Christina Banoub: Art Circle

I joined an art circle at Doshisha for my CIP. It wasn’t my first choice of activity. However, I love art, and I was looking forward to having a dedicated time for art—which I have not really had since I entered college.


I went in knowing that a circle in Japan is somewhat though not entirely comparable to a club in America, but not certain what differences I would notice. I noticed that, in Doshisha’s “Kurama” drawing circle at least, the kohai and senpai dynamics mattered—though to what extent I couldn’t really grasp. Not everything was hard to grasp, however.


The subject matter of the circle made sense. The circle has weekly meetings that center around practicing a particular art method and subject (still life, portraits, pastel, colored pencil, water color, etc). One member of the club, usual a more senior member, taught the method they were studying or familiar with. Most of the members were art majors, and extremely talented so I felt as though I learned a lot, and it left me feeling my lack of practice and ability.


At the same time, all the members work independently on their own projects, and have a chance to display their art on several occasions. Since I was only staying a semester in Japan, I did not have time to complete anything or display anything, but I would have if I stayed for a year.


As for the social aspect of the club, I have to admit it wasn’t very easy. As I mentioned before, the hierarchical aspects of social interaction were hard to discern, and the members seemed to expect that I wouldn’t understand. However, instead of trying to make it clear, they just ignored the issue. This might sound ideal, the foreigner not having to worry about cultural norms, but when the rest of the circle is using these social practices it is awkward to be the only person not doing so. I would recommend asking at your first contact, “what year are you?” and “what should I call you?” That might seem awkward, but it makes things smooth later.


All the members were very friendly, and during the meetings chatted naturally with each other and tried to include me in the conversation. I have to say, that as much as Kansai dialect as I picked up during these conversations, just as much went over my head. The club members were very busy, so they didn’t seem to meet outside the pretext of the meetings very often—if at all. So I didn’t have the opportunity to meet members elsewhere. However, as it is an art circle where art is the goal, I didn’t feel as though they were simply excluding me.


However, this does seem like a club that needs more than a semester of participation to truly become meaningful. Art takes time, and art students in Japan are just as busy as in America. So I would recommend this to year long students only.


4 thoughts on “Christina Banoub: Art Circle

  1. It sounds like you have learned a lot from your CIP experience! It must have been hard to know the members because of the nature of this CIP, the senpai-kohai relationship, and their assumptions about foreigners; but I think that you have done a great job! You also gave good advise for whoever wants to join the club next semester!

    Did you get to chat with other members while you guys are drawing? Did they try to explain their artwork? It seems to me that it was hard to develop friendship in the group because of the nature of the circle- art. If you could choose your CIP again, would you choose other kinds of club activity?

    • People in the club chat while drawing, but I must admit it was mostly Kansai dialect or in-jokes I didn’t catch much of it. Explaining artwork, not so much….

      Yeah, after the fact, I have to say the nature of the circle makes it more difficult to really get to know people. Especially since I’m not an art major.

      If I chose another CIP I think I would choose either a social circle or some volunteer activity. Those kinds of things require social interaction, whereas art is… well art.

  2. It’s too bad you didn’t have enough time to produce some sort of finished product from your CIP experience. I kind of felt the same way about my CIP, though unless I just completely missed it the social hierarchy wasn’t as stressed as rigid as it sounds like it was in your CIP. Just out of curiosity, was there anything uniquely Japanese or Japanese-influenced in the subject matter/technique used in the methods (for example, anime, Japanese watercolor etc.), or was that aspect of the circle just like any other art class or club in the U.S. ?

    • For the meetings I went to there weren’t any particular subject matters that were uniquely Japanese. It’s more like any art club or class. It focused just on trying new mediums.