Charles Stater: Zazen

For my CIP activity, I decided to take the path less traveled (literally) and hike up a large hill near Kinkakuji each week to partake in traditional zazen in a small Buddhist temple, Fumonken. At these meetings, which were entirely in Japanese and one-on-one, my priest and I would first have a lesson, of sorts. In this brief lesson, my priest would introduce a central zen concept (for example, the first week we discussed muga (無我) and it’s relation to Japanese zen) which featured both philosophy and philology, as he frequently would connect the related kanji to both Buddhist legends and to modern Japanese language and I would desperately try and follow along. These lessons were only about a half-hour long, sadly, but were always riveting; for someone like me who loves both the history of language and philosophy, I never lacked for interesting subject matter in these discussions. We would also always have sweets and tea during our discussions, relaxing on small cushions and both donning Buddhist robes.

The second part of the experience was then proper zazen meditation. I would first remove the paper screens from the meditation room, to clear a view to the rock garden and open the area up to fresh air, and then we would sit and meditate for about a half an hour. At first this was agonizingly painful for my legs, but with repetition the pain has progressed from “bear mauling” levels to more like “light gunshot wound”, which I would call a plus. Certainly the experience of meditating in itself has been beneficial for me, allowing me a quiet place to first worry about things, then worry that I’m ruining my meditation by worrying, and finally overcoming both and finally shutting my inner dialogue up. In the Rinzai school of Buddhist zen that I am practicing (and is, incidentally, the most rigorous type! Joy!) when meditating one must always keep the eyes open; this is 1. So you don’t fall asleep and 2. If your mind is truly in no place, looking ahead should be no different than eyes closed, as you should be unable to “see” anything.

This experience has taught me a lot of humility. It has taught me a lot about leg pain. It has taught me a lot about how complicated kanji history can be. I think most significantly, I have gained some intriguing insights into how Buddhism and the modern mindset cannot coexist. You have to pursue one or the other; both are inherently toxic to the other. Learning how this dichotomy has played out here in Japan, with such a deep tradition of Buddhism and now such a voracious consumer culture has been fascinating, not least because I am learning it from my priest who is an ex-salaryman. I am glad I chose to pursue a more ephemeral CIP, as I think personally this experience has been more helpful to my ongoing construction of my own identity and growth of my spirit than anything else could have been.

In terms of observations, the temple I go to is quite small and cozy. It is located near Kinkakuji, high up on a hill, and seems to receive very little traffic. I have seen several other adherents stop by, but usually they are working for a room for a night or two. The temple is actually my priest’s house, and so I have gotten a little look at the orderly (if cramped) lifestyle of the ordinary Japanese. As for my priest himself, he is a warm, genial ex-salaryman who decided the priestly life was far more interesting for him, and so married a French woman and became a Buddhist priest. I can’t attest to their relationship much since I rarely ever see his wife, but they seem to handle the language barrier and the whole issue of his priesthood quite well.

Finally, in terms of feelings, the greatest feeling I have with zazen is relief. Relief to be away from my phone, job applications, emails, commitments; even time itself seems to bend to the overwhelming silence. Having no prior experience with meditation, that aspect I also find to be refreshing, despite the sometimes difficult leg postures. I am glad to have chosen such a radically project, I think, as it is now coming in handy both in terms of resume-building (because, of course, the hustle never stops) and in finding inner peace.

Kanoa Mendenhall: Jazz Bass

Although I initially wanted to explore and try a new activity, I continued playing jazz bass (my line of work back in America) for my CIP here in Kyoto and Osaka. It has been a wonderful experience being able to participate in the Kansai jazz scene while at KCJS this spring semester.

As all jazz musicians do to get introduced to the local scene, I started off by going to a jam session in the area in order to meet local musicians. This was one of the main objectives of my CIP – to continue going to a regular session that had other members consistently participating.

The first session I attended was a weekly jam hosted by Kyoto University’s student-run jazz circle. The sessions were how typical jazz jam sessions go; a newly fused band collectively chose standards from the Great American Songbook and improvised on these tunes. Students from KyoDai as well as students from additional neighboring universities were involved in these sessions. Getting to know these students from various areas eventually led to participation in other jam sessions at other universities and venues.

As the semester progressed, not only did I get to know fellow musicians my age, but also people from a wide age range who shared a similar passion for jazz. Meeting people from different backgrounds and generations allowed me to practice my keigo and respectful expressions a fair bit. In addition, I had to do quite a lot of writing/messaging to people who I had just met at each session, which was good practice.

