Kensai Hughes: Kyodai Ultimate Frisbee Circle Breeze & Klexon-Kyoto Language Exchange Salon

Before I joined the Kyoto University Frisbee Circle Breeze my friend Tomo warned me that many of the team members would want to practice their English with me, and it might hinder my learning of Japanese. This was not the case at all. The most articulate English-speaker on the team was barely able to manage a, “Can you speak Japanese?” Through our Japanese conversations I discovered what I believe to be the root of this problem, namely that speaking English is not particularly emphasized in the classroom setting. This reminded me of how many American students may study Spanish for years but might only be able to ask, “Where is the library?” Just because language education may be compulsory does not necessarily guarantee results.

Joining Breeze taught me how hard it can be to change from an ‘outsider’ to an ‘insider’ within a group as tightly knit as a sports team. Although it was initially easy enough to join the circle for practices and many of the team members were welcoming and quite friendly, I felt that in the short span of one semester I would not be able to really become a member of that group. The practice schedule of 3 sessions per week with at least four hours at each session quickly became too much to handle along with a full course load. But beyond that, there were also instances when the captain of Breeze informed me that certain drills were for “members only,” and I was made to spend that time on the side throwing with the trainer and members of the women’s team. Perhaps if I were here for a whole year instead of just one semester I would have been able to become a real member of the team, not just some gaijin that the captain felt he was babysitting and would rather not have around.

After leaving the Frisbee circle I began my CIP anew at Klexon, or the Kyoto Language Exchange Salon. As a language exchange circle people of all nationalities are encouraged to join, though the focus is mainly on improving the English speaking skills of Japanese people. Because most of the members are Japanese it has been and continues to be a great opportunity to practice my Japanese conversational skills while allowing me the satisfaction of helping those who really want to learn English to do so. Though in some cases, letting certain people know I could speak Japanese made them abandon their effort to speak English and stick to the comfort of their native language. Through this group I learned that despite the fact that Japan’s English education system seems to me to be severely flawed, with the desire to learn and a strong individual effort this obstacle can be overcome.

At Klexon it has been much easier to make close friends that I could spend time with outside of the usual meetings. Because the English ability of most of the Klexon members is higher than that of Breeze we are able to converse using both Japanese and English and communication is significantly easier. The Klexon members also seem infinitely more interested in foreign cultures and people and are invariably more welcoming and friendly. I suppose this difference can be attributed to the different initial goals of each group: Breeze’s being to play frisbee and Klexon’s as a language and culture exchange circle. Though I have not seen or heard from any member’s of Breeze since I left, I have forged friendships at Klexon with people that I believe I will remain in contact with even after I return to America. And above all the sights and activities I did not have time to see or do during this short semester, the friends I’ve made in Kyoto are one of the reasons I will surely return to this wonderful city in the future.

Xiaoyu Liu: About my experience in Impact Hub Kyoto

During my internship in Impact Hub Kyoto, I worked on my project on designing the member’s wall and it turned out to be a really amazing experience. I learned a lot from this especially how to corporate with Japanese collegues under the collectivistic culture here. It is different from what I experienced in America  since the working environment in the US is always easy to get in. Everyone around seems talkative and outgoing and easy to build up relationship with. However, in Japan, it took me a long time to fit in and establish my role in the group since nobody was what I was good at and how I could contribute to the group. In the beginning, I jumped in with the identity of a foreign student from the United States of America, which means I automatically received some sort of credibility and respect from my Japanese colleagues as a professional and fresh blood from abroad. However, on the other hand, it makes me harder to get involve into the group since my “price” is high and they cannot treat me as a normal new-comer doing messy chores. At the beginning when I was talking to them about my thoughts on some club issue, I could easily found Erin san and Tomo san were uneasy with some of my ideas but they said nothinng. Also, they felt nervous talking with me or ask for favor since they were unsure if I can understand what they said or unhappy to do messy little stuff.  Here, Japanese language ability is also another factor that deeply affects our communication. Since this is a working place, people tend to be speak fast and concise, and it is frustrating to ask your partner to repeat what they said for several time, because your Japanese is not good enough. You can easily get the feeling that you are impairing the group efficiency and making your co-workers to sacrifice their time and energy to your stupidness. What even worse is that Japanese is so delicate that your partner would never understand what you want to say or even confirm unless you use the right wordings. Sometimes you will try to make the story long to let them understand, but this is so inefficient and usually in the end, both of you would got lost and ended the conversation with silence.

Still, I chose to stay there because I wanted to try best to see if I can get involved into this Japanese working environment. Also, l like all the staffs and the cool Noh stages and Bamboo yard in their space.

After I patiently helping with little thing, keeping participating my work, and attending some of their gathering,  I kind of felt that they gradually being more and more relaxed on me, which means they are accepting me as one of their member. After all, it is one of my best time studying abroad in Kyoto, and my Japanese did improve a lot from this.

