April Kim: Bazaar Cafe

At least once or twice in my life, I have had the dream to work in or own a cafe. The scent of freshly baked bread, the calming sound of coffee machine brewing, the comfortable atmosphere where customers drink quietly while reading a novel…

…that idealistic perception of cafe life is not what I experienced while volunteering at the Bazaar Cafe. But that does not mean my time at Bazaar Cafe was a negative one.

First and foremost, what I wanted out of my CIP was simply this: to interact with Japanese people and understand their daily life within the community. At first, I had planned on sticking with a cooking class, but because of their infrequent meetings, I decided to look for other options. The Bazaar Cafe caught my interest because it was one that did not require previous food & service experience, it was close-by to the university, and finally because other KCJS students had volunteered there in the past.

At first it was hard to schedule a time to volunteer because the cafe is open on a few days of the week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11:30 AM – 5:00PM to be exact. Because my school schedule consisted of an afternoon class everyday, it was hard to figure out the days I could volunteer for them. But despite this obstacle, I ended up volunteering at the cafe during my lunch time on Fridays (12:30 PM – 2:30PM). If one ends up having a pretty full class schedule, this place may not be the best choice.

What makes the Bazaar Cafe so unique is that beyond its cafe exterior, this place is a second-home and haven for those who do not have a “safe” place to be themselves. The casual atmosphere and family-like staff make the customers feel very relaxed to the point that sometimes they would play the musical instruments kept at the cafe. Furthermore, the cafe’s staff consist of many foreigners who speak Japanese. Japan, Thailand, Philippines, South America, South Korea, Vietnam, China…Bazaar Cafe staff members come from countries near and far. And although the level of ability varies among staff member, everyone understands their roles and still manage to share a joke or two, which contributes to the lively work environment.

Now to the nitty gritty. If you expect a large role in the cafe logistics, unless you are an actual cafe staff (and not volunteer) that will most likely not occur. It’s not to say that they do not appreciate the help of volunteers, but there are already so many co-workers and only a certain amount of cafe duties to be done. Therefore, depending on the time I volunteered, I would often be waiting around or asking for more jobs to do. But because there is already a system for the cafe staff, mainly the duties of dish washing, food prepping and meal serving were my most consistent duties. Therefore in order to compensate the sometimes slow time, I often started conversations with other staff members and pro-actively found duties to finish around the kitchen. I found that rather than always expecting a task, it is better to find things that one can do without being asked. Furthermore, the tasks are quite rudimentary and things you can experience working in the food service back home. So if you expect an exciting and “foreign” cafe experience, this cafe is not the place.

However, if you want to immerse yourself in a family-like work environment, then this place is a good option. Overall, my time at the cafe tends to be long only because I am able to work once a week. But volunteering on different days will let you meet the other workers and each day has a different atmosphere (because cafe regulars come on certain days). And at the end of a good day’s work (at least for lunch time), the cafe owner provides a small meal for all the staff.

If you are looking to volunteer at a cafe, I’d say be realistic. The behind the counters of a cafe or coffee shop, things are not as a rose-colored as one imagines it to be. Just like the jobs in the food & service industry, there are both interesting and mundane tasks…more of the latter. In the end, what makes this place interesting to me is the interactions I have with the workers and the relationships I make with them. It may not be for everybody, but it made me understand Japanese and non-Japanese people’s every day life in a different light.

Vanessa Tenazas: Zenryuji Nursery School

Building on my experiences last semester, this spring I focused much of my attention on the general concept of “teacher” as understood by the children at the daycare. In exploring the various roles they play in the daily life of the attendees, I also became fascinated by how the ways a teacher corrects a child not only reflects something about the teacher, but also by how it affects the child developmentally.

My observations have led me to identify a “teacher” at the daycare as one who simultaneously act in 3 major roles: as one who guides, as one who dotes, and as one who disciplines.

As a guide, a teacher instructs a child on acceptable moral behavior. For example, they may interrupt or arbitrate a dispute and then ensure that apologies or concessions are made appropriately. This role of course also encompasses the teachings of daily life, such as proper manners and routine living (e.g. greetings, washing hands before a meal, etc.).

Teachers are also, at least at this stage, something of a playmate to the children. Physical affection through hugs and tickling seems to build a sort of trust and intimacy between the two that, in my opinion, enables the teacher to fulfill their other roles more effectively. That is, while they inevitably have to correct a child, the physical affection communicates to the child in a concrete way that a teacher is not always so distant an entity, but instead one who emulates a parent.

Finally, as a disciplinarian, the teacher employs various methods to correct children’s behavior. Aside from outright scolding, I have noticed a particular stress on accountability, whereby a child must first admit their mistake and then correct it on their own. Spilled milk episodes are most representative of this tendency. Additionally, passive-aggression on the side of the teacher seems to indicate when a child has deviated from a long-expected behavior, such as playing around after eating snack instead of preparing to go home. This method tends to lead the children to realize their own mistake, as reflected in their guilty expressions afterward.

