Christopher Huber: Tanka Circle

What is tanka? The question is simply answered: a poem written in 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern. I felt content with my answer and decided to join the Kyoto University tanka club to try my hand at the art of their composition and reading. However, as I regularly participated in the club’s meetings, I began to lose faith in this answer of mine. In these meetings, called utakai, participating members submit poems in advance, which are then discussed, analysed and judged by the group. Over the course of these discussions, it became clear that the group and I were approaching the poems in quite different ways; it seemed that our concept of the nature of tanka was estranged. It appeared to me as though the members, even if they complemented the form of my poems or the choice of imagery, struggling to engage with them in the same way. I felt that I would never be able to truly join the group until I had solved the mystery.

At first, I thought the problem lay in communication. Although I could usually understand the clear, slow voice of my Japanese teacher, this ability did not translate into a comprehension of a heated literary discussion about poems I could not prepare in advance. There were certainly many times when I felt completely lost in the discussion. I had failed to follow the line of interpretation, even if I could follow the basic meaning of the sentences.

Aside from the discussion itself, the poems provided another obstacle. Though armed with a dictionary, there was always at least one poem I failed to grasp. Since every member is called upon to make comment, these moments were often quite trying; I would tend to talk around the poem, focusing on specific images without providing any attempt to string together the separate ideas.

However, I gradually felt I was overcoming these problems. My key strategy was to focus on interpreting the poems in advance even if it meant I had to largely ignore the first poem; that time was usually lost anyway in readjusting myself to the style of discussion. Consequently, when it came to the poems I had analysed, I was in a much better position; I was aware of a large amount of possible interpretation, which made following the comments easier and I had already decided on a few points to share, which dulled the pressure and allowed me to join more actively in the discussion.

The strategy proved key to becoming a member of the group. I won the respect of the other members not through my poems, but my interpretations. They responded to the evident consideration I was putting into my interpretation, which communicated my respect for them as poets and their craft. However, even though I was accepted into the club, the distance members felt to my poems did not disappear. We seemed to conceive of tanka in fundamentally different ways.

My first thought had been that tanka was no more than any other form of poetry, no more than one of many possible modes of expression. However, I was forced to reconsider this position after my exposure to the attitude of the club members. Questions on poetry or literature in general tended to meet with surprized and confused expressions; one would think I had asked a strange, even absurd question. When a reply finally emerged, it usually stressed the uniqueness of tanka, before admitting very little interest in other poetic forms. The pursuit was not poetry, but tanka; they read tanka and wrote tanka.

After a number of weeks, I believed I was beginning to understand their perspective. Tanka are, after all, in some ways a truly unique form of Japanese poetry; they have an age long tradition in Japan and stood as the unrivalled form of verse for over half a century. The tanka cannon overflows with great poems and poets; perhaps, their own tradition so rich and deep, tanka poets did not feel the need to look outside of tanka.

However, I was forced to abandon this supposition after a revealing exchange with one of my senpai, one of the leading members of the club, who regularly competes and wins tanka contests. As we walked together back to the station, he explained to me the difference between waka and tanka. Waka literally means Japanese poetry, but, due to the historic predominance of tanka, for a long time, it was used synonymously with the term tanka. My senpai employed the term to distinguish between old and new tanka. The scope of waka, the old tanka, was heavily confined by set conventions of diction and topic. In contrast, contemporary tanka is much freer, without any formal requirements save the 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic structure. After he had clarified the distinction, he told me I wrote in a very waka­-like style and would benefit from studying more contemporary tanka collections.

My senpai had unknowingly answered the question that had been troubling me. Indeed, I had always drawn my inspiration from the classical waka poets, aspiring to their lofty diction and keen seasonal awareness. Yet, no other member of the group was similarly motivated; I alone, it seemed, had believed in the continuity of the tradition; to the others, waka were no more than the works of poets from long ago, without any bearing on their own poetic practice.

