The Big T: Scenery from Tokyo

By: Vincent Jenkins

Skyscrapers, Trains, and People, oh my! A metropolitan characterized by its bustling neon filled streets, complicated metro system, and abundance of people, Tokyo is a place that is rivaled by no other.

While Tokyo is quite different to other metropolitan areas it is similar as well. Waking up to sounds of ambulances and trying not to get hit by a taxi are all familiar occurrences from my home of Los Angeles. With that being said Tokyo is different from Los Angeles in that Tokyo is not a city. By definition, Tokyo is a Japanese prefecture and within that prefecture are different wards and divisions such as Akihabara and Shibuya. Starting off my day meant walking to a part of Tokyo known as Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) to travel to our host institution, Meiji University. With all the familiarity of home one can find a McDonalds, with better orange juice than you’ll get back in the States, teenagers walking with their faces in their phones, and a bicyclist who is late to work.

Growing up in a rather large city like Los Angeles, being in Tokyo seemed familiar and during my time here I have found myself feeling at home. With class at Meiji University over in the morning it was time to navigate Tokyo’s complicated metro system to get to Shinagawa (品川) for a meeting at Microsoft Japan. In terms of public transportation, Tokyo, and by extension Japan as a whole, has the entire Western Hemisphere beat in efficiency and reliability. When the schedule says a train is leaving at 9:33 that train is leaving at 9:33, with or without you. For someone who has never ridden on a large public transit system the task can be overwhelming but with English signs, a color coded line system, helpful station personnel, and an even more helpful transit app, navigating Tokyo public transit can be done. A transfer and a few stops later I found myself in the heart of Shinagawa’s business district, surrounded by business people during the lunch rush.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Ochanomizu, Japan

Finishing my meeting at Microsoft I was now free to go about my day. I could return to Meiji to work on research or find somewhere a little more scenic. While on the platform at Shinagawa station I made a last second decision and decided to hope on the train to Shibuya. Navigating through the construction within Shibuya station I was greeted by the famed Shibuya crossing. With billboards on billboards and lights that could be seen from space it was indeed a sight to behold. Surrounded by tourists and their cameras I spotted something that everyone on USC’s campus is all too familiar with – Starbucks. With its location in Shibuya this particular Starbucks was filled with people but a decent amount of said people were not there for Seattle’s best, but instead wanted a glimpse of the Shibuya Crossing Rush from a higher vantage point. Not able to get a glimpse of the rush from a window myself I settled with doing paperwork for the next few hours at a nearby viewless table. With paperwork done and exhaustion settling in, it was time to head back to Meiji University, but what awaited me was something that I hope to only experience once.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

With the help of my Japan transit app I figured out the fastest way back to Meiji was via the Saikyo Line (埼京線) and to say this was a bad idea is an understatement. One of the more notable videos about Tokyo’s metro system consists of passengers being pushed into packed trains by station personnel hoping to keep everything on schedule. I can now say confidently first hand that I have experienced such an event and would not recommend it for the faint of heart. With no concept of personal space we were all packed into a steel tube on wheels until reaching our individual destinations. Assaulted by an assortment of smells, weird glares of trying to figure out who pushed who, and the occasional coughing riding the Saikyo Line during rush hour on a Tuesday is not a fun experience. Luckily for myself I only needed to ride said train for one stop and walking off of, or rather being pushed off of that train, was a relief I haven’t felt since finals season ended.

Credit: Vincent Jenkins | @albinosouffle | Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

At the end of the day one thing cannot be disputed, Tokyo is a large metropolis. It has a population of over 37.8 million people, a transit system that, while sometimes cramp, is rivaled by no other, and more ramen places that one hopes to try in a lifetime. With its large population and humid weather it is a marvel of human ingenuity and persistence to survive the day to day of work and social life. Tokyo you are a crowded and complicated city like no other, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

From the West to the East!

By: Chandler Zausner

Last week may have been a long week, which was a half of hard work, but we’re finally off to Japan. Since the first meeting in April, we’ve learned so much about government, business and politics- the Iron Triangle of Japan. We’ve watched movies about politicians, on outsiders as well as those of mixed descent. Now it’s time that we step into the shoes of Americans like Commodore Perry and General MacArthur who encountered Japan at various stages, as we make our journey to a new land. It doesn’t matter how heavy the suitcase or how long the line is at TSA, we are determined to get to our destination. Everyone woke up early to get to LAX, possibly woke up even earlier than necessary because of the excitement. At least the sun is up, unlike the Global East Asia China trip students who took off at 4:30 am!

