Catherine Wu: Volunteering at Muromachi afterschool program

My CIP was volunteering at the Muromachi location’s elementary afterschool program. My time usually consisted of joining the staff meeting from 2:30-2:45, playing games with kids until 4, which is snack time. Since I worked in two locations, I found that the smaller program with around 17 kids was much more fun and helpful for learning Japanese. Getting to know your coworkers and the kids in a smaller setting is really nice, and I wish I had more time at the smaller location since I spent 6/8 weeks at the larger location. I feel like I’ve learned kansai-ben as well as how to talk very casually (as kids don’t ever use formal language), so it’s been nice to see me understanding them more as the program went on. I will say that kids can sometimes be really rowdy and it might be awkward to try to go up to kids you aren’t familiar with to start conversations, so if you are on the shy side or don’t like to be around too much noise, this might not be a good CIP. 

Peining Jia: 愛弓会(Kyuudo Group)

This semester, I joined a community Kyuudo group(Aiyumikai) which practices twice a week at Shiramine Jingu, close to Doshisha Imadegawa campus. I have been interested in doing Kyuudo because I have watched an anime about it and always wanted to try it out. Kyuudo is slightly different from archery and is relatively specific to Japan, so it will be hard to find any place to do it outside of Japan. I first searched online for a Kyuudo class, but the registration closed at the time I decided I wanted to do Kyuudo. Recommended by the teachers, I reached out to this place which I now find extraordinarily fantastic.

It was a bit hard at first. Because this place is not a professional classroom, people tend to join for a long span, less about learning for beginners but more of a practice and getting better. So one of the members I talked to said it would be difficult to let me in at first when I said I only got three months here. She said I was free to hang around and watch, and I did so. Later, more people came to practice, and she introduced me to Sensei, who decides who gets to join. I expressed that I wanted to do Kyuudo, even though I only got three months and might not be able to shoot at the real target. Sensei accepted me at last and told me to come as much as possible so that I could practice more and might be able to take a try at the actual ones.

The subsequent practices went smoothly. I went to every practice I could and progressed a lot. I did not wait until the last practice to go to the actual target. Although I have not hit a target yet, I am happy with how close I could get. I also made a friend there, who goes to another university in Kyoto, and we hung out several times for dinner and boba. I got to learn more about Kyuudo and the group itself. I have not mentioned the anime I watched about Kyuudo, but people brought it up, and we had a happy conversation. There were some small happenings every other week, but people were friendly and helpful.

If I were to give advice, I would say to reach out early. Japanese semester starts in October, so everything basically begins around that time. And some stop accepting new members after the recruitment. So reaching out earlier before everything starts might be a good choice. I am not sure about the spring semester, but I think KCJS Sensei will be happy to tell you.
Besides that, don’t hesitate to speak if you are to practice your Japanese. People you meet in CIP might differ from Kaiwa partners, who usually be friends with you to practice English, and you may communicate in a mixture of English and Japanese. Usually, they only speak Japanese and expect you to speak Japanese. So it is a good chance to force yourself to practice. Don’t be afraid. People are friendly and happy to talk, usually. If they don’t, it is not your fault. Try somebody else.

After all, good luck with your CIP and I hope you have a good time in Japan 🙂

Sirin Trinetkamol: Volunteering at Kyoto Animal Center

For my CIP, I volunteered at the Kyoto ani Love Animal Shelter for cats and dogs. Since this was the first time KCJS students volunteered at the shelter, Nakata-sensei went along with me and another student during our first visit to the shelter. Since I got to volunteer alongside another student, it made the first few sessions a lot less daunting.

During the first session, the staff members gave me a presentation which explained the purpose of the shelter, the situation of stray or abandoned cats and dogs in Kyoto, the laws that the shelter has to follow, and how the shelter generally operates. I also got to discuss how the situation and shelter differs in the U.S. and in Taiwan and ask any lingering questions I had. Despite the abundance of new words that I haven’t learned at that point, the presentation itself was easy to follow. During the following volunteer sessions, the volunteer work I did at the shelter was similar to those of a normal animal shelter although a lot less taxing. I got to take the dogs on a walk, teach them to follow orders such as ‘stop’ and ‘wait’, and help the staff members groom them. Most of these activities involved giving them treats as rewards. The staff member was always there with me to help guide me through each volunteer work. I also had a chance to play with the cats and help the staff members clean their cages. My favorite part was that I got to bathe and groom one of the puppies at the shelter and help him become familiar with interacting with humans (since he was born as a stray dog). It was amazing to watch the dogs’ progress (e.g. in following orders) and to watch the puppies grow over the weeks I was there.