I had my answer and indeed succeeded in presenting poems that spoke to the group, yet, if anything, I felt even more lost. I could no longer see why tanka was special, why these poets composed exclusively tanka. They do not see themselves as the last generation in a long line of tanka poets, yet nor did they see themselves as artists focused on a single mode of expression. I struggle to understand, but the struggle is interesting. One day, I will certainly find out what tanka mean to its poets.

Ife Samms: Female Musician Empowerment; Girl Band Power

Leading GBP (Girl Band Power) for the past few months has certainly been a handful. Throughout this time, I have wanted to invite my band members into the song writing process, and although it seemed difficult for them to grasp at first, I hope that this time together was an eye-opening experience for all of them. As this has been a project with the goal of female-musician empowerment in Japan, I hope that these young women were able to find encouragement in their art, and expansion in their views of their roles as band members. This intimate time making music with these four women has opened my eyes to not only the time that truly goes into leading a band, but the dedication and love that the challenge inspires.

While I was at Binghamton University, I lead as the vocalist and bassist of a funk band called the Funkophiles. This funk band was a different animal than the type of band Girl Band Power has been. Funk, as a branch off of jazz, is heavily motivated by improvisation from its members, making rehearsals quite easy and straightforward. However, GBP’s members are comprised of musicians who have not been exposed to improvisation or to songwriting in a band setting. Although this posed a challenge, I took this as an opportunity to expand my own individual part-writing and arranging abilities, outside of rehearsal time, in order that I might relieve pressure from GBP’s members to write their own parts. Language, too, was a challenge, as I was given the chance to use Japanese to explain musical concepts for the first time. I was surprised, though, that our band members would always speak to me politely; as the second oldest member and leader, I felt their respect through the language they used with me.

Due to challenges like these, Girl Band Power certainly has not been a walk in the park. As a member, I have taken on the roles of keeping in contact with members to plan rehearsal times, booking the studios, creating and sending song files for our original pieces, as well as creating and sending the files’ accompanying sheet music. This band has been a full-time job, and with school, it has been difficult to keep up. Thank God, I have somehow been able to stay on top of the band goings-ons (while promoting our April 17th first-and-last concert) and have been encouraged that although the challenge of this band has touched all of its members, it has pushed us to reach a new level of artistry as musicians, and a new level of perseverance and hope through it all. To see the dedication that musicians in both America and Japan bring to the table is not only a testament to the power and passion music inspires, but it also illustrates to me the universal nature of music—it can be shared across countries and cultures without losing its strength.

Those who read this post will most likely join a community already established in Kyoto; however, even to those who will experience a CIP in general, I believe that the notion of “perseverance and hope” is an important factor in learning all you can learn, and in seeing the positive end to something that, at times, can be very trying. I am very grateful for this opportunity to lead a girl band as my CIP (in Japan of all places), and I am thankful for all of the encouragement and support I have received from friends and teachers, alike. This has been a life-changing, life-inspiring experience I will never forget. From here on, I look forward to our April 17th concert; I am ready to put it all out there, have a wildly fun time, and take home what I have learned, using it as another propelling and motivating stepping stone in my future as a musician for God (Love).

