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Finding music gear in Gunma

January 27, 2017 | Guides, Japan life | 1 Comment

Finding music gear in Gunma

by Neal Beaver

 

New Year’s resolution is to get a new hobby? If you’ve set your heart on learning a musical instrument, but don’t know where to get one, this guide is for you! I used to trek all the way to Tokyo, thinking the big city would have the best deals, but I learned that Gunma has hidden gems of its own. There are plenty of music stores in Gunma that didn’t make this list. If you had a great experience somewhere, please share in the comments!

 

For beginners and bargain-hunters

Hard-Off recycle shops (many locations in Gunma)

Gunma locations and hours (Japanese): http://www.hardoff.co.jp/shop/kanto/gunma/

Hard-Offs have all kinds of gadgets, and the inventories vary from location to location. For example, there are two in Kiryu, but I’ve found the western one is always better than the eastern in terms of musical instruments. If you’re looking for a good, cheap acoustic guitar, Hard-Off is the place to go. Unfortunately the staff may or may not know anything about musical instruments (may explain the cheap prices…). More specifically, I find they don’t bother keeping the instruments in tune, sometimes to the point where the strings are almost falling off and you can’t even try the instrument. BUT you can ask them to tune it and they usually have a little practice amp/space for you to use. Don’t be shy! Hard-Off is also especially good for effects pedals. I bought a Vox Pathfinder 10 practice amp here, an affordable choice if you’re looking for a small amp to practice on without terrifying your neighbors. You can also find appropriate amps if you want to terrify your neighbors.

hardoff

Or maybe you’re looking for an upgrade

 

Dust Bowl (Multiple locations; guitar, bass, amps, effects)

Transit: Takasaki, Maebashi, and Shin-Isesaki stations, walking distance from each

Website: http://www.dustbowl.co.jp/

With locations in Takasaki, Maebashi, and Isesaki (Shin-Isesaki Station), Dust Bowl is one of the better “chains” in Gunma. I put chain in quotations because this shop has a more down to earth, less commercial feel than the type you’ll find in AEON or SMARK. The location in Takasaki has great deals. I’ve seen a 100 dollar Orange Crush 12w for 5,000 yen in here. The Takasaki location especially has a large inventory of guitars, including used and vintage guitars. They also offer lessons (Japanese only). The Takasaki and Isesaki locations even have live venues.

dustbowl
Dustbowl Maebashi

 

A hidden gem in Midori: Slow Hand (Omama, Midori City)

Transit: walking distance from Akagi Station

Address: 〒376-0101 群馬県みどり市大間々町大間々2418 スナガビルA 1F
Phone: 0277-73-2373
Hours*: Mon thru Sat :15:00~23:00 Sun and holidays日曜・祝日 13:00~23:00

*I would call ahead; I’ve seen his shop closed multiple times during his open hours.

Website: http://slowhandgshop.choitoippuku.com/

Nestled away in the quiet town of Omama, Koshiba-san at Slow Hand sells some of the best guitars I’ve seen in Japan, including Tokyo. His shop is quite small and the inventory is always rotating, so you never know what he’ll have. He’s always good for at least one drool-inducing Fender; lately a golden, vintage Musicmaster has been hanging in his shop. I bought a custom reissue Japanese Fender Mustang from him and couldn’t be happier. The price was unbelievable. He does my repairs, and even took me out to dinner once. He has a nice balance of insane vintage guitars and affordable used ones. He plays in a local jazz band and offers lessons if that’s what you’re after (probably Japanese only). Practice space is also available (covered in Beatles LP covers and tabs for blues songs named stuff like “Give Me Back my Wig”). His hours are kinda weird, so I recommend calling ahead. My personal opinion; buy a guitar from a cool local guy like this, not a chain. It makes a better memory anyways.
slowhand2slowhand

 

Amazon, something for everyone: amazon.co.jp

Amazon is a great resource for musical instruments. Especially the smaller stuff like pedals and cables. It’s also great if you’ve got questions but can’t get past the language barrier, as it is offered in English. Payment options are also easy; you can either buy a gift card at the conbini or more recently you’re able to simply add your foreign credit card and pay with that (international bank fees vary on your bank, of course) with their currency translation (Bank of America charged me about 1.35 USD for a 40 USD transaction).

https://www.amazon.co.jp/ref=nav_logo

amazon

 

Tokyo

I bashed Tokyo a little in the intro, but of course the mega-city is a great source for musical instruments. The point of this guide was simply to show that you don’t have to haul down to Tokyo just for instruments, but of course tossing a little gear-hunting into your weekend trip to Tokyo can be a lot of fun.

