Archive | August, 2013

Gunma Orientation, round two!

18 Aug

ImageLast year, I was a first-year JET participant, and as a result, was required to go to the prefectural orientation at Gunma’s prefectural office in the capital city, Maebashi.  This year, however, I went back again as a volunteer, helping to organize the orientation as a member of the Gunma Orientation Committee.  This means I helped to organize the schedule, give informational presentations, answer any questions the new JETs had, generally show them around, set up, and clean up the orientation.  It was a lot of work and was absolutely exhausting, but it was also a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed helping the new people and trying to make the orientation as useful and not-overwhelming as possible… and hey, I got to see Gunma’s prefectural mascot, Gunma-chan, too!

ImageBasically, the orientation was a series of presentations
on the first day, followed by Q&A from an anonymous box and then a “party” in the evening in the prefectural office basement cafeteria hosted by the education division.  There was food and drinks, as well as a few speeches and an opportunity to sign up for Gunma tourism emails and talk to various Japanese workers in the prefectural education division.  Afterwards, the JET association hosted karaoke parties, but I was far too exhausted after a day of moving things, running around the prefectural office building, and giving presentations.

ImageThe second day was a few more presentations, followed by a series of workshops.  The new JETs could be pick two between options like “Fun in Gunma” and “Special Dietary Needs.”  I presented on “Modern Pop Culture” and while sadly, there wasn’t a large turnout, I had a really good time talking about the things that I enjoy!  I hope that maybe I can be involved in the committee again next year, and that I can do a better job advertising it so that more people will choose to come.

ImageAfter the workshops was lunch, and then after that, there were cultural workshops! I was an assistant for the karate workshop, so I got to watch the karate classes, as well as the demonstrations that the teachers did.  They broke a lot of boards, which was really impressive, and did some sets of karate movements, as well.  To me, that was almost more impressive, because you could see how much technique and practice was involved in their precise movements.  They also taught the JETs to punch a hole in a newspaper, among other things, and it was fun to watch them learn and succeed.

ImageAfter the cultural workshops, there were some meetings between regional
representatives and the new JETs living in those areas, and then more Q&A from the box.  And then that was the end! We sent the new JETs on their way before cleaning up all the posters and decorations.  I was exhausted by the time we were done, but it was a really rewarding experience, and I hope that I can be involved again next year!

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A festive(al) occasion

7 Aug

ImageDespite spending the end of the JET-contract-year doing essentially nothing, it’s come to be that time of the year again for Kiryu’s annual Kiryu Yagibushi Matsuri! I wrote about this once before on my blog, but just as I thought, it was much more enjoyable this year, now that I’m familiar with my town, my students and the other JETs in my area. Also, this year was the 50th anniversary of the matsuri, so it was especially festive and crowded!  I saw tons of my students, got to eat tons of delicious fried foods, spent time with my fellow ALTs, and even tried a little dancing!

ImageI don’t think I explained this before, but the main focus of Kiryu’s annual matsuri (festival) is the local traditional
Yagibushi
dance.  While the stalls lining the streets offering foods and games for kids such as fish-catching and target-shooting, the people dressed in yukata (Japanese cotton summer kimono), and the lanterns lining the streets are common practice for matsuri, the special element of Kiryu’s matsuri is the groups of people doing the Yagibushi dance together in the main square.  ImageAround town, there are large platforms decorated with lanterns on which musicians and singers stand make music, and many of these feature various forms of trained traditional dancers or performers.  However, in the main square, the musicians are there to provide musical accompaniment for the main attraction.  Volunteers dressed up for the matsuri (including, this year, my hairdresser!) stay and do the Yagibushi dance around this main platform, but the majority of the dancers are not trained performers but regular visitors to the matsuri who join in the yagibushi dance.
Last year, I was brand new to Kiryu, still in a daze of jetlag, completely unaware of my surroundings, and generally lost in the crowd and excitement of the matsuri. This year, however, I was much better prepared.  Decked out in my yukata, I was ready to take on the matsuri after a year of getting to know Kiryu and its inhabitants, and so when many of the other ALTs decided to try dancing, I decided to be adventurous went along.  After 18 years of classical ballet training, I’m pretty good at picking up dance steps on the fly, and so after a few fumbling attempts, I began to get the hang of the dance. I’m sure I did it like a ballerina and not at all like I knew the correct form, but half the people around me were drunk, so I don’t think I stood out too much!  It was really great to participate in a tradition unique to my town after a year of settling in.
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ImageI did enjoy some of the things I had enjoyed last year, as well, however.  The decorations this year seemed even more extravagant and colorful this year than they did last year, and I was impressed by how much work seemed to have gone into preparing them.  Additionally, I highly enjoyed the wide variety of unhealthy foods for sale, and indulged in karaage (small bits of fried chicken), kakigoori (crushed ice with flavored syrup), french fries, and nikumaki onigiri, a delicious invention that I discovered last year which is essentially a ball of rice wrapped in bacon and covered in sauce and a topping of  choice (options included cheese, Japanese chives, sesame seeds, and kimchi).  I tried some of my friends’ foods, as well, and even got handed a free chocobanana (banana dipped in chocolate) at the end of the night by someone trying to get rid of the food they had left over!
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ImageThere were also a variety of performances throughout the evening, though sadly, since I didn’t know when and where things were happening, I missed most of them.  Apparently, there’s always a big fancy parade on Sunday afternoon, so I hope to check that out next year! There were also dance performances by various groups, including a group of workers from city hall (where I go for my monthly  meetings and such; I’m technically employed by the city), classes from a local culture center, and more!  Now that I know how many performances there are to see, next year, hopefully I can try to catch more of them next year!
However, despite all the sights and foods, the matsuri ended on a bit of a sad note for me. Since ALTs change in the summer, any ALTs from the previous year who had decided not to renew their contracts were leaving after the matsuri ended. I’m happy that I got to spend time with them at the matsuri, but it’s sad to know that we only had one short year together, and now they’re leaving. I’m going to miss them, but I’m wishing them well in all their future endeavors! Two of the four leaving JETs have gotten jobs in Tokyo, so I hope that this isn’t goodbye.
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And the matsuri wasn’t all about partings. Three of the new ALTs came as well, so I got a first chance to meet the new people with whom I’ll be working for the next year. I’m looking forward to getting to know them better. Additionally, I ran into various of my students, many of whom greeted me happily and excitedly. It was really great to see them and to know they were happy to see me, and some of them even complimented my yukata! I hope that next year’s matsuri will bring as many smiling faces as this one.