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.

Kaela Brandt: Assistant English Teacher

At my home school, I am majoring in CSHD (Child Studies and Human Development), so for my CIP I really hoped to do something where I could work with kids. I am also interested in education, so when I explained my wishes to 中村先生, she was able to connection me to 末光先生 (Suemitsu-sensei), who is a private English tutor for young children.中村先生 called 末光先生 ahead of time to explain my situation, but I was also able to make the phone call and talk to 末光先生 myself, to ask if she would take me on as a teaching assistant. I really appreciated this initially process, because I was able to receive some assistance while also having some agency in pursuing my CIP.

末光先生 holds private English teachings at her house, where she and her sister live. Her sister teaches in arts and crafts, so not only is their home decorated beautifully, but the room dedicated to 末光先生’s lessons truly looks like a real classroom! They have visuals and posters of all kinds, games, calendars, abc and counting frames, and books in both Japanese and English for kids as young as kindergarden all the way through late middle school/early high school. I typically attend lessons once a week, for around 1-2 hours. The lessons I assist with are for two young girls, one 10 years old and the other 12. Transportation to and from my CIP is quite easy, as 末光先生’s house is close to Kitaoji Station, only 2 stops away from Imadegawa on the Karasuma line.

I have truly had the most wonderful time during this CIP. I very much enjoy the learning process, so having the opportunity to see and participate in these classes is such a privilege. Linguistically, seeing the way English is taught and experienced by native Japanese speakers is super interesting as well. Many of the materials 末光先生 uses are similar to what I used when I was younger, but seeing firsthand the small differences and approaches to how English is taught has been fascinating. There are many references to American culture that even 末光先生, someone who has studied English the majority of her life and even lived in the U.S. at one point, is puzzled by. I was usually able to shed some light on these elements, but sometimes even I was stumped as well!

The two young girls I worked with were shy at first, but quickly opened up after a few lessons, and we have now grown quite close. What surprised me most was how funny they are after getting more comfortable! We are often able to laugh about various things during our lessons, whether it is bizarre American culture references, the difficulties of grammar in both English and Japanese, or the events of our days. Something that definitely helped us feel closer was when we started to incorporate some more Japanese into our lessons. At first, 末光先生 only wanted me to speak English during the lessons, since it is important to have the exposure of a native speaker for any language learning process. However, 末光先生 also gave me many opportunities to practice Japanese, which helped with my confidence, and made the kids feel more comfortable as well. Before the lesson begins, I explain the events of my day and ask questions to the kids in English. At the end of the lesson, we normally do the same thing, but in Japanese. Also, 末光先生 will sometimes have me read short children’s books in English, but then repeat the same thing in Japanese.

I have also had the opportunity to speak Japanese at events outside of the lessons. For example, 末光先生 held an Oden Party, which was attended by myself, 中村先生, and a few of her students. We all ate oden while taking turns reading our book of choice to the group, all in Japanese. I read Urashimataro, and I was very nervous, but everyone was so kind and encouraging! Also, 末光先生 held a Halloween party, in which I met nearly all of her students and participated in a short skit of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Besides the reading of a short Halloween story, I spoke in Japanese to the children, which worked well, considering my level of Japanese is definitely still at elementary level. I found, also, that it is quite easy to get along with children even with a significant language barrier. Body language and overall demeanor carry much weight, and at the end of the day, many children just want to be around someone who will listen, which I more than happy to do.

Of all the good things to come of my CIP, I am perhaps most grateful for the relationship I have built with 末光先生. She is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met, and is inspiring both as a teacher and a human being. She and her sister have made me feel so welcome in their home, and even have me over for dinner from time to time. We have long conversations in a mix of English and Japanese, and they are endlessly patient with me as I try to match their very good English with my very poor Japanese. They are always excited to share all they know of Japanese culture, and ask many questions about America as well. This semester, KCJS was not able to have host families due to COVID-19 precautions. However, 末光先生 and her sister have made me feel a little bit of what that might have been like, to be so cared for and accepted in a way I did not expect. I encourage anyone who wishes to do a CIP in a classroom setting/working with kids to also engage with the adults in these roles as well; they are extremely passionate about what they do, are more than happy to share what they know with you, and you never know the bonds you may form along the way! My CIP experience is one I will cherish forever, and is definitely one of the most memorable aspects of my time in Japan.

