Hello! Seeing as this is my first post, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Rachael, and I am a first-year ALT living in Nakanojo, a small town with mountains on all sides. My hobbies are reading, writing, drawing, and eating; things that can all be conducted at my favorite sort of place in the world: a cafe. I love the productive atmosphere and the versatility of being alone or in a group. Furthermore, sitting down for a drink and a snack at a cafe provides a respite from either committing to a restaurant or aimlessly wandering around an area. Since arriving in Gunma, I’ve tried to seek out as many of these places as possible.
Last year, an ALT named Tamara started a series recommending cafes as well, although it capped at two posts. I hope to continue the series, posting one or two cafe spotlights per month, so please look forward to them!
One more thing: I have a car, which makes my access to places different from someone who would take public transit. I will try to include places that are both reasonably reachable by car and/or public transit/walking.
The first cafe I’d like to spotlight is a little place called Piece Cafe. About a 15 minute walk from the station, Piece Cafe sits on a street corner and beneath a restaurant. Occasionally you’ll see the staff of the upstairs restaurant make appearances in the cafe, which is something really neat about this part of downtown Takasaki! You’ll notice the counter space near the register is filled with business cards and colorful flyers advertising other cafes, bookstores, and music shops in the immediate area.
The entrance is heralded by the cafe’s logo, a puzzle piece in humble brown and blue pastels, as well as a sign advertising the cafe’s specialty: soft-serve ice cream. At the time of writing this, Gunma is ridiculously cold. However, I am of the opinion that ice cream is acceptable to eat no matter the season, especially if it’s good! Plus, the cafe is well-heated and guest blankets are available to use as well.
The atmosphere of Piece Cafe is quiet and calm. About five tables run along the north wall, so it is fairly small, although I have never had trouble finding a seat. For computer or device users, there is an outlet next to the table furthest away from the door.
Like most cafes in Japan, Piece Cafe has really delicious food! They usually have a sandwich-of-the-day deal going on, and I am a big fan of their shrimp and avocado grilled sandwich.
If you want dessert, they have a 焼きシフォンケーキ, which I think sounds a little more refined in Japanese than ‘fried chiffon cake.’ Especially considering its lovely presentation:
If you are a cake person, then you need to try this! Its flavor is gentle, not too sweet, accompanied with the topping of your choice and a little dish of the ice cream that the cafe boasts on its doors.
As for drinks, they offer a house-made ginger ale that is unlike any I have ever had. Due to all the pulp and strong flavor, it’s probably closer to ginger beer than ginger ale. If you are a coffee drinker, I recommend their cappuccino.
I hope you get the chance to visit Piece Cafe soon!
If you’re new to Japan and have been asking around about how to get a Japanese driver’s license, you’ve probably heard some tales. There are some determined ALTs out there. Shrugging off the expenses and stress, they take the driving skills test over and over again until they finally pass.
If you’re looking for another way, a 50cc scooter license might be right up your alley. Getting one is actually very simple. No need to take a driving skills test. No struggling through a Japanese paper test.Here you’ll find information on obtaining a scooter license the simple and easy way.
Translate your home country’s license to Japanese at JAF (the Japan Automobile Federation)
First, check that you meet the following requirements: (1) you must have lived in Japan for at least three months. (2) your foreign license is not expired.
(3) a. Your original driver’s license + a copy of both the front and back
(3) b. The Japanese translation of your license from JAF外国運転免許証翻訳文4
(3) c. Your passport + copies of most of its pages
(3) d. Your resident card and certificate of residence住民票5 + a copy of each
The Certificate of Residence is different from the document you initially received in City Hall. Take the attached original document with the Japanese to City Hall to make it very clear which document you’re requesting.
(3) e. Written application (the clerk will produce and may fill out on your behalf) + your 3 x 2.4 cm photograph.
Photo booths are often located outside large chain stores or train stations. The Traffic Center also has a photo booth handy. No, these are not the fun purikura kind where you can add a mustache and place a ghost in the background!
(3)f. Bring your international driver’s license (if you have one) just in case.
If you are from a non-Western country, you may need more documentation (when I was waiting, I heard the Japanese clerk tell a Sri Lankan man that he needed additional papers)
To prepare for the 10 question English driving test, get to know Japanese road signs and regulations. Learn the 3-point turn that is specific to driving a 50cc scooter. Also, drive with friends and chat about driving with coworkers or other ALTs who have been driving in Japan for a while.
Getting your Japanese Driver’s License at the Prefectural Traffic Center
Check thelocation and hours of Gunma Prefecture’s Traffic Center 総合交通センター6. It’s a ten minute walk from Shin-Maebashi Station. Bring more than enough cash to cover the fees (these total around 1 man yen 一万円).
Go to the Traffic Center right when they open because it will already be busy. In 2012, the hours were 1:00-4:30pm Monday to Friday. Expect to be at the Traffic Center until after 4:00pm. Expect to wait between the various steps and bring something to fill your time.
Follow the yellow line to thesecond floor. Stand in line for Foreign License Conversion (this was on the far right). Wait until it is your turn and, in Japanese, tell them you want a 50cc scooter license and that you aren’t going to take the driving skill test運転技術試験7 .
Provide your documents. They will check them, ask you clarifying questions, and maybe request more copies. If they need a copy of something, they will send you to the copier down the hall. (Interesting note, they asked me about the age restriction printed on my Wisconsin driver’s license. I told them it was to make it clear to clerks that I couldn’t buy alcohol and that it had nothing to do with driving.)
Take the vision test. When they’re ready, the clerk will direct you to the back of the reception area to complete an eyesight test視力検査8. You will be asked to look at circles and tell the vision specialist which direction the gap in each circle is facing. Make sure you know the Japanese for “up” “down” “right” and “left.” Then, you will need to identify colors. Be ready with your Japanese color words! Then, the vision specialist will sign your papers, and you will take them back to the reception counter at the front of the room. There you will pay for the vision test. Wait as they complete your paperwork and process the other foreigners in line.
Take the 50cc scooter 10 question paper testin English or Portuguese/Spanish. When called, follow the clerk to a nearby room. Each question of the test is accompanied by a descriptive picture, likely because the English is wordy. At the end of the test, the clerk collects your test and grades it. You’ll know right then and there if you passed.
Pay for the test at another counter. You will then be asked to enter two four digit numbers into a machine, which will print a paper you will need for the next step. Again, there may be a long wait at this time. Take out something to do, but pay attention to what’s going on.
Get your driving license photo taken. Finally, go with the other people who have passed the test to have your photo taken. After your license is printed, your name will be called, the clerk will ask you to check the spelling of your name and your address, and then you’re free to go– Japanese 50 cc scooter license in hand!
Buying Your Scooter & Gear
Mandatory vehicle liability insurance自賠責保険9
If you want to buy a used scooter and an ALT near you isn’t selling one, find a used motorbike shop (usually you can find these near a university). I bought my scooter from Tsukagoshi Motors塚越モーター near 高崎市経済大学校Takasaki Keizai Daigakko at 744-1 Kaminamiemachi, Takasaki 370-0801. Used scooters sell for between 50,000 -80,000 yen.
