Author: Patrick M

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Being a Vegetarian in Japan

December 3, 2012 | Food and Drink | 4 Comments

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 9 years (lacto-ovo, meaning eggs and dairy are okay).  When I moved here, I read articles about how hard it was to be a vegetarian in Japan.  However, I was not willing to give up my strong personal beliefs, and to tell you the truth, I thought, “Ah, I’m sure it’s not that bad!” (more…)

Gunma Prefecture, Shaped Like a Crane

August 8, 2012 | Travel | No Comments

During university I spent a year studying abroad in Japan’s historic theme park, Kyoto. Everywhere you looked there were famous sightseeing spots and chances to experience things uniquely Japanese. This became my norm, and my generalized view of what all of Japan must be like. (more…)

Fujido Cave

July 19, 2012 | Travel | 1 Comment

If you’re looking for the perfect day trip in Gunma, look no further than Fujido Cave. Located in the southern-most tip of Gunma, this cave is the largest in the Kanto region and is known to attract nature-starved Tokyoites and outdoor adventurers alike.

The length of the cave is roughly 2 kilometers and takes approximately 40 minutes to walk through. You’ll see impressive stalactites, stalagmites, and other handsome rock formations with profound names such as “Lotus Tower,” “Pilgrim’s Staff,” and “Woman’s Changeroom.” Look out for the occasional bat as it flaps by overhead! No special footwear is required, but it’s a bit slippery in some places, so be sure to watch your step!

After emerging from the caves, why not check out the nearby Skybridge? Skybridge is a suspension bridge, spanning a valley 90 meters above the ground. In summer (and on weekends in the fall), the bridge’s built-in bubble machines release thousands of bubbles for your viewing/popping/frolicking pleasure. The daily event lasts 15 minutes; start times are 11:00, 13:00, and 15:00.

Hours: 9:00 – 17:30 (In winter the caves are closed early… call to inquire the exact time.)

Admission: ¥600. Buy tickets inside the little souvenir shop facing the Skybridge. The path leading up to the entrance of the cave is behind the shop.

Access: The only way to get to the caves is by car, as the bus service to this area is laughably poor. If you must use public transport, take the JR Takasaki line to Shin-machi station and take the 2 hour bus ride to Uenomura Yakuba (Ueno-mura town hall). From there, it’s an hour and fifteen minute walk.

For more information, visit Uenomura’s tourist info website (Japanese only).

Happy Caving!

Exploring the Japanese Kitchen

July 12, 2012 | Food and Drink | 1 Comment

It’s an experience many of us have had…you enter your local supermarket, only to be confronted by endless shelves of strange ingredients you have no idea how to use.  Whether you’re a newcomer to Japan or a veteran resident, don’t resign yourself to sticking with what you know!

It’s easy to enjoy the unique variety of foods available in Japan at home.  Japanese cooking is simple, healthy, and mastering a few dishes is sure to impress friends, family, and co-workers.  This guide won’t turn you into an Iron Chef, but hopefully it’ll make dinnertime a little more exciting.

Part 1: The Wonderful World of Vegetables

しし唐/ししとう(Shishitō): A smaller, spicier relative of the Japanese green pepper (ピーマン), these are great for grilling, tempura, or stir-fry.  They are usually prepared whole, but poke a hole in them before cooking so they don’t explode.

かぼちゃ(Kabocha): This round winter squash is sweet with a soft texture.  You can even eat the rind!  It breaks down if overcooked, but that makes it easy to turn into soups and sauces.  Try it in this traditional simmered dish.

小松菜/こまつな(Komatsuna): Japanese mustard spinach is rich in calcium and iron.  It can be stir-fried or boiled and tastes great in salads and soups.  It also doesn’t wilt or lose water when cooked.

水菜(Mizuna): Also called “spider mustard”, mizuna is a great addition to salads or stir-fries.  It can bring a bright flavor to donburi, especially katsu-don or oyako-don.

