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Changing Places: Beth Nicholls on Kyoto

Fushimi Inari


I distinctly remember the moment I stepped off the plane at Kansai Airport at the tender age of 19, horrified to discover that people actually spoke that language.  Japanese - the language that I should have been studying during the previous year, when in fact I was too busy enjoying my first year of university, with all its parties, student radio, sport and all those other distractions. I had nearly failed my exams and had to beg my teachers to let me go to Japan – “I’ll be fine when I get there,” I said with breezy 19-year-old confidence.

But then I arrived in Kyoto, where everyone spoke in an elegant, poetic, local dialect, and I couldn’t understand a word. The city was like nothing I had ever seen – a rich combination of temples, bamboo forests, and concrete buildings. Kimono-clad shuffling women, monks in long robes and cool young people in crazy clothes. Bright neon adverts and inviting glowing lanterns. Brash shop fronts and tucked-away restaurant entrances. Fireworks in summer and festivals everywhere. I had opened a door to a whole new world and suddenly I couldn’t wait to learn all about it.

That year I fell in love with Kyoto. It was like I was living in some kind of reverie. Each morning, once school was finished for the day, I would drop a coin on my map and pedal off to where it landed. Every day I explored a new shrine, climbed another hill, tried to strike up a conversation with a different local. I made new friends, laughed my way through conversations when my language skills weren’t enough, and felt my heart opening to a life of adventure. The place had such an impact on me it was as if the language soaked into my skin.

After uni I went back and spent four more years living and working in Japan, and ended up doing a Masters’ degree in the language. It changed my life’s direction in so many ways. Now, nearly 15 years later, I am back here in Kyoto on a six month adventure with my fiancé. I spend my days out and about with my camera, browsing washi paper shops, learning new crafts and sitting in gorgeous cafes sipping green tea and contemplating what lies ahead. I feel like I am 19 again – inspired, surrounded by beauty, open to adventure, happy and free. I love this place.



Beth describes herself as ‘an adventurer, wanderer and seeker of knowledge and beauty’.  She’s also founder of the hugely successful ‘Do What You Love’.  Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Changing Places is a guest post series about the power of place to change us.  You can find other stories in the series here.  If you’d like to share your story, please contact me for submission details.

(Photo of Beth by NavyBlur)

Reader Comments (1)

Great story told well. I totally understand why you fell in love with the place. I love your spirit of adventure. x

July 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHannah Nunn

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