 

So where to go? Most people start in Ochanomizu, walking distance from Akihabara (don’t forget the Hard-Off in Akihabara either; they have a nice pedal selection and usually several sub-50,000 yen reissue Fender Strats, Teles, Mustangs, ect.). Ochanomizu is a big clump of music stores (several stores are owned by the same people). I made the mistake of letting my first impression of these stores turn me off; I didn’t like the chain-feel and was disappointed I wasn’t finding the kind of boutique shops like back in the States. But I found out that while the feel of the shops is rather commercial, the inventory can be quite good. There are some super vintage guitars nestled in those bright lights and uniformed goons. If you want a sneak peek at the inventory of the largest store, Shimokura, take a look here:
http://www.shimokura-secondhands.com/used_guitar_list.html

 

And there’s a Japan-Guide page for Ochanomizu:

http://en.japantravel.com/tokyo/ochanomizu-guitar-street/4658

tokyohardoffochano

The Akihabara Hard-Off has a great inventory.

hardoffakiba

A typical shop on Ochanomizu’s famous guitar street.
Shibuya – Niconico Guitars

Transit: Shibuya or Omote-sando Stations
http://www.niconico-guitars.com/html/

Niconico Guitars

niconico

 

Shimokitazaka –Tokyo’s favorite hipster neighborhood, Shimokitazawa is an important place for Tokyo’s music scene. This includes guitar shops. (Bonus tip: head over to Bear Pond Espresso for some good coffee!). This is one cool shop:

The Guitar Lounge

Transit: 池ノ上駅 Ikeno-ue Station

http://www.tgltokyo.com/

guitarlounge
The Guitar Lounge

Your school

It’s possible your school will have musical instruments you can use, especially piano and drums. If you teach at a high school, it’s almost guaranteed that your school will have both. My school has four pianos in four different locations and one drum set, and I’m always welcome to use them when the music club isn’t busy. Ask your music teacher for permission first, especially when it’s OK to play a noisy instrument liked drums! In my experiences, music teachers are among the friendliest teachers and will be glad to have you on board. But music clubs are also very busy, so be sure to only go when you know you’re not interrupting something! Sometimes the students use the pianos during lunch, so make sure you’re not stealing the piano when they want to use it. And be sure to check surrounding rooms for classes before you blast the drum solo from “In the Air Tonight.”

piano drums

Know of anything other great music shops in Gunma? Post them in the comments!

 

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.

 

 

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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Snow – A Beginner’s Guide

January 22, 2016 | Guides, Japan life | No Comments

It starts snowing and my brain goes into survival mode. My t-shirt reads “I survived Snowmageddon”, but snow is as alien to me as a South African in an izakaya. We don’t get snow in South Africa—at least that’s what I tell people—but speaking for myself, it’s more that we don’t “get” snow. (more…)

Leaving JET?

January 13, 2016 | Guides, Japan life | No Comments

It’s been about four months since I’ve left Gunma after my year on JET. I’m currently working full-time at a private school teaching third grade as an aide, while also actively looking for the next step in my career. Finding a job is on everyone’s minds as they end their tenure in Gunma. I think about Japan pretty often, and came up with a list of things I wish I knew (and wish I did) while I was in Japan. Hopefully, this can help you in preparing to go back home or wherever life leads you next.

Things to do while in Gunma:

1. Get more involved

GAJET and JOMO JET are great organizations that can help you build your resume and gain leadership, event planning, public speaking, web development, and many other kinds of transferable skills. I advise you to take the initiative and give your all to your community. Start a conversation club, put together an international seminar, or implement youth programs at your schools and cities. These types of projects are fulfilling and make for useful anecdotes in job interviews and networking events. You get out of JET what you put into it!

2. Start your job search earlier

On average, it takes about 3-6 months to find a job. I’ve heard of new graduates taking up to 10-12 months. As soon as you decide you won’t be signing another year on JET, you should already be looking for the next step in your career.

3. Save more money

Because of the time it can take to find a job, it’s safer to have a backup fund to pay for living and job searching expenses like networking events, classes, career center access, or even career aptitude tests. I believe that you should get as much out of your JET experience as possible but it’s important to live within your means, don’t pre-game every event or go out for yakiniku every weekend. On that note, I made sure events with schools and staff were prioritized above all else – you only have so long with them! Work enkais and school functions are still some of my favorite memories from JET.

