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.

Cristina Ammon: Assistant English Teacher

I continued my CIP as an assistant English teacher at 末光先生’s cram school this semester. Although not much changed from fall semester, I noticed new things this time. I paid a lot of attention to Japanese communication styles last semester, but this year I couldn’t help but think about the state of English education in Japan.

In the two years I have been studying Japanese, none of my Japanese teachers have ever spoken English extensively during class. However, from what I’ve experienced through the CIP, the teacher says most things to the students in Japanese because they don’t understand much of what she says in English. I don’t know if there’s a reason for this, but I feel like using the target language would be a good way to enhance listening skills and expose the students to new vocabulary even if it’s initially difficult. Also, when the teacher would say something brief in English and ask the students to repeat after her, I imagined that mimicking the pronunciation of a non-native English speaker would probably make it trickier to apply to real-life conversations later on. 

I came to the conclusion that maybe a good way to teach English to Japanese students is to have two types of people teaching alongside each other: a native Japanese speaker who has thoroughly studied English and an English native speaker who has thoroughly studied Japanese. That way, both teachers deeply understand the process of learning a new language and can respond appropriately to the feelings of students, the students can aspire to be like their Japanese teacher who has mastered English, and they can absorb and copy the sounds of a native English speaker who is more comfortable with the nuances of the language. 

I’m so thankful for 末光先生. Between Halloween celebrations, a birthday party, several dinners, and much more, she has devoted herself to her students and KCJS in many ways. I saw how she used English as a tool to teach her students life lessons and communicate the things she cares about most, showing the next generation firsthand the benefits of learning a new language. She has taught me so much along the way as well. I would be honored to meet with her again someday.

Cristina Ammon: Assistant English Teacher

This semester I did my CIP at an English school for kids. The teacher is Suemitsu-sensei, who is also one of the host mothers for KCJS, and the English lessons take place in a separate section of her home. When I arrive at her house, generally I’m greeted by not only Suemitsu-sensei, but also her younger sister, their dog, and some of the students who are waiting for class to start.

The regular structure of a lesson that I co-teach entails songs, workbook activities, reading aloud, and an educational game. When a lesson is in session, Suemitsu-sensei generally wants to me to speak English instead of Japanese so that the kids have more exposure to the sound of native English, so there isn’t much communication in Japanese between the teacher, the students, and myself. However, before each lesson, she often explains to me the lesson plan and notifies me of any upcoming events entirely in Japanese. After each lesson, Suemitsu-sensei, her sister, and I will sometimes eat dinner together or just chat freely about our lives. What has stood out to me during my participation in this CIP is how much the communication style can change depending on the conversation topic. For example, when I enter the school or discuss the English lessons with Suemitsu-sensei, she will almost always use keigo or polite speech. On the other hand, when we are talking about our personal lives or eating out at a restaurant, Suemitsu-san and her sister will often talk to me very casually. At these times, I wasn’t sure what speech style to use. While I wanted to close the distance between the teacher and myself and deepen our friendship, I didn’t want to come across as disrespectful by using casual speech.

When I brought this up in my Japanese class, my classmates and teacher said they felt there are definitely times when we can switch to casual speech even if we are talking to someone older than us. Specifically, Nakamura-sensei explained that when we want to express our own emotions, it’s okay to switch briefly. For example, if we are served delicious food, we can say “美味しい!こんなおいしいの食べたことない!” because it’s a display of our individual feelings and appreciation.

Throughout the semester, I would occasionally slip into casual speech if it seemed fit, but whenever I did so, I’d feel a bit a guilt because I didn’t want Suemitsu-sensei to think I was being rude. In retrospect, however, I’m glad I used casual speech when I did because I think it helped me grow closer to Suemitsu-sensei and her sister. Because of that, I feel like our relationship is now based on not only the CIP but also genuine friendship. We celebrated Suemitsu-sensei’s birthday together, and they often invite me to eat dinner at their house. My advice to future KCJS students would be to find the best way to deepen your relationships with the people at your CIP so that the quality of your time not only there but in Kyoto as a whole improves significantly.

Kiara Harding: Ritsumeikan Taiko Circle

For my CIP, I joined Ritsumeikan University’s taiko circle, Wadaiko Don. Everyone was very welcoming, and though I was only able to be there for a short time because of the end of the taiko season, it was very educational. I had a little bit of taiko experience previously, but not much, so I mostly practiced the basics with the first years. I thought that the club would be a bit strict, but I realized it’s much more of a “do what you need to do” atmosphere. Additionally, the members were very laid back, and were always willing to teach me new things. I primarily attended for the free practices, where everyone just practiced whatever they needed to work on. I learned and practiced a song with a few of the other members with the intention of playing in a small performance, but it was unfortunately cancelled due to the typhoon. After that, the taiko season had eventually come to an end, so I moved on to a new CIP, but I still learned a lot from my time at Wadaiko Don. What initially surprised me was that I didn’t really notice a strict hierarchy among the members like I expected. There still were some elements of hierarchy where the more experienced members taught the younger ones, but everyone participated and practiced equally. Additionally, when I went to the all-club meeting, all of the members participated equally as well.

