by Lisa Peng
We arrived in Japan in mid-June, right in the middle of the rainy season. This rainy season is called tsuyu (梅雨, “plum rain”) in Japan, and it is a very unique climate in East Asia. From late May to July, Japan transforms gradually from spring to summer. The humidity increases, and rain showers become more and more unpredictable.
For those of us from Southern California, the tsuyu season could be considered unbearable, even though it was not too hot in terms of temperature. Because of the high humidity, it was really stuffy and felt like we were in a steam room or sauna. The sweat stays on your skin, never evaporating, and it becomes really sticky. I also learned a Japanese term that is specific for this kind of weather: mushiatsui (蒸し暑い, “steaming hot”). The unpredictable rain also tricked a lot of us. There was one day when at least half of us arrived at class wet, because it had not looked like it was going to rain when we had departed from the hotel, and many of us did not even think about bringing an umbrella. From this perspective, I would say that I really dislike tsuyu weather.
However, when it comes to visiting temples and shrines, tsuyu season is definitely the best time to go. After a rain, the air becomes fresher, and dust has been washed away by the rainwater. It feels like the entire place becomes purified and ready for us to visit.
Torii gate and noh theater at Itsukushima Shrine in the rain
Nara after the rain
USC students and Meiji students at Hachimanguu in Kamakura during a light rain
by Sarah Anne Nakamura
During our first week in Japan we had the opportunity to visit Asakusa, where we went to our first Buddhist temple called Sensou-ji. This was one of the most fascinating places we visited during our program because the area was divided into two main areas: the temple and a small market called Nakamise-Dori.
Before walking to the temple, we made our way through the Nakamise-Dori market, which I calculated to have about 90 stores. Some of the stores had omiyage (souvenirs), shoes, clothes, bags, and unique sweets. I had the chance to taste fresh ningyou-yaki, which is a traditional Japanese cake that is often molded into a Japanese design. The name literally means “fried doll,” which is exactly what we got. I had a bird design, but other students got flowers and lanterns. We could see the ningyou-yaki being made right in front of us with a machine that did everything: pour the batter, bake the cakes, and then individually wrap each one. It was one of the best sweets I had the pleasure of trying in Japan.
The amazing ningyou-yaki machine
Ningyou-yaki, bird version
by Kent Oya
Being the gym rat that I am meant that one of my first priorities after arriving in Japan was to find a good gym. Upon searching among many online travel forums, I found that the general attitude was “good luck finding a decent one.” Memberships are expensive, machines are preferred instead of free weights, and there’s some unique gym etiquette.
I knew I was going to eat a lot during my stay (and yes… yes, I did), so I continued my search for fitness and stumbled upon my perfect gym: the Chiyoda Sports Center.
Only one stop away from Sakura Hotel!
One of Japan’s best kept secrets is the abundance of workout opportunities available to the public. Each ward, or ku (区), operates public sports centers that offer various sports, arts, and cultural activities. Therefore, one can learn kendo, play soccer, go swimming, practice golf swings, and much more. And here is the best part: these services are offered at a fraction of what private companies charge. For example, Chiyoda Sports Center offers all these services for a measly 500 yen per day (300 yen for ward residents).
Pay for your ticket here.
I immediately broke many rules of etiquette during my first time at the gym. First, I was stopped from entering the room because I had worn my outdoor shoes, so I had to go back downstairs and rent a pair of clean running shoes.
Bring another pair of shoes to change into!
by Andy Gause
Sports and the way a country reacts to them, particularly in defeat, speaks volumes about a culture. We had the marvelous fortune to travel in Japan while the country was in the grips of World Cup fever. The dark “Blue Samurai” World Cup uniforms were ubiquitous in Tokyo, and pictures of the photogenic football superstar Keisuke Honda plastered everything from sodas to shampoo and baby food. As part of a limited time deal, McDonald’s formed their buns in the shape of a soccer ball. I have not yet ordered a McDonald’s burger to discover if the poster’s promise matches the final product, as I’ve been too busy eating more uniquely Japanese cuisine. Despite the general excitement surrounding the games, the Japanese team failed to live up to expectations, losing two games and tying the other. In total, the team only scored two goals in their three matches. However, there was no resentment among the fans. Following their first loss, the television was flooded with footage of young fans swarming the Tokyo streets. I asked Chad, our teaching assistant, if they were rioting, but he told me that, in fact, the youth were showing their support for the team. Even after losing 2-1 to the Ivory Coast, a team they were projected to beat, the country was immensely proud of its team. I can’t imagine young people in America or Europe running into the streets to demonstrate their support following a disappointing loss. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to view any of the games with the Japanese. The tremendous time difference between Brazil and Tokyo resulted in 4am, 7am, and 8am start times, which were either too early or conflicted with bus travel. I was able to watch the USA games, but was not joined by any fellow countrymen or students from the trip.
