Gina Goosby: Volunteering at Kyoto Korean School

This semester, I set out intending to continue volunteering at Bazaar Cafe. However, when I was approved to conduct research at a local Korean school, I figured it would be an excellent opportunity to try a new CIP. With the help of a Doshisha student, I arranged to lead some of their middle school English classes. Being a foreigner and a complete novice at Korean (this school requires students to speak only Korean while on campus), I was worried that I would be eyed with suspicion or even flat-out rejected. But when I arrived, the students and faculty greeted me warmly — students would wave and say “Hello” when they saw me, as did teachers. Classes centered around speaking: class began with a Q&A where the students and I took turns asking simple questions. Then, I guided students in reading aloud from their textbooks or gave a short speech and quizzed them on the content. We ended each class by learning and singing a song.

I think I learned more about Korean culture than Japanese culture during my CIP, but I imagine there are some overlaps in the culture of Japanese and Korean schools. Little things, like the fact that students greet teachers in the hallway or that everyone knows at least three Disney songs, did not surprise me. What did surprise me was that at this particular school, teachers and students interact almost casually: outside of class time, teachers seemed more like older cousins, especially to the high school students.

I had expected a rigid barrier of formality between teachers and students. I think the difference stems from the school’s importance beyond education in just history or math — Korean schools are one of the pillars of the Korean minority community in Japan. At school, students are treated as young members of the community, which in my experience is a bit like a large family. Even though I am not exactly a member of this “family,” the friendly atmosphere helped me feel at ease.

If you are good with middle schoolers and speak Korean and English — or simply have an interest in Koreans in Japan — I highly recommend this CIP. The teachers I spoke to expressed interest in having more native English-speaking volunteers. Who knows, you may even get a feature in the nationwide Korean school magazine like I did!

Gina Goosby: Bazaar Café

While searching for a CIP, I was recommended Bazaar Café by an alumna. It seemed to tick all the boxes: people-focused, near to campus, and intentionally inclusive. Actually volunteering there proved all those things true. My volunteer time comes after the lunch rush, so I’ve seen a whopping six orders leave the kitchen during my time at Bazaar Café. This is not, in fact, a bad thing: I have more time to talk to and get to know my co-volunteers. On my first day, everyone introduced themselves to me with varying levels of additional info about where they’re from, their relationship with the café, and so on. I was wringing my hands over remembering all the names and not forgetting keigo, but I’ve found that it’s no problem.

Maybe it sounds a bit strange to say some of my best memories so far involve me halfway to my elbows in dishwater. Maybe it’s even stranger if I say that washing dishes was part of the fun. But it’s the truth! The conversations I’ve had over the sink at Bazaar have ranged from heartbreaking to uplifting to hilarious. Through my fellow volunteers I have learned about the state of queer persons in Japan and the infrastructure for mental healthcare. One of my co-volunteers feels that Japanese media tends to “other” queer persons quite brazenly. I’m certain that mindset is common in the States, too, but according to that person, the opinion that sexual and gender minorities are fundamentally different from the rest of society is normal even among younger people. For persons with mental illnesses or disabilities, support varies. There is a solid effort being made to integrate the disabled into society by finding them meaningful work opportunities. However, social stigma around mental health issues like depression as well as addictions is still far too high. While learning about these sorts of differences can be somewhat disheartening, such insights into Japanese society are valuable in better understanding the country I am in and whether I would choose to live here long-term.

Aside from the big stuff, there were plenty of smaller day-to-day things I learned to. Regarding politeness, for example, on my second day, I was struggling to speak in keigo when someone told me just to chill out. That is not to say that speech registers are not important — there’s a time and a place for keigo, but it’s not to people you work alongside every week and come to regard as friends. Of course, I’ll still use polite form with certain stock phrases, but for the most part I am learning to match the speech register of my partner (no thanks to my textbook!). For cultivating personal relationships, going with the flow will take you a long way.

Bazaar Café is always one of the highlights of my week, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go there for my CIP. Whether or not it’s my official CIP next semester, you can bet I’ll be there often!

Adam Agustin: Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

For my CIP, I chose to be an English Assistant at Ohara Gakuin, a combined elementary and middle school with about 70 total students in the Northern Kyoto area. Because I do some teaching and tutoring back at my home institution, this CIP was right up my alley and I would be able to take some teaching skills with me when I go back home. Not to mention, I would be able to experience the Japanese lifestyle in many ways that other people wouldn’t get the chance to otherwise.

