Day 3: History and Culture

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We started the day with an early visit to the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine on the Southern outskirts of Kyoto.  This shrine is famous for the thousands of red gates that line the path up to the summit of Mount Inari.  Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to make the entire trek to the top, but it definitely gives me a valid excuse to come back to Japan (as if I didn’t already have enough).

Words are a poor way to explain the beauty of this place (and I’m also pretty exhausted tonight), so here are some pictures of the parts of the trail I traveled.

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After our visit to Fushimi Inari, we packed up on the bus and traveled to the northern end of Kyoto.  Nestled at the base of Mount Hiei sits the campus of Kyoto Seika University, known for its concentration on the creative arts.  There, we were met by humanities professor Rebecca Jennison.

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She introduced us to some of the students of the university with whom we briefly exchanged interests and questions.  Our group was met by Natsuki Jiku, a foreign exchange student from China who is studying animation at the university.  She’s a big anime fan and instantly clicked with our group.  She’s a big fan of Love Live and is even part of the university’s school idol club!

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Natsuki is on the far right.

After we talked to the university students, Ken Rodgers, head of the International Education Office, gave a brief presentation about the history of the university and Kyoto itself.  The university was established in the 1960s, during a time of civil unrest among the nation’s students.  While protests were being held in Tokyo, the students in Kyoto instead established a new teaching system that would eventually become the university as it is today.  Their philosophy was to focus on international exchange and education, developing students’ interests and skills from the ground up, and keeping classes small to allow for more teacher/student interaction.

The university has many programs that deal with the creative media.  Some of the most popular and well-known ones are the manga and animation programs.  Many of the students graduate to become part of big-name anime studios, including local studio Kyoto Animation (KyoAni).

After his lecture, Prof. Rodgers gave us a quick tour of the campus.  The buildings were all designed by alumni architecture students and teachers.  Once again, it’s hard to explain the sight of these works of art, so I’ll use pictures to hopefully show you just how skillful and awe-inspiring this campus visit was to me.  All pictures are collections of student and alumni-produced works (yes, even the buildings!).

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Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting the Kyoto Manga Museum and then heading to Shiga Prefecture, where we’ll be staying in a traditional Japanese inn!  I heard that there’s a good chance there will be snow!  It’ll be my first time touching actual snow, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.  I hope you will as well!

Day 2: All About Anime

Today was a very exciting day!  We started off by visiting the famous Ghibli Museum, seen above, in Mitaka Forest.  Unfortunately, taking pictures inside the museum was prohibited, but we could take pictures of the outside.  The architecture and design of the whole place was very surreal.  The inside would bring the inner child of any Ghibli fan out.  There were corridors and secret stairwells that made you want to explore every nook and cranny of the building.  They were also showing Ghibli short films that you can only view at this museum.

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Ryusuke Hikawa, adjunct lecturer at Meiji University Graduate School and anime critic & writer

After visiting the Ghibli Museum, we traveled to Tokyo Tower.  There, we entered one of the buildings nearby where we received a lecture about anime and its impact on Japanese pop culture.  The lecturer, Ryusuke Hikawa, is a graduate of the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an adjunct lecturer at the Meiji University Graduate School.  He is an anime critic and writer who served as the judge for many anime/media-related awards like the Mainichi Film Awards, Tokyo Anime Award Festival, and Japan Media Arts Festival.

His lecture covered what he considered the four turning points in anime: Space Battleship Yamato, Evangelion/Ghost in the Shell, Spirited Away, and Your Name.  He started by talking about the history of television in Japan, and its role of shaping the youth after World War II.  Up until the 1970s, most animation was targeted toward very young children with shows like Astro Boy.  Those raised on these cartoons were dubbed “TV Children” by the Japanese, as they were growing up in an age when TV was more readily available in the home.

These children would soon grow into teenagers, and the stories of the programming they watched grew with them.  This resulted in titles like Space Battleship Yamato, Gundam, Evangelion, and Ghost in the Shell.  Instead of being character-based stories, these series took on more serious tones, explored deeper and philosophical themes, and pretty much reflected the collective mindset of the generation of directors and sociopolitical and economical views the Japanese had of their country.

