Chris Elson – Boxing

My CIP Activity was taking boxing lessons at a local private gym. While there, I could as many times as I wanted, given I paid for the month. Sessions usually started with a couple rounds of jump-rope, then shadow-boxing, punching bag, and finally a session of hitting the mitts with an instructor.

My experience was alright. I had never boxed before starting this CIP and I felt they were encouraging of me despite that fact. Still, I managed not to care too much for boxing and didn’t really care about going every week.

My advice to others would be that to just keep going. Regardless of skill level, you will gain respect the gym as long as you consistently show up. I was always weak, but I found towards the end that as I consistently attend, the better I would be treated, which honestly makes sense as its easy to build a better connection with the instructors and gym-goers at that point.

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Torres Shi: Volleyball Circles

For myCIP project, I participated in volleyball circles for both the Fall and Spring semesters, In the Fall, I participated in two circles, called SANDLOT and L Volleyball, both of which are circles of the Doshisha University. In the Spring, I joined a new circle from Kyoto University of Molten Volleyball.

All three circles I was a part of had distinctive dynamics, and the level of skills also varied greatly. The two pictures below are from a tournament I participated in during the Fall semester and a regular practice session with the Molten Volleyball circle.

One advice from me would be to start conversations with new people actively. Japanese students are very friendly towards international students. However, they can be a little shy to start a conversation, so reach out to them and you will find that they are very easy and enjoyable to talk to.

Torres Shi: SANDLOT and L Volleyball Circles

In the Fall Semester of 2022, I participated in two volleyball circles, SANDLOT and L, at Doshisha University for my CIP project. The two circles have very distinctive dynamics, and I was able to experience and learn different things from them.
SANDLOT is currently the biggest volleyball circle at Doshisha University, and guys and girls were always separated during practices. Almost every member had played volleyball in high school, so every practice was basically scrimmages after a quick warm-up at the beginning. Most people joined the circle when they were freshmen and they already knew each other very well when I first joined their practice session. They were very friendly to me, and I was the only international student in the circle. However, I also felt a bit awkward sometimes because I was not able to follow their conversations outside of the court. The circle was run systematically overall, with board members in charge of the budget, organizing scrimmages and tournaments, and so on. I think what I learned the most from SANDLOT is the culture of a homogenous Japanese guy group. The language they used was very informal, and they would always be laughing at each other’s jokes. Nonetheless, this group of people was truly passionate about volleyball, and they were all about improving themselves when on the court. I don’t think I fully became a part of the group even at the end of the program (and I don’t think they saw me that way either) but it was a very valuable experience I am glad I had.
The other volleyball circle, L, was almost the complete opposite. The organizers of the circle were Doshisha students, but the frequent participants were almost all international students, from countries such as Brazil, Spain, the UK, and so on. Most of the members have never played volleyball before, so it was difficult to run the game systematically. It was more of a place to chat and socialize than to play serious volleyball, and the club culture is a lot more heterogeneous than SANDLOT. For me, going to SANDLOT practice could be a little stressful, but I felt very relaxed at L. I don’t think I have learned as much about Japanese culture and language through L’s activities, but I was able to talk to people of various backgrounds and learned about their experiences in Japan.
I don’t think I have a preference in the end, and I think they are suitable for people of different interests. If you look for a fun and intensive volleyball experience and want to fully immerse in a Japanese environment, then SANDLOT would be a great choice; if you just want a space to relax after school, then I would recommend L. Nevertheless, members of both circles were friendly and welcoming people, and I am glad I was able to experience both of them.

Miggy Gaspar: Kyoto University Jogging Club

This semester, I joined the Jogging club at Kyoto University. When I was deciding on a CIP, I always knew that I wanted to do something involving a physical activity, and Jogging seemed like a natural fit. I was on the cross-country and track and field team in High School, so I was pretty confident that I would be able to keep up with the other members. However, I was a little anxious about how I’d get along socially. Thankfully, everyone in the jogging club was very welcoming and friendly towards me, and I’d often get dinner with them after practice.

I’d arrive Kyoto University about thirty minutes before practice so that I could talk with others before we ran. The room allocated for the club was this janky little shack out near the back entrance – a little dirty, but had a lot of charm. The people in the circle love playing mahjong – I’d often enter and find them in the middle of a competitive match, eyes glued to the tiles. Me personally, I had no idea what was going on; I know the basics of the game, but they were playing with a different rule set. Luckily, there’d be one or two people on the side that I could talk to, and they let me in on what was going on.

