For my Community Involvement Project (CIP), I participated in the Kyoto International Club Klexon. Klexon is a Japanese nonprofit international club that brings together English-speaking volunteers and Japanese participants who want to practice their English. They generally meet up on Tuesdays, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Kyoto City Gender Equality Center, or Wings Kyoto. Occasionally, they’ll host an event over the weekend or holidays.
Klexon’s time was divided into two parts. For the first hour, I spoke individually with Japanese participants. While the English speakers remained in the same place for the entire hour, the Japanese participants switched chairs every 5-10 minutes, so that in an hour I spoke with sometimes up to 12 different people. While initially a lot of the Japanese participants were rather shy and the conversations slightly stilted, after a few sessions conversations became more lighthearted and free-flowing. The Klexon managers gave us previously decided upon topics to talk about, but I found that the conversations often flowed naturally, and often ended up speaking about the common topics of interest between myself and my Japanese partner instead of those assigned. Through these one-on-one talks I managed to create a more personal connection between myself and the Japanese participants, and often found myself exchanging LINE numbers with them.
For the second hour, we were randomly put into groups of 5-6 people, usually with 2 English speakers and 4 Japanese participants. We gave small introductions, describing our names, where we come from, and our hobbies. Much like the previous one-on-one conversations, conversation often flowed naturally and we found ourselves speaking of new topics. Through these group discussions I learned more about a variety of topics; Japanese traditions, the Japanese view on religion and their own connection to religion, Japanese work culture, Japanese family structures, etc. Klexon provided me with a unique opportunity to gain an insight into Japanese culture, directly from Japanese people.
It was interesting to learn more not only about Japanese people and culture from the Japanese participants, but also about why the other English speakers decided to move to Japan. While some of them were American, a lot of them were from differing countries, each with their own point of view on Japan. An outsider’s point of view is often telling, and promoted serious discussions such as those about racism and discrimination in Japan.
Through Klexon, I’ve not only learned more about Japan and its culture, but I’ve also gained good friends. I often go to bars or karaoke with the Japanese people I met at Klexon, providing them with ample opportunity to practice English, and myself with an opportunity to practice Japanese. In sum, I’ve had a great time at Klexon, and I recommend it to everyone who is looking for a way to meet more Japanese people.