Veronica Seixas: Kyoto University Choir


Formy CIP,I went to Kyoto UniversityChoir’s rehearsals once a week on Wednesday from 6-8:30. It is an all gender/all voice part choir that learns Japanese, English, and Italian songs. Everyone in the choir was extremely nice and welcoming, assisting me whenever I needed help. I really enjoyed learning and singing songs in Japanese, and if the timing works out well you can sing in one of their concerts. If you have some experience with a choir and want to continue singing in Japan or try singing in Japanese, this is a great CIP that is easy to join.

Skyla Patterson: Fly Dance Studio


For my CIP I took dance classes at the Fly Dance Studio. It was a very immersive experience, and an amazing way to practice my Japanese skills whilst having fun. My advice to incoming students is to enter with an open mind, and take a bunch of different classes before committing to the same dance teacher every week. That way, you 100% know which class is the best vibes for you.

Jessica Frantzen: Kyudo

For my CIP, I learned kyudo, or Japanese archery, at the Kyoto City Budo Center Kyudojo under Furuya-sensei (entirely in Japanese!). I learned the process of kyudo all the way from entering the dojo properly and respectfully to firing with two arrows in hand, which was surprisingly complex and something I still make mistakes with from time to time.

In learning kyudo, I’ve had both times where I get frustrated with myself for making the same mistakes over and over and times where I’m proud of the progress I make. Moreover, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of respect for others (as seen in the proper bows and procedures we learn for entering and leaving the dojo, and even in the process of firing the bow) and self-improvement in this sport that I hope to take with me to other, future activities. In kyudo, what matters most is not winning, but slowly and surely improving on oneself without being in a hurry.

To anyone interested in practicing kyudo as a CIP, I would advise you to remember that kyudo is a complex sport, and you’re not going to be able to perfect all of the movements in one go. One place to start is learning the eight steps of kyudo before going in, so you can know what your teacher’s talking about when they mention them. If you can, coming in early and staying late will allow you to learn a bit faster, since you’ll get more practice in, and you’ll also get a chance to get to know your teacher better. But mostly, be sure to give yourself patience, ask your teacher often if you have questions on whether you’re doing something right, and enjoy being able to take time to slowly improve on yourself and learn such a traditional and complex sport!

Fabiola Alvarez: Dancer at Fly Dance Studio

For my Community Involvement Project, I had the opportunity to dance at Fly Dance Studio in Kyoto. I have been dancing for over 10 years and I want to work in the dance industry in the future, so I wanted to participate in the performing arts scene in Japan. Fly Dance Studio specializes in Hip-Hop, so I had the chance to improve my skills in this style. I grew stronger and learned a lot in terms of technique, and I was able to step out of my comfort zone in using and understanding Japanese.

One of the first things that stood out to me the most was how dancers greeted each other when they entered the studio. Everyone said “ohayou gozaimasu” even though the studio opens at 4pm. At first I was confused, but soon learned that this is common in the performing arts world in Japan. The hiphop culture at this studio was more westernized than I expected, with English songs being used a lot more than Japanese songs, and everyone dressed in western-style dance wear. The rap industry is huge in America, which is likely the reason these English songs are used for more upbeat choreography. However, in the Jazz Hiphop classes that were much slower and more lyrical, Japanese songs were more frequently used. I learned lots of vocabulary related to movement and body parts. Because my teachers were both men and women, I had the opportunity to practice listening to various genders and their way of speaking. Some teachers were easier to understand than others, but overall I felt myself improving a lot in my listening comprehension and understanding of Kansai dialect.

Perhaps another interesting feature of this studio is that it does not separate by age. In the United States, it is common to have separate classes for adults, kids, and teens, but there were large age gaps in all of my classes at Fly, so some people were as young as seven or eight-years-old or as old as 60. Even though it can be difficult for the teacher to adjust to student gaps in dance experience and physical ability, as a student it felt very welcoming to be able to take the same class regardless of age. Everyone learned at their own pace and was able to adjust the choreography based on their own physical abilities.

