Caeden Polster : Klexon English Speaking Circle 2nd Semester

In my CIP, I participated in the Klexon English Speaking Circle, a college student and adult circle of Japanese people who want to practice and learn more English, and foreigners who would like to help, or make new friends.

As I will be working as an English teacher in Japan after the program ends, I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice teaching English, and speaking in a way that is more conducive to learning and understanding. In my time at Klexon, I gradually noticed myself varying my speech complexity and speed for different participants based on their levels that I had gotten used to, and I also was happy to see great improvement over the year in their own English capabilities!

My advice for incoming KCJS participants would be to pick something that is related to what you are passionate about for your CIP, and keep an open mind. If you just leave your CIP after the required hours, or don’t participate in the extra social activities that may happen with members outside normal meetings, you could end up missing the opportunity to meet people who are as passionate as you, and make friendships that will last long after the program ends.

Theo Brown: Visiting temples with Shisekidoukoukai (史跡同好会)

This semester I was able to join the Shisekidoukoukai, a circle at Doshisha University which typically met every week on Saturday to visit a historical site. Here’s a link to their webpage,, though note that you will need to message them on Twitter or Instagram to join (I had to create a Twitter account just for this). In my case, all of the meetings that I attended were at various temples throughout Kyoto (and one in nearby Shiga prefecture). Each week that there’s a meeting, a Line message goes out to the members of the circle (over 150) and those who wish to participate in the following Saturday’s event respond to the message. Usually around eight or ten people would actually end up showing up, though it varied. It was a lot less than I expected given the total number of members, and many of the same people would usually go every week, so I was able to talk with certain people several times. Generally you’re on your own for transport to the temple and just have to meet in front of it at a specified time (usually early afternoon); due to the location of the dorm I’m living in it often took upwards of 45 minutes to get to and from these places, which was a little frustrating at times. Though some people in the circle would come all the way from Osaka or Hyogo prefecture, so I can’t complain too much.

Once everyone who had said they would be coming had arrived at the meetup location (which sometimes took quite some time due to people missing buses or getting lost on the way there — Google Maps was my friend) we would proceed into the temple grounds and walk around. This could take two or even three hours to get through the whole area as we would look at everything, talk with the other members, check out the gift shop, and take pictures. However, because of the lengthy time commitment, some weekends I couldn’t make it, so be aware that the meetings are quite long. I think it would be quite awkward to try to leave in the middle, and we would formally end every meeting with a “解散,” so I wouldn’t plan to be able to only participate for part of the time. It wasn’t very formal at all and it was nice to be able to talk to other college students in Japanese in such a relaxed environment. Note that besides me, I only saw one other non-Japanese student (who was really really good at Japanese!) and everyone was speaking in Japanese the whole time, so if you’re not confident in your Japanese abilities be aware that it might be hard to communicate. Personally I was able to have good conversations with several people but my level is/was not at the point that I could completely understand the conversations of those around me enough to participate myself, though it was still good listening practice. If my level was not at the point where I could have a decent conversation in Japanese, I probably would not have enjoyed it as much.

One thing I noticed was that whenever I would meet someone for the first time they would always ask me what year in school I was. It was actually a bit interesting in my case because though I am a junior, due to the month I was born in, I would still be a second year student if I had gone through the Japanese system. Though second- and first-year students never referred to me as “senpai” though some people did use it for Japanese students above them. Another interesting thing was the use of Kansai-ben, in that some people seemed to use it all the time, and some didn’t despite being from the Kansai region. I suspect this might vary depending on the person and who they’re speaking to, since using a dialect other than Standard Japanese seems to be perceived as more informal. There were also a lot of members not originally from the area so that might make a difference too. Since I am planning to participate for the next semester as well I will keep an eye out for this as I find it interesting.

My goal for finding a CIP this semester was something in which I got opportunities to speak in Japanese with native speakers without a very structured environment or activity, and the Shisekidoukoukai exactly fits with that. Everyone in the club that I’ve met has been kind and I think it could be a good way to make friends. However, if you find temples boring, want to leave your Saturdays free, aren’t confident in your Japanese speaking ability, or want a more structured activity for your CIP, you may be better off looking elsewhere. But I certainly have enjoyed getting to see various historical temples and chatting with others in Japanese and so I plan to continue in the same circle for the spring semester.

