Eva Czapski: Yoga Lessons in Kyoto

Many people who come to Kyoto for travel or study-abroad come with expectations and preconceptions about its deep-rooted history, attachment to tradition, preservation of old customs and places, and general loyalty to the ways of the past. Tourists enjoy the torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the restored streets lined with machiya storefronts in Gion, and the countless hundreds of temples and shrines left over from the era of the Samurai. I spent a good amount of my first semester in Kyoto seeking out many of these types of historical-cultural experiences– I even chose a traditional art form, sumi-e, for my CIP activity– and even now, I love walking around the historical districts or visiting old temples on weekends. However, along with getting used to modern, everyday life in Kyoto, which has in fact developed into a very livable and culturally diverse city, I’ve gotten to know a side of Japanese life that isn’t tied to tradition or ancestral ways. In a place where everyone expects to see ancient buildings, traditionally-dressed Geisha, and narrow, lantern-lit alleyways (of which there are plenty to be found), there also exists a thriving, internationally-influenced modern culture, and a giant boom of lifestyle trends that closely resemble what was around me back home in the U.S.

Yoga is an ancient practice in itself, but the yoga trend in society is relatively new, and extremely current. Living in Boston, I was constantly surrounded by yoga classes, yoga wear, yoga images with inspirational Buddhist quotes, “yoga challenges,” and so on; as well as all the other facets of the yoga lifestyle, like trendy vegan cafes and specialized yoga clothing boutiques.

I was definitely surprised to find, once I’d started exploring a little deeper into everyday Kyoto life and society, that the same kind of trend is alive and flourishing here as well. I chose yoga classes as my CIP because I wanted to find out more about the Japanese philosophy and treatment toward the yoga lifestyle. Back at home, I was used to taking Vinyasa yoga whenever I did take a class, so I decided to continue the same thing here (they offer many levels of Vinyasa almost every day of the week at the studio I chose).

My yoga studio, Tamisa Yoga, is on the popular shopping street Teramachi, and includes a vegan cafe as well as a shop that sells yoga wear merchandise and imported organic foods. Tamisa reminds me so much of the kind of studios and organic cafes/smoothie-bars I am used to seeing back in the states– if even more hip and well put-together than ours are. It was so interesting to observe the way that people in Japan have embraced this globally-trending lifestyle, and taken their own spin on it both aesthetically and in practice. (The photos below are courtesy of tamisa-yoga.com.)

cosy cafetamisa1As far as the Vinyasa classes themselves, the main difference I noticed in the class culture was that everyone was more laid-back, including the instructor. Classmates smiled at each other and said a friendly お疲れ様ですat the end of each class, even offering to put away other people’s mats. The instructors spoke mainly in Japanese (although bilingual lessons are also offered), but some Vinyasa-esque phrases were reserved for English (“Relax your body, relax your mind, relax your heart”), and it seemed like everyone in the class understood what these meant. The fact that English and Western culture (foods and clothing from America, words written and spoken in English) is so tied to the yoga culture here, which had probably spread throughout East Asia to Japan far before America was even a country, was a very interesting point of study for me during my experience.

For anyone interested in taking beginner’s yoga classes, I recommend the activity both as a way to practice your Japanese listening and social skills, and to observe a very current and influential part of Kyoto culture. I’ll definitely be keeping up with the classes and the studio community while living here this summer.

Eva Czapski: Learning the Japanese Art of Sumi-e

I painted this in October.

Painting from October.

For my CIP, I have been studying the Japanese art of Sumi-e– paintings done with Sumi ink and a calligraphy brush– in a small-group lesson with a Kyoto woman. Fujiwara Sensei is trained in Chinese ink painting but has been working in the Japanese style for the last decade. She hosts the lessons from her studio, which she shares with her husband who runs a kimono printing workshop upstairs.