The Jogging itself was also pretty fun. Usually, we’d run 8-10 kilometers every practice I went. Our usual route was from Kyoto to University to along Kamogawa River, down to the road aligned with Kyoto Station, and then back. The club itself is comprised of members who both run competitively and for fun, so there were plenty of people in between that I could run alongside with. The runs were the most exhausting part of practice – trying to translate and talk at the same time I was running was both physically and mentally taxing. Most of the time, I’d wouldn’t say much save for the occasional comment. Afterwards, the club members would bring me to a great restaurant around school campus, which was the most rewarding part of the experience. I felt that I was able to talk more freely around the other members when we were eating together.

Overall, I’m really happy with my experience in the Jogging club. It was a great way to meet new people and utilize my Japanese. My advice to new students: make jokes about how Doshisha is worse than Kyoto University on your first day- if you play up that rivalry angle, I think you’ll make a positive impression.


Chris Elson: Doshisha KGK (Bible Study), Kyoto International Church, Mustard Seed

For my CIP, I wanted to involve my Christian faith in some way. I included my activities of going to two different international Church (Kyoto International Church and Mustard Seed) and the student Bible study as part of my CIP activities. Church was held every Sunday: I normally go to KIC, but when it was not in person, I went to Mustard Seed. KIC was located near Kyoto University and Mustard Seed at Teramachi. As for KGK, they had 3 meetings a week, around 4:00PM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I usually only went to the Thursday meeting.

At KIC, my pastor gave the sermon in Japanese, but there were subtitles that he made himself that would appear on the screen behind him so I had no difficulty understanding. Mustard Seed had a live-translator so the English and Japanese speaking was constant. Spiritually, they were both very fulfilling and if anyone is looking for a Church, I recommended these two. For my Japanese Studies, I appreciated the KIC sermon more, as I would start translating in my head before I read the subtitles. At both Churches, there were incredibly kind people, both Japanese and foreigners. Honestly, this gave me the opportunity to reach beyond my student community and had a chance to connect with some what felt like “real” people. It was a good experience with Japanese, but I felt that maybe I should’ve done more in the Church regard. I did go to some things, but as a younger person, I paradoxically did not want to do the events in favor of doing homework or hang out with my friends. The advice I would give would be to really buy into the community and hang out with them.

As for KGK, I ended up becoming really good friends with my Bible Study leader. She ended up helping translate, clarifying, and even going as far as to prepare a translated sheet that was normally in Japanese. She ended up becoming someone I would hang out with regularly and always someone I could count on. This type of friendship is one of the reasons why I wanted to join a Japanese activity—-the chance to connect with Japanese students that translate into real world experiences is a natural consequence of something as intimate as Bible study. For that reason, I am happy. As for the Bible Study itself, it was a really interesting look into how Japanese Christian students interact with Christianity. Given that Japan is a much less Christian society than a place like America, the sessions were what I would describe as a little more “distance,” but it was still a place to be vulnerable, honest, and connection. We would read multiple passages from the Bible (usually in Japanese) and then discuss questions from a question sheet. As for Japanese, I honestly struggled a lot. It was difficult to try not to interrupt the kind of sanctity of Bible Study and letting the students explore and deepen their faith, while still wanting them to accommodate me. I often found myself just zoning out as the Japanese would get very fast, and I gave up trying understand multiple times just to try again later. But this sort of trial by fire really did have a positive impact on my Japanese, I believe. Towards the later sessions, I found myself naturally understanding more, and needing less clarification when I gave an answer.

I wanted to learn more about how to speak the Japanese version of “Christianese.” I think I was mildly successful. I think I focused a lot of the Japanese speaking aspect of this CIP, and thus, it’s been a relatively spiritually dry experience, so I warn Christians to be weary about this aspect. Yet, at times, there were deep revelations and spiritual moments, so I would still recommend this CIP.

Angelie Miranda: Calligraphy Lessons

Every Thursday, I would walk about half an hour from the Doshisha-Imadegawa campus to Asakusa-sensei’s house to take calligraphy (shodou) lessons. I always enjoyed my walks to shodou because it was a quieter suburban part of Kyoto that I wouldn’t otherwise explore. Once there, I was joined by Asakusa-sensei’s other regular students (never more than 5 at a time). They were mostly middle-aged women, but very occasionally another college student or child would join us. This at first was a little disappointing because I had been looking forward to making Japanese friends my age, but these women were all so sweet and welcoming that I quickly got past this feeling and looked forward to going back every week.

I had some experience doing shodou before I came to KCJS, but this was the first time having a teacher supervise my work so closely. I learned how to hold the brush, the amount of pressure required for each stroke, and what the correct posture is. Having a teacher to remind me of these details that are so easy to miss when you’re focused on copying the characters in the example booklet made a huge difference in my rate of progress. Not only was she technically helpful, Asakusa-sensei and the other ladies were encouraging me and pairing critiques with compliments. I wasn’t sure what to make of all their positive feedback because I was a beginner and I worried they were being overly friendly, but over time I realized that shodou isn’t always about right and wrong. While there are certainly standards for what makes a balanced work, a lot of the times, what I viewed as a mistake was simply seen as another style of writing the character.

