And We Departed Happily Ever After

By Sally Fu

(This is Part 2 of a two-post series on our trip to the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House)

Day 3: The drizzling rain softly woke us from our slumber. Last night was a festive and insightful night at the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House. Not only did the USC students bond with the Meiji students through various activities such as Japanese calligraphy (shodou) and karaoke, but the past few days allowed for much cultural exchange, as we all stayed together in a Japanese-style retreat at the base of Mt. Fuji.

While the night was fun, the lack of a curfew ended up hindering many students from eating their breakfast. When I arrived at the cafeteria around eight or so, only a couple of students were there, which meant I could allow myself to devour more food. After eating, we all returned to our rooms to pack up our things. Even though the director of the Yamanaka Lake trip, Tom Power, had asked the students to simply fold the futons, my Meiji roommates also wiped off the table and sink in our room to restore it to the original condition in which we found it.

After breakfast and packing up, the Meiji and USC students joined together for a discussion session. The session involved topics such as improving cultural exchange and the differences between Japan and the U.S. The Professor divided us into groups, and our group discussed how much more efficient and conservative Japan is compared to other countries such as the U.S. One thing that really shocked me after coming to Japan is the way people always finish their food; they leave nothing behind on their plates. In the U.S., I’m used to taking my unfinished meals to go, but Japan does not really offer such a service, and so everyone usually finishes all of the food they ordered at that one sitting at the restaurant. Furthermore, navigating the intricate subway system not only provides a great opportunity to exercise, but it is also inexpensive and very efficient. Our group also discussed how people should step out of their comfort zone to allow for greater cultural exchange. The discussion also broke down common stereotypes held between the USC and Meiji students. For example, we found out the Japanese do not eat sushi or sashimi every day, and they discovered that Americans do not eat hamburgers every day, either.

Breakfast content of our second day at Yamanaka Lake!

Breakfast on our second day at Yamanaka Lake Seminar House!

Before departure, our instructors took many photographs as if we were magazine models. We tried various poses and locations, but the instructors were not alone in wanting to preserve such precious memories; I also hoped to obtain an eternal memory of this wonderful experience.

A small group photo with the Meiji Supporters' leader, Risa!

A small group photo with the Meiji supporters’ leader, Risa!

Another group photo with the Meiji girls.

Another group photo with the Meiji girls.

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Yamanaka Lake Retreat

By John Carlson

(This is Part 1 of a two-post series on our trip to the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House)

Days One & Two: As part of our exchange with the students here at Meiji University, the 14 USC students in Japan with Global East Asia traveled to Yamanaka Lake near Mount Fuji with 21 students from our host school, Meiji University.  Having gotten a chance to meet students in the prior week, our hope was to engage in cross-cultural communication, sharing our perspectives on Japanese culture and society and also opening discussion on trans-pacific exchange.

Meiji and USC Students at Yamanaka Lake

Meiji and USC Students at Yamanaka Lake

The first day of the trip was simply a chance for us to sit down with Meiji students and get to know them better, and the following day, the students from USC presented on various topics of interest in both Japan and the U.S. The topics came specifically from something that we had observed during our visit to Japan, including, but not limited to, advertising, LGBT rights, entertainment, transportation, and Japanese concepts of beauty/art (i.e., Wabi-Sabi). It was a great opportunity not only to share the perspective of an outsider observing Japanese society, but also a great chance to engage in a two-way discussion of societal values, issues, and challenges in moving forward.

Meiji students teaching the finer skills of Japanese Calligraphy

Meiji students teaching the finer skills of Japanese calligraphy

Of important note was the simple concept that in order to move forward, open discussion is needed on both sides. While for Americans this may come rather naturally, for Japanese people such open discussion often seems to be of greater difficulty. We spent a good amount of time discussing this concept, as well as what to do when open discussion becomes more prevalent. Following the presentations, we had a great time hanging out with the Meiji students while enjoying the mountain retreat. A lot of close bonds were formed among both students and faculty that will assuredly serve us well not only in our coming studies, but in our future as well. It was a great opportunity to share both in the classroom environment and on a more personal level.

Attendees of the 2013 GEA Yamanaka Retreat in the main seminar house

Attendees of the 2013 Meiji-USC Yamanaka Retreat in the main seminar house

Continued in Sally Fu’s post:

Famous Landmarks and Museums

…and a Lot of Walking.

