Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Japan (page 1 of 4)

The end of my study abroad

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Kansai region, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

On Thursday, December 19, 2019 I submitted the last final exam I needed to take for the Kansai Gaidai University Asian Studies program, marking the end of my life as a student here. Since then, I have been wrapping up loose ends and preparing for the journey home. This is the obligatory “end of the semester” blog post in which I must try to concisely summarize the essence of what this experience meant to me.

The men of the 5th floor of YUI.

Unfortunately, a few paragraphs and pictures cannot remotely do justice to what I experienced here this semester. In a relatively short time span, I saw and experienced so much. I have more friends and acquaintances around the globe now then I possibly could have imagined having a few months ago. I feel as if I have gained years of knowledge and insights about the world. It was almost as if a curtain was obscuring my view and some of it has now been torn away. There is still so much I am ignorant of, but I can see the big picture more clearly than before.

Farwell party, hosted by the best bartender in Hirakata 🙂

There has always been a lack of understanding in the world, and I find myself uneasy whenever I see a close-minded view with regards to different experiences, people, cultures, and beliefs. A similar feeling of uneasiness also comes over me when I look at my past self, but this showcases how much I have and will continue to grow. Building bridges, seeking to understand that which is different from what we take for granted, and recognizing our faults is critical to building a better world. I am eternally grateful to the Kansai Gaidai exchange program for the bridges I was able to build here, and for everything I learned not just about Japan or the world, but also about myself.

YUI Kyoto trip (And this was the smallest YUI trip this semester). YUI proved to be much more than simply a place to live. It was an actual community that planned and hosted events that were far more ambitious than any past dorm I lived in.

Over the past few months, I was not just pushed to my limits. I was pushed beyond them. I had to completely crush fears that used to control me, because that sort of thing was not an option here. I remember all the embarrassing mistakes I have made, the exhausting travel, and my complete confusion and bewilderment at some of the bureaucratic processes I had to go through in order to live here. There are plenty of things I would have done differently. I wish I had done a better job of enduring the summer heat and traveled more sooner. I also wish I was more efficient of a student here (I am very anxiously awaiting my grades for my Japanese classes).

For my final trip to Kobe, I got to see the Kobe Luminarie, a massive light construction that is up for the duration of the holidays.

However, the overall sum of what I now have is a massive net gain. When I look at where I was at the start of 2019, and look at where I am now, the difference is shocking. I realize this is not an option for everyone, but people who feel as if they have hit a wall, have plateaued, are “stuck” or are just unhappy with themselves – should consider looking into opportunities that allow for traveling. It certainly helped me.

Final meeting of 2019 with an old friend.

Looking to the future, I certainly plan to come back. I have even joked (But maybe it could become serious) that I would come back for my birthday in May. Many other places are on my list as well. I used to have tunnel vision when it came to travel, completely focusing on Japan, but there is so much more out there. However, I do need a rest. As sad as leaving is, I look forward to returning to my simpler life in America and reestablishing myself. Until next time, Japan.

Final meeting with Isho, my speaking partner.

Exploring the Japanese countryside

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Azuchi and Sekigahara, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

For most of this semester I have constantly been surrounded by people and things. Kansai Gaidai is in the heart of the Kansai region, and is in the vicinity of not one, but three major cities. In Japan, it is also more difficult to distinguish where the city ends and suburbs begin, as the city sprawl extends outward, blending into the neighboring cities. The buildings may get smaller, but it does not get much less dense. My place of residence in Hirakata-shi is considered by the locals to be a small residential town, but it and the surrounding area is bustling compared to Valparaiso and my hometown in Illinois.

I had been interested in taking a trip to see what a non-urban Japanese town was like, so I was excited when my friend invited me on a countryside trip. We were still very much in the bounds of civilization, but this was probably the most unique of my experiences in Japan.

First stop was Azuchi. This is also the location of the ruins of the historic Nobunaga’s castle. To get to our destination we had to walk from the station through about a mile of rice fields. There were not any sidewalks, just single lane roads. Overall, this was still something of a tourist spot, at the museums there were quite a few elderly Japanese and at the castle trail there were many Japanese families. However, the town itself was easily the smallest town I had been to so far, with an estimated population of around 12,000 people.

Me in Azuchi.

View from the top of Nobunaga’s castle trail.

