Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to the JET Programme and placed in Gunma. So… what now? What should you expect? Where even IS Gunma? Who am I breaking the fourth-wall across space and time with?
Fear not, dear reader, as this section and my disembodied voice will guide you. If you haven’t yet, you can check out information about Gunma and its regions here, or continue reading below for some commonly asked questions.
What is there to do in Gunma?
Put short—a lot, if you know where to look. Nearly every region of Gunma has its own attractions. The mountainous areas are very popular with outdoor enthusiasts from all over Japan, offering attractions such as mountain climbing, snowboarding and skiing, onsens, canyoning, rafting, and more. Each city has its share of entertainment, cultural and educational sites, and so on, and Gunma has several large malls and shopping areas. If you ever manage to expend yourself of things to do in Gunma—which would be quite a feat—there is always easy access to Tokyo, Nikko, Nagano, and other popular areas.
Where will I live?
Gunma has both city and rural (inaka) placements, and there are vast differences in the lifestyles of each. Also, city boundary lines often stretch far from the city centers and sometimes reach far into the mountains, so placement in somewhere labeled a “city” doesn’t necessarily mean you will be in an urban area. Until you find out your exact location, it may be difficult to determine what the area you will be placed in is like.
What will my apartment be like?
Apartments in Gunma can vary as much as anywhere else. While there is a trend for placements that are farther from the urban centers to be larger and those that are closer to be smaller, there are some inaka residences that may be no more than a dreaded one-room studio, and some urban residences that are relatively large. The best way to find out about your specific living arrangements is to ask your Contracting Organization or predecessor.
Do I get to choose my apartment?
How you acquire your apartment can differ—sometimes you’ll be given the choice of searching for an apartment or living in teachers’ housing, or you may be given no choice at all and simply assigned a place to live.
You may be able to arrange your own accommodation with co-operation from your Contracting Organization, however, this is on a case-by-case basis, and the process can be relatively complex (and costly).
What will happen in my first month in Gunma?
Upon arrival, your Contracting Organization or supervisor will help you get set up with your bank account, registration, health insurance, and other important things. You will be arriving in late July/early August, which means that schools are right in the middle of their summer vacation. That being said, teachers are expected to remain at school unless they take paid leave, so use this time to get acquainted with your school, start building relationships with your coworkers, attend summer events with other JETs in Gunma, get to know your community, study Japanese, and start lesson planning for your self-introduction to your students.
Will I need a car to get around my area?
If you are placed in a rural area, a car may be the most viable option for traveling farther than a short distance from your house. A large number of rurally placed Gunma JETs have a car and use it daily. However, you may be able to get away without one in a rural area. For English-language assistance purchasing a car, we recommend Ace Auto Service, or even check out the GAJET-run Gunma Buy and Sell page!
Please note that your contract may also restrict when or where you can drive a vehicle, and you may need to seek permission to do so from your Contracting Organization.
How accessible will my area be by public transportation?
Many areas of Gunma are accessible by some form of public transportation. However, for many areas, public transportation can be more sporadic or not available at all. Check out this page for more information.
About Living in Japan
What is expected of me?
Attempting to follow local rules and etiquette goes a long way toward developing positive relationships and earning the respect of your students, coworkers, and community. As a public servant, you are held to a higher standard than others; people will make strong first impressions based on what they see, and it can be difficult to change those later. Even if you have lived in Japan before (such as for study abroad), behaviors that may have been normal then maybe unacceptable in your new position.
Here are some basic tips to help you adapt to Japanese societal norms:
- Don’t be late—especially for work or work-related activities
- Gunma is still conservative in that women tend to make tea for men as well as clean up after. Regardless of gender, helping is greatly appreciated but do not feel pressured to take a defined role
- Preference is given to seniors (colleagues, community members, etc.) in most aspects of work and life
- Juniors (you) tend to be expected to treat seniors (everyone else) deferentially, initiate greetings, volunteer to assist with menial tasks before seniors, adhere more strictly to workplace policies, defer to their advice, etc
- Greet everyone when you enter and leave the workplace
- Apologize and give thanks for everything constantly, profusely, and repeatedly
- If you bring up a problem, be certain that it is of utmost importance to you, as a direct confrontation may make a big and memorable impression on your coworkers
How should I dress at work?
Clothing should avoid revealing shoulders, cleavage, or midriff, and length should be no higher than the knees. Wear shorts only after observing coworkers carefully. You should also have at least two pairs of shoes to keep at school: one pair of indoor school shoes and one pair of gym shoes. Always wear socks or stockings; there will be places where you need to walk around without shoes, and bare feet are usually frowned upon.
Suits are expected at ceremonies, enkai, observation days, and/or other events, even if your school’s usual dress code is more relaxed. Watch for these events on your school’s schedule or keep an extra suit at school.
For all Prefectural Government Office work events, such as Skills Development Conference, always dress professionally.
Avoiding accessories is always best, and some schools have strict rules about what is acceptable in that regard. If you have tattoos, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll need to cover them up. Overall, Gunma is rather conservative in its dress sense, and even the fashion of nearby Tokyo might cause a raised eyebrow or two in the deep inaka countryside.
What is “Reading the Air?”
You will often hear that the best way to learn etiquette is Kuuki wo Yomu (空気を読む), reading between the lines and observing the subtle behaviors and reactions of those around you. In Japan, the standard is to address problems indirectly. Often, you will be given only vague comments and cues if you have broken some unspoken rule of etiquette. For example, if you are wearing a tank top or a low-cut blouse and a teacher asks if you are cold, the teacher most likely means you aren’t dressed appropriately.
