When choosing my CIP activity, I hoped to find an activity that I could continue to perform after I leave Japan, and would allow me to explore an aspect of Japanese culture that the study abroad experience does not typically emphasize. Through this logic, I decided to take a weekly Japanese cooking class for my CIP, at the La Carriere Cooking School. I have always enjoyed cooking at home for my family, and I personally consider Japanese food to be the best in the world, so the opportunity to expand my knowledge in classes taken by actual Japanese people was a unique opportunity.
While taking my cooking class, I had the opportunity to interact with Japanese people outside of a classroom or host family setting, which expanded my understanding of Japanese culture. Something that immediately surprised me when I started to attend was that we were expected to wash the dishes during and after we finished cooking, which would not be orthodox in this type of cooking class in the west, and I felt tied in to a Japanese ethic of respect for the teacher and of not troubling others. Other aspects of the students gradually stood out to me, from the fact that the class was largely divided between young professionals and old retirees with few people in the middle, which reflects work dynamics in current Japan, to the different ways the students reacted to American, Costa Rican and (through some recipes) French culture. I also learned much of the kanji and words used to describe French food, and even became much better at deciphering Japanese onomatopoeia as my teacher struggled to communicate instructions to me.
However, it is true that by taking a class rather than a group activity, the amount of interaction that I had was limited compared to that of other KCJS students, and the varying attendance of these classes meant that my interactions stayed formal with most of the cooking students. In reflection, it may be better for students that are not particularly extroverted to aim for activities that more directly emphasize interacting with Japanese people, such as activities in Doshisha’s circles. Regardless of the activity, it is crucial to pay attention to the routines of Japanese society to the extent that one is capable, as managing basics such as proper aisatsu matters a lot more than equivalent pleasantries do in the US. Most importantly, realize that while it is inevitable to embarrass yourself with Japanese several times, you will never see the people again at the end of the CIP, and there is no reason not to be bold and practice as much as you can talking to Japanese people. Much like the host family, the CIP is a type of interaction that a class or individual practice is completely incapable of providing, so putting in effort is very important to how much Japanese you ultimately learn studying abroad.