Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Historical Artifacts Museum (Ari)

I ended up at the Satake Historical Museum mostly via a happy accident. Last Sunday, my flower arranging class was on a field trip to downtown Akita for a flower arranging exhibition. We all took a bus at eleven in the morning, and when we were finished at one in the afternoon, I was allowed to remain in downtown Akita and explore the city. I asked my professor for directions to the museum, but that was a challenge, since I had forgotten the name (Akita has many museums), I was feeling fairly uncertain with her directions. She assured me to simply keep walking past the lotus garden, up the hill, to Senshu Park, and it would be somewhere near the castle. I picked the second museum I found in that area and hope that I was right. 

Well, luckily, it turns out I was right. Trust your intuition, kids.
The museum was a stark contrast to the surrounding castles and shrines, with its boxed shape and concrete exterior. It had a small garden at the front, and a few memorial stone tablets and statues outside.

The memorial stone tablet. Cool, right?
The statue and museum were in dedication to Satake Yoshinobu, the man who lost to Tokugawa Ieyasu in the battle of Sekigahara and, as the loser of this battle, was forced to move to what is presently known as Akita. The museum’s artifacts were all related to Satake. (See below)

Senshu Park in itself is quite beautiful, and after I had explored the museum, I ventured through the various nature paths and shrines. It was a beautiful day to do it, and I will probably remember that day for the rest of my life. (Bonus picture: Shrine of my favorite Kami, Inari. Inari is the goddess (although she is worshipped as a man in the regions south of Tohoku) of rice, foxes, and fertility in general. Of all the Kami in Japan, she has the most shrines dedicated to her.)

Bonus picture: Shirne of my favorite kami, Inari. Inari is the goddess (although worshiped as a man in the regions south of Tohoku) of  rice, foxes, and fertility in general. Of all the kami in Japan, she has the most shrines dedicated to her.

The Sugamo Prison "Memorial" (Reid Knight)

Given the option between 3 clues for locations within Tokyo, I chose to hunt for the memorial stone for Sugamo Prison. I did so because I’ve always had an interest in how crime and justice are defined in different societies; I even took a class titled “Letters from Prison” as my First-Year Initiative course. Upon a preliminary Google search, I found out that I already knew the general location of the memorial. In fact, the former location of the prison was a building I had already been to multiple times: Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro, a skyscraper which houses a mall complex on the first few floors (including the Mega Tokyo Pokémon Center, the primary reason why I can’t stop going back).
A view of Sunshine 60 from where the Sugamo Prison memorial is located. Where is that exactly? Read on to find out... 
However, even though I had been to this area more than any other besides where my dorm is, I had not recalled seeing anything resembling a memorial before. Finding the exact location of the memorial required a bit more research, and along the way I gained some more knowledge about Sugamo Prison. The prison gained notoriety in World War II, and the inmates included Japanese people who broke the “Peace Preservation Laws”, set during this period to suppress political dissent. The prison was also used to incarcerate people believed to be spies for the Allied Forces. After Japan became occupied by the United States, the prison was taken over by the Allies and used to house Japanese war criminals, some of whom were executed on the prison grounds. Shortly after the end of World War II, the prison ceased its functions and was torn down.

At the end of the summary I read on Sugamo Prison’s history was one sentence about the memorial stone: that it says “Pray for Eternal Peace” on it in Japanese. Looking up that phrase as a keyword, I found a blog post that said the stone was located in a park. I took the easy 20-minute train from Shiki Station to Ikebukuro, walked about 10 more minutes to the Sunshine 60 building, and then tried looking for parks around the building. Sure enough, a couple of minutes’ walk past Sunshine 60 was a park.

What seemed to be the centerpiece of the park: an elaborate rock waterfall contraption. Notably absent is the Sugamo Prison Memorial Stone.
Because of the small size of the park, it was relatively easy for me to find the stone I was looking for. However, it was noticeably “separate” from the rest of the park, in a corner surrounded by trees. I had to wonder how often anybody stopped by this place, and if they did, if they had any idea what the stone was memorializing, or if it was even a memorial at all. There was no sign indicating it was a memorial (outside of flowers and incense which may be an indirect indicator), and nothing that said Sugamo Prison on it anywhere it sight.

The Sugamo Prison Memorial. For those that want to look up the Japanese characters, it says 永久平和を願って.
Through my time studying Japanese, I have gotten to take courses on Japan and World War II, and the memorial for Sugamo Prison aligns with what I have learned: that Japanese discourse regarding the war has a tendency to gloss over certain factors regarding their culpability for war atrocities, and instead focus on themes such as preserving peace now rather than addressing past destruction. In this way, I wasn’t surprised by the fact that the Sugamo Prison Memorial didn’t seem to “memorialize” anything about the prison. However, I was interested in finding out more about the prison through this memorial, so it was a bit disappointing to find that the structure itself offered very little knowledge. In addition, it was a little saddening to think that those that ought to be remembered through this memorial are likely not getting this recognition. What once was a prison is now just a mall and a stone, and it almost feels disrespectful to call this stone a “memorial” when it does nothing to offer insight into the lives of these prisoners.