Shiny new scooters sell at any motorbike store. These are usually located on main roads and easy to identify because bikes and scooters are displayed in the windows. These run 170,000-200,000 yen.
For accessories and gear, go to a specialty shop. Takasaki’s Ricolandライコランド高崎店
stocks helmets, gloves, and jackets. I recommend getting a helmet that shields your face. Bugs are real. Rain will also happen.
You’ll need insurance before you start driving. I asked the owner of the shop where I bought my scooter for a recommendation. He suggested an insurance company in downtown Takasaki called Zenrosai共済ショップ高崎店.
Insurance can run near 30,000 yen annually and may involve authorizing an auto-withdrawal from your bank account.
Remember to keep in the left lane and do 3-point turns at intersections which are wider than 2 lanes (one way). Keep track of your mileage and when you’ll need an oil change. Know your route before departing, be aware of traffic, and try to keep at a reasonable speed.
Don’t hold a phone and don’t drive in the rain. Be safe. If you think you’ve missed your turn or it starts raining, just pull over, shut off your bike, check Google maps or wait out the downpour, and return to the road when conditions are right.
This guide was compiled by a former JET who completed this process in 2013. If you notice any errors or feel you have any important information to add, please contact the GAJET Editor, [email protected]
1. 外国運転免許証翻訳文発行申請書（がいこくうんてんめんきょしょうほんやくぶんはっこうしんせいしょ）foreign driver’s license translation application form
Terry Dassow is a former Assistant Language Teacher with the JET Program who lived in Takasaki from 2011-2014. Upon returning to the USA, she taught writing at a Hmong high school before entering the editing field. She is currently an Editor and Communications Specialist for an engineering consulting and design-build firm based in Milwaukee, WI.
GAJET organizes a group trip each year, but if you’re interested in climbing Mt. Fuji alone or you’re busy that particular day, this guide is for you! I’ve written as much as I know about the mountain and provided links for leftover questions. Afterwards, there’s a little photo-journal and story about my own hike to get you inspired!
When to climb:
Mount Fuji is open to climbers in July and August. Technically, you can climb the mountain any time, as there’s no patrol to stop you, but climbing outside of these two summer months is incredibly dangerous. Even in 2016 climbers have died on the mountain out of season. In June and September, weather-wise it’s probably OK, but you should know that services on the mountain are severely limited (including buses and lodging) outside of July and August. And in winter the trails are flat-out closed for obvious reasons. While Mount Fuji is dangerous enough that climbers have died on it, it’s not a technically difficult climb and climbing in July and August means there shouldn’t be ice or snow, the number one cause of accidents. So please don’t be nervous! You can do it!
Mount Fuji is an active volcano:
Yes, Mount Fuji is an active volcano which last erupted in 1707. Recent measurements suggest that pressure inside the mountain is higher today than when it last erupted, implying an eruption is imminent, but these measurements are not as accurate as scientists would like and have been debated in the scientific community. An eruption is still really unlikely but you need to know that it is possible. Over the last few years, climbers have been urged to wear helmets and local authorities have intensified evacuation procedures. There’s more information here:
If you climb the mountain from the bottom, you need to be aware of the (unlikely) scenario of meeting a bear. Japanese climbers are very diligent about wearing bells to ward off bears. Most people I’ve talked to are skeptical about bears being in the area, but there are signs warning about them and it’s better to be prepared than not. Attaching bells to your backpack are the most ideal way to scare them off. More information on how to deal with bears while hiking can be read here:
The most common malaise you’ll face aren’t bears and lava, but the very natural occurrence of altitude sickness. Mount Fuji is 12,388 feet. Think of it this way: at the top, you’ll be a third of the distance an airplane reaches at cruising altitude! Like the other things, this isn’t a major problem if you take care. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches/lightheadedness, loss of appetite, seeing “stars,” shortness of breath…The best remedies for altitude sickness are to hydrate and take your time. Drink as much water as you can during your hike. Also, your body needs time to adjust to the altitude. A good rule of thumb is to rest 30-45 minutes at each station you reach (which is five if you start from the fifth station) to let your body adjust. You will see some people sucking on canisters of oxygen. These aren’t really necessary but if you’re really worried about it, you can buy these oxygen canisters at sports stores. I’ve never used it, but if you check out the reviews on Amazon, the opinions are almost perfectly split between great, so-so, and horrible:
Climbing Mt. Fuji is more about endurance than anything. Less of a climb and more like a long, slow hike, it’s not technically challenging. I have only done one of the four routes, so it’s possible some are harder than the one I did, but from what I’ve read online, most people describe the mountain in general as hiking up steep stairs, totally possible for people new to hiking and climbing. If you’re really worried about the physical aspect, obviously exercising a month or two beforehand is recommended. Walk up and down the stairs at school. Start riding a bike if you don’t. Start jogging if you already do. Join your school’s sports clubs! And of course try your hand at some of our beautiful local mountains.
What to take:
First of all, you’re climbing the biggest and most important mountain in Japan; invest in hiking boots to make the experience enjoyable and safe. I also recommend a high quality backpack. Hiking Mt. Fuji requires a lot of stuff. You want to be comfortable and safe. I recommend a backpack that allows you to easily carry several big bottles of water, since you want to hydrate constantly. If you climb from the bottom, one of the bizarre things about the hike is that you have to prepare for both summer and winter weather. It’s warm and humid at the bottom but freezing cold at the top. You’ll sweat through your clothes at the bottom and need to strip those off for dry clothes when it starts to get cold and windy. I recommend an extra undershirt. At the top, it’s simply bitterly cold. Anything less than what you would wear in January or February is dangerous. Take gloves, a face warmer, a hat, a scarf, everything to protect yourself.
Extra batteries (remember the cold can sap batteries quickly)
A back-up hand flashlight
Plastic baggy to stick money/phone in if it rains
A hat to protect face from sun
Face mask to protect from ash
Toilet paper, hand towel, hand sanitizer
100 yen coins for the toilets
Water and/or Pocari Sweat (at least 2 liters is a good idea)
Small snacks like packaged peanuts, banana chips, and energy bars (bring more than you think you’ll eat)
Light but hardy food like conbini sandwiches
I also recommend printing maps and transit information in case your phone dies, which is likely since you’ll be away from a charger for so long.
How to get there:
There are multiple ways to get to Fuji, depending on where you’re coming from and what trail you plan to take. There are many buses from Shinjuku to the 5th station. I bought my ticket the day of at the Shinjuku bus terminal, and had no problems with buses being sold out. If you want to hike from the bottom like I did, scroll down to the story below to find out how I got there. Otherwise, I recommend looking at these websites to help you figure out where you’re going and how to get there:
5th station or from the bottom?
