ZiFu Xu: Volunteering At The Kyoto Manga Museum

I spent my CIP hours volunteering at the Kyoto Manga Museum, where in many ways, it feels more like a non-take-home-able library than a formal “museum.” Sure, it had a number of displays (like you see in the photo), but there were walls upon walls of manga that guests were welcomed and encouraged to take off the shelves, sit down, and read. This brought about the quiet atmosphere of this museum where instead of chatting and remarking about museum displays, I found there to be much more comfortable silence as guests immersed themselves into the worlds within manga. I spent most of my time organizing and dusting shelves because given the museum’s quiet nature, there wasn’t much of “guides” needed in the first place. I was also allowed go and clean areas (such as their “research room”) that were typically off-limits to regular guests and in those places, I’ve found many interesting books on the academic study of anime/manga that isn’t placed outside because of their non-fiction nature; those were very interesting to me. I would say that this is definitely a cool CIP to participate in if you are introverted and would prefer to be in a local, work-like environment without having to constantly interact with customers or guests. Of course, I would also recommend that you have some interest in anime/manga or else you may be quite bored when that (often) becomes the only subject in the room.

Chloe Pearce: Koto

Throughout the fall, I took koto lessons with Iwasaki-sensei as my CIP. Every Tuesday, another KCJS student and I went over to Greenwich house to practice in a group session. People would filter in and out during the duration of practice, and the other students would vary from week to week. Most of them were around the age of retirement, and had experience playing the shamisen, flute, or koto, but there were also newer students, such as a mother and her adorable five-year-old daughter who took lessons together.

Iwasaki-sensei tended to focus on the shamisen students or the little girl when she arrived. I was taught by Saito-sensei, a “student” who clearly had a similar level of experience to Iwasaki-sensei. She was very kind and patient with me as I fumbled my way through practice each week. The class members are very close to one another, and our sessions have a lighthearted air of warmth. Iwasaki-sensei herself is very welcoming, she’ll give out tea and treats and often jokes around with her students. One class she paused the lesson, marched us downstairs, and treated us to cheese bubble tea from Kawaramachi.

Though I enjoyed the classroom’s dynamics, I did find that throughout our weekly time together I didn’t necessarily have many opportunities to practice conversation. The lessons, naturally, are focused on playing music. The blogs of past KCJS students who have also taken lessons with Iwasaki-sensei mention often going out to dinner following a practice, but as my homestay was further away, I returned earlier. Despite the warm classroom environment and Iwasaki-sensei’s kindness,  I was often held back by my own shyness from pushing myself to insert myself into a conversation and practice speaking. I’ve learned that, truthfully, unless I’m in a situation where I’m forced to speak Japanese, taking initiative by myself is not my strong point. After this realization, I did try to speak out more within our weekly practices. Yet at different points in the semester, I looked to some of my classmates, who participated in volunteer work or clubs where they are forced to speak through the nature of the activity, and felt some regret that I didn’t choose a similar CIP, or always push myself hard enough in the one that I did.

That being said, when deciding on lessons in the beginning of the semester, my goal hadn’t been to do a CIP purely for improving my language skills. I had simply wanted to participate in a traditional art form of Japan, and explore a facet of Japanese culture with which I had little experience. From this respect, I’m happy with my choice. Even though I wish at times I had been more outspoken, I’m grateful to have taken lessons within Iwasaki-sensei’s warm and welcoming classroom.

My advice to future students is to think critically about what sort of experience you want from a CIP, and what skills you wish most to practice or gain. Imagine yourself at the end of the semester: what would you not want to regret? What kind of experience would make you satisfied?

Caitlyn Chung: Kyoto International Manga Museum

For my CIP, I participated at the Kyoto International Manga Museum as a volunteer. The museum, as the name states, holds the largest collection of manga in the city, and is a sort of makeshift library as well where visitors can read the manga that every wall of the building. There’s also changing exhibits every season to highlight a popular series, visiting artist events, and other local activities as well. As a volunteer intern at the museum, my work mostly consisted of helping behind the scenes by organizing the manga (as people tend to misplace them) and assisting visitors at the front desk. I also occasionally translated Japanese to English or Korean for the museum workers when they asked.

