Will Fitzell:KLEXON

This semester for my CIP (Community Involvement Project), I chose a different route than I did last semester by deciding to join an English conversation circle.  While it did take me awhile to find out about this circle, I have been able to attend this circle’s events three times thus far (and I intend to go to the group’s next two meetings as well before I leave Japan).  The group is open to anybody who wishes to attend, and of course by nature of it being a circle which focuses on English, foreigners are especially more than welcome to attend.  While the group does feel somewhat artificially structured in the sense that it has its activities scheduled rather precisely, it is definitely a worthwhile experience.  The structure of every meeting starts out with a sort of “speed dating” like part where one row of people stay seated and every three minutes or so the person who one is talking to moves one seat over to talk to the next person.  This is a good way to meet people quickly, but always reintroducing oneself can be a bit cumbersome.  In addition, if you have started a great conversation with somebody that you would like to continue, you’re out of luck once people have to rotate.  If you run out things to talk about during this portion of the meeting, you can always fall back onto the default topic which they provide you (in my experience it was usually something like “your favorite childhood food” or something else often pertaining to one’s childhood).  Usually during this part, people often elected to talk about, since I am obviously a foreigner, where I am from, what I am doing in Japan, where I have traveled in Japan, how long I will stay, and any other number of things that come up naturally in the conversation.  After the “speed dating” part of the meeting, for the rest of the time, people are given a random number and all split into these randomly assigned groups.  There are different prompts and topics to talk about, but this is a fun part to talk to people in a group setting about different things.  First everybody introduces themselves one-by-one while the others make comments back about things (I would always mention how I am an Asian studies major and how I really love Lady Gaga, for example).  One of the assigned topics I can recall offhand was about a dream we have had while sleeping (which was a great chance for me to show people how weird my dreams are).  Another was about games we loved to play as children, for example.  At some point, the conversation strays from these assigned topics into a more natural one where you get the chance to better connect with the people you’ve just met.  For me, I have a MUCH easier time expressing my real personality when I use English, so I felt like I could really truly be me, and if somebody didn’t understand something, I could always of course explain it to them in Japanese.  All in all, through Klexon, I did meet a LOT of very cool people, and I even had one or two people ask for my LINE contact information.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of chances to go to these meetings despite the fact that they were held every Tuesday evening, and as a result, I was disappointed in that I feel like I didn’t make any real friends from this circle.  My advice for anybody wishing to join this circle would to be more proactive with that by attending meetings more and also the group’s additional non-meeting events (which I unfortunately was never able to attend).  The meetings themselves were certain enjoyable even though the Tuesday evening meeting time forced me to cancel my host family dinner time every Tuesday.  One unfortunate thing I thought about the meetings was right when the official meeting time ended, nobody stuck around to talk more outside of meetings which I feel would have been valuable for really making connections with other people.  But, at the end of the day, Klexon was a very nice and very convenient circle to join that I would recommend for casual fun and getting to talk to people.

I can’t in all good conscience make any sweeping claims about Japanese culture as a whole from my time at these meetings, but perhaps a few cultural characteristics can be inferred.  Particularly, the most noticeable, to me at least, is how structured and regularized this group is.  It feels much less like a place to make new friends and much more of a place to get in something of an hour of English practice at the same tightly scheduled time every single week.  Meetings start promptly at 7pm every Tuesday evening and end promptly at 8pm.  At that time, everybody leaves the room (a different circle has its event immediately after in the same room), and everybody returns on their merry way, nobody stays after to further pursue conversations.  It ultimately feels like a less natural and more artificially scheduled and carried out sort of affair.  Perhaps this could be a reflection of Japanese people to treat such opportunities as just another time slot to fill versus a time to just relax and talk to new people.