Nicole Tong: Kurama Gakai

For my CIP, I participated in Kurama Gakai, an art circle at Doshisha.

I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the experience. Since COVID policies dictated that the circle couldn’t reserve meeting rooms in advance, it was necessary to contact the circle the day of in order to find out where it would take place. Out of the four methods I tried (Twitter, LINE, Peing, email), only the last one actually produced an answer. Once I went to two meetings, after missing several, I was able to get the LINE contact of one of the circle’s leaders, and she has been helpfully messaging me where to go. If you are interested in joining Kurama Gakai, I’ve heard that the circumstances will improve starting next semester, but in general I’d recommend joining a circle that has a dedicated club room (BOX).

The meetings last either 1.5 or 3 hours, and are centered around one activity. I had originally picked Kurama Gakai as my CIP because I thought it would be more freeform, and was sorely disappointed – if you’re not looking for structured meetings where everyone is expected to draw the same thing, don’t join. I would say the club activities hit the annoying point of usually being something I don’t particularly want to do – which is a good thing, because it pushes me outside of my comfort zone – but also taking up way too little time – which is a bad thing, because it means I can hardly improve from the experience. All in all, 1.5 hours a week isn’t a lot of investment, but it’s also a paltry amount of drawing time if you actually care about your art but struggle to find opportunities to work on it while cranking out daily Japanese homework and essays.

As for people who want to join so they can talk to Japanese people – I maybe talked for a total of ten minutes across seven weeks.This is probably mostly my fault for being completely socially inept, so I’m sure that those with either adequate social skills or Japanese skills won’t have much trouble as long as you pay for the admission and membership fees.

The earlier you pay your fees, the better. If you wait too long to make your move, you won’t be able to get reimbursed. Participating in a circle, multiple times, without actually becoming a member, just makes you feel like you’re being a burden and freeloading off of the people you’re trying to form friendly relations with. Assumedly it also makes them feel the same way about you, preventing you from joining the circle’s LINE group and leaving you perpetually outside the loop.

In short, I think your enjoyment of your CIP will depend primarily upon your attitude. If you accidentally land a bad CIP, the best thing you can do is to work proactively to change it to a better one, instead of throwing your hands up and accepting your situation because “It’s not really that bad” or “My teachers think I should keep doing it” or “I don’t want to send another email to another club.” Otherwise, you’ll probably regret it.

David Massart: Volunteering at the Higashi Kujo Children’s Soup Kitchen (子ども食堂)

My CIP consisted of volunteering at the Higashi Kujo Children’s Soup Kitchen located at
Kyoto Southern Church. On Thursdays every week, Pastor Baekki Heo, his wife, and some
volunteers (ranging from lower school to university to parents) would prepare a delicious dinner for community members — anyone was welcome. These affordable meals would cost adult customers around ~3 dollars, and no charge for children. I would arrive at around 5:30PM and start working. Due to afternoon classes, I was only able to volunteer from 5:30PM – 9:30PM. During my shift, I would spend the first two hours serving customers, and the last two hours cleaning dishes (including a ~10 minute dinner break). Serving customers was pretty straightforward: put food plates on a tray and bring the tray to the correct location.

The space in the church wasn’t too big but every week a little under 100 customers would
come and sit with their families, friends and loved ones to enjoy a meal. The pastor and his wife do incredible work to build a community full of people that care about each other. One of my most memorable experiences was when one of the customers, a mom, came to the kitchen and helped us clean dishes because we were a little understaffed that day. It’s times like these that made me appreciate my CIP and the generosity of the community surrounding the church. Beyond learning my way around a kitchen in Japanese and serving customers, I was also given the opportunity to interact with a Japanese community and observe a different facet of society in Japan. However, the friendliness and casual atmosphere at the church and amongst volunteers and customers completely crushed any preconceptions. As a beginner Japanese student, I wanted to impress (or rather not disappoint) and use keigo on my first day. During the subway ride I quickly memorized whatever formalities I knew and told myself I would try to use them as much as possible. Believe it or not, within the first 5 minutes of talking to the pastor, I threw keigo out the window and never looked back. The friendly manner in which I was treated and the casual atmosphere amongst everyone there quickly made me realize that it was impossible not to answer back in casual fashion. Apart from kitchen vocabulary and formalities, another big barrier for me to cross was the Kansai dialect. I already knew that I was coming in as a beginner and that I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the speed of most of the volunteers, but add a different dialect to that and my head was just spinning at the end of the day. On the bright side, I was able to learn a lot from the volunteers and felt that I had a better grasp on the dialect and the language after only a few times volunteering!