I remember my first trip up to Ohara ― it was about a 50 minute commute up to the school, and I was so nervous to meet the hosting English teacher and the students. I got to the school, my anxious self practically shaking, and introduced myself to the English teacher, Maruta sensei. Maruta sensei was incredibly nice and welcoming, and he introduced me to the Principal and Vice-Principal of the school as well as other teachers and staff. He also gave me a complete tour of the school and introduced me to some of his students before we reached the classroom where we had our first lesson. Luckily, another english teacher from the JET program, was also there to help me get accustomed to the job. I didn’t do much the first day, but I observed the class activities for the day and got to do some english conversation with the students. The kids were really polite and cheerful, a lot of them very eager and enthusiastic to meet me. After that day, I wasn’t so sure why I was so nervous in the beginning.

For the following visits to Ohara, I was in charge of making and presenting to the students a 15 minute presentation in English about my life, where I’m from, my hobbies and interests, etc. For each day I came, I would see a different class year (each class year had their own classroom because it was such a small school), starting with the 9th graders and ending with the 3rd graders. Of course, as I made my way down to the younger students, I also had to change my pace and how much English I had to translate in my presentation. Although presenting got fairly difficult as time progressed, the students were still very enthusiastic and very excited to hear much about my life in the US as well as about myself. The younger kids especially were amazed, and it was so cute to see them try their best at trying to communicate to me. After the presentation, I would normally help out with the planned activities that the teacher had for the day, including but not limited to conversation practice, vocabulary memorization games, pronunciation practice, listening practice, etc. I wasn’t able to plan for the classes as much as I had originally thought, but the English teacher would do his best to incorporate my strengths and knowledge to the class beforehand. Although the classes were relatively short (only about 50 minutes), they were jam-packed with engaging activities for the kids, and I had a blast teaching alongside Maruta sensei.

Other than the presentations and activities, I tried to engage with the students in other ways and partake in many parts of their extracurricular lives. For example, in Japanese schools, before class they have the students help in cleaning up the school (i.e. sweeping/mopping the floors, throwing away trash, erasing the boards) and some days I would help them clean up. One fun thing that I remember during those times is how they played rock-paper-scissors (jan-ken) to see who would be in charge of taking out the trash (and most times that person would be me…). Although not the most fun task to do, it would be a chance for me to talk to the students of different classrooms and help them with their english. Other than that, I had the chance to see their school play and the arts and crafts they made for the school festival, and also sit in on their election of class representatives for the next class year. Sometimes, when given the chance, I would also play piano or ukulele for them ― they always go crazy for those kinds of things. I tried my best to get myself involved not only in the classroom, but in other aspects of the Japanese school lifestyle.

Thanks to my involvement as an English teacher for the CIP program, I was able to get a hands-on look into the Japanese education system, and from that I noticed a lot of interesting things. Of the many things, I think one of the most interesting was the relationship between the older kids and the younger kids. Because Ohara is such a small school, with a large range of ages, I was amazed to see the camaraderie between the students, a lot of times the older students acted as older brothers and sisters for the younger kids and they would always help each other out. In this small community, the teachers really foster a role model relationship among its students ― the older students give the younger students someone to look up to and motivate them to grow in certain ways. Of course, these relationships are mutual and help give these students a strong basis for character, something that I believe that schools in America don’t always particularly emphasize in educational settings.

Along with the many good things that came with this experience, there were also some points during the teaching that I found difficult. One of those was the fact that I wasn’t able to get establish as strong a relationship with the students as much as I thought I would. Being that I would only go to Ohara for 2 hours at a time every week, especially visiting different sets of students each time, I wasn’t able to truly get to know each of the students as much as I had thought I would. In hindsight, I hoped that I could have been able to spend more time with each class, but then again, with my already tight schedule with classwork and travel around Kyoto, it seems difficult to do so.

With that aside, reflecting on my experiences as an English teacher at Ohara this semester, I think that it was an incredibly valuable and fun experience to be a part of. Seeing the smiles on these kids faces, as well as their passion and enthusiasm to learn English, brightened my day each and every time I made a visit. I can’t imagine my study abroad experience in Kyoto without having done this CIP. To not only be able to experience the Japanese lifestyle in a unique way, but also have the chance to help change the perspectives of each of these kids is something that I would greatly recommend to others that are thinking of doing the same kind of CIP activity. Good luck to those choosing their CIP!