When I attend the class most Wednesdays, I find myself in a circle of two to five older women who are extremely friendly, funny and talkative. None of them take the class or their painting hobby too seriously, yet most of them are incredibly talented. They use a combination of the black Sumi ink and pigmented watercolors to create vivid, professional-looking pieces. It’s so valuable to me, as an amateur artist who is new to the Sumi-e style, to have these Sempai classmates’ skill to aspire to. Fujiwara Sensei, of course, is a master of the art–not just when creating her own pieces, but even when assessing others’ work for its design or technique.

I painted this in November after visiting the garden of a Zen temple in Nagaokakyo.

Painting from November of a Zen garden.

Calligraphy brushes (fude) and ink stone (Sumi), the only two tools needed to create Sumi-e paintings. Just add water. (Image taken from http://www.juanaalmaguer.com/)

Calligraphy brushes (fude) and ink stone (Sumi), the only two tools needed to create Sumi-e paintings. Just add water. (Image taken from http://www.juanaalmaguer.com/)

There is much more technical training involved in learning Sumi-e than I had expected going into the classes. As with any of the Japanese “ways”–Sadou (tea ceremony), Shodou (calligraphy), and so on–there is a particular way to go about Sumi painting that does not leave much room for free interpretation. I think that as I grow as a Sumi-e artist I would like to be able to change some of these traditional standards in my own art, in order to create something that is individual and unique to the times and to my own ideas, but before I put my own spin on the ancient art, I must really master the techniques that my Sensei is teaching me now.The first thing I was taught, starting on the first day of class, was the vocabulary of terms central to the art. Particularly important are the names of the three elements necessary to every “complete” Sumi-e painting, each of which refers to a different way of combining the brush, ink, and water to create part of a picture. These terms are especially interesting to me because their dictionary meaning is very simple, but their connotation in the Sumi-e world is infinitely important. For example, “nou-dan” literally means “light-dark,” but it refers to the vital gradient between light and dark that is used in good Sumi-e work.
The other two main brushwork elements are “nuzume”–to spread or bleed–and “kassure”–to graze. A piece without all three of these features is considered to lack true atmosphere or flow; it merely depicts objects without showing their relationship to one another.

See the example below, which is a fall Sakura tree that I painted last week. The leaves together create the “nou-dan” gradient, while the trunk is an example of “kassure”. In order to incorporate “nuzume,” I added the blurry falling leaf to the right.

Painting from last week. The trunk is Kassure; the falling leaf is Nijime; and the leaves together create the nou-dan gradient.

kassure, nou-dan and nuzume.

I am still working on mastering these techniques, as well as the art in itself of layout and composition, but Fujiwara Sensei has been very helpful in that process and I am pleased with the work I’ve done so far. I am also glad that I have had so many chances to practice conversing in Japanese with the Sensei and my older classmates, on a wide range of topics from our artwork to our families to aspects of Japanese culture and tradition.

Catherine Alexander: Historical Sightseeing Circle

This semester for my CIP I participated in Doshisha’s Historical Sightseeing Circle. In this circle we learn about Kyoto’s many historical site and then visit in person as a group. Typically, after the planned visit to a historical site, everyone will go out to eat together. Also, because Kyoto is filled with sightseeing spots, we will often stop by shines and temples on our way to and from our main destination. Overall, this circle is a good opportunity to get to know a little more about Kyoto.

Besides the learning experience, I also feel that this circle taught me more about group dynamics in Japan. The biggest thing I realized was how the circle was divided by gender and age. In this particular circle, most of the first years were girls, so it was difficult to tell which factor was stronger; however it seemed like within the circle students tended to speak more with those who were the same age and gender. I wasn’t too surprised at this, because I’ve learned that age is important in Japanese society, but in comparison to America, where students normally group around major or common interests, I found it interesting. I myself, didn’t feel like a part of any of the gender or age groups, and normally switched around between them. As in a lot of cases, being a foreigner trumps other social classifications. However, I never really made an effort to stay with the others in my age group or gender, so things might have been different if I had.

The Historical Sightseeing Circle was a good experience, and I recommend it a CIP for those interested in Kyoto’s history. My advice for CIPs as a whole is to find something you enjoy doing!


