Author: Gavin Au-Yeung

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Five Ways to Win Against the Winter Woes

February 1, 2019 | Blog, Guides, JET Life | No Comments

Gunma’s windy winter got you feeling down? Feeling in a rut because your winter days consist of going to work and then immediately retreating home to your kotatsu? Its time for you to leave the winter slump!

Here are five tips to get yourself up and moving!

Winter: a time for staying under the kotatsu (photo by tarte777 on Flickr)

1: Improve yourself

It’s not uncommon for JETs to spend the warmer (read: better) seasons travelling around or beyond Japan. A lot of people tire of travelling during the winter months because its simply too cold. Use this travel-downtime to explore new hobbies and interest. Take an online course you’ve always been interested in. Join that gym down the street from your apartment. There are tons of things you can do in the warm confines of your home as well: learn an instrument, write short stories, cook new dishes. Personally, I like to spend my time playing video games, but some people might not consider that self-improvement…

Use this time to explore new passions… and save some much needed yen for the spring time when most of us will probably find new places to travel to.

2: Hang out

If you’re feeling the winter woes, chances are that your fellow JETs are also experiencing something similar. If possible try to get out once a week or maybe even schedule a get-together. Don’t feel like braving the cold winter? Get together for a warm nabe party. Who wouldn’t want to eat hot pot on a cold, cold night?  The point is, its always good to see a friendly face every once in a while.

Winter: the best time to eat nabe (photo from Wikimedia).

3: Travel… to warm places

I don’t mean getting on the next flight to Okinawa. But its extremely important to get out of your house every so often (and going to work doesn’t count). If you’re as allergic to the cold as I am, you would be wise to flock to warmer indoor places. Use these months to check out that local cafe you were always interested in (but never had the time to go to), or try going to a museum. If all else fails, a little retail therapy inside the (warm) shopping mall might do the trick.

This wouldn’t be a Gunma website if I didn’t suggest visiting an onsen. You don’t necessarily need to travel up snowy mountains to get to famous hot springs (of course, that’s cool too). Most areas will have local onsens which can get the job done as well. Enjoy the soak, fellas.

You’re missing out if you’ve never experienced an outdoor onsen during the winter (photo from Wikimedia).

4: Think about your post-JET life

This point is especially important for those who have already declared their intention to leave this summer. Just from speaking with friends who are about to leave the JET, it’s clear that a good amount of leaving JETs are uncertain about their future. Use this time to research possible careers, revise your resume, and even talk with others about their career plans. And of course, the After JET Conference will be held on February 28 this year.

It’s best to get the worrying out of the way. With the spring approaching in another month or so, you’ll want to cherish your last months on JET.

5: Come out to GAJET’s Skibo 2019 event

Gunma is incredibly famous for its ski resorts. If you’ve always wanted to ski (or snowboard), feel free to come along with GAJET as we tackle the slopes at Kusatsu! Sign up now, because the event is coming soon (Feb 22)! More information can be found here.

Gunma is well known for its skiing/snowboarding scene (photo by Jaime Wong)

For more ideas, check out this previous article: Winter in Gunma: A guide to keeping sane

Got more suggestions for surviving the winter? Feel free to leave a comment!

GAJET Halloween photo contest

November 7, 2018 | GAJET Events, Gallery | No Comments

Thanks for everyone who came out to celebrate Halloween in Takasaki. Check out the gallery to see some of the awesome costumes which were seen that night!

About the School Snack Box

September 13, 2018 | Blog, Japan life, JET Life | No Comments

I’m going to make a guess about your school. Whether it’s elementary, junior high, or high school, I bet there’s some little table or room where everyone gathers to eat some snacks or drink tea. A lot of times, I think ALTs (including myself!) are intimidated by the group of teachers hanging out at the snack table and tend to just stay at their desks instead. But that snack table is actually your gateway into their social network and more natural communication! So, go and be brave, go and break through the barrier to that shining snack table of light! But…there’s one little politeness sticky point here.

Is it okay to indulge in the snacks?

I certainly can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but I can tell you about my own. For the first few weeks at school, I would only eat/drink something when someone brought it to me. For example, I wouldn’t go make myself a cup of tea. Of course, if one of the teachers brought me a cup, I would be happy to drink it. The only guidance I received on the communal snack box was when I was presented with a saved-up mountain of summer omiyage and told that if I didn’t want anything, it was okay to just put it in the box. As time went on and I grew braver; I started to serve myself tea or coffee. But I still stayed away from the snacks. The promised land still seemed to be hidden behind a veil of confusing politeness.

