Our annual championship, the legendary Gunma Games, had perhaps the highest levels of friendly rivalry ever seen due to an epic meme war started by Aidan Koch. Thanks to all the JETs, both old and new, for coming out to battle! With Seibu claiming the Golden Cabbage this year, check out our gallery to see how the action went down.
Big thank-you to Haydn Zimmer for the great photos!
This crucial lesson was learned by our group of fifteen fearless climbers as we all made our best attempt to conquer Mount Fuji in a revitalized GAJET event, spearheaded by Valerie and Alex. Thinking back on those two long August days, we’ve made a collection of thoughts on the highs on lows. Read on to get an insider’s look into the trials and tribulations of Fuji-san!
Devyn: It’s been my dream to climb Mt. Fuji (shrine to summit, along one of the old pilgrimage routes) since I read about it as a kid. It’s one of the things that got me really interested in Japan. Since I have arthritis in a bunch of my joints, and my mobility is likely to decrease with time…well, no time like the present, eh? Plus, GAJET organizing the event meant I had the opportunity to climb with many friends. 😀
Nate: I like hiking and climbing mountains.
Rachelle: I wanted to climb Mt. Fuji to challenge my mind and body’s perceived limits.
Valerie: The people asked for the return of the GAJET Fuji Hike, so we listened!
Jasmine: It had been on my Japan bucket list for a few years now. I always enjoyed looking at Mt. Fuji from afar, but I thought climbing it would be a memorable experience as well.
Jasmine: None whatsoever!
Valerie: Just novice hiking. I had climbed Haruna, Myogi, Arafune, and Kurofuyama, as well as other trails and hikes here and there.
Nate: I rock climb and hike a lot, but this was the most difficult hike I’ve done.
Devyn: I’m a moderately experienced hiker, having hiked stateside and in other parts of Japan and Southeast Asia. This is the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed, though.
Valerie: Difficulty breathing at higher altitudes and hiking in the dark.
Ciara: The most difficult part was the final run between the ninth station and the top; the feeling that I was so close but also still so far.
Nate: I didn’t prepare well enough for how cold it would be at the top, and coming down was awful because I had no water and unlike going up there were no opportunities to buy more.
Rachelle: The most difficult part was going down the mountain on loose gravel. My whole body was screaming at me to quit but obviously that wasn’t an option.
Devyn: Descending was brutal, which most people don’t seem to mention in articles about climbing Fuji-san (probably with good reason). It might be TMI, but several of my toenails are still black from it.
Jasmine: Getting to the bottom lol
Nate: The sunrise. I started crying a bit. I felt weird for tearing up at the top but it felt really oddly profound and beautiful.
Ciara: The moment I began descending the mountain, the feeling that I was going home.
Devyn: Seeing the remnants of huts and signs explaining what used to stand there in the past along the lower portions of the trail; seeing the sun rise above the sea of clouds and reaching the summit; making unforgettable memories with some of my best friends here.
Valerie: I actually enjoyed scrambling up/over rocks. And the descent was great; it was warm and bright out.
Rachelle: Reaching the top with one of my favorite people; being able to look at them and say, ‘We did it!’
Ciara: When we reached the sixth station, and it dawned on us that it was almost all over, we ran to the fifth station. Where did all that energy come from?
Rachelle: None of the hand warmers we brought worked. Not a single one! It was an ice cold wait for the sunrise.
Devyn: Funny: Realizing that the Yoshida Trail 5th station and the place where the buses drop everyone off are two different 5th Stations (about 2 km apart) is hilarious in retrospect. Also, being warned by the owner of the bar beneath our hostel that I would: see no one along the trail until 5th station; likely get lost; and possibly be mauled by a bear—only to run into 50+ other hikers/trail runners/a group of scouts on a hiking trip on my way up to 5th station. (**Being aware of one’s surroundings while hiking and/or hiking with a buddy is important. The advice was appreciated, but likely more useful to people climbing outside of the high season.**) Weird: Thought it was real strange that I had cell service at the top! But it was cool to text people back home from the highest place in the country!
