Ife Samms: Female Musician Empowerment; Girl Band Power

Leading GBP (Girl Band Power) for the past few months has certainly been a handful. Throughout this time, I have wanted to invite my band members into the song writing process, and although it seemed difficult for them to grasp at first, I hope that this time together was an eye-opening experience for all of them. As this has been a project with the goal of female-musician empowerment in Japan, I hope that these young women were able to find encouragement in their art, and expansion in their views of their roles as band members. This intimate time making music with these four women has opened my eyes to not only the time that truly goes into leading a band, but the dedication and love that the challenge inspires.

While I was at Binghamton University, I lead as the vocalist and bassist of a funk band called the Funkophiles. This funk band was a different animal than the type of band Girl Band Power has been. Funk, as a branch off of jazz, is heavily motivated by improvisation from its members, making rehearsals quite easy and straightforward. However, GBP’s members are comprised of musicians who have not been exposed to improvisation or to songwriting in a band setting. Although this posed a challenge, I took this as an opportunity to expand my own individual part-writing and arranging abilities, outside of rehearsal time, in order that I might relieve pressure from GBP’s members to write their own parts. Language, too, was a challenge, as I was given the chance to use Japanese to explain musical concepts for the first time. I was surprised, though, that our band members would always speak to me politely; as the second oldest member and leader, I felt their respect through the language they used with me.

Due to challenges like these, Girl Band Power certainly has not been a walk in the park. As a member, I have taken on the roles of keeping in contact with members to plan rehearsal times, booking the studios, creating and sending song files for our original pieces, as well as creating and sending the files’ accompanying sheet music. This band has been a full-time job, and with school, it has been difficult to keep up. Thank God, I have somehow been able to stay on top of the band goings-ons (while promoting our April 17th first-and-last concert) and have been encouraged that although the challenge of this band has touched all of its members, it has pushed us to reach a new level of artistry as musicians, and a new level of perseverance and hope through it all. To see the dedication that musicians in both America and Japan bring to the table is not only a testament to the power and passion music inspires, but it also illustrates to me the universal nature of music—it can be shared across countries and cultures without losing its strength.

Those who read this post will most likely join a community already established in Kyoto; however, even to those who will experience a CIP in general, I believe that the notion of “perseverance and hope” is an important factor in learning all you can learn, and in seeing the positive end to something that, at times, can be very trying. I am very grateful for this opportunity to lead a girl band as my CIP (in Japan of all places), and I am thankful for all of the encouragement and support I have received from friends and teachers, alike. This has been a life-changing, life-inspiring experience I will never forget. From here on, I look forward to our April 17th concert; I am ready to put it all out there, have a wildly fun time, and take home what I have learned, using it as another propelling and motivating stepping stone in my future as a musician for God (Love).


私のCIPはバンド活動である。サムずさんと他二人の日本人と一緒に毎週一時間練習をしようとしている。練習の場所はStudio246という大宮駅の近くにあるスタジオである。サムずさんがボーカリストで、まこさんがドラムをたたいて、しょうこさんがベースを弾いて、私がキーボードを弾いている。みんな女性だから、バンドの名前はガールバンドパワー(GBP) にするかもしれない。コンサートは4月17日にStudio246の舞台でするつもりで、これから詳細を決める。コンサートのために今みんな一緒に新しい曲を作っている。その曲以外は、サムずさんが作った曲を二つ、日本の曲を一つ、アメリカの曲を1つ演奏したいと思う。コンサートのさらしを今作っているところだ。




Will Fitzell: G-FRONT Kansai

For my CIP, I joined an LGBT circle called G-FRONT KANSAI in Osaka.  My reasoning for joining an LGBT circle was because I had the desire to learn about the differences within American LGBT culture and Japanese LGBT culture.  While I only was able to attend two meetings of G-FRONT, I feel that I was able to learn quite a bit.

First, LGBT culture has a number of unique vocabulary items, and learning new words and the equivalents to American LGBT culture words was a very cool thing for me.  The way LGBT circles operate in America versus Japan is also rather different.  In American LGBT circles (at least the ones at the University of Michigan), a person’s pronouns are asked, sexuality is never explicitly stated in self-introductions, and personal questions are often not asked for fear of making a person too uncomfortable.  At my LGBT circle here in Japan, I was asked to state my sexuality in my self-introduction, was asked several times what my ideal “type” is (we even had a session where we all talked about our ideal type of boyfriend which was the focus topic of my first G-FRONT meeting).  At the second meeting I attended, the subject was much more complicated—it focused on the issues of being LGBT while in care houses for the elderly.  Unfortunately, the conversation was so complex and rapidly spoken about that I was essentially unable to contribute anything truly meaningful to the conversation, which was a shame.

