Throughout the fall, I took koto lessons with Iwasaki-sensei as my CIP. Every Tuesday, another KCJS student and I went over to Greenwich house to practice in a group session. People would filter in and out during the duration of practice, and the other students would vary from week to week. Most of them were around the age of retirement, and had experience playing the shamisen, flute, or koto, but there were also newer students, such as a mother and her adorable five-year-old daughter who took lessons together.
Iwasaki-sensei tended to focus on the shamisen students or the little girl when she arrived. I was taught by Saito-sensei, a “student” who clearly had a similar level of experience to Iwasaki-sensei. She was very kind and patient with me as I fumbled my way through practice each week. The class members are very close to one another, and our sessions have a lighthearted air of warmth. Iwasaki-sensei herself is very welcoming, she’ll give out tea and treats and often jokes around with her students. One class she paused the lesson, marched us downstairs, and treated us to cheese bubble tea from Kawaramachi.
Though I enjoyed the classroom’s dynamics, I did find that throughout our weekly time together I didn’t necessarily have many opportunities to practice conversation. The lessons, naturally, are focused on playing music. The blogs of past KCJS students who have also taken lessons with Iwasaki-sensei mention often going out to dinner following a practice, but as my homestay was further away, I returned earlier. Despite the warm classroom environment and Iwasaki-sensei’s kindness, I was often held back by my own shyness from pushing myself to insert myself into a conversation and practice speaking. I’ve learned that, truthfully, unless I’m in a situation where I’m forced to speak Japanese, taking initiative by myself is not my strong point. After this realization, I did try to speak out more within our weekly practices. Yet at different points in the semester, I looked to some of my classmates, who participated in volunteer work or clubs where they are forced to speak through the nature of the activity, and felt some regret that I didn’t choose a similar CIP, or always push myself hard enough in the one that I did.
That being said, when deciding on lessons in the beginning of the semester, my goal hadn’t been to do a CIP purely for improving my language skills. I had simply wanted to participate in a traditional art form of Japan, and explore a facet of Japanese culture with which I had little experience. From this respect, I’m happy with my choice. Even though I wish at times I had been more outspoken, I’m grateful to have taken lessons within Iwasaki-sensei’s warm and welcoming classroom.
My advice to future students is to think critically about what sort of experience you want from a CIP, and what skills you wish most to practice or gain. Imagine yourself at the end of the semester: what would you not want to regret? What kind of experience would make you satisfied?
Goodness, I greatly considered a koto/oriented CIP, so I’m to live vicariously through your post! I bet you can play so well now, too. What a delightful transferable skill. Did your lessons all focus on a specific koto, or were you able able to play different types? (Like the Taisho Goto?)
Thank you for your comment! A semester of lessons certainly didn’t turn me into a koto pro, but I’m grateful to have learned something new.
Our lessons focused on the standard kind of koto, since our teacher didn’t have any other kind, but I certainly had my hands full trying to play just that! I’m amazed by those who can play multiple versions with skill.
Koto lessons sound so interesting and I’m super glad to see that you are happy and fulfilled with your experience. I can totally agree about the aspect of having a small amount of time to practice conversation since I also attended a music-oriented CIP. It can be tough, but I think everything you said was spot on. Like many others, also thought about taking Koto lessons, were you able to notice any differences between the way music is taught in the U.S versus in Japan?
Thank you for your comment! It’s nice to know you had a similar experience in a music-oriented CIP. That’s a really good question, but its a bit difficult for me to compare how music is taught in the US versus Japan, because my experiences in each country have been so different–in the US I’ve only done private lessons, whereas here the whole time was with a group, which naturally changed the dynamic of the lesson quite a bit. I was very intimidated by the group structure at first, but I came to enjoy the sense of community that comes with making music with other people.