I would say the work definitely translated more towards customer service; making sure you’re friendly, answering any questions, and taking the occasional break to relax and read the manga as a visitor than a worker. Regardless of language or culture, the customer service portion remained relatively similar. On the other hand, it was the relationship with the other staff members that greatly differed the most from any past part-time job experience.

Every time I came, I would have to go out of my way to the administration office across the building to say a couple of quick words before going to see my supervisor. After that, whenever another member of the museum and I crossed paths, we would give a sign of acknowledgement (usually a bow from me, or a tilt of a head), and say 「お疲れ様」before moving on to whatever task at hand. The language also changed with who I talked to – obviously with customers and other high-level administration staff members, I would use the politest form of speech, but with my immediate supervisors and other people I met often at the front desk, a hybrid of informal and formal speech was considered the norm. The latter, in my opinion, definitely made it easier to befriend the others – everything felt more natural (from greeting to parting and in between), while saying hello and goodbye to the administration office before and after every shift there felt more like another chore.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is definitely an amazing place and is super cool with thousands and thousands of books collected from as early as the Showa period of Japan (you have to get the staff-only storage places for that!). They also have a ton of resources for people who want to study manga, history, etc., and honestly the staff were so kind and were more than willing to speak to me! They were definitely a highlight of the entire thing, especially Watanabe-san, my immediate supervisor. She was incredibly helpful and did the most to make me feel comfortable throughout the time! However, for those considering volunteering here, I would advise that future students be confident in their Japanese conversation skill. It is a reputable institution that provides entertainment and education for a variety of people throughout the day, and as a member of the staff there, being unable to provide quality service or making mistakes does end up hurting their image (in addition, most of the people there are unable to speak English). It is a great opportunity to use keigo in a real-life setting, so I highly recommend it for those who want to experience a glimpse of the Japanese work environment!

Shannon Mewes: Japanese Calligraphy

For my CIP, I have been taking weekly lessons in shodō, or Japanese calligraphy. I was introduced to my teacher, Asakusa-sensei, by a classmate’s host mother. Every Wednesday after lunch, I take the bus to Shimogamo Jinja bus stop, then walk a few minutes to Asakusa-sensei’s home where the lessons are held. The classroom is small but comfortable, mostly occupied by a large table and chairs—this was a pleasant surprise, since given what I’d seen of other CIPs related to traditional culture, I’d been bracing myself and my knees for an hour of sitting in seiza. Since I’m the only student with a lesson during my time slot, I’ve been able to interact one-on-one with my sensei far more than I expected, and I’m exceptionally glad to have had that opportunity.
The structure of my lessons is always more or less the same: each week, I determine what it is I want to work on writing (generally 3-5 specific kanji, though we’ve also worked on my hiragana handwriting) and bring a list with me. Asakusa-sensei then demonstrates each character so I have an example of the stroke order, and I practice each one a number of times, with Asakusa-sensei providing input on what to fix and what I did well. In theory, this kind of lesson in a one-on-one situation seems kind of daunting, and at first I was nervous during my lessons due to both my lack of experience and a fear of messing up my Japanese or accidentally being rude by poorly employing honorific language. However, the more I talked to her, the more comfortable I felt during lessons. It also helped that Asakusa-sensei is extremely friendly—overall she reminds me very much of a peppy grandma.
Though I’ve definitely slipped into informal speech from time to time out of habit, on the whole I’ve been able to use and get better at a more formal, less casual way of speaking. This has provided what I think is an important supplement to my Japanese class and the speaking practice I’ve gotten with my host family, since it’s more formal than, say, chatting with my host mom, as well as more natural and conversational than most interactions with professors. Though there are still times that one of us will have to look up a word (for example, I didn’t know the Japanese word for thunder and my attempt to describe it was more awkward than helpful) to keep the conversation alive, I feel that overall my communication ability has increased greatly as a result of these lessons.
Another benefit of my CIP is what comes after each lesson. After my very first lesson, I was surprised and delighted when sensei brought out a cup of tea and a cookie and offered them to me. Though my actual time slot is from 2:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, we ended up chatting over tea until 3:30 or 3:45. This is a weekly ritual; after I’ve finished my calligraphy and cleaned my brushes, sensei will duck into the other room for a few moments and return with a hot cup of tea (in a ceramic cup she made herself, no less!) and a small snack of some sort and we’ll talk for another half an hour or so. I’ve found that during these conversations we talk a lot about what I’m learning in my classes, as well as discussing cultural differences between my background and hers. I feel really fortunate to have this kind of cultural exchange; compared to the other people I interact with in day-to-day life, Asakusa-sensei has far less experience with exchange students, so there’s a much different kind of mutual learning that happens in these conversations.
Entirely secondary to the social and language-related benefits, I’m also very happy to have taken these lessons from an artistic perspective. Part of my initial interest in Japanese calligraphy came from my hobby of English calligraphy, and investigating the differences between the two practices as well as letting shodō influence my English work has been an enlightening experience as well. I also feel that paying such deep and individual attention to writing kanji, including really looking at the radicals that compose them, has given me an added edge when learning kanji in an academic setting. Where before I struggled to remember and make sense of the characters, the intensive work with kanji has functioned much like studying word roots did for me in English; specifically, writing them slowly and with intention and thought has allowed me to pay attention to their pieces and configurations, drawing connections between characters and words that previously seemed unmanageably different.
Both socially and linguistically, I feel that my CIP has really rounded out the rest of my experiences at KCJS. From a more personal standpoint, I am also very grateful for the weekly chance to slow myself down and give something my undivided, almost meditative attention—and then enjoy cultural exchange over a fresh cup of tea.

