Kyra Douglass: Tea Ceremony

For my CIP this semester, I took tea ceremony lessons. When I came to Japan for the first time in 2018, I had the opportunity to go to a rural high school’s tea ceremony club. Admittedly, I didn’t really like matcha at the time, so I was having a hard time drinking it then. However, between then and the start of this last semester, I’ve come to love matcha, so deciding to take tea ceremony lessons was a no-brainer for me. Our first day was more of a demonstration and less of a lesson. It was still winter at that point, so the more suburban/semi-rural area that we traveled to for the demo was even more beautiful because of the snow on the ground. The windy streets surrounded by trees and mountains were like nothing I had ever seen. When we finally found the ryokan we would have classes in, we met Fujimura Sensei. She was wearing a kimono, which fit right in with the general traditional vibe of the small tatami room where our classes would be held.  


I was extremely nervous at that point. Everything in the room was so perfect, intentional, and unfamiliar to me, and I was afraid that I was somehow going to break something. Since this was very early into the semester, this had become a very common feeling since arriving in Japan: being generally uncomfortable. As Fujimura Sensei was doing the demonstration, I was so impressed by not only the intricacy of the ritual but how graceful and sure she was in each of her movements. I was a little intimidated at first, thinking there was no way I would be able to come close to that level. Even so, Fujimura Sensei was extremely kind, and I would later find out, just as patient and encouraging. Our lessons were completely in Japanese, and when I would struggle with the language, she would use hand movements to help me understand. Also, Connie Situ and Geetanjali Gandhe, the two other KCJS students who were taking the lessons with me, were beyond helpful when it came to helping me understand some of the Japanese instructions. Through their help and Sensei’s teaching style and overall friendliness, I was able to let go of the need to be perfect, and this made me so much more confident and, ultimately, have a lot more fun. This is something I want to carry with me after the end of the program because it can open more doors for me because I am less afraid of failure and am more comfortable with being uncomfortable. 


My CIP was also special because Fujimura Sensei went out of her way to teach us about the cultural history of Kyoto and Japan at large. To celebrate White Day, she prepared a multiple-course meal for us and explained the meaning and traditions behind each dish. It was delicious and I was really happy to participate in this holiday for the first time. Later in the semester during sakura season, we did an ochakai, or formal tea ceremony, at Heian Jingu, and later drove out to the countryside to do our own tea ceremony. It was such a beautiful experience, and I’m grateful to Fujimura Sensei for putting it all together. This semester was definitely full of awkward moments and small failures, but because of that, I feel like I am a more confident person than I was at the start.

Bryce Okihiro: Volunteering at Hiroto Yoshida’s Sweet Potato Farm and Toshiharu Nagao’s Shop in Miyama

The CIP I undertook this semester involved working at Hiroto Yoshida’s sweet potato farm (e.g. constructing fencing, tilling the soil, planting sweet potato shoots) and assisting a local shop owner Toshiharu Nagao (e.g. packaging sweet potato products, learning about roasting sweet potatoes) in a rural area called Miyama in northern Kyoto. Through the experience, I learned about the processes and challenges of farming and having a business in the countryside and the methods through which young people are trying to revitalize Japan’s declining town areas. 

The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not merely because I had the chance to explore a region of Kyoto not so commonly visited, but more importantly, because of the transparent conversations I had with locals and the perspective-altering experiences I had whilst working on the farm and interacting with people in the community!

I would definitely recommend this CIP to students who have a passion for farming and a deep interest in the challenges facing Japan’s rural areas. The time and labor commitment to this CIP is intensive (one volunteering session will run from morning to evening (it takes two hours to commute to Miyama and another two hours to come back!)), so if you aren’t genuinely interested in experiencing and learning about life in Miyama, I suggest not even thinking about doing this CIP. But if you do have a genuine passion for farming and learning about rural life in Japan (as well as learning Japanese since most residents in Miyama don’t speak much English), this CIP will undoubtedly be an invaluable and extremely worthwhile experience, and perhaps even life-changing as well!

Zackary Entwistle: Shakuhachi

I learned how to play shakuhachi for my CIP. Every Thursday I received private lessons from Kawamiya-san for around two hours where I was taught the fundamentals of the instrument, and every Tuesday I put what I learned at my lesson into context by playing with Iwazaki-sensei’s ensemble of koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi players. These lessons and rehearsals culminated with two performances, one where I played a duet with my private lesson teacher and another where I performed a couple pieces with the larger ensemble.