ニラ(Nira): Asian garlic chives might be flatter than the chive varieties back home, but they taste pretty similar.  They’re delicious in stir-fries, soups, omelets, or dumplings.

しそ(Shiso): A member of the mint family, shiso has a distinct, refreshing flavor.  It’s usually chopped up and used as a condiment or garnish.  Try it on pasta, cold noodle dishes, or in fillings and batters.

ごうや(Goya): Bitter melon is something of an acquired taste.  To prepare, cut open, remove the seeds, slice into crescents.  If you want to reduce its bitterness, parboil before stir-frying.  It’s used in the famous Okinawan dish, goya chanpuru.

ごぼう(Gobo):  Burdock root has a sweet, mild, earthy flavor and goes well with pork or carrots.  After peeling the root, prevent it from turning brown by soaking it in water.  Try it simmered or in soups or salads.

大根(Daikon): This ubiquitous white radish can be pickled, simmered, stir-fried, or grated.  It has a peppery punch to it, so use the sweeter, thick top part raw and the bottom part for cooked dishes.

カブ(Kabu): This turnip has a spicier flavor than Western varieties but is still sweet and tender.  Typically boiled and high in protein and calcium, you can also simmer and eat the greens so nothing goes to waste!

れんこん(Renkon): Lotus root lends a delicious crunch to almost any type of preparation.  Peel the outer skin, slice, and put in water to prevent browning before cooking.  Renkon stays crisp if cooked briefly, but goes tender when simmered longer.

里芋(Satoimo): Japanese taro absorbs flavors well and is most often boiled or stewed until it turns soft.  Slightly slippery when raw, they can irritate sensitive skin before cooking so take care when peeling.  Soups are an easy way to enjoy them.

竹の子(Takenoko): Fresh bamboo shoots are a hassle to prepare, so most people buy them precooked.  Drain any liquid, chop up and cook.  Don’t worry if you find white stuff inside, just wash it off before using.  Takenoko goes well with rice.

Part 2: A Journey Into the Unknown (or All That Other Stuff)

Mushrooms:

えのき(Enoki): Enoki are a common ingredient in nabe, soups, salads, and simmered dishes.  Add at the end of cooking so they don’t lose their delicate flavor or crunch.  Cook for about 5 minutes at most or they’ll become stringy and tough.

えりんぎ(Eringi): The king oyster mushroom is meaty with a texture like abalone.  You can use the cap and stalk either whole or chopped.  For any vegetarians or vegans out there, it makes a good meat substitute since it retains its shape and has a rich umami flavor.

まいたけ(Maitake): These mushrooms might look intimidating but you can use them just like button mushrooms.  They have a slightly woodsy flavor and are often called the “chicken of the woods”.  Fried, boiled, or sautéed in butter, they’re both versatile and delicious.

なめこ(Nameko): Nameko are used as a topping for noodles or in soups, nabe, and stir-fries.  Their slippery, gelatinous coating helps to lightly thicken broths or sauces.  They have a nutty flavor and silky texture.

Fruits:

びわ(Biwa): The loquat comes into season in summer.  Best when soft and orange, the skin is thin and edible but can be peeled when ripe.  They taste kind of like a cross between an apricot and a guava.

柿/かき(Kaki): Persimmons are a fall fruit with waxy skin that’s usually peeled.  They taste best when allowed to soften to ripeness, becoming almost jelly-like in texture.  Their flavor is similar to pear and apricot.

夏みかん(Natsumikan): This citrus has a dark yellow, roughly textured skin and are in season in summer.  They’re quite tart, so you may want to sweeten them with sugar or honey and eat like a grapefruit.

デコポン(Dekopon):  These large, sweet fruits have a distinctive protruding bump on top.  A cross between orange and mandarin, they’re easy to peel and seedless.  Look out for this popular citrus in winter.

