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

June 8, 2016

Off the Beaten Path in Kyoto

Filed under: Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:47 am

By: Vincent Bertoni

Because we started yesterday (our trip to Hiroshima) so early, I wanted to get a good rest and sleep late today. So, by the time I’d gotten up, everyone else had already checked out of their rooms and started exploring Kyoto. I heard from Matt, an alumni of the program, that there are plenty of bike rental shops around Kyoto station, so I decided to give my feet a rest and bike everywhere today. After paying for the one-day rental and stocking up on water, I used the simplified tourist maps to proceed to get completely lost only minutes after setting out. It’s not that the maps were wrong per-se, but they omitted some very important details (read: roads) that meant that if I ever got off of the map, it was nearly impossible to find my way back onto it. I ended up navigating using Google maps for the whole day, only consulting the map to make use of its extensive bicycle parking directory.


Helpful rules for getting accustomed to riding in Kyoto; over the course of my day I watched locals break almost all of them.


The first place I visited was Fushimi Inari-taisha (the shrine of one thousand torii). The entrance and main shrine were magnificent, but packed with people, making it hard to take in the calm majesty of the torii, each of which was donated to the temple as thanks for its donor’s business success.


Too crowded to get a good picture


Trying for the perfect picture against all odds.

As soon as I could, I took a side path that jutted off from the main avenue of people, leading to a secluded and almost abandoned trail up the East side of mount Inari. It didn’t have the titular torii of the main trail, but the calm quiet of the bamboo forests and intricately detailed shrines offered something else, a bit of peace from the bustle of the cities I’d been living in for the past two weeks. Almost every one of these was equipped with an unmanned store at the front (this being Japan, they weren’t worried about anyone stealing anything). At one, I think I may have arrived during the middle of a prayer or ceremony, based on the faint chanting and “do not enter” sign placed halfway along the walkway. Eventually, after many gratuitously expensive vending machines and quad-destroying switchbacks, my trail joined back with the trail of torii towards the summit. It seemed very few people were committed to reaching the top,  so it was just as empty as the backwoods trail had been. There weren’t any spectacular views (at least not from the summit), but the shrines (and accompanying gift shops) at the highest point were magnificent and worth the trip. On the way back down, I took the main trail and experienced the conventional Fushimi Inari-taisha experience, but backwards. Instead of gradually escaping the crowds and seeing the torii in their uninterrupted beauty, I progressed further into the crowds and aggressive shop owners as I traveled back down the mountain. Overall, I see this as an situation where I tried to avoid the well-beaten path, and got rewarded with some unique experiences for my troubles.


At this shrine, all I found were sandals at the entrance, accompanied by the sound of pouring water, chanting, and singing coming from behind the “do not enter” sign.


The most delicious tofu I’ve eaten in my entire life.

Back on my bike, I traveled to Yasaka shrine, where I ate at a restaurant that only serves one order, a course of the most delicious tofu I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Three different styles of tofu came together to form a complete flavor experience, complete with sweetness, savoriness, and richness, all from tofu! After that, I was planning on biking along the Philosopher’s Walk (a secluded riverside path lined with cherry trees), but I was waylaid by cats from a local cat cafe. They were way friendlier than I’d experienced from other cat-cafe cats (even when they’re on the clock!). By this point, I was already pushing it in terms of getting back to our hotel by the scheduled meeting time, so I wasn’t able to take any more pictures in my mad dash back to central Kyoto. In the end, between visiting shrines and other tourist hotspots, as well as biking through the streets and narrow alleys of Kyoto, I feel that I got a good mix of both the tourist and local experiences in Kyoto.


Here we see the Vincent in his native habitat, struggling in vain to understand how selfies work.

June 6, 2016

Up, Up, and Away (On the Bullet Train!)

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 9:25 am

By: Fridaouss Nabine

Today has been fantastic! We took a bullet train (officially called the Shinkansen) to Kyoto, for our second excursion out of metropolitan Tokyo. It was my first time, as well as many other peoples’, and we reached speeds of up to 150mph. The entire ride took about two and a half hours from Tokyo to Kyoto. After arriving, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, conveniently located across the street from the train station, and headed toward Kyoto University, the second best rated college in Japan. There, we met with USC alum and former student of Lon-Sensei, Tokunaga-san, and discussed the idea of a transpacific identity. Toku-san was raised in Kyoto, and has a long lineage of Kyoto University attendants and professors in his family. Therefore, his identity is somewhat rooted in Kyoto. However, he also spent years at USC as a PhD student and had his first child there. Through discussion, we explored what it means to embrace two or more cultural and geographical identities.

