Adriana Reinecke: Kyoto University Choir

I’m so glad that I decided to join the KyoDai (short for Kyoto University) Choir. Although I haven’t been able to participate as much as I may have liked, whenever I am able to go to practice I am welcomed and treated as a true member of the group. Though we practice in large numbers, I became closest with my fellow sopranos. I would often receive text messages from them during periods when we wouldn’t see each other often, and I remember being very gratified that I was able to tag-team joke with one of the other girls. I think it is safe to say that it was through my friendships with the members of the choir – and possibly my part-time job – that I felt most a part of the Japanese society while here in Kyoto.

Beyond the obvious friendships and interactions with the group, I found several aspects of the club dynamic and activities that surprised me. As a foreigner studying Japanese, I have spent a great deal of time learning about how Japanese rules of social hierarchy and seniority play out linguistically. My time with the KyoDai Choir has taught me that such ‘rules’ are ultimately guidelines. They would be 100% accurate inside of a ‘linguistic vacuum.’ The reality is that each group, and each individual within that group, contributes to the creation of a unique group dynamic. Similarly, each individual uses a complex and only sometimes intentional mix of many levels of formality in everyday interactions. For example, each member of the choir has a nickname. Some of these nicknames have nothing whatsoever to do with the person’s actual name, which meant that I had (and still have) a hard time remembering them and keeping them strait. These nicknames are used by all members of the group regardless of seniority. In Japanese I have heard two different expressions to refer to language in practice. These are “raw,” and “living.” Choir was one of my main places that I was exposed to, and involved in the speaking of “living Japanese.”

The other thing that surprised me was the system by which the new club officers were chosen. One afternoon, I was invited to have an early dinner with the member of my voice part before practice, during which the newly appointed part leaders would speak to their wishes and goals for the year to come. It was nothing like I expected. It was very formal. Each of the girls – Koude-chan and Mika-chan – had prepared lengthy speeches. They talked about how they became involved in choir, what they liked about it, why they wanted to be part leader, what skills they brought to the group, and what things they hoped to accomplish. The surprising part was that we, as members of the soprano section, were then invited to ask them questions. It was as if we were interviewing them. At the end, we even took a vote, during which we had the option to object to their leadership. I didn’t realize just how foreign the whole concept was to me until I was prompted to ask a question of the girls – I had no idea what to ask. The girls were voted in unanimously, but it seems that this is not always the case. It is not that we don’t have a similar system for electing part leaders in the US (typically it’s by vote or merit), it was just the formality and the possibility of rejection that surprised me. I can’t say that I came away with a particular lesson, more that it was an unexpected learning experience for me.

I will remember my time with the choir fondly and make the most of my final weeks here with them. I hope someday we’ll meet again.

2 thoughts on “Adriana Reinecke: Kyoto University Choir

  1. Adri,

    I’m glad that you were able to feel like a part of Japanese society by involving yourself in your CIP; not everyone in our program was so lucky. The contrast between the use of nicknames within the choir and the formal voting of the part leaders seems very interesting. I can see why you would be surprised to have an experience like that.

    Is there something you would have done differently if you had the opportunity to start over again? Do you wish you had done KyoDai choir last semester as well?


    • If I could do something differently, I would have wanted to go to more of the groups `extra-curricular` events (if you can call them that). There was something called a `卒団` where the members formed groups and performed skits and songs they liked. There was also a 花見 party, and few others. Unfortunately, they all happened on Sundays – the day that I work. I had picked Sunday figuring most events would happen on Saturdays – I forgot to factor in the fact that Japanese college students have virtually no homework, so therefore pretty much any day is game. I would have really liked to have been able to go to those events.

      Since my CIP from last semester never really panned out, this was easily way better than that. 😉 The group is friendly and welcoming so I`d recommend it to future KCJS students.