The first decision you need to make is whether to climb from the bottom, as the pilgrims used to do, or start halfway up at the 5th station (taking a bus up a service road to get there), as the vast majority of modern hikers do. I did it from the bottom, my logic being that it would probably be the biggest climb of my life, so I wanted to do it the “right” way. And it was really rewarding. However, it came with extra challenges. Hiking from the bottom obviously increases your total time on the mountain significantly. Maybe five to six hours or more. You need to carry more food and water and schedule yourself accordingly. The bottom part is a forest, unlike the upper half. This is significant because you need to keep bears in mind when starting at the bottom. Also, there are no facilities at the first four stations. They are abandoned. There are no toilets. You will meet very, very few hikers. I only encountered two people over the course of four to five hours. There will be no help if you need it. No food or water to buy from vendors. The trails are still marked, but less so; it’s easier to get lost. So why do it this way? Exactly what I said before; for most people, this is the biggest hike of their lives. Mt. Fuji is a sacred symbol of Japan, and climbing it is one of the most amazing experiences you can have in this country. So why not climb the whole mountain? But that’s just my opinion, and 99.9% of hikers take the bus. The forest part is really beautiful and serene. You’ll probably see wild deer. The abandoned stations are really cool and creepy. They’re ancient wooden buildings, collapsed in on themselves. So if you do it this way, it will be rewarding but plan accordingly!
The second decision is about lodging, which seems to be the biggest question mark for most potential hikers. Staying in a lodge is certainly the healthiest choice. Taking a rest and getting some shut eye is the best way to ward off altitude sickness and not over-do it, especially if you’re not a regular hiker. Also, camping is strictly prohibited on Fuji, so no tents or sleeping bags! I didn’t stay in a lodge. I basically cat-napped behind rocks and rested where I could. I’m physically healthy and felt confident in myself, but I did have some problems with altitude sickness, and the effects were certainly intensified by my decision to not sleep. One last note; I did find the lodges to be really noisy places. It’s a natural point of rest for hikers, with benches and facilities, so keep that in mind.
How to book a lodge:
Here is a list of lodges with telephone numbers, other information:
A reservation is required via telephone. There is a link at the bottom for a company that will book on your behalf. As far as I know, it is not possible to book online, but things are always changing! If you know one, please note in the comments! An overnight stay typically costs around 5000 yen per person without meals and around 7000 yen per person with two meals. Expect the huts to be extremely crowded during the peak.
When to start my climb?
Many hikers climb the mountain to see the sunrise. If this is your goal, timing it up correctly can be tricky; on my hike, I actually arrived at the summit too early, and had to suffer the cold for longer. I guess I was worried about crowds, but that turned out to be silly; while there are a lot of people, the summit is absolutely massive (and the horizon is even bigger J).
From Japan-Guide: “Most people try to time their ascent in order to witness the sunrise from the summit. Also, the chances of the mountain being free of clouds are highest during the early morning hours. The recommended way of doing this, is to climb to a mountain hut around the 7th or 8th station on the first day and spend some hours sleeping there before continuing to the summit early on the second day. Note that the sunrise takes place as early as 4:30am to 5:00am in summer.”
So there you have it. If you’re hiking from the bottom, timing gets even more tricky. I can only tell you what I did. I started at around 4PM at the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6903.html) and arrived at the summit around 2AM, taking many long breaks. So I arrived too early, and I spent a lot longer on the mountain than most people. But I didn’t want to be in the forest when darkness fell, so I didn’t want to start later (I still was stuck in the forest when night fell though!). If you did the same as what I did, but stayed in a lodge instead of all-nighting it like I did, I think you might have a nice solution to that problem.
Which trail to choose?
There are four trails to choose from. When choosing a trail, also keep in mind how you’ll get back down and what transportation you need to get to. I took the Yoshida Trail. Since trails offer different advantages/disadvantages, I’m not going to say too much about it. Instead, I’ll leave these links here and encourage you to suss it out depending on what works for you.
Fee – there isn’t an official fee, but climbers are asked to donate 1,000 yen to help support the mountain’s facilities, environmental efforts, ect.
The hiking sticks – everyone wants to know about the cool hiking sticks. I didn’t get one, but I saw it for sale in the temple where I started my hike. Hiking sticks cost about 1500-2000 yen and are sold at all the 5th stations except Gotemba. You can get it stamped at each station (starting at the 5th; the first 4 are abandoned), even in the middle of the night. There are dudes huddled around steaming pots even at one in the morning, ready to stamp it for you. I think each stamp costs about 300 yen.
Mistakes I made:
I forgot my bear bell and was still in the forest when night fell. If I stood still and turned off my headlamp, it was the most still, dark, and profound quiet I’ve ever experienced in my life. You don’t want to meet a bear in that.
I forgot chapstick! My lips were miserable coming down the mountain. There’s nothing to protect you from the wind.
My phone died very quickly. When you get to the summit, it will be cold enough to sap your battery a little something extra. When not taking pictures, be sure to turn your phone off to conserve energy. You definitely want to be able to take pictures when the sun rises!
My last mistake was really stupid, but I’m happy to admit it if it helps someone else…For some reason (I think I was delirious from being tired), I just kind of winged the way back down, and took a different trail down than I went up. I didn’t plan so much for the way back and just figured there would be one. And naturally as a result, it was a little bit of a problem. I ended up at a bus stop, but there was no bus for hours. I got lucky and found a few hikers to share a cab to the nearest train station. Do yourself a favor and plan everything out!
I began my hike at Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6903.html) around 4PM. It’s in Yamanashi Prefecture, and in Japanese the shrine is北口本宮冨士浅間神社 随神門. I took the bus in from Shinjuku bus terminal to Fujisan and walked 30 minutes to the shrine. You can see from the snapshot I took on Google Maps that this is quite far from the mountain. So this route includes a lengthy walk in the woods and through the city before the actual hike starts.
This is the Yoshida Trail (吉田). The actual trailhead is a bit hard to find. From what I remember, it’s to the right of the temple in the picture down below, down a sidewalk and a road that really, really doesn’t look like the entrance to Mt. Fuji. I remember thinking it was a bit anti-climatic; I was ready to embark on this epic adventure and I couldn’t even find the trail entrance. I thought there would be a massive torii gate, monumental statues, monks wishing me well…Instead there were cars driving around, an old guy walking his dog, and power transformers. I remember doubting if I was even going the right direction. But eventually…
The main shrine building; you can buy a hiking stick here to have it stamped at each station.
Eventually I found the Yoshida trail marking, with map. Notice it ain’t in English. But it’s not rocket science either. Once I found this sign, I felt confident I was in the right place. Take note of bear warning at the bottom.
For the first few hours, this is pretty much what it looks like! Just a walk in the woods. Doesn’t look like Fuji does it? After an hour to two of quaint trails, you’ll notice the slope increasing more and more. It starts to feel like exercise.
If you hear some crunching in the woods, don’t worry! Maybe it’s just some of these guys.
A long way to go!
Starting to get dark. This is where it helps to not have a colorful imagination…I hadn’t seen a soul in three hours. Soon you’ll experience complete darkness only found in deep nature. Switch off your lights and see how long you can stand in the pitch black and profound silence before freaking out. Don’t walk off a cliff though.
Something weird started to happen…fog rolled in. Massive, thick, heavy fog that added to my blindness. The picture above was only the beginning; it got so thick I could only see two feet in front of me with the headlamp on. It was like walking on the bottom of the ocean. I had to go very, very slowly not to lose the path. But eventually it let up.
You’ll pass the old abandoned stations about once an hour if you’re hiking at a decent pace. It can be kind of freaky. At least the money means humans have been here recently.
