When asked to write a blog post to reflect on my experience with the CIP and the idiosyncrasies I observed while interacting with my native Japanese peers, I was at a loss as to what I would discuss. Being restricted from regular participation in my activity due to infrequent meetings and inconvenient holiday schedules, I was not sure I could convey any perceptions with complete confidence that what I had noted was more than a one-time occurrence. Upon further consideration, however, I realize that I have gained deeper insight into the way in which Japanese people interact–insight that renders my assumptions prior to joining Sunny Bits completely false.
The task of joining a circle activity seemed incredibly daunting at first given the teinei speech patterns presented in our CIP booklet and the senpai–cohai relationships which, we were warned, must be strictly observed. After numerous emails back and forth, the club president and I finally met up and biked to the gymnasium where practice is held. While the rest of the females wore long sweat pants, I donned my embarrassingly short spandex, the common attire for female volleyball players in the United States. Immediately, people could tell that I was not from here. After being called to order, all the members made a circle and waited silently while I gave my self-introduction in Japanese. Despite the nearly tangible tension I felt while standing in that circle, this feeling quickly melted away as soon as the scrimmaging started. Neither a hierarchy in players emerged nor did any sort of gender stratification occur. While most every member of the club is highly competent in the sport, even new additions who barely knew the rules of the game were encouraged and given equal playing time. Nicknames were commonly used, and merciless, yet good-hearted, teasing plagued all members. At the practice’s end, every member who had had an uncelebrated birthday during the summer was given a scrapbook adorned with pictures and messages from all the players. A genuine warmth radiated from this group of individuals for whom volleyball placed second to friendship. My preconceptions of what Japanese circle activity dynamic was like were shattered.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see this side of Japanese culture that is not oft spoken of. After being with Sunny Bits, I realize that not all clubs subscribe to the old-fashioned formality of pecking order or complete seriousness in one’s craft. One of my only regrets is that my short stay in Kyoto did not allow me to form as deep a bond with the team as I would have liked to. It shows that in Japan and America kids our age really aren’t that different; everyone just wants to have a bit of fun.