Jessica Laufer: DESA

This semester, I participated in the Doshisha Exchange Student Association for my CIP activity.  I elected to do DESA as my CIP because I thought it would be a good way to make Japanese friends while here in Kyoto.  I was initially worried about spring break in March, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was still an abundance of activities planned for members.  Some of this semester’s most memorable activities were the Biwako snowboarding trip, and the sightseeing and sumo trip to Osaka.

As a student living in an apartment rather than a homestay, I do not have a host family with whom I can practice my speaking skills.  Participation in DESA became an excellent way for me to use Japanese outside of the classroom and in everyday conversation.  I started DESA as just another member of a campus circle, but I was extremely pleased when people I met through DESA started inviting me to hang out outside of official DESA events.  While speaking Japanese can oftentimes be quite difficult, I have been able to make meaningful friendships during my time in DESA, and I have been receiving complements on my improving conversational skills.

DESA has been an extremely fulfilling CIP, and I think that it was a great fit for me.  DESA has been a great way for me to make friends, improve my speaking skills, and to travel around Kyoto and surrounding areas.  It is disappointing to have to leave as the new school year starts and DESA gains new members, but my participation this semester has been a rich experience and I am looking forward to my final DESA events as my time in Kyoto comes to a close.

Alison Reed: Calligraphy Lessons

My CIP has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had while in Japan. I didn’t expect much from it, because I chose it at the last minute when my original ideas didn’t work out. But now I’m glad, because I don’t think I could have planned something better.

For the past two months, I’ve been going to lessons almost weekly to learn calligraphy. My teacher and her daughter are very kind and patient with helping me understand. Of course, I’m way behind the other students who have been learning since they were young, but I was surprised with how much I’ve learned since I started, thanks to my teacher.

Almost all of the students are younger than me, most being in middle school. There are two sisters who take their lesson at the same time as me, and because they live in my neighborhood, we usually walk home together. One is in college and the other is in high school. We are planning to go out together soon, so that they can show me some of their favorite places in Kyoto.

Through my CIP, I was able to observe and learn about more different aspects of Japanese culture. For example, we learn in class how to properly greet and thank people, but I was never sure how Japanese people learn those things. In the United States, I learned most of them from my mother, but in my calligraphy class, I observed my teacher instruct the younger students on how to thank her and how to behave in the classroom. I also saw that many of the students needed repeated reminders from the teacher in order to behave properly. I thought this was interesting because when I was growing up, no teacher would have reprimanded me for not having good manners, but would have talked to my parents about it instead. It was interesting to see how the teacher played a part in socializing the younger students in the class.

At the end of April, the teacher has planned for a going away party for me. The teacher, her daughter, some of the students and I will all go out to dinner. I’m excited to have a chance to have fun with the people I’ve met there, and also to thank them for everything they’ve done for me.

My CIP was not only a lot of fun, but I also learned a lot, met wonderful people, and started to really feel like a part of my community. I think I lucked my way into a great experience, and I’m so glad that it all worked out so well. I want to continue learning calligraphy when I go back to America, but I will never forget my first teacher and my first lessons.

Sara Allen: DESA (Doshisha International Student Club)

Since the Japanese school semester finishes in mid-March, I unfortunately had to end my CIP as a volunteer at a Kyoto Middle School. For the rest of my time in Japan, I decided to join DESA, a Doshisha University international exchange club. During my first few weeks in Kyoto I had attended a few DESA events so it was a natural fit for me to become involved in DESA.

I found DESA to be an invaluable experience. Although I was able to practice Japanese at home with my host parents, I felt that I was able to talk more candidly with the Japanese students in DESA. Moreover, it was interesting to learn Japanese slang, as well as being able to hear Japanese university students’ thoughts on global issues. Most of our outings were to nomikai’s and izayaka’s (all you can eat and drink restaurants), which are large part of Japanese nightlife. This was a great way to familiarize myself with Japanese drinking culture and also provided a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for us all to get to know each other.

It was interesting to see the differences in nightlife and drinking culture. American university students usually frequent bars and clubs and Japanese students tend to go to nomikai’s in small groups. This more intimate setting allows people to get to know each other since nomikai’s are more relaxed and quieter than the clubs and bars in America.

