While searching for a CIP, I was recommended Bazaar Café by an alumna. It seemed to tick all the boxes: people-focused, near to campus, and intentionally inclusive. Actually volunteering there proved all those things true. My volunteer time comes after the lunch rush, so I’ve seen a whopping six orders leave the kitchen during my time at Bazaar Café. This is not, in fact, a bad thing: I have more time to talk to and get to know my co-volunteers. On my first day, everyone introduced themselves to me with varying levels of additional info about where they’re from, their relationship with the café, and so on. I was wringing my hands over remembering all the names and not forgetting keigo, but I’ve found that it’s no problem.
Maybe it sounds a bit strange to say some of my best memories so far involve me halfway to my elbows in dishwater. Maybe it’s even stranger if I say that washing dishes was part of the fun. But it’s the truth! The conversations I’ve had over the sink at Bazaar have ranged from heartbreaking to uplifting to hilarious. Through my fellow volunteers I have learned about the state of queer persons in Japan and the infrastructure for mental healthcare. One of my co-volunteers feels that Japanese media tends to “other” queer persons quite brazenly. I’m certain that mindset is common in the States, too, but according to that person, the opinion that sexual and gender minorities are fundamentally different from the rest of society is normal even among younger people. For persons with mental illnesses or disabilities, support varies. There is a solid effort being made to integrate the disabled into society by finding them meaningful work opportunities. However, social stigma around mental health issues like depression as well as addictions is still far too high. While learning about these sorts of differences can be somewhat disheartening, such insights into Japanese society are valuable in better understanding the country I am in and whether I would choose to live here long-term.
Aside from the big stuff, there were plenty of smaller day-to-day things I learned to. Regarding politeness, for example, on my second day, I was struggling to speak in keigo when someone told me just to chill out. That is not to say that speech registers are not important — there’s a time and a place for keigo, but it’s not to people you work alongside every week and come to regard as friends. Of course, I’ll still use polite form with certain stock phrases, but for the most part I am learning to match the speech register of my partner (no thanks to my textbook!). For cultivating personal relationships, going with the flow will take you a long way.
Bazaar Café is always one of the highlights of my week, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go there for my CIP. Whether or not it’s my official CIP next semester, you can bet I’ll be there often!