Sunday June 17
I woke up early (around 6:30) because I was ready to start the class and excited to see what the day had to offer. I didn’t want to wake up my roommates so I stayed in bed and responded to emails and texts before taking a shower at 7 and getting breakfast at 8:30. It was a very mellow morning which was very different for me, I am usually up and exploring early when I’m traveling but I took advantage of the time and relaxed in bed and did a bit of work prior to going to the grocery store for snacks before we met the group at 11.
Today we went to Asakusa which is a more traditional region that had a buddhist temple. It was very interesting to see the unique architecture that I had seen in photos and videos for so many years in person finally. The gate was huge and had a big red lantern in the middle that hung down and there were two statues on either side of the gate. The gate wasn’t the original as the originals were made of wood and burned down numerous times in the past. This one was built in the mid to late 1900s (I think it was the 60s but cant remember exactly). The statues on either side were different important figures. It was a vibrant red color and was more mouth dropping and unique than I expected.
Past the gate there was a row of shops that sold traditional Japanese items, some more touristy than others. It was very crowded today, more than the other day when I was there for my hostel but then I realized it was a Sunday so most likely it was busy due to the weekend. It was hard to stay in a group and was definitely good we split up though I would have enjoyed learning more about the area and buildings.
We explored the shops on the way down to the temple. There were so many unique items. I also people watched on the walk- the variety of outfits and languages was astonishing. My favorite was seeing a lot of women and a few men in traditional attire. Their clothing was gorgeous, they looked so classic and perfect. We later learned how expensive the clothes are and was shocked it was an everyday outfit as it’s very expensive. I am curious if the quality of material is dependent on status or if there are rules or norms to what materials are worn. In the stores there were a variety of different materials offered such as blends, polyester and silk. I’m definitely going to do more research about the traditional clothing to see what the different materials signify or if it is just a difference in affordability.
The temple itself was stunning. There were so many small details and designs. It is one of those places you wish you had more time to just sit there and take it all in and admire each and every design but unfortunately there were too many people to have time to do that nor did I have the desire with the stuffiness of all the people. A lot of individuals were going towards an area where there was incense burning and they would pray and then move their hands to get the incense on them. There were also two areas near the temple where people threw money in and then prayed- they had a routine of clapping their hands, bowing, praying, then clapping their hands again. The temple was very interesting to see.
The gardens were gorgeous as well. There were fish in the pond and some incredible statues such as buddha. There were some incredible statues- i couldn’t get over the beauty of the green nature surrounding these huge statues/sculptures. It was overall an incredible place, I could go there numerous times and never get tired of the area. An interesting fact is this is the oldest temple still around in the area.
We explored the side streets and the artwork. Some of the streets had some incredible art on the garage doors of stores that were closed. There were also some incredible pictures of cherry blossoms and monuments in the area. I love looking at unique artwork in new places. There were a lot of street vendors for food as well there. We saw a lot of sweets- the most unique was an ice cream hamburger, not sure what that is but it was a popular destination we noticed.
Asakusa was definitely my favorite part of the day- the culture was vibrant and you could feel the history come alive as you walked around the area. You could definitely feel the touristic part of what it has become now but after walking around the whole area it was but a small factor of the whole experience there.
After we went to Odaiba which is the man made island (made of trash) in Tokyo that was used during the isolation period of Japan. They definitely tried a bit too hard to make it Americanized. It had a very weird San Fran mixed with New York feel. We walked on the walkway and there were people doing acts, lots of outdoor restaurants looking out to the water, and there was a football event going on. Definitely went from traditional to modern in a matter of an hour which was unique. We had dinner there at a ramen place and by the time we left everyone was exhausted. We took the metro back and spent the rest of the evening catching up on readings and sleep.
I really liked seeing the two different sides of Tokyo within one day- it gave us the opportunity to see the vast diversity within the city and understand the battle for traditionalism and modernism. Ahmed told us about the chinese commentary about Japan- how they take other countries ideas and “japanize” them. While some think the mix is a competition and one should be dominant- I think the fact Tokyo has both traditional regions and super modern areas makes it unique. I appreciate the fact that within an hour you can see old and new sides of Japan. There aren’t very many places that have that dramatic of a change in their architecture and cultural offerings. Today was definitely a very important cultural day for the course as it was a great kick start to seeing the “old” and the “new” Japan.
