As many of us can testify, being on JET is a transformative experience. Every day, we’re pushing ourselves, growing, learning—struggling and thriving by turns. For some of us, JET is a first foray into the “real world” post-graduation. For some of us, it’s our first time living alone, or living abroad, or both. These are huge changes, and they can be daunting. However, something that we all have in common is that we weather them the best we can, often with a little help from our friends.
When informing friends of my plans to move back stateside this summer, many asked if my time on JET lived up to my expectations.
Me: “You mean the expectations I had when flying halfway across the earth to teach in a country I’d never visited before? And knew no one living there?”
Them: “Well, when you put it that way…”
In certain ways, JET has been better than what I could have ever imagined—namely, the bonds I’ve formed with my students, coworkers, and friends. (I <3 our GUNMAFAM!) In others, I can honestly say that I’ve been pushed well past my breaking point. This year in particular has shown me that not every experience can, or should, be viewed through the rose-colored glasses so many of us expats tend to wear. Even at its darkest points, though, there have been people and things that are causing me to tear up as I write this, due to the bittersweet knowledge that my time here is rapidly coming to an end.
Since I don’t want to be the only one crying, do me a favor, okay? Think back. It’s 201X, and you’ve just found out that you’re going to Gunma. What were your goals before arriving? Have you since achieved them, and marked the occasion by coloring in the other eye of your daruma? Have you discovered new ones? Did you find something (or perhaps someone) that inspires you? Or done something so outside the realm of what you believed possible that your 201X-Gunma-Orientation-self would pause in shock and/or awe, thinking, “Really? That’s me?”
Case-in-point: Did I ever foresee myself becoming GAJET’s president? Absolutely…not. But contributing to a positive and supportive community has always been something I’ve gravitated towards, and this committee was one inroad to achieving that goal. Despite the challenges that accompany being a part of any volunteer organization, I can honestly say that GAJET has had a significant and lasting impact on me. Maybe the same can be said for some of you, as well. (Though perhaps in different ways—we’re not all trying to start NPOs post-JET, are we?)
Gunma, and the people here, have been my home for three indescribable years. Facing down the void of tomorrow’s possibilities can be terrifying, especially when the point you’re heading towards is so vastly different from where you saw yourself ending up when you first started out. That’s growth, though. It can be scary, or even painful at times. But, I know that no matter where that path leads, the experiences I’ve had here, and the people I’ve met along the way have shaped me into someone who can navigate it.
There will always be a crane-shaped mark on my heart from my years as a Gunma JET. When it comes time for you to leave, it is my sincerest hope that you feel the same.
Thanks to everyone who submitted an application for the 2019-2020 GAJET Committee. You can vote by clicking here. Voting will end by the end of Wednesday, June 12.
Ciara Lily Malone (Takasaki)
Running for: President and Seibu Rep
Happy Reiwa, Gunma! I’m Ciara from the UK, going into my third year as an Elementary School teacher in Yoshii-machi. I’m hoping to become your shiny, new President! I’ve had an incredible time being your Seibu Rep for the past year, getting to know as many of you as I could, and organising some pretty memorable events! (Thank you for all your support – it’s been an absolute blast). Our prefecture would be nothing without your participation and sense of community, which I hope to uphold during my time as P.
GAJET is an overwhelmingly active organisation, beyond anything I could have imagined before I arrived in Japan. My time as Seibu Rep has given me the opportunity to engage in many new aspects of country life, and expand my understanding of both Gunma and its residents. From kokeshi painting to camping, from fireworks to illuminations, I have spent this past year working my absolute hardest to bring our gigantic community closer. As President, I want to bring you even more events that bring us even closer together, as well as updating and expanding our online resources, and upholding the values of the cabbage patch.
I hope I can spend another year bringing you the best of the inaka!
Edward No (Takasaki)
Running for: President
Good morning and おはようございます, wonderful Gunma ALTs! My name is Edward No and I’m running for the position of GAJET president! I’m currently a Takasaki-shi ALT and am loving every minute of it. When I’m not teaching, you can find me doing calisthenics, going to church, or looking for delicious restaurants around Gunma. If I haven’t met you already, I’m looking forward to doing so at the next GAJET event!
