For reasons I’ve already explained, or rather complained about, in the previous blog post, I had a pretty late start to my CIP. I felt rather unmotivated by the time I first visited my CIP site because it had not been my own choice to participate at that particular place, but more of a last minute option given that half of the semester had already gone by without me having done anything other than writing polite emails and wandering around Doshisha campus hoping that a student sadoubu would welcome me. In any case, the CIP activity I am currently involved in is volunteering at a machiya called Kamigyo History House. After the very first week, I still had my doubts for I couldn’t exactly understand the purpose of the machiya. Of course, we had learned in our Japanese class that the city of Kyoto has implemented laws for the purpose of protecting and preserving the remaining machiyas, and consequently maintaining the status of Kyoto as the ultimate touristic spot in Japan. While it was obvious that the core purpose of this particular machiya was to provide information to tourists regarding the traditional way of life and architecture of an ordinary house from back in Heian period, its location made it hard to see the practicality behind investing resources and sacrificing possible profit by preserving the machiya. Sequestered from the busier part of the city by tall mansions and combinis, this machiya is quite difficult to find, especially for tourists. I myself got lost and walked around in circle for about half an hour within a couple of blocks of the machiya until a 日本人 volunteer came to my rescue. To my surprise, however, visits from Japanese tourists – some coming all the way from Tokyo – frequented whether it was their genuine interest in machiyas or the pouring rain that drove them to stop by. Moreover, the fact that it has not been commercialized like many other touristic spots in Kyoto meant that it was run entirely by the sponsorship from the private owner of the machiya and by the volunteers, who were usually old ladies incredibly knowledgeable about Kyoto, its history and its traditions. It has been interesting to observe how so many different players come together harmoniously for the sake of preserving a piece of the past. I have come to enjoy my time spent at the machiya, whether assisting other volunteers give information to tourists or helping the director with the various lectures and events, because I believe I have been able to witness one of the core values of Kyoto, and probably of Japan – appreciating the past and learning from it, rather than solely deeming it as old fashioned.
Do you think that you would want to continue volunteering at the machiya next semester? It sounds really interesting, although as someone who only knows what we learned in class (thanks Fukai Sensei) about machiyas, I’m not sure what I would say if I were volunteering and someone asked me for help. I remember someone saying to me that they think the exchange students are learning Japanese traditions more in depth than the Japanese students (and in this case tourists). Do you ever get that feeling?
I think I will continue volunteering at the machiya. I’ve been lucky enough to get more out of it than just learning about traditional Japanese style houses. They usually have seminars or lectures on Japanese traditional hanasi or on Japanese history. Not that I understand everything, but it’s been interesting to observe how Japanese people spend their weekends going to a machiya and learning about their own history and culture! So I think I do get that feeling, how the exchange students tend to get a different taste of Japan than the Japanese students/tourists because it seems like we go out of our way to learn about certain things that ordinary Japanese would not be interested in. You should come join sometime!