Kyoto is a study abroad gem, with about 20 percent of Japan’s most important cultural sites found within the city center alone. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, students will find grand palaces, lush gardens, shinto shrines, and buddhist temples galore. Aside from being a national treasure, major tourist destination, and foodie paradise, Kyoto is also one of Japan’s key centers of higher learning, with over 35 academic institutions scattered across the city. Kyoto blends Japan's cultural traditions, history, and innovative spirit, making it the ideal place to study the art, culture and history of Japan, as well as cutting-edge technology and design.
Study Abroad Programs in Kyoto
Kyoto was spared from the destruction that many other cities endured in Japan during WWII, making Kyoto one of the few cities with many surviving pre-war buildings, from world heritage sites and important religious centers to the traditional townhouses called machiya. But, these are not the only things that have withstood the test of time; in Kyoto, you will experience Japan's thriving artistic and cultural heritage too. Kyoto is the birthplace of the tea ceremony and flower arranging, so it should come as no surprise that Kyoto is an excellent place to study art history, religious studies, and history.
The main economic industry in Kyoto is information technology, and it is home to both Nintendo and Kyocera. For technology, architecture, and design majors, Kyoto Institute of Technology is considered one of the best. Kyoto hosts plenty of international students, thanks to its large number of academic institutions. Additionally, the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese studies is comprised of 14 U.S. based universities that sponsor study abroad programs in Kyoto for those with a focus in Japanese language and cultural studies. Kyoto University is one of the top higher learning institutions in all of Japan, coming in second place only to University of Tokyo and ranking 25th in the entire world.
If you are going to study abroad in Kyoto, you will likely not be required to understand Japanese. However, if you find that you loved your experience so much that you want to go back to Japan to pursue your full degree, or if your program is hosted by a Japanese university, you will absolutely need to take at least a two year course in the Japanese language.
Life in Kyoto
Stay in Kyoto even for just a short time, and you will see plenty to write home about, with over 2,000 religious sites, including Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, world famous Zen gardens, and The Kyoto Imperial Palace. Kyoto is said to be the cultural heart and soul of Japan, and it may also be the belly of Japan, since it is renowned for its delicious varieties of Japanese cuisine.
Since Kyoto is a major city and centrally located, there is rail service from Kyoto Station to many other destinations in Japan. Kyoto also has a subway system, which is super easy to use as it only has two lines, and an extensive bus system. Bicycling is also a very popular way to travel in the city center.
Kyoto really comes to life during the numerous festivals, or matsuri, which draws people from all over Japan and the world to take part in traditions that have been celebrated annually for over 1,000 years. There is the Aoi Matsuri in May, the Gion Matsuri in July, and in August the Bon Festival culminates in the celebration of Daimonji, when the five mountains surrounding Kyoto will be ablaze with symbols to guide the spirits home. A truly illuminating experience!
Accommodation & Visas
If you are going to study abroad in Kyoto through a brief program hosted by your home university, your university will most likely arrange accommodations for you in a local university dormitory or with a homestay family. If you do need to secure private accommodation, your study abroad program provider in Kyoto can help provide resources to help you get a grasp of the rental process. Be prepared for “cozy” living quarters compared to what you might be used to; in Japan it is very common for architects to make the most of tight spaces.
If you are planning to study in Kyoto for an extended period or complete a degree or internship, you will certainly need to go through a Japanese Consulate to obtain a student visa. However, for most short study abroad programs in Kyoto, lasting 90 days or less, a visa is not required. In general, visa requirements depend on your country of origin. If you are planning to stay longer, you will need to apply for either a long term visitors visa or a "Pre-College Visa," which also requires proof of funds in your bank account. Also, if you plan to stay for a year or more you will need to enroll in the national health insurance. Get an early start on discussing which visa you will need with your study abroad advisor, since the process may take a while. Check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more up-to-date information on visas for Japan.
Benefits & Challenges
Luckily, if you make the most of your time in Kyoto and eat like a local, sampling the regional cuisine of locally grown vegetables, rice, and the freshest sashimi you've ever tasted, you can sustain yourself quite cheaply. If you hate seafood or you happen to be hooked on cheeseburgers, pizza, and mocha frappuccinos, your bank account might drain faster than expected.
Generally speaking, Japanese culture values education very highly, and therefore invests in education as a top priority. This is apparent when you consider that almost 50 percent of Japanese students pursue higher education and campuses are equipped with some of the best research facilities and resources. Likewise, studying abroad in Kyoto will be a good investment in your own future because you will get a quality education along with international experience, not to mention an expanded professional social network that may prove invaluable to your future career.
On a more personal level, you will gain confidence, which naturally comes with planting your feet in a new country. Getting out of your comfort zone to experience a different culture brings on an objective personal awareness that will help you understand your own culture back home. You will see some spectacular things and meet some amazing people, and the experience will stick with you for life.
You might need to occasionally remind yourself that you did not arrive in a time machine, like when you glimpse a Geisha walking down the medieval streets in Gion. But Kyoto is not stuck in the past, this city is as young and innovative as it is traditional and historic. Not to mention beautiful, whether you are there for the fleeting cherry blossoms in spring or the rich reds and golds in autumn.
If you are seeking the quintessential Japanese experience of old and new, then study abroad in Kyoto!