The Mandoue (万灯会) Candlelight Festival on Kannon-yama

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!

Other Jet Related Posts:

JET Programme: First Week

JET Program Week 2: Getting into the Groove

JET Programme Week 3: Orientation 2: Electric Boogaloo

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JET Programme Week 3: Orientation 2: Electric Boogaloo

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.

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“It’s in 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.

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Nectar of the GODS

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.

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(Breakfast at the Sakura Hotel in Maebashi for the second day of orientation)

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.

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Dublin. 2012. Truly, the breakfast of champions.

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

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O captain! My captain!

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. 

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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:

30 Days til Departure (JET Programme)

JET Programme: First Week

JET Program Week 2: Getting into the Groove

My Favorite Artists Through History – Yayoi Kusama

JET Program Week 2: Getting into the Groove

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.

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(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 some cool 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. 

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(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.

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(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!

JET Programme 2019:

JET Programme: First Week

30 Days til Departure (JET Programme)

Japanese Language Learning:

Introducing Myself in Japanese

30 Days til Departure (JET Programme)

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?”
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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.

My Favorite Artists Through History – Yayoi Kusama

I remember walking into a hallways with her giant paintings and immediately feeling overwhelmed with emotion.

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Who is she?

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation, but is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. (Via Wikipedia)

Why I love her:

I had never even heard of Kusama until I was visiting the Pompidou in Paris where they were exhibiting a retrospective of her artwork. I remember walking into a hallways with her giant paintings and immediately feeling overwhelmed with emotion. It’s hard to say what sort of emotion: somewhere between feeling small and lost in a colorful polka dot void. Rarely do I have such a visceral reaction to paintings, but that emotion has stuck with me for a long time. Her installations are equally powerful. She transforms spaces into a weird mind-bending alternate dimensions that displace the viewer (in a good way).

I really hope that someday I will be able to see her Infinity Mirror Room collection at the Broad in Los Angeles. When I went soon after the Broad’s opening, the wait time to go into the room was over 5 hours. Not going to lie, it made me very sad, but at the same time, I’m really glad that so many people will be introduced to this amazing artist. The Infinity Mirror Room is also a great place for people to take art selfies, which adds another layer and complexity to the public’s art appreciation. This is particularly interesting to me as Kusama’s work is about self-obliteration and very much anti-ego. This interplay of social media best virtual self and artwork with the opposite in mind is very intriguing to me.

More Artwork:

Favorite Artists Through History- Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo is one of my favorite artists not only for her amazing use of color in her paintings, but also for her life story and determination.

Born to a German father and a mestiza mother, Kahlo spent most of her childhood and adult life at her family home in CoyoacánLa Casa Azul, now known and publicly accessible as the Frida Kahlo Museum. She was disabled by polio as a child. Until a traffic accident at age eighteen caused lifelong pain and medical problems, she had been a promising student headed for medical school. During her recovery, she returned to her childhood hobby of art with the idea of becoming an artist. (From Wikipedia)

Kahlo is known for her self-portraits (much like Rembrandt). However, unlike other artists, she expresses her inner turmoil through more poetic painting through iconography rather than dramatic lighting.

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The Two Fridas (1939)

My Favorite Paintings: