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. 

Geetanjali Gandhe: Tea Ceremony Lessons

For my CIP I took tea ceremony, or sadou, lessons with Fujimura Sensei. The KCJS office introduced us to Fujimura Sensei and it seems like KCJS has a long relationship with her. While normally the study of sadou takes decades and is a very lengthy process, since we only had one semester Fujimura sensei customized the lessons for us so that we were able to end by being able to perform the tea ceremonies, or the obon-temae. The tea room is a little out of the way in Takagamine, but the environment is absolutely stunning and so the commute is worth it. The tea room is situated right over a river in a silent forest, so you can hear the sound of the water while in the tea room. Sensei is an extremely elegant woman who is also one of the most precious and sweetest people I have ever met. She even made a bento for us on two occasions, for the Doll Festival and cherry blossom viewing, and of course we got to enjoy the most exquisite wagashi, or seasonal Japanese confectionary every class. The thing that was the most meaningful for me was that in every lesson sensei would also make a point to talk about how to use the philosophy that sadou teaches us and incorporate it into our busy, stressful everyday lives.

The tea ceremony is much more than just the consumption of high-quality matcha and wagashi. The actions performed in the tea room and during the tea ceremony are an allegory for a life well-lived; a life full of humility, simplicity, respect for others, and being in tune with the rhythms of nature. These values are also, not incidentally, the most quintessential of Japanese values. In the tea room, every movement is measured; every moment is treated as a blessing. Therefore, to understand tea in the Japanese context is to come to understand the most fundamental Japanese values.

So if you’re looking to get an authentic cultural experience, I would highly recommend doing sadou lessons. If our sensei continues to teach exchange students, I would dare say that there’s no better experience that you can have in Kyoto; everything was just perfect. I hope to continue practicing even when I return home. Sensei even contacted a shop she knows so that we can pick up all the tea ceremony tools needed before returning.

David Orvedahl: Collegiate Choral Doshisha

Drinking at a Korean Bar in Osaka with a friend from the group. The drink was new to me. It’s called “makgeolli,” and it’s delicious.

I joined a chorus called C.C.D. (Collegiate Choral Doshisha) for the semester for my community involvement project. I spent a lot of time there–generally, rehearsal at least twice a week for four hours–but I think it was a worthy pursuit.

I was pretty anxious at first; now that I’ve done it, if you made me do it over again, I would still get anxious again. There were good times and bad times: Every now and then I would struggle with something and feel bad for a while, but then I would find a little success and feel better. For instance, rehearsals could be pretty tough sometimes, but drinking afterwards

I went to Osaka with three other members of the choir to see Handel’s Messiah performed by the choir’s alumni.

was almost always fun.



I also got to do a lot of cool things that I probably wouldn’t have done on my own. I rented a kimono and got some awesome pictures (All of them have other people with faces unblurred, so I can’t share them); I went to Osaka to listen to a performance of Handel’s Messiah; and I got to perform while wearing a Halloween costume–I was a shrine maiden. And occasionally, I got to touch a piano, which was massively beneficial to my mental health.

The hardest things about being in a chorus actually don’t really have that much to do with singing. That works pretty much the same way evKyaaaaaerywhere, with some minor differences. What was really hard was communicating with regular people. As a second-language learner, it’s easy to forget that most of the people you interact with–teachers, language exchange partners, classmates–understand what it’s like to really try to learn a second language, and so they end up with pretty good communication skills.

The people in my chorus are just normal people. They won’t always be able to meet you halfway to communicate, so really thriving in that kind of environment requires a different level of ability that I don’t think I have just yet. The good news is that I’m aware of that, and that I think I’m a lot closer to getting that kind of ability than I was at the

Rehearsal looked like this sometimes. The guys were on a break, so we took a load off.

beginning of the semester.


And there were other benefits to this project, too. For one thing, I was able to be around Japanese people around my age that already knew each other. They interact differently with each other than they do with foreigners, and I think getting to see it and be surrounded by it was super beneficial.

To anyone considering this type of project, I would say go for it. I can tell you, even if you don’t thrive, it definitely won’t kill you, and you’ll still probably learn a lot. And if you do thrive, even better for you: You’ll get to spend a lot of time around people and will

The alto section leader looking like a strict piano teacher.

probably be able to make close relationships with them. Just try to make the most of your time, and it’ll be worth it.



