Yuewei WANG: Life in Kyoto

For fall semester 2015, I participated in the production of a bi-monthly informational journal called Life in Kyoto under Kokoka Kyoto International Community House. I volunteered for the Japanese version, English version, and Chinese version. The production cycle is eight weeks long, and themes of articles are decided based on the season of the year and aimed to help foreigners know Kyoto better and navigate their lives in Japan. 

For the Japanese meeting, there are about twenty people, and the age of participants range from undergraduate students to senior men in their sixties. Because of the nature of the production, this volunteer experience involve a lot of talking about tiny details, from grammar to choice of words, which I appreciate the most, since it gives the chance to experience how Japanese people actually talk and collaborate, and I can ask any question I want no matter how trivial it seems. As for the English meeting, number of participants can range from ten people to three people. We correct grammar and making sentences easier to understand. Since English is my second language and Japanese is my third language, this volunteer experience really helps me with improving both languages’ skills. 

During the production of December-January edition, I was lucky enough that other members in the group trust me and assign me and Nicole the task of writing an article about new year celebrations in Japan and America. We wrote the article in English and Japanese together, and I can never forget after I read out our article aloud during the meeting, there was like twenty seconds of silence. Then one of the senior men said that it is better for a Japanese person to go over our draft before we talk about the draft as a group.

Through volunteering at LIK, I learnt a lot about Japanese culture. Before coming to Japan, I had the idea that Japanese, like Chinese, are collectivist and they have amazing traditional culture. Spending three months in Kyoto, I gradually realized how shallow my understanding was. To begin with, being collectivists means that uniting as a group is crucial, yet the way Japanese perceives one individual is very interesting. One’s gender, age, and occupation can determine how one talks and is talked to. At LIK meetings, such sophisticated system of utilizing language is very evident, since people of various gender, age, and occupation are present. Even though most of my American friends here hold a not so positive view about this “classifying” system, I really appreciate how much control that I can have over the language to show respect, distance, and/or intimacy.

I want to tell potential participants of LIK a few things. First, Japanese meetings and English meetings do take a lot of time, approximately 12 to 16 hours per month, and it could be more if you work on the Chinese version as well, but knowledge gained from reading into the lines and comparing one work with the other is definitely worth it. Also, you can learn how to interact with people from different age groups from undergraduate students to salary men, from housewives to retired men in LIK, which is something most other CIP cannot provide you. Lastly, no matter what CIP you choose to do, it is actually very beneficial if you take the full advantage of being a foreigner, which allows you to ask whatever questions you want, and eventually helps you navigate in Japanese society more and more swiftly.

2 thoughts on “Yuewei WANG: Life in Kyoto

  1. I was also SUPER nervous when they read over our article the first time! But it was fascinating to observe how they discussed and edited the articles so carefully each meeting. I was surprised at how open the group was, how quickly they let us jump in and start working on our own articles.

    What is it like working on the Chinese publication? The group is so much smaller, right? Does that make the editing easier or more difficult?

    • Thanks for your comment! Yes the group is much smaller for Chinese edition, and the work is much easier since there is no face-to-face meeting. Everything is done through emails, so the time consuming discussion part does not exist for Chinese “meetings.” Also, because all group members are native Chinese speakers except for the organizer himself, everything turns out to be natural Chinese language pretty easily.