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.