Elise Cooper Nishi Honganji

When I was first deciding on my CIP (community involvement project), I originally jumped between a variety of ideas, but I mostly wanted to get involved with something related to my major, anthropology, such as potentially becoming a participant in a Japanese anthropology class. This led me down some really interesting paths and some interesting opportunities, but since the class I started to take wasn’t always in Japanese, it was decided that I couldn’t use it as my CIP. However, around the same time I was struggling to find something new to do, we happened to go to a Jodo Shinshuu (Pure Land Buddhist) temple called Nishi Honganji during a religious class, and I ended up becoming really interested in the services they held there. They had them three times a day for an hour each, so it was really easy to find time each week to go to the “dharma talks,” as they were called, which involved reading and discussing the dharma and then listening to a lecture from a priest there.

The people at the temple were always really kind to me, and I had the opportunity to really get out of the study abroad bubble and meet a great deal of different people. Particularly, talking to the Buddhist priests and getting to know them more personally was interesting because I had the stereotype that they would be very difficult to approach and highly reserved in all situations, but in actuality they often joked around and would talk freely at length about various topics. Perhaps the most surprising, indeed, was learning that not only does the Jodo Shinshuu school allows its monks to get married, but that the monks openly talk about their children and daily things like watching TV in services, which I assumed would be much more formal and ritualized than they actually were.

Indeed, in the West, particularly in terms of Christian monks, there is an expectation that if one is living at a monastery for religious purposes then they will be celibate and highly serious in their religious practices, but while it is likely that the monks at Nishi Honganji took their religious practices very seriously, celibacy in people living in temples in both Jodo Shinshuu and supposedly other sects as well was generally not practiced. One of the funniest, and most surprising experiences I had while attending the service, actually, was related to this idea because while most of the lectures and discussions had been focused around rather standard religious fare- treat others well, try to live your life as best as possible-, one of the recent lecturers repeatingly bemoaned his lack of wife as he was turning 45, something that, from my expectations of Christian monks, or even pastors, who would rarely discussed romantic relationships if they had them, I found fairly interesting, as well as funny as it was intended to be.

Therefore, though when people hear of my CIP they tend to think that it sounds daunting and that engaging with any aspect of Buddhist practices would be too difficult because of its formality and rigid practices, Nishi Honganji is not really like that at all. People there are very willing to engage with anyone who comes, and if one knows Japanese fairly well, the discussions themselves can be really interesting and funny, and can really serve to dismantle stereotypes about both Buddhism and about the monks themselves. If you have any interest in Buddhism, or even about Japanese religion in general, I would highly recommend Nishi Honganji services; I think that compared to some of the sects, Jodo Shinshuu is easier to get into without having much prior knowledge about the religion, and the people there are really nice and helpful.

Kevin Woolsey: Noh Translation

For my CIP this semester I translated scripts of Noh plays under the supervision of Professor Diego Pellecchia, who taught the Noh portion of the class on Japanese performing arts at KCJS this semester. His team is creating a website which will serve as a reliable source of information on traditional Japanese performing arts for both English and Japanese speaking audiences.

Noh is a form of classical theater which generally took shape in the late 14th century and flourished under patronage of the warrior class. There are more than 200 plays still performed today, with the scripts generally written from the 14th to 16th centuries. As a result, the Japanese found in the scripts is quite different from modern Japanese; in fact, even at the time of writing the style had already become a classical written form. On top of that, the language of the scripts becomes very poetic at points, using rhetoric techniques found in waka poetry as well as citing poems themselves.

Naturally, this presents many challenges when trying to translate Noh scripts into English. Perhaps the most notoriously difficult to translate poetic technique is the kakekotoba, which are basically puns. One example which can actually work in English is matsu, which can mean a “pine” tree or to “pine” for someone, as in to wait for a loved one’s return. However, such convenient cases are rare, leaving one with two choices: come up with something clever, or just give up trying to translate it.

The following is an example from the play 猩々 (Shōjō):

飲めども変はらぬ秋の夜の盃 / nome domo kawaranu aki no yo no sakazuki (Drinking will not change this autumn night’s sake cup reflects the moon’s)

影も傾く入江に枯れ立つ / kage mo katabuku irie ni kare tatsu (light setting upon the inlet he stands among the withering reeds,)

足元はよろよろと…… / ashi moto wa yoroyoro to (legs wobbling,)


The kakekotoba in the first line is within 盃 (sakazuki): as a whole it means a sake cup, but the last two syllables serve as a kakekotoba for 月 (tsuki), the moon. This allows two readings for the first line: 飲めども変はらぬ秋の夜の盃 (an autumn night’s sake cup which does not change upon drinking = the sake never runs out) and 月影も傾く入江 (moon setting above the inlet). In other words, there are effectively two sentences, with the end of the first and beginning of the second overlapping in the sound zuki. I tried to reflect this in the translation, stringing two sentences together into one around the word “cup”.

Another kakekotoba can be found in the third line, with ashi meaning both “reed plant” and “leg”. The end of the second and beginning of the third line can be read either 枯れ立つ芦 (withering standing reed plants) or 立つ足 (standing legs). I tried to reflect both meanings naturally with the phrase “he stands among the withering reeds”.

It is impossible to fully recreate the experience of reading the original through translation, but it is possible to convey some sense of the techniques present in the text beyond the surface meaning.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to not only practice my translation skills but also contribute to a project which will be a valuable resource when released.

Kevin Woolsey: Calligraphy

For my CIP, I chose to take calligraphy lessons. Sensei and I would often have random conversations, but the one which most gripped my attention was about Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan. For those unaware, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas has become a tradition in Japan. For 4000 yen, one can order an “original party barrel”, which comes with eight pieces of chicken, a “Christmas salad”, a chocolate cake, and Christmas themed plates. Or, for a more upscale KFC Christmas bash, one can splurge on a 5880 yen whole roast chicken.

I had heard about this mysterious collaboration before I studied abroad, but it never really hit me until one day I passed by a KFC with a banner which read: “Now accepting reservations for Christmas”. It was only early November. Surprised by how early the Christmas mood was starting for KFC, I decided to ask sensei about the origins of this tradition at my next calligraphy lesson.

Confronted with my sudden question, sensei fell silent. After a few moments of deep contemplation, she laughed, coming to the realization that she had no idea, nor did she ever consider the question. The connection between KFC and Christmas had simply become common sense in her mind.

Upon further inquiry, sensei dug deeper into her memory and revealed what she knew about the issue. During her childhood, Christmas itself had not yet become a widespread tradition. At the time, Japan was just getting back on its feet after the defeat. However, celebrating Christmas began to catch on around the time she reached late elementary school or middle school. Sensei seemed to vaguely recall that it was custom to eat roast chicken and such on Christmas. Then, sometime around 40 years ago, KFC capitalized on that existing custom by marketing itself as the thing to eat on Christmas.

However, sensei admitted that she didn’t have much confidence in her account. Determined to get to the bottom of the issue, I conducted a quick Google search and stumbled upon a BBC article reporting on the exact same topic. According to the KFC Japan spokeswoman interviewed by the journalist, the tradition started thanks to Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC ever in Japan. He heard a couple foreigners in his store talking about how they missed eating turkey for Christmas. Then, as with many great revelations, the idea to marry KFC and Christmas suddenly came to him in a dream one night. He soon began to market the iconic “party barrel”, and in 1974 the company deployed the campaign at the national level, resulting in massive success almost instantly. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Although Japan’s unique traditional culture, such as tea ceremony, understandably often gets the most attention from foreigners, the “melting pot” aspect of Japan culture revealed in customs such as these is interesting in its own right. After enjoying a hefty bucket of KFC for Christmas, Japanese go on to hear the joya no kane, a bell in a Buddhist temple struck 108 times leading up to midnight on New Year’s Eve, and visit a Shinto shrine for hatsumōde. This post had absolutely nothing to do with calligraphy, but perhaps the most important things one learns in calligraphy lessons is not calligraphy itself.



Sam Lefar: Playing go at the Kyoto Go Salon

For my CIP, I played go. Go is a game that is chesslike in strategy, simpler in rules, and much more complex in planning. It is played between two players labeled as black and white, on a 19 by 19 board. The board begins empty and slowly fills up as players take turns placing small, circular stones on the empty intersections in a bid to surround as much territory (empty intersections) as possible. Because of the sheer number of ways to play and moves that can be made at any given point, the strategy and long-term planning far exceeds chess in potential strategy, while simultaneously staying much more simple in ruleset.

The place I played go was a place called the Kyoto Go Salon, a small little place on a side street off of Shijo (a main street running through downtown Kyoto). At first I started playing on a small 9×9 board against other beginners, and as I got better I managed to get used to first the 13×13 boards and then eventually the full size 19×19 boards. The salon is closed on Fridays, but is open from 1PM-6PM every other day of the week, Saturday through Thursday. I would go every Wednesday as soon as I could, as well as the occasional Sunday or Monday afternoon, and play a few games. A full-length game on a full-size board will take about an hour to complete, so with perfect efficiency, you might be able to play five games in an afternoon, although if you’re not used to it, your brain might be fried by the time you play three.

