I joined a chorus called C.C.D. (Collegiate Choral Doshisha) for the semester for my community involvement project. I spent a lot of time there–generally, rehearsal at least twice a week for four hours–but I think it was a worthy pursuit.
I was pretty anxious at first; now that I’ve done it, if you made me do it over again, I would still get anxious again. There were good times and bad times: Every now and then I would struggle with something and feel bad for a while, but then I would find a little success and feel better. For instance, rehearsals could be pretty tough sometimes, but drinking afterwards
was almost always fun.
I also got to do a lot of cool things that I probably wouldn’t have done on my own. I rented a kimono and got some awesome pictures (All of them have other people with faces unblurred, so I can’t share them); I went to Osaka to listen to a performance of Handel’s Messiah; and I got to perform while wearing a Halloween costume–I was a shrine maiden. And occasionally, I got to touch a piano, which was massively beneficial to my mental health.
The hardest things about being in a chorus actually don’t really have that much to do with singing. That works pretty much the same way everywhere, with some minor differences. What was really hard was communicating with regular people. As a second-language learner, it’s easy to forget that most of the people you interact with–teachers, language exchange partners, classmates–understand what it’s like to really try to learn a second language, and so they end up with pretty good communication skills.
The people in my chorus are just normal people. They won’t always be able to meet you halfway to communicate, so really thriving in that kind of environment requires a different level of ability that I don’t think I have just yet. The good news is that I’m aware of that, and that I think I’m a lot closer to getting that kind of ability than I was at the
beginning of the semester.
And there were other benefits to this project, too. For one thing, I was able to be around Japanese people around my age that already knew each other. They interact differently with each other than they do with foreigners, and I think getting to see it and be surrounded by it was super beneficial.
To anyone considering this type of project, I would say go for it. I can tell you, even if you don’t thrive, it definitely won’t kill you, and you’ll still probably learn a lot. And if you do thrive, even better for you: You’ll get to spend a lot of time around people and will
probably be able to make close relationships with them. Just try to make the most of your time, and it’ll be worth it.
This semester I was able to join the Shisekidoukoukai, a circle at Doshisha University which typically met every week on Saturday to visit a historical site. Here’s a link to their webpage, https://www.d-live.info/club/sports/index.php?c=club_view&pk=1364458262, though note that you will need to message them on Twitter or Instagram to join (I had to create a Twitter account just for this). In my case, all of the meetings that I attended were at various temples throughout Kyoto (and one in nearby Shiga prefecture). Each week that there’s a meeting, a Line message goes out to the members of the circle (over 150) and those who wish to participate in the following Saturday’s event respond to the message. Usually around eight or ten people would actually end up showing up, though it varied. It was a lot less than I expected given the total number of members, and many of the same people would usually go every week, so I was able to talk with certain people several times. Generally you’re on your own for transport to the temple and just have to meet in front of it at a specified time (usually early afternoon); due to the location of the dorm I’m living in it often took upwards of 45 minutes to get to and from these places, which was a little frustrating at times. Though some people in the circle would come all the way from Osaka or Hyogo prefecture, so I can’t complain too much.
Once everyone who had said they would be coming had arrived at the meetup location (which sometimes took quite some time due to people missing buses or getting lost on the way there — Google Maps was my friend) we would proceed into the temple grounds and walk around. This could take two or even three hours to get through the whole area as we would look at everything, talk with the other members, check out the gift shop, and take pictures. However, because of the lengthy time commitment, some weekends I couldn’t make it, so be aware that the meetings are quite long. I think it would be quite awkward to try to leave in the middle, and we would formally end every meeting with a “解散,” so I wouldn’t plan to be able to only participate for part of the time. It wasn’t very formal at all and it was nice to be able to talk to other college students in Japanese in such a relaxed environment. Note that besides me, I only saw one other non-Japanese student (who was really really good at Japanese!) and everyone was speaking in Japanese the whole time, so if you’re not confident in your Japanese abilities be aware that it might be hard to communicate. Personally I was able to have good conversations with several people but my level is/was not at the point that I could completely understand the conversations of those around me enough to participate myself, though it was still good listening practice. If my level was not at the point where I could have a decent conversation in Japanese, I probably would not have enjoyed it as much.
