Madison Covington: BAZAAR Café

At first, due to my lacking social skills, 「気にしない 」demeanor, and the ‘already a minority but especially a minority here’ situation, I was not looking forward to interacting with native Japanese people one-on-one without a sensei nearby translating my awkward hand gestures.

However, after I started volunteering for the BAZAAR Café, these worries though still subtly present were compromised with immense kindness, patience, open-mindedness, and 無料の美味い料理. As said at a meeting by regular a volunteer of the café, BAZAAR is “a home away from home.” A place for minorities, LGBTQ, 外国人, and those who are unable to find a community to settle and communicate with others who share their interests. All in all, a haven for any and everyone, a basho for open expression, free of judgment or the beloved ‘unasked for’ commentary. Not only that, but everyone there loves to eat. Every dish is prepared and put out with great care. If someone were given the opportunity to look inside the kitchen, they would truly understand that “yes, there is a certain way a grapefruit must be cut.” and “No, it is not just cutting it in minuscule slices and hoping for the best.”  No dish faces discrimination. From the Philippines to Thailand, most all recipes have a bit of home present within them due to the diverse backgrounds of the people who made them.

Though I’ve unnecessarily talked a lot about food, there are a couple of other things I have learned from my time here. One, I look somewhat descent in a green bandanna; Two, the entrance is in the BACK, accidentally entering the actual household will only result in feelings of embarrassment and force a child to escort you to the doorway; and, three, kindness can transcend any language barrier.

Though this experience was short, it left a lifetime impression and a story to tell for when I return. Advice to anyone looking for a place: if you want cool people, a cool atmosphere, and hot coffee, I encourage you to drop by.

Katie Roth: Basketball Club

For my CIP I attended FREE basketball club in Kyoto. The group was a mix of Kyoto, Tokyo, and Doshisha students, and girls and guys (though they didn’t mix sexes during scrimmaging), so I was able to meet various people from the area (or distant area since some live further away like Osaka). We meet at one court and alternated who scrimmaged, while the other team sat out. At my home institution I play varsity level basketball, so I wanted to stay in shape and continue practicing even though I was aboard. Unfortunately they didn’t meet as regularly as I’d like, generally two practices a week, but I recognize that it is a club and not a University team; still if you’re looking for something more rigorous, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

I was definitely nervous for my first practice. I was almost lost until I saw a girl with basketball gear on, and was to follow her to the gym (I was too nervous to ask for directions; my level of Japanese was that low). The basketball representative I got in contact with introduced to me the girls team, and I did a brief introduction, but they didn’t seem very interested in me at the time, which is understandable because I’m a foreigner and because I’m not very good at Japanese. The actual activity of basketball was fine. I was bigger and stronger than all of them, but they were quick and hustled the entire time. I definitely had to be less physical though and had to tone down my excitement. It’s hard to explain but the girls weren’t as “in it” as the guys were. The guys gave more high-fives, claps on the back or shoulder, hardier exclamations of joy, and generally more aggressive. The girls didn’t have that same energy. I had to adjust, especially when it came to bullet passes. The girls also didn’t have the same fundamentals and basketball IQ I’m used to seeing from girls our age. They didn’t quite understand spacing, when to screen, how to play help defense, how to rotate defense, etc. And most of these girls played in high school too. Having been here a while, I recognize that basketball isn’t as big in their culture as it is in the US, so the talent and interest is also different. But like I said, they had great speed, stamina, and hustle, which is just as important.

It honestly took almost two months for the girls to be more comfortable with my presence. The guys from the get go were cool with me, just because of my skill, but I wasn’t able to interact with them because of the alternating scrimmage system. We still don’t talk much off the court, my interests just didn’t align with most of these girls’ interests, but we communicated a lot more on the court. There were more “good jobs,” “nice pass,” “good shot,” “gomen,” “screen,” “good game,” being said, and that was an important step in my mind. While I don’t think I would have been best friends with any of these girls, I think my level of Japanese did hinder my experience, so study because it will save you a bunch of hardships (and watch Slam Dunk or Kuroko no Basket)!

At the end of the day I can’t judge an entire population based on my interaction/experience with this basketball club, but I still think I learned a lot about Japanese people and culture.  There was some bad and there was some good from this experience, so overall I’m glad I did it.

