Bringing Gunma together, one cabbage at a time.

2013–2014 GAJET Committee

The votes are in! Here is your newly elected GAJET Committee.

The Gunma AJET Committee is made of JETs from all over Gunma Prefecture. Over the next 12 months, these JETs will work together in various roles to unite Gunma JETs by planning exciting events, as well as keeping you up-to-date with what’s happening around the region. We look forward to meeting you!

If you ever have any questions about your region of Gunma or events happening in the prefecture, don’t be afraid to contact any member of the committee. We’re here for you!

Let’s give it up for the 2013–2014 GAJET Committee!

Executive Committee Members

Chris De Borja

President: Christopher De Borja

—Head of GAJET, liaison for National AJET, Sound Voltex champion

Location and Schools: I teach at two elementary schools in central Takasaki.

From: I am originally from San Francisco, California, United States, but before moving out to Japan I lived in Las Vegas, Nevada for one year.

About me: For the 2013–2014 JET year, I will be a fourth-year ALT. I love spending my time biking around Gunma during the warm season and snowboarding down the slopes during the snow season. When I have some downtime, I enjoy hanging out at the arcade and playing all the Japan-exclusive arcade games. I also love playing badminton (I am super competitive) and singing karaoke when there are enough people willing to have fun!

I wish I’d known: Bring a lot of omiyage from home! (And get used to having people give you omiyage and you having to give back too!) Omiyage is a very important part of Japanese culture. Growing up in a Filipino household, we were always told to bring back “pasalubong”, which literally means “something meant for you when you welcome me back” and is very similar to omiyage. So understanding how omiyage plays an important role in daily Japanese life would be one of the top things I wish I had known better before coming to Japan!

Most importantly: Remember to have fun! The JET Programme is a great program that allows us to enrich ourselves with a different culture while at the same time helping educate a different country about your own culture. So go out and enjoy yourselves! And if you need any help, please feel free to contact any of the GAJET members! If you need to contact me directly, please email me at [email protected]

Vice President: Ashly Schanbackashly shanback

—Works closely with President, full-time superstar

Location and schools: I live in Takasaki and teach at four elementary schools in Yoshii Town, located smack-dab in the middle of Takasaki, Tomioka and Fujioka. Yoshii Town has a unified, small community atmosphere so I feel very lucky about my placement.

From: I am from sunny San Diego, California in the United States; however, right before coming on JET, I attended university in Berkeley, California, near San Francisco. Though San Francisco may be described as “brisk” during the winter (maybe 5 degrees Celsius), I was not at all prepared for Gunma’s harsh, wind-chilled winters.

About me: I am going into my third year on JET as of summer 2013. Before coming on JET, I studied Japanese at the University of California Berkeley for three years, discovering a passion for this language, which has transferred to my time on JET as well. Apart from studying Japanese, I spend a lot of my free time traveling—I can usually be spotted driving with friends to our next adventure in my tiny Daihatsu Move.

In general, I love meeting new people and I particularly enjoy helping newcomers adjust to their new environments (I was a resident assistant for one year during college), so I’m really looking forward to reaching out to this year’s newcomers and helping them create a new home in Gunma. Gunma has so many beautiful places as well as thrilling experiences to offer, I am SO excited to bring JETs together in our fabulous prefecture!

I wish I had known: About the extent to which I would not be able to buy clothes. As a big and tall girl with size 27.5 cm shoes, I usually have to buy men’s shoes, and even when I can buy women’s clothes the proportions are really off. So for the new JETs who think they may not be able to wear Japanese sizes, bring plenty of clothing for summer and ship all your winter clothing. (Disclaimer: I have never tried online shopping in Japan because I’m not a fan of online shopping in general, but that may be a good avenue for others). 😉

Best place in Gunma: I can’t pick just one place in Gunma that I love, so I will list my top three.

  1. Mt. Myogi—this mountain’s appearance is very jagged and sort of powerful, and hiking the three-hour lateral path is very satisfying. Particularly during fall when the leaves change, Mt. Myogi is a must see.
  2. Kusatsu—I am a HUGE fan of onsen, and though the water is scalding hot it really seems to heal. Also, the town itself is very cute with several noteworthy cafés and restaurants.
  3. Takasaki—As it is the city I live in, I have grown rather fond of Takasaki over the past two years. I have become a regular at many places, so I know quite a few great places for food and drink. I also love that Kannon-sama is always watching… “Big Sister” style.