Marin Powers: Volunteering at a kindergarten

This semester I participated in helping out at Fukakusa Kindergarten every Monday for two hours, one hour of that being 「英語遊ぼう」(English Playtime) and the second hour being free play time with the children aged 4-6. It was such a blast, and such a good opportunity and experience that I would not have had at any other time in my life.

I feel like I got to learn from the kids, playing games with them and then individually with them outside of “teaching” English. I got to see how the kindergartens operate, what they value, and how many Japanese people spend their early childhood years — something we don’t get to see in the classroom. In particular, I think that the day is spent differently than in US kindergartens — from what I was able to observe, they have a lot of free play and are able to really hone motor abilities, communication with each other, and also get to be energetic kids without consequences. I felt like I got to see the basis for what I knew before — how societies, and in this case, Japanese society, are built when people are young.

In regards to learning Japanese, being able to hear the children and the staff speak in Kansai-ben was so informative and the kids using it was just so adorable! I feel like the teachers using it was also just a confidence booster and helped me understand it quicker when they didn’t need to use “standard” Japanese. Getting that experience outside of the classroom was so valuable.

I also thought it was interesting that they sit down and eat together after assembling their tables and chairs alongside the teachers, which is abnormal in the US, but again, I think it reinforces community and that idea of collectivism versus individualism. Physically the space is different as well; it it super conducive to the collective/communal environment by being open, connected to the outdoors/playground, and generally having larger rooms.

I am really grateful that not only the children were awesome, but the staff at the kindergarten as well. It was great to interact with them, learn from them, and help them out when they were busy or had their hands full with other responsibilities. I only wish that I could have started earlier and known about this opportunity sooner!

Anson Alvarez: Kyoto University Board Game Club and Bazaar Cafe

During my time at KCJS, I actually participated in two separate CIPs, although I had much greater success and enjoyment with the second one I joined.

My first CIP was the Board Game Club at Kyoto University.  I really enjoy playing board games with my friends and family at home, and when I saw on their Twitter that they played some games I was familiar with, I was excited to go try out some new games and get some Japanese practice in the process.  Unfortunately, it was not exactly what I had hoped for.  Firstly, this was more of a personal problem than anything, but the location I was living made the commute to and from Kyoto University incredibly inconvenient, and given that their meetings were held more in the evening, I always had to make sure I had enough time to go to the club and then make it home in time to do everything else I had to do for classes.  In addition, the other members of the club were rather untalkative for the most part, and even though they talked a bit more with one another, likely due to the fact that had known each other for longer and were in general more comfortable talking with people who spoke native Japanese, it was for the most part a rather quiet atmosphere, which was not very conducive to me getting in speaking practice.  By far the biggest issue was the language barrier issue, which, especially when it comes to explaining game rules, was a much bigger issue than I had anticipated it being.  There were a couple times when I would ask someone if they could please repeat something, and it was clear that they were a bit frustrated by my not being able to understand the first time.  Again, perhaps over time they might have gotten more comfortable with me and my language skills would have improved to the point where we could communicate more easily, but with the limited time I had and the general untalkativeness of the club members, I would only recommend this club if you absolutely love board games and have the confidence in your language skills enough to play them with Japanese natives.

After much deliberation and some searching of old CIP reports, I decided for the rest of my time here to settle on volunteering at Bazaar Café, a small café very close to Doshisha’s campus.  Prior to joining, I had actually visited this café once with some friends, and the relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff made me encouraged that this would work out much better than my previous CIP choice.  Sure enough, when I showed up the work for the first day, the other staff members were very kind in showing me what to do, and, best of all, they asked me a lot about myself, allowing me to get a good amount of Japanese practice in, while also being able to experience what goes on in the kitchen of a café.  I mentioned before that it was a fairly small and secluded café, and this meant that in general, there was never a big rush in the kitchen, creating a very casual and relaxed mood for me.  In between orders, I was able to chat with the other staff about their lives, and opposed to the game club, there was not nearly as much slang being used, making it much easier for me to understand.  If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do for your CIP in the future, I highly recommend Bazaar Café.  You get to see a bit of how a small café runs from the background, and you might not be getting paid for what you do, but the work is not at all difficult, and the language experience is more than worth it.

Caeden Polster : Klexon English Speaking Circle

Since I am in the academic year KCJS program, and I am a fourth year, I will be graduation at the end of the program. After graduating, I plan to stay here and work in Japan as an English teacher. Due to this interest, I decided to do something similar to my future career in my CIP, and since I plan to work in an Eikaiwa school like AEON, something like the English speaking circle Klexon seemed perfect.

