Karma Dorjee: Kyudo


This semester for my CIP, I took Kyudo lessons at the Kyoto Budo Center, located in the Sakyo ward, approximately 15 mins away from campus by public transit. Throughout the course of 10 weeks, I learned everything from acts of paying/showing respect upon entering and exiting the dojo, to shooting from a distance of 28 meters. 

Overall, my Kyudo sensei and senpais were all very supportive of me taking up the bow despite only being there for a short period of 10 weeks. Rather than hitting the target, Kyudo places a lot of emphasis on one’s actions and form; thus a majority of the lessons focused on how to show respect (through bowing and other small gestures), and practicing how to hold a bow and draw and release without an arrow. It was only until the last 3-4 weeks that we started using an arrow. Lastly, the lessons don’t offer a lot of opportunity to interact with other members of the dojo as everyone is there to practice Kyudo instead of socially interacting with one another; thus to practice Japanese, you find yourself practicing listening for most of the time.

One piece of advice that I would leave is that practicing one’s form and gestures of respect outside of class is important and will prove to be very helpful as having lessons just once a week is not enough to retain everything and have it perfected the next week. 

Peining Jia: 愛弓会(Kyuudo Group)

This semester, I joined a community Kyuudo group(Aiyumikai) which practices twice a week at Shiramine Jingu, close to Doshisha Imadegawa campus. I have been interested in doing Kyuudo because I have watched an anime about it and always wanted to try it out. Kyuudo is slightly different from archery and is relatively specific to Japan, so it will be hard to find any place to do it outside of Japan. I first searched online for a Kyuudo class, but the registration closed at the time I decided I wanted to do Kyuudo. Recommended by the teachers, I reached out to this place which I now find extraordinarily fantastic.

It was a bit hard at first. Because this place is not a professional classroom, people tend to join for a long span, less about learning for beginners but more of a practice and getting better. So one of the members I talked to said it would be difficult to let me in at first when I said I only got three months here. She said I was free to hang around and watch, and I did so. Later, more people came to practice, and she introduced me to Sensei, who decides who gets to join. I expressed that I wanted to do Kyuudo, even though I only got three months and might not be able to shoot at the real target. Sensei accepted me at last and told me to come as much as possible so that I could practice more and might be able to take a try at the actual ones.

The subsequent practices went smoothly. I went to every practice I could and progressed a lot. I did not wait until the last practice to go to the actual target. Although I have not hit a target yet, I am happy with how close I could get. I also made a friend there, who goes to another university in Kyoto, and we hung out several times for dinner and boba. I got to learn more about Kyuudo and the group itself. I have not mentioned the anime I watched about Kyuudo, but people brought it up, and we had a happy conversation. There were some small happenings every other week, but people were friendly and helpful.

If I were to give advice, I would say to reach out early. Japanese semester starts in October, so everything basically begins around that time. And some stop accepting new members after the recruitment. So reaching out earlier before everything starts might be a good choice. I am not sure about the spring semester, but I think KCJS Sensei will be happy to tell you.
Besides that, don’t hesitate to speak if you are to practice your Japanese. People you meet in CIP might differ from Kaiwa partners, who usually be friends with you to practice English, and you may communicate in a mixture of English and Japanese. Usually, they only speak Japanese and expect you to speak Japanese. So it is a good chance to force yourself to practice. Don’t be afraid. People are friendly and happy to talk, usually. If they don’t, it is not your fault. Try somebody else.

After all, good luck with your CIP and I hope you have a good time in Japan 🙂

Fabiola Alvarez: Dancer at Fly Dance Studio

For my Community Involvement Project, I had the opportunity to dance at Fly Dance Studio in Kyoto. I have been dancing for over 10 years and I want to work in the dance industry in the future, so I wanted to participate in the performing arts scene in Japan. Fly Dance Studio specializes in Hip-Hop, so I had the chance to improve my skills in this style. I grew stronger and learned a lot in terms of technique, and I was able to step out of my comfort zone in using and understanding Japanese.

One of the first things that stood out to me the most was how dancers greeted each other when they entered the studio. Everyone said “ohayou gozaimasu” even though the studio opens at 4pm. At first I was confused, but soon learned that this is common in the performing arts world in Japan. The hiphop culture at this studio was more westernized than I expected, with English songs being used a lot more than Japanese songs, and everyone dressed in western-style dance wear. The rap industry is huge in America, which is likely the reason these English songs are used for more upbeat choreography. However, in the Jazz Hiphop classes that were much slower and more lyrical, Japanese songs were more frequently used. I learned lots of vocabulary related to movement and body parts. Because my teachers were both men and women, I had the opportunity to practice listening to various genders and their way of speaking. Some teachers were easier to understand than others, but overall I felt myself improving a lot in my listening comprehension and understanding of Kansai dialect.

