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.
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!