Tag Archive : Gunma

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The Muddy Battlefield

June 3, 2019 | Blog, JET Life | No Comments

The questions began popping into my head when I saw a poster of my predecessor, dressed in some form of make-shift wedding dress, sprinting for her life with a handful of others through a foot deep of mud. どろんこ祭り (doronko-matsuri). As to why my small town in the middle of nowhere had a mud and eel festival, I will never know, but I ventured into the rice paddies all the same.

Along with some other teachers from my school, I had signed up for the International Volleyball Competition – which, unsurprisingly, is played in a pool of mud. It was to be my first experience of playing volleyball and, having Googled the rules only the night before, was unsure as to what to expect. My school principle had prepared matching T-shirts, those Japanese toe socks that I had never seen anyone actually wear in real life, and a fighting spirit that was generally echoed by the other team members. A few of my co-workers were also kitted out, goggles and all, ready for war, and I was beginning to question whether I had made the right decision this morning when I left the safety of my bed. We arrived, bright and early, on a sunny day on the first of June, and eyed up the competition. I have to say that, despite my absolute lack of confidence in my ability to play volleyball, I was reassured after spotting a group of fully grown, Japanese men with a thick layer of make-up on, Little Mermaid-style boob bras made out of paper plates, and – scrawled across their back’s – had various バースデー messages written in thick, black ink. As I looked around, similarly alarming images of the Flintstones, cat-women, medics that carried around a gigantic syringe, brides-to-be, and the undead were scattered about the field preparing for a morning of sporting fun. “What was happening?” I thought, as I took my first step into the mud, and into the madness.

Fun fact: attempting to do any form of physical activity in mud is abnormally difficult. Even walking proved to be a challenge.

After watching my school principle dive for the ball, fail to even to touch it and take out two of his team members in the process, it was my turn to play. I was nervous, but I did my best, and lost my first match spectacularly (and the two after that as well). In fact, the only game that we did win was against a group of Junior High School students that had graduated from my school this very year. The battles continued around us. People ran, jumped, stumbled, and tumbled, and grew steadily dirtier and dirtier until they resigned to simply lay in mud, like a bath. By the end of the tournament, there wasn’t a single white shirt left on the field, and my hair was no longer a shade of ginger.

The following day, I returned to the festival – mentally prepared this time – and watched as thirty or so mothers, and then thirty or so fathers, attempted to race, as fast as they could, through the field of thick mud. Men and women stumbled and fell, hard, ripping themselves back out of the mud with only their eyes visible through the layers and layers of dirt that covered their face and bodies. Eels were released into the water, and children fought to catch them with their bare hands, diving this way and that as the adults struggled to catch up behind them. And then, the race which had brought me here in the first place. Foreign couples lined up at one side of the course, wearing beautiful, clean, white wedding dresses. The whistle blew and they dove into the water, sprinting to the finish line. Shambles of the prim and proper couples they once were, our two ALT teams were handed a live fish as their prize. After watching the carnage unfold, I started to think that the volleyball competition from the day before wasn’t actually so bad…

What amazes me about Japan is that, even a town as small as mine, can have such a unique and distinctive event that is accessible to all. If you weren’t able to make it out to Yoshii this time, I hope you’ll join me on the muddy battlegrounds next year!

Fighting!

 

Gallery: I Can Japan 2019

May 27, 2019 | GAJET Events, Gallery, JET Life | No Comments

The GAJET community gathered in Maebashi this past Saturday for the eighth annual I Can Japan charity event. ALTs and locals alike gathered for an evening of great food, performances, and prizes. All the money raised at this event is given to the Komochiyama foster home in Shibukawa, Gunma.

We hope to see you all next year. In the meantime, check out the photos from the event. Thanks to Jansen Magarro and Gavin Au-Yeung for taking pictures.

If you’re like me, the first time you saw the plastic trays of strawberries at the supermarket in Japan, you jumped for joy. Back home, strawberries were not a seasonal treat, but a year-round expectation. You could even get a large carton of them for about five dollars, depending on the season. So, you can imagine my dismay when a whopping nine strawberries cost nearly 700 yen!

I was in shock. The juicy, ruby red fruits I had taken for granted in America were now snubbing their noses at me, as if to say “now you know our real worth.” Begrudgingly, I would wait until payday to buy my nine strawberries and eat them with relish, savoring the taste until I could afford my next fix. Before I knew it, they’d disappear and make way for new seasonal fruits, not to be spotted again until next winter.

But there is a trick to truly enjoying strawberries in Japan – visit a you-pick farm.

LET’S GO TO THE FARM

You-pick farms in Japan aren’t the same as back home. Rather than heading out to a dusty farm and crouching down in the dirt paths to hunt for crimson jewels between their waxy leaves, Japanese farms grow the strawberry beds on tables, their treasures shining in the sunlight pouring in from the greenhouse windows.

