Kyra Douglass: Tea Ceremony

For my CIP this semester, I took tea ceremony lessons. When I came to Japan for the first time in 2018, I had the opportunity to go to a rural high school’s tea ceremony club. Admittedly, I didn’t really like matcha at the time, so I was having a hard time drinking it then. However, between then and the start of this last semester, I’ve come to love matcha, so deciding to take tea ceremony lessons was a no-brainer for me. Our first day was more of a demonstration and less of a lesson. It was still winter at that point, so the more suburban/semi-rural area that we traveled to for the demo was even more beautiful because of the snow on the ground. The windy streets surrounded by trees and mountains were like nothing I had ever seen. When we finally found the ryokan we would have classes in, we met Fujimura Sensei. She was wearing a kimono, which fit right in with the general traditional vibe of the small tatami room where our classes would be held.  


I was extremely nervous at that point. Everything in the room was so perfect, intentional, and unfamiliar to me, and I was afraid that I was somehow going to break something. Since this was very early into the semester, this had become a very common feeling since arriving in Japan: being generally uncomfortable. As Fujimura Sensei was doing the demonstration, I was so impressed by not only the intricacy of the ritual but how graceful and sure she was in each of her movements. I was a little intimidated at first, thinking there was no way I would be able to come close to that level. Even so, Fujimura Sensei was extremely kind, and I would later find out, just as patient and encouraging. Our lessons were completely in Japanese, and when I would struggle with the language, she would use hand movements to help me understand. Also, Connie Situ and Geetanjali Gandhe, the two other KCJS students who were taking the lessons with me, were beyond helpful when it came to helping me understand some of the Japanese instructions. Through their help and Sensei’s teaching style and overall friendliness, I was able to let go of the need to be perfect, and this made me so much more confident and, ultimately, have a lot more fun. This is something I want to carry with me after the end of the program because it can open more doors for me because I am less afraid of failure and am more comfortable with being uncomfortable. 


My CIP was also special because Fujimura Sensei went out of her way to teach us about the cultural history of Kyoto and Japan at large. To celebrate White Day, she prepared a multiple-course meal for us and explained the meaning and traditions behind each dish. It was delicious and I was really happy to participate in this holiday for the first time. Later in the semester during sakura season, we did an ochakai, or formal tea ceremony, at Heian Jingu, and later drove out to the countryside to do our own tea ceremony. It was such a beautiful experience, and I’m grateful to Fujimura Sensei for putting it all together. This semester was definitely full of awkward moments and small failures, but because of that, I feel like I am a more confident person than I was at the start.

Skyla Patterson: Fly Dance Studio


For my CIP I took dance classes at the Fly Dance Studio. It was a very immersive experience, and an amazing way to practice my Japanese skills whilst having fun. My advice to incoming students is to enter with an open mind, and take a bunch of different classes before committing to the same dance teacher every week. That way, you 100% know which class is the best vibes for you.

Chris Elson – Boxing

My CIP Activity was taking boxing lessons at a local private gym. While there, I could as many times as I wanted, given I paid for the month. Sessions usually started with a couple rounds of jump-rope, then shadow-boxing, punching bag, and finally a session of hitting the mitts with an instructor.

My experience was alright. I had never boxed before starting this CIP and I felt they were encouraging of me despite that fact. Still, I managed not to care too much for boxing and didn’t really care about going every week.

My advice to others would be that to just keep going. Regardless of skill level, you will gain respect the gym as long as you consistently show up. I was always weak, but I found towards the end that as I consistently attend, the better I would be treated, which honestly makes sense as its easy to build a better connection with the instructors and gym-goers at that point.

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Will Hanson: Calligraphy


This past semester for my CIP I did calligraphy every week. There were six of us who got together every Wednesday to sit down, do some calligraphy, and talk. Everyone in my class was so helpful in my progression every week and in understanding my limited Japanese abilities.

This CIP was an amazing opportunity to progress my language skills while making meaningful connections with local Japanese people. I left each lesson with a feeling of accomplishment and confidence. Occasionally, some of us will stay after class for 15 or so minutes and just talk about whatever is going on in our lives, which was really wholesome!

In terms of advice, I would recommend studying calligraphy-specific language so you can understand the instructions. I would also say that knowing stroke order is particularly important as well. That being said, my class was so accepting of my mistakes and helped me correct them. It is a great learning environment!


Connie Situ: Tea Ceremony

Sado, or tea ceremony, is a traditional part of the Japanese culture where beautifully coordinated movements are executed to not just serve matcha but also mentally pursuing the essence of the act. In my sado CIP this semester, I was able to learn a lot of the deeper meanings behind what is used during a tea ceremony depending on the seasons as well as successfully learning the way of a bon temae, or a tea ceremony on a tray. 

We had our sado lessons every Tuesday for a couple hours in a very beautiful chashitsu with a view of a beautiful river underneath an old ryokan. Our sensei is a very experienced and elegant sado teacher with many years under her belt. She was so incredibly kind to us throughout the semester and we got to experience a hinamatsuri lunch followed by wagashi and matcha, a tea ceremony at Heian Shrine for the sakura season, as well as a hanami lunch under the beautiful sakura trees in Shiga-ken. 

