Fong Ching Long, Alwin
Sophia University, Japan
The first highlight of my exchange journey to Japan was Sakura! I was supposed to arrive in Japan during April but I came in late March instead. Being an early bird, I got to see Sakura for two days. It was incredible to see so many people taking photos, picnicking and relaxing in Shinjuku Gyoen! I think my photos speak for themselves – Sakura is a delight to see in person.
My passion for Sakura did not come to a halt at night. There is, in fact, a gala held every night during the Sakura season in many districts in Japan. I went to the Nakameguro gala, where the whole street was decorated with lanterns and Sakura trees. The pedestrian zone was flooded with visitors and foreign shops, where you could find Middle Eastern kebabs, Dondurma (a Turkish mastic ice cream) and local Japanese Dango. What really surprised me was that the Sakura would change color at night due to the surrounding lights. It was fantastic!
The blooming of Sakura marks the start of my journey, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for me in the coming months of this exchange journey!
I went to Kyoto in late March! It was about 7 hours’ travel by night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto, which I booked just two days prior. Kyoto is renowned for its ‘old capital’ status in Japan as it has a large number of shrines. For the past three days, I have visited a few of the most well-known shrines. The photo of the Torii gates is in the Senbon Torii, which is famously located in the Fushimi Inari Taisha. The Torii gates actually cover a 2-hour round trip, which includes more than 10,000 Torii gates during the hike. This is a great adventure for hiking lovers!
On top of that, I went to the Heian Jingu Shrine, the Tenryū-ji, the Honno-ji, and at night, the Kiyomizu-dera. I really felt like a temple enthusiast! A particular highlight was the night scene of Kiyomizu-dera. The temple was bathed in red light with wonderful cherry blossoms nearby, which really showed off the old capital’s beauty and ambiance.
Very often we would pray to the shrine, and when we pray we naturally donate 5 yen to the offertory box because 5 yen, in Japanese, also means ‘a good relationship’. If you want to form a better relationship, you should give this a try!
You may be shocked or bewildered if you go on exchange alone. At the beginning, I was. But very soon, I made many friends, and it was an incredibly enjoyable experience.
You might even have peers from your home university going to the same host university. This is a great opportunity to make friends. The first photo was taken on my first day meeting Calvin – a fellow CityU student on exchange to Sophia University, just like myself. Very unexpectedly, he was willing to be my cameraman and visit famous Japanese places with me!
We often tend to make friends in our living place. I am living in a shared house with – at the moment – around 20 people. They’re from all around the world, including Singapore, Taiwan, France, the US and Brazil. There are also local Japanese students living here. I took a photo with a Taiwanese and Singaporean student while we were out shopping. That day quickly became a language training day.
What should not be missed, of course, is orientation day at Sophia University. It was definitely a fantastic platform for cultural interaction. I had a joyful interaction with two Japanese girls and a French girl. They were amazed by our culture, especially when I shared stories about life back home.
If you want to make friends, you will never be alone on exchange!