Wen-xuan Li: Volunteering at Fukakusa Kindergarten

My volunteering at Fukakusa Kindergarten entails instructing basic English vocabulary of colors, animals, and children’s stories and playing with children during the asobi time. Will and I went there once a week, two hours each time.

I appreciate this volunteering, which provides me with a window into Japanese kindergartens and children’s rearing systems, which I could compare and contrast with the situations in China and America. It also serves as one of the few opportunities for me to be involved in the Japanese community directly by interacting with Japanese teachers and children, driving me to think about how education for children contributes to Japanese culture.

You are expected to be nervous and confused initially, but you will get through that period quickly because the teachers are amiable and helpful. They are very considerate and respectful. If you have any confusion or questions, direct communication is appreciated. The Japanese etiquette can be tricky to approach at first, but gradually, you will handle it well.

Emile Carlo Convocar: Kendo

For my CIP activity this semester, I attended weekly practices at 京都妙覚寺道場 to continue kendo while in Japan. I got to hone in on my basics by continuously sparring against very strong senpais and senseis, who were all eager to help me become a stronger kendoka. Through this experience, I’ve come to learn the importance of basics in kendo and in routinely refining and perfecting one’s form and techniques, no matter how far along they are into their kendo journey. My advice to incoming KCJS students, especially if you decide to do a martial art for your CIP, is to be willing to fail and be okay with not “getting it” immediately. Take it one step at a time and in every practice, focus on one aspect of your martial art that you want to improve upon. If you do that, I believe you will have a fulfilling CIP experience by the end of the semester.

Evan Laufman: Taiko Drum

Over the course of this past semester, I have been learning how to play the 太鼓 (taiko) drum with the Fujinomori Taiko Preservation Society. From the very start, I was so impressed with the amount of dedication that goes into playing the instrument. Throughout the past three months, the society has performed all over the prefecture, and participated in the 時代祭 (Festival of the Ages), one of Kyoto’s big three festivals.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this community involvement activity to anyone who is looking to really step out of the KCJS bubble and get an authentic experience. Everyone in the society was so welcoming and kind!

The taiko drum is a quintessential Japanese instrument, and if you have interest in music, you should most certainly try your hand at it. I was tappin’ my toe to the beat all semester long!

Wilson Zhang: Kyudo

I took Kyudo classes, which was held in the Kyoto Budo Center, because I wanted to learn something culturally related to Japan, so I chose Kyudo, a Japanese martial arts of archery. I had never done Kyudo before, but as I continued to take classes I slowly improved from the Sensei’s amazing lessons and resources. I found myself enjoying learning the techniques and the cultural aspects of Kyudo. If you want to learn a unique martial art, I really recommend Kyudo.

For future study abroad students, in any CIP you choose, my advice is that when you don’t understand something, the most important part is to ask questions. Not knowing what the other person is saying, can ultimately cause more confusion to both you and the other person. By asking questions, eventually, not only, you will be able to learn new vocabulary, but also the other person can speak in a way that can be much clearer to you.

Ashley Harlow: 書道

During my semester at KCJS I studied the art of Japanese calligraphy, or 書道 (しょどう). I studied under 浅草先生 who has been practicing 書道 throughout her entire life alongside of a few of her students. Prior to my first lesson, I had absolutely no experience other than writing a handful of simple kanji with a pencil, so learning to write complex kanji with a large brush I had never used anything like before was a challenge. But by the end of the semester, I had improved enough that 先生 encouraged me to sign my works! Overall, I am extremely grateful for my experience at my CIP! I got a very solid start in a skill that I hope to continue practicing in the future, and I was able to practice my listening skills with Kansai-ben! My biggest piece of advice for students going into their CIPs in the future is to be honest about where your language level is at. If someone says something that you don’t understand, ask them to repeat it or to use more simple vocabulary instead of nodding your head and pretending like you understand; in the long run, you will have a much more enjoyable experience and learn tons more when you can communicate clearly and effectively with each other!

Sam Kraus: Volunteering at NPO Reframe

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.

Jordan Green: English Assistant Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

This semester I joined the English class at Ohara Gakuin as an assistant teacher. I went to Ohara every Monday and joined a variety of classes ranging from 1st grade to 9th grade. While the commute was long, it was quite pleasant because the mountain area that Ohara is in is so beautiful. I really enjoyed joining the classes and seeing how English is taught in Japan. You are not required to speak Japanese for this activity, and in fact are often discouraged because you are in an English class, so if you don’t want to have to speak in Japanese during your activity this may be a good option. I would also advise choosing this activity if you are interested in seeing how English class functions.

Connie Situ: Tea Ceremony

Sado, or tea ceremony, is a traditional part of the Japanese culture where beautifully coordinated movements are executed to not just serve matcha but also mentally pursuing the essence of the act. In my sado CIP this semester, I was able to learn a lot of the deeper meanings behind what is used during a tea ceremony depending on the seasons as well as successfully learning the way of a bon temae, or a tea ceremony on a tray. 

We had our sado lessons every Tuesday for a couple hours in a very beautiful chashitsu with a view of a beautiful river underneath an old ryokan. Our sensei is a very experienced and elegant sado teacher with many years under her belt. She was so incredibly kind to us throughout the semester and we got to experience a hinamatsuri lunch followed by wagashi and matcha, a tea ceremony at Heian Shrine for the sakura season, as well as a hanami lunch under the beautiful sakura trees in Shiga-ken. 

For any incoming students who is interested in learning sado, I encourage you to give it a try as it is something so different from anything I’ve ever done before. And because it is such a traditional part of the Japanese culture with so much history and different aspects to it, being able to experience it in the heart of Kyoto was a mind-opening experience.

William Huang: Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe

The CIP activity I chose to do this semester was volunteering at Bazaar Cafe. At the cafe, you will likely be washing dishes and spending your free time afterwards talking to to the other staff/volunteers.

During the first half of my time at Bazaar Cafe, I stayed in the backyard shed with the other staff/volunteers to eat snacks and have fun chats. The second half was mainly centered on washing dishes.

Although volunteering at Bazaar Cafe was a bit unsatisfying at times, I still enjoyed it overall. The memories I made in the shed are what I will remember when I think back to this CIP and it definitely lessened my dissatisfaction with the second half of my time there. If you’re looking for a more low commitment CIP and you’re interested in developing more day-to-day speaking skills, I would recommend Bazaar Cafe. However, my biggest piece of advice would be to volunteer in the last 1-2 hours before it closes on the day you choose to go. This is when the cafe is least busy and is when you can spend more time talking to the other staff/volunteers instead of doing dishes the entire time. If I had done that more often, I would have likely enjoyed this CIP throughout the semester rather than just the first half.