The flight is eleven hours long, but strangely, it will actually be tomorrow afternoon by the time we arrive in Tokyo. I plan to use the time on the flight to sleep, practice phrases in Japanese, review my research, and plan our adventures! I am a visual anthropologist and transmedial storyteller. My interests are in amplifying the small voice of marginalized individuals and communities that are in danger of extinction. My work ranges from documentary essays, both written and film, to narrative fiction and abstract multimedia installations. My research topic in Japan is to explore one of those marginalized communities, to investigate the culture bound syndrome of hikikomori, which is when young individuals, mostly men, shut themselves away in their homes for months or years. I hope to visit local community centers, agencies and newspapers to understand how other Japanese view this issue. I’ll also be exploring how modern culture portrays hikikomori in an increasingly positive light and whether that affects the people themselves or those around them in a positive way. I’ve spent a lot of time watching anime and reading manga- purely research, of course!

The Plane to take us on our Fantastic Journey

Although our classroom discussions have centered on “Japan, Inc.,” I’m looking forward to experiencing “Cool Japan.” I’ve signed up for almost every sight to see on the class doc, everything from ancient temples to hedgehog cafes. Ancient Japanese art, literature and culture is something that was not included in this class, but are subjects that I’ve taken in the past, which have exposed me to treasures from The Pillow Book to Bunraku to Legends of the elusive Kitsune. I’m nervous about speaking the little Japanese I know and hope to find safety in the group, especially our Meiji partners. The more I think about it, it feels like a voyage to another planet but I know that we will discover more in common than I know.

Everyone seems to have a range of light and heavy loads of luggage, a of snacks and breakfast are being eaten and our classmates are coming into the airport from a multitude of rides. After meeting in the terminal and passing through TSA, we are gathered at the gate, waiting for our flight to be called, our bags by our sides, and our adventure to begin.

Everyone together

Meeting Meiji Students

By: Rubi

After a great weekend exploring Tokyo with the crew, we finally got to meet all of the Meiji students! Thanks to my wonderful West Coast jet lag, I woke up around 6:45am despite having gone to sleep only a few hours earlier around 1am, after karaoke. For some inexplicable reason, I thought it could be a good idea to run around the Imperial Palace despite my obvious dehydration. The loop happens to be a 5k and is filled with great scenery – and other runners. Unfortunately, I managed to get lost in Otemachi and the run took me almost an hour.

Nevertheless, I quickly got my things together to get downstairs on time and we walked to Meiji from the hotel. We were formally greeted by two Japanese hosts and a university professor. We got our packets with info about the campus, the students, and most importantly, instructions on how to connect to WiFi.

We moved to a bigger room with all the Meiji students. We exchanged excited greetings but were quickly quieted for welcoming speeches by some professors and the dean of the political sciences college. In fact, there was a finance professor educated at the “other” school in Los Angeles… I wasn’t sure whether to be enthusiastic or disappointed. Prof. Kurashige also gave a speech, which included an interesting love story between a Meiji student and USC student…I wonder who they were??? After a round of applause, it was a mad dash to the banquet as everyone was starving. A variety of Western and Japanese food was served, and my favorite was the salmon.

The Meiji students were so excited to meet us and everyone had a diverse background or hometown. Many of them studied abroad in the US before. After chatting and exchanging some jokes we did some icebreakers. Writing down things in common with people we had never met, let alone people that were from a different country, was very hard. In the end we came up with liking tonkotsu broth the best, cup over cone, dark chocolate over milk chocolate, and tea over coffee.

Afterwards, we went on a tour of Meiji and they showed us the bookstore (basically a konbini on steroids) and two restaurants: Marukamen, a well-known udon shop, and Echiopia, a curry shop. They told us that Jimbocho was famous for its many renditions of Indian curry. Some time around there, we also found an avocado cafe.

