Tyler Logan: Continuing to Make Kimono in Kyoto

This semester I was able to continue my kimono making lessons from last semester and learn more about traditional Japanese garment construction techniques. After trekking to my Sensei’s house every Friday afternoon this semester, I have finished sewing one whole yukata by hand and my Sensei and I have began working on a haori as well. Pursuing these lessons has allowed me to work on my Japanese conversation skills outside of the classroom and given new directions and techniques for my own artistic practice in the future.

Since I first began studying under my Sensei last semester, I have gradually gotten better at sewing with my hands. I’m still not as fast as the experienced hands of my Sensei, but I can tell that now I can stitch straight much more easily and even do harded stitches like hidden seams much more easily. I also now have a much better idea of how kimono are constructed, and the technical tricks and manipulations of the fabric that are used to achieve the distinct drapery and shapes of kimono. This work has given me a valuable different perspective on how to put clothes together, and I’m excited to apply this knowledge to my own projects and experiments in the future.

Meeting with my Sensei every week has also allowed me to work on my Japanese conversation. Though when I first met him we had a hard time communicating, as I’ve continued to study and improve my own Japanese I’ve been able to understand my Sensei’s accent better and become more conversational. Our chats are a bit light, as we are usually both working on our own sewing, but I feel proud that over the past seven months I’ve gradually become able to communicate effectively. I’m glad I had the opportunity to take these lessons.

Adam Lowinger: Doshisha Hiking club

I continued with the Hiking club from the fall term. Because of this, there is really not a whole lot of new content that can be added.

Consequently, I’ll just repeat the basic outline and experiences from my previous post. In general, the group only goes on a hike once a month. We once again went to Diamonji, due to it being a relatively easier hike. This allowed for the new study abroad students (both from KCJS and other programs) to get a feel for it. Other meetings were just running along the river (about 2-3 km) to build endurance.

Most of the communication in Japanese was done before and after the meetings since no one really wants to talk while running.  However, I got their early a lot. This allowed for me to play video games and talk about anime with the other early birds. After the runs is when they would talk about upcoming events and hikes. Both sections proved to be a good way to practice casual speech in Japanese.

Outside meetings, the club hosted several drinking and all you can eat parties, which were basically as informal as could possibly be reached.

So if you want to see some good scenery and have a more casual CIP, it’s a good experience.

James Hilton: Kyokushin

For my CIP, I chose to practice Kyokushin–a full-contact form of karate. Coming to Japan, I pre-designated two martial arts that I planned to study: Judo and Kyokushin. I had my Judo experience over the summer in Hokkaido, so Kyokushin was the target for my time in Kyoto.


Sensei and senpai have both recommended that I use a more “relaxed” or “loose” style during close exchange of blows. Due to my boxing training, I use more closed-off stance–as to minimize damage incurred. I prefer to employ a parry-and-counterstrike fighting style, but Kyokushin demands preemption over calculated defense. While I am not completely sold on this strategy, I can definitely see it’s value. I pursue efficiency from the perspective of self-preservation; Kyokushin aims for effectiveness–obtain victory. I seek to disable the opponent while sustaining as little damage as possible. The Kyokushin way is to subdue with overwhelming force, and allows for damage taken–so long as it makes way a greater allotment in return. An efficient fighter wishes to minimize risks, which leads one to sacrifice opportunities to win. In other words, in Kyokushin, offense is defense; but I am of the mind that defense produces offense.The effective combatant does what must be done to triumph and considers the self-preservation aspect secondarily. Due to the associated trade-offs, there are circumstance under which either approach is superior and the other will lead to ruin.

During my most recent practice, I was finally able to utilize a more “relaxed” and Kyokushin-y offense (For an example: There is no evasion in Kyokushin and punches to the head are illegal–a considerable tactical conundrum for one who relies on those methods heavily) in combination with a conscious defensive effort. I am proud of this development because 1) previous attempts to adapt to the Kyokushin way only resulted in impaired performance and subsequent injury (the blending of multiple disciplines with contrary principles while in the heat of battle is no easy feat, I assure you); 2) relaxed focus leads to flow; and 3) I was able to construct a holistically more effective–and surprisingly more efficient–style for myself. My establishing a middle ground between defensive and offensive orientations, I get the benefits of both without much consequence.
My default fighting style is the combination of a number of disciplines. Never before have I had such trouble learning and incorporating into my own style another art. The issue is a mental one. All of my life, I was taught restraint in martial arts. As a once angry and aggrieved young fellow, I can admit that I needed that centering. Kyokushin forces me to walk the cusp of aggression that was always taboo. It makes me uncomfortable; and that is the reason why I must conquer it. A true warrior has balance. It is time for me to once again become comfortable in the role of aggressor–something that us young Black men are taught to avoid if we desire social mobility, lest we be abased as scourge and menace.

