Alana - Ritsumeikan University

B. Arts
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

At Ritsumeikan University I studied Japanese Language IV in the IJL (Intensive Japanese Learning) Program. I also studied Japanese Culture and Human Development, an OSE course (Open Study in English), and Ikebana, a Japanese Traditional Arts course. 
The academic system at Ritsumeikan was very different compared to UQ. Most students would have between one and three classes every day through the week, and it wasn't uncommon to have additional or ‘make-up classes’ on Saturdays. 

The Level IV Japanese classes were very challenging but also very rewarding. In addition to attending classes, students were expected to complete preparatory work before class, as well as additional homework and assessments in their own time. The workload seemed to fluctuate depending on which level you were placed in – as a general rule, the higher the level the more intense the workload. 

Adjusting to my Japanese Language classes was difficult at first because there was little-to-no English instruction from our teachers or in our textbooks. No English instruction meant that I was consistently translating either something a teacher had said or something that was written in a textbook. Because of this, I found that my listening and reading comprehension skills greatly improved by the end of the semester.

Studying Japanese Culture and Human Development and Ikebana was hands-down the highlight of my academic experience at Ritsumeikan. I would strongly recommend both courses to aspiring exchange students. Within my Japanese culture classes, we studied traditional forms of Japanese performance including rakugo and kamishibai. This included a field trip to Osaka for a day to watch a live rakugo performance. We also learnt about traditional Japanese practices such as the observance of seasonal festivals, wagashi, holiness and sanctification, and Japanese mentality. 

Ikebana classes felt like a form of meditation therapy. I never imaged I’d enjoy arranging flowers so much, and I found that each week I was just counting down the days until the next class. Again, instruction was given solely in Japanese but lessons were always accompanied with a demonstration. Practicing Ikebana provided another platform for gaining a greater understanding of the way Japanese people perceive the world around them. I learnt that Ikebana is not only an art of flower arrangement but also a philosophy and way of life.

Personal experience

Living in an international dormitory with 120 people from about 20 different countries was simply amazing. I met so many interesting, kind, genuine, and fun-loving people that just stirred a fire in my soul. There was this amazing network of support and friendship that seemed to manifest out of thin air - and my experience abroad was made all the more special and significant because of the amazing people I was able to share it with. 
Not only did I gain a cultural awareness of Japan and other countries, I also became more culturally aware of my own country – of the customs I value the most and were excited to share with others. 

During Golden Week and on some weekends I had the opportunity to travel outside of Kyoto. Kyoto was a very convenient city to be based in because there were so many fascinating and easily accessible places practically on your doorstep. 
For example, I went to a baseball game in Osaka, had an onsen getaway weekend at Shirahama, gazed upon one of Japan’s three most scenic views at Amanohashidate, had a picnic amongst the rice paddy fields of Takashima, ate too much green tea ice cream at Uji, and frequently let myself get lost in the landscape of Kyoto itself. 

I learnt to just say ‘yes’ and seize every opportunity that came my way. A lot of my university experience has been having to say ‘no’ to people, either because I had assignments, homework, or work commitments. Unfortunately, I’m the type of person that lets study consume my life and I have always struggled with finding a balance.
I think the most important thing to remember while you’re on exchange is that – yes, you are there to study and pass your classes. But you’re also there to experience and immerse yourself in a culture… and that just isn't going to happen if you stay in the library all day. The desire to get out and experience Kyoto for myself forced me out of my ‘obsessive study ways’ and allowed me the opportunity to have a completely different experience of studying.


I was extremely lucky to be placed in Ritsumeikan’s International House Taishogun – a dormitory style accommodation.
Taishogun was only a 15 to 20-minute walk away from Ritsumeikan Kinugasa Campus. There were four floors and about 120 single-occupancy rooms. Each room contained your own bed (bed linen rental is included in the dormitory fees), desk, chair, bookshelf, dust box, shoe box, cupboard, fridge, wash stand with mirror (cold water only), air conditioning, lighting, as well as Wi-Fi internet connection.
With the exception of the four floor (which was for female use only) the common use facilities included a living and dining room with ample kitchen space (LDK), shower rooms on each floor (individual cubicles separated by gender), toilets (separated by gender), study rooms, laundry rooms with coin operated washing machines and dryers, rooftop drying area, lounge rooms, and a courtyard.
There was a reception area with managers on rotation who were always kind and helpful. Additionally, we had live-in Ritsumeikan Japanese students called ‘RMs’ on every floor who were there to help us with all manner of things – from Ward Office visits to late night Japanese study sessions. 

In terms of location, Taishogun has various restaurants, cafes, grocery shops, and shrines within walking distance. If you want to head out to Kawaramachi or Kyoto station for some shopping, bus or train rides are no more than 20-30minutes and there is a bus stop right outside the main entrance to the dorm.

