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.

Andrew Fischer: Suisōgakudan Seseragi

This semester, I continued playing in 吹奏楽団せせらぎ (Suisōgakudan Seseragi) on tuba. We are currently rehearsing a variety of pieces, most of which are selections from films and 20th-century pop artists. I have been able to continue to converse about a variety of topics, not only music, with my fellow members. I will be able to remain in Japan until July, when the annual concert will be held, so I plan on participating, which I am excited about.

The highlight of this semester was being able to participate in a brass quintet. We practiced several times over the course of two months, and on March 25th, we performed at壬生老人ホーム (Mibu Elderly Home) for a group of elderly residents, who seemed to greatly enjoy the performance and the different brass instruments. The おばあさんcommented on how big the tuba was: 「大きいね!」「すごい!」. The pieces that we performed were 三百六十五歩マーチ, なごり雪, 故郷, 上を向いて歩こう, 青い山脈, and また逢う日まで. It was wonderful to get to know the other members of the quintet well and play these nostalgic Japanese songs.

Something that I have observed while playing in Seseragi is the formality required, especially by younger, newer members. In the United States, regardless of age or skill, the conductor is usually very informal and generally is more comfortable correcting or criticizing the players for their mistakes. In general, during practice in Japan, the conductor is very polite when asking players to correct their mistakes, while players are very polite 「はい、分かりました」when responding to the conductor. I think that this demonstrates the importance of the social customs of Japan in even recreational activities, which is different than in the United States. However, this is not necessarily a bad point; it simply illustrates the vast difference between cultures.

Hyun Woo Kim : Bazaar Cafe

By working at Bazaar Café, I was able to work directly alongside Japanese workers. In doing so, I got to pick up a lot of Japanese terms related to cleaning and cooking. I was able to learn words like 布巾, the cloth you use to wipe the dishes, and 吹く, to wipe. I was also able to learn about Japanese phrases and etiquette used in the workplace. For instance, I learned that when leaving before everyone else, you say お先に失礼します as opposed to お疲れ様です.

Bazaar Café serves as a place where people who would typically be considered social outcasts in Japan can work and be a part of a supporting community. I remember on my first day of work, all the workers at the café gathered in front of me to introduce themselves. Some gave a short introduction regarding their name and how they would like to be called. Others, in addition to their names, spoke frankly about their past troubles, ranging from drug addictions to mental health issues. I was taken aback by how honest they were about their past problems, and I came to understand that this was possible because of Bazaar Café. It truly was a safe haven where people can talk frankly to one another without fear of judgement. A month or so later, I had a more in-depth talk with one of the works. The conversation began naturally, and they spoke matter-of-factly about their past addiction, health, and sexual orientation. The degree of trust they had in me was something I had not witnessed in Japan up until that day. In return, I came to respect and trust them as well.

Working at Bazaar Café was truly an eye-opening experience. It was helpful in a practical sense because I got to learn about important workplace phrases and mannerism. But perhaps more importantly, it allowed me to learn about Japan as a society and hear about these hardships that are not openly discussed. I felt part of a tight, trusting community, and I felt like I was able to see a side of Japan that I would not have been able to had I done my CIP elsewhere,

Veronica Winters: Dance Class and Church

For the 2017 Fall semester at KCJS, I originally had decided to take group lessons at a studio in Osaka, located close to Umeda station. The vocabulary used by the instructors was fundamentally the same as dance instructors in America; for example, “From the top”, “One more time”. The register changed depending on the instructor; friendlier teachers tended to use the plain speech styles while colder, more detached teachers used polite form. About halfway through the semester, I realized that 1) I was not gaining any major cultural insights and 2) while I do enjoy dancing, I did not enjoy taking formal classes.

For the second portion of the semester I have been going to a church with a multi-national congregation. I was shocked at how similar service was to my church in America. I usually go to a majority black Church of God in Christ (COGIC) church in the U.S. where it is common practice to interject with “Amen” during a sermon to show your agreement, to pray aloud individually but simultaneously during worship service and greet your neighbor between programs. The church that I attend in Japan does the exact same thing, except that services are either conducted in Japanese, Korean, Chinese or in all three. More than 70% of the congregation is Chinese, however the pastor is Japanese, so for regular services there is a Japanese-Chinese interpreter present. If necessary, there are a two international students who regularly attend the church that will interpret services into English.