In my time participating at the Klexon English Circle, I met a lot of amazing people from all walks of life, all with a genuine interest in learning English. From what I have heard from those who volunteered at schools and taught children, and from my own experience tutoring and teaching English through an online program through Toshin cram school in Kyoto and their Global English program, most people still in school generally don’t have much interest in learning English, and see it as only another class or something necessary. However, at Klexon, everyone is there because they want to be, and it is a really casual and relaxing environment. Everyone is not only motivated to speak in English and practice what they know, but also to learn more and to ask questions, and to make new friends.

I found my conversations at Klexon very valuable, as not only did I get to hear a lot of interesting experiences, I also got help with information related to my future career, and recommendations on where to go and visit in Kyoto. There weren’t only local Japanese people there, although they were the majority, but there were also people from France, Russia, Izrael, and many other places, all learning English now as a second, third, or sometimes even fourth language. It was really interesting comparing our experiences learning languages, and the differences between education systems in all of our own countries.

My advice for those looking into CIP opportunities would be to first choose something that you are interested in and are motivated to see through to the end, but to also choose something that challenges yourself or pushes you to keep growing and learning as a person. Many of my friends chose to pursue easy opportunities that wouldn’t really make them go out of their comfort zone or meet new people, but I think it is important to break out of your original group and keep meeting more people, especially if you are in Japan for a limited time unlike my situation.

Overall, I would highly recommend Klexon for anyone interested in education or language learning, or anyone who just wants a casual environment to meet new and energetic people to be friends with and practice language together!

Jessica Weibrecht: Volunteering at Nico Nico Tomato (Kyodai Hospital)

For my CIP I decided to participate in Nico Nico Tomato. Nico Nico Tomato is a volunteer organization that specializes in making grafts for the children at Kyoto University Hospital. The work is super meaningful and the dedication of all the volunteers is really amazing. 

This organization focuses mainly on crafts. However, the volunteers also program many events throughout the year for the children. However, the main focus for us KCJS volunteers is helping make the cards and other mementos to give the children. Over my near semester there I got to know a lot of interesting people as I volunteered. One thing I definitely picked up on was the situations of when to use Keigo and when not to use it. While speaking amongst ourselves everyone spoke casually. Some used -masu form others short, but that depended on how close they were in terms of their personal relations. 

Perhaps what stuck out to me the most while participating in this CIP was the differences between Kansai-ben and Tokyo-ben. At my university all of the professors are from the Tokyo area and thus speak Tokyo-ben. Even at KCJS the Japanese that was most prevalent amongst the staff and Senseis was Tokyo-ben. So walking into Nico Nico Tomato was the first time I really felt culture shock while in Japan. My listening comprehension skills were really put to the test. Not only is Kansai-ben extremely fast, but words are different as well as accents sometimes. (compare to different regional dialects in America) However, after a little while it wasn’t that bad anymore, and I also learned new words and phrases. This became especially interesting when listening to Japanese from different sources and suddenly being able to spot regional differences I would have otherwise missed. 

Another things I picked up on while volunteering are different customs I used to associate only with office related environments. For example, one of the older volunteers had been unable to attend for a week or two due to vacation. When she returned she brought back souvenirs for everyone and apologized for being gone. I also noticed that the Japanese attention to detail is much higher than the American one.

Perhaps the best advice I could give regarding Nico Nico Tomato is don’t be afraid to ask questions. They could be about anything ranging from clarification about instructions to questions aimed at getting to know your fellow volunteers. This way you will be able to get to know the other volunteers more quickly as well as learn new things. The room itself is quite small so you’ll end up spending quite a bit of time with new people in a smallish space. However, this environment is perfect for learning new things and getting to know new people. Sometimes there will be large chunks of time where no one is talking; instead everyone is amicably completing their own assigned tasks. During these times it’s completely your choice if you want to make small talk or let the silence continue, but personally I found those small pockets of silence to be very peaceful.

David Lee: Klexon Language Exchange

Are you embarrassed to mess up speaking Japanese? Ever had a question that you were too shy to ask to a stranger? Do you know how to speak at least one language? These are pretty much the basic prerequisites of my CIP.