Hayao Miyazaki took the good points of both the early character-based series and the deeper themes of the following years of anime, and he created his own brand of anime storytelling.  Through Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s films carry an appeal for multiple generations.  His films appeal to the child in everyone, while the frequent female protagonists and themes of self discovery and philosophy appeal to the youth.  The maturation of the characters over the course of the film appeals to the older generation, as he communicates his own personal feelings as a grandparent through his film.

However, most of these series were all for a generation that grew up in the analog age.  It would be directors like Makoto Shinkai that shape the future of anime.  Makoto Shinkai, unlike his predecessors, developed his anime in the digital age, which blurred the line between professional and amateur animators.  Shinkai’s works like the recent smash hit Your Name (Kimi no Nawa), were all independently directed and produced by him and his small team veteran animators and writers.

After the lecture, we headed to Kyoto via the Shinkansen.  We were lucky enough to be booked on the Nozomi, the fastest and most expensive of the Shinkansen lines.

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The Nozomi Line, the Shinkansen’s fastest route.

We were even able to catch a view of Mount Fuji!

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In Kyoto, some friends and I decided to go exploring the back streets and alleyways during our free time.  We found a Book-Off where I scored some sweet kuji prizes!

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Now I’m back here at the Kyoto Hearton Hotel.  Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine, as well as the Kyoto Seika University, home of the Manga Masters Degree Program.

Day 1: Foreign Affairs and Fine Dining

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Our guide to surviving the coming week.

Today was the first full day of the Kakehashi Project.  After a harrowing 15-hour journey, with little to no sleep, it was amazing that I could even function today.  Well, OK, maybe not that amazing, since there was just so much to see and learn.

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Just a little of our large, 25-person group.  We’re from all over the United States and Canada.  Lots of new friends!  Breakfast was amazing.
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Japan’s National Diet on our way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

For the first half of our day, we were brought to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  There, we were briefed on what the Kakehashi Project is, as well as how we should conduct ourselves while staying in Japan.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures while inside the Ministry.

After the briefing, Hideaki Yamaji, senior coordinator for the North American Affairs Division, talked about the political history of Japan, from the end of World War II to the present day.  He explained the immediate post-war political climate of Japan in detail and explained how past events shaped Japan’s current political and foreign policies.

In summary, the Kakehashi Project is a part of Japan’s peace-promoting foreign policy, designed to build friendships between North America and Japan.  During our stay, we were asked to look closely and find the beauty of Japan and its culture.  We’ll be making a presentation of our findings at the end of the Project, as well as through our social media networks.

After the presentation and briefing, we were taken to Oto Oto, a restaurant in the Toranomon Business District, for lunch.

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Karaage chicken for lunch.  I’ve never had fried chicken like this.  It was crisp and light, yet filling.

After lunch, we were taken to Asakusa Temple, home of the famous Kaminari (Thunder) Gate.  There, we got a chance to explore and shop around.  I’ve always seen pictures of the famous giant lantern, but actually seeing it in person was amazing.  The entire temple was very beautiful to look at, and there were a lot of people visiting, offering prayers and wishes.

 

After exploring the temple area, my roommate, Cody, and I went off to explore the Asakusa shopping district.  There we saw numerous curio shops, clothing stores, and other stalls selling food and knickknacks.

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These shopping districts are like portals to different worlds!
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There was an owl cafe! I really wish I had more time, so I could have gone inside, but this little guy allowed me a picture of his good side.
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Don Quijote! This multi-leveled store is a far cry more than the ones we have in Hawaii!
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“Here in Japan, there are no terrorists, no Trump, no rifle … and no money (the economy has taken a downturn), but everyone here is happy, and that’s what makes this place so great”        ~Random Japanese Man, 2018

While at Asakusa, my roommate and I were approached by this gentleman (name withheld for his privacy), who asked us where were were from.  When we said we were from the U.S., he was very happy, since he used to study English in the U.S. after he retired from the Japanese Naval Forces.  He told us stories of his youth, and told us how he was so happy that foreigners like ourselves were interested in his home.  He likes foreigners due to his interactions with them while in the Navy, and wished us an enjoyable stay in Japan.  As I wrote earlier, the purpose of the Kakehashi Project is for us to find the beauty and good qualities of Japan, and I feel like I found all of that in this one conversation.