Sekigahara was even further out. On the way there we made a mistake and missed a train. This mistake cost us time, so we had to wait more than thirty minutes for the next train. In Hirakata, it would be rare to wait more than ten minutes. Aside from this set-back, there were no other issues and we arrived safely. Sekigahara has a population of around only 7,000 people, even smaller than Azuchi.  Sekigahara also hosts some museums, along with being the site of the historic battle of Sekigahara. However, we saw almost no people. We walked through more fields and a mountain trail, completely alone in wide open surroundings. In America, finding yourself alone in a spacious area is not a difficult thing to accomplish, but here it felt surreal and cathartic.

Parts of Sekigahara looked like something out of a painting.

We walked until we could not walk any more, and then treated ourselves to an amazing view of the sun setting over the ancient battlefield, with the town stretching out into the distance. Once rested, we began the trip back home. I am very happy I made this trip because it gave me an experience that I felt I was really missing most of this semester. I feel like an even more knowledgeable and well-rounded traveler, especially pertaining to Japan and the greater Kansai region.

Taking a rest.

The sun sets on the battlefield.

Reflection: Studying in Japan during fall semester was for the best

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Kansai region, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

When I first transferred to Valpo, I assumed that I would be able to complete a degree in International Business and cram in a semester long study abroad within a mere four semesters. That was a naïve assumption to make and reflected my lack of experience at the time in understanding how college works and what realistic goals are.

If things had gone that way I originally envisioned, I would have likely ended up studying in Japan during the spring semester. In fact, that is what many of my peers who came before me did. Interestingly, the difference between fall and spring semester at Kansai Gaidai for international students is stark, and it is not just because of the weather. Based on what I have learned and experienced, I would strongly encourage anyone looking at Kansai Gaidai to study abroad to aim for the fall semester.

Firstly, there is much less stress during the initial application process. The application process is fairly lengthy with a lot of different moving parts. There are obligations the student needs to fulfill both on Valpo’s end and on Kansai Gaidai’s end. For spring semester exchange, it is a very quick turnaround because winter break for Valpo students is only three weeks. For fall semester, there is a three-month buffer called summer vacation. I was very on top of everything during the entire process, but if I had made mistakes or lagged, I had more time to resolve issues.

Next, while the Asian Studies program operates on a calendar similar to the one at Valpo, the same cannot be said for the rest of the programs at Kansai Gaidai. Local Japanese students start their classes two weeks later than international students in the fall, but during spring semester their classes do not start until April, several months after international students arrive. This is the majority of the student population numbering in the thousands. During my first two weeks here, the campus grounds were deserted and empty, and it was quite unsettling. Several hundred international students may sound like a lot, but that does not even come close to filling the campus. Spring semester transfer students arrive in January but do not get to see the campus operate at full capacity until April. I would have felt like I was missing out on an authentic experience if I had needed to wait more than two weeks. I also would have made less connections.

Lastly, yes, I do have to talk above the weather. In late August through early October, the Kansai region is incredibly humid. I did not always enjoy this, but I found it much preferable to back home especially given that the Chicago area this year was already experiencing freezing temperatures in October. After this humid period, the region transitions to fall, and it is almost perfect. At the moment, it is almost December, and while my family at home is freezing, I can walk around and still be quite comfortable. Also, while spring students get to see the cherry blossom blooms, I would argue that Japan is just as visually striking in the fall. If I had to recommend a place to check out during the fall that really showcases impressive fall sights, it would be Arashiyama, Kyoto. Anyone who is here during the fall needs to check it out!

A view from within Arashiyama’s bamboo forest.

Kyoto during fall.

Even when the lighting is not the best, Arashiyama is striking.

Tokyo, take my heart (And to an extent, my sanity)

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

Tokyo is the largest city in the world, and one tenth of Japan’s population resides within its sprawl. It is the most amazing place I have ever been. I went there three years ago but was severely limited in what I saw due to the nature of that trip. This time around I got to see much more, even though I am still far from satisfied.

I traveled with a few other friends from KGU and we flew domestic. We booked an Airbnb in Aoto, a laid-back residential area on the eastern edge of the city. The house in question was traditional Japanese style, which was a treat. The quiet streets of Aoto, which had a very high population of elderly people and young children were quite a contrast to the rest of the itinerary. Aside from sleeping and a late night dinner at a restaurant, we did not spend much time here.

