For my community involvement project I participated with the Doshisha Hiking Club. Although it is called a club, the Doshisha Hiking Club is actually a circle, which gave me insight into the difference between circles and clubs in Japan. Although I have had no experience with true clubs in Japan, from what I have been told they are quite serious and require mandatory attendance usually multiple times a week, and I imagine this is what the Doshisha Alpine Club is like, who occupy the room next to the Hiking Club’s in the Gakusei-kaikan (Student’s Hall). Because of this distinction, the Hiking Club has a very laid-back and relaxed feel. Attendance is not taken, activities are not necessarily mandatory, and exchange students are always welcomed, making the Hiking Club and excellent circle for KCJS students to join because it easily conforms with the unique KCJS schedule.
Although the Hiking Club was simple to join and very relaxed, there were many things about the club that I found surprising and very different from hiking and outdoor clubs in North America. First, when we didn’t go on hikes, we did training, which was jogging along the river. This was surprising as people don’t train for hikes in North America unless they are doing serious mountaineering. When I told other Japanese friends about training, they were similarly surprised. Therefore, training added a strange element of seriousness to a very relaxed and not necessarily serious club. A few members always opted out of these training sessions, but still met at the Gakusei-kaikan at the meeting time. This led me to realize that the training sessions served as a secondary activity to the weekly meeting—their main purpose was to bring the group together once a week. Rather than only meeting once a month to go hiking like a typical group at a North American university would, the Doshisha Hiking Club meets every week to strengthen the group dynamic in between hikes. This commitment to the group beyond participating in the commonly shared interest reflects the strong commitment to unity among groups prevalent in Japanese culture.
The second most surprising thing I observed was the friendliness we showed to other hikers on the trail. On our first hike up to the Daimonji near Ginkakuji, the trail was relatively crowded, but we never hesitated to give an energetic and lively “konnichiwa!” to every single person we passed. While saying hello to strangers on the trail is certainly not unique to Japan, the amount of people we said it to and the emotion we put into every greeting certainly was. This makes the trail in Japan a very friendly place, and there is a sense that everyone is engaged in the same struggle together.
Despite my limited Japanese skills, I was able to make some valuable insights into how one of my favourite activities is affected by a different culture. Joining the Hiking Club was very fun, laid-back, and often pleasantly unexpected. I wish I could be here between the spring and fall semesters when they do more serious hikes further away from Kyoto.