Guy Tada: Yosakoi and Kyoto Sightseeing

Because I switched my CIP in the middle of the semester, I experienced two very different atmospheres and learned a lot about Japanese relationships, especially in a group setting of young adults. I originally joined Yosakoi dance circle in the hopes of bonding with peers over our love of dance. Every Thursday evening by the Kamogawa River, we would practice for three hours and learn a dance each week. Everyone was very friendly and polite to me at first, but after a couple weeks it struck me how distant everybody seemed to be relationship wise—everyone used nicknames to address each other, and even when I asked their real name they would tell me their nickname. Also, during water breaks, people would break up from their formation and divide into little cliques, usually formed by school year. It was hard for me especially as an outsider to break into these circles and bond with anyone. Their politeness only went so far, and thus, there were very awkward times where I would stand around while people talked to their cliques around me.

In addition, because the circle had over one hundred members (and they were not required to come to every practice) there was a lack of unity across the entire circle I felt. Even when learning dances, the veterans would split off to learn a new piece while the first years would learn last year’s piece. There didn’t seem to be much social interaction between first years and veterans, and when there was, they would speak in a very polite manner. The members would use the same polite form with me no matter their age (granted we weren’t friends by that point) but what they meant as politeness I took more personally as a way of distancing themselves from me. Even right after they would speak formally to me, they would turn to their friend and speak in a very colloquial speech pattern – emphasizing the social gap between us.

After a point, I felt like I had observed as much as I could from the experience and wanted to try something more intimate and accessible. Thus, I joined a Kyoto sightseeing circle! This circle was much smaller than Yosakoi and was certainly nice in that I got to explore more of Kyoto, including sites such as Kinkakuji and Kiyomizu Dera. The members were all very polite and friendly, often trying to explain information about the sites we were visiting while walking. Like Yosakoi members, they used formal speech when talking to me, but I was also a year above them, so that may have been a contributing factor. And even though there were only twenty members or less, social conversations seemed segregated by school year as well.

Although I didn’t go to this circle as much as Yosakoi since I switched later in the semester, I did take away one major lesson from both experiences. It seems to me that for Japanese students, a lot of their friends and close bonds come from the circles they’re in. I’ve seen various friend groups from Yosakoi hanging out in the shokudou or around campus. And two members of the sightseeing group are even dating right now! Overall, I’m appreciative of the experience I’ve gained and definitely have a more nuanced idea of Japanese relationships.

2 thoughts on “Guy Tada: Yosakoi and Kyoto Sightseeing

  1. Hey Guy!
    It’s too bad your CIPs didn’t really go as well as you hoped :/ Although the things you observed are pretty interesting. My CIP wasn’t a school group, so I didn’t really get to see the gakusei social dynamic, but in a similar sense, a lot of the people at my dojo (my CIP is aikido) whether young or old also seem to clique together. It really is fascinating!

  2. Thanks Jackie! Yeah I thought that the seniority system would be pretty apparent between younger adults and seniors but it was jarring at first for me to observe that with people a year or two apart from each other. I have friends who are older than me at Penn but it would be so different for me to imagine having to separate myself from them in such a distinct manner.