Perhaps another interesting feature of this studio is that it does not separate by age. In the United States, it is common to have separate classes for adults, kids, and teens, but there were large age gaps in all of my classes at Fly, so some people were as young as seven or eight-years-old or as old as 60. Even though it can be difficult for the teacher to adjust to student gaps in dance experience and physical ability, as a student it felt very welcoming to be able to take the same class regardless of age. Everyone learned at their own pace and was able to adjust the choreography based on their own physical abilities.

Fly Dance Studio will work you hard, but you will get better. The instructors are very good at what they do; there was not a single class that I did not enjoy, and the level was perfect for me. If you do not have any dance experience, I would recommend sticking to the very beginner classes, but do not be afraid to challenge yourself with the more advanced classes!

Megan Chen: Karate

I decided to join a karate dojo (Goshonouchi Dojo) this semester for my CIP. I decided on karate because I have been practicing karate for around 13 years of my life and I did not want to get out of shape as well as the fact that the chance to train at a Japanese dojo was very enticing. Goshonouchi Dojo in particular is part of the Japanese Karate Association, of which I am a part of, which essentially means that I can carry over my belt level between Japan and the US.

While there were some hiccups along the way, Goshonouchi Dojo was very welcoming and I enjoyed my time training with them. Before joining, I initially sent an email explaining who I was, my rank, etc. but when I arrived they thought that I was another study abroad student’s friend instead of the person in that email. Eventually the misunderstanding was cleared and I was able to join the more advanced group in their practice.

The only thing different between the beginner and advanced group was the kata (forms) we learned, but it was nice to practice kata that were more on my level. They even taught me a new kata, jion, which was really fun. They also added another kata to the practice list after I asked for it.

For language, I have learned that I still have a lot to learn. While I could sort of understand the people at the dojo, they used very specialized language that I wouldn’t necessarily have learned in class before, so sometimes I had to rely on context and what other people were doing to understand. I also found that my suspicion that karate terms used in the US had definitely had their pronunciation changed a little after it took me four tries to get the sensei to understand what kata I wanted to practice. But in the more normal conversations I did have some of my confidence restored in my ability to understand at least basic Japanese.

For culture, a lot of the more ‘cultural’ aspects of karate I already knew before attending this dojo, so I did not learn a whole lot with regards to karate-specific Japanese culture. However, I did learn that you do pay for class fees and other such fees with envelopes and non-folded money. I was also invited to the dojo’s end of the year party (bonenkai), which I am planning on going to. I’m excited to experience what a bonenkai is like for the first time. Another general cultural thing I learned was that it seems more difficult to make friends in Japan at first because people don’t tend to approach new people/foreigners of their own volition, but if you’re the person to reach out, you should have no trouble at all making new friends. All in all, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to continue training with them.

Zachary Armine-Klein: Kendo

For my CIP I practiced Kendo four to six times a week at the Kyoto Butokuden (Martial Arts Center). Overall it was a fantastic experience. The practices themselves were always brilliant, even if I was not. The variety of lessons was so challenging because every night a different Hachidan Sensei (Highest rank attainable) would lead and each had their own styles of teaching and valued different skills. Nonetheless, each Hachidan Sensei maintained a heavy focus on keiko (sparring) at a level of rigor I found to be noticeably higher than in the U.S. I loved this intensity. Everyone at the practice was so focused on improving that the room almost always felt electrified. During matches each person’s desire to win was palpable. Although exciting, this energy was also rather intimidating. The “regulars”  had rivalries with other people around their level and had specific Sensei with whom they enjoyed practicing. Also, the established Kendo students more or less knew exactly who they were going to practice with and where to go within the Dojo (practice hall), before practice had even begun. As a new foreigner who knew nothing of the Butokuden etiquette I spent my first week being nicely turned down when I asked to spar someone, and also getting yelled at by sensei for being in the wrong space during basics and drills. Overall, I would describe myself as being rather flustered and confused and in culture shock. 