梨/なし(Nashi): Asian pears come into season in fall.  Crisp, light, and juicy, they taste like a refreshing mix of apple and pear.  They’re typically ripe and ready to eat when bought but can be stored in the refrigerator.

Seaweed:

ひじき(Hijiki): High in fiber, hijiki comes dried so blanch it in boiling water for a few minutes before use.  It greatly increases in volume when rehydrated so only use a small amount!  Simmer with other vegetables or add to salads, pastas, or stir-fries.

昆布/こんぶ(Konbu): Typically used to make stock, it can also be eaten stewed in dishes like oden.  It gets leathery when cooked so try chopping it up in strips.  Wipe the powder off dried konbu before using.

わかめ(Wakame): Wakame is great for salads or soups, and doesn’t need much cooking.  Simply rehydrate the dried flakes in water and toss in, or if cooking with liquid throw it in dried.  Try putting some in your rice cooker before turning it on to make wakame gohan.

Mystery:

こんやく(Konnyaku): This gelatinous foodstuff comes in blocks or noodles, called shirataki.  It’s derived from the konjac plant, has no calories, and is very high in fiber so it’s a perfect diet food.  Parboiling before cooking, slicing it thinly, or adding shallow surface cuts will make it more tender.  Try it in soups, nabe, or sauteed.

Welcome Newcomers!

June 27, 2012 | News and Announcements | No Comments

Congratulations on your new jobs here in Gunma!  We’re very excited to meet everyone.

We’ve recently prepared a brand new Newcomers Guide here on the site with lots of information to help you find out about, prepare for, and adjust to your new lives.  If you can’t find the information you’re looking for there, you can also contact one of the GAJET officers or post your questions to the Gunma ALTs Facebook Group.

Below is a message for all of you from our current GAJET President, Chelsey Reid.

Welcome 2012 JETs!

My name is Chelsey and I am your GAJET President for this year. On behalf of the GAJET committee, I’m so excited to welcome you to your new home in Gunma! Whether this is your fist experience in Japan or if you’ve been here a handful of times already, you’ll find Gunma is unique in many ways and has so much to offer… start getting excited (if you’re not already!)

For those of you who are thinking: “Goon-mah?? What? I heard there’s an ointment for that…” Don’t let the name scare you… Gunma is low on the international radar but it is Japan’s hidden gem. There is something here for everyone. If you are an outdoorsy person, there is great hiking, skiing, snowboarding, rafting, and bungee jumping.  Gunma is well-known for having the best natural hot spring resorts anywhere in Japan, the most famous of which is Kusatsu.  If city life is more your thing, there are plenty of museums, galleries, restaurants, izakayas, and shopping here to keep you busy. When that isn’t enough, Tokyo is just an hour away!

There are JETs here from many different backgrounds with just as many different reasons for having applied to JET. Some wanted teaching experience, some wanted to learn more about Japanese language and culture, and some just wanted to get out of their hometown to try living in a country where the culture is completely different than their own. Whatever your reasons are, you’ll find that what makes Gunma so special are the people that live here. Gunma has one of the most active ALT communities in the country, so there will always be someone to lean on if you ever need support.  Also, there are plenty of locals who are eager to make foreign friends, so start brushing up on your Japanese!

Your first few weeks in Gunma will be a whirlwind of excitement, and your schedule will be jam packed as you attend orientations, visit your schools, meet your teachers, make about a million self-introduction speeches, and generally get settled into your new life here. I’m sure you have tons of questions, so have a look through the Newcomer’s Guide on gunmajet.net and use the Facebook GunmaALTs group as much as possible! If I had one word of advice to you, it would be to prepare yourself for a very hot summer! Gunma is one of the hottest places in Japan, even hotter than Okinawa! Remember to pack accordingly!

Please don’t hesitate to contact myself, or any of the GAJET members with any other questions or concerns you may have! We’re already planning lots of fun events for you when you arrive! Yoroshiku!