Christine Lee: Bazaar Cafe Volunteer

When I first arrived at KCJS, I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a CIP activity. After scouring for hours on this very CIP blog and reading students’ various experiences, I decided that I wanted to do something a little bit out of my comfort zone: working in customer service at Bazaar Cafe. While the experience differed a little bit from my expectations (I did not interact with customers all that much), being a part of the Bazaar Cafe family was one of the most valuable experiences I had while studying abroad in Kyoto.

Bazaar Cafe was first founded in 1998 as essentially a safe space for people of all ages, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities, and faiths to come gather and relax. The cafe is located just down the block in a small side street. The atmosphere is cozy with a wooden interior filled with the voices of people enjoying their (extremely delicious) dishes and the happy chatter of the staff in the kitchen.

Something that I really enjoyed about my time working as a volunteer was the casual atmosphere of Bazaar Cafe. By ‘casual,’ I mean that there’s not a lot of 敬語 (けいご – honorific language) that needs to be said. When I first arrived, I had practiced the written 敬語 phrases that KCJS suggested I use the first time I meet the cafe staff. However, on arriving, my supervisor, はっちゃん and レイカさん, were extremely kind and welcoming. From there, I started to build small, but strong relationships with the various volunteers and staff members that would make their way to the cafe.

Essentially, I would spend a lot of the time doing menial tasks such as washing the dishes, putting leftover rice in tupperware, fixing business cards, etc. But I felt that doing something that required little thinking ultimately allowed me to try and fully engage in conversation with the cafe staff. We talked about various things from first loves, Nicolas Cage movies to Filipinx dance. What I enjoyed most of all was the diversity amongst the staff members. There weren’t only just Japanese people, but Filipina and Thai staff that have lived in Japan for most of their lives. There were also people like me, who had just arrived in Japan or were studying abroad.

If anyone is looking for a chance to really engage in conversation, I would recommend this volunteering opportunity at Bazaar Cafe! In addition to sometimes being fed amazing food, I thought that the laidback and kind cafe environment was the ideal place for me to share my experiences as an exchange student and for the staff to tell me more about themselves. Overall, I hope that more students continue to volunteer their time at the cafe!

David Wurtele: Calligraphy

This semester I joined a calligraphy classroom for my CIP. We met once a week for two hours at varying locations in Kyoto. There is one sensei who sits and does his own work in the front of the class, periodically walking around to check out if the students are making progress with what they are writing. I actually joined a class where most of the students have many years of experience under their belt so I was given a lot of attention as the only first-timer. In terms of linguistic learning, I was at a serious disadvantage because you only speak with the sensei a few short times an hour. Culturally, however, I was able to pick up a lot.

There is a lot of consistency in the way the calligraphy class is held. First, the students arrive, then the sensei. Some students are at the classroom practicing long before the class starts, and the rest come within the five minutes before the start of the class. When students enter, age-related privileges are dropped, and despite differing skill level between the students, there is no concept of senpai or kouhai. There is just student and teacher.

In addition, I learned that you are not supposed to look at others’ work unless the sensei shows it off. Every now and then if the sensei wants to encourage a student, he will hold up the work, display it in the air for the others in the classroom to see, and remark that he is impressed, to which everyone nods and gives an emphatic one or two word agreement. I was surprised to see that the rest of the class will stop what they are doing each time to encourage the student who wrote the character. The reason I am so surprised is that unless someone is whispering with the sensei the room is totally silent. The idea is that every student should be totally focused with a very serious mindset when writing a character. As a beginner I have found it very difficult to get the right balance of focus without overthinking it, and when I do get in that zone, I am very reluctant to get out of it. So for every student to have that focus be interrupted so often by the sensei yet graciously smile every time without fail demonstrates incredible willpower.

I am fortunate to have learned a lot about the atmosphere and customs of calligraphy classrooms, but I am most happy that I can return home not just knowing more brushstrokes but having a deeper appreciation for calligraphy as a whole, as both a physical and mental skill.

Darbus Oldham: Irish Dance

For my CIP, I am doing Irish dance. To provide a bit of background to that, I started Irish step dancing when I was in elementary school, have performed with a group that does a variety of styles of Irish and Scottish dancing for the past four years, and also do Irish ceili dancing for fun. Here in Kyoto, I’m doing two styles: set dancing, which is generally done with a group of eight, and modern step dancing, which is individual. In the set dancing class, which meets twice a month, we learn and do two or three dances each class. The monthly modern style class is divided into two halves: soft shoe and hard shoe. Irish (and Scottish) soft shoes are flexible, lightweight leather-soled shoes, whereas hard shoes are more like tap shoes. In each class, we work on a couple dances of each type, doing a mixture of learning new steps and reviewing old ones.

