Lisa Qi: Continuing Lessons at Apollo Art Academy

Like first semester I continued attending art lessons at Apollo Art Academy for my CIP this semester. Because I go to lessons on Mondays instead of Thursdays, as I did before, I had to reintroduce myself to new classmates, but they were all friendly and I did not have much trouble interacting with them. Midway through each lesson there is a break time when students can drink tea, eat snacks, and chat with eachother. Most of the students were older Japanese people with a few younger university age students, however, in my new session there were several students from Russia and one from China. It was fun chatting with others and talking about what each of us were drawing. The older Japanese people usually explained the kinds of snacks we were eating during the break time as they were usually the ones who brought the snacks. I did not have much chance to talk with the younger Japanese students as they usually did not interact with others besides the teacher.

Besides the other students the person I interacted the most with was my teacher, Tanaka-sensei and the teaching assistant Takahashi-san. Tanaka-sensei would go around the room critiquing various people’s works throughout the lesson. Everyone usually works with different materials and draws different subjects, and this semester I switched from drawing mostly vegetables with pencil to drawing with hard pastels. As a result, I liked the pieces I worked on more this semester as I prefer working with color. Overall, I had a very warm experience with Apollo Art Academy’s staff and students; the school is not very large so there are plenty of opportunities to talk with others.

Grace Bologna: ECC English Tutoring

My CIP from last semester culminated into four days of policy building on the sustainability of journalism at the All Japan Model United Nations Conference over winter break. As I returned for a second semester of KCJS, I decided to change my CIP from a school activity to a more volunteer-based project. Thus, I began tutoring English through a previous host mother’s ECC English class.

After nearly five months of non-stop Japanese lessons, becoming an instructor rather than a student was certainly a change, as was speaking English in a classroom setting. However, I powered through and worked to instruct to my best ability despite realizing that living in Japan had managed to erode my grammatical skills.

I had previously spent a summer in Kyoto as a high school sophomore, nearly five years ago now. I stayed with a small host family just west of Doshisha while commuting to a Japanese language school daily. I’d kept in touch over the past few years, and when I reached out to ask if my host mother would be willing to accept a volunteer assistant teacher, she seemed excited. We met in January to discuss lessons plans, games to play with students and how to prepare them for an ominous upcoming English conversation test in February. I returned the next week to begin helping run classes.

Over my time at ECC I worked with a variety of students, ranging from second year elementary schoolers to third year middle schoolers. I was incredibly impressed by all of their dedication, many arriving to English lessons after both regular school and juku cram school. They did their best each lesson and honestly inspired me to work a bit harder myself.

A typical lesson would last a little over an hour. Students would come in and warm up with a short conversation exercise, like stating their favorite sweets, sports, or season. We’d then begin work from their textbooks, typically covering a conversation piece followed by a series of questions detailing the scene. We also sang quite a few songs and played more interactive games like ‘Simon Says” or ‘Heads Up.’ Finally we’d go over homework and prepare for the upcoming speaking text before going home.

I was surprised by how rigid the language study was. Even organic activities like playing games or speaking about weekend plans seemed carefully scripted. Perhaps most rehearsed was interview test prep. Students were expected to introduce themselves by name and then reveal exactly three facts about themselves. Acceptable facts were outlined to include school, hometown, age, and favorite sport. The students would then respond to a few prepared questions (What time do you go to bed? Do you like steak? Etc.) Before pointing to certain objects in a picture.

I was struck by the differences in this language study and my own experience learning Japanese. I began taking Japanese classes in high school, and despite being twice the age of some of the ECC students, remember playing far more games and interacting naturally albeit in fractured Japanese. As I result, I gained far more confidence with Japanese, seeing it as a free-flowing language rather than a series of acceptable answers and responses. The difference was apparent. Simply changing questions slightly (What time do you wake up? Do you like sushi?) rather than the previous questions seemed to stump students. I began to more clearly see the cultural pattern of Japanese adults who have spent multiple years learning English yet shy away from foreigners. Learning English in a series of set phrases is relatively easy, but any change to the existing structure tends to leave you reeling.