One aspect that varied a bit from gatherings in America was the formality, such as saying よろしくお願いします to all of the other members on the bandstand without fail before playing each tune (at jam sessions). This surprised me quite a bit at first, and was a shock compared to the cold, cutthroat atmosphere of New York jam sessions. Also, it has been confusing to decipher the distance between musicians and when to use honorifics. The jazz scene in Japan is unique in the case where numerous musicians have studied or lived in America, therefore demonstrating the vibe and casual approach of American jazz musicians (slang, handshakes, affirmative shouts during performance, etc.), yet there are still limits to how close you can get to a person, especially if there is a rank/age difference. I once called a club owner (who lived in New York for multiple years, knows jazz culture well) that I thought I had established a firm connection with (after multiple casual interactions) by their first name, and they reacted quite hostilely. It took some time getting used to, but overall I found that musicians in the Kansai area are friendlier and supportive of each other, which I wish there was more of in New York City.

These jam sessions ultimately lead to a few performances in formal settings, called by members I met at jam sessions such as the one at Kyoto University. The performances typically involved rehearsals and preparation beforehand, and involved some energy and time. Nevertheless, they were highly rewarding, and I’m especially grateful to the teachers and friends from KCJS who came to my gigs. Continuing music while in Kyoto was one of the highlights of my study abroad experience, and has provided much joy and language practice as well as career connections that are sure to be useful in the future. There were some language barriers at times, but music, especially jazz, is a language and mode of communication itself.

Andrew Fischer: Suisōgakudan Seseragi

This semester, I continued playing in 吹奏楽団せせらぎ (Suisōgakudan Seseragi) on tuba. We are currently rehearsing a variety of pieces, most of which are selections from films and 20th-century pop artists. I have been able to continue to converse about a variety of topics, not only music, with my fellow members. I will be able to remain in Japan until July, when the annual concert will be held, so I plan on participating, which I am excited about.

The highlight of this semester was being able to participate in a brass quintet. We practiced several times over the course of two months, and on March 25th, we performed at壬生老人ホーム (Mibu Elderly Home) for a group of elderly residents, who seemed to greatly enjoy the performance and the different brass instruments. The おばあさんcommented on how big the tuba was: 「大きいね!」「すごい!」. The pieces that we performed were 三百六十五歩マーチ, なごり雪, 故郷, 上を向いて歩こう, 青い山脈, and また逢う日まで. It was wonderful to get to know the other members of the quintet well and play these nostalgic Japanese songs.

Something that I have observed while playing in Seseragi is the formality required, especially by younger, newer members. In the United States, regardless of age or skill, the conductor is usually very informal and generally is more comfortable correcting or criticizing the players for their mistakes. In general, during practice in Japan, the conductor is very polite when asking players to correct their mistakes, while players are very polite 「はい、分かりました」when responding to the conductor. I think that this demonstrates the importance of the social customs of Japan in even recreational activities, which is different than in the United States. However, this is not necessarily a bad point; it simply illustrates the vast difference between cultures.

Veronica Winters: Dance Class and Church

For the 2017 Fall semester at KCJS, I originally had decided to take group lessons at a studio in Osaka, located close to Umeda station. The vocabulary used by the instructors was fundamentally the same as dance instructors in America; for example, “From the top”, “One more time”. The register changed depending on the instructor; friendlier teachers tended to use the plain speech styles while colder, more detached teachers used polite form. About halfway through the semester, I realized that 1) I was not gaining any major cultural insights and 2) while I do enjoy dancing, I did not enjoy taking formal classes.

For the second portion of the semester I have been going to a church with a multi-national congregation. I was shocked at how similar service was to my church in America. I usually go to a majority black Church of God in Christ (COGIC) church in the U.S. where it is common practice to interject with “Amen” during a sermon to show your agreement, to pray aloud individually but simultaneously during worship service and greet your neighbor between programs. The church that I attend in Japan does the exact same thing, except that services are either conducted in Japanese, Korean, Chinese or in all three. More than 70% of the congregation is Chinese, however the pastor is Japanese, so for regular services there is a Japanese-Chinese interpreter present. If necessary, there are a two international students who regularly attend the church that will interpret services into English.