I adored my experience learning shakuhachi here in Kyoto. I’ll cherish not only my newly acquired (but still extremely rudimentary) ability to play this instrument I had never even heard in person before coming to this country, but also the memories I made from practicing at rehearsals, getting dinner with my teachers, and going to parties together after the performances. Of course there were also times when I struggled, as hardship is inherent to learning a new instrument, and especially finding time to practice at home in addition to scheduled practices twice a week was challenging to do during a short study abroad experience. But overall, I couldn’t have dreamed of a cooler way to interact authentically with Japanese people and learn about traditional Japanese culture, improving my language skills along the way too.

For any incoming students thinking of learning a new instrument as your CIP, just make sure you’re okay with the sacrifices first. Your time abroad is short and an activity that requires diligent practice like this will drain any freetime left in your already extremely packed study abroad schedule; my time spent on shakuhachi-related activities would sum to more than 10 hours most weeks. I was happy to let shakuhachi be such a big part of my study abroad experience, but you should be mindful of the commitments you’re making before you make them.

(See the full performance here:

Christopher Avalos: Tea Ceremony Lessons

For my CIP activity, I took tea ceremony classes at Kyoto Wabichakai わび茶会( They took place once a week for around 2 hours. Even though this semester abroad was unfortunately cut short, I was able to take four lessons and learned a great deal in that time. I have always really liked Japanese tea and have seen videos about tea ceremony, but I still didn’t really know much about it. With the help of Yamaoka sensei, I found Wabichakai.

For my very first lesson, I mostly observed my sensei as she performed the tea ceremony for me, which involved multiple rituals, preparing and serving the tea, and serving wagashi, or a traditional Japanese sweet. The wagashi was one of my favorite parts of my tea ceremony experience, as the sweets were not only delicious, but they usually held some meaning. For example, one of the lesson’s wagashi was a plum blossom shaped mochi treat, which signified the winter season. I was also fascinated by the ritualistic nature of the entire ceremony. Specifically, everything was done precisely and a specific number of times. During the ceremony, my sensei also explained to me the history of tea ceremony in Japan. Although the vocabulary used was difficult at first, it got easier as time went on through the use of flash cards.

Subsequent lessons saw me more active during the lesson. My sensei taught me how to properly hold a tea bowl and how to drink the tea. Everything had to be done precisely and cleanly, especially when eating and drinking. Moreover, another one of my favorite parts about my experience was the field trip we made to Kitano Tenmangu shrine. The time we went, they had a plum blossom tree field for plum blossom viewing. Not only were the plum blossom trees beautiful, we also got some plum tea. My sensei also explained the history of the temple to me, as she is also well-versed in Kyoto history.

I really enjoyed the one on one nature of the lessons, as it allowed me to really build a relationship with my sensei. Not only did we perform the tea ceremony, but we also learned about each other as well. She told me about her experiences living in San Diego when she was younger and about her daughter. We also talked about my other classes, my family back home, and about my homestay family and experience. Even though I only had a few lessons with her, I feel like we were able to build a relationship that will hopefully last for years to come.

Despite the craziness of the past couple months, my CIP experience was a worthwhile one, and I plan on taking another lesson when I return to Japan in the future. I am grateful for the time I was able to take lessons with my sensei, and I look forward to seeing her again the future.

Sofija Podvisocka: Fencing

One of the conditions depending on which I decided to study abroad at Doshisha University was the presence of a fencing team, since I needed a space to practice in order to rejoin Brown’s team upon my return. Doshisha’s fencing team operates with a system very different from the one I’m used to, due to the absence of a coach and the dependence on small groups to schedule their own practices, which included usually a warm-up and sparring, with a few days where we would give each other individual lessons. I would meet with the women’s epee team anywhere from two to four times a week, depending on everyone’s availability. 

Practicing with the Doshisha fencing team led me to better understand Japanese cultures in terms of the senpai/kouhai system, but also the progression from using respectful forms to casual speech as we got closer. Furthermore, since I was the youngest of the group, although I had the most experience with fencing, I was given very little responsibility in terms of practices. However, as time went on and the boundary between me and the upperclassmen began to dissipate, I was allowed more say in what the practices entailed, and could even lead some of our drills. 

That being said, Doshisha’s fencing team reminded me in many ways of my own. No matter the differences in speech between Japanese and English, the struggles of the student-athlete remain the same. Between balancing classes and practices, making time to focus on this extracurricular, and the comradery of the team dynamic, I felt very much immersed in the same society as I was back home. 