An ad for shaving cream featuring Japanese World Cup star Honda
None of the Meiji students I spoke with are die-hard football fans (they also couldn’t justify waking up at 4am to watch a football game), but in general they seem to care more than the USC students. In Japan, baseball is king, even more so than football. Every Japanese student I’ve spoken with knows the stats of Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish, former Japanese players now pitching in the MLB. It’s not uncommon to see a young man in a New York Yankees or Detroit Tigers uniform. I’ve even seen a jersey for my team, the Oakland Athletics, which is surprising considering Oakland is such a small city. I’m shocked at the lack of Japanese baseball merchandise. Maybe it’s because I don’t recognize their team logos, but it seems that American teams are more popular, at least in terms of merchandising. I’ve also found out that badminton and rugby are much more popular here in Japan than in the US. This makes sense considering Japan’s proximity to Australia and China. During our weekend trip to Yamanaka Lake, we played tennis, basketball, and ping pong with the Meiji students. As Nixon proved in the 70’s, there’s nothing quite like ping pong to melt cultural differences and bring people together. The Meiji students were great sports and never show-boated or talked trash. Their politeness in defeat and victory is quite endearing when compared to America’s macho, braggart sports culture.
by Charlsie Hoffman
I had one goal I would not budge on when planning my trip to Japan: go to DisneySea. I set the precedent back in Los Angeles when I first met my Global East Asia classmates: “Hi, my name is Charlsie, and I am most excited to go to DisneySea in Japan.” The Meiji University students received very much the same introduction upon our first meeting. Luckily, from both the Meiji and USC students, I received positive feedback in the form of excited gasps, giggles, and a few high-pitched squeals. Together, we scheduled a full day for DisneySea, and thus Operation Storm Disney was set into motion. In the days before our visit, I shopped around Harajuku to find a cute Japanese-inspired outfit, as I felt more free and inspired to explore my fashion sense here than in the United States.
When the day finally arrived, I rallied the troops and we started our long train ride to DisneySea. Much like the monorail at the Disneyland Resort in California, DisneySea has its own train equipped with Mickey-shaped windows to transport us from the public station. Inside, instrumental versions of Disney songs played, and we all willingly sang along. At last, the train stopped and we were finally at our destination.
In front of Mermaid Lagoon
by David Collier
On our first full day in Japan, all the students went with Chad to Akihabara. While the main purpose of the trip was to visit Yodobashi, we also visited a Don Quijote store. Inside Don Quijote, we experienced our first arcade center in Japan. Some of us sat down to play Street Fighter, and at one point Andy played it against one of the locals. However, this guy had obviously played the game a lot and knew all of the combination moves and special skills. We could only stay in the arcade for a short time, and we didn’t get to play most of the games there, but I have since had several opportunities to go to other arcades.
Taiko drum game
All of the arcades that I’ve visited have had the same games, so you don’t need to go to a specific arcade to play a particular game. For example, every arcade has Taiko drum games, Gundam games, Street Fighter games, as well as an abundance of crane games. The word taiko refers to Japanese drums, and the game is comparable to Guitar Hero in the US. Though I haven’t played this game yet, I’ve watched other USC students play it, and even though it was their first attempt at the game, all of them played admirably. I have also noticed that even though there are more crane games here than in the US, they are not any easier to beat.
Andy racing Junki (a Meiji student) at Mario Kart
The game I’ve played the most is a rhythm game where there is a grid of 16 squares that light up, and you have to push them with precise timing as they light up. A song is playing at the same time, and the buttons light up in time with the music. Hitting combos (multiple squares) in a row is very satisfying, and the fast paced songs ensure there is no lack of combos.
A rhythm game being played by Lisa and Sarah
It is disappointing that arcades are falling away in America because they are so much fun to go to with friends, as we saw here in Japan.
by Kent Oya and Ben Surbrook
On Monday, July 7th, our group arrived in Kyoto (after quite a hectic morning trying to get there), and immediately boarded a bus for Nara. Nara is a city about an hour south of Kyoto by bus, and is most well-known for its friendly deer that can be fed.
Entrance to Todaiji Temple
We first arrived at Todaiji (東大寺) Temple, which is the Buddhist temple in Nara where the famous deer live. An important point to remember about Japan is the difference between temples and shrines. Japan has a very interesting religious background, with two major religions: Shinto (神道), Japan’s indigenous religion, and Buddhism (仏教), which came to Japan from China. What makes Japan interesting is that many Japanese people practice parts of both religions, which leads to an intriguing religious combination. A great example of this is Todaiji Temple, because within Todaiji Temple there is actually a small Shinto shrine, showing the unique combination of Buddhism and Shinto that exists in Japan.