More information regarding money matters can be found here.
How much money should I bring with me?
Bear in mind that you won’t get paid until AFTER your first month working on JET. You should have some money ready to go at the start to cover your set-up costs for housing, utilities, food, entertainment, travel, furniture, and any surprise expenses you may incur.
For housing, some people may be asked to the pay first month’s rent, gas money, key money (often equivalent to 1-3 months rent), and security deposits. Be prepared for these, as they can be expensive! Ask your predecessor about how much you can expect to pay for rent and utilities.
Be sure to check the General Information Handbook for the most up-to-date recommendations regarding money.
Where can I pay my bills?
The combini, or convenience store, will be your new best friend in Japan. Not only can you buy drinks, snacks, instant noodles, prepared food—from salads and onigiri to hot-dogs on a stick and fried chicken—toys, toiletries, sundries, alcohol, tobacco, and more, but you can also pay many of your bills right at the register. Almost all combini now have kiosks that can be used for purchasing tickets, printing documents from home, or even paying for your Amazon orders.
You can also generally set up auto-payments from your bank, though this can incur an additional transfer fee from your banking institution. Read the fine print!
Will I have my own bank account?
Typically, your Contracting Organization will recommend a bank to you, and this will be where your paychecks are deposited. This recommended bank will depend on your CO, what services are available close to where you live, and other factors. You may or may not be given a choice of which bank you use, at least in regards to where your paychecks are deposited. However, because electronic transfers are extraordinarily easy, it’s not difficult to switch which bank you use for everyday savings or to have more than one account.
Is it true that Japan doesn’t use Credit Cards?
As a general rule, credit cards aren’t a very common form of payment in Japan. In general, large retailers will have limited credit card payment options (Visa, JTB, Mastercard), but for the majority of the places you will shop or eat at every day, cash is still the primary method of payment. It’s common for people to carry large amounts of cash on them, as even large purchases—such as down-payments on loans, the purchasing of cars, etc—are often handled via cash. What’s more, you’ll find that there is often a fee for ATM withdrawals. ATMs can also sometimes even be closed at night or on weekends!
Wait, what do you mean ‘closed?’
ATMs in Japan almost always have operating hours and often close for public holidays. Another thing to bear in mind is that your card may not work at all ATMs! The only real guarantee is if the ATM is owned by your bank, or if your bank’s logo is displayed. Convenience store ATMs are usually a safe bet, as they are 24-hour and accept most cards, occasionally including international ones.
Japanese bank branches may also hold different hours than you are used to. Many banks—particularly local banks or branches in more rural areas—may only be open until mid-afternoon, and very few banks in Japan outside of large metropolitan areas are open beyond 5 pm. Also, while some bank branches may be “open” until a certain time, they may cease handling transactions earlier, so make sure to understand your bank’s hours and plan accordingly.
Can I use internet banking, then?
Online banking has not yet caught on in Japan, and the average bank offers no or very limited online banking services. There are some banks, such as Shinsei Bank (which also offers 24hr, nationwide service), that have online banking, or Gunma Bank, which offers a smartphone app (which is all in Japanese and practically useless).
What is omiyage?
Omiyage is often defined as a “souvenir,” but in Japan, omiyage is not something you give only when you come back from vacation. There are many customs surrounding omiyage, and following them can be a great way to connect with your coworkers. While following omiyage practices is a good idea, you are not technically obligated to do so, and most people will understand that you are a foreigner with differing customs and understanding, so don’t worry too much if you forget about omiyage or are unable to bring them.
Omiyage can come in a variety of forms, but the most common is a small snack. If you give an inedible object, especially one that costs more than a little money, your coworkers may feel a sense of obligation. Edible snacks are easy and not too flashy, so they are the most common. The following guidelines can help you with your omiyage planning.
- Non-edible or larger/more expensive edible objects – in general, you don’t give these, unless it’s to your principal/supervisor/etc the first time you meet them
- Region-specific – a common first omiyage from foreigners is something from their home country. Cookies, teas, crackers, candies, etc, are good examples
- Edible – as mentioned above, edible snacks are the safest, although it’s not obligatory
- Safe – your regional specialty might be peppers that can make the strongest man cry, but something that’s going to send your coworkers running for water isn’t the best option. Similarly, things that contain common allergens (e.g., peanuts) are more easily avoided. If you have anything that may require a warning (allergy, spice, otherwise), it’s best that you explain this when you give the omiyage
- Individually wrapped – this is the safest bet by far. If you bring something that isn’t individually wrapped, it’s best to consult someone in your office on how to distribute them, as Japan’s customs and opinions on passing out unwrapped food may be different than you’re used to
- Bring enough – the chances of needing less than 10 omiyage is low unless you are giving only to very specific people. Consult your C.O. or predecessor for a better idea, and when in doubt, bring more than you think you might need
- Be prepared for questions – omiyage can be conversation starters, especially if you have Japanese ability or your co-workers have English ability
When do I give omiyage?
Omiyage are typically given when you start a new position at a new location, and some people even give them when they leave. When going on long or long-distance trips, particularly if these require you to take paid leave, it is normal to purchase some sort of omiyage for your coworkers. Many Japanese people will even purchase omiyage if they take a “personal day,” although this varies by person. To truly figure it out, watch around your office—when small snacks appear randomly on your desk after someone has been absent or after holidays, you’ll pick up on the proper time to give omiyage.