Traditional arts

The best courses, I think, are the traditional arts courses. They are really popular, so the seats are always determined in a lottery, but they are really worth of trying, so apply! Only minuses are that they will take your evenings and require an extra fee (it will hurt).

What are the traditional art courses? They are special courses made just for Ritsu’s exchange students taught by actual masters of art forms. This doesn’t say anything but sounds nice. Actually, the idea of the course is to make the students familiar with one of the traditional Japanese arts: tee ceremony, calligraphy, pottery, shamisen, wagashi (sweets) or ikebana. the university has had this system with the same teachers for years, so it also functions pretty well. The lessons are normally off campus, taught entirely in Japanese (excellent for honing up listening comprehension skills) and are super interesting and fun.

I have had a really good luck with the lottery and got into calligraphy and tee ceremony during autumn and now on spring to wagashi, shamisen and ikebana. During autumn I learned how to behave as guest during a tee ceremony and how to perform one type of o-temae, making the tee for the guests. The calligraphy made my kanjis a lot prettier. I enjoyed my time and would have wished the courses to continue longer, but the semester ended so soon…

Japanese syllabus and the ever feared exams…

Even though being a exchange student is fun and exciting and there seems to be much to see and experience, the truth is that you went there to study, This means taking courses, doing homework, trying to memorize everything before the final exams etc… The basic pattern is familiar, but there are lots of different ways to put it in action. In this post I will explain about Ritsu’s way.

Apparently with the courses taught in English tend to come with lectures, discussions, one big final exam and several short essays plus maybe a (group) presentation, a.k.a. very much like back at home. So, not much to say about them, except that the academical level of those courses is very, very low. Majoring students are generally bored to death, but first timers will get quite a good foundation.

The Japanese courses, on the other hand, are like one ever continuing exam period with everyone fighting against the clock. Do not underestimate the I of the IJL line. It really stands for intensive. In one semester the goal is to go through one book for all three languages class types. So, writing class has its ow material, listening and speaking its own book and the general class a huge pile of material. ( Good thing is that the books are cheap and there is no fee for prints. ) This makes the schedule really tight with the general class specially. The others only have one teacher each, so adjusting the course is easier, but the general class has around 4 teachers with one of them as a supervisor.

The writing and listening classes tend to be quite easy and simple to level of boring – some homework, writing lesson once a week and listening twice a week, not much tests. Hence, I will now concentrate on the general language course:

The basic schedule is similar with all the levels from F to A: one chapter takes about three days to finish since there is a lesson every week day. One day is for reading and reading comprehension, two for grammar and there is a kanji quiz on one day involving the kanji related to the chapter (there’s a list that clearly states which kanjis). Since the teachers are in a hurry, its best to look at the new chapter at home before the lesson and check the kanjis and words you don’t know. Makes it  a lot easier, believe me!

The taught things are also tested in the bunches of four chapters. One test takes a one lesson, they are filled with all the grammar, kanjis and words from those chapters, there’s reading comprehensions and the teacher is excepting you to finish it in 1,5 hours. No time for checking really. They are a bit too overwhelming, so studying hard is the only option. Of course, only pencil and eraser are allowed, so no hope for a nice little denshijisho… The good thing is that there is no real final exams for the Japanese courses because there are a lot of these small ones, but the thing is that you can’t miss a single one: there is no retake in Ritsmeikan. No matter the reason, but if you weren’t there, you automatically got zero points. The tests  even the kanji quizzes really have the biggest effect on the grade, so just watch the matsuris afterwards from online and go to do the exam!

It has been forever…

I waited quite the time until I was sure that I got used to the way of life here in Kyoto. So, now I can tell something of my daily life at the university and the dorm:

The university is quite big, there’s a lot of buildings that have complicated names that no one seems to remember, several cafés and cafeterias (super good food for quite cheap price!) and lots of staff you never see at Helsinki, like the bicycle parking aides. The buildings are in good shape, you can’t really separate between the old ones and new ones, the classroom equipment modern and functioning. Some big minus points come from stupid Wi-fi/VPN-connection, a.k.a the nerd’s nightmare, that has the lousiest network design I have ever  seen and the main library that’s a sorry excuse compared to the university libraries in Helsinki. They mainly have only old books for the humanities and strict rule about only 10 pieces for two weeks that sometimes gets into the level of 5 for five days during the exam season. Overall, the place is nice and since the teachers are mainly great, life at the campus is sweet.