Raynor Mesa: Go Classes

There are many sizes of boards in go. Although the standard is a square of nineteen rows by nineteen rows, you can use even smaller boards; for example, I started learning go on a nine by nine board. Naturally, as you increase the size of the board, the difficulty of playing on it increases: while a nine by nine board has only eighty-one possible places to put a stone, a standard board has a total of 361. Moreover, although the number of places only increases four times, the number of possible plays increases exponentially. A game of go on a standard board has so many potential plays that even the strongest super computers cannot model every possibility.

The sheer number of possibilities is why go is so difficult. It’s said that the best way to learn go is to lose your first fifty games, then keep playing anyway. For me–after taking weekly classes for seven weeks–I was only able to move on from the simple nine by nine board in the last two weeks, after a total of roughly fifteen hours of classes.

Still, going from losing every game on a nine by nine board, to barely winning a match on a thirteen by thirteen board, represents significant progress. More importantly, my Japanese classmates have been a constant source of help. Because I am undoubtedly the most inexperienced member of the class, all of the people I practice against have been invaluable sources of help and experience. Of course, mistakes abound on my part: poorly positioned pieces, missed opportunities, and badly constructed strategies. But my classmates always step in to reassure and assist me–they show me what I could have done better, what to keep in mind for next time, what they themselves had done. For a novice such as myself, such advice in a welcoming environment make my experience that much easier and memorable.

And the complement to their aid when I lose, is their praise when I win (even if rarely). I am by no means skilled at go. But the friendliness and warmth of my classmates means every class I go to is memorable and enjoyable, even on days when I do nothing but lose.

Rachael Kane: Pottery Classes

For my CIP I took pottery classes in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto. This area is known for it’s having a wide variety of pottery shops among its curving back alleys. I attend weekly classes in a studio there. The student body is mostly older, mainly past retirement age. There are two teachers who wander around and help students as they pursue independent projects. Luckily, I had some experience in ceramics, so it was less of a shock to be asked to self-direct my own study.

The people that regularly come to the open studio are local artisans in their own right. This creates a very interesting dynamic within the studio, encouraging collaboration and learning between not only the teachers and the students but amongst the students as well. Despite the incredible quality of the work done in the studio, there is no judgment placed on those who are less skilled.  The congenial atmosphere serves to make visitors feel comfortable, but it does not take long to realize that the uchi/soto dichotomy is still heavily present in the space. Many things are not labeled and procedures, and locations are often not explicitly disclosed. Between the distinctive vocabulary, significant use of kansai-ben and importance of implicit instruction, communication was definitely difficult at points.

The experience was overall, quite rewarding. The environment provided a unique viewpoint in the small artisan community in Kyoto, traditional industries and teacher/student relationships. While I may not have learned very much about pottery, I certainly gained valuable exposure to language usage and culture.

This is a photograph of the first piece I worked on this semester.


Shauna Moore: Volunteering at the Nursery

I understood from the start that my new CIP experience would be largely different from my past one, as I would be engaging an entirely different slew of people. At the nursery, rather than being surrounded mostly by male senpai close to me in age, I am surrounded wholly by women whose ages I am too nervous to determine, who give off an air of adulthood, maternity, and warm indifference. This is different than the tight nervousness I’m accustomed to, in working with or being friends with people who are close to me in age, who seem to be more acutely aware of senpai-kouhai precariousness (when to speak politely, when to expect a foreigner to speak politely, when to be offended if not spoken to politely, how to determine how close a relationship is through the wall of keigo, etc.). In working at the nursery, all of the women treat me with kindness, speaking to me in varying levels of keigo, but all regarding me with mostly the polite dispositions of women who are secure in their seniority, and therefore lacking nervousness to which I had become accustomed.

When I first arrived at the nursery, I had set up a meeting with a teacher days previously, and I was waiting in the small play area outside of the classrooms. I was greeted for several minutes by a host of different teachers or assistants, who all seemed to be of various rank, encouraging me to wait a bit longer until the designated teacher could approach me. This was the first sense I had of a hierarchy within the nursery, as many of these other teachers and assistants seemed to defer to this more mature, casual teacher. When I met her, she spoke to me in keigo, and kindly, but it was predictably without the ‘deferent’ body language that I have come to expect in nervous first acquaintances or greetings exchanged between people whose ranks are unknown to each other, or, of course, in business situations (i.e. lots of bobbing head bows and wide smiles, accompanied with, usually in women, soft and placid voices).