Throughout my “CIP journey” I learned to be more independent in regards to learning
Japanese. I quickly found out that many of the other volunteers at the church wanted to speak to me in Japanese, but were often hesitant to spark up a conversation. I learned that most of the time, the onus was on me to try and start the conversation. A big piece of advice I can give to prospective or current students at KCJS (regardless of your CIP) is to take advantage of the opportunities that you are given to learn and try to engage with the Japanese community as much as you can. It’s the best way to improve and a great way to make friends in a foreign country!

Hearing from other students’ CIPs it seems that my experience with formalities in Japan may be a pretty rare and unique one, so I would not advise on relying on my experience alone. However, I can say that at my CIP and at most places in Kyoto, locals are always friendly and willing to help you! I am so incredibly honored for the opportunity I was given to volunteer at the church and temporarily be a part of their community — I will most certainly miss it.

Jared Hwang: Volunteering at a Children's Food Kitchen (子ども食堂)

Throughout this semester, every Thursday, I’ve had the honor to volunteer at the Higashi Kujo Kodomo Shokudo (東九条子ども食堂), or Children’s Food Kitchen.  It is run on the third floor of the Kyoto Southern Church, by the pastor Baekke Heo, a third generation Korean born Japanese. The kitchen is open to anyone and everyone: adults, children, families, or anyone who is in need of a warm, cheap, homecooked meal (free for children, 300 yen for adults). Every Thursday, volunteers, mostly students, gather at the kitchen from the early afternoon to the evening to prepare, cook, and serve food in meals that have been prepared weeks in advance to both be healthy and appeal to the Japanese palate. The end result is a bustling kitchen filled with people from all walks of life: students getting work done, regulars chatting with the kitchen staff, kids running around having fun by the small designated area with toys, or even a national taekwondo champion.  For me, this was the first time I had volunteered at a food kitchen in any real capacity, so I didn’t really know what to expect. However, in just a short time after arriving there, I could truly sense the amount of passion and kindness that goes into the Kodomo Shokudo project, by both Baekke-san and all the rest of the staff. It truly is a kitchen run by the love that these volunteers have for their work, and the bond that’s created with the surrounding community is all the better for it.

During my time volunteering at the Kodomo Shokudo, I was also given a unique opportunity to observe the culture and spoken language in depth. I have to say, even coming into the experience as an official “beginner” at Japanese, I did not understand as much as I thought I would. As is the case with native speaker of any language I’m sure, the casual speech was spoken at a much faster pace than what I was used to. What’s more is that the Kansai dialect was often used, leaving me even more confused, albeit entertained. The kitchen was also extremely casual, which certainly was in opposition to my expectations: newcomers being treated with relatively polite speech, which would slowly transform into the casual style used amongst friends. This assumption was immediately destroyed after just the first day, where the entire staff was so incredibly kind and friendly, that polite form would just have been odd to use.  Throughout my time volunteering I was also able to pick up many Kansai-dialect words, which I am thankful for as Kansai-dialect is a wacky and unique style of Japanese that is great fun to use.

At the same time, I’m not sure how many comments I can make about what I learned about Japanese culture at the Kodomo Shokudo. What I can say is that everyone at the Shokudo, staff and customers alike, have treated me with such kindness and approached me with so much curiosity and interest in my background and where I’m from, and never turned down the opportunity to make conversation and be patient with my less-than-great Japanese. We often had the most fun when the staff would attempt to say something in English, and I would tell them how off they were with their pronunciation. There was a true curiosity and interest in my being foreign, while at the same time being wholly accepting of me into their small community. And, the same kindness that was shown to me is shown to everyone who enters the doors—the way that regular customers interact with the staff and especially Baekke-san and his wife, truly show the bond and appreciation for the customers by the staff, and vice versa. In fact, I asked Baekke-san why he decided to open the Shokudo two years ago, and the answer was simply “I had the space and the kitchen, so there was no reason not to use it to help the community.”  It doesn’t hurt that the Shokudo often is heavily influence by Korean culture and food, and is established in an area with a large Korean population.

