July 5, 2012
By Kevin Leong
The day after our Hiroshima trip was completely free. Unfortunately, the good weather from that day didn’t carry over and it started to rain again. Our group did many things, such as shop around our hotel/Kyoto Station area, visited Himeji Castle/Himeji Zoo, or head down to Osaka. I spent my day in Osaka. The Osaka Station is also a huge mall, and at the top of the south building there is a Pokemon Center, where we all relived our childhood.
From there, a few of us went to the Osaka Aquarium, and the rest went to Dotonbori. This area is known for its wide variety of restaurants and a lot of shopping. We got a lot of souvenir shopping done in Osaka, even though it wouldn’t stop raining all day.
By Alex Karpos
Another group of us decided to visit Himeji Castle on our free day. After a fairly long train ride, we arrived in Himeji, a city to the south west of Kyoto. Though the city was drenched in seemingly never-ending torrential rain, we decided to slog through the downpour. It was a decision we would not regret. Himeji Castle is truly an astounding complex. Last updated an astounding 400 years ago, this structure is considered the prototypical model for the medieval Japanese castle. The castle is surrounded by a truly amazing complex consisting of several walls, guardhouses, and open lawns surrounding the castle. Though the main, and most recognizable, tower of the castle is under restoration and thus covered from outside elements, this proved to be a blessing in disguise.
June 28, 2012
By Erika Klein and Alex Karpos
Arriving in Hiroshima this morning after our second, and more relaxed, Shinkansen experience of the month, we immediately boarded a bus to visit the city’s well-known sites. Our guide, Masako, began her introduction with the suggestion that “perhaps the name Hiroshima reminds you of the first atomic bomb.” While she went on to mention some statistics related to the bomb, however, the first part of the day unexpectedly focused on less-popularly known aspects of Hiroshima, reminding us that the city is much more than one tragic event. Having learned that Hiroshima is Japan’s largest oyster-producing area, we observed the flat collection of rafts on the Seto Inland Sea as we traveled by ferry to the sacred Miyajima Island to visit Itsukushima Shrine.
Like Nara, the island was inhabited by half-tame deer, worshipped as divine creatures in Japan and unafraid of approaching humans and attempting to snag food or brochures for a quick snack. Besides photographing the antics of the deer (and those whom they surprised), we took pictures from every angle of Otorii Gate, which appears to float in the ocean during high tide.
The gate, serving as a barrier between the Shinto gods’ home on the mountainous island and the human realm of Hiroshima, shared the same orange, evil-expelling color as the ancient shrine, which we explored next.
June 27, 2012
By Morgan Pavey
On our last day in Kyoto, we woke up early to check out of our hotel and head over to Shunkoin Temple for a special Zen meditation session with the attending head priest of the temple, Reverend Takafumi Kawakami. Upon arriving at the temple, we took off our shoes and were led into a traditional tea-ceremony room with tatami mats and simple wooden walls, which was naturally-lit from the sun streaming in from the zen garden outside. The Reverend encouraged us to sit on our cushions in whichever way was most comfortable for us, since comfort and ease were the only reasons why monks used the traditional “half-lotus” leg position. He emphasized the importance of understanding the origins and logic behind traditions like the sitting positions for meditation; it is through this understanding that we will be able to practice the true intent of a tradition and keep it alive.
We enjoyed two brief meditative sessions, initiated by the clapping of wooden sticks and ringing of a bell. As incense floated through the air, we focused on our breathing and accepting any thoughts that entered into our minds without trying to judge or control them. We considered the Zen idea of impermanence, or how each present moment is significant in the way that it will soon become a part of our pasts, but also pave the way for our futures. After the second session, the Reverend showed us the zen garden and the beautiful screen paintings in the adjoining room, pointing out how the gold paint best illuminated the objects depicted when the lighting was dim, as it would have been in ancient times. We then shared fresh matcha and senbei before saying our good-byes, departing a little more enlightened than we had been an hour and a half before.
