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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I attended K-pop dancing classes for my CIP. Since I love dancing K-pop and have been performing back at Emory as well, I thought it would be fun to take K-pop class in Japan. Fortunately, one of KCJS students was also interested in taking a dance class for CIP, so we went to the studio together. For the first try out, we took girls’ hip-hop class. It was fun but it was hard to interact with people since people were not really interested in new students and the instructor did not seem to be interested as well. Next week, we attended K-pop class since we both are interested in K-pop. Unfortunately, classmates were mostly middle school students, which made it difficult for us to talk to people or to get along with. Even though the class itself is very interesting and fun, it was hard to interact with people. Most of the classmates went to take other classes right after our class, so I felt like I did not have time to talk with classmates. However, I had a chance to attend K-pop class in Tokyo. There, the instructor was caring about new students and had a small talk after class about whether or not I enjoyed the class. Also, since I am a Korean and classmates were all very interested in Korea, when they knew that I am a Korean, classmates came to me to talk about their affection to Korea or how much they love k-pop or showing off their Korean skills. Compare to the studio in Kyoto, I would say I enjoyed the atmosphere and the energy of instructor and classmates of Tokyo studio more and it was way easier to have a conversation with people. The most important thing when entering new groups is the reaction and attention of existing members to new members. However, instructors and classmates in Kyoto studio were not very interested in new students, which made it hard for me to get along with people at Kyoto Studio.
Because my goal for CIP was to interact with Japanese people outside of KCJS and become friends with people who have same interest(k-pop), I was not able to achieve my goal at the studio in Kyoto. If you are willing to join dance studio for your CIP, try to find a studio where they have a more welcoming atmosphere and also try actively to interact with people.
For my CIP activity, I volunteered as an English conversation partner at Hello Village at Hiyoshigaoka High School. Hello Village is a center at the high school that encourages Japanese high school students to practice their English conversational skills. Originally, I intended to take a bus every week after class to go to the school to practice English conversational skills. However, because Japan’s academic calendar differs greatly from that of the American academic calendar, there was a long gap in which I was not able to volunteer because the students were on spring break.
Regardless, I’ve had various interesting experiences during my time as a volunteer, and also discovered many similarities between Japanese students studying English and American students studying Japanese. I particularly remember one time when an ALT was helping a student prepare for a pronunciation test. Seeing the difficulties with pronouncing certain consonants in English such as “v” and “b” reminded me of my own struggles with pronunciation in Japanese such as with “su” and “tsu.”
Also, what was interesting to me was that there was differing types of students that I would meet at Hello Village. Some students were particularly more outgoing than others and more excited to speak English: some were because of their participation on the English debate team and others, I found out later, were known to be the “boisterous” of their class. But many students I encountered were more reserved and self-conscious about their English ability, and it was interesting to see that whenever I spoke with them, they would often consult each other as a group first before responding as a whole. However, even with the vastly different personalities, every student I encountered at Hello Village was eager to practice and improve their English. Their eagerness inspired me to examine my own reasons for wanting to learn Japanese and doing study abroad.
Even though there were difficulties because of differences in academic calendars, I still found my time at Hello Village to be a worthwhile experience during my semester in Japan.
For my CIP activity I volunteered at Kyoto University’s hospital’s NicoNico Tomato organization where I played with the hospitalized children in and assisted the other volunteers in the activity room. I participated every Tuesday and have had a thoroughly positive and enriching experience. My duties ranged from preparing materials for the day’s activity, to performing whatever task the other volunteers may have for me, to simply playing with the children who decided they’d rather just play with toys and have their parents do the activity for them.
As a once a week volunteer I can expect something new and exciting every time I step foot into the children’s playroom. This is because every day there is a new activity planned and in my case, a different set of hardworking and caring individuals to meet. When I first realized that with every visit I made to NicoNico Tomato I would be working with different people from last time, I was a bit taken aback since I felt like I had formed a relationship with the volunteers I had worked with before. But I soon realized this was a boon for the sake of my experience as a volunteer and as a way to improve my Japanese skills. Needless to say, I became quite adept at self-introductions and was able to quickly establish myself in a new group of people every time I visited.
My experience with NicoNico Tomato has been genuinely awe-inspiring. I never expected such a level of care and earnest from what is essentially a volunteer program. I believe what sets NicoNico Tomato apart are the members’ passion and sincerity when it comes to helping children who are suffering from illness. Every day that I am there I am made to feel as if I was part of a truly exceptional team whose efforts bring out the smiles and laughter of those who really need it.