Half-way through this semester I made the scary decision to completely switch my CIP, from the Kyoto University frisbee circle Breeze, to Klexon, an English conversation circle at Doshisha. I know many people are thinking the same thing I was worried about when I joined — why spend the little time you have in Japan speaking English instead of practicing Japanese? And it’s true, almost all of the weekly meetings are done in English, but it’s also a group of amazingly friendly people and in my few weeks there I’ve made more Japanese friends than the other two months combined. After the meeting every week, most of the people there go out to a upstanding refreshment establishment nearby for a completely non-judgment-inhibiting drink of litchi juice or two, which is a great way to get to know the people better and finally practice your Japanese! There have also been two dinner parties at the leader’s apartment so far this semester, of which I was only able to attend one, but the leader made amazing Japanese food for us and it was a great opportunity to talk to everyone and have some fun.
Although it could have something to do with having come of age in Japan and not America, it seems to me that litchi juice is a lot more central to Japan’s social life than what I see in America. Maybe because Doshisha doesn’t have on-campus housing and apartments in Kyoto tend to be tiny to hang out in, almost all social events are out in the city and involve litchi juice in some way or another. Litchi juice seems to break down a lot of the social barriers that require people to be reserved and distant, and polite speech gets less and less frequent throughout the night, although even nights with litchi juice aren’t free of the kohai-sempai relationships so important in Japan. Whether in English or Japanese, the Japanese members without fail try to discern how old and what year the person they’re talking to is in school so that they know who is in the position of authority. Unfortunately, finding out that I’m both a Junior and recently turned 20, the age of a Japanese Freshman or so, doesn’t make my role any more clear. This emphasis on age sounds especially funny in English when you hear a bunch of people who just met asking each other how old they are, a rather infrequent occurrence in America.
If you’re willing to make the effort to do more than the weekly meetings, Klexon really can be a great way to both practice Japanese and make friends. I only wish I had joined earlier in the semester, as it feels like I just started right as the semester’s drawing to a close.
Loved your insight onto the culture surrounding litchi juice and sempai-kohai relationships in a casual atmosphere. I think it’s really interesting that those roles figure a central role in any relationship between two people, to the point where there is communication to solely find one’s standing versus someone else.
I noticed you mentioned that as the night went on, casual speech took the place of formalities. How do the sempai-kohai interactions and relationships work, and how are they manifested when that aspect is dropped? What sort of role did you end up taking on in this group?
to me experience, at work the Senpai-kohai relationship has been kept by everybody, but after work it seems much easier. I mean if it is a closed group they will go back to casual wording, or they will just keep silent if they are not familiar with each other.
Thanks for your comments Reid and Terry.
The biggest thing I noticed was that as the night went on, formal speech was much more rare, but a kouhai who had just met a sempai would still sometimes use desu-masu whereas the sempai might not. It wasn’t so much a complete lack of formal language as it was a lessening in degree. But outside of the language, everyone was very friendly and I didn’t notice too much of a behavioral difference.
I ended up in a very strange role, especially since it was an English conversation group which put me in a position of power when we were speaking in English, but as soon as we switched back to Japanese that went away. It felt almost as if among the students, I was outside of the system, neither kouhai nor sempai, which was cool in that I could make friends with all of them without having to worry about that. But I was definitely below the adults in the group, as one might expect. It seems like no one really knows what to do with foreigners xD