Xiaolin Lei: Reborn Kyoto Volunteer

For the past 9 weeks I was an active volunteer at the Kyoto based NGO Reborn Kyoto, a non-profit organization conducting philanthropic activities in developing countries to foster women’s financial independence. Since their establishment in 1979, Reborn Kyoto completed successful projects in 7 countries and are now in the process of their 8th project in Rwanda. The organization offers women from ages 18-35 free vocational training in sewing skills and technology and also hires them, after the completion of their training, to produce in-house designed pieces using fabric of donated kimonos from all over Japan. The finished products are sent back to Japan for sale in department stores, Reborn Kyoto’s flagship store and artisan markets to generate revenue. The clothing are very beautiful pieces with much variety, from winter coats to summer dresses for people of all genders and ages.

With zero sewing capability (granted, I did once sew an unwearable skirt), I approached the organization to volunteer my time in the hopes that I can contribute my efforts to a cause I was interested in. As a result, I shared a lot of quality time with around 10-15 local Japanese volunteers, all senior women who have a passion for sewing and participates twice a week to produce pieces for sale in-house. While I cannot sew at all, I enjoyed running small errands for them, completing small tasks, and chit chatting for 2 hours at a time every week. There were many noted differences between the local volunteers and me, like age and locational differences. However, the most memorable realizations and lessons were cultural ones.

Initially I did not know how to best conduct my demeanor in front of the other volunteers who clearly had way more experience living and working than I did. Maybe it was the language and culture barrier, but I found it difficult to start conversation at first. In this situation, it occurred to me that the only culturally appropriate behavior Japanese textbooks ever taught me were cumbersomely long sentences of keigo. So I tried my best to speak as respectfully as I could. My clumsy efforts at keigo (i.e. ending sentences with ~でございます) only drew light laughter from them. They seem rather amused at my proper tone and overly humble word choices. One person kindly informed me that the keigo I was using is best reserved for formal business settings and that I should speak comfortably in front of them. I was grateful for any hints or cues on appropriate conduct and immediately dropped my keigo with them.

From this I realized two things; one is that while Japanese textbooks are very difficult to write, take a lot of skill to perfect and should definitely be lauded for effort, cultural lessons are best learned outside of the classroom. The second thing is the immense complexity of keigo. It is not only learning the set phrases and sentence structures that is vital to navigating the respectful form, but also understanding when and how to utilize it. Keigo is not merely just phrases of respect we need to blindly memorize, like any other cultural lesson from our textbooks, it encompasses very real social interactions that either enables your usage or kills it. My initial conversations with the local volunteers demonstrated precisely that; no matter how much keigo I knew, as long as I was using it in the wrong context, it came off silly and unnecessary. Perhaps the only benefit that came out of this episode was being able to break the ice a little while I sat in a small Japanese style room surrounded by older Japanese women all sewing skillfully.

