Uriel Doddy – Kyūdō

For my CIP, I took kyūdō lessons at the Kyoto City Budō Center. Kyūdō is a very unique and interesting sport (quite different from western archery) with a pretty steep learning curve, and because most people in the dojo speak little English, I would imagine it would be a bit difficult for someone without a fair amount of conversation experience in Japanese.

However, for someone who is patient and passionate, the language barrier shouldn’t stop you from trying it. The instructors are very kind and patient and often physically demonstrate the techniques they’re describing, and it’s very rewarding to feel like you learned a traditional Japanese sport in Japanese. It gave me a lot of valuable firsthand experience in a new context, and was a true highlight of my semester.

Phillip Hicks: Pacorn Tennis Circle

For my semester in Kyoto, I played tennis as part of the Pacorn tennis circle. The group would meet every day except for Wednesday, and would play on several courts at a large tennis center. On average, 30 people would attend, being anywhere from 18 to 60 years old with varying skill levels. Each session had different groups of people, however there were a few regulars who I got to know during my time in Pacorn. Each practice started with a warm-up, usually with four to six people on a court, and would include groundstrokes, serves, and volleys. After everyone was ready, we would start a set of doubles or a baseline game.

My first practice started off a bit rocky, however as the day progressed, I found that everyone was very friendly and didn’t worry too much about honorifics or social hierarchies. Instead, everyone just wanted to hit and have a good time. This attitude remained the same for my other practices, with the club members being eager to hit and talk during the breaks.

Playing tennis in Japan was very similar to playing in the US, with many of the words and drills being identical. In addition, since many of the other members who I hit with were around my age, our playing styles were also quite close. On the other hand, the signal for “out” in Japan is what could be considered “in” in the US, leading to some miscommunications. In addition, Japanese tennis players seemed to be more reserved than their American counterparts, with few relying on loud grunts and even fewer expressing anger on the court.

From casually chatting with locals to competitive match play, my CIP experience as part of the Pacorn tennis circle has been fantastic. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to meet new people and get some great exercise.


Cynthia Vu: Figure Skating Club

This semester, I joined Doshisha University’s Figure Skating Club. They have practices one a week from 6:30am-8:30am, but the location of practice changes with the season. From November to March, the practices are held at Kyoto Aquarena; however, from April to October, the rink is turned into a pool. Due to that reason, practices are then moved to Osaka.

I joined a sports club this semester because I wanted to meet more people my age. The club members are really dedicated, so pretty much everyone goes to practice every week. I was honestly surprised by how dedicated they are. Some people live in Osaka, so they wake up at 4 in the morning just to make it to practice on time. Another girl I met lived too far away to make in time for practice, so she sleeps over her friend’s apartment in Kyoto the night before practice. I was considering quitting the club for reasons that will be explained later, but when I saw everyone put their all in the club, I thought it would be rude of me to not do that same. Because of that, I continued with the club.

Another thing I found really interesting was the club dynamic. It was always the first years responsibility to set up the music and clean it up at the end of practice. I offered to help, but they would always politely refuse and say it was the first years’ job. The upperclassmen have other responsibilities, so setting and cleaning up got delegated to the first years. I also think it is a way to make all club members more involved aside from just having fun and skating. The senpai or the experienced members’ responsibility to teach and guide the inexperienced members. Aside from one day, I never saw a coach at practice. The captain would decide how practice would run and lead the drills. There are many experienced members (experienced as in they started skating when they were in elementary school) who would give advice to beginners and teach them new tricks. I really appreciated it when the captain came by to check up on me and helped me with the basics.

I really did enjoy the club and was even able to go watch a figure skating competition. I am actually happy that I continued to go to the club, but I did not get as close as I hoped. I was a total beginner; the only thing I could do was clumsily skate forward. Because of that, every time I practiced, I would do laps around the rink by myself just to learn the basics while the other members were running drills and practicing their programs. Perhaps if I was more skilled, I could have integrated more into their practice. Since everyone is seriously practicing, there are not many opportunities to talk to them. Of course there are some people in the club I am really comfortable with; but at the same time, there is still a disconnect. If you decide to join a sports club, I really recommend joining something you have experience in to help ease the integration.

