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Surviving Winter in Gunma

December 11, 2016 | Blog, Guides, Japan life | No Comments

The inevitable is coming. Every year we complain and try to prepare, and yet every year we get knocked down a notch and are reminded we will never win winter. Winter in Gunma is just as dreaded as every sempai will tell you- the houses are ill-equipped at keeping in heat, the AC heaters work overtime to keep the drafty winds out, and the chill-to-the-bone winds that sweep through Gunma will make you feel like Frosty. Winter is not easy but we are all here to conquer it as best we can together. If you are worried about what will happen in the next couple of months, read up on these great ways to stay warm and survive the dreaded winter.

How to Stay Warm

Wear layers
heattech-1
uniqlo-heattech

I highly recommend wearing thermal underwear (such as “HEATTECH” from Uniqlo) as your undermost layer on top and bottom. (Special note about heat tech- If you have a history of dry skin, as I do, you may want to be cautious when purchasing HEATTECH. Synthetic fabrics can aggravate dry skin, and HEATTECH’s deliberate design may make it more drying than the synthetics you’re used to. The label does prominently advertise that HEATTECH uses the skin’s moisture to produce its warmth).

  • This special material keeps your body heat in so you feel warmer from the get-go. On top of that layer, I usually wear a sweater, a puffy down-jacket, and pants as my base.
  • Layers are important because though you may feel just warm enough when you’re outside, as soon as you walk into a super-heated office, you may start sweating, which could cause you to catch a cold. Layers allow you to match your surroundings.
  • Note: School hallways will most likely be the same temperature as outdoors, but many schools ban wearing hats, scarves, gloves, and down-jackets inside, so layer accordingly.

Invest in warm winter clothes.

montbell_alpine_light_down_jacket_thyme_frThe difference between my first and second winter on JET comes down to one thing: my jacket. My first year I mostly wore peacoats, which were cute, but did not keep me warm in the least. My second year I invested in a puffy down jacket, which looked a bit silly, but was so well insulated, I didn’t mind. Gunma is famous for its soul-crushingly dry and cold wind, so choose clothes that are wind resistant (shiny jackets tend to be a good indicator).

 

 

Cover as much of your body as possible

  • A hat, gloves/mittens, and a scarf are vital for keeping body heat in. Every bit of exposed skin is an opening for body heat to escape. Some Japanese people also use a haramaki (a wrap that goes around the lower abdomen) to keep the stomach and lower back warm. I personally like wearing a haramaki, so you may want to give it a try!
  • For those who will cycle a lot this winter, fuzzy neck warmers that cover your neck and part of your face can help keep you warm, but beware: they can also trap your sweat, which again can become the source of a cold. Ear muffs are great normally, but should be avoided on snowy days when wet hair could lead to a cold.

 

Take a bath at night

This may just be personal preference, but I find that on the nights when I only take a shower, I am not nearly as warm as the nights when I take a shower and then a bath. If I clean off the day’s dirt and sweat and then heat my body for the night, I always feel healthier in the morning. On a side note, my pipes froze over twice my first year, so my coworkers suggested running hot water just before I went to bed to prevent this phenomenon, which became a good excuse to take a bath every night.

 

Keep your room heated and humidified

Most people use their air conditioners as heaters during the winter, which is great for keeping warm but tends to dry out the surrounding air, causing many a sore throat. I recommend using a humidifier, which replenishes the moisture in the air and can help prevent scratchy, sore throats. At work, you may see tea pots on stove heaters, or even your coworkers spraying water bottles into the air, for this same reason (to humidify the atmosphere).

 

Eat warm foods

Nabe literally means “pot”, but during winter it describes the unbeatable “hot pot.” If you like the prepared soup bases available at grocery stores, you can make nabe very simply by adding the soup base to a ceramic nabe pot, adding any assortment of vegetables (Chinese cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, etc.) and proteins, and heating the pot. This dish is best enjoyed cooked over a portable stove under the comfort of a kotatsu, a square heated table covered with a blanket. If you want even more warmth, I recommend a heated carpet and/or heated blanket, both can be purchased from Cainz HomeNitori or similar stores.