Of course, this was a huge relief to me, in the sense that I immediately understood how to behave and also my basic irrelevance (a sense of irrelevance allows, for me, more freedom in observation, conversation, and general solicitation). This sense of hierarchy didn’t change over time, but did become more complex. For example, the teachers whom I mainly saw during my volunteer hours were some of the younger teachers. They were very casual with each other and spoke to me only rarely (though, not at all out of unkindness—there was more a sense of separate worlds in which we operated. Whenever I attempted to speak with one of them, I was mostly ushered towards the kids, as time together was limited). I seemed to be more in the way of a couple of these teachers at first, and I quickly realized that I should ask as few questions as possible in order to make their jobs as simple as possible.

At first, mostly teachers of a very young age, or women who looked and behaved somewhat like interns, only spoke to me, and usually in English, nervously about my schedule and what types of activities I wanted to do, trying to make me as comfortable as possible. They behaved similarly to me: quietly, relatively unobtrusively, standing in the back of student ranks while smiling in a vaguely dazed manner. But after the first couple of afternoons, I rarely saw those ladies again, I had no idea where they had gone.

This was in contrast to the more mature teachers, who frequently spoke to me and addressed me in the middle of class (much to my surprise), using much more high keigo than some of their younger staff members. This made me wonder how tenacious the use of keigo really was in hierarchical relationships. What did it mean that some teachers spoke to me in keigo, used the humble body language of keigo, and some did not speak to me in keigo at all, let alone with the physical aspect of highly polite speech? In some cases it seemed a case of age, but over time, I gradually began to feel as if the level of politeness actually indicated who thought that I was doing them a favor, and who thought that they were doing me a favor. With some teachers, I seemed to be treated more brusquely (althought not unkindly); I was understood to be a volunteer, but also justifiably someone who was kind of clumsy and likely to interrupt the working pace of the nursery. They seemed to understand that I was basically purposeless, and so left it up to me to make my experience valuable. With other teachers, I was much more gently regarded, as someone who was, perhaps, bestowing English powers upon the tiny ones, or otherwise regarded as someone who could sufficiently occupy them for a short period of time. Like a vaguely unintelligent playmate, which I was, for which one fosters great affection. In these times, keigo was used much more signficantly.

This, though perhaps simplistic in retrospect, seemed a big revelation after weeks of determining what exactly my role was at the nursery. But a “role” is something that mostly one determines for oneself, within certain boundaries. You have to consider the trouble you cause people in almost any position (except for, perhaps, English conversation circles, or others where you remain an esteemed guest). For me, passive observation was more crucial to my growth this semester, but last semester I had a completely different, more relationship-based CIP, and I felt completely different about each of those experiences. When starting a CIP, I think it is best to set vague goals about what you are expecting to “happen” or “receive.” There are a lot of factors, not just “Japanese culture,” positive attitudes, keigo, or one’s inability to assimilate, so nothing is wrong as long as one is actively learning, I think. I think it’s best not to feel the need to revolutionize your entire concept of Japanese culture through the CIP experience, or you will get skewed results, anthropologically and emotionally speaking.

Hopefully this experience at the nursery also allowed me to volunteer there with appropriate humbleness. I was, after all, encroaching upon the kindness of many women during the work day. I felt that I was able to learn significantly through my experience at the nursery, and I encountered various other questions and answers that I would like to explore more experientially throughout my remaining daily life in Japan. Even as I feel sure now that some of my spoken and unspoken assertions are correct within certain limited groups, or in groups composed of individuals with predictable temperaments, I cannot speak with any degree of confidence about the definite social nature of Japanese people. And that is for the best, I think. Still, the process has allowed me to, at the very least, become socially malleable, and that is an important first step in becoming a productive member of society no matter where I might go.

