Take Me Home, Country Roads. Gunma Edition.

I’ve been pretty busy for the last two weeks, trying to adjust to my new teaching schedule! This is a long weekend with Respect for the Aged day on Monday!

Running in the 90s

Three days ago, I got a car from the mythical figure ebachan. I specifically asked for a turbo charged kei car, so I could go explore the mountains of Gunma.

He gave me a list of warnings, since many ALTs tend to wreck his cars in various and interesting ways, most having to do with the fact that Japan drives on the opposite side of the road compared to certain other English speaking countries like America. I assured him that I’d been driving since I was 15. In the 15 years that I’ve been driving, I have only been in a handful of accidents. I had also just recently been living in North Hollywood, with some of the most aggressive drivers I have ever experienced. LA traffic is no joke. (Actual footage of rush hour in LA.)

I took my car out the first night to get a feel for the controls. My JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) assured me that Japanese people rarely honk. I tried to go down a narrow road in my neighborhood, but another car was on the other side, so I backed up, and as I was doing so, she honked at me. I was immediately furious. I was later introduced to the idea that there is such a foreign concept as a thank you honk. In fact, many Japanese drivers will hit their hazards for a second to say thank you as well. 

Take Me Home, Country Roads

I’ve also had a fascination with Shimonita, since it is at the other end of the private train which I used to take to go to my school. It is also deep inakaI’ve been planning on visiting my friends from Shimonita ever since I met them at the Tomioka dinner last month. I told some of my JTEs that I was going to Shimonita for the long weekend and they said, “Why?”

With my new turbo kei-car, I decided to head out early in the morning, excited to drive those country roads. I discovered quickly that my radio’s volume button was broken, so I ended up singing acapella Country Roads until I remembered I have a phone that can also play music. I finally arrived to Shimonita and was amazed at the beauty of the town.

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Vibrations Table Finally Music Festival

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From the website:

It is event running plan by volunteer led by the cause of concept, “oscillation (vibration) will do peaceful music by outdoor festival of no charge for admission to be able to enjoy from hill (table) where green of Shimonita is rich” in, local volunteers both children and adults.

The Vibrations Table Finally music festival was totally free! Apparently, I hit the 10th anniversary show. Of course, I had to buy a shirt.

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They had some awesome bands. My Shimonita friends were working different booths. Other ALTs also made an appearance.

I spent a good chunk of the day just chilling in the shade, drawing random people and musicians. I wish I had done more sketches! I miss life drawing, so this was a fun way to shake off the rust after so long!

Here are some:

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JET Programme: In Pursuit of Golden Cabbages

In a truly international event, I went with some other JETs to see an Argentinian film about a beautiful and notorious serial killer. The movie was in Spanish with Japanese subtitles, and I wanted to test the theory that my Italian skills would help me understand most of what I was watching. I understood about 70% of what was going on in the movie, which was refreshing, considering I understand about 1% of the Japanese that is spoken around me.

After the movie, we went to a curry place, which happened to have a 100 yen fortune telling dispenser. I couldn’t resist, so I picked up. In America, usually fortunes are mindless platitudes that could apply to just about everyone’s life. This is apparently not the case in Japan, where there are different types of fortunes ranging from positive to absolutely catastrophic.

Mine happened to be a mixed fortune, which one of the Japanese proficient JETs happened to beautifully translate for me on the spot. Here’s the less beautiful google translation:

The fortunes are upside down and disasters occur from heaven.  The problem that must be cleared up is likely to be exposed to a harsh environment where you look up heaven unintentionally as you pile up or get sick.  However, since it is time to learn about the kindness of a person, you can ask for help from someone without reluctance.  You can survive by doing so.  Don’t forget to thank for your daily relationships.  Health … I worry about cholesterol.  Try to reduce it.  Tomorrow’s fortune tomorrow today … If you have a taste for the hobby of your favorite person, GOO!  Money luck … Don’t carry more cash or cards than you need.  Lucky number 3.7+ color … orange ..

I’m not very superstitious, and I believe that we make our own fortunes in this world, but there are many things beyond our control. So, I bought some orange and blue pajamas for good luck. Hilariously, pursuing a hobby of my favorite person would mean getting into Classic WOW. I hate the art style of WOW, but I think I will try it out for at least a month…. maybe more in the winter months. As for relationships, I’m trying my best to reach out and make connections and friends in order to have some kind of support network. I couldn’t help but think of the Twilight Zone episode with a young (beautiful) William Shatner when I got this fortune.