Secretary: Jenn Cohenjenn cohen

—Note-taker, correspondence expert

Location and schools: Annaka City. I work at three high schools: Annaka, Matsuida and Kita-Takasaki.

About me: I am originally from New York and this will be my third year as a JET ALT in Japan. I love teaching at my schools, exploring Japan and its culture, and spending time with and learning from the locals. I enjoy Gunma’s nature, sightseeing, playing wadaiko, dancing and drinking green tea. I also enjoy going on adventures with fellow JET friends to new places inside and outside of Gunma.

I wish I had known: Basic Japanese phrases to assist with my first greetings and introductions, how to read and write hiragana and katakana, and lastly how wonderfully beautiful Gunma is and how kind people are.

The most important things to bring with you: Are an open mind, a kind heart, a sense of adventure, willingness to learn from others, patience, and an enthusiastic spirit.

Treasurer: Alice Volkmaralice

—Responsible for GAJET’s yennies

Location and schools: I live in central Maebashi, and teach at a high school here and in Tamamura, a little town directly south (home of the fabulous Costco! It might not excite you now, but just wait…).

From: Originally from Washington DC, I’ve lived everywhere from Montreal, San Francisco, Vienna, Prague, North Carolina and Tokyo.

About me: I’m a 4th-year JET and before coming on the program I was a professional nerd. I’m still pretty nerdy.

Favorite place in Gunma: I love onsen, and Gunma has a ton of them! Some of my favorites are in Minakami, and Kusatsu is wonderful too.

Recommendation: Take care of yourself! It can be easy to get wrapped up in all the excitement, especially in the beginning. It can be easy to get overwhelmed too, but don’t worry. There’ll be many wonderful opportunities for you here in Japan. 🙂

Favorite moment of living in Japan: Having cupcakes with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and hanging out backstage at one of her concerts. Sometimes being a professional nerd has some perks!

Editor: Peter Frazerpeter frazier

—Manages the website, or something

Location and schools: I live in Midori City in the east of Gunma, and teach at one junior high school and one kindergarten.

From: Before I came to Japan I lived in Brisbane, Australia.

About me: I will be going into my second year of JET this year, and am loving it. I have been interested in Japan and Japanese ever since primary school, when my teacher saw someone writing in red pen. She picked up the pen, screamed “AKA PEN WA DAME DESU!” and violently threw it out the window. I can only hope to be as good an ALT as she was.

I can often be found criss-crossing Gunma on trains or riding way too fast down the main street of Midori City on my mamachari. I have a penchant for terrible Japanese pop culture and artificially flavoured Japanese snacks. I used to be able to quote every line of Mean Girls verbatim.

I wish I had known: About Gunma’s unpredictably extreme weather and that “City” attached to your placement name does not necessarily mean an urban placement.


  1. Start saving. You will be expected to drop a lot of money in the first few days of being here for things like moving in, connecting utilities, buying furniture, and so on. You will also not get paid until one month after you arrive.
  2. Take as many pictures as you can before you come that you can use for self-introduction lessons. Your family, your pets, your hobbies, post offices, toilets, supermarkets, street signs, trains—take pictures of everything you can to show off your country.
  3. Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone and make a fool of yourself. This is going to happen whether you like it or not.
  4. Get involved with your local community as well as the ALT community in Gunma as much as you can.

Webmaster: Patrick McGarveypic for gajet (2)

—GAJET’s resident tech genius

Location and schools: I live in Kiryu, but work in Midori. I have four tiny mountain schools—one middle school (39 kids… some of you probably have bigger classes!), two elementary schools, and one preschool.

From: Near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the USA.

About me: I’m going into my third year on JET, and still loving my schools and my time here in Japan. I have more interests/hobbies than I actually end up having time for, but the ones that get the most attention are reading, cooking and eating, travelling, chilling out with my friends, studying Japanese, and biking.

Favorite place in Gunma: Otaki Falls in Azuma-cho in Midori. Or maybe Agatsuma Gorge.

Recommendations: Get out and explore everything you can. Even if you don’t have a destination in mind, just pick a direction and go, even if you have to go by yourself. Don’t let anything hold you back from seeing, doing, and enjoying as much as you can.

Regional Representatives

These JETs are the hubs of each region in Gunma. They plan and inform JETs about events in their regions, as well as provide support for JETs in their areas.

Chubu Reps: Maria Bar & Rebecca Mesch

—Isesaki, Maebashi, Shibukawa, Shinto-mura, Tamamura and Yoshioka.

Maria Barmaria baruxis

Location and schools: Daisan Junior High School in Isesaki.