To end this post on a somewhat happier note, here is a picture of a cat I met at the park. It seems that there are many cats that gather there, so I'll probably come back to pet them sometime.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Forgotten Memorial? (Sarah)

Mimizuka (The Mound of Ears) is a monument dedicated to the Korean soldiers killed during Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea. The noses and ears of the soldiers were taken back to Japan instead of heads as proof, and although not all the remains ended up in the monument, the concept alone is powerful enough. However, when I visited Mimizuka, I have to admit that I was initially disappointed.

When I first started researching Mimizuka I asked my host mom if she knew it, but she had never heard of it. The man working in the customer service booth at the train station also didn’t know what I was talking about, so I went with the information I could find online.

When I arrived in Shichijo, where Mimizuka is located, I kept looking around at the neighborhood trying to find something to connect it to the monument. But nothing about the neighborhood or the students wandering its streets seemed to suggest anything was different from my own neighborhood in Hirakata, except perhaps the sheer number of taxis parked with their drivers asleep in their seats. As I moved on I found a rather sizable museum, unfortunately it was closed at the time, but I felt the museum was a good sign, I must be getting closer. Only a little bit further down that same street I happened upon a temple of sorts. I’m not sure if it had a specific purpose, but there seemed to be a ceremony going on at the time that looked something like a marriage.

At this point, according to my map, Mimizuka was only just across the street. But looking down the street from the steps of the temple, I didn’t see anything that struck me as an important war memorial. I saw a playground and more sleeping cab drivers. As I made my way down that street, if I hadn’t been paying attention I could have easily passed it without noticing. I didn't seem like a historical site to me. It didn’t have enough presence. It was a rather unassuming mound nestled into the middle of a neighborhood, and most disturbing to me, right next to a children’s playground. The front gate was locked, so I couldn’t actually walk up to the mound. Instead, I stood in front of the information sign that was written in both Japanese and Korean, but got nothing much from it, so I took a few pictures and started to head back.

As I was walking back down the street, I decided that I couldn’t just leave. I hadn’t learned anymore about the site than I could learn by looking at a picture online. I decided I needed to ask someone, but I wasn’t going to wake up one of the sleeping cab drivers, so I decided to go back to the temple and ask a man I had seen earlier manning a booth off to the side. I asked him what he thought of Mimizuka being there and what the general attitude towards it was in the area, but much to my frustration I couldn’t understand much of what he said. At the same time, customers were gathering at the booth and I was getting the increasing feeling that he was uncomfortable talking about this, so not feeling the need to drag the matter out any longer, I decided to try someone else. I had seen a nice looking snack shop on my way from the station. Since I planned to buy some snacks to bring back to my host family anyways I figured I could ask the storeowner.

As I approached the shop, at first I thought the owner wasn’t there, I only saw two elderly women sitting on a sofa off to the side. It turned out they ran the shop together, and as I asked what snack was most popular with kids, I tried to think of how to frame my question to make the interaction more comfortable this time. I think having interacted with them as a customer before hand helped because the answer I got was much clearer this time. The woman running the cash register was mainly the one who talked with me, but she was a bit hard of hearing so the other woman would help occasionally by repeating what I said if she didn’t hear it. 

What she told me was that people these days don’t pay much attention to it anymore like the older generations used to. But even if the locals and Japanese in general don’t pay much attention to it, Koreans will still sometimes come to pay their respects. So whether it be that more recent generations have less direct experience and connections to war or something else, it seems like, in the area, Mimizuka isn’t very present. That might explain it’s lack of grandeur and why it seems to be rather arbitrarily and unceremoniously placed next to a playground in the middle of the neighborhood.

After our conversation was over and I thanked them for their help and headed over to McDonalds to contemplate war over some ice cream before heading back home.


My Limited Knowledge of the Area (Eliza)

Day 2

Even after being here for almost three weeks I still hardly know the area at all.  My map from the end of the second week is pretty much the same as if I were to draw another one today.  While I can find my way in any city as long as I have an actual map, it always takes me a long time to remember a new area.  My first map has hardly anything on it but I’m surprised I could even do that much.  (second day picture) The difference between my first two maps and my third one is the addition of my new accommodations.  Even though I have walked around quite a few times since moving into my homestay, my mental map of the area hardly has any details at all.  (second week picture)  I haven’t mastered any area of the city yet and it will be a while before I do.  The longer I am here the clearer and more detailed my map will get, but it will be a slow process.  Even when I leave Japan it is unlikely that I will know the whole city, still this will be a great chance to improve my mental mapping skills.
Week Two

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Expanding Maps (Sarah)

My first map.
Looking back at my first map, it looks so simple. My current mental map expands far beyond it’s edges and many of the white spaces, I could now fill in with finer details that I have discovered over time. During those first few days I remember clinging to the one path I knew that took me from the seminar house to the university and back again. At the time, mastering the twists and turns of only that on path was more than enough of a challenge with all the small side streets that looked practically identical and seemed to wind on forever in all directions.