 

Hokkairo

Sold at every grocery or home store, these inexpensive and convenient chemical heat-packs are perfect for slipping in your shoes or pocket for those long and chilly walks through the school hallways. Hokkairos come in all shapes and sizes, and stay warm for several hours. Simply open a pack, give it a shake, and stick it on your body or in your pocket for an instant blast of much-needed heat.

 

 

Hot Water Bottles (Yutampo)

A water bottle is absolutely essential for a warm nights sleep, and here in Japan, the yutampo (湯担保) is a popular winter accessory. The Japanese style water bottle is made of a hard plastic rather than the rubbery style we may be used to, but works just the same and is as simple as can be. Fill a yutampo with hot water and throw it in bed to warm your chilly toes all night long!

 

 

Go to Onsen

 

Find a local onsen or bath and visit it regularly. Not only will you feel amazing, but you will avoid waking up to frozen pipes in your shower! Some public baths have membership cards with discounts for repeated visits.

 

 

Soak up the sun

  • The next two points are more for mental health. On clear winter days, it is incredibly uplifting to feel the sun on your face. Typically it’s dark when you leave for work and it’s dark when you get home from work, so some people don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun’s rays. Accordingly, if you can, give yourself some time during the day to go outside and absorb the sun’s restoring rays. Even if it’s cold, if you walk around for a bit in the sun you’ll feel warmer, and the exposure to the sun will provide you with some much needed revitalization

Don’t lock yourself inside all winter

  • It’s very tempting to spend the entire winter season watching movies while eating nabe under yourkotatsu. While this can be an enjoyable way to spend some evenings on your own or with others, I highly recommend leaving your apartment to explore Gunma during the winter. Gunma is famous for winter sports such as snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and more, so this could be a great chance to try a new activity! Gatjet will also be hosting different events throughout the winter to get us all out of our slump and into fresh air.
  • For non-sports fans, I recommend trying a winter onsen day trip. Kusatsu is extremely hot, but in the heart of winter the water’s heating powers can keep your body warm all day while you explore the town’s lovely cafés, restaurants and shops. Don’t forget about all the illuminations Gunma has to offer throughout the winter break!

Meet your friends

  • Meet your friends, your neighbors, your anybody! Warm your bodies and your spirits by meeting with your close ones to chat, play games, have a laugh – anything to keep your hearts warm. They say winter is the season of loneliness, but go prove the universe wrong!

How to winter-proof your house

Suffering separation anxiety when parted from your kotatsu? Sub-zero apartments and icy bike rides to school mean Gunma’s cold is already biting. Without wanting to sound like a doom-monger, the worst of the winter is yet to come! Meet the cold head-on and make your pad a hot-haven…

Bubble wrap your windows

Bubble wrapping your windows will give you instant double glazing. Bubble-up to keep the cold out and your precious warmth in. Wrap with smaller bubbles will be more effective as the bubbles are packed together more tightly than those on a larger grade wrap. Fitting it is simple; clean your windows, cut your wrap to size, and use masking tape to attach it to the frame. Some websites recommend just spraying water onto the bubble wrap and sticking it directly on to the glass. Here’s a step-by-step for the DIY-phobic.

You can pick up sheets of bubble wrap at the 100円 store. For larger lengths visit Cainz Homes. Try and resist the urge to pop all those lovely bubbles before Spring!’

 

Banish drafts

Don’t let a draft blow that warm fuzzy feeling out of your kotatsu. Wobbly doors and flimsy windows seem to be the norm in Japanese apartments. A sukima teepu (すきまテープ) is a quick fix to keep the cold winds out. These tapes have a peel-off sticky back and are available in foam and brush varieties. Cut lengths to size and stick them around the edges of your doors and windows. These are also great for keeping out noise, dust and summer insects. Pick some up at a hardware store or online.

 

 

Curtains for the cold

Tackle the shivers by investing in some drapery. Flimsy curtains will let the heat escape and the cold penetrate. I did away with my apartment’s flimsy, too short, lurid green curtains and replaced them with some heavy heat keepers – the improvement was instant. Heavy curtains will serve you well throughout the year by keeping the sunlight out and you cool during the summer. A makeover at your mado won’t cost the earth either… I picked up my miracle ‘heat-in, sun-out’ curtains at Sanki for a bargain 1,000円. I did a smaller window for 500円. Hang some new threads at your genkan for an extra defence against the winter.