But disorientation slowly dissipated. I began to know which drills were done on which days, which Sensei’s were more open to practicing with newbies and became closer with some of the other foreigners in the community. Near the end of the first month some of the other young adult “regulars” began challenging me during free sparing and I slowly became friends with a couple of them. It was during this time that one of the more notable Nanadan Sensei (second highest rank attainable), Imada Sensei, started hovering around my sparring matches. Finally, after a couple of days of hovering around and silently judging me, he approached and asked (ordered) me to practice with him. Imada Sensei’s sparring session was brutal. He ran me ragged hitting the same basics over and over and every couple minutes asking if I wanted to give up? Every time I would tell him no and push further than I thought possible getting past my earlier urge to give up. He kept me going for a full hour until the final drum sounded signaling the end to the practice. He would  simply tell me it was a good practice, let’s spar again tomorrow. It continued like this for about a week where everyday he would run me ragged and just ask me to see him again tomorrow. Finally, at the end of the week he approached me and invited me to come to his personal Dojo (Yubukan) on Sundays. Of course I said yes and after being accepted by one of the most respected Sensei the community opened up. Sensei’s that previously wouldn’t give me the time of day started practicing with me and actually giving me advice. The other foreigners, who I learned a lot of went to Yubukan, began telling me about other Dojos where they practiced and offered to introduce me to their Senseis, so that their Sensei might invite me to practice with them as well. 

By the end of the second month of rigorous practice, I received a fantastic opportunity when my friend Yusuke invited me and Tamara, another foreigner I had become close with, to come practice at the Kyoto Police Headquarters with Ito Sensei, one of the few Kyudan Sensei still alive. This level of expertise is no longer available to be earned and after the last of the Kyudan Sensei pass over this level of expertise will enter history. This practice was a blast, but absolutely brutal. Ito Sensei spent a good thirty minutes breaking down Tamara and my basic strikes and having us repeat them over and over commenting on a new error each time and making us do it again. He finally left us and told us to start sparring with the other sensei at the Dojo. I was certain we had disappointed him or failed in some way, but at the end of practice he approached us and asked if he would see us next week at his practice so we could work more on our basics. I was ecstatic and of course said yes. Ito Sensei’s practices became a highlight of my week every week, albeit an often exhausting and painful part of my week as well. Sadly, after only a month of this extraordinary access to a Kyudan Sensei we had to return to America; however, I did get to have one final practice and a send-off party with the friends I made at Kendo. 

For any future students at KCJS who want to practice Kendo I have a few pieces of advice. First of all, whether you have practiced before or not, make sure you are really committed to this before you start. In order to be taken seriously and have doors open up for you in the community you really need to give 110%. I saw other foreigners only practice once or twice a week and even though they had been in Kyoto for months or even years longer than me, none of the sensei took them seriously or gave them their full attention. Secondly, if you already have experience, the best thing you can do is just start going to the Butokuden. It is a central space where all the different students at a variety of Dojo’s go in order to practice together. It  is a great place both to practice and meet different sensei and players. Finally, if you haven’t practiced Kendo and are starting fresh, it can be hard to find a way into the community. Most people in Japan start Kendo as children so there are few dojo’s that take young adults, let alone young foreigners, on as complete beginners. When I asked around for a friend who was interested in starting to learn Kendo, most sensei recommended my friend join the Doshisha Kendo Circle-which is Not the Kendo Club! The Doshisha Kendo Circle is welcoming to taking on beginners. Unfortunately, unless you are going to KCJS for the Fall semester or full year it could be harder to find a Dojo, since the Doshisha Circle is on break during the Spring semester until mid-March. If you are determined to learn Kendo I recommend you ask your host family or the KCJS office if they have any connections they can call on your behalf. In my opinion, it is worth persevering since once you have that connection and find a Dojo, the Kendo Community becomes a wonderful and welcoming place that will enhance your experience as an exchange student in Kyoto.

Malcom Summers: Shogi

For my CIP, I went to a local shogi club in Kyoto and played/learned shogi. I first visited the club and told them I was interested. Then, I came back the next week to start. Throughout my time there I learned some shogi strategies and played several times against the people in the club. Since few people spoke English, I mainly used Japanese. I also borrowed and read a book to aid with my practice.

One of the first things I noticed was a lack of keigo usage. Even the younger kids just used です/ます form when speaking to adults. Meanwhile, the adults mostly used casual form. I believe this was due to the nature of the club. Specifically, senpai and kōhai relations weren’t really about age so much as skill. Thus, some of the younger kids didn’t use honorific forms because they were actually better than the older players.

I learned a lot of shogi specific vocabulary from the club. I think it may have been harder due to the fact that shogi terms aren’t exactly used in everyday conversation. This required me to actually review some of these terms before I went to the club. However, it was an enjoyable experience because, in between games, we would review what went wrong and where I could improve. As someone who has played a lot of chess, that part of the process was very familiar.

