Every Monday and, if I have the time, Wednesday or Saturday, I go to the Kyoto Igo Salon from around 1PM to 5:30PM. Most of the other customers are retired adults, so the average age of the salon’s students is around seventy. I have been going to the same go salon for the entirety of my time in Kyoto, so it has been about six months since I began. At first, I was a beginner who barely knew the rules. The sensei there taught me through first a stone-capturing game, then with real games. I have risen eighteen ranks in six months, and am now at twelve kyū.
Go is ranked from thirty kyū (complete beginners) to nine dan (the highest level). I started at thirty kyū and slowly worked my way up to my current twelve over the last two semesters. It feels slow to me, of course, but the other students there are much older and take much longer to improve. I hear a lot of “Young people sure improve fast!”, not only directed towards myself but also towards the other young students. Last semester, I was one of the only young adults who regularly went to the salon, but lately there have been more young people at the salon, including two other KCJS students. They generally go on the same days as I, and it feels like the atmosphere of the salon changes somewhat with their presence.
Perhaps it is their energy that makes things different; maybe it is their voices. Somehow, though, their presence brings a sort of liveliness to the salon, which used to be generally quiet aside from idle chatter between games. One of the KCJS students is very friendly and the other is more reserved, but their interactions and excitement over learning the game from scratch seemed to imbue everyone else with the same kind of enthusiasm. It was their presence that really made me understand that participating in something requires not only input from the environment, but also output from the individual. I feel as though last semester was a more passive learning experience for myself. While I was able to learn how to better speak in formal Japanese and communicate with people of a completely different age group than I, I am not sure how much the other patrons got out of speaking to me.
When I began to participate more actively in the salon beyond games and shallow conversations, I felt like I had a stronger bond with the other students in the salon. I brought them omiyage from various trips I made and felt their gratitude during the afternoon snack break. In turn, they began to ask me more questions beyond my life in America, like whether I was going to miss Japan and how my weekend trips were. They even began to laugh and joke more with me. I now feel like a part of the salon rather than simply an outsider who has managed to extend one hand into a foreign environment.
In picking a CIP, I thought all that the most important thing was doing an activity that I enjoyed and would be able to do consistently. While this is still true, I have learned that simply going to and existing in a space is not as valuable a learning experience as interacting actively and enthusiastically with the other people there. I think I have become very close with the other students, and will miss them very much when KCJS is over.