 

 

 

Fit a stop panel

Stop-Panel-ストップパネル-150x150

Another solution for window warmth warfare is a ストップパネル (stop panel). These plastic or foam sheets have a reflective silver side and can be cut to size. Fit them to windows and glass doors to tackle heat loss and drafts. These panels are only high enough to cover the bottom section of your windows and doors, so are maybe worth considering if bubble wrap alone isn’t keeping you toasty. You can find stop panels on Rakuten.

 

 

Apply some heat

 

It seems there isn’t anything that can’t be heated by a kairo. The word kairo comes from the kanji 懐 (futokoro) meaning pocket, which can also be read as kai, and 炉 (ro) which is translated as oven. Eco-kairo are environmentally friendly microwavable gel pockets offered in an endless array of designs. Pick up your ‘pocket oven’ at a hundred yen store or go high-tech with a USB version.

When your futon feels like a block of ice, slip in a kairo bed pad and pillow for a cosy night’s rest. Try a kairo band-aid which can be strapped to your favourite cold spot for a guaranteed 40 degree glow on the skin.

But the heat doesn’t stop there… A set of USB kairo glove warmers could come in handy when you’re bashing out February lesson plans on the keyboard. And for ladies who are very brave, and presumably very cold, there are even kairo panty liners. Good luck girls!

Remember to stay cool, but not cold. Keep warm, Gunma.

 

 

Canyons 2016

September 12, 2016 | GAJET Events, News and Announcements, Travel | No Comments

 

canyoning

It’s that time of year again—one of GAJET’s biggest events—the Canyons Adventure and Mixer! Get to know your neighbors from Gunma, Ibaraki, Nagano, Saitama, and Tochigi while catching the last rays of summer during an action-(or leisure) packed weekend at Gunma’s own Canyons Alpine Lodge in Minakami. (more…)

GAJET Elections 2016-2017

June 14, 2016 | News and Announcements | No Comments

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 from now until Friday June 17th at 8pm. 

Crystal Lamptey

PresidentCrystal Lamptey

Hello fellow Gunmanians!

My name is Crystal Lamptey, and I am running for GAJET President. I work as an ALT in Shibukawa City, and in August, I’ll become a “unicorn”! … That is to say, I will be a 5th-year JET participant, a sight so rare it has a mythical nickname status.  However, it’s not that uncommon in Gunma, and I believe it’s partly due to our community staying connected, friendly, and supportive.

As GAJET President, I want to continue that tradition, and as a unicorn, I have the experience to do it! I’ve worked in GAJET before as webmaster and currently volunteer at JOMO JET, and for over 4 years I’ve participated in so many international events that I’ve seen what works the best when holding fun and interesting events. My favorite GAJET events are: the Halloween party, the Thanksgiving dinner, and our biggest event for charity, I*CAN*JAPAN. I’m sure you have your favorite events as well, (ski trips, onsen trips, beer gardens, Gunma Games, etc.), and if elected, I’ll strive to create opportunities to acclimate to, explore, and survive Gunma with your fellow ALTS (and non-ALTs!).

(TL;DR: Crystal wants you to live in harmony, harmony, oh, love! in Gunma!)

 

Becky RobbinsIMG_6652

Vice President / Tobu Rep

Hello everyone! My name’s Becky Robbins. Originally from the UK, I’m a sociable, fun-loving second year JET based in Kiryu who’s always looking for the next adventure. Like many of you I’ve spent the last year attending numerous events offered by GAJET, from snowboarding and canyoning in Minakami, to nights out like I Can Japan in Maebashi. As a Tobu rep, together with the talented Ashley Oros, we’ve organised some awesome events, from the GAJET Halloween party, to the Tobu camping adventure, as well as bowling nights and pub quizzes. I’d love the opportunity to continue creating bigger and better events next year too.

As a region we’re quite spread out in Tobu. Many of us don’t have cars and when winter sweeps in and the karakaze starts shaking your windows, getting to the train station seems a whole lot harder than it used to. It’s my hope that, with more events to tempt us from our homes, we can bring Tobu together and create an even stronger community. There’s plenty to do here when you know where to look and plenty of fun to be had when you’re with good friends. Tell me your suggestions, talk to me whenever you need a friendly ear to listen, and let’s create something great together.

Thank you for your time.