Eventually, as she grew more comfortable with me, the school secretary told me that everyone in the office usually donates 500 yen for her to buy snacks and coffee for everyone to share. I immediately felt embarrassed, like I had been being very rude by treating myself to their things without chipping in – but then I realized that she was actually offering me a way to be more in tune with the rest of the teachers. Great! This is my way in! About two hours later, I trotted up to her desk with a bunch of 100 yen coins and handed them over. She was actually really surprised and immediately assured me that I could drink and eat anything I wanted, as much as I wanted. She made sure to emphasize this point by going to the snack box, grabbing a handful of candies, and depositing them on my desk. Remember that the gossip grapevine can be your friend! Shortly afterwards, the school nurse, my JTE, and the head teacher all approached me to say thanks for chipping in.

The moral of the story is…don’t do what I did. You literally have a person there (your JTE) who can answer all your questions about office politeness. I would have been spared a lot of anxiety if I had just asked “hey, is it okay for me to eat snacks from the box?” If they say yes, go ahead! If they tell you what the deal is, then just follow their instructions. My advice: if no one asks you to chip in at all, bring something in to contribute occasionally. Even just a bag of senbei or hard candy from the grocery store. Your efforts will definitely be noticed and appreciated. If you’re uncomfortable in the teacher’s room, your life at school will probably be a bit sucky. So, ask the questions, do your part, and eat the snacks!


Linka Wade is a first year elementary school JET in Higashiagatsuma. She enjoys learning how to cook Japanese food, travelling, and researching tidbits of Japanese cultural history and linguistics. You can find her research (told in only somewhat decent jokes) and adventure updates on www.linkalearnsthings.wordpress.com

Although Gunma is safe from most largescale natural disasters, it’s good to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. In addition to preparing an emergency kit and knowing emergency contact numbers, it’s helpful to know the closest shelter to both your home and workplace. Your workplace may even be a shelter!

There is a very convenient map of designated shelters on Yahoo!, but the guide is all in Japanese. English instructions have been written below for your convenience.

Evacuation Site Map

https://crisis.yahoo.co.jp/map/

If you don’t know where you are, leave the box blank and it can search based on your current location.

If you want to search for another area, either type in 群馬県 + your municipality into the municipality box (市区町村) and click the green search button, or search by clicking on a Prefecture listed below. (See 群馬)

The default setting will show you all or you can click on Type of Disaster (災害の種類 saigai no shurui) to see shelters for each type of disaster.

Disaster Symbols

  • 地震 (jishin): earthquake
  • 津波 (tsunami): tsunami
  • 洪水 (kouzui): flood
  • 土砂災害 (dosha saigai): landslide
  • 内水氾濫※ (naisui hanran): inland flood*
  • 高潮 (kouchou): tidal wave
  • 火災 (kasai): fire
  • 火山噴火 (kazan funka): volcanic eruption

*In cases of heavy rain, sewers and other drains overflow and buildings and roads can flood.

Using the map

The default search will give you a list of shelters for all types of disasters, but you can refine your search if you want. If you click on a shelter, it will tell you the location, address, and types of disasters you can go there for. (You can see that there are pretty much no shelters in Gunma for tsunamis or tidal waves because we don’t get them here.)

Here, you can see that you can go to Maebashi Park (前橋公園 maebashi kouen) in case of an earthquake or landslide.

There will also be a list of the 10 nearest shelters from the middle of the map.

And that’s all! I recommend also bookmarking this page on your phone so you can use it wherever you go in Japan. It might save you in case of a natural disaster!

Note: There is also an app available in Japanese, but you will need a Yahoo! account to use it.

You can see additional information and resources (incl. an emergency pocket guide for JETs) on the CLAIR website: http://jetprogramme.org/en/emergency-support/

Tobu Repeats at 2018 Gunma Games

September 2, 2018 | Blog, GAJET Events, JET Life | No Comments

When the dust settled, it was the team in green who hoisted the coveted Golden Cabbage; the second consecutive year in which the Tobu region would win the late-summer classic.