Circle (Sports), KCJS 29 (Fall 2017), Sewanee: The University of the South

Aaron Browning: EMBG (Light Music Circle)

EMBG stands for Eastern Mountain Boys and Girls, just one of the many groups known as karui music circles (lit. ‘light,’ meaning amateur, or recreational) that gather weekly at the Kyoto University campus. Ever since I applied for KCJS I had wanted to do something of this sort, because I was interested in experiencing a young people’s rock and roll culture in Japan. After searching for a few weeks to find a circle that would allow me to participate, a friend managed to talk to a member of an associated Kyoto University karui music circle, which eventually resulted in me and Jerome (my classmate, friend, and partner in rock and roll) being graciously allowed to join.

The presence of these types of clubs at Japanese universities is a really great thing, and although my home institution is quite small (around 1,500 undergraduates), I imagine that similar organizations are quite rare even within large American universities. It has been neat not only to be a part of something fun and entertaining, but also to encounter a new type of club that I had previously been unfamiliar with. However, what has struck me the most is all about the quantity of these types of groups and the members within them, accounting for a truly robust group of circles focusing on the recreational act of forming various bands with friends and rocking out in a variety of genres.

The circles at Kyoto University all meet at a typical classroom building known as yon-kyou, which is transformed in the early evenings of meeting days from a building of classrooms to a building of practice and performance rooms. When approaching the heart of the campus, one can hear the muffled fuzz and rumble of instruments collectively sounding from various rooms in the building. Vast lines of bicycles all but cover the ground of the building’s large concrete lot. As the sun sets, cycling students gradually pour in, and after all the equipment has been loaded into each club’s assigned meeting space (usually gear transported from a rented storing space and unloaded from the back of a club van), the activities commence. At any given time, there might be sound emanating from the building’s brick walls as a few groups of people chat outside the entrance. It is apparent that this place, much like the local venues and bars in American cities, is more than a simply a place to play music or listen to music. It is a place to relax, hang out with friends, and bond over music as a common activity.

The atmosphere at EMBG has been welcoming and relaxed. While by no means disorganized or uncoordinated, EMBG is quite flexible in its scheduling and sessions, I have found. More or less, the most important part of these meetings is simply showing up. Members see each other, they unload gear together, they chat with each other, they listen and play music together. Depending on whether or not there is a specific band scheduled to perform for the rest of the circle’s enjoyment (called a raibu; ‘live’), a meeting can more or less function as a collective practice room. On a typical day, friends will sit or stand around, and if not playing an instrument of their own, the are yelling to chat over the cacophony of the collective jam. I have even had my own opportunity to try my hand at playing drums with a third year law student who was able to summon a few riffs on his guitar that I could play along to. We messed around with songs by two piece bands like The White Stripes and Japandroids. We were planning to perform at the November Festival, Kyoto University’s own gakuensai, but unfortunately we both became too busy to follow through on this. Nonetheless, I was able to attend a portion of the NF performance, and it was a blast. Around twenty bands performed, and that was only for this specific circle.

But it’s more than just music, of course. I’ve made friends here, with whom I’ll often go to eat after meetings are over. People talk and often share ideas about music, and one can tell that this is what essentially brings them closer, but yet there is much more here. Ultimately, it is music formed through fellowship, and fellowship formed through music. And I feel thrilled to have taken part.


日本に来る前に、KCJSのCIPとしてロックなどのエレキ音楽のサークルに入ることにしました。その決定には理由がたくさんあります。まず、中学の時から、ドラムが叩いています。高校生の時はThe Kindergarten Circusというガレージバンドとナッシュビルで演奏をたくさんしました。それで大学に入学するまでに、もう若い人のロック音楽の文化に興味を持つようになりました。その間に、日本語のクラスを取り始めました。二回生の秋、この二つの興味を合成して、日本のグループサウンズについて論文を書きました。それから、学究的な基本を作りました。僕にとって大切だし、楽しいし、面白いので、研究や、経験を、続けたかったんです。

クラスメートがしたいCIPのプロジェクトを決める中、ジェロムという同じクラスにいる友達と喋るようになりました。同じ情熱や目的があるから、一緒にサークルを探すことにしました。いろいろなむずかしさのせいで、すぐに見つかられ買ったけど、僕らは頑張って、「たく」という京大の大学生に手伝ってもらいました。ある日、「たく」さんと遊びに行く時に、僕がZETSのことを話すと、「たく」さんはZETSのメンーバーの友達がいると言いました。つぎの日、「ひろ」さんという人にメールをもらいました。メールで、「ひろ」さんは京大で次のZETSミーティングに誘ってくれました。 そして、先月のある日、木曜日に、僕とジェロムさんはそのビルに行ってみることにしました。4共という京大のビルには、毎週の木曜日と金曜日にかっこいい音楽をする人でいっぱいになります 。そこで、「ひろ」さんと会って、他のZETSというサークルのメンバーと喋って、ちょっと知り合いになりました。賑やかでわくわくしました。しかし、ZETSに入るのはちょっと難しいので、他のEMBGというサークルにはいることになりました。両方のサークルが同じビルで集まるから、大したことはなかったです。 本当に、その初めての経験はとても楽しかったです。