Monday June 18
Today I woke up early to go to the fish market that is nearby. It is a huge market with vendors selling tons of food products, mainly fish related. We walked around the whole market before choosing a place to eat. We choose a sushi place and I got a sushi bowl- it was rice base and a ton of fish, fish eggs, seaweed, egg, etc on top. It was delicious and very filling. I got to drink free green tea as well which was very filling and paired well with my sushi. After sushi we walked around the market a bit more, bought some mochi (custard flavor, green tea matcha flavor, and strawberry cream). After we walked back to the hotel and relaxed until it was time to head to our meetings.
We took an hour train ride to our meeting where we met with LAC, Local Autonomy College) which is a schooling for individuals entering government specifically in the local levels. We learned about the way the government was structured here in Japan (there is the central government and local governments). They dove into the roles of the government, how individuals are elected by the people and can run unlimited terms, and the way policy was enacted. The areas that were most interesting to me were the division of power (the local and central governments are seen as equal authority), women in government (there are more women in local government than central and only less than 10% of the central government is women), and decentralization movement. Another interesting fact was the number of local government employees is decreasing but the work is increasing. I was shocked to hear that there isn’t more push back on the less employees but more work area but from their perspective, the reason for the lack of push back is there is an understanding that with the mature and aging population, the population is dramatically shrinking therefore there are fewer individuals needed in the government and the financial necessities to pay an employee mixed with the population decrease are good reason to decrease the number of local government employees. I see both sides- I feel like if individuals are working 50 hour weeks then it is better to hire another person for the job but if one individual is able to handle the workload of two or three individuals then it is worth it to decrease the workforce.
It was interesting to hear about the LAC but for me the numbers and sort of work/time frame wasn’t helpful in my head. I would’ve rather seen the curriculum or a breakdown of what is taught and emphasized for each position. I was very curious what the difference in time commitment meant- there were 3 week programs, 5 week programs, 3 month programs and 5 month programs depending on the level. I really liked learning about the politics of Japan and the way things work in the political world here. Another area I was curious about was how traditional and modern culture impact the political system.
After the meeting we were invited to a class with international leaders from different countries. We listened to two very different presentations that discussed issues these leaders wanted to work on when they returned home. I wish we would have been able to hear all of their presentations as I feel they all had unique projects they wanted to address in their regions and only one of the two presentations we heard was a local issue and she didn’t have a full on plan which was a bit disappointing. It sounds like they did a good job explaining the idea of making change and figuring out the problems and solutions but the big middle area that seemed to lack (this is an evaluation based on one meeting so is a grain of salt) but it seemed they lacked the planning. It was really cool though to see how the LAC impacted these leaders and taught them to initiate changes to address problems in their communities.
After LAC, Miyo, Javier and I went to Harajuku which is a very modern shopping area. It has lots of lit up bilboards and levels of different stores. The main streets are lined with high end fashion and the side streets had really cool japanese stores with a mixed array of fashion- from 70s looks to the school girl skirts to punk to gothic to retro to modern; there was a store for everyone. Another thing we saw a lot of was crepe shops. Supposedly this area is known for their crepes- so tomorrow, one of the things we want to do is get crepes since we will be back in that area. We ate udon noodles in a small restaurant on a side street of the area and then continued to walk around the area until it started to rain more- then we decided to head back for the night since we had tomorrow too if we wanted to return.
Overall I felt like I learned a lot about the political system of Japan. These first two days were great introductions into the course- we started with a strong day of the variety of cultures (cultural extremes) in the country and today we focused on politics of the country. Tomorrow we will have a great mix of both since we will be doing lectures in politics and visiting other cultural regions of Tokyo. I’m excited to see what the day has in store for us.
Tuesday June 19
Today we had an earlier morning than the previous days. I got breakfast at the convenient store around the corner and we met at 8:45 to head to Meiji University where we listened to Professor Nakamura lecture on Japan’s government. It was one of the most fascinating lectures I have heard in a long time. The professor was funny but also very educated. He was very real which was refreshing- I feel sometimes lectures on the topic of politics or economics can be a bit dry but he made it very fresh and relatable and I felt like my eyes were bulging out of my head I was so intrigued. I made a lot of notes and felt like a little girl with my hand up the whole time after with my numerous questions.
