Kensai Hughes: Kyodai Ultimate Frisbee Circle Breeze & Klexon-Kyoto Language Exchange Salon

Before I joined the Kyoto University Frisbee Circle Breeze my friend Tomo warned me that many of the team members would want to practice their English with me, and it might hinder my learning of Japanese. This was not the case at all. The most articulate English-speaker on the team was barely able to manage a, “Can you speak Japanese?” Through our Japanese conversations I discovered what I believe to be the root of this problem, namely that speaking English is not particularly emphasized in the classroom setting. This reminded me of how many American students may study Spanish for years but might only be able to ask, “Where is the library?” Just because language education may be compulsory does not necessarily guarantee results.

Joining Breeze taught me how hard it can be to change from an ‘outsider’ to an ‘insider’ within a group as tightly knit as a sports team. Although it was initially easy enough to join the circle for practices and many of the team members were welcoming and quite friendly, I felt that in the short span of one semester I would not be able to really become a member of that group. The practice schedule of 3 sessions per week with at least four hours at each session quickly became too much to handle along with a full course load. But beyond that, there were also instances when the captain of Breeze informed me that certain drills were for “members only,” and I was made to spend that time on the side throwing with the trainer and members of the women’s team. Perhaps if I were here for a whole year instead of just one semester I would have been able to become a real member of the team, not just some gaijin that the captain felt he was babysitting and would rather not have around.

After leaving the Frisbee circle I began my CIP anew at Klexon, or the Kyoto Language Exchange Salon. As a language exchange circle people of all nationalities are encouraged to join, though the focus is mainly on improving the English speaking skills of Japanese people. Because most of the members are Japanese it has been and continues to be a great opportunity to practice my Japanese conversational skills while allowing me the satisfaction of helping those who really want to learn English to do so. Though in some cases, letting certain people know I could speak Japanese made them abandon their effort to speak English and stick to the comfort of their native language. Through this group I learned that despite the fact that Japan’s English education system seems to me to be severely flawed, with the desire to learn and a strong individual effort this obstacle can be overcome.

At Klexon it has been much easier to make close friends that I could spend time with outside of the usual meetings. Because the English ability of most of the Klexon members is higher than that of Breeze we are able to converse using both Japanese and English and communication is significantly easier. The Klexon members also seem infinitely more interested in foreign cultures and people and are invariably more welcoming and friendly. I suppose this difference can be attributed to the different initial goals of each group: Breeze’s being to play frisbee and Klexon’s as a language and culture exchange circle. Though I have not seen or heard from any member’s of Breeze since I left, I have forged friendships at Klexon with people that I believe I will remain in contact with even after I return to America. And above all the sights and activities I did not have time to see or do during this short semester, the friends I’ve made in Kyoto are one of the reasons I will surely return to this wonderful city in the future.

3 thoughts on “Kensai Hughes: Kyodai Ultimate Frisbee Circle Breeze & Klexon-Kyoto Language Exchange Salon

  1. 二つのサークルを経験したのですね。ヒューズさんの話を読んで、友達になるのは、やっぱり「時間」と「関心」が大切なんだなということが分かりました。面白い観察をありがとう。

  2. I’ve heard similar things from the Japanese students that I’ve talked to since coming to Japan. Many of them were frustrated that their teachers couldn’t really speak English or that very little English was spoken in class. I know the government is trying to use things like the JET program to get more native English speakers into classrooms. Do you think there are any issues with foreign language language learning other than a dearth of native speakers?

  3. 前口先生、コメントを書いてくれたありがとうございます。

    Ari, as with anything compulsory there will be people who are not interested at all. I think besides having capable teachers, its on the student to have the desire and will to learn. Both my host siblings (Nanami 9, and Hikaru 6) are learning English in elementary school right now. And though their mother occasionally encourages them to use English with me when playing they don’t make much effort. This could be because they are too embarrassed to speak in English, but it also makes me think that they don’t see the value in or care for cultivating bilingualism. I think this is also the case with most Japanese who are also put through compulsory English education, but can hardly speak it after years of study in the classroom.