From: I’m a California grill from Huntington Beach, or perhaps better known by its primordial (now legally trademarked) name, “Surf City, USA!”

Favorite place in Gunma: My favorite place in Gunma is Minakami (for the rafting, canyoning, bungy[sic] jumping and glorious natural beauty). However, I really love the view from the top of the ferris wheel at Kezoji Park near my house. It makes Isesaki look beautiful and proves to me that beauty is just a matter of perspective.

About me: I like to read, write, draw, watch movies and anything else I can do to contribute to sitting on my rump and completing my transformation into a bootylicious gargoyle. In theory, I really enjoy outdoorsy things, though. Really. I love nature (yay, Gunma has lots of it!). I would become a boreal forest nymph if I could. I also love to travel, cook, take photographs, box, play tennis, hike (slowly), découpage, drink wine and learn languages. Southern Gothic literature, elephants, and The White Stripes are big deals to me. I want to volunteer at a sloth preserve and see the Aurora Borealis after my adventures in Japan.

I wish I had known: More (translation “any”) Japanese before I came to Japan. I also wish I had deconstructed my self-doubt because success here is a process, and you make inroads through wins and losses as they come.

Favorite moment of living in Japan: Some of my favorite moments include: joining the art club at my school, going to the monkey onsen, being able to navigate trains by myself, going to the daruma shrine, making pottery, getting “aha!” moments from my students, and being able to make my dream of going to India for the Holi Festival come true.

Best thing a student has said to you: They say too many cute things too often. But one of the best cards I received was one that reads “Maria Teacher,” on the front with a sweeping American flag in the background, “Thank you so much,” on the inside (with Japanese bits I can’t read), andamazingly/inexplicablya fabulous drawing of McDonald’s Mayor McCheese on the back.

Recommendations: It’s going to be so moist, so outrageously hot when you get here; truly unbelievable. Please bring adequate summer clothes. By the same token, please have a box of true-blue winter clothes waiting for someone to send to you around the middle of November. Also, try to keep level about all facets of life in Japan because, well, life is still life no matter the geography. But yes, have fun! Tons of it!

Rebecca MeschRebecca Mesch

Location and schools: I teach at one junior high school and one elementary school in Onogami, the rural-est part of Shibukawa City!

From: I’m originally from San Diego, grew up in Northern California (Bay Areaaaa), and went to college south of Los Angeles. So let’s just say California. 🙂

About me: I’m going into my 2nd year on JET and I love Gunma! Its beauty, optimal location, and variety of things to do are unmatched. When I’m not clowning around with my middle schoolers, you can find me singing choral music loudly in my apartment, dancing at a club in Tokyo, or crafting DIY projects. I also looove to travel and have loved each of the 26 prefectures I have visited so far!

I wish I had known:

  • Gunma is boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, so get ready for that!
  • While just living and working here can be a crazy adventure, it’s still harder here than it is back home to make friends and do sports or hobbies you enjoy. Friends and activities don’t just fall into your lap like they might have at university. So I offer these two words: BE PROACTIVE! Put forth effort into crafting a social network and living a full, fulfilling life. Make your time here valuable and enriching from start to finish.

Favorite moment in Japan: My friends and I took a road trip to Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea. After having driven through the night, we arrived at the ferry port just as the sun was rising over the water. I sat outside on a concrete slab and silently watched the sun rise purple and pink as I listened to the sounds of water splashing and the town waking up for the day.

Tone Reps: Robbie Blackburn & Kimberley Smith

—Minakami, Katashina, Numata, Showa and Kawaba.

Robbie BlackburnRobbie

Locations and schools: I live out in the country, up in Minakami in the Tone Region. I have three schools: one elementary, one middle, and one combined elementary-middle school. My largest school has under 200 students and my smallest one has only 24.

From: I’m from sunny Brisbane, Australia.

About me: I’m 24 years old and this is my second year on JET. I have a BA in Japanese and spent one year on exchange at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo in 2010–11. I joined GAJET because one of my favourite things about being a JET is the ALT community. When I’m not working at my schools I’m on the train to the busier parts of Gunma or lounging around outside in the amazing weather we’ve been having lately. I also practice fencing once a week in Numata.

I wish I had known: In winter the dry air wreaks havoc with your throat and sinuses. If you don’t use a humidifier, you’re going to have a bad time.

Message to new JETs: Meet the other JETs who live in your region and keep in touch with them! You don’t want to burn out in the middle of winter and have no one to go drinking with on a Friday night to stop yourself going crazy. I can’t wait to meet you all!