Adam Roberts: G-Front Kansai, LGBT Support Circle

My spring semester CIP is, as I said before, working with G-Front Kansai, an organization dedicated to the support of LGBT people in the Kansai area and, by extension, Japan as a whole. At first, the circle was not what I had expected, but I soon came to appreciate the members’ standpoint, their limitations, and their strengths.

My experience with LGBT circles has mostly come from the brief exposure to the GSA that I had during my freshman year in college. Through these student organizations, I had come to expect a more activism-oriented approach to dealing with LGBT problems. However, when I participated in my first LGBT circle meeting here in Japan, I found something very different in the Doshisha LGBT circle. (This post is not about the Doshisha circle, but it is part of the experience.)

The Doshisha circle, for starters, was entirely closed and a complete secret. I am not sure how some of my fellow KCJSers initially discovered it, but I had to be invited by a member who was already in the circle in order to attend their lunch meeting. Although I was not sure what to expect when I arrived, I was simultaneously under- and overwhelmed. The lunch meeting was precisely that: the members were eating lunch together and chatting with each other. I expected some planned activities or discussion about sexuality to take place, but when I finally began engaging the members in conversation it was like pulling teeth to get them to speak about themselves or their experience as sexual minorities in Japan. It struck me that even in a meeting geared specifically towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, some members were still uncomfortable with the idea of talking about the issues facing them. The conversations between individuals ranged from mundane to raunchy, but there was no apparent goal set for the circle.

I attended a few more meetings, and one day I asked the circle’s leader if some straight friends who were “friends to LGBT people” (I couldn’t conjure up the word for “supporters”) could come to one of the meetings, as they were interested in getting involved with the group. The leader talked in circles for a bit, said “chotto” about 100 times, and then said that they were not allowed because it was a group for gay people.

I was so frustrated that I never went back.

Jump ahead to January 2012, and I am looking for a new CIP. Fukai-sensei found G-Front Kansai on the internet and suggested that I attend. When I went to the first meeting with Lucia, we were instructed to wait at the bus platform at the station and call a phone number. A few minutes later, the circle’s leader came and met us at the platform, and we followed him through the streets of Osaka until we arrived at the small apartment in which the meetings were held. The first meeting went well – a straightforward explanation of what the organization did and how often, as well as collection of dues. I was somewhat overwhelmed and felt more than a little awkward about the language barrier, but after going to dinner with them I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

As my time in G-Front continued, however, I came to realize that many of the characteristics that I had found so frustrating in the Doshisha circle were present here as well. One example was the lack of conversation about activities, activism, or even just opinions on issues facing sexual minorities in Japan. I even felt awkward about asking their opinions on some broader issues, and some of the opinions they shared surprised me.

I questioned how organizations like the Doshisha circle and G-Front could keep themselves going with such small memberships (6 people was average attendance at the meetings I was able to attend), and what good these groups were doing when they had so few katsudou (though G-Front has a great deal more than the Doshisha circle).

At some point, it struck me that these groups are not focused on activism in the sense that we think of it in the West, mainly because the set of issues facing the LGBT community are different – in Japan, the potential repercussions of being outed could be considered much more severe than in America due to the emphasis on group membership. Once you’re different, you “can’t be in that group anymore.” I understood then that these groups, though they do engage in some activism, are more focused on creating a safe haven for those brave enough to come to the meetings. This also explained the (frankly un-)surprising amount of sexual banter that occurred at some of the meetings – there is no other place in the world where these people can completely bare themselves without fear of being ostracized.

Even though the passive nature of some of these groups frustrated me at the beginning, I was reminded how important it is to have these sorts of spaces for people to fully express themselves without fear of judgement. Being a gaijin (and therefore excluded from many of the experiences that Japanese people have), it took a longer time to perceive the rationale behind the groups’ natures. Most importantly, however, I realized that I had forgotten how difficult it is to be in the closet, and to feel that pressure on the other side of the door, keeping it shut.

