For my CIP I joined a Wadaiko class taught by a group called Bati-Holic. Prior to this semester I had never done Taiko before, or indeed practiced any sort of drumming. I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough experience, or that I wouldn’t understand enough Japanese, to be able to participate. Luckily both of these fears were unfounded. Most people in this class were complete beginners to Taiko, and in addition to the fact that my sensei spoke a smattering of English, there were several other foreigners in the class and learning Japanese as well.
It quickly became apparent that these classes were mean to be fairly casual. The class consisted of mostly women in their 20s or early 30s, though there were a few other men. Many people would come for only one month and then stop; in fact by the time December came around I was one of only four or so students who had been there for over 3 months. As such it was difficult at times to keep track of the people I met, and I forgot names often. Still, I feel like I became fairly close with those other long-term students.
Because of the casual nature of the group I did not experience much of the senpai-kohai relationships that many other KCJS students have mentioned in regards to their CIP. In fact I hardly ever heard keigo at all. My teacher, 黒坂先生, asked us to call him by his nickname Kuro. It seemed to me that most people, especially the senpai students, seemed very comfortable talking to Kuro and often used short-forms and casual speech. Furthermore, he was addressed almost always as Kuro-san, not Kuro-sensei. This was surprising at first, as it clearly went against my expectations of the structure of a Japanese club or class, but it also made for a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.
I was happy to find that, perhaps because of this relaxed attitude, everyone was very open to having me, a foreigner and a beginner, as a member of the group. The first few lessons I was approached with the standard “Where are you from?” “Why are you in Japan?” “Your Japanese is very good!” that I have come to expect when meeting a new Japanese person. However after a while, perhaps when I became a familiar face, conversations became a bit more personal, regarding subjects such as what I was studying in school, what I had done over the weekend, as well as the songs that we were playing in class. Of course, this being only my third year studying Japanese, there were many conversations that I simply couldn’t participate it. In many ways I still felt like an outsider, but I think this is the result more of the language barrier, and certainly not because of any rejection or exclusion from the group itself.
In the end I am a bit upset that I am leaving this winter and won’t be able to continue taking Taiko. It feels as though I am finally starting to make some connections and form some friendships in my class, and it will be tough to leave those behind. I am very glad to have had this opportunity to meet and talk with members of the Japanese community outside of Doshisha. And of course, I have now fallen in love with Taiko, and plan on studying it further when I return home.