Lauren Guz: Cooking Classes

For my CIP I took cooking classes at La Carriere.  I was the only foreigner in my classes which made it a really interesting experience.  In the first few classes I wasn’t able to understand most of the directions, and had to rely on watching more than listening, but as classes went on I started to pick up more and more words.  Eventually I could ask about specific cuts, what heat to put the stove to, etc.  My Japanese in regard to specific food and cooking techniques was probably not 100% correct, but I was able to get my meaning across, and being able to communicate better translated into the food I made, which also became better and better.  I also had opportunities to talk to Japanese women, ranging in age from 18 to 70, which gave me many opportunities to practice all speech styles, from casual to polite and even keigo.

After a long day of regular college classes and studying, listening to Japanese for a few hours could be tiring, but it was always worth it when I could sit down with the women and eat the delicious food we had made.  Everyone was always really nice to me, and it was a great experience.

It provide me a place and a role in Japanese society as an actual individual and not just a foreigner.  Usually when I try to integrate myself into Japanese society, my role in the setting would very much be defined by being a foreigner.  However, when I was in the cooking classes I was just another student there to learn how to cook.

John Webb:Neuroscience at Kyoto University

My CIP is working at a neuroscience lab at Kyoto University. I learned about the lab from my research mentor at Washington University in St. Louis. The lab is in the same field, circadian rhythms, that I do research in back in America, so I was quite familiar with the techniques and experimental goals of the lab, making the transition from that perspective quite easy.

The research questions that the Okamura lab is interested in asking is: “What are the mechanisms behind 24-hour rhythms in our daily life that determine when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night?” By more thoroughly understanding these mechanisms, they hope to develop therapies that could alleviate the effects of shift work and jet lag, as well as some types of depression.

The project I worked on tried to parse out the relationship between two genes involved in the sleep-wake cycle. I also learned quite a few new experimental techniques.

The science and the experimental procedures are basically the same as in America, but the lab culture is quite different. In America, graduate students usually have input on their projects can help shape them. This helps give the graduate students experience of being intellectually engaged and shaping a project, a skill that can help them later in life. In the Okamura lab, projects are usually handed down in a dictatorial manner, and most of the graduate students had little say in their projects.

There was also a stark difference in the number of women working in the lab. In America, women outnumber the men. In the Okamura lab, however, they represent only 20 percent of the lab, and there were no female postdocs. In the room I worked in with 8 people, there were no women. I hadn’t realized that this would be the case so it surprised me.

I was also surprised to learn that there were no Japanese scientific journals. Japanese scientists consume new science and publish exclusively in English. I hadn’t quite realized the prominence of English in the scientific community before this.

There was also a feeling of less collaboration between labs compared to what is common in America. For instance, in America it is common for entire floors or departments to get together for a happy hour or other social event on Fridays. I never heard or saw anything like that at Kyoto University. There was still socialization, but it was more often within the same lab. The lab in Japan is a bit of a closer unit compared to what exists in America so it makes sense to me that they would do more of their socializing within their close-knit group.

The working hours were also much longer. Typically, in America, people would work from 10 until 6. When I would stay later to finish an experiment, typically until 9pm, I found that almost half of the people in the Okamura lab were still working. My boss, Doi-sensei, would leave to eat dinner with his family, but then come back into lab to continue working until 2am. When I came back after a lab outing at midnight to collect my experimental results, he was still sitting at his desk with the lights out alone, staring at his computer screen. Also, since they had lab meeting every Saturday at 10am, it was practically expected that you work a six-day week. There are of course people who work hard in America, but its not quite as expected.

Also, the graduate student system is different. At Kyoto University, for your entire senior year, you work in a lab instead of taking classes. This basically forces everyone to work in a lab for a year, something you don’t see in America. Over 90% of Kyoto University’s graduate students come from their undergraduate program. Unlike in America, though, where you’re give a stipend to attend graduate school, in Japan you have to pay the school.

Also, I heard almost no keigo in the lab. When they were talking to their superiors, they would use desu/masu form but not keigo. For instance, when a university student would talk to a graduate student, they would use desu/masu, but not keigo. And then, when they were outside of the lab getting lunch or dinner, they would always use informal Japanese, even if there was different in their rankings. However, when they were outside of the lab with one of the sensei’s, they would still use desu/masu. When I asked them about not using keigo they said that it was difficult to use so they typically didn’t use it.

Overall, though, the people have been very nice and welcoming and I have learned a lot from this experience.

