Ruiqi Wang: Manga Lesson

As my CIP for this semester, I chose Manga kyoshitsu. At first, I just want to experience something different from last semester and learn something about Japan. As we all know that manga and animation are really famous and professional in Japan and I am actually a manga fan and doing some little mangas by myself as well, I decide to do this for my CIP in Kyoto manga kyoshitsu with Okamoto sensei and Himura sensei. I go there every Saturday afternoon and spend 3 hours there drawing things. Basically you can draw anything you like at first and sensei will tell you which kind of exercise you need specifically. For me, I like to draw illustrations with characters but I can’t do very well in drawing human body, so sensei just gave me a photo book with human bodies and taught me how to draw human body from beginning systematically. Sensei will also gave me many advices when I am drawing. For example, the way to transform real pictures into manga characters and the composition of pictures, as well as some small tips which are really helpful.

Not only the way of drawing, but I also learnt how to interact with Japanese people. It’s totally fine to use casual speaking style with Japanese students in university, but since students in manga kyoshitsu are not all collage students and usually you cannot tell their ages, it’s better to use desu masu form to them. Because senseis are at our age as well, there was no wall between us. Of course we have to use Keigo to senseis but the atmosphere was really relaxing. Since I read manga as well, other Japanese students didn’t consider me as a foreigner, which makes me feel comfortable in this class. (The other reason that they didn’t consider me as foreigner may be that I am a Chinese which you can’t really tell whether I am a foreigner or not from my appearance. ) There was an elder sensei who is teaching traditional painting at the same place will always serve tea for us and students will bring snacks to share with everyone during break. I think this is a very special Japanese culture that happening everywhere in Japan, the tea time.

I really appreciate this opportunity to really join in a Japanese community like this kind of small class for manga. In this class, I had a chance to interact with young Japanese and here a lot of interesting things of Japanese young culture.

Eva Czapski: Yoga Lessons in Kyoto

Many people who come to Kyoto for travel or study-abroad come with expectations and preconceptions about its deep-rooted history, attachment to tradition, preservation of old customs and places, and general loyalty to the ways of the past. Tourists enjoy the torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the restored streets lined with machiya storefronts in Gion, and the countless hundreds of temples and shrines left over from the era of the Samurai. I spent a good amount of my first semester in Kyoto seeking out many of these types of historical-cultural experiences– I even chose a traditional art form, sumi-e, for my CIP activity– and even now, I love walking around the historical districts or visiting old temples on weekends. However, along with getting used to modern, everyday life in Kyoto, which has in fact developed into a very livable and culturally diverse city, I’ve gotten to know a side of Japanese life that isn’t tied to tradition or ancestral ways. In a place where everyone expects to see ancient buildings, traditionally-dressed Geisha, and narrow, lantern-lit alleyways (of which there are plenty to be found), there also exists a thriving, internationally-influenced modern culture, and a giant boom of lifestyle trends that closely resemble what was around me back home in the U.S.

Yoga is an ancient practice in itself, but the yoga trend in society is relatively new, and extremely current. Living in Boston, I was constantly surrounded by yoga classes, yoga wear, yoga images with inspirational Buddhist quotes, “yoga challenges,” and so on; as well as all the other facets of the yoga lifestyle, like trendy vegan cafes and specialized yoga clothing boutiques.

I was definitely surprised to find, once I’d started exploring a little deeper into everyday Kyoto life and society, that the same kind of trend is alive and flourishing here as well. I chose yoga classes as my CIP because I wanted to find out more about the Japanese philosophy and treatment toward the yoga lifestyle. Back at home, I was used to taking Vinyasa yoga whenever I did take a class, so I decided to continue the same thing here (they offer many levels of Vinyasa almost every day of the week at the studio I chose).

My yoga studio, Tamisa Yoga, is on the popular shopping street Teramachi, and includes a vegan cafe as well as a shop that sells yoga wear merchandise and imported organic foods. Tamisa reminds me so much of the kind of studios and organic cafes/smoothie-bars I am used to seeing back in the states– if even more hip and well put-together than ours are. It was so interesting to observe the way that people in Japan have embraced this globally-trending lifestyle, and taken their own spin on it both aesthetically and in practice. (The photos below are courtesy of

cosy cafetamisa1As far as the Vinyasa classes themselves, the main difference I noticed in the class culture was that everyone was more laid-back, including the instructor. Classmates smiled at each other and said a friendly お疲れ様ですat the end of each class, even offering to put away other people’s mats. The instructors spoke mainly in Japanese (although bilingual lessons are also offered), but some Vinyasa-esque phrases were reserved for English (“Relax your body, relax your mind, relax your heart”), and it seemed like everyone in the class understood what these meant. The fact that English and Western culture (foods and clothing from America, words written and spoken in English) is so tied to the yoga culture here, which had probably spread throughout East Asia to Japan far before America was even a country, was a very interesting point of study for me during my experience.