During the shodou lesson, we would usually take a tea and cookies break. Sometimes it was homemade cookies that Asakusa-sensei’s daughter made and other times one of the students brought in a little snack. Seeing this culture of exchanging little sweets I brought my own (a treat called torimon from Fukuoka) that I shared with everyone that week. Though I was always eager to get back to my shodou, I really enjoyed these breaks because it allowed me to both interact with the others more intentionally and observe the interactions among these Japanese women, which did include puzzling through some Kansai-ben.

I decided upon this CIP because it was an activity that I would be able to continue on my own once I returned to the States. However, as much as I enjoyed learning shodou and seeing my progress over time, what I’ll remember is the peaceful and warm environment that Asakusa-sensei and her students created.

Owen Hoffer: Doshisha Boxing Club

My Cip activity was the Doushisha Boxing Club. It met every day except Thursday and Sunday and I would typically go two to three of those days per week. An average day would have around 10 members show up to warm up, light spar, free activity/mit work/running, then wrap up for around one and a half hours total. I have made friends with around five members but am amicable with all of them; this has manifested itself outside of the club as I got food with various members several times already.

As for cultural learnings, I am forced to speak Japanese in order to communicate with everybody there except one. This means I quickly picked up certain language idiosyncrasies that I had not seen outside the club. The manner in which they greet and say goodbye to one another as well as bow out at the end I picked up on quickly to be respectful and fit in. A lot of the boxing members were very interested in American culture but the concept of that culture manifested itself differently depending on who I talked to. For example, the captain really liked American fashion and would often wear older denim with huge flashy belts which he saw as inspired from an American style. I was kind of doing the opposite by trying to make my own style with what I saw around me in Japanese fashion so when he complemented me for my American style, it was somewhat strange at first; from these encounters with the captain, I realized a lot of what people considered cultural identifiers (e.g., clothing) are not in fact the pieces of clothing by themselves, but also who is seen showcasing those identifiers and how they go about doing so. The same could be seen in the club’s fascination with American rap music. Some members of the club called me over when rapper Takeoff died recently to ask me about it; this and asking me which “zone” of Chicago I was from were questions I found kind of funny, but at the same time were indicative of a phenomena present in the States but not quite as visible. That being an interest in some form of cultural association through representation; in this case the association with being tough or a killer and rap music the people in the club can’t even understand the content of the song. That just by knowing the association, the song instills some form of feeling that helps them perform better.

Finally, the club helped a lot for my language learning. Not only did having to use Japanese at all to communicate force me to improve, but the getting out of my comfort zone helped in other aspects of language learning as well such as talking to strangers and having more things I can talk about. I Had a lot of fun in this club and am so glad I had the opportunity to learn together with such nice people.

Aiko Johnston: Crafts Circle at Ritsumeikan University

For my CIP, I joined a crafts club at Ritsumeikan University, a university in Kyoto near Kinkakuji. The club typically met every Friday evening to make crafts together. Usually between two to five other girls would show up, and we’d all work on various crafts.

It was an interesting to see how clubs (which are called ‘circles’) at Japanese universities worked. Ritsumeikan had a school festival, at which my crafts circle sold tons of crafts—hair pins, hair ties, charms, earrings, etc.—and raised over 20,000 yen, which they then use to purchase materials and supplies for crafts. They were surprisingly well-stocked—they had a UV light machine to use for resin projects, a sewing machine, and a few other devices that I was surprised by.

I did enjoy the experience, and enjoyed learning how to make several kinds of crafts. I’ve always been interested in kanzashi, or hair ornaments used in traditional Japanese hairstyles. They’re most often made out of chirimen, a kind of silk crepe, which I always thought was expensive but is actually pretty easy to get your hands on in Japan. I got to make several flowers (marutsumami) at my club, which was very fun, and something I think I’ll continue after going back to the US. It was definitely an interesting experience to see the kinds of crafts that are popular amongst Japanese college students, and how to make them. I was a bit surprised at the quality of the crafts my circle made—a lot of the earrings and charms looked very professional. Crafts clubs like Ritsumeikan’s don’t seem to be very popular or common in the US, but it seems they’re fairly common in Japan.

The members of my club were generally pretty quiet, and it seemed like this club was mostly a way for people to relax at the end of the week by doing crafts. We would chat a bit, but people also tended to focus on whatever craft they were doing. I am also a fairly shy person, so at times I had difficulty starting conversations or trying to engage more with the club.