Valerie: Everyone laughed at me for bringing my Chromebook up Fuji, but I had to get work done for Gunma Orientation, and I was determined to have my cake and eat it too! The best part is that you can actually get service on Fuji, so I was able to hotspot from my phone and upload my files from the seventh station! 🤣🤣🤣 On the descent, at one point I was so sleepy I told my hiking partner that I had to stop to rest. We laid down on our backpacks on the gravelly red lava rock in the morning sun, and it was one of the best naps I’ve ever had.
Valerie: We saw fireworks happening below in one of the towns! From that altitude they looked so small! It was wild to see them from above like that.
Ciara: I was the dirtiest I’ve ever been in my life when I returned to the fifth station.
Jasmine: I forgot what station it was, but one of the walking stick stampers engaged us in conversation and gave us a present. He was so kind!
Rachelle: Being so high above the clouds was thrilling, humbling, and beautiful. Yet, there was a hint of unease because some part of me felt there was no reason for a person to be up that high. I would do it again for the view though. That Mt. Fuji sunrise was something magical!
Ciara: Don’t do it, and if you do, buy a Fuji stick. And bring wet wipes!
Nate: Pack enough food and water for the climb down because there are no rest stops!
Rachelle: Read the advice forums and bring proper gear. Respect the fact that while Mt. Fuji is a tourist attraction it’s still a mountain and hiking it comes with risks. Be careful and have fun!
Jasmine: Please prepare for the cold at the top of the mountain! Bring gloves, hand warmers, a few layers of socks, etc. Also, I highly recommend getting a walking stick. It helped me out so much.
Valerie: Listen to your body if you aren’t feeling well or need to rest. If you can’t make it to the summit as happened to a few of us, it’s ok! The sunrise will still be beautiful, and you can try again another time, better prepared (as I hope to do next year!).
Devyn: BRING POLES AND A HEADLAMP. You’ll be glad to have them. Keep moving during the pre-dawn hours, otherwise you’ll freeze. Have fun and be safe! You’ll never forget this adventure!
A very warm welcome to the GAJET team of 2019 – 2020! Some faces are familiar and some of them are new! We look forward to hosting some awesome events for you in the next year together!
Ciara Lily Malone, President. Contact Ciara at [email protected]
Hello everyone! I’m Ciara and I’m a third year, Elementary School
JET in Yoshii, Takasaki. I had an incredible time being Seibu Rep last year, and am excited to continue on my GAJET journey as your shiny, new President! Our prefecture would be nothing without your participation and sense of community, so come out and join us at our various events throughout the year! From canyoning in Minakami to camping in the woods of Akagi Mountain, from skiing at the Kusatsu Resort to some healthy rivalry at this year`s Gunma Games, there is always something to do in our amazing prefecture. Japan is an opportunity to get involved in a totally new environment, so take every moment that you can!
Try new things, travel new distances, learn a new language, and feel free to contact any of us at GAJET on the way. We`re here to help!
Camilla Webber, Vice-President. Contact Camilla at [email protected]
Howdily doodily neighbourinos! My name is Camilla and I`m from Glastonbury in the UK. I currently live in Fujioka City and I`m entering into my second year on JET. Gunma has its fair share of urban and rural, which provides the perfect
variety of places to visit and things to do.
In my spare time, I enjoy living an active lifestyle (whether that be running, swimming, hiking, or gym), travelling both inside and outside of Japan, and going to festivals (both music and Japanese matsuri). I also enjoy making the perfect cup of tea, ordering marmite off the internet, and practicing Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj`s Side to Side at hitori karaoke.I always need help cleaning my royal family memorabilia, so please don`t hesitate to get in touch! I`m looking forward to seeing faces old and new at our events this year. Come join us for a cold beer at RUF Fridays!
Alex Krause, Secretary. Contact Alex at [email protected]
Hello! My name is Alex. I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania, USA, but I’ve been living in Takasaki for 2 years now. This is also my second year as secretary for GAJET.
