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.

Ellen Ehrnrooth: Dance

For my CIP, I have been taking a variety of private dance lessons. I dance back home at Tufts University and figured that this would be a good way for me to participate in a community as I have skills to bring to the table. I have taken a range of class styles, from hip-hop to waacking to K-pop, and I have enjoyed being able to continue a hobby I enjoy so much. I go once a week at least (and sometimes more if I have purchased the monthly pass at the studio which lets you go as many times as you want). I also went to a meeting for one of Doshisha’s dance circles.

There have been a number of things about these dance classes that surprised me. Before starting, I had an image in my head that there would be a reasonably strong sense of community within the dancers as dancers (in the US at least) are generally pretty sociable. I also was hoping that the fact that we had a mutual language in the form of dance would be a good way to circumnavigate the language barrier that exists with my questionable Japanese skills. However, at the dance classes I really had to make an effort to have an interaction with anyone there, as they mostly kept to themselves. A number of times I asked fellow students for help with basic things, which in a few instances led to conversation and LINE exchanges, but for the most part people were fairly solitary. Interestingly, the one time I tried taking a class in Tokyo, I had greater success, with people coming up to talk to me and Chungsun Lee (who I have been taking classes with). Also, the way that one is greeted at dance studios was super interesting to me – I was initially very confused when they said ohayou gozaimasu to me when I walked in at 8pm. It turns out that that is custom for the entertainment world in Japan, and not a reflection of my studio’s inability to tell the time.

The one time I tried attending a session of one of Doshisha’s dance circles, I wasn’t met with much success. It was an informal practice as they weren’t training for anything in particular at the time, so people were just practicing what they wanted. Nobody made an effort to come and talk to me at all, which was really surprising – when I participated in dance communities back at Tufts for the first time, people always came up and introduced themselves and made an effort to make me feel included, even when I was a total beginner. I tried to chat with a few students, but as polite as they were, they evidently were not particularly interested in building any sort of connection with me. I think this was the instance in which I really realized how strong the uchi/soto dynamic is in Japan – they were perfectly friendly towards me, but as an outsider I was not invited to join in anything.

Overall, my experience has been pretty good. I don’t necessarily feel like I have been able to join any community specifically, but for the most part I have been able to just fit in with the rest of the people there as someone who is there to dance and learn. I think for the spring semester, I would like to find a more community-oriented CIP, though, and continue with the dance lessons for fun.

Rebecca N. Clark: Iaidô (Japanese Swordsmanship)

   Iaidô is a sport —and an art— that I’ve wanted to learn since I first heard of its existence several years ago as a freshman in college. The fluid power and steady grace of iaidô practitioners’ movement transfixed me as I replayed YouTube videos and followed along as best I could as swords flashed through the air.


Presentation of members before the grand master at a joint gathering of dojos

When I learned that I had been accepted into the KCJS program with its Community Involvement Project (CIP) requirements for us students, my top pick for the CIP was very obvious. With the assistance of the teachers and staff, I was able to find and join an iaidô dôjô in nearby Hirakata city and soon found myself immersed in a vibrant, close-knit community of martial arts enthusiasts. The people I met there have been nothing short of kind and helpful, making sure that, even with the language barrier, I am able to make it to practices and luncheons every week (the dôjô has no physical presence and as a result, practices are held at a different community center each weekend), and they have even included me in the carpool system that ensures members of all ages and locales are able to arrive on time.

Putting on the iaidô uniform proved to a ready catalyst for bonding among myself and the other female members. We all chuckled good-naturedly over my utter confusion as I attempted to wrangle a kaku obi —a stiff cloth wound around the waist to hold the sword

From top to bottom, left to right: sword carrying case; cloth sword cover; kimono; hakama; kaku obi; iaitô; sheath; knee pads

and belt the kimono— into place and keep my hakama —wide-legged pants— in place throughout the three-hour practices. This same uniform also quickly proved to be my biggest reminded of the kindness and generosity of my dôjô-mates. Every time I look in the mirror of the community center’s practice hall, I see the soft gray of my kimono, the heavy black cotton of my hakama, and the lacquered sheath of my iaitô —a blunt-edged sword— and am reminded of how these items were either gifted or loaned to me so that I could practice with the proper equipment from day one. For example, when we figured out that the iaitô I had been using was hindering me because of the length, a member volunteered his extra iaitô that was short enough for someone with my five-foot-even stature to wield.

