How do people of such diverse cultural backgrounds spend their time in Kyoto? We interviewed a young Muslim woman and Kyoto resident from Saudi Arabia about her life in Kyoto and how she enjoys the city.
Her favorite thing about the city? The changing face of nature
On her second trip to Kyoto, Atheer visited Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. During her visit, a typhoon was passing through, and it was pouring rain. Even as she became soaked in the rain, she climbed up towards the top of the mountain on which the shrine stands. Atheer said this was how she got to know some of the different ways nature expresses itself in Kyoto, so different from Saudi Arabia, which didn’t have rain like this.
“As far as seasons go in Saudi Arabia, there’s really only the heat of summer and the dry cold of winter. But in Kyoto there are four, no, more seasons. That’s my favorite thing about it.”
Atheer’s favorite season is autumn, and when her friends and family come to visit, she always recommends autumn the most. She says the beauty of the autumn leaves in brilliant colors is a sight that can’t be found in Saudi Arabia.
The “real Kyoto life” I got to know by living here
Atheer came to know about Japan through Japanese anime. She loved the old anime series her parents showed her, and she became interested in Japan from a young age. She began to enjoy not only anime, but a variety of Japanese TV dramas and music.
We asked Atheer if there’s anything she finds inconvenient about living in Kyoto, now that she’s been living in Japan for four years. “No,” she replied, “I think there’s very little I find inconvenient here.”
Atheer feels that Kyoto has the capacity to accept different lifestyle customs, culture, and religion. For example, if there’s something someone can’t eat or drink due to religious beliefs, and they make it known in advance, she says, most [restaurants] will accommodate those restrictions. There are also a number of prayer spaces for Muslims in the city, and some Halal restaurants will also let you pray there if you ask, she says.
“Usually I pray at a space in my office, but I’ve also prayed at the Kamogawa Riverbank before, when a friend came to visit me from Saudi Arabia.”
See here for a list of Muslim prayer spaces in Kyoto City
Favorite spots and things to do
On her days off, Atheer rides her bicycle around the city, looking for places with plenty of nature and generally enjoying her time off. Recently, she’s become fond of exploring cafés. For work, it’s the atmosphere and design of the café, or the coloring of the tableware that catches her eye.
“The popular sightseeing spots are nice, too, but I like the types of shops that locals go to.” Atheer explained that one of the things she likes about Kyoto is that if you step away from the city center, you’ll find a calm with fewer people, almost like finding a secret place. When we asked Atheer what other things she might recommend in Kyoto, she answered, “Going around to see temples and shrines is nice, but I’d really like people to experience Kyoto.”When her friend came to visit her from Saudi Arabia, Atheer took her to Arashiyama to ride down the Hozugawa River with the beautiful valley on all sides. For her friend, the comfort of riding in the boat was a very memorable experience. Atheer also suggests visitors try on antique kimono, whisk up some matcha tea, or some of the other many experiences that can be found throughout Kyoto.
*We received permission to conduct our interview and take photos.
“By coming to Kyoto, I’ve found my second home,” says Atheer. “Someday, I’d like to be able to work going back and forth between Kyoto and Saudi Arabia.”
Kyoto is a city which people can call home, no matter their different religious or cultural backgrounds. We invite you, too, to come visit, and discover the depth of this city.