I Knew I’d Make it Here Someday- Kyoto Day 1
One of the first shrines Anne and I stumbled upon while getting lost in Kyoto.

I made it to Japan- finally. That’s a phrase I’ve been waiting to say for the better part of my life. Still, the experience is surreal for me, even after preparing to be here for so long.

Growing up, I was always into Japanese media; like any nerd kid, I loved anime, manga, and cosplay, all of which continue to be a mainstay of my hobbies today. I was lucky enough to attend a high school that offered Japanese language classes, where my love of the culture grew with my love of the language.

There, I met my friend Anne in our Junior year- we were partners in Japanese 3, then we became partners again in our very small Japanese 4 class. Back then, we’d joke about going to Japan together like it was some kind of impossible dream. Luckily enough, we both ended up going to UC Davis after graduating high school. Once we both became Japanese minors, our jokes stopped being jokes and started being plans. Quite suddenly, our unrealistic goals were within reach with our university’s Study Abroad program.

I couldn’t have known then that we would end up traveling together, but now it just seems like every step along the way led us here- inevitably. And its all just terribly exciting and overwhelming.

But I knew I’d make it here someday.

And so-

Here I am, well and truly exhausted after over 24 hours of traveling and another full day’s worth of exploring Kyoto.

But oh my god. I’m here. We’re here! It’s like some sort of lucid dreaming.

The first thing Anne and I did after dumping our stuff at the dorm was explore. The train into town is a short two-three minute walk from our room, so we hopped on it and got back into the heart of Kyoto as soon as we could.

The railway next to our beautiful campus.

We had no idea where we were or where we were going beyond a general idea of the area near Demachiyanagi Station, since our Airbnb last night is near there. So we picked a direction and walked- for hours, til our feet were tired and our mouths were sore from smiling so much. I’m a bit ashamed to say it, but I still don’t quite know where we went- I just know I loved every bit of it.

Anne at the 神社。

Right off the bat, we came across a beautiful shrine just smack dab in the middle of the busy shopping center- untainted by the busy city life just steps outside its gate, and beautifully preserved. We hung around in awe for a while and then left, not wanting to disturb anything by accident.

Then we shopped, of course, because shopping is never far in a city as alive as Kyoto, filled with people who have needs for food, drinks, and slippers. I was one such slipper person; at an outdoor covered marketplace, my first purchase in Japan was a pair of brown home slippers with hedgehogs saying “I want to take a walk” embroidered onto them, which I think is absolutely hilarious. I’m obviously already spending my money wisely, a trend I think will continue.

After we got tired of rifling through the shelves of various knick knack stores and 100 yen shops, Anne and I headed back to this mochi place we passed by on the way in- and the line was about three times as long as it was before. We figured it was a well-known mochi place, but we still had no idea where we were!

Anne bought sakura mochi and I got the hanami dango.

The view of the river from the bridge we ate dango under; the stone bridge we crossed in the rain.

Eating hanami dango by the river in Kyoto is still alive and buzzing in my brain; what a uniquely cool experience, and I’m the one who experienced it! Just a year ago the thought of being here was a pipe dream.

Well and truly exhausted, we headed back to our new home and settled in for a bit, meeting out third roommate and the other members of E-Box, our dorm. But we weren’t quite ready to rest when Kyoto was an open door away, so we hit the town near our dorm in search of dinner. Our destination- one of the many 7–11’s that reside in Japan. But we came across a soba shop (aptly named “Soba”) and decided to eat there instead.

It was a good choice.

There were exactly two other people in the shop besides us and the chef. It was quiet, beyond a light harp playing from the speakers somewhere- and the decorations were pure culture, with tatami everywhere. Like children finding a secret hiding spot, Anne and I had the distinct feeling that we found something for ourselves.

We did eventually make it to 7/11, passing temples and homes and just about a million vending machines along the way. The area near our university is still part of Kyoto, but it is the outskirts, fringes really, of the main city. Living here is really like living in a small Japanese town rather than a big city, and I like that quite a bit. We’re surrounded by mountains, cresting over us in all directions and blotting out the sun at various points in the day. They rise above us like the fingers of an upturned hand, and we’re here, cradled in its protective center.

The mountains, as seen from the train station next to the university.

I like them, to say the least; I think the nature here is my favorite part, but then again the culture mixed in with the city and the trees and the people all form one big picture that is slowly coming into view- and I think when I finally see it all, its going to be beautiful.

And I think I’m gonna like it here, too.