G-FRONT seems to do activities and events for different types of people, so whenever I went to a meeting it was all gay men (meetings/events for lesbians or transgender people are separated for example).  One distinct thing I noticed right away about G-FRONT was that, because it is not a college group, the members were quite a bit older than I.  In fact, the youngest member besides me was 34, the oldest being in their 50’s!

After each meeting and get together that is part of the official G-FRONT itinerary, about half of the group goes out to dinner to get some food and a few drinks, so I was invited and joined them both times I attended a meeting (after the first meeting I went to, I was also taken to a real Japanese gay bar in Osaka, which was a very eye-opening experience for me, but not after the second meeting).  These dinners occurred at the same restaurant each time (indicating the habitual, group spot of choice), and it was at this setting that I got to have more “real” and informal conversation where I learned new words specific to Japanese LGBT culture, the phone apps that gay men in Japan use to meet each other, and all sorts of interesting general information about the gay experience in Japan.

My CIP experiences have been extremely rewarding and fulfilling.  My identity as a gay male has always been one of my most salient identities, and so back in America at college, my friend circles are LGBT-based and I am very involved in the community.  Having been in Japan since June 2014, it wasn’t until I joined G-FRONT in October 2014 that I had any sort of connection to LGBT people in Japan, and I am very glad that I have begun to make these connections.  I greatly look forward to my participation in this circle throughout the next semester that I spend in Japan.



サークルは「G-FRONT関西」と呼ばれています。私の初めてのミーティングの前に、プライバシー(LGBTの問題)を守るという理由で、大阪に着いた時に、G-FRONT のスタッフは大阪にある南方駅で私を迎えに来てくれました。本当のミーティングは私の思ったこととちょっと違っていました。私も含(ふく)めて全員(ぜんいん)で5人だけでした。全員はテーブルに座って、自己紹介をして、サークルの目的や行事について話して、新しいメンバーとして私に行事とサークルの写真を見せてくれました。その後で、全員は同性愛者の男性だから、「好きなタイプ」(容姿や性格など)というトピックについて話しました。

ミーティングを終わったら、メンバーと一緒に居酒屋に行きました。その後で、グループと私はゲイバーに初めて行きました。レストランもゲイバーで、日本のLGBT の文化について話しました。一晩だけとはいえ、日本に着いてから、本当の日本のLGBT の文化について習ったと思っています。

Neena Kapur: Zazen Meditation at Daisen-in

I began the semester working with Deepest Kyoto, a locally based tour group that seeks to explore the more unknown parts of Kyoto. While it was a valuable experience, I ended up switching CIPs come March due to the time commitment required for Deepest Kyoto. The CIP I have been pursuing, as of late, is Zazen meditation lessons at Daitokuji temple. This experience has enriched my time here in Kyoto in so many ways, and I’ve learned so much from it (both in terms of Japanese culture, and in terms of good meditation practice!)

Every Sunday evening, I arrive at Daitokuji’s Daisen-in sub-temple, pay a small fee, and enter an atmosphere of peace and serenity. Needless to say, it’s a good place to de-stress after a long week, and mentally prepare for the week ahead. I usually arrive about 15 minutes early so I can spend some time wandering through the rock garden before settling into the meditation room, zenshitsu. Lessons are open to the public, so while I (and a few others) consistently attend, there are also new faces every week. There are usually 3-5 people in attendance, and the Daisen-in Buddhist Priest, obousan, leads the lessons.

But, what is Zazen meditation? Great question! Zazen meditation is the meditation technique that’s practiced within the Zen Buddhist sect, and it has a few unexpected surprises. While it begins the way most meditation I’ve done in the past does—legs crossed, back straight, eyes closed (or focused on a specific spot), and hand in a mudra—after a few minutes, the priest comes and hits everyone on the back with a long stick, keisaku, with the purpose to keep your mind sharp and awaken you from any sleepy thoughts. Don’t be scared! They hit hard, but, believe it or not, it really feels good, and it really improves meditation concentration. The amazing thing about it is the tradition surrounding how the series of strikes are delivered. On my first day, the obousan instructed me that, to receive a strike, you must bow to the obousan, who bows back, then you lean forward, and he delivers three precise strikes—right, left, left—on your back, for which you then sit up quickly and bow in thanks, then return to meditating. Throughout the entire hour-long session, you can request a strike by the keisaku at any time by putting your hands together.

After an hour long of non-stop meditation (let’s just say that I literally cannot feel my legs for a good five minutes after it), we all retire to the tea-room, and drink matcha and eat wagashi and chat for half an hour or so. This part of the evening is especially nice, because I have the opportunity to interact with the obousan, which is such a privilege and learning experience. Not only does it give me the chance to practice my keigo, but I also get to learn about Zen Buddhism (architecture, meditation practices, the history of the Daitokuji temple, rock garden art) directly from a Buddhist priest. Every evening is a really incredibly experience, because the obousan loves to get to know his pupils, and also loves to talk about history. So, I get a chance to tell him about myself and develop a relationship, while also gaining a unique perspective on Kyoto’s rich history.

