Kindred Souls: The People of Japan

By Andy Gause

I encountered some fascinating people during my stay in Tokyo and Kyoto. The three mentioned below are prime examples of the types of people I had the opportunity to befriend in Japan.
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Koenraad Hemelsoet – I met this scruffy-faced world traveler on the first night at the hotel. I was lounging on the porch, when he sat down to smoke a cigarette, drink Austrian beer, and read a French novella. I have never seen a more stereotypically ‘European’ man.
Over the next two weeks, I learned that Koenraad is a trilingual globe-trotter on vacation from his programming job in Belgium. He has two Masters and one Philosophy PhD (this dissertation was on Nietzsche, whom he frequently quoted), but admits that he still doesn’t know what to do with his life, beyond exploring the globe that is.
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Most nights, we’d sit on the hotel porch reading and discuss the day’s events (usually the World Cup, remember he’s very European). One night, our conversation transitioned from ordinary small-talk into a heated discussion on the merits of nationalism and religion. We both shared similar world views, but with enough minor differences for a rousing debate. Next thing we know, it’s 3:30 in the morning and the hotel cashier is glaring at us like he wants us to leave, but can’t say anything. Koenraad was clearly a better debater, but he was gracious enough not to annihilate my opinions. Reasonable debate is a fine art, and all too rare to find. That nighttime conversation with Koenraad was an unique experience that I’ll treasure for quite a while.
Junki Mizuno – Junki was one of the generous and friendly Meiji students we encountered on the trip. Whenever the persistent rain or vacation exhaustion got me down, Junki was there with his beaming grin, ready to lift my spirits. He was always willing to take us to the best spots in Tokyo. Like the other Meiji students, he spoke excellent English and was beyond patient with my limited Japanese skills. I know I’ll stay in touch with Junki, and would love the opportunity to one day return the kindness and be as great a host to him, as he was to our group.

Junki and his constant grin

Junki and his constant grin

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Rina Otake – Rina was the Mother Hen of the trip. She made it her mission to see that everyone had a great time. At Yamanaka Lake, she was one of the Meiji students in charge of planning our activities. She could always be seen prepping the meals, setting up the calligraphy station, and generally doing whatever was necessary for the trip. She worked vigilantly to plan group trips to Disney Sea, the Tokyo equivalent of California Adventure and the Studio Ghibli Museum. However, what stood out more than Rina’s drive, was her giddy demeanor and bubbly personality. She genuinely enjoyed facilitating our adventures and this joy was visible throughout the trip.

I’m glad we had a group leader as pleasant, prepared, and gracious as Rina. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t go on to great things as a politician or business leader.

En Dance Studio

By Kent Oya 

I picked up dancing during the fall of my sophomore year, and I’ve loved it ever since. Therefore, during this program, I jumped at the chance to visit one of the most famous dance studios in Japan: En Dance Studio in Shibuya.

en dance

En Dance Studio is home to many legends in the dance community, from the s**t kingz (shoji, kazuki, NOPPO, and oguri) to Koharu Sugawara. They were the dancers that fueled my passion to dance, and instead of watching them through Youtube videos, I finally had the chance to visit their studio in person.

Here are some of my favorite videos of them:

Unfortunately, Koharu and the s**t kingz members were not holding any workshops during the time we were in Tokyo, but I still wanted to experience the dance culture in Japan, so I signed up for a workshop held by Denzel Chisolm, a professional dancer from MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE in Los Angeles. I eagerly went to the studio on July 1st



And I got wrecked.

This was not surprising, as I am an intermediate dancer at best and the workshop was a master class, but the 40 other dancers who attended the class were absolutely amazing. I felt humiliated, yet motivated to become a better dancer. Hopefully, I will reach that level in a few years!

Check out the piece that I learned!

The dance cultures in Japan and America are rather different; I noticed a more serious atmosphere in Japan. No one was chatting with each other, even during stretching; they were there to learn from the teacher. I definitely felt a barrier between the teacher (Denzel) and the students. Meanwhile, the environment is more relaxed in America. During stretches, most people would be chatting with their friends and even with the choreographer. Here, the teacher is regarded as an equal, and the learning environment is casual. Nonetheless, the fact that a dancer from L.A. came to Japan just to teach is wonderful. Japan is well known for its isolationism and its distaste for foreigners, so the fact that this type of cross-cultural exchange is happening is a great step for both Japan and the United States.

Japan-exclusive MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE T-shirt!

Japan-exclusive MOVEMENT LIFESTYLE T-shirt!

Tokyo Disneyland

By Stephanie Liang

Tokyo Disneyland was absolutely magical. Although I did choose a very busy day to go, I still had an amazing time.

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Main gate

One of the differences I noticed between the U.S. Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland was the food. Despite the plethora of Mickey-shaped foods available at both Disneylands, there were various types of foods that catered to Japanese tastes as opposed to the American palette, including pork gyouza (fried dumplings) and mochi space invaders. Turkey legs are famous at the U.S. Disneyland for their enormous size and succulent meat. Although turkey legs were also served at Tokyo Disneyland, their size fit Japanese preferences and was simply the average size of a normal turkey leg, but the quality of the meat was on par. They also served various flavors of popcorn, ranging from the typical flavors such as sea salt and caramel, to exotic flavors like  strawberry, curry, and soy sauce with butter. One of my favorite foods of the day was this Mickey-shaped waffle topped with strawberry sauce and condensed milk.

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Mickey Mouse shaped park food!

Architecturally, the two Disneyland parks are almost exactly the same. Cinderella’s castle stood in the middle of the park, and popular rides such as A Small World After All, Alice’s Teacups,  Dumbo’s Flight, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean were scattered around the park.

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I’ll believe that when elephants fly!

I could easily detect societal differences between the Japanese Disneyland goers and their American counterparts. In America, everyone squeezes into every tight crevice when waiting in line, while in Japan, people prefer to keep some distance between each other so that the lines are not as long as they appear. Despite the long wait times and the intense humidity, people were very polite and mostly kept to themselves. Japanese Disney goers also get to enjoy certain areas fenced off specifically for sitting. Many people brought their own towels and sat in what looked like lines of people. In addition, Disneyland Tokyo was especially accommodating to foreigners. Multiple times, we asked to be seated in the front car to get the full visual experience of each ride, and every time the Disneyland Tokyo staff were very understanding. We actually noticed this throughout our stay in Tokyo; the customer service in Japan is impeccable in just about any establishment, because Japanese society works towards providing a good experience to visitors and leaving a good impression.

The visual effects of each Disney ride were absolutely astounding. In the Haunted Mansion ride, for example, apparitions were realistic holograms dancing around the ballroom, and the robot in Pirates of the Caribbean looked exactly like the movie’s actual actors. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and in my opinion, it even surpassed the technology found in the U.S. Disneyland.

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The floats lit up the the night sky.

The pyrotechnic show was also equally amazing, but it was almost identical to that found in the states. We watched a parade of magical floats and a giant fireworks show in front of Cinderella’s castle.

Overall, my experience was magical, which can be expected of any Disney resort, but I did not expect to learn so much about Japanese culture in what is essentially a “Western” amusement park. It seems like the Japanese have adapted Disneyland into their own culture, and the park serves as a metaphor for all of Japan’s great adaptations that, throughout time, become uniquely Japanese.