So, there’s a giant goddess statue (Byakue Dai-Kannon) on one of the mountains in Takasaki. There is a festival every year called the candlelight festival. I’m not really sure of the cultural significance of the festival, to be honest. Here are some pictures and videos of the festivities:
In addition to the beautiful candles, there were some awesome performances as well:
I’m really sad, because I didn’t film the one dance with swords, but there were too many people sitting in front of me. The performers were absolutely amazing!
The first day of Gunma orientation was fun, but much like Tokyo orientation, it was a very tight and tiring schedule; full of great and useful information, a percentage of which I’m sure I absorbed. It was mostly the highlights of a helpful handbook distributed by the hardworking PA team and senpai JETs at Kencho (the prefectural office that is in charge of all of us). Besides the common refrain of ESID , “it’s in the handbook” was often spoken with the same energy as a wearied college professor pointing to the syllabus.
After the first day of orientation including a (mandatory fun) welcome reception, we were invited to go to karaoke. After getting back to the hotel, I really did not want to go back out, but seeing as I had already paid for it, I just decided to go, at least for an hour or two. The problem with karaoke is that I frigging love karaoke, so I ended up staying just until they kicked us out. While I swore up and down that I wasn’t drunk (I only had two beers during karaoke), I did find myself in a McDonalds with a bunch of UK JETs and one other American JET arguing about Oscar Wilde, the symbolic gender and sexuality of a hot dog, and declaring my undying love for Japanese apple juice.
Eye of the Storm
A few weeks ago, on the first morning I was in Tokyo for orientation, I completely missed breakfast (for various reasons). The schedule was gruelling and I ended up chugging a canned coffee and scarfing down a chocolate bar. Predictably, the day did not go too well for me. So for these last two days, for this second, prefectural-based orientation, I wanted to make sure I had a proper breakfast and was prepared for the day. I was one of the first people to show up for breakfast.
I found a cozy corner that looked out over the street as it rained like hell. This was such a great moment of stillness for me that I was thinking of other moments in time when I had this kind of feeling of Hygge(a coziness of the soul from a simple routine thing or habit); jumping over flooded curbs with my husband in North Hollywood to go to breakfast with my brother and his wife; eating a full British breakfast in Temple Bar in Dublin with my best friend after a wild night on the town, giggling about all of our misdeeds; breakfast after a vigorous morning hike with friends; going to IHOP with my grandpa to play card games; or maybe just drinking coffee while listening to an Australian with a guilty conscience tell me about a truth-or-dare game gone too far.
Into the Storm
After a delicious breakfast and talking with a friend, we decided to go down to the lobby because we needed to start walking over for the second day of orientation. The trip to Kencho is about 15-20 minutes depending on how fast you walk. The only problem was, it started pouring outside. Earlier in the morning, I lent an umbrella to one of the senpai JETs who had to run over to Kencho. The senpai JETs were trying to organize a taxi caravan for us, but suddenly, the rain lightened, and many of decided to take our chances by walking because we were still waiting on payday, and some of us (myself included) had to pay for travel and boarding costs upfront for this orientation. About 5 minutes into the walk, the rain started coming down again. I was sharing an umbrella with my friend, who needed to stop to adjust her sock. Just as we were ready to start walking again, a senpai JET in an old car emerges from a parking lot and asked us if we needed a ride. What a stroke of luck!
The Alpha and Omega
After a long two days of orientation, we got to meet our lord and savior,Gunma-chan, a cute horse that looks like a hamster that is also the mascot of all of Gunma. He is one of the top cutest mascots of all Japan. Resistance to his cult of personality is futile, as his image is everywhere. In the end, you too will declare your love for Gunma-chan. In our photo-op with Gunma-chan, the Takasaki JETs immediately created a gang sign in a display of dominance over the other cities.
Thanks for reading my blog! Please feel free to comment on my blog any questions you may have or anything you would like me to write about.
If you are interested in the beginning of my JET journey, see the links below:
This week has been a period of trying to get the basics of survival down: what do I need to live and what do I need to work.
