Larissa Barth: 茶道 (tea ceremony)

Through my CIP, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn the art of 茶道 (tea ceremony) from Fujimura-sensei, who taught us not only the complex movements of the ceremony but also the spiritual and cultural background behind them, such as wabi-sabi, Shinto and Zen, Shu-Ha-Ri, and yin/yang. Through the ritualistic sequence of the tea ceremony, we learn to let go of our thoughts and pay attention to our senses, and ultimately to approach daily life with a similar attitude of care and mindfulness.

In addition to our regular practice at the beautiful 茶室, Fujimura-sensei was also so kind to take us on various cultural excursions, such as a plum blossom night light-up at Kitano Tenman-gu, seeing the sunrise at Ise Jingu, morning and night meditations, and attending an お茶会 at Heian Jingu while wearing kimono.


Through this CIP, I gained a much deeper understanding of Japanese life and culture and made so many wonderful memories. I am very grateful that I have been able to learn from Fujimura-sensei and really don’t think I could’ve chosen a better CIP! I would recommend it to anyone, particularly if you are interested in traditional arts and philosophy. The only consideration is that because there’s a lot of difficult vocab, it’ll be helpful if you’re fairly proficient in Japanese, especially listening-wise.

Roxy Cumming: Kendo

For my CIP this semester I did kendo three or four times a week at Kyoto University Kendo Club. Kendo isa Japanese sword-based martial art that I have been practicing for the past two years at Harvard, my home university. Kendo is generally practiced at a higher level in Japan, as many Japanese Kendoka have been doing kendo since they were young, while abroad most practitioners start as adults. Therefore, practicing in Japan has been very intense, I have learnt so many things and it has been a really amazing experience. I really feel like I have discovered a new side to kendo by practicing it in Japan.

My advice to students wanting to do a similar CIP in the future is to think carefully about how you’re going to interact with your club members. Everyone in the club will already know everyone else before you arrive, so you may feel a bit like an outsider in the beginning. Furthermore, sports like kendo aren’t very conducive to holding conversation in the middle of practice, meaning that it can sometimes feel almost impossible to get to know the other people in the club. It really isn’t impossible though, it just requires a bit more strategic planning, as opportunities to socialize won’t necessarily arise organically and you may need to make more of an active effort to make friends. But when you do get to know the other people, you will be able to have a great time in your club. I genuinely don’t think there’s any better experience than doing the things you love with friends.

Shawn Dinh: Doshisha Shogi Circle

During my time here in Kyoto, I chose to join Doshisha University’s Shogi Circle for my CIP. The main motivation for joining the Shogi Circle was because I never played Shogi in the past, so I really wanted to learn the rules and strategies of the game. I had heard about it before and that it could be compared to chess, which I do enjoy playing, so I wanted to learn.

All the members of the circle were very friendly and receptive of this complete novice joining them. In my first session, since I did not know the rules, I just observed the other members during their match. Then, one of the members took the time to sit down with me and teach me the rules of the game. Since we only conversed in Japanese and I had never learned the Japanese vocabulary for technical terms in Shogi, it was a bit of a challenge to learn everything, but I got the gist of it and was soon able to properly play the game.

Then, subsequent meetings involved me playing Shogi matches against other members of the club and usually losing. I did not know any of the strategies of the game, so I was not very good, but the members were all very kind when explaining how I should play next time or what types of attacks to look out for when playing. As such, it was great learning how receptive the Japanese members of the club were to a complete beginner, calmly taking the time to help me improve my Shogi skills through our matches and setting up Shogi puzzles/problems for me.

In addition, in between matches I often tried to strike up conversations with the Japanese members about non-Shogi related topics, such as recommendations of things to do in Japan, how they celebrate Halloween (which I asked while in my Halloween costume the day of the circle’s activities), their own experiences traveling abroad, and about the image they had of Americans. One of my purposes for studying abroad was to just connect and learn from many different people and take in a wealth of knowledge and opinions, so I really enjoyed these moments of my CIP.

I really valued the time spent in my CIP at Doshisha University’s Shogi Circle. Not only have I learned how to play Shogi (which I hope to keep practicing and improve even when returning home), but I got the chance to just converse with local Japanese students and learn from their experiences and viewpoints. It was a fun time, and for me, there is no higher praise than that.

