Farewell Party- Goodbye Japan!

By: William Koch

As our time in Japan is winding down, I find myself both happy to get home and sleep in my own bed, and sad to leave a country that I have made such wonderful memories in. The farewell party hosted by Meiji was the perfect ending to our trip.

The party began with a group toast. Everyone filled a glass with green tea, orange juice or apple juice, and the whole room raised their glasses and called out one final “Kanpai!”. Meiji students, USC students and Northeastern students formed a long line for food, and ate until they were all full. Professor Power interrupted our food comas, and said some words to the students of USC and Northeastern, thanking everyone for fun, memorable weekends at Yamanaka Lake.

After this, a few professors from Meiji shared their experiences in the program, and invited everyone to come back to Meiji whenever they pleased. A professor from Northeastern shared some words, then Professor Katada gave a speech. Professor Katada shared that the GEA- Japan program has always been one of her favorite teaching experiences. She said that although students may forget what they learned in the class, or the name of their professor (we will never forget you, Katada-sensei!), she knew that students would never forget going to Japan, their experiences at Meiji, or the research they conducted abroad.

Next, some special words were shared by our fellow students, from Meiji and USC. Vincent went up first, and delivered a heartfelt speech, saying that although we may speak different languages, or be from different ethnic backgrounds, we were all united during our time in Japan over our yearning for knowledge and the great experiences we shared together. Ipsa went up next, and shouted out individual Meiji supporters for their helpfulness, kindness and energy.

Next, me and some Meiji supporters made our way to a grocery store. We scoured the grocery aisles, piling snacks and drinks into the small carts. We left the store with everyone’s arm straining under the weight of full grocery bags. We found the venue for the after party, and carried the bags up in the elevator.

Then the real farewell party started. Some students (that were above 20) may have ingested a beer or two. The under-age students sipped orange juice or green tea. We played music from Japan and America, and everyone had a great time dancing, singing and eating. American students tried out new foods, and Japanese students tried out new dances.

Pretty soon, someone revealed a microphone, and the karaoke started. Isabel and Ipsa started, belting out Beyoncé’s “Halo” like they had been practicing for weeks. Chandler performed an energetic rendition of Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot”, not leaving out any of the indecipherable onomatopoeia that Big Shaq is known for. Chandler looked comfortable with the mic in his hands; I think I see a budding rap career in his future. Max sang multiple Michael Jackson songs, dancing like the king himself. I was in awe of how well Max could move his slender frame up on that stage. It was clear to me that he was a natural dancer and performer. Kaori and Misako went next, singing a beautiful version of Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beast”. When the song got to Nicki Minaj’s rapping part, I thought the duo would tap out. But they continued, with even more poise and talent than before.

Then it was time for me and Tatsuya to get on the mic. We sang ” I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. My voice was crackled and pitchy, but Tatsuya sang with the voice of an angel. After the final chorus, I took a break from singing to look at the crowd. Many Meiji students and USC students alike had tears in their eyes. Some had to leave the room to hide their emotion (or avoid our terrible voices).

We took a break from karaoke to do more eating and drinking (water). After a while, it was time to start cleaning up. Teamwork made the dream work, and the entire room was spotless within 30 minutes.

Then we had some final karaoke songs. Everyone gathered around the mic and belted out “Say Something”, with even more tears in their eyes. Our last song was “How to Lose a Friend”, another tearjerker. I was too busy singing, but I soon realized that I had created a small puddle on the floor from all of my tears. It took an entire roll of paper towels to clean it up.

When the clock struck 11, we left the building and said our final goodbyes outside. There were lots of hugs, smiles and invitations to visit again. Happiness and sadness mixed in the air, and filled everyone with the feeling that although our time together was temporary, our memories would be forever.

I would like to say one final thank you to all the Meiji supporters and faculty that made this trip possible. I had an absolute blast in Japan, and I know that without the Meiji student’s guidance, jokes and language lessons, I would have just been another lost foreigner in Japan. I was shocked by the intelligence, efficiency and kindness of all the supporters. The Meiji students made us feel like family, and I think I speak for the entire USC group when I say that we are extremely grateful.

Until next time, Japan!

Visiting Korean School – June 5, 2018

By: Manuel Valdez

The third-to-last day of the GEA Japan Maymester was full of ups and downs, respectively. We started the day off by having breakfast to prepare for what would be an eye-opening visit to the Korean High School in Tokyo. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were unsure of what to expect once we got there. Coming from the United States we knew very little about the lives of those who identify as North Korean or the country for that matter, other than what we are presented in our television screens. Needless to say, I was shocked and completely surprised at what we encountered at the school.

When we walked up to the gates, the first thing I realized was the sheer size of the campus. A field half the size of the campus was the first thing that caught my attention. Growing up in LAUSD schools, I am used to large campuses, however this school surpassed any I ever attended in cleanliness and order. As we walked into the main building we took our shoes off and slipped on some walking shoes that were provided for us. The second thing I noticed was the lack of students walking around, however I soon realized this was because classes were currently being held and students, for the most part, were in their seats. After waiting for the school Principal in a nicely furnished meeting room for a few minutes he came in to give us a short history of the school. Although he only spoke Japanese, Rio was able to elaborate and pass on what he was saying to the rest of us. At the end of his conversation he asked if anyone had any questions. I knew, as did we all, that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask questions very few people in the world could. Surely enough, many of us asked about things ranging from the school’s stance on political agendas, intramural sports, problems not being accredited as a school some years before, and even questions regarding the school’s current lawsuit against the Japanese government for exempting them from the universal access to High School policy that had been enacted allowing other schools, including international ones, to offer classes to those not willing to pay for it.