As with any new sport, I had to learn a whole new way of moving and then how to control each of these motions —such as the initially awkward motion of drawing a sword— in a process that, unsurprisingly, had its hiccups. One such instance is how I, unused to the wide flowing sleeves of my kimono, have a tendency to catch the hilt of my iaitô in the cuff while drawing. In response, the elder gentleman who oversees my training paused the lesson and carefully explained to me how to remedy the problem with a needle and thread when I got home by making the sleeve opening smaller and so allowing me to move more freely. Moments like this, where help and instruction are so readily offered with a smile and steady patience, have come to define my time at the iaidô dôjô and I wear the reminder of my dôjô-mates’ kindness every time I step out onto the mats alongside them.

Tracy Jiao: Pottery and Yoga

When deciding to attend the KCJS program, I understand a commitment that goes beyond taking regular Japanese courses, and CIP (community involvement program) is just one of these opportunities to reach out and truly become an active member in the city of Kyoto. Because of some previous experience in pottery and yoga, I chose to proceed to take classes in these areas. Surprisingly, both pottery and yoga take a very distinctive style in Japan; like many other things, they have turned Nihonka, adapting to the aesthetic tastes and physical needs of the locals.

Unlike western countries that prefer doing pottery on electric wheels, the pottery studio I went to in Kyoto, 藤平陶芸, makes most of their works on hand-powered wheels or simply boards. At first, I was a little befuddled by this choice, since the electronic machine seems much more efficient in making a perfect, slick piece. This question kept coming back to me, especially during times on the hand-powered wheel that last two hours every two weeks. Used to the fast electronic tourneys, I felt impatient toward the slow pace and vibe in the Fujihira studio. However, when strolling around the work display area in the studio one day, I suddenly began to understand the masters’ choice of slow development. The delicacy and elegance of these finished works directly relate to the time each master spent making them. If a pottery maker did not look close and long enough at the piece, he would neglect the details which set it apart from other mass-produced vessels. In this era of mass production, customers keep coming back to Fujihira studio to purchase a cup three times more expensive than the ones sold in IKEA. The secret behind Japanese Art’s gracefulness and their studios’ durability is rooted in the tradition. Instead of conforming to new trends, small workshops in Kyoto kept their traditional way of practice as if time has not passed.

In addition to pottery, I found a deeper understanding of the meaning of yoga practices as well. Through the zen breathing and meditation combination, I discovered a peace in my body that power yoga classes would never bring out. By communicating with teachers and students of these two studios, I gradually recognize the spirit of Kyoto that goes beyond its magnificent temples and shrines.

Sincerity yoga(シンセリティヨガ): https://coubic.com/sincerityyoga/274832


James Hilton: Kyokushin Chronicles, Vol. II


Much has transpired since my previous Kyokushin Chronicles update.

Previously, I wrote about my revelations regarding integrating various aspects of different fighting styles, walking the taboo cusp of aggression, and aspiring toward balance—all internal changes that were occurring in me due to the Kyokushin Kaikan environment. This time, I want to look outward and detail my social observations.

Throughout my time at the dojo, my social status has changed, but one thing has remained constant: I’m a gaijin. That’s not too significant: one of the esteemed sensei is Polish; and one of my senpai hails from Australia. The factor of pertinence is, even when compared to the other, white foreigners, I alone stand out. I am, in effect, doubly gaijin. To this day, children, and even some adults, that have seen me week-in and week-out cast lengthy—often shameless—stares (even when their attention truly ought to be elsewhere). To top it off, I was a white belt, which in Kyokushin is not the bottom-of-the-ranks position that one would expect. No, it is less than that; it literally signifies nothing.

Last month, I took the promotion exam. In preparation for the exam, I increased my time in the dojo tremendously. Two of my black belt senpai—the prodigious pair that we refer to as the Twins—took notice of my efforts and were kind enough to grace me with their private tutelage. Under their instruction, I achieved the goals I set out for myself.  Moreover, there was another, unexpected development. I was able to forge personal relationships with the Dynamic Duo; and in turn, others became more willing to socialize with, and even support, me. After passing the promotion exam and ascending two levels, I became a legitimate member of the kaikan community—and was conferred newfound respect and camaraderie. My relatively elevated standing has served to make the dojo a more welcome environment for me. It does not erase my so readily apparent gaijin-ness, but it does provide a counterbalance of sorts. To be honest, though, I have been privileged in my own right from the very start.

Due to my (supposed) ability to converse in Japanese, my status as a student at Doshisha University, and the weight of the University of Chicago reputation, I have always had great favor with Shihan—the kaikan head. His approval has granted me a special, privileged status among my peers that significantly eased my burden of social integration. Over the last month, I have learned much about the hierarchy in the dojo and my place within it. For all its quirks, it has been a remarkable journey.

