This semester, I’m taking a class at TUJ called Youth and Deviant Subcultures. It’s an interesting class all about different youth subcultures in Japan, such as the kawaii culture, yakuza, hip-hop, jazz, and so on. Last weekend our professor organized a class trip for us to go to Yokohama because there was a jazz festival happening. I thought we were just going to watch different jazz bands perform, but it turned into a huge walking tour, and we got to see a ton of places. I learned so much from the trip!
Yokohama is a different prefecture from Tokyo, but it isn’t that far by train. It’s about an hour to an hour and a half away from where I live. After meeting up with our group, we went to an Octoberfest that was going on and had some jazz bands playing. It was a giant outdoor festival, very crowded and exciting. After spending some time there, we walked to a customs museum and briefly looked through the items there. The customs museum is where things that the Japanese customs people have taken from people trying to bring something to Japan that they aren’t allowed to bring. I saw a giant clam there that was about the size of a microwave. I was so confused as to why someone would want to bring this giant clam with them to Japan, but there were many, many strange things there.
After that we walked to a giant pier. Yokohama is a port town that used to have a large US military base, so a lot of things there are in English. Usually, there aren’t ships at this pier, as my professor told us, but on the day we went there were two giant Japanese battleships parked there. My professor said that the Japanese military was trying to get people to rally behind Japanese military, because of the island dispute with China. It was a strange sight to see the ships there, but we got to go inside them and look all around. They were quite impressive.
Then we went over to Chinatown. If I remember correctly, Yokohama has the largest Chinatown in Japan. It was really cool, full of restaurants, bubble tea, and narrow alleys with lanterns hanging throughout them. We got to look around a bit before meeting with the group again and heading on our way. We walked through a very fancy part of Yokohama, as a lot of Yokohama is. There was a very European looking street lined with high-end European shops. There weren’t any American stores though. My professor said this was because the area we were in was an area were many Europeans lived. We made a sudden turn off the street and hiked up a giant hill through a neighborhood and back into some woods. I was very confused, but then we came upon a clearing with a dojo-looking building with three walls at one end, a long green meadow, and targets at the other end. It turned out to be a traditional archery club. We silently watched a man practicing his archery for a bit. The bow was bigger than any I’ve seen. It looked about 8 feet tall, and very difficult to handle. But he was very well-practicied. Our professor said anyone could come take beginner lessons at this club, as well.
We continued our tour to an immigrant worker neighborhood- a very poor neighborhood that was run by yakuza (the Japanese mafia). Our professor led us through the neighborhood and took us outside some of the Yakuza groups’ headquarters. It was very interesting, but I think everyone was a little nervous. We didn’t stay too long, and then we went to a Korean restaurant for dinner. It was a very diverse day.
On our way back to the station, we walked by a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar, and our professor stopped to see if there was a jazz band playing there. There wasn’t, but the people who ran the bar told us to come stay, because there were a few Japanese actors that were about to perform a short scene in the back of the tiny bar. We went in to watch, and to our surprise we got to watch some pretty famous Japanese yakuza movie actors. Afterwords, they came over to us just to thank us for watching. They were very grateful that foreigners wanted to watch them, and we took lots of pictures with them. It was a very exciting unplanned part of our tour!