So, I will say it is a good but rare experience to work with Japanese people in Japan. Usually my US friends would get worried and upset when they found they cannot get into the Japanese community easily. I will say the way of entry is different since you cannot just build up good relationship with them by talking with them only, but also to show your effort and contribution to the community, as well as pretty fluent Japanese, the basic requirement for communication. From time to time after the group member confirmed that you are hardworking and good in nature with their eyes, you will automatically receive an invitation for dinner gathering and next time when you come, you will find everyone is relaxed. Without saying anything, you just become one of them, and everyone knows. Also, you will find ask them to get things done will be much much easier and faster.

Oh, it is really Japanese, isn’t it?


By Xiaoyu Liu, Brandeis 2014er,







Xinru Li: Aikido in Kyoto Budo Center

Choosing Aikido, a Japanese martial art, as my CIP is one of the smartest decisions I made this semester. I have been practiced Aikido for 2 years in Brandeis and now I have a different experience in Kyoto Budo Center. I feel so lucky to practice Aikido in a traditional Dojo with people who are really into it.

At first, I was worried about whether doing Aikido will help me to get involved into a Japanese circle or improve my Japanese. After talking to students who was in KCJS last semester, I realized that I wanted to do something interesting so I could enjoy myself and learn more. So, I started to do Aikido two or three times per week. When I went to the dojo for the first time, I was shocked that there were so many old people and I hardly understood their Japanese because of their strong accents. Luckily, Aikido does not need too much spoken language. Basically, one learns a technique by watching sensei’s demonstration and practicing with different partners. This means you have to adjust your techniques according to the partner’s stature or strength. There is not competition or match in Aikido. All you need to do is to learn from your partner. Even though I have trouble understanding their Japanese at first, most of them are so experienced that they can show me how to improve my techniques.

Compared Aikido Club in Brandeis and Aikido dojo in Budo Center, etiquette is more strict in the Budo Center. I don’t even remember how many times I say arigatogozaimasu(thank you very much) and onegaishimasu(please teach me) in each practice day. Also, thanks to Aikido here, I can sit in seiza for a longer time. To some extent, etiquette connects us and makes us closer in here. When I follow the rules in Aikido dojo, I become a member of the group. Then I talk to the members there and make friends with them. During this process, I improve my listening and understanding of Japanese culture.

It is April now. I can see cherry blossom near Budo Center every time I go there. Even though there is less than one month left to enjoy cherry blossom and practice Aikido, I will remember this wonderful experience and keep doing Aikido in the future.

Henry Mantel: Aikido

For my CIP I decided to continue taking Aikido classes. Classes are Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the Kyoto Martial Arts Center near Heian Jingu. It’s between my home and school so it’s a very convenient location. So far it’s been a lot of fun and occasionally a great workout. Like last week when I got to practice with the older students and got thrown more times than I could count. I took classes last semester as well but it’s been a better experience this semester mainly because I know all of the other students a bit better and I can actually interact with them. I still have difficulty understanding them sometimes but I know enough to comment occasionally.

I had my ranking test a couple of weeks ago. I had to perform a few of the more basic moves and I passed, even though I tripped over my instructor’s feet on the last one. But I passed and I should be getting a certificate for it sometime soon. I think that would be the best souvenir I could bring back. Aikido is a lot like dancing in a sense: it teaches you great body control and I’m more flexible now than I’ve ever been.

The instructors are really good. Since I’m a relatively new student I usually practice with the assistant instructor and he’s a lot of fun to practice with. When he demonstrates the moves I do my best to resist but I never win. The harder I try the harder I just end up falling flat on my back. It’s really impressive sometimes because even when I try my hardest I know he’s going easy on me. All the moves are designed to use as little force as possible so no matter the size and strength of the person you’re up against you will be able to stop them. Aikido’s main philosophy is to be able to defend yourself without injuring anyone, even your attacker, so it’s the perfect martial art for pacifists. Every move is basically a circular movement and it’s really surprising how effective they are occasionally.

There are a lot of black belt students. A few of them must be over seventy years old but they all have really strong cores. The best students are pretty much steel rods wrapped in rubber: really flexible but immovable at the same time. I usually practice with the younger students but I occasionally practice with the older ones and those are always the better practices because they go through the moves much faster and they are always willing to offer advice. I definitely want to continue Aikido when I get back to the US if I can find the time.

Sarah Rontal: English Teaching Assistant

For my CIP this semester I have been working as an English Assistant at Kamigyo Middle School, just a ten-minute walk from Doshisha’s campus. Since our semester does not quite fit with Japanese middle school semesters, it has been about one month since I last volunteered there. Since then I have stayed involved with Japanese communities on a smaller scale: going to events with my host family, meeting with my language partner, and making new Japanese friends through other KCJS-ers. Though my CIP has been less active this semester than last, I feel that I’ve been a more active Kyoto-an this semester than last.

