Jordan Green: English Assistant Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

I struggled at first with finding a CIP that called to me. However, I eventually settled with joining a friend from KCJS at being an English teaching assistant at Ohara Gakuin. I hadn’t thought of this idea at first, but after hearing him tell me about how he’s able to help students learn English, it immediately piqued my interest. I find that working with kids can be a refreshing change of pace from working with people your age or older, because they are more energetic, and remind me of my I was also very curious about the Japanese English classroom functioned. I wondered how Japanese students learn English differs from learning a foreign language in America and wanted to compare my experience.

I was absolutely stunned when I first arrived in Ohara. It was tucked in the mountainside, and while I occasionally felt weird, likely because of the altitude, it remains to be one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in Japan, and maybe anywhere The most picturesque spot, however, was the path leading to the school. With a colorful spring of flowers on one side, a calmly flowing stream on the other, and a backdrop of the mountains, I couldn’t help but take pictures and share it with friends and family, even though I’m not a big photographer. The beauty of the town was a great introduction to my experience at Ohara Gakuin.

After making my introductions to various teachers and administrators in the office, I began my first period as an assistant English teacher. The activity we had planned for the day, was for me and Jesus, the other KCJS member, to give introductions of ourselves and our hometowns to the class, and have them vote on whose hometown they’d rather visit. The competitive nature of the activity was surprising at first, but it was a fun activity that engaged the class and inspire me and Jesus to sell our hometowns as best we could.As someone who speaks quickly,I was aware I should be conscious of my talking speed.I thought I was talking slowly during my presentation,but the teacher gestured for me to speak more slowly.I then realized this was going to be harder than I thought it would be.he congratulated me for doing a good job but pointed out I should still speak more slowly.He also recommended asking questions as I went through my presentation to make sure everyone was following along.I supposed I should have been expecting that difficulty going into this for the first time, and I told myself I would do better next time.

It was fun getting a chance to interact with the students. While some of them were shy, some were goofy and energetic. It was refreshing to see such a variety. One student even started talking to me outside of class. I was a bit flustered because I wasn’t expecting it, and was worried I would mess up my Japanese. One of the most interesting things, however, was learning the students’ knowledge of America, or American culture. For example, I was surprised to find out that none of the students knew who Elon Musk was. I suppose Elon Musk isn’t only well known in America, and that may just have been because they were too young to know of him. It made me wonder if kids in America are familiar with Musk. I also had the students guess where my hometown is, which gave me a glimpse into how much they knew about American geography. I think my relatively Euro-centric view of the world had me under the impression they would know more when in reality many Americans couldn’t even tell you where the capital is. It made me realize how different of a world we, as Americans, live in from the average Japanese student. They know more about Japan and Japanese culture than I’ll ever know.

I’m really happy that I participated in this activity as my CIP, and I know it will be something I never forget.

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.

Kyle Matthews: DJ Circle

This semester I continued attending the Ristumeikan DJ circle “Label”. Every Tuesday we met for practice at a local bar in Kyoto-kawaramachi. Practice is usually structured so that everyone is able to DJ for about 20 minutes or so. We had some new members join this semester, and since I had been around for a while I was actually asked to teach them the basics by some of my senior members. Other than just practicing DJing we also had plenty of time to chat about music or school. This semester one of the things I noticed was more of the relationship between new members, senior members, the president, and the owner of the bar we practiced at. I was really surprised to see that attendance to the club was not strictly enforced at all. In my own school club back home if you miss 3 meetings you will he kicked out, however attendance in the circle here was not demanded of members. Because I attended often however, I was able to become close to some of the senior members of the circle. I found out as the semester went on that our circle was actually using the rehearsal space for free, and that there was a deal between the circle and the owner of the bar. Because of this, it was expected of you to order some food or a drink when coming to practice because we were able to use such nice equipment and space for free. We were very fortunate to be able to use that space.