Over three days we visited Tokyo Skytree, Akihabara, Ueno, Shibuya, Harajuku, Tsukiji Market, Asakusa, Ikebukuro, and Shinjuku. Wow. Just typing that makes me remember how exhausted I was. As amazing as Tokyo is, this trip really drove home to me that to truly appreciate a city like this – it pretty much needs to be at least a weeklong vacation if not more, not just a three-day trip.

I also started to feel homesick for Osaka even though it had only been a couple of days. Osaka is also a huge city, with jam-packed markets and crowded stations but Tokyo is on another level. Many of the areas we visited were claustrophobic. The stations are so crowded you often must shove your way through people if you do not want to get separated from your friends. People are smashed up against each other on trains. I cannot think of any other place where I have seen so many people in such a small space. Any other major metropolitan area I have ever been in is cozy compared to some areas of Tokyo.

Navigating Tokyo can be tiring, but the city is unrivaled in terms of pop-culture, entertainment, fashion and sightseeing. There are a lot of things in Tokyo that can be found in other parts of Japan to be sure, but they are often harder to find, or are “lite” versions. Almost everything in Tokyo is bigger, better, and there is more of it. For example, in Osaka you can find five floor anime stores. Tokyo has Akihabara, which is basically an anime/electronics/pop-culture city with multiple of these places next to each other stretched out over several blocks.

Also, while there are some shady areas of Tokyo, the city is extremely safe and clean considering the over-crowding. Shinjuku now holds the record for the dirtiest streets I have seen in Japan, and the majority of that was cigarette butts. I have always been impressed by the cleanliness, infrastructure and overall public transportation of Japanese cities and Tokyo is no different.

This was a hectic and exhausting trip but absolutely worth it. I certainly learned a lot and gained a new sense of understanding and appreciation of Japan’s capital.

Side note: Props to anyone who understands the reference in the first part of my title 🙂

Asakusa is one of the more historical areas of Tokyo.

Almost anything can be found in Tokyo, that includes a replica of the statue of liberty.

View of Tokyo from the the Skytree, the tallest observation tower in the world.

Harajuku is known for its amazing shops, and that includes giant cotton candy.

Shibuya.

Shinjuku.

Anime and video-game themed pop-up cafes are very common in Akihabara.

Mid-semester Highlights

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Kansai Region, Japan 

Pronouns: He/His/Him

Okay, so I am officially through the halfway point of the semester now. There is still so much I want to do it, but I am very happy with what I have seen and done this month. It has been awhile since I posted, so I figured I would talk about some of what I have experienced over the past few weeks.

Nara Deer Park

This place is very well known and a very hot tourist spot, but I can say there is nothing like it in the states and is well worth the trip. I would like to come to Nara once more before the semester ends, as we only really had time to go to the park and some of the shops in the city. Our journey was delayed that day because someone jumped in front of a train on the Kintetsu line (A sad reminder that mental health and suicide is one of the largest problems Japan has – looking at this may be a future post) and it was hard to find an alternative route.

However, the park was amazing. The deer roam completely free, and years of exposure to humans means that they have no fear. If you bow to them, they will sometimes bow back. Deer snacks can be purchased at the park and hand-fed to them. I have heard some stories of over-aggressive deer, but I think most Americans would find them extremely tame. The most aggressive deer I encountered just kept following me around until another visitor lured it away with their own snacks.

 

I would highly recommend feeding the deer.

The main city/shopping area of Nara.

Kobe

Kobe is a more modern port city to the west of Osaka. There are not as many shrines or historical locations when compared to Nara or Kyoto, but it is a large urban city with its own distinct culture while being smaller and more compact then Osaka.

I need to do more exploring, but I would say to visitors that eating Kobe beef is a must, along with visiting Kobe port tower and the surrounding area. Another student that came here went zip-lining.

View of Kobe from the top of Kobe Port Tower.

This is right by Kobe Port Tower. Recommended photo spot.

Universal Studios Japan

I have not been to Universal Studios in America, so I cannot draw comparisons between the two, but I enjoyed my time here. The crowds are massive though, especially because we went on a national holiday. The over-crowding can almost be overwhelming. We were only able to get on a few rides, but I think being able to walk around and take in the atmosphere was worth it. USJ also has the most over-priced food I have yet to encounter in Japan, so that may be another thing to take into consideration. Lastly, I did not realize how huge Halloween was in Japan. Many, many people were dressed up in the park that day and it was not even Halloween week yet.