After a quick Japanese bento box lunch on the bus, we arrived with our guide Masako at Ryoan-ji. Ryoan-ji contains a famous rock garden, which embodies the Zen idea of impermanence (each pattern that you rake in the pebbles will become your past as soon as you create it, and will disappear with the wind or human disturbances of the near future). Ryoan-ji’s garden is famous for its fifteen rocks, which are organized in one group of five, two groups of three, and two groups of two. At any given vantage point, however, only fourteen stones are visible at one time. It is said that only through reaching the final stage of enlightenment will a person be able to see all fifteen stones at once.
June 26, 2012
By Kevin Leong
Our first full day in Kyoto was packed with activities. Unfortunately, a typhoon was forecast to hit us on this day as well.
We woke up to a rainy morning, but nothing too heavy. We all boarded our tour “coach” (bus) with rain gear in hand and headed to our first destination, Kiyomizu Temple. When we arrived at this Buddhist temple, the rain started to really come down. This was a good thing in this situation, though, because at this temple there is a famous fountain that supposedly has ability to extend the life of people who drink from it. Morgan and I decided partake in this local tradition and drank from the fountain. It was very cold and refreshing. The water for the fountain is sourced from the mountain on which Kiyomizu Temple is located. Something I thought was really amazing is that the ladles for the fountain weren’t the usual wooden ones we’ve seen around other temples and shrines in Japan, but made of metal and stored in a box with a UV light to kill any bacteria on the ladle.
Another interesting thing about Kiyomizu Temple is that there is a sloped stage at the front of it, from which a Japanese saying has been derived: “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu.” This is equivalent to the English saying “taking the plunge.” There have been instances where people actually would jump off this stage into the forest area below. Surprisingly, a high percentage of these people survived the plunge.
Our next stop on Typhoon Tuesday was Nanzenji Temple. At this temple, there is a really nice and peaceful Zen rock garden. Even though the rain was coming down harder than earlier in the day, we all enjoyed this temple and its serenity. There was also a nice arch structure that a few of us took pictures around.
By Morgan Pavey
After almost three full weeks of exploring Tokyo and getting used to the feel of city life, many of us were excited to experience a change of pace and set out for our week-long experience of Western Japan. We left Sakura Hotel on Monday morning by shinkansen (the famous Japanese bullet train) to Kyoto, the ancient city which was the nation’s capital from its establishment during the Heian Period in 794 until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1869. After a brief mishap with our departure – which more-or-less involved an epic, movie-esque sprint through Tokyo Station to catch the train before it pulled away from 13 of us, and the heart-breaking separation from Chad and Sheng, who were forced to catch the next train a full thirty minutes later – we arrived safely and met up with our wonderful tour guide, Masako.
Our guide Masako took us on a half-day tour of Nara, another former capital just an hour away from Kyoto by bus. We first visited the spectacular Todai-ji Temple, which includes the largest wooden structure in the world. This structure houses the Daibutsu, or Giant Buddha – an enormous statue that welcomed us in with one open palm, meaning “do not fear,” and one up-turned palm, meaning “I will answer your requests.”
The sacred mood of the temple was accentuated by the hundreds of deer that were wandering freely around the premises, which were so tame that we could actually reach out and touch them. According to the Shinto religion, deer are divine messengers of the gods and guardians of the temple. According to us and the other tourists visiting Todai-ji, they are also adorable.
June 15, 2012
By Lily Tiao
It was a Wednesday morning and our first official rainy day in Tokyo. We stepped in puddles of rain and tightly held onto our umbrellas in the wind as we rushed to Jimbocho station to catch the subway to Yokohama. We were running a few minutes behind schedule and as I powerwalked down the stairs, I thought about the possibility of the train being just a few minutes late. Right then, Chad goes on to tell us that, “Subways in Japan will either be early or right on time, but rarely late.” I thought to myself: yet another element emphasizing Japan’s detail-oriented culture. Luckily, after a number of train stops and transfers, we made it just in time and met up with Professor Katada to head off to the Japanese Overseas Emigration Museum.
