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 was well designed, although it clearly was, 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…)
July 11, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
July 23, 2013
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.
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.
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.
July 22, 2013
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.
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.
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.
July 19, 2013
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.
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).
July 1, 2013
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.
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.
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.
July 5, 2012
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.
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.