We decided to head back to the hotel after that – we were tired and sleep deprived. We were not far from the hotel, so it only took a few minutes to get back. After this, we realized we should probably get dinner. We asked the front desk for some recommendations, and were given three. We decided to go to the one that wasn’t “Kyushu” style since someone had apparently not liked that. On arrival, we thought that because everything was in English, it couldn’t have possible been good (assuming too much?). Thus, we decided to check Marukamen since the Udon shop was in walking distance. There was a line outside, but two minutes later we were forced to decide what to order and were thrust into the restaurant. Ordering was not difficult, but we didn’t realize we had to order everything at once. The waiter got mildly annoyed that we ordered a few drinks and tempura at the table. I had a feeling they wanted us to eat quickly and leave. Everything was out of this world and when we walked outside, a line of 20+ people had formed, no wonder.

Later on we met with our research groups. After exchanging some omiyage, we got right into it, and we all explained our presentations and topics. We interviewed them briefly and I was able to get some good info from Makoto, who was helping me out today. It was a fun evening, and somehow, yet again, we decided to eat. This time, 300 yen Doria. It’s similar to risotto, but more filling and cheesy. After saying goodbye to the Meiji students, we called it a night to prep for our free time the following day. Successful I would say.

Off the Beaten Path in Kyoto

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.

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

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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.

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Too crowded to get a good picture

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Honoring Hiroshima and Miyajima’s Majesty

By: Jordan Kondo

We started our day very early at 5:30 am and walked over to the Kyoto Station to see a rare sight; an empty station. The station soon came to life as early workers and students began commuting. We traveled via the Shinkansen to Hiroshima to see the Hiroshima Peace Museum. It was a powerful experience for myself and my classmates. In class, we read about the racism and hate-mongering exercised by both Americans and Japanese toward each other during World War II, that lead to wartime conduct that was savage, dehumanizing and merciless. It was moving for us to see the destruction that the atomic bomb had caused to Hiroshima. The museum displayed artifacts – clothes, rubble, skin – and the names and short biographies of the victims, which made the experience much more personal.

The A-bomb claimed over 100,000 lives in Hiroshima. During his visit to Hiroshima, President Obama said, “We must change our mindset about war itself and prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they've begun…We must reimagine our connection to each other, as members of one human race.”

The A-bomb claimed over 100,000 lives in Hiroshima. During his visit to Hiroshima, President Obama said, “We must change our mindset about war itself and prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun…We must re-imagine our connection to each other, as members of one human race.”

As the museum was quite graphic, I was surprised to see many young school children on field trips but felt that the museum emphasized the importance of peace to everyone. Outside the museum in the Peace Park, there were many beautiful memorials such as the Sadako memorial and the famous Genbaku dome. It was a reminder, especially in wake of President Obama’s recent trip, to strengthen understanding between different cultures as global ambassadors so that Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be remembered as the “start of our own moral awakening.”

The Genbaku Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was one of the few structures left standing in the central area where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

The Genbaku Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was one of the few structures left standing in the central area where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

After Hiroshima, we enjoyed traditional obento and lighter conversation. We took the train and a ferry to Miyajima Island. There, we were pleasantly surprised to see deer roaming peacefully around the island. While signs advised us not to touch the deer, they were very easy to approach and observe up close. In addition, Miyajima Island is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, an iconic landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The famous torii (traditional Japanese gate) found at the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine and symbolizes the transition from the profane to the sacred. During low-tide, the water recedes and you can walk through the gates.

The famous torii (traditional Japanese gate) found at the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine and symbolizes the transition from the profane to the sacred. During low-tide, the water recedes and you can walk through the gates.

There was much to enjoy on the island and as a class we visited various shrines, shopped for omiyage and feasted on grilled oysters, okonomiyaki and the region’s famous maple leaf shaped manjū. We spent some time relaxing and meditating at a shrine and found the respite very calming to be surrounded by Miyajima’s natural beauty. After a long day of traveling, we returned via the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were fortunate to have 7-day JR Rail passes because it made travelling by the Shinkansen and other JR trains much cheaper for us. I realized that even though it might be cheaper to take a flight across Honshu (main island), the Shinkansen is much more convenient – there is no TSA, times are exact, you can take anything with you and it is really easy to sleep because there is so much leg space! We were really lucky to travel across Japan using such an iconic mode of transportation.

Reliable Rio, our TA, caught Alex (left) and me (right) sleeping on the Shinkansen.

Rio, our TA, caught Alex (left) and me (right) sleeping on the Shinkansen.

When we returned to our Kyoto hotel, many of us made our plans for the following free day to explore Kyoto’s rich history!

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

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

Finally- Lake Yamanaka!