I was surprised by the amount of hospitality shown by the staff at the shelter. They were very welcoming and friendly. After the volunteer work was done each day and during the breaks, I had a chance to talk with the staff members. It was during these moments that I became much closer to them and this made it easier to work with them. I felt slightly bad that the staff members kept providing me with snacks and drinks since sometimes it made me feel like I was more of a guest than a volunteer. Nonetheless, it was during these moments that I got to learn new Japanese words related to the volunteer work. Many of the staff members had chosen to work at the shelter out of their love for cats and dogs.

Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent at Kyoto ani Love Animal Shelter and I feel truly grateful to have had the opportunity to volunteer there. If I have the chance to visit Kyoto again in the future, I will definitely drop by the shelter to visit the staff members and the dogs and cats there again. If you love animals or you’re missing your pets at home then this is a great CIP that I recommend.

Diamond Jones: English Teaching Assistant at Kita-Oji

For my CIP, I was able to be an English Teaching Assistant at Kita-Oji. Back in America, I teach high-school students every week, so I really looked forward to connecting with students in Japan. At first, organizing a set time for my CIP was extremely hectic. My sensei wanted me come on days I had time, but that resulted in me coming in on different t days every week.

My first day was nerve wracking. It was a Friday, so there’s were 2 1-hour classes. The first class had 4 elementary students, while the second was 2 junior high students. Primarily, my role as an assistant emphasized pronunciation and it was my job to say words/phrases from the textbook so that the students knew how to say it. Aside from that, I would sing songs with them, play games, ask them questions, and reading to them! I wanted to learn all their names, but that was extremely challenging the first few weeks, especially with having entirely new students almost every week.

Classes would go by really fast and since the classroom was in my sensor’s house, on days when I stayed late, I was able to have dinner at her house. At those meals, sensei and her sister feed me their homemade bread and their handmade glass sculptures, and we would talk about Japanese culture, their family, and their past experiences in America.

As the weeks passed, and I started coming in only on Tuesdays, I got more comfortable with teaching. It’s fun to watch the students run around and hide before class, so they can jump out and scare each other. It’s even more amazing to watch their continuous growth week to week. They’ve gone from being shy and mumbling their unsure answers to proudly saying “Next Page” before I do, and loudly counting all the way to 20!

Each and every person involved in my CIP was so precious to me. I’ve been absolutely honored to be able to meet them!

Anthony Villa: Origami and craft circles

For various reasons, I ended up having two CIPs. The first was an origami club at Kyoto University that I participated in during October until autumn break. There were various origami tutorial magazines and paper provided, but I found some of the tutorials pretty difficult to follow so I ended up finding easier ones online. This was totally fine because most of the others were working on all sorts of cool and complicated looking origami projects that weren’t in the magazines. 

I don’t think I could find the dedication to this craft that I saw in everyone there in American craft clubs. They were always chatting about something or other but they would still be working on these big, modular crafts that couldn’t be finished in one sitting. I think some of them were folding projects they wanted to submit to origami magazines like the ones the brought. That kind of craftsmanship was honestly impressive to see. Despite that, because of the gap from autumn break, scheduling, and because the location kept changing to rooms I wasn’t familiar with, I decided it would be better to look for a different club to join.

I was in a bit of CIP limbo for a bit after autumn break, but I eventually joined a craft circle that another student was a part of. She had also just recently joined it which made it a bit easier to jump into as well. At the club we have been crocheting which is honestly a skill I never thought I’d learn but so far it’s been fun. Receiving verbal instructions in Japanese is challenging but I’ve managed to figure things out with everyone’s help. Some of the members let me use some of their yarn and hooks which was extremely kind (I have since bought my own to practice a bit on my own time). 

