June 25, 2012
By Sheng Ge
Time flies. Our three weeks of intense study has officially ended. Looking back, we really had a great time in Tokyo, both in and out of class. Each week we focused on a specific theme: Japanese history in the first week; politics in the second week; and economics in the third week. Through reading the assigned textbooks we had gained a general understanding of Japanese history, its political system, and its economic development, while in the class sessions, Professor Katada gave us enlightening lectures, and Chad divided us into three groups based on our Japanese proficiency to provide us with Japanese language training. We also had the wonderful opportunity of listening to two lectures about the Japanese political system and the current problems Japan is facing given by Meiji professors from the Political Science and Economics School.
Besides our coursework, finding awesome food soon became one of our top priorities. We have all had wonderful dining experiences in these first three weeks: delicious CoCo Ichiban curry dishes, budget-friendly fried rice + ramen combos, pasta wonders, fresh-off-the-boat sushi from the famous Tsukiji fish market, and The Insurpassable Ramen Place (a.k.a. Ramen-Jirou) which I will remember the rest of my life… There are just too many awesome food places that can only be found in Japan.
I of course also have to mention the awesome Meiji students. They are just so welcoming and helpful to us, always trying to help us in every aspect of our stay in Japan. Even from the first day we met, they asked us all about what we wanted to eat and where we wanted to visit in Tokyo. This was not just their being polite to us; they really took our request and concerns seriously, and made every effort to see that we could do everything we wanted in the following days and weeks. Despite being very busy on weekdays (because we are visiting in the middle of their semester), nearly every day a few supporters would meet up with us to show us around Tokyo and have dinner with us. Then, on the weekends, we would go shopping, dining, and clubbing, all of which contributed to our developing unbreakable friendships. As Chad noted at the Farewell Party, these experiences that Meiji University and its students have enabled us to experience are so unique that not only tourists, but even other exchange students, rarely get to experience them. This is why we all are extremely thankful for the opportunities provided to us by the USC East Asian Studies Center, the Freeman Foundation, Meiji University, JASSO, and of course all the professors, TAs, and supporters who have helped us so much during this trip.
By Diana Yan
Although Los Angeles and Tokyo are both large metropolitan cities, student life in Tokyo is an entirely different experience. On the first day of class, we arrived to Liberty Tower, a large 23-story building that houses the majority of the Meiji University 3rd and 4th year classes.
Soon we had made friends with many of the Meiji supporter students, and learned about their college experiences. Many students commute from home or an apartment because living in Tokyo is simply too expensive. As University of Southern California students, we were startled to learn that some students commute for an hour and a half every day. Moreover, they do this five, and sometimes six, times a week! And to think that when I moved into my off-campus apartment from my sophomore year, I thought a 15-minute walk was far. It really goes to show the dedication of students studying in Tokyo.
Immediately after arriving on campus I had the impression that Japanese students were rigorous and hard-working, so I was even more surprised to learn that the Japanese students thought they did not study hard. At the Yamanaka Lake Seminar House we had an insightful discussion about Japanese student life. We learned that because it is so difficult to get into college, especially a top school like Meiji University, many students felt like they had worked a lot harder in high school. Also, since many of our supporters were juniors and seniors, we talked a lot about getting jobs right out of college. The Meiji students explained that there is really only one chance, or time window, to get a job right after graduation and, just like in America, it is getting harder and harder to find employment. The challenge of only having one chance to enter the work force seems so daunting!
However, while learning about such an education system and job recruitment process seemed so foreign to us, we were also pleasantly surprised to learn that the Meiji University students also make great friends! The first day, when we had our reception, both the USC and Meiji students were rather shy.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves, then started to mingle. Very quickly we realized we had much in common to talk about. Then, three weeks later at our farewell ceremony, we would be toasting to our new best friends and laughing at inside jokes. It has only been a few days since we said farewell to them, and I know that we all miss them already!
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!