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Home is Gunma

July 31, 2018 | Blog, JET Life | No Comments

For leaving JETs, summer is often a time for closure. They come from all over the world, but for a brief moment – whether it be one year or five – they all shared the bond of calling Gunma home. Although these JETs will be moving on to new adventures, it’s certain that their time in Gunma will be unforgettable.

As they prepare to depart, GAJET caught up with some leaving JETs to reflect on their time in Gunma.

“It was a blank slate. I didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Teresa Coture (second year, Fujioka) when asked about her first impression of Gunma, “My placement turned out to be pretty rural, but I was happy about it, because I’m not much of a city person.”

Alissa Balge (third year, Fujioka) admits she was initially worried about moving to Gunma because she believed there would not be a lot of things to do in Gunma. “But [my impression of Gunma] changed since. It’s beautiful here, and great if you love onsen!”

Nature is just one of many reasons for why JETs love Gunma.

Aside from Gunma’s abundance of nature, scenery, and hot-springs. Leaving JET are quick to speak about the amazing people they’ve met in Gunma.

“I really like the community here. The people are nice, and are open to talking with you,” says Anne Kanamori (second year, Kiryu) when asked about what she will remember the most about her time in Gunma. “Any events which were organized by GAJET, or JOMO JET, or any kind of international community was impressionable.”

“I’ll remember lots of times from school, talking and having fun with students and singing with the teacher’s rock band, and my community naginata club, and travels with friends,” reflects Abby Ryder-Huth (second year, Takasaki). “Most of all, I will miss my friends and teachers and students, the communities here that I love.”

“There is such a large community of ALTs here to support you and help you out,” adds Josh Frankle (third year, Kiryu). “My most memorable moments came from the GAJET events. In particular, Gunma Games and the Canyons adventure trips. I made a lot of friends and memories during those events.”

Sayounara, senpais!

While these amazing JETs are busy preparing for their post-JET lives, they were also happy to offer an array of advice for the next generation of Gunma JETs.

“Make friends. Find people you like to be around. Create a support network early,” suggests Will Emerson (second year, Takasaki). “It can be tough being alone, especially in the winter. Make sure you have friends you can consistently see on a regular basis, and that will keep your spirits high.”

“Go to the events as much as you can,” mentions Kelli-Ann Kobaysahi (first year, Kiryu). “Even in Gunma there is so much to see – and that’s really great. GAJET allows us to see a lot of Gunma through their events.”

“Japan is an experience, and it might not always meet your expectations – and a lot of the times, it won’t,” says Kristin Wilson (4th year, Takasaki). “But in the end, I think you’ll be happy that you did it.”

Although each departing JET has had their own unique experiences, it was clear that they all experienced the true nature of Gunma. Breathtaking scenery, an amazing ALT community, and perhaps most importantly – a place they were able to call home.

And to all the new JETs arriving in Gunma this summer…

Welcome to the family!


Gavin Au-Yeung is the 2018-2019 editor for GAJET. Thanks to Devyn Couch, Valerie Sanders, and Edward Portillo for conducting interviews. And a special thanks to all the JETs who will be leaving Gunma this summer. Otsukaresama!

Head to the seventh floor food court at Takasaki’s OPA mall on any given Wednesday evening, and you will likely see groups of young people seated at tables and cheerfully chatting. It may seem innocuous at first glance, but upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that they are not regular mall-goers.

Take a closer look and you’ll further notice that each group is comprised of two foreigners and two Japanese locals. Placed on each table, an orange piece of laminated paper with a picture of Gunma’s beloved mascot, Gunma-Chan.

Written above the picture: GJEE.

To get a clear picture, we need to rewind the calendar six months.

The story begins on a chilly February evening. A small group of Gunma JETs are gathered in a living room. Seated by a kotatsu, the group begins to discuss their plans for organizing Gunma’s newest language exchange; something which would eventually become a grassroots movement.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of ALTs in Gunma and many have a genuine desire to learn Japanese,” says Andrew Qiu, a first year JET living in Takasaki. “However, the problem is that ALTs don’t have anyone to practice with.”

Simply put, GJEE (abbreviated from Gunma Japanese English Exchange, but often pronounced as G.G.) is a weekly event where Japanese locals and expats come together with a common goal of learning a new language.

Participants sign up online in order to RSVP for the next event. Events are held every Wednesday and language learners arrive at the food court by 7 PM. Turnout usually ranges from 16 to 20 participants.

Paying attention to the English and Japanese abilities of each member, everyone is carefully placed into prearranged groups; the idea is to get a good balance as to avoid stagnant conversation.

The magic begins when everyone is seated.

The process is simple for the hour-long event: the first half hour is dedicated to English conversation, and the latter half is carried out in Japanese.

Of course, creating a language exchange from scratch is no easy task. But the process has been extremely rewarding for the GJEE team.

In the earlier days, Andrew would find himself personally reaching out to friends – both English speakers and Japanese locals – in order to garner enough participants. At one point, Andrew and GJEE co-founder Jeef Chandra (first year JET, Takasaki), pitched the language exchange to local university students during a lecture. Now, with more than 70 members, the signup spots practically fill themselves up.

Initially reserved, many newcomers may be scared to speak in a language besides their native tongue. However, there is always something about GJEE events which captivate even the most withdrawn participants.

For the novice language learners, making mistakes could be a terrifying experience. However, that fear is easily remedied with a warm smile; that’s all it takes to break through any language barrier.

A culture of friendship is perpetuated at GJEE. Don’t be afraid to stumble across unfamiliar vocabulary, mispronounce words, or even use incorrect grammar. No one will judge you, and everyone will be thrilled to see you make an honest attempt.