I thought it was interesting that elites memorize to take a test which gets them into University of Tokyo and parents who want their kids to get into the elite class start them at a young age. There is a specific program to train students to be able to pass the entrance exam into University of Tokyo which has 85% of elites. It is interesting that a lot of them don’t have to have a background to get into a ministry- I am curious if this is better or worse, in my opinion we need people that have background education and experience in the department that they are entering. It takes a lot of training to get individuals to the level they need to have to be able to run a ministry or get into top positions and it would be beneficial if these individuals had experience and education in the area prior to increase the productivity.
I also thought it was very interesting that the government protects companies- they increase tariffs to protect Japanese companies from foreign companies. For example, they ensure they purchase most of their rice from Japan and only import a small amount from California but with over 700% tax to prevent California rice from becoming more popular and decreasing the rice market in Japan.
Corruption was another area that I was very interested in- I’m very curious how the corruption differs here than in the states. I feel because the systems are different there must be similar but different loopholes. In the states lobbyist can take candidates or representatives to dinners or games or other events to bribe them since bribes can only be a certain amount now. I am curious if there are similar laws to prevent bribes and if so if there are similar loopholes.
I learned a lot during the lecture and probably had more questions when I left than when I entered, but hey that is what a good lecture does. After the lecture, we went to lunch in another building at the cafeteria of a school which was very affordable – I got ramen. It was a good bang for the buck- a lot of food and very filling. We went to a tower after that to get a view of the city and Mt. Fuji and then we went to Shibuya where we explored the area for an hour. There were a ton of shops and restaurants. I got a green tea boba drink and walked around the area with Noah, Miyo and Javier. The diversity of people, clothing, and types of shops was fascinating. I think the most interesting thing about Tokyo is the different levels. Each floor has different stores/restaurants and you have to look up down and pretty much all around to ensure you don’t miss a sign as you may have to climb up or down stairs to get to a shop which is different than in the states.
We went back to the hotel after exploring Shibuya and relaxed before a meeting at 7 with one of Ahmed’s friends who lives here. He told us about foreigners in Japan. It sounds like they have their own society and it is very hard to fully immerse yourself which is unfortunate. It was interesting hearing his stories from college to work to now with his kids. I don’t know if I would be able to let my kids deal with the discrimination- being made fun of because your parents are foreign would not be how I want my kids to be treated. As much as I love it here, I think the language barrier and the lack of full immersion is definitely a big drawback. One of my friends who is half japanese had told me similar stories about herself and her friends who tried to move back to Japan but weren’t welcomed fully because they were only partially japanese. She said it was hard being rejected by her own culture and said it’s even harder for those who have no japanese blood. I think Japan has a great reputation for tourism and foreigners but after speaking to a few people during this trip I am having different opinions- tourism and citizens are treated very differently. It was a very interesting conversation.
We went to a sushi restaurant nearby for dinner – it had the conveyer belt and the sushi comes around the room. If they didn’t have something you wanted on the belt the chefs in the middle would make it for you- it was fantastic. Each plate color was a different price so you could easily keep track of your spendings but also could see the options and try new things if you wanted. It was a great experience- and TEA WAS FREE. I love it here, amazing culture and food and I have learned so many things within such a short time.
Wed June 20
Today I got pot stickers for breakfast at the supermarket since we had an early meet up at 8:45. We visited JICA first which is Japan’s foreign aid to Southeast Asia. Mr. Tetsuji was very knowledgable and explained their programs and operations. They have three schemes; technical cooperation, ODA loans, and grant aid. We went through different examples of each and specifically went through the ASEAN connectivity which had three areas of focus; physical, institutional and people to people. JICA works on building corridors for economic development such as building bridges or ports to make trade easier. They also work institutionally by expanding business opportunities for the private sector which boosts the Southeast Asian economies as a whole. Lastly, they work on people to people which is developing human resources and establishing networking amoung ASEAN and with Japan. They have universities that assist with this as well.
I think the area that was most interesting to me was the sustainability projects. It seems while infrastructure is definitely a majority of the work, they also do a decent amount of tourism/eco-tourism/agrotourism projects to promote economic development in these countries. They also worked on a lot of energy projects and promoted renewables in the majority of the cases that were easily accessible online and in the pamphlet. I love to see that these developmental projects are aimed for long term and sustainable- this is the start but I think it needs to become a major focus. The EIR and feasibility evaluations are so important for developing and if these are conducted prior to project initiations, we could see a more sustainable future and these “developing countries” will be the ones leading the revolution towards how sustainability looks since they will be the ones paving the way on how it looks. It was really interesting to hear about how Japan aids other countries-they target mostly SE asia which is strategic in my opinion because they can dedicate more resources to a smaller region and these countries are also geographically logical because they are easy to get to and have a stronger relationship with Japan due to trade.
