Goodbye Tokyo, hello Gunma!

8 Aug

goodbye, Tokyo!After two long days of lectures and panels, Tokyo Orientation for Group A wrapped up on August 1st.  We were given locations and times to meet up with our prefectural compatriots to board whatever mode of transportation we were to take to our new homes; for most groups, this was around 8:30 am (though I was told those heading to Shiga met at 5 am to be taken to the airport… that’s rough!) It was at this time that I was forced to say goodbye to all the new people I had met at Tokyo Orientation (one of the high points of the whole experience, honestly, was meeting new JETs from all over the world headed to all over Japan) and especially to my friend J, who had traveled from New York along with S and I.  We hung around our meeting point for a half hour (it turned out they told us 8:30 for a 9 am departure because they didn’t trust us not to be late…) before we were shepherded away to another chartered bus, this time set for the Gunma prefectural office in Maebashi!

but the chandeliers don't help me if I want a cup holder...The bus we had taken from the airport was an “Airport Limousine” bus; this company runs a regular service from Narita into Tokyo, but presumably JET was able to specially charter busses specifically for their participants.  As a result, the bus was much nicer than busses I’ve taken in Japan in the past.  However, the bus we took to Gunma was interesting to say the least; it was equipped with elaborate decorations including chandeliers and had a high-quality stereo system, but had no bathrooms and very small tray tables.  Essentially, it seemed like a nicer version of the horrible night bus I took from Nagoya to Tokyo two years ago, and it left me wondering why one wouldn’t choose a bathroom over nice speakers on a bus intended for travelling long distances.  However, the lack of bathroom does always lead to the exciting experience of Japanese rest stops, which are similar to their Western counterparts, only with nicer omiyage (souvenirs brought back to be obligationally to one’s boss/coworkers from trips, usually regional sweets or snacks) in addition to the cheap tchotchkes and t-shirts and keychains and the like.

scenic SaitamaAfter about two and a half hours of Saitama rice fields, we finally made it to Gunma!  The first defining feature that I noticed were the mountains– Delaware has none, but Gunma is full of them!  I’m aware that mountains can be seen in the US, and in fact, I’ve seen mountains in the US, but there was something about seeing them all around that really struck me.  While I was well aware that there as much more to Japan than the Tokyo urban sprawl and have visited a variety of locations in south-western Japan, the sight of my new home reminded me of how different this experience would be from my previous time in Japan.  I was ready for the challenge… but I was also incredibly tired and hot, and walking around in the scalding 37º weather in a suit carrying two heavy bags distracted me at that point from too much waxing eloquent on my feelings about my current situation.

Hello, Gunma!We dumped our bags at the Gunma prefectural office before getting lunch at the cafeteria there.  It was so hot that nothing sounded appealing, so I ate a mini curry (luckily, curry seems to often come in a smaller size, since full size curry entrees in Japan seem to always be gigantic) before heading back to a large assembly room where the Gunma welcome ceremony began.

Much less formal than the Tokyo Orientation opening ceremony, the Gunma version featured brief remarks from important JET-related government workers before each JET was introduced formally to his or her Board of Education supervisor.  It was a little alarming to be told during the ceremony that we were expected to stand up and greet our supervisors in front of everyone, but it wasn’t too bad.  My supervisor, with whom I had been emailing for the past few weeks about what would happen once I arrived in Gunma, is a very nice middle-aged man with good English, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the future.

so many mountains!After the ceremony, we hopped in a Kiryu Board of Education van to head to our new home city!  Along with our supervisor was a current ALT to help us out, and they were both very nice.  We first headed to the shiyakusho or city office to fill out some forms having to do with our residence papers– Japan recently switched its resident registration system from a separate “Alien Registration Card” category specifically for non Japanese citizens to one category, allowing both Japanese citizens and non Japanese citizens to have a zairyu or resident card.  Essentially, the policy has become less exclusionary and allows foreign residents in Japan to enjoy more benefits of the Japanese government, but because the system had changed so recently, we were not able to get zairyu cards at the airport like new foreign residents will in the future.  Instead, we were given a stamp in our passport that established us as legal residents but was not sufficient to get us anything requiring proof of residency, such as a cell phone or internet service.  But once we had finished the required paperwork, we were at leas assured that our zairyu cards would be in the mail soon, and so then, we set out to do some quick shopping for anything necessary for our first night in our new apartments.

luckily Kiryu is in a valley, so I don't have to hike to work...It was hard doing any significant amount of shopping ① while jet lagged and ② having never seen our apartments before, but I managed to at least grab some towels and shampoo for my shower and food for dinner and breakfast before we were delivered home.  My place was incredibly steamy after a week without a resident (since my predecessor had to move out and was also due at Tokyo Orientation since she became a CIR after leaving her job as an ALT) but once the AC was on and I had a few fans going, it became a more comfortable temperature, and I was glad to see my predecessor had left me sheets and a pillow for my first night.  It would take a lot of organizing and rearranging before the place would feel like home for me… but at the moment, I didn’t have the energy to do anything but shower and get to bed. It was the end of a very long day of travelling, and despite usually being quite the insomniac, I had no trouble getting to sleep that night!

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