Zoey Peterson: Volunteer English Teaching

I spent my CIP project volunteering as an assistant English teacher for an informal English class held in the house of my host family once or twice a week. Every Monday and Wednesday, two classes were held and taught by my host mother’s daughter (who is an adult with four children of her own). One class was for 5- and 6-year olds; the other was for 7- and 8-year olds. The teacher’s 3-year-old daughter also participated.

I love children, so an excuse to interact with them was very enjoyable for me. I learned a lot about Japanese and Japanese children as well. For example, for the younger children especially, there was a ‘warming-up’ period of a few weeks where they simply stared at me in astonishment and almost never spoke. The teacher apologized, saying they were just surprised by my presence, and were usually much louder. After two or three weeks, they opened up and started talking to me, asking me questions like “Where are you from? How many people live in America? What’s the weather like there?” They all speak very quickly and in Kansai-ben, so understanding them in the beginning was a little difficult. I learned some of the Kansai-ben particular to Kyoto, such as ‘hin’ to signify negation (dekihin instead of dekinai) or -haru as the slightly politer way to end verbs.

The older children took less time to warm up to me, asking me questions after maybe one or two weeks. The youngest child, the 3-year-old, took almost a month and a half to speak to me at all. She also was reluctant to speak even in my presence. During class, she would instead whisper her answers into her 6-year-old sister’s ear. The only exception was the children of the teacher; her three oldest children had lived in America for a year or so, and she hosts foreign students herself so they were not shy at all. Her 6-year-old daughter talks to me often inside and outside of class, occasionally saying surprisingly advanced or observant things to me.

I was also able to interact with the parents of many students as well, who treated me as another teacher and thanked me after each lesson. Some even sat in on a lesson or two, and spoke to me afterwards to thank me. The parents were very serious about picking up their children on time, and apologized profusely if they were late even a few minutes.

In all, it was a wonderful way to get to know many of the neighborhood children. I even recognize some of them when walking around these days, and the braver ones say hello and wave at me. It was also a great way to pick up more Kansai-ben and improve my own pronunciation. I’d highly recommend volunteering in any way with children to future KCJS students!

Joey Ye: Bouldering

For my CIP this semester, I did bouldering at a local bouldering gym in Shijo. Last semester I did ping pong, but I quickly realized that competitive sports like ping pong do not make great environments for trying to sustain extended conversations since everyone is focusing on the game. Bouldering, on the other hand, is a great way to talk to people and make new friends each time. Besides the fact that I really enjoy bouldering and physical exercise, the environment itself is really great for making conversation. Most of the time I would not have to try myself to initiate conversation as people are usually trying to cheer each other on as they watch others climb. It does not matter how good you are if you are a complete stranger, there will always be someone encouraging you with the occasional “ganba!” and “nice!” Whether or not you make it to the top, once you come down from the wall you can easily go to the person and strike up conversation by thanking them for their encouragement or asking them what they think would be the best way to climb the course.

Vice versa, you can of course flip the scenario and be the one who is cheering others on and initiating conversation that way. However, this of course depends on their receptiveness and if they want to talk to you after they finish the course. Personally, I find it much easier to ask someone who just did a course that you are working on how they did it, and if they have any tips on how to do it. I’ve made most of my friends this way, and once you get used to the interactions after a week or two, it becomes easy to make new friends each time you go. The great part too is that most of these people are regulars, so you will most likely see them each time you go to the gym. From there, it is pretty self explanatory on how to expand the interactions beyond just the bouldering gym if you so wish and ask them out for meals afterwards.

