When I first attended one of Nagare Parkour’s training sessions, from the moment I stepped out of the station and saw everyone gathering in the park, I immediately felt like part of the group. Since the atmosphere was so much like that of my club back in Ann Arbor, I was able to feel at home. I think that friendly and open atmosphere kind of inherent in the attitude of traceurs (practitioners of parkour), as well as my attitude toward parkour. I attented a few jams, or large parkour gatherings. There were so many people that it was hard to memorize anyone’s name. At the second jam, one of the guys shared that sentiment and said something along the lines of, “isn’t it enough [for now] that we remembered each other’s faces?” That made all my nervousness about names vanish. The parkour world is full of some of the strangest and friendliest people in the world. I realized that’s no different here in Japan than anywhere else. Everyone attends to learn, to grow and to enjoy the atmosphere and each other’s company. I’m really glad that I was able to find a group, to continue practicing parkour with while I’m here in Japan.
Recently, I’ve mostly been training apart from the group with a friend that I made at the first jam. That relationship is probably the most equal of the friendships that I’ve made through the community involvement project (CIP). Even though I taught/ran the last couple training sessions we had, I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching. Being able to speak both English and Japanese, or the fact that each of us is learning the other’s language is a huge asset. It makes it a lot easier to share experiences, terminology, and ideas. We’ve even had the chance to chat via Skype a few times with another fellow traceur from Hokkaido.
As for the Kitanotenmangu Taiko Group, I feel like an honorary member. While that’s a good feeling, I think I could describe it as a very “for the time being” kind of feeling. They’ve been so kind to the three of us (I attend Taiko practices with two other KCJS students), so much to the point where I feel that sometimes they are over-accommodating. There are times where the leader will go out of his way to explain things in English without even trying to speak Japanese. There are some points that make it hard to feel like a true member though. The most difficult of those points is the fact that the group meetings are so infrequent that it’s hard to feel like we are really contributing or learning very much. I still have yet to learn everyone’s name. In addition, I actually haven’t learned very much about how to play Taiko, since the practices are for the most part run follow-the-leader style. All that being said, I’m looking forward to next semester. With every practice, we become a little bit more a part of the group. It’s not much, but every practice we help set and put away the drums, and I might go as far as to say that until this week, in that alone did I feel like an active member of the group.
This past weekend, Miao and I went to Kitanotenmangu to cheer on the group at one of their performances for the Fall Festival. We half-jokingly asked (in Japanese of course), “We’re not going to perform, right?” Well, to our surprise, they said, “Of course, we’re going to have you play the songs you memorized.” I think we were both half in despair and half laughing at the hilarity of the situation. Up until that point, we hadn’t even put the proper names together with the pieces which we had haphazardly memorized. I thought it was going to be a disaster. It turned out to be a great time and an experience that I will probably not find anywhere else (except in the next two performances in the coming weeks). They lent us all the performance gear, from happi to hachimaki and even took us up into the main part of the temple for the preperformance prayer. To have us perform the little that we knew somehow demonstrated just how much confidence in us and/or willingness to include us that the group had. And it felt good.
Overall, the CIP aspect of KCJS has been a very good experience so far. Ideally, the groups would meet more frequently, but as it is, I’m still gaining a lot and I think there is potential for me to give back much more in the coming semester.