Xiangyu Zhang: Life in Kyoto

For my CIP, I participated in the production of a bi-monthly informational journal “Life in Kyoto” (LIK), under Kyoto International Community House. “Life in Kyoto” is making newsletters for foreign residents, especially foreigners who came to Kyoto one to two years ago, providing the informations which foreigners can feel relieved by reading. Since the production cycle is two months, we met two times per month on Wednesday evening, usually for about two hours at a time.

I volunteered for the Japanese version, and English version of the newsletter. It was a great opportunity to get to know the difference between cultures. The most interesting difference I experienced is about the masculinity and femininity in Japanese language. From an all-women’s college where gender neutrality is highly appreciated, I could not even imagine that somebody said that “this word choice (which are Kanji compound) is too masculine and let us find a proper word (such as kunyomi words) for her”, which I heard several times during LIK meeting. I do not think it is because my native language is nothing but Kanji so I cannot tell how “masculine” the word is, and I do have the idea that Japanese language system is separated by gender. But it was still shocking when hearing people do discuss in this way for article contents. Besides gender differentiation, in Japan, how one talks and is talked to is determined by one’s seniority, and occupation. Fortunately, LIK volunteer group members are quite easygoing and friendly, and everyone was trying to create a welcoming atmosphere to new-comers. So in our meeting, members basically talked with each other with polite form, except for senior people to younger people.

Other than bi-weekly meetings, our communication was almost done by emails, which enabled me to learned how to politely email in Japanese. In the past, when emailing in Japanese, I had to search for and check the politeness word by word online, but now, to a large extent, I can directly type without copy-and-paste. Some people may think the Japanese email is full of meaningless and overwhelming greetings, but I do appreciate the warmth and the respect show in the email by the routine “お疲れ様です” and “お手数をお掛けしますが、どうぞ宜しくお願いします”.

Moreover, as a volunteer, I had gone through almost every process of publishing a journal: making plans, writing, proofreading, and editing, which involve lots of detail-oriented works, such as reading the draft aloud to find missing particles and grammatically incorrect expressions, and word choosing, as the above-mentioned. The most difficult part in the proofreading is to make every sentence easier to understand in both Japanese and English. And as a non-native English and Japanese speaker, it is about mutual learning. I pointed out my suggestions to the contents, and I got invaluable advice from other volunteers on the article I wrote in Japanese and English. I would say how much you can learn depends on how you would like to raise questions no matter how trivial the detail seems to be. I enjoyed the mutually learning experience very much.

All in all, the volunteer experience with LIK was interesting and rewarding. As a foreigner I feel I was needed by everyone in every stage of the publishing work, from content writing to proofreading. On the other hand, I really appreciate the interaction with other members. I would definitely recommend the volunteer opportunity at LIK.

2 thoughts on “Xiangyu Zhang: Life in Kyoto

  1. The things you noticed about gender dynamics and gendered language are so interesting! It’s hard to even imagine an equivalent to such gendered words in English, at least the type that would be written in an article and not spoken aloud. I feel like gendered language in English has much more to do with tone and how we say things, as well as exclamations and ways of expressing emotion, than it does with roots of words or things like that. I thought that was the most interesting part of your post, but the fact that you participated in making a monthly newsletter in Japanese is really amazing! I think you really made the most of your CIP opportunity 🙂

  2. I’m jealous that you got to gain some real working experience during the short time here, but I also realize my Japanese level is not quite there yet 🙁 I personally loved working in small organizations as well, since you can really involve in all procedures when making a project. On another note, your organization would definitely help those foreigners living in Kyoto by themselves!