By Sally Kim

In only a single week, I feel like we saw everything an average tourist in Tokyo would see in a month: the Yasukuni Shrine and Museum, the Imperial Palace, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and Asakusa… wow! So allow me to take the next few minutes to break down every moment.

(But before I officially begin:) Tuesday after class, a group of us had lunch at Go! Go! Curry! (ゴーゴーカレー), and I ordered from a machine for the first time. The efficiency looms high in this nation.


Who needs pen and paper when there’s touchscreen?

During the lecture that day we briefly touched on the Tokyo Trials that tried various war criminals, including military officers and political officials, which meant we also mentioned the controversies of the Yasukuni Shrine, where they’ve enshrined the spirits of those leaders who died, that is, the war criminals.

The weather had been really gloomy that day with sporadic showers, so visiting the Yasukuni Shrine felt more solemn than I think it would normally seem. There is a museum adjacent to the shrine that exhibits and honors those who fought in WWII. Looking at the torpedoes and kamikaze planes, and seeing actual letters and cards sent by the pilots to their families reminded me of my IB history class days during high school. I thought back to the essay I wrote on the trial of General Yamashita and my presentation on the kamikaze pilots. That day I was finally able to place faces on those assignments, and I felt my heart really sink in the museum. I wondered if there could be any way I could truly understand the Japanese position of creating an entire museum full of such tragic history and stories.

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Yasukuni, Asakusa, and Lots of Tempura!

By David Gero

The honden at Yasukuni Shrine

The honden at Yasukuni Shrine

The other day we visited Yasukuni Shrine, a location surrounded by controversy. Yasukuni was criticized when it made the bold move to enshrine some of the Class A war criminals from WWII. Since then, politicians like former Prime Minister Koizumi would enflame the issue when visiting the shrine while in office. Fortunately, we did not draw much controversy with our visit.

The grounds outside were very peaceful and serene with a long path leading up to the main shrine, or honden. However, because the main shrine is closed to the public, our group spent most of its time in the Shrine’s museum. Inside were several documents and relics from World War II. There was also a hall filled with old machinery such as a plane, submarine, and tank. I found it especially interesting to be inside a museum that represented a regrettable war for the nation. In regards to the United States, only the Vietnam War and Civil War come to mind as engagements that might embarrass the country. However, even the Vietnam War, though unpopular, was intended to combat the spread of communism. The United States was not trying to conquer Vietnam. And the Civil War would only embarrass those states that fought for the Confederacy.

A Japanese fighter plane

A Japanese fighter plane

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First Day in Tokyo!

By Yael Freiberg

We arrived in Tokyo late at night on Saturday, so Sunday was our first full day in Japan. Because it was a free day, four of us decided to go on a tour of Meiji Jingu organized by our hotel.

Meiji Jingu, or Meiji Shrine, is a large forested area located right next to Harajuku Station. It’s bustling with tourists and, according to our guides, boasts the largest torii, or gates, in all of Japan.


Meiji Shrine torii

We walked along a wide muggy path overhung with deep green trees, stopping along the way so our guides could tell us more about this Shinto shrine. Something they told us that stuck with me was that visitors to the shrine are supposed to walk on the sides of the path because the center is where the gods pass.


Walk on the sides of the path

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Arrival In Tokyo

by Lawrence Burns



I had finally arrived in Japan.

I had finally arrived in Japan.

This is the face you make when you have waited 20 years to experience something and it finally happens. I never dreamed an airport could constitute such a significant accomplishment, but nevertheless I found myself overjoyed having finally arrived in Japan. The last born of several cousins on my father’s side of the family, I could often do nothing but listen as they discussed their personal experiences in Japan, as well as how those experiences granted them further insight into that particular aspect of our heritage. Arriving here has undoubtedly brought me to the realization of just how much I have left to learn about myself, and I could not be more eager to begin. Right before leaving for LAX my Aunt told me that the biggest difference between Japan and America was that the people here were “absolute,” and genuinely threw themselves into the task at hand. I intend to be nothing short of that during my stay here, as I am finally able to witness first hand what my family has made out to be a fairy tale. I have arrived.

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