This weekend was the annual Gunma Games, in which the four regions of Gunma competed for the glory of the golden cabbage. The lead up to these games also started a meme war on the event page. Initiated by a one man meme machine, Mr. Aidan from Tobu(green team), in a frenzied late-night mania, posted several memes to the Gunma ALT group facebook page. Some of the best memes:

In response to the late night night meme flurry, another ALT posted this.

The memes started to take it up a notch:

There were wholesome memes, too.

This dank meme battle set the tone for Saturday, as it mostly set people against the whole Tobu team. There were many defectors (read: traitors) from Seibu, to other regions, as other regions have fewer ALTs, thus recruit ALTs from the most populous region. There were many games, many of them cabbage themed (as this is what Gunma is known for).

I participated in the cabbage toss, in which you must YEET the cabbage the farthest in order to win. I felt confident in my strength ( it was a man/woman team for each region). While I used a football throw technique for the cabbage, Tobu team used an underhand throw which ultimately won them the cabbage toss game.

My back was in kind of weird way, so I decided not to fully jump into more of the physically challenging games. My friend that was holding the flag wanted to jump into the balloon stomp game (think N64 Mariokart battle mode), so I volunteered to hold the flag.

Derping with the flag

This violent flag filled me with patriotism and bloodlust for the glory of Seibu! I noticed many of the Seibu spectators were not gathering around the balloon stomp game to support our troops, so I called people over. The balloon stomp game was absolutely electric! Twists and turns! Trying to guard your balloon, whilst also trying to stomp out another’s! At the very end, in incredible show of athleticism, one of the Seibu players cartwheeled backwards to avoid getting stomped out, which left many in the crowd shooketh to the core. My friend managed to get the winning stomp in and everyone went absolutely bonkers on team Seibu after that.

After a full day of games, we waited as they tallied up the scores. In dead last, was Tobu, which most everybody felt happy about, because of the meme war. Seibu was crowned victorious!

All Glory to the Golden Cabbage!

Update: Mr. Aidan has also posted his version of the Games events.

Had many fun adventures this week! Tune in next time for more or check out my old posts:

JET Programme: Cats & Mall Rats

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

JET Programme Week 3: Orientation 2: Electric Boogaloo

JET Program Week 2: Getting into the Groove

JET Programme: First Week

JET Programme: Cats & Mall Rats

I’ve been in Japan for almost a month now! Amazing! I feel like I’m finally getting settled in, and eager to explore more of the places around me. It was a busy week for trying new things:

Mall Rat

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Me to culture shock:

I’ve been taking more time to do self-care and treat myself to things, to counteract the emotional rollercoaster of living in a new country separate from loved ones. Takasaki Station itself is attached to the Montres mall, and a 5 minute walk will also bring you to OPA mall. After work, I have been starting to explore these malls, and there are a lot of awesome shops (particularly clothing shops)! In the highest irony, as American malls are dying, I am quickly becoming a mall rat in Japan.

Moff Animal Cafe

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Cat shelves

The Moff Cat Cafe in the OPA mall was super cute. I was feeling bummed about something or other, so I decided to spend the money and go pet some cats. Moff cat cafe boasts many cats and apparently one ferret (which I did not see). Most of the cats were chilling or sleeping. Obviously, these cats are very accustomed to humans. They didn’t even raise their heads as I approached them. As I pspspsps‘d to one of the cats, it hit me with a stare a la Manet’s Olympia.  A knowing and indifferent stare, I am just one customer of many customers before and many to come after.

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Some of the other cats were more energetic. There was a Bengal-type cat that was jumping around everywhere. There was a little kid playing with the cat and it was super cute.

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In addition to cat cafes, there are also just a bunch of feral cats that roam the city and countryside.

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This has been an eventful week, so I will be posting more blogs this week centered around different topics.

Here’s a bonus picture regarding cats, in case you don’t want them around your house (the feral cats here are super vocal) or jumping on your counters, I have a product for you: Don’t cat!

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Please feel free to comment or share my blog with others. If there’s anything in particular you would like me to write about, please reach out to me!

Till next time!

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.