I’m the unofficial official Gunma hype girl. I spend a lot of free time exploring our prefecture and highlighting its various gems on social media. If you ever need some tips on where to go, or would want to go on an adventure together, hit me up! I still have some Jomo Karuta spots I haven’t been to yet!
When I’m not running around Gunma, you might find me studying Japanese, playing badminton, or going on mild hikes. Oh, and don’t forget eating yummy treats!
I’m looking forward to meeting you all soon. Best of luck as you settle into the cabbage patch, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help with anything!
Mathew Masters, Treasurer. Contact Mathew at [email protected]
Good Morning people. Im Mathew Masters, your Treasurer/ Money Man for GAJET. I expect you all to be paying up this year to save me time sending the debt collectors. I’m a Kiwi (from New Zealand) and just another Takasaki JET in my 3rd year.
My hobbies are mostly comprised of Magic and occasional bowling. If you’re keen to join for Magic let me know. I do enjoy hiking but I wont do that until the Autumn, Summer isn’t fair. Then comes winter when I’m really keen! I enjoy snowboarding and eating hot soups. However any season is a good season for beer, so lets enjoy Japan. I look forward to seeing familiar faces and new faces at events. This should be another good year for Gunma ALTs with some good people on the GAJET team.
Paige Adrian, Editor. Contact Paige at [email protected]
Hello! My name’s Paige and I come from a place that I love to make people pronounce: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This is my second year in Japan and my first year as your GAJET Editor. I’m excited to work with both old and new ALTs to share our best Gunma stories!
Feel free to send me your writing, photography, poetry, or art at any time. When I’m not bothering my junior high school students in Haruna, I’m usually playing badminton, eating too much ramen, or blasting music (within Japan’s noise regulations). I also love hiking, art, and movies, so if that’s your thing as well, hit me up! I can’t wait to see everyone at our GAJET events – let’s make this year count.
Alice Ridley, Webmaster. Contact Alice at [email protected]
Kia Ora! My name is Alice Ridley. I will be your webmaster for GAJET this year! I hail from a small country that is often left off maps – New Zealand! Yes, we are a real country proven by the incredible three kiwis represented in GAJET this year. We may be small, but we are mighty!
I am on my second year teaching JHS & ES in my second home of Fujioka. When Alice-sensei is off the clock I like getting involved in my local community or finding hidden gems of nature in my area. Like a lot of my committee members I love hiking in Gunma! It’s an excellent way to socialise with the other members of the cabbage patch and keep on top of your mental health! I love connecting people together with their passions so please don’t hesitate to ask for my help in the coming year! Good luck and always wear sunscreen.
Valerie Landers, Seibu Rep. Contact Valerie at [email protected]
Hi everyone! My name is Valerie. I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in the Washington, DC area. Now I live in Tomioka and I’m starting my fourth year as a senior high school ALT.
I’m basically a tropical houseplant, thriving in the sun and warm temps both Fahrenheit and Celsius. I love languages and linguistics and enjoy jigsaw puzzles and amateur hiking. My favorite Gunma adventures are fireworks, gardens, cafes, and mountains . My mission is to show the world how awesome Gunma is, and make it more accessible to my fellow Gunma JETs. This year I get to showcase Seibu goodness as Seibu Rep! Looking forward to seeing you at upcoming events! Welcome to Gumma!
Chris Sept, Chubu Rep. Contact Chris at [email protected]
Hello! My name is Sept, like September but shorter. However, despite my best efforts I was born in August. That’s fine though, as it makes me a Leo. And this little ball of Limelight left Portland, Oregon and is starting his 3rs year as the ALT for Maebashi Girls High School. I had never taught before, but jumping in head first is sort of my style. If it is yours too, we should meet and compare notes. I might be able to ease some of your concerns.
When I am not juggling speech and debate contests, you can see me tagging along with other JETs to festivals and events. I love learning about the lore and trivia of a place. It helps for inspiration when you spend most of your free time writing. I am working on a killer Tomioka Silk Mill Steampunk AU.
I look forward to meeting all of you and getting to know you. This is gonna be an adventure, trust me. Take it at your own pace, remember to drink water, and good luck.
