This semester I participated in Doshisha’s Piano Circle, and it proved to be a very interesting experience, despite being nothing like I expected. For starters, there was no set “meeting time” for the circle. Instead, there was just an open room in the Shinmachi campus building where club members could come in, play piano, and talk. I went to the club almost every week, and stayed for a few hours every time. However, I probably played a grand total of about 20 minutes of piano. The rest of my time was spent talking with the club members. We would talk about all sorts of things, from our majors, to our favorite music, to our favorite characters in Super Smash Bros. It was a very informal environment, which I think helped me quickly get comfortable with participating every week.
Although convenient, the flexible time schedule of the club did have its downsides. Since people could come whenever they wanted, and the club was comprised of about 70 people, I would rarely ever get the opportunity to meet the same person more than once. This made developing any sort of deep connections practically impossible for me. However, although the people would constantly change on a weekly basis, the general atmosphere of the club remained the same. People would often bring their lunches to the clubroom, and just chat with the other members there. Occasionally someone would play the piano, but there was never any real formal practice.
After seeing this week after week, I came to the conclusion that Japanese students use the Piano Circle as a way to meet new people with similar interests, and keep in touch with friends in a smaller, less crowded setting. Actually playing piano is secondary to talking with people and hanging out. When I think about it this way, I feel like this concept is reminiscent of my experiences joining clubs at University of Michigan. While some clubs have serious, regimented schedules, a lot of them exist for the sole purpose of making the campus feel smaller, and providing more opportunities to get to know other people who like the same things that you do.
All things considered, I’m glad the Piano Circle turned out to be the latter kind of club. It was great getting the opportunity to speak with Japanese students in a relaxed, informal setting. However, as I mentioned before, it’s a real shame I didn’t have many opportunities to develop any deep connections with people, as I would often see them only once, and then never again. Despite that, I feel like my participation in the club has taught me a lot about daily student life, and how similar it is to my own.