Tyler Popp: Kyoto University Running Club

This semester I joined the Kyoto University Anpan running club for my CIP. Though it’s run by students of Kyoto University, there are members from many different schools in Kyoto, and the club meets weekly on the Kamo River.

I had a lot of fun this spring being able to run and meet new people in a very social setting in this club. It was a great opportunity to meet other Japanese students not only outside a campus/classroom situation, but also students from other schools in Kyoto that I would normally have met people from.

I definitely struggled a bit in integrating myself in the club initially, and I was too self-conscious about being the only non-Japanese member or making language mistakes when talking to others. However after a few meetings initiating conversation gets easier as I got to know those around the club. My advice would be to get out of that comfort zone as much as you can, as making good relationships with other students makes the experience so much better.

John Henry Waymack: Kendo lessons

My CIP this semester was Kendo, a martial art centered around swordsmanship. The martialart focuses just as much on the practitioner’s abilities as it does on self discipline, as well as respect for your teachers, your opponents, and your Dojo. I was surprised by how specific and precise all elements of Kendo were, from the exact degree of angle you have to achieve when bowing, to the perfection of form required for all of the basic strikes. To anybody else starting Kendo in their time at KCJS, I would say go to every practice you can, and practice outside of the Dojo. The learning curve is incredibly steep, and your time in Japan will probably be very short. 

Mary Wilson: Kpop Dance with Doshisha ASH

Ash, Doshisha’s kpop dance circle, is a circle where you learn and perform kpop choreographies, with generally two performances per semester. 

Everyone in the club was quite friendly, and you can get lots of informal Japanese practice, especially if you join a lot of dances. 

My advice to incoming students is: be as friendly and outgoing as you possibly can. A lot of people may be apprehensive about possibly having to speak English to you because of their own discomfort speaking English, so it’s best to start interactions and sort of “prove” that you can speak Japanese well enough first. Even if you think your Japanese isn’t that good, the fact that you’re trying at all will make it easier to approach you. Be proactive and persistent about trying to make friends, because it is probable that people won’t come to you first. Don’t be scared of asking for help and asking questions, even if you don’t know how to phrase what you want to say ‘properly’. In most every case, it’s the effort that counts. 

Here’s a recording of a dance I led in one of our spring performances!
‘The Eve’ by EXO

Torres Shi: Volleyball Circles

For myCIP project, I participated in volleyball circles for both the Fall and Spring semesters, In the Fall, I participated in two circles, called SANDLOT and L Volleyball, both of which are circles of the Doshisha University. In the Spring, I joined a new circle from Kyoto University of Molten Volleyball.

All three circles I was a part of had distinctive dynamics, and the level of skills also varied greatly. The two pictures below are from a tournament I participated in during the Fall semester and a regular practice session with the Molten Volleyball circle.

One advice from me would be to start conversations with new people actively. Japanese students are very friendly towards international students. However, they can be a little shy to start a conversation, so reach out to them and you will find that they are very easy and enjoyable to talk to.

Ben Wolstein: Judo

For my CIP, I joined the Kyoto University Judo Club and Enshin Dojo. At both of these clubs, I had a great experience and made a lot of new friends. As I already had been doing Judo in the U.S. for a couple of years, it was a great way to build on skills that I was already developing, while experiencing it in the place where it was invented. The two dojos were fairly different from each other: the university club held practices almost every day for two and a half hours and focused on newaza (ground techniques) more than tachiwaza (standing techniques). Meanwhile, Enshin dojo held practices twice a week and had people of all ages participating. Even for me as someone who is really passionate about judo, the Kyoto University team was a lot, and if I had continued attending the practices at the same pace throughout the semester that I was at the beginning, my whole experience in Japan would have consisted of judo. I really do feel that I got to make some meaningful relationships through the sport/martial art, and I’m certain that my Japanese improved greatly as a result. I’m really glad I had the chance to practice judo in Japan, and if you would like to as well, I would definitely recommend Enshin Dojo!

