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: 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!

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

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