Jian Soo: Volunteering at Miyakoshi Fukakusa Youchien

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.


John Henry Waymack: Kendo lessons

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. 

Nathan Reichert: Bazaar Cafe


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.

Mary Wilson: Kpop Dance with Doshisha ASH

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

Derek Shao: Volunteering at Mitsuba Kindergarten

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!

Will Hanson: Calligraphy


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!


Anisa Khatana: Weaving Lessons

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.

Karma Dorjee: Kyudo


This semester for my CIP, I took Kyudo lessons at the Kyoto Budo Center, located in the Sakyo ward, approximately 15 mins away from campus by public transit. Throughout the course of 10 weeks, I learned everything from acts of paying/showing respect upon entering and exiting the dojo, to shooting from a distance of 28 meters. 

Overall, my Kyudo sensei and senpais were all very supportive of me taking up the bow despite only being there for a short period of 10 weeks. Rather than hitting the target, Kyudo places a lot of emphasis on one’s actions and form; thus a majority of the lessons focused on how to show respect (through bowing and other small gestures), and practicing how to hold a bow and draw and release without an arrow. It was only until the last 3-4 weeks that we started using an arrow. Lastly, the lessons don’t offer a lot of opportunity to interact with other members of the dojo as everyone is there to practice Kyudo instead of socially interacting with one another; thus to practice Japanese, you find yourself practicing listening for most of the time.

One piece of advice that I would leave is that practicing one’s form and gestures of respect outside of class is important and will prove to be very helpful as having lessons just once a week is not enough to retain everything and have it perfected the next week. 

Mary Wilson: Doshisha’s Kpop Dance Circle ‘Ash’

For my CIP I joined Doshisha’s kpop dance circle called “Ash”. I had wanted to join Kyoto University’s Toppogi kpop dance club but they became unable to respond to my messages once I arrived in Japan. Luckily, Keiko Toda of KCJS helped me connect with Ash very quickly and they accepted me into their club as their first ever study abroad student member.

During my fall semester, our main purpose was preparing for the Eve festival at the end of November. Near the beginning of the semester, the leaders of the 170+ member circle made a group chat for those of us interested in participating in Eve and separated us into more Line chats based on who wanted to perform what songs. 

I was recruited into two songs (Drunk-Dazed by Enhypen and 2 Baddies by NCT 127) because a member dropped from each, but I was also able to join Say My Name by Ateez. 

The dance practices at the beginning were very different from what I was used to in the United States. First, the practice times were irregular, and for two dances I had an オール連 which was an overnight practice from 11pm to 6am, for blocking formations and cleaning up choreo. So that was a bit rough on the body, but the leaders gave us plenty of breaks during each practice so even those weren’t too bad. During practices, rather than one person using a computer or drawn formations and directing people, everyone would watch the dance on their phone and move accordingly. 

One thing I noticed consistently was that, while we were working on choreo by ourselves with the mirror or going through it all together, nobody would want to stand in the middle or in the front, and everyone would generally try to just stay in the very back of the room and to the sides, even to the point of getting into each other’s way or blocking people in the mirror. I’m not certain what the reason for this is, but I did notice it consistently happening, moreso with women. 

Linguistically, I learned a lot of words used in dancing, and learned that it’s very difficult to communicate or understand song titles, idol’s names, and group names in a foreign language, which led to a lot of embarrassing miscommunications.

I also learned that you really need to try hard to talk to people, because in most cases they will not approach you first. So you will have to consistently reach far out of your comfort zone to make friends. 

My advice for joining a dance circle, especially a kpop one:

  • Bring indoor shoes to practice
  • Have your part memorized before the first practice
  • Have a full water bottle and a sweat towel
  • Make sure you download your dance practice video and have a good charge on your phone, especially the first few practices
  • Know how to say idol’s names, group names, and song titles in Japanese
  • さび=chorus ふり=choreo ふり(が)はいってる?=have you memorized the choreo (possibly also includes formations) いちばい・いちで=normal/1x speed いちから(やろう)= let’s go from the top

I’ve had a great time despite the hiccups, but I definitely wish I had had the confidence to try talking to people more!

Kiyan Banuri: Doshisha Photography Circle

This semester, I was able to participate in the photography circle at Doshisha, a student-run club of photophiles. Despite having seldom experience in photography beyond a high-school elective course and VSCO/I-Phone photography, the club gave me space to practice my Japanese skills, socialize with local students, and explore photo-worthy areas in the Kansai region. While excursions to places such as Kifune shrine and Cosmos Garden were the highlight of my experience, weekly Zoom critique-meetings were held in lieu of an excursion. Zoom meetings were difficult to keep up at first, and I felt very disconnected from the group. However, after my first in-person field trip to Cosmos Garden, I connected with members on a variety of shared interests: design, photoshop, and art.

It was not all fun and games, however. Entering the circle was possibly the most difficult part; I did not receive a response through Instagram, Twitter, or email when I solicited to join the circle. When I discovered they were hosting an exhibition, I went and introduced myself. When the entrance process was becoming muddled, I returned to the exhibition the next day and essentially refused to leave until I was able to officially enter the club. At the first excursion at Cosmos Garden, I felt shy and embarrassed to ask to borrow other students’ camera. But this shyness gave way to spontaneous bravery, and in those moments I was able to ask for help, learn about photography from passionate students, and learn useful vocabulary—all while making friends. It was during my CIP experience where I learned the importance to instigate these connections, rather than waiting for someone to speak to me. Not only does this save time, but also allows others–who may not know I speak Japanese–a chance to make a connection as well.

In retrospect, despite the various difficulties in joining, connecting with others, and actively participating in the club, it was through these difficulties where I experienced the most personal growth. As someone who rarely pushes myself to do extensive traveling during the semester, I was gratified for the structured opportunities to travel and take pictures at places that even local Japanese students find beautiful and interesting. As such, the Doshisha Photography Circle gave me the ability to speak and listen to local students in Japanese, learn and practice photography skills, travel around the Kansai region, and learn to overcome shyness in unfamiliar and uncomfortable social settings.