I did realize that the pastor gave the sermon using polite speech, since she was address the congregation; however, during prayer, on behalf of everyone, the pastor would use keigo as a means of exaltation. Also, during my first visit, some members of the church did a coordinated praise dance in honor of the guest Korean pastor. The praise dance was done with fans, using moves from traditional obon dancing, while wearing a kimono.

Furthermore, after learning about difficulties amongst Chinese, Japanese and Koreans in Japan, I was pleased and surprised to find this space where they all cooperate without tension. Since, they share the religion of Christianity, “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” is a commonly said phrase at church. Also, the phrases that the pastor uses during the sermons and communal prayer are very similar to the phrases used at my church in America. Nevertheless, this is most likely be due to a shared text, the Bible, which is full set phrases that are very popular among Protestant Christians. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience for my personal enrichment.

Nevertheless, I realize that the church is a bit separated from Japanese society as whole, so to make the most of my study abroad in Japan and get more of a first-hand view of the inner-workings of Japanese society, I will participate in a more integrated CIP during the spring semester.

Andrew Fischer: Suisōgakudan Seseragi (Concert Band)

The group that I chose to join to fulfill my Community Involvement Project is 吹奏楽団せせらぎ (suisōgakudan seseragi). Seseragi is a community concert band that practices once a week on Friday from 7:30 to 9:00 in the evening. Seseragi‘s members range in age from around twenty to sixty or seventy. I am one of three tuba players in the group, although because most of the members are 社会人 (shakaijin), not everyone comes each week. We usually have a lengthy warmup and then practice two to four pieces of music each rehearsal.

I found that I am able to make conversation with my fellow tuba and euphonium players by talking about topics such as instruments, experiences with music, and differences between Japan and the United States regarding playing in a band or practicing one’s instrument at home. Because playing tuba has been such an important part of my life since I was eleven years old, I have many experiences to talk about, so I have conversed with the other musicians, especially at dinner after rehearsal, about a multitude of experiences and interesting notions.

I have learned that when people share an interest or passion, especially when that passion does not require spoken words, they can make a connection to others simply through sharing that passion, whether through playing music together or simply laughing. While my experience as a member of Seseragi so far has allowed me to use my Japanese language skills to a great extent, I find that coming to understand Japanese society and sharing my interest in music with my fellow members has been the most fulfilling and interesting part of my Community Involvement Project. I plan to continue as a member until I leave Japan next year.

Andrew Wellen: Volunteering for NicoNico Tomato

For my Community Involvement Project, I volunteered with an organization called NicoNico Tomato at Kyoto University Hospital. NicoNico Tomato plans crafts and fun activities for children with serious illnesses staying at the hospital. Because I am a pre-med student, I was interested in getting more patient experience while abroad, and while I admittedly did not have as much interaction as I would have liked, I have really enjoyed my time volunteering. Although NicoNico Tomato has many volunteers who come in with varying frequency, most are older ladies who have had their own children benefit from the organization. Each week they would offer me tea before setting me up with some small activities to do, like coloring, cutting paper, or blowing up balloons. It was nice to be able to take a break from classwork and do something relaxing, even more so when considering the good cause.

Although at first I was fairly quiet and only talked with everyone when they asked me questions, I gradually became more and more comfortable. I have shared a lot of cultural experiences and learned a lot about Japanese culture from talking with them, everything from the differences between how Easter is celebrated in America and Japan to how Japanese people pick up on different regional dialects. Everyone was very patient in putting up with my Japanese, and it was fun trying to find ways to work around the language barrier and describe ideas that the other culture did not have. Through everything I got to know the ladies of NicoNico Tomato, and I will miss them when this semester is over. The amount of time they dedicate to volunteering is amazing, as is the effect they are having on these sick kids’ lives. Spending time with them has helped me step back and realize that there is a world outside of KCJS in Japan. The couple of times I did get to do activities with the children, although it was fun, it was also sad when thinking some of them might not have that much longer to live. But seeing everyone come together to make things more bearable for these children was inspiring. Becoming a part of this outside community has been one of the highlights of my study abroad experience.

