Niamh - Ritsumeikan University

B International Studies
Semester 1, 2019

Academic experience

While at Ritsumeikan I took the IJLT, which is the Intensive Japanese Language Track. To do this course, you have to take a placement test as part of your application so they can stream you into the correct level. I was placed in level 5, which was upper intermediate. I also took courses in Japanese History, Japanese Culure, and Ikebana. 
One of the most challenging parts of studying in Japan was the workload. At Ritsumeikan a full time load is almost double what it is at UQ, and my Japanese classes were particularly demanding. It almost felt like being in highschool again, with multiple classes everyday and a set break for lunch. I had nightly homework for my Japanese classes and tests almost every week for many of my subjects, all counting towards the final grade. Many of my classes also had compulsory weekend field trips, and coupled with Ritsumeikan's notorious Saturday makeup classes, this meant that some weeks I had class 7 days straight.
This was particularly challenging for me as I'm the type of person who gets quite stressed about study time, and will often not leave my house if I have assignments to do. I'm also a perfectionist, and will spend a lot more time stressing over my work than I have to. But I knew that I didn't want to miss out on so many amazing oppotunities in Japan because I was sat in my room studying. So after classes started I bought myself a weekly planner and planned out every minute of my time, leaving space for trips and fun with my friends. Where there nights where I was up until 1am hurriedly finishing worksheets and memorising kanji? Yes. But I also got to have so many wonderful exeperiences and see so many things that I wouldn't otherwise have had, so I really learned to budget my time effectively and I can honestly say that all those late nights were completely worth it.
My favourite part of my school week was probably my Ikebana class, which is one of the traditional arts courses offered by Ritsumeikan. It was a great way to connect with the culture practically, and as grades were purely attendance based it was 90 minutes out of my day where I could de-stress and really focus on and enjoy my arrangements. I would definitely recommend taking this class if you can.

Personal experience

I can definitely say that going on exchange has provided me with so much more than just academics. One of my favourite parts of my exchange was just going out for walks and exploring my local area. I discovered a lot of little hidden cafes, temples and other spots this way. Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful city and you will never run out of things to see. One of the standout weekends from my trip was just before classes started, when a few friends and I decided to walk the philosophers path from the Silver Pavilion to the Goldern Pavilion. It was the height of cherry blossom season and the path was lined with them, and it was one of the most beautiful walks I've ever been on. We ended up walking all the way to Kiyomizu-dera and watching the sunset from the temple. My feet were very sore that night, but it was worth it.
My Japanese has also improved significantly, but not just through study. I wanted to make some local friends so I joined a conversation circle at university, and it was one of the best decisions I made. Being able to speak Japanese with Japanese people gave me a much greater feel for how language it actually used than any textbook, and it was a great way to practice speaking in a non-judgemental environment. Plus, the end of semester drinking party for my circle was one of the most hilarious evenings of my life, to date.


While at Ritsumeikan, I was lucky enough to be able to stay in I-House Taishogun, which is the newest (and biggest) international dorm run by Ritsumeikan. The location was incredibly convienient, as there was a bus stop right outside the door with regular busses to the city, a train station 10 minutes walk away, and loads of cafes, shops and supermarkets nearby. Plus, it was only a 15 minute walk away from campus, which made getting to class a breeze. 
One of the best parts of living in an international dorm was being able to meet so many people from all around the world. Having so many people from so many different cultures all living together meant that there was never a dull moment, and I can now say that I have friends living in Italy, South Korea, Vietnam, the US and even Finland. 
Another great thing about living in Taishogun was all the support available. Each floor had a group of local students called RMs living alongside us, who were there to offer 24/7 help to anyone that needed it. Some of the most daunting parts of moving to a foreign country like setting up a bank account or registering your address at the ward office where a lot less confusing with a local there to help you navigate every step of the way. 
Overall, living in Taishogun was an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone planning on studying at Ritsumeikan.


