I participated in Ima sensei’s butoh workshop this semester. This experience was a whole new experience for me. I had some theater and dance related experience before but what I had was backstage work, such as theater management, stagecraft, and community arts theory etc. The butoh workshop was my first time moving from backstage to front stage after quitted dancing when I was a fourth grader, to learn practicing arts as a real artist instead of being a supportive staff. The workshop was also a special experience because what I experienced was so different from the traditional class I read in book or from other people’s experience that there was no hierarchy in the class that no strict teacher and student relationship existed.
Ima sensei is a really nice person. The whole workshop was conducted in a comfortable environment. There was great freedom of self expression in class. We had improvisation practice every time but she never gave concrete description that she left a lot of space of imagination to us. For example, we were often asked to play “something” dancing in the air. The question of what object to play, how to play and play with what kind of emotion etc. were all left to us. The only thing she asked us to do was to relax and move slowly to feel the change of body dynamics but how slowly was also not defined. During the class, she seldom judged or corrected our dancing. The only time she explained what is right or wrong was when she expected us to explore certain things, for example the posture of a obaasan. She would make sure everyone is doing the right obaasan posture so that everyone is on the same track. Yesterday she made an interesting comment on my dancing “Maggie san’s dancing looks different from the others’. It made me remembered something (I can’t catch that part) I saw during old school days but I’ve been unable to remember what it is until I saw your dancing”. She further explained that each body is different and we have different abilities to control our body so she enjoyed observing how people manage their body differently, especially in this class where people have different background and different level of experience with performance arts.
While sharing with other people in my class about my CIP experience, especially Helen since we all took dance class in Japan, it was so interesting to see that even though we both took dancing, how our experience differed that I didn’t experience any 厳しさ of Ima sensei. I was so surprised to find that the environment of the class was similar to dancing workshop in America. I thought it was due to the nature of modern dancing where self expression is expected that the need of breaking the existed system of arts and doing something new is celebrated. Since butoh explored human body, the most natural way one presents is the most correct way that there’s no right or wrong.
Another reason is that butoh which has a history of merely 70 years is still under development. Tons of unknown things are still under research that it’s important to keep learning and being humble. This point is further illustrated by the way of talking in class. While talking to sensei, we all used ます form most of the time but not keigo, including pro dancers. Sensei used short forms most of the time. The way we called her also differed a lot. I called her Ima sensei and there were people calling her Ima san, Tenko san etc. I asked her how she thought of the use of language, she said that should be the way you talk to 年配の人 and she didn’t mind how people call her. Talking to elderly with respect shows good manner is 当たり前 in Japan. It’s interesting she put herself as a person with more experience because she is older instead of being a sensei with more experience and more professional. I guess it was because of the nature of her work which involved observation and learning from other people with different backgrounds a lot where she didn’t have to fully establish her status as a sensei who makes no mistakes and controls the class.
Taking Ima sensei’s workshop was one of the best things of the semester. It was good to exercise every week while learning what my body can do and experience how modern arts in Japan is like. I truly recommend Ima sensei’s butoh workshop to anyone who has interest in modern Japanese arts.
For my community involvement project I participated with the Doshisha Hiking Club. Although it is called a club, the Doshisha Hiking Club is actually a circle, which gave me insight into the difference between circles and clubs in Japan. Although I have had no experience with true clubs in Japan, from what I have been told they are quite serious and require mandatory attendance usually multiple times a week, and I imagine this is what the Doshisha Alpine Club is like, who occupy the room next to the Hiking Club’s in the Gakusei-kaikan (Student’s Hall). Because of this distinction, the Hiking Club has a very laid-back and relaxed feel. Attendance is not taken, activities are not necessarily mandatory, and exchange students are always welcomed, making the Hiking Club and excellent circle for KCJS students to join because it easily conforms with the unique KCJS schedule.
