Jerome Molasky: EMBG and DESA

As I said in my previous blog, it has been very difficult to have a regular CIP activity this semester due to the fact that school was not actually in session the majority of the time. I have been to my CIP from last semester, the Kyoto Daigaku music circle EMBG, once this entire semester (I had another chance to go as well, but I happened to be sick that day). They are starting again next week, so I will probably go again and with any luck it won’t be too awkward.

Because of the limited activities of EMBG this semester I have been participating in some of the activities of DESA, a cultural exchange circle at Doshisha. The only problem is that DESA does not have activities every week, leaving me with nothing to do. The several events I have gone to with DESA, including a nomikai and a video game party, have been very fun and I have had opportunities to talk to Japanese students, but nevertheless feeling like a true member of the group has been a bit difficult due to the lack of regular meeting times.

I think that in the future it might benefit KCJS to stress the high likelihood that daigaku circles might not be the best idea for second semester (especially to full year students like myself who may want, as I did, to continue their CIP from the first semester) because of the discrepancy between the American and Japanese school years. If I had known this at the beginning of this semester I may well have looked for a different CIP early on, rather than sticking it out and settling with a slightly less than rewarding experience.

Yeuting Wang: Kyudo & Taiko

For my CIP, I had originally wanted to do Kendo, since I had just started learning at BU. However, I quickly realized that it would be too difficult, because most practices- at circles and dojos would be too high-level for me. So, instead, I decided to do a different martial art, Kyudo, and Taiko.

One of my friends from a previous KCJS semester (whom I did Kendo with at BU) highly recommended Kyudo, so I decided to try it out The atmosphere of the dojo was very relaxed and it seemed quite common for them to accept and teach beginners, so overall it seemed much more welcoming and comfortable. Since it is a traditional martial art, I was expecting it to be very intense and intimidating, however it was very much the opposite. The sensei is very patient and individually attentive. Although it is a “practice” it really seems more like a lesson.

In addition to Kyudo, I also joined a Taiko group that practices at Kitano Tenmangu. Since the practices aren’t regular, it is sometimes difficult to fit it into my schedule, but the practices are very exciting and fun- despite the fact that they are also very long. The first practice I participated in lasted from about 5:30PM to about 11PM. The practice time included preparation/clean up time- taking out the drums and putting them away, and also dinner time. The actual practice was very enjoyable. I don’t have much experience with Taiko, so picking up the pieces is difficult, but the group members are all very energetic (even if they are a little bit older), enthusiastic and eager to help.

In terms of becoming part of a community- feeling like part of a group, I guess Kyudo isn’t necessarily the best way. However, if you want to take private lessons and are interested in learning Kyudo, then this is a great choice. Because everyone is in the same boat, aiming towards the same goal, you feel more part of the team, rather than an outsider looking in. In addition, the dinner afterwards is a good opportunity to socialize with other members. Taiko, however is great. Everyone practicing together, and eating together afterwards is a nice way to meet people and immerse yourself into a genuine Japanese community.

In comparison to the school activities I was doing at BU, the Taiko and Kyudo were significantly harder to actually get involved in. Initially, it was kind of a shock for me to not have all these club responsibilities and leadership positions. Because of the short amount of time that I am here- just one semester, it’s really difficult to do all the activities I want to the extent I want. In addition to that, just by being in a completely different environment with significantly different societal rules and norms, fitting in and feeling comfortable in a group is a challenge in itself.

And just as a side-note, for any future students interested in doing Kendo, there is a practice held at Kyoto Fucho Center every Monday and Friday from 7-8PM. I’ve gone a couple of times, it’s considered to be a recreational practice and it’s not actually at a dojo. People who practice there are all very high level (I think the lowest rank is 5-dan), but they’re all very nice people and very enthusiastic about Kendo and teaching Kendo. So, it is a great opportunity to learn, if you’re not intimidated by the level difference. It’s 100yen every week.

