Alan Cheng: Origami Circle

For my CIP, I joined an origami circle and took shodo (書道) calligraphy lessons. The origami circle meets weekly on Wednesdays between 6 and 8pm in the Kanbaikan (寒梅館), located just a minute’s walk away from the Doshisha’s Imadegawa campus. No experience is needed and membership is not limited to only Doshisha students—any college student studying in Kyoto is welcome. The shodo lessons, on the other hand, were taught by a sensei living in my host family’s neighborhood, recommended to me by my host mother. The lessons took place once a week on Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm, so even though I participated in two activities, it was only a commitment of four hours per week with minimal travel, which was manageable with my schedule.

For this post, I’ll be focusing on the origami circle, which had more group interaction compared to my shodo lessons. The origami circle had a very relaxed atmosphere. We could fold whatever we liked, with paper and origami instruction books provided by the circle. There was no strict attendance requirement, so members could come and go each week as they pleased.

By participating in the circle, I feel like I have a better understanding of how group structures work in Japanese society from. Before, I envisioned that all clubs and circles would have a fairly rigid senpai-kohai structure, and I was curious to see what that would be like. However, the group structure, too, was fairly relaxed, and the senpai-kohai dynamic wasn’t so palpable in the origami circle. Rather, it felt more like a circle of friends—those who were more familiar with each other used casual language, while those less familiar stuck to polite form. For instance, during the first few sessions I attended, one of the more involved members (who was younger than I) used keigo when speaking to me, which is what one might expect in terms of senpai-kohai relations. However, after going out to dinner with fellow club members, they started using casual language with me without concern for age differences. The origami circle gave me a broader view on how Japanese people interact within groups.

As for advice to incoming KCJS students, I would recommend actively participating in CIP activities as soon as possible. I didn’t join the origami circle until a month into the program because I was still waiting for responses from some other groups and I didn’t want to commit to too many groups at once. In retrospect, I should have just joined the origami group from the start and been more decisive.

10 thoughts on “Alan Cheng: Origami Circle

  1. Wow! This sounds like such a great experience- it looks like you learned so much! Plus, practicing origami with a group of friends a few days a week sounds like such a rewarding -and stress relieving- study break.

    You were so observant in figuring out patterns of who used keigo/polite/casual forms with the other members! This is something that I know a lot of us have had a hard time picking up on- sometimes for me, it feels like everyone is very good at playing a game, but nobody has told me the rules!! Especially in terms of polite/casual forms, it can be really hard to tell when people are using either form because of the situation in general, or because of the specific relationship they have with whomever they’re interacting with. It’s also great that your group was social enough that you were able to do things like get dinner together! It seems like a great way to make friends here!

    • Thanks for the comment! I still have a hard time deciding when to change from polite to casual forms or when to switch from last name to first name myself. I usually lean toward politer forms to be safe, but sometimes I worry about whether that sounds too distant!

  2. It seems you’ve gotten some valuable experience from the origami circle in terms of human interaction in Japan, and it seems you’ve made some friends out of it too! I’m sure the casual atmosphere of the circle may have made it easier to interact with people or reach out to them if you wanted to, which is important. Also, the fact that it was running on a very free schedule is nice for college students, because you weren’t obliged to do it.

    For those that are scared of joining a CIP in fear of committing to too many things at once, what advice would you have besides to just take the plunge and go for it?

    • Thanks for your comment! Depending on the type of activity, I think people are pretty understanding if you need to miss a few meetings or even quit the activity altogether as your schedule gets too busy. Plus, learning how to politely do that in Japanese is good practice anyway!

  3. This sounds like a very interesting circle. Di you get to do any complicated origami? Were the Japanese students, whom I imagine are more used to doing origami, in general, very good, and did they take on complicated projects?
    As for the senpai-kohai dynamic, it is interesting that in your circle members didn’t stick to it, since in mine (karate) they certainly did. Why do you think that is? Also, despite the lack of teinei language, do you think there was still a general feeling of respect towards the senpais or not especially?

    • Thanks for the comment! The weekly meeting was really just an opportunity for club members to get together fold whatever they like–some worked on very complicated projects, while others folded simpler origami.

      I think the looser senpai-kohai dynamic is, at least in part, due to the flexibility of the club itself. To be honest, often times I have trouble remembering who’s older than whom, but have definitely noticed a sense of respect for those who are most involved in the club (and probably been in the club the longest).

  4. It’s interesting that the senpai-kouhai relationships were so relaxed in the origami club. I wonder if maybe that’s connected to the fact that the club as a whole is very relaxed (for instance, the attendance policy). Do you feel like having that sort of freedom helped you communicate more with club members? Also, I’m curious if you wish you’d had a chance to experience a more “stereotypical” hierarchy since it’s something you don’t really get back home.

    • Thanks for your comment! I think it did, at least in the sense that I was able to go grab dinner with them after the meeting and talk comfortably with them as well. Sometimes I do wonder what it’s like to be in a more stereotypical hierarchy but I’m not sure whether that would necessarily be more enjoyable!

  5. Hey again Alan! I meant to ask but forgot- how did you get around the language barrier in learning to make origami? It seems like it would have really complex instructions- but were you all able to help each other?

    • Actually, origami instructions in Japanese are pretty understandable because the diagrams usually contain all the information you need! However, I did end up learning a lot of new vocab words related to folding and paper through the process. Also, club members were happy to help out and show me how to do certain folds if I couldn’t figure it out from the diagram.