Next, he took the group on a tour through Kyoto University, and talked about the school’s history with activism. Student activism at the university is very liberal, but it is not as popular as it once was. We encountered one person sleeping  in a makeshift home with pots and pans and clothes outside, as a sign of protest. Though the ability to protest in such a public manner was available, many students did not engage in it this way. After the tour, we arrived at Kiyomizu-Dera, a historically preserved place in Kyoto. The styles of the homes, shrines, and streets were the same as those from hundreds of years ago. We walked along the famed temple path, looking at handcrafted souvenirs and consuming frozen treats along the way. After walking through a section of the temple, we arrived at a location where we all had the chance to purify out mouths and hands before continuing through the temple. The process involved using a wooden ladle to retrieve water and wash both hands and then scoop some water into the mouth. For many, it was a first experience.

Learning about the history of protests at Kyoto University

Learning about the history of protests at Kyoto University

We then walked away from the temple and explored the surrounding area. We saw the statue of Kannon, a well respected Bodhisattva. We also came across many temples and shrines, including one dedicated to geishas. Throughout the day, we encountered many ordinary people who wore kimonos on their journey through the area. We learned from our Teaching Assistant Rio-san, that, many people do this as a way to connect and be a greater part of the traditional environment. Soon after, we settled at a park at the edge of downtown Kyoto. There, we hung out by the river. The location is known for local artisan goods and its restaurants. College students also frequent there during the weekend, creating a social and relaxed environment. Finally, we went to a traditional Chinese restaurant in the area. There, we enjoyed traditional Chinese dishes of egg fried rice, fried eggplant, and spicy fish soup, among others. The day was filled with a lot of cultural and historical excavations.

Jumping in front of Kannon statue

Jumping in front of Kannon statue

May 27, 2016

Our Trip To Japan~

Filed under: Class,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 3:55 pm

By: Tiffany Lam

Finally going to Japan! Most of us, including myself, did not sleep at all since we had to arrive to the airport by 4:15 am. Luckily for me, I was able to sleep through both of the plane rides. During the flight from Vancouver to Tokyo, an elderly Japanese lady who sat in the aisle seat tried to start a conversation with me, despite knowing only a little bit of English. She mostly spoke in Japanese, and although I could not speak the language at all, I was still able to understand a little bit of what she was trying to say through her gestures. It was an interesting experience because it reminded me of the main character Abby and the ramen chef from the film The Ramen Girl in that even though both had difficulty with communication, they were still somehow able to understand each other. I felt like it was the same situation with me and the elderly woman, but the conversation was more polite. The elderly woman was very kind and considerate, and I admired her bravery of trying to talk to a foreigner like me, even though she could speak little to no English. It was a memorable moment in the plane and it gave me the motivation to try to make an effort in learning Japanese so that I can try to communicate with the local people and have meaningful conversations. 


GEA Japan at the aiport

When we finally arrived in Japan, the first thing that came to mind was all the delicious, authentic Japanese food that I will be able to eat. After exchanging the money and receiving our Suica cards, we had to take the Keisei Skyliner Express Train to get to Ueno Station. I was in awe watching the beautiful landscapes and architecture in Japan. There was a lot of greenery and rice paddies and I thought that the short and small houses and buildings were very unique in comparison to the tall skyscrapers in Los Angeles. Everything in Japan looked tiny and it was also cool seeing how many vending machines there were on every corner of a street.

Riding the Keisei Skyliner Express Train

Vending machines full of yummy, unique snacks!

Once we reached Ueno Station, we had to take the Ginza line to Mitsukoshimae and then the Hanzomon line to Jimbocho. While waiting for the Hanzomon line, I noticed that there were “Women Only” signs on the walls which I thought it was very fascinating.

“Women Only” sign in Mitsukoshimae train station

Apparently, the sign means that the trains during early morning rush hours allow only women and younger children to ride so that they can feel a sense of security and safety. I thought that it was an interesting aspect of Japan’s culture and it left me with the impression that Japan is serious and cares deeply for the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Once we made it to Sakura hotel, I think we were all pretty exhausted and hungry  from the plane rides and walking around with the luggage. After settling into the rooms and relaxing for a little while, we had our first dinner at a curry restaurant which I thought was delicious.

Enjoying our first dinner in Japan

Enjoying our first dinner in Japan

Spinach, Tomato, Potato, with Cheese Curry

Spinach, Tomato, Potato, with Cheese Curry

It has been a long and exhausting day and although we did not explore any places in Tokyo today, I am just excited to finally be here and I look forward to new places and new people we will meet, the yummy food I will get to eat, and the fun, long-lasting memories we will make while in Japan.