In terms of cons, I found that inserting myself into conversations could be difficult at times because I tend to be a bit shy, and I wasn’t sure what would make a good topic of conversation. Also, since the KCJS calendar doesn’t really align with the Japanese university calendar, it is a bit hard to join clubs, since I ended up joining in the middle of the year, and towards the end of the taiko season. By the time I joined everyone was pretty much already entrenched in their friendships and practice routines. But despite all of this, everyone was still very kind to me, and overall I had a good experience.

Alejandro Ruizesparaza: Bazaar Cafe

When I first joined the Bazaar Café, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was originally drawn to the idea working in a café for the sake of exposure to part time life in Japan. I wanted to use keigo, see how people interact behind-the-scenes of a restaurant and try something new. Admittedly, the prospect of a free lunch was also a lovely addendum. But when I first walked in to ask for a position, found out that one of the two managers (and my main source of contact) is Brazilian, the staff consists of immigrants from all over, and the café is a hub for discussing social and health issues, I realized the experience was going to be much more interesting than what I pictured.

Bazaar Café is only a couple of minutes away from Doshisha University and open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Each day has a specific regional cuisine dependent on the people cooking that day. I worked on Thursdays, when we would normally prepare Brazilian food. My usual job consisted of washing dishes, helping set lunches on trays and delivering meals to guests. Each Thursday was also a chance to get to know the other workers a bit better and learning how to flow as a group. Early on, I definitely felt like more of a disturbance than anything. But being with the group longer established a sense of unity. Though during work we were focused, at lunch-time we all came together and discussed whatever random topic came up.

My biggest impressions of Bazaar Café, however, actually came from outside of normal working hours. I was invited to help out at a party for some theology students and missionaries interested in the café’s purpose of highlighting social issues. Another time I helped out at a health festival focused on sexual health and STD awareness. Through those experiences I learned that the café had some rather ambitious goals but strove to establish a safe space for those sorts of topics. Through talking to staff I also realized how rare it is to have spaces like that in Japan. But if the home-like café setting and warm atmosphere isn’t convincing, the actions of the workers definitely are.

As my time is coming to an end here in Japan, I find myself sad to soon leave my new friends among the staff. As a final act of warmth, they’ve told me to come in the day before I leave for a Christmas party that will double as a Sayonara party for me. At only a semester, the time at the café was relatively short-lived. But I’m happy to say the experiences and what they had me think about are likely to be long-lasting.

Thank you Bazaar Café!




Austen Samkange: Kyodai Kendo

            My experience with Kyoto University’s kendo club over the past few months has been an interesting one. Unfortunately, I was unable to practice as much as I would have liked. However, simply by participating in the club’s practices, I observed several interesting differences between Kyodai’s kendo club and my own.

For instance, while I was accustomed to the senpai-kohai relationship, it was never as strongly enforced as I have seen it here. Perhaps this is because the Kyodai club is largely run by the students, with instructors coming in only occasionally to participate in sparring practice. Instead of formal instructors, leading practices, organizing mock tournaments, and giving club members advice is the responsibility of the most senior club members. Thus, the club hierarchy, at least at the top end, seems to be extremely structured and enforced.

Unfortunately, my low-level speaking skills made it difficult for me to hold a lengthy conversation with many of the other members. Yet, I was able to talk with a few, one of whom was part of the upper echelon of club leaders as evidenced by his seat on the side of the dojo traditionally reserved for instructors. After one practice in which we had a mock tournament, I came up to him afterward to ask for his thoughts on my match. Even though he was a club member and a student, I was surprised at both the formality of his tone and the detail that he went into recounting my match and suggesting improvements to me. It was clear that he saw himself as a leader within the club and took it upon himself to observe all of the lower-level members, even if he did not normally associate with them.

The dedication that this particular senpai had with regards to the club was both impressive and inspiring, and I hope that I can serve as a similar example to my kohai when I return to the States. Last year, a few friends and I had formed a kendo club at Stanford, and while I was not there during fall quarter, I can only assume that I will have some sort of leadership role upon my return. For this reason, I hope to draw upon my experiences with the Kyodai club to help our newly-formed one succeed.

Yaya Campbell: Volleyball Circle

I really enjoyed my CIP during my time here in Japan. If the goal of having a CIP was to interact with Japanese people, then I definitely had a positive version of that. One of my favorite things about the volleyball circle that I joined is that the members range from beginners to advanced, so there is a lot of fun but not overly-serious competition. In this circle, everyone seemed to simply enjoy a few games of volleyball.

I do wish that I got to spend more time with them outside of practice. I did go to dinner with them once and it was really nice. It was funny because they all had bicycles so I had to ride on the back of someone’s bike. At first I tried with one of the other girls but she couldn’t balance very well so I had to ride on the back of one of the guy’s bike. It made for awkward conversation but it was an interesting and unique experience. I remember thinking to myself “haha, I don’t think very many people get that experience here”.

I also noticed that even in different countries and languages, people tend to act in a similar manner. For example, when we were at dinner, we were talking about music and when I mentioned Taylor Swift, they both squealed in a girlish way, no different than what I hear in America. The same goes for when we are playing volleyball. The environment felt very similar to what I am used to, very cheerful and having a good time. One of the most noticeable differences though was that we would say things like “onegaishimasu” and “arigatougozaimasu” before and after each game. Overall, I really enjoyed being able to play volleyball and meet other Japanese students.