For future KCJS students thinking about their CIP going into their study abroad experience, my main piece of advice would be to choose not based on the subject of the CIP entirely, but also based on the community you would be involving yourself in. Focus on building relationships throughout the semester just as you would back home, even though there’s an expiration date hovering in your mind you can’t always ignore. The CIP itself might be temporary, but what you learn from it will remain ever-present.

Sunny Snell: Volunteering at Preschool

For my CIP, I volunteered with Mitsuba Preschool twice a week as an English teacher and more general participant in daily activities. On Mondays, I joined the preschool for lunchtime, eating and playing outside, and on Thursdays I would come during after-hours, which was mainly indoor play.

Mitsuba is organized into three classes oldest to youngest: yurigumi (lily class, kindergarten-age), baragumi (rose class, pre-kindergarten), and momogumi (peach class, very pre-kindergarten). Although this was explained to me early on, it took a while to sink in. Similarly, there were other elements to the preschool, such as when and where we clean up, when it is appropriate to play, and how to dispose of a plastic bento box, that it felt like I struggled to learn. In general, I felt a lot of concern at first about fitting in and figuring out where I should be at any given time. However, the sensei’s and children were welcoming, it wasn’t long before I found myself more comfortable and invested, albeit not the most aware of every detail. Despite my lower level in the language, through smaller attempts at memorizing names or bringing proper supplies, I did my best to show the principal and teachers how much I wanted to be there, and they were hugely supportive. I also began to notice really interesting points about the preschool. For example, after playtime each day (which included activities like knitting, coloring, or construction using toys like Legos), the teachers would call up a few students to show the others what they had made. This was a fun way to see playtime being used for more specifically creative purposes, and I could tell the students loved the chance to see their effort validated. And the items that the students created truly were impressive: I watched a boy make a fully functioning (if not motorized) merry-go-round from a plastic construction-type playset.

Towards the beginning of the semester, I did activities like reading and singing in English, even singing “Let it Go” karaoke-style for all the kids during after-hours playtime. While that was a lot of fun and I hope the students enjoyed it, the most rewarding part of this semester was probably getting to know one particular student. During playtime, I noticed a student whose family more recently immigrated to Japan spent more time on the sidelines, so I approached him and we began to play together, most often communicating through gestures since neither of us could speak to each other in Japanese that well, let alone the other’s native language. Eventually he started to open up and seek me out, and I had the opportunity to see firsthand his work to adjust to the pace of the preschool. Just this week I spoke with another teacher about how much he has worked to learn Japanese: when I first arrived he was hardly speaking at all, but last week I watched him get through whole sentences. Being close enough to watch him improve alone made me feel the time I invested in the preschool was worthwhile.

Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent at Mitsuba and feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to get so uniquely involved in the community immediately surrounding Doshisha. If there is anything I have taken from the experience, it is gratefulness for the warm welcome of the teachers and students, and excitement for the future of the preschool, even if I cannot be there for it.

Nicholas Rasetti: Tennis

For my CIP, I’ve been playing tennis at the Saiin Park Tennis Courts with a local recreational program. Every Tuesday, Ben Bellick and I show up at 6PM and get to practice honing our tennis skills, both with each other, with Japanese, and under the guidance of the people running the program. Even in the short time I’ve been playing for since coming here, I can already see a lot of improvement in my game. On top of that, it’s a great way to blow off stress and relax without going out and spending too much money.


Although not particularly a Japanese activity in and of itself, I feel like tennis is a good window through which many aspects of Japanese culture and people can be seen. For example, one of my most common observations throughout my time on the courts was the willingness of the Japanese to lend a helping hand whenever you need it. They’ll gladly take time out of their own development to help you by explaining how you can improve your form or showing you what the right method is. Even with the language barrier, they’ve really done their best and I’ve learned a lot as a result. They have no obligation to help me in that way, but they’re always willing to, and for that I’m extremely grateful.


In addition to a willingness to help whenever I might need it, they’re also very encouraging and supportive. Anytime I might whiff a ball or make an error, they’re quick to jump in and tell me not to worry about it, or “Don’t mind!”. While this might not seem like much, when you’re trying your best to get back into a sport you haven’t played in a long time and are making a lot of errors, it can make all the difference. It’s much easier to laugh off an error along with everyone than to feel uncomfortable because you feel like people are silently judging you.  Overall, it’s the little things that make it a true pleasure to go out and play tennis with the friendly Japanese folk down at the Saiin tennis courts.