ALTs from all across Gunma traveled to Takasaki as the Gunma Games returned for its sixth iteration on September 1. As always, the event attracted a large crowd of both new and returning JETs. Throughout the day, competitors from the five regions of Gunma competed in a series of events in which – keeping on topic with Gunma – involved A LOT of cabbages.

Competitors jump, tossed, and stomped their way through the day’s eight events before the Tobu team took home the trophy. Events included the cabbage toss, cabbage bowling,  Gunma trivia, and the ever-popular Ultimate Cabbage.

Often considered the first major GAJET event of the new JET-year, the Gunma Games is a great chance for everyone to gather and make new friends . Despite the competitive energy in the air, camaraderie and friendship stood out to be the real main events of the day.

Relive the action by checking out the photos here (Facebook album)

 

 

Looking for a way to meet new people in Gunma while having fun and competing? Say no more! It’s almost time for the sixth annual Gunma Games!

Never heard of the Gunma Games? The Gunma Games is usually the first large GAJET event after the new JETs arrive in Gunma. Come on out and represent your region in this Olympic-style sporting event! Events can range from trivia, paper crane folding, relay-race, and of course the ever-popular Ultimate Cabbage!

Athletes and non-athletes alike are welcome to participate. Regardless of your abilities, you’ll be sure to have a fun time.

The Gunma Games will be held on September 1st at Takasaki Ishihara Green Space. Please arrive by 11:30 as the opening ceremonies will commence at noon.

The Gunma Games wouldn’t be complete without the following Welcome Beer Garden. There’s no better way to end off a day in the sun than with drinking with your fellow competitors. Everyone is welcome to join us as the Takasaki Takashiyama Rooftop Beer Garden after the festivities.

Please sign up via the google document (click here), and remember to wear your region appropriate color to the event (PS. Speak to your regional representative if you don’t know what color you are)!

Time: Gunma Games (11:30 – 16:00) and Welcome Beer Garden (17:00 – 21:00)

Fee: Gunma Games (free) and Welcome Beer Garden (3,000 for males and 2,600 for females)

For more information, please check out the Facebook event or contact a GAJET member.

Home is Gunma

July 31, 2018 | Blog, JET Life | No Comments

For leaving JETs, summer is often a time for closure. They come from all over the world, but for a brief moment – whether it be one year or five – they all shared the bond of calling Gunma home. Although these JETs will be moving on to new adventures, it’s certain that their time in Gunma will be unforgettable.

As they prepare to depart, GAJET caught up with some leaving JETs to reflect on their time in Gunma.

“It was a blank slate. I didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Teresa Coture (second year, Fujioka) when asked about her first impression of Gunma, “My placement turned out to be pretty rural, but I was happy about it, because I’m not much of a city person.”

Alissa Balge (third year, Fujioka) admits she was initially worried about moving to Gunma because she believed there would not be a lot of things to do in Gunma. “But [my impression of Gunma] changed since. It’s beautiful here, and great if you love onsen!”

Nature is just one of many reasons for why JETs love Gunma.

Aside from Gunma’s abundance of nature, scenery, and hot-springs. Leaving JET are quick to speak about the amazing people they’ve met in Gunma.

“I really like the community here. The people are nice, and are open to talking with you,” says Anne Kanamori (second year, Kiryu) when asked about what she will remember the most about her time in Gunma. “Any events which were organized by GAJET, or JOMO JET, or any kind of international community was impressionable.”

“I’ll remember lots of times from school, talking and having fun with students and singing with the teacher’s rock band, and my community naginata club, and travels with friends,” reflects Abby Ryder-Huth (second year, Takasaki). “Most of all, I will miss my friends and teachers and students, the communities here that I love.”

“There is such a large community of ALTs here to support you and help you out,” adds Josh Frankle (third year, Kiryu). “My most memorable moments came from the GAJET events. In particular, Gunma Games and the Canyons adventure trips. I made a lot of friends and memories during those events.”

Sayounara, senpais!

While these amazing JETs are busy preparing for their post-JET lives, they were also happy to offer an array of advice for the next generation of Gunma JETs.

“Make friends. Find people you like to be around. Create a support network early,” suggests Will Emerson (second year, Takasaki). “It can be tough being alone, especially in the winter. Make sure you have friends you can consistently see on a regular basis, and that will keep your spirits high.”

