Time has flown by since my arrival in Japan, even though this is my second visit I had yet to travel through Kyoto so I didn’t have any idea of what to expect from my exchange city. After a very busy and activity packed 2 months however I have really come to love Kyoto, its people and the many conveniences of being in one of Japan’s most historically rich cities.
For my exchange period I was lucky enough to be placed in a studio in one of the most convenient areas, a short bike ride away from university and only 2 stations from Kyoto’s busy downtown areas Kawaramachi 河原町 and Karasuma 烏丸. Aside from shopping and eating whilst you are here, you can also take a wander around Gion – the famous Geisha district – or as many couples and students like to do (myself included), go down to Kamo River with some food and a drink – beer is good!
I was also very eager to join in on the bicycling culture here in Kyoto as this is something that we don’t have in Sydney, and I can confirm that it is one of the best and most enjoyable commuting methods! Despite having a far more convenient public transport system than Sydney, Kyoto’s grid structure and flat streets makes bicycling the easiest way to get around in my opinion. In particular, biking is an especially convenient for touring all the surrounding temples.
Fortunately enough I had arrived just in time for 花見 (Hanami) Sakura season and was able to see all the Sakura trees in full bloom. It was an amazing first experience of Kyoto! Another first for me was to have taken part in 夜桜 (Yozakura) which is a night viewing of Sakura at 清水寺(Kiyomizu dera) one of Kyoto’s most popular temples – I definitely recommend it!
My favourite so far however has been a visit to Ryōan-ji and its famous Zen garden. During my stay I’ve really come to appreciate the close proximity to nature and of course the many beautiful Temples at my doorstep (Kyoto has about 1,600 Buddhist temples!). Because of how easy it is to get away from the city buzz, there is a great life balance between work and play in Kyoto.
Another great thing about Kyoto as well is the close proximity to other popular cities – meaning I easily do day trips or get away for the weekend. During my 2 month stay I have been able to visit Osaka several times to see the Aquarium, Universal Studios Japan as well as eat my fair share of Takoyaki and Monja. Being only a short train ride (1-1.5 hours) to big cities has really widened my opportunity for different cultural experiences, and has given me the opportunity see the different nuances between cities and its people.
I have even been to Kobe to see the spring festival!
Despite language barriers and being my first time in Kyoto, I couldn’t have asked to be placed in a better city. The close proximity to the city centre as well as hikes and temples has given a very fulfilling first 2 months on exchange. And despite the varied complexities of getting settled in, I am glad to be able to not just learn more about Japan but to be able to learn more and create friendships with those on exchange from all around the world in a truly intercultural experience!