You Wu: Volunteering at Kyoto Institute of Technology Museum and Archives

My CIP is volunteering in a museum archive that specializes in posters collection. My main job was to organize museum posters from recent years in Japan or help my supervisor Wada-sensei with some hands-on museum work.

It was highly pleasant to just look at various posters with all ranges of excellent artistic designs. I also got to work on different kinds of posters, including the poster (ポスター) collection books from Shōwa era. However, it could get a bit boring after several weeks, since archive work is repeated and I usually worked alone. Therefore, it’s important for volunteers to reach out actively to ask more about museum work or politely address our own requests. After reaching out, I found myself being much closer with my supervisor! She is also nice enough to show me around various curation works that were in progress and gave me some different work that fitted my interests. People here might seem to be introvert but are actually friendly and helpful!



Kiely Quinn: Klexon and Volunteering at Doshinjidoukan

I was fortunate enough to try two different experiences for my community involvement project with KCJS. I started my CIP experience by attending Klexon, a language exchange club for Japanese people who are interested in learning English. Although I enjoyed meeting new people and forming friendships, ultimately I felt as though I would prefer a different experience. Nakata-sensei helped me to locate an elementary after-school program called Doushinjidoukan near my apartment.

Before becoming a volunteer, I had to make a phone call to the program. I was very nervous about this because I had never made a phone call in Japanese before and I try to avoid phone calls as much as possible even in English. I was not confident that my speaking and listening abilities were adequate enough to handle a phone call with a native Japanese speaker, but Nakata-sensei kindly helped me practice and I was able to make the call. I was so proud of myself for being able to arrange my first appointment over the phone in Japanese. Without the CIP experience I probably never would’ve had to do anything like that.

Once I started volunteering the kids seemed somewhat wary of me at first, but ultimately they welcomed me in and had lots of games they wanted to play with me. Many of them wanted to know more about America, or wanted to show me their favorite games or toys. One day, I played restaurant/conbini (Japanese convenience store) with several of the kids which involved them serving me various different dishes and pretending to work at a conbini. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in children’s play between Japanese and American children. For example, I had played similar restaurant games with American children, but because convenience stores do not have the same popularity in America, convenience store games are not common among children in the United States.

I was very sad that I had to leave so abruptly due to covid-19, and never got to see the children again or say goodbye to them properly. When I arrived, they were all so excited that I would be coming every week until the end of April, but in the end I was only able to go a handful of times. Despite this, I will never forget the time that I was able to spend there and the people I was able to meet.

I would advise future KCJS students to think carefully about what they want to get out of their CIP when trying to decide on what to do. In my case, I wanted to try and volunteer with children because I was living in an apartment and would not be able to interact with different generations in a host family. Also, I would advise future KCJS to be outgoing and as friendly as possible when they get to their activity. Doing so will make everyone more comfortable and will make your experience flow more easily. Although it can be difficult at first, when people are not really sure what to make of you, if you show up consistently and work hard, they will ultimately appreciate your dedication.

Sophie Burke: Volunteering at Higashi Kujo Children's Soup Kitchen

For my CIP, I’ve continued volunteering with the Higashi Kujo Children’s Soup Kitchen located at Kyoto Southern Church. When I returned from summer break and stepped into the soup kitchen, I was immediately greeted by some of the other volunteers from last semester who still remembered my name and who I was. That experience alone encapsulates why I have grown to love the community so much.

The organization was founded three years ago by the pastor Baekki Heo, a third generation Korean born Japanese. He and his wife do a fantastic job fostering a community while providing affordable and home-cooked meals to families who need them.

While last semester I helped with a variety of tasks each week, this time around I was pretty much assigned a permanent station of expediting the food and taking it to the customers. The girl who was almost always stationed with me was always so patient with me even though I often make mistakes with the arrangement of the food on the tray. She and all the other volunteers were always patient with me when I didn’t understand something, and would take the time to explain it to me.

Over the course of the semester it has been really great seeing people who were really shy at first gradually become accustomed to joking around with me and not feeling like they have to tiptoe around me. Every week is filled with a plethora of hilarious, informative, and sometimes embarrassing anecdotes as I get to speak with everyone and find out more about their lives. From celebrating the soup kitchen’s third anniversary to getting to speak with the older people in the community and practice my keigo, my time with the Higashi Kujo Children’s Soup Kitchen has truly been one of the highlights of my experience abroad.


