one of very few in a large radius, became a spot for friends and family members to search for and leave messages for their loved ones who they lost during the confusion of the wreck.
After the memorial, we discussed the lasting effects, both physical and societal, of the bomb. Hiroshima was left hopeless, and to make matters worse, the burst of radiation to its citizens caused longer lasting health problems. One of those affected most notably by radiation was a girl named Sadako Sasaki. As an infant, she was in Hiroshima during the blast, but was unharmed by the initial force. Instead, she grew to the age of 12 before showing any signs of lasting damage. She was diagnosed with leukemia, one of the most prominent side effects of the radiation. While hospitalized, Sadako was told that folding 1,000 paper cranes would grant the folder their wish, so she made it her mission to do so with whatever scrap paper and wrappings she could find around. After reaching her goal, she continued fold until she no longer had the strength to do so, and eventually passed away. After gaining national attention, Sadako’s story was immortalized through a statue in Peace Memorial Park, and the image of the crane has since then become synonymous with Japan’s desire of lasting peace.
Since my research project is in partly based on American influence on Japanese education, being able to contrast how the Japanese and Americans teach the story of World War II in person was extremely helpful. In my experience in American public school, our war with the Japanese was taught with an “us vs. them” mentality, which led to mixed sentiment both from my history teacher and from the students. It was taught in a very pragmatic and factual way, but the individual details, such as those of Sadako, were never addressed. In addition, the American education system goes over the morality of dropping the atomic bomb, but never conclusively denounces war because it is such a big part of US history. In contrast, Japan talks only of peace in this memorial, rather than addressing the war as a whole. Japan focuses a lot on the stories of the individuals and the emotional aspect. Often when we study a statistics like war casualties it becomes easy to detach emotion from the inherent atrocities that war brings, but things like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial help to remind us how tragic each individual story is and how the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Up until visiting the memorial, my project was focused on how Japan has caved to westernization in its education system, so it is nice to see that the teaching of one of the biggest pieces of Japan’s recent history has retained its own Japanese identity and has not changed because of foreign pressure.
The second half of our day was a short trip to Miyajima island to get a small window into what life on the islands was like, seeing as there were over a hundred of them. While the first part of the day was much more education focused, this trip was more about enjoying ourselves and exploring our surroundings. One of Miyajima’s most famous features is that it has tame wild deer who roam around the island, so in between getting to hike the surrounding trails, eat traditional maple leaf sweet “momijimanju,” and visit the local temples, we got to play with the deer.
This was easily one of our busiest days in the entire trip, having started off in Kyoto, going to Hiroshima, Miyajima, then back to Kyoto for the night, and I can think of no better way to have spent one of our last days in Japan.
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.
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 much 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.
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!
We met up at Touka-Saikan, an old, authentic Chinese restaurant that our very own TA, Toku, worked at during college.
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 at 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!
June 9, 2015
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 even had one channel to explaining DNA. Only one channel had cartoons but it was geared toward very small children and showed no cartoons.
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 6pm 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, which is due tomorrow. 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. Mistao 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: 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.
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 Koreans 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.
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 Japan ethnic nationalism have played a large role in the school. We were able to interview the Vice Principal 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.
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.
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.
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 1, 2015
By: Luis Vidalon-Suzuki
The day had finally come! We would finally be leaving Los Angeles to travel to the fascinating and unfamiliar country of Japan. Most of us did not sleep a wink the night before, yet we all remained wide awake due to the excitement of the adventure to come. In the airport, we navigated around the busy foot traffic of tired travelers and found our way to our gate. Witnessing the diversity of the individuals in the terminal, I recalled Ms. Ryoko Nishijima’s presentation about critical tourism. As gaijin (foreigners), we needed to accept the Japanese culture while simultaneously analyzing, diagnosing, and criticizing certain aspects of Japanese culture in an objective manner. Each one of us students would begin observing how globalization has affected the romanticized country.
After a long eleven-hour flight, we exited our plane enthusiastically, realizing that we were walking on the other side of the globe. Noticing the Japanese characters on the signs, there was no doubt that we were no longer in the Western Hemisphere! But Japanese was not the only language written on the walls. Alas, an astonishing amount of English translations were conveniently placed next to the Japanese to make it easier for non-Japanese speakers to take in the information. Even though the English language had permeated the Japanese language and culture, the most shocking moment came when we went to the train station. The very first business that we saw was Starbucks Coffee! Interestingly, our initial encounter with a business in the Japanese station was with a foreign company. And this encounter was not exclusive to Starbucks, when we arrived to Tokyo, we were bombarded by signs advertising H&M, McDonald’s, and Louis Vuitton. Before we even arrived at the Sakura Hotel in Jimbocho, it became apparent that Western influence and language had made a deep mark on the Eastern culture. In fact, it had been ingrained and intertwined into everyday life, making the English language a powerful apparatus within Japanese society.