However, since Doshisha was not in session at the time I was attending DESA meetings there were not as many meetings as usual. Even when there were meetings, the number of international students greatly outnumbered the number of International students.

That being said, the people I did meet, both international students as well as Japanese students, were all awesome people. All of them enriched my time in Kyoto in some way.



Calum Galt: DESA/Gradations

This semester I participated in both Doshisha’s exchange student group DESA and the LGBT circle Gradations that I joined last semester and was unable to continue for most of the semester due to the Japanese students being on break. Both circles were purely social circles which meant I was able to participate in a variety of activities, ranging from the obligatory drinking parties to mountain climbing and sightseeing, while forging and maintaining relationships with many Japanese students.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had with my two circles have been nomikais, or drinking parties. I found that the underlying purpose of drinking in Japan is fundamentally different from that in America, at least among the younger student population. In America I get the impression that many people drink purely for the sake of being intoxicated, probably the result of a puritanically based culture that never really came up with a healthy way of integrating alcohol into the social sphere. In Japan, however, alcohol is used in a different way, more as a tool to mediate and deepen  relationships between friends as well as maintain relationships with friends you rarely get to see. It also allows one to escape the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable to talk about or talk openly about how one feels, creating a much-needed pressure release valve of sorts for drinkers. I’ve been lucky enough to have conversations about love, life and worries for the future with my Japanese friends over drinking, which definitely made our relationships feel more meaningful. I’ve found that my relationships in Japan were strengthened by time spent drinking with good friends, of course with moderation, and I’m very glad to have gained another cultural perspective on alcohol culture. That being said, of course I realize that many of the things I said above about Japan’s drinking culture could just as easily be said about American culture, and that not all Americans drink simply for drinking’s sake; I just think that in Japan alcohol’s role as a social lubricant takes on a deeper meaning.

Of course I had many more valuable experiences outside of drinking. With DESA I was motivated to see and experience parts of Kyoto and Kansai at large that I may not have gone to by myself; I definitely benefited from having a circle of locals who knew where to go, and when. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my favorite events was climbing Mt. Daimonji at night and seeing the best view of Kyoto from above, but we also explored Osaka and saw sumo, saw the yearly burning of the hills above Nara (a beautiful and very hot festival whose original purpose is vague), and sightseeing around Arashiyama in Kyoto.

As for Gradations, my LGBT student group, I had very little time with them this semester due to the break for Japanese students, but what little time I had was much better than last semester. There were more new members, and a new president, which maybe contributed to me feeling a bit less like an intruder on someone else’s club. Our first outing was an all-you-can-eat party at a ninja-themed desert restaurant followed by ping-pong and karaoke, an interesting choice for an event but one that definitely made me feel like I was a normal member of the group. The one regret I do have about Gradations is that I don’t feel as though I’ve gained much of a perspective on what it’s like for Japanese LGBT youth. We never really talked about what it was like being a sexual minority in Japan, and the overwhelming impression that I got was that most people were closeted and unwilling or unable to come out, understandable given the sometimes oppressively heteronormative culture of Japan. I wish we could have been a bit more than just a social club and maybe talked about what it meant to us to be part of such a marginalized community. Despite this, my experiences with Gradations this semester have been much more enjoyable than last semester.

My CIP experience has been somewhat inconsistent, as my CIP last semester was less than satisfactory and I was limited by students being on break for most of this semester, but it was still a valuable experience that encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and extend ties with people I wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with in America. I’m glad to have been given this opportunity.
























Calum Galt: LGBT Groups (G・Front Kansai and Gradations)

This semester I decided to try to involve myself with the local LGBT scene by participating in both G・Front Kansai, a region-wide group that appeals to all ages and demographics, and Gradations, a much smaller student group based at Doshisha University. I decided to do this for both intellectual and personal reasons. My major is women’s studies, and I have a particular interest in issues of sexuality and gender, especially in Japan, as it provides an extreme point of comparison to Western conceptions of sex and gender. I wanted to experience the way queer people live in Japan, if only vicariously, by becoming involved with them socially. Personally, as a gay man, I also wanted to see what my Japanese counterparts were like and to become more or less accepted (even as a token gaijin). My experiences this semester have been a mixed bag, some meeting my hopes and some falling short.