(ATSUI DESU NE: It’s hot, isn’t it? )
Last week,Japan experienced a heat wave that left many people dead. I’ve been resorting to freezing water bottles before I go to work and spending money on sports drinks from various vending machines. This has also been an excuse for eating copious amounts of ice cream. I’ve been trying to get my hands on somecool biz clothes , but finding clothes in my size (US XL) has been a challenge so far. I have to special order from Uniqlo as I am a XXXL in Japan. Luckily, this week, in comparison, has been more livable temperature-wise.
(Bike parking garage)
My landlady gave me the keys to a bike. I was very grateful to finally be able to transport things in my bike basket, rather than trudging around in the heat with 50lbs in my backpack. It has improved my life dramatically because of its hauling capacity: some of the first things I bought for my apartment was a coffee maker, some towels, and a sharp knife. Biking is a legitimate mode of transportation, and on the streets here in Takasaki there are designated bike lanes on all the major sidewalks, and dedicated bike parking just about anywhere. There are even bike pumps available free to use at some bike shops.
(Garden at the station)
The station where I get off to go to work is really adorable. It’s out in a more rural area, so it’s surrounded by a small town and farmland. On the way there, in the rice paddies, I see very distinctly white cranes stalking through the paddies probably looking for some delicious breakfast. There’s an older lady that works at this small station that is just sweet as can be. She doesn’t speak any English, but she definitely has a strong mom-vibe and even has a small garden by the tracks which is really lovely.
I’ll be writing another post next week, so stay tuned for more updates!
It’s always hard to close one chapter of your life and be prepared for the next one. I feel like I had just gotten settled into my new apartment in North Hollywood when it was time to go. Leaving for Japan was bittersweet and different the last time I went to go live abroad for an extended period of time. When I was 22, I was unattached and also clueless about a lot of life skills necessary to be a fully functioning adult. Eight years later, and my situation is completely different: leaving behind my little urban life and my loved ones.
Orientation was jam packed with seminars and useful information. I didn’t really sleep the first three days because my room-mate snored horribly, so I was basically wandering around the hotel at odd hours of the night and slowly descending into delirium. I met a lot of interesting people during meal times but I never actually made it out to explore Tokyo as I got sick from some combination of lack of sleep, jet lag, and mingling with people from all over the world.
Wednesday was also jam packed: After a bus ride to Gunma, I got to meet with the Japanese English teachers that I would be working with; they are the sweetest people! They drove me to city hall to do some paperwork, then to get my bank account, next to grab my luggage from the high school and introduce me to the principal and vice principal, then finally to my apartment in Takasaki. My landlady took pity on me, as I had been blowing my nose all day and probably looked like the walking dead, and drove me to the store to get some groceries and some medicine. Finally, I got to sleep. Glorious sleep! The next day, my predecessor helped me get on the train to my high school. I came home, went to sleep at 8pm. On Friday, I introduced myself in the limited Japanese that I have to all of the teachers at my high school. I have to give a speech in Japanese during my appointment ceremony and also during the larger school ceremony later.
Finally, on Saturday, I was feeling well enough to go out and explore. Saturday also happened to be the time that the Takasaki Matsuri festival was happening. I decided to try to meet up with some other JETs and watch the fireworks. I got lost along the way, but ended up getting some awesome pictures of some taiko drummers:
Earlier this year, I was accepted to participate in the JET programme. After what felt like an eon, I got my placement: Gunma prefecture. If you’re like me and don’t know a lot about Japan, you probably thought the same thing: “Where’s that?”
This was quickly followed by a google search and a fast and furious reading of the wikipedia page for Gunma. Capital city: Maebashi. A mountainous region once known for horsebreeding. It’s main economy is boostered by agriculture(konjacs and cabbages), silk farming, and car manufacturing.
I later found out that I would be placed in Takasaki city. A city famous for the Daruma doll.
My placement is not a big city like Tokyo, but more rural. As I am currently living in North Hollywood near LA, I’m definitely ready for a change of pace.
I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m scared. This is something I’ve been working towards since I was still in Italy trying to figure out how I could live and work abroad. Living abroad was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. I can’t wait to do it all over again.
I will be sure to set my goals and intentions in a following blog post.