-Nick Rasetti

Zack Even: Volunteering at a Kodomo Shokudo

At the start of the program, I was unsure of what I wanted to do for my CIP. I had mentioned in the KCJS questionnaires that I was interested in participating in an activity involving cooking, and Nakata Sensei suggested that I work at a kodomo shokudo, a cafeteria where members of the community, particularly families with kids, can come for a free meal.

I tried calling a few kodomo shokudo’s in the area, and, after handing off the phone to Nakata Sensei almost immediately in the first call, I managed my way through the second on my own and found a shokudo that needed volunteers. With a limited amount of information about the cafeteria – just the name of one of the volunteers, its location, and a time I should arrive by – I set out the following Friday for the first time.

Because I knew very little about what to expect, I was nervous on my first day. Even finding the shokudo was a bit difficult: it is much smaller than I anticipated, located within an unassuming house. I waited for a few minutes along the street until someone appeared whom I could ask. Luckily, she was one of the volunteers.

Working at the shokudo has improved my Japanese language and allowed me to apply it in a way I rarely get to in class – to discuss food and cooking. My CIP has also introduced me to a number of interesting people, including the two kind women who run the shokudo, an economics professor at Doshisha, and a man who works in computer graphics, whom I met up with outside the shokudo to talk about computer animation. By preparing food alongside the women who run the shokudo, my vocabulary relating to food improved, along with my miming skills, which I could always fall back on if I didn’t understand what they had asked me to do. I also got to interact with kids who came to the shokudo. While my host family has a two-month-old baby whom I love having around, obviously I cannot communicate with her yet, so the shokudo gave me an opportunity – to practice my language with children – that I would not otherwise have had.

While, as a foreigner, I often felt a bit like the odd one out at the dinners, I also felt like I was truly participating in and even contributing to the community. As the woman who runs the shokudo asked me when my last day would be, I felt a sense of pride knowing that to a small degree they had come to depend on my help. While it seems that, at least at this particular shokudo, some families come simply to enjoy the community atmosphere, others seem to rely on the Friday dinners. Like in the US and any other countries, a portion of families in Japan cannot afford enough food for their children – one in seven, Nakata Sensei informed me. The shokudo guarantees them at least one stress-free, pleasant meal a week, and I enjoyed being able to help create that meal for the families who came.

Jamal Tulimat: Klexon

For my CIP activity, I participated in Kyoto International Club Klexon, a conversational club where English speakers come to speak with Japanese participants who would like to practice their English. The club met once almost every week from 7 to 9 PM at the Wings Kyoto Center. The two hours were split into parts; for the first one, I usually got a new partner every ten minutes in a way similar to speed dating, where I talked with them about anything ranging from our daily lives to our opinions on recent political developments. For the second hour, several Japanese participants and I made a group of five to six, where we got to speak in a way similar to friends on a group outing. Although we were usually given topics to talk about, I found it more helpful to talk about things that often come up in conversations to help the Japanese participants improve their English.

Participating in Klexon was a great opportunity to make native Japanese friends and feel more like I’m participating in the community. I was a bit sad at the beginning thinking that I was not going to get much of an opportunity to practice my Japanese, but luckily after the first week, I got to go to the local bar with newly made Klexon friends where I spoke with them in Japanese while sharing a nice drink. After immersing myself more in the club, I began to think of Klexon as more of a social place where one meets friends rather than a place where one comes to do work. The more I participated in Klexon, the more I bonded with friends I made there. Eventually, several KCJS student participants and I got to make a group chat with our Klexon friends where we scheduled meet ups and outings on some weekends. On one Saturday, we all got together and went to the Kyoto Shibori Museum where we learned different dying techniques before we each got to dye our own scarf in wonderful patterns and colors.

Even though English is my second language while Japanese is my fourth, participating in Klexon really helped me understand my progress in Japanese, further showing me what I needed to focus on to get better. For example, after seeing where Japanese people commonly made mistakes, I was able to reflect on expressions that were difficult to say since they did not translate between the two languages very well.

Needless to stay, Klexon was a significant part of my study abroad and language study and I’d recommend it to anyone who is willing to go out of their comfort zone to make friends. My tip is – if you want to get to know someone, ask for their LINE! It’s easy and most people will say yes. Klexon is really the experience that you make out of it!