This experience has been incredibly rewarding, and it saddens me that in just a few weeks, my venue for meditation will change from the beautiful Daisen-in temple, with cool breezes and rock gardens, to a messy bedroom. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to develop a relationship with and learn from a Zen Buddhist priest, and I hope to continue practicing the meditation techniques I learned this semester upon returning home.

Hadley Hauser: Office Assistant

I was thrilled to try my hand at traditional Japanese pottery lessons as my CIP activity this spring, but the development of severe stress fractures in both of my feet limited my mobility for much of the quarter.  Still in the healing process, I have instead fulfilled my CIP duties by assisting Wada san and Shore san in the office.

I have been helping to update KCJS’s student handbook.  One of my tasks is editing its existing content for clarity and flow.  While doing so, I look for areas that could be improved by adding additional information.  I have been creating brief explanations for things that I wish I had known when I first arrived in Kyoto.  For example, how to watch for deals on Peach Airline flights, how to purchase concert or flight tickets at convenience stores, and how and why I should acquire an ICOCA card.  Looking back over the handbook has allowed me to reflect on all the ways in which I have managed to acclimate to my life in Japan, as well as on how different things will be after I go home to Chicago in a few short weeks.  Working in the office has also given me the opportunity to practice my keigo, which I seem to never use correctly.

Getting many first-hand encounters with Japan’s hospital system has been an eye-opening cultural experience in itself.  I have had to explain my pain to multiple doctors in Japanese, each time broadening my vocabulary with the words for new symptoms and medical procedures.  Never has the need for me to use clear, accurate Japanese been more important.  Though I did not expect to be spending two months of my Kyoto exchange on crutches, the situation has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of Japan to practical medical terms, and has given me confidence in navigating a foreign hospital system.  These eye-opening experiences will surely come in handy if I choose to live in Japan again later in my life.

Julia Hirata: Kitanotenmangu Taiko Group

     In the past month I have started to play taiko at Kitanotenmangu shrine. Taiko practices and gatherings have been the highlights of my time here in Kyoto so far. All of the members are Japanese and don`t speak any English so it is a great opportunity for me to improve my Japanese, learn more about the cultural customs, and interact with more Japanese people in a social setting. The members consist of mostly middle-aged men and women and their children. Spending time with a group of people ranging from 5-50 years old has really made me understand the stratification of Japanese communication. For example, when our teacher speaks to his 10 year old daughter he uses casual form and is very expressive in his tone. However, when he speaks to the supervising monks at the temple, he immediately switches to keigo and often bows throughout the conversation. One thing that I was surprised at was how quickly the other members came to use casual with me. I noticed this more with the female members and young children. The taiko teacher’s wife even began calling me Julia-chan. I thought it would take a while to break down social barriers and speak as friends, but after one lesson they invited me to a dinner party and welcomed me in with open arms. The group teacher’s wife added me as a friend on Facebook and showed me videos of her daughter dancing. I sat by her the whole night and we chatted about taiko, school, her daughter and the drunk people around us. At the party, everyone drank and laughed and spoke very informally to each other while joking around. I felt so lucky to be included in the group and treated as a fellow member.
One cultural difference I noticed was the social involvement of the monks at the shrine. When I see the head monk at the shrine during practice, he is always dressed in traditional garb and is always nice but extremely formal. At the party, he came dressed in a western suit and joined in all the festivities. When people got particularly rowdy or drunk instead of sternly lecturing them, he would tease them and speak informally to them. I was surprised that the monk interacted with us so freely in a social setting. I was so happy to talk to him and get to know him over nice sake and good food.


Cara Moriwaki: Church and English Assistant


In the past month, I have been meeting many more Japanese people through church!  One of the people I talk to often at church helped me to contact the leader of a Bible study circle at Doshisha, so I have been able to go to two of their meetings so far.  At the meetings, which are on Friday afternoons, we read a passage from the Bible and answer questions from a worksheet.  I bring my own Bible in English, but I still have trouble understanding the conversations because the vocabulary is difficult and they get deep, but I’ve learned that I don’t have to understand everything to enjoy myself!  The most important thing for me is this chance to meet many different people in Japan.  One of the girls who attends this circle regularly is not Christian, but she is interested in reading the Bible and learning about Jesus.  Even though I don’t always understand and don’t often contribute to the conversation, they have been very accepting of me.  By going to these meetings, I have learned a lot of different vocabulary and have been able to work on my listening comprehension, which has really taught me to make the most of any difficult situation!

