July 5, 2012
By Diana Yan
One of the most fascinating experiences in Japan was getting to see and experience so many of my favorite buildings. As an architecture student I spend a lot of time looking at photos and floor plans of the famous buildings but in Tokyo I had the chance to walk through and experience many of buildings I could only previously stare at photos of.
The first building I knew I wanted to see was the Prada store by Herzon and DeMeuron. It was one of my favorite buildings that I learned about in class. On our last day in Tokyo, Kevin and I made a quick stop to stroll around. It was quite the experience.
We went to the roof of the neighboring building to see this view. You can kind of see the inside since we couldn’t get any photos inside.
There was so much to see in Tokyo. Tokyo is so dense with fascinating architecture that I stumbled upon these other buildings.
June 18, 2012
By Ki Bum Kim
To kick off our third week in Japan, our class visited the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to learn more about some of the major symbols of Japan’s economy. As a business major in the Marshall School of Business, I had been looking forward to these visits so that I could gain a more international perspective on fiscal policy and trading, especially since I took a “Trading and Exchanges” course with Professor Larry Harris back at USC.
Our first stop was the Bank of Japan, which was only a couple of subway stations away from the Sakura Hotel, where we are staying in Tokyo. As we entered the courtyard of the fortress-like building, we could see why the BOJ is widely known as a significant cultural landmark. The stately Old Building, built in 1896, contrasted greatly with the modernized buildings that surrounded the bank. As our guide explained later on in the tour, the bank had survived the Great Earthquake of 1923 and the firebombing during World War II, which made it one of the few buildings that remained from the Meiji era.
However, despite how impressive the bank looked from the outside, the most intriguing part of the building may have been the underground vaults. Protected by three doors, including the enormous 25-ton outer door, the vault had many unique features that represented some of the most cutting-edge technology at the time. For example, the architect included a feature that allowed bank officials to reroute water from a nearby river to flood the vault as the last line of defense from thieves. Although the bank floor and the hall of past governors were interesting to see as well, walking through the vault was definitely one of the highlights of the day. (Unfortunately, the BOJ didn’t allow visitors to take pictures, so you’ll have to visit there yourself to see what it looks like!)
After a quick lunch at a nearby shopping complex, we walked over to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where we were guided into a room for a video presentation. The video, led by a cartoon character named “Arrows,” covered the basics of trading and described the transformation of the TSE from a trading floor to an electronic exchange.
Because the TSE is now an electronic exchange, the only people working there were a few regulators that looked over the stock exchange to ensure that there was no fraudulent activities happening in the markets. This meant that we were actually able to walk through and see most of the entire stock exchange (and take lots of pictures without bothering people).
While we were leaving the TSE and getting ready to call it a day, I realized how important the BOJ and TSE are to the economic infrastructure in Japan. Through the changing conditions both in Japan and the world as a whole, the BOJ and TSE were two of the few constants that led the country for the past century. As we learn more about the Japanese economy in our classes this week, I’m sure that our visits will help us gain a greater understanding of the BOJ and TSE’s role in Japan’s economic development.
June 15, 2012
By Keanne Okabayashi
Upon our arrival at The National Diet of Japan, we were informed that we would receive secretary passes for the day—meaning that we had the same level of access to the Diet as the secretarial workers.
With our access passes secured, we could then enter the Diet cafeteria for lunch. As we entered the cafeteria, our group shared a collective gasp at what a far cry the Diet cafeteria was from our memories of the freshman dining halls. We slipped into the embroidered seats and gazed at the ornate molding and wood paneled wall, sensing the prestige of those who dined there.
Following lunch we had the opportunity to see the Speaker Drawing Room, the Chamber of the House of Representatives, the Emperor’s room, and the Central Hall.
At the Chamber of the House of Representatives, I was really able to imagine the proceedings of a plenary sitting. Seated in the balcony designated for foreign diplomats, we looked down to the floor where the tour guide pointed out the semi-circle of Members’ seats, row of Cabinet Minister chairs, the Prime Minster’s seat, and the Speaker’s chair.
Next, we were led past the most exquisite and expensive room of the entire building—the Emperor’s room. The room’s entrance is framed by a giant slab of marble and the interior is made of Japanese cypress. The room is used solely by the Emperor, as it only contains a single chair. The cost of such a beautiful room for the use of a single person? $200 million, which is 10% of the entire building’s cost. Unfortunately, photographs of the Emperor’s room were not allowed.