When I first came to Japan, I set a goal for myself to speak to as many Japanese people as possible before I leave. I’m not insane so I didn’t start talking to every stranger I either ran into or sat next to on the bus, so maybe the guidelines for this goal wasn’t as well established as I had thought. Regardless, when it came time to consider what my CIP should be, I still knew I wanted to (to the best of my ability) achieve this goal. When I found out about KLEXON, I realized this would fit my needs perfectly. I spent the majority of my time speaking in Japanese, though since the program is a “language exchange,” one could speak entirely in English. At KLEXON, you engage in a type of “speed dating” conversations, discussing anything from Japanese culture to favorite foods.

KLEXON is very much a “you get what you put in” kind of CIP. If you want to spend the entire time just having small talk, by all means. If you’d like to ask about the much more complex, cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan, you can do that too. One of the most interesting cultural differences that I’ve noticed between Japanese and English is the latter’s abundance of slang. When I asked what kind of slang Japanese had, many people struggled to give more than 3 examples. Although I don’t doubt that there isn’t slang in Japanese, it seems like most “slang” comes from the various dialects spoken throughout the country.

If I had to mention a failure, and unfortunately, I do, it’s my inability to speak Japanese. I’m only half joking, but in all seriousness speaking with people in Japanese for 2 hours straight, I’d find myself unable to convey certain thoughts without the help of Looking at it from a different lens, I think this kind of failure really motivates someone to do better, or to look up a certain grammar point that I may have forgotten. KLEXON really helps you learn your strong and weak points when it comes to speaking, which is admittedly a bit embarrassing, but helpful nonetheless.

For any of you considering studying abroad in Japan, you might have the notion that you’ll be spending most of your time with Japanese students. How I envy you. While certainly some students of KCJS do this, making friends with Japanese people is much more difficult than it might seem. This isn’t a dig at Japanese people, but rather more of a comment on the reality of studying abroad itself. Think about how hard it is to make friends normally, now add to that a language barrier.  Especially for those of you who haven’t studied Japanese for very long, this language barrier certainly hinders one’s ability to make friends with locals. Now, as to how this relates to KLEXON, the program makes it quite easy to meet new Japanese people on a daily basis. Over time, you’ll meet people you share a genuine connection to. KLEXON also hosts parties, making the whole friend making process a whole-lot easier. If making friends and talking incessantly sounds like your cup of tea, I would recommend this program.

Tara Satnick: Klexon

For my CIP, I registered for Klexon, a club based in Kyoto that provides opportunities for Japanese people practice their English-speaking skills. I chose this group because I was interested in meeting new people and helping others improve their English language skills. Through Klexon, I have been able to meet Japanese people of all different backgrounds. Beyond that, I have been able to talk engage in a variety of topics with them, which has given me tremendous insight into Japanese culture.
My favorite part about Klexon is that it is has taught me so much about Japanese everyday life. The conversations I have at Klexon are very casual, so my partner and I usually start by sharing about our week or day. A specific element of everyday life that particularly surprised me was the way that some of the members talk about their jobs. I had always been under the impression that, because Japanese people generally work very hard, they must have a lot of respect for their work. As it turns out, this was not the case for many of the members I met at Klexon. I heard from several members that they either hated their jobs and planned on quitting or had just recently quit, which I was not expecting. Due to the strong work ethic and polite nature of Japanese people, I quickly assumed that most Japanese people care a lot about the type of work that they do and are very committed to their jobs. However, by talking to people at Klexon, I learned that there are many Japanese people who actually hate their work. Listening firsthand to Japanese people talk about their daily experiences has helped me see that many stereotypes about Japanese society are actually untrue for many people.
Another interesting lesson I learned from attending Klexon meetings is that many people take longer than others to shift from formal to casual style speech. For example, within minutes of meeting certain members, they were using casual style speech. These people were usually very outgoing and friendly, so they felt more comfortable using conversational speech. Shy and quiet members, on the other hand, tended to wait longer before using conversational speech. Since arriving in Japan, I have struggled to figure out when to use casual style speech when speaking to Japanese native speakers, but Klexon has taught me that there is no strict set of rules for speech style. The style of speech you choose depends on your relationship with the other person, but it also largely depends on your personality and your comfort level with the other person.
Overall, I have really enjoyed my time at Klexon. I found all of the members to be extremely welcoming to me and grateful for my willingness to help them practice English. I would recommend Klexon to anyone that is looking to meet a lot of new Japanese people and have opportunities to practice your own language skills, as well as opportunities to help others with theirs.