Julia Selch: Doshisha Hiking Club

For my Community Involvement Project (CIP) this semester, I participated in Doshisha’s Hiking Club. Our weekly Saturday meetings would usually consist of either traversing the trails that the mountains surrounding Kyoto have to offer or going on training runs in Gosho, the imperial palace that sits right by Doshisha’s campus. I really enjoyed these Saturday meetings, because they allowed me to stay active while also allowing me to see a bit more of Kyoto.

The most surprising aspect of this hiking club, to me, was that the members were overwhelmingly male. Including myself, there were only two or three women at most at each meeting. From my experience with hiking clubs back in the States, I am used to more female participants. This made me wonder whether or not hiking in Japan was a slightly gendered activity. Nevertheless, this did not inhibit me from feeling comfortable in the club – everyone was friendly and willing to talk!

I really loved being a part of this club. I liked challenging myself to get to know the Japanese members better, even if sometimes my words came out a bit jumbled. And so, if you’re looking to get active and to see what Kyoto has to offer, I recommend checking out this club!

Benji Hix: Private Koto Lessons

For my CIP, I chose to take private koto lessons. This seemed like a natural choice, given that it had some relation to my major, music. Every week, I took the subway to a little building called the Greenwich House hidden away in downtown Kyoto and practiced with my teacher in a cozy little room full of koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi. It always felt a little magical; the room was lit entirely with lamps scattered around the room, and every square inch of the room was covered; the floor was laden with instruments and furniture, the walls with pictures and newspaper articles, and every spare surface with tuners and sheet music. From the first time I stepped into the room while an ensemble was practicing, it seemed like the perfect environment to make music.

My biggest concern with picking this CIP was the “private” aspect; I was afraid of missing out on the opportunity of making Japanese friends through my CIP. It was a very pleasant surprise, then, when upon entering my second lesson I learned that every lesson would be a group lesson with at least four or five other students, all of whom were Obaachan and Ojiisan! Each week I seemed to meet at least 5 new people, and everyone was exceedingly kind and patient. Learning a new instrument is a lot less stressful when it feels like you constantly have 5 grandmas cheering you on and calling you cute the entire time! On the average day, we would practice for about an hour, then head to dinner as a big group, and this was where the majority of language practice occurred. Through these dinners, I picked up many little tidbits of Japanese culture––the insistence of paying for other people, the unspoken rule of only pouring alcohol for other people, the amount of crazy antics that Obaachan can get away with, and plenty more. Furthermore, having only ever had female teachers, my comprehension of elderly male speech was admittedly terrible before getting the weekly practice provided by my fellow students. These dinners were my favorite part of the entire CIP experience, and erased any doubts I had about picking it.

And of course, getting to learn a traditional Japanese instrument was an amazing opportunity! From a music theory perspective, it’s provided me with some new insight into traditional Japanese pentatonic scales, and the various chordal progressions possible without access to the traditional 8 note scale. One of the most enjoyable parts of playing for Koto for me is the ease with which one can retune the 13 strings; just like a guitar, one can tune the strings to whatever scale one pleases, but the process is significantly faster than any other traditional string instrument, and is done simply by moving small plastic stands up and down the body of the instrument. The sheet music for koto is also completely different from standard western notation; rather than notes on a staff, the music is completely represented through kanji inside of boxes. It provided a real challenge, forcing myself to think of rhythms and chords in a drastically different visual style. Overall, learning Koto has provided me not only with interesting new insights into music, but also with a plethora of funny and interesting stories thanks to all the fun dinners! I would recommend this CIP to anyone with any sort of instrument experience; it’s truly a rare opportunity.

Adam Lowinger: Doshisha Hiking Circle

For my CIP, I decided to join the Doshisha Hiking Circle (official name is along the lines of “circle for people that love to hike”). My reason for joining was simple: I wanted an extracurricular that would provide a way to stay in shape. Of all the various sports I can play due to being partially blind, the Hiking Circle met at the most convenient time and location. Since it also would allow me to see Japan and get some fresh air on the weekends, I joined as soon as possible.

