John Miller Karate Circle at Kyoto University

This semester I continued attending my CIP from last semester, which was a Karate circle at Kyoto university. It is rather informal group, where attendance is not strictly required. However there is a core group of about six students who regularly attend both two hour sessions each week. After a month break, it was great to be able to reconnect with reconnect with friends I had made last semester.

There were several foreign exchange students from other countries, including France, Germany and China. This made the circle approximately half Japanese and half foreign. While this did sometimes weaken the initiative to speak Japanese, there were plenty of opportunities to speak to the Japanese members. I great opportunity I had was serving almost as an interpreter between  my German friend Henrik, who does not speak Japanese well and the Kyoto University students who do not speak English well.

Continuing with the same CIP into the second semester was advantageous in my opinion because I was able to deepen relationships I had made the previous semester. Last semester, I did not spend much time outside of the dojo with the other members, however this year, we went on several outings together, including hiking Mt Atago and going to izakayas. I had a number of memorable conversations with my friend Henrik during those trips. He told me several fascinating stories of his great grandfather who was an officer in the German army during WWII. We were then able to ask Japanese students about their perceptions of the war and how the war is viewed differently between Germany, Japan and the United States.

Another aspect of Japanese culture I was able to observe was the importance of gift giving. The club president made cookies for all the members on Valentine’s Day, which was very nice. Last week, we wrote special appreciation messages for those who graduated in March after several years in the circle.  


Kevin Woolsey: Noh Translation

For my CIP this semester I translated scripts of Noh plays under the supervision of Professor Diego Pellecchia, who taught the Noh portion of the class on Japanese performing arts at KCJS this semester. His team is creating a website which will serve as a reliable source of information on traditional Japanese performing arts for both English and Japanese speaking audiences.

Noh is a form of classical theater which generally took shape in the late 14th century and flourished under patronage of the warrior class. There are more than 200 plays still performed today, with the scripts generally written from the 14th to 16th centuries. As a result, the Japanese found in the scripts is quite different from modern Japanese; in fact, even at the time of writing the style had already become a classical written form. On top of that, the language of the scripts becomes very poetic at points, using rhetoric techniques found in waka poetry as well as citing poems themselves.

Naturally, this presents many challenges when trying to translate Noh scripts into English. Perhaps the most notoriously difficult to translate poetic technique is the kakekotoba, which are basically puns. One example which can actually work in English is matsu, which can mean a “pine” tree or to “pine” for someone, as in to wait for a loved one’s return. However, such convenient cases are rare, leaving one with two choices: come up with something clever, or just give up trying to translate it.

The following is an example from the play 猩々 (Shōjō):

飲めども変はらぬ秋の夜の盃 / nome domo kawaranu aki no yo no sakazuki (Drinking will not change this autumn night’s sake cup reflects the moon’s)

影も傾く入江に枯れ立つ / kage mo katabuku irie ni kare tatsu (light setting upon the inlet he stands among the withering reeds,)

足元はよろよろと…… / ashi moto wa yoroyoro to (legs wobbling,)


The kakekotoba in the first line is within 盃 (sakazuki): as a whole it means a sake cup, but the last two syllables serve as a kakekotoba for 月 (tsuki), the moon. This allows two readings for the first line: 飲めども変はらぬ秋の夜の盃 (an autumn night’s sake cup which does not change upon drinking = the sake never runs out) and 月影も傾く入江 (moon setting above the inlet). In other words, there are effectively two sentences, with the end of the first and beginning of the second overlapping in the sound zuki. I tried to reflect this in the translation, stringing two sentences together into one around the word “cup”.

Another kakekotoba can be found in the third line, with ashi meaning both “reed plant” and “leg”. The end of the second and beginning of the third line can be read either 枯れ立つ芦 (withering standing reed plants) or 立つ足 (standing legs). I tried to reflect both meanings naturally with the phrase “he stands among the withering reeds”.

It is impossible to fully recreate the experience of reading the original through translation, but it is possible to convey some sense of the techniques present in the text beyond the surface meaning.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to not only practice my translation skills but also contribute to a project which will be a valuable resource when released.

