Stephanie Contreras: Kyoto Amateur Dance Club

I definitely planned on getting involved with a dance group while studying in Kyoto because I love dancing and I wanted to learn how a country like Japan practices an activity that can get very physical and personal. This is why I decided to join Kyoto University’s Amateur Dance Club. Every Saturday from 10am – 1:00pm, I took the Karasuma line and got off at Karasuma Oike station where I walked for a couple of minutes to the Kyoto Wings Center. Once I arrived I would head towards a small room where all the other ladies were changing into their practice clothes. One thing that surprised me was how comfortable they were changing in front of an outsider. They were not shy at all and immediately started asking me to call them by their first names and encouraged me to add –tyan. They were so kind and welcoming from the very beginning and I am so grateful to have been a part of their group.

One big difference during practice is that girls and boys practice away from each other. This is odd considering it is ballroom dance where it is essential for partners to move according to each others movements. In America, both women and men practice with each other from the very beginning. The only time they do not practice together is when learning techniques like proper posture and foot work, but when learning choreography you usually practice with each other. During practice, half of the room was used by the ladies to practice the choreography while the boys were on the other side practicing their own choreography. After everyone had memorized their choreography we began practicing together. In my opinion, this was very difficult. For example, if I made a mistake, my partner would not be able to help me because he does not know what I am suppose to be doing. Every time either one of us made a mistake, we had to ask our senpai where to place our feet when dancing with each other. It just seems to cause more trouble practicing separately.

Other than this, everything was so much fun. I learned several dances like the waltz, rumba, samba, and modern dance. I met new people, made new friends, and practiced casual speech. My CIP has definitely been one of my greatest experiences while studying here in Japan.





私は立命館大学のクレフというアカペラサークルに参加しています。毎週一、二回参加するつもりです。このサークルのメンバーは230人いるので、六、七人ずつ小さいグループに分かれています. そのグループで練習をすることもあれば、みんなで練習する時もあるみたいです。一回2時間から4時間練習します。長い練習時間の間には歌うだけではなく、いろいろなことを話したりします。今日の練習は5時間でしたけど、二時間ぐらい大学生活や恋の話をしました。でも歌うときはちゃんと歌います。グループによって、歌のタイプが違います。例えば一つのグループは子供やお年寄りに喜んでもらえる歌を歌っていて、ほかのグループは外国語の曲だけ歌います。これからもいろいろな学生と歌ったり遊んだりするのを楽しみにしています。




Emily Scoble: Kyoto Cooking Circle and KLEXON

This semester I participated in two CIPs, the Kyoto Cooking Circle and KLEXON, an English conversation circle.   The Kyoto Cooking Circle unfortunately only meets once a month, but I was able to attend a few meetings, cook some delicious food and have interesting conversations with the people I have met there.  KLEXON meets almost every week, and a volunteer session involves speaking with people both one-on-one as well as in small group settings.  In participating in both of my CIPs, I interacted with many people who spoke Japanese but were also looking to practice English, or other foreign languages, so it was interesting to be able to easily see the differences in interactions in both English and Japanese.

At a typical Kyoto Cooking Circle meeting, members are divided into tables where we first listen to a teacher’s instruction on how to prepare the entire meal.  This explanation is usually a fairly formal speech style, but members are able to interject with questions or comments if needed.   When we return to our tables, the conversation topics are usually fairly casual, as we talk about ourselves and cook the meal together and, unless the members recognize each other from a previous meeting and speak more casually, desu/masu style is usually used.  Conversation over the meal is usually fun and it is a great feeling to enjoy a meal that everyone has helped to prepare.  After everyone is finished, there is a “self-introduction” time, something that is very Japanese.  Even if we may have been speaking casually before, these self-introductions are usually pretty formal, as well as formulaic in their content and expressions.  Still, it is always interesting to hear about people’s occupations or hobbies, in addition to the names of people from different tables, before everyone cleans up the kitchen together.

KLEXON has also been an interesting experience, and I have had the opportunity to speak to many different people, both college students and young workers.  While speaking one-on-one has primarily been in English, many of my group sessions have used Japanese to converse.  It has been a good experience to speaking in-depth about various topics with a wide variety of people, and I have learned a good deal about people’s personal experiences, Japanese culture or even recommended spots around Kyoto.  All in all, my CIPs have afforded me the opportunity to meet many different people, with some good conversations and meals as well.

Katsumi Morales: Kyudo

There are several reasons that I am sad to see this Spring semester come to an end, and leaving my CIP behind is among the top few. My experience at the 道場, practicing 弓道 hasn’t been the most social or life-changing, but I am extremely grateful for having been given the opportunity to be taught by a proper instructor and train amongst other Japanese 生徒.

Although there have been countless awkward moments for me, whether due to my own lack of communication skills or due to making a mistake and dropping an arrow, my overall experience has been quite pleasant and I normally leave practice feeling somewhat accomplished. My teachers and fellow students have been very kind to me, and as the months flew by, I felt more and more welcome amongst them.

During my first few weeks at the 道場 back in September, a few foreign travelers came and went, practicing only a few days or weeks before leaving again. I remember 先生 talking about how even 4 months was not enough time to truly learn about 弓道, and I can say that after nearly 8, I still feel I have a long way to go until I can be called even “decent”.