Fly Dance Studio will work you hard, but you will get better. The instructors are very good at what they do; there was not a single class that I did not enjoy, and the level was perfect for me. If you do not have any dance experience, I would recommend sticking to the very beginner classes, but do not be afraid to challenge yourself with the more advanced classes!

Jesus Valdez: Ohara Junior High School Assistant English Teacher

My CIP that I was given an opportunity to involve myself in was as an assistant English teacher as Ohara Junior High school in Ohara, which is 45 minutes north east of the Imadegawa campus. I am currently on my final semester of college and plan to try and go into english teaching in Japan when I graduate, because of this I wanted my CIP to involve some kind of teaching English. Getting into contact with the school was done mainly by the KCJS staff and Senseis so I was very lucky with that and because of that I had a very smooth transition to participating weekly. It was mainly through email and I was by myself for the first half but was joined by Jordan afterwards. The travel was not very bad as there were buses directly to the school from kokusaikaikan and then buses from Ohara to Kyoto station so it was very easy to head there. The travel there was also very worth it as you get to experience the Japanese mountainside which is a amazing experience as the quiet town of Ohara was small beautiful town that had quiet a few temples and amazing landscapes to visit.

My overall experience with the program was amazing. This was a middle school and because of that they had grades 1 through grades 9 there. I was told that I was going to be help teach a different class year each visit from grades 3 to 9. I had to create a self introduction to use for every class, which I constantly updated every visit to try and make it simple and easy as possible since I knew some class’ English was still very simple. The hardest part was trying to figure out and adjust to to how I had to talk when teaching different classes. Some classes I could speak a bit more complex, such as with the 9th grades but with the younger classes I had to throw in Japanese and speak very slowly and simple. I was originally worried about teaching a different class each time as I would not be able to go past self introduction with classes and get more natural experience teaching English in Japan. This however was a non issue a few weeks in. Me and Jordan were invited to stay for 2nd English period, which was always the 9th graders so we started to see them everyday. Because of these I got to experience more natural lessons with Japanese students and how they learned english and because of that I could understand how to help talk with the students as I went to each new class. It was also very fun to get to know the students as some students started to open up more to us as we went each week and talked to us about just random hobbies before and after class.

Every week it was very fun to see how the new classes reacted to us and how each of them was always very excited to see us come and talk to them. This was always  prevalent when I could find hobbies that I knew they also liked. Being able to connect with the students through stuff like games and anime was very exciting. They would always end up asking a lot of questions during class and after class to me that had to do with things they were interested in and how they were in America. They showed a lot of interest and it made it very fun and fulfilling for me.
The one unfortunate part is that you will not be using Japanese very often in this sort of CIP, as many of the teachers and students will always try and talk to you in English for their practice. There were a few times that I had to use Japanese for various reasons in and outside of class but they were few and far between. One of the main things that I got from this program was connections and future advice as I was able to talk to a American teacher that was also a English teacher there at the school. Almost every Japanese school apparently had assistant teachers and because of that you can make very important and close connections with your fellow English and non English teachers there.

Overall, If any future KCJS student has a passing interesting in teaching I would heavily recommend trying to find a CIP that lets you teach English. There are various options depending on how good you are with kids as well as options of private tutoring and public school settings. My opportunity was a very good window into Japanese English teaching for me in the future as I was able to get first hand experience while here and Japan as well as just experience the cultural difference that Japanese schools held. By the later part of the program I saw students before class during lunch and clean up time and they would always great me and ask questions to us, which always made me smile and happy I picked this CIP. Having the opportunity to teach as my CIP was a very great experience that I would recommend anyone else to do if they have interest or are able to, you will not regret it!

