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A Muslim Kyoto Resident Shares Her “Favorite Kyoto”

Insider Blog

music_books nature

A Muslim Kyoto Resident Shares Her “Favorite Kyoto”

Travelers from countries around the world come to Kyoto, an international city where many different countries, languages, and cultures mix together. The city has implemented many new measures towards universal tourism to help make travel more comfortable for overseas visitors, from multilingual support to cashless payments.
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

We sat down with Ms. Atheer Alsoghayer, who has been living in Kyoto since 2015. She studied graphic and media design at a school in Kyoto, and now works at a video production company. The first time she visited Kyoto was in the summer, during the Gion Matsuri Festival. With the crowds and the intense heat, it seems her first impression of the city wasn’t the best.

  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.”

In Japan, the seasons are quite distinct. Kyoto, in particular, is a place where those seasonal differences can be felt clearly. The area around the city is surrounded by mountains, and rivers like the Kamogawa River flow through the city center. The trees and flowers at shrines and temples are beautifully arranged, and they change colors throughout the seasons.
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.

When Atheer was a student, one of her favorite Kyoto spots was the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which she visited to see art exhibitions. The museum holds manga-related exhibitions, and also has a collection of Japanese manga that visitors are free to read. The museum has not only Japanese language manga, but manga published around the world, making it popular with international tourists.
*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.