I have to say that interacting with the students was challenging at first. Most of them were incredibly surprised to see me (very distinctively not Japanese) in the classroom and grew nervous. I think at the start of my time, the students certainly distrusted me and as a result were quieter in class. They weren’t quite sure if I spoke Japanese or if I would be harsh towards their English. Yet over time, I feel I got through to many of the students. They grew more relaxed in my presence and more willing to engage with me by choice rather than through coercion. I was happy to provide the foreign exposure necessary for speaking English with foreigners. I hope that the positive interactions with me will lead those students to be more outgoing as they interact with native English speakers in the future.

I’d definitely recommend working as an English tutor while at KCJS. For one, the activity is fun and rewarding in its own right. Building relationships with Japanese elementary school students is a unique experience and one that will vastly improve your colloquial Japanese. However, more than that, I think it’s important to see if you enjoy teaching English. Many American college students studying Japanese hold vague plans to participate in JET as an assistant language teacher. In my experience, many JETs go into Japan without real knowledge of what teaching English is like. Students are shy and the majority of the work is more about coaxing them from their shells than intensive English study. It’s not a good fit for everyone, and teaching English as a CIP is a wonderful opportunity to check if it’s for you. I’d highly recommend everyone give it a shot.

Kanoa Mendenhall: Jazz Bass

Although I initially wanted to explore and try a new activity, I continued playing jazz bass (my line of work back in America) for my CIP here in Kyoto and Osaka. It has been a wonderful experience being able to participate in the Kansai jazz scene while at KCJS this spring semester.

As all jazz musicians do to get introduced to the local scene, I started off by going to a jam session in the area in order to meet local musicians. This was one of the main objectives of my CIP – to continue going to a regular session that had other members consistently participating.

The first session I attended was a weekly jam hosted by Kyoto University’s student-run jazz circle. The sessions were how typical jazz jam sessions go; a newly fused band collectively chose standards from the Great American Songbook and improvised on these tunes. Students from KyoDai as well as students from additional neighboring universities were involved in these sessions. Getting to know these students from various areas eventually led to participation in other jam sessions at other universities and venues.

As the semester progressed, not only did I get to know fellow musicians my age, but also people from a wide age range who shared a similar passion for jazz. Meeting people from different backgrounds and generations allowed me to practice my keigo and respectful expressions a fair bit. In addition, I had to do quite a lot of writing/messaging to people who I had just met at each session, which was good practice.

One aspect that varied a bit from gatherings in America was the formality, such as saying よろしくお願いします to all of the other members on the bandstand without fail before playing each tune (at jam sessions). This surprised me quite a bit at first, and was a shock compared to the cold, cutthroat atmosphere of New York jam sessions. Also, it has been confusing to decipher the distance between musicians and when to use honorifics. The jazz scene in Japan is unique in the case where numerous musicians have studied or lived in America, therefore demonstrating the vibe and casual approach of American jazz musicians (slang, handshakes, affirmative shouts during performance, etc.), yet there are still limits to how close you can get to a person, especially if there is a rank/age difference. I once called a club owner (who lived in New York for multiple years, knows jazz culture well) that I thought I had established a firm connection with (after multiple casual interactions) by their first name, and they reacted quite hostilely. It took some time getting used to, but overall I found that musicians in the Kansai area are friendlier and supportive of each other, which I wish there was more of in New York City.

These jam sessions ultimately lead to a few performances in formal settings, called by members I met at jam sessions such as the one at Kyoto University. The performances typically involved rehearsals and preparation beforehand, and involved some energy and time. Nevertheless, they were highly rewarding, and I’m especially grateful to the teachers and friends from KCJS who came to my gigs. Continuing music while in Kyoto was one of the highlights of my study abroad experience, and has provided much joy and language practice as well as career connections that are sure to be useful in the future. There were some language barriers at times, but music, especially jazz, is a language and mode of communication itself.

