Holly Middlebrooks: Volunteering at Mitsuba Kindergarten

This semester I continued to volunteer at Mitsuba Kindergarten (みつば幼稚園), although instead of going on Mondays from 2-4, I went on Fridays from 1-3. Just like last semester, I acted as a teacher’s aide, assisting the students in going about their daily routine and holding some very elementary English lessons. This semester there were a couple of days where there weren’t as many kids signed up (or not at all due to spring break), so I also was tasked with tidying things up on such days.

Although I love playing with the kids and have got to know several of them very well, the most interesting thing for me this semester was getting to observe how the inner-workings of the kindergarten function, especially when the kids aren’t there. I’ve been able to see firsthand just how hardworking and kind the sensei are, and have come to respect them a lot. I would recommend this CIP for anyone who likes kids (obviously), but even more so, anyone who is interested in education, as I believe that every single sensei excels at directing the students in their own unique, yet effective manner. Also, I believe this is a good CIP for anyone who isn’t as confident in their Japanese ability– you don’t need perfect speaking skills to connect with the kids over a game of soccer!

Holly Middlebrooks: Volunteering at Mitsuba Kindergarten

For my Community Involvement

Project this semester, I chose to volunteer at みつば幼稚園 (Mitsuba Kindergarten) due to my love of kids and desire to learn more about the Japanese childcare system. Every Monday, I would walk to the kindergarten from campus, and spend two hours assisting the kids in their daily activities, playing with them, and help them practice both their English and Japanese writing skills. This was a super rewarding experience, as in addition to becoming close with the kids, by the end I was also being acknowledged by fellow teachers and even some of the parents as a part of the Mitsuba community. I also felt as if there was a very equal exchange of culture that occurred, as while I was able to learn all about the inner-workings of a Japanese kindergarten (which I found to be shockingly hands off compared to my expectations), the kids were always eager to hear about my experiences as an American (and of course, freak out over me speaking English after relentlessly begging me to). I would highly encourage future KCJS students to pursue a CIP like Mitsuba where there is an existing community which is also accessible to break into, especially if you’re on the more reserved side. In the end, kids don’t judge and just want to have a good time, and by including you in their fun, you’ll be able to interact with other members of the community like teachers, parents, and other volunteers. Overall, I am very thankful for this experience and can’t wait to see the kids again next semester!

Wanlin Jin: Yoga


This semester I did yoga at a local yoga studio. I did the beginner level yoga class for the first half of the semester, and the classes were inside my comfort zone because the movements weren’t really hard. Furthermore, since there were a lot of foreign learners in the studio, the classes were taught in both English and Japanese so that everyone could follow. The later half of the semester, I switched to Ashtanga yoga, which was my first time to try and it was really hard. However, it was also rewarding to witness my own progress within just a few lessons.

I felt really comfortable when I was in the studio, because the atmosphere there was just so soft and gentle, and everyone I encountered seemed to be nice even though I didn’t really exchange words with them. I like practicing there because learners wouldn’t compete with each other (which is usually the case of yoga) and just focus on their own bodies, but everyone would be happy to offer some help if it’s within their capacity. Therefore, I really had an unforgattable experience there.

Advice for whoever read this post: first of all thank you for reading! I would suggest just go with your guts, go for wharever you are passionate about and take the first step. Be aware of the cultural differences, so try not to be rude, but it’s always OK to ask questions politely about anything you don’t understand. Consult your teachers, peers, if necessary and I’m sure you will enjoy your CIP!

Matthew King: Volunteering at Kyoto Animal Care Center

My community involvement project for this semester was volunteering at the Kyoto Animal Care Center in Fushimi Ward. During this time, I was able to walk some of the dogs ready for adoption and assist in their training, clean the cat room and play with them to help release some of their energy, and washing the kennels when the center was short-staffed. I was even able to accompany some of the center employees when they were to pick up or drop off stray cats from around the city.

Getting to talk with the center staff and my fellow volunteers was a great way to improve my Japanese and learn how to more effectively express myself, and spending time with the animals was a great way to relieve some stress after my morning class. It also ended up being a good way of exploring the nearby area when walking dogs and helped me get an even better understanding of Kyoto.