As far as advice goes for choosing your own CIP I think it’s important to choose something you have an interest in. Not only will you be motivated to attend your CIP more often, but you will learn more Japanese words related to your hobbies or interests as well, which will make talking to your friends and expressing yourself much easier.

Mina Horner: Sumi-e Lessons

For my CIP I chose to take sumi-e lessons at アトリエ喜心. I knew from the start that I wanted my CIP to be art related, and I wanted to learn about something I wouldn’t get the chance to in America. I also wanted to do something I’ve never done before, and since I’ve mostly done pencil or digital art, working with ink was a completely new experience for me. 

Every week, I had two-hour lessons held at my teacher’s atelier. There were usually two or three other students as well, but they would filter in and out at their own pace. It seemed like many of the students had been going there for a long time and seemed to mostly use it as a workspace and for the materials. For my first lesson, the teacher had me paint only straight lines for two hours, which might seem menial but was actually very helpful in getting familiar with the brush and ink. I’m used to having the ability to erase or undo my mistakes, so working with a permanent medium like ink forced me to be more careful with my strokes and made me learn how to work with the mistakes I’ve made. The lessons usually consisted of choosing a sumi-e painting I liked and recreating it while receiving advice from the teacher. He would usually do a demo for me at the start, and since he would actually paint what he was explaining, it was very easy to follow along. I was also able to pick up some sumi-e and art related words. It was rewarding to see my own progress and how much more natural my strokes had become compared to the awkward, jagged lines I had made during my first lesson. 

lass. There were actually a few times where I lost track of time and stayed past my lesson time. Since starting college, I haven’t had much time to do art, so it was nice that I had a scheduled time every week to paint. However, I unfortunately didn’t get many chances to speak Japanese during my lessons, since the atelier was almost always completely silent, and it was hard to start a conversation. I spoke a little with my teacher, but it was mostly just him giving guidance on what I was working on. I somewhat regret not choosing a CIP where I could talk more with other Japanese people, as a major reason why I wanted to study abroad was to improve my speaking ability. However, I’m sure a big part of the reason why I wasn’t able to talk a lot was my own shyness. 

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience with taking sumi-e lessons. It was something I’ve never done before, and something I would have had trouble doing outside of Japan. However, if I could do it over, I think I would have chosen a CIP that would have given me more opportunities to speak and integrated me more into Japanese society. 

Leo Chau: Volunteering (子ども食堂)

My CIP was volunteering at Saint Mary’s Church’s Children soup kitchen with my good friend Alex. We would head over to the Church every Monday to help out for about two hours. We were originally tasked to help out in the kitchen by cutting ingredients and washing dishes. By the second time we went, we were instead redirected to play with and run around with the children. The actual period for serving food was 7 pm – 8 pm, but we came at about 6 pm, when kids started coming to the church. Every week we would end up playing with the children for about an hour, then help set up tables and eat the delicious food together! 

Instead of volunteering to help serve food to children, it really felt like I was volunteering to keep the kids entertained, which was really fun to do. When the kids played with us, they would speak Japanese too quickly and often with a Kansai accent. I wouldn’t understand them about half the time. One particular time, I asked one child to repeat what they said and they said it even faster to play with me. Being able to interact and communicate with the children was one of the best parts of my CIP and it made it extremely fun and enjoyable. With the energetic kids running around and playing with each other and the pastor and parents yelling at the kids to stop, it really made me think that young kids really do act the same no matter where you go.One big thing that I noticed when observing the children was that they would actually clean up by themselves after eating and would move back the table they ate on by themselves. It surprised me because that rarely happens in America. I feel that most children in America probably wouldn’t clean up unless their parents yelled at them to do so. Another cool thing that I was able to observe is the different kinds of games that kids play in Japan and how some games are basically the same in America, but named differently. For example, “onigokko” is basically just “tag”. Another cool thing that I was able to observe is the different kinds of games that kids play in Japan and how some games are basically the same in America, but named differently. For example, “onigokko” is basically just “tag”. Another cool thing that I was able to observe is the different kinds of games that kids play in Japan and how some games are basically the same in America, but named differently. For example, “onigokko” is basically just “tag”. 