James Hilton: Kyokushin Chronicles, Vol. II


Much has transpired since my previous Kyokushin Chronicles update.

Previously, I wrote about my revelations regarding integrating various aspects of different fighting styles, walking the taboo cusp of aggression, and aspiring toward balance—all internal changes that were occurring in me due to the Kyokushin Kaikan environment. This time, I want to look outward and detail my social observations.

Throughout my time at the dojo, my social status has changed, but one thing has remained constant: I’m a gaijin. That’s not too significant: one of the esteemed sensei is Polish; and one of my senpai hails from Australia. The factor of pertinence is, even when compared to the other, white foreigners, I alone stand out. I am, in effect, doubly gaijin. To this day, children, and even some adults, that have seen me week-in and week-out cast lengthy—often shameless—stares (even when their attention truly ought to be elsewhere). To top it off, I was a white belt, which in Kyokushin is not the bottom-of-the-ranks position that one would expect. No, it is less than that; it literally signifies nothing.

Last month, I took the promotion exam. In preparation for the exam, I increased my time in the dojo tremendously. Two of my black belt senpai—the prodigious pair that we refer to as the Twins—took notice of my efforts and were kind enough to grace me with their private tutelage. Under their instruction, I achieved the goals I set out for myself.  Moreover, there was another, unexpected development. I was able to forge personal relationships with the Dynamic Duo; and in turn, others became more willing to socialize with, and even support, me. After passing the promotion exam and ascending two levels, I became a legitimate member of the kaikan community—and was conferred newfound respect and camaraderie. My relatively elevated standing has served to make the dojo a more welcome environment for me. It does not erase my so readily apparent gaijin-ness, but it does provide a counterbalance of sorts. To be honest, though, I have been privileged in my own right from the very start.

Due to my (supposed) ability to converse in Japanese, my status as a student at Doshisha University, and the weight of the University of Chicago reputation, I have always had great favor with Shihan—the kaikan head. His approval has granted me a special, privileged status among my peers that significantly eased my burden of social integration. Over the last month, I have learned much about the hierarchy in the dojo and my place within it. For all its quirks, it has been a remarkable journey.

With my impending return to America, recent weeks have been a period of reflection. My time at the dojo has been my most important experience in Japan. It is the place where I established the lion’s share of my most treasured bonds. While I am not one for much sentiment, I can say without hesitation: I will miss the Kyokushin Kaikan.


Logan Cody: Klexon

For my Community Involvement Project I participated in Klexon – an English conversation club. Every Tuesday I would meet for two hours in the Wings Gender Equality Center with other KCJS members and other native English Speakers living in the city, to talk with Japanese college students and workers in order to help them practice their English speaking abilities. For the first hour of the meetings, I would talk in one-on-one sessions with the Japanese club members – discussing anything from their jobs to their opinions on recent political developments. Then in the second hour, I would talk in groups of five to six people in order to practice group speaking abilities with them. The club would offer prompts and possible topics of conversation, but I found that most of the Japanese participants were happy to elect their own topics of conversation, and usually wanted to discuss broad cultural differences between Japan and the US, or grammatical novelties between Japanese and English. As I became closer friends with different members of the club, I began to join them for food and drinks after the meetings or at Karaoke parties on the weekend.

Through my continuing interactions with the Klexon group, in and out of the weekly meetings, I feel that I was truly able to integrate into, and participate in, Japanese social activities and functions. Furthermore, in helping to teach English to Japanese people I was better able to understand my progress with my own language studies: for example, it seems a lot of the Klexon members use the word “maybe” more often than what would be considered natural in English (eg. “Maybe, my job is working in finance”). My assumption is that this over-usage stems from learners attempting to directly translate certain phrases from their native tongue into their target language – which is probably a mistake that I make as well in my own language studies (ie. trying to convert head-first English phrasing/idioms into Japanese, instead of solely relying on the set head-last grammatical formations of the language). I also found that simply speaking to a large number of Japanese students and workers allowed for many fascinating insights into people’s opinions about food, and clothing, and history, and politics. A particularly interesting example would be my conversations with a member of Japan’s Self-Defense Force: I was able to learn about his daily work, and about how most Japanese citizens look down upon those who join the SDF.