How long you stay is completely up to you, but each time you pay for the gym you are allowed to stay there the whole day. This includes going out to buy a meal, do something else, and coming back at a later time. This was great because the gym is also a little expensive even with the student discount, including the equipment costs of renting shoes and chalk. Usually I would spend up to three to four hours there at a time because it was fun, as long as my muscles did not get too tired or sore. Over the course of the semester, not only have I made a lot of new friends, but I have also improved my bouldering skills and definitely found a new hobby that I will continue to pursue when I go back to the United States.

Justin Yeh: Golf Lessons, Bouldering

I did two activities for my CIP, golf lessons and bouldering. There were no set meeting dates, but for me, both were about once a week occurrences that were markedly different in terms of community interaction.

I took my golf lessons at 72 Golf, an indoor school located at Kawaramachi Imadegawa. There would always be one teacher on post and anywhere from between one to four students. The teacher would rotate among the students, giving them advice on how to improve during each of their one hour lessons.

I’m glad I took the time to learn golf during my time in Kyoto, but in retrospect, golf lessons were probably not the best choice for a CIP. Because students are usually only focused on practicing and improving their swing during the short hour they’re there, our interactions were limited to speaking with our teacher. With that being said, I did get to practice using Japanese in a different setting, and also was able to notice some language nuances like how “ありがとうございます” could be used as a farewell greeting when leaving the school, or even to abruptly end a conversation (in this case, being said from teacher to student).

For bouldering, I would go to a climbing gym at Shijo, and usually stay for anywhere between two to four hours. The community feel here was noticeably different, and I was personally surprised to find how open all the climbers were with each other. It wouldn’t be uncommon at all to find myself being cheered on by strangers with phrases like “頑張,” “うまい,” and “ナイス” while I was in the middle of climbing a more difficult course, and then finding myself greeted at the end by a congratulatory fist bump if I reached the goal.

Among some of the language-related things I found interesting was how the phrase “化け物だ” is used in the exact same way young English-speakers use a similar phrase when acknowledging someone’s level of skill (e.g., “you’re a monster”). Occasionally I would hear this compliment directed toward some of the more experienced climbers that frequented the climbing gym.

Through the bouldering gym, I’ve met a number of Japanese people from a variety of ages and backgrounds, and even got to spend time outside the bouldering gym with those who I were able to click with more. I’ve gotten two or three dinners so far with some of the other climbers, and it does help to be more proactive in inviting others. With some friends, after getting to know them more, they would also start speaking in casual language with me.

Although I was very much a beginner when I started this semester, and received a lot of guidance from other climbers around me, I’ve finally gotten to a level where I can teach newcomers how to climb some of the simpler courses. The friendly environment at the bouldering gym helps to facilitate lots of interactions, and now I usually initiate conversations just as often as they come to me. By both teaching and continuing to be taught, I’ve been able to speak in Japanese quite frequently every time I visit.

All in all, both my CIPs were very much enjoyable, but in terms of a community feel and language practice, I would recommend bouldering for those who don’t mind dealing with sore arms the first few times.

Joey Ye: Ping Pong Circle

For my CIP, I participated in the Ping Pong circle within Doshisha University. The club met twice every week on Wednesdays and Fridays, usually for about three to four hours at a time. Before coming to KCJS, I had only played ping pong recreationally, but I had experience playing tennis before so it was not too difficult to catch on. That being said, even though the circle only played at the club level and were not the official varsity team, they all were really skilled at ping pong.

Coming in, I was nervous not just because of the gap in my ping pong skills, but also because I was not confident in my own Japanese speaking ability. However, I quickly found out that all of the club members were very accepting and friendly no matter their own skill level. Even after classes started again for the Japanese school year, I seemed to be the only new member to join the club as everyone else already knew each other and were at a high skill level. Still, none of them seemed to mind just rallying with me rather than playing actual games and a lot of them gave me tips as well as helped me practice certain shots each time.