Though I still believe that the ideal way for these groups to solve the problem of discrimination is to engage in political activism, I was reminded that treating the symptoms can be just as important as finding a cure.


今学期、G-Front関西というLGBTのサークルに参加しています。G-Frontとは、1994年からずっとゲイ・レズビアン・バイセクシュアル・トランスジェンダー、つまり性的少数者に対する差別に対して戦って来たサークルで、毎月定例の会議が6つあります。「Men’s サロン」とは、ゲイの男性やサポートをしたい人が集まって、色々な話題について会話が出来る所で、毎月第1週の土曜日です。第4週の日曜日は「トランスサロン」、つまりトランスジェンダーの為の「Men’s サロン」みたいな活動です。読書会プロジェクト、サークル説明会なども定期的にあります。そして毎月1回「UP&UP」という会報誌を印刷していて、それを登録したメンバーに発送しています。



Adam Roberts: Kyoto University (KyoDai) Student Choir

As I wrote in my Japanese blog post, I decided to join the KyoDai Student Choir for my CIP. Having had sung in choirs for a number of years beforehand, I was excited to get back in touch with my musical side, as well as to become friends with Japanese students outside of the KCJS “bubble” and learn Japanese that is relevant to one of my interests.
As to whether or not I feel that I have become a member of the group, I would say that I am not sure that I have. This is not for any lack of trying on my part or friendliness on theirs, but rather the result of circumstances – I was not able to attend each of the thrice-weekly rehearsals due to other commitments. I feel that I did form a sort of bond with them, even if it was less a “true member” bond and more a “visiting participant” type of bond. In order to attain this bond, I made sure to participate fully in rehearsals I attended, as well as do my best to keep up with the technical instructions given – which occasionally proved more challenging than I had anticipated. In order to solidify these bonds further, I participated in cultural practices like otsukimi and giving omiyage when returning from trips in Okayama and Shikoku.
One of the first things I noticed about the choir was how eager some of the members were to greet Natasha (who also joined the choir) and during our first few rehearsals. Their patience with us was something I truly appreciated, especially when faced with a set of papers to fill out about myself which were replete with kanji I hadn’t learned yet! After the first week or so, communication became more difficult. I think that this is due to the nature of choir rehearsals. Usually the only person who talks throughout an entire rehearsal is the conductor – in our case, a junior nicknamed Pierre – and anybody who can quickly interject with a pithy comment. Because my Japanese isn’t quite yet at the stage at which quickly-interjected-pithy-comments become a viable method of communication, a great deal of my communication during rehearsals ended up being non-verbal. Written communication between the Top Tenor manager, Bibure, and I made up most of my active communication, as we discussed rehearsal dates and plenty of choir-related events.
My CIP taught me a great number of things – one of the most significant of which had nothing to do with Japanese at all. To put it clearly, I learned a lot about time and schedule management; not in the sense of making sure you get all of your work done on time, but rather in the sense of managing the things you participate in to avoid dead space in the middle of the day. Related more directly to the CIP, however, I learned that consistent and rhythmic participation can really help provide a foundation for potential relationships. One of the reasons I did not feel like a true member of the choir is because I attended irregularly, which meant that not only was I missing out on rehearsal for that day, but also I was missing out on any occurrences that might have furthered a sense of shared experience among the members. If faced with these sorts of situations again, it would be ideal to attend each rehearsal and a number of extra events; however, in the case that this solution is impossible, it would be better to set attendance dates well in advance, or very clearly state an anticipated schedule.
Looking back on my first CIP log, Fukai-sensei wrote “Before you visit, it’s probably a good idea to think about how long and how often rehearsals are” (in Japanese, of course). In order to get more out of your CIP, I would advise making sure that the baseline commitment for your CIP is not more than you can deal with. My CIP ended up being too time-consuming to be all that it could (and should) have been, which is nobody’s fault other than my own. However, if it is something that you truly have a passionate interest in, then do your best to make it work with your schedule in any way you can, because the personal and practical rewards will be much greater for it.


 皆さん、はじめまして!私はアダム・ロバーツ(Adam Roberts)と申します。二年生で、テネシー州のサウス大学でアジア研究を勉強しています。8月末から、京都アメリカ大学コンソーシアムで日本語、日本文化を勉強しています。それから、日本の文化をもっと勉強して、日本人の友達を作り、日本語をもっと使うために、京都大学の合唱団に入りました。時々大変ですが、入ってからうれしくなった事もたくさんあります!