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.