Outside of the Harry Potter attraction at USJ.

Malls and Markets

My favorite thing about Japan is just how many insane shops, malls, markets, etc. there are. Malls in the United States are dying, but in Japan they are still thriving. Also, they are huge. I have been to the local mall in Hirakata four times. I also went to markets in Nipponbashi, Osaka, and ate some of the most incredible food. Fried eel, fried pineapple, a whole pineapple with juice and ice-cream inside, and so on. There is an infinite amount of fun and interesting things so close together, especially in the Kansai region. I can’t wait to see what happens in the second half of the semester!

We rented Kimonos after exploring Nipponbashi.

One Month In: Learning Curves and Letdowns – But the Best is Yet to Come

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Hirakata, Kyoto and Nagoya, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

I have been in Japan just over a full month now. Habits, relationships, and daily routines have been established. Things are good, but something that has been on my mind is the concept of cultural adjustment and yes, culture shock. Something that – even with preparation, studying beforehand, and getting off to a good start – can still put a damper on things before you work through it. I mentioned beforehand how I felt I experienced minimal culture shock – however, I have not been immune to it. Usually about one month in is when people abroad feel at the lowest point. Most of the international students here and I are not exceptions. I have observed this firsthand with both my classmates and with my own energy levels. 

A Crêpe shop in Kyoto

Yet that is one of the main reasons that I am glad for this experience. Because through it I have really learned the difference between “visiting” and “living” in a different country. When you visit a place, you only experience the brief initial culture shock and then the honeymoon period. You figure out how to get around, visit all the nice tourist spots and then return home before the high wears off.

Nagoya Castle

Living is very different. Things that were once exotic and exciting become mundane, typical parts of life, and much of the excitement disappears. However, in a country like Japan which is drastically different than America, things may become “less exciting” but it never feels *completely normal. I may know the streets of Hirakata now, but it still feels alien in a sense. It is a little unsettling, the feeling that you now belong in a place, but not really.

Nagoya’s Toyota museum

I think some of this is exacerbated by the fact that more so then ever before, I really feel like I am on the clock. After all, I have four months of an opportunity many people never get in their entire lives. Additionally, people who know me well can attest that I often feel as if I am not doing enough – and this feeling is certainly being amplified here.

I saw the movie “Weathering with You” (天気の子)

Me getting ready for KGU’s “open campus”

To cap off my first month, I have further explored Osaka and Kyoto. I went on a tour to Nagoya and visited some of its most well-known historical sites. I have become a semi-regular at two bars. I volunteered at a campus open house. I saw a movie in Japanese theatres for the first time. For October, I plan to visit Nara, Kobe, Hirakata Park and possibly Tokyo, while going to places in Osaka and Kyoto that I still have not seen. (They are huge cities) Hiroshima and Universal Studios are also on the agenda. There is a lot to be excited about, but it is important to remember that study abroad, while amazing in so many ways, is not a magic bullet for your problems and that there will be ups and downs no matter where you are.

Studying in Japan-What it means to me/early reflections

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, and Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: He/Him/His

A lot of people in my life don’t realize this, aside from some of my closer friends, but I have had a bit of a rough year. While I made some incredible breakthroughs in both my professional and personal development, at the same time I came to realize how flawed and lacking I am in other areas, and how much further I still need to go in order to become the person I strive to be. I won’t deny I spent a decent portion of the summer trying (and not always succeeding) in putting myself back together after taking some hard knocks last semester. On the upside, I had a fantastic internship over the summer, and once that was completed it was with great anticipation and anxiety that I embarked on my first time traveling outside of the United States independently. Living in Japan has been my dream for the past five years, which is why I chose this specific program.

Hirakata-Shi, my current place of residence.

So far it has been fantastic. Having this study abroad has restored my sense of order and purpose while giving me hope for the future. It is also going to be the last semester of my undergraduate, so it also feels like a second chance at having the semester I wanted (but failed to attain) last spring. I would like to use this initial post to organize some general thoughts and observations over these first two weeks as I begin to get more settled in and integrated with my surroundings.

A street in Kyoto.

The first thing I would like to mention is that even broken Japanese and basic reading ability, when supplemented *appropriately* with English – goes very, very far here. I had always heard this but experiencing it for myself really drove it home. Quite a few international students at Kansai Gaidai came with almost no Japanese language or reading skills and they have certainly struggled in some areas. However, I have found that with my current level of proficiency (which I thought was not great) I have been able to do almost everything I have wanted to do with confidence. Ordering food, riding public transportation, quickly finding what I need at a convenience store, and even registering my change in address with the city hall, has not been difficult.