“Go to the events as much as you can,” mentions Kelli-Ann Kobaysahi (first year, Kiryu). “Even in Gunma there is so much to see – and that’s really great. GAJET allows us to see a lot of Gunma through their events.”

“Japan is an experience, and it might not always meet your expectations – and a lot of the times, it won’t,” says Kristin Wilson (4th year, Takasaki). “But in the end, I think you’ll be happy that you did it.”

Although each departing JET has had their own unique experiences, it was clear that they all experienced the true nature of Gunma. Breathtaking scenery, an amazing ALT community, and perhaps most importantly – a place they were able to call home.

And to all the new JETs arriving in Gunma this summer…

Welcome to the family!


Gavin Au-Yeung is the 2018-2019 editor for GAJET. Thanks to Devyn Couch, Valerie Sanders, and Edward Portillo for conducting interviews. And a special thanks to all the JETs who will be leaving Gunma this summer. Otsukaresama!

Head to the seventh floor food court at Takasaki’s OPA mall on any given Wednesday evening, and you will likely see groups of young people seated at tables and cheerfully chatting. It may seem innocuous at first glance, but upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that they are not regular mall-goers.

Take a closer look and you’ll further notice that each group is comprised of two foreigners and two Japanese locals. Placed on each table, an orange piece of laminated paper with a picture of Gunma’s beloved mascot, Gunma-Chan.

Written above the picture: GJEE.

To get a clear picture, we need to rewind the calendar six months.

The story begins on a chilly February evening. A small group of Gunma JETs are gathered in a living room. Seated by a kotatsu, the group begins to discuss their plans for organizing Gunma’s newest language exchange; something which would eventually become a grassroots movement.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of ALTs in Gunma and many have a genuine desire to learn Japanese,” says Andrew Qiu, a first year JET living in Takasaki. “However, the problem is that ALTs don’t have anyone to practice with.”

Simply put, GJEE (abbreviated from Gunma Japanese English Exchange, but often pronounced as G.G.) is a weekly event where Japanese locals and expats come together with a common goal of learning a new language.

Participants sign up online in order to RSVP for the next event. Events are held every Wednesday and language learners arrive at the food court by 7 PM. Turnout usually ranges from 16 to 20 participants.

Paying attention to the English and Japanese abilities of each member, everyone is carefully placed into prearranged groups; the idea is to get a good balance as to avoid stagnant conversation.

The magic begins when everyone is seated.

The process is simple for the hour-long event: the first half hour is dedicated to English conversation, and the latter half is carried out in Japanese.

Of course, creating a language exchange from scratch is no easy task. But the process has been extremely rewarding for the GJEE team.

In the earlier days, Andrew would find himself personally reaching out to friends – both English speakers and Japanese locals – in order to garner enough participants. At one point, Andrew and GJEE co-founder Jeef Chandra (first year JET, Takasaki), pitched the language exchange to local university students during a lecture. Now, with more than 70 members, the signup spots practically fill themselves up.

Initially reserved, many newcomers may be scared to speak in a language besides their native tongue. However, there is always something about GJEE events which captivate even the most withdrawn participants.

For the novice language learners, making mistakes could be a terrifying experience. However, that fear is easily remedied with a warm smile; that’s all it takes to break through any language barrier.

A culture of friendship is perpetuated at GJEE. Don’t be afraid to stumble across unfamiliar vocabulary, mispronounce words, or even use incorrect grammar. No one will judge you, and everyone will be thrilled to see you make an honest attempt.

Aside from language learning, GJEE serves another important function. As a group consisting of both locals and expats, GJEE is in a unique position to create lifelong friendships which traverse cultural gaps.

“I would argue the cultural exchange which happens during GJEE meetups is equally, if not more, important than the actual learning of languages,” says Jeef. “Sure, GJEE participants are learning a new language, but it goes a lot further than that.”

For many participants, GJEE is more than a place to learn languages. It’s an opportunity for members to exchange ideas and learn more about the world.

JETs are in a unique opportunity to affect globalization. It’s more than simply working in Japan. It’s about showing the goodness in people, and it’s about being an ambassador for a global community.

This may seem like an immense task, but in reality, it’s as simple as starting a friendly conversation.


Both Andrew and Jeef will be leaving Gunma and the JET Programme come August. However, GJEE will continue its goal towards bridging people and communities. For more information, and to get involved with GJEE, please email [email protected]