Really, this was the obvious choice for me. Dragon Ball Z absolutely made my childhood, and ever since about seventh grade I wanted to become a manga artist on the scale of Toriyama Akira. Reading, writing, and drawing, have always been hobbies of mine, so the opportunity to combine all in the form of manga is inherently appealing. Since art classes that focus on manga are virtually non-existent in America though, I was extremely excited to take advantage of being in Japan.
While the choice to join Doshisha’s Manga Club and also take private manga lessons was, in hindsight, extremely predictable, the actual experience was anything but. I had never taken an art class before, so when I showed up to Okamoto-sensei’s lesson, I was extremely nervous. He wasted no time in taking apart the drawings I had prepared for him, and there were times I felt extremely dejected. For instance, when he would say things like “Your arm comes out of this part of your body,” or “The bone from your shoulder to your elbow is straight, so don’t bend it,” I would think to myself dear lord, have I actually ever seen a real person before?
Despite being strict though, Okamoto-sensei and his various assistants were all extremely open to my vision. They did not mock me for wanting to become a professional manga artist, and they supported me when my version of a hero did not line up with the archetype. Knowing how to draw did come in handy when the Japanese conversation started to falter, but I am proud of the fact that we were able to communicate deeper meanings to each other. Out of all the Japanese people with whom I’ve come into contact during this program, I would say Okamoto-sensei knows the most about me as a person. Since I often feel different when I speak Japanese, this fact is very important to me, and I count it as a valuable success and evidence of my language improvement.
The Doshisha manga club, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge in this department. Every week, I would show up to the club room and draw for at least two hours with on average 4 other people. I don’t know if it was because of shyness or not, but the Doshisha students absolutely refused to start a conversation with me. The first two times I went were awkward “Hello” and “See you next time” experiences.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with your CIP, the crucial thing to remember is to never give up. Like Son Goku, you can either break or turn Super Saiyan. Knowing that I was getting nothing out of the experience (I could always draw at home), I began to take myself out of my comfort zone and initiate conversations and email a member of the group a few times a week. This made things significantly less awkward when I showed up. The conversations weren’t long, maybe fifteen minutes out of the time I was there, but it was progress.
Next semester, I hope to continue moving forward until both CIPs can be written off as complete successes! For those of you who are worried about this requirement of KCJS, take it seriously! This is one of the most important chances for you to make real Japanese friends without all the charade of planned mingling events (which are fun in their own way, don’t get me wrong!). So pick something you love, and channel all the energy you can muster!