People were very friendly despite the fact that I joined in the middle of the school year (fall is the second semester in Japan) and didn’t even go to Ritsumeikan. Even if you’re nervous or scared, reaching out and asking questions is always better than staying quiet. People are usually very happy to explain things, and are more welcoming than you might expect. I would also recommend maybe exploring more than one CIP at the start of the semester—I ended up starting my CIP late due to some bad luck, and so didn’t really have enough time to test things out and see what I liked. Also, make sure your CIP is something you enjoy and are interested in! Your CIP is a great opportunity to get more involved in Japanese society and get to know people outside of KCJS.

Camrick Solorio: Ballroom Dance Circle

For my CIP, I asked to join Kyoto University’s Amateur Dance (ballroom dance) club and they kindly let me participate. Club activities consisted of weekly or bi-weekly practices at local recreational centers, where we learned a variety of dances from tango to cha-cha. The club members were all extremely kind and accommodating despite the frequent language gap, and it became quickly apparent that the regular club members are really invested in the club—not just in improving their dance skills, but in building community. I did roughly a year of ballroom dance in college prior to joining this club (zero dance experience before that), and with this background the practices being held were challenging but somehow manageable. There were some members with similar skill levels as me, but I would say most are better dancers than I am. Some of the members were even taking private lessons outside of club practice.

I was constantly amazed at how kind everyone was to each other. They treated me as a regular member of the club even though I was only to be there for a semester, and I can’t stress enough how incredibly grateful I am for that. Around mid-November I attended one of their bi-annual Dance Parties (formal venue, ~100 guests, dance time), and even though I couldn’t contribute much to planning the event, they kindly welcomed me as a club member and let me celebrate with them after the event.

Some general advice for interested students: the club members are extremely kind and welcoming towards everyone, and that very much includes study abroad students (they told me it isn’t uncommon for short-term study abroad students to join for a while).  Having seen the intergenerational ties and motivation of the club members, I highly doubt this inclusivity and positivity is something that will change in the near future, so don’t be afraid to take a first step. Lessons might be particularly challenging for newcomers (notably because fall is second semester in Japan), but this is not a steadfast obstacle. You should definitely feel empowered to reach out and try if it’s something you’re interested in. Be sure to reach out for help, practice to have fun, and (very important) show others a smile even if things are difficult!! It makes a big difference.

Some other one-off tips:

  • You can buy cheap dance shoes on Amazon (~$30?). Gentlemen, if you can only get standard or Latin shoes go for the former.
  • Go to the post-practice afterparties.
  • If you’re interested in private lessons in addition to club practice, reach out to the senior members.
  • If you don’t quite understand something, ask! I had a number of times I did something clumsy because I didn’t quite get what was going on.
  • Always say please and thank you (aka お願いします、ありがとうございます、お疲れ様です、失礼します、).

Charles Stater: Zazen (Second Semester)

Reality can be overwhelming. Increasingly I feel both my own life and society at large is being consumed with 用件; there always seems to be more business to attend to, more things to do. That is why I’m intensely grateful for my experience with Zazen this year. When I’m sitting with my monk, laughing about nothing in particular, my watch and phone sit and buzz in another room, disarmed. When I’m meditating, the real world can try it’s absolute hardest to ruin my peace, but my serenity is a fortress. Zazen has provided me with an escape to the society we are all bound to- and I can even practice my Japanese while I’m at it.

I learned a great many things in my time at Zazen this semester, but one stands out to me as the most salient- contradictions. How can I live a peaceful, unattached life when society rewards only the most extreme attachment? How can I live in this prison of human suffering, longing to escape to detachedness but simultaneously loathe to let go? Contradictions exist in every philosophy, to be sure, but having the chance to actually converse with a member of Rinzai Zen about contradictions within his ideology (and indeed within his own practices) has been a rare opportunity to sail beyond my mental horizons into unchartered waters. The most interesting of these contradictions is my priest’s marriage; the antithesis of Zen is to bind yourself to someone so closely. He still has yet to provide me with an answer, only telling me “it’s difficult” repeatedly and changing the subject as quickly as he can.

I feel like I’ve learned actually a great deal about general Japanese philosophy and identity from my time at Zazen, which has been incredibly interesting to someone like me with clearly a vastly different upbringing. There are so many unspoken rules, so many tiny rivulets of Buddhist influence coalescing to form the rushing stream of Japanese consciousness. Most difficult for me to understand is the emphasis on the group versus the individual- I still struggle to understand it, but my Zazen discussions have given me a special perspective on Japanese ideology and cultural history I would sorely miss had I done a different CIP.

I have learned kanji history, Buddhist history, the Buddhist perspective on the modern world, and far too much about the relative worth of escalators vs. bowls (hint; escalators are not the more useful of the two) in my Zazen CIP. I have been able to practice my Japanese and disconnect from a reality that seems only ever bent on sapping me of whatever happiness I can make for myself. I have found peace. I may not have the answers to any of life’s questions, or ever understand the willing subjugation of the self to the society, but at least I have learned there are ways to find peace still left out there.