 

Kristin WilsonKristin Wilson

Vice President

Hello everyone! My name is Kristin Wilson. I’m a soon-to-be third-year SHS JET living in Takasaki, and I am running for the Vice President position for the 2016–2017 GAJET council.

During my year as GAJET Secretary, I became heavily involved in both the JET and greater Gunma community. I had the opportunity to organize many GAJET events (such as the Potluck Thanksgiving, Skibo and Chill, and I Can Japan) and non-GAJET events as a member of JOMO JET. I would love to continue applying my experiences as Vice President, supporting the President and helping plan more wonderful events for the ALT community and beyond.

In my almost two years on JET, I have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role that these events play in making JETs like myself feel more welcome and part of the Gunma community. I intend to continue reaching out to all JETs, new and old, and helping everyone come together to enjoy the best of what our wonderful prefecture has to offer!

As Secretary, I brought enthusiasm, openness, a positive attitude, and top-notch organization and note-taking skills to the position. If elected as Vice President, I would continue this same motivation and organization with the new GAJET council to serve you and help make your time in Gunma the best it can be.

 

Madeleine ItoMaddie Ito

Secretary / Seibu Rep

Hi Gunma JETs! I’m Maddie Ito and I’m going into my second year as an ALT.  I’m from the bright lights of London but now embracing the inaka life in the village of Nanmoku. I can often be found enjoying the delights of the Japanese countryside, like konnyaku (loveee), onsen, and riverside runs, or escaping the quiet life for a spot of karaoke. On the rarer occasion, you might find me battling my inaka demons (centipedes, lack of conbini), but ganbatte imasu ne!

Life out here could have been pretty isolated, but instead I’ve done more than I thought possible in a year alone, and – even better – in the charming company of you lovely people. Much of that is down to the events organised by GAJET, so I’d love a chance to help continue that legacy as Secretary or Seibu Rep.

Before leaving the big smoke, part of my job was organising events, writing speeches, and generally keeping things ship-shape at a fast-growing hospitality startup. I’ve also experienced many of Gunma’s finest JET events, from lending a hand at JOMO JET’s International Carnival to winning the majority of the raffle prizes (not sorry!) at I CAN Japan this year. Aside from this experience, I’d bring energy, many embarrassing stories, a London accent and a taste for the glam to GAJET’s team to help everyone enjoy Gunma in all it’s cabbage-y glory.

 

Daniel JongS__3743761

Editor / Tone Rep

G’day, friends! Daniel Jong here, just about to head into my 2nd year on JET, in the gorgeous Minakami. I’m running (I’m really unfit these days, so more like walking) for the Editor and Tone Representative positions for the 2016-2017 year. You may look at my face, and wonder, “Is he Japanese? Is he Korean? Is he Chinese?”, to which I’d answer, “I’m ‘Strayan, mate”. But if you want to know my real heritage, vote for me ehehehe.

Much like you all, I opened my JET acceptance letter, wondering where in the Land of the Rising Sun I was to be sent. “Minakami-machi, Gunma”. Where!? Even Japanese people don’t know where it is. But it hasn’t even been a full year yet, and I’ve fallen in love with this place I now call home. Which is why I want to spread the good news. Spread the love. Spread the beauty of Minakami. (Minakami is known for Hot Springs and Actions Sports. I’ve made a spreadsheet (that’s right, a spreadsheet) of all the Minakami Hot Springs. Don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe for a copy) I want everyone to come to know why Minakami is the greatest, which is why I want to be editor – to use the powers of the internet and social media to talk up how great Gunma and all our regions are.

I was the Editor and Webmaster of a few clubs back when I was in university – namely the photography club and engineering club that I belonged to, so I know my way around. I’ve been in councils and committees my whole life, and I’m not bad with words. Although, if you didn’t sign up for bad puns and jokes, YOU’RE GOING TO GET THEM ANYWAY.

Vote for Pedr- Daniel Jong. Because you can’t spell Editor without the letters, E, I and D, which also appear in Daniel.

 

Sarah Dela Cruzgajet-sdc

Webmaster / Treasurer

My name is Sarah Dela Cruz and I’m from the Toronto area in Canada. I’ll be heading into my third year as an ALT in Annaka (west of Takasaki). For this upcoming year, I will be running for Webmaster and Treasurer.