Calum Galt: DESA/Gradations

This semester I participated in both Doshisha’s exchange student group DESA and the LGBT circle Gradations that I joined last semester and was unable to continue for most of the semester due to the Japanese students being on break. Both circles were purely social circles which meant I was able to participate in a variety of activities, ranging from the obligatory drinking parties to mountain climbing and sightseeing, while forging and maintaining relationships with many Japanese students.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had with my two circles have been nomikais, or drinking parties. I found that the underlying purpose of drinking in Japan is fundamentally different from that in America, at least among the younger student population. In America I get the impression that many people drink purely for the sake of being intoxicated, probably the result of a puritanically based culture that never really came up with a healthy way of integrating alcohol into the social sphere. In Japan, however, alcohol is used in a different way, more as a tool to mediate and deepen  relationships between friends as well as maintain relationships with friends you rarely get to see. It also allows one to escape the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable to talk about or talk openly about how one feels, creating a much-needed pressure release valve of sorts for drinkers. I’ve been lucky enough to have conversations about love, life and worries for the future with my Japanese friends over drinking, which definitely made our relationships feel more meaningful. I’ve found that my relationships in Japan were strengthened by time spent drinking with good friends, of course with moderation, and I’m very glad to have gained another cultural perspective on alcohol culture. That being said, of course I realize that many of the things I said above about Japan’s drinking culture could just as easily be said about American culture, and that not all Americans drink simply for drinking’s sake; I just think that in Japan alcohol’s role as a social lubricant takes on a deeper meaning.

Of course I had many more valuable experiences outside of drinking. With DESA I was motivated to see and experience parts of Kyoto and Kansai at large that I may not have gone to by myself; I definitely benefited from having a circle of locals who knew where to go, and when. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my favorite events was climbing Mt. Daimonji at night and seeing the best view of Kyoto from above, but we also explored Osaka and saw sumo, saw the yearly burning of the hills above Nara (a beautiful and very hot festival whose original purpose is vague), and sightseeing around Arashiyama in Kyoto.

As for Gradations, my LGBT student group, I had very little time with them this semester due to the break for Japanese students, but what little time I had was much better than last semester. There were more new members, and a new president, which maybe contributed to me feeling a bit less like an intruder on someone else’s club. Our first outing was an all-you-can-eat party at a ninja-themed desert restaurant followed by ping-pong and karaoke, an interesting choice for an event but one that definitely made me feel like I was a normal member of the group. The one regret I do have about Gradations is that I don’t feel as though I’ve gained much of a perspective on what it’s like for Japanese LGBT youth. We never really talked about what it was like being a sexual minority in Japan, and the overwhelming impression that I got was that most people were closeted and unwilling or unable to come out, understandable given the sometimes oppressively heteronormative culture of Japan. I wish we could have been a bit more than just a social club and maybe talked about what it meant to us to be part of such a marginalized community. Despite this, my experiences with Gradations this semester have been much more enjoyable than last semester.

My CIP experience has been somewhat inconsistent, as my CIP last semester was less than satisfactory and I was limited by students being on break for most of this semester, but it was still a valuable experience that encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and extend ties with people I wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with in America. I’m glad to have been given this opportunity.



Kamuela Lau: English Assistant, Kaiseichuu, Klexon

I have chosen to be an English teaching assistant as my main CIP for this semester. Due to the discrepancy between the American academic calendar and the Japanese academic calendar, I was unable to continue volunteering at Kaisei Junior High School, and thus I joined an English-conversation circle (club) in Kyoto called Klexon.

I went to Kaisei five times. The first time, I felt that the class period was quite long, and by the last time, the it seemed that the class went by extremely fast. The most rewarding aspect of this experience was the conversations I had with the students; although during the class period, I mainly spoke English, before the class (during their lunch break), I spoke and shared my experiences with them in Japanese.

Interestingly, the Japanese students learning English in a classroom setting appear to have similar difficulties as English speakers learning Japanese. For example, verbs like ageru, morau and kureru, which all have a deictic fuction often marked by a preposition in English, are often difficult for students learning Japanese. Likewise, the students in the class appeared to have trouble with the prepositions in English.

I have only gone to Klexon twice, but I have already found it to be a good experience. The Japanese people in the circle are all there to improve their English ability, and thus they are very open with foreigners, and are happy to make new friends. For example, after the first meeting, I was invited to get some food with some of the other members.


Melody Wu: Kyoto Municipal Zoo volunteer, Kitanotenmangu taiko group

During my time at KCJS, I chose to participate in two CIP activities, which was possible because taiko meetings are infrequent (2-4x a month). Besides living with a host family, CIP was pretty much the only opportunity for me to interact with regular Japanese people. I have definitely learned a lot from my CIP experiences, but they have rarely served as a gateway to strong friendships with Kyoto-ites. This is mainly because attendees change at every meeting. Still, I will try my best to maintain a relationship with the other volunteers and taiko players when I leave Japan.