Dylan Atencio: La Carriere Cooking School

For my Community Involvement Program, I participated in La Carriere Cooking School, located in downtown Kyoto. The school is geared toward Kyoto locals, and separated into men’s and women’s classes. As a member, I was able to learn many methods of cooking–particularly focusing on Japanese cuisine. Many of the other men tended to be middle-aged and older, sometimes there to learn how to cook for themselves, and sometimes there to be more involved in the kitchen with their family.

My first several times were rather a bit of a struggle language-wise. Though I have a decent grasp of understanding conversational Japanese, I did not know most of the food-oriented vocabulary (I did not even know the word for “pepper” before going in). However, over time and with help from the instructors, I became much more comfortable using the terminology and was much better able to follow the recipes as a result. One of the most interesting things I noticed was that when we made Japanese food, it was a necessity that I follow the recipe exactly, and the instructors would sometimes get flustered if I deviated. When it came to European-style food, however, the atmosphere felt much more relaxed, and I was allowed to experiment more freely. As well, the only instructor that seemed okay with me trying to tweak the recipe as I pleased was the only one who had worked outside of Japan.

While cooking, I was able to converse with the chefs and other students, and as my cooking terminology grew, my ability to have more fluent and nuanced conversations about the food increased too. Of course, I did have the more interesting conversations with the younger men–partly because we had more in common, and partly because it seemed that the older men were much more focused on keeping their head down and understanding and perfecting the recipe. For instance, I often was able to talk with others about cultural and linguistic differences between Japan and western countries. Cooking in a Japanese kitchen was a very different experience from the kitchens that I was used to, in that it was much more regimented and focused on aesthetic detail. However, I am glad to have had this opportunity.

Heather Heimbach: Doshisha Figure Skating Club

I participated in the Doshisha Figure Skating Club. Last semester I participated in a circle, but since most circles are on break during the spring semester, I decided to join a sports team instead, since many of them continue to have practice through the university break.

About once a week there would be a morning practice from 6:30 to 8:30 am where the club rents out the ice for only club members. Most members would go to this morning practice as well as several afternoon practice sessions throughout the week. I went to the morning practice as well as practicing in the afternoon, usually on Mondays and Thursdays since I did not have class on those days. The practices were usually held at Kyoto Aquarena, or the rink in Hyogo.

At the ice arena, everyone warmed up individually. Before practice, the person in charge for the day would call a team meeting. I never figured out who had what position of leadership in the club, except for the Captain, who usually wasn’t there. Someone would then announce the schedule of the practice, which was usually divided into compulsory figures for 15 minutes, skating drills for 20 minutes or so, and then individual people running their programs while the rest of the skaters are free to practice jumps and spins.

However, oftentimes advanced skaters usually ignored this order (listed above) and did whatever they wanted. At the end of practice, everyone had to clean up the ice by filling the holes. I never did this in America. Again, oftentimes advanced skaters ignored this and continued practicing and no one had a problem with it. When leaving, everyone would say otsukaresamadesu, do a head bow and walk out.

Some people stayed at the arena to continue practicing and other people had part-time job at the rink. I usually had to leave because of class. I didn’t really hang out with anyone outside of practice at the rink.

One of the most interesting things was that while the team had strong senpai-kouhai relationships and was pretty traditional in terms of having rules and status quo, rather than age, skating ability was the most important factor in the club hierarchy. Advanced skaters acted as leaders, leading drills and correcting the beginner skaters, regardless of age.

Sometimes there was a coach who would come to offer advise. Everyone was told to greet the coach and listen. However, some advanced skaters did not, but again, no one stopped them. The coach mainly worked with the beginner skaters.

There were several rules that mandated public apologies if they were broken. By that I mean, at the team meeting held after the practice ended, the member who broke the rule might have to apologize to the whole team for being a bother (meiwaku). For instance, being late to practice (if you are a beginner), forgetting duties (if you have them–I didn’t), not going to the team “meeting” before and after practice.

Having to go to the team meeting was annoying because sometimes people wouldn’t be done putting on their skates, or one boot would be on and the other untied, but everyone had like 5 seconds to get there, so people would have to run over or limp over in socks or with only one shoe on. And usually the meeting wasn’t anything important.

One of the girls was always late and she would skate around and apologize to every single person. I never understood why this was necessary, since the “team” practice is actually mostly people practicing individually, just at the same time.