Torres Shi: SANDLOT and L Volleyball Circles

In the Fall Semester of 2022, I participated in two volleyball circles, SANDLOT and L, at Doshisha University for my CIP project. The two circles have very distinctive dynamics, and I was able to experience and learn different things from them.
SANDLOT is currently the biggest volleyball circle at Doshisha University, and guys and girls were always separated during practices. Almost every member had played volleyball in high school, so every practice was basically scrimmages after a quick warm-up at the beginning. Most people joined the circle when they were freshmen and they already knew each other very well when I first joined their practice session. They were very friendly to me, and I was the only international student in the circle. However, I also felt a bit awkward sometimes because I was not able to follow their conversations outside of the court. The circle was run systematically overall, with board members in charge of the budget, organizing scrimmages and tournaments, and so on. I think what I learned the most from SANDLOT is the culture of a homogenous Japanese guy group. The language they used was very informal, and they would always be laughing at each other’s jokes. Nonetheless, this group of people was truly passionate about volleyball, and they were all about improving themselves when on the court. I don’t think I fully became a part of the group even at the end of the program (and I don’t think they saw me that way either) but it was a very valuable experience I am glad I had.
The other volleyball circle, L, was almost the complete opposite. The organizers of the circle were Doshisha students, but the frequent participants were almost all international students, from countries such as Brazil, Spain, the UK, and so on. Most of the members have never played volleyball before, so it was difficult to run the game systematically. It was more of a place to chat and socialize than to play serious volleyball, and the club culture is a lot more heterogeneous than SANDLOT. For me, going to SANDLOT practice could be a little stressful, but I felt very relaxed at L. I don’t think I have learned as much about Japanese culture and language through L’s activities, but I was able to talk to people of various backgrounds and learned about their experiences in Japan.
I don’t think I have a preference in the end, and I think they are suitable for people of different interests. If you look for a fun and intensive volleyball experience and want to fully immerse in a Japanese environment, then SANDLOT would be a great choice; if you just want a space to relax after school, then I would recommend L. Nevertheless, members of both circles were friendly and welcoming people, and I am glad I was able to experience both of them.

Miggy Gaspar: Kyoto University Jogging Club

This semester, I joined the Jogging club at Kyoto University. When I was deciding on a CIP, I always knew that I wanted to do something involving a physical activity, and Jogging seemed like a natural fit. I was on the cross-country and track and field team in High School, so I was pretty confident that I would be able to keep up with the other members. However, I was a little anxious about how I’d get along socially. Thankfully, everyone in the jogging club was very welcoming and friendly towards me, and I’d often get dinner with them after practice.

I’d arrive Kyoto University about thirty minutes before practice so that I could talk with others before we ran. The room allocated for the club was this janky little shack out near the back entrance – a little dirty, but had a lot of charm. The people in the circle love playing mahjong – I’d often enter and find them in the middle of a competitive match, eyes glued to the tiles. Me personally, I had no idea what was going on; I know the basics of the game, but they were playing with a different rule set. Luckily, there’d be one or two people on the side that I could talk to, and they let me in on what was going on.

The Jogging itself was also pretty fun. Usually, we’d run 8-10 kilometers every practice I went. Our usual route was from Kyoto to University to along Kamogawa River, down to the road aligned with Kyoto Station, and then back. The club itself is comprised of members who both run competitively and for fun, so there were plenty of people in between that I could run alongside with. The runs were the most exhausting part of practice – trying to translate and talk at the same time I was running was both physically and mentally taxing. Most of the time, I’d wouldn’t say much save for the occasional comment. Afterwards, the club members would bring me to a great restaurant around school campus, which was the most rewarding part of the experience. I felt that I was able to talk more freely around the other members when we were eating together.

Overall, I’m really happy with my experience in the Jogging club. It was a great way to meet new people and utilize my Japanese. My advice to new students: make jokes about how Doshisha is worse than Kyoto University on your first day- if you play up that rivalry angle, I think you’ll make a positive impression.


Mary Wilson: Doshisha’s Kpop Dance Circle ‘Ash’

For my CIP I joined Doshisha’s kpop dance circle called “Ash”. I had wanted to join Kyoto University’s Toppogi kpop dance club but they became unable to respond to my messages once I arrived in Japan. Luckily, Keiko Toda of KCJS helped me connect with Ash very quickly and they accepted me into their club as their first ever study abroad student member.

During my fall semester, our main purpose was preparing for the Eve festival at the end of November. Near the beginning of the semester, the leaders of the 170+ member circle made a group chat for those of us interested in participating in Eve and separated us into more Line chats based on who wanted to perform what songs. 

I was recruited into two songs (Drunk-Dazed by Enhypen and 2 Baddies by NCT 127) because a member dropped from each, but I was also able to join Say My Name by Ateez. 

The dance practices at the beginning were very different from what I was used to in the United States. First, the practice times were irregular, and for two dances I had an オール連 which was an overnight practice from 11pm to 6am, for blocking formations and cleaning up choreo. So that was a bit rough on the body, but the leaders gave us plenty of breaks during each practice so even those weren’t too bad. During practices, rather than one person using a computer or drawn formations and directing people, everyone would watch the dance on their phone and move accordingly. 

One thing I noticed consistently was that, while we were working on choreo by ourselves with the mirror or going through it all together, nobody would want to stand in the middle or in the front, and everyone would generally try to just stay in the very back of the room and to the sides, even to the point of getting into each other’s way or blocking people in the mirror. I’m not certain what the reason for this is, but I did notice it consistently happening, moreso with women. 

Linguistically, I learned a lot of words used in dancing, and learned that it’s very difficult to communicate or understand song titles, idol’s names, and group names in a foreign language, which led to a lot of embarrassing miscommunications.

I also learned that you really need to try hard to talk to people, because in most cases they will not approach you first. So you will have to consistently reach far out of your comfort zone to make friends. 