Before I came to Japan, I was more excited about the CIP part of the program than I was about the classes. I had this grand vision of learning to ride horses (possibly even 流鏑馬), taking kyudo and taiko lessons, and cooking Japanese cuisine on a weekly basis. Well, none of that happened. I wasn’t at an advanced enough level to join the local horseback riding clubs, which also started around 6 or 7 am, and money proved a limiting factor in taking group and private lessons. However, I knew I wanted to work with animals and I wanted/needed some sort of exercise, so I talked it over with my Japanese teacher. She managed to find the zoo and taiko opportunities within minutes, and it went on from there.

I don’t regret my CIP choices. A piece of advice for future KCJS students:  things are bound to be awkward the first few times, but if it still isn’t going well after a month or so, start looking for a new activity! In any case, I greatly appreciate my chance to interact with Japanese children at the petting zoo and playing taiko at a shrine. I was able to practice my Japanese and learn more about the local people and culture in environments that the classroom cannot match. The one good friend I made, I met through volunteering at the zoo. She is an older retired woman, and we visit famous locations (Kinkakuji, Nijo Castle at night) and have meals together. I also added a fellow taiko player on Facebook, so staying in touch with her will be easy.

However, I sometimes dreaded going to CIP activities because of the chance that I will become stressed. One semester is an extremely short time to learn something new in a foreign country, so if you intend on joining a “traditional arts” group, it is best to continue with what you already know. (Lessons would be different, I think.) For instance, while taiko is fun after I manage to get “into the zone,” I am awful compared to the two other KCJS students, who have previous experience. There is supposed to be a performance sometime in April, but I would rather not be in it… Also, because taiko meets so infrequently and not everybody shows up every time, it is very hard to make friends. Most of the members are older, too. I have gone to event, including dinners, but I still feel like a guest rather than a member.

The zoo is alright when I can rely on route memorization, but it becomes harder when I can’t understand guests’ questions. The experience is teaching me to be more assertive in saying no, as I was scolded for helping someone take a picture. It’s a long learning process, but when I finally do something well, it’s extremely rewarding. It’s also hard to make friends here because different people show up each time and everybody seems to have places to go afterward. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try. You should start by writing down everyone’s.

Hopefully, volunteering at the zoo will prove useful to have the connections when I start my thesis research.  My last piece of advice: if you want to write a Japan-related thesis, start networking during KCJS.

Sandy Lee: Nico Nico Tomato Volunteer + DESA

This semester I participated in primarily two CIP activities: volunteering at Kyoto University Hospital with the Nico Nico Tomato group which supports hospitalized children by creating crafts and fundraising activities; and I participated in the activities held by Doshisha Exchange Student Association (DESA).

The members of the Nico Nico Tomato group are primarily comprised of thirty to fifty year old women. Because of that composition, I learned a little more about the lives of housewives. Reading from academic text about modern Japanese life styles, I have learned that in Japanese culture, after females get married, they become full time housewives, with the primary role of taking care of the family and raising children. In other words, children in Japan are spoiled with love from mothers. Volunteering with eight to ten female volunteers, I get to see a part of how loved Japanese children may be through the time consuming and heartfelt crafts that these female volunteers design and craft. Each craft takes a lot of time and effort to create, and although the children whose age are young may only appreciate the craft for a minute or two, as part of the crafting team, I can feel the amount of love poured into making the craft. From this volunteer experience, I was able to experience how the life of a housewife might be outside of the family. The female volunteers spent about three days a week volunteering and spend a lot of time together, as if that is their equivalent of a college club. The only difference between this group and an actual college group is the members’ use of formal language. While members uses formal speech and often utilize the Kansai keigo “haru”, the most senior member of the group uses Kansai dialect in her speech. As a study abroad student, I often do not understand what they are speaking of and sometimes do not have interest or any comments on their personal lives. However, they are very interested in the student abroad students and often ask questions regarding other countries.