For anyone interested in taking beginner’s yoga classes, I recommend the activity both as a way to practice your Japanese listening and social skills, and to observe a very current and influential part of Kyoto culture. I’ll definitely be keeping up with the classes and the studio community while living here this summer.

Samuel Wachtel: Kyoto Daigaku Karate Club

For my CIP, I joined the Kyoto University Varsity Karate Team. It’s been a really fun and challenging semester with them, and I’ve learned a lot, about both Karate and Japanese culture.

Before coming to Japan, I had trained Karate for a little over 10 years in America. American Karate has no central organization at all, and varies a lot place to place. However, Karate as a sport is not very popular in the US, so most people (and, therefore, most dojos) in the US are practicing to get involved with the art and culture, and to learn self-defense. In this particular collegiate karate team, we practice very sport-focused karate, which was a big shift for me.

Traditionally, karate consists of basics, sparring, and Kata (forms). In this club, everyone does only either sparring or Kata. They put me with the sparring people. We essentially practiced fencing with our hands. For example, they place a huge amount of emphasis on stomping your foot to make an impressive sound just as you retract your fist. Of course, this means always striking the opponent while standing on one foot, which is not remotely practical.

I became good friends with the Karate club. Everyone there is friendly and helpful. Particularly, my various Senpai and I became quite close. During club hours, they would teach me. Outside of club hours, we are the same grade level, so we always go out and eat together after practice. I have learned that, while my American Karate club is close, Japanese clubs are part club, part business, and part fraternity. Already graduated Senpai even regularly come to practice. I have a feeling that I will count as part of their group for many years to come.

Dera Luce: Bazaar Cafe

Bazaar Cafe was created in 1998 by the United Church of Christ Japan as a way to employ socially marginalized people and foster a community. Their business cards state: “We welcome people from any country, language or cultural background, sexuality, age, ability…Come to Bazaar Cafe, enjoy yourself and feel at home.”

I volunteer at Bazaar Cafe on Saturdays. My typical day consists of washing dishes, eating free lunch with the rest of the workers, making a trip to the grocery store, helping with food preparation, eating more free food, and playing the piano for private events. I start work at 1 pm, and by around 5 or 6 pm I start thinking maybe I should go back to my homestay for dinner. Then I end up staying another 3 or 4 hours because there’s something interesting going on, and I’m enjoying my time with my friends at Bazaar Cafe.

My favorite memory of Bazaar Cafe is from my first day as a volunteer, when I ended up staying for Bible study. Although I’m not religious, I was curious to see how Christianity translates into the Japanese culture, what the Bible sounds like in Japanese, and so on. There were about 10 people in attendance. The leader of the session started by sharing a spiritual message she heard at a church retreat that had left an impression on her. She shared how she planned to apply the message to her life. Then, she opened it up for other people to share personal stories related to the theme if they felt inclined.

One by one, people began to open up and reveal pieces of themselves to the group. I had never met any of these people before, yet everyone felt comfortable sharing in that safe space. A theology student whom I had met earlier in the day sat next to me and graciously translated the parts that I couldn’t understand as people shared their stories. I shared something too, which was hard to do (partly because I was saying it in Japanese and partly because it was sensitive subject matter). There wasn’t a dry eye in the room by the end of the session, and we all hugged each other.

I’ve been to church before, and none of this is uncommon in a church setting in the U.S., but to experience it in Japan was something else. Japan does not have a hugging culture, nor is it the norm to express your true feelings. Sometimes I think I’m making too much of a generalization by thinking this, but I’ve had many Japanese people say to me, “No, that really is the way it is here, for the most part.” There are even terms for the distinction between your true feelings, honne, and what you actually express to others, tatamae.

Despite all that, I was able to experience a moment where people were honest about things that would be stigmatized even in the U.S., and everyone accepted each other. This showed me that Bazaar Cafe really is a place where one can feel at home.

Nia Lambert: Koto and Shamisen Lessons

This past semester, I decided to continue studying Koto, which I had been playing for roughly half a year at my home institution.  As a result, I initially came in with the expectation that lessons would be pretty much the same as my typical group lessons.