To end the day, we moved from Asakusa to Odaiba.  We crossed the famous Rainbow Bridge to get there.  We arrived at the Odaiba Aqua City shopping complex, where we would eat dinner at The Oven American Buffet.  I did not expect to be fed this well on a government-sponsored trip.

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So much food!

The final highlight of my day was getting to see the 1/1 scale Gundam Unicorn in person.  As a Gundam fan, I was just in awe of the sheer size and detail that went into creating the statue.  We were in Odaiba at night, so the Unicorn had transformed from its usual solid white form into its glowing red NTD form.

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I can now scratch this off the bucket list!  The Unicorn Gundam, in it’s entirety!  I was so happy I could see this!

Now I’m back here in the hotel writing this article before heading to bed.  I had thought we wouldn’t be able to do much today since the orientation took up so much time, but we got more than what I expected today, and I felt so blessed to be able to experience it!

Tomorrow, we’ll be heading out to the Ghibli Museum, then taking the Nozomi Bullet Train on the Shinkansen as we make our way to Kyoto, where we’ll be staying for a few days to experience more of the historical, as well as visit the Kyoto Seika University, home of the Manga Masters Degree program!  Look forward to it!

Off on an adventure!

While others are braving the hellish traffic to get to class on time, I’m taking a slight detour.

I’ll be in Japan until Jan. 16 on a week-long exchange called the Kakehashi Project.

This is my first time ever leaving the country, and the first time ever going to Japan. I’m extremely excited to represent Hawaii along with two others as we explore Japanese pop culture at the source.

The Otaku Intern

 

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The problem with being the usual guy behind the camera is that I don’t have many flattering pictures of myself.  Top of Koko Head.  (Picture credit to: Patrick Alvior)

What’s up everyone?  I hope you’re all having a wonderful first week of the New Year!  My name’s Lancen Crisostomo, and I’ll be joining Jason’s Otaku Ohana crew as an intern for this semester!

Just a bit about myself.  I was born and raised in Mililani, graduated from Homeschool, am 25 years old, and attending college at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu.  My major is in humanities with a concentration in creative media.

I’ve been a fan of anime and manga ever since Pokemon and Digimon aired on Saturday mornings back in the ’90s.  My otaku-related hobbies include watching anime, reading manga, playing video games online (if you play Rainbow Six: Siege on PC, hit me up!), drawing, and playing trading card games.  I’ve been a regular attendee at Kawaii Kon and other local anime events.   Perhaps some of you may have dropped by my art table once or twice over the past few years.

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I’ve been a casual artist for about 5-6 years, but I really want to get more serious about my stuff, and I feel like helping out with this blog is a good place to start.  I dislike drawing myself, even as a chibi, but as my art teacher always told me, “Draw what you don’t like if you want to get better at it.  You might actually enjoy it.”

As I stated earlier, I’ll be working with Jason as an intern for Otaku Ohana.  My goal is to help write the blog’s usual content regarding local otaku events, but also to add more types of content to give the blog more variety and to showcase the interests of the younger generation of local otaku culture.  This includes things like featuring local content creators (artists, video game streamers, etc.), reviewing anime/manga (both complete and ongoing series), and commenting on what’s going on in the anime/manga community to hopefully start conversations.  Perhaps I’ll try throwing some of my artwork up as well (gotta put myself out there somehow!).

This blog has a small following right now, and I hope that by featuring topics such as these, it’ll help bring more attention to the blog while also expanding, connecting, and strengthening the local otaku community as well.

I know that doing all of this is a lofty goal for a mere college student, but I will do my best to bring new and exciting content for readers to enjoy.  To start this semester of fun-filled otaku writing, I’ll be chronicling my experiences, starting today through Jan. 16, as I take my first-ever trip to Japan, courtesy of the Japanese government and the Kakehashi Project.  The Kakehashi Project is a program sponsored by the Japanese government, with the purpose of building and strengthening the bond between Japan and North America through the sharing of culture.  The theme for this year is Pop Culture, so I’m really excited for what’s in store.  I will try my best to stay as connected as possible, posting pictures, videos, and other things as well.  After coming back, I’ll be hitting the ground running with that new content.

I hope that my writing and articles will entertain and inform you all!  Please look forward to it!  I’m definitely looking forward to hearing what you all think!