Ganbare Nippon

So, yesterday was a travel day: a bus tour, to be exact. Waseda has planned out, basically, these first two weeks for us. Orientation after orientation, then group meetings around the city to get cell phones, monthly train passes, and whatever. And then, some day trips. We have yet to have our day trip to a well known shrine known as the Kamakura, but yesterday’s trip was all about the tourist bus show.

We started out from the Tokyo station, which is a well known station that is, if I remember correctly, close in proximity to the Imperial palace. The Resident Director of our Oregon program told me that the station used to have a special entrance that could only be used by the emperor. However, I’m assuming that this was only for the purposes of looking at the fine construction work of the proletariat, NOT to actually ride the train: Love what you’re doing there, but don’t wanna be a part of it.

Our bus tour was a guided tour, and our guide spoke English, though a bit rough. He was pretty knowledgeable about Tokyo, though, and he seemed good-natured, and was very funny. He was, of course, full of information, much of which I thought was interesting. And yet, many on the bus were exhibiting the sort of stereotypical behavior of Americans. You know, every American wants to think that they’re a little more culturally adapted, or knowledgeable about customs, or whatever — especially the kids who’ve been here before — and yet they’re still loud, and still talking over the guide, and don’t pay attention. I don’t know, even if you’re not interested maybe shut the fuck up for a few seconds while the guy speaks, at least. The program directors at Waseda are probably used to this sort of behavior, especially since most of the kids they deal with are not even of legal drinking age in America, but that’s what’s even more embarassing about the whole thing. I guess I’m a big ol’ fucking grinch. With a few exceptions, I can’t wait till these people are merely acquaintances around campus.

I decided to restrain my rant, even though it could’ve been a bit harsher. But hey, I’ll have plenty of time to talk shit. Besides, everything else on the tour was interesting. How bout this:

These gates are usually an entrance to a shrine or a temple. This one in particular is called Meiji-Jingu. I guess the forest surrounding it is artificial: all of the trees were gifts or offerings. It’s supposed to be a very special area, but when you’ve travelled in Japan and seen so many temples and shrines you start to realize that EVERY place is special. You begin to wonder: Is this holy place just, you know, so-so, or is this the one? There’s definitely a law of diminishing returns on this one. However, the temples are always nice to look at.

There are a few rituals one must partake in if they’re to go into the temple, like a water purification ritual. It’s very easy: take a bamboo ladle, pour water over one hand, then another, take a small sip, spit, then another pour to clean the handle for the next person. Then, you donate a ten-yen coin into a large box, bow twice, clap your hands twice, then pray, the bow your head once. I think a few students were having issue with the praying thing, maybe because they were Christian? I’m not sure. It seemed like one kid mumbled something, and reluctantly did it. It seems to be a matter of going through the motions, even for Japanese people. My mother will go through these motions, almost instinctively, but I doubt that she’s praying to the Great Buddha. Unless your a monk, I doubt that Japanese people are greatly religious. Everyone’s got a shrine to Buddha, but I’d say that the animistic element of Shintoism has more of an influence on Japanese culture and society than Buddhism.

Back to the tour. We went to the Meiji temple, then through neighborhoods like Harajuku and Shibuya, and we stopped off at the most expensive shopping district in Tokyo, called Ginza. Ginza really is an incredibly busy district where European, American and Japanese designers intersect. It’s definitely awe-inspiring in a way; almost majestic due to the height of the buildings. The main street is a pedestrian street, and there are even tables set up in the middle of the street for people to stop and take a rest at, or to drink something.

At some point we went to the grounds, or near the bridge that goes to the Imperial Palace, and saw the place where the Emperor lives. We only saw it from a distance, since there’s still a moat, but it was interesting nonetheless. I believe I have a picture or two from that.

 

 

 

Around this area were also some old Edo-period parks; like the park that was preserved from the Tokugawa Shogunate period, where Eeyasu Tokugawa maybe resided? I can’t remember. Tokyo is what it is because it became the new capital during the switchover between the Tokugawa period and the Meiji period, what’s known as the Meiji Restoration. That was the period in which Japan had destroyed certain class systems (more like caste systems), like the samurai, and began an intense period of modernization, industrialization, eschewing traditional Confucianism in favor of science and technology. This was also the time period when the great zaibatsus of Japan were established; or at least had begun the relationship between mega-corporation and government to fund industrialization projects. There were five big families, but now I’m not sure how it’s constructed.

As I’ve been writing this thing, I’ve been getting distracted with text messages and so on, and it’s been a long day. I’ll be wrapping up. However, the last place that where we stopped off at was in the middle of a rally. As some of you may have heard, there was a very large protest in Tokyo against Japan’s nuclear policy. Somewhere around 80,000 people were in some very well known park. But that’s not the protest we were at:

 

You may not be able to quite get the image, but notice all the Japanese flags? It’s a small picture, but basically we stopped off at a nationalist rally. It was on our way to the beach, in Odaiba, and our parking spot was exactly next  to the rally. Blaring over loudspeakers was some very angry sounding rhetoric. The MC, or whatever, was practically distorting the speakers. And this was not some small amplification system: it was more like a concert-hall sound. There were masses of Japanese flags, and the people who congregated in this town square near the Tokyo Bay, in a area called Odaiba, were protesting the NHK, which is the national media of Japan. According to our program director, this was a rally protesting the lack of coverage that the national media gives to native Japanese. The claim is that Koreans (and other ethnicities?) dominate the advertisements or the shows. I can’t make a great observation about it since I don’t know even an eighth of the story, but still…anytime there’s people screaming about minorities and waving a flag that’s meant to represent homogeneity, it’s somewhat intense. It was clearly anti-Korean; the group itself made no bones about that:

 

In case you can’t read it, it said: “Stop Korean Propaganda Broadcasting.” Nearby there was a guy wearing a gas mask and proudly displaying some other sign, though I’m not sure what it said. I was trying to take pictures, but I think the directors and the bus tour guide wanted to steer us away from the rally and onto the beach, and so hurried us along. You could feel a sense of embarassment when you asked someone about the rally and what it meant. Even my host family seemed reluctant, and so I didn’t pry. Fortunately, one of the program directors talked with me a little about it. Basically, the rally was organized by a group that formed after the tsunami. They are known as Ganbare Nippon. I believe they might’ve been set up as a relief organization for Fukushima, but in the process also have a highly nationalistic message and agenda. Japan’s economy is not strong, unemployment is rising, the child-birth rates are lower than any country, there’s stigmatization due to the nuclear fallout — this kind of environment has been, apparently, growing a nationalistic strain in some of the population. I had heard rumors of this before from a few of my PSU professors. It was interesting to actually see it in person. Even the music was eerie. It sounded like it was from the 1940s, which I’m betting is intentional. If I find more, I’ll be sure to report.

On a lighter note, you knew there’d be one, right?

 

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