Kimberley Smithkimberley

Location and schools: Minakami. I am at just one junior high school in Tsukiyono.

About me: I am from New Zealand. My mum and dad still live in Christchurch, New Zealand. I have a younger brother, and a younger sister who is married with four boys. I loved hanging with my family at home, so I miss them a lot now. I love socialising, especially over good food. I love where I am placed in MinakamiI am surrounded by nature and mountains here, which remind of my home back in Christchurch. I have been in Minakami for nine months. Gunma was my first choice on my JET application and I am so pleased I have been placed here.

Favourite place in Gunma: I do love Minakami (maybe I am a little biased) because it has amazing hot springs, cute cafés, ski fields and Minakami Canyons. You definitely have to give canyoning and rafting a go.

I wish I had known: To study Japanese before I came. I studied it in high school, but that was a long time ago. I also wish I brought a lot more summer clothes with me as it gets extremely hot here. I wish I had stocked up more on toiletries like toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and especially deodorant spray.

Seibu Reps: Lindsay Woodville, Sarah Anderson & Andrea Dawn

—Annaka, Fujioka, Kanna, Kanra, Nanmoku, Shimonita, Takasaki, Tomioka and Ueno-mura.

Lindsay WoodvilleLindsay Woodville

Location and schools: I am a second-year JET living in Takasaki and working at Sano Junior High School.

From: New York, a place where they say things like “ahrange” and “chalklate”.

About me: I have many viable skills and interests, which include (but are not limited to): tennis, knitting, rugby, eating, hugs, sleeping, touching everything on my desk, making lists, travelling around Japan, movies, pugs, juggling, playing games, touching stuff on my desk, cooking, color-coordinated anything, cafés, and putting accents over the letter é.

Favorite moment of living in Japan: Definitely a tie between night hanami (cherry blossom viewing), snowboarding in Minakami and the Osaka business hotel!

I wish I had known: About the pregnant fish on the school lunch menu.

Sarah AndersonSarah Anderson

Location and schools: Fujioka! I currently teach at one junior high school (a modestly humongous one), but the Fuj is a bit of a merry-go-round, so next year I’ll probably have an elementary school as well.

From: I’m from the US, but most of my kids think I’m Canadian since they can neither pronounce nor discern all the sounds contained in “Connecticut”.

About me: I’m a first year JET, so a lot of this is still new to me. My hobbies include reading, adventuring, playing cards in bars, and devising innovative ways of keeping cool in the summer (most of which fall under the umbrella of sticking various pieces of clothing/body parts in my freezer).

Favorite place in Gunma: Rural, mountainous, half-abandoned, half-never-quite-developed Gunma. I love the scenic roads here. Whenever I’m on the road through the mountains I get the sense that I’ve stepped into a foreign country, and then I remind myself that: 1) yes, this is still Japan; 2) yes, you really live here; and 3) yes, it’s really this awesome all the time, you lucky fool, you.

Things I would do differently if we didn’t live in a causally deterministic universe: If I could go back in time I would probably smack my college self upside the head for always sneaking out of Japanese class. It is very true that you can get by on no Japanese ability here, buuut… it really, really helps. So study up before getting here, or be prepared to study when you arrive.

Andrea DawnAndrea Dawn

Location and schools: I live in beautiful Tomioka City and work as an ALT at Tomioka East Junior High School.

From: I am a Canadian from the small town of Bonnyville, Alberta.

About me: I will be a 2nd year JET this August. My hobbies include snowboarding, sports in general, reading, and visiting friends.

I wish I had known: The importance of these two golden rules:

  1. ESID (Every Situation Is Different)This is soooo true. Whether it’s housing situations, holidays, school placements, or what your role is as an ALT, every situation is EXTREMELY different. For the sake of your own contentment, I’d suggest that you DON’T compare your situation with other JETs. For example, it can be difficult to find out that the JET in the next town gets their car and apartment paid for, while you need to pay for your own. However, this is just life on the JET Programme. And remember that you get paid as much or more than the Japanese teachers at your school and do about a third of the work they do. So we have a lot to be thankful for!
  2. TIJ (This Is Japan)You will need to be very flexible and patient while here in Japan. Since Japanese people value customs and tradition, some things may make little sense according to western logic. Remain open-minded and accepting. Also, some schools/boards of educations are infamous for neglecting to pass on information to their ALTs. Teachers may forget to inform you of the staff picture day or that you need to make a speech in front of the whole school. >.< Learning how to “go with the flow” is an essential skill for working happily in Japan.

