Rachael Kane: Pottery Classes

For my CIP I took pottery classes in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto. This area is known for it’s having a wide variety of pottery shops among its curving back alleys. I attend weekly classes in a studio there. The student body is mostly older, mainly past retirement age. There are two teachers who wander around and help students as they pursue independent projects. Luckily, I had some experience in ceramics, so it was less of a shock to be asked to self-direct my own study.

The people that regularly come to the open studio are local artisans in their own right. This creates a very interesting dynamic within the studio, encouraging collaboration and learning between not only the teachers and the students but amongst the students as well. Despite the incredible quality of the work done in the studio, there is no judgment placed on those who are less skilled.  The congenial atmosphere serves to make visitors feel comfortable, but it does not take long to realize that the uchi/soto dichotomy is still heavily present in the space. Many things are not labeled and procedures, and locations are often not explicitly disclosed. Between the distinctive vocabulary, significant use of kansai-ben and importance of implicit instruction, communication was definitely difficult at points.

The experience was overall, quite rewarding. The environment provided a unique viewpoint in the small artisan community in Kyoto, traditional industries and teacher/student relationships. While I may not have learned very much about pottery, I certainly gained valuable exposure to language usage and culture.

This is a photograph of the first piece I worked on this semester.


John Lyons: Miconos Swimming Circle

  After another semester participating in the Miconos Swimming Circle at Kyoto University, I feel I have come away from the experience with a new understanding of Japanese college life that one cannot learn from class, and a group of friends that I sincerely hope I can keep in contact with. The members of Miconos were all incredibly nice, and accepting of me from the first time I entered the pool.

  However that does not mean that my transition from an American Water Polo club to a Japanese Swimming circle was flawless. There were several steps along the way were I felt distanced from the other members of the circle, but at this point I feel that is not the case at all. For example, the lack of swimming that occurs at this swimming circle initially was an alienating aspect of the circle as my club at my home college is especially strict on ensuring all members participate at hundred percent. Yet, I eventually found myself adapting to the conditions of the circle, and even valuing engaging other members in conversation over swimming. Another aspect was reconciling that the President of the circle was in the same year as me. While in America, seniors usually occupy the roles as leaders within the club. But, the president’s kind nature, and friendliness helped me overcome this cultural difference. Although he is no longer the president, before the transition occurred, I had already resolved my discomfort with this difference and even started to no longer refer to him as 会長, but by his circle nickname, 岩ちゃん.

  While I feel I have mostly adapted to some aspects of Miconos that are certainly quite different than what I am used to, the end of one term and start of another brought forth various other difference from the college situation in America. As the end of the term drew near, I noticed that many of the upperclassman would forsake swimming for the entire practice period, but instead congratulations cards for the members of the circle who were graduating. Considering that I had been practicing with the club for five months at that point, but had yet to see any of these seniors participate in the practices, I did find this practice a bit strange. Furthermore, the graduating seniors had apparently created a similar card, but for the restaurant Tsumura which has housed the after practice meals of Miconos for at least five years. The reason I know this is because within the restaurant, the walls are littered with these cards from the Miconos members in previous years. This and the circle itself arbitrarily deciding that the ending of the 2014-2015 year and beginning of the 2015-2016 at the start of April, a week before the University`s actual new year begins are two aspects of this transitional period that differ quite a bit from my experiences in America.

  Through my short time with Miconos, I have found that joining a circle that you have a profound interest in can really help you overcome the initial awkwardness distancing a foreigner with Japanese students. By taking advantage of these common points, and actively engaging the circle members one can easily find their place within the circle. There may be times were you feel like an outsider, or like you’re being ignored, don`t be shy and try to engage members in one on one settings rather in a larger group. You will find that in most cases the members want to converse with and be friends with you, just as much as you want to converse and be friends with them.








John Lyons: Miconos Swimming Circle

 For my CIP, I participated in a Kyoto University swimming circle called Miconos (http://www.miconos.net/ ). This experience was great for me, and taught me about Japanese college social life. I met a lot of really nice people, had a blast swimming, and am happy to be able to continue participating in this club next semester.