Eventually you’ll break free of the woods at the 5th station. The site is breathtaking and these pictures don’t do it justice. For me, the moon was hanging at the summit, giving me natural light to walk by. You can see the lights from the lodgings leading up the trail. There’s also a slight snake of lights from the other climbers. After several hours alone in the pitch black woods, it was a reassuring sight. Suddenly there are plenty of other people and vendors if you need supplies. At this point I recall having to change my shirt because the wind intensifies since there aren’t trees anymore. I had worked up a sweat from before and didn’t want to freeze.
From here, there’s not much to take pictures of. Follow the signs and it’s hard to get lost. There will also be plenty of other climbers (though not nearly as crowded as I expected). The terrain is something akin to walking on the surface of the moon. It’s mostly rock and ash, which is why great hiking boots are highly recommended. There aren’t many technical parts (or any, that I remember; Mount Myogi in Gunma is far more challenging in that regard). From here on, it’s an endurance test. The most important thing for you to remember is to take your time in order to acclimate to the altitude and hydrate often. A recommended tip is to stop and rest for 30-45 minutes at each station. If you start to feel light-headed or see stars, stop climbing immediately and take a lengthy rest. Drink some water and eat some peanuts. I thought I was doing really well acclimating myself, taking appropriate breaks and forcing myself to rest more than I wanted to, but then around the 9th station, it hit me like a knockout punch. I started seeing little bursts of light and felt like I’d just donated half my blood. I felt horrible. Part of it was that I had been climbing a lot longer than everyone else and also that I didn’t stay in a hut. So I took a long break and waited for my legs to get back under me, which they eventually did and I climbed the rest of the mountain just fine.
One of the stations: A trail sign marking arrival at the 9th Station
At the summit. There are facilities at the summit; food, bathrooms, temples, ect. The summit reminded me a bit of a field hospital from World War One. It’s a strange place. There are people everywhere, but most people are either silent or groaning, nursing tired limbs. At 2AM, not many people are in a festive mood but that’ll change by morning. I used my phone to figure out what direction I needed to face for the sunrise and camped out beside a big rock. Waiting for the sun to rise was one of the hardest parts of the climb. I had reached the top too early and it was bitterly cold. Find a large rock to huddle up against and protect yourself from the wind on at least one side. It’s a harsh place but incredibly beautiful. It’s probably the closest thing normal people can experience to being on the moon. The night I climbed, the cloud cover was very thick, but since Fuji is so tall, you climb through the clouds. This thickness suppressed the city lights and intensified the canvas of stars. It was the most vivid night sky I’ve ever seen. I still remember the shooting stars streaking in all directions. I actually fell asleep at one point in a pile of volcanic ash, huddled next to a rock, 13,000 feet in the sky. It’s a harsh and cold, but lovely experience.
Waiting for the sun to come.
No description needed.
The true summit. That building (which I think is an old weather station) marks the true highest place in Japan. There’s a marker to take your picture with if you can fight through the crowds. If you have some gas left, it only takes about 20 minutes to get up there. To navigate the entire crater, about an hour is needed?) of your life.
You’ll see some of the most amazing landscapes (skyscape?).
It’s like sitting on the wing of an airplane.
The shadow of Fuji from the top of Fuji.
The long, strange hike down…
People warn about the hike down. It’s supposedly faster, and that seemed to hold true for me, but the danger of slipping is higher. I fell a few times. Rolled down the mountain a little. I don’t recommend it. It’s tempting to dash down the soft ashy parts, but that’s also dangerous. My knees started to feel the exertion of the past 14 hours. Descending can be pretty rough on you, especially the knees. When I went to the Great Wall of China, they actually had slides where people could slide down the mountain like a Burger King play pen. I don’t envision that for Fuji any time soon.
One last wistful look upwards! You can see a building here. There will be places to grab an (overpriced) snack and drink if you need it. This is the part where you have to be careful not to get sunburned. Cover up. Put on sunscreen. And don’t forget chapstick! I remember being miserable because I forgot mine.
This is what you can look forward to for the next four or five hours.
Things start to get a little surreal. There were some plants I’d never seen before, like something you’d see in a sci-fi movie, though I may have been hallucinating. And crazy packs of clouds start rolling in. The boredom and exhaustion starts to do weird things to your brain. I swear at some point I saw the Great Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke.
At the end…
Like I mentioned above, I took a different trail down than I did up. I can’t remember why. There’s something buzzing around in my memory that suggests I had heard one of the trails down was faster, and I suspected I could get down to public transportation easier. So I winged it, and I was wrong. I knew I was on a trail, and I knew I was going down, so I wasn’t too worried. But I didn’t really know where I was. I ended up at the “end”, or what I thought was the end because it was a parking lot. There was a bus stop. I checked the times and yea, you guessed it; no bus for hours. I was stuck. There were some facilities. I wandered around and eventually met some other Westerners, a Polish man and a Spaniard. We were all in the same sad, misinformed, Westerner boat. But actually we really lucked out that there were three of us stranded. We quickly figured out that we could share a cab and make it to a nearby train station for a decent price. There was a weird, random tourist stand thing and they were nice enough to call a taxi for us. He took us to some train station (I can’t remember the name). I charged my phone in a noodle place and used Hyperdia to figure out how to get back to Tokyo. So I winged it and didn’t die, but I don’t recommend it!
Back in Gunma, I slept for 14 hours straight.
My last recommendation: take the next day off to do the same.
My name is Mikhail Ryan Pinyo, but most people call me Misha. I’m originally from the west coast of the USA, but I currently live in Maebashi. I want to contribute to a thriving and supportive community wherever I go, and so far GAJET has allowed me to do just that, so I’m really excited to start my third year on the committee. When I’m not teaching Senior High School or planning events you can find me playing musical instruments, exploring Japan’s beautiful mountain onsen, and charting my slow journey across the world.
If you see me at one of our events, don’t be shy–say hi!
Hello fellow JETs! My name is Paola Torres. I am a J.H.S. ALT in the city of Shibukawa, the bellybutton of Japan. I was born in Colombia but lived half of my life in Miami; you can tell by my warm personality and bright smile. I don’t quite have any hobbies but my personal objective for this year is to take the JLPT N2 with confidence. I wish for you to enjoy meeting people here in Gunma at any of our events as I did during my first year in JET. You’ll make friends for life and maybe you will be the ones planning these events next year.
Hope to see you soon!
My name is Talisha Vernon. I’m from Fairfax, Virginia but I mostly tell people I am from Washington DC. I currently live in Takasaki teaching high school. I am starting my fourth year on JET serving as GAJET’s secretary, and I am excited to give back to our community and enjoy the many events GAJET puts on throughout the year. In my free time, well…I don’t have much free time with one year old twins. I like to karaoke, film adventures with my family and take as many purikuras as I can.
Hello! I’m Abby, and I’m a second year SHS Jet living in Takasaki. I am from lake-y Michigan via windy Chicago, where I worked as a florist and creative writing teacher before Japan beckoned. We’ve got a first-rate community out here in Gunma, and I am glad to be working with GAJET to bring people together and encourage everyone to be the interesting individuals they are. I like road trip sing-alongs, existentialist drama, onsen, and falling down rabbit holes of academic research. Come talk to me about your cooking techniques, your favorite punctuation, and your general hopes and dreams. May they all come true, and may we have many happy times together under the Gunma skies!