Daniel Hughes: English Teaching at Ohara Gakuin Elementary School

Recently in B class, we have been discussing the recent changes to English education in Japan made by the Ministry of Education that dictate basic conversation and pronunciation will be taught starting from third grade instead of from fifth or sixth grade. Over the course of eight weeks I spent volunteering at Ohara Gakuin Elementary School, I was able to experience firsthand the effects this change has had on Japanese schoolchildren. Once a week, I worked alongside the teachers of Ohara Gakuin to teach basic English to students ranging from first to eight grade, and what I noticed was that when it comes to pronunciation and very basic grammar structures, the younger students who have grown up in the new system of teaching have a far better understanding than the older students.
The first week I visited Ohara Gakuin, I worked with first and second grade students whose pronunciation was astoundingly good. After spending a good deal of time with these students both in the classroom and during lunchtime, I enjoyed their enthusiasm for learning English and got to know them all very well. They were able to introduce themselves with basic English phrases such as “My name is…” and “My favorite color is…” and if I spoke slowly and carefully enough without using English grammar that was too complex, they were able to understand me without much help from the other teachers. We played games, sang songs, and from time to time I would read children’s picture books to them, which I was very surprised to learn they could nearly read themselves. Needless to say, the first and second graders of Ohara Gakuin are well on their way to becoming fluent in English if they continue learning the way they are currently. The older students, however, were a far different story.
After having spent the first week teaching the advanced first and second graders, I had expected the other grades to be of similarly advanced ability. However, before teaching the sixth and seventh graders in my second week, the Ohara teachers silently warned me that these students were not as quick to understand English as the younger students were. Having heard this, I expected the upperclassmen to have little to no proficiency in English, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I found them to be on par with what I would consider a normal level of ability for a middle school student. Like the first and second graders, they were able to introduce themselves fairly well and would even ask me questions like, “Can you swim?” and “Why did you come to Japan?” For the most part, they were able to understand my responses and were even able to ask well thought out follow-up questions. Having experienced this in the first few minutes of class, I wondered why the other teachers had told me these students were not necessarily as far along in their English learning as the younger students. However, once class started and I began using slightly more advanced English, the problems became very apparent to me.
Unlike the first and second graders, the upperclassmen had very little confidence when it came to pronunciation and sentence structure. At first I chalked it up to general middle-schooler malaise, and while that was certainly a part of it, it eventually became clear that the older students suffered in their English learning because of the drastically different teaching methods with which they had been taught. For example, whereas the first and second graders had the privilege of learning from a native English speaker three days out of the week as well as listening watching English movies and listening to English songs everyday, when the older students were in first and second grade they had only one day of hearing native English pronunciation, and rarely, if ever, watched movies or listened to songs. In my opinion, not being able to hear a native voice contributed to their lack of confidence when it comes to pronunciation, and their lack of interest in the continued study of English.
I fully accept the possibility that the younger students are more interested in learning the language simply because they are younger and full of much more energy than the middle-school age students, but I do think that the change in teaching methods greatly contributed to the change in English ability. The first and second graders have grown up learning English every day in school, and are greatly encouraged by the Ohara Gakuin teachers to use it as often as they can in their every day life. The older students had a different, less intense experience learning the language, and so are less inclined to put forth their best effort when it comes to being able to English. Whether or not any of this is actually true is something I can’t really prove, but if nothing else my experience at Ohara Gakuin has made me think that immersing students in English from a young age is the best way to teach it.
Observations aside, I had a great time teaching English at Ohara Gakuin Elementary School, and was sad to leave on my last day. I was, however, very happy to receive a lovely “thank you” poster from the younger students, whose well wishes and grateful goodbyes made it clear to me that I definitely want to become an English teacher in Japan. For any future KCJS students who are interested in English teaching, I cannot recommend Ohara Gakuin enough, and encourage you to spend your semester getting to know the lovely teachers and students of Ohara. As I left the school on my last day, “thank you” poster in hand, I had no doubt that I had become part of their community if only for a short while.

Gloria Kantungire: Klexon

I am currently volunteering in the Klexon English Language Conversation group. Through Klexon, I’ve been met so many new people. In fact last weekend,I went to Fushimi Inari and Lake Biwako with a woman named Kahori, who I met at a Klexon Party. Klexon Parties are held at the director of the program’s home every other weekend. The Klexon programs that operate in Shiga and in Kyoto come together for one night for a language exchange over dinner and drinks. That night, there were only a few foreigners, so foreigners were dispersed among separate tables. Kahori is actually quite a bit older than I am, however she is rather outgoing and (surprisingly) loud, so it was easy for me to become friends with her at the party. She invited me to go see Lake Biwako with her that next weekend.

Through meeting new people every week, I’ve noticed a lot of subtle cultural differences between America and Japan. For example, at the Klexon party, I made the mistake of pouring myself another drink. In Japan, it is customary for others to pour your drink for you. Since I was foreign, I was considered a “guest” of the country, which perhaps made it more imperative for Japanese people to pour my drink. Kahori explained to me that pouring a drink for yourself appears quite lonely, and the culture of pouring a drink for others is just another way for people to connect with one another.