When I started going to more practice sessions throughout the week, I got to know the members a lot more. Also, I think when they saw that I was showing up regularly and that I actually like skating a lot, we were able to easily build a connection off of that. A lot of the members work at the rink or go every day to practice. I got to know the people who often went to practice, and the people who went on the same days as me.

I really enjoyed joining this skating team. Because it is something that I would do even in America, I think I was able to feel very natural joining the team in Kyoto. Going to international exchange events in order to make Japanese friends always felt forced to me, but the skating team–because everyone is not there to make gaijin friends but to skate– made me actually feel included in a community. Everyone spoke to me in Japanese.

Joining a sports team can be difficult since you can’t really participate in everything they are doing (like multi-day training retreats, traveling to matches, etc.) but it is a great experience. However, I don’t recommend joining a sport you haven’t done before.

Rebecca N. Clark, Iaidô (Spring Semester)

I hate stage fright —the way it feels like there’s a riot of dancing mad butterflies in your stomach and a jackhammer where your heart should be; the distinctive itch along the nape of your neck as you imagine all eyes on you; the fear of overhearing whispers commenting on what you did, or did not, do to mess up. Unsurprisingly, it’s scarier when you don’t fully understand what people are saying, when every whisper you hear could just as likely be about you as someone else if only you could understand the language enough to tell the difference.

During the month of training leading up to my first competition in iaidô —Japanese sword-drawing— I couldn’t keep these thoughts out of my head. They kept creeping up on me, pouncing right when I would reach for the hilt of my sword, turning a smooth draw into a stuttering, stumbling flail of limbs and blunted steel. My senseis at the dojo probably noticed it, the way I shied from being in the front row of any in-dojo demonstration or the look of terror that I never managed to hide fast enough when they asked me to perform solo to demo a new technique. One day, as we put the finishing touches on our routines the Sunday before competition, we held a mock competition. As each flight stepped up and ran through the four kata (routines) we had to perform, each person called out their number and the name of our dojo’s style, musoujikiden eishinryuu. When my turn came, I took a breath and started to speak, gripping my sword, sheathed at my left hip, like a lifeline. I made it through the number, but then the name of the style came.

MusojMusokideMusokiden enryuu,” I finally stuttered out, face probably as pink as my practice kimono. It was embarrassing, to say the least, that I messed up something as simple as our style’s name, but we had to keep the mock competition going. After a quick correction from the head sensei, N-sensei, my flight and I completed out set and soon the mock competition was over.

The dojo’s de facto mother figure, H-sensei, had of course been watching, and when we split off into belt groups she took over teaching mine and started by having me practice saying our introductions. I could do it if I went slow, but it sounded odd coming after the confident declarations of my belt-mates. Rather than letting me apologize, she waved her hand in that affectionately dismissive way few can pull off and turned to all of us. With a clap of her hands she declared,

“We’re all your nakama. And so we’re going to help you.”

Then she turned to the native Japanese speakers and had them all say their introductions again, but this time at a steady and slow pace that I could match. I was stunned at hearing her declare us all to be nakama —friends who share a close bound and look out for the well-being of each other and the group— and felt myself wanting to cry at the sincerity and acceptance with which she said that and at the grins the other students immediately sent my way.

We all sounded the same when H-sensei was done with us, and as she went off to talk with another student, I apologized again to the other students, feeling bad for inconveniencing them. They just chuckled, and K-san, a feisty young woman the same age as me, replied with her trademark smirk,

Isshou ni ganbarou!” (We’ll do this together!)

Then the call for us to lineup and ceremonially remove our swords for the final time as practice ended went out and we all scrambled for our places. I smiled through the whole thing.

When competition day came, I was nervous, but not nearly as much as I would have been if I didn’t know I had my dojo-mates and senseis, my nakama, standing beside me and supporting me. My flight went up, and we all said our introductions, my own fitting in right alongside theirs, even if the American accent I can never seem to shake fully was still there. It was over in a flash and we walked off the stage together, laughing with the aftereffects of nerves and congratulating each other on a job well done as our senseis smiled in approval.