My name is Josh Frankle, and I’m a third-year SHS ALT in Kiryu! I was born in Japan, and raised all over the Pacific and the US. I’m really excited to be a part of the growing JET community in Gunma. It really is wonderful to be able to contribute to such a large and close-knit group such as ours. As for me, I enjoy both the indoors and outdoors – whether that be board game nights or hiking in Oze. I’m by no means an expert of Gunma, but if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask. Looking forward to meeting and getting to know you!
G’day everyone!! How ya goin’? My name is Jesse Britto, but people usually call me Gary. Just kidding… that would just be silly. I am from the land down under, also known as Australia, more specifically Perth!
I moved to Japan around one year ago and continue to fall in love with it more every day. I am located in an amazing town called Tomioka. It is surrounded by views of mountains and I can’t get enough of the delicious food! This year I have decided to join GAJET as a representative for Seibu as I really want both older and newer JET’s to experience what I have been lucky enough to experience over this past year. In my first year on JET I was teaching at one elementary and one junior high school, but from this year I will be at three elementary schools. When I am not at school crushing life with the teachers and students, I am usually running around doing things in my local community. My week usually consists of hockey, Taiko, other assorted sports, Vegemite eating competitions and paragliding.
Anyway, enough about me! When you see my amazing face in Gunma, please don’t hesitate to come and say hello and introduce yourself! Give me your best Aussie accent, unless you’re Aussie…. that’s totally cheating. Cheers.
Hello and welcome to Gunma, friends! My name is Devyn Couch, and I’m currently GAJET’s representative for Chubu region. Originally hailing from one of New Jersey’s many shore towns, I’m now entering my second year as a JHS JET in Tamamura. Before moving to Japan, I spent several amazing years teaching both general and special education at the elementary school level, so the jump to junior high was admittedly a little scary! However, I wouldn’t trade the connections I’ve made with my students and coworkers here for anything.
In my free time, you’ll often find me throwing myself headfirst–sometimes literally!–into the many amazing events and beautiful natural spots (have you seen these mountains!?) that our humble cabbage patch has to offer, pursuing various creative endeavors, and volunteering in different capacities in order to give back to the prefecture I now call home. One of the best things about Gunma is how friendly and supportive the community here is, so if you ever have any questions, need help getting settled, or just want to say “hi”, please don’t hesitate!
My name is Jansen Magarro, I am a Canadian JET going into my 3rd year. Currently, I am an ALT at two senior high schools in Tatebayashi. This is my first year being a part of GAJET and I’m really excited to share what our group, community, and Japan has to offer. During my free time you can find me in Tokyo, exercising, or buying groceries.
Apparently everyone pronounces the word “bag” wrong. Come see me and I’ll teach your the correct way to say it.
Hi everyone! My name is Tiffany Do, but please, call me Tiff. Before moving to the beautiful mountains of Agatsuma, I lived in sunny California all my life. (My first winter here was tough!) This will be my first year on the committee and I am excited to be able to provide as much assistance as I can, as well as get to know more fellow ALTs. During the week, you can find me teaching at kindergartens and elementary schools. But once the work is over, I’ll be playing in my local taiko group, soaking in all the onsens Gunma has to offer, and enjoying my surroundings!
Here are the nominations for your upcoming GAJET committee! Please read each platform carefully and vote by clicking the link below. If you are unsure of the tasks each role must fulfill then check out the nominations page. Voting is open now until Friday, June 9th at 8 p.m.!!!
Misha Pinyo (Maebashi) – President
Hello fellow Gunmarians! My name is Misha and I’m running for President. When I’m not teaching at Mae-Nishi and Haruna High Schools, you can find me learning new musical instruments, exploring Japan’s beautiful mountain onsen, and planning my slow journey across the world. I believe that I have the experience and skills necessary to lead the GAJET team into another successful year. This August will mark the end of my third year on the JET program, and my second year on the GAJET council. Two years ago I was a Chubu Representative, and this year I was on the executive board as Webmaster. In addition to GAJET, I am also a member of the JOMO JET council, which seeks to create spaces for grassroots intercultural exchange. Also, for a second year running I will be assisting new JETs as they adjust to life in Japan as part of the Gunma Orientation Committee. I also have experience outside of the Gunma community. I have taken courses in conflict resolution and communication, and I have lived in intentional communities. In those communities we held regular meetings, and made decisions through consensus (vs. “majority rules”), which taught me how to collaborate effectively in a group, and how to find common goals. As for my platform, I have a few ideas as to what direction the new committee should head in: Simplify Event Timeline: In years past GAJET had held a plethora of major events, one right after the other at the beginning of the contract season, with relatively few towards the end. As president I plan on committing to 8 major events spread throughout the year; this will reduce the amount of stress for GAJET members, while insuring that the community has a chance to enjoy big events more consistently. I would also like to bring back the practice of holding small, informal regional events like “family dinners,” hikes, festival walks, and movie nights, depending on the availability of regional representatives. Schedule Meetings & Events Early: As for logistics, I would also like to ensure that all major events and meetings for the entire year have an estimated date from the very start, and have these dates shareable to everyone via Google Calendar. Doing this early on will increase the number of people who can attend our events, and will clear up confusion when it comes to scheduling meetings. I would also propose that there be one mandatory meeting per month; 8 meetings would be online and last exactly 1 hour, and 4 meetings would be in person and last exactly 2 hours. In person meetings would be held at or before major events since most GAJET members attend such events anyways. Make Finances Transparent: GAJET is a non-profit organization, but a certain amount of cash flow is needed to insure the safety and logistics of events, as well as to provide equipment and services that the broader community can use. I would make sure that GAJETs cash on hand is never too low or two high, and that balances and expenses are made transparent to the community. Most importantly, I’m running because I want to contribute to a thriving and supportive community wherever I go. We are incredibly lucky in Gunma to have such an active and supportive AJET, and I firmly believe that it is an indispensable part of our little cabbage patch. I want to do my part to make sure that this support stands strong for current and future generations of JET participants. Thank you for your time, Misha
Paola Torres (Shibukawa) – Vice President
Hello Everyone! My name is Paola Andrea Torres and I would like to run as the GAJET Vice President . During my first year in JET, I was very impressed with all the hard work the Senpai JETs put together to coordinate and plan such fun events. This past year, I was able to join the GAJET team as a Chubu Representative and I experienced first hand how the magic happens! It was a lot of fun to work alongside such motivated and driven members. So I would like to join this wonderful team once again as the Vice President. I am a very charismatic and friendly. And I will do my outmost best to support the president and lead any new GAJET members. As well as being a beacon for any new JET in Gunma. Let’s have another amazing year full of fun events in Gunma! Paola Torres
Josh Frankle (Kiryu) – Treasurer & Tobu Rep
I’m Josh Frankle, and am running once again to be a member of GAJET! I’m a third-year JET living in Kiryu in the Tobu region. Over the last year as a Tobu rep, I have organized and helped lead various regional events and a number of Gunma-wide events too! I have the desire to help contribute and make our community even better this year. With the experience of having been your Tobu rep, this year I would like to take it a step further and join the executive board as the Treasurer of GAJET. I look forward to another year in our cabbage patch!
