From Screen to Reality

Programs for this blog post

Ancient + Modern Japan

Authored By:

CIEE Kyoto

Authored by Kevin Zhang

Part 1: A Culinary and Cultural Awakening in Kyoto


Growing up with a steady diet of Japanese mangas and anime, the Land of the Rising Sun had always been a distant dream. Flashy videos of neon Tokyo streets, serene temples, and mouth-watering dishes on tik-tok formed a golden virtual image. Little did I know that stepping into Kyoto would evolve this screen-tinted perspective, catapulting me into the best block, the best time of my life.


Kyoto, A Timeless Beauty


Upon arriving, Kyoto greeted me not with the overwhelming pace of a big city but with the grace of a cultured elder. Every corner whispered stories of bygone eras, the narrow lanes dotted with traditional wooden machiya houses seemingly holding within them centuries of secrets. One couldn't help but be entranced by the blend of ancient structures with the modern conveniences of a developed country.


The city's harmony was evident in its fabric. Our classes and apartments, strategically placed, were a mere 15-minute stroll from the city’s pulsating heart – the vibrant hubs, historical sites, and of course, the food streets. As days turned into evenings, the city's rhythm would shift from the scholarly to the culinary, with enticing aromas leading the way. And it was in these moments that the proximity to Teramachi Market, one of Kyoto’s crowning jewels, became our nightly indulgence.


Not just a market but a sensory festival, Teramachi greeted us with a cacophony of sounds. From thrift stores hawking sales to the sizzles and sears of food being prepared on the spot, it was a gastronomic wonderland. The colors were vivid – from mega clothing stores to roadside turkish icecream! 


But more than just a treat for the eyes and palate, Teramachi was an education in Japan’s rich culinary heritage. One such evening, lured by the aroma of something familiar yet foreign, I chanced upon a stall selling Takoyaki – a ball-shaped snack made of batter filled with minced or diced octopus. As the vendor expertly flipped each ball, ensuring it was cooked to golden perfection, we exchanged stories – his, of the generations-old recipe, and mine, of the excitement of a new culture.


Outside the bustling market, Kyoto's culinary landscape spread out like an artist's palette, each dish a distinct color, each flavor a unique brushstroke. Diving deeper into this world, I remember my favorite dish: fried 'tonkatsu' pork. This wasn’t just any fried fare. It was a revelation – tender and fatty on the inside, crispy on the outside, and accompanied by a sesame dipping sauce we ground up ourselves; it remains one of my favorite dishes.


Sharing the meal with friends, our table was filled with animated discussions, laughter, and the clinking of glasses.


But if there was one place that became our regular haunt, our refuge from the day's exploration, and the site of many profound late-night discussions, it was Ichiran. Yes, the renowned ramen chain that's almost synonymous with Japan's urban culinary scene. Its allure wasn't just in the sumptuous bowls of ramen it offered, but in the unique experience it provided. Individual booths, where one could customize every aspect of their ramen, from the richness of the broth to the intensity of the garlic, ensured that every bowl was personal, every slurp a testament to individual choice.




Ichiran nights became ritualistic. Some nights, it was about celebrating a day well spent. On others, it was about finding comfort after a challenging day, to soothe a sore throat from a night of Karaoke. Amid the steam rising from the ramen bowls, we shared stories, exchanged cultural insights, and debated everything from philosophy to pop culture. It wasn't just about the food; it was about the bonds being forged over those shared meals.


As my days in Kyoto began to blur–as the days rolled into weeks–filled with new experiences, it was these culinary adventures that stood out, marking the passage of time. The flavors and aromas became familiar, the city less foreign, and the initial awe was replaced by a deep-seated appreciation and love. Kyoto wasn’t just a destination on a map or a setting in anime; it was turning into a feeling, a memory, a story waiting to be told.


Dive into a tale of serene mountain meditations and unexpected beach encounters. From the echoing chants of Heizan to the sunlit camaraderie of Omi Maiko Beach, discover a side of Kyoto that transcends mere sightseeing. It’s where ancient traditions meet unforgettable moments. Stay tuned for a journey beyond the city's alleys.