Alexander Hall: Kyoto University Basketball Circle

This semester, I continued my CIP from last quarter, which was Free Club, a basketball circle at Kyoto University. I spent the semester getting closer to my friends from the previous semester, while also getting to know people that I hadn’t known quite as well. Through the semester, I met alumni (which are called OB in Japanese – short for Old Boys), older members which only came occasionally, and, when the school year changed, new members who were coming in from high school. As such, I got to sort of experience all of the differences in the relationships between Japanese university students based off of age.

The thing I focused on most was levels of politeness in speech, which is what I struggle most with in Japanese, behind only kanji. Perhaps what I found most surprising was not the differences in speech style per se (as in sentence endings, etc.), but the differences in content. For the most part, members of the same year did not really filter things out when talking to each other. They made fun of each other, made stupid or dirty jokes with each other, and overall talked like most guys do in the United States on basketball courts. If members were separated by a year, the older members would not filter very much, but the younger members would be careful to tone down when making fun of the older members. What I found most interesting, however, was the differences in speaking between members separated by two or more years. Of course, the younger members were very polite, making sure not to appear rude. I expected the older members to not filter at all – however, they were extraordinarily nice to younger members. A fourth year, who would crack jokes with third years who made mistakes, would often give advice to first years when they did the same thing,

My advice for future students would be to pay attention to these sorts of things. Everyone knows about です・ます and 敬語, but in reality, we all make mistakes with these and are often forgiven. However, we are not really taught which sort of content is appropriate, even though this is just as important. Therefore, I would suggest to future student to use my experience as a rough outline for university circles, but also to pay close attention to interactions between differently aged members in order to navigate these things.

4 thoughts on “Alexander Hall: Kyoto University Basketball Circle

  1. It’s really interesting that in these conversations you observed that, not only does having an age difference matter, but the wideness of the age gap also changes how people speak to each other. Did you feel like you were able to adapt to and navigate these differences in your own conversations?

    • In all honesty, I had a bit of a hard time adapting, but I got used to it over time. It wasn’t as bad for me, since I was pretty close in age with the new first-year members of the club, but I definitely changed my speaking style to be a little nicer to them. Overall though, I think I did all right in adapting.

  2. Hey Alex, it sounds like you had a lot of fun playing basketball! That’s pretty interesting about the content. I had never really thought about that before this post. Did you ever notice people changing their speech patterns as their relationship developed? Did you do any fun activities outside of playing basketball?

    • Yeah, actually, as relationships changed so did speaking! One first year (now second year) would often make fun of an older member (a graduate student) for being old by calling him grandpa when he didn’t run fast enough. He never did this in the beginning, but started doing it in the last couple of months.

      Yeah, they were nice enough to invite me to their fall trip, along with a lot of dinners and nomikai, all of which I enjoyed thoroughly.