After answering our questions fully he took us on a tour of the classes. We visited at least four classes, English, Math, History, and a Japanese class, something I did not expect to find there. Despite the obvious pictures of North Korean leaders in the front of the classrooms these classes and more specifically, the students, were just as normal as any other their age. They would wave at us as we entered and ignore their teacher’s instructions because they were amazed and we were simply standing there. When Vincent, one of our classmates, was allowed to introduce himself he asked if any of them had any questions and like the teenagers they were they’d ask questions like, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” and things of the sort while giggling among themselves.

Before leaving, we were presented to about nine other students back in the meeting room where we first had our conversations with the principal. There we asked questions ranging from what they thought of the U.S. to what they wanted to be when they grew up. We even shared some laughs or two when students from either group would answer with things like, “My favorite hobby is sleeping.” After about three hours at the school we returned to our hotels to prepare for our farewell reception at Meiji University.

I would have to admit that everything I encountered at this school surprised me, in a positive way. Instead of finding the die-hard devotees of the North Korean government I found a community of young people that were just interested in their ancestry and culture. Coming from a bi-cultural background myself I understood the significance of learning the history, language, and culture of your predecessors country while living in another. Although I cannot agree with the leaders of the North Korean government I sympathized with these students who simply wanted to keep their culture alive while doing their best to integrate into the mainstream society of the country they live in. I left this school with a much more positive outlook on the people who attend it and with a new hope for the future of peace between the countries of Korea and Japan.

Sightseeing in Tokyo

By: Hannah Kreiswirth

With our trip to Japan coming to an impending close soon, many students (including myself) were rushing to find the time to complete our research papers before heading back home. Thankfully, however, I was able to find time to do some sightseeing and much-needed shopping before I secluded myself in the nearby Starbucks to begin working.

A group of friends and I decided to visit the Asakusa district of Tokyo. Located in the less skyscraper dense area of northeast Tokyo, Asakusa is known for its representation of more historical aspects of Japanese culture as well as its touristy nature. Streets were lined with kimono shops, stands that displayed a multitude of different types of omamori (charms used to bring forth good luck or fortune), and stores that sold any type of typical Japanese souvenir one could imagine.

Walking down the streets of Asakusa.

Our group made our way down to Sensō-ji, the main attraction of the Asakusa area. Sensō-ji consists of two main gates that lead the way to the main building of the temple, with each structure sporting the temple’s famous gigantic red lanterns. The path towards Sensō-ji was packed with those who had come to witness the intricate beauty and famed splendor of the famed temple itself. While my stay in Japan has felt more of a dream than a reality at times, witnessing the magnificence of Sensō-ji has reminded me once again of the sheer grandeur of this country.

The grandiose of Sensō-ji pictured.

After visiting Sensō-ji, I headed out to do some shopping for myself. One of the things I had been looking forward to the most during my visit to Tokyo was to go to the Studio Ghibli store situated in Tokyo Station. As a lifelong fan of the films of Studio Ghibli, being able to visit the official store was a dream come true. Despite the small size of the shop, I spent a large amount of time in the store and unregretfully an equally large amount of money on merchandise. The decoration and the aesthetic of the store I thought perfectly captured the calming, serene charm that accompanies many Studio Ghibli films.

The Studio Ghibli Store.

To end my day of sightseeing one of the most symbolic places in Japan, I went to go eat at probably the most un-Japanese restaurant I could have chosen. Savoy Pizza is an intimate shop where only twelve customers at a time are allowed to take a seat at an L-shaped bar surrounding a single pizza oven. The menu consists of only two types of pizzas to choose from: marinara and Margherita. Despite the limitedness of choices, however, Savoy boasted one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my life. The perfected simplicity of the pizza is what really won me over, where everything down to the tomato sauce tasted as if it had been masterfully prepared.

Though the time I have had to do sightseeing in Tokyo has been limited, I am so ecstatic that I have been able to experience so much of this city’s unique culture. From ancient temples to small pizza joints, I feel that I have done it all.

Mt. Fuji

By: Amanda Curtis

While most British people make comments about the rare sunny days as a form of greeting, everyone we met in Japan said, “I hope it’s clear when you go to Mt. Fuji”. In the days leading up to our Lake Yamanaka retreat, locals and students alike would check the weather forecasts in hopes we would avoid the clouds and enjoy a rare sunny day on Japan’s tallest mountain. The forecasts were promising, but hopes were not too high, as Professor Katada said she only experienced a cloud-free day at Mt. Fuji once during her time leading this maymester. 

It seems that we were indeed extremely lucky. Not only did we avoid the clouds, but the sky was so clear we could see all the way to Lake Yamanaka. Some people said they could even see the giant swan boat that was docked near where we stayed. 