Jimmy Scheckowitz: Cooking Classes; Shamisen Lessons

In order to fulfill my Community Involvement Project requirements, I am fortunate to have been given the privilege to participate in two activities that I had been interested in since before coming to Kyoto: taking cooking classes and learning to play the shamisen.

Once a month, I have participated in cooking classes with the Kyoto Cooking Circle at Wings Kyoto, a community center located near the Karasuma-Oike subway station. For a small price of ¥1000 per class, I have not only had the opportunity to learn homestyle Japanese recipes, such as kiritanpo, a style of nabe native to Akita prefecture, but I have also been able to converse with a wide variety of Japanese people, from Doshisha students to the elderly. As such, Kyoto Cooking Circle has provided me with a great chance to fulfill my goal of learning new Japanese recipes, while also giving me the opportunity to utilize and improve my Japanese outside the classroom.

With cooking classes at Kyoto Cooking Circle only being offered once a month, for each week when these classes have not been in session, I have instead taken private shamisen lessons in Ibaraki, a city in Osaka prefecture. Under the tutelage of my teacher Chimura-sensei, I have quickly learned a number of songs, such as “Sakura Sakura,” “Tanko Bushi,” and “Tsugaru Jongara Bushi.” Furthermore, similar to my experience with the Kyoto Cooking Circle, I have also been able to speak regularly with Chimura-sensei, which has helped me in becoming more comfortable in Japanese conversation. As such, taking shamisen lessons have also allowed me to fulfill one of my goals, while being able to practice my Japanese in the process.

Through both my cooking classes and shamisen lessons, I have also learned about a number of aspects and customs pertaining to Japanese culture that I would have not found out about elsewhere. Most strikingly, from my first cooking class, I learned that Japanese children are given more self-responsibility and freedom than those in America. For example, one of Kyoto Cooking Circle’s teachers allows her two boys, who are approximately eight to ten years old, to contribute to the class’ cooking by using sharp knives to chop up vegetables. Having grown up in America and seen numerous parents prevent their children from doing anything even remotely dangerous, I was almost shocked to see the two Japanese kids contributing and acting on their own. As such, I first encountered the level of freedom and independence Japanese children are given at my first cooking class. In terms of my shamisen lessons, I have noticed that there are many differences between individual music lessons in the United States and Japan. From my experience, I’ve found that guitar lessons in the United States would be focused on correctly playing every note of every song I learn. However, Chimura-sensei has explained to me that rather than playing a song perfectly, it is more important to put soul into my shamisen playing. Essentially, Chimura-sensei has emphasized that having a nice sound or tone in my playing is more important than playing every song I learn perfectly. As such, I have noticed that perhaps Japanese music lessons are more focused on playing songs with heart and soul, without having to be perfect, while in the United States, perfection was the goal.

As a whole, my experiences with Kyoto Cooking Circle and Chimura-sensei’s shamisen lessons have been extremely rewarding. In the process of having two Community Involvement Project activities, I have only only fulfilled my goals of learning to cook Japanese food and to play the shamisen, but I also have improved my Japanese and made a number of Japanese friends. As such, I highly recommend learning to cook or to play the shamisen as a CIP to anyone interested in either activity!

Quynh Anh Ellen Do: Volunteering at Daycare

For my CIP project, I decided to volunteer at a children’s daycare. Once a week I would go to the daycare and play with the children for a couple of hours. An interesting point to note is that when I was initially asking to volunteer at the daycare, the staff personnel also requested bank account information. This is because in Japan it is not unusual for volunteers to receive「お礼」money, which I could never imagine receiving in the United States.

As someone with an introverted personality, I initially found it difficult to interact with the children at first, but like with any child they were interested in learning about their new 「先生」and after learning I was from America would often request me to say things in English, which were often met with laughter or additional requests. Another difficult point was that understanding the children. Compared to the staff personnel, the children had a high tendency to speak in Kansai dialect. While I was able to quickly pick up the word meanings, the children also tended to speak faster than the adults, and to someone whose listening skills are not their strongest point to begin with, understanding the children could sometimes be hard. However, since the children also tended to speak in short sentences and simple vocabulary it was not impossible to talk with them.

Additionally, the more time passed the more friendly the children became with me. It was interesting to see the subtle differences between Japanese and American culture at the daycare; things like how fast they become friendly toward others and the children’s increased willingness to listen to adults and others. But it was also heartening to see that regardless of culture, children are still rambunctious, outgoing, and at times more forward than their adult counterparts. I am also grateful to my fellow volunteers and the staff personnel for helping me out and taking care of me during my time at the daycare.