What can I do for you:
Act as a resource for all your Gunma needs – whether you’re looking for a local Japanese-English exchange circle, just need someone to help you navigate making your first doctor’s appointment, or figure out how to send money home through furikomi – I’m here to help you out or find someone who can!
Plan and host community events for all Gunma ALTs – did you love GAJET events like Gunma Games, Canyons, I CAN, and many more? Look forward to loving these events again this year. With the combined efforts of the GAJET board and community, these events will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your year. Additionally, if you have great ideas for community events, we can make it happen! From planning to logistics to execution, I’m here to make your ideas a reality.
Passionate about community building
Deeply engaged with the Gunma ALT community
Take pride in overcoming challenges through collaboration
Enjoy supporting and empowering others
Optimistic with a Can-Do attitude
Thank you for your time and consideration! Have a great day!
Camilla Webber (Fujioka)
Running for: Vice President and Seibu Rep
When I heard I was placed on JET in Gunma prefecture, I knew that Gunma was famous for a few things: konnyaku, cabbage and strong women, to name a few. However, one thing I was not aware of, but learnt immediately on arriving here, is how warm, friendly and supportive the JET community is here.
Growing up in the countryside in the UK, I recognise that the community plays a different and far more important role here, compared to that in the city. As an active and very sociable person, I would love the opportunity to have direct participation and influence on keeping our community strong and well connected, by serving as either Vice President or Seibu Rep.
As VP, I would actively support the work of the President in ensuring the smooth operation of the many social events and activities that run throughout the year, which are so important for keeping our community interlinked. As Seibu Rep, I would adopt a more grass roots approach to running events specifically for the Seibu area. Running some familiar events that have run in the past, and hopefully introducing some new events that cater to the wealth of resources we have in Gunma, and to your desires as to what you would like to see from GAJET this year. In particular, I would like to implement more events over the winter period, when I feel we, as a community, need each other the most.
I think I am suitable for these positions because my favourite activity is having fun, so let’s have fun and enjoy!!!!! TANOSHIMIMASHOU!!!!!!!!!!
Alex Krause (Takasaki)
Running for: Secretary
I’m a soon-to-be third year ALT in Takasaki, and I was lucky to serve on GAJET as this past year’s secretary. I was inspired during my first year by the summer conference speaker, who encouraged us to make the most of our limited time on JET. When I thought about how I wanted to spend that time, I realized that what made me happiest was helping new ALTs and showing people Gunma’s endless gems. I made a personal vow that, during my remaining time here, I would do my best to give back to the loving community that had made this cabbage patch feel like home.
I would like to reapply for the position of secretary because I feel I served well in that capacity this past year. My strengths, which include strong organization, time management, and working well with others, allowed me to further GAGET’s goals of bringing people together and putting on great events for the community. I consistently performed my duties and enjoyed meeting many ALTs throughout Gunma from various events.
Mathew Masters (Takasaki)
Running for: Treasurer
I studied Accounting and Economics all the way up until University where I changed my studies to computers but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good equation. I enjoy numbers and balancing them at the end so I’ll make sure things stay balanced. I was the Treasurer at Auckland Universities Pokémon Club as well which gives me at least a base line of knowledge. I hope that with this experience I can learn to cooperate with other people more professionally and manage myself better too. Also, some extra sparkles for my resume would be good. Thank you for your consideration.
Chris Sept (Maebashi)
Running for: Secretary and Chubu Rep
Salutations, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Chris Sept and I would be honored to serve you either as your Chubu representative or your Secretary.
I have been a member of this community for close to 3 years and have been enjoying the benefits of wonderful people, events, and connections and it is time I used a bit of my experience to give back to JETs both veteran and rookie.
