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.
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.
Every Wednesday I went to Nishijin after-school center from 3-5pm and helped look after the children ranging from 6-10 years old. The volunteering consists of always engaging with the children and ideally forming relationships with them throughout the semester to create a fun environment for everyone.
The staff will usually speak close to zero english, but they are all kind and patient towards any questions or problems you may have. Additionally, despite the language and cultural differences, most of the children will want to seek you out so there will be times when it could get overwhelming but over time it becomes more manageable.
My biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to interact with the kids! Use your Japanese skills, whatever level it may be, to engage with the kids and they will give the same energy back.
I volunteered at Miyakoshi Fukakusa Youchien; activities included reading simple English books to the children (and doing translation to Japanese), playing board games with them (which they loved to cheat at), and generally being a good playmate with the kindergarteners.
Volunteering at the Youchien has been an experience that I will carry with me my entire life. If you like working with kids, there is no better CIP to choose.
Some advice to incoming students: the kids really like to have ‘skinship’ with you: this sometimes includes them just randomly jumping onto your back, sitting in your lap and hugging you. Make sure you are comfortable with some physical contact if you want to do this as a CIP.
My CIP this semester was Kendo, a martial art centered around swordsmanship. The martialart focuses just as much on the practitioner’s abilities as it does on self discipline, as well as respect for your teachers, your opponents, and your Dojo. I was surprised by how specific and precise all elements of Kendo were, from the exact degree of angle you have to achieve when bowing, to the perfection of form required for all of the basic strikes. To anybody else starting Kendo in their time at KCJS, I would say go to every practice you can, and practice outside of the Dojo. The learning curve is incredibly steep, and your time in Japan will probably be very short.
My CIP was Bazaar Café in which I worked as a volunteer in a café primarily washing dishes. It was almost always a good way to practice my Japanese and talk with locals.
When the café got busy, the CIP became extremely tedious and boring as everyone would be busy working and I would be busy washing dishes. However, when the café was not busy, people would converse and sometimes even feed me.
My advice is make sure you know your goals before choosing your CIP. Understand what you want to get out of your CIP, such as improving language skills, learning a new skill other than Japanese language, and/or surrounding yourself with locals, before picking an activity. Also, do not be afraid to come up with something on your own and do the research to facilitate it.
Ash, Doshisha’s kpop dance circle, is a circle where you learn and perform kpop choreographies, with generally two performances per semester.
Everyone in the club was quite friendly, and you can get lots of informal Japanese practice, especially if you join a lot of dances.
My advice to incoming students is: be as friendly and outgoing as you possibly can. A lot of people may be apprehensive about possibly having to speak English to you because of their own discomfort speaking English, so it’s best to start interactions and sort of “prove” that you can speak Japanese well enough first. Even if you think your Japanese isn’t that good, the fact that you’re trying at all will make it easier to approach you. Be proactive and persistent about trying to make friends, because it is probable that people won’t come to you first. Don’t be scared of asking for help and asking questions, even if you don’t know how to phrase what you want to say ‘properly’. In most every case, it’s the effort that counts.
Here’s a recording of a dance I led in one of our spring performances!
‘The Eve’ by EXO
This past semester, I had volunteered at Mitsuba Kindergarten, and helped out teachers and other volunteers there play and manage kids aging from 3-5 years old. I volunteered from 1-4pm every week, of which, from 1-2pm, the Kindergarten had classes in which they would do various structured activities such as singing, watching a show, or reading books. Then from 2-4pm, is the after-school program, in which after some kids leave, the Kindergarten has a daycare style time, where kids would play until their parents came to pick them up.
Volunteering at Mitsuba Kindergarten was not only a great way to practice my Japanese through both speaking and listening, but every week was also extremely fun and fulfilling. When I first started, I was not sure about how to interact and communicate with the kids, especially since they could only speak Japanese. However, the kids are all extremely friendly and are not afraid to talk to you, ask questions, or in general just ask to you to play with them.
I would highly recommend working at a Kindergarten for those who like working with kids, and want a gratifying and fun experience. Some advice that I would give those interested in volunteering at a Kindergarten or any CIP in general, is that don’t nervous about speaking Japanese and interacting with kids and other volunteers and teachers. All of them are extremely friendly and are more than happy to help you out and talk to you!
This past semester for my CIP I did calligraphy every week. There were six of us who got together every Wednesday to sit down, do some calligraphy, and talk. Everyone in my class was so helpful in my progression every week and in understanding my limited Japanese abilities.
This CIP was an amazing opportunity to progress my language skills while making meaningful connections with local Japanese people. I left each lesson with a feeling of accomplishment and confidence. Occasionally, some of us will stay after class for 15 or so minutes and just talk about whatever is going on in our lives, which was really wholesome!
In terms of advice, I would recommend studying calligraphy-specific language so you can understand the instructions. I would also say that knowing stroke order is particularly important as well. That being said, my class was so accepting of my mistakes and helped me correct them. It is a great learning environment!
Thanks to Professor Rinne and Nakata-sensei’s research and support, I had the opportunity to takelessons from Kawasaki-sensei, a weaving teacher, obi weaver, and contemporary artist based near Kitaoji station. Once a week, I took the train to Kawasaki-sensei’s classroom and spent around 5-6 hours (including a break for tea, coffee, and sweets!) learning two styles of hand-weaving called hiraori and tsudzureori (tapestry weaving), typically alongside one to three other private students.
My time in Kawasaki-sensei’s classroom has been an experience that I’ll treasure forever. When I met him, I had never touched a loom—and in the weeks that followed, I prepared and hand-wove hiraori scarves and samples as well as a tapestry-weave genkan mat that I designed with a little sketch. I’m incredibly grateful for the time I got to spend with the loom, but I’m equally if not more grateful for the personal connections that I made over the weeks. Assimilating and becoming comfortable in the classroom was a slow process—we communicated exclusively in Japanese, I was the only foreigner, and everyone was at least ten years older than me—but deeply rewarding even in the most subtle ways.
Kawasaki-sensei, his wife, and his other students are all lovely people who have repeatedly amazed me with their dedication, knowledge, and kindness. To future students—if you’re someone who feels drawn to fiber arts, this is your sign to pursue that interest in Kyoto. If that’s not you—don’t let fear of discomfort and uncertainty keep you from what could be an incredible experience! Keep an open mind, be genuine and thoughtful, and do your best—the rest will come with time.