Caitlyn Chung: Kyoto International Manga Museum

For my CIP, I participated at the Kyoto International Manga Museum as a volunteer. The museum, as the name states, holds the largest collection of manga in the city, and is a sort of makeshift library as well where visitors can read the manga that every wall of the building. There’s also changing exhibits every season to highlight a popular series, visiting artist events, and other local activities as well. As a volunteer intern at the museum, my work mostly consisted of helping behind the scenes by organizing the manga (as people tend to misplace them) and assisting visitors at the front desk. I also occasionally translated Japanese to English or Korean for the museum workers when they asked.

I would say the work definitely translated more towards customer service; making sure you’re friendly, answering any questions, and taking the occasional break to relax and read the manga as a visitor than a worker. Regardless of language or culture, the customer service portion remained relatively similar. On the other hand, it was the relationship with the other staff members that greatly differed the most from any past part-time job experience.

Every time I came, I would have to go out of my way to the administration office across the building to say a couple of quick words before going to see my supervisor. After that, whenever another member of the museum and I crossed paths, we would give a sign of acknowledgement (usually a bow from me, or a tilt of a head), and say 「お疲れ様」before moving on to whatever task at hand. The language also changed with who I talked to – obviously with customers and other high-level administration staff members, I would use the politest form of speech, but with my immediate supervisors and other people I met often at the front desk, a hybrid of informal and formal speech was considered the norm. The latter, in my opinion, definitely made it easier to befriend the others – everything felt more natural (from greeting to parting and in between), while saying hello and goodbye to the administration office before and after every shift there felt more like another chore.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is definitely an amazing place and is super cool with thousands and thousands of books collected from as early as the Showa period of Japan (you have to get the staff-only storage places for that!). They also have a ton of resources for people who want to study manga, history, etc., and honestly the staff were so kind and were more than willing to speak to me! They were definitely a highlight of the entire thing, especially Watanabe-san, my immediate supervisor. She was incredibly helpful and did the most to make me feel comfortable throughout the time! However, for those considering volunteering here, I would advise that future students be confident in their Japanese conversation skill. It is a reputable institution that provides entertainment and education for a variety of people throughout the day, and as a member of the staff there, being unable to provide quality service or making mistakes does end up hurting their image (in addition, most of the people there are unable to speak English). It is a great opportunity to use keigo in a real-life setting, so I highly recommend it for those who want to experience a glimpse of the Japanese work environment!

4 thoughts on “Caitlyn Chung: Kyoto International Manga Museum

  1. The Manga Museum sounds like a really cool place to work! Did you have any awkward situations that arose because of your speaking style/level of formality – I can imagine that would be really difficult to navigate for a non-native speaker, especially in a professional setting.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      Yeah, I definitely ran across from troubles here and there since I didn’t fully understand what they wanted me to do sometimes. I would get instructions and just nod along, but in reality I had no idea what was happening and just followed by example. Definitely awkward asking for directions again and again, so it pushed my listening and comprehension skills to the max!

  2. It’s great that you got to experience what a professional setting is like in Japan. I wish I had gotten a similar chance to be forced to practice keigo, or at least learn when best to use it. It seems like you really got on well with the other staff members which is great! さすがケイト

    How do you think you’d compare your experience with the professional setting over a japanese university’s student club? Would you recommend future exchange students to do something similar?

    • Hi, thanks for the comment John!

      ありがとう(笑)It was definitely a lot of fun and I think a unique experience for sure. I would recommend this if people wanted to experience what it’s like working in a more professional setting (so those thinking of working in Japan after graduation or sometime later). In addition, I think to fully enjoy a CIP like this, people should be confident in their speaking skills since no one has time to translate everything into English.