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.