Joining DESA has definitely been a great experience. DESA has events every week, so I was able to go explore Kyoto or have dinner with some Japanese students along with other students who are on study abroad. I have met some really nice students from Stanford University, and some really friendly Doshisha students. DESA normally offers 500yen discounts to study abroad or exchange students, so it may be a good deal some time. On the other hand, I think it is important to invite the Japanese students to have dinner or lunch once in a while because the more you invite them to events, the more likely it is that they invite you to their hangouts. My most memorable trips have been the Nara Mountain Night Fire trip and Takoyaki party that was held by some members of DESA. Facebook is also really helpful to invite people to events without directly asking them to join in your event. Most members are also willing to respond to you in Japanese if you decide to speak to them in Japanese. I think it is possible to become really good friends with some members of DESA, but because many Doshisha students are away during KCJS Spring semester, and because I have been busy with a lot of summer applications this Spring, I was not able to attend all of the DESA events as of yet. However, I cannot think of any negative aspects to joining the group except for the fact that if it might cost some money every week. Comparing this experience to my volunteer group, DESA members do not question how life is in other countries because I think they are more interested in the individual than the works of other countries because such things can easily be searched online.


Kevin Terusaki: DESA (Doshisha Exchange Student Association)

After participating in a street dance circle at Kyoto University for the first couple of months, I eventually had to pick a new CIP activity due to the street dance circle’s one month break. During that time I also attended many of the events held by DESA, the Doshisha Exchange Student Association, and decided that this would be my new CIP. Many of the students in DESA are exchange students which may be discouraging to some who really want to improve their Japanese, but there are many Japanese students that are interested in meeting students from other countries as well.

DESA has hosted a variety of events including watching a Sumo wrestling tournament in Osaka, a food and video game night, going to see eerie demons at the Setsubun festival, and eating all you can eat shabu shabu at a restaurant served by ninjas. Besides the official DESA events, there were many opportunities to hang out with DESA members like random hikes, dinners, etc.

Every event was a great opportunity to practice Japanese and learn about Japanese culture that you normally wouldn’t learn in the classroom. For example, in the Kansai region it is popular to perform boke (playing dumb) and tsukkomi (pointing out mistakes), a comedic art that comes from manzai. This was a great way to learn about Japanese humor, which at times, I do not understand at all. I’ll admit that performing jokes in another language is quite difficult, but it is entertaining despite the challenge.

Compared to egoistic dancers, the street dance circle, DESA was more welcoming with a laid-back ambiance. Most likely due to the structure of egoistic dancers, it was difficult to interact with other people who danced different styles. I mainly interacted with those who practiced popping and locking. There also was definitely a senpai-kouhai relationship amongst some group members. As a new member in a group, it was hard to connect with certain people.

Overall, DESA has been a great opportunity to not only make new friends, but to experience and learn various aspects of Japanese culture. It’s unfortunate that there is only a month left to spend in Japan, but I hope I will have more opportunities to hang out with DESA members before the semester ends.

Liu Yi: Japanese Calligraphy (Shodo) and DESA

Perhaps the best way to understand society is to be a part of it. Certainly, my experiences taking Japanese calligraphy (shodo) classes and participating in the Doshisha Exchange Students Association (DESA) were an integral part of my stay in Kyoto. In particular, taking part in these two different activities gave me different perspectives of the society that I eventually became a part of, albeit for a fleeting moment.

My initial decision to learn shodo was motivated by my desire to learn how to relax, focus, and achieve a semblance of serenity. Given my lack of background in shodo, that was the most I could ask to achieve within the short three months I had in Kyoto. Certainly, I have gained some insight on how to achieve these goals. Far from being a master calligrapher, I can say that this experience has benefitted me greatly in my own personal development.

What most interested me, however, was the social interaction that occurred at the shodo classes. My class, which is structured for adults, followed right after a session conducted for children. On certain occasions, I entered class early and, as a result, was gifted the opportunity to see teacher-student relations between the teacher and students of various age groups. Also, given that the adult class was the last class of the day, I was able to observe group dynamics in action during the packing-up process. Also, the usage of varying language forms, such as keigo and plain form, together with the varying involvement of students in the packing-up process, reflected the steep levels of hierarchy and social position embedded in Japanese society, though in a microcosm of a relaxed calligraphy class setting. For example, at the end of each class, the only other male student, who was an elderly man, would pack his equipment and leave straightaway while the rest of the students (including myself) helped to clean up the room. It was an intriguing insight as it reflected unsaid gender roles: men (especially older men) could be excused for leaving while the women cleaned up the area. Although integrating into Japanese society was a major goal of CIP (which, fortunately, I did to some extent by participating in group activities), it was this outside-in perspective that I have found most intriguing and precious.