English has clearly made a mark here in Japan. Becoming a seemingly significant part of the culture, I wonder how the intrusiveness of the Western language affected other parts of daily life. In this trip, I am researching how Westernization of Japan has developed curriculum so that English seems like a necessary and beneficial subject to teach in the public education system. As a foreign language, it is fascinating how English has become an integral part of Japanese society; even something as simple as writing romaji on the billboards subtly coerces each person who reads it. As a critical tourist, it is imperative that I continue to observe language in this manner throughout my time in Japan. Realizing the subtle importance of certain factors is imperative to developing thought-provoking discourse about the alterations to the Japanese language. As a personal goal, I intend to go about each day examining the culture while simultaneously enjoying my invaluable time in this new country. I cannot wait to see how each one of us will develop in regards to personal growth and academic progressions in the next two weeks!
September 15, 2014
By Janet Hu
During our stay in Japan, we had many opportunities to try all the great food! In fact, it was always hard to choose what to eat because of all the varieties that are available. Everything always looks special and delicious. Wandering around the streets and food courts, I was particularly intrigued by the “fake” food replicas that can be seen in many shop windows and display cases. Most restaurants display these plastic food replicas in order to attract customers. Moreover, each restaurant has its own custom-made food replicas, which are apparently handmade to look just like the actual dishes offered by the restaurant.
These plastic food replicas have their own interesting history. After World War II, many foreigners came to Japan to participate in the reconstruction process. Due to the language barrier, however, they found it difficult to understand the menus at Japanese restaurants. Therefore, Japanese artisans came up with a way to both display dishes and make them look appealing at the same time: make food sample replicas that won’t spoil and always look appetizing. At first, food sample replicas were made from wax, but because the colors gradually faded when exposed to sunlight, artisans switched to plastic materials instead. Today, food sample replicas are so realistic that I can barely tell they are actually fake!
Here’s a short clip of a food sample artist making some very real-looking lettuce:
I was surprised by the sheer variety of plastic food samples available in Japan. There are samples of basically any food you can image, including curry rice, ramen, sushi, fruit, and even beer! We were lucky to visit a street near Asakusa that has become famous for its high concentration of plastic food sample shops. It is called Kappabashi Dougu Street (合羽橋道具街). In addition to the literally hundreds of different kinds of food samples being sold in the many shops along the street, you can also find almost every imaginable kind of tool and equipment used by the restaurant industry on this street. One thing I noticed after handling a few of the plastic food samples was hat food samples tend to be lighter than the weight of the real dishes they represent. This street is definitely an interesting place for those who like Japanese food and are planning to make a souvenir-hunting trip in Tokyo!
In Japan, the craftsmanship of food samples has come to be considered an art form. In fact, some of the best samples are even on display in foreign museums. I find it fascinating how Japan tries to communicate with people in such visual ways. For instance, the warning signs on subways, trains, and buses are usually displayed with accompanying images, which make the signs very easy to understand; the images allow people to receive and understand the information in a very efficient way. Plastic food samples are of course another example. Customers can quickly and clearly understand a restaurant’s menu just by looking at its display of food samples. Moreover, it is also a smart advertising strategy.
By Janet Hu
Our group first went to the Tokyo Skytree on a rainy day, so we didn’t go up to the top. However, I was very excited to go up the second time we visited Skytree and the Solamachi shops at its base.
Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting tower standing in the Sumida area of Tokyo. It is also close to Asakusa. The full height is 634 meters (2,080 ft.), which makes Skytree the tallest broadcasting tower in the world. It reached its full height on March 2011, replacing the older Tokyo Tower (height 333 meters, or 1,093 ft.) as the most prominent structure in Tokyo. In fact, its height of 634 meters has its own meaning: the figures 6 (mu), 3 (sa), and 4 (shi) can be read together as “Musashi,” which is the name of the historic area in Tokyo where Skytree now stands.
Skytree is designed to be a place where tradition and future meet. The central design concept is “the creation of city scenery transcending time: a fusion of traditional Japanese beauty and neo-futuristic design.” It even has its own color—Skytree White, which gives the structure a delicate blue glow.
Solamachi, the big shopping complex sitting at the base of Skytree, is a great place for buying souvenirs, shopping, and eating. There is also a big Studio Ghibli shop. Compared to Skytree itself, Solamachi is more crowded. The fourth floor is a good choice for those planning to pick up some nice souvenirs during their visit. They have a Yomiuri Giants baseball team gift shop, fine Japanese handkerchief shops, and specialized chopstick shops, among others.