Brian Conwell: Volunteering at the Southern Kūjo Church Children’s Kitchen

For my Community Involvement Project (CIP), I took the opportunity to volunteer in the Southern Kūjo Church Children’s Kitchen, or こども食堂, with fellow KCJS student David Massart. The essence of the Children’s Kitchen is giving free meals to children in the community and discounted meals to anyone else that needs them. Every Thursday from 5 pm to around 9 pm I helped serve meals, clean dishes, and clean up the cafeteria after all of the families and children had gone home. This was an extremely rewarding way to spend my Thursday evenings—I was always happy to see how many people the Children’s Kitchen helped, and it was always fun to work with the other young volunteers. In addition, I got to work under Pastor Baekki Heo who was hardworking, kind, and everything you’d want in someone you’re working under.

Manual labor was a big component of this CIP, which to me underscored the selflessness and generosity present in the community of volunteers who regularly gave up their Thursdays to make sure that their neighbors and friends were fed, safe, and treated with kindness. Most of the other volunteers at the Kitchen were high school or college students in Kyoto. Every day they came to volunteer with a smile and always eager to work hard—an aura that was infectious to me. Often, I would spend what felt like 15 minutes washing dishes and an hour would fly by. Although I wouldn’t ordinarily be so engaged in dish washing, with all of the hard studying I was doing through KCJS, the manual labor and constant social contact with other hardworking volunteers was a welcome break.

Volunteering at the Children’s Kitchen also taught me practical skills, from the traditional placement of food at a Japanese eatery to how a non-profit kitchen works in the first place. I hope to take these skills home to my parents—to my mom, who grew up in Japan, and my dad, who is an American but nevertheless is a keen appreciator of Japanese food. Maybe in the next couple of months while I am home in Alaska, I can impress them with a simple comfort food like salmon onigiri, made with fresh Alaska salmon!

I highly recommend working at the Children’s Kitchen to anyone who is interested in doing some really worthwhile volunteering. I believe I can best characterize my experience with this CIP as a case of witnessing ordinary people do extraordinary things every time I came to volunteer. In every meal made and every interaction with people coming to the Children’s Kitchen, there was a lot of thought put into making sure everyone was taken care of. After each day of volunteering was done, Pastor Baekki Heo led a meeting about how things could be improved upon for next time. There was always a good, productive discussion despite the tiredness of the end of the day and everyone closed by saying お疲れ様 (otsukaresama) and parting ways. It was always satisfying at the end of the day to know that you were able to help some people and give back to the community a little bit even as a visitor to Japan.

Even though our time in Kyoto was abruptly cut short, I feel like I squeezed every bit out of this experience volunteering. The volunteering sessions were long compared to other CIPs and there was always a lot of work to do, but I am supremely grateful to have been able to work at the Children’s Kitchen!

Joao Paulo Krug Paiva: Hip-Hop Dance Lesson

I have always sensed a certain universality to the world of dance in the 4 places where I had trained before coming to Japan (Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Brazil), but it was incredible to have a chance to confirm that in Japan. Of course there are differences, but probably the most interesting thing about hip hop studios is that instead of conserving the differences between Japanese and US culture, they bring both of these worlds into a third, which feels incredibly familiar to anyone who has experienced it anywhere around the world. We stretch, practice some techniques which the teacher deems useful for that day’s  choreography, learn around 30 seconds of choreography together and dance it in small groups by the end of the class. As one group dances, the others form a circle around them to cheer them forward, and finally the teacher might choose to perform it alone at the end of the class either for the students’ inspiration, study, or for the teacher’s own enjoyment. Both of these descriptions could describe in some detail the 5 environments I have experienced so far, including Japan, yet because of the Japanese personality, I think, the moments after the class have been considerably different.

This is also influenced by the fact that this studio is smaller than the enormous studios in Tokyo, for example, but it is a well established culture for the teacher to stay and talk to the students and build relationships after the class. In this case my teacher happens to be famous, a member of the hip hop team that largely defined street dance as it is in Japan. Today Japan is the second most acknowledged country in the world of hip hop, yet the intimidating atmosphere I felt in LA was not at all present. What’s more, in contrast with LA, for example, there was no pressure for me to change my personality. I am not claiming to be normal or cool around all of my friends but I am indescribably shy and clumsy when entering new groups, especially those which have a clear distinction with the groups I integrate. For example, I can find several commonalities with other KCJS students that make me feel like we have a similar standing: we are all college students, currently studying in the US, living in a foreign and completely different country and under the same program, taking similar classes. In the studio, however, that is different. I am from Brazil, have moved to the US but now am living in Japan taking classes with a famous Japanese professional dancer in her country, with students she already knows and are part of a tight knit community. In LA the pressure is even more indescribable, you might be rehearsing in one room while Beyonce is literally in the room next to you, you want to be hired by her but you know it probably won’t happen because you’re disputing that job with the other 100 amazing dancers which currently share the studio with you, plus those rehearsing in different studios and those who come all around the world just for these auditions – every class feels like a simulated audition. Because of this imposing culture, it is demanded that you impose yourself: be confident, find your style, jump to the front of the room to be seen, talk to the teacher because you are the one who has something to gain and if you are shy, it’s because you haven’t developed your social skills well enough – well, tough luck for me.