I did realize that the pastor gave the sermon using polite speech, since she was address the congregation; however, during prayer, on behalf of everyone, the pastor would use keigo as a means of exaltation. Also, during my first visit, some members of the church did a coordinated praise dance in honor of the guest Korean pastor. The praise dance was done with fans, using moves from traditional obon dancing, while wearing a kimono.

Furthermore, after learning about difficulties amongst Chinese, Japanese and Koreans in Japan, I was pleased and surprised to find this space where they all cooperate without tension. Since, they share the religion of Christianity, “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” is a commonly said phrase at church. Also, the phrases that the pastor uses during the sermons and communal prayer are very similar to the phrases used at my church in America. Nevertheless, this is most likely be due to a shared text, the Bible, which is full set phrases that are very popular among Protestant Christians. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience for my personal enrichment.

Nevertheless, I realize that the church is a bit separated from Japanese society as whole, so to make the most of my study abroad in Japan and get more of a first-hand view of the inner-workings of Japanese society, I will participate in a more integrated CIP during the spring semester.

Andrew Fischer: Suisōgakudan Seseragi (Concert Band)

The group that I chose to join to fulfill my Community Involvement Project is 吹奏楽団せせらぎ (suisōgakudan seseragi). Seseragi is a community concert band that practices once a week on Friday from 7:30 to 9:00 in the evening. Seseragi‘s members range in age from around twenty to sixty or seventy. I am one of three tuba players in the group, although because most of the members are 社会人 (shakaijin), not everyone comes each week. We usually have a lengthy warmup and then practice two to four pieces of music each rehearsal.

I found that I am able to make conversation with my fellow tuba and euphonium players by talking about topics such as instruments, experiences with music, and differences between Japan and the United States regarding playing in a band or practicing one’s instrument at home. Because playing tuba has been such an important part of my life since I was eleven years old, I have many experiences to talk about, so I have conversed with the other musicians, especially at dinner after rehearsal, about a multitude of experiences and interesting notions.

I have learned that when people share an interest or passion, especially when that passion does not require spoken words, they can make a connection to others simply through sharing that passion, whether through playing music together or simply laughing. While my experience as a member of Seseragi so far has allowed me to use my Japanese language skills to a great extent, I find that coming to understand Japanese society and sharing my interest in music with my fellow members has been the most fulfilling and interesting part of my Community Involvement Project. I plan to continue as a member until I leave Japan next year.

Thyra Root: Osaka Central Church of Christ

Since I arrived in Kyoto in January, the Osaka Central Church of Christ has welcomed me in with open arms. A small church of mostly married couples and working singles, I was connected to it via my church in Boston, a sister congregation within the worldwide International Churches of Christ. Our meetings consist of meaningful lessons and much conversation on a never-ending variety of topics, usually over an after-church lunch. From these friends of mine, I have learned about the care and creativity Japanese exhibit in apparently every aspect of life, a prime example being a cake they made for me out of avocado slices and nuts, since I cannot eat cake. Other experiences include making sushi by hand and witnessing the traditional mochi-making process. I’m afraid much of what I’ve learned in the realm of the Japanese language consists of Kansai Ben, the dialect particular to this region in Japan, and niche church phrases. They must think I’ve progressed, for I had the opportunity to make a welcome speech in front of the congregation one Sunday morning! The most important thing I have learned, however, is certainly that I have a home here in Japan if I ever choose to return.

Sinai Cruz: Nagaoka Catholic Church

This semester, my CIP experience was a little rough, so even though this was not officially my CIP, I would like to write about my experience attending mass at the local parish, Nagaoka Catholic Church. Almost every week since I moved into my host family’s house, I would attend mass in Japanese from 11 AM-12 PM, the only mass offered on Sundays. One of the nice things about being Catholic is that the general structure and content of the mass will be the same no matter what country, or what language, it is being given in. However, every culture brings its own nuances and traditions, so I was very fortunate this semester to observe several uniquely Japanese Catholic practices over the course of these past few months.

For example, there is a part of the mass where the priest lifts up the Sacramental bread. In America during this part, one usually kneels, or in the absence of kneelers, such as in this church, one stands and inclines their head. However, in Japan, we did a deep bow towards the altar for a few seconds instead. As we all know, the degree of a bow establishes hierarchy and demonstrates respect. The particular bow used in this part of the mass hovered between a 普通礼、a polite bow, and a 最敬礼、a deeply reverent bow. Outside of religious environments, a saikeirei bow is generally only used with the emperor or when being deeply apologetic, while a futsuurei is much more commonly used in every day life with superiors. I found it interesting to notice how deeply people bowed during this part, though I generally opted for the saikeirei myself.