While the ease of picking has been vastly improved upon, you’re in for a shock if you think you are just going to pick your berries, weigh them, and take home a box full of fruity treasures. Strawberry farms in Japan have an “all you can eat” mentality – a healthier (and less expensive) version of a nomihoudai. When you arrive at the farm, you will make your way to the cashier and pay for a time slot. Strawberry farms usually offer 30- or 60-minute slots for your gastronomic pleasure and cost between 1,000 and 2,000 yen depending on peak times.

Once you’ve paid, you will be given a trash cup or tray and escorted to a hothouse to begin your adventure.

TREASURE HUNTING

When you enter the hothouse, a chest-high carpet of green stretches out before you. Picking strawberries is as easy as meandering down a row of plants and casually plucking any one that strikes your fancy.

Depending on the farm, the hothouse may only hold one variety of strawberry or many. The one we went to had three varieties in each house, the rows clearly marked by signs on the endcaps. Choose an empty row and make your way down, stopping at any strawberry that you deem worthy of eating and toss the stems into your trash cup. Once you’ve filled your cup with stems, find the trash cans, empty the dead soldiers into the proper bin, and start all over.

The best advice I can give is to take your time. Even 30 minutes is a long time to consistently shovel strawberries into your piehole. Peruse the plants for the brightest, most succulent berries. If you find a good plant, enjoy all the berries it has to offer. Try different varieties, then choose your favorite one and indulge your inner glutton. Take pictures with your friends and revel in the joy that is Japanese strawberry season.

GUNMA FARMS

Strawberries are in season from December to early May; however, Gunma is filled with all manner of fruit picking farms throughout the year. You can find a list of strawberry farms on GTIA’s site or farms by region and fruit type on the Gunma Tourism site.

Most fruit farms are not near a station, so you’ll need to find a friend who drives or brave the local bus routes. If you are determined to pick strawberries but can’t find a ride, I’d recommend Tatara Fresh Farm which is about a 20 minute walk from Tatara Station.

Strawberry picking is a Japanese experience you don’t want to miss. So get out there and stuff yourself silly with fresh fruit from the farm!


Nikkita Kent is a misplaced thalassophile who was transplanted from the beaches of Florida to the mountains of Gunma in 2017. Unable to sit still for too long, she delights in teaching senior high school in Ota City, exploring the local restaurants, and travelling at every available opportunity. Check her out on Instagram @daw2dus.

Takaragawa Onsen visit

March 2, 2019 | | No Comments

GAJET will once again be venturing to Minakami to experience the famous Takaragawa Onsen (map here). This will be a great opportunity for those who missed the first exercusion (or to return for round two). The event is scheduled for Saturday, March 2nd.

Those who can arrive on their own accord should meet around noon at the onsen. Those who wish to get a ride should contact our Chubu rep or leave a comment on the Facebook event page. More information is also available on the event page.

Please note that Takaragawa is a mixed-gender onsen. People are able to use towels to cover up while in the onsen.

Kokeshi Painting & Haruna Illuminations

December 15, 2018 | | No Comments

Get over your Winter blues by gathering with your GAJET family this December. We will be meeting for Kokeshi painting on the afternoon of December 15. The painting event is a two hour course which will cost ¥1200 per person. For more information, please visit this site. Afterwards, we will head towards Lake Haruna for the illumination event held in the evenings. For more information, please visit this site.

Those who are interested in participating can sign up via this Google form (click here).

If you have questions or comments, please contact your Seibu reps, or visit the Facebook event page.

Itinerary:

12:30 PM – 3:30 PM
Meet at 卯三郎こけし
3:30 PM – 4:30 PM
Drive from 卯三郎こけし to Haruna Lake
4:30 PM
Meet at Haruna Illuminations

 

GAJET Myogi Hike

November 4, 2018 | | No Comments

Join GAJET as they hike one of Gunma’s most challenging mountains… Miyogi! Planned for November 4, this hike is  timed perfectly with the autumn leaves. Two hikes will be available, each one hosted by a Seibu rep. The beginner hike, SEKIMON, will be lead by Ciara. The advanced hike, KANDOU-SAN will be lead by Maja. Both paths are sure to offer excellent views of nature and changing leaves.

As per hiking tradition, an optional stop at the onsen is available afterwards.

If you are interested, please fill out the Google document (click here).

Remember to bring:

  • comfortable clothes and shoes for hiking (it may get colder, so extra layers may be needed)
  • water!!
  • lunch
  • The optional onsen will be 600 yen (bring a towel and a change of clothes!)

For more information, contact your Seibu reps or check out the Facebook event page.

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]

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…)