Holly Middlebrooks: Volunteering at Mitsuba Kindergarten

For my Community Involvement

Project this semester, I chose to volunteer at みつば幼稚園 (Mitsuba Kindergarten) due to my love of kids and desire to learn more about the Japanese childcare system. Every Monday, I would walk to the kindergarten from campus, and spend two hours assisting the kids in their daily activities, playing with them, and help them practice both their English and Japanese writing skills. This was a super rewarding experience, as in addition to becoming close with the kids, by the end I was also being acknowledged by fellow teachers and even some of the parents as a part of the Mitsuba community. I also felt as if there was a very equal exchange of culture that occurred, as while I was able to learn all about the inner-workings of a Japanese kindergarten (which I found to be shockingly hands off compared to my expectations), the kids were always eager to hear about my experiences as an American (and of course, freak out over me speaking English after relentlessly begging me to). I would highly encourage future KCJS students to pursue a CIP like Mitsuba where there is an existing community which is also accessible to break into, especially if you’re on the more reserved side. In the end, kids don’t judge and just want to have a good time, and by including you in their fun, you’ll be able to interact with other members of the community like teachers, parents, and other volunteers. Overall, I am very thankful for this experience and can’t wait to see the kids again next semester!

Gavin Scott: Kyoto University Choir

For my CIP I participated in Kyoto University’s Choir! Every week we meet twice a week usually from 6:00-8:30 PM. In this period a usual practice consists of the first 45 minutes being like a workout and vocal warmups. Then we split into groups depending on our vocal part for around 30 minutes. This time allows us to practice our parts, especially the difficult sections everyone struggles with. Following this we will all come together and practice the parts we were working on to hear our hard work come to fruition! This experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I couldn’t recommend it enough! It was difficult at first because I truly could not grasp what the students were saying. After all, they utilized a colloquial version of Japanese more known as informal forms which I have barely studied. But after I continued to work on it and listen to what they were saying, I feel as though my Japanese has slowly improved just from this fact alone! It was sometimes difficult because the practices were so late at night and our Japanese classes are early in the morning, but I am glad I have continued going! It is such a refreshing feeling because I feel as though everyone in the choir is truly happy to have me in the choir and looks forward to working with me ! After choir practice as well, most of the students, all go to this restaurant very close to where we practice! This allows us to have some delicious food while also allowing us to develop our one-on-one relationships with everyone in the choir ! It’s always so interesting talking to everyone, seeing where they came from, and what they want to study. My advice to someone wanting to join the choir, I recommend that you have prior choir experience because that will help alleviate any basic problems that could occur. Also, I recommend being able to read basic kanji and hiragana pretty fast. That way when you first start the songs, you are not taking an extra amount of time just simply trying to memorize what to say with what notes.

Ayanna Minnihan: Fly Dance Studio

I took hip-hop and k-pop dance classes at Fly Dance Studio. It was so much fun getting to learn different kinds of styles through explanations in Japanese, as well as their approaches to learning and taking care of your body. It also helped me get used to Kansai-ben and other types of speech since it was such a relaxed environment, which is a little bit different than the ways of speaking I’m normally exposed to. If you want more of a community experience and more opportunities to talk with others, my advice would be to attend classes with a friend! When I went with a fellow KCJS student, it was always much easier to interact with the choreographer and other students. Also consider taking the same class each week to better get to know others around you.

Wanlin Jin: Yoga

 

This semester I did yoga at a local yoga studio. I did the beginner level yoga class for the first half of the semester, and the classes were inside my comfort zone because the movements weren’t really hard. Furthermore, since there were a lot of foreign learners in the studio, the classes were taught in both English and Japanese so that everyone could follow. The later half of the semester, I switched to Ashtanga yoga, which was my first time to try and it was really hard. However, it was also rewarding to witness my own progress within just a few lessons.

I felt really comfortable when I was in the studio, because the atmosphere there was just so soft and gentle, and everyone I encountered seemed to be nice even though I didn’t really exchange words with them. I like practicing there because learners wouldn’t compete with each other (which is usually the case of yoga) and just focus on their own bodies, but everyone would be happy to offer some help if it’s within their capacity. Therefore, I really had an unforgattable experience there.

Advice for whoever read this post: first of all thank you for reading! I would suggest just go with your guts, go for wharever you are passionate about and take the first step. Be aware of the cultural differences, so try not to be rude, but it’s always OK to ask questions politely about anything you don’t understand. Consult your teachers, peers, if necessary and I’m sure you will enjoy your CIP!

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. 