One thing I noticed was that whenever I would meet someone for the first time they would always ask me what year in school I was. It was actually a bit interesting in my case because though I am a junior, due to the month I was born in, I would still be a second year student if I had gone through the Japanese system. Though second- and first-year students never referred to me as “senpai” though some people did use it for Japanese students above them. Another interesting thing was the use of Kansai-ben, in that some people seemed to use it all the time, and some didn’t despite being from the Kansai region. I suspect this might vary depending on the person and who they’re speaking to, since using a dialect other than Standard Japanese seems to be perceived as more informal. There were also a lot of members not originally from the area so that might make a difference too. Since I am planning to participate for the next semester as well I will keep an eye out for this as I find it interesting.
My goal for finding a CIP this semester was something in which I got opportunities to speak in Japanese with native speakers without a very structured environment or activity, and the Shisekidoukoukai exactly fits with that. Everyone in the club that I’ve met has been kind and I think it could be a good way to make friends. However, if you find temples boring, want to leave your Saturdays free, aren’t confident in your Japanese speaking ability, or want a more structured activity for your CIP, you may be better off looking elsewhere. But I certainly have enjoyed getting to see various historical temples and chatting with others in Japanese and so I plan to continue in the same circle for the spring semester.
This semester, I joined the Jogging club at Kyoto University. When I was deciding on a CIP, I always knew that I wanted to do something involving a physical activity, and Jogging seemed like a natural fit. I was on the cross-country and track and field team in High School, so I was pretty confident that I would be able to keep up with the other members. However, I was a little anxious about how I’d get along socially. Thankfully, everyone in the jogging club was very welcoming and friendly towards me, and I’d often get dinner with them after practice.
I’d arrive Kyoto University about thirty minutes before practice so that I could talk with others before we ran. The room allocated for the club was this janky little shack out near the back entrance – a little dirty, but had a lot of charm. The people in the circle love playing mahjong – I’d often enter and find them in the middle of a competitive match, eyes glued to the tiles. Me personally, I had no idea what was going on; I know the basics of the game, but they were playing with a different rule set. Luckily, there’d be one or two people on the side that I could talk to, and they let me in on what was going on.
The Jogging itself was also pretty fun. Usually, we’d run 8-10 kilometers every practice I went. Our usual route was from Kyoto to University to along Kamogawa River, down to the road aligned with Kyoto Station, and then back. The club itself is comprised of members who both run competitively and for fun, so there were plenty of people in between that I could run alongside with. The runs were the most exhausting part of practice – trying to translate and talk at the same time I was running was both physically and mentally taxing. Most of the time, I’d wouldn’t say much save for the occasional comment. Afterwards, the club members would bring me to a great restaurant around school campus, which was the most rewarding part of the experience. I felt that I was able to talk more freely around the other members when we were eating together.
Overall, I’m really happy with my experience in the Jogging club. It was a great way to meet new people and utilize my Japanese. My advice to new students: make jokes about how Doshisha is worse than Kyoto University on your first day- if you play up that rivalry angle, I think you’ll make a positive impression.
I struggled at first with finding a CIP that called to me. However, I eventually settled with joining a friend from KCJS at being an English teaching assistant at Ohara Gakuin. I hadn’t thought of this idea at first, but after hearing him tell me about how he’s able to help students learn English, it immediately piqued my interest. I find that working with kids can be a refreshing change of pace from working with people your age or older, because they are more energetic, and remind me of my I was also very curious about the Japanese English classroom functioned. I wondered how Japanese students learn English differs from learning a foreign language in America and wanted to compare my experience.
I was absolutely stunned when I first arrived in Ohara. It was tucked in the mountainside, and while I occasionally felt weird, likely because of the altitude, it remains to be one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in Japan, and maybe anywhere The most picturesque spot, however, was the path leading to the school. With a colorful spring of flowers on one side, a calmly flowing stream on the other, and a backdrop of the mountains, I couldn’t help but take pictures and share it with friends and family, even though I’m not a big photographer. The beauty of the town was a great introduction to my experience at Ohara Gakuin.
