It’s hard to believe I’ve already spent 3 weeks in Japan. Life still hasn’t settled down, exciting stuff keeps happening, and it feels like an eternity since I said bye to my family.
I’m gradually starting to feel that the streets I walk every day are not just a cinema landscape, but real life which I exist in. Last Sunday I took a long walk to the centre of Kobe – Sannomiya, and saw simple industrial landscapes, houses, schools, parks, and reminded myself that this is all just as real as my life in London.
It’s only getting harder to wake up at 7 am every day, which limits what I get done. However, as soon as I get out of the dormitory and see the breathtaking view over the whole city, I regain some of my determination to have as much fun as I can. The routine is still broken into puzzle pieces, but at least I finally chose what lectures to attend: one in Japanese on Japanese society and culture, and one in English on the link between Japanese religion and literature. They are not as detailed as Oxford lectures, but it feels great to learn something other than kanji! 🙂
Oxford students get a bit of a special treatment here, which is both good and bad. I see no difference between myself and the other international students I attend classes with every day. However, we do get nice perks such as the student tutor system, or visiting Kobe university’s President Takeda the other day. He was very relaxed and chatted to us about Pokemon Go, of all things. (Kobe is fantastic for this game and I have caught many a rare type already…) This was nice because I normally expect a lot of formality in Japanese business settings. It also reminded me how much I appreciate the attention given to our well-being here, even though any other student should get the same.
The most exciting part of the week was, of course, going to Kyoto on Saturday. So far I’ve only been to places I don’t recognise very much; but I have daydreamed of Kyoto since I was about 11. It didn’t disappoint. Every little detail of the streets was elegant, creating a dreamlike impression. I was surprised to learn that Kyoto is actually smaller than Kobe in terms of population, but I guess it is more spread out, with space for numerous temples and shrines, so it feels like a bigger city. I was excited to see the 時代祭 (Festival of the Ages) that was advertised everywhere, but was surprised that it consisted of a sombre parade. It was beautiful and attracted huge crowds, but I guess I have a different association with the word ‘festival’. Maybe we should have researched more.
The best part of the day by far was visiting the 清水寺 (Kiyomizu Temple). Because of the festival there were many people in kimono, and the crowds climbing up and down the hill to the temple buzzed with excitement. We reached the top at sunset. It was too dark to take photos, and just as well, since I forgot all about my phone and took in the surroundings. There is no way to describe the view that would not be cheesy or unsatisfying; the darkness gave the temple a sense of magic, the place felt sublime. Some of us bought the traditional fortune predictions, and Hannah and I were gifted with “bad luck” and “heartbreak”. Laughing it off, we speedily explored the temple, but had to leave fairly quickly because it was closing up.
I can’t wait to see more of Kyoto, and I’m absolutely in love with the city. It has a special atmosphere akin to Oxford, which is my favourite place in the world at the moment, so yes, I got very excited. I’m hoping to come back in November for the infamous red leaf season. For now, though, I’ve got a week of classes ahead, and a big trip to Hiroshima next weekend!