Not only was interacting with the children fun, but it was also fun to talk with the other volunteers and the parents. I was able to feel how nice and caring everyone was. Learning about the backgrounds of each person was also very interesting! I was also able to learn new vocabulary and random knowledge from them! 

I feel that it was such an honor to be able to have been part of the church’s community, filled with caring and generous people. I wish I was able to help out more and were able to connect more with the members of the community. I especially wanted to connect more with the pastor of the church. During my last meeting with him before coming back to America, he brought us out to eat dinner and we talked a lot about religious things. But while he was driving me back home, I found out that he was also a big anime fan and I want to talk more about anime with him! It is a shame that my CIP activity was cut short. When I visit Japan again someday I will for sure make a stop at the church and say hi!

Christof Ketchmark: Assistant English Teacher

For my CIP, I volunteered at 末光先生’s home as an assistant English teacher working with elementary school and middle school students. Every week, I would arrive to 末光先生’s house before the lesson to speak with her about what we would be doing that day, as well as just talking and getting to know each other better.

During the lessons, there would often be opportunities for me to answer questions that the students had for Americans. At first, I feel like it was difficult to know what the right speaking pace would be for the students, as well as what kind of vocabulary might be a bit difficult for them to understand, but I gradually got more confident. It was definitely easier with the older students as they had been studying English for longer. In general, I think it was really beneficial to be able to see how children speak to each other in Japanese as generally speaking, there aren’t many opportunities as a student to do that.

Something I really got an appreciation for was how despite Japanese having a reputation for being an ambiguous, context-based language, the same can often be true of English, making it a similarly difficult language. One of the lessons involved going over the song Beauty and the Beast from the movie of the same name and it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought, as at points I really had to wonder what actually was meant by this line or that line.

I also think it was interesting to see how foreign language education differs in Japan. The materials were somewhat similar in the sense that children use very child-oriented textbooks that, in the case of a couple of the middle school students I worked with, they might feel they’ve outgrown, but the materials felt very similar to what I used in middle school when learning Chinese. That being said, there was greater emphasis on using Japanese to explain what something means whereas in my American foreign language classes, Chinese and Japanese at all levels, there was greater emphasis on using the language in order to answer content based questions to show understanding.

Overall, it was a very valuable experience and I regret that I wasn’t able to participate more before the program was ended.

Brigid Mack: Calligraphy Lessons

The CIP that I chose for the semester was traditional calligraphy or shodō (書道). Shodō evolved from Chinse calligraphy and has been relevant to Japanese culture for hundreds of years, and so it is a common activity for kids to do after school. The person who led the class that I took held lessons in his house about three times a week and students could come any of the days that they chose and stayed for about an hour at a time. During this hour, you could do shodō with the brush and ink, writing exercises with either a pen or a pencil, and math with a soroban, which is essentially an abacus that was created in Japan. While I was participating in these classes, I did both shodō and the writing exercises.

At first when I started this CIP it was difficult to really pick up on the environment outside of what I was doing because I had very little confidence in my ability to speak to the Sensei in Japanese and my host mother would usually come along to help translate. I spent around three class sessions getting used to what it was like to be in a room full of shouting children while also comprehending very little of what they were saying. Finally, after several weeks I began to participate in the discussions and talk more to everyone else who was there. The kids who were taking lessons seemed very comfortable with each other and with the Sensei and were often making jokes or singing while they were there. It was easy to see that everyone was enjoying themselves and that while they took their work seriously, they were also there to have fun.