After making my introductions to various teachers and administrators in the office, I began my first period as an assistant English teacher. The activity we had planned for the day, was for me and Jesus, the other KCJS member, to give introductions of ourselves and our hometowns to the class, and have them vote on whose hometown they’d rather visit. The competitive nature of the activity was surprising at first, but it was a fun activity that engaged the class and inspire me and Jesus to sell our hometowns as best we could.As someone who speaks quickly,I was aware I should be conscious of my talking speed.I thought I was talking slowly during my presentation,but the teacher gestured for me to speak more slowly.I then realized this was going to be harder than I thought it would be.he congratulated me for doing a good job but pointed out I should still speak more slowly.He also recommended asking questions as I went through my presentation to make sure everyone was following along.I supposed I should have been expecting that difficulty going into this for the first time, and I told myself I would do better next time.
It was fun getting a chance to interact with the students. While some of them were shy, some were goofy and energetic. It was refreshing to see such a variety. One student even started talking to me outside of class. I was a bit flustered because I wasn’t expecting it, and was worried I would mess up my Japanese. One of the most interesting things, however, was learning the students’ knowledge of America, or American culture. For example, I was surprised to find out that none of the students knew who Elon Musk was. I suppose Elon Musk isn’t only well known in America, and that may just have been because they were too young to know of him. It made me wonder if kids in America are familiar with Musk. I also had the students guess where my hometown is, which gave me a glimpse into how much they knew about American geography. I think my relatively Euro-centric view of the world had me under the impression they would know more when in reality many Americans couldn’t even tell you where the capital is. It made me realize how different of a world we, as Americans, live in from the average Japanese student. They know more about Japan and Japanese culture than I’ll ever know.
I’m really happy that I participated in this activity as my CIP, and I know it will be something I never forget.
For my CIP, I wanted to involve my Christian faith in some way. I included my activities of going to two different international Church (Kyoto International Church and Mustard Seed) and the student Bible study as part of my CIP activities. Church was held every Sunday: I normally go to KIC, but when it was not in person, I went to Mustard Seed. KIC was located near Kyoto University and Mustard Seed at Teramachi. As for KGK, they had 3 meetings a week, around 4:00PM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I usually only went to the Thursday meeting.
At KIC, my pastor gave the sermon in Japanese, but there were subtitles that he made himself that would appear on the screen behind him so I had no difficulty understanding. Mustard Seed had a live-translator so the English and Japanese speaking was constant. Spiritually, they were both very fulfilling and if anyone is looking for a Church, I recommended these two. For my Japanese Studies, I appreciated the KIC sermon more, as I would start translating in my head before I read the subtitles. At both Churches, there were incredibly kind people, both Japanese and foreigners. Honestly, this gave me the opportunity to reach beyond my student community and had a chance to connect with some what felt like “real” people. It was a good experience with Japanese, but I felt that maybe I should’ve done more in the Church regard. I did go to some things, but as a younger person, I paradoxically did not want to do the events in favor of doing homework or hang out with my friends. The advice I would give would be to really buy into the community and hang out with them.
As for KGK, I ended up becoming really good friends with my Bible Study leader. She ended up helping translate, clarifying, and even going as far as to prepare a translated sheet that was normally in Japanese. She ended up becoming someone I would hang out with regularly and always someone I could count on. This type of friendship is one of the reasons why I wanted to join a Japanese activity—-the chance to connect with Japanese students that translate into real world experiences is a natural consequence of something as intimate as Bible study. For that reason, I am happy. As for the Bible Study itself, it was a really interesting look into how Japanese Christian students interact with Christianity. Given that Japan is a much less Christian society than a place like America, the sessions were what I would describe as a little more “distance,” but it was still a place to be vulnerable, honest, and connection. We would read multiple passages from the Bible (usually in Japanese) and then discuss questions from a question sheet. As for Japanese, I honestly struggled a lot. It was difficult to try not to interrupt the kind of sanctity of Bible Study and letting the students explore and deepen their faith, while still wanting them to accommodate me. I often found myself just zoning out as the Japanese would get very fast, and I gave up trying understand multiple times just to try again later. But this sort of trial by fire really did have a positive impact on my Japanese, I believe. Towards the later sessions, I found myself naturally understanding more, and needing less clarification when I gave an answer.