In the end, I believe private lessons provided me a unique opportunity to not only learn more technical tricks but also to gain a deeper understanding of music and discussing music in Japanese.  Reaching those realizations, however, was initially very difficult.  On my first class, especially, I was amazed that after all of my hours and hours of studying Japanese, I didn’t understand a word my teacher said.  I later came to realize it was because she used Kansai dialect.  If she hadn’t been playing the Koto with me I would have had no idea what she was asking me to do.  I was overwhelmed, and even wound up making silly mistakes like saying 行ってきます(ittekimasu=I’ll be back, but used only when you leave your home) after class.  However, this language barrier forced me to listen even closer and to constantly ask questions, which thankfully made me more comfortable with my teacher.

Around half-way through the semester, I met a Japanese friend who is studying English and preparing to study abroad next semester.  He takes really diligent notes on all the English phrases, idioms, and words that he hears pretty much all of the time.   From looking at his notes and its benefits with his language study, I figured I would give it a try for my CIP.  It was by far one of the best decisions for my studies.  Not only did it let me keep track of new vocabulary and phrases, it helped me pay closer attention to general speaking, be unabashedly inquisitive when I didn’t understand, and opened up different conversations that in turn taught me interesting everyday objects and phrases.  For example, tying string into a bow or “bunny ears” is called 蝶々結び(chyou chyou musubi) or a butterfly knot.  During my newfound confidence I also began studying Shamisen.  This new study unexpectedly lead to a plethora of conversations about different materials, finger and plucking styles, and words to describe the moods associated with certain note changes.

Through my CIP I’ve been able to understand far more Kansai words likeもういっぺん, わからへん、ちゃう、ええ instead of いい、and so much more.  Currently I’m working on 春の海 (Haru no Umi), a very difficult traditional koto piece, and look forward to learning more about the different cultural and linguistic words and phrases associated with traditional Japanese music.


Two of my Sensei's more expensive 撥(ばち)or picks for Shamisen.  The white  one is made of elephant tusk and tortoiseshell.

Two of my Sensei’s more expensive 撥(ばち)or picks for Shamisen. The white one is made of elephant tusk and tortoiseshell.

This is an antique shamisen from the the Edo period.  The face painted is an お多福(おたふく)面 or mask of a homely woman.

This is an antique shamisen from the the Edo period. The face painted is an お多福(おたふく)面 or mask of a homely woman.

This is the koto my sensei lent me to practice throughout the semester.   I have it in my 和室(わしつ),or Japanese style room, in my homestay.

This is the koto my sensei lent me to practice throughout the semester. I have it in my 和室(わしつ),or Japanese style room, in my homestay.


Bohan Li: Shamisen

Before I came to KCJS I hadn’t really decided what to participate in. Not all the programs would provide with such good chances for students to be involved in Japanese society. And I really hoped that I could take advantage of it. It took me a long time to think about what goal would I want to achieve at the end of semester. Is it a deep understanding of Japanese society? Or it could be getting to know about the working environment in Japanese since I have the idea to work in Japan after graduation? After careful consideration and getting advices from my teacher, I finally decided to practice Shamisen as my CIP program.

My initial consideration was that as a traditional and Japan-only instrument, Shamisen could be a good tool for me to learn about traditional Japanese music and arts. In China we actually have the similar instrument but nowadays most people don’t know more about it. However, after been imported to japan and assimilated to Japanese culture, Shamisen plays important part of Japanese「邦楽」. I would like to learn more about the spread and development of Shamisen through time.

At the beginning I thought it should be a group class that one teacher sits in the front and students follows teachers instruction and practicing. But then I found out that instead of a Shamisen class, it is more like an amateur’s club. Usually they have typical groups that practice same songs and meet regularly once a week. I was really nervous when I first meet with them. Partly because most of the members are elder people, I was worried that they would not be happy if a foreigner suddenly joined their private group. However, I was welcomed and even taken care of by them. They were curious about my past experience related to Japan, and would also like to tell me their personal relation to China, such as travel experience or business with Chinese partner. I was surprised because this is very different from things I learned from the Japanese minorities class that Japanese people would be offended if someone intend to enter their private group. Even I only joined them for few classes, I feel like I have already become a part of their party. Also, practicing Shamisen is a hart task for me since I had almost zero knowledge about string instrument. And because the Shamisen pick is actually really heavy, I had a hard time learning the basic rules like how to sit, rest my wrist and hold the ばち(picks) in the correct way. It was painful at the beginning, but when I firstly played a whole song, I felt that all the efforts were worthwhile.