Nathan Koike: Klexon

For my CIP, I joined Klexon, an international conversation club where English speakers help Japanese members practice their English and vice versa. We met on Tuesdays from 7-9PM at Wings Kyoto, unless cancelled. Upon arrival, everyone sat down, Japanese members in odd numbered rows of tables and English speakers in even rows, and everyone mostly kept to themselves; some people started conversations, and were met with little (if any) resistance, but most people kept to themselves before the meeting started. However, promptly at 7PM, the meeting began, and the Japanese members turned around. The room quickly burst to life with conversation and laughter. I would speak with my partner for 10 minutes, at which point the Japanese speakers would shift over to the next English speaker, so most people had a chance to talk to each other. After meeting with 6 partners, for a total of 60 minutes, the second half of the meeting began, and we were (relatively) randomly assigned groups of about six people. From there, we would have a conversation as a group, usually about a different topic, then the meeting would end. Topics were provided, but I found that almost everyone I spoke with was much more engaged when talking about a topic that came up naturally instead.

I’m not a very outgoing person, so participating in Klexon was a great way for me to make some friends. Although many people went out for dinner and drinks afterwards, I wasn’t able to attend because I talked myself into believing that there would always be another chance. I was wrong. Because of the outbreak of COVID-19, I had to return early; not going out with everyone else is one of my biggest regrets. Still, I had a genuinely wonderful time. Even though I don’t consider myself advanced, by any stretch of the word, having to struggle through translations (mostly questions from English to Japanese and answers from Japanese to English) was one of the most fun challenges I brought upon myself.

Along with this, Klexon brought a lot of time for me to reflect on language as a tool. My Japanese is far from perfect, but I generally manage to communicate what I want in spite of this; likewise, the Japanese members at Klexon don’t have perfect English, but it’s not difficult for me to understand what they’re saying and what they want to say. My reflection came in the form of a realization: the way I use a language isn’t as important as the ideas I can communicate. Along with this, I noticed a few mistakes where I knew exactly what grammar structure or mechanic from Japanese matched the mistake, having only recently learned the grammar structure or mechanic and made the inverse mistake.

Klexon is one of the most important things about my study abroad experience and one of the things I enjoyed the most. I’m not sure if I can be positive enough to reflect my time at Klexon. I am an introvert, but even with that I had an amazing time meeting new people and talking with them about all variety of topics, from stock trading to slang (both real conversations I had). While I am also fairly awkward, everyone I met was so kind and friendly that asking for their LINE to stay in touch was no issue. Klexon was a truly fantastic experience, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who would like to make friends. The only tip I have is to be genuine; it’s a lot harder to make friends if you hide what you think and feel all the time.

Maya Taliaferro: Microbiology Research at Kyoto University

For my CIP I worked in a microbiology lab at Kyoto University under the supervision of Dr. Hosokawa. As a STEM major at my home institution (neuroscience to be more specific) I was really inspired to pursue this as my CIP as it aligned perfectly with my interest in scientific research. I had some previous experience working in research labs in the United States, so I was really interested to see how the Japanese lab environment compared. 

I was extremely nervous going to visit Dr. Hosokawa at first because, while I have experience in microbiology, it’s not my primary focus at school. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a lot of experience with the methodological aspects of the work being done in her lab. With this in mind, a lot of the work I helped with in the lab was technical; I set up and helped collect data from Western Blot, gel electrophoresis, and protein transduction analyses. However, the primary focus of her work revolved around the observation of cellular organelles via confocal microscopy. This technique is something that is used quite frequently in neuroscientific research and was, therefore, something I felt extremely confident using. This experience allowed for a seamless transition from being shown how to work with the microscope, to being supervised while using the microscope to finally being able to run slides on my own while Dr. Hosokawa worked on other things. That was one of the best things about working with Dr. Hosokawa — she treated me as an assistant to her research rather than just a student and this was reflected in the type of work she trusted me to do on my own. 