Another difference I noticed was the gestures. Gestures in America can be are completely different from gestures in Japan. Most Americans when signaling someone to “come over here” will usually wave a person over with their palms facing upwards. When I was in Osaka with a friend from DESA (Doshisha Exchange Student Association), who offered to show me around Shinsaibashi, we were standing in front of a crepe store waiting for our crepe to be prepared. Unfortunately, I had been standing in the way of other people who also wanted crepes. He gestured for me to come closer, and away from the front of the store. However, he did so with palms facing down. In Japan, people signal “come here” with their palms facing downward.  Also that the American gesture for “kind of” or “a little” is gestured with palms facing downward and rotating your wrist up and down. When I asked Kahori later on whether or not she’s seen or used the American gestures for “come here” and ” a little”, she answered that Japanese people might see the American “come here” as a signal for a dog, rather than a person. Also Japanese people will signify “a little” with their thumb and index finger pinching together, while the American version of the gesture be seen as a rejecting hand motion in Japan.

Through Klexon, I’ve been able to practice my Japanese, and at the same time learn more about Japanese culture through observing the people I meet every week.

Kim Coombes: Teaching English at Kozmoz Cafe

I recently had to change my CIP due to scheduling conflicts, so now I am teaching English at Kozmoz Café in Momoyama. I have been doing it for a few weeks now and am greatly enjoying it. I am able to engage with Japanese people of all ages. I have the pleasure of teaching classes to adults as well as children. It is amazing to see how dedicated Japanese students are to their studies. As part of the adult’s lesson plan, they must keep a weekly diary and write about one event that occurred. Many of the adult students write pages of information so the teachers can correct them! Watching how hard Japanese students study has given me motivation to work harder at my Japanese studies.
Aside from having the pleasure of meeting Japanese people, as a teacher, my Japanese is constantly being reinforced by the lessons. Both children and adult will commonly repeat a question I asked them in English, in Japanese to me to confirm they understand. By doing this I get to hear their Japanese as well as check their understanding. After lessons I am able to speak with Japanese people and practice my Japanese a bit.
Teaching English has helped me feel more comfortable within Japanese society because I am constantly engaging with Japanese people. As a shy person, I have been able to use my classes as a way to engage Japanese people. By finding out what is popular and interesting to them, I am able to talk to more students at Doshisha and can hold more interesting and relatable conversations in Japanese.
Kozmoz Cafe is a non-profit organization and I really enjoying volunteering there. They run food banks as well as teach English classes. They also hold parties and events for their students. If there is ever any interest in volunteering there feel free to email me!

Catherine Alexander: Historical Sightseeing Circle

This semester for my CIP I participated in Doshisha’s Historical Sightseeing Circle. In this circle we learn about Kyoto’s many historical site and then visit in person as a group. Typically, after the planned visit to a historical site, everyone will go out to eat together. Also, because Kyoto is filled with sightseeing spots, we will often stop by shines and temples on our way to and from our main destination. Overall, this circle is a good opportunity to get to know a little more about Kyoto.

Besides the learning experience, I also feel that this circle taught me more about group dynamics in Japan. The biggest thing I realized was how the circle was divided by gender and age. In this particular circle, most of the first years were girls, so it was difficult to tell which factor was stronger; however it seemed like within the circle students tended to speak more with those who were the same age and gender. I wasn’t too surprised at this, because I’ve learned that age is important in Japanese society, but in comparison to America, where students normally group around major or common interests, I found it interesting. I myself, didn’t feel like a part of any of the gender or age groups, and normally switched around between them. As in a lot of cases, being a foreigner trumps other social classifications. However, I never really made an effort to stay with the others in my age group or gender, so things might have been different if I had.

The Historical Sightseeing Circle was a good experience, and I recommend it a CIP for those interested in Kyoto’s history. My advice for CIPs as a whole is to find something you enjoy doing!

