weaving weaving weaving weaving weaving
weaving weaving weaving
Unactivated fiber-optic headpiece
In my weaving lessons with Haruki and Yuri Kawasaki in Kyoto, Japan (filled with a rich textile art history) I practiced the use of a four-treadle floor loom, learning to measure and prepare threads, design intricate patterns, and weave consistently structured pieces. I made beautiful, vibrant scarves (they are my absolute favorite and often receive compliments), along with a glove, pouches, and a shining, fiber-optic headpiece designed to pair with my future ceramic sculptures.
As an advice, communication and comfort is a common concern in CIP activities: learn to observe. I gained a lot from watching Kawasaki sensei and fellow students, understanding their hand movements and thread handling techniques. The Kawasakis, with their generous, humorous, and patient nature, are fantastic to work with and are very open and supportive to artistic project ideas. Take your time to develop your own way of interacting with them.
This semester I did my CIP at Mitsuba Kindergarten as a volunteer. Every Wednesday I would walk to the kindergarten and have fun with the kids from 2-4 pm. My routine usually involves playing with the kids (reading books, drawing…) and monitoring the environment to make sure the kids are safe. Throughout this experience, my heart was always warmed by the children’s affection and the staff’s welcoming nature. Every time was a learning adventure, not just for the kids, but for me as well. I observed firsthand how cultural norms shape educational practices, especially in areas like discipline and child autonomy (it seems to me that Japanese kids were given an extraordinary amount of freedom). The most enriching part was definitely seeing the tangible progress in my Japanese language skills and the deepening of my understanding of intercultural nuances. This entire experience was a wonderful blend of teaching, learning, and cultural exchange that is not only enjoyable but also very helpful with my pursuit of engaging in international comparative education
For those considering similar opportunities, I highly recommend it!! Engaging in such experiences can significantly enhance your understanding of different cultures and educational systems. It’s a chance to grow linguistically and personally and to gain invaluable insights into the intricate relationship between culture, language, and education.
Every Wednesday from 12 – 3 pm this semester, I traveled to Ōhara, Kyoto, to volunteer at a school (京都大原学院) as an English teacher. I got to eat lunch, give an American cultural presentation, play games, and participate in English lessons with the students there. The students ranged from 1st to 9th graders. Despite volunteering as an English teacher, I got plenty of opportunities to speak Japanese with the students and staff!
The bus ride is about an hour from the KCJS campus, but the trip is worth it! The kids were always excited to see and talk with me, especially when they learned I could speak Japanese. The students truly wanted to know about me and what life is like where I am from. I highly recommend this activity, especially if you want to improve your speaking and listening capabilities, are curious about how the Japanese education system works, or want genuine conversations and interactions with Japanese speakers. The first few weeks were difficult and kind of awkward because I was unfamiliar with the Japanese school system, and the kids were unfamiliar with me, so I ended up being the teacher who got lost often and nodded a lot, but by the end, I was able to communicate with the students effectively and hold conversations in Japanese with them, usually about cultural differences or shared interests like food or games.
If you’re considering attending KCJS, my advice is to be patient with your CIP. Conversations might be slow (or non-existent) at first but don’t hesitate to ask for clarification and keep looking for common interests or experiences that you can connect with. I wasn’t perfect, but when I started this activity, I understood maybe 20% of what was said to me and ended it understanding around 60%. Even though it is not 100%, this increase is massive compared to what I could do back home and gave me plenty of enjoyable moments and memories with the students at Ōhara.
Doshisha University Kendo-Club 同志社剣道部体育会 was founded over 100 years ago as the school club for kendo, a sword martial art. The students practice almost every day and have mock competitions with other universities regularly where selected members participate.
Doshisha University Kendo-Club provided me with valuable experience on my kendo journey. As one with practice length and strength incomparable to club students, the practice is definitely demanding and intense for me. I had many times of perplexity and inconfidence. However, while looking back, I still realize my growth throughout my journey, not only my Kendo level, but how I view myself in an unfamiliar foreign environment, how comparison and self-focus work together and balance, how I communicate with others especially with Japanese, etc. I still have many things to achieve in this experience, but I will never forget this for sure. (The members are ALL very kind and I am very grateful for their tolerance of my skills and communication!!)
If you want to join Doshisha University Kendo-Club, please contact them early (>1 month on the web page) and if they did not reply, try other methods such as Instagram. The practice is definitely demanding, especially for the men’s practice, so that one might feel overwhelming. However, it is definitely a great experience especially for one that are passionate for kendo!
A cozy corner of the Bazaar Cafe, just to the right of the front counter, and to the left of the stone fire place.