A fastidious writer and lover of learning new things, I have often taken on the role in any given setting to be the one who either leads discussions or takes notes. Growing up, I had a mind that tended to wander, which I am assured aids in creative thinking. After coming to Japan, I have trained myself to remain grounded through asking questions and writing everything down. Plus, I have found that taking a genuine interest in what people have to say is the best way to build trust and work constructively with other people. Given that GAJET is all about working together for the benefit of the community, I am ready to lend my helping hand and any other applicable appendage.
Prior to coming to Japan, I worked in a tech company that handled the infrastructure and projects of several high-profile clients, handling assets in the tens of thousands. I understand the importance of strict deadlines, competent delegation and clear communication. I also used to work in radio as a voice-over artist and promotions coordinator. This gig trained my impressive vocal skills and gave me first-hand experience of running large-scale events and appeasing crowds. I have used these skills to great benefit in my school work and I would like to bring them to bear for the benefit of my fellow ALTs.
There are big shoes to fill in the coming year and I am eager to get started. I look forward to being your resource for all the fun events we have in store.
Alice Ridley (Fujioka)
Running for: Webmaster
I would love to be a part of the GAJET committee for 2019 – 2020 as a way to give back to a group who gave me so much in my first year! GAJETs hard work and effort has been a key part of why I’ve enjoyed this past year in the cabbage patch.
I would love to be able to rep you all as web master for the coming year! Through this position I want to ensure that the GAJET committee has effective web presence to inform you all lovely ALTs about what is happening here in Gunma. And working with the Editor to showcase the articles of what you’ve been up to.
In terms of experience I have I studied information systems and management in university. I would love to be able to web design skills and navigation optimization into practice. And to learn new things on the way. Previously I have built and managed a website for a youth organization (http://www.youthvoicecanterbury.org.nz/). I am a lover of a sleek and easily navigable website!
If you haven’t already met me before, hello! I am Alice Ridley a 23-year-old from Christchurch, New Zealand. I am passionate about communities and connecting people together. In my life in NZ I was an eager member of the social enterprise community and involved myself in changing making around youth policy and environment. Fun fact about me; I used to host a weekly sustainable living radio show on an alternative radio channel. In present day Japan I am currently volunteering for Peaceboat as on ground personnel and as the community editor for CONNECT magazine.
I am a reliable and motivated individual who loves crossing things off to do lists. Constantly trying to think of new ways of how we (GAJET committee) can do things better and what is needed by our “customers” aka you. If you choose me for web master 2019-2020 I hope to make you proud! Churrr.
Paige Adrian (Takasaki)
Running for: Editor and Webmaster
Howdy! My name’s Paige Adrian and I live in the Haruna area of Takasaki. I’m going into my second year as an ALT and can’t wait to dedicate more time to this beautiful place I get to call home.
I’m interested in running for the Editor or Webmaster position, since I’m constantly on my laptop while secretly making it look like I actually go outside. My time in Japan has been an absolute blast thanks to Gunma’s fantastic community spirit, which is why I want to join GAJET and keep the good vibes going! Although the fun events are a main focus, our internet resources can be just as important for JETs, which is why I’m eager to contribute both online and off.
As a jack-of-all-trades I have previous amateur experience in writing/editing, photography/videography, and graphic design/illustration. I’ve also been on top of tech ever since my first high school job, where I taught elementary schoolers how to make dinosaur PowerPoints at the library. If elected, I’m hoping to make our online presence even more comprehensive by increasing our website resources, making information accessible and inclusive, and creating connections by showcasing our Gunma adventures on social media!
Thanks a bunch for your consideration. Let’s share some great times this year and make it A E S T H E T I C !
Kitty Houchen (Kanra)
Running for: Editor
Kia Ora, or ‘hello’ in Kiwi. I’m Kitty. I’m a first-year Junior High school JET from New Zealand, living in Kanra-machi (I know, I hadn’t heard of it either). Despite the trepidation I felt when I received my placement, I’ve had an amazing time over the past year exploring Gunma. I’ve particularly enjoyed participating in an array of GAJET events, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the community I now call home.