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

Christian De La Paz: Parkour

What have I learned while practicing parkour with the Kansai team? Well there have been some observations that, although obvious to me know, were rather eye opening at the beginning. The first few practices that I attended were all in Osaka so the team members that were around were all originally from there, with an exception of a couple of the more experienced members but we’ll get to that later. I got along great with these members, even though I was a foreigner they welcomed me with open arms and were soon friends as if I were any other Japanese person. Fast forward a couple of weeks and we have our first practice in Kyoto (yes!). The change of place also came with a change of members. The Kyoto members made their appearance at this practice. Interesting thing was that it took me longer to become as close as I had gotten with the Osaka members with the Kyoto ones. It took a lot longer to feel part of the group, to be teased and not just be that foreigner that everybody was polite to because his “Japanese is so good!”. This proved to me that the myth that Osaka people are a lot friendlier than Kyoto people was actually true.

But although there might be varying degrees of friendliness, all Japanese people seem to have something in common, at least in terms of language, which is politeness levels. I had been told by professors that you needed to change the way you speak depending on who you’re talking to, but seeing it in real life is impressive. When teaching they would use ます and です, but the moment they were just talking to you all semblance of politeness would fade away and start calling you おまえ, i.e. go completely down in the politeness scale. As a learner of Japanese I know that this is what I should strive for, but this takes years of practice so even though I’m getting there and am getting used to changing back and forth it’s still one of the greater challenges of this language.

This can only be experienced and not learned. Rather than a classroom, to become proficient and a functional member of society you need to go outside get your hands dirty and fall down a couple of times, just like I have while doing parkour.

Jennifer Wang: Band

This post officially marks the end of my CIP forever! It’s my second semester of CIP, with my first being a member in Doshisha’s piano circle. This semester, I’m the keyboardist for a band – called “ガールバンドパワー(GBP)” – along with Ife (vocalist), Shouko (bassist), Mako (drummer), and Noyuri (backup vocalist).We have a concert planned for the 17th of this month, for which we’re practicing a mix of Ife’s awesome songs and Japanese rock covers. 

Like i mentioned in my previous blog, I really didn’t know what to expect going in; I’ve done large string orchestras before, but never small, garage “rock” bands. Or, more accurately, studio bands since that’s what we rent and practice in. We started off at the nicer but pricey Studio 246 (where out concert will be held) in Shijo, but recently switched to the much smaller but cheaper Studio BURU. Studio BURU is only a 2-minute walk, literally across the street behind the Ryosinkan, and a single person practice room is only 500yen per hour, so I highly recommend it if you’re looking to practice piano (which I do), drums, or any other instrument that catches your interest! We planned to meet every week for an hour, but due to time conflicts, sometimes 2 or 3-hour makeup sessions happen.

As for the practice sessions themselves, they went surprisingly well. They’re a far cry from the stereotypical image of a drama-filled, crazy rock band, which I think is due to the combination of the Japanese members’ easygoing natures, other members’ past band experience, and Ife’s encouraging leadership. Ife dances around and tells us to let loose, but we tend to smile and laugh quietly; me because I’m nervous and the others, I assume, because they have more reserved natures characteristic of many Japanese people. I feel comfortable around everyone, but, just like in piano circle, I don’t feel particularly close to the Japanese members. Seeing Shoko in the hall today was the first time I’ve seen anyone outside of band practice, where we talk about the music 95% of the time. Although I spend more time with them than last semester’s piano circle members, I think it still requires more effort – LINEing regularly, inviting the Japanese person to activities – to become what they consider a friend, as opposed to more easy invitations in the US.

