Saminya Bangura: KLEXON

For my CIP, I’ve been attending the Kyoto Language Exchange Salon (or KLEXON) in Shijo once a week. While I didn’t get to practice a lot of Japanese language, it has still been an incredible experience that has allowed me to learn a lot about the Japanese culture and even make a few friends!

Of all the things I experienced during my time at KLEXON, what’s stuck with me the most was an experience I had at one of the parties. Once a month, there is a dinner party that brings two or three language circles in the area together and on my first time there, I was surprised to have so many members (from both my circle and the others) insist on serving me drinks and food. From the moment I began studying Japanese, the importance of the senpai-kouhai relationship was often emphasized and I had always assumed that, regardless of the context, it would stand firm. However, despite my being the youngest and newest member of the circle at my table, I was served throughout the night and when I attempted to do it in exchange, I was refused, which confused me more than it hurt my feelings.

I had to wonder if my being a foreigner somehow made me exempt from the usual rules that steer Japanese club dynamics. Perhaps because the members know that my time in the club is temporary, they were choosing to treat me more like a guest than a member; so the rules of senpai and kouhai (which I do see employed when other members interact) didn’t apply. I attempted to face this by becoming involved with the group on a more personal level so that even if they knew of my transience, I could still be accepted as a permanent member based on my social presence. This involved attending more events outside of meetings (like the parties) and following through on friendships when I received LINE IDs or Facebooks. But, in the end, there was no real change over the course the semester; I was still being treated like a guest even two and a half months in.

Eventually, I came to realize that this phenomenon wasn’t of any fault of my own. I was struggling to enter the uchi of KLEXON when there was no real uchi in the first place. Though there are a group of regular members that attend meetings every single week, KLEXON’s relatively lax structure, lack of set policies regarding attendance and older membership meant that some people might go weeks without coming to a meeting. And as a result, there was no concrete group mentality; individual members might forge friendships but there was no real sense of a bond between the group as a whole. Therefore, what I thought was a senpai and kouhai interaction forged by club members might have just been a manifestation of the general idea of respecting senior members in your field or elders.

I think that my experience would’ve been much different had I been involved in a CIP with more people my age, especially on a college campus. College clubs tend to be more structured (and, as a result, more stressful) but that often results in getting closer to your peers and creating a sense of uchi. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every minute of being in KLEXON; it was fascinating to get a glimpse into interactions between shakai-jin (especially the businessmen) and experience a club that was driven and shaped by them more than anyone else.

2 thoughts on “Saminya Bangura: KLEXON

  1. Interesting! I see what you mean about the lack of uchi, it would certainly be hard to enter one that doesn’t exist. At the same time, I think you got to see the other side of the experience, that is, what Japanese people are maybe like when they are “unbound” by social rigors, so to speak. So that must have been really cool. Did you feel that you learned anything interesting about language or dialogue during your time there (even in English)? 🙂

  2. Hey, Shauna, thanks for commenting! Believe it or not, I gained some new knowledge about English language during my time at KLEXON, haha. As native English speakers, we never really think about the rules that dictate how we speak since we pick up a lot of our language from the people around us. But through the questions my conversation partners had about grammar and vocabulary, I found myself considering a lot of the reasons why we say what we say the way we say it, which was such a surreal experience. I was essentially learning grammar rules for the first time when I’d been following them my entire life!