In terms of the actual CIP goals, trying to balance speaking Japanese and playing ping pong at the same time was challenging. Not with standing that it took most of my concentration to play ping pong since I’m not too good at it, the Japanese members did not usually talk to much of their own accord since they were focused on the game. Thus, most of the responsibility was on me to initiate conversations and keep them going. The primary purpose of the club is of course ping pong, so I spent a lot of my time either trying to talk while playing, which not many others did, or while I and others around me waited our turns to switch in on a group rotation. Each week followed the same format in terms of how practice proceeded, so once I got the hang of that it became easier to find openings to have conversations.

All in all, the ping pong circle was one of the highlights of my first semester. While the ping pong circle was like any other club sport that you could take part of in America, joining the club was a really easy way to make more Japanese friends, something I highly valued. Though the CIP requirement is to just participate for at least an hour a week, the activity is definitely enjoyable enough that I was more than happy to spend more time just playing or hanging out with the other students. For anyone keen on making more Japanese friends, the CIP activity is a great route to go, and honestly joining more than one circle or club on your own time will be well worth your while as it comes at no cost to you except for some of your free time.

Cynthia Vu: Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuen

Every week, I go to a Ohara’s elementary/middle school to help with their English classes. Every week, the teacher puts me with a different grade level, so I get the opportunity to work with all the students. The school is very tiny with about 7 or 8 students per year, but it makes it much easier to remember the name of the students. During the class, the usual routine starts off my own self-introduction followed by questions from the students. The English teachers are in the room translating what I am saying just in case the students do not understand. Afterwards, the students themselves give their own introduction in English, and then we end the class with some activity the teacher decides to do. The students, contrary to my thought, are always lively and joke around quite a bit. They even play around with their teacher–which is extremely fun to watch and listen. I do not spend much time speaking Japanese, but I do think it is good listening practice since everyone around me speaks Japanese. It is especially fun listening to the different students speak and their style.
I also try to get involved with the students outside of class as well. Before the students start fifth period, which is when the English class starts, they divide into small groups comprised of students of different age to clean the classrooms. The teacher encouraged me to clean with them, so sometimes I find myself wiping the desks or sweeping the floors. I never cleaned my classrooms in school in America, so to see 5th graders vacuum the floor is really impressive. The teachers said the goal is let them become independent and learn how to be responsible–which I think they have definitely achieved.
Because I go to Ohara on Fridays, I end up spectating some special events as well. I got the opportunity to watch Ohara’s 文化祭, in English it translates into cultural festival. It was extremely to watch all their plays and performances; even the 1st and 2nd graders did great in their animal musical. It was just a really fun event where the entire school worked together to create a show for everyone to enjoy. Even the teachers performed in some of the dances and singing. I even watched the 生徒会選挙, which is their student council election. I really enjoyed my time at Ohara. I ended up learning a lot more about Japanese culture than I thought, so it was a really great experience.

Laurie Wang: Doshisha Figure Skating Club

While last semester I was involved with Kyoto University’s Science Communication Group as a second community involvement project, I was notified that the group’s activities would be discontinued the coming spring. For this reason, I decided to look for another CIP, ultimately settling to join the Doshisha Figure Skating club. Practices ran once a week from 6:30-8:30 in the mornings at Kyoto Aquarena and there would be occasional competitions in the Kansai region that the exceptionally skilled members in the club could partake in. Skill levels ranged from beginners to quite advanced skaters who even competed at last year’s national championships.

To be honest, I initially wanted to join the club because I’m a rather avid spectator of the sport, and I also knew that figure skating spectator-ship in Japan was huge compared to in America. Given the small size of Japan and the prevalence of elite skaters in the Kansai region, it wasn’t uncommon for some members to be one or two degrees of connection away from the best of the best skaters in Japan (I even got meet one such skater who happened to be practicing at Aquarena one day, and another one at a skate shop). For that reason, I felt that attending ice sports events in Japan was much more exciting than in America, simply because the community felt more tight knit.