In the end, I didn’t place, but I still consider the memory of that experience alongside the men and women who count me —and I them— as their nakama to be one of my dearest from my time here. Moreover, I learned first-hand about the importance of teamwork in Japanese group mentality and how that translates into experiences such as my own, where the members of a group look out for the well-being of both each other and the group as a whole. Though this is not a quality unique to Japanese culture and society, it is one for which my experience here in Japan, interacting with the Japanese, has been all the richer.

Evan Scardino: Tenrikyō

This semester I have been conducting research on the Japanese new religious organization called Tenrikyō. In tandem with this research, as my CIP I have been attending services, meals, and monthly festivals hosted at the Heian Nishi Bunkyōkai in my neighborhood. I have been acquainted with the family that runs the church, the Ōshita family, since last year and they have been immensely helpful to me in my study of both their faith and Japanese culture as a whole.

Usually what this entails for me is watching the Ōshita family perform the service, eating a meal with them, and helping with tidying up the church room after the service, putting away chairs and offerings and such. The most helpful part in terms of my Japanese learning is without doubt the conversations shared over meals.

At the monthly festivals, the entire community of this church gathers, and I’ve had the chance to meet and talk with a large number of people, the overwhelming majority of whom are middle aged or elderly. This has provided me with a chance to observe dynamics of an older generation which I have less of a chance to interact with in my schooling. Their tendency towards self-deprecating humor is much stronger than that of the college students I have met, and an even greater tendency to discuss the weather at length at the start of any social interaction. They also speak Kyōto dialect, rarely heard in my generation.

The elderly exclusively use Kyōto dialect. Perhaps in their youth standard Japanese was not as widely taught or enforced. While the middle-aged people seem to be most comfortable speaking Kyōto dialect, they don’t lead with it. When I first came to the church, the middle-aged people would use standard Japanese, but as time went on, either they became more confident in my Japanese ability or I became a more recognized face in the community and they as well started using Kyōto dialect when speaking to me.

Kyōto dialect is somewhat distinct from the more widely known Kansai dialect. When I expressed interest in learning about Kyoto dialect, the brother of the head priest, Norio, was happy to oblige. He taught me the phrases “Samū oman na!” and “Atsū oman na!” used to express that today is particularly cold or hot, respectively.

I tried these phrases out on my college-age friends, and the ones who weren’t Kyōto natives didn’t understand at all. Even the ones who were from Kyōto, while they could understand, said they didn’t know how to speak much Kyōto dialect themselves. But at the next church meeting, I tried out my newfound words on some of the elderly people, and they seemed overjoyed at my efforts.

This story demonstrates a more unfortunate aspect of modern Japanese society: dialect is disappearing. In my Japanese class, we read several articles about the disappearance of dialect as standard Japanese becomes ever more, pun intended, standard.

I’m sure the people of the church were happy to have someone interested in this aspect of their culture, as only interest in the dialect will keep knowledge of it alive. One of the people whose words we read, an entertainer by the name of Ina Kappei, said that people who speak dialect need to be proud of it, and that pride, in the face of whatever derision they may face for speaking it, is the key to keeping it alive. Aside from the occasional joke about how hard it is to understand, the people of Heian Nishi seem to have pride in their unique way of speaking.

My experience with the people of Heian Nishi has been wonderful. I’ve been amazed time and time again by their kindness, and they have taught me so much. The opportunity I had to explore often overlooked aspects of Japanese society, such as dialect and new religions has been welcome, and the crossover with my classwork that dialect has provided has also been fascinating. I’m proud to say that with the support of this community I am “bocchi bocchi ni shiteiru” in my endeavors to understand Japanese culture and language.

Oliver Bauer-Nathan: Volunteering at Soup Kitchen/kodomo shokudō

On Thursdays, Sophie, Jared, and I head down to Kujō Station, where we begin the short walk to the kodomo shokudō. Located in a primarily Zainichi Korean neighborhood, due to discrimination against Zainichi Koreans, there is a real need for a place where kids can come and receive free meals and adults can receive inexpensive ones. By the time we arrive, final set-up is being done for the day. At first, the jobs include plating food, taking orders, serving food, and washing dishes, and, once we close, vacuuming, cleaning tables, etc. I’ve found that working here is very fulfilling and that we actually have the ability to make a difference, however small it may be, and contribute meaningfully to the community.

