Category Archives: Creative Explorations

Watabori Park

6:30 AM. My last full day in Tokyo.

My second-to-last day actually never ended, since I came home at 1 AM and proceeded to talk to my sister for 3 hours. By the time I closed skype, I could hear birds chirping outside and decided that since I had yet to take a leisurely stroll around the area at 4:30 in the morning, now was the time to do so. I stuffed my phone and keys into my pocket and slipped out the door, thinking of a nearby shrine with some benches and a vending machine. A cold can of coffee while watching the sunrise? As my hand turned the lock, I doubled back into the house for a camera and a 500 yen coin. Now I was ready to go.

Outside, the sky was already pale lavender, though the moon was still up. I turned my feet towards Omiya Hachimangu, the nearby shrine famous for helping parents (especially mothers and soon-to-be mothers) raise good, healthy children. The soundscape changed as I approached the looming torii backed by dark forest eaves. Occasionally chirping birds acquiesced to the squalling drone of cicadas and other insects. I took the path to the side of the gate, quickly enveloped by dark foliage and the insects’ sighs.

I ended up ambling past the benches, allowing my curiosity to pull me towards some stairs I had noticed the day before. They led down to a park with a pond, some ducks, and some old people getting in their morning exercises. I stopped to photograph a blue heron stalking a fish and a middle-aged man avidly flying a remote helicopter. He was silhouetted against the rising sun as his toy droned in and out of focus. I took some dirt from the path as a souvenir, funneling it into an empty “pet bottle” (Japanese-English name for plastic bottle) with my fist.

This still did not satisfy my curiosity, which told me to explore a different way out of the park. As I walked on, I saw why – I had come across a fishing spot. 500 yen for 30 minutes; 700 for 1 hour. Opens at 9 AM weekdays; 8 AM on weekends. Shaved ice is 300 yen. I now have mid-morning plans, right after the pancakes I make with the last of my food supplies.

I continue on, then double back when an elderly regular tells me the shrine (and my house) are in the opposite direction. The torii swallowed up the dregs of the cicadas as I stumblingly meandered my way out of the woods. The sun shines brightly and cars flicker past on the main street. 6:30 AM in a quiet Tokyo neighborhood, and my last day has only just begun.

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Hello from Tokyo!

Pipo-kun (prounounced "peepoh coon"), the Tokyo police mascot.

Research has been off to an eventful start! Apologies for not introducing myself sooner. As I mentioned in my project description, I’m doing anthropology research on how cute things in Japan affect public space, and, interestingly, World War II memory. A lot of researchers have already commented on the prevalence of Japanese cuteness, or “kawaisa,” in how people think about Japan from abroad (I say Japan, you say anime/Pokemon), as well as on its saturation of public space. Almost every institution – the police, the firemen, prefectural governments – have their own “cute” mascot to gain popularity and, in the last case, to appeal to potential tourists.

Lately, I’ve become interested in the Japanese “pop idol phenomenon,” which has been trending for probably a few decades now. Right now, my roommates tell me there probably isn’t a single person in Japan who doesn’t know about the latest idol group, AKB 48. There are actually 58 girls in the group, making them the largest pop band in the world. Besides singing and dancing (not particularly well), they act in dramas, are featured in fashion magazines, and otherwise promote themselves through various media.

So far so good – like any other pop band. There’s a slight tweak, though. Every time a fan buys an AKB 48 CD, they can vote for one member. Whoever ranks the highest by the time they announce the results of their “general elections” – the accumulation of those votes – gets to be front and center onstage. Those who make it into the top 10 or 20 get to actually sing the songs, be in promotional videos, be featured in magazines, etc. Which means those who don’t make it into that select group have fewer chances to gain popularity or connect with their fans. Accordingly, there is undoubtedly vicious competition between the members surging under their veneer of innocent cuteness.

AKB 48 Elections

Luckily for me, their general elections were held a few days ago, just a 20-minute walk away from where I live. I grabbed my housemate and went to snag some interviews. As the glowing, ideal representations of cuteness, I wanted to know what made them so popular, what about their cuteness appealed to people, why their fans defined as “cute,” and how this might inform my current understanding of the term, “kawaii” (which, though translated as “cute,” can also be used to describe a wide range of small, pathetic things like E.T. or even old people).

My friend K and I pass through the Edo–period wooden gate after overhearing a conversation between a ticket scalper and a high school girl. “You have a ticket?” “No …” “How much money you got?” Our feet carry us steadily away as K catches the last bit of their negotiation: “… well the bank’s still open.” We had also passed a number of desperate fans with cardboard signs asking those lucky enough to have tickets to give them theirs. For a second, I felt like I was at a football game – though the stakes here seem a tad bit higher.

Though the interviews went well, I’m still working out what exactly to make of them – if you are interested, please see my “research blog,” which will drone on ad nauseum about my various thoughts and theories about cuteness and the like. Until next time –

Creative Process in Pontlevoy, France

Hi Everyone!

My name is Genevieve Davis and I just finished my second year at U of M.  For the next few weeks, I will be in Pontlevoy, France (along with TJ) taking the same course that explores our creative abilities.  I am in the School of Kinesiology at Michigan, majoring in Movement Science, which honestly doesn’t typically involve much creative thinking.  I haven’t ever really thought of myself as a creative person, so I wanted to take this class as a kind of change of pace for me.  It doesn’t hurt that the class is in the French countryside either.

eiffel tower

Here I am at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which I visited during my travels before my class began.

Even though I don’t speak a word of French, I have really come to like France so far.   Before my class started I spent about a week in Madrid and Paris, neither of which I had been to before. I spoke enough Spanish to get around in Madrid, but Paris was a completely different story.  I didn’t realize how extremely difficult it would be to function in a place where you really don’t speak the language at all.  Fortunately, one of the girls I was traveling with spoke French so she could do the translating for me.  Since coming from Paris to Pontlevoy, I haven’t been affected as much by the language barrier.  I think that this may be because Pontlevoy is such a small town (I believe it has a population of 1,500)  and because I mostly hang around the abbey where we are housed, so I just don’t really encounter that many French-speaking people.

Well I’m off to go start our first class assignment: a stop-motion animation. I’ll keep posting about once or twice a week to keep you all posted on my trip!

France! (The Start)

Abbey of Pontlevoy

Outside the Abbey of Pontlevoy

I came to Pontlevoy with no expectations about the town or the Creative Process class.  Being a business student, I understand that this course will be a complete change of pace for me; however, I understand that if I put forth maximum effort, I will reap the benefits of an innovation course such as this.  Creativity is the combination of experiences and observing other things that have been created. These words were uttered of the mouth of Prof. Van Gent and they really resonated with me.

During our first exercise, we were required to come up with terms that we equate with creativity. One of the word that came to my head was “philosophy”.  Some of classmates might have wondered why I said this since I didn’t get a chance to explain my thought process. Basically, I have been studying to go to law school in doing so, I have come across many cases and arguments. For a successful argument and in philosophy in general, there is a certain level of creativity involved that helps solidify your points. Again, it is not that you are creating arguments out of the blue, but rather, you are taking a current problem/situation and applying previous arguments to it.  The creativity comes into play when you decide to either use the previous rationale for or against the current situation. To me, this is very interesting and I took this course to improve my thought process in relation to problems such as these.