Saminya Bangura: KLEXON

For my CIP, I’ve been attending the Kyoto Language Exchange Salon (or KLEXON) in Shijo once a week. While I didn’t get to practice a lot of Japanese language, it has still been an incredible experience that has allowed me to learn a lot about the Japanese culture and even make a few friends!

Of all the things I experienced during my time at KLEXON, what’s stuck with me the most was an experience I had at one of the parties. Once a month, there is a dinner party that brings two or three language circles in the area together and on my first time there, I was surprised to have so many members (from both my circle and the others) insist on serving me drinks and food. From the moment I began studying Japanese, the importance of the senpai-kouhai relationship was often emphasized and I had always assumed that, regardless of the context, it would stand firm. However, despite my being the youngest and newest member of the circle at my table, I was served throughout the night and when I attempted to do it in exchange, I was refused, which confused me more than it hurt my feelings.

I had to wonder if my being a foreigner somehow made me exempt from the usual rules that steer Japanese club dynamics. Perhaps because the members know that my time in the club is temporary, they were choosing to treat me more like a guest than a member; so the rules of senpai and kouhai (which I do see employed when other members interact) didn’t apply. I attempted to face this by becoming involved with the group on a more personal level so that even if they knew of my transience, I could still be accepted as a permanent member based on my social presence. This involved attending more events outside of meetings (like the parties) and following through on friendships when I received LINE IDs or Facebooks. But, in the end, there was no real change over the course the semester; I was still being treated like a guest even two and a half months in.

Eventually, I came to realize that this phenomenon wasn’t of any fault of my own. I was struggling to enter the uchi of KLEXON when there was no real uchi in the first place. Though there are a group of regular members that attend meetings every single week, KLEXON’s relatively lax structure, lack of set policies regarding attendance and older membership meant that some people might go weeks without coming to a meeting. And as a result, there was no concrete group mentality; individual members might forge friendships but there was no real sense of a bond between the group as a whole. Therefore, what I thought was a senpai and kouhai interaction forged by club members might have just been a manifestation of the general idea of respecting senior members in your field or elders.

I think that my experience would’ve been much different had I been involved in a CIP with more people my age, especially on a college campus. College clubs tend to be more structured (and, as a result, more stressful) but that often results in getting closer to your peers and creating a sense of uchi. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every minute of being in KLEXON; it was fascinating to get a glimpse into interactions between shakai-jin (especially the businessmen) and experience a club that was driven and shaped by them more than anyone else.

Hayley Valk: Kyoto YWCA

This semester I volunteered once a week for the after-school children’s program at the Kyoto YWCA. For most of the semester the same two kids came every Monday, an 11-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy. It felt more like babysitting than an organized program, as usually I was alone with the two and we spent the time freely chatting, playing with toys, eating snack, and doing homework. The last week there was a more structured, all-day camp during spring vacation, with 15 elementary school kids and 5 other college-aged volunteers, which offered a chance to interact with more children and other volunteers in a more organized environment.

Through weekly volunteering I really got to know the usual girl and boy, and see how my relationships with each compared to each other and evolved over the course of the semester. Though a bit hesitant at first, they both became fairly comfortable with me as a foreigner, but the girl much more so than the boy. The first day we met she was doubtful, and asked the program director if I even understood Japanese. The program director told her to talk to me and find out, and from there her impressions quickly improved. After a few minutes of conversation she decided I understand quite a lot of Japanese, and after asking me if I can read and write hiragana and some basic kanji she decided that I’m not so different from a Japanese person. That was a flattering overstatement. From then on we spent the majority of the time each day talking about school, what we like to eat, etc. She asked some funny questions about life in America, like whether people learn multiplication, if English is the only language used in the subway, and whether the four cardinal directions exist (I taught her the words in English, which she remembered from then on and would practice every week). She was very open to talking with me, and I think she had fun sharing stories and helping me understand her Japanese. She spoke very clearly, and after saying a word she thought I might not understand, she asked and tried to explain if I didn’t. Sometimes she would give up and tell me to use my dictionary, but some words like “alarm clock” or “snore” she could explain by making sounds and doing impressions. She also purposely avoided Kansai-ben, until asking me one day if I understood it. When I said I did understand some, she decided she’d try to use it with me from then on. I think her consideration for my Japanese abilities made conversation more productive and also more fun for both of us. The boy, though about the same age, had a fast, mumbling manner of speaking that was much harder for me to understand, and he made no concessions for my benefit. Because it was hard to engage in conversation he didn’t talk to me as much, but we became closer once I proved a decent dodgeball partner. He was more comfortable doing physical activities with me than just chatting. Though he warmed up to me, one of the last days when his mom came to pick him up she complimented my Japanese, and he quickly corrected her by saying that actually there’s a lot of Japanese I don’t understand. Though both were relatively open to me despite my being American, when communication challenges arose, the girl was much more able and interested to identify and solve them, while the boy just moved on without any effort to improve our mutual understanding. Though talking to them both was good practice, it was interesting to compare how my relationships with the two differed as a result.