4. Research. Research. Research.

Work smarter, not harder! There’s no point in applying for jobs when you aren’t even sure what kind of jobs you want to do or are a good fit for. Most JETs have tons of down time at school and researching about yourself, your strengths, your passions, and potential job avenues could be a productive use of your time. Instead of applying for 20 jobs and getting called back for 2 or 3, really put all your effort into applying to the handful of jobs you would love and be a great fit for – it will become evident to employers as well. I recommend starting with getting to know your Myer-Briggs personality type and taking the Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0. There are many tests online that can help you determine what industry you would be a good fit for. For women I recommend The Muse and Levo.

5. Learn

JETs really do have a lot of downtime, whether after school or on the weekends or one of the 40 national Japanese holidays. I wish I had taken online classes or learned new skill sets because what I’m finding now is that I am lacking qualifications for the jobs I really want. If I had taken the time to research and learn skill sets specific to the industries I’m passionate about, the transition back home would have been a much easier process. Professional and personal development should be an ongoing process and it will be that mentality that will get you to the second, third, and fourth steps in your career. Go out and get that experience and knowledge you need to succeed after JET.

6. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test – the JLPT

Well I actually did study for this and I took N3 in July, but I wish I did N3 in December and N2 in July. Your Japanese will improve exponentially because you live in Japan – you hear it, speak it, and read it daily. Taking these tests in Japan while you are immersed in the language and culture around you will give you that edge you need to pass. Start a study group and get your friends together weekly, you can be social and productive all at once – WOW! I’ve gotten many calls from recruiters simply because I can say that I passed N3, it quantifies my Japanese language ability and makes my resume more attractive to international employers. It doesn’t even have to be the JLPT, you can spend this year where you’re paid and have lots of free time to study for graduate tests like the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, among many others.

7. Network

It’s said time and time again: “it’s who you know”. I’ve come to learn that networking is one of the best lifehacks out there. Do all you can to keep in touch with people who can help you professionally. Use Facebook to keep in contact with people who inspire you, update your LinkedIn, and cold-email people for informative interviews about their work space and position. It’s much easier to keep in contact with a professor who you looked up to as a mentor than it is to email him/her out of the blue when you need a letter of recommendation. Additionally, the top piece of advice that life coaches give to young professional is to find a mentor. Mentors can really guide you to the next phase of your career and beyond because they’ve been there. Find a mentor back home or even one in Japan. They in turn, can also provide you with access to their network as well. Start your networking by reaching out to people and getting to know more about what they do and how they got there. There is a plethora of applications and websites available to us in the digital age to make these things easier – use them!

 

You should continue to do the things above throughout your job search, even after getting home! Realize that simply getting a job is not the end goal. Professional development, networking, and research can and will get you that raise, the next promotion, a career change. A career is fluid and ever-changing; you should always be prepared for the next step.

 

Here are some things to do when you get home:

1. Join your JET Alumni Association Chapter

Joining your local JET Alumni Association Chapter will provide you with chances to talk about Japan until your voice gives out, but it will also give you exposure to the US-Japan international relations community and network. In my case, JETAANC (JET Alumni Association of Northern California) provided me with professional development and networking events to attend after arriving home. I had the chance to meet the Consul General of Japan in San Francisco and many members of his office in a small setting, as well as many other employers and organizations that have close ties to the embassy. In addition, by joining JETAANC and volunteering, I get to improve my resume by learning new skills for JETAANC. It is also a good chance for you to extend your mission in Japan and bridge the gaps between the US and Japan.

2. Take Japanese classes (and JLPT tests)

Many community colleges and private organizations offer Japanese lessons in your hometown. You could go for a certification or work towards passing the JLPT N2 and N1 on your own. In the Bay Area, there is an organization called Japan Society that offers Japanese language and JLPT classes of all levels – JET alumni get discounted rates!

3. Join Meetups

Meetup is a great online and app portal that allows people to organize regular meetups. For example, there are English-Japanese conversation meetups every week where I live, but there are also things like Toastmasters that helps with public speaking and speech-making. Again, you will not only be able to meet other people in a space that you are passionate about, but you will also be able to network that can eventually lead to a job that you love.

4. Don’t order too much at restaurants

Restaurant serving portions in your home country are probably twice as big as they are in Japan!

 

The list goes on, but the concepts are recurring. As long as you make the decision to take this next step in your life, go all in. Make the choice to go to classes to improve yourself and your skill sets and really think about where you want to go from JET. Put yourself in the position to meet people with the same passions who work in the industries you’re interested in and you’ll make yourself an expert in the things you love. Know that it is totally okay to change jobs and career throughout the course of your life – we have decades more to go!

 

Rugby in Japan

August 19, 2015 | Guides, Japan life | 1 Comment

World Cup rugby is just around the corner and warm-up games are already being played. As this year’s World Cup is being held in my home country (England) I thought it was high time that my friends in Gunma get a lesson on rugby.

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