June 19, 2015

A Foreign Perspective of Hiroshima

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 10:45 am

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 buildings 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.

Our class and tour guide next to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Dome

Our class and tour guide next to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Dome

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 to 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.


Us near a statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Peace, surrounded by hundreds of folded paper cranes

Us near a statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Peace, surrounded by hundreds of colorful folded paper cranes.

Since my research project is 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 with American public schools, 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 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. 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.

Our class and a deer on Miyajima in front of its famous Tori gate

Our class and a deer on Miyajima in front of its famous Torii gate 

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.

Kyoto, Here We Come!

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Kobe,Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 10:33 am

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.

Japanese Trains: Always Punctual

Japanese Trains: Always Punctual

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 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.

Jo loves posing for candid pics

Jo loves posing for candid pics

Toku in his natural habitat; in action

Toku in his natural habitat; in action

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!

exploring the bustling streets of Kyoto

exploring the bustling streets of Kyoto

Luis, Ye Sol, and I posing for our karaoke album cover

Luis, Ye Sol, and I posing for our karaoke album cover

We met up at Touka-Saikan, an old, authentic Chinese restaurant that our very own TA, Toku, worked at during college.

It's called Touka Saikan, but we liked to secretly call it Toku Saikan <3

It’s called Touka Saikan, but we liked to secretly call it Toku Saikan <3

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 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!

One of the wonders of Kyoto...can't decide if he's kawaii or KOWAI

One of the wonders of Kyoto…can’t decide if he’s kawaii or KOWAI

June 9, 2015

Adventure to Lake Yamanaka

Filed under: Tokyo,Travel,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:24 am

By: Andrea Munoz

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

USC & Meiji Students waiting to go to Lake Yamanaka.

USC & Meiji students waiting to go to Lake Yamanaka.

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

My lunch.

My lunch

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

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

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

View of Mt. from the bus.

View of Mt. Fuji from the bus.

USC & Meiji checking into the seminar house at lake Yamanaka

USC & Meiji checking into the seminar house at Lake Yamanaka

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

Yuri, Misato, Steve & Andi working on presentations

Yuri, Misato, Steve & Andi working on presentations

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

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

Dinner with USC and Meiji students.

Dinner with USC and Meiji students.

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

The after dinner dance party!

The after dinner dance party!

June 8, 2015

American School, Korean School, and Shin-Okubo: 3 Diverse Areas of Tokyo

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 10:50 am

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.



The American School in Japan on a rainy day.

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 Korean 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.

Principal Kathy Krauth pointing out the clean and sleek facilities inside the ASIJ High School.

ASIJ teacher Kathy Krauth pointing out the clean and sleek facilities inside the ASIJ High School.

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 Japanese ethnic nationalism have played a large role in the school. We were able to interview the Vice Principal of 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.

A look inside the Joseon middle school classroom.

A look inside the Joseon middle school classroom. The kids are learning English.

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.

An array of side dishes, Samgyupsal meat on the grill, and a choice between tea and water cluttered our tables at dinner.

An array of side dishes, Samgyupsal meat on the grill, and a choice between tea and water cluttered our tables at dinner.

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.

The Shin-Okubo restaurant owner fighting on with us.

The Shin-Okubo restaurant manager ‘Fighting On’ with us.

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

Can’t Speak Japanese? No Problem!

Filed under: Exploring,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 3:00 pm

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.


Before our eleven-hour flight, we all forced a smile on our painfully tired faces in our terminal at LAX.

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.


As we eat our first meal in Japan at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, it is easy to recognize the English menu provided by the workers. This seems just one example of how Japanese society has acclimated to Westernization.

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!


Here we are trying to look pretty next to Miss Universe Japan, who we spotted in LAX. As a half-black and half-Japanese woman, her coronation as Miss Japan sparked intense controversy about race and what it means to be Japanese. She is a walking example of how foreign influences have affected Japanese culture.

September 15, 2014

Japan’s Plastic Food

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 1:46 pm

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.


Examples of plastic food replicas


Careful, they’re all fake!

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!


Walking along Kappabashi Dougu Street


Inside one of the many plastic food shops along Kappabashi Dougu Street

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.

Up to the Top! Tokyo Skytree

Filed under: Exploring,Tokyo,Travel — geajapan @ 1:45 pm

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.


View from the Tokyo Skytree Tembo Deck

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 elevator going up to Tembo Galleria

In the Tembo Galleria


View from inside Tembo Galleria (1/2)


View from inside Tembo Galleria (2/2)

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.




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