An additional cultural observation after many weeks of volunteering is the act of ippukukyukei (tea time), or simply in my mind, ocha taimu. Every day at 15:00 someone from the organization (usually the administrative assistant) makes tea, puts out some snacks and gathers everyone for a 10-15 minute break. During this time people quench their appetite with tea and a small snack while chatting with one another about any topic of interest. I missed ippukukyukei for the first few weeks due to schedule conflicts and was offered tea and special snacks on the side to take home. I was treated very kindly by everyone, but always as a guest only. While I did not mind their kindness, I almost found it difficult to refuse the snacks and integrate myself into their team. I could feel that they were paying special attention to take care of me as the foreign guest. Again, I did not want to object to their kindness, but I was surprised by the amount of time it took before they saw me as one of their regular volunteers.

That said, this week, after a little over 2.5 months of volunteering my services, I am happy to announce that I have successfully integrated myself into the volunteer circle by proactively asking to make tea during ocha taimu (I know I am conflating the terms but in my mind they are one and the same). I am extremely pleased with the fact that I am no longer regarded as a guest but a part of the team. Everyone drank the tea I made and said it tasted delicious. Note that by “made” I mean putting in tealeaves, adding hot water to a big teapot, pouring said tea into cups and served to everyone. Whether the tea was actually delicious is besides the point here, I truly think that was their way of showing their gratitude. While this process of insinuating myself into the volunteer team was rather slow and comparatively different to any of my past experiences with institutions and organizations in the U.S, I was content with the baby steps and victories I carved out for myself through this CIP.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time getting to know these local volunteers who I would probably never come into contact with if not for this project. I hope to keep in touch with one of the volunteers, Kuroki-san, who looked out for me from the very beginning and taught me many life lessons, like sewing buttons onto shirts, creative ways of utilizing kansaiben, and many more stories from her life. Like many of my other experiences in Japan, my CIP activity is another example of 一期一会 that I have learned to treasure.

Elizabeth Murillo: Aoi Church and Panda Heart

Aoi Church was not formally my CIP last semester but I was an active member since the time I arrived in Japan last September. I had first thought that being a regular member of the church community was not enough to warrant me labeling it as my CIP but I soon realized that the commitment was far greater than just attending church service. Of course that’s the image people have when they think of church communities. You get together for an hour or two each Sunday, talk a bit about Christ, eat some bread and then go home. It was very much like that for me when I went to church back in the States. However, in Japan, there is a notable emphasis on the community aspect of going to church. Certainly it retains a similar reverent vibe that churches in America have, but I have never been as involved in a church as I have been at Aoi. I do three main activities; I am a regular member of the church and attend all services and related events, I am a member of the church choir and I volunteer at the churches preschool, Panda Heart.

My activities usually started on Friday and ended Sunday evening. I would volunteer with the children on Friday afternoons.  They were really cute and I learned a lot about patience and love and of course more about what Japanese non profits look like.  I became really good friends with a particular child and I always looked forward to the time we spent together at the day care. Saturdays were usually free but sometimes I would have Panda Heart related activities or church outings. Not everyone went to these, but because I was always invited, I always tagged along. On Sundays I would go to church service, sing in the choir, and then stay afterwards for lunch and choir practice. I was usually done by early afternoon but I stayed around in the evening for dinner and evening service. I would speak with the members of the church and go out to places with them and at some point became close friends with many of them. They are bonds I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

Of course being so closely involved in a Japanese community has its fair share of hardships. After I had crossed the line between new exotic gaijin member into actual regularly attending member, there were some things I had to change about myself. I felt like I had to mold myself better into their community and when I failed to do it brought about resentment and misunderstandings. Perhaps that is a point of caution I would like to address about CIP; entering a Japanese community is difficult but once you’re finally in it doesn’t get any easier. I am glad to say that being with everyone at Aoi has changed me for the better and has helped me understand Japanese culture in a new light but it was only after I spent a good amount of time thinking about it.

Being so involved was also a huge time commitment, one that does not mesh well with KCJS’s rigorous schedule. I always had to prioritize and ask myself whether getting my homework done was worth over staying a few extra hours at church. It was a bit difficult to decide, but I always did end up staying and I always did end up not doing my homework or turning it in late. It was something I had decided to do though because I felt like belonging to a community here was more important to me while I studied abroad. It’s different for everyone but I felt deeply that learning Japanese in a classroom was something good but learning Japanese in a real context was more helpful. Although I didn’t  improve all that much I did find something vastly more important. I found motivation to keep on studying Japanese because now I have people I love that I want to speak about anything and everything about.