Unknown areas marked as  masses of houses.
As the days went on I began mastering my little area, but as I became more comfortable with my navigation I noticed a separate subtly increasing discomfort. I could reach out my hand and touch a passing car, I could touch my neighbor’s house from my window, walls made clear boundaries between tightly nestled houses, what looked like one-way roads somehow fit cars going both ways, and the list goes on. I had heard the term ‘densely packed population’ before but I had never really understood what that meant for daily life, and subtly as time went on I began to feel frustrated without knowing why. But one day as I was walking around Hiriakata City and stumbled upon a park, I realized what I was missing, open space! Even the park itself was nestled inside the buildings of Hirakata City. It was just a concept of space I wasn’t used to.

Over time I got used to it, and felt more comfortable being contained and fitted into the limited space of my environment. The narrow streets made space for me and the crowded buses somehow managed accommodated my presence, and as I continued to explore the dense maze that made up my new home I learned to look at it all differently. The side streets that continued forever didn’t just wind of into oblivion, they went somewhere and if every once in a while, when I had a little time to get lost, I took a peek down one of them, more often than not I would stumble upon something interesting that would expand my map just a little bit more.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mind Map of My lovely Neighbourhood (Ruobing)

Opening ceremony at Kansai Gaidai.
To be honest, I become lazy and want to quit school when the day is sunny in Hirakata. Please do not judge me before I explain it. Actually, my laziness is reasonable. Firstly, it takes me around 30 minutes to walk to campus, and secondly, I will sweat too much after this kind of morning exercise to have a good day. Thus, I learned two things from these two weeks that I should never trust the weather broadcast but only look out of my window to visually predict the temperature, moreover, the sunshine is actually reminding me of thinking carefully about which path should I choose for going to campus.

My map.
At the first two days (the pink line in my map), I followed the big road which is passing the central library. Then, I found out that I can rarely find any shadow in the morning along this road because it has lots of flat space. After two days, I almost killed by the big sun so that I explore the other road (the orange line). 

My lovely neighbourhood.
It is a small path across the neighbourhood, and the bushes and short trees along this small road which are using as the fence between each house provide me lots of shadow. This shortcut is end at a corner with a shrine. Also, there are so many old people live in this area and we always greeting with each other in the morning. 
Rainy scene from the bus window.
Moreover, I explore the area around the campus and I found several conbini store and fast Japanese food restaurant. At the first weekend of September, I went to Nagoya to visit my friends, this led me to explore the way to travel further in Japan. I ate a lot (see below) and had a lot of fun.

It is easy for me to consider myself as a part of this environment. For example, every time when I obey the traffic rule, the moment I pay in the conbini store, or the struggle that I have when I try to throw my trash. This neighbourhood is so lovely that I have to behave as well as I can to treat it back.

Kansai Gaidai at sunset.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Branching Out (Sasha)

My first map is probably a bit too detailed for a mind map, but at the time, I wanted to get an idea of the whole campus, and how everything fit together. Plus, we were given a lot of free time during orientation week, so I had many chances to take to a walk.

My first map 8/25
When we first got on campus, we had an event called Campus Orienteering, which was a stamp rally that made us go around to all the different buildings. One of the destinations was the ATM in between B and C building, which served as a landmark for me at the beginning. It doesn’t take international cards though, so I can’t actually use it. There are multiple ways of reaching a destination though, and doing the orienteering only revealed one possible route. After my own orienteering session ended, I wandered around campus (and snuck in with other orienteering groups) and explored some more.

I was so happy to find out that the buildings are all basically connected, although it does require a bit more weaving around than just going outside. Theoretically, since I live in Komachi Hall, I can walk to any building without having to go outside once. I am enjoying the coolness for now though.

Looking at my first map, my world was limited to the campus. AIU campus seems pretty small, and I get the feeling that there is a lot beyond it. I am interested in taking a walk on some the unknown paths, some of which go into the woods. There is something that concerns me though:

"Caution: Bears"
Yeah… I haven’t heard any bear stories, but I am wary.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been branching out slowly and steadily. The bus stop is mentioned in my first map, but I was more focused on my immediate surroundings at the time. At the two week mark, despite the fairly small area I’ve covered, I have been trying new things right and left. I have joined two sports clubs: tennis and badmitton; I have braved Aeon Mall multiple times (a very big feat for me); and at Café de Coco, I tried coffee for the first time in my life (and have resolved not to drink it again).
Caption: Café de Coco: We thought it was a walk-in café, but it was more of a sit-down restaurant. The coffee was good, but not to my taste.

Café de Coco: We thought it was a walk-in café, but it was more of a sit-down restaurant. The coffee was good, but not to my taste.

I still feel small compared to the world around me, but I also feel like I have grown substantially. I have yet to go to downtown Akita, but that’s next on the list.