In the step dancing class, I’ve also had the opportunity to teach a couple of dance steps I know. This was an interesting challenge in and of itself, as I do not have a great deal of experience teaching step dancing in English, let alone Japanese, and so figuring out the best way to explain the footwork and timing and answer questions was definitely difficult. I ended up simply demonstrating the step or particularly challenging portions of it a number of times, which combined with some explanation generally ended up working.

On top of the regular set dancing class, one weekend there was a big event called a ceili. There was live music, and there were about a hundred people in attendance, a number of them from Tokyo, Osaka, and other places. The dances were a mixture of ones we had been practicing in class, ones we hadn’t, and one that I have done in the States.

In addition to the dancing, my CIP has also proved an opportunity for a wide variety of interesting conversations during breaks in the class and after class at dinner. For example, there have been discussions of differences between dialects and word order in English and Japanese, and I’ve learned a number of Japanese onomatopoeia and tried to explain a number of odd words and terms in English.

While Irish dance may seem like a strange choice for a CIP, it has worked out really well, I think in large part because I was hoping to dance here regardless of whether it was my CIP. I have previously found social dance to be a good way to meet people where I’m from and at school, and I was pleasantly unsurprised to find that to be the case here as well.

All that being said, I do have a cautionary note for future KCJS students looking at these blogs for inspiration for their own CIP: If you don’t have previous Irish dance experience (or maybe English country dance or contra for the set dancing), this is not the CIP for you. I would have been utterly lost had I not had some previous knowledge of set dancing and particularly of step dancing.

Daniel Moon: Igo

My first day in the Kyoto Igo Salon began with me walking into a classroom full of elderly ladies and being greeted by their curious stares. Upon telling the instructor that I am a foreigner trying to take Igo lessons, the classroom buzzed with whispers of “He’s a foreigner!” Needless to stay, the unwanted attention was more than enough to reconsider going back to the salon.

I’m happy to write though that it feels a lot more comfortable attending the class now. The class, including the instructor, is very friendly, and a lot of the students have been eager to talk to me about life back in the states, my thoughts on Kyoto, Igo, and so on.

Each week, the instructor lectures the class for half an hour about new strategies. After walking me through a brief overview of the basic rules of Igo, the instructor has allowed me to listen in on the lectures along with the rest of the class. The basic idea of the game is to build one’s base as large and secure as possible using “stones,” which are the basic unit of the game. The lectures have been mostly about conducting offensive and defensive moves based on predictions of the opponent’s moves. According to the instructor, veteran players can predict the flow of the game multiple moves ahead of time, though I’m not confident that I can predict beyond one or two moves at best.

I have to admit that I have yet to win a game (and I don’t imagine that I’ll be returning to the states with a win on my record), but strangely enough, despite my competitive personality, I haven’t found myself stressing about losing in Igo. My guess is that there is a certain atmosphere about Igo (or perhaps an atmosphere specific to my salon) that allows both the winner and the loser to walk away from a game with satisfaction.

What kind of atmosphere? What I view as the attractions of the Igo game come mostly in comparison to other strategy board games that I have played in the past, namely chess. Granted chess has its own appeals, I would characterize Igo as a game that places relative emphasis on respecting the opponent. Some of the customs of Igo (bowing to the opponent before the game, placing the first stone in the upper-right hand corner, avoiding making sounds or touching the opponent’s stone when placing one’s own stone, etc.) are purely for the sake of paying respect to the opponent. Of course, mannerism is present in any game, including chess, but clearly Igo comes with a longer list of intricate customs and manners that are virtually considered rules.

Besides the general rules and customs of Igo, it is also the informal atmosphere of my salon that allows for a relaxed few hours of lectures and practice. It seems that the students here have been regulars for a long time, since they all seem to know each other well and speak to each other in informal Japanese. While they address the instructor as “sensei,” it was surprising to see that they also speak to the teacher in informal Japanese, as does the instructor. I have been able to talk with a number of students, though the talks mostly consisted of them asking me questions about where I am from, why I decided to come to Japan, why I chose to study Igo, and so on. The students had a strong Kansai Accent, and it might be a safe guess that talking with them helped grow my ears for the Kansai Accent.