DESA, too, was an opportunity to immerse into Japanese culture, though in a largely different manner compared to shodo class. Comprised of Doshisha University students who sought to further cultural exchange opportunities with foreign students, DESA succeeded in its goal and the activities organized by them certainly enriched my stay in Kyoto. Other than the all-too-typical nomikai, DESA-organized events, including a trip to Osaka and other recreational activities, provided ample opportunity for KCJS and other foreign students to bond with the Japanese students. Specifically, the trip to Osaka was exceptionally fun as we watched sumo wrestling and toured Osaka with the students as our guides! Given that we were hanging out with Japanese students, involvement in the community was more proactive through DESA as compared to shodo, for foreign students had to actively engage and respond in conversations with our DESA peers.

More importantly, the interactions with DESA students gave me an opportunity to understand the importance some of them place on learning English whilst providing me with an insight into their worldviews. I remember vividly an exchange I had with a Japanese second year university student who lamented on his less-than-perfect English capacity. He saw fluency in English as a key to the world, opening doors to different cultures and societies. Inadvertently, I ended up promoting study abroad as the best way to learn both the language, as well as the culture, of a particular place. Their perspectives on university, job-hunting, and the corporate world were certainly precious in adding to my understanding of Japanese society. Not to mention the least, the chance to practice Japanese with DESA students certainly was much appreciated, for casual forms of speech were more often used as compared to the shodo classroom and, from time to time, host-family conversations.

The perspectives I have learnt about Japanese society and the opportunity to practice conversational Japanese are among the most cherished takeaways I have from KCJS. Indeed, without the experiences at shodo and DESA, my stay in Kyoto might have been somewhat less enriching.

Yutong Zhang: Nishijin Textile Industrial Association

Certainly, there are many benefits of volunteering at Nishijin Textile Industrial Association. However, for me, the opportunity of working with Japanese people closely is the most precious one. Japanese people are famous for their prudent and serious attitude at work, but I did not really understand what this attitude means until I started my CIP at Nishijin.

On my first day at Nishijin, I started to learn how to wrap merchandise for customers. At first, I was surprised because my senpai insisted on teaching me a really complicated method of wrapping. Later on I realized that this job is much more difficult than I thought. Wrapping is not merely an extra service, but a way to convey a message, a way to show all our respect and acknowledge to our customers.  From choosing the correct paper in accordance to the size of the box to finishing the whole process by pasting a Nishijin tape at the right place, it took me around 3 hours to remember all the steps and be able to somehow cover the box with wrapping paper. However, when the senpai finally told me that I am ok with wrapping, it was after 2 months of working there even though I used a lot of time to practice in my spare time.

After I know how hard it is to wrap a small box, I feel I owe a sincere “arigatougozaimasu” to all the salesclerk who wrapped their products for me. No matter it is wrapping a small gift or developing the washlet, I believe the reason why Japan is such an developed and convenient country is because of this attitude. Perhaps, the trivial and repetitious work like wrapping is also a way of cultivating one’s self.

Leila Lin: Kyudo

This semester I continued to practice kyudo with Kawaguchi Sensei at the Budou

center one to two times per week. Unlike the first few months, the sensei does not
come to supervise me as often. What happens usually is I would practice by myself
for one or two sessions, and then Sensei comes over and corrects one small posture,
and then I continue to practice for a few sessions focusing on correcting that one
posture until Sensei comes to correct another small posture. This may sound
incredibly boring but for the archer herself every shot is a brand new cycle of self-
examination and so it was never boring for me.

Kyudo is not a group sport and people like to be left alone especially during practice,
which makes perfect sense, so I only rarely interact with people other than Sensei.
My interaction with Sensei, however, varies session to session but sometimes is
quite a lot. We have talked about everything from her family to knitting to my class
project related to kyudo. I definitely do not always understand 100% of what Sensei
says, but luckily kyudo is not something that requires one to understand 100%
verbally. I have, however, gotten involved in a few “Changing Room Chats” but never anything very deep because most of time I don’t understand what they are talking about. Instead I just made it an opportunity to observe the way female acquaintances communicate with one another.

As to advices, kyudo is definitely not a workout or a very social activity but what
you get out of it is a deep sense of connection to Japanese tradition. Many people
began practicing kyudo for its relationship with Zen. But what seems to be the
common consensus is that you don’t usually get to think about that until you’ve
perfected your skills, which takes years and years and years. At this early stage, you
just get used to simply follow the Sensei and not question. This sounds like a very
negative thing, and of course if you have a question the Sensei will always answer,
but the chance is that because your skill is so horrible at this point that even you
understand the idea of what she says you would not be able to put it into practice, so
you might as well focus on the actual skills first.