A personal narrative about the Yoshida-Ryo Dormitory in Kyoto, Japan. Sept. 2018

I needed a cheap place to stay while I was in Kyoto and so it happened that this beautiful Japanese girl, who looked like an Asian Cleopatra, told me about the Yoshida-Ryo dormitory. For as little as¥200 (apx.1.50€) per night, one is welcome to stay. I was intrigued about this place, so I made my way there. I was lost for quite some time in the huge, modern university campus.  And as I was walking around, looking at all those grand scary-looking Neo complexes, I couldn’t help but wonder if this 105-year-old wooden utilitarian building I was told about really existed. I followed a short path lined with tall Gingko trees, the ground covered with bicycles, which is not an unusual sight in Japan. 

I finally arrived at Yoshida-Ryo Dormitory.

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I had a funny feeling in my stomach as I could sense the mysterious, intellectual and historical vibration of this place. I walked in and it felt like crossing the portal into an underworld, something I had only experienced in my dreams. I had a brief exchange with one student in the reception area who put my name down for my overnight stay. Then he disappeared. In fact everything earthly seemed to have disappeared including myself.

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A pair of Zōri (Japanese sandals) and a pair of crocks, indoor corridor

I was walking around feeling invisible and almost in trance along these long wooden ghostly corridors. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I walked seemed to open a new universe of wonder and excitement.  The corridors and rooms where filled with many objects, that one might call trash, but I call it art. It felt like each object fitted right in and was supposed to be there to complete the picture. I was completely taken in by this wondrous, exotic place that not only hosts students but also chickens, birds, turtles and fish.

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Most rooms were locked with a padlock but I could have a peek in some vacant rooms and each one of them carried a unique spirit of a long gone history, for it had withstood many earthquakes, typhoons and other hardships.

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Kitchen stove and oily residues

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Bathroom urinals

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Outdoor Yard

I was captivated by the outdoor area, the sun was setting as I was walking around and it gave the old wooden building a special glow and charm. An explosion of growth and death, nature in its pure wilderness, sweetened by pretty red vibrant flowers of forlorn beauty.

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Sadly the future of Yoshida Ryo Dormitory is unclear.  Nearly a century old and probably the last remaining example of the once common Japanese wooden university dormitory is now facing its closure.  Kyoto university wants the tenants out of their student administrated residence. The official reason: safety risk in the event of an earthquake.  Although in agreement on this point, students call for restoration instead of deterioration and demolition of their living space. Looking at the long history of Yoshida-Ryo dormitory students will not budge this time round either.  

Yoshida-Ryo Dormitory is a safety net for many students with financial difficulties with a low rent of ¥2,500 (apx.19.50€) per month that certainly takes away the burden of financial anxiety.  Watanabe, a former resident,  told Yahoo News. “I hope that a place like Yoshida-Ryo will always exist in our society. The building itself and the spirit that inhabits the building are inseparable, so if you destroy one of them, you cannot rebuild them easily.”

And having experienced this unique place I couldn’t agree more with Watanabe’s words. Destroying Yoshida-Ryo Dormitory would be like uprooting an ancient tree that has outlived many natural disasters but will it outlive the human proclamation?