Alex Hall : Kyoto University Basketball Circle

I joined Kyoto University’s Free Club, a basketball circle, thinking that because I had been playing basketball since I was young, it would allow me to make connections with people based off of common ground. This was a correct choice in my eyes, as it felt natural to play and I could focus my energies on making friends in between scrimmages. While many KCJS students probably want to delve into something “new” and “Japanese”, I would suggest choosing something natural as their CIP, so they too can make valuable connections instead of focusing on learning something new.

Another thing that I feel I did correctly in the past few months with Free Club is saying “yes” to as many invitations as possible. Because of this, I got put into various Line group chats, grabbed meals with various members of the circle, and even got to go to the Autumn Camp, a group trip to Adogawa. The whole point of the CIP is to become a member of some community, and I believe the only way to truly become a member of any group is to interact with them as much as possible.

One of my fears in joining Free Club was navigating the complex Japanese hierarchy revolving around age. And while this exists (first-years always mop the court and most of my closest friends in the circle are my fellow second-years), it was not as strict as I believed. Those older than me would forgive me the occasionally omission of さん, and those younger than me didn’t really seem to be afraid of asking me to rotate faster on defense, etc. That being said, I would caution those joining university circles about the delicate balance you have to strike when it comes to these sorts of things. On one hand, I wanted to get to know everyone, and would try to talk to everyone from first-years to Ph.D. students. On the other hand, I had to be cautious of appearing rude. As a foreign student, I’m sure I got some more leeway on this issue than most, but at the same time I feel like I still made some missteps that I hope future students can avoid. My advice would be to use the です/ます form most of the time, until you feel certain that the other party is comfortable enough with you for you to stop using it. That is probably the most important thing – to not judge things from your own static point of view, but to try and see them through the eyes of the other circle members.

Free Club’s website:

8 thoughts on “Alex Hall : Kyoto University Basketball Circle

  1. I think saying “yes” to as many invitations as possible is a great idea! While interacting with fellow club members in the club activity itself is a good way to make friends, hanging out with them outside of the club is definitely an even better way to get to know them better. How well did you feel like you were able to integrate into the group?

    I also noticed that the age hierarchy wasn’t so rigid depending on what kind of group you were in. Michael’s fencing team had a fairly rigid age hierarchy, while my origami circle had a loose one, and yours seems to be somewhere in the middle. Navigating these group dynamics in Japan, I think, is an important part of Japanese culture and language, and it was nice that you got to experience that!

    • I think I did a pretty good job becoming a part of the group. I got invited to a lot of events, and I always have a few Line conversations going with people from the circle.

  2. Hi Alex!

    It’s great that you were able to have so many outside interactions with your fellow club members! I really understand your feelings of not knowing for certain whether you can speak a certain way, and, while wanting to make friends, on the other side not wanting to make them uncomfortable. I agree that, as foreigners we are able to get away with a lot more in terms of speaking and interaction but your advice about not judging things from just your point of view is very inportant and well said!

    I’m curious about whether any of your interactions explored the topic of these types of relationships. Some of the girls I got more comfortable wit in the group would talk to me about how they wish things could be another way, or how they admired “Americans” for their ability to speak straightforwardly. Did you have any of these kinds of conversations? And if so, what is the general feel that you get about the way club members view the hierarchical relationships? Also, is the interaction very different from what you would see in an American university?

    • I had a few of these conversations, although a fair few of them seemed to circle back around to how they wanted to be taller, to do better with girls.

      They seem to respect the relationships to a certain extent, but they’re okay with playing around with it a bit. A first-year once yelled out to a graduate student, “Grandpa, pass to a point guard ‘cuz you’re getting too old to run a break”.”

      Some things were different from playing casual basketball in an American university. Maybe one thing would be the lack of frustration – not much swearing or yelling, and if someone turned the ball over or made a mistake, they would just apologize and get back on defense, which was refreshing.

  3. Starting off with a familiar activity does seem to make a lot of sense, although I also could imagine learning something new from club members would also come with quite a bit of interaction. In terms of things to watch out for, are there any other significant things on top of properly using desu/masu form speech?

    • I think one thing would be to try and get away from the “foreigner” label as much as possible – you will most likely get more leeway with things due to being foreign, but it’s best not to rely on it/take too many liberties with it.

  4. Heya Alex,

    Wow, sounds like you kept busy! It’s wonderful that you managed to make so many friends. I would have thought that a sports group would be fairly close-knit, but evidently you slipped right in. It’s also surprising that the ranking is based on age seniority rather than club experience. Were most of the other members veterans of the club, or newcomers like you?

    Also: a camping trip! How exciting! How far into the semester was the Autumn Camp? Is that something the club does every year?

    • Thanks Jaime!

      For the most part, it seemed like most club members joined in their first year, so club experience and seniority was essentially the same (if that makes sense).

      It was around the first week of October I think, and they have an Autumn and Spring camp (which I plan on going to) every year.