Professor Katada’s photo of Mt. Fuji being reflected on Yamanaka Lake.

As we started the ride up the mountain, we were graced with lush green trees and unrivaled views of Japan’ landscape. While we did not climb any part of Mt. Fuji, our bus was able to drive up to the fifth stop, a bustling tourist area filled with souvenir shops, food, horses, and look-out spots. 

We had an hour and forty minutes to explore this part of Mt. Fuji however we desired. Some students immediately rushed to the restaurants while many more started exploring the overwhelming amount of souvenir places, looking for gifts for friends and families. 

One of the many views on Mt. Fuji. Lake Yamanka can be vaguely seen in the distance.

In the alley between two large shops was a red tori gate, signaling the way towards a Shinto Shrine located at this part of the mountain. People got their fortunes told and others appreciated the beautiful architecture of the shrine. Next to the shrine was a small look-out, with a crystal-clear view of Lake Yamanaka. While this shrine and view was stunning, it was crowded and not as serene as some of the other Shinto Shrines in Japan. However, located at the top of Mt. Fuji, is supposedly a breathtaking shrine, overlooking all of Japan. The trip up might be strenuous, but I’m sure that makes up for it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to see that view for myself. 

View of the peak of Mt. Fuji from the 5th stop on the mountain.

After our time was up, we all meandered our way back to the bus, some with ice cream cones in hands, others with arms full of souvenirs. As we started driving down Mt. Fuji, the sky became dark as mist rolled in. It looked as if we were actually driving through the clouds. It seemed as though Mt. Fuji held off the cloudy weather until we were done enjoying our time. 

Supposedly we got stuck in traffic, but I’m sure no one even noticed, as everyone was pknocked out the entire bus ride back. That night, some of us, sadly me as well, were suffering from altitude-related headaches, but it was all worth it. Not many can say they were able to see across Japan on Mt. Fuji. We were graced with perfect weather and will have memories of the beautiful views and clear air for a long time to come. 

Yamanaka-ko Gassyuku

By: Ipsa Agnani

We arrived at Yamanaka-ko in the afternoon after a scenic bus ride through the picturesque hills covered in lush green forests gently touching the horizon of clear blue sky and fluffly white clouds. The beautiful drive was a precursor to the serene environment of the lake itself. After disembarking the bus, we took pictures in front of the magnificent Mt. Fuji to commemorate the beginning of our retreat. Unfortunately, we could not see the snowy peak of Mt Fuji when we took the picture but some of us came back to the lake shore after dropping our luggage in the dorms and that was when Mt Fuji’s shy peak graciously greeted us with a peek through the clouds.

View of Mt. Fuji from Lake Yamanaka

After we had explored the area to our heart’s content, we met in the lobby of the main building for some ice-breakers, and then enjoyed a delectable dinner together. Before we knew it, the sun had set, and it was time to light some fireworks in celebration of newly-formed friendships. We made merry under the canopy of tall trees while lighting sparklers, my favorite one being a fragile, thread-like sparkler (senko hanabi) that burns softly and forms a red bulb at the bottom which then bursts into gentle sparks. Katada sensei, while teaching me how to light these unique Japanese sparklers, called them “poetic”, and I agreed that that was an appropriate description of not just those sparklers but the entire evening itself. Later, we washed off the day’s fatigue in hot Japanese communal baths called ofuro.

Japanese sparkler

The Meiji students are excellent hosts. Their warm hospitality was once again evident in the party that they had graciously organized for us. We played card games and enjoyed Japanese snacks and beverages. My favorite was the soft chocolate-vanilla cookie.

After a long day of relaxation, exploration, celebration and socialization, our second day at the Yamanaka-ko Gashuku (Japanese for Yamanaka Lake Workshop) was mostly spent indoors. Having completed one week of research in Tokyo, it was now time to share our findings with our classmates. The classrooms located in the main building of Meiji University’s Yamanaka retreat house provided a serious setting amidst the serene, laid-back environment of the lake itself. Now that we had explored Japan in person, it was easier to contextualize the findings from our research. The feedback from Meiji students each presentation also provided a unique perspective. Our class covered a plethora of diverse topics ranging from LGBTQ representation in anime to Black diaspora experience in Japan, socioeconomic impacts on single mothers, and the experience of mixed-identity (hapa) individuals.

Our learning did not end there. In the evening, we met up again to practice shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. Meiji students Saori and Honoka had written all our names in Japanese and demonstrated the art of calligraphy to us. Kaori, another Meiji student, helped me write my name and helped me master each individual stroke of the brush. She taught me the difference between tomei (straight stroke) and hanei (curved stroke) so I could write my name correctly. After about 10 practice rounds, we all wrote our name on long sheets of calligraphy paper and displayed our masterpieces on the wall of one of the classrooms.

Me, with my mentor and friend Kaori, gleefully displaying my calligraphy skills that Kaori helped me master.

Our night culminated with another round of snacks, games and dancing to Cupid’s Shuffle and the Macarena with the Meiji students. Overall, the two days at Yamanaka-ko could not have been better.