Another interesting tradition took place around two weeks ago, since November is Shichi-Go-San month. A young mother brought her sons to the mass to be blessed; both boys looked around seven (not a traditional boy’s year). Instead of traditional kimonos, they wore collared white shirts and loose black slacks. The priest read a special prayer for them and sprinkled them with Holy Water. I was very surprised that there was also a version of 7/5/3 celebrated in Japanese Catholicism, since I had thought it to be a traditional Shinto activity. However, as anyone who has been to a shrine this month can see, it is a tradition widely celebrated in Japan. Since the purpose of 7/5/3 is to thank God for the health and safety of the child, the tradition can obviously be adapted rather easily to different religious environments.

Lastly, I would like to talk about some of the language used between parishioners. In October, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a church outing to the Kyoto Zoo. The priest offered to drive me and two older parishioners to the Zoo. While the elderly ladies always spoke to me, and between themselves, in casual form, they would switch suddenly to desu/masu form when talking to the priest, or when talking about the priest. Even though the priest was younger than them, because of his status as a priest, they spoke more politely to him. However, the priest would generally reply in regular, male, plain form, like 「知らね」. Using polite language with priests is the way it is back home as well, but usually a priest will also use polite language in reply, not casual. It was a little jarring to see how abruptly they could switch between speaking styles, so I was able to realize just how important it is to be able to distinguish between different social situations and how important it is to use desu/masu form or keigo with people of a higher social status.

Overall, as both a practicing Catholic and as a religion major, I was very fortunate to be able to find such a warm and welcoming Catholic community that allowed me to observe and participate in their Japanese Catholic traditions.

Nicolle Bertozzi: Kubota Birendo Sudare


This semester for my Community Involvement Project, I have been working with the Kubotas, a family of Kyoto artisans who make sudare screens for private homes and temples. Once a week, I go to their shop near Shijo, where I learn about the craft of sudare making and, through conversations with the artisans themselves, about life as an artisan in one of the most historical cities in the world.

One of the things that has stood out most clearly to me through working with the Kubotas is how closely their line of work connects them with traditional culture of Japan. In a country as modernized as Japan, it can be difficult sometimes to find traces of the culture’s long and rich history. When I’ve asked Japanese friends about their exposure to some of the most known traditional elements of Japanese culture—the kinds of traditional elements like shodo calligraphy and sado tea ceremony that are often presented to foreigners during cultural exchange events—their responses are largely of non-interest. For the artisans of Kyoto, however, this is not the case. The very nature of their work forces them to confront the divide between traditional and modern lifestyles in Japan on a daily basis. And as a result of this, they often find themselves exploring other aspects of traditional culture, aspects that have no connection to their particular craft.

Through working with the Kubotas on my own sudare, through talking with them as I bound the bamboo together strip-by-strip with twisting threads, I found that our conversations often tended to drift to this topic. Over a cup of matcha tea one week, we wound up talking about the tradition of the tea ceremony, something that I had been asked to participate in for cultural exchange events many times but still knew next to nothing about. When I mentioned this, Shinji Kubota, the oldest son and next in line to inherit the family business, began to tell me about how working as an artisan had inspired him to study tea ceremony. Although most Japanese had very little interest in the ceremony, had never even experienced one themselves, he found the ceremony beautiful and has been studying it for many years. Mayu, Shinji’s younger sister, also mentioned how central their background as traditional artisans was in sparking their shared interest in the ceremony.

When I came in the next week, I found the tatami room cleared and prepared for a tea ceremony. A piece of calligraphy hung in the tokonoma, beneath which sat a flower arrangement. Water boiled away in a kettle over the fire of the sunken ro hearth. Shinji and Mayu took me through the ceremony, explaining how every proper tea ceremony had a theme, which the host decided upon and would then carefully select each utensil to match. Through inquiring about the particular calligraphy piece hanging in the tokonoma, for example, you would be able to work your way through the various connections it shared with the other utensils of the ceremony. This ability to appreciate details is one of the most important elements of the ceremony.