A key difference from piano circle is that I haven’t noticed the senpai-kohai relationship present. I’m not quite sure what year everyone is in and they’ve never asked me for mine, a question that I always got after meeting someone new in piano circle. Since the Japanese members were separate acquaintances of Ife, I’m not sure if the Japanese members know each other’s years in the band. But they’ve been speaking casually to each other from the start, so I assume it’s not as important in a small, less formal group. Just last week, when Noyuri came for the first time, despite initial introductions being in distal (-desu/-masu) form, Mako soon switched over to casual speech. Perhaps being in a band automatically creates what is, technically, an “in-group” of sorts? The lack of senpai-kohai relationships in the band makes me more comfortable interacting with everyone since I don’t have to worry about not fitting into that construct as a third year international student. Last semester in piano circle, I was stuck between being a senpai and a kohai: I’m a third year, but I’m also a study abroad student who’s never participated before in piano (or any) circle.

Overall, this semester I have learned less new aspects of Japanese culture than I have fleshed out what I learned last semester. I joined piano circle last semester purposely to get a feel of Japanese circle and club interactions. But after stressing each week over how to act and where I’d fit in during club activities (being the only third year who did yobikomu during the school festival, while the rest of the upperclassman organized scheduling and made food), I wanted to try the opposite: spending time with a small group of Japanese students in a casual setting. Depending on your personality and/or your goals, my recommendation for a CIP activity would vary. I highly recommend smaller, not as school-affiliated groups if you’re like me, generally more reserved and would like to have a constant few faces rather than often shuffling circle acquaintances. On the other hand, trying circles and clubs are truly a great way to experience a unique and very prominent component of Japanese university life. The circle culture is much stronger than that of clubs in the US and introduces you to students not particularly interested in English/international affairs. To hear more about my experiences last semester, please read that blog post here.

Augustus Chow: Zen

For my CIP this semester, I participated in Zen meditation. Prior to KCJS, my knowledge of Zen was limited to what I had seen in manga or anime or a few brief descriptions from various classes. I remember very clearly hearing in one business class when I was a freshman that many American professionals came to Japan for a couple weeks every year to study Zen and focus their minds by learning the Japanese methods. Honestly, I found the statement questionable and perhaps of a slight orientalist bent, and I can’t say that has changed much from my experience with Zen.

As a practice, even now, I can’t say that I understand Zen or have really gotten very good at it. As such, I also can’t say that I’ve noticed any distinct improvements to my mindset. There are a couple misconceptions about Zen that I would like to clear up. From various media, you see Zen meditation as a monk slapping your shoulder with a stick, if you do anything wrong. I had the impression that getting slapped was a bad thing and that you got slapped if you moved around or weren’t focusing on Zen. So, the first time, I stayed still and endured brutal agony from losing sensation in my lower limbs after an hour and then trying to stand up; the position is not the comfiest. The priest explained to the group later that you’re supposed to bow to the priest to get him to slap you with the stick. Then, after getting slapped, you can readjust your posture—which I took to mean let your blood circulate again. Sure enough, it helps a lot.

The discomfort does seem to be an important aspect of the meditation. Focusing on doing so many difficult to maintain aspects of the meditation at once means your mind has no chance to wander off or fret about something else. So, even if though don’t come out centered and on target for everything in the next week, I do enjoy an hour of not really thinking or worrying about anything, which is actually pretty nice. In KCJS, you build up a lot of stress. While you’re in Kyoto, you’re balancing learning Japanese, various other classes, and trying to experience Japan as much as possible. Sometimes, you where yourself out trying to do it all, and having a CIP where you can just let it all go rather than feel yet another thing to stress out about helps.

As for my interactions with people during Zen, I have to say they’re rather limited. You have an hour to meditate, and you do that in silence. Afterwards, everyone goes to another room for ten minutes and you get to enjoy a small snack and some tea. During that time, there is a little talking, mostly on the part of the priest, he talks to just about everyone briefly, while everyone waits their turn for the snack and green tea. When everyone is done, the priest escorts you out of the temple and ushers you home. I haven’t experienced that much in terms of the same people showing up. A couple people show up fairly regularly, but I’d say the vast majority show up once and you never see them again. From what I understood of many conversations I’ve overheard, a lot of people do it, because they’re touring Kyoto and know that there are temples where you can practice Zen, so they like to give it a try.