Ashley Harlow: 書道

During my semester at KCJS I studied the art of Japanese calligraphy, or 書道 (しょどう). I studied under 浅草先生 who has been practicing 書道 throughout her entire life alongside of a few of her students. Prior to my first lesson, I had absolutely no experience other than writing a handful of simple kanji with a pencil, so learning to write complex kanji with a large brush I had never used anything like before was a challenge. But by the end of the semester, I had improved enough that 先生 encouraged me to sign my works! Overall, I am extremely grateful for my experience at my CIP! I got a very solid start in a skill that I hope to continue practicing in the future, and I was able to practice my listening skills with Kansai-ben! My biggest piece of advice for students going into their CIPs in the future is to be honest about where your language level is at. If someone says something that you don’t understand, ask them to repeat it or to use more simple vocabulary instead of nodding your head and pretending like you understand; in the long run, you will have a much more enjoyable experience and learn tons more when you can communicate clearly and effectively with each other!

James LaCava : Volunteering at 淀児童館

For my CIP activity, I was a general volunteer at Yodo Children’s Center, a local Children’s Center near the residence of the host family I was staying with at the time. I played with the children, talked with them and the teachers about America and myself , and assisted with setup or cleanup as needed by the teachers. 

Overall it was a very leisurely experience for me, and I enjoyed getting to have fun with the children as well as occasionally talking with the professors about my life as a foreign student in Japan or them and their lives. It was something I was able to do only because I was fluent enough in Japanese to explain to the teachers and principal at Yodo Children’s Center about myself as no one there knew any English at all.

If you like working with children, there are many options that do not rely on your Japanese fluency; however, the more fluent you are in speaking Japanese, the easier it will be to enjoy the experience no matter what CIP project you end up chosing. 

Leah Rosenkranz: Volunteering at Ohara Middle and Elementary School

For my CIP, I volunteered at an elementary and middle school in Ohara. Every Wednesday, I would eat lunch with a different grade and do activities in an English class. 

I really enjoyed getting to interact with young kids, who I would have had no exposure to, and observing how the education differs from the United States. In English class, it was exciting to participate in games and learn ways the teacher makes learning engaging for all ages. With so many students in the school, it was difficult to form relationships with any few, however, the students seemed to really warm up to my and the other KCJS student’s presence over the 10 weeks. 

For anyone interested in teaching or just enjoys spending time with kids, this is an amazing opportunity. While it is a bit far away (about 1 hr by bus from Doshisha), it was a very rewarding experience. It was unlike any other experience I would have been able to have in Japan and I am very appreciative to be immersed in the school community.

Eva Lu: Tea Ceremony

I participated in the tea ceremony for my CIP activity, a Japanese cultural practice involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha (powdered green tea). Over the semester, we had eight lessons dedicated to practicing the tea ceremony procedure known as temae.

With just two students participating in the tea ceremony lessons this semester, the two of us were able to have extensive interactions with the teacher both during and after class, fostering constructive communication. In addition to learning the tea ceremony’s techniques, our deep conversations with the teacher provided valuable insights into the philosophy behind the ceremony and the concept of Wabi-sabi, Japan’s nuanced sense of beauty.

I strongly recommend trying out the tea ceremony if you want a quick dive into Japan’s rich cultural heritage within just three months. Fujimura sensei is genuinely warm and approachable. Her teachings not only cover the tea ceremony but also introduce you to Japanese ideology, offering a comprehensive and enjoyable experience. It was a pleasure getting along with her.

Ying Pan: Tea Ceremony

For my CIP this semester, I had the pleasure of learning the tea ceremony (茶道) with Fujimura Sensei from the Wabichakai tea ceremony. Under the guidance of Fujimura Sensei, who has almost 20 years of experience with the tea ceremony, we learned the basic steps of a tea ceremony for two hours each week at a serene temple near Kyoto Station or in the tranquil ambiance of a tea room near Takagamine. Our lessons were conducted fully in Japanese and Fujimura Sensei served us some of the best wagashi (Japanese sweets) every lesson. 

One of the most enriching aspects of this journey was Fujimura Sensei’s generosity in sharing not just her knowledge of the tea ceremony, but also her personal insights into Kyoto’s cultural history. Her kindness and patience extended beyond the tea ceremony, preparing and accompanying us to meals where she shared valuable knowledge that enriched our understanding of the city’s essence. 

For anyone interested in learning the tea ceremony, my advice would be to embrace mistakes as part of your learning experience. Whether it be understanding the language, messing up the steps, don’t shy away from asking questions as you will always learn something new from it. I would also say to approach the ceremony with an open heart and a willingness to immerse yourself fully in its tranquility—it’s not just about brewing tea; it’s about embracing a way of life, a cultural philosophy that celebrates harmony, respect, and mindfulness.