Sophie Burke: Volunteering at the Children's Kitchen

For my CIP, I volunteer at a children’s kitchen(子供食堂) every Thursday. The organization is located on the second floor of a church in Higashi Kujo, and caters mainly to families with young children. The objective of the kitchen is to build a community, and I definitely felt this while working alongside the other volunteers. Most of the other volunteers were from Kyoto, and were generally college-aged. Every week we worked on a variety of different tasks including serving food, cleaning and putting away dishes, and engaging in conversations with the other volunteers. It was overwhelming at first, since I was largely unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary used, but little by little I found myself improving and becoming closer with the regular volunteers.

One of the difficulties of the Shokudo was trying to communicate when I didn’t understand instructions, since everyone was already familiar with each other and spoke very quickly in Kansai-ben. However, the volunteers were always patient with me when I didn’t understand something, and would take the time to explain it to me and make sure I understood. I also observed how friendly and accepting they were of me and the other KCJS volunteers, as well as new members who arrived at the Shokudo. Because of this welcoming atmosphere, we were always able to joke around when the kitchen wasn’t too busy and learn a lot about Japanese culture. They even taught us some useful phrases in Kansai-ben, and taught us some popular children’s games. As most of the volunteers didn’t speak a lot of English, Japanese was often the only way of communication. Because of this I was forced out of my comfort zone while trying to communicate. This was a fantastic chance to build up my own confidence and practice speaking casually with the other students my age while learning new grammar and vocabulary. Out of pure coincidence, I was even able to meet an alumna of my home college who is now living in Kyoto! I am thankful for the opportunity to volunteer at the Kodomo Shokudo and engage with the community.

Xiangyu Zhang: Life in Kyoto

For my CIP, I participated in the production of a bi-monthly informational journal “Life in Kyoto” (LIK), under Kyoto International Community House. “Life in Kyoto” is making newsletters for foreign residents, especially foreigners who came to Kyoto one to two years ago, providing the informations which foreigners can feel relieved by reading. Since the production cycle is two months, we met two times per month on Wednesday evening, usually for about two hours at a time.

I volunteered for the Japanese version, and English version of the newsletter. It was a great opportunity to get to know the difference between cultures. The most interesting difference I experienced is about the masculinity and femininity in Japanese language. From an all-women’s college where gender neutrality is highly appreciated, I could not even imagine that somebody said that “this word choice (which are Kanji compound) is too masculine and let us find a proper word (such as kunyomi words) for her”, which I heard several times during LIK meeting. I do not think it is because my native language is nothing but Kanji so I cannot tell how “masculine” the word is, and I do have the idea that Japanese language system is separated by gender. But it was still shocking when hearing people do discuss in this way for article contents. Besides gender differentiation, in Japan, how one talks and is talked to is determined by one’s seniority, and occupation. Fortunately, LIK volunteer group members are quite easygoing and friendly, and everyone was trying to create a welcoming atmosphere to new-comers. So in our meeting, members basically talked with each other with polite form, except for senior people to younger people.

Other than bi-weekly meetings, our communication was almost done by emails, which enabled me to learned how to politely email in Japanese. In the past, when emailing in Japanese, I had to search for and check the politeness word by word online, but now, to a large extent, I can directly type without copy-and-paste. Some people may think the Japanese email is full of meaningless and overwhelming greetings, but I do appreciate the warmth and the respect show in the email by the routine “お疲れ様です” and “お手数をお掛けしますが、どうぞ宜しくお願いします”.

Moreover, as a volunteer, I had gone through almost every process of publishing a journal: making plans, writing, proofreading, and editing, which involve lots of detail-oriented works, such as reading the draft aloud to find missing particles and grammatically incorrect expressions, and word choosing, as the above-mentioned. The most difficult part in the proofreading is to make every sentence easier to understand in both Japanese and English. And as a non-native English and Japanese speaker, it is about mutual learning. I pointed out my suggestions to the contents, and I got invaluable advice from other volunteers on the article I wrote in Japanese and English. I would say how much you can learn depends on how you would like to raise questions no matter how trivial the detail seems to be. I enjoyed the mutually learning experience very much.

All in all, the volunteer experience with LIK was interesting and rewarding. As a foreigner I feel I was needed by everyone in every stage of the publishing work, from content writing to proofreading. On the other hand, I really appreciate the interaction with other members. I would definitely recommend the volunteer opportunity at LIK.