Ultimately, I am beyond grateful that I was given the opportunity to volunteer at the Higashi Kujo Kodomo Shokudo. Seeing the passion and kindness with which Baekke and the staff work with every Thursday has not only inspired me to study Japanese language and culture harder, but also seek out a similar volunteering opportunity back home. I am appreciative beyond words for the staff always treating me as an equal and a friend, and I will certainly miss and think about this experience and the people I met once I return home.

Ellen Ehrnrooth: Dance

I initially started out this semester with the intention of volunteering at an NGO so I could improve my formal Japanese skills – something I felt like I was lacking, both in terms of my ability to use it and identify when to use it. I settled on an NGO that a previous KCJS student had had a fantastic semester with, and I was excited to take on the challenge. However, I quickly realized that I did not have the time to contribute meaningfully to the work they did – I felt quite strongly that I was causing them some trouble by being there as a foreigner with questionable Japanese skills. Although my time there was brief, I still learned a lot – I found it really interesting how the keigo dynamics worked in regard to me as a foreigner, and I was called Ellen-san instead of Ehrnrooth-san – then again, I do have possibly the most difficult-to-pronounce-in-any-language name conceivable.

After I came to the decision to switch CIPs, my mind wondered about what was best to do. I had had a less-than-ideal experience at my CIP last semester, which was taking dance lessons. However, I am the world’s most enthusiastic dancer (albeit a not particularly skilled one), and I realized that it was worth giving it another try. Last semester I mostly took K-pop dance classes, which may have been the cause the lack of a community feeling – the majority of the people in the classes were high schoolers and were there with their friends, and it was hard to relate to them in many ways. For that reason, I decided to take classes at a couple different studios with a wider demographic of students this semester, and the styles I’ve focused on have been waacking (a style born out of 1970s Los Angeles LGBT clubs) and hip hop – and I am happy to report they have been a success compared to last semester.

In a sense, it has been a very multi-lingual experience. First of all, the number of random English words that are a part of the vocabulary dancers use continues to surprise me. Both waacking and hip hop find their roots in the U.S., so it makes sense that the technical vocabulary would travel over – but some of the words used have very obvious Japanese counterparts, so the usage of the English words feels kind of unusual.

Not that I am complaining; it does make understanding the instructions much easier, especially when they are combined with the onomatopoeic sounds the instructors sometimes use to describe movements. This has been a challenge, albeit an amusing one. I am really bad at remembering the meaning of Japanese onomatopoeia, and often get it wrong when trying to explain things in conversation, to the amusement of my Japanese friends. However, the power of guesswork can go far, and usually I am able to figure out pretty quickly what I’m being told to do. The times when I don’t, however, are pretty obvious.

Those times of confusion were communicated pretty instantly with my facial expressions, which actually ended up being to my benefit. I think I emote visually a lot, which means the teachers would come over quite often to help me out as it was immediately obvious when I was confused. This was an interesting parallel to my classmates, who tended to just try and focus on drilling the mistakes on their own until they fix them. The different routes we took to get to a place of understanding has been an interesting thing to observe.

Lastly, dance to me is a language in itself – so even when I had some difficulty understanding what was happening around me, when everyone performs the choreography together, there is a sense of mutual understanding. This common understanding went far, and I felt much more welcomed in my classes this semester compared to the last. The teachers took an active interest in asking about me and introducing me to the class, and the students followed suit, with me exchanging contact info with some of them. I think taking classes in more niche styles (waacking and style hip hop fall into that category) helps – people who have niche interests, in my opinion, tend to mostly be happy to find other people who have those same interests, even if there is something like a language barrier that can get in the way of communication.

The studios I attended most often can be found here and here.