Todaiji Temple was very impressive, with a massive Buddha and two smaller Bodhisattva inside the actual temple. There was also a pillar with a hole called the “Nostril of Buddha” that some of our classmates managed to successfully crawl through. (We did not.)
Tanya crawling unscathed through “Buddha’s Nostril”
by Sarah Nakamura and Janet Hu
During our last week in Japan, we had the opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Itsukushima Island, or as it’s more commonly known, Miyajima Island. We arrived on Miyajima Island by ferry around 10:00 AM to begin our full day adventure in Hiroshima. Similar to our experience in Nara, we were greeted by the wild deer that walk freely on Miyajima Island. Although the weather was hot and humid, we were lucky to avoid the typhoon that had been predicted to arrive during our stay in Kyoto. When we visited Itsukushima Shrine, we were lucky to go during low tide, allowing us the opportunity to walk up to the Torii Gate. During high tide, the lower part of the gate is submerged, and it supposedly appears to be floating on water. Continue reading
by Charlsie Hoffman and Tanya Yang
On Thursday, our class ventured to the National Diet of Japan. Upon our arrival, we first came across the Prime Minister’s residence and office. Instead of one building, the house and office stand separate but right next to one another. Our guide compared the buildings to the White House to help us understand, but the buildings’ modern styles barely resembled the white Neoclassical Federal style that comes to mind. Regardless, the buildings were impressive and possessed an air of dignity that informed the passers-by they were on hallowed ground. It was only about six more blocks until we reached the Diet.
Main Approach to the Diet
Located on a hill in the Nagatacho district of Chiyoda City in Tokyo, the National Diet sits directly in front of of its members’ office buildings. We entered through the back and gratefully waited in the air-conditioned lobby for our tour guide to arrive. While waiting, we couldn’t help but notice the boxed cookies sitting outside of the souvenir cart that had a cartoon Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dressed as superman, flying over the Diet. Although very humorous at face level, the cookie box revealed a serious underlying issue for Japan: it needs to be saved. We then remembered just how important the Diet currently is for Japan, as it desperately needs structural reforms.
After only a few minutes of waiting, our tour guide arrived in a professional yet adorable uniform (we still don’t know how Japan does that mix so well). She then escorted us to the upper house cafeteria for lunch. The long carpeted hallways lined with office doors that led us to the cafeteria reminded me of the Representatives’ offices in Washington, D.C. The cafeteria itself also seemed reminiscent of the old-English feel of Washington, D.C., with only the curry and rice plate sitting at our table reminding us that we were still in Japan. We all sat down, customarily thanked the kitchen for the preparation of the food, and ate a very delicious meal that refueled our minds for the tour ahead.
Diet Upper House Cafeteria
by Natasha Cirisano and Stephanie Liang
Compared to Tokyo, our visit to Yokohama this Wednesday brought us into what seemed like a sleepier, smaller town that we could more easily navigate because it was not so dense and crowded. Instead, towering structures like several skyscrapers and a Ferris wheel served as landmarks that we could see from the street, while the highly condensed buildings and small alleyways of Tokyo seemed to close in on us. This new, quiet city contained lots of interesting sights, from the Emigration Museum to Chinatown to the famous Cup Noodles Museum, that we explored throughout our stay.
Our first Yokohama destination was the Emigration Museum, where we learned about the many stages of Japanese migration from the 1800s onward. We were surprised to see that passports existed even before there were photographs. Instead, the passport documents contained physical written descriptions of the people that held them! We were also interested in the fact that many Japanese settled in Brazil, of all countries, because the cultures seemed so vastly different. One observation our class made after our visit was that the tour guide felt the need to emphasize that these Japanese migrants were searching for ways to expand their experience and economic opportunity, not as deserters of their homeland. Later, we learned that the Japanese government gave false hope to migrants leaving the country in search of wealth, because it felt it could not support them, and that there have been efforts to rectify the way these immigrants were treated. This probably played into certain statements praising the migrants that were made in the tour. Since visiting the Japanese war museum near Yasukuni Shrine, we have been more sensitized to the variety of narratives and biases museums can have, and how they re-write history as much as they explain it.
One of the first Japanese passports from the late 1800s
Next, Chinatown in Yokohama fused Japanese and Chinese culture together. Having been to many Chinatowns in America, we noticed many differences between Chinatown in Japan and US Chinatowns. One of the biggest differences was the fact that many signs were predominantly written in Japanese Hiragana or Katakana. Many of the workers in the Chinatown restaurant we visited spoke Chinese, but were ethnically Japanese. The Chinatowns in America mostly consist of Chinese workers who sometimes speak only Cantonese or Mandarin. This led us to the conclusion that the Chinese population in Japan is not as dense as the Chinese population in America.
Entrance to Chinatown