I don’t think these clubs were too different than those in America, but there were some differences that stood out. That these clubs were pretty popular was a bit surprising to me; the craft circle was also mostly men, which isn’t what I would have guessed. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was that in both clubs people were talking about anime they had seen recently and games they had played; I don’t hear that all that often as a smalltalk topic in America. 

It looks like there are all sorts of CIPs, so if you look hard enough you’ll find something you enjoy. If the one you pick at first isn’t working out for you for whatever reason, I don’t think there’s any shame in looking for another one. Your time in this program is precious, so you should spend it on activities you’ll enjoy doing, not something you’ll trudge through out of obligation. There shouldn’t be any problems once you find something that works for you; both clubs that I attended had a very friendly, relaxed atmosphere. As someone who couldn’t speak Japanese very well there was always some sort of language barrier, but don’t let that stop you from trying your best to communicate. I found talking to the students was always very rewarding.

Things might be a little awkward at first, but if you make an effort you’ll have invaluable experiences to show for it.

Dylan Ong : Doshisha Light Music Club

For my CIP, I decided to join Doshisha University’s Light Music Club – an umbrella, music organization which contains over 70 musical ensembles. The whole premise of the club is that students who enjoy playing music with others can do so freely. This means that students often create their own bands, schedule performances, and invite other members of the club to watch those live performances, etc… The Light Music Club has 3 main practice spaces, and you can find the main practice space filled with people at any time of day. Because I have played trumpet and piano for a majority of my life, and since I am a part of the jazz orchestra at my university, I figured that I should join a music organization on campus. Currently, I am a member of 8 different music ensembles in the club! Since music has played such an integral role in my life, I felt like I could share my passion and knowledge of the subject by interacting and performing with other members of the club.

Every year, Doshisha University hosts its own festival called “Eve Festival”, which is a 3-day long event filled with food, games, and performances. In preparation for our bands’ live performances, I have gone to many rehearsals (almost 3 to 4 every week). There have even been rehearsals that run until 2:00 AM! Therefore, I am around many members of the organization for many hours. This presents many opportunities to interact with other students in Japanese, however, there have also been challenges in communication that I have encountered.

Because the organization has over 120 members, there are well-established cliques of students within the club, and therefore not everybody is interested in talking to new students – let alone students who do not speak the native language. In the beginning, I found myself not being able to understand what the other members were saying to each other in fast, Kansai dialect. However, over spending hours with some of the members inside and outside of rehearsal, I have been able to develop deeper relationships with a few of the them. It is still not easy to participate in larger group settings, as there is quick banter that goes back-and-forth, but I have found that people are much easier to talk to when you talk to them one-on-one. Since a lot of the band members like to congregate in the main practice space, this has been a very good place to try and talk to new people.

There are many ways in which I have initiated communication, or have interacted with members of the organization. For example, after jamming with the members in the main practice space, a number of them invited me to join the bands they were making for Eve Festival, and this is how I became a part of 8 different musical ensembles. This gave me the opportunity to interact with the band members before, during, and after rehearsals, and I have hung out with them outside of rehearsals on several occasions – whether it was going out to eat, or playing Super Smash Bros. Also, in order to schedule rehearsals and work out logistics, we often have to communicate with each other through LINE – a popular messaging service used in Japan. Using LINE has helped immensely by clearing up misunderstandings I may have had during rehearsal, and it has also been a useful tool in getting to know people who would otherwise be shy talking to me in person.

By spending time in the Light Music Club, I noticed a few cultural differences between my experiences playing with musical ensembles in America and Kyoto. The structure of jazz education taught in schools, operations and demography of collegiate music clubs, and 検便 (kenben) all came as forms of culture shock to me. Having grown up in Las Vegas, I was used to most public high schools having marching, jazz, and concert band programs. However, after talking to a lot of the members in the club about their musical experiences, jazz and marching programs in public schools are not very common, and music is regarded more as a club activity – not as a class. This system seems to continue through college, as Doshisha University does not have a music program, and all music organizations are student-run. The fact that all rehearsals are scheduled, organized, and conducted by students surprised me, and I was also surprised by the number of women who participated in these musical ensembles. There has been a lot of criticism directed towards the American jazz community because of sexism and lack of female participation in many bands, and I have definitely noticed this trend in my high school and college experiences. However, the Doshisha Light Music Club has an even-split of men and women who perform in their bands. The most “unique” experience I had was having to do “kenben” – or fecal examination. Yeah… I don’t think I need to explain why this came as a surprise. This isn’t common, though, so don’t let it discourage you from joining a circle!