I wanted to learn more about how to speak the Japanese version of “Christianese.” I think I was mildly successful. I think I focused a lot of the Japanese speaking aspect of this CIP, and thus, it’s been a relatively spiritually dry experience, so I warn Christians to be weary about this aspect. Yet, at times, there were deep revelations and spiritual moments, so I would still recommend this CIP.
Nearly every week beginning in October of the fall semester, I began volunteering at Fukakusa Kindergarten. A small kindergarten nestled in a residential area on the other side of the Kamo River, I remember how nervous I was my first day! However, all the staff were extremely kind and helpful, making sure I knew what I would be doing with the kids. My time with the kids was comprised of lots of English picture books, random vocabulary the kids wanted to know, and lots of free play time!
I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic the kindergarteners were! Every week they entered the room full of excitement, and would come right up to me to ask to play together or just to ask me how to say certain words in English. As excited as they were to learn from me, I approached every visit just as excited to learn from them. Although not in any formal capacity, through the children and staff I learned so much about how schools operate in Japan! From how snack time and free play time works, to just simply how removing your shoes inside the school is a strictly adhered by custom. I was treated with the utmost respect as just a student visitor, and I was blown away by how much of a positive experience my CIP ended up being. More practically, I learned a lot more about Kansai-ben! While this dialect is often heard in Kyoto, across the Kamo River it’s almost all you exclusively hear from the locals. Picking up Kansai-ben in my interactions with the staff and the students really helped me feel more confident in my Japanese as a whole.
My CIP experience is one I’m eternally grateful for, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to participate in it thanks to the help of the KCJS office. Exploring an area of Kyoto I had previously never seen, interacting with a dialect I was unfamiliar with but wanted to learn, and simply being able to be around the cutest children I’ve ever seen are memories and lessons I will never forget.
For my CIP I joined Doshisha’s kpop dance circle called “Ash”. I had wanted to join Kyoto University’s Toppogi kpop dance club but they became unable to respond to my messages once I arrived in Japan. Luckily, Keiko Toda of KCJS helped me connect with Ash very quickly and they accepted me into their club as their first ever study abroad student member.
During my fall semester, our main purpose was preparing for the Eve festival at the end of November. Near the beginning of the semester, the leaders of the 170+ member circle made a group chat for those of us interested in participating in Eve and separated us into more Line chats based on who wanted to perform what songs.
I was recruited into two songs (Drunk-Dazed by Enhypen and 2 Baddies by NCT 127) because a member dropped from each, but I was also able to join Say My Name by Ateez.
The dance practices at the beginning were very different from what I was used to in the United States. First, the practice times were irregular, and for two dances I had an オール連 which was an overnight practice from 11pm to 6am, for blocking formations and cleaning up choreo. So that was a bit rough on the body, but the leaders gave us plenty of breaks during each practice so even those weren’t too bad. During practices, rather than one person using a computer or drawn formations and directing people, everyone would watch the dance on their phone and move accordingly.
One thing I noticed consistently was that, while we were working on choreo by ourselves with the mirror or going through it all together, nobody would want to stand in the middle or in the front, and everyone would generally try to just stay in the very back of the room and to the sides, even to the point of getting into each other’s way or blocking people in the mirror. I’m not certain what the reason for this is, but I did notice it consistently happening, moreso with women.
Linguistically, I learned a lot of words used in dancing, and learned that it’s very difficult to communicate or understand song titles, idol’s names, and group names in a foreign language, which led to a lot of embarrassing miscommunications.
I also learned that you really need to try hard to talk to people, because in most cases they will not approach you first. So you will have to consistently reach far out of your comfort zone to make friends.
My advice for joining a dance circle, especially a kpop one:
- Bring indoor shoes to practice
- Have your part memorized before the first practice
- Have a full water bottle and a sweat towel
- Make sure you download your dance practice video and have a good charge on your phone, especially the first few practices
- Know how to say idol’s names, group names, and song titles in Japanese
- さび＝chorus ふり=choreo ふり（が）はいってる?＝have you memorized the choreo (possibly also includes formations) いちばい・いちで=normal/1x speed いちから（やろう）= let’s go from the top
I’ve had a great time despite the hiccups, but I definitely wish I had had the confidence to try talking to people more!
