Guide to living in Shūgakuin and Kyōto

At the time of writing, I just finished my almost-1-year stay in the Shūgakuin (修学院) district of Kyōto (京都), Japan. I enjoyed the time I spent there very much, and I thought it’d be nice to share some tips for people who are new to Japan and Kyōto, in particular to Kyōto University and the Shūgakuin International house. I’m from the Netherlands so I can primarily provide a European perspective, but I’m sure it will contain some useful information for everyone.

I posted on my blog about this page as well, if you want to leave any comments you can leave them there, or send me an email, my address can be found on the About page.

Getting to Shugakuin

If you arrive at the Kyōto central train station for the first time, the easiest way to get to Shūgakuin is to find bus line 5 which will take you there directly. The bus departs from platform A, if I remember correctly. The trip will take quite a while, close to an hour even, but it’s the easiest way. The stops will be shown on a display in both Japanese and English, and are also announced. There are actually two stops in Shūgakuin, but either is fine.

For a map and satellite photo of the Kyōto University Shūgakuin International House, see here on Google Maps. You can print it out for reference, and asking the way if you’re lost.

You don’t need to buy a transportation card, when you enter the bus via the back door (入口) there is a ticket dispenser. Take a ticket, and when you get to Shūgakuin, exit the bus in the front (出口) and pay with the machine at the bus driver’s seat. The fee is 360.


Once you’re settled in Shūgakuin, you will usually travel either by bike or by train/subway.

Right next to Shūgakuin Intl. House there is a station of the Eiden line that goes frequently from Demachiyanagi to Kurama and Yase. In Demachiyanagi, you can transfer to the Keihan line which takes you to Sanjō and even to Ōsaka. Ticket prices from Shūgakuin are: Demachiyanagi 210円, Sanjō 390円, Ōsaka 660円. I might be off a couple of yen. At Shūgakuin station, you can either buy tickets at the ticket machines, or take a ticket from the dispenser in the train and pay when you exit the train, which is useful if the train is just arriving :).

Going to the Kyōto central train station involves a couple of transfers, which is why taking the subway isn’t really recommended if you’re in Kyōto for the first time and need to go to Shūgakuin. Because of the transfers, it’s not really faster either.

Bikes are a frequently used way of transportation in Kyōto, so I recommend you to get one as soon as possible :). There is a bike shop close to Shūgakuin, but I recommend buying one from the bike store on Imadegawa-dōri (今出川通) which lies inbetween Demachiyanagi and Shūgakuin (map here), which has a wider selection and cheaper prices.

Cycling from Shūgakuin to the Kyōto University campus takes under 15 minutes. The road next to the Fresco leads all the way to the university, or if you feel confident, take the next smaller street which has very little traffic. To cycle from Shūgakuin to the city center at Sanjō takes about 25 minutes, just follow the river. If you go by train to Kyōto University, I think it’s probably faster to get off on Mototanaka than on Demachiyanagi. Either way, it’s quite a walk. There’s also a bus that stops in front of the university, but it leaves infrequently so you have to pay attention to the time.

When you missed the last train, which goes somewhere around midnight, you have to take a cab back. Tell the cab driver that you want to go to Shūgakuin eki, and he should know where to take you. The trip from Sanjō to Shūgakuin costs about 1700円, so if you’re with four people it shouldn’t be much more expensive than taking the train back.

To go to Ōsaka from Shūgakuin, you can take the Keihan line from Demachiyanagi. There is also the Hankyū line that departs from Shijō. When you get to Ōsaka, I recommend you get an English city map from the tourist information near the station, which is really useful for finding the right public transport lines and streets.


There’s a bunch of shops near Shūgakuin. Several supermarkets (the Fresco is open 24/7), a convenience store, a bakery, and several restaurants. There’s also a 100円-shop, a drugstore, a shoe shop, and the セイバース (‘Savers’, they sell lamps, cleaning stuff, even TVs).

In the street next to the Fresco, there’s also a post office with ATMs. Knowing where the post offices are is important, because at most other ATMs you can only withdraw money from Japanese bank accounts. Another bank where you can use foreign cards is Citibank. And, as of last month, you can also use most foreign cash cards at the 7-Eleven convenience stores. Let’s hope the situation will improve even more in the future.

If you go down the Shirakawa dōri a bit, on the west side there is a good okonomiyaki restaurant, a bakery, a second hand shop and a MacDonalds. On the east side, you can find a ramen restaurant that gives a student discount, and the Liquor Mountain with lots of imported stuff.

The main shopping area in Kyōto is a covered mall on the Teramachi street between Shijō and Sanjō. There are several warehouses, most of them carry expensive clothes, bags, jewelry and restaurants. But if you’re looking for a warehouse with more affordable stuff and regular household things you need to find Loft, which you can find in a street between Teramachi and Kawaramachi. In the same street is a CD and DVD store whose name I forgot :).

The electric district in Kyōto is also on Teramachi, but it is the part below the Shijō street, and not covered. There are a couple of shops, but if you are looking for more shops you’ll have to go to Den-Den town in Ōsaka.

In Ōsaka, the main district for shopping and going out is called Namba. Den-Den town is the electronic district on the Nipponbashi street that is southeast of Namba.


There are a lot of small restaurants in Kyōto where you can eat for really cheap. You can get a dinner for as cheap as 500円, although usually it’ll be a little more. The Fresco supermarket that’s next to the Shūgakuin station also has various freshly-prepared bentos (boxed lunch/dinner) for sale for a similar price. There’s a bento-shop to the east of the Shūgakuin station as well.