At the Bazaar Cafe, I spent most of my time washing dishes and putting dishes away. When things were less busy, which happened semi-frequently, I was assigned to recycle old containers, or clean trays that had been used by customers. However, the unique atmosphere created by the diversity of experience, character, and age of all of the volunteers truly makes for a great group of people to work with, as well as chat with. People were very polite with me, in spite of my limited language skills, and wanted to make sure that I was comfortable during my time there. For those curious about volunteering at the Bazaar Cafe, I recommend doing your best to engage with others while on the job, and not being afraid to ask questions, whether they be work-related or not. The more you engage with the people around you in the kitchen, the more enriching your experience will feel, and the more supported you will feel in your work, and ultimately, as a member of the team.
Over the course of this past semester, I have been learning how to play the 太鼓 (taiko) drum with the Fujinomori Taiko Preservation Society. From the very start, I was so impressed with the amount of dedication that goes into playing the instrument. Throughout the past three months, the society has performed all over the prefecture, and participated in the 時代祭 (Festival of the Ages), one of Kyoto’s big three festivals.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this community involvement activity to anyone who is looking to really step out of the KCJS bubble and get an authentic experience. Everyone in the society was so welcoming and kind!
The taiko drum is a quintessential Japanese instrument, and if you have interest in music, you should most certainly try your hand at it. I was tappin’ my toe to the beat all semester long!
I took Kyudo classes, which was held in the Kyoto Budo Center, because I wanted to learn something culturally related to Japan, so I chose Kyudo, a Japanese martial arts of archery. I had never done Kyudo before, but as I continued to take classes I slowly improved from the Sensei’s amazing lessons and resources. I found myself enjoying learning the techniques and the cultural aspects of Kyudo. If you want to learn a unique martial art, I really recommend Kyudo.
For future study abroad students, in any CIP you choose, my advice is that when you don’t understand something, the most important part is to ask questions. Not knowing what the other person is saying, can ultimately cause more confusion to both you and the other person. By asking questions, eventually, not only, you will be able to learn new vocabulary, but also the other person can speak in a way that can be much clearer to you.
For my Community Involvement Project (CIP), I learned Japanese tea ceremony at 幽静庵 (yuseian), which is a tea room that was designed by 井口海仙宗匠 (Iguchi Kaisen), the brother of the 14th Urasenke Grandmaster 淡々斎御家元 (Tantansai). At the 幽静庵, I had many precious experiences, including learning various tea preparation procedures (お点前, otemae) and participating in a special ceremony to celebrate the change of season called 口切 (kuchikiri).
The 幽静庵 was always filled with the smell of burned incense and charcoal, and was the perfect place to learn authentic Urasenke school Japanese tea ceremony. The teacher was very kind and always taught us interesting histories and background stories in Japanese tea ceremony. Learning about Japanese culture and values while drinking a bowl of matcha and eating the finest seasonal sweets was a very peaceful and delightful time.
I strongly recommend anyone interested in learning about Japanese aesthetics or traditional arts to have a semester of Japanese tea ceremony experience. Japanese tea ceremony teaches you the spirit of Japanese hospitality, and through preparing a bowl of matcha, you will be filled with calmness and have the chance to quietly face yourself.
For my CIP this semester I did kendo three or four times a week at Kyoto University Kendo Club. Kendo isa Japanese sword-based martial art that I have been practicing for the past two years at Harvard, my home university. Kendo is generally practiced at a higher level in Japan, as many Japanese Kendoka have been doing kendo since they were young, while abroad most practitioners start as adults. Therefore, practicing in Japan has been very intense, I have learnt so many things and it has been a really amazing experience. I really feel like I have discovered a new side to kendo by practicing it in Japan.
My advice to students wanting to do a similar CIP in the future is to think carefully about how you’re going to interact with your club members. Everyone in the club will already know everyone else before you arrive, so you may feel a bit like an outsider in the beginning. Furthermore, sports like kendo aren’t very conducive to holding conversation in the middle of practice, meaning that it can sometimes feel almost impossible to get to know the other people in the club. It really isn’t impossible though, it just requires a bit more strategic planning, as opportunities to socialize won’t necessarily arise organically and you may need to make more of an active effort to make friends. But when you do get to know the other people, you will be able to have a great time in your club. I genuinely don’t think there’s any better experience than doing the things you love with friends.
For my CIP I took Aikido classes as an absolute beginner. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that focuses on redirecting your oppon
ent’s momentum to defend yourself, rather than offensively attacking. I’ve really enjoyed not only learning Aikido’s incredible techniques and philosophy, but getting to know and learn from the people in the Dojo I’ve been visiting. My Aikido classes have been in a warm, welcoming environment, largely due to the kindness and care Sugai-Sensei spreads throughout the Dojo. I’d highly recommend taking Aikido classes at Chiseikan Dojo if you are at all interested in Japanese martial arts, whether a beginner or a black belt. It’s a great opportunity to meet a variety of people of different ages, and work on a useful and super cool skill. Both English and Japanese are spoken in the Dojo, so I’d recommend asking that the Senseis speak to you only in Japanese, which they were happy to do for me once they understood I was hoping to improve my language skills.