Mengjiao Zhang: opera lesson

こんにちわ、this is Mengjiao Zhang from Mount Holyoke College. I want to share my experience of taking opera lesson in Kyoto, Japan. I was taking an individual voice class back to homeschool in America. When I told my voice teacher I would go study abroad in Japan for next semester, she told me in a serious way that I’d better continue voice practice in this off-campus period, or my singing level will drop to the starting level. So I decided to continue opera singing/voice practice during this four month in Japan.

My voice teacher’s name is Tamada Makimi, she is a local who offered individual opera practice class for over ten years, given that she is really experienced at teaching classical singing. I went to my first class on a random Wednesday afternoon, with some of the music sheets I got from last semester – but according to my previous experience, I know the first class is for which teacher to evaluate student level. For instance how long you been practiced, how high or low you are able to sing, etc… First time greeting just like every normal Japanese greeting, teacher called me ジャスミンさん in a very cute way, she was indeed amiable and had an obvious 可愛い personality.

My lessons in both America or Japan are divided into two parts, 30 minutes of warming up and 30 minutes of singing an opera song. Sometimes the class before me ended late, but I arrived on time, so I had chances to observe how my teacher treat other native Japanese students. Most of them are around 40s to 50s, but also there are also 20’s young girls or 10 years elementary students. So my teacher is teaching a large variety of students. Moreover, for the older students, It seems usual for them to have a schedule book which they can record the schedule of next class, and an envelope to pay for the tuition. I asked Tamada Sensei about the envelope whether it is necessary to have one to pay for the tuition or not. But, she told me I don’t need one. (Still the reason of using an envelope.)

Another thing to notice is in the class time, Sensei talked to me in standard Japanese, but when talked to other students, she used Kansai dialect instead. I didn’t ask her the reason because it seems somehow obvious. Like we discussed in the class, I’m a foreigner who is on the way of studying, mastering Japanese. In order for me to understand what she is talking about, standard Japanese works much better than Kansai dialect.

Also, Tamada Sensei was easy going. When warming up, body contacting was involved, it seems very normal to touching the body because she needed to show me how to use the belly to breathe and sing. Tamada sensei taught me another way of singing which named Bel Canto. I’m able to sing it right now, and we plan to learn a Japanese song at the last two classes. I really appreciate the time I spend with her, and, I’m thinking about what kinds of gift I should give to her at our last class.

Mengjiao Zhang

Sophie Kanetani: Yoshida Jidoukan

For my CIP I volunteered at Yoshida Jidoukan which is an after school program that kids go to after school and while their parents are still at work. At this particular one, there are kids up to around twelve years old but the majority of the kids are in second and third grade and there are about sixty of them. Of course I can’t interact with all of them but I try to meet and play with a different group every week. It’s easy to pick out groups because the children form cliques amongst themselves and I just walk up to one of them and start talking to them. The kids are all really energetic and love to ask me questions. They also make fun of my Japanese but I was expecting that so it doesn’t really bother me. Although I have worked with kids before I did learn some new things, in particular, about myself during my CIP visits. I learned that I’m not a very outgoing person and that it is difficult for me to put myself out there, even with young kids who won’t judge in the same ways that fellow adults do. But because each visit we were supposed to try out a small task that we had come up with ourselves, I had many chances to improve myself in that aspect. I tried to talk to small groups of children and I slowly got more comfortable. 

Diana Stanescu: Tea Ceremony and Taiko

I first became acquainted with tea ceremony through my studies of Zen Buddhism, years ago, but didn’t have a chance to become part of this world before starting studying in the US. As such, while I was able to gain insight into the world of tea through my readings, I was not able to practice it until much later, which translated into what I believe to be an understanding of chanoyu that didn’t align much with its ideology. Studying abroad in Japan was as much about improving my Japanese level and gaining a better understanding of the Japanese society, as it was about better integrating chanoyu into my life.

I contacted the Urasenke office as soon as I arrived in Kyoto, hoping to be able to start my lessons immediately. Although I had a very long list of requests regarding how my lessons should be, I knew that the office would be able to find a teacher and a location that would fulfill all my expectations, so I tried to be as specific as possible when I contacted them. To my surprise, they were able to find not one, but several teachers that fit my requests. Or so I thought, until I arrived at the chashitsu where my first tea ceremony in Kyoto was to take place. Despite the fact that I was assured that the lessons were going to be one on one, in the 4 hours I spent that day in that tea ceremony room, I was to meet no less than six other tea ceremony practitioners.