I come from a film and theatre background, and spent my time before JET screenwriting and designing shows for the Hamilton Operatic Society. It’s been exciting to see the growth of the GAJET website this past year, showcasing some amazing events happening all over our lovely prefecture. As an aspiring member of GAJET, I would strive to continue the great work of our current editor, and present even more quality content from all of you in our community.
Gunma is an incredibly diverse prefecture with so much to offer. From Oze to Ueno-mura, there is an unbelievable amount of things to do. So much so, that it can be difficult to keep up with what’s going on. To help discover the best cherry blossom spots, restaurants, festivals, and fun, I want to use the GAJET website as a platform to host the knowledge of our community for everyone.
Valerie Landers (Tomioka)
Running for: Seibu Rep
Hello again!!!! After having an absolute blast serving on the 2018-2019 GAJET committee as Vice President, I’m ready and hype for Round 2! In the upcoming year I hope to serve as a representative for the Seibu region. This year’s reps have done a spectacular job, going above and beyond to provide a variety of top-notch activities for Seibu et al, and I’m excited to follow in their footsteps. They’ve raised the bar, so let’s reach it and more!
This will be my fourth year living and working in Tomioka. A good portion of these first three years has been spent adventuring around Gunma, getting to know some of its best spots. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s introducing others to the Gunma goodness surrounding us! As a regional representative I will organize hikes, movie nights, food trips and field trips, so we can get to know the Seibu region and our JET family better. My aim is to create opportunities for Gunma JETs to make and grow connections that will help them find success and joy in their Gunma life.
When it comes to building up our fantastic Gunma JET community, my mottos are “The more the merrier” and “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If Gunma’s awesome activities are made more accessible, more can join in the fun! As in this past year, as a regional representative I will work to make Gunma more accessible to fellow JETs in language and transportation, so that we can enjoy the best of Gunma!
Hello! I’m Linka, a (soon to be) 2nd year elementary ALT in Higashiagatsuma-machi. I live with my very patient fiancé Nick in the middle of a rice paddy. I love photography, hiking, traveling, and finding every flavor of soft cream possible.
In my year of living in the Agatsuma region, I’ve fallen in love with the area and our community here. I want to be able to share that love with incoming JETs and help to bring those in the Tone/Agatsuma region closer together (even though we’re usually pretty far apart). I have spent almost every weekend in the past year out exploring glorious Gunma; from festivals to hiking to flowers to onsen. I know I can come up with some great ways to share those experiences with everyone in this region. The Tone/Agatsuma region is a beautiful and under-visited area. One of my goals if I were to be elected as representative would be to bring more Gunma JETs here to experience what the region has to offer.
Above all, I have passion for this area and for the Gunma JET community. I want to help support our community and bring us all closer together. Thank you!
Aidan Koch (Kiryu)
Running for: Tobu Rep
I am interested in GAJET because of its ability to bring people from all over Gunma together. Community is very important to me, and I want to make a warm and welcoming one for all Gunma ALTs, present and future. Cultivating a strong community here will make us all feel at home, and we could all use that in some way or another. After all, we are all here together as foreigners.
I have extensive experience throughout Boy Scouts, University Student Government, and Fraternity Operations that I know will make me an invaluable member of the GAJET team. I planned and executed an Eagle Scout Project in 2014, helmed my Residence Hall Council as President, planning activities that brought residents of the hall together to enjoy each other’s company, and I held multiple E-Boare Positions within my Fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, where I swear through many different event from committee meetings to Senior Sendoffs and Alumni Gatherings. These experiences have taught me a lot about what it takes to make an event go well, and I am eager to bring my knowledge into GAJET.
If I should be privileged enough to become the Tobu Representative, I will do everything in my power to make Tobu and Gunma as a whole as welcoming as I can. Gunma has become my home, and I want it to be all of yours as well.
Good luck to all the candidates. We are looking forward to GAJET’s continued success in the 2019-2020 contract year!
The questions began popping into my head when I saw a poster of my predecessor, dressed in some form of make-shift wedding dress, sprinting for her life with a handful of others through a foot deep of mud. どろんこ祭り (doronko-matsuri). As to why my small town in the middle of nowhere had a mud and eel festival, I will never know, but I ventured into the rice paddies all the same.
