Every Monday, I go to the Kyoto Igo Salon near Shijo Horikawa from around 1PM to whenever it is I finish my last game, which is normally around four or five in the afternoon. The classroom is not large, and attendance on Mondays is low; usually there are not more than ten or twelve people there, including the instructor and myself. I am always the youngest person there; the other students are generally in their sixties and seventies. At first, I was nervous and did not speak very much to anyone at first, but after a few months, I feel comfortable and can converse with most of the people there. Many of the elderly women are interested in my life in America and how my time in Kyoto has been so far.
Go is not a difficult game to understand on the surface, but it is riddled with complex theory once you become more well acquainted with the game. Essentially, the game requires players to place individual stones on the board and surround empty spaces, which become territory. The person at the end with the largest amount of spaces (counted by the number of blank spaces within one’s territory) at the end of the game is victorious.
The basic structure of every class is the same: first the instructor explains a theory or helps us do tsumego (life or death problems) on the magnetic go boards at the front of the room. Afterward, everyone splits off and plays games, frequently with players at their own level or close to it. Everyone I play is much older than I am, so I frequently have to make sure that I am speaking in a formal form and that I mind my go etiquette very well, especially when they are much better than I am at the game. However, the salon itself is a fairly relaxed atmosphere; there are the occasional outbursts of frustration upon a loss, people laugh and talk over their games, and the regulars certainly often use plain form when speaking to the instructor, even if they call him “sensei” at the same time, though this frequently changes to a formal speech pattern if they ask him a question. I found this strange at first, but I have become accustomed to it now.
My time at the Kyoto Igo Salon has taught me not only how to speak comfortably for long periods in formal Japanese, but I have also been able to learn a lot through observing how the other students interact with each other, particularly regarding their speech patterns and the existing social structure based on respect and experience despite the casual atmosphere of the salon. I have yet to become good at the game, nor have I become a pro at understanding when the other students ask me questions with strong Kansai accents, but it is a continual process, and one that I have enjoyed thoroughly throughout the semester. I think it is important in choosing a CIP to pick an activity that you can become closely engaged with even if it is a strange atmosphere to be in at first, whether it is a sport, an instrument, or volunteering.