My biggest piece of advice for those interested in joining a circle is that you should be proactive in trying to forge relationships. This is due to a number of factors: 1) Many of the members already know each other, and won’t inherently have an interest to make more friends. 2) People might assume you are busy if you keep to yourself and are silent. 3) Others are just as afraid of the language-barrier as you are.

Although there have been some challenges in communication, joining the club has been a rewarding experience overall! I would recommend this club to those who interested in music, and are willing to be proactively involved in Doshisha’s community!

Jose Trejos: Cooking Lesson

When choosing my CIP activity, I hoped to find an activity that I could continue to perform after I leave Japan, and would allow me to explore an aspect of Japanese culture that the study abroad experience does not typically emphasize. Through this logic, I decided to take a weekly Japanese cooking class for my CIP, at the La Carriere Cooking School. I have always enjoyed cooking at home for my family, and I personally consider Japanese food to be the best in the world, so the opportunity to expand my knowledge in classes taken by actual Japanese people was a unique opportunity.

While taking my cooking class, I had the opportunity to interact with Japanese people outside of a classroom or host family setting, which expanded my understanding of Japanese culture. Something that immediately surprised me when I started to attend was that we were expected to wash the dishes during and after we finished cooking, which would not be orthodox in this type of cooking class in the west, and I felt tied in to a Japanese ethic of respect for the teacher and of not troubling others. Other aspects of the students gradually stood out to me, from the fact that the class was largely divided between young professionals and old retirees with few people in the middle, which reflects work dynamics in current Japan, to the different ways the students reacted to American, Costa Rican and (through some recipes) French culture. I also learned much of the kanji and words used to describe French food, and even became much better at deciphering Japanese onomatopoeia as my teacher struggled to communicate instructions to me.

However, it is true that by taking a class rather than a group activity, the amount of interaction that I had was limited compared to that of other KCJS students, and the varying attendance of these classes meant that my interactions stayed formal with most of the cooking students. In reflection, it may be better for students that are not particularly extroverted to aim for activities that more directly emphasize interacting with Japanese people, such as activities in Doshisha’s circles. Regardless of the activity, it is crucial to pay attention to the routines of Japanese society to the extent that one is capable, as managing basics such as proper aisatsu matters a lot more than equivalent pleasantries do in the US. Most importantly, realize that while it is inevitable to embarrass yourself with Japanese several times, you will never see the people again at the end of the CIP, and there is no reason not to be bold and practice as much as you can talking to Japanese people. Much like the host family, the CIP is a type of interaction that a class or individual practice is completely incapable of providing, so putting in effort is very important to how much Japanese you ultimately learn studying abroad.

Lisa Qi: Apollo Art Academy

For my CIP I chose to enroll in Apollo Art Academy, an art school that was only about a 10 minute walk from my homestay. My hobby has always been drawing, so I wanted to get involved with art in some way during my stay in Japan.

A fellow KCJS classmate, John Evans, also enrolled into the same school as me and we both had classes on Thursdays. The thing about art classes is that they usually span over a long period of time, so it came as no surprise to me that the class I took ran from 1:30pm to 5pm. In fact, most of the other students in our time slot stayed longer than 5pm to get more progress done on their works.

When we first arrived at the academy, I was not sure what to expect, but Tanaka-sensei and everyone else were very welcoming and helped us fill out the short application sheet. Afterwards, we started with a trial class before beginning an actual lesson course. Evans-san and I had both originally wanted to take watercolor or oil pastel lessons, but Tanaka-sensei started us out with pencil and wanted us to slowly progress upwards to working with color.