Talisha Vernon (Takasaki) – Secretary & Treasurer
Hi Gunma JETs! I’m Talisha Vernon and I’m going into my fourth year as an ALT. I’m from “Washington DC” (and if you are also from “Washington DC” you know that I am not really from Washington DC) AKA Virginia and now I live in Takasaki. When I’m not teaching at Chou Secondary School, I can often be found running after my twin babies, singing current pop songs with a 40’s twist, exploring local and national world heritage sites with my family and making (very infrequently) travel YouTube videos. In my years here in Gunma, I have experienced many of Gunma’s JET events, from cannoning to performing at I CAN JAPAN and Art Night to even leading and teaching the Cha-Cha Slide to a everyone at JOMO JET’s International Carnival. As you can see, Gunma JET community is very active and puts on all sorts of events for everyone to enjoy. As you can imagine, twins can be a handful but I think I have gotten everything under control and organized. I have been on the Gunma Orientation Committee for two years now and presented on variety of topics at many conferences over the years. As either Secretary or Treasurer I could use the skills I use daily and apply it to the GAJET community. This year, I’m feel ready to use my experience to create event, get involve and bridge the gap between JETs, non-JETs, and the locals in our Gunma community.
Mandy Brixey (Shimonita) – Secretary & Seibu Rep
Hello! My name is Mandy Brixey and I’m in the beloved city of Shimonita, right at the end of the Joshin Line! Can’t miss it! The positions running for are: Secretary and Seibu Representative! As the only ALT in my town, I really want to reach out to my fellow Gunmanites! I have held student council positions in the past in middle school, high school, and college. I started my own groups, (Anime Club and Japanese Conversation Club, respectively) I enjoyed working closely with my fellow members and definitely felt a sense of pride that came with the responsibilities I had. I currently run 2 English conversation classes, and do a board game event once a month! As a soon to be 2nd year JET, I feel I have greatly matured and also improved my problem solving skills. So no matter the position, I know I can handle responsibilities with ease and can tackle any problems that come my way! If elected, I will use my creativity, bubbly personality, ideas and combine them with others in order to help create new and exciting events, as well as doing my best to help incoming and current JETs in my region!
Devyn Couch (Tamamura) – Editor & Chubu Rep
Friends, strangers, Gumarians, lend me your…well, eyes, I suppose, as you’re reading rather than listening to this! My name is Devyn Couch, and I’m a soon-to-be second year JHS JET in Ball Village, a.k.a. Tamamura. Originally from the frenetic coastline punk scene of NJ, you’ll often find me out and about, meeting people and throwing myself headfirst (sometimes literally) into any and all events happening around this amazing prefecture of ours! Over the past year, I’ve learned that while Gunma has some of the best onsen and most beautiful natural spots in Japan (have you SEEN these mountains!?), it’s really the people that make living here so wonderful. Volunteering at events organized by GAJET and JOMO JET (I CAN Japan, International Carnival, etc.) has shown me just how welcoming, tight-knit, and enthusiastic this community is. Three cheers for nakama in the inaka! As such, I’d like to pay the positivity I’ve experienced here forward by joining GAJET as Editor and Chubu Rep. In both positions, I’ll continue to spread the word of GLORIOUS GUNMA™ via the magic of modern technology—e.g. the Interwebs and social media. By keeping everyone up-to-date on happenings, hidden gems, and Gunma-related life hacks, my goal is to bring people together and help them make the most of their time here in our humble cabbage patch. TL;DR—I’ve got many ideas, and the energy and experience to make them a reality. I’ve held various long-term leadership positions (including an editorship for my school’s literary magazine), have a way with words, the drive to learn new things, and a knack for getting people out of their homes. If elected to GAJET, I promise to put these skills to good use to help make our community even better for all of its members. Thank you for your consideration!
Abby Ryder-Huth (Fujioka) – Editor
Tiffany Do (Higashiagatsuma Town) – Agatsuma Rep
Hello, everyone! My name is Tiffany Do and I’m from sunny California! Now, you can find me in Higashiagatsuma as a soon-to-be 2nd year Elementary School ALT. “Where is that?” I’m sure you’re all thinking, like many Japanese people would ask. Well, it’s in the western part of Gunma, where Kusatsu is located! But, I hope to change that as the Agatsuma Rep, and show you other amazing places this region has to offer. During my 1st year, I had the pleasure being guided around Gunma, and was shown the beauty it has to offer by wonderful senpais. I also had a lot of fun attending many GAJET coordinated events. As a 2nd year JET, I want to be able to repay that same hospitality and help create great memories in Gunma for my fellow ALTs. I hope to work with the other members of GAJET to organize the events that you all enjoy and bring all ALTs in Gunma together. I also hope to be a resource to the incoming ALTs and help them with life in Japan. Thank you for your time~
Jesse Brito (Tomioka) – Seibu Rep
G’day everyone! For those who do or don’t know me, I’m Jesse Britto. I am currently in my first year on JET and am applying for the position of Seibu rep for the 2017 – 2018 period. I arrived around July late last year from Perth, Australia and am currently teaching at a JHS and an ES whilst living it up in the amazing town of Tomioka! (That’s right, it is where the world famous silk mill is!) I remember when first arriving in Japan I was still so unsure of what kind of lifestyle I would have in Tomioka. I researched a lot, but all that really came up was the Tomioka Silk Mill and pictures of old buildings, so to be honest I was a little worried. But, I remember the first drive in from Maebashi with my supervisor and seeing the mountains. SO MANY PRETTY MOUNTAINS! (Perth is basically a really really flat desert with a few trees, sort of). I was ready to begin my journey in Tomioka! Now, let me tell you about me and why I am applying for this position. As I said earlier I am still a newbie within Gunma, but I have a lot to share. In the short time I have been here I have traveled around a lot, specifically more around where I live. My main goal as a Seibu rep would be to organise many different events within the Seibu region to help educate other Gunma… nites.. (definitely the technical word for people who live in Gunma) about the lesser known and visited parts of my region. If you choose me as your rep, I would be so excited to show you all of the hidden gems you have been missing out on! On a side note, I’m good at cooking and I can play guitar sort of, so if this helps sway your decision, I’m all for that. Thanks for reading through whatever this was. Vote Jesse!
Jansen Magarro (Tatebayashi) – Tobu Rep
Hey Gunma JETs! My name is Jansen Magarro and I am going into my 3rd year on the JET programme. I come from the land where rivers of maple syrup flow, polar bears are a constant threat, and -20 degree Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) is sweater weather. I am currently a Senior High School ALT in the hottest place in Japan, Tatebayashi. (Ironic, eh?). I’ve participated in many events organized by GAJET. These events were always a great time and because of that I have been inspired to run for Tobu Regional Representative. Prior to joining the JET programme, I held different positions within the Canadian banking industry and government. During my time at these institutions I assisted in organizing team building events and casual get togethers. Furthermore, I lead and organized many recreational sports teams over the years. A hobby of mine is traveling. As most of you know, traveling takes a great deal of planning and co-ordination. Using these skills that I’ve acquired through my journeys around the world, I feel that I could utilize these abilities and use them to bring together the ALTs within the Tobu region. Within the Tobu region, there are 9 cities where ALTs reside. These are 9 opportunities to showcase what Tobu is all about. As your Tobu Regional Representative, I would like to take advantage of each one of our cities and hold monthly gatherings to learn about each other and the communities we live in. Arigathanks Gozaimuch!