As for my advice to future students, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a Line! Everyone here uses Line, and it’s just such an easy way to make friends quickly. After a meeting, if you have even the slightest interest in being friends with someone, I’d highly recommend trading Line account information. And then afterwards, even if you don’t text them, the likelihood that they text you and ask to hangout is very high. There’s practically no work involved at all! And getting to meet Japanese people and hang out outside of the CIP activities is such a wonderful opportunity to make friends, to speak more Japanese, and to learn more about Japanese culture and life.

Sara Hirade: Calligraphy Lessons

Every Monday, two other KCJS students and I take calligraphy classes near Shimogamo-jinja, which is only a ten-minute bike ride away from Doshisha.

At first, I had some difficulty choosing a CIP. I knew I wanted to participate in something traditionally Japanese and artistic where I could bring home some of my work, but I was not sure on what to do. After talking with my host mother about my concerns, she suggested that I try calligraphy classes. Her friend is the teacher, and KCJS students have enjoyed her classes in the past. My host mom then introduced me and the other KCJS students who wanted to participate to sensei. We arrived at her house, armed with omiyage and got started right away. Sensei provids us with all the materials necessary to participate, as well as tea and snacks at the end of the lesson. Each week we practice one or two kanji, while sensei advises us and corrects our work. Once we are familiar with the kanji we have been practicing, we write a final version on beautiful, high-end paper, which sensei is kind enough to let us use.

I was a little nervous when I began the calligraphy classes. My handwriting is not very neat and I have very little experience with painting. I had done some calligraphy in the past, but would not consider myself to be any good at it. However, these concerns quickly evaporated as soon as I met sensei and began the lessons. She taught us all the terms for the materials, explained the proper technique for holding the brushes, and demonstrated the best posture and how our bodies should feel when we do calligraphy. However, I learned more than just what calligraphy is or how I can make my kanji look better. Sensei gave me another perspective on the importance of paying attention to details in Japanese society. For example, when writing sideways lines in a kanji, the line should rise slightly up as it goes from the left-hand side of the page to the right. This allows for space to open up within the character itself and provides a better balance on the page. Once I started writing my kanji with this in mind, they started to look cleaner and nicer. On my own, I never would have paid attention to such a small detail. I soon began to notice a similar focus on detail in other parts of Japanese culture, that I had overlooked before these calligraphy classes. For instance, in many crowded areas, there are signs that clearly mark which side of the street visitors should walk on so that there is no confusion. A detail that the architects and designers could have easily overlooked, but didn’t, allows for a natural and easy flow that you do not always see in the busy areas of other countries.

I highly recommend sensei’s calligraphy classes to anyone who is interested in traditional Japanese arts. The only regret I have is that we only got to meet for 10 weeks. Sensei is incredibly knowledgeable in different calligraphy styles as well as other traditional Japanese arts (she is a ceramicist and made the plates and cups that she serves our post-lesson tea in) and is always so excited to share this knowledge with study abroad students. She also always checks in with us to make sure that we are understanding everything that she says and does her best to translate Kansai-ben into hyoujun-go when we have questions about it. Her prices for KCJS are very generous, unlike some traditional art classes in Kyoto. She also has great recommendations for where to go see sakura trees around Kyoto!

John Cho: Shamisen

           In my opinion, learning the shamisen itself was not the most important part of my CIP. Of course, learning how to play an instrument (if you enjoy music) from someone who is respected among the music community is a great opportunity; but being able to be in a constant, small group of friendly people and having the opportunity to participate in a concert wearing the traditional concert clothes really fulfilled the “authentic Japanese experience” that I was hoping to get from this study abroad.