For foreign products, you can go to the Liquor Mountain on Shirakawa dori. Liquor and several import beers aside (including various Belgian ones), they also have a lot of other imported products such as Gouda cheese. Furthermore, the Ikari supermarket that is close to the post office has Nutella and peanut butter in stock. Finally, on the Sanjō street in the city center there’s also a shop with foreign products.

Going out

Most of the places to go out in Kyōto are in the Sanjō district, on 木屋町道 (Kiyachomachi?) between the Sanjō and Shijō streets. On warm days in the weekend, there is also always a lot of activity below the Sanjō bridge.

There’s a number of bars around Sanjō, the Hub, Den-en, the A-bar and the Pig & Whistle. The Hub is an English pub, and if you want to pick up Japanese girls, that is supposedly the place to be (and if you’re looking for Japanese men too, I assume :)). Den-en has student and women’s night on wednesdays, and you can drink unlimited cocktails for two hours (nomihōdai) for a 1000円. There’s also a lot of smaller establishments like the Moonlight bars, cosy cocktail bars with cheap 200円 drinks. The three most popular clubs are Sam & Dave with a cafe and dance area with mostly R&B (kind of inbetween Sanjō and Shijō), World (also ‘Sekai’, near Shijō), and Metro (at the Keihan Marutamachi station).

Japanese night life is a bit different from what you’re used to in Europe. People tend to go out more in large groups like with school clubs, and clubs and bars aren’t as popular here. One thing that you will find in many places is ‘nomihōdai’, which basically means you get unlimited drinks for a certain period for a fixed price.

You should also visit Ōsaka, it’s twice the size of Kyōto and is much livelier at night.

For music events in the Kansai region of Japan, take a look at:

Movies & TV

In the cinemas, English movies are generally subtitled, except for children’s movies. The biggest cinema complex in Kyōto is Movix in the middle of the Teramachi shopping street.

On Japanese TV, English movies and TV-series are usually dubbed to Japanese, but the TV channels often use the language-selection functionality of your TV to offer the original English voices as well. Also, the ‘e’-news on channel 4 (I can’t really come up with the actual name right now :)) has an English translation of the news that is read simultaneously. So if you can get a TV with language-selection, it is preferred.

The various Japanese game-shows often need no translation, they are crazy either way :).

Japanese movies on DVD often have an English track or subtitles, so when you want to buy one it’s worth checking out if it mentions 英語 on the back. English movies of course also have an English track. Anime DVDs usually don’t have English subtitles, with some notable exceptions, e.g. all the studio Ghibli movies (e.g. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) do have them.

The DVDs are region 2, which is the same as Europe, so your European DVD player will be able to play it no problem. Note though that they are in NTSC format as opposed to PAL format that is used in Europe, so to avoid problems with that you have to connect your European TV to your DVD player using a SCART connection and not a composite one, or play the DVDs on a PC.


Of the three game-consoles (Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, XBox 360), the Playstation 3 is the only one that does not have region restrictions. That means that if you buy games in Japan, they will play on European consoles and vice versa. A Japanese Playstation 3 can also be plugged in to the European 230V electricity net.

I don’t have much additional information about the other consoles, because I don’t have them :).

For Japanese PC games, you often need to set your Windows to Japanese character mode. To do this, go to Language and Regional Settings in the configuration panel, and change the system country setting in the Management tab to Japanese (I might be off a little on the names here, as I’m translating from a Dutch windows :)). Note though that when you do that, it might cause some programs to (incorrectly) think that you want a Japanese user interface, or cause wrong characters to be displayed in some programs, and even some rare incompatibilities, so only do this when you need to.

Electric appliances

The Japanese electricity net uses 110V, which is similar to the US, but if you’re from Europe you’ll have to check whether your devices can work on the 110V net. In my case, most of the stuff I brought with me (laptop, razor, external harddrive) worked directly on a 110V net, however my wireless network router that I brought didn’t, and I had to buy a new power adapter for it.

Simple adapter plugs can be bought from various stores in Kyōto’s electronic district. If you need a power adapter, there is a small electronics store in the electronic district that has those.

Mobile phone

Japan does not have a GSM network; they only have UMTS networks and a network that predates (and is incompatible with) GSM. So, you will usually not be able to use your European phone in Japan. This may be different when you have an UMTS phone though, it probably depends on whether your provider has a roaming contract with a Japanese provider. In that case, be sure to check with your provider for more information.

When you purchase a phone in Japan, NTT DoCoMo and Softbank’s phones use the UMTS system (called FOMA by DoCoMo). AU (by KDDI) uses the CDMA2000 system, which is not compatible with UMTS. This may be interesting information if you want to buy a phone that you would be able to take home, but you might also want to keep things simple and go for the cheaper AU, they have a student discount.

Buying a phone in Japan is really cheap, often free. The subscription fees however are unfortunately pretty high, and you quickly get additional costs. Don’t be surprised by a monthly fee of 3000円 for the cheapest subscription, and getting the occasional surprise on your phone bill. If you plan to use iMode or other internet services, it’s recommended to get a subscription. Cancelling a subscription prematurely costs about 3000円 at DoCoMo. You can cancel a subscription any day, directly. Bringing someone who can speak Japanese is advised if you can’t (e.g. you could ask your tutor). Don’t use your phone in the hour before you cancel it, or they’ll make you wait.

As for the most economic choice, AU (by KDDI) has a special student reduction on the monthly fee. However, whether this is actually cheaper in practice, I’m not sure about that.