With my impending return to America, recent weeks have been a period of reflection. My time at the dojo has been my most important experience in Japan. It is the place where I established the lion’s share of my most treasured bonds. While I am not one for much sentiment, I can say without hesitation: I will miss the Kyokushin Kaikan.


Joey Ye: Bouldering

For my CIP this semester, I did bouldering at a local bouldering gym in Shijo. Last semester I did ping pong, but I quickly realized that competitive sports like ping pong do not make great environments for trying to sustain extended conversations since everyone is focusing on the game. Bouldering, on the other hand, is a great way to talk to people and make new friends each time. Besides the fact that I really enjoy bouldering and physical exercise, the environment itself is really great for making conversation. Most of the time I would not have to try myself to initiate conversation as people are usually trying to cheer each other on as they watch others climb. It does not matter how good you are if you are a complete stranger, there will always be someone encouraging you with the occasional “ganba!” and “nice!” Whether or not you make it to the top, once you come down from the wall you can easily go to the person and strike up conversation by thanking them for their encouragement or asking them what they think would be the best way to climb the course.

Vice versa, you can of course flip the scenario and be the one who is cheering others on and initiating conversation that way. However, this of course depends on their receptiveness and if they want to talk to you after they finish the course. Personally, I find it much easier to ask someone who just did a course that you are working on how they did it, and if they have any tips on how to do it. I’ve made most of my friends this way, and once you get used to the interactions after a week or two, it becomes easy to make new friends each time you go. The great part too is that most of these people are regulars, so you will most likely see them each time you go to the gym. From there, it is pretty self explanatory on how to expand the interactions beyond just the bouldering gym if you so wish and ask them out for meals afterwards.

How long you stay is completely up to you, but each time you pay for the gym you are allowed to stay there the whole day. This includes going out to buy a meal, do something else, and coming back at a later time. This was great because the gym is also a little expensive even with the student discount, including the equipment costs of renting shoes and chalk. Usually I would spend up to three to four hours there at a time because it was fun, as long as my muscles did not get too tired or sore. Over the course of the semester, not only have I made a lot of new friends, but I have also improved my bouldering skills and definitely found a new hobby that I will continue to pursue when I go back to the United States.

Justin Yeh: Golf Lessons, Bouldering

I did two activities for my CIP, golf lessons and bouldering. There were no set meeting dates, but for me, both were about once a week occurrences that were markedly different in terms of community interaction.

I took my golf lessons at 72 Golf, an indoor school located at Kawaramachi Imadegawa. There would always be one teacher on post and anywhere from between one to four students. The teacher would rotate among the students, giving them advice on how to improve during each of their one hour lessons.

I’m glad I took the time to learn golf during my time in Kyoto, but in retrospect, golf lessons were probably not the best choice for a CIP. Because students are usually only focused on practicing and improving their swing during the short hour they’re there, our interactions were limited to speaking with our teacher. With that being said, I did get to practice using Japanese in a different setting, and also was able to notice some language nuances like how “ありがとうございます” could be used as a farewell greeting when leaving the school, or even to abruptly end a conversation (in this case, being said from teacher to student).

For bouldering, I would go to a climbing gym at Shijo, and usually stay for anywhere between two to four hours. The community feel here was noticeably different, and I was personally surprised to find how open all the climbers were with each other. It wouldn’t be uncommon at all to find myself being cheered on by strangers with phrases like “頑張,” “うまい,” and “ナイス” while I was in the middle of climbing a more difficult course, and then finding myself greeted at the end by a congratulatory fist bump if I reached the goal.

Among some of the language-related things I found interesting was how the phrase “化け物だ” is used in the exact same way young English-speakers use a similar phrase when acknowledging someone’s level of skill (e.g., “you’re a monster”). Occasionally I would hear this compliment directed toward some of the more experienced climbers that frequented the climbing gym.

Through the bouldering gym, I’ve met a number of Japanese people from a variety of ages and backgrounds, and even got to spend time outside the bouldering gym with those who I were able to click with more. I’ve gotten two or three dinners so far with some of the other climbers, and it does help to be more proactive in inviting others. With some friends, after getting to know them more, they would also start speaking in casual language with me.

Although I was very much a beginner when I started this semester, and received a lot of guidance from other climbers around me, I’ve finally gotten to a level where I can teach newcomers how to climb some of the simpler courses. The friendly environment at the bouldering gym helps to facilitate lots of interactions, and now I usually initiate conversations just as often as they come to me. By both teaching and continuing to be taught, I’ve been able to speak in Japanese quite frequently every time I visit.

All in all, both my CIPs were very much enjoyable, but in terms of a community feel and language practice, I would recommend bouldering for those who don’t mind dealing with sore arms the first few times.