            To those who are looking to learn the language better, and to constantly have the opportunity to talk with native speakers – who often use very strong Kansai-ben; the shamisen lesson is, perhaps, the best place to do so. Because most of the fellow students are around 60 ~ 70 years old, they consider us (young study abroad students) to be a “kouhai” and are more willing to talk to you, makes jokes with you, and really get to know you better. Personally, I think my Japanese skills, especially conversational skills, have improved significantly because I was always in an environment to constantly talk with someone who uses more conversational/casual speech to you – unlike the classroom environments.

Also, being in the shamisen class allowed me to participate in a traditional Japanese music concert, which is a great “authentic Japanese experience”. To me, the fact that I, an American study abroad student, can play alongside Japanese people while wearing their traditional clothes, and go to a big celebration party afterwards gave me the feeling that I was really accepted in the community.

            For those who love music, or who would like to start learning the instrument, I would definitely recommend learning the shamisen under Iwasaki sensei.

            For a quick explanation about what the “general experience” of learning how to play the shamisen is, please look at my first post. (

Sonia Steinmann: Bazaar Cafe

Volunteering as Bazaar Cafe was a rewarding experience that allowed me to practice my Japanese, meet people, and get a glimpse of a Japanese working environment. As an attempt to integrate into a corner of Japanese society, it proved to be both fulfilling and challenging.

Bazaar Cafe is a small cafe situated in the back of a house, only a short walk from campus. The visitor passes through the side of the house into the backyard, where the cafe opens out into a garden. Becoming a volunteer was as simple as showing up one day with a friend who had already been volunteering. The work I have been doing during my weekly visits hasn’t been very rigorous, involving, essentially, translating the menu, washing dishes, and putting things in their proper place.

What I would soon find was that the atmosphere of Bazaar Cafe was extremely relaxed and casual. I only arrived at this opportunity after trying and failing to get another, at a non-profit. Whereas applying to a Japanese company had required communications in keigo and a resume in accordance with regulations, Bazaar Cafe has allowed me to experience a very different kind of Japanese-language environment. I quickly found that my use of polite (desu-masu) form was excessively formal. Having absorbed strict rules of politeness and discretion through Japanese language class, I now had to learn how to communicate in this casual environment.

While I am usually working in the back of the cafe, a recent evening of performance art brought me into contact with the customers, as I collected used cups and answered questions about the night’s performances. As most volunteers were not in attendance, it was only me, the owner, and two other employees. At the end of the performances, the organizer took a moment to thank the cafe for releasing the space, and I naturally bowed with the rest of the employees and spoke a few words about how interesting it had been. It was during this evening that I felt most integrated into the Bazaar workplace environment, and like a member of Bazaar Cafe.

I would therefore encourage students to look for a CIP not only based on the type of work, but also the environment. Although the non-profit I had initially applied to aligned more closely with my interests, the loose environment of Bazaar Cafe was ultimately a better fit and more fulfilling, even if washing dishes sounds less than exciting. Applying to the non-profit, while ultimately not successful, was also a highly instructive experience in communicating with potential employers in Japanese, and I would encourage others not to be discouraged by the idea of reaching out for opportunities in Japanese. Overall, Bazaar Cafe has been an unforgettable part of my study abroad experience.

Joey Ye: Bouldering

For my CIP this semester, I did bouldering at a local bouldering gym in Shijo. Last semester I did ping pong, but I quickly realized that competitive sports like ping pong do not make great environments for trying to sustain extended conversations since everyone is focusing on the game. Bouldering, on the other hand, is a great way to talk to people and make new friends each time. Besides the fact that I really enjoy bouldering and physical exercise, the environment itself is really great for making conversation. Most of the time I would not have to try myself to initiate conversation as people are usually trying to cheer each other on as they watch others climb. It does not matter how good you are if you are a complete stranger, there will always be someone encouraging you with the occasional “ganba!” and “nice!” Whether or not you make it to the top, once you come down from the wall you can easily go to the person and strike up conversation by thanking them for their encouragement or asking them what they think would be the best way to climb the course.