Along with some other teachers from my school, I had signed up for the International Volleyball Competition – which, unsurprisingly, is played in a pool of mud. It was to be my first experience of playing volleyball and, having Googled the rules only the night before, was unsure as to what to expect. My school principle had prepared matching T-shirts, those Japanese toe socks that I had never seen anyone actually wear in real life, and a fighting spirit that was generally echoed by the other team members. A few of my co-workers were also kitted out, goggles and all, ready for war, and I was beginning to question whether I had made the right decision this morning when I left the safety of my bed. We arrived, bright and early, on a sunny day on the first of June, and eyed up the competition. I have to say that, despite my absolute lack of confidence in my ability to play volleyball, I was reassured after spotting a group of fully grown, Japanese men with a thick layer of make-up on, Little Mermaid-style boob bras made out of paper plates, and – scrawled across their back’s – had various バースデー messages written in thick, black ink. As I looked around, similarly alarming images of the Flintstones, cat-women, medics that carried around a gigantic syringe, brides-to-be, and the undead were scattered about the field preparing for a morning of sporting fun. “What was happening?” I thought, as I took my first step into the mud, and into the madness.
Fun fact: attempting to do any form of physical activity in mud is abnormally difficult. Even walking proved to be a challenge.
After watching my school principle dive for the ball, fail to even to touch it and take out two of his team members in the process, it was my turn to play. I was nervous, but I did my best, and lost my first match spectacularly (and the two after that as well). In fact, the only game that we did win was against a group of Junior High School students that had graduated from my school this very year. The battles continued around us. People ran, jumped, stumbled, and tumbled, and grew steadily dirtier and dirtier until they resigned to simply lay in mud, like a bath. By the end of the tournament, there wasn’t a single white shirt left on the field, and my hair was no longer a shade of ginger.
The following day, I returned to the festival – mentally prepared this time – and watched as thirty or so mothers, and then thirty or so fathers, attempted to race, as fast as they could, through the field of thick mud. Men and women stumbled and fell, hard, ripping themselves back out of the mud with only their eyes visible through the layers and layers of dirt that covered their face and bodies. Eels were released into the water, and children fought to catch them with their bare hands, diving this way and that as the adults struggled to catch up behind them. And then, the race which had brought me here in the first place. Foreign couples lined up at one side of the course, wearing beautiful, clean, white wedding dresses. The whistle blew and they dove into the water, sprinting to the finish line. Shambles of the prim and proper couples they once were, our two ALT teams were handed a live fish as their prize. After watching the carnage unfold, I started to think that the volleyball competition from the day before wasn’t actually so bad…
What amazes me about Japan is that, even a town as small as mine, can have such a unique and distinctive event that is accessible to all. If you weren’t able to make it out to Yoshii this time, I hope you’ll join me on the muddy battlegrounds next year!
Big thanks to everyone who submitted photos for the GAJET spring 2019 photo contest! You can see all the submissions down below. Vote for your favorite pictures via the Facebook photo gallery. One “like” equals a vote.
Voting has closed and our winner has been decided. Congratulations to Paul for his amazing photo of a daruma burning!
We hope to see more great photos for the next contest!
The GAJET community gathered in Maebashi this past Saturday for the eighth annual I Can Japan charity event. ALTs and locals alike gathered for an evening of great food, performances, and prizes. All the money raised at this event is given to the Komochiyama foster home in Shibukawa, Gunma.
We hope to see you all next year. In the meantime, check out the photos from the event. Thanks to Jansen Magarro and Gavin Au-Yeung for taking pictures.
I Can Japan began as an endeavor to support the communities affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Borrowing the kanji characters for love (愛, ‘ai’) and feelings (感, ‘kan’), I Can Japan 2019 will mark the third year of GAJET supporting Komochiyama’s cause; 100% of the proceeds raised will be donated to the foster home. Your contributions will help provide invaluable resources for the children living there.
Komochiyama is home to more than 50 children ranging from infants to teenagers. The home provides a safe, supportive, and engaging environment for these growing children.