In my first year, someone told me that Gunma has one of the best communities and support networks in Japan. For the past two years, I have experienced this firsthand. We have a great group that puts on all sorts of events for people to enjoy together. I love experiencing new things, but I especially enjoy hanging out with JETs from other cities that I normally don’t see very often. I want both old and new ALTs, CIRs, and foreign residents to feel like a part of this welcoming community.

In terms of experience, I have previously served as both Webmaster and Treasurer during my time in University. I have experience in WordPress, HTML, CSS, and also programs like Photoshop. I also have experience with money (of course), spreadsheets, and being frugal!

This year, I’m ready to lend my experience to deepen connections between JETs, non-JETs, and locals in our community. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

 

Misha PinyoMisha

Webmaster

Hello fellow Gunmarians!

Last year I had the honor of serving with GAJET as a Chubu Representitive, but this year I would love to be GAJET’s Webmaster. When I’m not teaching at Mae-Nishi High you can find me learning programming, playing musical instruments, exploring Japan’s beautiful mountain onsen, and planning my slow journey across the world. As a GAJET member I started a semi-monthly gathering called MARU, which creates a space for artists, musicians, poets, culinary wizards, and anyone else who wants to come together and get inspired. I also organized GAJET’s annual Art Night along with Ashley Oros, and assisted in several other GAJET events. I’m also interested in creating events for the more outdoorsy and adventurous among us; I once rode my bike to Tokyo along our very own Tone River, and I would love to organize more bike tours, hikes and camping trips utilizing GAJET’s outdoor gear.

As for my logistical experience, 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. I’m also currently studying programming and data analysis in my free time with the hopes of creating databases, statistics, and web-apps that teachers and students in Japan can use to teach and learn English more effectively.

Enough with that serious stuff though—really, I’m running because I want to contribute to a thriving and supportive community wherever I go, and so far GAJET has allowed me to do just that.

Thank you for your time!

 

Paola TorresIMG_0549

Chubu Rep

Hello Minna! My name is Paola Andrea Torres and I would like to run as a Chubu Representative.

During this first year as a JET placed in the center of Japan, *cough* Shibukawa *cough*, I have attended and volunteered in several GAJET events; as well as being involved in many other non-GAJET related community events. I enjoy meeting and socializing with many people and getting to explore the different areas of the Cabbage Patch. I feel that I can support current and incoming JETs as they adjust and cope with life in Japan; as I had to do so myself being born in Colombia and moving to the States as a teen.

I am a very charismatic, friendly, warm-mama-bear type person. I love Japanese culture and language. I really enjoy Karaoke-ing, purikura-ing, eating sushi and drinking sake! So let’s have a party in the BELLY BOTTOM OF JAPAN! (Actually Shibukawa does not have a purikura machine so let’s have the party CLOSE to the belly bottom of Japan).

Ijou desu.

 

Hilary ReynoldsH-Reynolds

Tobu Rep

Yo! What’s up? My name is Hilary Reynolds from the green state of Oregon.  I am heading into my second year on JET. I’m currently living in Kiryu, but in the half that nearly no one goes to. In general, I like having a good time. I love drinking and cooking, but not at the same time. That can be dangerous. This has been witnessed at any event that involves cooking over a fire.

In the past year that I’ve been here, I’ve been to several awesome GAJET events, full of fun times and countless laughs. I’m not a stranger to coordinating my own events, which I plan when there’s nothing to do. I’m also always down to go on an adventure or start one of my own.

There are many reasons I would love to be Tobu Rep and a part of GAJET. GAJET crates so many great events that brings together people living in Gunma. Being a part of that and helping brainstorming and organizing these events would be awesome. I am full of ideas and I hope that I get other people more interested in the awesome prefecture that is Gunma and the Tobu area. There are many great things to see and experience in the area that many people don’t realize is there. I want to change that. Thank you!

VOTE HERE!

Voting will be held until Friday June 17th at 8pm – Only current JETs may vote!

How to Save Money in Japan

May 20, 2016 | Blog, Guides, Japan life, Travel | No Comments

Working on JET or as an ALT can provide a pretty comfortable lifestyle for those of us in Gunma. We are afforded a decent salary along with many of the comforts of large cities (Takasaki, Maebashi) without paying Tokyo prices. Yet, I am sure all JETs would never turn down an opportunity to save a little more cash and enhance their savings for any future plans post-JET.

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