I had known for a while that I wanted to study Japanese at University – and for years eagerly anticipated the time that I’d actually be able to go! Sometimes I have to stop and think…I am here!! I’m one of the first students at UEA to do a year abroad in Japan, and it’s been beyond awesome so far. I feel very lucky!
I’ve been living here in Kyoto since September, studying at a brill Uni called Ritsumeikan University (Ritsumei or Rits for short). Kyoto is fab and I love it here. I live in the outskirts, where there are so many Shrines and Temples – right round the corner from my Dorm and University! It’s crazy. People flock from all over to visit places like Kinkakuji, Ryoanji…I’ll tell you something, my bus to Uni gets so crowded it’s ridiculous sometimes. But it’s a home from home and I wouldn’t change being here for anything. The campus I’m at, Kinugasa campus, actually really reminds me of UEA. Lots of greenery about, and a homely atmosphere. I love it. Although there are no bunnies…darn. So whilst I live in the outskirts, I’m only a short train/bus journey away from the centre, and I love that I sort of get the best of both in this sense. Yeah, the place where I live (Uzumasa) gets pretty crowded with tourists, but it’s still got a different atmosphere to the busier centre. While the centre has the station, Yodobashi Camera (a big electronics shop) and Starbucks, Uzumasa has tucked away Cherry Blossom gardens, little Tonkatsu shops run by friendly older people that give you free food if you visit enough, and winding roads with trees hanging over them.
My first semester was jam-packed. What with organising myself and getting settled, making new friends and starting classes, I was really busy but really enjoying it! I went to most of the ‘buddy’ organised events around Kyoto, including trips to Shrines and Temples, Parks and restaurants. One of these ‘buddies’ is now a particularly good friend of mine and we often meet up for lunch at Uni, hang out and do things like Karaoke (I’m soooo gonna miss Karaoke in Japan when I return)! After completing my mid-terms (they call it that here…but I guess I would just say end of semester exams ha!), I visited Korea with some friends, and then to the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, for the Snow Festival!! These trips were so much fun, and I’m glad I got the chance to experience the Snow Festival especially. I love how the weather of Japan varies so much – Hokkaido gets a LOT of snow, whereas Okinawa is an island in the south with a tropical climate. Currently, Kyoto is getter warmer. When I first arrived it was SO HOT (to me). I mean, it doesn’t take much to make me think it’s warm but this was something I’d really experienced before. It was around 32 degrees – and that was the back end of summer, in September. July and August apparently get even worse, not looking forward to that just before I come back home. So at the moment, it’s been around the high twenties, like 26ish. It’s actually quite nice, not unbearable for me at the moment. But Kyoto did see a lot of snow over the winter, which was surprising and quite rare, I was told.
I then visited home for a couple of weeks, before coming back to travel Japan with my sister. This really was an adventure I’ll never forget! I showed her around Kyoto, we visited places I’d already been, including Osaka, and places I had not yet had the chance to visit: Nara, Tokyo, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Nagoya. We had the best time, and I’ve memories from that trip to last a lifetime! Then, after our fun-filled month of travelling Japan, it was time to begin Uni again…
So I’m currently in my second semester – and boy has time flown by!! It’s weird, because it feels like so long ago that I actually first arrived here, yet it’s also gone by so fast. Scary. From the start (ish) I have been part of a Circle (society) that encourages Japanese students and exchange students to meet and chat/hang out together! The organiser, who has become one of my very good friends, organises regular events for us within Kyoto. Last week, we went to this place where we got to design and paint our own fans (y’know the type you use when it’s hot…not like…people fans, that’d be weird), and this week some of us went to a Russian restaurant together! This Circle really has helped me to make new friends and practise my Japanese. Just the other day I went into our weekly meeting, sat down next to a new girl, and started chatting away in Japanese – something I would not have done before this year! It felt great to be able to do that. So as I make my way through my last semester here, I feel adamant to make the most of the rest of my time. It’s really gone too fast, and while I’m so excited to see everyone at home again, I just know when I’m back I’ll really miss it here! Japan is awesome. Kyoto is awesome. And my year abroad experience here will be something I never forget!!
Natalie Stanley, PPL