Emily Robinson: Volunteering at an Elementary School

This year, I was able to continue volunteering at the same local elementary school for the duration of my time in Japan. A product of its proximity to Kyoto University, there are a number of foreign students who end up attending. My volunteer position at the elementary school was to help several of these with their Japanese, and translate during class time anything they didn’t understand. I was able to go for two hours in the afternoon, every Tuesday.

Thanks to the foundation formed within the school last semester, it was easy to fall into a routine. Whereas last semester I was often moved between different classes, this semester I was able to focus my efforts on helping one student more consistently. This was incredibly rewarding not only in terms of forming a connection, but also in terms of being able to see the improvement in a student’s Japanese, and use of new words as time went on. There was also a sense of satisfaction from the other members of the class becoming used to my presence.

Though many of the roadblocks from last semester had worked themselves out by the time one started, I think one of the things I continued to have some trouble with was the greeting protocol in the teacher’s room. My administrative contact was largely with the vice principal, but as she is a very busy person it was difficult to determine at what points it was appropriate to stop in and ask about class placements for the date, in order to ensure that I was going to the right student for the day. In this sense, I consider it one of my failings in the context of the CIP that I was not better able to gain a grasp of these interactions. On the other hand, I feel that one thing I was able to make great progress one was the protocol for making phone calls, and otherwise arranging appointments.

In terms of the activity itself, the fact that I was interacting primarily with foreign students meant that it was not especially conducive to inclusion in a larger community. Additionally, since the common language was English, it was less practice in Japanese than many other CIP activities. The fact that it required me to break down the Japanese into more simple forms, and help not only with school vocabulary, but also often with the more casual terms used by classmates, meant that it offered an interesting breadth of content not found within the KCJS campus. As was the case last semester, it was a poignant experience to observe the interactions between the foreign students, and their classmates, who were often divided in their willingness to accept the foreign student as one of their own. While the majority of students were ready to help the foreign students, there were occasionally those who felt uncomfortable, or would actively make negative comments towards them, relying on the other party’s incomplete understanding of the language.

I feel that this is an issue of exposure, as many local elementary school students have limited, if any prior experience with foreigners, particularly those who might speak Japanese. I think that this is a useful example as well, as it indicates that the ability to speak Japanese is not an innate skill, possessed only by native Japanese people, and therefore if the foreign students are given the opportunity, they too can become fully involved with the Japanese school system and their classmates.

Because I was, for a period of time, a student at this elementary school in my own youth, there was an added element of surrealism. Considering how their time in Japan, attending this school, will affect the future paths of many of these foreign students only served to further solidify the hope that my time with them would help at least in part with the difficulties of not being able to understand one’s surroundings.

In regards to the CIP program in general, my advice to future KCJS students would be to look into activities you are interested in. The volunteer I chose was a good fit because it combined working with children, volunteering, and the added emotional connection to a nostalgic place in Kyoto. Attending my CIP activity every week was not a chore, but rather a break from the stress of the program, which in my opinion is an ideal. If you can find something that does not serve to further stress, but rather relieve some of it even for a short period, I think that is an activity worth pursuing.

Sarah O'Connell: WakJapan

This semester, I concentrated my efforts into volunteering at WakJapan, an organization designed to introduce people to traditional Japanese experiences and crafts, such as trying on kimono, participating in tea ceremonies, folding origami, etc. Although I started working there last semester (in order to make up for the days the museum could not call on me), this semester was when everything finally started to click.

In any workplace environment, things tend to go smoother if you know your coworkers beyond the surface level. Last semester, having only started working for WakJapan late in the year, I hardly knew anyone but my main CIP contact. However, this semester that changed. Starting from when I got back from Winter Break in January, WakJapan helped me participate in Japan’s Coming-of-Age Ceremony (a huge ceremony here that celebrates everyone who has turned twenty in the last year) by providing me with a formal kimono, muffler, hair ornaments, shoes, and a purse that one of my coworkers had used on her coming-of-age day, which I got to keep as present. Going to the Coming-of-Age Ceremony was really nerve-wracking, as no one else from KCJS could go, but WakJapan supported me throughout the whole endeavor, making it a memorable and fun experience. After that, I grew closer to my coworkers, and we started doing things like going out to eat lunch together, chatting in the office, and exchanging amusing stories while on break. Of course, I still had a job to do – as did everyone else – and my days have certainly been busy filing papers, translating from Japanese to English (and back again), preparing sessions for customers, and helping people put on kimono and fixing their hair – just to name a few. But throughout everything I did, the most memorable part of my time at WakJapan has been the bonds I have formed. I didn’t expect this to be more than a job, but surprisingly my CIP this semester has turned out to be one of my favorite things about studying abroad in Kyoto.