Although the Hiking Club was simple to join and very relaxed, there were many things about the club that I found surprising and very different from hiking and outdoor clubs in North America. First, when we didn’t go on hikes, we did training, which was jogging along the river. This was surprising as people don’t train for hikes in North America unless they are doing serious mountaineering. When I told other Japanese friends about training, they were similarly surprised. Therefore, training added a strange element of seriousness to a very relaxed and not necessarily serious club. A few members always opted out of these training sessions, but still met at the Gakusei-kaikan at the meeting time. This led me to realize that the training sessions served as a secondary activity to the weekly meeting—their main purpose was to bring the group together once a week. Rather than only meeting once a month to go hiking like a typical group at a North American university would, the Doshisha Hiking Club meets every week to strengthen the group dynamic in between hikes. This commitment to the group beyond participating in the commonly shared interest reflects the strong commitment to unity among groups prevalent in Japanese culture.
The second most surprising thing I observed was the friendliness we showed to other hikers on the trail. On our first hike up to the Daimonji near Ginkakuji, the trail was relatively crowded, but we never hesitated to give an energetic and lively “konnichiwa!” to every single person we passed. While saying hello to strangers on the trail is certainly not unique to Japan, the amount of people we said it to and the emotion we put into every greeting certainly was. This makes the trail in Japan a very friendly place, and there is a sense that everyone is engaged in the same struggle together.
Despite my limited Japanese skills, I was able to make some valuable insights into how one of my favourite activities is affected by a different culture. Joining the Hiking Club was very fun, laid-back, and often pleasantly unexpected. I wish I could be here between the spring and fall semesters when they do more serious hikes further away from Kyoto.
For my CIP ethnography, I joined the Kyoto University Golf Circle, and observed the seniority relationship between the “sempai” and “kouhai.” The reason I decided to do so is because I am interested in Japanese culture placing importance on the concept of “respect your elders” and how it plays a role in the student hierarchy and corporate world. I observed student conduct/behavior and speech patterns towards their sempai during practice on the golfing range and on the golf course (golf competition against Doshisha University Golf Circle). These were the two main locations to observe the behavioral and speech patterns of the kohai members towards their sempais, as well as the importance placed on their school year in making decisions. I thought that university students do not follow this cultural precedent. Do university students of this generation still place importance and follow the sempai-kouhai relationship?
During my participation in the Kyodai Golf Circle, I quickly learned that the sempai had a lot of power. Most of the decisions were made by the sempai, and the kouhai respectfully abided by these decisions. For example, the seniors would decide the restaurants they wanted to go to after practice. The underclassmen would get to vote on which restaurant they preferred to go to; however, the initial decision is made by the upperclassmen. This was interesting because instead of everyone having an equal say, they are limited to what the seniors wanted to eat. I also learned that the golf circle placed heavy emphasis on school year. During practices at the golfing range and at the Doshisha University golf competition, the president of the golf circle and the senior members decided the groups instead of letting the members choose their own groups. Also, they divided the golf groups based on school year and not golf ability. I am at a novice-intermediate level of golf, but because I am a junior, I was placed with another junior who was a much better golf player.
Speech patterns also play a very important role in Japanese seniority, as younger members are required to speak in politer form to their elders. I expected the kouhai to speak completely in polite form to their sempais; however, they spoke in casual form with only a hint of polite form. When I lived in Japan and went to a Japanese tennis club, it was necessary for me to use polite form at all times towards my coaches and sempai. In this golf circle, it seemed as though the larger the age gap was between the members, the more polite form they used. This was seen when a graduate from Kyoto University and former member of the golf circle came to visit. All members of the group used keigo towards him, which I recognized as a sign of respect.
From this analysis of the prevalence of respect for seniority in the Kyoto University Golf Circle, I can conclude that it is still strong in Japanese culture today. I was able to closely observe behavior and speech patterns in this microcosm of Japanese university students in my age group, and was able to conclude that they follow the cultural precedent of respecting your elders.