Recommendations to new JETs:

  1. Make as many friends as you can. We all need a support network while we are away from home. Most of my best experiences in Japan have been weekend trips with my JET friends. We are lucky to have a lot of awesome, like-minded people here on the JET Programme, so join in with JET activities, reach out and connect!
  2. Study Japanese before you come. It will help you bond with your students, your teachers will appreciate your dedication, and your daily life will be a lot easier.
  3. Connect with your students. I applied for the JET Programme because I was interested in the Japanese language and culture. But I re-contracted because I can’t stand the thought of not seeing my students’ smiling, mischievous faces next year! Also, your teachers will respect and appreciate you so much more when they see how much you care about their students.

Favorite Japanese memories: Snowboarding in the various mountains in Gunma, Niigata, and Nagano this winter was absolutely amazing. However, the highlight of my Japan experience so far was the three-day school trip to Kyoto I went on with my grade nine students. Not only was it amazing to experience the beauty and history of Kyoto, but I really bonded with my students.

Favorite place in Japan: I am in love with the gondola-connected Kagura and Naeba mountains in Niigata Prefecture. If you like skiing/snowboarding, this is your paradise. Can’t wait ‘til next winter!

Tobu Reps: Ed Patout & Robin Stafford

—Chiyoda, Itakura, Kiryu, Meiwa, Midori, Oizumi, Ota, Oura and Tatebayashi.

Ed (Alicia) PatoutEd

Location and schools: Kiryu City, at Hirosawa Junior High and Hirosawa Elementary schools.

From: I am American, not to be confused with ‘Merican. I was born in Louisiana and went to high school in Texas, but I prefer Oregon where I went to university.

About me: This will be my fourth year on the JET Programme. I like coffee, cafés, conversation, and climbing mountains.

Recommendations: Ambulances in this country are inexpensive, so don’t be afraid to call one.

Robin StaffordRobin Stafford

Location and schools: Welcome to Gunma, new folks! Greetings to JETs, new and old! I’m a high school JET located in Kiryu City. I teach at Kiryu Girls High School and Kiryu Technical High School.

From: I’m originally from Texas, but before I came to Japan I lived in Georgia for seven years. In fact, I asked for Kiryu City when I applied for JET because it’s the sister city to Columbus, Georgia where I graduated from university.

About me: I’ve been in Japan for nearly four years, now. Kiryu has become my home away from home. I’ve dabbled in flower arrangement and calligraphy, and I am always eager to join friends for a round of karaoke!

I wish I had known: About a lot of little things. I did a lot of web searching beforehand, so I didn’t get a lot of big surprises. (One of the little things was how thermometers are used here. Hint: don’t put one in your mouth!)

Recommendations: I’d recommend to new JETs to come here with a decent nest egg, as you don’t know how your expenses are going to be until you’re actually here. Make sure to have some cash on hand too, unless you are sure you can access your bank from an ATM. Be frugal with the money you bring. There’s a lot of fun events to go to, but you should also take care of your needs, first. Also don’t feel compelled to buy everything your predecessor offers. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask your supervisors or JETs around you for help settling in, either. Finally, take it a little at a time. You will be overwhelmed, more than likely, but you can curb that to an extent with the right attitude.

Agatsuma Rep: Fitzgerard (Fitz) RestituyoFitz bio picture

—Higashi Agatsuma, Kuni-mura, Kusatsu, Naganohara, Nakanojo, Takayama and Tsumagoi.

Location and schools: I live in the very picturesque Kuni region of Nakanojo Town, located about 15 minutes from Kusatsu, considered by many to be Japan’s most famous onsen (hot spring) town. I primarily work at both the elementary and junior high school in Kuni, as well as one elementary and one junior high school near the Shima region.

About me: I was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Bronx, New Yorkhome of the New York Yankees! I will be starting my fifth year with JET. My hobbies include travelling, playing taiko (Japanese style) drums, watching anime, and hanging out with Gunma JETs and the broader community.

Favorite place in Gunma: Not to sound cocky, but my favorite place is located in my own community. 🙂 It’s a river onsen called Shiriaki Onsen, (and I’m not kidding here) and is roughly translated as Butt Burning Hot Spring 🙂 But it’s not as hot as it may sound.

I wish I had known: How cold the gymnasiums can get during graduation ceremony and how many times a day I would have to change my sneakers at school. I also wish I had known how my afro would become a blessing and a curse… but mostly a blessing. 😉

Recommendations: Make the most of your time in Japan. At the end of the day, your JET experience is for you to make.

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