My time in Kyoto is drawing to a close. The three months here have passed in a blur of late nights in the lab at Kyoto University, and runs along the Kamogawa river and through the mountains surrounding Kyoto. It hasn’t all been fun and games, but I have challenged myself, and find myself stronger from it.
This Saturday, Audun and I are headed to the Philippines for 10 days before I move back to Oslo, just in time for the darkest, dreariest month of the year. Ironically, I’m leaving just as Kyoto is starting to feel like home.
Kyoto is so beautiful in November, which is when the leaves turn. Here from Kyoto Imperial Palace park.
Here are five things I will miss about living in Kyoto:
1. Walking through the city on the busy main streets, and then turning on to a single lane side street where the old Japan seems to materialize. The noise of cars seems to disappear and all of the houses have wooden sliding doors and pattern roof tiles. Suddenly you stumble upon a shrine or temple; some could rival cathedrals while others could fit in your bathroom. The famous shrines and temples of Kyoto are spectacular, but the small, unknown ones are what create the special feel that defines Kyoto for me.
A statue on a small side street in Kyoto.
Kiyomizudera temple matches the fall foliage.
2. Convenience. Although the vending machines on every corner still seem a little excessive to me, it’s true that everything here is set up with convenience in mind. Unlike Norway, where most shops are closed on Sundays, most places are open seven days a week here, and much later than in Norway. There are endless little cafés and cheap yet excellent eateries to visit here.
2. The transportation system. The sheer number of trains and buses running, even in a small city like Kyoto, is staggering. Not to mention the Shinkansen! The Tokaido line between Osaka and Tokyo stops at Kyoto something like every ten minutes. The trains are always on time, meticulously clean, really fast, and you can buy tickets minutes before getting on the train. Japan has managed to make a system where it is more convenient to take the train to Tokyo than fly - if only they could do that for the commute between Oslo and Trondheim! The only downside is that the trains aren’t particularly cheap, and that subway and bus lines within one city can be run by several companies, which necessitates several tickets if you are changing lines.
3. Endlessly kind people. The Japanese are quiet and orderly, and this is the place in the world I have felt safest living. If I look the slightest bit lost, someone will ask me if I need help, even if they don’t speak English!
5. The food. I definitely miss certain Western foods (whole wheat bread and cheese come to mind), but Japanese food is incredibly. A common misconception is that everyone eats sushi all the time here. There are so many different types of food in Japan that I’ve only had sushi three times in as many months! Japanese food tends to be mild and balanced (or ‘umami’). Dishes are rarely very salty or very sweet, most often somewhere in between. This has resulted in some unpleasant surprises, like when I bought tortilla chips and they tasted sweet. Some of my favorite foods are ramen, anything matcha (green tea) flavored and fresh Kyoto tofu with simple toppings.
Delicious shoyu raman at the Yokohama Ramen Museum
Matcha and vanilla swirl soft serve.
I can’t write about Japanese food without mentioning the wonderful rice here. At upscale restaurants, it’s common to have a separate rice course, which comes just before dessert. The course consists of plain, fresh white rice, cooked to perfection, served with a few pickled vegetables, some miso paste to add a little flavor and a simple miso soup. It sounds boring to the Western palate, where we are used to being bombarded with flavor, but it’s actually pretty amazing.
The rice course at kaiseki restaurant Gion Nanba.
The one thing I won’t miss is being foreign all of the time. My looks and even how I dress make me stick out like a sore thumb here; it will be nice to go back to a place where I just blend in. I’m also looking forward to communicating with more than hand gestures and simple words. I have started to learn the basics of Japanese, but it’s so different from the languages I speak (English, Norwegian and French) that it would take me years, not months to get a working proficiency.
For now I’m making a list of all the places in Kyoto I want to say goodbye to and trying to ignore all of the things I didn’t have time to see or do. I guess I’ll just have to come back someday!
- The Wild Bazilchuk