Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Living in Gunma
Think back to that magical moment when you first arrived in Japan. Spirits high, you take your first step out of the plane on a beautiful summer evening into a brave new world. A world full of opportunity, new friendships, humidity, sweat, and pit stains… You realize that jeans were a bad idea, and you wish you knew just how hot Japan really is before getting here.
In the days, weeks, months, and years (for you rare unicorns) that follow, we come across a myriad of things we wish we knew before living in Japan. Some of Japan’s surprises are really great: cheap rent and food, great service at restaurants (and no tip), talking toilets… things you’d expect of Japan. While these happy surprises are great, it’s the negatives that really stick out, ranging from mildly inconvenient to soul-sucking torture: the mold, giant spiders, and the phrase “shouganai”. To find out what my fellow Gunmanites (Gunmarians?) wish they knew before coming, I did what any other millennial would do: I posted a question on Facebook. To read the full post go here.
What follows below is my selection of the top five things your fellow Gunma ALTs wish they knew before living here. Keep in mind these are meant to entertain, and perhaps validate, the ALT experience in Gunma. Enjoy!
1. It’s deadly hot in summer.
It’s hot and even if you think you can handle it, you’re wrong and you can’t. Japan’s hot, sure, but Gunma’s heat and humidity are unrelenting. Tatebayashi City is often in the running for hottest city in Japan. Combine the heat and humidity with the Japanese government’s attempts to save electricity through restrictive use of AC (節電, power saving/conservation) and you’ve got a great recipe sweating through your everything. Additionally, the heat and humidity are a great environment for mold and huge bugs to thrive, and a not-so-great environment for all your foodstuffs. Get some Kabi Killer (カビキラー, mold killing spray), some mosquito coils, and a ton of Pocari Sweat! On the flip side…
I’m sure we all looked it up on the internet. I remember thinking, “An average low of 2.8ºC/37ºF in January? That’s nothing!” Little did I know just how poor the insulation in my apartment (and basically every other building) would be. The outside temperature will be the same as the inside temperature in both summer and winter unless you use an AC/heating unit ($$$). Central heating, what’s that?! On top of this, Gunma’s famous winter winds are so strong, I’ve seen people actually get knocked off bikes as they pedaled head on into the wind. Get some heat tech, a kotatsu, and a good heater.
3. Most of the things I thought I’d miss from home are sold here.
We are lucky enough to have a Costco in Maebashi, and if Costco at home has it, then the Costco here probably has it as well. So don’t stuff your suitcase with peanut butter, Tim Tams, and root beer, because you can find it all here. Somethings like personal care products and medicine will be a bit different (and probably weaker), but it’s here in some form or another.
4. All of your questions, concerns, and problems can be answered with Shouganai.
Shouganai (しょうがない) roughly means “there’s no way” or “it can’t be helped” (but I prefer the translation “s**t happens”). Some things really are shouganai, like the yen dropping in value, typhoons, and traffic jams on Route 17. In a way, shouganai is a very positive concept: let go of and accept the things you can’t control. It’s got a very zen vibe to it, right? However, a lot of things are not shouganai. Shouganai is what you will be told when people don’t want to give you an excuse, when something must be done the way it’s always been done, or when people cannot possibly think of a logical reason to give you. Shouganai is great, except when it replaces reasoning and science. Shouganai will explain why you have to get out of the pool for 10 minutes every hour. The trick with shouganai is to embrace it and know that you can also use it! Oji-chan throwing racial slurs at you outside Mos Burger? Shouganai. A year after arriving in Japan and people are still amazed at your ability to use chopsticks and speak basic Japanese? Shouganai. The vice-principal won’t let you take paid leave for your vacation but you already bought your plane tickets? Hit him with the shouganai (but talk to your supervisor first).
5. How awesome people are in Gunma.
Let’s finish up on a high note. Through it all, your Gunma family are always there. Whether it’s your fellow ALTs and ex-pats, a friendly obaa-chan down the road, your school, or your town, we are a tight-knit community here to help you through good times and bad. Living in a foreign country with a new job and new colleagues can be hard, but it’s a lot easier with friends. So relax in an onsen, sing your heart out at karaoke, go wild at nomihoudai, and take in Gunma’s beautiful landscapes and vast cultural attractions with your new Gunma family!
What do you wish you knew before coming to Gunma? Feel free to add your own by commenting on this post or the original Facebook post (linked above).