今学期は CIP として同志社の史跡同好会に参加しています。史跡同好会は京都の史跡を観光し たりするサークルです。史跡に行く前に勉強会で史跡についての歴史や文化を勉強して話し会 います。普通の活動の他に、年に五回くらいの合宿があるそうです。今度は温泉に行く予定 です。

実は、私は史跡同好会に入ったばかりなので、まだ分からないことが沢山あります。勉強会が あるから、入る前には真面目なイメージを持っていましたが、雰囲気はとてもカジュアルでし た。また、今まで私が会った他の会員は殆ど男性で、日本人の男性のお互いに対する話 し方について色々なことに気づきました。これから CIP で頑張りたいと思います!

Catherine Alexander: Bazaar Café

For my CIP I chose to volunteer at the Bazaar Café. Bazaar Café, in the way it functions, the Bazaar Café is much like any other café; however, it does have a few special traits that set it apart. One thing about the Bazaar Café that differs from the average café in that many of the workers there are volunteers. In addition to this, the café also actively participates in the Kyoto community to spread acceptance and has a policy of openness toward all races, nationalities, and religions.

Through my experience at the Bazaar Café, I feel I learned a lot about group work and work relationships in Japanese culture. In the kitchen, there are few set roles, and teamwork flows almost naturally. Everyone is attentive to the simultaneous tasks around them, so they know when and where to step in and help without being asked. Not having to ask for help prevents the feeling of placing a burden on others, which is something that seems to be avoided in Japanese culture. Also, whenever someone fills in a helping role, for instance, drying dishes, the one they are helping will almost always reply to this action with the set phrase “onegaishimasu” or “arigatou gozaimasu”. These set phrases serve as simple but meaningful ways to express thanks as well as smooth and efficient transitions into group tasks. On top of this, these phrases are used without connection to age or rank, therefore they also simplify complexities of hierarchy and honorifics in the Japanese language and make teamwork easier. Overall, through my experience as a volunteer, I feel like I was able to see how aspects of Japanese culture carried over into a work group environment in the Bazaar Café Kitchen.

In regards to entering a new community like Bazaar Café, one important thing I would stress is observing and learning from those around you. There are things you are expected to do or know that you won’t be told directly, as they are already obvious to the members of the culture or community. Being able to adapt is a huge part of your CIP.

Helen Hope Rolfe: Ballet classes at K-Classic Ballet Studio

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I climbed the four flights of stairs to K-Classic Ballet Studio that first Friday night in September. Still, having taken ballet classes since the age of four at varying degrees of frequency, I seem to recall feeling pretty excited–but not at all nervous–about the prospect of taking ballet class in a foreign language for the first time.

Boy, was I in for a surprise. Once I’d explained myself to the petite, gently smiling woman whom I encountered just outside the door, I followed her inside–where my jaw promptly dropped. Plaques, award certificates, and trophies from Japan’s most prestigious ballet competitions lined the walls and covered several shelves of a bookcase, while about fifteen elementary-school-age girls diligently practiced their changements and glissades in the center of the room.

But it wasn’t until class actually started that the real surprises began. I would soon learn that the seemingly mild-mannered woman whom I had encountered at the door was in fact O-sensei, the owner/operator and head teacher at K-Classic Ballet Studio. Not only that, but she utterly transformed into a strict taskmaster the very moment she commenced the class with a simple and elegant upward twist of her right wrist.

Now, I studied ballet on the pre-professional track in the United States from about age eight to age fourteen–I thought I knew what a serious class atmosphere looks like. But the laser-like concentration of my fellow dancers here in Japan puts many of their American counterparts to shame. Throughout the class, no one speaks except for O-sensei. There are absolutely no private conversations held, except perhaps for a whispered confirmation or two that one is standing with the correct group in preparation to go across the floor. Despite this apparent lack of student-to-student communication, the hour and a half of practice always runs smoothly, with none of the interruptions (such as clearly incorrect execution of the given steps or trips to the bathroom between combinations) that can sometimes plague American ballet classes.

