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Where robots go....

By Adahli Trejo, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Who would have ever thought that the words robot and restaurant would be placed together in a sentence? Now, what exactly is a robot restaurant? Is it a place where robots gather around and have dinner together? Is it a place where people come to have dinner and they are served by robot waiters? I had heard much about this certain Robot Restaurant. So I made sure that during my short time in Japan, that I make my way to this famous restaurant to see what all the commotion is for myself.

The Robot Restaurant is located in Tokyo, in the Shinjuku district. Shinjuku is filled with lights, clubs, bars, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment. I think that based on the location of the restaurant, I think that the restaurant does support the culture of the local area. The culture of the area is very “neo-Tokyo,” very much of the bright lights, and “out there” culture of Japan that is popularly known around the world. The Robot Restaurant definitely encompasses this culture. 

The restaurant is filled with neon lights, blaring music, and the unexpected. All of the employees and performers that I saw working at this restaurant appeared to be Japanese so I think it is safe to say that the impact on the local society is positive because it provides many employment opportunities. The restaurant is very popular and draws large crowds of people, while simultaneously charging a high entrance fee, so I believe that the restaurant is very profitable for the people who are running it. I am unsure about the ownership of the restaurant. Since the employees are all Japanese, I think that the owners might be as well. Some positive aspects of the restaurant include how there is a lot of variety in the types of performances that are presented throughout the show. Also, the technology used is very astounding. I would say that some of the drawbacks include how small the venue is. I think that it would be much better if it were bigger. Also, the food is not the greatest, so I think that the restaurant experience could be improved by providing better food. Overall, the Robot Restaurant was an amazing and memorable experience. If you are ever in the area, I definitely recommend that you make a stop at this place!

 

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The Japanese Welcome Mat

By Tessa Andrzejczak, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

I had my first experience with international travelling last week in Japan. I went into this trip expecting everyone to hate tourists. I assumed that Japanese people resented tourists for the “trinketization” of their culture and that they would resent us, specifically the Americans. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 Everywhere that I went, there were friendly locals who were ready to help. Several times I had people offer to help me find my train or bus without me even asking for their assistance. Multiple times, people approached me and offered to take a picture for my friends and me even when we weren’t trying to get a picture.

I’ve attached a picture of a waiter that I had who walked ten blocks with my friends and me to make sure that we found the café we were looking for. Another day, my friend and I couldn’t find the trailhead for a hike we were trying to do so we asked a group of locals to help us find it. Turns out they were about to hike the same trail so they invited us to hike with them and even shared their lunch with us halfway through the hike. I attached a photo of our group eating lunch.

Literally every person I met in Japan was willing to help me and apologized dearly if they couldn’t understand me or didn’t have the answer I was looking for. Japan as a country is great but the people there are what make me want to come back again. The Japanese people’s openness and willingness to help is sure to make you feel welcome so I would definitely recommend visiting Japan.

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Universal Studios in Japan

By Miku Sato, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

At the first day of Japan, I went to the Universal Studios Japan (USJ) after 9 years.  When the train to USJ arrived at the station, I was so excited because the design of the train was Sesame Street, which created a welcoming atmosphere.  Even before I got to USJ, I felt as if I was already inside of the park.

Another thing I realized was that the number of foreigners, especially from China and South Korea, become larger compared to the number of that in 2008.  This is because USJ introduced Harry Potter Area in 2014 and was the first to introduce it in Asia.  Also, USJ invested over half of the annual sales of $45 billion in Harry Potter Area.  For Asian people who are fans of Harry Potter, it is much easier to visit the theme park instead of going to United Kingdom.  In fact, I could easily find how popular the area was because it was obviously crowded.  When I was queuing for the ride, I actually got to walk through different parts of Hogwarts reconstructed within the castle, and the experience was so realistic. I understood why so many people visit this area.

In addition, I thought USJ mounts a similar campaign to the campaign of New York City, which has steadily increased family visits in 2000s.  To attract more family visit, NYC introduced featuring mascots such as Sesame Street and The Smurfs.  Like this, there were lots of rides of popular mascots for kids, which did not exist in 2008.  I remember that USJ at that time had just rides made based on American movies and not have rides for kids.  It was a little bit boring for me of 12 years old because I had never watched American movies until then.  If I were a today’s kid, I could have enjoyed the rides in USJ very much.  

 

When I was about to leave USJ, I accidentally saw my friend from high school in USJ.  She works there as a part time job worker, and a part of her job is cleaning the park.  Since I am taking a tourism class, I thought this is a good opportunity to ask about what the most important secret of USJ is, so I asked it to her.  Thinking it over, she taught me that USJ plays supersonic waves that we human cannot hear and feel, to avoid pigeon or crow which mess a trash can up.  I looked back, and I realized that I did not see any birds in USJ through the day, like her saying.

If I was not taking the tourism class, I would have never thought about how USJ has developed and noticed the very detailed information that I got.  It was very interesting to think it from several points of view. 

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Embrace the Change

By Kelleen Haddad, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

An art museum? You’re kidding me, right? Don’t get me wrong…I love art BUT visiting one was not part of my ideal itinerary during my limited 5-day stay in Japan.  Let me back track a bit. This past week I toured around Japan with a Semester at Sea program. We visited the best spots around the Kyoto and Tokyo. On the last day, our original plan was to eat lunch on a pirate ship followed by a gondola ride. Due to unfortunate weather, we ended up going to an art museum instead – now you understand my frustration.

Well let me tell you something, this will be the last time I will complain about a “change in plans.” This art museum was my overall favorite stop in Japan. There was tons of open land with different types of art structures everywhere you turned. They were unique and creative – not your typical dot on a white canvas piece of art. In case you ever chose to visit, I will highlight my top three pieces of art.