Linka Wade, Tone/Agatsuma Rep. Contact Linka at [email protected]
Hello! I`m Linka Wade and I`m the Agatsuma-Tone Regional Rep
this year. I`m from Monterey, California (NorCal > SoCal) and I live
with my husband, and two guinea pigs in the middle of a rice paddy.I am a second year ALT at two very tiny and rural schools.
In my year of living here, I’ve fallen in love with the area and our community here. I can`t wait to share that love with incoming JETs and help to bring those in the Tone/Agatsuma region closer together (even though we’re usually pretty far apart). I enjoy cooking, hiking, dragging my husband out on adventures, and (luckily) not planning a wedding anymore! Yey! I`m excited to represent these two wonderful regions this year. Welcome to Gunma!
Aidan Koch, Tobu Rep. Contact Aidan at [email protected]
Kitty Houchen, General Committee. Contact Kitty at [email protected]
Hey everyone, my name is Kitty. I’m a second year JET from New Zealand, living in Kanra-Machi.
I love film and theatre, and anything art-related. I’m currently working on improving my Japanese, and enjoying all the wonderful opportunities that Gunma and Japan have to offer. When I’m not teaching, I enjoy exploring new parts of Japan, travelling overseas, and discovering new restaurants. Keep an eye out on the Gunmajet instagram for the おすすめ series for the best eateries in the region!
I’m looking forward to meeting and sharing the best of the cabbage patch with all of you. Enjoy the summer, it can be dreadful, but you’ll get through it and into Autumn – the best season in Gunma!
As many of us can testify, being on JET is a transformative experience. Every day, we’re pushing ourselves, growing, learning—struggling and thriving by turns. For some of us, JET is a first foray into the “real world” post-graduation. For some of us, it’s our first time living alone, or living abroad, or both. These are huge changes, and they can be daunting. However, something that we all have in common is that we weather them the best we can, often with a little help from our friends.
When informing friends of my plans to move back stateside this summer, many asked if my time on JET lived up to my expectations.
Me: “You mean the expectations I had when flying halfway across the earth to teach in a country I’d never visited before? And knew no one living there?”
Them: “Well, when you put it that way…”
In certain ways, JET has been better than what I could have ever imagined—namely, the bonds I’ve formed with my students, coworkers, and friends. (I <3 our GUNMAFAM!) In others, I can honestly say that I’ve been pushed well past my breaking point. This year in particular has shown me that not every experience can, or should, be viewed through the rose-colored glasses so many of us expats tend to wear. Even at its darkest points, though, there have been people and things that are causing me to tear up as I write this, due to the bittersweet knowledge that my time here is rapidly coming to an end.
Since I don’t want to be the only one crying, do me a favor, okay? Think back. It’s 201X, and you’ve just found out that you’re going to Gunma. What were your goals before arriving? Have you since achieved them, and marked the occasion by coloring in the other eye of your daruma? Have you discovered new ones? Did you find something (or perhaps someone) that inspires you? Or done something so outside the realm of what you believed possible that your 201X-Gunma-Orientation-self would pause in shock and/or awe, thinking, “Really? That’s me?”
Case-in-point: Did I ever foresee myself becoming GAJET’s president? Absolutely…not. But contributing to a positive and supportive community has always been something I’ve gravitated towards, and this committee was one inroad to achieving that goal. Despite the challenges that accompany being a part of any volunteer organization, I can honestly say that GAJET has had a significant and lasting impact on me. Maybe the same can be said for some of you, as well. (Though perhaps in different ways—we’re not all trying to start NPOs post-JET, are we?)
Gunma, and the people here, have been my home for three indescribable years. Facing down the void of tomorrow’s possibilities can be terrifying, especially when the point you’re heading towards is so vastly different from where you saw yourself ending up when you first started out. That’s growth, though. It can be scary, or even painful at times. But, I know that no matter where that path leads, the experiences I’ve had here, and the people I’ve met along the way have shaped me into someone who can navigate it.
There will always be a crane-shaped mark on my heart from my years as a Gunma JET. When it comes time for you to leave, it is my sincerest hope that you feel the same.
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!