For my CIP this semester I’ve been working at the Bazaar Café, a mere 5-minute walk from the Doshisha Campus. The cafe’s main goal is internationalism and the food they serve changes depending on the day and who is cooking. I often go on Saturdays where the main dish is Thai. My job mainly consists of working in the back of the restaurant with the rest of the staff, preparing meals for customers as the orders come in, bringing customers their food when it’s ready, making coffee and other beverages, and washing dishes. While not your typical CIP experience, working at the café has taught me many things including what it’s like to work in Japan, the importance of customer service, how to follow directions quickly and efficiently, and perhaps most importantly, understanding the “rhythm” of the kitchen well enough to make it run smoothly. There was no more satisfying feeling than finishing a lunch service where every order has gone from the kitchen to the customer swiftly and without a hitch (although this is often rarely the case).
Having worked in food service before, I started my CIP with the expectation that the experience would be similar to back at home. What I’ve realized is that working in a kitchen in Japan can be seen as a microcosm of the country itself. It’s amazing how from only working in a café once a week for three months I’ve learned most of the stock phrases of the formal language that anyone working a part-time job in Japan must use. I’ve learned how to cook some traditional Japanese as well as Thai dishes (all of which we volunteers get for free. Definitely a perk!). I’ve learned that especially when it comes to food, aesthetics as just as important as the taste itself.
The people who work at Bazaar Café have so much pride in what they’re doing, and that feeling is contagious. Food and drink are truly cross-cultural. And by the end of a service, no matter what language we speak (English, Brazilian, Thai, Japanese) after all the stress and group work, mix ups in the kitchen and good food, we all seem to understand each other that much more for having gotten through it together.
My CIP, Kyoto University’s Ballroom Dancing Club, has been both a dance and a cultural experience. I look forward to going to practices every week for two reasons. First, it gives me a chance to dance, something that I have been missing since coming to Japan. Secondly, I get to meet new Japanese students and communicate with them on a weekly basis. Some practices have been more challenging than others, especially with the language barrier, but since the other members are so nice and helpful, overall, it has been a great choice.
The first thing I noticed was the difference between the dance classes I take in America and the practices here. In America, the dances are taught in a much more interactive way. Students are allowed to take time and figure things out on their own and the dance material is presented in verbal and visual means. At the practices here, the material is taught mainly through verbal ways. This could be because there is only a little bit of time to learn a lot of material; so much of the practice time is done with a partner. This disparity made learning some of the dances, especially the ones with complicated footwork, much more difficult than anticipated.
Even though I picked up the movement slowly, the other members were always willing to help me and never seemed to become frustrated. It is a mix of me asking for help and them offering it when they saw me confused. Although there was a language barrier, they used a lot of non-verbal cues to help. How well they treat me and have welcomed me into their group completely combats this stereotype that Japanese people are closed off or shy. Each member of the group has their own personality. The more I get to know them, the clearer their differences become. The idea that Japanese is a homogenous group is completely wrong. There are members who are always making jokes or members that are sassy. I have enjoyed meeting all the different personalities and watching them interact with each other in a culture that is typically portrayed as quiet and agreeable.
Thanks to my CIP, I have had the chance to get to know my new Japanese friends outside of dance practice. I went to a their end of the year celebration with them and had a great time. I have really appreciated how curious they have been about American culture because it helps me feel comfortable when I want to know about their culture. The majority of parties in Japan occur in restaurants or at a nomikai. There are not any wild parties that American culture has become accustomed to. Instead they are more intimate and focused more on getting to know one another and having conversations. My favorite type is nomikai where you can just sit and enjoy conversations with many people. I really appreciate this change because it gave me an opportunity to really get to know the other members.
My CIP has been one of my highlights of studying abroad. It gives me insight into what it is like to be a college age student in Japan. Without my CIP, I may have never experienced what it is like to be a student in Kyoto. It has also taught me a new talent that I hope to continue in America.
でも、一番大切なのは日本人の学生と会うことです。皆さんはとても親切だし、 やさしいし、フレンドリーなので、知り合う ことは簡単です。しかも、京都大学の社交ダンス部はとても上手ですね！