My advice for joining a dance circle, especially a kpop one:

  • Bring indoor shoes to practice
  • Have your part memorized before the first practice
  • Have a full water bottle and a sweat towel
  • Make sure you download your dance practice video and have a good charge on your phone, especially the first few practices
  • Know how to say idol’s names, group names, and song titles in Japanese
  • さび=chorus ふり=choreo ふり(が)はいってる?=have you memorized the choreo (possibly also includes formations) いちばい・いちで=normal/1x speed いちから(やろう)= let’s go from the top

I’ve had a great time despite the hiccups, but I definitely wish I had had the confidence to try talking to people more!

Owen Hoffer: Doshisha Boxing Club

My Cip activity was the Doushisha Boxing Club. It met every day except Thursday and Sunday and I would typically go two to three of those days per week. An average day would have around 10 members show up to warm up, light spar, free activity/mit work/running, then wrap up for around one and a half hours total. I have made friends with around five members but am amicable with all of them; this has manifested itself outside of the club as I got food with various members several times already.

As for cultural learnings, I am forced to speak Japanese in order to communicate with everybody there except one. This means I quickly picked up certain language idiosyncrasies that I had not seen outside the club. The manner in which they greet and say goodbye to one another as well as bow out at the end I picked up on quickly to be respectful and fit in. A lot of the boxing members were very interested in American culture but the concept of that culture manifested itself differently depending on who I talked to. For example, the captain really liked American fashion and would often wear older denim with huge flashy belts which he saw as inspired from an American style. I was kind of doing the opposite by trying to make my own style with what I saw around me in Japanese fashion so when he complemented me for my American style, it was somewhat strange at first; from these encounters with the captain, I realized a lot of what people considered cultural identifiers (e.g., clothing) are not in fact the pieces of clothing by themselves, but also who is seen showcasing those identifiers and how they go about doing so. The same could be seen in the club’s fascination with American rap music. Some members of the club called me over when rapper Takeoff died recently to ask me about it; this and asking me which “zone” of Chicago I was from were questions I found kind of funny, but at the same time were indicative of a phenomena present in the States but not quite as visible. That being an interest in some form of cultural association through representation; in this case the association with being tough or a killer and rap music the people in the club can’t even understand the content of the song. That just by knowing the association, the song instills some form of feeling that helps them perform better.

Finally, the club helped a lot for my language learning. Not only did having to use Japanese at all to communicate force me to improve, but the getting out of my comfort zone helped in other aspects of language learning as well such as talking to strangers and having more things I can talk about. I Had a lot of fun in this club and am so glad I had the opportunity to learn together with such nice people.

Peter Gilbert: Futsal Circle

Throughout the spring semester I participated in a futsal circle called “Ivy” as my CIP. Futsal, if you don’t know, is basically indoor soccer on smaller fields. We had practices on alternating Tuesdays and Sundays near Takeda station, and it was a very casual experience. During the spring semester most Doshisha circles don’t have activities until April, so with the help of my sensei I was able to find a circle outside of school. The circle mostly consisted of people who are already working, but there were some other university students as well. Even if there weren’t any university students I feel as though I still would have fit in well though. Everyone there was very kind and welcoming and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a soccer circle to join. The practices mostly consisted of scrimmages and just having fun, and they also split it up based on whether or not you had previous soccer experience, so I think anyone could fit in well.

At first I was quite nervous attending the practice, as I really had no idea what kind of experience to expect. I was pleasantly surprised and everyone there was extremely kind. It was a bit nerve wracking through, since I was the only foreign participant. Everyone else was Japanese, but I was able to communicate adequately and had a great time. Attending these practices definitely made me feel more comfortable using my Japanese with new people. It was a bit scary at first, as I really didn’t want to offend anyone, but I don’t think anyone should worry about that too much. Everyone there was extremely welcoming, and even complimented my Japanese although I’m sure they were just being polite. As for cultural differences between American and Japanese soccer, they weren’t really there. It’s pretty much the same game, and I can’t speak for all Japanese soccer circles, but this one was very casual and fun. One thing I did notice though was everyone seemed to be more polite and quiet when playing.

If I had the chance to choose a CIP again, I think I would definitely still choose “Ivy”, I had a great experience and would definitely recommend it. Without this circle I don’t think I would have been able to experience and meet new people who weren’t similar ages to me or university students. I was able to gain an insight into what it is like to work in Japan through their explanations, and see what some working people do in Japan during their leisure time. I got to hear about things like overwork and the working drinking culture, which was pretty interesting to me.

As advice for people looking for their CIP, I’d definitely recommend starting your search pretty early. I was determined to do some kind of sports club/circle when I was looking, and it turned out to be more difficult than I thought, especially because it was the spring semester, as I mentioned earlier. If anyone is struggling to find their CIP or currently looking, I’d definitely recommend contacting as many circles and groups as you can, as you never know if you will receive a timely reply. For my future kohai I hope you all enjoy your CIP to the fullest, don’t be shy, and make as many friends as you can. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to join this circle, and if I have the opportunity, I would definitely do it again.