Most of the students seemed to have been in school classes together or were friends from around the neighborhood and knew each other very well. After a while it was more entertaining to watch them fight over who showed Sensei their work first as they stood on chairs or crowded around where he was sitting, waving their papers around before they had even finished drying.  Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to join in conversations or ask questions and clarify things that I had been confused about, or even to answer the things that they asked me. By the last week, it was a far less stressful environment because I was able to communicate and the kids were excited to try and include me in their fun.

As far as being successful in a CIP goes, I think that the most important thing to remember is that you’re there to learn, and that even if you aren’t sure about how to go about things like asking questions or joining conversations, it’s easier to just say something and gauge whether it was right or not by other people’s reactions than it is to overanalyze it and not say anything at all. I spent a lot of time just watching and trying to figure out how to fit myself into all of the chaos of shouting children when in the end, all I had to do was raise my hand and ask a question or talk to one of the kids. They let me know when I was wrong or if something I said was so off that it was funny, and in turn I learned more about the language while also being able to have fun. I think that if there was anything I would do differently, I definitely would try to be more confident in my ability to at least try and speak rather than overthinking it all and ending up saying nothing because even though I enjoyed going to all of the classes, it was definitely a much better experience towards the end.


Jannel Lin: Volunteering at Mitsuba Kindergarten

My CIP is to volunteer in a kindergarten called みつば幼稚園. My experience at the kindergarten playing with kids is definitely memorable and treasurable to me. I chose to engage in volunteering activity in a kindergarten because I always loved to play and talk with little kids. As a foreigner and also with my level of Japanese proficiency, I always feel that other Japanese university students of my age are nervous or even slightly scared to engage in conversations with me. Also, since Japanese people are known for their modesty and politeness, they are not so likely to correct me when I make mistakes in Japanese. However, kids tend to be more straight forward and they always talk to me in the most-casual way of speech in Japanese, which I enjoy talking with them a lot.

Before I engaged in this CIP activity, I expected kids to be speaking in really simple, easy Japanese, and I most likely would be able to understand most part of what they are saying. But I was wrong! I realized that kids tend to talk really fast, and they always ask なんで、どうして、なぜto everything I say, which I find it really funny. For instance, they asked why my hair is brown? Why do I have accent when speaking Japanese? My task in the kindergarten was basically to play with the kids, literally just to PLAY with them. In this process, I was able to practice my Japanese a lot from talking with them. It was an interesting experience to be a 「先生」at the kindergarten. Everyone in the kindergarten calls me ゆいせんせいthere. Although the kids call me sensei, I can tell that they see me more like a big sister or friend from the way they talk and play with me. It is funny that the kids actually do not understand the fact that I am a 外国人. Since I am not fluent in Japanese, I make mistakes a lot and my Japanese has accent. Whenever I say something wrong in Japanese, the kids will always correct. I remember having a hard time to say ケチャップin its right Japanese intonation, and a kid made me pronounce the word again and again till I can say it perfectly. I was questioned of my strange Japanese intonation once by a kid, who asked なぜ発音そんなにおかしいの、外国人みたいThat was very funny but it truly made my day. I recommend this CIP activity a lot because you get help for Japanese from young 先生達 a lot even though you are actually the “teacher.” The kids were never hesitant with correcting my mistakes, and I really love my experience with this CIP.

I definitely learned a lot from this CIP experience and was also able to make wonderful memories that I will take with me forever. It is indeed important to find a CIP that you truly enjoy. Although CIP is part of the curriculum’s requirement, it should never be something that adds up to your burden or stresses you. In fact, CIP should be something that you find joy doing it. When searching for a CIP, know what your passion is and what is something that always gives you a good time. Simply enjoy your time with the community involved in your CIP! Although our time in Japan is limited but the experience and relationships that we build though CIP is timeless.