During the spring vacation camp I was able to interact with many more kids, but I didn’t get to know any as well. Most of the camp children were a bit younger than the usual girl and boy; the average age was around 8. As a result, they seemed less aware of my being different or not understanding Japanese perfectly. Even at times when their speech was too fast or slurred for me to fully understand, they generally seemed content for me just to listen and respond as best as I could. Being younger, they were also more interested in being active and playing games, so if I jumped around, helped with puzzles, and made funny faces and an occasional joke, that was more entertaining than sitting around talking anyway. Since most weeks I was alone with the two kids, the camp was also a chance for me to see how other college-aged volunteers interacted with the children. Despite being a fairly structured program with a set schedule, the program director largely left the volunteers in charge alone, and I was a bit surprised by how little authority they showed. Organized activities quickly devolved into running, screaming, and games of questionable safety, but for whatever reason the other volunteers just smiled and let themselves get pulled around without making an effort to control the situation. Though I at times felt inferior because of my own lack of ability to communicate effectively to the children in Japanese, I appreciated that both the kids and other staff treated me the same as everyone else. In particular I appreciated the program director’s attitude towards me; both in a group meeting following camp and after I volunteered each week, she asked and valued my thoughts about the day. She also asked me to contribute ideas for camp activities ahead of time, and from the very beginning of the semester trusted me to take charge of the day’s activities and manage the program room.  Other staff members and volunteers were similarly friendly and trusting, as were the children’s parents, who always made a point to thank me. I really came to feel like a valued member of the YWCA community, equal to any other volunteer.

Overall I found volunteering at the YWCA to be a very successful and gratifying CIP experience. Perhaps due to the organization’s missions to support both Japanese and foreign women, everyone I encountered was accepting and understanding, and despite never meeting another American, I never felt out of place. The nature of the work didn’t require a very high level of Japanese, but it did offer ample opportunities to practice with people of all ages.  I also love spending time with kids, so volunteering was a chance not only to learn, but also to just have fun for a few hours every week. I am grateful to all at the YWCA!

Rosaley Gai: Kyoto Igo Salon

Every Monday and, if I have the time, Wednesday or Saturday, I go to the Kyoto Igo Salon from around 1PM to 5:30PM. Most of the other customers are retired adults, so the average age of the salon’s students is around seventy. I have been going to the same go salon for the entirety of my time in Kyoto, so it has been about six months since I began. At first, I was a beginner who barely knew the rules. The sensei there taught me through first a stone-capturing game, then with real games. I have risen eighteen ranks in six months, and am now at twelve kyū.

Go is ranked from thirty kyū (complete beginners) to nine dan (the highest level). I started at thirty kyū and slowly worked my way up to my current twelve over the last two semesters. It feels slow to me, of course, but the other students there are much older and take much longer to improve. I hear a lot of “Young people sure improve fast!”, not only directed towards myself but also towards the other young students. Last semester, I was one of the only young adults who regularly went to the salon, but lately there have been more young people at the salon, including two other KCJS students. They generally go on the same days as I, and it feels like the atmosphere of the salon changes somewhat with their presence.

