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Tired? Troubled? Take a Walk!

June 17, 2020 | Gunma Life | No Comments

During this self-isolating period you’ve probably been bombarded with people going on daily walks via social media. I am guilty of this content. You may roll your eyes and think we are silly but there is real science behind daily exercise for your mental health! When you google “mental health daily walks” you get a whopping 371,000,000 results from Google. Because of COVID-19 we’ve all been deskwarming or working from home, and we’re probably experiencing a mental lull. A lot of sitting down, a lack of social interaction, and a lot more reaching for our phones to aimlessly scroll through social media and the news. Then rinse and repeat (no pun intended, but you should also be cleaning your phone as they can be key in spreading germs). I find myself feeling increasingly irritated by this habit. When I avoid doing this, I feel a significant difference in my mood. Have you ever wondered why you feel annoyed by little things or you just can’t seem to concentrate on one thing? Take note on how many times you find yourself fiddling with your phone and it may surprise you! The key to quieting our brains from the constantly clicking, scrolling, and tapping is to allow ourselves to zone out. We can do this by going for walks. Other reasons walks can be rad are:

  1. Getting to explore your neighbourhood and find hidden gems 
  2. Reaching your daily step goals
  3. Greeting your neighbours from a distance 
  4. Dogs! Lots of dogs out and about. 
  5. Trying all the random drinks you find in backstreet vending machines! I always carry ¥150 in my pocket for this reason. My favourite so far has been this:
jiggly,bubbly-jelly!! (Soda jelly&nata de coco) (grape)×24CAN
Grape Jelly Goodness.

You probably read that list and thought to yourself “Yes Alice, of course that’s why I would go for a walk… Why are you trying to give me advice on doing a simple adult task?” And yes, I agree, I’m giving advice on how to suck eggs. But these things really helped me with my goal of zoning out. First, let’s focus on urban walks that can be done without a car.

  1. Choose a soundtrack. If you are the type of person who can go for a walk without any audio, then hats off to you. But for the majority of us, we like to listen to something while we walk. Your soundtrack is very critical to the task of not fiddling with your phone. The key is to leave it in your pocket so your audio must be something that you LOVE. I find listening to podcasts is the best for me. I always listen to the same podcast so it’s an easy choice. Right now, I’m listening to The History of Japan Podcast which is more of a lecture style podcast. Other podcasts I enjoyed are: Doing It!, Taiwan This Week, Abroad in Japan, and Ridiculous History. There are podcasts for everything! If music is more your style, select music that you won’t want to skip or change throughout your walk. 
  2. Pick a direction. Step out of your house and off you go. I usually don’t have a set location when I walk, but I always choose a direction with the aim of simply walking to achieve zoning out. Try not to worry too much about where you’re going. Get to a fork in the road? Choose whatever direction you feel like. It’s okay to get a little lost! Rest assured that you can’t get far from your house in 30 minutes. 
  3. Choose a time limit. This is one thing you should stick to or else you’ll be wandering for hours. I try to walk for 30 minutes one way and then find my way back home. If you walk for one hour it will be around 4,000~5,000 steps! 
  4. Put on your shoes. And check the weather, especially going into the rainier months. 
  5. Keep up your daily habits! They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Before you leave the house you may not really want to… But I guarantee you will feel 100% better after a walk. 

I try to do shorter urban walks around 5:30 every day to complete my workday and wind down. Currently there is little distinction between “home” and “workplace” so it’s important to have a shift in how we are using our space. This way, we don’t feel like we are at work even when we have finished for the day.

Next are some tips on how to find hiking trails or nature walks. Regrettably this may not be possible if you don’t own a car. But you might be lucky to have some hiking gems close by that don’t require one. My first piece of advice is to utilize the saving location function in Google Maps. My Google Map is scattered with these glorious little green pins! They’re also excellent for planning trips. If you are driving past something and it looks like it would be a great walking location; stop safely and save it to look at later. Alternatively, you can do this browsing on Google Maps directly by clicking about a mountainous area. I have had some luck with searching “hiking area” directly into Google Maps and saving these locations. I will warn you now that sometimes these locations can be a little off, so if there are any reviews, read them! They can include helpful information. Another function of Google Maps is to use Street View to scope out areas for hiking. These technologies can be helpful but don’t guarantee 100% accuracy. Occasionally I go to a location that’s a complete fail, but this can be part of the fun of searching for these hidden trails. When you do find something, it’s really exciting! Another helpful search term is “神社” (じんじゃ), meaning shrine in English. A lot of these shrines can be found on mountainsides, and the areas around these shrines can be great for walking! I usually park a little way away from these shrines so it’s still a bit of a trek. You can be sure that it’s okay to walk around these areas as shrines are open to the public.  I love finding random abandoned shrines in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve created a map for hiking/walking in Gunma! Check it out here. I’m based in Fujioka so most locations are in the Fujioka/Onishi/Kanna area, but the map is completely editable so please add your own favourite walking places! When adding your own locations, please remember to note if there is free parking and toilets, and include an estimated hiking time. 

My second piece of advice is to take photos of information signs! These can include hiking trails (ハイキングコース)  in the area. I’ve made a habit of checking them out whenever I see one, and have found a lot of trails that aren’t on Google Maps this way. These signs can have a lot of useful information on them, so understanding some key phrases can be really helpful! I found this website that has a very extensive list of hiking trail vocabulary for map reading here.  The ones I have found important are: 

  • ハイキングコース (haikingu-cousu) hiking course 
  • コースタイム (kousu taimu) course-time, duration
  • 国立公園 (こくりつこうえん、kokuritsu-kouen) national park
  • 登山道 (とざんどう、tozan-dou) mountain trail
  • バス停 (basu-tei) bus stop
  • トイレ (toire) toilet
  • 駐車場 (ちゅうしゃじょう、chu-sha-jo) car park
  • 神社 (じんじゃ、jin-ja) OR 神宮 (じんぐう、jin-gu) Shinto shrine
  • 寺 (てら、tera OR でら、dera OR じ、ji) Buddhist temple
  • 温泉 (おんせん、onsen) hot springs
  • 飲料水 (いんりょうすい、inryo-sui) drinking water

Once you have found your desired destination it’s time to set off! Before you leave the house make sure you have water, a sustaining packed lunch, sunscreen, and an adventurous spirit. You may also want to invest in a bear bell so they know you are in the area and keep their distance. Now you are ready to go explore the gems of nature that Gunma  has to offer! いってらっしゃい! (Have a safe trip!) 

I hope reading this article has encouraged you to go on more walks and to appreciate what Gunma’s landscape has to offer. Whatever is happening in the world right now, please remember that the news will continue to update and that it can be anxiety-triggering trying to keep up with everything. It’s an impossible task, so try switching off and take a break from your brain constantly ticking. Go easy on yourself and put your mental health first.

Romance in a Cabbage Field

October 2, 2019 | Gunma Life | No Comments

Japan is a country of repressed emotion. It’s one of those stereotypes that are actually accurate. Younger generations are working to change this by doing crazy things like hugging their partners and actually telling them that they love them, but there are some events to help older people express their feelings too. (more…)

Life of a Foreign Warrior

April 3, 2019 | Gunma Life | No Comments

Hanami, flowering viewing, is a popular event each year during spring time to witness the beautiful, pink return of spring to Gunma’s mountains and valleys. However, the Kanra Castle Town Obata Sakura Festival is not your ordinary hanami experience. (more…)

The Ultimate (Frisbee) Guide to Gunma

July 2, 2018 | Gunma 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.


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!