Sandy Jen: Volunteering at Kyoto Animal Protecting Center

For my CIP, I volunteered at the Kyoto Animal Protecting Center. The building was brand new, but the shelter has been in Kyoto for decades. My supervisors were Mr. Kawano and Mr. Hirai, and I volunteered with Rin at the shelter. On the first day, Mr. Kawano gave us a lecture on the overview of stray animals in Japan, which I liked a lot because, during the presentation, Mr. Kawano asked our feelings towards the situation of stray animals in Japan and questions on our countries’ own shelters to make comparisons. It’s not only us who were learning from this CIP, but Mr. Kawano and Mr. Hirai were learning new things from us too. Our interaction with supervisors made me feel like I was not volunteering but making new friends at the shelter. 

At the shelter, I walked the dogs, cleaned cat’s cages, helped puppies be socialized, and bathed puppies. We did not get to interact with cats a lot because it was not a cat’s breeding season. Every time we finished the work, Mr. Hirai discussed with us what we would like to do for the next time. Mr. Hirai let us try as many works as possible. Each dog had its own personality. Some of them liked to have human attention on them, so they barked quite a lot. Some of them bit, but only if we touched the parts that they did not like to be touched. The dogs and cats at the shelter were friendly and cute. Although Mr. Kawano said there might be some occasions that we have to watch dogs get euthanasia, we did not experience it once. 

People who worked at the shelter did not speak English very well, which was great for us because we could practice our Japanese. After the first day, we realized there were many words and phrases we wanted to but did not know how to say in Japanese. We looked up the dictionary quite a lot to have a conversation with Mr. Hirai and learned new words every time. 

This CIP was an amazing experience. Everything went smoothly. If letting me choose a CIP again, I would still choose this one. The environment of the shelter was very nice, clean, and comfortable. The people and animals were nice and friendly. I really enjoyed volunteering at the Kyoto Animal Protecting Center.

Katarina Stewart: Pottery Lessons

When we were asked to decide what CIP to do based on our interests, I knew I wanted to take up an activity that had to do with art. This led me to taking pottery lessons at Fujihira, a pottery shop in Higashiyama. Fujihira is a pottery shop with a number of artisans that specialize in traditional Japanese styles of pottery, like many shops in the Higashiyama area. My goal during the semester was to pick up a new style of pottery, but also come to understand the art community in Japan.

Taking pottery lessons at Fujihira was different than I imagined, coming from a background in arts in the U.S., where individualism is prized when it comes to art. It is oftentimes the case that something deviating from the traditional is the goal in contemporary art. However, Fujihira demonstrated that in Japan, the expression of individuality comes from the details. Most importantly in Japanese art, the artist is recognized as having perfected his craft by being able to replicate traditional designs to a T. Fujihira taught me this through interactions with my teacher where he showed me different methods, like coiling to build cups, and reiterated that the measurements and thickness were important to achieve the desired result. This was also evident when my teacher showed me the pieces he was creating, that they were uniform in shape, but differed in how he painted the details on them. My relationship with my teacher is probably more indicative of the art world than any normal teacher-student relationship in Japan, in part because I was his only student at the time. We talked often using short form, but occasionally in long form, as opposed to using formal. We also joked a lot, mostly about how I was doing learning the techniques from him. It was a more relaxed relationship than I expected going into the shop, but it was nice that in addition to the pressure I felt to live up to his expectations as a student, I was able to look forward to him joking about how difficult it was when he was in my position. I still maintained some aspects of the student position in that after he showed me where things were, it was my job to clean up after lessons and put things away for next time. I was able to understand through my interactions and by observing other artists’ interactions in the studios, how the art community in Japan works.

There were some difficult aspects of my CIP, such as unexpected translating between my teacher who only spoke Japanese and foreigners who came to the workshop to look around and only spoke English. By translating, I was able to use my Japanese in a way I hadn’t inside of class, which allowed me to push the boundaries of what I thought I was able to do in Japanese. Besides this, the biggest difficulty was perhaps that I was the only student. This meant that while I had the sole attention of my teacher, I was not able to form a community with other people my age and interact with other students. I was able to compensate this with making lots of Japanese friends in other areas, but it would have been nice to experience that type of Japanese community.