For my Community Involvement Project this semester, I chose to volunteer at みつば幼稚園 (Mitsuba Kindergarten) due to my love of kids and desire to learn more about the Japanese childcare system. Every Monday, I would walk to the kindergarten from campus, and spend two hours assisting the kids in their daily activities, playing with them, and help them practice both their English and Japanese writing skills. This was a super rewarding experience, as in addition to becoming close with the kids, by the end I was also being acknowledged by fellow teachers and even some of the parents as a part of the Mitsuba community. I also felt as if there was a very equal exchange of culture that occurred, as while I was able to learn all about the inner-workings of a Japanese kindergarten (which I found to be shockingly hands off compared to my expectations), the kids were always eager to hear about my experiences as an American (and of course, freak out over me speaking English after relentlessly begging me to). I would highly encourage future KCJS students to pursue a CIP like Mitsuba where there is an existing community which is also accessible to break into, especially if you’re on the more reserved side. In the end, kids don’t judge and just want to have a good time, and by including you in their fun, you’ll be able to interact with other members of the community like teachers, parents, and other volunteers. Overall, I am very thankful for this experience and can’t wait to see the kids again next semester!
My CIP was volunteering at the Muromachi location’s elementary afterschool program. My time usually consisted of joining the staff meeting from 2:30-2:45, playing games with kids until 4, which is snack time. Since I worked in two locations, I found that the smaller program with around 17 kids was much more fun and helpful for learning Japanese. Getting to know your coworkers and the kids in a smaller setting is really nice, and I wish I had more time at the smaller location since I spent 6/8 weeks at the larger location. I feel like I’ve learned kansai-ben as well as how to talk very casually (as kids don’t ever use formal language), so it’s been nice to see me understanding them more as the program went on. I will say that kids can sometimes be really rowdy and it might be awkward to try to go up to kids you aren’t familiar with to start conversations, so if you are on the shy side or don’t like to be around too much noise, this might not be a good CIP.
For my CIP, I volunteered at an elementary and middle school in Ohara. Every Wednesday, I would eat lunch with a different grade and do activities in an English class.
I really enjoyed getting to interact with young kids, who I would have had no exposure to, and observing how the education differs from the United States. In English class, it was exciting to participate in games and learn ways the teacher makes learning engaging for all ages. With so many students in the school, it was difficult to form relationships with any few, however, the students seemed to really warm up to my and the other KCJS student’s presence over the 10 weeks.
For anyone interested in teaching or just enjoys spending time with kids, this is an amazing opportunity. While it is a bit far away (about 1 hr by bus from Doshisha), it was a very rewarding experience. It was unlike any other experience I would have been able to have in Japan and I am very appreciative to be immersed in the school community.
Every Wednesday I went to Nishijin after-school center from 3-5pm and helped look after the children ranging from 6-10 years old. The volunteering consists of always engaging with the children and ideally forming relationships with them throughout the semester to create a fun environment for everyone.
The staff will usually speak close to zero english, but they are all kind and patient towards any questions or problems you may have. Additionally, despite the language and cultural differences, most of the children will want to seek you out so there will be times when it could get overwhelming but over time it becomes more manageable.
My biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to interact with the kids! Use your Japanese skills, whatever level it may be, to engage with the kids and they will give the same energy back.
This semester, I volunteered at NPO Reframe, a place for kids who have problems at home, mental health issues, do not go to school, etc. At NPO Reframe, the kids often play outside, play video games, eat snacks, and more.
I spent my time watching over the kids and making sure everybody was safe, playing with them, cleaning the rooms in which the kids played in, etc. The picture I uploaded is a picture of me and 朝倉さん (Asakura-san, the owner) standing in front of the entrance.
If I were to offer advice to incoming students, I would advise you to challenge yourself by starting easy and slowly building up overtime. For example, the first time I went to my CIP, I was quite anxious since I went alone; therefore, I challenged myself to simply show up that day. Next time, now that I had already shown up, I challenged myself to strike up a conversation with someone. And the time after that, I would strike up a conversation with two others, or simply try something else. Challenge yourself, build a ‘tolerance’ to that challenge, and keep trying new things. The things that were daunting at first will become easier, which will open up even more doors for you.