Before coming, due to stereotypes that Japanese people tend to be very formal and aware of hierarchy, I was a bit nervous, especially given the fact that I had not learned keigo yet. However, I was surprised to find that people there were quite informal—people often use contractions, short form, and don’t finish sentences—and that it felt a lot like when I had volunteered at a soup kitchen in the United States. However, when we were added to the group chat, I was surprised to find that people used quite formal Japanese in the group chat. It seems that formality is more important in written Japanese, even group messaging, than in person.

I’ve been humbled and grateful to be able to volunteer at the kodomo shokudō, even if I feel that my weakness in Japanese is sometimes a hinderance to me being helpful. Thankfully, they are quite forgiving whenever I have trouble understanding. In fact, I feel that they’ve taken me in as a part of the community in a way that I did not expect. For example, whenever I arrive, I am often greeted warmly, and people are eager to talk to me and include me in banter. Although a language and culture barrier separates us, they do their best to include me and keep me in the loop, even during busy hours. I will be very sad to say goodbye when I leave for the last time next week.


Maohua Wu: Boxing and Japanese Cooking Learning

Always loving to explore different things in the world, I had a great chance this semester in KCJS to do a Boxing Training Class and 和食料理 Japanese Cooking Lesson Community Involvement Project in Kyoto.

I do my Boxing Training class in a small gym nearby Doshisha University every Friday. All the coaches, students and even the own of the gym are very friendly. Knowing my Japanese isn’t good at the first day, they try their best to slow down every single sentence they speak with me. Moreover, in order to make my training more comfortable, they try to use the way of training in USA instead of Japanese way: In Japan, the basic boxing terminology and words such as straight ストレート, hook フック. And there are eight different basic movements for the Japanese Boxing system. But the boxing training way in US, all those movements are places by number from One to Six and there are only 6 movements in US. Therefore, it was hard for me to change my habitual training way from US to Japan directly. Instead of forcing me to learn the Japanese way, they combine the Japanese training methods and US training methods together to form a new training way. In this case, there are still six different types of movements, instead of eight in Japan. But when they train me, they use Japanese terminology. It is a cool experience!! Only after several time, I feel my punching and dodging speed increase to a different level.

Not only on physical, but also on culture, I learnt a lots by talking with different people in the boxing gym, from young students who are 11 years old to someone who is around 40. People in Japan prefer Cardio better than the muscle training. But boxing, which is Cardio but also requires a great amount of power, becomes more and more popular among people who want to both increase their power and lose weight. Therefore, many of the people coming to this gym just because they want to keep good fit while gain a little bit of muscle. This is very different from my reason for going to the gym. Moreover, by talking to several middle school students, I learnt the high pressure situation Japanese middle school students are facing as well as what young people in Japan love to date ( Do not ask me why we discuss where is the best place dating a Japanese girlfriend). But anyway, it is very interesting because I learn different aspects of the countries through conversations with different people.

Another CIP I do is through the La Carriere. This is a great place to learn not only Japanese dishes, but also French and Italian dishes. OMG, this 7-floor building with luxury decoration is amazing! The teachers here are all Japanese. Even though they speak so fast and I barely caught what they say, the equipment in the classroom such as the big screen with automatically focusing and zooming in cameras show me clearly all the steps for making the dishes. Moreover, those teachers and assistants are so nice when you actually cook yourself. They always stand right next to you to help you. Sometimes I feel embarrassing asking them so many times, but they will offer me help before I even ask them. Therefore, during this semesters, I learn more than 8 different Japanese dishes.

Besides my improvement in my cooking skills, I also learn many about the family culture in Japan. Most of the students who attend this class are female staying at house or retired male who wants to learn more to cook for their wives. By talking to them, I feel like I can understand their purposes and get more familiar with the culture in the society. For instance, the reason why one 53 years old male wants to learn how to cook is that he wants to treat her wife back who has been cooking for him for more than 25 years. This is cute! Moreover, by talking to those people, I feel like in Japanese society, they value the Italian and French food expensive food while Chinese and Indian relatively more average in terms of price, even though they are super delicious too. Therefore, if cooking a delicious meal, they will choose Chinese food, but if they want to make a romantic meal, their first choice is either French or Italian food.