My actual time to talk to and interact with people is very quietly while waiting for tea and for a few minutes if we walk in the same direction leaving the temple. All told, I’d say that amounts to a maximum of twelve or fifteen minutes per session, provided I find someone interested in talking. A lot of my conversations amount to their curiosity in a foreigner attending a Zen meditation lesson, so I usually have the same conversation topic rehearsed: what have I done in Kyoto, where do I live, why did I come to Kyoto, and what am I studying now. So those conversations are usually bust. If I’m lucky, they’re interested in going abroad or have gone abroad, or they know a bit about some interest of mine.

There are a couple things I wish I did in order to increase my chances to interact with Japanese people during CIP. For one thing, the priest looks pretty busy, but he seems like a friendly person. I regret not trying to speak to him more, and I’d recommend trying to do so. Another thing that could increase talking chances is to arrive earlier than the appointed time. People tend to gather before hand and stand around doing nothing. It’s not a bad chance to try talking them up.

Jiajing Gao: Pottery Class

For my CIP, I took a pottery class at a studio called Zuikougama, near Higashiyamananajo. I went every Saturday and stayed for about three hours each class. The ceramic classes were run very differently in Japan comparing to America. The ceramic class I took at Boston University looked at ceramic from an architectural point of view. Therefore, taking a real pottery class in Japan was a very nice experience for me.

The studio was well organized in a very nice environment. In total, there were about 15 students in the class, and most of the people were elderlies who were very professional. The studio provided tools, glaze and clay, so that I never had to carry things around, and the classroom was setup in a convenient way. The teachers were patient, and they were always available for questions.

For me, the hardest part was the first class when the teacher explained the steps people followed in order to finish a piece. Language barrier was limiting me to be more creative with my projects because I could not fully express myself. However, the class gave students a lot of freedom to do what they liked. In terms of Japanese practice, it was little hard to do during the classes. Because most of people were elderlies, topics were limited, and as a pottery class, the environment was meant to be quiet, starting a conversation was only appropriate at certain times.

I have enjoyed spending my Saturday mornings doing pottery at Zuikougama, and if anyone is interested in Japanese pottery, I recommend taking this class as your CIP.

Jackie Oshiro: Aikido

As a full-year student, I had the opportunity to continue my CIP for the entirety of this school year, and although I had extensive experience with aikido prior to coming to Japan, this semester allowed me to practice in a way I had never experienced before. Last semester, I went to practice in the way that I was used to – after school in the evenings. This semester, however, that didn’t work quite as well with my class schedule and because my dojo offered it, I decided instead to go to practice in the morning before school.

If martial arts are supposed to be a way for you to train your discipline and self control, then it seems to me that early morning training will double your benefits. Not only do you have to discipline yourself in practice, but the very act of getting up before the sun in a frigid bedroom definitely ups your discipline as well. I’m not going to lie – although I enjoy practice and think of myself as a morning person, waking up and getting motivated to go to practice at 5:30 am was a real struggle. And yet, it seems to be a natural part of seriously practicing a martial art here. The people I saw in the morning were the same people who regularly attended evening classes and held the most responsibility in the dojo. And although aikido is clearly an important part of their lives, they also hold regular jobs and do things outside the dojo.

Back at home, in my experience at least, this sort of culture doesn’t really exist. You hear of people going to the gym or going for a jog in the early morning before work or students going to sports practice before school, but this sort of lifelong commitment to a practice that isn’t your work seems to be rather unheard of in America.  Again, I could be totally unaware of a significant portion of American society that contradicts my broad, sweeping statement, but perhaps it has to do with differences in societal values. I feel like maybe Americans might be reluctant to commit themselves to this type of strict practice because it would further limit their time at home, something that’s highly valued. Or maybe even that Japanese people and American people don’t see this type of training and its benefits in the same light.

Although there were times that I would definitely rather have slept in (and some times that I did), I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity to take my practice to a new level.