I really want to thank my teacher Iwazaki Chieko sensei. She brought me into their club and also the area of traditional Japanese music. From her I learned not just about Shamisen as a instrument, but also how traditional Japanese aesthetics are changing and integrated with modern society. The insistence of Japanese artists and awareness of modern culture make Japan the special place that can retain its culture so well when other countries are somehow ignoring and losing their traditions.


Yun Zhang: Kyoto Manga Class

For this semester, I joined the 京都まんが教室 for my CIP. Although the course fee is a little bit expensive, I’d say it’s totally worth it, mainly because it is where you could have a real cultural communication with people who really understand you.

The most precious thing I experienced from this CIP is the feeling of getting into a real Japanese circle where I belong. Different from the general anime or manga club I’ve joined in the US, this class is more like a doujin-based fan circle. Since most of the students in the manga class are young ladies around the same age, we mostly watch same types of anime and have interests in same kinds of stuff(e.g. shipping). Thus, there are never too many topics to chat about, from which I get to pick up a lot of unique language that is only used within the Japanese anime-fan circle. However, since it is kind of an advanced course, the format of “teaching” almost doesn’t exist. Basically, you just draw whatever you like in every class, and the instructors will give some personal advice and instructions on your drawings. Since I don’t have any essential knowledge of drawing anime characters or manga before, the level is way too high for me. (Other students are all doujin artists.)

Therefore, here is my advice for those who might be interested: If you love anime/Japanese pop culture, and want to experience the feeling of really being one of the Japanese anime fans, don’t hesitate to participate in the manga class. However, if all you want is to learn how to draw manga and do not have any essential knowledge, I would suggest taking a more formal course that focuses on teaching basic skills of drawing manga.

Nicholas Niculescu: My Time at Klexon

My CIP was participating in an English speaking circle called Klexon. This circle takes place every Tuesday from 7 to 9 pm. This CIP is a unique one, unlike some other CIP’s, like a martial art or private lessons, it allowed me to interact with many different Japanese people from many different walks of life. I had the opportunity to talk to both college students and people working today. The sessions had a general structure. The first hour would consist of 10 minute talks with 6 people, and the second hour had us in a group of 4 to 6 doing group working together. It was during this hour I was able to speak Japanese with my partners.

While practicing my Japanese is was excellent, what I really had a chance to do is look at different Japanese people and learn about their experiences learning English. It is interesting from my perspective, I am normally in the opposite situation every day in Japan so to see from the opposite perspective was an interesting one. I learned a number of different things. First I learned very intricate things about learning new languages and trying to learn new words. When my Japanese conversation partners attempted lo learn a new expression, they would generally ask if the expression can be used by itself. I always said it had to be said in context.

There were a couple of interesting observations during my time at Klexon. Everyone thought I was a English teacher before I explained to them that I was a student, and oppositely I thought everyone was a university student if they were not wearing a suit. It was a funny thing every time the mistake occurred. A more serious observation is that many people are studying for the purposes of their job. I would rarely hear reasons like “oh I just want to use it for traveling”.

The final observation that I saw was that everyone was very courageous. I know how it feels to attempt to speak a foreign language to a native speaker and how nervous it can be. Yet every single partner I talked with did their best to practice their English.  I know a little about English teaching in Japan, and I know it is primarily taught from a text book, however, in these sessions I see people who know that is not enough and they attempt to learn English the best way they can, by practicing.

Victoria Tissot: Bazaar Cafe & English Tutoring at Kamigyō Junior High School

I never thought choosing a CIP activity would be a difficult task. From the moment I finished reading the CIP section of the KCJS website, my mind was set on teaching English. Since I have been teaching language classes as a hobby from middle school to college, I decided to continue my passion in Japan with the KCJS program and began to volunteer as an English tutor at a local middle school. When I started my CIP, just entering the school for the first time to introduce myself was an adventure in itself; from taking my shoes off and putting slippers on, to seeing children cleaning up their own school after classes were over, this experience allowed me to learn so much about Japanese culture.

To my surprise, teaching English to Japanese students was nothing like I expected it to be. First of all, I imagined myself assisting an English teacher and her students in the middle of class. Instead, I was asked to tutor students individually, a much more personal way of teaching that I was not familiar with, since I had been used to teaching a big group of students. When we first met, the students were just as nervous as I was, but after a couple of questions, and as I tried to be as friendly and carefree as possible, I was able to create a more relaxing environment and made sure the students understood that it was alright to make mistakes. Even though I had originally thought that teaching English would be an easy task for me, I was surprised at how difficult it actually was, both for me and my students. There was always some miscommunication, and the hardest part was making sure the students understood the way I translated some English words and grammar to them. The student and teacher interaction also gave me more insight on Japanese culture; I found it curious that, even though I tried to act more as a friend and student to them, all the students still treated me with a lot of respect and politeness, as if they were speaking to their middle school teachers. In the end, tutoring English was just as much of a learning experience for me as for my students. Every week, I would try to alter my teaching methods and find better ways of helping my students. For instance, instead of merely explaining certain words and grammar out loud in English, I would write them down on a paper and ask the students to read and repeat. This unique experience in Japan gave me a new perspective on teaching, especially since I am contemplating the possibility of becoming a language teacher in the future.