I can’t say that there’s been a major breakthrough that suddenly elevated me to become adept in the workings of Igo. What I can say, however, is that over the course of the semester, I steadily grew a good amount of understanding of the logic and dynamic of the game. I dare to say that along with better understanding came a better appreciation of the game in its unique charisma.




Sanaa Ali-Virani: Kitano Tenmangu Taiko

​In the fall of my sophomore year at Swarthmore College, I took a Taiko class for the first time and was immediately hooked. The following semester, I went on to join Swarthmore’s Taiko troupe. In Taiko, both the auditory and visual aspects of the performance are important, meaning that it makes physical as well as mental demands upon the body. I found that this combination energized me and heightened my concentration—something which I very much appreciated and that I was loath to give up upon deciding to study abroad. Luckily, KCJS has a long-standing relationship with a Taiko Association sponsored by Kitano Tenmangu (a large shrine not too far away from Doshisha University). When it came time for us to choose our Community Involvement Project (CIP) placements, I knew immediately that I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to continue practicing Taiko and hopefully improve my skill level.

​The first time I went to Kitano Tenmangu for Taiko practice, the other KCJS students and I were very nervous. We arrived half an hour early and ended up sitting awkwardly in the practice room and making stilted conversation with the Taiko Association teacher. Later, I found out that he was quite personable and relatively approachable, but at the time he seemed very intimidating to talk to. I think a lot of that had to do with our own nervousness. Nervousness is probably unavoidable in those sorts of situations, but I would just recommend trying to interact with the people at your CIP as much as possible. Hopefully interacting with them and gaining a sense of familiarity will help ease that nervousness as fast as possible.Now, as I approach the end of my time as a member of the Taiko Association, I do feel as though I have developed a rapport with some of the Japanese members. The children, in particular, are happy to talk and joke around (especially if the topic in question is Pokemon) now that they have gotten used to me. The adults, while always incredibly welcoming, are more difficult to get to know, but taking advantage of the relaxed atmosphere of group dinners is a good way to do so. I would recommend always taking part in group dinners if you at all have the time.

Having been involved in Taiko groups both in my home institution and in Japan, I have noticed several differences in the ways in which they run. That is not to say that American Taiko groups function in a certain way and Japanese Taiko groups function in some other way. Rather, Swarthmore’s Taiko troupe functions in a very different way than Kitano Tenmangu’s Taiko Association and, as it is possible that future students may be coming from a Taiko group similar to Swarthmore’s, I feel that it may be of some value to share the differences I have noted. First, the Taiko Association here is significantly larger than the troupe I was a part of back home. During the semester I was involved in Swarthmore’s Taiko troupe, there were seven members (including the teacher) and only five of the seven were full-time members. However, Kitano Tenmangu’s Taiko Association has forty members on paper and about twenty-five or so will show up to a given practice or performance. In addition, unlike a college troupe, the Taiko Association includes members as young as eight and as old as around forty-five. By far the most difficult aspect of the Taiko Association to get used to was the fact that there are very few practices compared to performances. Swarthmore’s Taiko troupe practices for three hours a week every week throughout the semester and then performs once or twice. In contrast, during the semester I participated in the Taiko Association, there were only two practices. On the other hand, there were performances almost every week. While this made for many opportunities to perform, I was a bit frustrated by the lack of opportunities to learn the songs so that we could perform. However, despite the lack of formal practice sessions, we did manage to learn one of the songs well enough to perform during the shrine’s annual foliage season. One the other hand, precisely because there were few practices, I fear it would have been next to impossible for someone without any Taiko experience to both learn the basics of Taiko and pick up the rhythms of one or two songs on the fly. Two KCJS students who did not have Taiko experience participated in one or two of the Taiko Association events before deciding to switch CIP placements. To be honest, I would have done the same in their position. For any beginners who are interested in pursuing Taiko with the Kitano Tenmangu Taiko Association, I would recommend figuring out how frequently they plan to hold practices as early as possible and making your final decision based on this information. In the end, joining the Kitano Tenmangu Taiko association has been a very fruitful experience for me, both in terms of Taiko practice and in terms of the inter-personal relationships built. Nevertheless, I think that CIP experiences vary greatly depending on the individual person, their interests, and their personality. As such, while hearing about others’ experiences is always helpful, I would recommend allowing what you know about yourself to lead you in making your CIP decision.