This is the end of candidate platforms for 2017-2018. Next,
First, all current members would like to give our gratitude for another amazing year of support and participation at the many exciting events we’ve had this year: Beer Gardens, Karaoke, Gunma Games, Canyons, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Skibo & Chill, Art Share Night, and our big, annual fundraiser I*Can*Japan (愛・感・ジャパン)! I’m happy to announce that we raised over ¥150,000 from I*Can for the Komochiyama Children’s Home in Shibukawa!
Gunma AJET is one of the most active AJET organizations, and while it’s hard work to host events in this wonderful cabbage patch known as Gunma, joining the council is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, gain experience in leadership and event planning, share your knowledge via the website, and give general support to the ALT community.
With all that said, we’ll start the election process for the 2017-2018 GAJET Committee tonight!
**Please note that because GAJET is a branch of the national AJET Council, only current and re-contracting JETs may apply. Regardless, we love all ALTs, eikawa personnel, and others in the international community and encourage you to keep coming to our events!**
The application period is from today until 7 p.m. June 5th (Monday).
The voting period will start the following Wednesday (June 7th) until Friday (June 9th).
Elections results will be announced Sunday, June 11th.
If you wish to run for the please e-mail me, Crystal Lamptey, at [email protected]with
Subject: GAJET Elections
Your full name and city in Gunma
The position(s) you are interested in running for (Yes, you can run more than one!)
An election platform outlining why you want to be a council member and why you want that particular position. Include any relevant experience, skills, and characteristics you have that will assist you in the position, as well as what you hope to accomplish if elected
A profile picture of yourself to display next to your platform on the 2017-2018 election candidates page, which will be posted after all platforms are collected. If you’re unsure of what to write, click here for some examples from past
What positions are up open? Well, GAJET is restructuring into two committees.
The executive committee roles like President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, Editor, and Webmaster need dedicated members who will work together continue, change, and/or create new Gunma-wide events.
The regional representatives committee works together in each of Gunma’s 5 regions (Agatsuma, Chubu, Seibu, Tobu, & Tone) to hold small get-togethers and give general support and information. ALL members take joint responsibility in holding small-scale events in each region, but the lead organizer will be the rep of that region (i.e. decisions on who, what, when, where, etc.). Lastly, if not enough members are elected, positions will be combined (e.g. Tone/Agatsuma Rep).
No matter what committee/position, all council members help where and when they can. In addition, members can hold two positions as (e.g. Secretary & Seibu Rep, Editor & Tone/Agatsuma Rep) if they win enough votes and accept both positions. The maximum number of members on the council will be eleven. You’ll find more info about the positions below, and please send in your application by 7 p.m. June 5th (Monday) to[email protected] !
We look forward to hearing from you!
The president makes sure everything runs smoothly and is responsible for facilitating committee meetings, setting the agenda, and delegating tasks. The president is also responsible for problem solving and making final decisions about money, events, and operations. They are the liaison for National AJET and will be in close contact with our block representative. Japanese language proficiency is a plus, but not mandatory. The president works very closely with the vice president, and therefore candidates for these positions should be individuals who work well together and have a solid personal relationship.
The vice president’s role is similar to president, but with a bit less emailing. The president and VP consult each other on various topics and run meetings together. Therefore, president and vice president candidates should be individuals who work well together and have a solid personal relationship.
The secretary’s main duty is to take detailed notes at GAJET meetings, type them up, and distribute them to all committee members. They compile a year-end guide of all GAJET events to pass on to the next committee. The secretary often works closely with president and vice president.
The treasurer is responsible for all of GAJET’s money and receipts, and makes decisions about money along with the President. The ideal candidate should be organized, responsible, diligent, and good with numbers. The treasurer will need to change over the current GAJET bank account, and will be responsible for the bankbook and any necessary correspondence with the bank itself. Japanese written and verbal communication isn’t necessary, but it may be helpful in these tasks.
The editor is responsible for all the content on the GAJET website, gunmajet.net, as well as moderating the Gunma ALTs Facebook group. The editor encourages committee members and the wider ALT community to write articles on a regular basis. Potential candidates should have good writing and editing skills, as well as basic knowledge about WordPress. The editor often works very closely with the webmaster to manage GAJET’s online content.
The webmaster is responsible for maintaining and developing GAJET’s web presence (www.gunmajet.net), creating pages and forms for GAJET events (such a registration forms), and administrating GAJET’s email and Drive accounts on Google. GAJET’s webpage is built on WordPress and requires little direct maintenance. No direct experience with website administration is necessary, but candidates for webmaster should be confident with technology and in following technical instructions, self-directed and proactive, and enthusiastic about developing new features for gunmajet.net.
Regional Representatives Committee
Regional representatives are the go-to people in each region, acting as a local support for new and current ALTs. Reps are responsible for contacting local ALTs about both GAJET and various regional events, as well as planning small outings and dinners together. ALL members take joint responsibility in holding small-scale events in each region, but the lead organizer will be the rep of that region
Chubu Region Reps
Isesaki, Maebashi, Shibukawa, Shinto-mura, Tamamura and Yoshioka.
Tone Region Reps
Minakami, Katashina, Numata, Showa and Kawaba.
Tobu Region Reps
Chiyoda, Itakura, Kiryu, Meiwa, Midori, Oizumi, Ota, Oura and Tatebayashi.
Seibu Region Reps
Annaka, Fujioka, Kanna, Kanra, Nanmoku, Shimonita, Takasaki, Tomioka and Ueno-mura.
Agatsuma Region Reps
Higashiagatsuma, Kuni, Kusatsu, Naganohara, Nakanojo, Takayama and Tsumagoi.
This week’s café review is for anyone who appreciates a hot coffee paired with some cool jazz.
Concert Café in Takasaki
I almost didn’t notice this café as I walked past. But from the inside, deep and earthy tones of a double bass found their way through seams and glass panes and leaked into the streets. The low, inviting rhythm caught my attention and I had to stop and listen.
By the entrance there is a menu board listing all the artists to play over during the current month. I was pretty excited at this point; I had been looking for a jazz bar ever since arriving in Gunma. And as I read, I started to hear and pick out the other instruments—a sultry saxophone, a smooth jazz guitar and a piano playfully striking improv notes.
Unfortunately the set was almost finished so I didn’t try out the café that night. So the following weekend I came back in order to catch a full performance.
When I looked into the windows the week before, it was brimming with swanky looking people. So I decided it would be best to show up a little early. The café opens from 6 PM for business and the live music begins at 7.
After walking inside I immediately was greeted by a staff member who remembered me looking at the board the weekend before. I was surprised and delighted by this.
The inside of the café has a cozy and charming ambience with low lighting and tea candles on every table. Black and white posters of the glowing, soft faces of 40s movie stars and singers greet guests. And the shop is lined with shelves holding old hardcovers and Parisian antiques and probably a few secrets too. A large brass tea kettle in the middle of the room is left to boil and I got lost watching the steam billow, creating heat spirals in the air.