The meetings themselves are very calm and relaxed. Usually, I show up about 20 minutes early and get a few rounds of video games in with the other early members. This is a good way to practice casual speech and informal grammar. When the meeting proper starts, we check the weather. If it is raining, we do some drills in the stairs. If it is a clear day, we do some running near the campus. The point of these drills is to build endurance for when we do go on a hike. That happens about once a month, with those meetings taking up a good half of the day as opposed to the usual two hours. The length, however, it not just the hike, but of the shopping and sometimes dinner that we do afterwards.

Moreover, the members themselves are very accommodating. While I did use (or rather attempted) to use the correct polite speech style when I introduced myself, I learned in hindsight that this was probably not necessary. In general, they welcome any study abroad student (there are four others with me) if you routinely show up and keep in contact. The President Fuji-san (yes, that’s his name), was very helpful by always carrying an electronic dictionary to make sure I understood both important hiking instructions necessary for my survival and the college student vocabulary the members use. Later, I learned that he carried this because he is trying to learn English. As a result, we are helping each other learn new languages.

Ultimately, I would say the Hiking circle is a good way to develop an understanding of Japanese culture.  Be it the simple “こにちは” s to fellow hikers on the trail or the trash talk in games of smash, you learn how casual Japan works and feels. In addition, I learned about various social gatherings. This ranged from participating in a 飲み会 (a drinking party) to going to a hot spring. In each instance, I learned the procedure and etiquette for each event.  Joining this club has made me smarter, happier, and healthier during my time in Japan.

Grace Bologna: Model United Nations

For my fall semester community involvement project, I was extremely fortunate to continue an activity I deeply enjoy at my home school. I joined the Kyoto branch of Japan’s Model UN competition cycle. The branch includes Doshisha University, Kyoto University, and Ritsumeikan University, housing about forty college students. Through the organizations, I was able to gain a first-hand look at the inner workings of MUN in Japan as well as improve my own skills as an international delegate.

I come from an institution that takes the activity quite seriously. I spent nearly twenty hours a week on Model UN activities at the peak of competition season and a failure to win an award at competitions can end your career on the team. Our hard work shows—UChicago has been ranked number one in North America from 2011-2016. A slip due to negligence and changing competition style dropped us to 5th place in 2017, although reapplication has put us back at #1 for the start of the 2018 cycle. Needless to say, I was ready to dive into a similar level of competition in Japan.

What I found was quite different. The first shock was the level of collaboration between students from different institutions. Within the Kyoto branch, Ritsumeikan, Kyo-dai and Doshisha students share research and training sessions. The branch also hosts small simulations of topics large competitions will discuss. That is to say, the Kyoto branch may host a simulation of a committee on refugees when a national conference will offer the same topic a month later. From an American competition perspective, this would be near-suicidal. If a student from a different institution found my plans for committee before the actual competition, I’d be forced to scrap all of those plans and start anew. Such an issue seemed barely on the periphery of the Kyoto branch.

Yet there were many hidden benefits from the relaxed style of competition. The most glaring difference between the American and Japanese competitions spheres was the presence of women. American Model UN has a distinct male focus, with a ratio of about three men to every one woman. In Japan, the ratio was near equal if not more heavily tilted towards women. I was very interested in what tactics made female participation easier or more enticing on the Japanese side. Two of my friends (both women) told me they had never thought of it. Nothing in their experience on the team made it harder for them to compete than their male counterparts. I believe this may directly linked to the inherent lack of team competition. Japanese college students compete as individuals at nationwide conferences. This means you could be paired up with a student from another school, or in my case, even another country. Since there’s no team honor to defend, participants can focus solely on their own growth and knowledge. I believe America could take a lesson.

I would advise any future American participants in Japanese Model UN to keep an open mind. If you have competed in America, the laxness of Japanese competition will surely feel inadequate. However, enjoy the increased range of participation loosening competition allows participants. Develop yourself as a delegate, and take your time learning new vocabulary and building new friendships. You may not return to your American team with new skills, but you will certainly return with a greater understanding of the internationality of MUN.

Tyler Logan: Kimono Making Lessons

While living in Kyoto this year, I had the opportunity to get involved with life in Kyoto outside of my classes at Doshisha by taking lessons on how to sew kimonos. Because I’m an art student with an interest in clothing and textiles, when I came to Japan I knew I wanted to study kimono making. For that reason, I’ve had a great time so far taking my lessons. Over this semester, both my sewing and Japanese skills have gradually improved. I look forward to continuing my lessons next semester as well.