The care with which Shinji and Mayu then walked me through the ceremony was truly amazing. It was clear how much they respected the ceremony’s tradition, how much they wanted to do justice to its history. Which of course connects to the way they treated their own craft as well. Throughout this whole semester, I have noticed lots of very tiny ways in which the Kubotas honor the history and tradition of their craft. They explained to me, for example, how the natural darkening of bamboo material over time is something beautiful, something worth noticing and appreciating. Which I don’t think is something I would have thought about in that way before.

My time with the Kubotas this semester has broadened my understanding of traditional Japanese culture as it exists in the modern age. Through making my own sudare, I have come to appreciate the incredible level of craftsmanship that goes into the making and maintaining of these traditional crafts. And through exploring the connections that exist between those who are continuing Japan’s craft tradition and those who are carrying on other aspects of the traditional culture, I have come to see the degree to which these traditions are still very much alive, still being constantly innovated.


Alexa Machnik: Art Restoration at ARC Ritsumeikan

As a first-timer in Japan, I was struck particularly by the wealth of art that surrounds Kyoto. Since my arrival, I have grown to appreciate the interactions of past and present artistic traditions, which in my opinion, have only further contributed to the city’s coinage as Japan’s great cultural repository. With this said, I have realized that the national treasures of this rich, art-embedded city could not have possibly thrived today without expertise in areas of art restoration, preservation and conservation—believe it or not, there is a difference! In short, I was determined to engage in the very discipline that firstly, initiated my interest in Japanese, and secondly, brought me to Kyoto. That discipline is none other than paper conservation. While formal conservation training in Kyoto normally requires a 10 year apprenticeship, my 1 year commitment abroad did not quite make the cut. Through the help of KCJS, however, what originally seemed as an impossible CIP became possible.

This semester, I was stationed with a small restoration team at Ritsumeikan University’s Art Research Center (ARC). ARC is currently undertaking a large-scale digitalization project entailing the compilation of Japanese cultural assets into accessible archives for researchers worldwide. In effort of this project, restorations are being made on paper-based materials ranging from woodblock prints (ukiyo-e ; 浮世絵) to illustrated bound books (wahon ; 和本). Due to poor storage conditions, these pieces have been eaten by insects and/or have suffered from severe deterioration. Through hands-on training and gained experience, I have developed an awareness of materials and preservation in Japan as well as acquired the patience necessary to safely handle and perform restorations on these Edo-period treasures. Furthermore, I have been able to indulge in the fine details of wahon and ukiyo-e print illustrations, all while improving my technical Japanese skills.

On my first day at ARC, I came prepared with a notebook expecting to observe restorations in the process. To my surprise, as I walked into the project room, I was promptly handed an apron and tweezers, led to a table equipped with a light-box, and sat down in front of a page from a damaged booklet. When I heard the words “honmono” (本物) and “renshu” (練習) in the same sentence, my hands froze…I mean, if you had heard that for your first “practice session” you would be restoring a “genuine article”, wouldn’t you have also had a similar reaction?…Nevertheless, this valuable method of instruction—no matter how cliché it must sound—allowed me learn directly from my mistakes. In connection with a class fieldtrip to a sudare bamboo blind workshop earlier in the semester, each student had the chance to weave a strip of bamboo into a sudare. By engaging in the process, each student “learned by doing”, which I have realized is a firm belief held not only by craftspeople in Japan, but also by restorers.

Over the semester, I worked primarily on worm-eaten booklets analyzing damage and infilling areas of loss with fibrous washi (和紙) paper. After applying homemade nori, which is a wheat-starch based adhesive, around the outline of the hole, a pre-cut piece of washi is set into place. The moisture from the nori expands the paper fibers, so the restored area must be placed between two pieces of cardboard under an iron weight until fully dry. The result: a wrinkle-free restoration. Due to this vital step, each hole must be patched one-by-one. From my abridged explanation, the restoration process must seem rather simple; however, tedious in nature, restoration is a committed job that requires concentration and careful attention to detail. For instance, I spend roughly 10 hours patching a single page, followed by another 4 hours searching for and reattaching small pieces that had fallen off. If anything, I feel as if I am solving a puzzle, and though frustrating at times, I have found much satisfaction in the process. While I am carrying out the same procedures, every restoration requires individual attention. In addition, I have also learned related tasks including the preparation of nori paste as well as the creation of traditional koyori exposed-bindings.

Outside of the classroom, my CIP experience has given me the opportunity to observe the Japanese language in a working environment. My relationship with the other workers has improved to the point where I am addressed very informally as “Are-chan”. However, when I receive a new project or when I am asked a favor of, I am always addressed with the formal title, “sama”. Although I find this unfit for my status as a student with little experience in restoration, these formalities embedded in the language reinforce the professionalism of the workplace.

