For my CIP this semester, I did bouldering at a local bouldering gym in Shijo. Last semester I did ping pong, but I quickly realized that competitive sports like ping pong do not make great environments for trying to sustain extended conversations since everyone is focusing on the game. Bouldering, on the other hand, is a great way to talk to people and make new friends each time. Besides the fact that I really enjoy bouldering and physical exercise, the environment itself is really great for making conversation. Most of the time I would not have to try myself to initiate conversation as people are usually trying to cheer each other on as they watch others climb. It does not matter how good you are if you are a complete stranger, there will always be someone encouraging you with the occasional “ganba!” and “nice!” Whether or not you make it to the top, once you come down from the wall you can easily go to the person and strike up conversation by thanking them for their encouragement or asking them what they think would be the best way to climb the course.
Vice versa, you can of course flip the scenario and be the one who is cheering others on and initiating conversation that way. However, this of course depends on their receptiveness and if they want to talk to you after they finish the course. Personally, I find it much easier to ask someone who just did a course that you are working on how they did it, and if they have any tips on how to do it. I’ve made most of my friends this way, and once you get used to the interactions after a week or two, it becomes easy to make new friends each time you go. The great part too is that most of these people are regulars, so you will most likely see them each time you go to the gym. From there, it is pretty self explanatory on how to expand the interactions beyond just the bouldering gym if you so wish and ask them out for meals afterwards.
How long you stay is completely up to you, but each time you pay for the gym you are allowed to stay there the whole day. This includes going out to buy a meal, do something else, and coming back at a later time. This was great because the gym is also a little expensive even with the student discount, including the equipment costs of renting shoes and chalk. Usually I would spend up to three to four hours there at a time because it was fun, as long as my muscles did not get too tired or sore. Over the course of the semester, not only have I made a lot of new friends, but I have also improved my bouldering skills and definitely found a new hobby that I will continue to pursue when I go back to the United States.