In the old days, all kimono were sewn by hand, so when I started taking my lessons, I also had to learn how to sew by hand. I had made clothes with a sewing machine for art classes before, but I had never made anything just by sewing by hand. However, my Sensei was able to sew with his hands as fast as a machine. I haven’t become that fast, but with practice I have become more skilled in working with the thread and fabric with my hands. The skills I’ve acquired through my CIP will definitely help me with taking my artistic work in new directions when I return to America.

During our lessons, I was also able to practice speaking Japanese with my Sensei. From cutting, to measuring, to folding, to ironing, to sewing, I always had to keep close to my teacher to know what to do next with the cloth. I didn’t know a lot of Japanese words related to clothes when we started, and my teacher’s accent is a little thick, but gradually I became able to both understand and converse with my teacher about his craft. I’ve discovered so much about the minute details and hidden facets of Japanese sewing, and I couldn’t have gotten these insights without the ability to talk with my teacher in Japanese. I’m definitely glad I was able to take these lessons.

Alexander Hall: Kyoto University Basketball Circle

This semester, I continued my CIP from last quarter, which was Free Club, a basketball circle at Kyoto University. I spent the semester getting closer to my friends from the previous semester, while also getting to know people that I hadn’t known quite as well. Through the semester, I met alumni (which are called OB in Japanese – short for Old Boys), older members which only came occasionally, and, when the school year changed, new members who were coming in from high school. As such, I got to sort of experience all of the differences in the relationships between Japanese university students based off of age.

The thing I focused on most was levels of politeness in speech, which is what I struggle most with in Japanese, behind only kanji. Perhaps what I found most surprising was not the differences in speech style per se (as in sentence endings, etc.), but the differences in content. For the most part, members of the same year did not really filter things out when talking to each other. They made fun of each other, made stupid or dirty jokes with each other, and overall talked like most guys do in the United States on basketball courts. If members were separated by a year, the older members would not filter very much, but the younger members would be careful to tone down when making fun of the older members. What I found most interesting, however, was the differences in speaking between members separated by two or more years. Of course, the younger members were very polite, making sure not to appear rude. I expected the older members to not filter at all – however, they were extraordinarily nice to younger members. A fourth year, who would crack jokes with third years who made mistakes, would often give advice to first years when they did the same thing,

My advice for future students would be to pay attention to these sorts of things. Everyone knows about です・ます and 敬語, but in reality, we all make mistakes with these and are often forgiven. However, we are not really taught which sort of content is appropriate, even though this is just as important. Therefore, I would suggest to future student to use my experience as a rough outline for university circles, but also to pay close attention to interactions between differently aged members in order to navigate these things.

Elizabeth Smith: Nihon Buyou and Ballet


This semester, I have continued with both of my CIP activities: Ballet and Nihon Buyou. Unlike last semester, when I was primarily focused on acclimating into a new environment, I started this semester feeling comfortable with both of my CIPs. This allowed me to delve deeper into both communitiesscreen-shot-2017-03-31-at-19-57-45

In Nihon Buyou, I am now able to pick up on details that largely escaped me at the beginning. This is in part because my language skills have improved dramatically. Last semester was essentially survival mode: I was only focused on understanding the gist of what my teacher had to say, and had little room to pick up on details or nuance. This semester, I know her better and am more familiar with the repertory that I am studying. This has allowed me to learn more about the history of Nihon Buyou, its links to the Kabuki tradition, and the different schools. For example, both last semester and this semester, my teacher has given me tickets to see Nihon Buyou performed in Pontocho. (This semester, I got to see her dance with her sister!) Compared to last semester I was much more aware of the context what I was seeing, and was able to ask better questions afterwards.

In terms of ballet, I feel like I have become a much more involved member of the community. Last semester, due to a minor injury and the process of adjusting to life in a foreign country, I typically went home right after classes. This semester, because I was more comfortable with life in Kyoto and my injury has healed, I have started staying to wear pointe shoes for an extra half hour after one of my two classes every week. This has given me a better opportunity to get to know the other girls much better. Whereas girls that dance together for several days in a week in America tend to become very close, I at first thought that the atmosphere at K.Classic ballet was much less social. However, spending more time around the girls, I’ve realized that while the dressing room is too small to talk much before and after class, they do have a strong community. They have been incredibly inclusive towards me as well! For example, when one of the girls brought Valentines’ chocolate for everyone, she included me as well! Additionally, girls who I was once intimidated to speak to have approached me to start conversations about my pointe shoes or my training in the US. Little gestures like these have made me increasingly like I have become part of a community.