Thank god I found this class, this teacher I had watched on Youtube and Instagram from Brazil and the US simply approached me and talked as I was about to leave the studio. Not only that, but she waited at the door for me so I wouldn’t go without us meeting. Of course the fact that she is famous imposes limits on how fast one can build a relationship, since fame attracts many insincere friends. That forced friendship, however, was sometimes exactly what was demanded in LA, and I had no idea how to act, because I would stumble through words while looking down and ultimately just leave with a handshake and “thank you for class.” This teacher, however, more famous than many of my LA teachers, sat me in the together with their close knit circle and asked about me, my life, what I did, why I had come to Japan, why I was “so umai at Japanese” and complimented the thing I care the most about, my dance, even as I am unable to dance properly because of my operated hips, saying she was looking forward to see me recovering.

Indeed the Japanese have a different way of moving, and naturally we talked a lot about those differences as well. In the west, especially in hip hop, dancers tend to focus on their upper body, which has most of the gestural movement and perhaps is easier to notice – although now I focus way more on the lower body. The Japanese, however, seem to be the opposite: the arms seem not as important, but by focusing on the lower body their dance has a stability and fluency that is really difficult to find. If you watch a Japanese hip hop dancer, probably two things will stand out: their connection with the music and their soft knees. Knees give you stability and impulse when you are dancing, yet they are usually naturally locked and stiff – that’s actually a good way of guessing for how long has been practicing, when you are in America. Here, however, the softness in the legs seems to happen more naturally, which is interesting for me, too, as someone who doesn’t have that specific aspect as naturally as the Japanese. That is not to say, however, that the Japanese are inherently better, just that they seem to have one good natural quality. My teacher joked all the time, however, about how the Japanese were anxious compared to Americans, and that a music that started on 60 bpm (beats per minute) would become 120 in a minute if it depended on Japanese. She has lived in LA as well, and also said the quietness of the Japanese sometimes give a weird feeling to the performer – even when the audience is enjoying it. Especially in America people tend to scream all the time during hip hop performances, while in Japan it’s normal for them to say nothing at all, and once you are used to America that can be quite scary.

The thing I am most grateful for, however, was for their welcoming spirit and acceptance of my clumsy, quiet way in the studio, which was answered with comments like “So respectful!” or (maybe in the worst case) “Mecha Kawaii Yan (Really cute right??),because I probably look like a kid transferring schools at elementary school. But I have done that before, quite a few times, actually, and perhaps because of Japan’s culture of listening attentively, then respond, it was the first time I felt those characteristics were welcomed, so I would feel incredibly comfortable inviting anyone there for their first dance class. She gave us freedom to choose what we wanted to work on during class ‘I am giving you raw material but if you think that’s too stressful you can just learn one thing, and if you think that’s too easy you can make it more challenging, it’s your class and I am happy to see you do what you want with it.’ In any case you are guaranteed to be welcomed and congratulated by her in the end with a warm “Otsukaresama deshita!” and praise of whatever she can compliment in you – even if it’s your courage for taking a different class. Anyone that decides to do this, I think, would have an amazing first view of the hip hop world, from one of it’s most welcoming countries.

Marcia Lagesse: Klexon

For my Community Involvement Project (CIP), I participated in the Kyoto International Club Klexon. Klexon is a Japanese nonprofit international club that brings together English-speaking volunteers and Japanese participants who want to practice their English. They generally meet up on Tuesdays, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Kyoto City Gender Equality Center, or Wings Kyoto. Occasionally, they’ll host an event over the weekend or holidays.