For my CIP, I chose to be an assistant English teacher because I find kids interesting, but also because it partially relates to what I want to do in the future (work with children). The kids range from age three to maybe about high school age, though I specifically asked to work with younger children since I find the way they are so different from adults very interesting. I go about once a week for an hour, though I have gone twice a week a few times as well. The lessons are always in the afternoon, since that is when the kids are out of school! Also, since the lessons are private or semi-private (one child or a very small group), they are at Suemitsu Sensei’s home. It almost makes me feel like the next best thing to a homestay, since she also often gives me homemade snacks or desserts after the lesson that she or her sister have made. She is super sweet and I feel like I have experienced some cultural immersion in this way!
During each lesson, Suemitsu Sensei typically starts with a song (recently, we have been singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” since it is almost Christmas), and then we go through the lesson for the day in the kids’ textbooks. I assist her in pronouncing parts of the books for the kids to repeat after me, and I also play games with them towards the end of the class! She also held an event at her house in the middle of the semester (a Halloween party!), which was very fun. We performed a little skit (Snow White), played games with the kids, and judged costumes. There were maybe 15-20 children, so it was pretty lively (much more than the usual lessons).
I have really enjoyed my CIP throughout the semester, especially because I had a fairly smooth experience since I was introduced to Suemitsu Sensei through Nakamura Sensei, one of the Japanese professors at KCJS! I feel like I learned a lot about Japanese culture, especially in watching the ways the children interact with each other and hearing some stories from them and from Suemitsu Sensei. It was also really fun teaching them about my own culture and showing them pictures, sometimes of my own past experiences and sometimes just pictures that I have been sent from home (today I showed them pictures of my family’s Thanksgiving meal)!
As for language immersion, I do wish in some ways that I could have spoken more Japanese for my CIP, but I also think I got plenty of language practice through my daily life and in speaking to my conversation partners/Japanese friends. It was a little difficult to interact with the kids at first, though, because it felt like there was a solid language barrier between us (since I was asked to speak only English to them). However, I also appreciated that the kids spoke Japanese freely to each other, because it was really interesting to observe the differences in the ways that they spoke and the ways that adults spoke. I think especially because they are pretty young (6/7 and 9/10), they did not adjust their Japanese for me in the way a language partner probably does, and I think I could learn a lot about their slang because of this!
This semester, I was able to participate in the photography circle at Doshisha, a student-run club of photophiles. Despite having seldom experience in photography beyond a high-school elective course and VSCO/I-Phone photography, the club gave me space to practice my Japanese skills, socialize with local students, and explore photo-worthy areas in the Kansai region. While excursions to places such as Kifune shrine and Cosmos Garden were the highlight of my experience, weekly Zoom critique-meetings were held in lieu of an excursion. Zoom meetings were difficult to keep up at first, and I felt very disconnected from the group. However, after my first in-person field trip to Cosmos Garden, I connected with members on a variety of shared interests: design, photoshop, and art.
It was not all fun and games, however. Entering the circle was possibly the most difficult part; I did not receive a response through Instagram, Twitter, or email when I solicited to join the circle. When I discovered they were hosting an exhibition, I went and introduced myself. When the entrance process was becoming muddled, I returned to the exhibition the next day and essentially refused to leave until I was able to officially enter the club. At the first excursion at Cosmos Garden, I felt shy and embarrassed to ask to borrow other students’ camera. But this shyness gave way to spontaneous bravery, and in those moments I was able to ask for help, learn about photography from passionate students, and learn useful vocabulary—all while making friends. It was during my CIP experience where I learned the importance to instigate these connections, rather than waiting for someone to speak to me. Not only does this save time, but also allows others–who may not know I speak Japanese–a chance to make a connection as well.
In retrospect, despite the various difficulties in joining, connecting with others, and actively participating in the club, it was through these difficulties where I experienced the most personal growth. As someone who rarely pushes myself to do extensive traveling during the semester, I was gratified for the structured opportunities to travel and take pictures at places that even local Japanese students find beautiful and interesting. As such, the Doshisha Photography Circle gave me the ability to speak and listen to local students in Japanese, learn and practice photography skills, travel around the Kansai region, and learn to overcome shyness in unfamiliar and uncomfortable social settings.