This semester, I have been volunteering at the 上京老人福祉センター, participating in the weekly 生き生きサロン and leading mini-lessons related to Chinese language and culture. Initially, presenting in Japanese was quite intimidating, but everyone has been very tolerant of my mistakes. I’ve enjoyed my time at the salon and getting to know the obachans, and I hope to return there during the Spring semester.
For future students, I would suggest finding a CIP that truly interests you. It may take a bit of time to figure out what do you wanna do, but don’t hesitate to ask for help from sensei and others. Also, don’t let your Japanese skills deter you from pursuing your interests but have faith in yourself to learn and adapt.
My CIP was to volunteer at the Kyoto Animal Shelter 動物愛護センター. Our weekly session usually involves walking the dogs and cleaning the dog pens and cat pens. I really enjoyed walking the dogs—the best part of it is that, as we gradually gained the dogs’ trust, we got to know the name and personality of every dog and truly became friends with them. We were even able to teach them how to listen to instructions to sit down. The workers there are also extremely friendly and encouraging.
For future students looking into volunteering at the shelter, it does require some tough mentality to clean up the dog pens at times because it can get very nasty, but I think being able to spend time with these adorable animals outweighs the tediousness of work.
This semester, I am volunteering at Kyoto Animal Care Center for my Community Involvement Project. The center serves to help cats and dogs in need to connect with their prospective adopters, and we are there to help take care of them before they find their new home. Activities at the center includes taking the dogs out for walking, assisting with their training (teaching them to sit, wait, or to walk by the owner’s side, etc.), cleaning the dog pens, feeding the cats and cleaning their cages, and play with the cats to help them release their energy and get use to people. Once we were also invited to help create message cards for the household who’ve kindly adopted the kittens, using the photos of their new family member.
It was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. To be able to work at the facility requires a decent level of Japanese skills as you’ll need to be able to communicate with the staffs and frequently changing volunteers working at the facility, and most of them are not skilled in communicating with foreigners or language learners and usually speaks fast & with accents. That being said, everyone at the center are all very nice and welcoming, and the animals are just ADORABLE, making volunteering at the center a wonderful experience and a great stress relief opportunity and a nice break from everyday class.
This opportunity is 100% recommended for whoever loves animals (you will not find any better place than here, esp. if you like kittens). Be somewhat prepared for needing a little time to fit in and for not being able to participate fully in their activities (taking care of some certain animals require more professional skills), but relax and do not feel stressed as all the staff and volunteers here are all very warm and understanding.
I volunteered at Miyakoshi Fukakusa Youchien; activities included reading simple English books to the children (and doing translation to Japanese), playing board games with them (which they loved to cheat at), and generally being a good playmate with the kindergarteners.
Volunteering at the Youchien has been an experience that I will carry with me my entire life. If you like working with kids, there is no better CIP to choose.
Some advice to incoming students: the kids really like to have ‘skinship’ with you: this sometimes includes them just randomly jumping onto your back, sitting in your lap and hugging you. Make sure you are comfortable with some physical contact if you want to do this as a CIP.
My community involvement project for this semester was volunteering at the Kyoto Animal Care Center in Fushimi Ward. During this time, I was able to walk some of the dogs ready for adoption and assist in their training, clean the cat room and play with them to help release some of their energy, and washing the kennels when the center was short-staffed. I was even able to accompany some of the center employees when they were to pick up or drop off stray cats from around the city.
Getting to talk with the center staff and my fellow volunteers was a great way to improve my Japanese and learn how to more effectively express myself, and spending time with the animals was a great way to relieve some stress after my morning class. It also ended up being a good way of exploring the nearby area when walking dogs and helped me get an even better understanding of Kyoto.
If you’re interested in coming to KCJS and love animals, I would highly recommend volunteering at the center. The people there are very kind and understanding, and you’re given many opportunities to talk with them throughout the day. Just be prepared to deal with some rowdy dogs – they’re incredibly sweet, but they can definitely knock you over if you aren’t paying attention.