During the visit, GAJET members took part in many fun activities with the children. The afternoon started off with self-introductions from the kids, staff, and GAJET members. After we got to know each other, we began the fun activities outside.
The first game we played was a hybrid of Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light. The goal of the game was to listen carefully and move forward only when ‘Simon says’. The kids caught on quick and it became an intense race to the finish line. The children had a great time taking large leaps towards the goal, while GAJET members struggled to keep their balance.
Afterwards, the group played Capture the Bacon. This game involved arranging the kids in numbered groups based on their size. When a number gets called out, the corresponding group would race towards the ‘bacon’ (in this case, a small bag), the first person to pick it up is the winner. This was initially confusing for some of the younger kids. It was hilarious to see some of them charging at the ‘bacon’ at every chance they got – regardless of which number was called out.
Finally, we played a fierce game of Duck-Duck-Goose. Racing around the circle of people with a 5 year old chasing after you was a challenge. It was actually quite defeating to be tagged by a kid a quarter of your size. Once tagged you would be forced to sit in the middle of the circle, and become the ‘duck soup.’ While in the circle, the slurping sounds and tiny chomping jaws begin. Some of the kids would say you are delicious while others would show disgust. The children had no restraint in telling us what they thought.
To cool down after all the excitement, we ventured back inside to make paper suns for I Can Japan. Be sure to come out on May 25 to see their beautiful creations. Suns, faces, and cartoon characters were only some of the pieces of art that were made.
Four o’clock had come and we had to say our goodbyes. Hugs and head pats were a plenty, and some kids held on to us a little longer than others. I found myself surrounded by the children, ripping off their nametags and slapping them onto my jacket.
This afternoon served as a reminder that we are easily caught up in our lives; losing sight of what is happening around the community. We are truly fortunate to be ALTs in Gunma. The time we spent at the foster home showed us that children are able to enjoy their lives despite their unfortunate experiences. It showed us the strength of these children. Furthermore, the workers at Komochiyama deserve recognition for maintaining a safe, clean and healthy place for these kids to grow. We were able to witness the love, compassion and kindness they have for these children.
It is from this strong sense of community that we can move forward and proudly say “I Can!”
Jansen Magarro is a fourth year JET in Tatebayashi. He is on this year’s GAJET committee as the Tobu representative. Come out and say “hi” to him at I Can Japan.
Hanami, flowering viewing, is a popular event each year during spring time to witness the beautiful, pink return of spring to Gunma’s mountains and valleys. However, the Kanra Castle Town Obata Sakura Festival is not your ordinary hanami experience. An annual event, this festival exists to celebrate the beloved sakura blossoms, while simultaneously paying tribute to the era in which Obata was created. Hanami featuring a Musha Gyoretsu—a warrior parade.
Every year, the Kanra Board of Education invites Gunma ALTs to participate in this remarkable parade. I had jumped at the chance to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A few days before the event, I received some paperwork for the event.
Among the package was a letter written entirely in Japanese, addressed to, “Maja Thoenes, foreign warrior.”
On March 31st, all 11 “foreign warriors” rolled into the freezing, drizzling Kanra Junior High School Gym parking lot. Filing inside one by one, the gym seemed to give off a warm, orange glow. Every inch of the floor was covered with weapons and neatly folded piles of clothing: bright red and pink yukata with spears, embroidered green and gold kimono, and full suits of obsidian samurai armor that stood like little mountains amongst the fabric plains. Although only eight in the morning, the gym was already brimming with people, and they collectively turned around to watch the stunned foreign warriors walk inside.