There is a cover charge of 1000 yen but for three hours of live jazz music, this is a fair price. Along with the cover, I had to buy one drink and one food item.
Although a glass of dark red wine would have suited the mood very well, I had walked past a coffee pot near the entrance that already won me over with the smell. I chose a black drip coffee and a piece of blueberry cheesecake for the perfect bitter/sweet combination.
The café’s menu includes alcoholic options such as wine, beer, and whiskey as well as coffee, juice, and tea. If you’d like to have a full dinner at Concert Café, no problem–they offer pasta, sandwiches, and other French entrees to satiate your appetite.
Around 7 PM, the band began to set up. This night featured a trio of a jazz guitarist, a pianist and a double bassist. They began with Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” and the guitarist sang the accompanying vocals. With the emotion he channeled into the lyrics and how he wore a slight smile on his face, I wondered if maybe he had a personal connection with the area. The band played for another thirty minutes before taking a break.
To anyone reading this, this is not-so-breaking news; being a foreigner in Gunma can draw a lot of attention. Sometimes it’s pretty uncomfortable but tonight was one of the many times where I really appreciated it. The band came up to chat and after the usual icebreaker questions, I discovered the jazz guitarist had lived in Los Angeles for two years.
Our conversation finally led into jazz and we talked about the bossa nova Stan Getz, cool jazz’s Gerry Mulligan, and my personal favorite, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. The pianist piped in that Chet Baker’s “Everything Happens to Me” was his go-to song during his time playing in jazz bars in New York City.
Having to go back on set soon, the band asked if there were any requests. They were happy to play for me: “Girl from Ipanema”, “My Funny Valentine” and of course, “Everything Happens to Me.”
Needless to say, two hours of jazz and coffee later, I left Concert Café absolutely content.
Concert Café is located at オフィスＭｏｍｏｓｅフランスRenjakuchō, in Takasaki, Gunma. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from Takasaki Station. And if you’re having a difficult time finding it, just search for the FamilyMart Aru Cho location on Google Maps. It’s the building to the left.
Whether you are a hardcore jazz enthusiast or someone who appreciates some great live music and atmosphere, Concert Café is the perfect place to impress a date, gossip over wine or unwind after a week of hard ALT-ing. (And I highly recommend the blueberry cheesecake.)
Warming your hands with a steamy mug of house coffee as you look around in awe of the cozy, contemporary and themed atmospheres of Japan’s coolest cafes doesn’t have to be limited to weekend ventures to Tokyo! With these articles, I aim to bring the spotlight to the more than deserving cafes of Gunma. Even in the inaka (and surprisingly enough, especially in the inaka) there are hidden gems scattered all around the prefecture just waiting to be unearthed. As I find these, I want to share them with the GAJET community so that everyone can find their home away from home (away from home.) The next time you meet up with fellow ALTs on the weekend for some r&r, try out one of these places!
THREE SENT grill&sweets in Isesaki
Head lowered as he finger picked the strings of the acoustic guitar in his lap, the owner of THREE SENT spoke of his vision for the café. THREE SENT grill&sweets is a restaurant café in Isesaki that is only the beginning of the Samm Entertainment dream. The owner of THREE SENT currently owns not only the restaurant café but also an adjacent hair salon (which deserves its own raving review perhaps in an Osusume Salon column) but he hopes to expand and open an entire business area of services to Isesaki locals. It will be a place where no matter what you need (food, entertainment, basic services) you can rely on Samm Entertainment to provide. The owner hopes that it can be a place where people can visit and be immersed in the feeling that they have entered a small town or community. Why is it named Samm Entertainment? Who is Samm? Well, the owner said there’s no reason behind the name except that he thinks it sounds cool. A worthy enough reason, in my opinion.
But, as of now, Samm Entertainment is building a sturdy foundation with THREE SENT café. What makes THREE SENT a worthy afternoon endeavor is the contemporary atmosphere, the friendly owner and staff (very excited for foreign customers!) and undeniably the most important aspect of a cafe—exemplary food!
From 11:30 AM till 2:30 PM, THREE SENT offers lunch service with a smaller, rotating set menu. But don’t let the small menu scare you away from trying something new and unknown because it’s just another testament to quality over quantity. THREE SENT offers lunch sets with soup and salad and main dishes of gourmet sandwiches, hearty chicken and beef entrees as well as grilled fish.
Between 2:30 and 5:30, THREE SENT is still open but only runs their drink bar and the location as a coffee shop. THREE SENT has a full drink menu of roasted coffees, herbal teas, imported wines and hard liquors. Looking to relax a little, I opted for a chamomile herbal tea.
Past 5:30 PM, the café starts up its kitchens for dinner service and if you sit at the counter, you can even watch the grill as the chefs skillfully work around it. THREE SENT’s dinner menu is a full menu including various pastas, cultural fusion foods and high quality steaks. On my last visit, I tried a featured monthly special of marinated shrimp and mushrooms sautéed in a garlic oil, intended to be eaten over fresh and lightly toasted French bread. Every time I eat at THREE SENT I am impressed by the balance of flavor and the combination of the ingredients’ texture. I have yet to try a dish that didn’t impress.
Beyond the rotating lunch menu and the decadent dinner courses, THREE SENT’s claim to fame is their feature dessert, the Dutch Baby pancake. In fact, it was their advertisements posted outside promoting the dessert that peaked my interest in the first place.
A Dutch baby pancake, also known as a Bismarck, or Dutch puff, is originally a breakfast food but thanks to THREE SENT, you can enjoy it at any point of the day. It’s a simple pancake made with egg, flour, sugar and milk and baked in a cast iron pan. (Which I might add that cooking with a cast iron pan is a great way to get the essential mineral iron in your diet. For women this is especially important, so I believe this more than justifies eating this dessert for health reasons!) What sets the Dutch baby pancake apart from its fellow pancakes and pastry puffs is that it is immediately served while piping hot with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, fluffy whipped cream and a combination of your choice of ingredients ranging from chocolate to berries.
A big fan of sweet and savory flavor combinations, I tried the Manuka honey (a unique multifloral honey from New Zealand) and Rosemary Dutch Baby. As the ice cream melts and the toppings begin to mix, the pancake absorbs and takes on all the flavors without becoming a crumbly mess or too wet. I will definitely be back to try the Mont Blanc chestnut variation next time I stop by.
With plans to remodel and expand, I cannot wait to see how Samm Entertainment develops. And no matter when you decide to visit THREE SENT, you can expect great service, amazing food and an owner who is more than happy to chat with you!
THREE SENT grill&sweets is located at Nirazukamachi, Isesaki, Gunma (群馬県伊勢崎市韮塚町964-2) and unfortunately more than a walk’s distance away from the nearest station. But don’t let this deter you! If you don’t have a car, I’m sure the temptation of a Dutch baby pancake would make this a willing trip for almost anyone.
THREE SENT is open Sunday through Saturday from 11:30 AM with extended hours till midnight on Friday and Saturday. The average budget for lunch is between \1000-2000 and for dinner \2000-3000.