My tutoring classes unfortunately only lasted two weeks, and I was very sad to find out that the school would not be needing my help anymore, especially since the semester was already finishing by the time I started to volunteer. I then began a second CIP activity: volunteering at Bazaar café, a café located across the street from Doshisha University. Since I had always wanted to work at a café or restaurant back home, but never found the time or the opportunity to do so, and since I also preferred a more individual activity instead of joining a club, Bazaar café was the perfect opportunity for me. So far, my experience at Bazaar café has been phenomenal. Not only have I been learning so much about how to run a café, but I have also been practicing my Japanese as I interact with the friendly staff and make new friends.


Alexa Machnik: Japanese Book Restoration at ARC

Over two semesters at KCJS, I have been training with a paper restoration team at the Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center (ARC). At ARC, I work mainly with damaged Japanese bound books dating to the Edo period. In most cases I encounter books containing full-page illustrations devoured by worms and beetles. Therefore, when beginning a new project, the severity of the damage is first evaluated and then, based on the amount of surface loss, a suitable treatment is decided on. The standard methods used to mend these areas of loss are known as infilling (tsukuroi) and back-lining (urauchi). Both methods serve different purposes, but are similar in the way that washi paper, sympathetic in thickness and tone of the damaged paper, is adhered with starch paste (nori) to treat the loss.

While incredibly valuable, the technical skills I have acquired only describe a single side of my experience at ARC. Twice a week, as I continue to practice my techniques, I also engage in a facet of the Japanese work community. As expected, this has led to quite a few interesting cultural and language exchanges. First of all, the restoration team consists of a total of three people, all middle-aged women. Everyone is on a different working schedule, so when I go to ARC I am usually working alongside Nakamura-san, the head of the restoration team.

When I first began training at ARC, the most challenging barrier I faced was communication. I was afraid to hold conversations and I struggled to understand the directions that I was being told, even when heavily aided by Google translate. This semester, however, it is undeniable that living in Kyoto has improved my ear for both standard Japanese and “Kansai-ben”, the local dialect, and has opened up new opportunities to be more interactive within ARC. For instance, being able to better communicate with the team has helped me understand in greater depth the reasoning behind a certain restoration principle. In result, I now take part in the evaluation process when beginning a new project. For students who may face a similar situation, my advice would be not to feel afraid to ask questions or start a conversation! In my case, the team became excited to teach me more when they saw, through the questions I was asking, my interest and curiosity in art restoration.

Sitting for long periods of time meticulously trimming washi paper and preparing starch paste in a large wooden vat becomes taxing on the shoulders and eyes, but I have discovered that I can refocus my attention through conversation. Oftentimes I become so accustomed to speaking casually in conversation that when it comes to expressing gratitude, I carelessly neglect social etiquette and forget to attach the formal “gozaimasu” to my informal “arigatou”. I am corrected instantly, and my honest mistake reinforces the importance of maintaining a formal student-teacher relationship when dealing with work-related matters. However, I was told that if “arigatou gozaimasu” is too long, I could always opt for the Kansai-equivalent, “ookini”. Apparently, if used towards a Kansai-native, “ookini” carries the same formal weight as “gozaimasu”. I have yet to try it out.

As the semester is reaching its end, I still feel that there is a lot I could improve in terms of restoration. At least once or twice per week, I make a careless mistake in my work, leading Nakamura-san to address me by “onesan”, which translates to “older sister”. Since I am the youngest of the group, I was initially confused as to why I was being called “onesan”. However, seeing that I am only called this when I overlook a mistake, perhaps it is an indirect message that I should to be more careful next time. Nevertheless, I feel respected in my position, and while I rarely receive any direct compliments from Nakamura-san, I can sense through her patience that she is silently supporting me in both my language and restoration endeavors.

With that said, I would like to thank KCJS for giving students the opportunity to step out into the Kyoto community through CIP, as well as ARC for taking care of me throughout this year. This experience is one I will continue to carry with me as I continue my studies in Japanese and art restoration.