Calum Galt: DESA/Gradations

This semester I participated in both Doshisha’s exchange student group DESA and the LGBT circle Gradations that I joined last semester and was unable to continue for most of the semester due to the Japanese students being on break. Both circles were purely social circles which meant I was able to participate in a variety of activities, ranging from the obligatory drinking parties to mountain climbing and sightseeing, while forging and maintaining relationships with many Japanese students.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had with my two circles have been nomikais, or drinking parties. I found that the underlying purpose of drinking in Japan is fundamentally different from that in America, at least among the younger student population. In America I get the impression that many people drink purely for the sake of being intoxicated, probably the result of a puritanically based culture that never really came up with a healthy way of integrating alcohol into the social sphere. In Japan, however, alcohol is used in a different way, more as a tool to mediate and deepen  relationships between friends as well as maintain relationships with friends you rarely get to see. It also allows one to escape the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable to talk about or talk openly about how one feels, creating a much-needed pressure release valve of sorts for drinkers. I’ve been lucky enough to have conversations about love, life and worries for the future with my Japanese friends over drinking, which definitely made our relationships feel more meaningful. I’ve found that my relationships in Japan were strengthened by time spent drinking with good friends, of course with moderation, and I’m very glad to have gained another cultural perspective on alcohol culture. That being said, of course I realize that many of the things I said above about Japan’s drinking culture could just as easily be said about American culture, and that not all Americans drink simply for drinking’s sake; I just think that in Japan alcohol’s role as a social lubricant takes on a deeper meaning.

Of course I had many more valuable experiences outside of drinking. With DESA I was motivated to see and experience parts of Kyoto and Kansai at large that I may not have gone to by myself; I definitely benefited from having a circle of locals who knew where to go, and when. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my favorite events was climbing Mt. Daimonji at night and seeing the best view of Kyoto from above, but we also explored Osaka and saw sumo, saw the yearly burning of the hills above Nara (a beautiful and very hot festival whose original purpose is vague), and sightseeing around Arashiyama in Kyoto.

As for Gradations, my LGBT student group, I had very little time with them this semester due to the break for Japanese students, but what little time I had was much better than last semester. There were more new members, and a new president, which maybe contributed to me feeling a bit less like an intruder on someone else’s club. Our first outing was an all-you-can-eat party at a ninja-themed desert restaurant followed by ping-pong and karaoke, an interesting choice for an event but one that definitely made me feel like I was a normal member of the group. The one regret I do have about Gradations is that I don’t feel as though I’ve gained much of a perspective on what it’s like for Japanese LGBT youth. We never really talked about what it was like being a sexual minority in Japan, and the overwhelming impression that I got was that most people were closeted and unwilling or unable to come out, understandable given the sometimes oppressively heteronormative culture of Japan. I wish we could have been a bit more than just a social club and maybe talked about what it meant to us to be part of such a marginalized community. Despite this, my experiences with Gradations this semester have been much more enjoyable than last semester.

My CIP experience has been somewhat inconsistent, as my CIP last semester was less than satisfactory and I was limited by students being on break for most of this semester, but it was still a valuable experience that encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and extend ties with people I wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with in America. I’m glad to have been given this opportunity.



2 thoughts on “Calum Galt: DESA/Gradations

  1. I’ve wondered about how to ask people about their experiences. I asked one guy what he thought the difference between gay American and gay Japanese culture is, and he just said America is more free, but didn’t seem too interested in talking beyond that. I was also warned to not ask personal questions. Do you think at Nomikais it would be okay to bring up such a conversation?

    I don’t even know why I’m curious. Maybe I wonder, what if I was born in Japan? Or maybe I’m trying to understand where they are coming from, and that’s one way that I learn a lot about my queer friends at home. yeah, I think that’s it. The closeted experience and coming out process have definitely shaped me a lot.

    Do you think it’s rude to ask if someone’s already out or not? Or to ask them why? I’m worried that it’ll sound like I’m asking a rhetorical question. How do you think it would be best to start this discussion? Perhaps by sharing your own story? I wouldn’t wan’t to appear self-adsorbed, though.

  2. Yeah, I don’t see that going over well at something as public as a nomikai, honestly. I think maybe something more on a one-on-one basis with a close friend would be appropriate. I don’t think the tenuous tie of being in the same circle allows for that kind of intimate conversation.

    I actually can relate with the whole “what if I were born ___?” question. I often regret my parents having moved from Scotland before I was born, feeling separated from my family and homeland etc., and wonder what it would be like. I know I would have had a much harder time as a gay man though, which makes me have really mixed feelings about it all.

    I probably would feel somewhat uncomfortable asking people that if I didn’t know them a little. I think it’s safe to assume that in Japan very few people are ‘out’ to everyone. Again, asking them why would depend on what kind of relationship you have. I suppose you could lead into asking them about it from a general conversation about being gay, liking guys/girls and how they feel about it..I dunno haha.