Usually, my lessons only begin at 10.40 or 13.00, since my language group doesn’t have any lessons in the first period. The daily schedule of Ritsumeikan is divided into several periods from around 9 a.m to late night. No one really has classes after six p.m., but there are some exceptions. One period/lesson is 90 minutes with 10 minutes break between the lessons. There is also a scheduled 50-minute lunch break. It is both good and bad, since this way it’s sure that you have time eat, but everyone’s at cafeterias at the same time.

In one day, there are only from two to three lessons, but there’s always some homework to do. The amount depends on the teachers, though. I felt like I should not spend all my time cramming books, but actually living, so I chose to take only three courses apart from the Japanese language classes. This way I can really concentrate on learning and using the language.

After the classes, I normally hang some time with my friends and other exchange students at the university, maybe go doing some sightseeing before returning to the dorm to study and to eat dinner. Conversations at the I-House tend to last until the night…

Weekends are somewhat similar: cycling around Kyoto, seeing friends, baking, cooking, studying… Sometimes people do small trips by night bus or train to neighboring cities and towns, like Osaka and Uji. Apart from JR, it’s actually quite cheap and convenient way to see Japan.

Until now, I have been really enjoying my stay here. The Japanese way of Christmas, New Year, all the small matsuris and strange happenings make the life here so vivid. Also, the Japanese culture and the people offer an endless show to enjoy. I have been really glad that I came here, made new friends from all over the world and learned a lot and grew up a  bit already. Hopefully the next semester will be as fun as this!

A small addition: here’s links to videos about I-House 1:

Time flies


It has been forever since I last wrote anything, but this time I really have lots to tell. First, now I’m actually living in Kyoto and technically totally settled down. My flight from Helsinki-Vantaa to Kansai International took place on Sunday the 9th of September. Everything went fine, except we kind of a lost all sleep that night. On the other hand, I didn’t actually have a jet lag at all, since I just stayed up until nine on Tuesday and woke up with an alarm on the next day. Really comfy compared to what others went through.

Kyoto is a super hot and humid place. I have been worshiping my air-conditioner. The whole dorm is really cool inside compared to other buildings just to make it more healthy to us foreigners from cold climates. The building is old but it functions quite well. We have our own little rooms with a lot of cabinet space, own air-conditioner/heater, table, chair and bed. I also rented a fridge+freezer -combination for 8 euros, since the kitchens’ ones are really full. Bedding is included with the rent like technically everything else too. I really like this old dorm compared to the new one which is far from shops, located uphill in middle of nowhere and is even more expensive. Here you meet the other residents in the corridors and kitchens. I have made a lot of new friends from all over the world. This exchange will make my Japanese better of course, but also my English, French, Spanish, Swedish and Chinese.

Food’s good and quite cheap, I take my bicycle to everywhere to save some money and to get free exercise and the weather is sunny. Temples, shrines, historical sites and shops are numerous, so there’s no problem about too much time and too little to do. Japanese people are mainly friendly, a bit surprising sometimes and they love eating and drinking. There are of course days when I’m totally fed up with the paper work and stupid rules ( they will take away your residence card and passport when you are applying for working permit, but it is illegal for a foreigner to be without either one and the consequences are severe…), but most of the time I’ totally happy with everything and wanting to stay here forever.

Studying only began two weeks ago, so we are still getting used to the schedule (which is easy) and to the teachers (mostly great). The University of Ritsumeikan, Ritsu for short, is close by and has quite new facilities. It has at least two combinis (stores), three or four cafeterias (really good but pricey), a book store, a gym, a library and a lot more, so there’s really no need to leave the place during daytime. We foreigners are quite separated from the ordinary students but at least the “buddies” (tutors) are Japanese. It would be a shame to get here and not befriend anyone from Kyoto.

But for now everything is going quite smoothly after choosing the courses (they still do it with real paper!), getting a phone and opening a bank account. Finding the best places to buy food and stationary etc. is like solving a puzzle, fun but it takes its time. The other students, kanrinins (dorm’s parents) and buddies have been a great help.

This was all for this time, next I’m trying to get here some travel pictures.


Only two weeks left


There’s only two weeks of waiting left and I’m getting nervous and excited at the same time. Part of me is galloping around in Japan already but the other part is still living Finland-time and not understanding the flow of time.

The most crucial thing is now finished: I have my one-year visa attached to my passport! It only took about half an hour in the embassy and cost 27 euros. A lot better than what I was expecting. Now I only have to inform foreign ministry, KELA, bank and magistrate about my address in Japan and apply for one permit to get prescripted medicines through customs. There’s ton of these little things to do.

Today we had our small, Kyoto-orientated tutoring meeting and it was a lot more useful than the big meetings offered by the university. We sat at the cafe for about four hours and exchanged information from bike problems (respect the red light and beware of every one else) to things to do in the town hall (registrations). It was fun!