I would highly recommend applying to live in one of Ritsumeikan’s International Dormitories. Not only will you get to meet and live with amazing people, moving into a dormitory makes the transition from living in Australia to living in Japan easy and stress-free. However, there are a few rules that are enforced in every dormitory that I would recommend familiarising yourself with before you apply.


My expenses were roughly the following for a five-month stay in Kyoto at International House Taishogun
Dormitory Security Deposit: ¥119,000 (which is refunded when you depart). 
Dormitory Rent - four months: ¥168,000 (which includes water, electricity and internet)
Bedding Rental - four months: ¥8,000

There are various insurances you have to pay while living in Japan and undertaking studies at Ritsumeikan University. 
National Health Insurance: ¥10,000
Personal Liability Insurance: ¥3,000
Academic Insurance: ¥650
Fire Insurance: ¥2000
Other university expenses will include purchasing textbooks and if you choose to do one of the Traditional Arts Courses you have to pay an additional fee to cover the cost of materials. 

In Japan eating out is usually cheaper and more convenient than buying fresh ingredients to cook. Fair warning - don’t be surprised if you end up paying the same amount of yen for one apple as a bowl of ramen – fruit and vegetables are expensive. 
If you’re on a tight budget of about ¥5000 -¥8000 a week – take advantage of the cheap meals at the cafeteria on campus or at surrounding cafes. Another tip is visiting your local grocery shop around closing time for discounted bento meals that taste just as good as some of the 5-star Japanese restaurants in Australia. 
If you're on a more generous budget of about ¥8000 - ¥10,000 a week – you’ll be able to afford some pricier restaurants and enjoy traditional washoku meals. You’ll also be able to visit an izakaya or two and share a drink with the locals.

Because I lived so close to campus I only spent about ¥1000 a week on public transport. My transport costs would only go up if I was travelling further distances over the weekend. Initially, I budgeted about ¥60,000 for additional travel expenses over the semester but only spent about half that because I didn't have the time to make as many long-distance trips.

Professional development and employability

In terms of my Japanese skills, my listening, reading, and writing skills improved immensely. My Japanese speaking ability barely improved at all. Even though I was living in Japan I didn’t have many opportunities to speak Japanese with native speakers. 

There are various clubs and circles you can join at Ritsumeikan and at the start of the semester I played volleyball with one of the indoor volleyball clubs. During that time, I had the best Japanese conversations I've ever had. However, I couldn’t commit to joining the club because the Japanese Language IV workload was too demanding and I didn’t want to disappoint the other members by not showing up to practice. Please don't do what I did – if you want to get better at speaking Japanese JOIN a club or circle. For those students who were able to join other clubs and circles, their spoken Japanese improved tenfold.

Apart from advancing my Japanese skills, my interpersonal and intercultural skills have also improved after living in another country, in an international dormitory, with people from all around the world. I have gained a new awareness and perspective of a world outside of Australia by having conversations with people and connecting over both the similarities and difference within our diverse cultures.
I was surprised by my ability to adapt to my life as an international student in Japan so easily. I hope that I can carry that same sense of adaptability to future opportunities and challenges. 

Even though I will graduate at the end of the year, I will never be finished with my studies of Japanese language and culture. I aspire to one day become a MAJIT student, but before then I know I have more to learn and experience in Japan – so I want to return as soon as possible.


The highlight of my experience was the experience itself. It’s too difficult to pick out one specific moment or event that defines my time abroad in Kyoto, Japan. 
Even though I was only there for a short time, Kyoto became like a second home for me – I was so deeply moved by the people I met, experiences I had, and landscape I’ve seen that I feel forever changed.
When I start thinking about either strolling along the Kamo-gawa while the cherry blossoms 
were in full bloom or having conversations about Japanese cakes and sweets (in 
Japanese) with the cheerful baker at our local patisserie, or getting caught in a sudden summer downpour at the picturesque Arashiyama… I can’t help but start to smile from ear to ear and day-dream uncontrollably. It might sound cliché and overly romantic but Japan, and Kyoto in particular, will do that to you – resistance is futile. 

Time’s weren’t always so airy-fairy though - studying Japanese language at Ritsumeikan University was the most difficult and challenging thing I’ve ever done academically, but it was also the most rewarding in that it pushed me past my preconceived limits. Overcoming the challenges of my Japanese classes adds a sense of achievement to my time abroad.

Top tips

  • If you are thinking about doing exchange - stop thinking about it and just do it. 
  • It will be the most challenging, rewarding, exciting, and inspiring thing you ever do as a student and probably in your entire lifetime. 
  • If you want to improve your Japanese skills and gain a better understanding of the culture and the people you must go to Japan and immerse yourself in it.
  • Be open to new experiences, to meeting new people and trying new things.
  • And when you get to Japan – sing really loudly at karaoke, sit quietly in a Japanese garden, talk to the staff at your favourite restaurant, go get lost in a landscape, and never forget how lucky you are to be there.
  • Good luck everybody – your Japan adventure is waiting for you!
Alana - Ritsumeikan University