By: Daniel Olmeda

 After staying up last night with our Meiji peers to make sure our presentations were as coherent and concise as possible, it was finally time to head out to the destination we have been anticipating- Lake Yamanaka! With our luggage filled with clothes and the various omiyage (gifts) that we have picked up whilst exploring Tokyo, we headed to the Meiji University campus, the gathering point for our bus ride. Each of us sat next to the Meiji students during the bus ride, in order to continue our cross-cultural conversations! This was a great opportunity to ask the Japanese residents questions we have about the culture. I sat next to one of my partners, Leon, who I had an interesting conversation about popular music with. Apparently Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One-Direction are the most popular American artists in Japan. I must admit, I was disappointed that my partner had never heard of Drake.

 

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A joint picture of us and the Meiji Students throwing up those fight-on signs.

During the ride, we were able to enjoy breathtaking views of the beautiful landscapes. I was in awe of how quickly we went from being in a metropolitan setting to a scenic mountain range countryside. Many of us crowded the bus windows to take pictures of the small rice-farming towns encapsulated by never ending hills of green (I created a photo album simply dedicated to the landscape pictures I took).

 

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The picture speaks for itself. Amazing.

Before settling at the retreat house hosting us for the weekend, we took a quick stop at a lakefront to take a group photo at Lake Yamanaka! It was great to experience a view that many of us have been “googling” for weeks now! After taking 358912 photos and our knees were throbbing from jump-action photos, we arrived at the retreat house. There was free time before we had our first set of presentations, so we enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities. Some of us went back to enjoy the lake view, while many took advantage of the sporting equipment. Fired up table-tennis matches carried on until the end of our stay there…and lets just say some of the people that seemed inexperienced were the most competitive (Laurie).

 

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Probably one of our best jump-action shots. Of course I had to show off my hops.

Not long after, we had our first set of presentations via Tiffany and Jordan. Assisted by the Meiji students, we had thought-provoking presentations; one on discovering Japanese identity through analyzing a popular cultural character Doraemon, and another contrasting American and Japanese diets, attending to the western perception that the Japanese are immensely healthy and long-living. After Tiffany and Jordan finished, we had a discussion facilitated by Lon-sensei, where we addressed our questions and elaborations.

 

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The always Hawaii-reppin’ Jordan teaching us the about Japanese diet.

Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner, and were able to take part in karaoke and shodō (calligraphy), where Meiji Students taught us how to write our names in Japanese with traditional strokes. Since the karaoke machine was pretty outdated, we were stuck hearing Erick sing “Zombie” by the Cranberries on repeat…. With music and good company lasting the whole night, our first day at Lake Yamanaka is one we will never forget!

 

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Mood after 10 practice sheets and still not getting my shodō down.

 

Hello Meiji!

By: Kylie Popovich

After 3 long days filled with activity after activity, it was nice to finally get a chance to sleep in. We didn’t have to be downstairs until 10:45am, but jetlag got the best of me and I was up by 7:30am. With nothing to do for three hours, my roommates and I decided to brave the rain and go around to the convenience stores and try out different onigiri (rice balls filled with all kinds of goodies such as fish, plum, or fish eggs). By the end, we each had 3 or 4 and were absolutely stuffed!

Once we got back the hotel, it was finally time to go meet the Meiji students! Armed with umbrellas, we all left Sakura House for the short walk to Meiji University at Liberty Tower. I was surprised that it looked much more like an office building than a school. The elevators also only went to the odd floors, which was a little strange at first, but turned out to be very efficient. We started off meeting with the Japan Student Services Organization and Professor Power, who gave us a brief overview of our schedule for the upcoming retreat at Lake Yamanaka. We then headed over to the Welcome Reception where the Meiji students were eagerly awaiting our arrival. At first I was pretty nervous about meeting them, but they were all so warm and inviting and I was instantly put at ease. They all spoke amazing English and were receptive of our broken Japanese. They even helped me to learn a few new phrases! After short speeches by university professors and our own Professor Kurashige, it was finally time for lunch! Everyone rushed to the buffet filled with a variety of delicious food. Once everyone had eaten (many of us a little too much), Satomi gave us a tour of the Meiji building where we got to see the cafeteria, bookstore, and classrooms, oh and every type of vending machine you could imagine! Finally, we said goodbye to the Meiji students full of excitement for the upcoming weeks and returned to another meeting with Japan Student Services Organization where we received the best news of the day: we would all be receiving 80,000 yen from the Japanese government!! After many cheers and a few tears we left with big smiles on our faces.