Vice versa, you can of course flip the scenario and be the one who is cheering others on and initiating conversation that way. However, this of course depends on their receptiveness and if they want to talk to you after they finish the course. Personally, I find it much easier to ask someone who just did a course that you are working on how they did it, and if they have any tips on how to do it. I’ve made most of my friends this way, and once you get used to the interactions after a week or two, it becomes easy to make new friends each time you go. The great part too is that most of these people are regulars, so you will most likely see them each time you go to the gym. From there, it is pretty self explanatory on how to expand the interactions beyond just the bouldering gym if you so wish and ask them out for meals afterwards.

How long you stay is completely up to you, but each time you pay for the gym you are allowed to stay there the whole day. This includes going out to buy a meal, do something else, and coming back at a later time. This was great because the gym is also a little expensive even with the student discount, including the equipment costs of renting shoes and chalk. Usually I would spend up to three to four hours there at a time because it was fun, as long as my muscles did not get too tired or sore. Over the course of the semester, not only have I made a lot of new friends, but I have also improved my bouldering skills and definitely found a new hobby that I will continue to pursue when I go back to the United States.

Xiangyu Zhang: Life in Kyoto

For my CIP, I participated in the production of a bi-monthly informational journal “Life in Kyoto” (LIK), under Kyoto International Community House. “Life in Kyoto” is making newsletters for foreign residents, especially foreigners who came to Kyoto one to two years ago, providing the informations which foreigners can feel relieved by reading. Since the production cycle is two months, we met two times per month on Wednesday evening, usually for about two hours at a time.

I volunteered for the Japanese version, and English version of the newsletter. It was a great opportunity to get to know the difference between cultures. The most interesting difference I experienced is about the masculinity and femininity in Japanese language. From an all-women’s college where gender neutrality is highly appreciated, I could not even imagine that somebody said that “this word choice (which are Kanji compound) is too masculine and let us find a proper word (such as kunyomi words) for her”, which I heard several times during LIK meeting. I do not think it is because my native language is nothing but Kanji so I cannot tell how “masculine” the word is, and I do have the idea that Japanese language system is separated by gender. But it was still shocking when hearing people do discuss in this way for article contents. Besides gender differentiation, in Japan, how one talks and is talked to is determined by one’s seniority, and occupation. Fortunately, LIK volunteer group members are quite easygoing and friendly, and everyone was trying to create a welcoming atmosphere to new-comers. So in our meeting, members basically talked with each other with polite form, except for senior people to younger people.

Other than bi-weekly meetings, our communication was almost done by emails, which enabled me to learned how to politely email in Japanese. In the past, when emailing in Japanese, I had to search for and check the politeness word by word online, but now, to a large extent, I can directly type without copy-and-paste. Some people may think the Japanese email is full of meaningless and overwhelming greetings, but I do appreciate the warmth and the respect show in the email by the routine “お疲れ様です” and “お手数をお掛けしますが、どうぞ宜しくお願いします”.

Moreover, as a volunteer, I had gone through almost every process of publishing a journal: making plans, writing, proofreading, and editing, which involve lots of detail-oriented works, such as reading the draft aloud to find missing particles and grammatically incorrect expressions, and word choosing, as the above-mentioned. The most difficult part in the proofreading is to make every sentence easier to understand in both Japanese and English. And as a non-native English and Japanese speaker, it is about mutual learning. I pointed out my suggestions to the contents, and I got invaluable advice from other volunteers on the article I wrote in Japanese and English. I would say how much you can learn depends on how you would like to raise questions no matter how trivial the detail seems to be. I enjoyed the mutually learning experience very much.

All in all, the volunteer experience with LIK was interesting and rewarding. As a foreigner I feel I was needed by everyone in every stage of the publishing work, from content writing to proofreading. On the other hand, I really appreciate the interaction with other members. I would definitely recommend the volunteer opportunity at LIK.