Overall I learned a lot about the research process in general, about the Japanese research environment specifically, and about Japanese language and culture from Dr. Hosokawa herself. In terms of the universal research experience, I learned a great deal about the amount of time and effort that goes into getting a research manuscript published. She had been working on the research we were conducting for 2 years and still hadn’t been able to get her manuscript published, something I learned was quite normal in the world of research. In terms of the Japanese research environment specifically, it seemed to me that compared to the United States, Japanese research is far more independent.While there were other researchers in Hosokwa’s lab working on the same project they tended to work on their own and only came together to compare and assess findings. From my experience, the United States has a much more collaborative approach to research work where almost nothing is done without discussion amongst team members. I also found the gender divide in the lab to be interesting. Like in the US, it seems that research is a predominantly male dominated occupation in Japan. While Dr. Hosokawa is female, every one of her 6 research graduate students were male. In addition, all other research professors that I interacted with from other labs were also male. This, while slowly changing in the US, seems to be a trend in the STEM field across the world. Finally, in terms of Japanese language and culture I was able to learn quite a bit from Dr. Hosokawa. Since research of this nature is very hands-on, I was able to follow much of the instructions given to me in Japanese by observing while listening. At first this felt very difficult as I didn’t want to mess anything up, but over time it began to get easier as I became more familiar with the Japanese terms. I think this allowed me to pick up a lot of Japanese in a more natural way — by listening to the words and seeing in real-time what they meant. Also, since the type of tests run in microbiology often take a long time, there were many times when Dr. Hosokawa and I were left with free time together to just chat about anything. These were amazing times to learn about the Japanese perspective on many different topics as well as an opportunity to utilize Japanese I had learned in a conversational way. It was a great time to increase my cultural awareness as well as my Japanese skillset. 

My advice for future students when considering their CIP is to choose something they are really interested in and to view it as more than just a time to practice Japanese, but a chance to form close bonds with those you meet. Even in a CIP such as mine where I didn’t really interact with peers my age, I was still able to form a great bond with Dr. Hosokawa. This included exchanging cookies on Valentine’s day and even taking a trip together to a nearby shrine for the Setsubun Festival. The CIP can be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but sometimes that requires you get out of your comfort zone.

Austin Cobb: Volunteering at a Bouldering Gym

I have had the wonderful opportunity of volunteering at the NOAH bouldering gym in Kyoto this semester. I took the CIP as a chance to do something I loved and I was surprised by how easy it was to find a gym in Kyoto.

NOAH has become much more than a climbing gym for me and many of the other customers. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a community. Part of this stems from the fact that climbing as an activity is much more group focused in Japan compared to America. That is, regardless of whether you know the person climbing or not, people will cheer you on, give support, and even advice on how to improve. The community this creates a welcoming atmosphere that makes me look forward to going back.

Volunteering at a bouldering gym means dealing with a wide variety of tasks. From cleaning the staircase to filling up chalk balls and stripping tape off the routes. By doing all of this, I am able to interact a lot with the customers and practice my Japanese skills. I’ve also learned that most of the people also have a curiosity about English, so it becomes beneficial to both parties when they speak in English and I reply in Japanese.

With this CIP, I’ve created many great memories and learned a lot. When I come back to Kyoto, I will definitely stop by at NOAH to catch up with my friends.

Yueran Ding: Shamisen Lesson

Based on my interest in musical instruments and previous experience in playing the flute, cello, and piano, I decided to learn a traditional Japanese instrument for my CIP. Learning shamisen(三味線) with Iwasaki sensei seems to me a natural choice given that she has already taught many KCJS students koto(琴) or shamisen before, and I find my experience learning with her as rewarding as I expected.

At first, I thought I was going to a “private lesson” once a week, but it turned out that for the most of the time I participated in a “group practice”. In the first three weeks, Iwasaki sensei taught me and another student from KCJS some shamisen basics, and those were the only “private lessons” that I had. Three weeks later, she let us join the large group and practice with other senior students, all of whom were in their sixties, seventies and even eighties. I realized that the group practice was indeed a perfect opportunity for me to observe how Japanese, especially Japanese seniors behaved during practice. I once supposed they would be very serious just like what I had seen in in television shows or movies how tea masters giving lessons, but I was wrong. The vibe of the group practice was in fact lighthearted. My classmates loved to tell jokes and especially joked about their ages a lot. When a student who was about my grandma’s age pretended(ぼけ) that she was 20, and another student would point out(突っ込み) her actual age in a funny tone, making everybody else laugh. Iwasaki sensei encouraged such relaxing atmosphere to make sure everybody feel happy and enjoy the practice.