Warmest wishes,

Chelsey Reid
GAJET President 2012-2013

Have you ever wondered what Gunma would be like had you come over a hundred years ago?

A Handbook for Travelers in Japan is the 1903 version of the modern Lonely Planet travel guides and provides an interesting look at Japan at the turn of the 20th century, including several pages on Gunma. (more…)

It’s now time for the 2012-2013 GAJET Committee to introduce itself to the world.

Already, the new committee has begun planning out many exciting events for the upcoming months.  We look forward to seeing as many people as possible!

If you ever need help with something, or need information on your regions, feel free to give a shout out to the GAJET committee.  We want to help you out in as many ways as we can!

President – Chelsey Reid

 

Location and Schools: Takasaki City.  Two high schools.

About Me: Hi! I’m from Calgary, Canada. In my spare time I like watching movies, cooking, traveling, music, studying, and lurking on your facebook page. I’m a great sport about things, except that I hate losing at chess. And I very frequently lose at chess. So I don’t play chess very often. I’m an ardent admirer of Gene Wilder and gin.

Favorite Place in Gunma: Oze National Park is amazing! I recommend going in the fall!

Favorite Moment in Japan: On an ordinary day I took an ordinary jog and discovered a tranquil shrine down a tiny avenue near my place. It was snowing cherry blossoms and the whole world faded away for a minute, and it hit me that Japan is truly beautiful.

Note: You can usually spot me oafing around Gunma/GAJET events… Sightings have been known to dwindle in winter as I’m usually at home forming an unhealthy emotional attachment to my kotatsu. Please contact me with any questions or comments! I’m looking forward to hearing from you! [email protected]

Vice President – Heber Rowan

 

Location: The misty mountain wilderness of Kanna-Machi, Southwest Gunma.

From: Sligo, Ireland.

My Hobbies: Running, travelling, hiking, reading, rocking out in Shibuya from time to time and cool beer on a Friday afternoon.

My Favorite Place in Gunma: Tough question! Maybe the “Skybridge” in Ueno village or boarding in Minakami.

Favorite Moment from School Life: Having a student I coached for months in English conversation, embrace me with the words “arigato Heber Sensei!” when she found out she passed all her university exams.

I wish I’d known: Gunma without a driver’s license is a challenge in the inaka…  You can learn the kana faster my learning them in their groups and by drilling yourself with new words. Nomihodai are dangerous and two people on one bicycle is illegal.

Vice President External – Andy Siriapismai

 

Locations and Schools: Takasaki. 1 JHS, 1 elementary. I would describe both schools as “medium-sized.”

About me:  General hobbies include photography, traveling, and basketball. I’m from Chicago, my mom is Mexican, my dad is Thai, and Gunma was in my top three places on my JET application.

Favorite Place in Gunma: Kusatsu

I wish I’d known:  I wish I had known a little more about Japanese schools before I came. There’s a lot of things that you aren’t explicitly told once you’re at your school. A lot of the time it is because you aren’t directly affected by or involved in that bit of information, but I feel the more you know, the easier it is to get comfortable with your situation (even if it is about a long meeting after school that you don’t need to go to). It was also a few months before I figured out how to get involved in club activities and a few months after that that I found out that they did more than just practice (they had actual matches and tournaments). My solution to this was two-fold. I gradually started to ask specific questions (to various teachers I was able to communicate with) about any random Japanese written on the school calendar or daily schedule. And I would take the liberty to check out more and more of sometimes random things that the students would be doing after school and asking them about it. I gradually found out about their club activities (of course), but also about random committees, assemblies, and a bunch of other stuff that I had no idea existed in the school.

