8:10 to Maebashi

20 Aug

ImageLike American states, Japanese prefectures (or todofuken; for some reason, Tokyo is designated by the ending “to,” Kyoto and Osaka by the ending “fu,” and to “do” in Hokkaido is technically its suffix designating it as a prefecture, while all other prefectures are “ken,” as in “Gunma-ken”) have capital cities.  Some, like in America, follow the ever-so-clever model of same naming; the capital of Kyoto Prefecture is, as you might have guessed, Kyoto City.  However, the capital of Gunma is a city called Maebashi, and it is here that the prefectural office buildings are.  Therefore, it was Maebashi that hosted the 2012 Gunma JET’s prefectural orientation.

ImageOrientation started at 9 am, and it’s about a 20-30 minute train ride from Kiryu to Maebashi, so as a result, my fellow Kiryu-ites and I were forced to get up quite early to catch a train there to make it in time.  Luckily, all of the new Kiryu ALTs are quite friendly, and so it was a generally enjoyable ride for one at 8 am.  We caught a cab to the prefectural office or kencho and were ushered to the 29th floor where orientation was to be held.  Unfortunately, since Japan is still in energy-saving mode after the earthquake and tsunami disaster last March, there was no air conditioning in the halls and very little in the meeting rooms, and so it was a very hot time on the 29th floor.  However, since we were so high up, the view of Maebashi was really amazing.  Despite being a bit obscure and out of the way, Gunma really is a beautiful place.

Once orientation had started, some of the chairs from the prefectural education office spoke, and then we had a special visit… from Gunma-chan, the 7-year-old pony mascot of Gunma!  Gunma-chan is basically the most adorable thing ever (Hello Kitty has nothing on Gunma-chan), and we all got to take a photo with him if we wanted.  The crowd was huge (there were about 40 new Gunma JETs) so our little group of five took a photo together.  Seeing as we were all sleep-deprived and tired, we don’t exactly look amazing, but Gunma-chan is a work of art!

As to be expected of an orientation, Gunma orientation was long and filled with a lot of information and handout papers, but I managed to stay awake and alert for the first day and the reception that followed.  We stayed the night in a hotel in Maebashi, and S and I caught a variety show featuring Arashi, a band under Johnny’s Entertainment that we like a lot.  However, because we’re really cool kids (or perhaps because we were exhausted), we went to bed at 11 pm, and even my chronic insomniac self was able to sleep right away.

ImageThe next day was day two of orientation, and after a few more panels, we got to do culture workshops!  I discovered that I’m bad at the shamisen, a Japanese instrument usually described as a 3-stringed fretless guitar, and the koto, another stringed instrument with 13 strings that’s quite long and played laying in front of the player, but the last workshop I went to was for shodo, or Japanese calligraphy.  They gave us a demonstration, some time to practice, and an uchiwa and some paper, and then let us make our own fan.  Mine came out… artistically different… but it was a fun thing to do after a lot of serious panels warning us against the dangers of cockroaches and incorrect tax filing.  The kanji written on it is matsu, Japanese for pine tree, and is signed at the bottom with the kanji for my last name (since I’m half-Chinese, I happen to be lucky enough to have a kanji for my name, despite it not being a common Japanese kanji).  Despite all the uchiwa-making I’ve been doing in the past few weeks, this was a new experience, and I really enjoyed it!  Even if my calligraphy skills leave some room for improvement…
ImageFinally, at the end of the day, there was a raffle for Gunma-chan goods!  Everyone was asked to fill out a survey about orientation, and as a reward, we got a Gunma-chan clear file folder and a raffle ticket to win one of 10 fabulous Gunma-chan prizes!  I usually have bad luck at these things, but I did manage to win a small Gunma-chan towel!  It’s adorable and says “there’s no place like Gunma” on it, and I think it’s awesome.
After the raffle, we all finally got to head home, but a few of the other Kiryu people and I stopped on the way to do karaoke and then grab food at our local Denny’s (different in Japan than in America!) before braving the rain that had started and heading home for the night.  All in all, despite how long and tiring it was, Maebashi orientation wrapped up with a really fun experience, and I can’t wait to hang out more with the new JETs in Kiryu!

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