Prior to coming to Japan, I had some presumptions on what Japanese sports circles would be like based on my own experiences studying abroad four years ago at Doshisha International High School, my playing Water Polo at the club level at Hamilton College, and from various TV shows and anime. I had believed that sports circles would be very strict, and that participating in practices and other events would be mandatory. This assumption stemmed essentially from my applying an even stricter hierarchical relationship, and expectation to participate to my surprising strict Water Polo club in America. But when I started participating in my circle, I quickly realized how wrong my assumptions had been. While there certainly is a stricter hierarchy relating to senpai-kouhai status, there is very little pressure to go to practice or other events. When I was first searching for a club to join, I found Miconos’ website which stated that swimming was to be done at one’s own pace, and that members were expected to participate in the after. After is the act of members of the club going out to dinner after practice. Despite the website’s claims, I found that even amongst the members who went to practice the number of members who participated in the after was less than those who don’t.

Additionally, I discovered the swim at one’s own pace part turned out to be a bit of an understatement. The club is much less focused on swimming than I had thought a swimming club to be. Although I did not expect everybody to be swimming for the full two hour practices, I was still surprised by the lack of swimming going on in the swimming circle. Most members would do a lap or two every now or then, but the majority of the time in the pool was spent chatting with each other. Most members were part of a swimming club at their High School, so they are definitely able to swim much more than they do, but instead most of them eventually spend a good amount of time in the pool’s Jacuzzi rather than swimming laps. In my college’s Water Polo team, we bond over overcoming arduous training regiments together, but in this Miconos that is not the case. I had assumed that the circle would be an incredible tight knit group that spends most of their free time with each other like a high school club. But Miconos did not reach the level of camaraderie that I was hoping for in a sports circle.

Although Miconos was not at all what I was expecting it to be, it is certainly not a bad experience. Because there is a larger focus on talking than swimming, I am able to better work on my Japanese by conversing with my fellow club members. Considering that most of our conversations pertain to past sporting events in High School, I believe that most of the members I converse with still love swimming. Yet, because they are no longer competing in meets, they are able to simply swim because they want to. Additionally through the club, they are able to meet people with similar interests, thus although the club does not have the athletic camaraderie that I love about sport teams, the circle appears to consist of several groups of friends, usually split by grade. Right now, I straddle an awkward position of foreign exchange student where I am friendly with most of the people in the circle, and their friend groups, but I am still an outsider to each one of the groups.

Overall, I am incredibly happy with the circle that I am participating in. It has taught me a great deal about Japanese college social and sports culture. It’s always a fun time swimming, talking and eating dinner with the members. Although I may not be completely satisfied with my current situation, I have a whole other semester to better get to know, and become better friends with my fellow club members.

I believe the most important point in picking a CIP is finding one that deals with something you have a lot of experience with, and are passionate about. Whether that be a certain sport, musical instrument or even a niche interest. Commonly shared experiences are some of the easiest way to make connections with people, and as foreigners, we really don’t have many with Japanese students when it comes to everyday life. But one shared experience you are bound to have in your CIP is an interest in whatever the subject of said CIP is. Therefore, you will have a lot more to bond over, and talk about if you are more invested in the topic which your CIP covers. This can come from connecting over long arduous practices routines you suffered through while in high school, songs you know how to play, and teaching others how to play them, or a show that you and those in your CIP have watched and enjoyed separately. It will definitely be awkward in the beginning, especially if you are the only foreigner in your CIP. But if you can reach out and bridge the gap between you and the members of your CIP through these shared experiences, I’m sure you will have a great time.




Tracy Le: Bazaar Cafe

Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe has been one of my favorite things to do here in Kyoto. Every Friday I go to the cafe and help out in the kitchen or as a waitress.

It has truly been an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. For the precise reason that most of the staff at the cafe are volunteers and they come from different countries in the world that Bazaar Cafe is a strange and refreshing experience. On one hand, the working environment is very Japanese – the manager is Japanese, the customers are Japanese – you have to be polite, efficient and attentive; but on the other hand, everyone in the kitchen is speaking a mixture of Japanese and English and other languages and offering unique cultural tidbits at every turn of conversation. The staff have been some of the warmest people I’ve met in Japan. It’s fascinating to hear them speak about why in Japan, or what they think of Japan; their experiences, from common or bizarre, give a glimpse into the Japan from the perspectives of minority peoples, and lets us see the lives of people we would usually not encounter everyday. That, underneath the idea of homogeneity so heralded of Japan’s society, there are many unique lives quietly transforming social boundaries and ideas.

Even on the customer’s side, many are Doshisha’s students and professors and/or regulars and friends of the manager. They, too, have been engaging and interesting people. Some have come talked to me out of genuine interest in foreign students and workers in Japan. It’s a comforting experience.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing time at the quaint little cafe by Doshisha. I try and go there at least once a week, twice if I have time, and I really recommend it as the food’s great and it has a good ambiance for studying or chatting.