July 24, 2014
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.
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.
July 23, 2014
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.
July 22, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
July 21, 2014
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.
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.)
July 17, 2014
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. (more…)
July 14, 2014
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.
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.
July 11, 2014
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.
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.
July 9, 2014
by Kelli Kosaka and Lisa Peng
This weekend we traveled to Yamanaka Lake at the base of Mt. Fuji with 19 students from our host school, Meiji University. This trip provided us with a great opportunity to bond with the Meiji students in a Japanese-style seminar house by the lake.
The first day was a chance for us to get to know each other through icebreakers and time spent together on the bus ride and during dinner. We also lit hanabi (fireworks) to celebrate Janet’s birthday. She turned hatachi (twenty), the age at which you become an adult in Japan. Thus people value this day a lot here.
June 30, 2014
by David Collier and Andy Gause
Early Tuesday morning the group visited the Tokyo Imperial Palace. We were immediately struck by the enormous ornate gates. We strolled across the gravel footpaths, admiring the lush foliage. It was quite impressive because we were able to see the foundations for the castles that once sat next to the palace. The scale of the peaceful complex was immense. We witnessed people painting the scenery, couples walking hand-in-hand together, and an older gentlemen napping under a tree. We took several fun group photos, including some in which we all jumped at the same time.
Next we visited Yasukuni Shrine, in which 2.5 million military casualties stretching back from the Meiji Restoration are enshrined, including fourteen Class A war criminals. We couldn’t take pictures inside of the shrine and the atmosphere surrounding the shrine was tranquil. If we hadn’t known the history, we wouldn’t have realized the controversial nature of the place.
Next we visited the nearby WWII museum. Our professor asked us to figure out the narrative presented by the museum. We came to the conclusion that there was some definite fact-stretching in the museum’s representation of the war. One of the placards claimed the battleship Yamato crashed its way into the enemy fleet. However, the battleship sunk before it ever reached the fleet. The museum also presented the invasion of Manchuria and other countries in Southeast Asia as an action of necessity. The segment at the end of the museum showing the faces of the (mostly young) men and women who died in the war was particularly harrowing.
The next day we were driven to Sky Tree, the imposing TV tower in the heart of Tokyo. Standing at 634 meters tall, the structure rose into the overcast sky. We went to the mall where there were several stores selling merchandise related to Japanese TV. One store in particular had some colorful products related to Pokémon, anime and other popular Japanese television shows.
June 16, 2014
by Cody Uyeda and Ryan Bobell
After a ten-hour flight (complete with an incessantly screaming child), we weren’t quite sure what to make of our arrival in Japan. As the plane finally pulled into the terminal, the windows were pulled down, and it was still quite dim inside. It felt like we still could have been anywhere. Following such a long flight, it couldn’t properly hit us that we were actually in Japan. We could have been flying over the United States the past ten hours, for all we knew. Our sense of arrival didn’t set in until we finally stepped off the plane. Immediately upon entering the airport, there was something different about the very atmosphere. It was clean, quiet, and very orderly—a departure from the expected large crowds and noise. Everything was calm and efficient. Although Japanese was everywhere around us, signs posted in multiple languages made the transition much smoother than it otherwise could have been. After making bathroom and currency exchange runs, Tanya, Natasha, and we (Cody and Ryan) waited for everyone else to arrive in the airport. Little did we know that they were waiting only a couple of hundred feet away. Once the two groups finally discovered one another, there was little time to waste. With our fearless leader, Chad, at the helm, we all jumped on a bus to the Sakura Hotel, where we would be setting up shop for the coming month.
At the Sakura Hotel, the first thing we noticed was that everything seemed to be compacted or shrunk to fit the minimal amount of space needed, especially compared to the spacious American standard of living we had all been used to. The chairs seemed smaller, the beds seemed smaller, and the rooms were definitely smaller. In addition, the shower and sink setup is not what some of us had first expected. Rather than being set up in each room, they were set up by floor—a set of two sinks and two showers to be shared by everyone. Also, the shower had a mirror in it, which was more than a little disconcerting the first time you step into it. The toilets are interesting too. As you turn the knob to flush, a little sink on top of the toilet comes on for you to wash your hands. Convenient, but as usual, no towels are provided. Overall, though, the Sakura Hotel is a pleasant and convenient place to live. And it really defines the ideas of Japanese compactness and economically small living.