I attended the same dojo, Goshonouchi Dojo, as I did in the past fall semester, to practice Japan Karate Association-style Shotokan karate.
This semester, I became a lot closer to the members of the dojo and even started meeting with them outside of the dojo on occasion. I also managed to pass two belt level tests while here, which will transfer back home to the US.
If possible, I really recommend doing an academic year because I felt that I got a lot closer to people in my second semester. Also, do not be afraid to just go up to people and talk to them if you are having a hard time making friends.
I decided to join a karate dojo (Goshonouchi Dojo) this semester for my CIP. I decided on karate because I have been practicing karate for around 13 years of my life and I did not want to get out of shape as well as the fact that the chance to train at a Japanese dojo was very enticing. Goshonouchi Dojo in particular is part of the Japanese Karate Association, of which I am a part of, which essentially means that I can carry over my belt level between Japan and the US.
While there were some hiccups along the way, Goshonouchi Dojo was very welcoming and I enjoyed my time training with them. Before joining, I initially sent an email explaining who I was, my rank, etc. but when I arrived they thought that I was another study abroad student’s friend instead of the person in that email. Eventually the misunderstanding was cleared and I was able to join the more advanced group in their practice.
The only thing different between the beginner and advanced group was the kata (forms) we learned, but it was nice to practice kata that were more on my level. They even taught me a new kata, jion, which was really fun. They also added another kata to the practice list after I asked for it.
For language, I have learned that I still have a lot to learn. While I could sort of understand the people at the dojo, they used very specialized language that I wouldn’t necessarily have learned in class before, so sometimes I had to rely on context and what other people were doing to understand. I also found that my suspicion that karate terms used in the US had definitely had their pronunciation changed a little after it took me four tries to get the sensei to understand what kata I wanted to practice. But in the more normal conversations I did have some of my confidence restored in my ability to understand at least basic Japanese.
For culture, a lot of the more ‘cultural’ aspects of karate I already knew before attending this dojo, so I did not learn a whole lot with regards to karate-specific Japanese culture. However, I did learn that you do pay for class fees and other such fees with envelopes and non-folded money. I was also invited to the dojo’s end of the year party (bonenkai), which I am planning on going to. I’m excited to experience what a bonenkai is like for the first time. Another general cultural thing I learned was that it seems more difficult to make friends in Japan at first because people don’t tend to approach new people/foreigners of their own volition, but if you’re the person to reach out, you should have no trouble at all making new friends. All in all, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to continue training with them.