We found our piles of clothing and weaponry, and after a while, the rental gear workers were ready to help us dress. We started in our long underwear and put on two-toed tabi socks and sandals. Over that, a simple white robe, with a plain but mighty obi around our waist restricting blood-flow to our brains. Next, the top—it was heavy and shiny, with wide sleeves that hid our hands. We stepped into the pants made of the same fabric, creating the classic image of the warrior pant-suit of the samurai. These were tied around us at waist again, and we were wrapped a second time with another thick obi. Our weapons were next: a long katana with a leather belt around our hips, and a knife in a sheath that was forced in between the folds of the two obi. For the finishing touches, we tied the tassels on the neck of our robes, and we donned a stiff, black mesh hat. Some of us awkwardly tried to unsheathe our katana, while others snapped quick selfies and practiced their finest blue steel faces. We could hardly move or breathe in all the gear, but no doubt we looked as glorious and badass as we felt in our hearts.
Once everyone was dressed, we walked from the gym to the nearby Rakusan-en, a lovely Japanese-style garden built by the son of Oda Nobunaga. Nearly a hundred other procession participants were already there, taking photos in front of the koi fish pond and hiding from the sprinkling rain under the thatched roofs of the tea houses. After a short word from the mayor and an introduction of two visiting comedians, all the participants lined up into formation for the procession.
Cannon fire from the top of the hill announced the festival’s start. Just as we took our first steps, the sun came out.
Observers stood along the sides of the street with their cameras ready as we paraded through in groups, sporting dozens of different types of historical Japanese clothing. Heavily armored palace guards with towering kanji helmets and tiger fur coats, long red-robed philosophers with skyscraper hats, elementary school-aged peasant guards wearing bamboo sandals, historical royalty wearing colorful veils, and even horses bridled with teal masks, yellow tassels dancing on their noses. In the middle of all of this, the foreign warriors, marching and smiling amongst the waving flags and river of robes. We greeted the students, teachers and strangers that surrounded us on every side. The procession was occasionally paused so that we cheer together: Ei, ei, oh! Ei, ei, oh! Although the sakura overhead had barely begun to bloom, the warmth in the wind was undeniable—spring was here, and it almost felt like we were leading her in.
We marched from Rakusan-en to Kanra Obatahachiman, a humble shrine resting between tall, noble pine trees. We took a break in the sun for some green tea, apple juice, and pictures before getting into formation once more for the trek back to the gardens. The festival had been waiting for our arrival, a taiko drum team welcoming us to our positions in front of a large stage, set up before an ocean of observers. The mayor gave a small speech to announce the official start of the Sakura Festival, and we gave our “Ei, ei, oh” war cry for a final time.
Although the procession’s journey had only been a little over two kilometers, we were exhausted. Back in the gym, we stripped off our samurai gear in only a fraction of the time it had taken to put it on, covering the floor in fabric once more. We inhaled our bento while chatting about the parade—we had heard lots of compliments in English, such as “beautiful” and “handsome,” but we agreed that “Can you teach me English?” in Japanese had been our favorite. We had laughed and said that we could.
Although I doubt the historical accuracy of including a bunch of overseas English teachers in cultural celebration such as this, there was no doubt that the Kanra community was delighted by our involvement, and we were so honored to be a part of it all. The residents of Kanra are so friendly and outgoing—we were asked to take a staggering number of photos, and so many people went out of their way to ask us about ourselves and complement our awesome get-up.
It turned out that the Kanra Board of Education had sponsored our participation costs, including our lunch, so the entire experience was free of cost. The Kanra ALT supervisor even went so far as to follow us around during the procession, carrying our wallets and keys and making sure we all got back safely. We are so thankful for the kindness and generosity shown by the Kanra Board of Education to the participating ALTs each year, and we look forward to many more festivals in the future.
We left the gym and returned to the festival grounds to pay a little visit the food stalls that were serving yakisoba, karaage, yakimajuu and other enticing treats. We sat at the very back of the crowd for a while, our hands full of food, watching a live samurai drama. The actors fought their opponents, doing summer saults and backflips, their katana and robes thrashing in the wind. It was like a window into the past, the illusion spoiled only by the corny but endearing sound effects blasted over the speakers.
By the time the drama ended and applause filled the air, the grass where we once sat was empty. No one noticed, but we foreign warriors had quietly slipped away, the sakura budding above us.
Maja Thoenes is a second year JET from Alabama. She is a published author, and enjoys hiking and binging Netflix. You can find her work on Amazon.