As lunchtime approached, the group couldn’t help but feel hungry and restless from the gloomy weather. After gathering up once more, we were all excited and ready for the delicious lunch waiting for us in Chinatown. Before nearing Chinatown, an architecture student in our group jumped in excitement after seeing the Yokohama International Port Terminal, a famous architectural construction she studied in class. The amazing terminal reminded me of my Yamanaka presentation on the harmony between old and new. Although I didn’t visit the interior of the terminal, it was quite a view. The unique structure of the terminal looked almost like an origami design appearing as a new kind of contemporary and iconic architecture in Japan.
As we neared the restaurant I was ready to expect the familiar Chinatown setting back in Los Angeles. However, the sea of brightly colored Chinese posters and ornaments and adorable panda goodies immediately caught my attention.
Many of the Chinese traditional arts and crafts can be found alongside the streets and I noticed a number of fortune-telling and palm-reading shops.
We were all ready to head straight to the restaurant, but at the same time distracted by all the fascinating attractions such as gift/food shops. For example, the first thing I noticed was a store entrance shaped like a giant panda’s head. You can see the Japanese-styled creativity of cute and imaginative designs within the clothing and products of the souvenir shops in Chinatown such as panda shaped Chinese buns!
The next thing I saw was the Mazu temple. It was beautifully ornamented; the decorations on the gate, walls, and pillars truly showed how much effort and attention to detail were used when it was created. Aside from the fascinating sights, of course, is the delicious food.
Yokohama Chinatown offers hundreds of different restaurants with countless varieties of Chinese dumplings, dim sum, pastries and much more. Chad recommended one of the most popular menu items called buta-man (Chinese buns filled with tender pork; or Baozi in Chinese). The variety of food displayed all looked so delicious that even I, someone who sees these Chinese foods regularly, was intrigued. If I was not so full from the lunch, I would’ve walked along the street and bought anything that looked yummy.
- Next time, I am definitely coming back to explore more of Yokohama Chinatown’s souvenir shops, along with an appetite for more tasty food!
June 14, 2012
A Student’s Version of Yokohama: Museum Tears
By Joseph Mastron
So here’s how the day started. We woke up an hour earlier than usual to catch the early train to Yokohama, some of us just tired, others really tired. So we rush, run, and scramble to Jimbouchou station, hurry to get our tickets, jump on the Hanzomon line, and head off the wrong way. Luckily, the entire day didn’t follow this course.
After correcting our mistake, we arrive in Yokohama, to a dreary, rainy day. Yet, even in the wet misty dampness, Yokohama was BEAUTIFUL. There were towers rising above the rainclouds, a Ferris wheel in glorious and huge splendor, and our morning’s destination: the Japanese Emigration Museum. Here, the lives and lifestyles of those who have left Japan to establish a home overseas are recorded.
Here, at the very entrance, is a replica of a Japanese-American Oregonian Farmers’ float from the early 20th century. After a brief video introducing the museum, luckily in English, as so many things seem to be here in Japan, we were sent off through the museum.
As with every Japanese museum so far, I was struck with the intricate detail that went into preparing models and displays and graphs and charts.
And then I walked, well, rather read, my way through the museum. I read tales of the Japanese workers who were brought to Hawaii to work in sugarcane fields for little money, tales of students who came to California to work during the day in order to study English at night, and even tales of the Japanese people who went to live in South America, especially Brazil.
I was impressed, thoroughly informed. But none of these exhibits struck me as hard as one: the Japanese people, Issei and Nisei (First and second generation), who came to Southern California, people who labored their entire lives to establish families and businesses.
These were people who during the war were treated like criminals, like enemy aliens, in their chosen land and sometimes the land of their birth. I read letters between families in broken elementary English, expressing their love with difficulty, since Japanese language was forbidden, and dangerous to use.
And I thought to myself, “Why?” This is the evil that comes when people draw lines and borders and fictional races, and then hate each other because of it. And I felt guilt, not for California, not for the United States, but for the Human Race. That feature which should bring us together, we all too often forget. After I, yes, I’ll admit it, wiped the tears from my eyes, I continued. As I walked, taking pictures, I caught up to another of our USC students, Amanda. And behold, she was being led around the museum by a darling older gentleman, who was stopping to explain the exhibits as we went. I couldn’t help but tag along to catch a bit of his aged wisdom.