Looking back, I believe there has been a very large difference between how teachers and other students treated those who stayed only a short time, and how I have come to be treated after being around for a much longer time. That is not to say that they treated anyone badly at any point in time, but that after 6 or so months there, I definitely began to feel a change. Despite having few conversations with others, I could sense that they had grown used to seeing me around, grown used to expecting me there. The times I did have conversations with people, they were always very nice and asked me about myself, and about how long I would be staying.

If I compare myself with some of the other students who had attended while I was there, I believe that my being there for a much longer time than the others, spoke of how serious I was about learning and practicing 弓道, as opposed to being there just for an experience in Japan. I got the impression that those who were only there a handful of weeks were really only doing it as a “one time” thing. せっかく日本に居るから. I and Jasmine who practiced with me last semester hope to continue 弓道 after returning to the states, and if possible coming back to Japan to practice again with a teacher. I am not too hopeful about finding a place to practice in the States as of now, but I will definitely keep my eyes peeled. I knew before I began here that I preferred 弓道 to Western archery, especially competitive archery. I had tried it for a year and a half and realized that the more spiritual and wholesome experience of 弓道 fit me better. I have found myself to be quite right in that respect. I am not the kind of person that enjoys sport and competition, but to me at least, 弓道 is something more.

I believe that it was my genuine desire to learn 弓道 as what it is and not as a sport, not as I learned Western archery in the past, that eventually helped change the way others looked at me. Even 先生 changed her attitude towards me bit by bit. Now I feel much more like part of the group of people there every Monday and Thursday. Unfortunately that only makes it harder to leave and I’m sure these last weeks will fly much too quickly for my liking.



スコーブル・エミリー:Kyoto Cooking Circle and KLEXON




Emily Scoble: Taiko at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

This semester I participated in a taiko group, Japanese drumming, based at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.  While a little apprehensive, the group definitely welcomed me, as well as the two other KCJS students that participated along with me this semester.

Although I had participated in my college’s taiko group and had a little experience in playing taiko, I was unsure at first as to how this group would differ in comparison.  The group members, who range from middle school students to adults, made us feel welcome and a part of the group, although there were definitely awkward moments where I was not sure what to say or how best to help.  While we would play together and interact during practice or performances, the group would always make an effort to include us in dinners or other events after performances.  It was strange, at first, to not have many group members in the college age-range, but it was a good experience to leave the university atmosphere and have the chance to interact with people of different ages.   It was also interesting to observe the differences in language between different group members, such as the children who always used casual form, and the very formal interactions that occurred between the group and the people working at the shrine.

While the time spent playing on the drums and interacting with the group members was worthwhile, the lack of a consistent practice schedule, coupled with a large number of performances, meant that I did not get to participate as fully as I would have liked.  Because the other members already had a good grasp of the songs, there were multi-week gaps between practices so it was harder to learn songs and become part of the group.  In addition, even though we were able to perform a song in a few performances, I did not feel very confident; I would have greatly benefited from more practice.   Still, it was nice to feel included and interact with the members of the group and audience and have the unique experience of entering the shrine before each performance.  The group still has one more performance and a year-end party, so I am looking forward to having another opportunity to perform and talk with the members.

Katie Saibara: Taiko

One of the reasons I chose to come to KCJS was the CIP program and the opportunity to further immerse myself into Japanese society that it offers. As a member of my home institution’s taiko drumming club, I knew that I wanted to pursue taiko as my CIP. This semester, along with two other KCJS students, I have been participating in the Kitanotenmangu Taiko Association. Though previous taiko experience is not a prerequisite, it is definitely very valuable; for those who do not have previous experience, I would not recommend this CIP.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts and lack of practice time, I have not been able to integrate as fully as I would like into the taiko association.  Because the practices are few and far between (there have been only two this semester), there is little opportunity not only to learn taiko but also to get to know the other members. Unlike with many student groups, there are no nomikai at which to bond and speak casually. Most of my interaction with the taiko association members has been limited to simple instructions (often given in English) and small talk (for instance, “the momiji is very pretty, isn’t it?”). There is also unfortunately little time before or after practices and performances in which to converse.

The practices are also regimented in such a way as to not provide much time for conversation. The members will roll in individually and after setting up the drums together the leader will typically give a few announcements. Practice usually consists of running through each song in the repertoire once or twice after which everyone (men, women, and children) will assist in putting away the drums. After that, everyone will gather in a circle for more announcements and information regarding upcoming performances. One time, in order to share that he had received a coveted promotion, one of the taiko association members used extremely humble, keigo speech. This was surprising to me as before I had thought of the taiko association as an informal group in which most of the members had known each other for a long time. After this episode, however, I began to realize that when discussing plans and logistical information in regards to taiko, the members always used polite (albeit not as polite as keigo) speech. Whether this is simply a cultural custom or to show their respect for taiko and their activities, I cannot be sure.  When eating dinner together after performances the members will use casual speech when speaking amongst themselves and to us.

But despite the lack of regular contact and difficulty in learning all of their pieces without practicing, the Taiko association has proved to be a welcoming group. As a collegiate player in the U.S., my previous exposure to taiko had led me to view it as a serious musical and performing art led by professionals who have honed their skills over decades of intensive study and practice. The Kitanotenmangu taiko group is quite different. Though they do take on professional gigs, taiko is not the full time profession of any of its members. Yet, in practice, performances, and simply in eating dinner together, their love of taiko and happiness at being able to do what they enjoy is clearly evident despite the language barrier and skill disparity. Before I leave Kyoto, I hope to be able to participate in a performance and be able to bring back what I’ve learned about the taiko community to my college taiko club.