Me in Kyoto.

My language speaking partner and myself.

Additionally, I have found residential life to be extremely fulfilling. I was torn between living on campus or with a Japanese family, but I have found my current living arrangements on campus to be the best choice for me. I live with roughly 300 other international students (plus 300 Japanese), and about 200 of the international students are from either the U.S or Canada. Being in the middle of Japan, I of course encounter and need to utilize Japanese now on a constant basis. Improving my Japanese is something I no longer worry about. Kansai Gaidai may be an international bubble of sorts, but walk a short distance out of the gate and you quickly become a very, very, small minority in which attempting to rely on just English will limit you a good deal. However, living with what is probably the largest native English-speaking community in the Kansai region helps set me at ease when I am exhausted from using a lot of Japanese and reminds me that I am far from alone here. Students also had the option of applying for a language partner. The idea is that they will help you with your Japanese, and you can help them get even better at English. All these things combined act as an overall great support network, one just needs to be willing to seek them out.

Osaka Castle

Overall, I look forward to the coming weeks and months ahead. So far, I have been on multiple trips to Osaka (public transportation is amazing here), went on a Kyoto tour, and have familiarized myself with much of Hirakata-Shi. Classes have just started for the Asian Studies program, a week ahead of everyone else. As far as academics go, this is will be the easiest semester I have had in a very long time. I plan on using that extra time to network, travel, and all around get as much out of this experience as possible.

Leaving Japan…But Only for Now

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Osaka, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

With final exams right around the corner here at Kansai Gaidai, it means that my time left in Japan is growing short. Once exams are over, I only have a week left in Japan. I plan on spending that week with friends and finish buying last minute souvenirs for friends and family back home. Leaving after a semester studying abroad is bittersweet. Part of me is excited to go back to Valpo and see everyone at home again. My family got a new puppy named Cooper and I’m so excited to meet him. I’ve literally been waiting months to get to see him for the first time! But on the other hand, I’m going to miss my friends and life here in Japan so much. Some friends are actually coming home with me since I met lots of other study abroad students that live around Chicago like me. But my Japanese friends will literally be a world away and they won’t be the only thing about Japan I’ll miss.

I’ll definitely miss the conveniences of Japanese life. Being able to walk ten feet to go to a convenience store or conbini that sells everything you could possibly want is a luxury that cannot be understated. I’ll miss being able to take a train to anywhere I want to go even if it’s across an entire country. I’ll miss seeing people walk their adorable Shiba Inu (my favorite dog in the world). Seriously, these dogs are everywhere and they’re super cute! One of the things I’ll miss the most are all the vending machines where I can instantly buy water, juice, coffee and more. As a cross-country runner who is used to running around towns with no water in sight, I’ll be thinking about these vending machines a lot when I get home. All these reasons for missing Japan are a little silly, but they are all part of why I love Japan so much. However, I won’t be gone for good.

My time studying abroad in Japan has helped me figure out my future. I’ve wanted to work in Japan for some time now but lacked the confidence that I’d actually be able to do it. But after being here for almost 5 months with the support of all the wonderful people I’ve met in Japan, I feel like I can do it. I want to be an English teacher in Japan at least for a little while and I’ve gotten to practice teaching with Japanese students here. My Japanese professor has helped improve my Japanese by leaps and bounds, but also shown me ways I can better learn Japanese in the future which I’ll have to do on my own starting next year. I feel more determined than ever to go after my goal of working in Japan after my studying abroad experience and I’m immensely grateful for that. I know that I’ll be returning to Japan soon to follow this dream, so I won’t have to live without conbini and Shiba Inu for too long.

Osaka: My Favorite City in the World

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Osaka, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Despite being from Chicago, I’ve never been a city person. I prefer quieter, suburban areas with less people, more nature and less noise. But once I came to Japan and visited Osaka, I quickly discovered it was the perfect city for me. Even though Osaka is a huge city, it never feels overcrowded or too busy. There are tons of little parks where anyone can stop to take a break and eat ice cream (something I’ve done probably too many times). The parks are especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season. There’s a wide variety of restaurants and shops, so it’s easy to spend the day out and about. Name brands are really popular here in Japan, so if you have expensive tastes, tracking down Apple, Gucci and other luxury goods is easy. But if you’re a college student like me and prefer something more within your budget, there’s plenty of family run restaurants serving traditional Osakan food like takoyaki or okonomiyaki along with small shops selling whatever you want to buy.