The best advice I can give to others is to find a CIP that isn’t as skill oriented. Unless you already do the activity at home/school, learning something from scratch is a very difficult process. Especially, learning in a non-native language. For me, playing chess allowed me to pick up shogi concepts quicker, but my CIP eventually became a chore. I had to spend time practicing in order to eventually win, but, when I became busy, practice was difficult. So, when I would go back to the club it would be the same result of me losing the entire time. As such, I think a more social oriented CIP could lead to a better experience.

Michelle Lee: Kickboxing Classes

      For my CIP I did kickboxing at a small training studio near my apartment. Every week, I would either work 1-on-1 with the trainer, or work with a partner to complete a workout. When I first contacted the studio, I introduced myself as an abroad student and was surprised to find out that the one of the trainers had traveled to America in the past and the other had just started self-learning English. During my first lesson, the trainer Takahashi-san, would explain the moves in Japanese first, and I would translate it to English for him. This exchange continued through each lesson, and I found that because every word was matched to a movement, it was easier to follow along.

      Some weeks, I was also able to work with a new partner depending on if schedules lined up, and Takahashi-san would always be kind enough to introduce me as an abroad student for me. I was very happy how kind each of my partners were and they would always ask a lot of questions about America, or my reasons for coming abroad, and we would be able to carry these conversations through class. One class in particular that was memorable was during a partner exercise, where we played a game called “shiritori”. This made me feel, again, so welcomed and I found it funny how we would try to just think of words together instead of competing against each other.

      After being able to work in pairs for a couple weeks, I noticed that a lot of the time, I would be asked to compare Japan to an American lifestyle. I would usually compare the cleanliness of Japan compared to America, as well as how Japanese public transit has been a much better experience. But sometimes we would even talk about the how different American culture is in terms of manners. I was shocked to hear that one of my partners said she might actually prefer a more “straightforward” American approach, than a typical Japanese response. She explained that sometimes she found it hard, even as a native speaker, to have a meaningful conversation when a lot of the times people will only agree with what she says to be polite. This was definitely very interesting and put things into perspective for me as well.

      Overall, I think that through this CIP I was able to practice having a lot of casual conversations and being able to exchange information, whether it be thoughts and opinions, or plain vocabulary. Using the fact that I was an abroad student to my advantage, I was able to ask a lot of questions that I was curious about or raise conversations that might be interesting to hear about, and because everyone was so friendly and understanding, it worked towards my advantage. I found it to be a great way to meet new people and talk about a variety of topics, and get some good exercise, and I will definitely miss the this studio and everyone I met going there!

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.

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.


Rose Gellman: Doshisha Hiking Circle and Kyoto AcroYoga

For my CIP, I joined Doshisha University’s Hiking Circle and did Acro Yoga in the Kyoto/Osaka community.

Hiking Circle

I wanted to join a Doshisha club to meet students my own age, so I decided on hiking circle. The first time I went, we hiked Daimonji (a small peak in the city). It was thrilling to make small talk with other people who enjoy the outdoors in Japanese. The hiking day was fun, but most of the meetings are training (short runs along the Kamo or through the Gosho). If you are someone who likes to get outside for long day hikes, I might recommend a different CIP. Having a commitment in the middle of every Saturday can make it difficult to do other things with your weekend. That being said, the club members were warm and welcoming and are used to having foreigners join for a short time.

One thing that is different about hiking in Japan compared to the US is that trails are so accessible. I loved being able to hop on a bus and go for a short hike anytime I had the day or afternoon free. Most trails have some sort of religious significance, which was fascinating to learn about and worthwhile to experience.

Acro Yoga

I am in the circus club at JHU and have been practicing Acro Yoga for a few years, so when I found out there is a thriving acro community in the Kansai area, I was thrilled to join. In Kansai, most of the acro is in Osaka, but there is a small and growing community in Kyoto. The Kyoto community is extraordinarily warm, and has a nice mix of Japanese people and foreigners. Hearing Japanese in a class environment was exciting because I could understand the directions, and already knew the poses. The Osaka jams had more advanced acro, but also more foreigners, so I used my Japanese less. In both places, I met really lovely people who were open and eager to communicate.

The acro class environment was a great place to practice casual speech. I spoke to the teacher using です/ますform, but even though most of the participants were older than me, we were all students, so we spoke casually. Acro involves detailed communication between the flyer and the base, which is hard even in English. It is especially difficult in Japanese, where both the language and culture emphasize deferring to others. I’m grateful that I had this safe place to practice both Japanese and Acro and was able to engage with the local community doing something that I love.