All in all, CIP is so meaningful. On one hand, it provides me great opportunity to meet more Japanese people outside the school which can make me understand more about the Japanese society; on the other hand, the CIP I choose definitely improve my skills sets. So by the end of this semesters, I am not sure whether my Japanese language ability will increase a lot, but I am pretty sure I will have a much better understanding of the Japanese cultures and the whole society.


Gabrielle Chen: Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe

Throughout the semester I volunteered at a small café located near Doshisha called Bazaar Café. What initially attracted me to this particular place was its policy on accommodating all kinds of people, regardless of things like sexuality, illness, nationality, etc. I don’t think minority experiences are what one typically has in mind when they think of Japanese culture, or any kind of culture, so I joined out of a curiosity to see what that might look like.

I wasn’t surprised to find that it was just an ordinary café. Every Wednesday I simply washed dishes and chatted with my co-workers, something I found to be quite enjoyable. Of course, at the start I had my own preconceptions of what “immersing myself in Japanese society” would be like when I volunteered. It’s hard not to default to generalizations, especially ones as unique as Japan’s. I was worried about being formal and how much making mistakes in my Japanese would affect my relationships with the other workers. However, on my first day I was immediately given the nickname “Gabby-chan” by my co-workers who also introduced themselves with a nickname using the honorific “chan”. The atmosphere of the café wasn’t formal at all, and I would speak both politely and somewhat casually without anyone remarking on it. My co-workers joked around often despite the age differences between them, and would often involve me in these jokes as if I had been there for as long as they had.

It was things like this that made me quickly realize that I couldn’t draw any concrete conclusions about Japanese culture from my time volunteering at the café. My co-workers would also switch between speaking formally and speaking casually. They wouldn’t talk about themselves too much or about Japan, because it wasn’t as relevant as what needed doing around the café. The most “Japanese” things I observed were all the shoes out on the veranda that you took off before you came inside, and now I know that Shizuoka is famous for its eel dishes. To replace this lack of cultural observation, I found that I was able to deconstruct ideas I previously held instead. For example, I’ve learned in my Japanese classes that “umai” isn’t typically used by women. Neither is “azasu”, but one of my female co-workers used those kinds of masculine words very often. This particular instance reminded me that to learn about a place you really have to experience things on an individual level, and not expect behaviour that you only learn about in a classroom to apply to an entire country.

I think my CIP experience has been very rewarding and I would definitely recommend volunteering at Bazaar Café to people looking for something both fun and low energy, workwise. However, I will say that volunteering here is very much what you make of it for yourself. Everyone was very kind to me. They’d chat with me whenever the café wasn’t particularly busy, or offer me whichever random snacks they had around the kitchen. But there were also slow days where I didn’t say much at all. I had to push myself to be social and gradually overcome a fear of making mistakes that would sometimes hold me back when it came to conversations. It was very much an experience I benefitted from because I made the conscious decision to speak more each time I went, and my advice would be to do the same.

Ben Hammond: Nihonga

As a CIP this semester I took private lessons in Nihonga, or traditional Japanese painting. The action of painting itself was a very tedious process. The materials are all natural so you have to mix the paint, set the silk, and create the oil all by yourself. However, this was not the main reason of the CIP.

In terms of social observations, I was primarily watching interactions between sensei and the kids that would come on either Friday or Monday. Even though the relationship was the same, the interactions on the two days were vastly different. Since Fridays were days for kids who wanted to do arts and crafts, the atmosphere was more laid back. Kids could talk and move around as they pleased and sensei would only briefly check to see how their progress was going. In contrast, the kids on Mondays had a much more serious environment. This was due to the fact that they were practicing writing in pencil and calligraphy, a skill which does not translate to America. The quality of one’s physical writing is not that important but and that translates to my mind set. I was always shocked when sensei corrected a writing that to me seemed fine. It was all in the tiny details.

The difference in the two days, at least to me, speaks to a difference in importance between the two disciplines in Japanese culture. At least at a younger age, writing is valued much higher that drawing, and therefore requires more intense and focused practice. In contrast, there was one child who was a bit older and sensei focused on because they were

seriously working on art on a level past the crafty nature of everyone else. In this case, sense it was good for the future, it was valued highly.