 

Tiffany and Mami at the Welcome Luncheon!

Tiffany and Mami at the Welcome Luncheon!

The class with our $$ from JASSO!

The class with our money from JASSO!

We then faced the ultimate challenge: finding our way back to our hotel. With no WiFi or Google maps, it was definitely an adventure. After 35 minutes, multiple wrong turns, and asking 3 convenience store employees, we finally managed to make it back.

We decided to reward ourselves with takoyaki from across the hotel.

We decided to reward ourselves with takoyaki from across the hotel.

After a short nap, it was back to Meiji to meet our group mates and start working on our individual research projects. My two partners, Makoto and Ayaka were both very enthusiastic and excited to talk about my research topic, Hawaiian culture in Japan. All the talking made us hungry, so we decided to get dinner with another group of students. We once again braved the cold and rain and ended up at a simple Japanese restaurant. However, instead of sitting down with a menu, we had to first order from a machine by the door, get a ticket, and then give that ticket to the waitress. I had never been to a restaurant like this and I thought it was super cool and efficient! All in all, it was a great day of meeting new people, exploring new places, and eating good food! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has to offer!

Grant, Daniel, Makoto, Shun, and I at dinner after working on our research projects

Grant, Daniel, Makoto, Shun, and I at dinner after working on our research projects!

 

The Historic, the New, and Everything In-between

By: Grant Yoneoka

Sunday the 29th, and it is a sunny and bright day. We were definitely more rested than the day before, and I think most of us were starting to adjust well to the local time here in Tokyo. We began our day bound for the Edo-Tokyo museum, which is this futuristic looking and monolithic structure in the middle of Tokyo. Inside the museum was quite interesting and contained a wide collection of Tokyo’s history spanning from very ancient times all the way into World War II and the modern era.

Underneath the Edo-Tokyo museum

Arriving underneath the Edo-Tokyo museum

During our stay, a very enthusiastic tour guide led us around the museum and gave us a lot of background history as well. We learned that the reason the museum is called the Edo-Tokyo museum is because Tokyo was once called Edo back in Japan’s feudal era. We also learned a lot about the Edo (or Tokugawa) period and how the Shogun and his Daimyos (feudal lords) ruled Japan with relative stability for 300 years through a system of social and economical hierarchy. The tour was very interesting and offered an intricate overview of Tokyo’s history. Towards the end, we got also to see a little glimmer of traditional Japanese entertainment through the art of koma (spinning tops). I thought it was really nice to see that there are still people who try to preserve traditional Japanese culture, and I can definitely see how Tokyo, more than most modern cities, is a real cosmopolitan of both traditional and modern culture and values.

We saw some amazing top skills

A performer at the museum displays some amazing koma skills

After our visit to the museum, we made our way to a chankonabe restaurant for lunch, which was located very close to Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Tokyo’s famous sumo wrestling hall). Chankonabe is basically sumo wrestler food and is a stew made out of different types of meats and vegetables. I suppose you could call it kind of a concoction of foods, but it was done in a way that all of the flavors complemented each other, and it was quite delicious.

GEA Japan takes on chankonabe and wins!

GEA Japan takes on chankonabe and comes out victorious!

Lon-sensei enjoying some sumo food after exploring the museum

Kylie, Erick, and Lon-sensei enjoying some sumo food after exploring the museum

Our last destination together that day, and perhaps the strangest, was Akihabara, or the electric city. Akihabara is really famous for its electronic, manga, and anime scene, and it is really a bustling place. They even closed the streets that day (they close the streets every Sunday in fact) so that pedestrians could walk through the district without worrying about incoming traffic. While we were there, we visited a maid café, which was a very bizarre experience. All of the workers there were young girls dressed up as cute maids. The place itself reminded me of something straight out of Disneyland, and it was definitely a very unique environment. Most of us ordered drinks like coffee or milkshakes, and I was surprised to find out that the maids even drew a picture of whatever we wanted inside of our drinks with syrup. After we were done, a lot of us left to go explore Tokyo on our own.

This place has everything!

Akihabara has every electronic you could imagine and even the ones that you haven’t!