If you’re interested in coming to KCJS and love animals, I would highly recommend volunteering at the center. The people there are very kind and understanding, and you’re given many opportunities to talk with them throughout the day. Just be prepared to deal with some rowdy dogs – they’re incredibly sweet, but they can definitely knock you over if you aren’t paying attention.

Volunteering at Klexon (English Conversation Circle at Kyoto!)

During my time at KCJS, I have decided that my community involvement project will be volunteering at Klexon English-speaking Circle located at Wings Kyoto. It was simple to speak with native residents who wanted to converse in English. At every meeting, we were met with different Kyoto residents. We were given a topic or a format of what we should talk about. Afterward, we talked about our daily life, childhood memories, and traveling.

Initially, I was a bit shy to make contact with the conversation partner, but as time passed, I was able to thaw out and trade our line or SNS accounts. Afterward, I was able to communicate with conversation partners frequently and have natural conversations in a language that was fitting for the atmosphere at the time.

In the end, I was able to join an event where all of the group members went to Mie prefecture and enjoyed a relaxing Hanami at Iwakurakyo Park. If anyone wants to enjoy talking with locals and have an intercultural connection, Klexon has the best suitable environment for it.

Megan Chen: Karate (Spring)

I attended the same dojo, Goshonouchi Dojo, as I did in the past fall semester, to practice Japan Karate Association-style Shotokan karate.

This semester, I became a lot closer to the members of the dojo and even started meeting with them outside of the dojo on occasion. I also managed to pass two belt level tests while here, which will transfer back home to the US.

If possible, I really recommend doing an academic year because I felt that I got a lot closer to people in my second semester. Also, do not be afraid to just go up to people and talk to them if you are having a hard time making friends.

Ben Leviloff: Nagaoka Zen Juku

For this semester’s CIP, I volunteered at Nagaoka Zen Juku! Nagaoka Zen Juku is located in the southern part of Kyoto and is a small Buddhist temple that focuses on giving college students and working people the opportunity to engage in Zen Buddhism and monastic life. At the time of volunteering there, three people lived there: the head monk, a monk in charge of day-to-day life, and a Japanese college student. If you wish to learn more about it, here is a link to their website: https://nagaokazenjuku.or.jp/english/ .

As a part of my time volunteering there, I visited once a week and engaged in a variety of activities: practicing zazen meditation, cleaning the temple, and talking with the other inhabitants. I had a lot of fun volunteering there and I’m thankful I got to meet lots of awesome people and learn a lot about Japanese Buddhist tradition. Furthermore, after this semester, I actually have the opportunity to stay there over the summer, so I’m excited to continue learning more.

Although this CIP is a little far away and requires quite some time to arrange, I highly recommend it to anyone who is inquisitive about monastic life.


Megan Chen: Karate

I decided to join a karate dojo (Goshonouchi Dojo) this semester for my CIP. I decided on karate because I have been practicing karate for around 13 years of my life and I did not want to get out of shape as well as the fact that the chance to train at a Japanese dojo was very enticing. Goshonouchi Dojo in particular is part of the Japanese Karate Association, of which I am a part of, which essentially means that I can carry over my belt level between Japan and the US.

While there were some hiccups along the way, Goshonouchi Dojo was very welcoming and I enjoyed my time training with them. Before joining, I initially sent an email explaining who I was, my rank, etc. but when I arrived they thought that I was another study abroad student’s friend instead of the person in that email. Eventually the misunderstanding was cleared and I was able to join the more advanced group in their practice.

The only thing different between the beginner and advanced group was the kata (forms) we learned, but it was nice to practice kata that were more on my level. They even taught me a new kata, jion, which was really fun. They also added another kata to the practice list after I asked for it.

For language, I have learned that I still have a lot to learn. While I could sort of understand the people at the dojo, they used very specialized language that I wouldn’t necessarily have learned in class before, so sometimes I had to rely on context and what other people were doing to understand. I also found that my suspicion that karate terms used in the US had definitely had their pronunciation changed a little after it took me four tries to get the sensei to understand what kata I wanted to practice. But in the more normal conversations I did have some of my confidence restored in my ability to understand at least basic Japanese.