For the last two church services that I went to, a lot of things happened!  We had communion!  Because it was very much like any other communion, I felt at home, and as though I have been going to this church for a significant amount of time, instead of just visiting.  I got to eat lunch with everyone afterwards, too!  The following week, I got to watch two girls get baptized.  After a group of the younger people sang songs to congratulate them, the two girls gave their testimonies.  Although, again, I couldn’t always understand what they were saying, I could still feel their emotions as they told us about their spiritual journeys.  I’m very happy that I had the chance to witness these girls take such an important step in their lives.

I’ve found that, at least at church and at the Bible study circle, Japanese people are not very different from Americans in their customs.  Just like the people I met at churches that I have attended in the United States, people here have been very inviting and patient with me.  Recently, I have had to go to church by myself, but I’ve learned that if I have even just a little bit of confidence in myself, I can have a lot of amazing experiences!  It is also thanks to the many people that I have met for very warmly welcoming me into the church community.    Despite my KCJS A-class status, I can still connect with many people!  Matthew 17:18 “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

At Kamigyou Intermediate School, I have continued to help students with their English competitions.  There were two competitions, one which was for recording the story on a tape to be submitted, and the other for which the students had to perform their speech with arm motions.  Within one week, I saw that the students had improved in their intonation, pronunciation, and energy in their movements.  I remember that the school’s Vice Principle asked a student to do her best in one of the competitions, which made me realize that these students are pressured to represent their school as best they can.  Their determination to do their best for themselves and for their school is inspiring, and makes me want to ganbaru at Japanese, too!

Twice, I have had to casually converse with a couple of girls who were very shy about speaking.  Although the students are not shy about reading aloud their passages, they are not comfortable with normally speaking English.  Unlike my language teachers who speak to me in their foreign language, the English teacher here usually only speaks Japanese to her students.  I’m not sure if the emphasis on reading rather than speaking is a good thing because one of the people I met at church said that even though he studied English since he was little, he cannot say anything in English.  Well, in the end, I let the students speak mostly in Japanese to me, but I’ve realized that sometimes, it is more important for them to enjoy English rather than feel stressed out about it.

With only a few more weeks here, I want to make the rest of my limited time here as meaningful as possible by meeting more people and deepening my relationships with the people I have met!

Calum Galt: LGBT Groups (G・Front Kansai and Gradations)

This semester I decided to try to involve myself with the local LGBT scene by participating in both G・Front Kansai, a region-wide group that appeals to all ages and demographics, and Gradations, a much smaller student group based at Doshisha University. I decided to do this for both intellectual and personal reasons. My major is women’s studies, and I have a particular interest in issues of sexuality and gender, especially in Japan, as it provides an extreme point of comparison to Western conceptions of sex and gender. I wanted to experience the way queer people live in Japan, if only vicariously, by becoming involved with them socially. Personally, as a gay man, I also wanted to see what my Japanese counterparts were like and to become more or less accepted (even as a token gaijin). My experiences this semester have been a mixed bag, some meeting my hopes and some falling short.

Unlike my senpai, Adam Roberts, who did the same activities as me, I found Gradations rather then G・Front Kansai to be the more enjoyable group, perhaps because we wanted different things from our groups. Having said that, I share many of the same objections he had to both circles. The lack of events, the low participation rates, and the many awkward silences and palpable feeling of being separate from the group put me off quite a bit. Any gains I’ve made in getting close to my circle have been gradual, especially considering the few opportunities I’ve had to meet with people. I’ve focused almost entirely on Gradations, as  the events are more geared towards college-age students and thus involve my peers. It also helps that events are on mostly on or near to campus. In contrast, I found G・Front’s events awkward because of the age gap between me and the few members I’ve encountered. The distance I had to travel to Osaka and the awkwardness of the meetings put me off and I didn’t go back after my first few attempts. Gradations, not without its awkwardness, was still friendlier that G・Front, especially after people realized that I can in fact speak Japanese.

Gradations events consisted of 飲み会 and ランチ会, or drinking parties and lunch meetings. The drinking parties were the most enjoyable because everyone was able to relax their inhibitions and have fun with everyone, whereas the lunch meetings were often awkward affairs with a very clearly split between nihonjin and gaijin, with regular members having conversations in small clusters and gaijin separated from the main group. I found this the most frustrating, and sometimes skipped lunch meetings because I preferred to eat with other friends in KCJS and have real conversation. I still have another semester, though, and I’m determined to involve myself more in Gradations and hopefully break down some barriers with the time I have left. I only wish that there were more activities and more participants, which I imagine could happen if the group weren’t so secretive (another point of frustration, but admittedly a necessary one). I may consider taking on a second CIP next semester (KIX or Kyodai’s LGBT group perhaps) in order to expand my opportunities for interacting with Japanese students.