The main difference between this salon and other go salons in Kyoto, is that it prides itself on how accessible it is for beginners, and I could feel it. At the start, I was a complete beginner, who only knew the general rules of the game, but my growth has been explosive due to the manner in which sensei teaches. Sensei is extremely animated and excited about go, and that emotion bled over to me: whenever he would explain something, like why one move is generally preferred over another, or when replaying a moment of a game where he saw a mistake, he’d have the biggest grin on his face, and he was potentially the single most expressive person I’ve met in Japan. At first, the most important thing with Sensei’s lessons was asking questions about words’ definitions. I couldn’t understand the vocabulary of the Kansai dialect very well, let alone the faster-than-Tokyo-dialect speed and the increased use of tone and pitch. For a good two weeks, I didn’t have any idea what Sensei was saying, but I slowly managed to get the hang of it. Even now, comprehension isn’t perfect and I ask questions about meaning, but I can follow a conversation now.

Sensei is also a big fan of getting stronger through experience; he is more likely to let you play out a game by making a mistake and then seeing where you went wrong than he is to give advice on a move that you should make in the future, although if you continuously make the same mistake, he will give you advice. A lot of his instruction is like that; the only general teaching he does is at the start of the afternoon, right at 1:00, by doing just a few tsumego (practice problems) on a large magnetic front-facing board before allowing everyone to play against others of the same skill level.

Something that surprised me a bit was that at the end of the games, when it came time to count territory, it wasn’t just a matter of counting, but the MANNER in which you count. You have to arrange it in a specific way, and even if it’s harder for you to count it like that, if it’s not the “correct” way, then you’re doing it wrong. It was frustrating, but it reminded me of the oft-said idea regarding Japan that it’s not a matter of “best” way of counting, but rather “what’s been decided.”

The other players were, with a single exception, all over 50 years old, with the grand majority being at least in their mid-60s. The patrons of the salon were very friendly, and I enjoyed talking to them—there was a some general talk of the weather, recent travels, current events, and family, but most of it was related to go itself, and the games that we just played or were about to play. The way that the patrons talked with me was similar to each other: in rapid Kansai dialect. With no shortage of politeness, but also not as formal as Tokyo Dialect’s standard desu-masu form. At one point, on Valentine’s Day, one of my fellow kishi 棋士 (go and/or shogi players) brought in chocolates for everyone and introduced me to the idea of girichoko, or “obligation chocolate,” which in turn led me to learn more about how Valentine’s Day (and White Day) are handled in Japan—it’s very different than the U.S.!

The only exception was with the one young player, a young man named Inata-san. And Inata-san was more of a stone than the black and white stones we put on the goban. He didn’t react to Sensei’s positive and goofy energy in the slightest, and even when I tried to make conversation, he gave me one-word answers with no emotion. I had heard of the famous “Japanese reservedness/shyness” before, but this was my first time experiencing it firsthand. Maybe I only saw it once because Inata-san was a young adult and not an older fellow? It definitely seemed like there was a correlation between higher age and openness to conversation, so maybe this was the logical extreme, with “much younger” being “much more reserved”?

The salon was just a great experience for me, and I loved it immensely. I would recommend this place to anyone who doesn’t have much experience (or even any experience at all) but still has any interest at all in not just go, but in chesslike games as a whole.


John Cho: Shamisen

           In my opinion, learning the shamisen itself was not the most important part of my CIP. Of course, learning how to play an instrument (if you enjoy music) from someone who is respected among the music community is a great opportunity; but being able to be in a constant, small group of friendly people and having the opportunity to participate in a concert wearing the traditional concert clothes really fulfilled the “authentic Japanese experience” that I was hoping to get from this study abroad.

            To those who are looking to learn the language better, and to constantly have the opportunity to talk with native speakers – who often use very strong Kansai-ben; the shamisen lesson is, perhaps, the best place to do so. Because most of the fellow students are around 60 ~ 70 years old, they consider us (young study abroad students) to be a “kouhai” and are more willing to talk to you, makes jokes with you, and really get to know you better. Personally, I think my Japanese skills, especially conversational skills, have improved significantly because I was always in an environment to constantly talk with someone who uses more conversational/casual speech to you – unlike the classroom environments.