That was the first instance here in Kyoto that forced me to realize that regardless of my linguistic abilities, communication barriers might arise. It turned out that, given that despite having to work with multiple students at the same time a teacher can give her undivided attention to a student at a time, in a one to one lesson as many students as permitted by the spatial constraints might take part.

My first reaction was to try to find a teacher who could offer the type of lessons I had envisioned: with no other students coming in during my practice. It didn’t take me long to realize that such a lesson format would not only be very difficult to come across, but also not advisable. My initial reticence regarding studying with other tea ceremony practitioners stemmed from my fear that I would feel and be felt as an outsider from the very beginning: if my appearance wouldn’t, my command of the Japanese language and my understanding of the Japanese culture would definitely betray the fact that I was far from being Japanese.

I feel that I wasn’t able to become an insider but after I accepted the fact that it was only natural for me to be seen, at least to a certain extent, as an outsider. Often, while I was drinking the tea prepared by the other practitioners or after the lesson, the other people in the room would try to include me in their conversations, either discussing tea ceremony, the Japanese culture, or inquiring about my culture. Although this made me feel welcome, it definitely also accentuated the fact that I was the non-Japanese in the room. On the other hand though, I was as much a tea ceremony practitioner as everyone else, and therefore the only factor that determined whether I was an insider or not was my seriousness towards tea ceremony. This was also reinforced by the fact that in tea ceremony, a highly ritualized traditional Japanese ceremony, a formal behavior is expected and therefore becoming part of the group is not equal to becoming friends.

I decided I was going to be as much of an insider as everybody else, and by the end of the first month I started feeling as such. Being part of this CIP definitely helped me gain a better understanding of tea ceremony, but maybe more importantly, it gave me the confidence to effectively interact in a fairly unfamiliar environment. What makes me feel I have become part of the group is that my sensei invited me to hold a formal tea ceremony in her chashitsu during this summer.

Unlike tea ceremony, my Taiko CIP experience taught me less about itself and more about myself. I still can’t concretely figure out when and why I decided to join the group, but I assume part of the reason was because I vividly recalled the type of feelings the Taiko performances I saw years ago in the US arose in me. I wanted to have this experience so much that I didn’t even think about whether I was suited for it or not. And as such, the first practice I participated in didn’t run as smoothly as I was hoping it would, mostly because I couldn’t understand what was happening around me: I was unfamiliar with the non-Western notation used on the musical sheets, I didn’t know how I was supposed to use the bachi, and because of the loud environment, I couldn’t hear anything our group leader was saying. I felt as if there was no point in even trying to follow the other members of the group, so I ended up sitting aside.

As soon as I had the chance to observe the other members of the group perform their songs though, the same type of feelings that made me join the group returned. This translated into a very frustrating situation, that made me wonder if there was any point in me being there to begin with. As interesting and as exciting as it seemed from the distance, I was starting to feel taiko as a burden.

By the time we had our performance though, I feel I was able to become part of the group sufficiently not to feel any pressure anymore. Especially after practices, as some of the taiko group members drove me home, I had the chance to discuss with them about my concerns and therefore to better understand the reasons behind them. Maybe those were the only instances in which I became closer to some of the people in the group, but I think that was just because of the nature of the CIP itself, and not because me or the other members of the group were not making an effort. What surprised me the most was the extent to which everybody went in order to make sure I can still have dinner with them, despite being vegetarian.



茶道以外に、KCJSの同級生四人と北野天満宮の太鼓グループに参加してみました。女の人もいるし、男の人いるし、年齢を問わず、みんながんばっています。 まだ二回ほど練習に参加しただけですが、以前に太鼓の経験があまりなかったのでとても不安でした。しかし、同級生が私の事を励ましてくれて勇気づけられたので、ぜひ今後も太鼓を続けていきたいです。もうすでに歌を二つやってみましたが、結構難しかったと思います。時々時間がある時に、私よりも太鼓の経験があるKCJSの友達に教えてもらい、その後もたいてい私は一人で練習をします。近いうちに公演がありますが、私が参加できるかどうかはまだ分かりません。