I spent the rest of the day browsing through the streets of Ueno and the nearby park. Ueno itself kind of reminded me of Korea town in Los Angeles. There was a lot going on and the place just seemed so alive. The backstreets of Ueno was mostly filled with clothing shops and the like, and it was very easy to get immersed in all of the action. I tried not to stay long, however, because I did not want to spend all of my money on clothes. As the sun started to set, I decided to spend the last few hours browsing through Ueno park.

There is no shortage of temples in Ueno park

There is no shortage of temples in Ueno park

My first impression of the park was that it was absolutely huge. It contained a pond filled with lotuses, temples, amusement park, and even a zoo complete with a panda. There was also a bonsai festival which showcased many different bonsai trees along with various foods from around Japan. I thought it was really cool to see how interactive everyone was and how people were not afraid to explain things, even if it meant speaking in English. By the time I was done exploring the festival, the sun was almost done setting, and I decided to call it a day. Although it was only our second full day here, I think we saw and experienced a ton, and we were definitely excited to meet the Meiji students the next day.

Last Day in Tokyo

By: Ye Sol Shin

When I woke up on the morning of June 12, my last full day in Tokyo, I felt relaxed and calm. I had just gotten a good night’s sleep, and I was ready to go to Shinjuku and hang out with my new Meiji University friend, Satomi. My plan was to have a fun and relaxing day: visit a cat café, eat good food, and buy a few souvenirs. I had no intention of planning out a long schedule and feeling rushed and hectic during my last full day in Japan. While I had initially planned to visit the Joseon School again, my plans fell through. It was disappointing, but actually worked out for me in the long run. Because I no longer had set plans, I could really enjoy my last day in Tokyo with no expectations or pressure to get from one place to the next.

Satomi and I first went to a cat café in the heart of Shinjuku, and I loved every moment of the time we were there. There were so many different types of cats, many of which I have never seen in the United States. Many were playful and would come up to you voluntarily; others were sleepy and refused to wake up from their naps. Satomi told me that there were mainly two types of people who visited a cat café: those who loved cats but could not keep pets at home, and foreigners who were visiting Japan. What Satomi said was true; there was clearly a divide between the people who were at the café just to read a book in the company of cats, and the people who were being obnoxiously loud and taking pictures every chance they got. Like David Mura from Memoris of a Sansai, I felt ashamed of falling into the foreigner group, and paid extra care to remain quiet and not disturb anyone who was there just to relax. However, I couldn’t help but silently laugh at the foreigners who thought I was a native Japanese. They assumed I couldn’t speak English and complained about the fact that I was hogging all the cats… right in front of me! In my head I thought, “Of course the cats won’t come to you. All you do is poke and annoy them!”

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Her name is Kaede! So kawaii ~

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Sleepy cat.. Best not to disturb!

After leaving the cat café, Satomi and I decided to eat tuna-don bowls and then get coffee at one of her favorite café chains in Japan. It was really nice to have time to just chat with my friend instead of thinking about where I needed to go next. I’m so thankful that Satomi offered to spend the entire day with me, because I truly felt like a Japanese college student rather than a foreigner. We talked about our favorite bands, boys, and other normal things that college girls talk about. Just like how Reika helped David Mura immerse himself in Japanese culture and feel at home even though he was a foreigner, I felt at ease and at home in the little coffee shop talking to Satomi about her favorite idol group.

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Tuna-don bowl with raw egg! So delicious!

While I did not do any research on Zainichi Koreans during my day off, I had visited Shinjuku specifically because my friend Sae had told me that sometimes anti-Korean protestors would hold demonstrations near Shinjuku station. I did not see any demonstrations that day, but I could envision how noisy and hectic it would feel to hear the demonstrations in the busy streets of Shinjuku.

Time went by fast, and pretty soon we decided to head back to Meiji University for the farewell party. During the party, I was supposed to give a speech in front of the Meiji and USC students and faculty. I had planned my speech the day before, but when I got up to the stage and saw all the happy faces in front of me, I suddenly forgot everything I had planned to say. I felt a flood of emotions, because I realized that I might never see some of the people in front of me ever again. However, I accepted that, because I truly had one of the best times of my life, and I am so grateful to have met Meiji students even for a really short time period. This trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to have experienced it.

Group shot with Shiko, Shun, and Yuri!

Group shot with Shiko, Shun, and Yuri!

One of my best friends! Her name is Sae!

One of my best friends! Her name is Sae!