Sylvia Yu: Bazaar Café

Wednesday afternoons look a little like this: I take a brisk stroll from Doshisha, walking along Karasuma before making a turn down an alleyway that eventually leads to Bazaar Café. It’s a modest place—handwritten signs and dog-eared books lined along shelves and all—with a welcoming presence (indoor slippers, greenery of the garden) and an even more welcoming staff. From my first day volunteering here and onwards, I’ve been met with a familial feel; in between washing and drying dishes and silverware, preparing meals, and serving customers, we learn bits about each other’s lives and how we spend our days. I enter Bazaar Café from the back with a lively おはようございます (which is, by the way, not exclusive to the morning!), don my apron and bandana, and slip into the kitchen where everyone is already at work. A fellow volunteer asks me what I learned in school that day as she prepares Buchimgae (Wednesday is also when Korean food is served; cuisine varies by day of the week), the manager peeks through the curtain to announce an order that has just been made and everyone answers with a resounding はい. So the afternoon goes.

Workwise, Bazaar Café isn’t particularly demanding. There are days in which business is far less busy—empty, even—that there is ample time for aimless conversation as we drink tea. To note, the people that constitute the staff of the place are certainly not one type of person; they include a mother studying sociology in a university with a family in Denmark, a girl from Germany taking a gap year to gather her Japanese roots, an elderly man who rehabilitates those with former addiction (“変なおじいさん” he dubs himself, but perhaps 優しい is more apt), to name some. And yet, despite these differences, I don’t feel a significant degree of distance with anyone; every week is, of course, an opportunity to learn subtleties of Japanese culture and vocabulary here and there (said mother studying sociology likes to quiz me as I store cups in the cabinet), but additionally grow closer to those that I work alongside. At Bazaar Café, which places an emphasis as a safe space, there is a great sense of community. We speak without filter nor fear.

That said, Bazaar Café is wonderful place to volunteer if you are seeking a chance to practice Japanese conversational skills while taking part in what feels like family. It’s got a casual atmosphere, makes a great studying spot (so friends have attested), and of course, serves good food (I can attest!). I leave a little after three with an お疲れ様です and wonder what to anticipate the following Wednesday.

Veronica Winters: Kyoto Reborn

During the spring semester of 2018, I decided to volunteer at a Kyoto-based NPO called Reborn Kyoto. The organization has an international presence with branches in Rwandan, Laos and Cambodian and other South East Asian countries. The center that I work at coordinates the purchase of old kimonos, which they then take apart and wash to send abroad as fabric. Offices abroad teach local women how to sew certain patterns using the kimono fabric and send those finished items back to Kyoto. A shop around the corner from the primary center sells and collects the proceeds. I have experience volunteering at both the main center and the shop around the corner and from those experiences I have learned two major things about Japanese/Kyoto culture.

The first thing that I realized was that tea time is an important time for bonding in the office. This may not be true for all places and all businesses, especially those run by the younger generation. However, the main center is run by older women (age 60 and upward) who value tea time. Before I understood its importance I once tried to refuse participating in tea time, stating that I could keep working and did not need tea. The head of the branch insisted strongly by simply reiterating the suggestion that we have tea and I felt a strong pressure to accept. Since that time I have never refused tea time. We usually drink together with a snack after I have completed my volunteer shift and talk about current events such as the Olympics or about their grandchildren and I have come to look forward to tea time with the older ladies every visit.

The second cultural practice that I noticed had to do with language and politeness level. Of course, there are different registers of politeness embedded in the Japanese language. However, what I did not know, was the protocol when leaving the office before or after superiors and co-workers. You cannot use the same phrase to say “Good work today” (otsukaresama) or “I’m going for the day” (osakini shitsureishimasu) towards superiors and co-workers. I was a bit confused at first because the ladies that work there are so old and their job titles do not necessary correspond to their age, but you can gauge the importance of someone’s position via listening to the politeness register used toward them and that which they use toward others. For example, at the shop around the corner from the main center, I witnessed the older ladies who worked there using plain form with the customers, which is very unusual. It was probably due to the fact that they were several decades older than the customers; nevertheless, the shop workers made sure to use a Kyoto-specific type of honorific polite form haru to maintain that they respected the customers.

I enjoyed my CIP this semester a lot more than last semester’s (dance class and church) because I felt a lot more integrated and got to use and hear a lot more Japanese. A good CIP activity will allow you to build relationships with the Japanese people involved and not just participate in an event. It will be sad to say goodbye to the lovely ladies that I have been working with for the past 3 months. They treat me with such warmth and patience, so we have become rather close. I hope that future KCJS students will lend a hand and volunteer at this organization.