For culture, a lot of the more ‘cultural’ aspects of karate I already knew before attending this dojo, so I did not learn a whole lot with regards to karate-specific Japanese culture. However, I did learn that you do pay for class fees and other such fees with envelopes and non-folded money. I was also invited to the dojo’s end of the year party (bonenkai), which I am planning on going to. I’m excited to experience what a bonenkai is like for the first time. Another general cultural thing I learned was that it seems more difficult to make friends in Japan at first because people don’t tend to approach new people/foreigners of their own volition, but if you’re the person to reach out, you should have no trouble at all making new friends. All in all, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to continue training with them.

Alexis Metoyer: Koto

My CIP was learning the koto with Iwasaki-sensei. Christine (who was learning the shamisen instead) and I would go to her place every Monday, where we would have about an hour or so of learning our instruments along with the other students. The other students were all older ladies and two gentlemen (one of which was Iwasaki-sensei’s husband), who I feel like would have become like grandmother/father figures for me, if I had had the chance to stay longer. The atmosphere was fun and lively, and the others would often crack jokes and tell funny stories. The actual learning process helped to encourage a rapport between the others, as sensei liked to teach by doing; therefore, my first day in, I had already started to play the opening lines of Sakura. Unfortunately, because the koto is such a large instrument, I could not bring it back home in order to practice, but I think the bonds I formed with the others were more of a priority anyway, and way more worthwhile.

After our lesson, sensei and her husband would treat us all to dinner. I remember feeling very awkward the first night when we went to ChaoChao Gyoza – it had only been my second lesson, so I still didn’t know anyone very well; however, the atmosphere was light, and sensei ordered course after course, and we all shared the various dishes and shared our thoughts on them. This pattern continued for the remaining weeks with Iwasaki sensei. I gradually became a little more outgoing in storytelling, even managing to explain about my long and complicated family ancestry over traditional okonomiyaki. At first, beyond being shy and unconfident in my Japanese, the hardest part about communicating with the group was the fact that understanding the Japanese of older people is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I am still not an expert, but you do get better eventually. But through this, I really started to accept that it was okay to make mistakes, and that learning to explain and interpret is just as important as being correct.

What I found helpful was setting a goal for each week in the CIP, not necessarily for the koto, but conversation topics for everyone. One week, my goal was to learn more about what got sensei into learning traditional instruments and her background, and that gradually led to the conversation about my family tree. I would recommend that in any CIP, have a goal for the week if you feel afraid of not having something to speak about. Also, take advantage of spending time with those in the CIP, because those bonds will last a while as well.

Ben Hammond: Nihonga

As a CIP this semester I took private lessons in Nihonga, or traditional Japanese painting. The action of painting itself was a very tedious process. The materials are all natural so you have to mix the paint, set the silk, and create the oil all by yourself. However, this was not the main reason of the CIP.

In terms of social observations, I was primarily watching interactions between sensei and the kids that would come on either Friday or Monday. Even though the relationship was the same, the interactions on the two days were vastly different. Since Fridays were days for kids who wanted to do arts and crafts, the atmosphere was more laid back. Kids could talk and move around as they pleased and sensei would only briefly check to see how their progress was going. In contrast, the kids on Mondays had a much more serious environment. This was due to the fact that they were practicing writing in pencil and calligraphy, a skill which does not translate to America. The quality of one’s physical writing is not that important but and that translates to my mind set. I was always shocked when sensei corrected a writing that to me seemed fine. It was all in the tiny details.

The difference in the two days, at least to me, speaks to a difference in importance between the two disciplines in Japanese culture. At least at a younger age, writing is valued much higher that drawing, and therefore requires more intense and focused practice. In contrast, there was one child who was a bit older and sensei focused on because they were

seriously working on art on a level past the crafty nature of everyone else. In this case, sense it was good for the future, it was valued highly.