Perhaps it is their energy that makes things different; maybe it is their voices. Somehow, though, their presence brings a sort of liveliness to the salon, which used to be generally quiet aside from idle chatter between games. One of the KCJS students is very friendly and the other is more reserved, but their interactions and excitement over learning the game from scratch seemed to imbue everyone else with the same kind of enthusiasm. It was their presence that really made me understand that participating in something requires not only input from the environment, but also output from the individual. I feel as though last semester was a more passive learning experience for myself. While I was able to learn how to better speak in formal Japanese and communicate with people of a completely different age group than I, I am not sure how much the other patrons got out of speaking to me.

When I began to participate more actively in the salon beyond games and shallow conversations, I felt like I had a stronger bond with the other students in the salon. I brought them omiyage from various trips I made and felt their gratitude during the afternoon snack break. In turn, they began to ask me more questions beyond my life in America, like whether I was going to miss Japan and how my weekend trips were. They even began to laugh and joke more with me. I now feel like a part of the salon rather than simply an outsider who has managed to extend one hand into a foreign environment.

In picking a CIP, I thought all that the most important thing was doing an activity that I enjoyed and would be able to do consistently. While this is still true, I have learned that simply going to and existing in a space is not as valuable a learning experience as interacting actively and enthusiastically with the other people there. I think I have become very close with the other students, and will miss them very much when KCJS is over.

Morgan Hearne: Kyudō

My time at Kyōto’s Budō Center learning from Kawaguchi-sensei was a great privilege. From gradually finding a better sense of balance when taking off my shoes before practice (though never a sense of grace), performing the correct form over and over again without complaint (in the cold, without feeling in toes or fingers), to releasing my first arrow, I have gained a lot from my CIP experience. Many of the things I have learned have been through nonverbal experiences, but nevertheless I believe they certainly say much about the process of studying a Japanese cultural art form.

To shoot or not to shoot— this depends on what I would call the Kyudō Trifecta: Respect, Discipline, and Patience. My observations point to these three values as key in determining your success in studying kyudō.

Every practice began and ended with formal aisatsu, which consisted of waiting for and greeting sensei when she became free, and respectfully expressing our appreciation for her guidance in zarei (seated bow position). Only after completing aisatsu could we retrieve our equipment or take our leave. At the same time, there was not a strict, tense atmosphere like I imagined there would be. Rather, while taking practice seriously, the older students often joked with sensei, who also often displayed a dry sense of humor. I think it was because a high level of respect already existed between students and teacher, as shown through aisatsu at the beginning and end of practice, that this kind of warm atmosphere could be created. The importance of respect feeds into the other two pillars of the Kyudō Trifecta as well.

In practicing the same form endlessly, respecting the subtleties between each step, and keeping both the mind and body focused in silence takes, as you can imagine, great discipline. In my mind, this was an area of particular importance in which to succeed because I have always imagined it as (besides a general area of weakness in myself) an area of weakness in those not socialized into Japanese culture. Because sensei was often busy helping a number of students, practicing in silence while learning as much as possible from older students was vital. Without saying anything, experienced students would generously hop in front of us to practice and let us take careful note of their form. I really appreciated the sense of camaraderie created because students knew the difficulty and importance of preserving through moments of weak resolve. Luckily, patience, as the third pillar of the Kyudō Trifecta, made me more forgiving in the moments when my shoulders did slump and my eyes searched for a clock.

Patience also, I found, was key to finding the joy in chilly afternoon practices of repetition, repetition, repetition. In fact, the same level of patience required of us was vastly lower due to the nature of our short visit. Kawaguchi-sensei actually sped up the timeline in which we received a bow to hold, an arrow with which to practice the form, and the permission to actually release the string. Normal students would have been practicing the form for about two months before even holding a bow. And yet all the same, even in the short and far more ‘action-packed’ time I took kyudō lessons, I know that patience is what completes the Trifecta. From the tremendous range of students’ ages, I saw right from the start that kyudō is an art form you learn over a lifetime. In this way, I was able to relax in knowing that while striving for a kind of perfection, it was finding the joy and awe in the learning process that made my CIP experience so memorable.