From JICA we went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to speak with the Chief of International Exchange and Cooperation. I was super excited for this meeting because I assumed we would hear more about his job specifically and what it entails but it was a very broad and generic meeting about the structure of the ministries and a general overview of what the whole Ministry does. It was a bit repetitive to the second day’s lecture unfortunately. I felt this was a bit of a disappointment.. I learned a bit more about local autonomy and the way the central and local government work but I was disappointed we went to speak with the Chief of International Exchange and Cooperation and we heard little about international exchange at all.
From there we had free time so we went back to Harajuku and Javier and I found a ‘dollar store’ equivalent. Everything was 100 yen unless marked. We found a ton of candy and other things we wanted there. We walked down the main street and walked into some cool japanese stores, thrift stores, and got crepes- I got a matcha one which was fantastic.
At 5, I was ready to head back and relax for a bit. While I dont feel we are doing too much, I think it is still exhausting me somehow.
Thursday June 21
Today we woke up early to have a group meeting before going to the Ministry of Foreign Policy where we met with Mr. Masayuki KAMEDA, Deputy Director,Policy Coordination Division Foreign Policy Bureau on Japan’s contemporary Foreign Policy. I learned a lot about the international side of Japan. I learned one of the big reasons Japan is so big on promoting internationalism is because a large percentage of their products including produce is imported since they don’t have a lot on the island. 60% of their food alone is transported in. I now understand more why they are such a peace country. They rely on these other countries for food and products and if there are tensions they can easily be cut off of their basic necessities. This meeting gave me a whole new light on their relationship with the international world. Mr. Masayuki said something that really stuck out- the only country who can really defend and provide for Japan to the extent it needs is the US which is why they are trying to keep their relationship strong even with the political systems changing. The japanese population is split on their opinions of the US gov but they don’t understand the degree that they rely on the US. This meeting was very informative. I also learned that the number of natural disasters in Japan has increased due to climate change so Japan is working to combat and decrease their pollution to decrease the severity of natural disasters.
After the meeting we grabbed lunch on the way to our second meeting we had with Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) which promotes international visitors working for the Japanese government in different manners. A lot work in schools or translations in government buildings.
Saturday June 23
Today was a very heavy day. Probably the most impactful day of the whole trip as it brought a very historical day to life. We started with going to the memorial site for the Hiroshima A-bomb during world war two. We saw the remnants of the old building and seeing it in real life was so much more impactful than the pictures. For me, bringing history to life has such a strong emotional sense- it makes the past more tangible and understandable. It’s less a book and more a reality. We walked around the building then went to the peace statue which had a krane on it for peace. We went to the memorial that had a water reflection and fire as well and then walked around the museum which had a lot of regions and names of people impacted by the day. This first part was a soft start to a very emotional and traumatic event.
After spending some time individually wandering around we all went to the museum together accompanied by Nile’s mom and her friend. Her friend had an interesting connection to Hiroshima- her father’s first wife died due to the bomb and her robe is now in the museum. She believes that in some manner she encompasses her father’s first wife or has some sort of connection to her because a little over a year and a half later, she was born (to her father’s second wife). We walked around the museum and learned more about the history, backstory, and events of the day of. We learned about the impacts the bomb had on the individuals, agriculture, animals, and region. We learned about the aftermaths and the death toll. It was terrible to see the photos of the destructions and the people suffering. For me the most touching section was the personal stories. There were a lot of items that were personal belongings of individuals who died due to the bomb and their stories/events of the day were told on a card in front of their item. The item that stuck out the most was a tricycle. A little boy was riding his tricycle around the street when the bomb exploded and he died on the tricycle. The tricycle is very dark and stained by the bomb and you can only imagine what human remnants are still imprinted on the bike.. I thought about the little boy riding, having a happy day and no cares and then after there being no laughter but fear and tears and the smell of death all around. I can only imagine what it would be like to see everything you know burn down or destroyed and those you care about injured or killed..