Katie May: Flute Lessons

For my CIP, I took flute lessons twice a month from the same teacher that I had my Junior year abroad in Osaka. It was nice to see how much I had improved in four years not just in my flute playing but also in my Japanese. I remember four years ago we spent a good bit of time with the Japanese- English dictionary during lessons trying to get our point across to each other. This semester I only had to use the dictionary a few times for more technical musical terms. It was a nice confidence boost to be able to have a conversation in Japanese  with someone who isn’t a Doshisha teacher or a host-parent. Overall I think it was a good experience that helped my Japanese and my flute playing.

Dera Luce: Bazaar Cafe

Bazaar Cafe was created in 1998 by the United Church of Christ Japan as a way to employ socially marginalized people and foster a community. Their business cards state: “We welcome people from any country, language or cultural background, sexuality, age, ability…Come to Bazaar Cafe, enjoy yourself and feel at home.”

I volunteer at Bazaar Cafe on Saturdays. My typical day consists of washing dishes, eating free lunch with the rest of the workers, making a trip to the grocery store, helping with food preparation, eating more free food, and playing the piano for private events. I start work at 1 pm, and by around 5 or 6 pm I start thinking maybe I should go back to my homestay for dinner. Then I end up staying another 3 or 4 hours because there’s something interesting going on, and I’m enjoying my time with my friends at Bazaar Cafe.

My favorite memory of Bazaar Cafe is from my first day as a volunteer, when I ended up staying for Bible study. Although I’m not religious, I was curious to see how Christianity translates into the Japanese culture, what the Bible sounds like in Japanese, and so on. There were about 10 people in attendance. The leader of the session started by sharing a spiritual message she heard at a church retreat that had left an impression on her. She shared how she planned to apply the message to her life. Then, she opened it up for other people to share personal stories related to the theme if they felt inclined.

One by one, people began to open up and reveal pieces of themselves to the group. I had never met any of these people before, yet everyone felt comfortable sharing in that safe space. A theology student whom I had met earlier in the day sat next to me and graciously translated the parts that I couldn’t understand as people shared their stories. I shared something too, which was hard to do (partly because I was saying it in Japanese and partly because it was sensitive subject matter). There wasn’t a dry eye in the room by the end of the session, and we all hugged each other.

I’ve been to church before, and none of this is uncommon in a church setting in the U.S., but to experience it in Japan was something else. Japan does not have a hugging culture, nor is it the norm to express your true feelings. Sometimes I think I’m making too much of a generalization by thinking this, but I’ve had many Japanese people say to me, “No, that really is the way it is here, for the most part.” There are even terms for the distinction between your true feelings, honne, and what you actually express to others, tatamae.

Despite all that, I was able to experience a moment where people were honest about things that would be stigmatized even in the U.S., and everyone accepted each other. This showed me that Bazaar Cafe really is a place where one can feel at home.

John Webb:Neuroscience at Kyoto University

My CIP is working at a neuroscience lab at Kyoto University. I learned about the lab from my research mentor at Washington University in St. Louis. The lab is in the same field, circadian rhythms, that I do research in back in America, so I was quite familiar with the techniques and experimental goals of the lab, making the transition from that perspective quite easy.

The research questions that the Okamura lab is interested in asking is: “What are the mechanisms behind 24-hour rhythms in our daily life that determine when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night?” By more thoroughly understanding these mechanisms, they hope to develop therapies that could alleviate the effects of shift work and jet lag, as well as some types of depression.

The project I worked on tried to parse out the relationship between two genes involved in the sleep-wake cycle. I also learned quite a few new experimental techniques.

The science and the experimental procedures are basically the same as in America, but the lab culture is quite different. In America, graduate students usually have input on their projects can help shape them. This helps give the graduate students experience of being intellectually engaged and shaping a project, a skill that can help them later in life. In the Okamura lab, projects are usually handed down in a dictatorial manner, and most of the graduate students had little say in their projects.

There was also a stark difference in the number of women working in the lab. In America, women outnumber the men. In the Okamura lab, however, they represent only 20 percent of the lab, and there were no female postdocs. In the room I worked in with 8 people, there were no women. I hadn’t realized that this would be the case so it surprised me.

I was also surprised to learn that there were no Japanese scientific journals. Japanese scientists consume new science and publish exclusively in English. I hadn’t quite realized the prominence of English in the scientific community before this.