Originally, I had been considering joining an art circle at Doshisha University, but I am glad that I chose to enroll at Apollo instead, because I heard that art circles usually consisted of students all sitting separately and working silently on their own individual projects, and I felt that I would not had had the chance to practice much Japanese. Midway through each class, everyone gathers around a big table and we get a chance to chat with eachother while eating snacks. In addition, Tanaka-sensei usually walks around the class giving each student individual criticism throughout the class. Though there are times where I am not 100% sure if communication was clear, attending these classes has been a very fun experience getting to know the other students in my class while also improving my art skills and I will most likely continue with this CIP in spring semester.

Isabel McPherson : Shamisen Lessons

As a music education major, I knew as soon as I heard about the community Involvement Project that I wanted to learn a traditional Japanese instrument. The quarter before I came to Japan, I took a class on Asian pop music and was introduced to a duo called the Yoshida Kyoudai, brothers from Northern Japan who play a three-stringed banjo-like instrument called the shamisen. I became entranced with their music and decided I would try and learn the shamisen as well.
Having learned many other instruments before, I expected it to be pretty easy, but it came with its own challenges. Finding the individual pitches was not very hard, but I found the bachi (pick) extremely difficult to use. I worried so much about it that my wrist would get tense and keep me from being able to play properly. My teacher, a very motherly older woman, would tell me to relax, repeatedly. It was something I had heard from teachers before, but it had a different meaning with her. While other teachers had told me to relax so I could play correctly, she would tell me to relax because to her, the emotion behind a piece was so much more important than whether or not each individual note was correct, so it wasn’t worth it to stress over playing perfectly.
In her I also noticed an interesting change of personality during and after lessons that I hope to emulate one day with my students. During my lessons, she would rarely praise me (unless I was extra worried that day and she felt the need to reassure me that I was doing fine) and was very business-like, only saying what she had to to get her point across. However, after my lessons, she would chat away without hesitation, discussing everything from music to the intimate details of her life as if we were old friends. At times she surprised me with how much she felt comfortable sharing not only about herself, but also about her other students. I think Japan and especially Japanese teachers can come off as having a very serious, businesslike approach to things, but as I’ve learned, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are unfriendly or don’t want to have a close relationship with you. The philosophy is that during the lesson, the teacher’s job is to teach, not to be friends. However, afterwards, the teacher wants to encourage a positive attitude towards learning and having future lessons, and so will talk as if you’re friends.

Matthew Albrecht : English conversation circle

Half-way through this semester I made the scary decision to completely switch my CIP, from the Kyoto University frisbee circle Breeze, to Klexon, an English conversation circle at Doshisha. I know many people are thinking the same thing I was worried about when I joined — why spend the little time you have in Japan speaking English instead of practicing Japanese? And it’s true, almost all of the weekly meetings are done in English, but it’s also a group of amazingly friendly people and in my few weeks there I’ve made more Japanese friends than the other two months combined. After the meeting every week, most of the people there go out to a upstanding refreshment establishment nearby for a completely non-judgment-inhibiting drink of litchi juice or two, which is a great way to get to know the people better and finally practice your Japanese! There have also been two dinner parties at the leader’s apartment so far this semester, of which I was only able to attend one, but the leader made amazing Japanese food for us and it was a great opportunity to talk to everyone and have some fun.

Although it could have something to do with having come of age in Japan and not America, it seems to me that litchi juice is a lot more central to Japan’s social life than what I see in America. Maybe because Doshisha doesn’t have on-campus housing and apartments in Kyoto tend to be tiny to hang out in, almost all social events are out in the city and involve litchi juice in some way or another. Litchi juice seems to break down a lot of the social barriers that require people to be reserved and distant, and polite speech gets less and less frequent throughout the night, although even nights with litchi juice aren’t free of the kohai-sempai relationships so important in Japan. Whether in English or Japanese, the Japanese members without fail try to discern how old and what year the person they’re talking to is in school so that they know who is in the position of authority. Unfortunately, finding out that I’m both a Junior and recently turned 20, the age of a Japanese Freshman or so, doesn’t make my role any more clear. This emphasis on age sounds especially funny in English when you hear a bunch of people who just met asking each other how old they are, a rather infrequent occurrence in America.

If you’re willing to make the effort to do more than the weekly meetings, Klexon really can be a great way to both practice Japanese and make friends. I only wish I had joined earlier in the semester, as it feels like I just started right as the semester’s drawing to a close.