And it made me think. This is forgiveness, an older man, who might have been born during or maybe just after the war, who knew the history, who knew what happened at the internment camps, and was still willing to lead a group of Americans through the museum, smiling, sharing tidbits of his knowledge, and skipping over the guilt-causing parts.
After thanking our elderly angel, I went to wait with the rest of the group, in our customary “relaxation-and-rest-while-the-unnamed-catches-up” time. After a few minutes, we were able to head out again, off to visit Yokohama Chinatown.
June 13, 2012
By Amanda Vu and Tatiana Taylor
Last Friday morning began our trip to Yamanaka Lake, at the base of Mt. Fuji. Our straggled line of now semi-experienced foreigners marched through the streets with bags in tow, off on our first adventure outside of Tokyo. We arrived at Meiji University and clambered onto the bus; each USC student was asked to sit next to a Meiji student. At first, we awkwardly danced around each other as people often do when they when they are just getting to know one other. Despite the language barriers, we began to get to know our Meiji supporters and bonded with them over the toils of long bus rides, cute puppies at rest stops, and glimpses of Mt. Fuji. Before getting to our final destination, we made a brief stop to take a group photo and admire Yamanaka Lake, cold on that breezy day and surrounded by forests greener than any I have seen in California.
Our home for the weekend was the Meiji University Yamanaka Lake Seminar House, a gasshuku facility (gasshuku: a kind of school retreat for clubs, groups, and various school events) tucked into the trees, where we were to open our minds and focus on cross-cultural communication for the weekend. We spent our first night there playing ice-breaker games to get to know each other’s names (a bit more challenging than the usual ice breaker when the names sound foreign to you). Our hosts were kind enough to prepare a dinner they called “East Meets West,” serving hamburger, French fries, and crepes alongside salmon, taro, and miso soup. After dinner, most of the USC students dutifully scuttled off to complete our presentations for the next day. We were comforted to learn that procrastination is not a foreign concept to Japanese students either…
We ended the night with a party of snacks and drinks. USC and Meiji students traded card and drinking games; Egyptian War for the Japanese version of Spoons, King’s Cup for “Go, Back, Jump.” In happy spirits by bed time, we retired to our traditional Japanese tatami rooms. Our Meiji friends taught us how to lay out our futons (“Shikibuton, then shiitsu (sheets), then kakebuton!”) complete with rice-filled pillows. Those of us brave enough “went native” and used the traditional communal bathhouses to wash up.
Saturday was largely dedicated to the PowerPoint presentations we USC students prepared for Meiji students to share with them our thoughts on those aspects of Japanese culture and society that most intrigue us. The topics presented included Japanese subcultures, food and dining, efficiency, social responsibility, collectivism, architecture, education, and politeness. Following each presentation, we opened the floor to questions and were able to hear the Meiji students’ comments and criticisms about our visions of Japan. It was riveting to learn the difference between each of these topics as they exist in Japan versus in America.
Saturday night was a treat for all of us, as we learned of a surprise fireworks gathering on the beach! Some Meiji students started blasting Katy Perry’s “Firework” on their phone and a huge group of us sang and laughed about the small commonalities between us as we walked to the lake shore to light the fireworks. The other amazing experience that night, aside from dancing, singing, and karaoke, was watching two Meiji students perform shodo, traditional Japanese calligraphy. Some of us stayed for hours following their skillful demonstration to learn and practice the art of shodo.
The following day’s discussion with the Meiji students was about improving cross-cultural communication. We were first divided into several groups, each with both USC and Meiji students, and then discussed the topic in our individual groups. For both sides, this exercise proved to be a real illustration of the challenges of interacting with a new language in a new culture.
The final event of our trip had originally been planned as a trip up Mt. Fuji, and was a much anticipated event by everyone. Despite a light rain that morning, we were not deterred from our plans. However, there was yet another challenge awaiting us that day: the road up Mt. Fuji had been closed for a cycling event, preventing us from going any farther. In the end, even though we weren’t able to climb Mt. Fuji, we were content to simply see the summit on the first day, and also be able to spend the entire weekend so close to its presence in such a great environment.