Japanese communities are tight and can be loving and nurturing once you are in them, but they can also be obligatory and sometimes destructive. But I learned to navigate the waters of a scary territory and came out feeling like I had really gained something. I consider my friends at church to be somewhat of a family to me now and saying goodbye has been straining on both ends.

I realize that many others didn’t come out with this type of experience but I account that to the very nature of CIP and the program. You really have to decide what the most important thing is for you. Neither answer is wrong, although your teachers will probably want you to do your homework, but I felt like I wanted to seize CIP as an opportunity to become a small part of Japan. To be remembered here rather than me doing all the remembering.

I really enjoyed my year at Panda Heart and Aoi Church and will have those memories for years to come

Kim Coombes: Teaching English at Kozmoz Cafe

I recently had to change my CIP due to scheduling conflicts, so now I am teaching English at Kozmoz Café in Momoyama. I have been doing it for a few weeks now and am greatly enjoying it. I am able to engage with Japanese people of all ages. I have the pleasure of teaching classes to adults as well as children. It is amazing to see how dedicated Japanese students are to their studies. As part of the adult’s lesson plan, they must keep a weekly diary and write about one event that occurred. Many of the adult students write pages of information so the teachers can correct them! Watching how hard Japanese students study has given me motivation to work harder at my Japanese studies.
Aside from having the pleasure of meeting Japanese people, as a teacher, my Japanese is constantly being reinforced by the lessons. Both children and adult will commonly repeat a question I asked them in English, in Japanese to me to confirm they understand. By doing this I get to hear their Japanese as well as check their understanding. After lessons I am able to speak with Japanese people and practice my Japanese a bit.
Teaching English has helped me feel more comfortable within Japanese society because I am constantly engaging with Japanese people. As a shy person, I have been able to use my classes as a way to engage Japanese people. By finding out what is popular and interesting to them, I am able to talk to more students at Doshisha and can hold more interesting and relatable conversations in Japanese.
Kozmoz Cafe is a non-profit organization and I really enjoying volunteering there. They run food banks as well as teach English classes. They also hold parties and events for their students. If there is ever any interest in volunteering there feel free to email me!








Elizabeth Murillo: Practicing English with High School Students in Japan

For my CIP I choose to be an English assistant at Kyoto Bunkyo, a high school/middle school combination school. Most of the students I interacted with were high school students but on the occasional tours around the school I was able to interact with the middle school students as well. I have only been able to attend my CIP four times this semester, and have only interacted with two students, but I learned a great deal about the nature of English learning in Japan. English can seem pretty daunting to nonnative students of English, alongside the complexities that exist within the English language, the cultural aspects of language don’t always translate. In order to surpass these cultural barriers, I believe that the student has to have some experience interacting with the culture that speaks the language. It wasn’t surprising when I realized that the only students that approached me were ones that already had prior experience living in a foreign country. Both students I had conversations with studied abroad in Australia and had achieved a certain level of linguistic and cultural proficiency. These students were inherently outgoing and inquisitive and were eager to talk to me.  We talked about very mundane topics, such as school, music and boys, and I felt very relaxed around both students. However my interaction with the rest of the students present in the classroom was very scarce. The first time I visited the school the teacher urged the students to try to talk to me but the effort was futile and at some point I solely focused on the students that I met. They were so excited to befriend me that we even went out together and interacted with each other in a setting outside of school to practice using practical English. The student’s commitment to speaking only English was very commendable but it was due partly because of their great interest in Western culture. One of my students loved hip hop dancing and showed me pictures of her in Australia dancing. My other student loved Disney and Western music. It was fairly easy to keep the English conversation flowing between us. Apart from observing how these students interest in English helped motivate them throughout my talks with them I was also able to observe how the primary education system in Japan looked like. I was given the impression that learning English was not really something the students were interested in but was something that only people with a keen interest were able to achieve. Perhaps the same could be said about Japanese. I haven’t gone enough to be able to observe more than this.