Alyssa Willeford: Shamisen Lessons at Greenwich House

This semester, I took shamisen lessons with Iwasaki-sensei at Greenwich House, a small music studio located near the intersection of Shijo-dori and Kawaramachi-dori. Every Tuesday, after eating lunch at one of the many nearby restaurants, I would show up, sheet music in hand, to practice with the others at the studio. Typically, the lesson would start at about 1:30, when Ishida-san (a very kind woman and one of Iwasaki-sensei’s friends) and I would practice shamisen technique and drill the songs I had been working on. Because I only started shamisen lessons at the beginning of the semester, I was far behind where the others were, so I needed that extra time. Then, at around 2, other students – mostly middle-aged people, though a few younger and older people too – would show up and we would begin rehearsing our songs. Inevitably, we would break at some point for gobocha, or burdock tea, and a wagashi snack, my favorite of which was definitely ichigo daifuku. I would usually leave around 3 or 3:30, but I would have been free to stay longer too. It all felt a lot like visiting a hippie music studio back home in Seattle, except, of course, for the music we were playing. Most of the other people were practicing the koto, so I was the only one on shamisen and definitely felt some pressure at times to deliver! Iwasaki-sensei was very kind and lent me one of their shamisen so that I could practice at home, which definitely helped me improve much faster. Sometimes I would practice for as much as 45 minutes a night because I found it so calming. The semester was capped off with a performance at Shimogamo Elementary School – a group of us went to serve as essentially a teaching aid for a lesson about traditional music. That was a ton of fun, and it really felt like a spectacular way to finish out my experience!

Overall, I cannot recommend this CIP enough. In terms of things I would change, Iwasaki-sensei could be a little bit spontaneous at times, and I didn’t always feel like I knew what was going on. We played three pieces at the elementary school, and I had only gotten a copy of one of them two days before, so that was definitely a little stressful. Other than that, though, I had a great time! Iwasaki-sensei was very generous with gifts, sweets, and her time – I feel like I got far more out of the lessons than the small fee should really have covered. I played trombone from fourth grade until I graduated high school, and I enjoyed the shamisen because it’s surprisingly similar in a lot of ways. But the main thing that drew me to the lessons was just the chance to reconnect with music and experience again the joy of making music with others.

Also, and this was incredible, but after my first lesson, I got to meet a maiko, or trainee geisha. Because it was the first day and I had no idea what was going on, I was definitely super stressed, but that was still one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Japan.

I would give my CIP five stars. I would recommend it to anyone who loves playing music – but if you only want a 1-hour-a-week commitment and you don’t like snacks, you should probably look elsewhere.

Nnamdi Eze, Volunteering at the Muromachi Jidoukan

This semester, I volunteered at the Muromachi Jidoukan for my CIP. Similar to what we would call in America an after-school center or a children’s center, a Jidoukan is a place where school-aged children stay after their classes are over but before their parents are finished working for the day.

I was initially interested in volunteering to work with children because I tutor after school at a public middleschool as part of my workstudy scholarship in the US. Working with children is something I enjoy doing regardless, but it’s also a great way to familiarize yourself to a culture that might seem a little alien to you (and vice versa). 

Similar to my own experience as a newcomer to Japan, many of the children I worked with were also trying their best to figure out how to navigate the social situations they found themselves in. This dynamic was not only really fun and oftentimes silly, but also insightful to understanding the role of community and education in the raising of children in Japan.  Part of children’s education is the introduction of concepts of proper social behavior. Because I wasn’t yet accustomed to many of these social situations either, volunteering at the Jidoukan became an opportunity to learn and become accustomed to Japanese society in a hands-on fashion. For example, because everyone in my host family was already an adult, I wasn’t really familiar with how adults speak to children in Japanese. I was able to observe things like the difference in a child’s reaction when you give a command using the て form of a verb versus the なさい form. Moreover, it was fun and gratifying to build a bond with various children there. It was a process wherein I went from an outsider to understanding how I could fit into the environment of the Jidoukan.

The structure of a typical afternoon at the Jidoukan depends on the day of the week. Some days, the children are expected to work on their homework before being able to move onto more fun activities and games. On Wednesdays, the children would compete with each other or against their previous records with various skill-testing toys. For example, the children would take turns trying to see how many times they could juggle with the kendama. My role was to record the count in a special booklet that contained all of their records.

One particularly funny anecdote was that, since the pronunciation of my real name is unfamiliar to most people, I went by ピーター at the Jidoukan (Peter is my middle name, and I do the same at my workstudy job in America). As my bond with the children became stronger, second-grader jokingly called me ピーター君 instead of ピーター先生 or ピーターさん. I only realized this difference when I noticed the other children giggling, and I was happy that they felt comfortable around me enough to make those kinds of jokes with me. By the time I was done volunteering at the Jidoukan, my nickname among the kids was ピーターパン.