After seeing the Emperor’s room, we moved to the nearby Central Hall 33 meter high ceilings and light streaming in from many stained glass windows, it was easy to see why this housed the Central Entrance. The Central Entrance is only used for the Emperor during the Opening Ceremony, for Diet members’ first convocation day after election, and for State guests.
My favorite part of the tour came as the tour guide pointed out the red carpet leading up to the Emperor’s room. Standing at the base of the stairs, we were forced to move aside as a group of people swept by. As they briskly moved past us, all eyes were on the man leading the group. Following his passing, Professor Katada informed the group that the man was DPJ Chairman Koshiishi. To me, that moment really captured Japan’s transformation. As we stood at the base of the stairs used for the Emperor’s ceremonial entrance, we were quickly confronted with the present as Koshiishi moved past us.
May 30, 2012
By Alex Norby and Michelle Armstrong
The day was Tuesday. It was our fourth day in Japan and second day in class when our professor Saori Katada reached to erase the yellow chalk on the long blackboard. Upon brushing the eraser, the black fiber left almost no trace of residue on the surface. “This, this is why I love Japan,” Professor Katada unexpectedly blurted out, catching her face in the palm of her hands. “The little things, the details…” she went on to talk about how even the staplers always work in this country, jogging my own memory back to all those times the Leavey one failed me right as the class I needed to turn my paper into was starting. If only we had proper staplers, I wouldn’t have been late to class. But, then I thought, if I were a Japanese college student, there would be no chance of me procrastinating so egregiously. As our gang of Angelenos traversed the city on Sunday, we were astounded at the complex efficiency of the Tokyo Subway, the mass organized choas of Shibuya Crossing, the perfectly ordered maze of walkways at Shinjuku Station. It occurred to me that the essence of Japan is one that finds greatness in the smallest things. To appreciate such things requires holding them to a higher standard. Some might say perfection. I would call it respect. In LA, especially in our public spaces, we often find this sorely lacking, creating a society that can at times seem as at odds as a 5pm traffic jam on the 110. In Tokyo, respect is a way of life. It is the unspoken force that bonds its citizens together, as strong as the structural steel that holds up Tokyo Tower. As I stood on the 45th floor of the North Tower of the city’s Metropolitan Office buildings, I gazed at the vast cityscape below. I thought that I, a half Chinese, half Norwegian-American, would do my best in this city to observe this way of respect. Because while something, like chalk residue, may seem small to us, Tokyo has taught me that it is in things, little things, with which we can find greatness and harmony in life.
After an 11 hour plane ride, we arrived safely in the late afternoon at the Narita airport ready to start our adventure. We got on our private bus and traveled to the Sakura Hotel, where we will be staying for the next month. We settled into our rooms and then we enjoyed our first dinner in Tokyo together.
On our first real day in Japan, we explored various places such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. In Shinjuku we went to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and enjoyed the view of the city. Afterwards we headed to the fashion district, Harajuku. Before heading to Meiji shrine, we watched some yakuza impersonators and some older Japanese men and women dance. At Meiji Shrine we were able to learn how to cleanse our souls before praying and how to pray, as well as able to buy good luck charms and omikuji (fortunes). We then walked through the famous street called Takeshita. The street was super narrow and crammed-pack with people and clothing stores! Next we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Shibuya. It was oishii!
On Monday we had our first day of class. We walked as a group over to the university and had our first class. After class we had our welcome reception and met the Meiji students over lunch. After lunch we had a tour of Meiji’s library, cafeteria, museum, and gift shop. The museum had a lot of torture devices, books, and other interesting artifacts.
After our tour we went out to dinner at a Champon restaurant with some of the Meiji students and then headed back to the hotel and played games and bonded.
Tuesday was our second day of class and we discussed a brief history of Japan up until WWII. Afterwards we had free time and everyone split up into groups and explored different parts of Tokyo!
A group of us headed to Tokyo’s brand new Sky Tree with our new friend from Meiji, Fumi. We couldn’t go into Sky Tree because reservations are booked for the next two months, but we were able to look at the tower and go into the department stores. It was really windy by Sky Tree. Afterwards, we explored Shinjuku, ate at Yoshinoya (which is a lot better in Japan than America), and talked!