Secretary – Jennifer Cohen

 

(Jenn, Jenny, Jenn-legs)

Location and Schools: Annaka City.  3 High Schools- Annaka, Matsuida and Kita Takasaki

About Me: I am originally from NY and this will be my second year as a JET ALT in Japan.  I love teaching at my schools, exploring Japan and its culture, and spending time with and learning from the locals.  I also enjoy attending GAJETs cool events and going on adventures with fellow JET friends

Favorite Place in Gunma: Amongst the spectacular mountains, towering trees and beautiful nature at Myogi and Haruna shrines.

I wish I would have known:  Basic Japanese phrases to assist with my first greetings, how to read and write Hiragana and Katakana and lastly, how wonderful Gunma is and how nice people are.

The most important things to bring with you to Japan: An open mind, a kind heart, sense of adventure, patience and an enthusiastic spirit.

Communications Director – Allen Bo Agunday

 

Location and Schools:  Fujioka, the city to the south of Takasaki. I currently work at one JHS Monday to Thurs and split my time between EHS and kindergarden every other friday.

About Me: One of my dreams when coming to Japan has been to make short movies/skits for youtube. I have a youtube channel (quick plug: youtube.com/L7frost) where I occasionally make video blogs of stuff I do, but I REALLY want to shoot comedy skits/romantic shorts/action movies. I`ve got a lot of gear and a bunch of interested friends, so if you are interested in being a part of my production efforts, then let me know and let`s shoot something together!

Favorite Place in Gunma: One of my most memorable places is actually one I don`t remember clearly. It`s a free natural outdoor mixed onsen somewhere near Higashiagatsuma that people visit by cover of moonlight and one street lamp. It was such a profound “Wow, I am in Japan” moment that it`s a shame I can`t remember where it is. But if you ask me in person, I will have figured it out by then. So make sure to talk to me!

I wish I’d known: I wish I knew how to read at least 50 basic kanji. You have time so learn them!

Recommendations: Pack lots of summer clothes. Mentally prepare yourself for the boiling hot summer, and bring anti-perspirant deodorant.  How to make the most of your time as a JET:

  • Get involved with the community and don`t be a stranger to the other
  •  Meet Japanese people and make Japanese friends. This will help your motivation to learn the language
  • Don`t worry too much about work. You`ll figure it out as you go along. Just do your best, you`ll find your own way
  • Remember always that you are an ambassador for your country. You are both a guest and a representative. Don`t embarrass yourself and your people.
  • Remember that your support community is very strong. You`ll experience many ups and downs, but we`ll always be there for you if you need it.

Treasurer – Christopher De Borja

 

Locations/Schools: Takasaki City and I teach at two elementary schools in central Takasaki

About Me: I love meeting new people, kidding around with my kids, and helping new JETs with getting more acquainted with their new surroundings for the next year, so if you ever need any help, just give me a ring!… oh, and I love STITCH!

Favorite Place in Gunma: It has to be hands down, Kusatsu! It has the best onsen! So if you haven’t had an onsen experience yet, I suggest starting in Kusatsu!

I wish I’d Known:  Bring a lot of omiyage from home! (And get used to having people give you omiyage and you having to give back too!) Omiyage is a very important part of Japanese culture. And, growing up in a filipino household, we were always told to bring back “pasalubong” which literally means “something meant for you when you welcome me back” and is very similar to omiyage. So, understanding how omiyage plays an important role in daily Japanese life would be one of the tops things I wish I had known better before coming to Japan!

Editor – Patrick McGarvey

 

Location:  Azuma Town, Midori City.  1 Middle School, 2 Elementaries, 1 Preschool

About Me: I love the outdoors, cooking, reading, writing, and travel.

Favorite Place in Gunma: Anywhere I’m with my friends, or the waterfall hidden way up in the mountains of my town.

Recommendations:  Get out and do, see, and experience everything you can.  Don’t let anything keep you from enjoying your time in Japan!

Chubu Rep – Laura Vaughn

Location and Schools: Isesaki – One Junior High School

From – Mississippi in the U.S.A.