Klexon’s time was divided into two parts.  For the first hour, I spoke individually with Japanese participants. While the English speakers remained in the same place for the entire hour, the Japanese participants switched chairs every 5-10 minutes, so that in an hour I spoke with sometimes up to 12 different people. While initially a lot of the Japanese participants were rather shy and the conversations slightly stilted, after a few sessions conversations became more lighthearted and free-flowing. The Klexon managers gave us previously decided upon topics to talk about, but I found that the conversations often flowed naturally, and often ended up speaking about the common topics of interest between myself and my Japanese partner instead of those assigned. Through these one-on-one talks I managed to create a more personal connection between myself and the Japanese participants, and often found myself exchanging LINE numbers with them.

For the second hour, we were randomly put into groups of 5-6 people, usually with 2 English speakers and 4 Japanese participants. We gave small introductions, describing our names, where we come from, and our hobbies. Much like the previous one-on-one conversations, conversation often flowed naturally and we found ourselves speaking of new topics. Through these group discussions I learned more about a variety of topics; Japanese traditions, the Japanese view on religion and their own connection to religion, Japanese work culture, Japanese family structures, etc. Klexon provided me with a unique opportunity to gain an insight into Japanese culture, directly from Japanese people.

It was interesting to learn more not only about Japanese people and culture from the Japanese participants, but also about why the other English speakers decided to move to Japan. While some of them were American, a lot of them were from differing countries, each with their own point of view on Japan. An outsider’s point of view is often telling, and promoted serious discussions such as those about racism and discrimination in Japan.

Through Klexon, I’ve not only learned more about Japan and its culture, but I’ve also gained good friends. I often go to bars or karaoke with the Japanese people I met at Klexon, providing them with ample opportunity to practice English, and myself with an opportunity to practice Japanese. In sum, I’ve had a great time at Klexon, and I recommend it to everyone who is looking for a way to meet more Japanese people.

Nicole Flett: Doshisha Hula Circle

Dance has always been a big part of my life, so my first thought for CIP was joining a university dance circle. Although I wanted to join a hiphop circle, they unfortunately didn’t answer my email for a few weeks (twitter seems to be the big contact hub for university circles but I didn’t want to create an account). Instead I joined Meahula, a hula group on campus open to females only. They usually don’t take students mid-year (I ran into this problem quite a lot with other dance groups), but since I’ve previously danced hula for about 6 years, the president allowed me to join and learn the first-year group dances.


As much as I disagree with strict kouhai-senpai relationships, I’m glad I was able to experience it with my own eyes through the group. Examples include the senpai waiting for first years to move all the desks and chairs out of the way whenever we used the classroom, and also first years feeling they did something wrong because it wasn’t them who took the mirrors all the way from the other room but the older students. Yet according to my friend, the hula group is one of the stricter ones on campus compared to other university circles in terms of the senpai-kouhai relationship, but it is still far less strict than high school clubs.


I was in the weird position of being a foreigner – one who was sort of a first year for the group because I was learning the first-year dances, but the same age and grade as the senpai, and technically everybody’s senpai in hula because of how much experience I have. Everyone approached me to talk during breaks, but only in groups of kouhai or senpai – there was only once when I was talking to both first years and a senpai at the same time. I was also able to get away with a lot of advantages by not being a real part of the group – I didn’t have to pay fees since I was only borrowing a skirt and uniform, and I also didn’t have to pay for participating in the festival. If anyone felt animosity towards me for being able to swoop in, they didn’t show it though (but my privilege is something I couldn’t help but keep in mind, which is why I made efforts to go to both practices every week – also because I genuinely enjoyed being able to talk and dance with new and old people). I had a great time dancing something I hadn’t in such a long time, and I made a few good friends (both first years, who were arguably easiest to talk to, and senpai who were the same age as me), and many new acquaintances (there were so many girls that when I talked to some for one practice I usually didn’t talk to them again because the next time there would be a new group of girls I’d be talking to). A few my favorite conversations included dropping the “Harvard” bomb, saying that my favorite food was taiyaki, and perfecting the art of talking about my studies and where I live. The best part was hearing that many of the girls admired English and the US because people can say their opinions straightforwardly. If the modern generation thinks this way, I wonder if these senpai-kouhai and strict keigo-speaking relationships can slowly change?



