For my CIP I decided to participate in Nico Nico Tomato. Nico Nico Tomato is a volunteer organization that specializes in making grafts for the children at Kyoto University Hospital. The work is super meaningful and the dedication of all the volunteers is really amazing.
This organization focuses mainly on crafts. However, the volunteers also program many events throughout the year for the children. However, the main focus for us KCJS volunteers is helping make the cards and other mementos to give the children. Over my near semester there I got to know a lot of interesting people as I volunteered. One thing I definitely picked up on was the situations of when to use Keigo and when not to use it. While speaking amongst ourselves everyone spoke casually. Some used -masu form others short, but that depended on how close they were in terms of their personal relations.
Perhaps what stuck out to me the most while participating in this CIP was the differences between Kansai-ben and Tokyo-ben. At my university all of the professors are from the Tokyo area and thus speak Tokyo-ben. Even at KCJS the Japanese that was most prevalent amongst the staff and Senseis was Tokyo-ben. So walking into Nico Nico Tomato was the first time I really felt culture shock while in Japan. My listening comprehension skills were really put to the test. Not only is Kansai-ben extremely fast, but words are different as well as accents sometimes. (compare to different regional dialects in America) However, after a little while it wasn’t that bad anymore, and I also learned new words and phrases. This became especially interesting when listening to Japanese from different sources and suddenly being able to spot regional differences I would have otherwise missed.
Another things I picked up on while volunteering are different customs I used to associate only with office related environments. For example, one of the older volunteers had been unable to attend for a week or two due to vacation. When she returned she brought back souvenirs for everyone and apologized for being gone. I also noticed that the Japanese attention to detail is much higher than the American one.
Perhaps the best advice I could give regarding Nico Nico Tomato is don’t be afraid to ask questions. They could be about anything ranging from clarification about instructions to questions aimed at getting to know your fellow volunteers. This way you will be able to get to know the other volunteers more quickly as well as learn new things. The room itself is quite small so you’ll end up spending quite a bit of time with new people in a smallish space. However, this environment is perfect for learning new things and getting to know new people. Sometimes there will be large chunks of time where no one is talking; instead everyone is amicably completing their own assigned tasks. During these times it’s completely your choice if you want to make small talk or let the silence continue, but personally I found those small pockets of silence to be very peaceful.