About Me: I love to see and try new things.  My hobbies are traveling, reading, shopping, enjoying nature, and hanging out with friends.

Favorite Place in Gunma: I can’t pick just one. Gunma is awesome!

I wish I’d Known: Futons HAVE to be aired out at least once a week. If you leave yours out for a month, it will start to grow mold. Also, Gunma has some crazy wind that makes it hard to bike, so be careful!

Favorite moment from school life so far: Having students come up to me outside of class to ask me questions or just to say hello. The kids who really love English make teaching so much fun.

Tobu Rep – Hebah Emara

 

Location and Schools: I live in the mountains of Kiryu teach at 1 mid-size JHS and 1 elementary/kindergarten

Hobbies: Kendo, going to cafes with friends, traveling and exploring places, music, drawing.

Favorite Place in Gunma: Minakami onsen in the winter and Kawauchi (Kiryu) during the spring.

Recommendations: Explore as much as you can while you’re here and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Seibu Rep – Marcus Coll

 

Location and Schools: Kanra Town. 4 primary schools, 3 kindergartens, 1 day care

About Me: I’m 23 and was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. Studied Japanese and Music at university and finished my final year in Tokyo. After graduating from fashion school in New Zealand and also loosing my job to the Christchurch earthquake I decided to move to another shaky isle and now am here living in Kanra Town.

I enjoy photography, music, karaoke, travel, clothes and more. My weekends are usually either spent hanging out with friends in Takasaki or enjoying the nightlife and daylife of Tokyo city. I also like to go for drives discovering new places around Gunma. Feel free to talk to me!

Favorite Place in Gunma: Yatai-mura, Takasaki

I wish I’d Known: One thing I wish I’d known before I came to Gunma is how cold the schools can get in winter and how hot they get in summer!

Funny things I’ve been asked by Japanese children: ‘How long does it take you to fly to Japan and back everyday?’, ‘What time is your Mum coming to pick you up from kindergarten today?’, ‘Are you good at English?’, ‘Why can you speak English?’, ‘Why do you look like an alien?’ ‘Count how many words you know in English’, ‘Is it true that foreigners can’t draw rabbits?’  Some of the joys of living in the country!

Tone Rep – Michelle Li

 

Location and Schools: Minakami – three elementary schools.
About Me: I’m from Melbourne, Australia. I studied Japanese before joining JET, which has been a huge help out in the inaka! I’m extremely fond of coffee, cafes, and amazing food, which all happen to be things best shared with friends!
Favorite Place in Gunma: Minakami, obviously! Not only  is it beautiful, but there’s also onsen and snowboarding in the winter, and heaps of outdoor activities during spring and summer.
Hobbies: While I’m not particularly good at any of these things, I enjoy snowboarding, photography, cooking, and baking. I also love to travel to new places and experience new things.
Recommendations: Prepare to be extremely depressed by the hot, unsavoury coffee-flavoured water served in the staff room. Eat your fill of foods you love from home because while you may be able to find some acceptable substitutes, things like Japanese cheese leave much to be desired. But having said that, take advantage of your location and try all the Japanese food that you can. Seize every opportunity, take on every challenge, embrace every experience, and make the most of your time on JET!

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Agatsuma Rep – Rachael Mahan

 

Location and Schools: Haramachi.  I taech at 3 high schools in Agatsuma.

About Me: My hobbies including hiking, attempting to snowboard, traveling, playing the guitar, starting but rarely finishing craft projects, memorizing poetry, studying Kanji, and taking up new hobbies.  What I really love is thinking up big ideas and instigating spectacles! 

Favorite Place in Gunam: Oze National Park.  Sooo beautiful in the fall!

I wish I’d Know: Everything will be okay.  If you’re like me, and you like to know what’s going on and why all the time, the first couple of months will be a bit tough.  You just have to let go and let life happen!  That, and ladies with big feet (US size 10 / Japan size 26, and above), bring extra shoes!