Ka Kei Li: Volunteer at Kyoto International Manga Museum

For my CIP, I volunteered at the Kyoto International Manga Museum once a week, alternating between reception/archive assistance. I loved manga when I was in middle school, so I thought, why not try to reignite that passion? Also I had always been wanting to experience working at a museum, therefore I chose this position.

This activity turned out to be way more formal than I thought it would be. I did not expect that I had to have an interview for this, and my name tag says “intern” instead of “volunteer.” I am expected to enter the office and greet everyone in a loud voice, saying “こんにちは。今からインターン入ります、よろしくお願いします!” “お先に失礼します。お疲れさまでした。” everytime I start working and leave, as if I were an employee of the museum. On the first day, my supervisor Watanabe-san told me this is basic etiquette and that she herself does that every day as well. As it was still early into the semester when I started volunteering, I felt like I embarrassed myself countless times by not suing the proper honorific speech towards the staff. The set phrases and almost ritualistic greetings were a little difficult to get used to, and I was slightly uncomfortable about how demanding they were towards their only volunteer. Yet thanks to this I’m able to get a taste of the Japanese workplace early on, and since the staff was generally really nice to me, I gradually got accustomed to the environment.

On my reception days I did translation, both verbal and written, to assist them during Chinese New Year when Chinese tourists flocked to Japan. Behind the reception counter I observed the hospitality and efficiency Japan prides in proximity. They are extremely observant; the receptionists would actively look for foreign tourists who need help, while handling a wide range of administrative tasks. Sometimes I even felt that they are excessively polite, even towards me. I translated a list of phrases into Chinese for the shop staff, and they thanked me repeatedly, even though I also replied “you’re welcome” repeatedly. Besides that, I got to have casual conversations with the receptionists during times that weren’t very busy, but I noticed that all of them tend to start conversations with small talks, and they would even repeat what they said. For example, they would start with “the rain is pretty bad recently, yeah?” and whenever there’s a pause in the conversations they would bring it up again and again: “rainy days make me feel sleepy” “I hope next week will be sunny”. . . Although the conversations would have been carried on fine without those fillers, I appreciate their effort in filling up the silence.

When I get to stay in the reading room and assist with book organization or preservation, I don’t really get the chance to converse with Japanese people. However one thing I learned from handling books in the reading room is that the Japanese really do research on everything ever. Since the reading room is mainly used for research purposes, the majority of the books there are research or theory publications on manga. I was astonished by how specific and obscure the topics can be, such as “on the evolution of the depiction of ballet in manga” or “reality as a fictitious narrative.” I returned during my free time to read some of these books.

Volunteering at the Kyoto International Manga Museum was in many ways rewarding. My duties went beyond my expectations, but I got the opportunity to explore Japanese culture not only through being in a Japanese workplace, but also through having casual conversations with the staff, and taking a glimpse into the massive collection of publications of the museum. Also, my time there did reignite my passion towards manga.

2 thoughts on “Ka Kei Li: Volunteer at Kyoto International Manga Museum

  1. I think you may have had the hardest CIP yet, I’m surprised they made you do so much work even though you were volunteering! Things must have been very hectic during the Chinese New Year. I’m glad it turned out to be a good work experience.

  2. Wow, 大変そうです。お疲れ様!It’s nice that you were able to practice your Japanese through the translation work and talking with staff.