One of the reasons that I came to Kyoto was that I wanted to learn a little Kansai-ben, which means dialect in the Kansai area, so I was excited to discover that the teacher and students here all talked in Kansai-ben. Before I came to Kyoto, the only source where I could hear Kansai-ben was Japanese variety shows, so I used to feel that Kansai-ben was hilarious yet might sound a little disrespectful sometimes. However, students here talked to Iwasaki sensei in Kansai-ben with honorific expressions. For example, they would use “食べはる” and “~してはる”, and always talk with “です””ます” ending. This surprised me because my observation here during the group practice broke my stereotype in the way that Kansai-ben could also be respectful. Interestingly, when I got used to hearing Kansai-ben, I started to feel that talking in Kansai-ben with honorific expressions was actually an ideal way to communicate since the speaker would be able to speak in a relatively intimate tongue while showing respect at the same time.

When it was close to dinner time, Iwasaki sensei often invited her students to go for a dinner with her, so I was also able to eat with my warm-hearted classmates. Although all at the age of my grandfathers and grandmothers, they were still energetic, loved to joke around, and even ate more than I do (wow!). Thanks to such opportunities, I was able to observe how Japanese interact when they were at a group dinner. I noticed that Iwasaki sensei and my classmates never poured liquor by themselves but instead always poured liquor for others all the time. When everybody finished eating, Iwasaki sensei would collect about 1000 yen from each student (but not me or other KCJS students, probably because we were too young to earn money yet…or because she wanted to care for new students? ) and pay at the cashier by herself.

Learning shamisen with Iwasaki sensei makes a perfect CIP for me. I was invited by her to join other students to perform as a group on December 8th, which would enable me to show what I have learned during the past three months-a perfect end for this amazing experience. I not only learned how to play Shamisen, but also had a great experience participating in a small Japanese community, observing how people behaved and interacting with them. I would genuinely recommend Iwasaki sensei and her shamisen/koto lesson to anybody who is interested in Japanese musical instrument, or just want to have a great time experiencing Japanese society and culture.

Tracy Jiao: Pottery and Yoga

When deciding to attend the KCJS program, I understand a commitment that goes beyond taking regular Japanese courses, and CIP (community involvement program) is just one of these opportunities to reach out and truly become an active member in the city of Kyoto. Because of some previous experience in pottery and yoga, I chose to proceed to take classes in these areas. Surprisingly, both pottery and yoga take a very distinctive style in Japan; like many other things, they have turned Nihonka, adapting to the aesthetic tastes and physical needs of the locals.

Unlike western countries that prefer doing pottery on electric wheels, the pottery studio I went to in Kyoto, 藤平陶芸, makes most of their works on hand-powered wheels or simply boards. At first, I was a little befuddled by this choice, since the electronic machine seems much more efficient in making a perfect, slick piece. This question kept coming back to me, especially during times on the hand-powered wheel that last two hours every two weeks. Used to the fast electronic tourneys, I felt impatient toward the slow pace and vibe in the Fujihira studio. However, when strolling around the work display area in the studio one day, I suddenly began to understand the masters’ choice of slow development. The delicacy and elegance of these finished works directly relate to the time each master spent making them. If a pottery maker did not look close and long enough at the piece, he would neglect the details which set it apart from other mass-produced vessels. In this era of mass production, customers keep coming back to Fujihira studio to purchase a cup three times more expensive than the ones sold in IKEA. The secret behind Japanese Art’s gracefulness and their studios’ durability is rooted in the tradition. Instead of conforming to new trends, small workshops in Kyoto kept their traditional way of practice as if time has not passed.

In addition to pottery, I found a deeper understanding of the meaning of yoga practices as well. Through the zen breathing and meditation combination, I discovered a peace in my body that power yoga classes would never bring out. By communicating with teachers and students of these two studios, I gradually recognize the spirit of Kyoto that goes beyond its magnificent temples and shrines.

Sincerity yoga(シンセリティヨガ):