However, to me, the most important and defining quality of Osaka is the people’s kindness. Throughout Japan, Osaka is known for being a warm and friendly city contrasted with Tokyo who is normally colder and more formal. I can say this is definitely true having visited both cities. Osakans always seem willing to help out and answer my questions (which I am eternally grateful for being a clumsy study abroad student who still struggles to read a map). On multiple occasions, I’ve had Osakans come up to me to ask questions about where I come from, what do I like about Japan and more simply because they were curious. The Osakan students at Kansai Gaidai University are the same way. So many students have come to talk to me to practice their English and help me with my Japanese. There were even Osakan or other Kansai students who came into my Japanese class to help us all practice our Japanese.

I think one of my favorite parts of Osaka is its dialect, Kansai-ben. Most of the Kansai area speaks with this dialect, but it’s well-known for being associated with Osaka. Like English, Japanese has dialects. If I had to compare Kansai-ben to a dialect in English, it’s something like a southern accent. There’s lots of colloquial terms that replace the more common words used in standard Japanese. Verbs are formed slightly differently with Kansai-ben too, so understanding it can be difficult especially since they don’t teach it in Japanese classes. Thankfully, my Japanese professor here taught us some Kansai-ben, so we can try it out with our Osakan friends. The dialect reflects the more friendly nature of Osaka and I think I prefer it to the standard Tokyo dialect even if I don’t quite have Kansai-ben mastered yet.

I highly recommend visiting Osaka! Most people only see Kyoto and Tokyo during there trips to Japan, but you’d be missing out if you don’t take the trip to Osaka!

Climbing Mt. Hiei

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Mount Hiei, Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Japan is a mountainous country. No matter where you find yourself in Japan, it is likely you will be able to see the mountains in the distance. Japan’s most famous mountain is of course Mt. Fuji, but one of its most sacred mountains is Mt. Hiei, located between Kyoto and Lake Biwa. The mountain is home to multiple Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Monks travel up the mountain as pilgrimage while visitors can just take the cable car or drive their own car to the temples at the top. I decided I wanted to hike at least part of this divine mountain before I left Japan and with the weather becoming warmer with each day, I decided it was finally time to do it.

The mountain itself was absolutely gorgeous. It boasts different types of forests that change depending on how high up the mountain you go. Wild flowers grow on the side of the mountain and aside the walking trails. I decided to take the cable car halfway up the Kyoto side of the mountain and from that height, you can see the entire city down below. Since the mountain is known for its Buddhist affiliation, I spotted lots of Buddhist statues and monuments while walking. It became almost like a fun I-Spy game. From the Lake Biwa side of the mountain, you can see the lake and its coastal towns. My favorite part of the hike was the cherry blossoms barely still in bloom whose petals covered the walking path. Although I say walking path, it was covered in rocks, holes and tricky turns, so anyone who decides to hike on Mt. Hiei should be prepared. It isn’t an easy trek by any means, but if you do get too tired, there’s always the cable car.


I also visited the temples at the top of the mountain. Mt. Hiei has three main temple areas although I only visited two of them. The third was about 5 kilometers away in another section of the mountain. The temples have their own parking lots and transportation, so there are lots of visitors in contrast to the walking trails which had significantly fewer people. The temples, although old, are constantly maintained, so they looked like they were brand new. And while I didn’t enter any of them, I made sure to get a few postcards and pictures for posterity. However, I did take a visit to Mt. Hiei’s Inari shrine. Inari is a Shinto deity who is particularly famous in Kyoto because of Fushimi Inari. Having learned lots of Inari in my religions class, she is particularly near and dear to me, so I made sure to leave a few yen for her as an offering.

For anyone visiting the Kyoto area, I highly recommend visiting Mt. Hiei especially in the spring. The mountain is beautiful and easily accessible by car or cable car. The temples around the mountain are a great spot to visit and on the Kyoto side of the mountain, there is also a gardening museum. Determined hikers can make the climb up Mt. Hiei more difficult if they choose, but I preferred a leisurely walk for taking pictures and sightseeing. The path can also get pretty confusing at times, so make sure to bring a map!

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