Jennifer Wang: Piano Circle

Now that the semester is coming to an end, I can say I’m glad I joined the piano circle – even though I have mixed feelings on my experience. It was great to get a taste of Japanese college student life through circle activities and meeting new people, especially since the piano circle was a diverse group with different backgrounds and levels of experience talking with foreign exchange students.

While everyone was friendly, I found it hard to make closer friends. Since many of them don’t have a particular interest in spending time with exchange students, they tend to stay within their groups of friends that are solidified outside of the circle. In making piano circle friends outside of the circle’s room (box), I found that the power of your school year was surprisingly strong. Surprisingly so in that I didn’t observe any emphasis on senpai-kohai relationships in the circle, but ended up invited to an all first-year piano circle casual dinner at the 食堂. I additionally observed, when helping out at the school’s EVE festival, the other two first years that I was advertising our booth’s food with started joking around and overall acting casual very quickly, though they had just met that afternoon. Bonding within your own school year was evidently natural, and bridging the senpai-kohai dynamic to become close friends seemed rare if done at all. That also brings me to the point of my own ambiguous status as an exchange student, since although they invited me, I doubt they would have invited a third-year Japanese student. (Of note, as an exchange student, you’re also not an “official Doshisha student” for any event purposes, etc.)

The other major difficulty in making friends is that the piano circle has no fixed meeting times every week. While that’s ideal for fitting into it into one’s schedule, I would generally only see the same member once or twice per month even if I went at the same time every week. At the beginning, I asked a few members when they usually go, and the reply was generally “when I have time.” I was surprised by how some people always seemed to show up at the same times though, and wonder if there’s a reachable level of friendship where you’ll casually text the other when you’re at the circle box. Regardless, whenever I did go, the members were always open to talking and helping out with my homework. I could tell that some of them weren’t used to talking to exchange students, aka figuring out my strange Japanese, but they all responded to my questions and often asked questions in return.

Ultimately, I didn’t get that much piano practice done this semester, but I had an interesting experience! Even if I got along with a smaller percentage of the piano circle students than students that have a particular interest in meeting exchange students, I’m glad I got to meet a diverse group that is likely more representative of Japanese students as a whole. My one regret is that I wish I had understood the above dynamics earlier and made more of an early effort to become closer friends with some piano circle members. But I’ll be here next spring, and plan to continue my piano circle adventures until the end of the semester in February. The piano circle is a no stress, social option for anyone with even a slight interest in piano, and I highly recommend it. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Jennifer Wang: Piano Circle

  1. Wow, I didn’t know that the senpai-kouhai relationships ran so deeply as to separate the separate school years, but it’s great to hear that you stayed positive and will continue with it next semester! Do you think it will be difficult to try to hang out with more students across different years, or does your status as a study abroad student kind of negate the hierarchy?

    • Hi, Rosaley! Good question; I don’t feel a difference when trying to hanging out with different years (it just happened that I was hanging out with first years when they were going to a dinner after), though the reason isn’t so much that being a study abroad “negates” the hierarchy as much as it’s “removed” from the hierarchy, IMO. It feels like being a study abroad student sets me in a separate category so that both first and fourth years are equally quick about switching to casual speech with me yet it’s not completely negated; there’s always a sense of everyone knowing everyone’s years when it comes to gathering together or requesting tasks done, and while I’m not really a true part of the circle, they never forget my year either… I think how much he/she values my year also depends on the Japanese person I’m interacting with.

      I’ve accepted things as they are, so I guess things can only be positive from here, haha. Thanks for your comment!

  2. This was an interesting post to read, coming from my track CIP where I also noticed close bonds within a school year. While you were invited to a first year dinner, I was taken in by other third year students, which surprised me. That aside, my CIP also had a very distinct senpai-kohai dynamic that made it hard to make friends across grades. There were some exceptions but for the most part people stayed within their school year. Do you think things will change for you as you enter the next semester, where you will possibly be seen as more like a “real” student instead of an abroad student?

    • Hi, Dylan! Thanks for relating your experiences, and they definitely sound similar. I’m sure I seem slightly (very slightly) more a “real” student the more that they see me, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever get to a stage where I’m truly seen as a part of the circle… most of the piano circle members aren’t very used to interacting with international students nor do they seek it, which I guess is a blessing and a curse. They don’t automatically want to identify you as an abroad student, yet will always wonder at your mannerisms and strange language usage. I’ve had some very, very stilted conversations, haha. That might be my fault though; maybe someone with more nuanced cultural understanding, skilled Japanese, and passion could bridge that gap? IMO, it’s near impossible in 3-4 months, either way…

      Just my thoughts, and I still think it was a good experience to have! Hope you enjoyed your track CIP as well. 🙂