My monthly rent, including the compulsary bedding hire, was about 44,000 yen. I spent roughly 1000 yen on food per day, but it varied depending on where I was, and if you only ate at the Ritsumeikan cafeteria during the week you could probably eat for a lot cheaper, as they offer a huge variety of decent meals from around 200-400 yen. There are also many cheap teishoku restaurants in the area offering large meals for cheap (I recommend Wakaran - their jumbo chicken katsu set includes a huge chicken katsu, rice, miso soup, and two small side dishes all for 700 yen, plus they serve free cola).
Transport is definitely where you'll spend a significant amount of your money. Public transport is pretty cheap in Japan (the fare from my local station to Kyoto station was 190yen), but you have to use it to get everywhere. I would recommend setting aside around 1000-1500 yen per week for public transport.
Travel is also quite expensive, depending on where you go. A one way trip to Tokyo on a non reserved seat by Shinkansen is around 18,000 yen. On of the great things about living in Kyoto is there's a huge range of beautiful locations to see without travelling far. I would definitely recommed checking out Uji, Nara, Osaka, and Kobe, most of which you can get to for around 2000 yen. If you do plan to travel, I would recommend avoiding the Shinkansen as much as possible as it is hugely expensive. How much you'll need to budget for travel really depends how often and how far you want to go.
Overall I managed to keep my weekly expenses to around 8000 yen, but with some planning I think it is definitely possible to spend less.


The biggest challenge for me going on exchange was having to live well independently. I've lived a pretty sheltered life, and up until I went on exchange I had zero experience living out of home for an extended period of time. I still rely on my parents for a lot of things, including embarrassingly most of my cooking and washing, but in Japan I was on my own. It was daunting at first, but I managed to keep myself alive, clean, and relatively well fed for the whole five months, and I now have a lot more confidence in myself and my abilities as an individual.

Professional Development

I feel I've developed many skills from going on exchange. Time management and independance are two of the biggest, but I also think I've developed both resilience and adaptability. There were many difficult and challenging moments where if I'd been at home I would probably have given up, but I always kept going. Whereas at home I'd usually avoid situations out of my comfort zone, I now know that I can be put in environments totally different to my own and still manage to get along okay. My time in an international dorm also gave me the ability to be able to communicate with people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures.


One of the highlights of my exchange was being able to go back and visit my old host family from a short program I went on in high-school. Their hometown, Ogaki, was about 90 minutes away from Kyoto by train. I went to visit them one weekend in Summer. My host parents son had come to visit from Yokohama and I got to meet their two super cute grandchildren. Because it was so hot we set up a paddle pool on the driveway for the kids to play in and spent the afternoon splashing around. I really enjoyed being able to connect more with my host parents now that my Japanese had improved and I could hold a proper conversation with them. It wasn't the most exciting trip I went on, or the furthest, but I got to experience a taste of ordinary Japanese daily life and overall it's one of my favourite memories.

Top tips

The biggest piece of advice I'd give to future exchange students is to not feel like you always have to be having a great time. This may sound strange, but often you may feel like others are coping or fitting in better than you are, and you may feel like you're doing something wrong if everyone else seems to be having a better time. But feeling stressed or homesick is normal and natural, and I can guaratee you every other exchange student has felt the same way at some point. As long as you're not dwelling on them too much or letting them hold you back from experiencing all you can, don't feel guilty for having a few down moments.
Another huge piece of advice I have, especially for students going to Ritsumeikan, is plan. everything. Take a moment each week to sit down and plan out all the homework you have to do, all the travel, how much money you want to spend, and any events there might be that week. It's so easy to splurge when you don't have a set budget, or forget about a piece of homework or a quiz. Ritsumeikan is particularly notorious for having occasional Saturday classes, so you may not have as much free time as you think you do. Planning it out is essential, especially if you want time for things other than study.
Also, join clubs! If you don't think you have time to commit to a club in Japan (which are a big commitment), Ritsumeikan offers a huge variety of casual circles to cover every possible interest, from anime, photography and ikebana to baking and even breakdancing. It's the best way to meet local Japanese students and practice your language skills, and have fun while doing it.
But most of all, of course, just embrace every opportunity that comes along and have an amazing time!