For those interested in ascending to the top of Tokyo Skytree, there are two possible options. You can go to the Tembo Deck, which is at a height of 350 meters (1,148 ft). On this level, there is the Skytree Café as well as the Skytree Restaurant 634, from which you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of the Tokyo skyline. A ticket for the Tembo Deck is 2,060 Japanese yen. I was amazed by the view from the top of Tokyo Skytree.
Once on the Tembo Deck, you can then purchase a ticket for the upper level, which is called the Tembo Galleria. This level is at a height of 450 meters (1,476 ft.). It costs another 1,030 yen to go up to this higher level. The elevator going up to the Tembo Galleria has glass walls, so you can see the outside view while the elevator is going up. I was lucky because I was the only one in the elevator when I went up to the upper level.
In the Tembo Galleria
While I wish the weather had been a little better, I was still very impressed by what I saw on my second trip to the Tokyo Skytree. It was great fun to go up to the Tembo Galleria.
By Lisa Peng
When shopping in Japan, one will always encounter products with the sign gentei shouhin (限定商品), or “limited edition goods,” on them. This sign indicates that the products are only sold in a certain region, during a certain period of time, or under certain other conditions, such as the special sweets known as yatsuhashi (八ツ橋) that are only sold in Kyoto, fruit-flavored drinks that are sold only in the summer, Hello Kitty dolls dressed in special costumes that are sold only in Hiroshima, and special-shaped snacks that can only be found at the Tokyo SkyTree. Because of their scarcity and uniqueness, these goods give people an impulse to buy them. People think that if they don’t buy the goods right away, it is likely that they might never be able to find them for sale again. At the same time, these limited edition goods also create a great way for merchants to trap their customers into buying goods that are not actually necessary. For instance, I was often tempted to buy a summer-limited-edition plum-flavored juice (see photo) over other juice options even though it did not taste any better than the others. I only bought it because I knew I could get the other flavors at another time, or even outside of Japan.
Although these limited edition goods were created by businesses to boost sales, they still show some unique features of Japan. First, Japan is a country with four clearly-divided seasons. Thus, limited goods are often based on the seasons, because the climate and scenery vary greatly in each season. For example, many spring-limited products focus on cherry blossoms, while summer-limited products tend to focus on green tea, watermelon, ice, and fireworks. Second, although Japan is a small country, every major region is relatively isolated because of the country’s mountainous geography. As a result, each region was able to develop a unique culture, which has created a habit among those traveling to different regions of bringing limited, or area-specific, gifts back to give to their friends and families. In this way, regional limited goods are a popular way of advertising an area’s unique culture, while also serving as great gifts.
August 13, 2014
By Ryan Bobell
Getting around Tokyo was surprisingly easy.
I don’t mean to say that the public transportation, road infrastructure, and city planning were well designed, although they clearly were, and the excellent quality of Tokyo’s infrastructure was one of the most impressive things about my stay in Tokyo. As an English-speaking person with zero experience outside the United States, Tokyo was shockingly easy to navigate because of the extreme prevalence of English throughout the city.
The use of English on restaurants, store signs, road markers, and throughout the metro system was so abundant that it appeared as though English was nearly as common as Japanese throughout the city. This made exploring Tokyo safely and effectively a very simple matter. In fact, I would say that my experience using the Tokyo public transportation system was much easier and efficient than my experiences with that of my own hometown, Los Angeles.
Having such easy access to English road, metro line, and city district names really helped when traveling around Tokyo. While using the system, I often found myself wondering why English-language signs were so common in a nearly homogeneous Japanese population. I imagine, and light research backs my theory, that part of the common English usage is that the Japanese government is trying to proactively encourage foreign travelers and businesspersons to visit Japan. This, especially coupled with the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and a variety of multilingual signs and services, will be increasingly helpful to foreign tourism.
The only problem with having so much English in Tokyo (and it really is a problem) is that it often makes it harder to become fully immersed in the Japanese language. Whether a foreign visitor is wanting to jump into Japanese for fun, as a challenge, or to improve their speaking skills, the fact is that when there is so much English around they will inevitably use it as a crutch. I know that without so many signs in my native language I would have had to delve deeper into practical Japanese and further develop my conversational skills when asking for assistance or directions. Ultimately it becomes a debate of convenience versus immersion, and chances are that convenience will win out simply because the positives of an increase in foreign travelers and business are so important to the Japanese economy.
I will, however, concede that when I became (mildly) lost in Shibuya one day, the English-language signs and directions really did save my day.
July 17, 2014
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. Similar 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. (more…)