The students may not speak, but O-sensei certainly does–and there is no ambiguity about what she means. Words of praise are seldom heard, and corrections are given in the Japanese language’s direct style of speaking, rather than in the more polite distal style. For example, if a dancer is behind one count in a fast-paced jump combination, O-sensei is far more likely (based on my observations thus far) to simply shout “Osoi” instead of “Osoi desu yo.”

I fear that, up to this point, I may have portrayed K-Classic Ballet Studio as a somewhat stressful and uninviting environment. That could not be further from the truth! While the goal during each class is clearly to improve one’s ballet technique by whatever means necessary, outside of class my fellow dancers welcome me every week with “Ohayou gozaimasu” and broad smiles. Furthermore, O-sensei and T-sensei have both been remarkably patient and understanding in helping me work out the scheduling and payment aspects of my participation.

As the semester comes to a close, I feel incredibly grateful to everyone at K-Classic Ballet Studio for allowing this rather-out-of-shape ryuugakusei (study-abroad student) to invade their ballet classes on a regular basis. Thanks to their warm welcome, I’ve been privileged to see a whole new side of my favorite hobby, and have become more inspired than ever to work as hard as I can to do justice to ballet, the art form that always manages to transcend linguistic and cultural obstacles in surprising and beautiful ways.






CIP として私は毎週木曜日十一時から三時までバザールカフェでボランティア活動をします。バザールカフェは普通のカフェではなくて、色々な特徴を持っています。まず、三人の店長以外に、カフェで働いている人はほとんどボランティアです。ボランティアは、就活中の人と大学生が多いです。その人は仕事の知識と経験を身につけるためにバザールカフェでボランティアをします。もう一つの特徴はバザールカフェは差別せずに、誰でも受け入れるという点です。また、世界平等などを促進するために色々なイベントを行います。実は、CIP を始める前にバザールカフェがどんなところかよく分かりませんでしたが、今は、本当に面白いところだと分かっています。


CIP を始めてからもう一か月が経ちました。その間にバザールカフェの活動にすこし慣れてきたと思います。でも、これからもバザールカフェの活動を頑張ります!

Jier Yang: Igo Class

I still remember my first Igo class vividly. It was a hot afternoon and I was sweating because of the heat and nervousness. My teacher taught me the names of all the Igo equipment and told me the size of the Igo board. “It is 19 by 19, remember it.” My teacher told me, and then he pulled out a smaller board said:” This one is 9 by 9, and we will start with this.” I was a little disappointed because I thought the 9X9 board was totally something made for kids. I had to comfort myself with the thought that maybe I could use the regular one after a few classes. I was so wrong.

Nearly three months have passed since then and I have not touched the regular board a single time. Since I showed no special talent in Igo at all, both my teacher and I are quite certain that I won’t have the chance to play on that board before I go home in winter.

When I wrote my first blog, I thought playing Igo was like doing math. I thought it was all about trying to get as much territory on the board as possible by carefully calculating which spot would gain more blocks. However, now I start to realize that even though winning is good, the goal of Igo is not simply about increasing territory. When an expert plays Igo with a beginner, the beginner gets to place several stones on the board before the game starts in order to compensate for the difference between their abilities. Both the expert and the beginner can enjoy the challenge and no one can be sure about the result of the game. I think people like Igo because they can learn how to overcome problems, not because they like defeating others.

My teacher told me that the most important thing for me is to have fun, because I don’t want to become a professional player. For professionals or people who are really in to Igo, playing Igo is like walking on a endless road. They are constantly facing new difficulties but they are willing to continue the journey. When they play Igo with another player, they are helping each other to go further on that road. A good game in Igo is not the game where a player conquers the entire board. On the contrary, people seem to like the games that almost come out even. When a player is losing by one block or two blocks, people who are watching will claim it is a good game because both players are challenging themselves.

I think there are still so many things about Igo that I need to learn and I want to continue my journey with Igo after I go home.