Shuyun Zhang: Pottery Class

I go to Pottery Class near Kiyomizudera on every Saturday from 10am to 2pm. The name of the pottery class is Zuikougam(瑞光窯). I am glad that I take the pottery class and I’ve learnt more about Japanese culture.


Except for me, all other students are middle-aged or seniors. I do not know is it because the young Japanese are not into traditional art anymore or they do not have time for the 4-hour lesson. Anyways, all the students are very friendly and helpful. I feel very much welcomed by them. But regardless of their age and gender, they are really into ceramics and they take notes so carefully when there is a seminar. Japanese people really like to take notes and organize things neatly. They also like to bring some presents such as wagashi or sweets they bought to class and share with the other classmates. I like that.


The communication part is not that easy as there are many verbs and terms that I’ve never heard before, but thankfully, this is a skill that you can learn from imitating. I’ve learnt how to use the “rokuro” to make cups and bowls, how to paint on the plates and how to put glaze on the things I made. So far I’ve been to 6 classes and I’ve made 4 plates, 6 bowls and 2 cups, thanks to the sensei’s help. I noticed the other students’ work are related to Japanese traditional art as well and I can tell they are really passionate about it. For instance, someone made a whole set for雛祭りand someone made several plates that have the painting ofアジサイon them.


I really like my pottery class and I hope if there is any chance, I could continues it in America.

Yuewei WANG: Life in Kyoto

From September 2015, I have been participated in the production of a bi-monthly informational journal called Life in Kyoto under kokoka Kyoto International Community House. I volunteered for the Japanese version, English version, and Chinese version. The production cycle is eight weeks long, and themes of articles are decided based on the season of the year and aimed to help foreigners know Kyoto better and navigate their lives in Japan.

For the Japanese meeting, there are about twenty people, and the age of participants range from undergraduate students to senior men in their sixties. Because of the nature of the production, this volunteer experience involves a lot of talking about tiny details, from grammar to choice of words, which I appreciate the most, since it gives the chance to experience how Japanese people actually talk and collaborate, and I can ask any question I want no matter how trivial it seems. As for the English meeting, number of participants can range from three people to ten people. We correct grammar and making sentences easier to understand. Since English is my second language and Japanese is my third language, this volunteer experience really helps me with improving both languages’ skills.

Aside from learning language, this CIP gave me an opportunity to look into Japanese society and be an “in-group” member of kokoka. Specifically, during the volunteer orientation at the beginning of 2016, I was in charge of introducing Life in Kyoto to people who are interested in participating as volunteers. In addition, when they do come to meetings, I was the one to introduce the over-all flow of meeting, explain details of translations, and encourage further participation.

Also, after I am identified as in-group member through consistent participation of both English and Japanese meetings and trying to talk with other members after meetings, other Japanese volunteers started to talk with in casual form and Kansaiben instead of honorific style of speech. Last semester, when I have difficulties pronouncing certain words, which obviously show others that I am a foreigner, other Japanese volunteers would try to continue the conversation with very simple Japanese or English and talk very slowly. In contrast, it changed this semester; even during conversations with new Japanese volunteers, when I sometimes fail on Keigo, they would continue the conversation with normal Japanese. This level of trust and acknowledgement in my Japanese language level really moves me. At last, once you are in-group member, people will naturally take care of you various ways. For instance, I was considering changing my major from Psychology to Classical Japanese at the beginning of this semester, and after one of employees at kokoka heard about this, she introduced me two people from Kyoto University who might help me figure out studying Classical Japanese in Japan.

From my experience, I learned that consistent participation and interaction with other members are the key to be accepted as a member of the group. So, I want to encourage future participants of CIP in general to talk with Japanese people before, during, and after each activity. It could start with talking about the weather, asking for recommended restaurants in Kyoto, confirming names, asking about their universities, and complaining how stressful school work is. Please do not feel devastated if you make mistakes in Keigo or pronunciation. After all, Japanese is not our first language, so as a international student, you will always be forgiven, but do not use that as an excuse to communicate in English only. If you keep trying, at some point, your Japanese could be good enough to talk fluently with Japanese natives. For future students who are considering taking Life in Kyoto as their CIP, I would recommend go to at least one Japanese meeting and one Eglish meeting, and check with your KCJS senseis to know more about the long meeting hours, and if you language level suits.