In all, I am excited to continue my CIP into next semester. With a better handle of the Japanese language I will hopefully be able to further deepen my understanding of restoration principles in Japan, and how that contrasts with the West. As the project steadily progresses, I am also looking forward to seeing how my efforts have contributed to ARC and the greater Kyoto community.


Close-up of a worm-eaten page from an illustrated booklet. Circled in red is the area of restoration. Can you tell the difference?


Miscellaneous pieces without a home…yet!

Jennifer Wang: Band

This post officially marks the end of my CIP forever! It’s my second semester of CIP, with my first being a member in Doshisha’s piano circle. This semester, I’m the keyboardist for a band – called “ガールバンドパワー(GBP)” – along with Ife (vocalist), Shouko (bassist), Mako (drummer), and Noyuri (backup vocalist).We have a concert planned for the 17th of this month, for which we’re practicing a mix of Ife’s awesome songs and Japanese rock covers. 

Like i mentioned in my previous blog, I really didn’t know what to expect going in; I’ve done large string orchestras before, but never small, garage “rock” bands. Or, more accurately, studio bands since that’s what we rent and practice in. We started off at the nicer but pricey Studio 246 (where out concert will be held) in Shijo, but recently switched to the much smaller but cheaper Studio BURU. Studio BURU is only a 2-minute walk, literally across the street behind the Ryosinkan, and a single person practice room is only 500yen per hour, so I highly recommend it if you’re looking to practice piano (which I do), drums, or any other instrument that catches your interest! We planned to meet every week for an hour, but due to time conflicts, sometimes 2 or 3-hour makeup sessions happen.

As for the practice sessions themselves, they went surprisingly well. They’re a far cry from the stereotypical image of a drama-filled, crazy rock band, which I think is due to the combination of the Japanese members’ easygoing natures, other members’ past band experience, and Ife’s encouraging leadership. Ife dances around and tells us to let loose, but we tend to smile and laugh quietly; me because I’m nervous and the others, I assume, because they have more reserved natures characteristic of many Japanese people. I feel comfortable around everyone, but, just like in piano circle, I don’t feel particularly close to the Japanese members. Seeing Shoko in the hall today was the first time I’ve seen anyone outside of band practice, where we talk about the music 95% of the time. Although I spend more time with them than last semester’s piano circle members, I think it still requires more effort – LINEing regularly, inviting the Japanese person to activities – to become what they consider a friend, as opposed to more easy invitations in the US.

A key difference from piano circle is that I haven’t noticed the senpai-kohai relationship present. I’m not quite sure what year everyone is in and they’ve never asked me for mine, a question that I always got after meeting someone new in piano circle. Since the Japanese members were separate acquaintances of Ife, I’m not sure if the Japanese members know each other’s years in the band. But they’ve been speaking casually to each other from the start, so I assume it’s not as important in a small, less formal group. Just last week, when Noyuri came for the first time, despite initial introductions being in distal (-desu/-masu) form, Mako soon switched over to casual speech. Perhaps being in a band automatically creates what is, technically, an “in-group” of sorts? The lack of senpai-kohai relationships in the band makes me more comfortable interacting with everyone since I don’t have to worry about not fitting into that construct as a third year international student. Last semester in piano circle, I was stuck between being a senpai and a kohai: I’m a third year, but I’m also a study abroad student who’s never participated before in piano (or any) circle.

Overall, this semester I have learned less new aspects of Japanese culture than I have fleshed out what I learned last semester. I joined piano circle last semester purposely to get a feel of Japanese circle and club interactions. But after stressing each week over how to act and where I’d fit in during club activities (being the only third year who did yobikomu during the school festival, while the rest of the upperclassman organized scheduling and made food), I wanted to try the opposite: spending time with a small group of Japanese students in a casual setting. Depending on your personality and/or your goals, my recommendation for a CIP activity would vary. I highly recommend smaller, not as school-affiliated groups if you’re like me, generally more reserved and would like to have a constant few faces rather than often shuffling circle acquaintances. On the other hand, trying circles and clubs are truly a great way to experience a unique and very prominent component of Japanese university life. The circle culture is much stronger than that of clubs in the US and introduces you to students not particularly interested in English/international affairs. To hear more about my experiences last semester, please read that blog post here.