Until volunteering at Zenryuji, I did not realize how important a role a teacher at a daycare plays in shaping the growth of a child. By instructing them, being friendly with them, and also disciplining them, they teach children not only what is expected of them at the daycare, but also in society as they prepare to go further out into the world. Since I have always observed Japanese people to be sticklers on accountability, it made me wonder if the emphasis on recognizing and fixing one’s own mistakes at Zenryuji may be culturally influenced. In any case, it was a very enlightening to get a glimpse of one of the foundations of Japanese society, even if only for a short time.





Vanessa Tenazas: Zenryuji Nursery School

Now that several months have elapsed, I can say that my volunteer work at Zenryuji has offered me some unique glimpses into Japanese culture and language through the lens of children and a nursery school environment. The dynamics between teachers and children, between head teacher and a supporting teacher, and between the children and myself have been of particular interest.

Prior to coming to Japan, I was already quite aware of the hierarchy built into Japanese society as exemplified through things like the degrees of politeness in language and the senpai-kohai dynamic. At the nursery school, when a teacher is making an announcement or instructing the children to do something as part of the routine (i.e. when lining up), she uses polite language as a way to signal the formality of what is being said. On the other hand, it was interesting to observe teachers using plain speech when reprimanding the children, which I imagine was done in order to capture the teacher’s frustration and put the children in their place hierarchically, since plain speech can indicate the speaker’s superiority over the listener.

On a related note, though I do not find the power structure at the nursery school to be anywhere near as rigid as a regular corporate setting, it is clear that not all teachers share equal roles and positions. The two head teachers of the group of kids I usually work with are responsible for making announcements, directing the children during their routine, and, if necessary, reprimanding the children. Meanwhile a supporting teacher will help clean up the room or pour the milk for each child during snack time. Here too I have observed the use of casual speech by the head teachers between each other and to the supporting teacher, but the supporting teacher will use polite speech in response to perhaps indicate their difference in position within the structure of the daycare.

In my case, exchanges between teachers and I are exclusively in polite speech, while at the insistence of the children our exchanges are in casual speech. One child even corrected me the first day when I used polite speech too much, saying that it put too much distance between ussince our relationship should be that of friends. While this would not happen even among my peers, I suppose with children the rules get a bit hazy due to their age. Without any direct equivalent in the English language, these kinds of observations have been consistently fascinating.

In terms of the culture of raising children, I feel like my experience at Zenryuji was just like scratching the surfaceof it. What struck me immediately was the physical contact between teachers and students, where a teacher will not hesitate to grab or push a child as a means of correcting their behavior. My Asian background led me to be less surprised at the time, but knowing that in America such a thing would never be allowed without consequences did make me stop and think. That was probably one of the biggest cultural divides I had noticed while volunteering.

What was strikingly similar to what I have observed in America, however, is that children here are also keen on “playing house” during playtime. Participating children each take a role in the family such as mother or father, and someone is almost always “cooking” something (I need not mention how many times I have had to “eat” curry rice made out of sand). I noted that since children just about anywhere are most familiar with what happens at home, that represents one extent of their imaginations at this point in time.

Similarly, the children tend to quarrel with each other very easily about small things like sharing toys and someone not “apologizing” enough for something they did. I find being consulted on such matters a bit of a handful since I am not always sure what is culturally appropriate to say. Usually in the case of sharing toys, other teachers will go for the diplomatic approach and encourage the children to share, especially if one child has two of something. In the case of having children reconcile through apology, I think more so than the child wanting to apologize on their own it is the teacher’s authority that compels them to do so. I know in my case even if I were to say someone should apologize, they would either continue pouting at me without following through on the direction, or would simply run away. It reminds me that even though I am well-loved by the children, due to my age and outsider status I am in this limbo between teacher and friend, making my influence less effective. Whether in the future I will become more of one or the other remains to be seen.




しかし、すべてが遊びと楽しみなわけではない。この子供とふれあう経験が少なくて日本語の学生である私にとって、早口で関西弁で話す子供の悩みを応えるのは難しいということに気がついた。その上、まだ日本の文化を学んでいるところなので、私のアメリカ的な考え方で 適当な解決を見つけられるのかどうかよく悩むことがある。例えば、ある時子供がケンカしていた時に、仲直りさせる方法を知らなくて、「他の先生に聞いたらどう?」と子供に言うしかなかった。少しずつ、こういう状況に慣れてきているので、もっと自信が出てきた。これからも、子供の世界や日本の文化と言語について頑張って学びたい。