USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

June 16, 2014

We Exist in Japan Now!

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 7:25 am

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.

Our Tokyo living quarters: the Sakura Hotel

Our Tokyo living quarters: the Sakura Hotel

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.

Our first meal in Japan! (Pork Shogayaki).

Our first meal in Japan! (Pork Shogayaki)

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July 25, 2013

Cat Café

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 9:51 am

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

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July 23, 2013

Hiroshima: The Message of Peace

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 4:11 pm

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.

Three monuments at Memorial Park that hold great significance to me.

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Miyajima & Hiroshima

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 3:51 pm

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.

This deer was particularly photogenic.

Some familiar 5-yen (go-en, 五円 or 御縁, meaning "luck") in the pile!

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.

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July 22, 2013

Week of Fun: Traveling in Kyoto and Nara

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 1:55 pm

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.

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.

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.

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July 19, 2013

First impressions of Kyoto and Nara

Filed under: Kyoto/Hiroshima,Travel — geajapan @ 11:03 am

京都と奈良についての第一印象

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.

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

Stray Cats, Kyoto

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July 16, 2013

Inside the Diet

Filed under: Uncategorized — geajapan @ 9:36 am

By Kalai Chik

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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.  (more…)

July 2, 2013

Tokyo Stock Exchange and Bank of Japan

Filed under: Tokyo — geajapan @ 10:19 am

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

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

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

Colors! An up and down day

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July 1, 2013

Yokohama Day Trip (Wednesday, June 19, 2013)

Filed under: Travel,Yokohama — geajapan @ 11:22 am

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.

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 emigration routes

Japanese food incorporating international cultures

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.

Cupnoodles Museum

Cupnoodles Museum

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June 28, 2013

And We Departed Happily Ever After

Filed under: Class,Yamanaka Lake — geajapan @ 9:27 am

By Sally Fu

(This is Part 2 of a two-post series on our trip to the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House)

Day 3: The drizzling rain softly woke us from our slumber. Last night was a festive and insightful night at the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House. Not only did the USC students bond with the Meiji students through various activities such as Japanese calligraphy (shodou) and karaoke, but the past few days allowed for much cultural exchange, as we all stayed together in a Japanese-style retreat at the base of Mt. Fuji.

While the night was fun, the lack of a curfew ended up hindering many students from eating their breakfast. When I arrived at the cafeteria around eight or so, only a couple of students were there, which meant I could allow myself to devour more food. After eating, we all returned to our rooms to pack up our things. Even though the director of the Yamanaka Lake trip, Tom Power, had asked the students to simply fold the futons, my Meiji roommates also wiped off the table and sink in our room to restore it to the original condition in which we found it.

After breakfast and packing up, the Meiji and USC students joined together for a discussion session. The session involved topics such as improving cultural exchange and the differences between Japan and the U.S. The Professor divided us into groups, and our group discussed how much more efficient and conservative Japan is compared to other countries such as the U.S. One thing that really shocked me after coming to Japan is the way people always finish their food; they leave nothing behind on their plates. In the U.S., I’m used to taking my unfinished meals to go, but Japan does not really offer such a service, and so everyone usually finishes all of the food they ordered at that one sitting at the restaurant. Furthermore, navigating the intricate subway system not only provides a great opportunity to exercise, but it is also inexpensive and very efficient. Our group also discussed how people should step out of their comfort zone to allow for greater cultural exchange. The discussion also broke down common stereotypes held between the USC and Meiji students. For example, we found out the Japanese do not eat sushi or sashimi every day, and they discovered that Americans do not eat hamburgers every day, either.

Breakfast content of our second day at Yamanaka Lake!

Breakfast on our second day at Yamanaka Lake Seminar House!

Before departure, our instructors took many photographs as if we were magazine models. We tried various poses and locations, but the instructors were not alone in wanting to preserve such precious memories; I also hoped to obtain an eternal memory of this wonderful experience.

A small group photo with the Meiji Supporters' leader, Risa!

A small group photo with the Meiji supporters’ leader, Risa!

Another group photo with the Meiji girls.

Another group photo with the Meiji girls.

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