Aside from language learning, GJEE serves another important function. As a group consisting of both locals and expats, GJEE is in a unique position to create lifelong friendships which traverse cultural gaps.

“I would argue the cultural exchange which happens during GJEE meetups is equally, if not more, important than the actual learning of languages,” says Jeef. “Sure, GJEE participants are learning a new language, but it goes a lot further than that.”

For many participants, GJEE is more than a place to learn languages. It’s an opportunity for members to exchange ideas and learn more about the world.

JETs are in a unique opportunity to affect globalization. It’s more than simply working in Japan. It’s about showing the goodness in people, and it’s about being an ambassador for a global community.

This may seem like an immense task, but in reality, it’s as simple as starting a friendly conversation.


Both Andrew and Jeef will be leaving Gunma and the JET Programme come August. However, GJEE will continue its goal towards bridging people and communities. For more information, and to get involved with GJEE, please email [email protected]

The Ultimate (Frisbee) Guide to Gunma

July 2, 2018 | Blog, JET Life | No Comments

Before I got here, I sent a lot of emails and Facebook messages about ultimate frisbee. I asked in Gunma ALTs and I bothered the people in Tokyo. I was informed that there was no such thing as ultimate frisbee in Gunma. A lot of people said they had tried, but they ended up shrugging their shoulders and saying, “shoganai, ne?”

“Shoganai” is not a word that I take kindly to.

At Gunma Games, I brought out a disc and found that a few others had, too. Tossing around, we talked about getting a game together. There were athletes there, but more than that, there were people who wanted to have a good time.

I created the Gunma Ultimate page on Facebook and invited everyone I knew to join. Since that first year, I’ve sent hundreds of personal messages, bringing out our fearless leaders and our most introverted nerds to play my favorite sport down by the river in Takasaki. It has been my singular mission to make ulti happen.

Photo from Shuichi Tsujimoto

My crew has played a dozen or so times. It’s not much, especially compared to my thrice weekly games in California, but every time has been a blast. I teach everyone what they need to know—the basics of the game, how to throw—and then I make sure that everyone is included. If it’s your first time with us, you have to score a point. Don’t worry, the pros will do all the work to make sure it happens, but I want you to understand my love of this sport. I want you to feel it. With a rotating group of regulars and newbies alike, we play until we’re nearly exhausted, then we go get ramen. Sometimes, we even do karaoke after that. I run myself into the ground to make sure everyone has a good time, and it is totally worth it.

If you don’t personally know me, you’re probably thinking, “this must be one of those organizer types—the guys who shake a lot of hands and make an uncomfortable amount of eye contact. He’s probably a jock, too.”

Absolutely not. I’m averse to eye contact and I hate shaking hands. Frisbee is literally the only sport I enjoy, and I only enjoy it in one way: when people are playing to have fun. This is it for me. This is what I do.

For context, ten years ago, I started playing ultimate because of my friends. We played on patchy dirt, with Home Depot buckets for cones. None of us owned cleats, and we were all completely f***ing terrible at the sport. As a result, half of our rules were completely made up to support our game and keep it fun for everyone. One or two people knew how to throw, and the rest of us made do, wobbling discs at each other until we eventually scored. It was a mess, but it was beautiful.

Now, after a typical school day, I go out to a park near my house and throw for an hour. I’m always alone, so if a kid is watching, I bring them over and show them the ropes. Sometimes their moms and dads play, too. Of course, I throw with my middle school students during lunch whenever they have a break, too. Even kids who hate me in class, who fall asleep or shout the answers during my group games, respect me and want to learn when there’s a disc in my hand. When my BOE insists that I visit preschools several times each year, I bring a stack of discs. I teach three, four, and five year-olds how to throw a backhand, and they have an absolute blast.

On the JET Program, we all fantasize about leaving our mark on this place, about changing the culture and convincing people that some small facet of our worldly understanding is worth adopting. The only thing I want to give Japan is a love for the silly side of this sport. I want them to see the side where men and women can play together without frustrating each other (mostly because the men finally throw to the women), and where losing can be just as fun as winning.

To that end, I threw a tournament in April 2018. It was a funny hat tournament; as in, you have to wear a silly hat or you’re not allowed to play. It enforced that sense of humor, that feeling of people barefoot in the park tossing the disc. Even though one of the coaches for Japan’s national team came to the tourney, he was including first timers in his plays. There were even a few little kids—like under ten—who showed up with their parents. It truly embodied the spirit of the game, and it was the most fulfilling thing I’ve done while living here.

I proudly wear my tournament’s t-shirt around town, and when someone asks about it, I tell them about it. I show them videos and teach them about the sport, often answering far more questions than I had intended. Yes, it happened here in this town, right over there. Yes, a lot of people came. Yes, it’s fun. Sometimes they tell me that they saw me in the newspaper or on TV.

I don’t push ultimate on anyone, but I do invite everyone. There’s a difference, and it’s important. I lead by example and collaborate with people who have similar goals. Whatever you’re into, chances are you can do it, too. Talk to people. Show them how much you love whatever it is that you do. Invite them.

I don’t do shoganai, but I do enjoy a good ganbare.

Ganbatte.

Epilogue: Since my tourney, I’ve solicited the help of Tokyo’s Ultimate crews to donate Frisbees and jerseys to my school. They gave us enough for a full class set, and next week, we’re going to teach the sport—for real, during class time. Wish me luck!

Charlie Hayes is a third year JET in Tatebayashi. Although he’s leaving the country, he is looking for a worthy successor to take over the Gaijin Gunma Ultimate scene. You can reach him at [email protected] if you’re interested!