There was also a feeling of less collaboration between labs compared to what is common in America. For instance, in America it is common for entire floors or departments to get together for a happy hour or other social event on Fridays. I never heard or saw anything like that at Kyoto University. There was still socialization, but it was more often within the same lab. The lab in Japan is a bit of a closer unit compared to what exists in America so it makes sense to me that they would do more of their socializing within their close-knit group.

The working hours were also much longer. Typically, in America, people would work from 10 until 6. When I would stay later to finish an experiment, typically until 9pm, I found that almost half of the people in the Okamura lab were still working. My boss, Doi-sensei, would leave to eat dinner with his family, but then come back into lab to continue working until 2am. When I came back after a lab outing at midnight to collect my experimental results, he was still sitting at his desk with the lights out alone, staring at his computer screen. Also, since they had lab meeting every Saturday at 10am, it was practically expected that you work a six-day week. There are of course people who work hard in America, but its not quite as expected.

Also, the graduate student system is different. At Kyoto University, for your entire senior year, you work in a lab instead of taking classes. This basically forces everyone to work in a lab for a year, something you don’t see in America. Over 90% of Kyoto University’s graduate students come from their undergraduate program. Unlike in America, though, where you’re give a stipend to attend graduate school, in Japan you have to pay the school.

Also, I heard almost no keigo in the lab. When they were talking to their superiors, they would use desu/masu form but not keigo. For instance, when a university student would talk to a graduate student, they would use desu/masu, but not keigo. And then, when they were outside of the lab getting lunch or dinner, they would always use informal Japanese, even if there was different in their rankings. However, when they were outside of the lab with one of the sensei’s, they would still use desu/masu. When I asked them about not using keigo they said that it was difficult to use so they typically didn’t use it.

Overall, though, the people have been very nice and welcoming and I have learned a lot from this experience.

Sabrina Bidus: Assistant English Teacher at Kyoto Bunkyo High School

This semester, I had the opportunity to volunteer as an assistant English teacher at Kyoto Bunkyo High School. I wanted a chance to help Japanese students with English because I understand the struggle of learning a foreign language; and luckily, I was able to help this class of students who were preparing to study abroad in Canada. They were making presentations about something Kyoto-related that they enjoy—everything from calligraphy to green tea to the Shinsengumi—so not only did I have the opportunity to help them with written and spoken English, but I also learned a lot about Japan and Kyoto along the way.
Because they were preparing to study abroad, these students were enthusiastic and willing to learn—I was concerned that I would be in a class full of kids who did not really care about learning English, but this turned out not to be the case. I was also extremely surprised to be placed in a class of high school students; I expected elementary or junior high students, but not students much closer to my age. I thought that maybe I would get more attitude, less respect, and little cooperation from some students of this age. But as mentioned before, these students want to learn English and as a result, appreciated my help. There were times when I thought the students did not want my help or did not enjoy my presence in their classroom. Again, I turned out to be wrong. These students were just a bit shy or timid, and when I tried talking to them about their presentations, they often eagerly accepted my help. Whether it be listening to them practice, helping them with PowerPoints, assisting them with their pronunciation, or fixing their English presentation scripts, they usually listened closely and the changes they made reflected my commentary.
The last day I volunteered was particularly interesting. I finally got to see the final product of weeks of practice on the students’ part. But before that, I met another group of students and helped with their class. These students had studied in Australia and likewise were very motivated. I assisted with and judged a debate the students had—about the pros and cons of the internet and smartphones! I remember having to write on a similar topic for my Japanese class back home and therefore understood how difficult it could be. After the debate, they had to make up alternative endings to fairy tales and present them. Again, I was impressed, and their humor and personalities came across even in English. My favorite story ending was created by a couple of girls who had to write a new ending for Pinocchio. They said that Pinocchio and his father were spit out of the whale’s mouth—but into another whale’s mouth! (The End.) I was also amused by an extremely vocal female Japanese student who was playful with the teacher and the JET assistant; far from being the stereotype of a quiet Japanese student, she spoke her mind and asked me multiple questions. I appreciated her enthusiasm and it was a change from my encounter with the other class, where I had to ask the students questions to get them to speak with me.
My CIP was a great experience; I only regret that I was not able to help out more. Due to the conflicting schedules of KCJS and the Japanese school system, I could only volunteer at Kyoto Bunkyo High School a few times. Yet this time allowed me a new perspective on Japanese school life and a chance to help motivated students—students who, like me, will soon be studying abroad and living daily life in a foreign language.