Also, being in the shamisen class allowed me to participate in a traditional Japanese music concert, which is a great “authentic Japanese experience”. To me, the fact that I, an American study abroad student, can play alongside Japanese people while wearing their traditional clothes, and go to a big celebration party afterwards gave me the feeling that I was really accepted in the community.

            For those who love music, or who would like to start learning the instrument, I would definitely recommend learning the shamisen under Iwasaki sensei.

            For a quick explanation about what the “general experience” of learning how to play the shamisen is, please look at my first post. (https://www.kcjs.jp/blog/2017/11/25/john-cho-shamisen)

John Cho: Shamisen

For my CIP, I am learning shamisen under Iwasaki Sensei, who teaches in a cafe close to Kawaramachi Station. I chose to play the shamisen because I had a lot of previous background in playing musical instruments, and I wanted to experience the “traditional music” of Japan.

As I only had 1 year of Japanese under my belt, I was, at first, a little intimidated of learning under Iwasaki sensei, as it was a group learning session, not a private lesson. Also, the fact that Iwasaki sensei had a heavy Kansai-ben made me a little more nervous than I should have been.  However, all my doubts disappeared after my first lesson. Iwasaki sensei was a very outgoing and kind teacher, and it was very evident that she really wanted to take care of her foreign students (two of my classmates also studies shamisen and koto under her).

From my lessons, I think I definitely improved my shamisen skills. Iwasaki sensei is a fantastic and capable teacher, and I am lucky to have such talented instructor. Aside from my musical abilities, I learned a lot about Japanese culture, current events, and bits of Kansai-ben from the group dinner. Iwasaki sensei likes to eat dinner with every one of her students, mostly because she just loves to chat with everyone. During my numerous dinner gatherings with her class, I talked about something as important as my academics and something as trivial as bird migratory patterns in Japan. Also, whenever I had a question about the cultural aspects of Japan (for example, why does one of the student use “casual” speech and not “respectful” speech), she will always answer me to the best of her ability, even using few English words in her sentence just so that I could understand better.

For anyone who wants to have an authentic experience of “Japanese Life” with the locals, hanging out with Iwasaki sensei in her dinner group is a good place to start; and to those who want to learn traditional Japanese music, I would highly recommend the shamisen lesson.

Baylee Williams: Impact Hub Kyoto

My Community Involvement Project was interning at Impact Hub Kyoto. Throughout my time there, I translated a variety of documents including blogs, flyers, and instructions. Before going to Impact Hub Kyoto, my dream was to become a Japanese to English translator; however, translating at Impact Hub Kyoto helped to change my mind. Sitting for hours on end staring at a computer screen and constantly googling words, phrases, and grammar structures that I did not understand became quite exhausting. Even though Jim, one of my fellow students, cracked jokes to help alleviate our frustration and worked with me on the translations, I still found myself bored and aggravated most of the time I was there. When the two of us were translating one of the more difficult blogs, it occurred to me that I do not want to be trapped working in a job like this for the rest of my life. I want my life to consist of more than pouring over paperwork at a desk, especially paperwork that does not inspire me. This, however, is not to say that I hated translating at Impact Hub Kyoto. On the contrary, I found it to be a very useful experience. Translating at Impact Hub Kyoto has given me guidance for my future by helping to narrow down my search for future career possibilities. Moreover, I appreciated the experience of translating; it gave me valuable insight into how the Japanese language functions and some of the many similarities and differences between English and Japanese. Impact Hub Kyoto was more than just an opportunity to translate though.
Through Impact Hub Kyoto, I learned more about how Japan functions as a society. I witnessed the exchange of give-and-take firsthand. Whenever one of the members of Impact Hub Kyoto was ever given anything, or even if they only went to buy some food at the local convenience store, they always shared some of what they had. I feel like this mirrors how people in Japanese society often buy souvenirs for friends, family members, and coworkers whenever they go traveling. Soon Jim and I found ourselves doing the same thing. If we went to buy some strawberries, then we would buy some for them too. This somewhat elaborate system continues to fascinate me as I become further entangled in it. It has also affected my mindset regarding buying souvenirs for friends and family members back in the United States. I have noticed myself constantly wondering if I should buy a souvenir for this person or that person, even if I do not know them very well. I wonder if this will also continue to affect my habits even after I return to the United States.
Overall, I am grateful for the opportunity to intern at Impact Hub Kyoto, because it allowed me to experience a different aspect of Japanese society that I otherwise would not have been able to experience. It has helped to change my life goals for the better, and now I understand more of what I want from a job in the future.