The first is clear bubble-looking structure made as a play-place for kids. It is pretty much a McDonalds play area 2.0 version. The sign may say only for kid’s ages 6-12, but I took that as a suggestion and climbed right to the top. I recommend trying it out for ALL ages – totally worth breaking the rules.

The next piece of art is an underground life-size maze made of stone. I suggest playing hide-and-go-seek, it was quite fun. The name of the art is called, “Garden of Stars” although I wasn’t able to reach high enough to see the star, so the picture probably looks like a jumbled mess – sorry about that.

The last and my personal favorite piece of art was a 6-story building. The outside seems bland and grey, but when you walk in, the entire inside walls (again SIX STORIES HIGH) filled with stained-glass-windows. That wasn’t even the best part. As you walk up the flights of stairs, admiring the inside, you reach the top and get to look out onto the entire art museum with beautiful mountains in the background; what a sight. I purposely did not include a picture of this beautiful image as an incentive to make you want to come yourself to experience the view.

In the end, the little surprise and change of plans turned into one of the best trips of my life. Embrace the change, be open to unknown adventures, and seize the day. 

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Riding the Rails, Japanese Style

By Christopher Goering, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

One of the most interesting aspects of Japan that I found while traveling around the country was their extensive rail system.  This contradicts sharply from the car dependent culture and specifically congested freeways of my home in Southern California. While in Japan I found that I could get everywhere I wanted to by using the train systems, whether traveling short distances between Shibuya and Harajuku, or across the country from Kobe to Tokyo.  I depended heavily on the rail system and unexpectedly never used a taxi. This is great infrastructure for tourists because it’s safe, reliable, consistent, and most importantly relatively cheap. They made it easy for those unfamiliar with traveling on trains by having English speaking information centers at every stop as well putting English translations on all the trains and stations. I was completely enthused by this speedy transportation network; being born and raised in Southern California I never even thought such a complex interacting system could be so successful let alone exist. The sustainable component of the rail system was the most meaningful to me. It kept cars off the road and connected the entire country without being dependent on fossil fuels. Also the system was safe and reliable. It always on time and you could successfully make plans around their stated times with out having to worry about delays. In addition to getting place to place quickly, it doesn’t even compare to a taxi or uber. Transporting around the city was never more than $2.50, around $4.00 between closer cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe, and more toward $100 to travel very far distances on the Shinkansen.

The rail system doesn’t only cater to tourists, it seemed like it was the main form of transportation for the Japanese, which helps the economy by adding employees and using the multiplier effect. Among the many strengths of the system I only found one weakness. The peak times were hectic but unexpectedly a fun cultural experience that I was glad to experience. Much like the freeways in the States they have a congestion time after everyone gets off work at 5:00 until around 7:30. During these peak times you are forced into the train cars tighter than a can of sardines, people literally push all the way in and you are face to face with the people around you with no room to breathe. 

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Turning Tragedy into Tourism

By Allison Karman, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Visiting world heritage sites that were created by our ancestors leaves us in awe over the human race’s ability to create these miraculous standings without convenience and assistance of modern day technology. These monuments have always been a part of human evolution whether it was one cultures aesthetics (the Acropolis, Athens, Greece), the start of a new way of government (Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA), or for its archeological purposes (Angkor, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia). But what happens when we give the prestige of a world heritage site to something that has been destroyed in an act of violence?

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is one of two world heritage sites, the other being Auschwitz, that is the result of human viciousness and destruction. On August 6th 1945, the United States dropped the first ever nuclear bomb on the town of Hiroshima. Everything within the limits of the city was destroyed, but miraculously the Genbaku Dome’s structure was still intact after only being 160 meters away from the explosion site.

 After visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome located in Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Hiroshima Japan, I couldn’t help but to wonder if the future held nothing but more opportunities for calamity to become protected. There was much debate on whether to keep the remaining structure or to tear it down for it would bring back too many harmful memories of that fatal day. Personally, I believe that the monument has the right to be a world heritage site. The bare bones of the building loom over its visitors as a reminder of what people have to capacity to do to our own kind. This monument isn’t glamorized or commercialized to tourists in the way where it loses its true meaning; to educate the public about what really happened that summer morning in the city.

But where is the line drawn? There is almost no doubt that the world is going to see more tragedy to this degree but should every bit of war, hate and violence of this magnitude be protected as a reminder? How many tragic monuments will be around when our children and our children’s children travel the world like we are doing right now? Well, right now the count is two and it can only go up from here. 

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

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Hello Kitties

Instead of a welcoming hello all I heard were meows. The Cat Café located in Tokyo is located on the second floor of a three story building. I expected to see the hello kitties located on the first floor peeping out the window and scratching at it with their paws. As much as I thought this would be a main tourist location because it's a centralized location, but I mostly noticed what seemed to look like locals.

After assuming these locations are a primary tourist attraction, I shortly realized that this was more of a place for local people to come and relax. There was no coffee or snacks to buy like I expected, instead it was just a timed fee to just play with kitties. I expected cats to be crawling all over me while I drank coffee, and I think that’s what others expected as well.

The kitties were did not have a “kittenality” like I expected. These kitties acted like they had never seen people or other kitties for that matter. Maybe the kitties are tired of being played with, and where do these cats come from? I found myself asking a lot of questions because there simply was no information give about this particular business.

 Cat Cafes are located all around Japan, being a main location for tourists to visit, at least that’s how the internet makes it seem. This business was clean as they gave us sandals to wear and sanitizer on our way out, but did they do enough for me to ever want to go to a Cat Café again? They did give treats to the kitties while I was there but that just made the kitties focus on the treats instead of me-as if this wasn’t a problem from the start. So it’s clear that the Japanese people love their kitties, but do they love their tourists?

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