Unlike my senpai, Adam Roberts, who did the same activities as me, I found Gradations rather then G・Front Kansai to be the more enjoyable group, perhaps because we wanted different things from our groups. Having said that, I share many of the same objections he had to both circles. The lack of events, the low participation rates, and the many awkward silences and palpable feeling of being separate from the group put me off quite a bit. Any gains I’ve made in getting close to my circle have been gradual, especially considering the few opportunities I’ve had to meet with people. I’ve focused almost entirely on Gradations, as  the events are more geared towards college-age students and thus involve my peers. It also helps that events are on mostly on or near to campus. In contrast, I found G・Front’s events awkward because of the age gap between me and the few members I’ve encountered. The distance I had to travel to Osaka and the awkwardness of the meetings put me off and I didn’t go back after my first few attempts. Gradations, not without its awkwardness, was still friendlier that G・Front, especially after people realized that I can in fact speak Japanese.

Gradations events consisted of 飲み会 and ランチ会, or drinking parties and lunch meetings. The drinking parties were the most enjoyable because everyone was able to relax their inhibitions and have fun with everyone, whereas the lunch meetings were often awkward affairs with a very clearly split between nihonjin and gaijin, with regular members having conversations in small clusters and gaijin separated from the main group. I found this the most frustrating, and sometimes skipped lunch meetings because I preferred to eat with other friends in KCJS and have real conversation. I still have another semester, though, and I’m determined to involve myself more in Gradations and hopefully break down some barriers with the time I have left. I only wish that there were more activities and more participants, which I imagine could happen if the group weren’t so secretive (another point of frustration, but admittedly a necessary one). I may consider taking on a second CIP next semester (KIX or Kyodai’s LGBT group perhaps) in order to expand my opportunities for interacting with Japanese students.

Christina Banoub: Art Circle

I joined an art circle at Doshisha for my CIP. It wasn’t my first choice of activity. However, I love art, and I was looking forward to having a dedicated time for art—which I have not really had since I entered college.


I went in knowing that a circle in Japan is somewhat though not entirely comparable to a club in America, but not certain what differences I would notice. I noticed that, in Doshisha’s “Kurama” drawing circle at least, the kohai and senpai dynamics mattered—though to what extent I couldn’t really grasp. Not everything was hard to grasp, however.


The subject matter of the circle made sense. The circle has weekly meetings that center around practicing a particular art method and subject (still life, portraits, pastel, colored pencil, water color, etc). One member of the club, usual a more senior member, taught the method they were studying or familiar with. Most of the members were art majors, and extremely talented so I felt as though I learned a lot, and it left me feeling my lack of practice and ability.


At the same time, all the members work independently on their own projects, and have a chance to display their art on several occasions. Since I was only staying a semester in Japan, I did not have time to complete anything or display anything, but I would have if I stayed for a year.


As for the social aspect of the club, I have to admit it wasn’t very easy. As I mentioned before, the hierarchical aspects of social interaction were hard to discern, and the members seemed to expect that I wouldn’t understand. However, instead of trying to make it clear, they just ignored the issue. This might sound ideal, the foreigner not having to worry about cultural norms, but when the rest of the circle is using these social practices it is awkward to be the only person not doing so. I would recommend asking at your first contact, “what year are you?” and “what should I call you?” That might seem awkward, but it makes things smooth later.


All the members were very friendly, and during the meetings chatted naturally with each other and tried to include me in the conversation. I have to say, that as much as Kansai dialect as I picked up during these conversations, just as much went over my head. The club members were very busy, so they didn’t seem to meet outside the pretext of the meetings very often—if at all. So I didn’t have the opportunity to meet members elsewhere. However, as it is an art circle where art is the goal, I didn’t feel as though they were simply excluding me.


However, this does seem like a club that needs more than a semester of participation to truly become meaningful. Art takes time, and art students in Japan are just as busy as in America. So I would recommend this to year long students only.


カルム・ガルト:LBGTサークル グラデーションとG-Front関西