This being my only experience of school sports in Japan, I didn’t know what to expect going in, especially regarding how seniority was structured in a sport as technically demanding as figure skating. It really didn’t seem as if people paid any mind to school year or age within the group, and we referred to each other pretty casually. Still, from the first day, it seemed that there was a small divide from the advanced skaters and the intermediate/beginner skaters, and it was admittedly hard to approach the stronger skaters because it seemed they were seriously practicing advanced programs and to disturb them would be rude. This impression was turned on its head when those same skaters would mess around off-ice and became perfectly nice and approachable, which was a pleasant surprise. What also surprised me was how much dedication some club members put toward the sport. Some would work part time in Kyoto Aquarena, either as teachers or ice resurfacers, and thus got to spend a lot of time in the ice rink.

I’m grateful I got to experience how it is to be in a sports club here as well as attend many types of ice competitions in a nation as passionate about ice sports as Japan. Still, near the end of the semester, it grew more and more difficult to attend all the practices and activities as work from class and independent research piled up, which I admittedly regret now. While last year I was better able to balance two CIP activities, I now think it would’ve been better if I had thought about the time constraints that can limit participation in sports CIP’s (which have scheduled practice times with many people) versus volunteer work CIP’s (where you can have more flexibility in scheduling through talking to your CIP contact). I encourage others to consider the same when choosing their CIP’s.

Yupei Guo: Volunteering at the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, Ritsumeikan University


Discussing the video project proposal with student staff members.

This semester, for my CIP activities, I have continued working at the Kyoto Museum of World Peace affiliated to Ritsumeikan University. Although last semester my responsibilities were more mechanical (such as helping with translation between Chinese, English and Japanese), this semester I have gained more insight into Japanese society through a video campaign project I proposed; specifically, since my project involves interviewing other student staff members of the museum, I was able to observe their interactions with superiors, senpai, and kohai. I was also able to put some of my new knowledge into practice through socializing with them outside of my work hours.

Through my interviews and meetings, I was able to pick up and practice the many complex forms of keigo (honorific speech) depending on the relation between me and the person I was addressing. For example, I noticed that student staff members, even if the same age as me or “senpai”, would use the passive form keigo (sareru) with me – before, I had always assumed that simple -desu/masu would suffice. It took me some time to get it right, but I was finally able to reciprocate. Other forms, such as the complex “sasete-itadaku” and “shite-itadaku”, I learned in my regular language class, yet was given ample opportunities to put into use at my CIP. I also heard “-haru” used quite frequently, as friendly respectful language between colleagues or towards a junior member.

Aside from language, I also gained a more nuanced understanding of Japanese culture. Last week, I was told by Shiotari-san, a student staff member, that initially my superiors were surprised or even shocked at my proposal to make a promotional video, because Japanese people are not used to promoting themselves and instead prefer remaining “behind the scene”. Having lived for quite some time in the United States, where self-promotion is considered a virtue rather than vice, I was astonished. In another instance, I was invited to lunch by Li-san, an international student from China. I happily accepted, yet Li-san insisted that she “really” wanted to have lunch with me. I then learned that for many Japanese people, an invitation to lunch only serve as a perfunctory polite phrase to indicate that a conversation is finished; in China, any invitation to lunch would have to be genuine, otherwise it would be incredibly rude. Without my CIP, I would not have noticed these nuanced differences so quickly.

I started my CIP being extremely nervous and did not even dream that one day I would proudly call myself a member of the Museum community. Heading to a Japanese workplace setting when you are still learning the language can be a stressful experience, yet as long as you remain open-minded, are open to taking risks, take on initiatives and challenges, and are not afraid of making mistakes in daily speech or in your responsibilities, you will get there. My CIP has taught me keigo and nuances of Japanese culture, yet it has also challenged me to work harder and always strive for more, and for that I am grateful.