By Matt Wong
Recently, Japan’s various “theme cafés” have become widely known due to their depiction in anime and television programs, but perhaps relatively few people have actually set foot inside a ghost café, cat café, or maid café, to name a few that exist. (I was also told by a chef in Tokyo that bird cafés exist which feature various parakeets, but only near Hiroshima).
Immediately before coming to Japan I had just finished watching an anime which described the cat café as something akin to a “paradise on earth,” so it was the first item on my list of things to do in Tokyo. A few other USC students also were interested in cats, so on our first free day we head off to Shibuya’s「ハピ猫」(Happy Cat) Café as soon as it opened in the morning.
There was a waiting room between the entrance and the actual café. A posted sign explained that such a precaution was necessary so that the cats don’t leap out and escape. (In the photograph below, this waiting room was located immediately outside of the window at the reception desk.)
Entrance of ハピ猫 as seen from interior
Upon entering, we were greeted by several varieties of cats, all of which were extremely well groomed and unafraid of humans. Some of them were wearing shirts, and the ones with pink shirts we were not allowed to touch, although we weren’t given an explanation as to why.
The pricing system was relatively simple: we each paid for a period of time to stay in the café (about an hour if I remember correctly), which also included one drink (different types of coffee and tea were available) and some small sweets. I paid an extra amount for a container of food to feed the cats.
Cat sitting on air conditioner
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.
This deer was particularly photogenic.
Some familiar 5-yen (go-en, 五円 or 御縁, meaning “luck”) in the pile!
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.
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.
Tsuna Doggu is part of any balanced Japanese meal.
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.
Olga befriends deer
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.
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.
Vista Hotel Lobby, Kyoto.
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).
Stray Cats, Kyoto
By Kalai Chik
Trojans at the Diet
Despite the damp, rainy day, we successfully made our way to Japan’s Diet. I was super excited because I’m really into world politics and Japanese politics is definitely one of the most interesting areas to study. As we passed the guards and stepped into the entryway, we saw a wall of lights with names within the lights. Like an attendance sheet, the Diet members press the button under their name to tell others that they have arrived. Our tour guide was Derek who has lived in Japan for around 10 years and speaks fluent American English and Japanese. Continue reading
By Annika Linde
An eventful and tiring day – we had two tours after class covering the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Bank of Japan. The stock exchange was very welcoming and took a few minutes to replace some of the screens, usually filled with stock prices and statistics, with a welcome message just for us!
Our welcome message at the Tokyo Stock Exchange
Later, we were lucky enough to witness a ceremony initiating a new company to the stock exchange! Only 66 companies were added to the TSE last year, so we were lucky to witness such a rare event.
Announcing the ceremony
The ceremony itself was quite short and to the point. It consisted of company executives ringing a ceremonial bell five times – one of japan’s several “lucky numbers.”
Another interesting thing we noticed in the stock exchange was that the numbers on the ticker were opposite in color from those on the NYSE. Red being a lucky color in Japan is assigned to the positive numbers, while the negative numbers are, counterintuitively for us, green. Our tour guide said she thought of the red numbers as the market “heating up” – but offered no explanation for the use of green. I think it’s just to confuse Westerners.
Colors! An up and down day
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.
USC students talking with Meiji students on the train.
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.
Japanese emigration routes
Japanese food incorporating international cultures
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.