Hana Lethen: K.Classic Ballet

I have done ballet since I was five years old, so I was very excited to take ballet class every week during my semester in Kyoto at K.Classic Ballet Studio.   Initial contact was a bit daunting, as it involved painstakingly reviewing rather simple emails to make sure they didn’t involve any embarrassing keigo mishaps.  My first day at the studio, I was very nervous, wondering how out-of-place I would look and feel.  However, as we took our places at the barre to begin class, I felt completely at home.

The etiquette in a typical ballet class shares a lot in common with that of Japanese society.  Politeness and humility, especially toward one’s teacher and to older students, are essential, as is following the rules of classical dance.  Uniformity is emphasized; the students all wear a similar style of leotard, tights, and ballet slippers.  Even the Japanese rule of not wearing street shoes indoors applies to ballet studios.  I realized that having grown up taking ballet classes helped me to adjust to life in Japan.

The content of ballet classes here is comfortingly familiar.  The same French ballet terms are used, although they are uttered in Kansai-ben.  Our teacher is very direct in her critique, and ballet class is the only setting in Japan in which most of the Japanese I hear is in command form.  However, although class is very formal, the students have been very welcoming.  I feel that we relate to each other because of our shared love for ballet and because of our shared lifestyles, which have been shaped by ballet.

Through my classes at K.Classic Ballet, I have been able to challenge myself to branch out beyond the community at KCJS and Doshisha.  Ballet classes themselves do not offer much opportunity for communication practice, as everyone, besides the teacher, is expected to be silent.  It was the moments in the dressing room when I worked up the courage to ask someone their name or to compliment their dancing—and the conversations which stemmed from these initial remarks—which were the most rewarding regarding interaction with the other ballet students.  In my experience, taking initiative to interact with my CIP peers, along with choosing an activity I am truly passionate about, have definitely been key to having a meaningful community experience in Kyoto.



Joseph Martin: Aikido

Coming into KCJS I was still undecided about what specific CIP I wanted to pursue, but I was interested in some sort of physical activity. After searching several possibilities, I eventually discovered an Aikido dojo and decided to give it a try. For the first class I was only allowed to observe. Following this session of observation I began practicing and immediately found myself in a situation contrary to what I had expected.

Having no previous experience in Aikido, I began training at a level far below that of all of the other dojo members. Consequently I made mistakes often, and at times was asked by the sensei to sit in seiza and observe the movements more carefully before attempting them again. Thankfully one of the senior members at the dojo took me aside and began teaching me more basic movements and techniques to help me progress, and through his help I was able to improve a great amount. After the first month I began to feel more comfortable in the practices as I was no longer making fundamental mistakes nearly as often. As a result I was able to place a greater focus on the techniques that the sensei would teach to the entire class rather than being isolated for fundamental work.

While communication outside of the dojo was quite limited, I did have opportunities to practice my Japanese during the lessons. Depending on the sensei, they would either speak entirely in Japanese or occasionally use English to explain certain movements. In the lessons we would partner up with other dojo members and take turns performing what the sensei had instructed us to do. In this setting I was able to communicate with my partner in Japanese and ask questions accordingly, although comprehending their responses posed some challenges at times. Nevertheless, I would ask clarifying questions and felt that this setting was a great way to put my Japanese from a classroom setting to use.

About half way through the semester I also began attending morning zazen sessions in the dojo on the weekends. These sessions were an entirely different experience than the usual physical aspects of our lessons as they were mentally intensive. I found these sessions to be extremely beneficial in clearing my mind of any stress inducing thoughts and always left feeling more relaxed.

The aspects of this CIP that I struggled with the most and never quite mastered were the nuances involved in such a formal class structure of martial arts. In nearly every practice I forgot or was not aware of certain practices of respect, such as the correct time to bow, when to sit in seiza, and how to speak with my partner. In my experience with boxing such formalities were not common practices, and holding this mindset when beginning Aikido caused me difficulties. Regardless, my biggest takeaways from this experience have been that Aikido, like many other aspects of life, requires a constant commitment to improve at a gradual pace. I would advise future students to choose an activity that they have previous experience in due to the time constraints of the semester.