My job at Kamigyo Middle School mainly involves doing practice interviews with students, though I have also been asked to help out with homework. During the time I was volunteering the school year was coming to an end, so I believe the students had important tests that they were preparing for.

The way we practiced interviews was as follows: I would tell the student to come in and tell me their name, they would read the passage, I would ask them to read the passage aloud, and then they would answer questions. Though most of the readings and questions were quite useful, covering important basic topics, there were a few that I found responsible for carrying stereotypes—those that generalized facts or compared cultures in a light that made the Japanese reader clearly side with the Japanese custom.

Unfortunately, because I only got to volunteer a few times, I didn’t get to know the kids as well as I would have liked (I would have loved to go twice a week!). However, I have learned a few things I hadn’t thought of that would be useful when teaching English to Japanese middle school students. First of all, it helps to be up to date on the current popular movies, anime, etc. – media is one of the easier things for the students to talk about in English and I remember missing out on a conversation with one student because I didn’t know anything about the movie she was excited about. I also found that – despite the idea I’d heard that English teachers should never speak Japanese so as to maintain their English-only image – Japanese was helpful if not necessary for teaching English. If I hadn’t known Japanese I wouldn’t have been able to help with Japanese-to-English translation homework or been able to explain the meaning behind small grammar corrections.

I am glad to have gotten the opportunity to work at Kamigyo Middle School, and I hope I get to go volunteer a few more times before I leave Kyoto!

Lee Nisson: Pottery and Sculpture at Yuuraku

This semester I decided to take a Japanese pottery and sculpture class at the Yuuraku classroom in Katsura. Not unexpectedly, from the very beginning I turned out to be the odd man out as a young foreign student in a Japanese sculpture class dominated by おばさん (middle aged women and housewives). Whereas in the US, a foreign college student branching out into various classes is something that wouldn’t cause anyone to bat an eyebrow, but my presence to most people in the small classes was evidently a surprise. While in America that surprise would likely be channeled into small talk, it would take a week or two before most of the other sculptors besides my teacher, Katayama Sensei, would become brave enough to question me. However most of the time I was quite content to listen to them gush about their kids and small talk while I sculpted much like the way an American class would work.

Moreover Katayama Sensei wasn’t shy about telling me that she hadn’t had much experience with foreign students. Nevertheless she was always quite kind in helping me form my creations. Using rather simple Japanese we were able to overcome the barriers of technical terminology that sculpture sometimes requires. Recently she showed me a dual Japanese-English picture guide to Japanese sculpture that has helped us both understand each other quite well, and recently we have tasted the fruits of our labor.

For example, this is my first cup:

This is only half of what we did this week:

Regardless my experiences trying to express my ideas and wishes therein have been very helpful for my Japanese. My weekly visits also allowed me to move in from the periphery of the classroom dynamic that I found myself in during the first week or two as the Japanese began to drop the honorifics from their speaking habits in favor of casualness. They still kept a healthy dose of Kansai dialect though!

This process has matured to the point where, when we aren’t all concentrating on keeping our creations from spinning out of control or lopping off a side of a piece due to negligence, the people of the Yuuraku classroom and I have very stimulating conversations. Often they have to do with comparing each other’s work as any work space would, yet due to my inherently foreign characteristics the conversation tends to gravitate towards what adventures I should have in Japan or what they would like to do themselves.

In that way despite my class largely consisting of middle aged women I can probably say that we’re becoming friends. For beyond the new pottery techniques I’ve acquired and potter culture, the ability that people have to connect to each other with very little in common has been the most useful insight into Japanese culture I’ve had the pleasure to experience.


今まで武道センータにおいて合気道を一ヶ月ぐらい稽古しました。一周は3回で、月曜日と木曜日は6:3時から8:30まで、土曜日は10時から12まで練習します。 この選択は間違いないと思います。 合気道は日本の武道の一つです。他人を打ち負かすより自分の身体や精神を鍛えることの方を大切にします。 でも、これは一人の武道ではなく、相手を通して、習うことが必要です。 京都の合気道は合気道がとても好きな人など、経験がある人など色々な人がいます。 一緒に稽古したら、元気になって、体がリラックスします。 最初は武道をするのであまり日本語を使わないかも、と心配しました。 しかし、年上のおじいさんと話す時、よくはっきり理解出来ないです。 これも日本語を勉強する経験だと思います。 それに、稽古の相手とすぐ友達になって、学生以外の日本人の生活が理解できるようになります。 ところで、アメリカの合気道部と比べて、いろいろな勉強するべきことがあります。 稽古の時、礼儀や相手の変わり方やアメリカに帰ったら友達に教えたいです。 合気道はKCJSのCIPだけじゃなくて一生のCIPにしたいです。