Working with the children was certainly the highlight of my experiences, but I was also able to participate in a lot of important interactions with the staff of the Jidoukan. Because they were all extremely kind and understanding, it felt like a low-stakes environment where I could practice more formal speech patterns that are necessary in everyday business in addition to gaining more experiences interacting with my own peers who had already entered the workforce. One of the employees at the Jidoukan was a young man about my age, and we had a lot of conversations about work, college, and job searching activities. Exchanges like this were valuable to me because they showed a little about the attitude that young Japanese people have towards important parts of their lives like career.

Overall, my time at the Jidoukan was one of the best experiences I had in Kyoto. To the children, I could just be a new, friendly face, and in return they made me feel part of the community there. My only regret is that I couldn’t spend more time with the children I had come to know, and that I couldn’t offer a proper goodbye. 

 

Dylan Manning: Track Team

The first day I showed up at a Doshisha Track Club practice was a nerve-wracking one; I hadn’t emailed anyone prior and took the 60 minute journey to Kyotanabe myself. I had gone over in my head exactly what I would say (it was early in the semester, my Japanese was still no good), making sure to throw in the –nkedo at the end to come off as not too forward. When I finally arrived I just stood at the side of the track, had a mini panic attack, and decided to cash in on the I’m-a-nervous-foreigner card. Hard. A girl approached me as I stood drawing circles in the dirt with my foot and, in well-articulated English, asked me what I was doing there. This is your moment! I thought, and managed to stutter out the lines I had rehearsed so thoroughly. After that things were a blur, and even today I am still surprised at how easily I was accepted as a semi-regular member of the Doshisha track practices. Even on that first day I was asked if I wanted to participate in the meets, full uniform and everything. I was taken aback, but unfortunately, due to being in Kyoto for only a semester, the logistics of it would have been too difficult, and I was relegated to a practice-only “member.” And so began my CIP journey.

I’m not exactly sure I can say I learned a lot through my CIP. Some other students throw themselves into completely new and foreign experiences, but I chose to go with something more familiar. Being already well-versed in the activity itself, I had the chance to focus on the differences between American and Japanese sports. It was a bit difficult to practice my Japanese at first, as many of the students liked to practice their English with me, and asked a lot about America. I consented and spent the first few sessions speaking a good deal of English before the shininess of the new American runner wore off. After that, I was able to pick up on a lot of the unique things about the team.

Being somewhat versed in Japanese culture, I expected a good deal of the experiences I eventually underwent. I knew there was going to be clear hierarchy within the team, honorific language and the like, and I knew there was going to be a certain intensity that contrasted to the often lukewarm commitment of American athletes. All of this was true, but I was surprised by the degree to which these things revealed themselves.  I remember one day when I was doing a hill workout with Nakaoka (essentially my assigned training partner, at least in the first few practices) and a few other underclassmen that this hierarchy revealed itself. I should note that Nakaoka and I are juniors, while the others seems to be freshmen and sophomores. After the first rep, which we all did together, I was approached by some of the other members with a water bottle and a towel. At first I was confused and said that they didn’t belong to me, sorry, wrong person, but they continued to insist. I then realized that they were the team’s towel and water bottle, and they were giving them to me because I was an older person on the team. This kind of behavior would never fly in America, due to ideals of equality and a fear of elitism. After the workout, those same athletes collected the towels and water bottles in a bucket and took them back to put them away.

This was easily the most surprising experience of my time with the team. Many other differences eventually revealed themselves, though mostly in terms of training philosophy and preparation. My time with the track team at Doshisha was a fun one, and it certainly made very real the things I had only learned about. Thanks to the team, I realized my dream of becoming the person with the strongest body at KCJS this semester.

 

 

ディラン・マニング:陸上部

僕のCIPは陸上部です。一度行ってみてから、毎週陸上部に行くことになりました。陸上部は、京田辺キャンパスで集まっています。普通土曜日に行っています。通うのには二時間ぐらいかかります。男子チームと女子チームがあり、たくさんの人と一緒に練習しています。

僕はアメリカの大学でも陸上部に入っているから、同志社の大学の陸上部にも入りたいと思いました。僕のアメリカの大学の陸上部は部員が少ないですが、同志社のは部員が多いです。練習で何をするかは日によって違います。例えば、最近、フリー練習がありましたが (なんでもしたいことができます)、ワークアウトもしました。僕は練習の後でいつも疲れます。そんなに遠くに住んでいるので、練習の後ですぐに帰らなければなりません。チームは京田辺キャンパスで勉強しているから、遠くに住んでいる僕は陸上部の友達とあまり会っていません。かわいそうな僕。

陸上部は、とても楽しいです。次の練習を楽しみにしています。陸上部のおかげで、健康になってきました。一週間に一回しか練習に行かないのに、毎日丈夫になったような感じがします。すぐに僕の体がKCJSで一番強い体になります。