When I first arrived at KCJS, I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a CIP activity. After scouring for hours on this very CIP blog and reading students’ various experiences, I decided that I wanted to do something a little bit out of my comfort zone: working in customer service at Bazaar Cafe. While the experience differed a little bit from my expectations (I did not interact with customers all that much), being a part of the Bazaar Cafe family was one of the most valuable experiences I had while studying abroad in Kyoto.
Bazaar Cafe was first founded in 1998 as essentially a safe space for people of all ages, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities, and faiths to come gather and relax. The cafe is located just down the block in a small side street. The atmosphere is cozy with a wooden interior filled with the voices of people enjoying their (extremely delicious) dishes and the happy chatter of the staff in the kitchen.
Something that I really enjoyed about my time working as a volunteer was the casual atmosphere of Bazaar Cafe. By ‘casual,’ I mean that there’s not a lot of 敬語 (けいご – honorific language) that needs to be said. When I first arrived, I had practiced the written 敬語 phrases that KCJS suggested I use the first time I meet the cafe staff. However, on arriving, my supervisor, はっちゃん and レイカさん, were extremely kind and welcoming. From there, I started to build small, but strong relationships with the various volunteers and staff members that would make their way to the cafe.
Essentially, I would spend a lot of the time doing menial tasks such as washing the dishes, putting leftover rice in tupperware, fixing business cards, etc. But I felt that doing something that required little thinking ultimately allowed me to try and fully engage in conversation with the cafe staff. We talked about various things from first loves, Nicolas Cage movies to Filipinx dance. What I enjoyed most of all was the diversity amongst the staff members. There weren’t only just Japanese people, but Filipina and Thai staff that have lived in Japan for most of their lives. There were also people like me, who had just arrived in Japan or were studying abroad.
If anyone is looking for a chance to really engage in conversation, I would recommend this volunteering opportunity at Bazaar Cafe! In addition to sometimes being fed amazing food, I thought that the laidback and kind cafe environment was the ideal place for me to share my experiences as an exchange student and for the staff to tell me more about themselves. Overall, I hope that more students continue to volunteer their time at the cafe!