After the museum we grabbed a quick lunch and then went to a cafe where we met with a survivor of Hiroshima. For me, this was the most impactful part of the day. In the US we learn a lot about World War II but there is a heavy weight on the holocaust and not the bombings. Its very briefly brushed over. To sit for an hour and a half and hear this man’s story was overwhelmingly painful to hear, you could feel your heart break with his emotions and words. He was 15 at the time when it happened and working in a factory developing weapons for the war when the blast went off. He and his friend were both burned on one side of their bodies. He spent the whole day trying to find safety and had to go through an unbelievable number of adversity, not only for a kid, but for a person and all in one day. The bomb went off, he forgot a bit as he was unconscious, his factory regathered and was sent home as they didn’t know what was happening, then he set forth on a long journey for the day trying to survive. He continued to run into large fires or obstacles. He saw dead bodies everywhere, buildings destroyed, fires all around. As a 15 year old who was also injured I can’t even imagine what he felt. The shock must have hit him as he was very determined and committed to find shelter. He watched a friend die in front of him and he said he will never forget his face. I can’t imagine having a tragedy occur at such a young age and have the memories haunting you for years after. This man went through hell and back and survived thanks to his sister and his mindset to get better. He is so brave to share his story and open up to the public about his personal experience. For the rest of the day I was very emotionally strained. I couldn’t piece together my emotions, and I still can’t.
I really was so appreciative that this man took the time and energy and strength to share his story to us and pass on the memories. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to bring up a horrific incident time after time but he was very strong and forthcoming and I feel his story is going to positively change the world.
We went to a look out tower after speaking with him and saw the whole area, then went to dinner at a local restaurant that served these “japanese pancakes” which was noodles, cabbage, egg, and this special sauce. It was AMAZING- by far one of my favorite sauces of all time.
It was a very long and emotional day but very rewarding and educational. I think today was the most impactful to me because the power of a story.
Sunday June 24
Today Miyo, Javi, Noah and I went to Miyajimacho where we went to a water shrine called Itsuku-shima. It was amazing. We got to see it both dry and in the water throughout our day there. The island is very pretty and green. We explored the shops, restaurants, tried the oysters, ate lunch at a great restaurant where you took your shoes off and sat on the floor and walked around different shrines and temples on the island. We spent the whole day (6 hours) there and had an incredible time.
Monday June 25
Today we woke up early and went to Hiroshima University which was about an hour out of the city. We met with Professor Shinsuke Tomotsugu who spoke about Hiroshima in more detail. I was really looking forward to this meeting but it turned out to not be as informative as I expected. One thing he reiterated which I find very interesting is there is no or very little blame on the US for the bombing. They realize their errors in the past and use the events of that day as a way to move forward in a positive manner. I think that is very mature and smart on their part. They learned that as a pivot point and are now a peace promoting country. I think from his lecture that was the most important thing I got. I had a few questions for him and so did others but he wasn’t able to fully address our questions which was a bit unfortunate as I was very interested in learning from an academic standpoint these responses. I am still very curious of the full impact Hiroshima had on the population. In his presentation he spoke about the impacts and how there were short term and long term impacts on the individuals who were there during the bombing but in the statistics, they only count the number of deaths as August through December which I think is interesting.
You’d think with all the studies showing the victims who survived had high rates of cancer there would be a death toll of the long term impacts to show the negative results of an atomic bomb but there are no such studies or numbers as of now. I think that would be a very important analysis to attempt to prevent future war with atomics. There are also people that probably were able to survive more than 4 months and died shortly thereafter. I think the number should have been within a year because with burn victims, there are a lot of cases of short term survival more than 6 months and some even more than a year though I think they could have done a year at minimum instead of 4 months. I’m curious what made them cut off the death toll at the end of December and why they didn’t count it as at least a year or longer. There is no data that I could find online after the meeting but I am going to keep investigating this area as it is very interesting to me.
I’m also curious whether is is all types of cancer or if there are links to specific cancer. There are a lot of studies that show being exposed to radiation leads to cancer but I have never heard about any specific cancers that are caused by radiation and the intensity of radiation these individuals experienced was so high I’m wondering what caused the delayed effect in some or faster effect on others. I wonder if there are any other health impacts other than cancer that arose in those long term impacts. Cancer is obviously the biggest but are there any issues with organ functions or the senses or mental health (aside from the obvious ones that arise from a traumatic event).
While today’s meeting wasn’t as impactful as I would have liked, I did have a lot more questions which got me investigating more which in the end is still very beneficial.