For any incoming students who is interested in learning sado, I encourage you to give it a try as it is something so different from anything I’ve ever done before. And because it is such a traditional part of the Japanese culture with so much history and different aspects to it, being able to experience it in the heart of Kyoto was a mind-opening experience.

Alexis Jones: Yoga

My CIP activity was doing yoga every Friday or Thursday at Yoga Tamisa studio near Karasuma Oike station. I was instructed by Asako sensei and, usually, in the room in the attached picture (all in Japanese).

I really enjoyed the course because I always felt included and the more I went, the kinder I felt the staff became. It was very relaxing after a long week and I enjoyed having conversations with Asako sensei and other participants after sessions. 

If you are someone that wants a CIP that’ll bring you tranquility, I strongly suggest participating in yoga because you won’t feel different from anyone else, participants range all skill levels, and everyone is extremely kind.

Ryan Cunningham: Cooking at La Carriere

My CIP this semester has been at Taiwa’s La Carriere culinary school in Kyoto. La Carriere offers a variety of lessons (including dessert and baking tutorials), although I largely participated in group introductory cooking lessons conducted in Japanese.

La Carriere was a blast – it was calming and fun cooking and learning to make different kinds of dishes (and eating the product of our hard work felt so redeeming). It was a bit tricky to keep up with the Japanese lessons at times, but the teachers were understanding and helped us keep pace.

I would advise new students to not be afraid to try activities that look intimidating. I would also say it’s important to keep your expectations realistic when choosing your CIP activity. I expected the CIP of a cooking lesson to be an incredibly social place where I could meet new friends, but as it turns out the fast-paced environment of an instructor-led lesson isn’t the best place for that. Nonetheless, I had a great experience and a blast at La Carriere.

Anisa Khatana: Weaving Lessons

Thanks to Professor Rinne and Nakata-sensei’s research and support, I had the opportunity to takelessons from Kawasaki-sensei, a weaving teacher, obi weaver, and contemporary artist based near Kitaoji station. Once a week, I took the train to Kawasaki-sensei’s classroom and spent around 5-6 hours (including a break for tea, coffee, and sweets!) learning two styles of hand-weaving called hiraori and tsudzureori (tapestry weaving), typically alongside one to three other private students.

My time in Kawasaki-sensei’s classroom has been an experience that I’ll treasure forever. When I met him, I had never touched a loom—and in the weeks that followed, I prepared and hand-wove hiraori scarves and samples as well as a tapestry-weave genkan mat that I designed with a little sketch. I’m incredibly grateful for the time I got to spend with the loom, but I’m equally if not more grateful for the personal connections that I made over the weeks. Assimilating and becoming comfortable in the classroom was a slow process—we communicated exclusively in Japanese, I was the only foreigner, and everyone was at least ten years older than me—but deeply rewarding even in the most subtle ways.

Kawasaki-sensei, his wife, and his other students are all lovely people who have repeatedly amazed me with their dedication, knowledge, and kindness. To future students—if you’re someone who feels drawn to fiber arts, this is your sign to pursue that interest in Kyoto. If that’s not you—don’t let fear of discomfort and uncertainty keep you from what could be an incredible experience! Keep an open mind, be genuine and thoughtful, and do your best—the rest will come with time.

Geetanjali Gandhe: Tea Ceremony Lessons

For my CIP I took tea ceremony, or sadou, lessons with Fujimura Sensei. The KCJS office introduced us to Fujimura Sensei and it seems like KCJS has a long relationship with her. While normally the study of sadou takes decades and is a very lengthy process, since we only had one semester Fujimura sensei customized the lessons for us so that we were able to end by being able to perform the tea ceremonies, or the obon-temae. The tea room is a little out of the way in Takagamine, but the environment is absolutely stunning and so the commute is worth it. The tea room is situated right over a river in a silent forest, so you can hear the sound of the water while in the tea room. Sensei is an extremely elegant woman who is also one of the most precious and sweetest people I have ever met. She even made a bento for us on two occasions, for the Doll Festival and cherry blossom viewing, and of course we got to enjoy the most exquisite wagashi, or seasonal Japanese confectionary every class. The thing that was the most meaningful for me was that in every lesson sensei would also make a point to talk about how to use the philosophy that sadou teaches us and incorporate it into our busy, stressful everyday lives.

The tea ceremony is much more than just the consumption of high-quality matcha and wagashi. The actions performed in the tea room and during the tea ceremony are an allegory for a life well-lived; a life full of humility, simplicity, respect for others, and being in tune with the rhythms of nature. These values are also, not incidentally, the most quintessential of Japanese values. In the tea room, every movement is measured; every moment is treated as a blessing. Therefore, to understand tea in the Japanese context is to come to understand the most fundamental Japanese values.

So if you’re looking to get an authentic cultural experience, I would highly recommend doing sadou lessons. If our sensei continues to teach exchange students, I would dare say that there’s no better experience that you can have in Kyoto; everything was just perfect. I hope to continue practicing even when I return home. Sensei even contacted a shop she knows so that we can pick up all the tea ceremony tools needed before returning.