Julia Hirata: Kitanotenmangu Taiko Group

     In the past month I have started to play taiko at Kitanotenmangu shrine. Taiko practices and gatherings have been the highlights of my time here in Kyoto so far. All of the members are Japanese and don`t speak any English so it is a great opportunity for me to improve my Japanese, learn more about the cultural customs, and interact with more Japanese people in a social setting. The members consist of mostly middle-aged men and women and their children. Spending time with a group of people ranging from 5-50 years old has really made me understand the stratification of Japanese communication. For example, when our teacher speaks to his 10 year old daughter he uses casual form and is very expressive in his tone. However, when he speaks to the supervising monks at the temple, he immediately switches to keigo and often bows throughout the conversation. One thing that I was surprised at was how quickly the other members came to use casual with me. I noticed this more with the female members and young children. The taiko teacher’s wife even began calling me Julia-chan. I thought it would take a while to break down social barriers and speak as friends, but after one lesson they invited me to a dinner party and welcomed me in with open arms. The group teacher’s wife added me as a friend on Facebook and showed me videos of her daughter dancing. I sat by her the whole night and we chatted about taiko, school, her daughter and the drunk people around us. At the party, everyone drank and laughed and spoke very informally to each other while joking around. I felt so lucky to be included in the group and treated as a fellow member.
One cultural difference I noticed was the social involvement of the monks at the shrine. When I see the head monk at the shrine during practice, he is always dressed in traditional garb and is always nice but extremely formal. At the party, he came dressed in a western suit and joined in all the festivities. When people got particularly rowdy or drunk instead of sternly lecturing them, he would tease them and speak informally to them. I was surprised that the monk interacted with us so freely in a social setting. I was so happy to talk to him and get to know him over nice sake and good food.


Melody Wu: Kyoto Municipal Zoo volunteer, Kitanotenmangu taiko group

During my time at KCJS, I chose to participate in two CIP activities, which was possible because taiko meetings are infrequent (2-4x a month). Besides living with a host family, CIP was pretty much the only opportunity for me to interact with regular Japanese people. I have definitely learned a lot from my CIP experiences, but they have rarely served as a gateway to strong friendships with Kyoto-ites. This is mainly because attendees change at every meeting. Still, I will try my best to maintain a relationship with the other volunteers and taiko players when I leave Japan.

Before I came to Japan, I was more excited about the CIP part of the program than I was about the classes. I had this grand vision of learning to ride horses (possibly even 流鏑馬), taking kyudo and taiko lessons, and cooking Japanese cuisine on a weekly basis. Well, none of that happened. I wasn’t at an advanced enough level to join the local horseback riding clubs, which also started around 6 or 7 am, and money proved a limiting factor in taking group and private lessons. However, I knew I wanted to work with animals and I wanted/needed some sort of exercise, so I talked it over with my Japanese teacher. She managed to find the zoo and taiko opportunities within minutes, and it went on from there.

I don’t regret my CIP choices. A piece of advice for future KCJS students:  things are bound to be awkward the first few times, but if it still isn’t going well after a month or so, start looking for a new activity! In any case, I greatly appreciate my chance to interact with Japanese children at the petting zoo and playing taiko at a shrine. I was able to practice my Japanese and learn more about the local people and culture in environments that the classroom cannot match. The one good friend I made, I met through volunteering at the zoo. She is an older retired woman, and we visit famous locations (Kinkakuji, Nijo Castle at night) and have meals together. I also added a fellow taiko player on Facebook, so staying in touch with her will be easy.

However, I sometimes dreaded going to CIP activities because of the chance that I will become stressed. One semester is an extremely short time to learn something new in a foreign country, so if you intend on joining a “traditional arts” group, it is best to continue with what you already know. (Lessons would be different, I think.) For instance, while taiko is fun after I manage to get “into the zone,” I am awful compared to the two other KCJS students, who have previous experience. There is supposed to be a performance sometime in April, but I would rather not be in it… Also, because taiko meets so infrequently and not everybody shows up every time, it is very hard to make friends. Most of the members are older, too. I have gone to event, including dinners, but I still feel like a guest rather than a member.

The zoo is alright when I can rely on route memorization, but it becomes harder when I can’t understand guests’ questions. The experience is teaching me to be more assertive in saying no, as I was scolded for helping someone take a picture. It’s a long learning process, but when I finally do something well, it’s extremely rewarding. It’s also hard to make friends here because different people show up each time and everybody seems to have places to go afterward. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try. You should start by writing down everyone’s.

Hopefully, volunteering at the zoo will prove useful to have the connections when I start my thesis research.  My last piece of advice: if you want to write a Japan-related thesis, start networking during KCJS.