Last July, the movie version of "You Don't Know Gunma Yet (お前はまだグンマを知らない; omae wa Gunma o shiranai) went nationwide in Japan, following a preview launch in Gunma the previous Saturday. In April, the animated version of this popular manga also started airing on Japanese TV. (If you live outside of Japan, you can catch it on Crunchyroll!)
For those who don’t know Gunma (no one does), it is an average sized prefecture right in the center of Japan. With a population of about 2 million and about an hour and a half from Tokyo, you’d expect it to be a cosmopolitan or at least an up-and-coming, happening sort of place, a suburban district in its own right.
(EN) Link: Wikipedia page on Gunma prefecture
Gunma Prefecture - Wikipedia
It is in fact a bit of a national joke. I don’t know whether it’s because it is such a rural place, locked in on all sides by mountains, that it’s developed its own oddities, but it really does do things a bit differently. Rural Japanese communities may occupy the same crowded landmass as the cities, but they seem a million miles apart. (Or, as one Crunchyroll commentator put it: "So it's the New Jersey of Japan?")
The comic starts out with the hero of the story moving from beautiful Chiba to Gunma. He speaks to an old friend who warns him to stay away: “There is no one that’s come to Gunma and left alive”. Background pictures depict wild cannibals with references to it being the last undiscovered place on earth. A place that time forgot.
I grew up in Gunma, well and truly shielded from the rest of the world (both metaphorically and literally by the mountains), so I had absolutely no idea of Gunma’s reputation, believe it or not, until 15 years after having left. It was once I was working with other Japanese people in London that I realized my proud announcement that 'I grew up in Gunma' was always followed by a pause, stifled (or sometimes even overt) laughter, and the inevitable response: "Gunma!?"".
Gunma’s peculiarities observed in the comic are impressive – The kind of things that if you grew up in Gunma, you wouldn’t know that they were peculiarities! He observes that all the teams on sports days in Gunma are named after the local mountains (in the rest of the country, they have a red team and a white team). There is also of course the Gunma version of a national card game – the Karuta (カルタ)- featuring pictures and words of Gunma scenery and "culture" (the rest of Japan use a more standard version apparently!). Also, the daily call out in a class room to "Stand, stand straight, bow" for some bizarre reason, in Gunma universally is "stand, FOCUS, bow", much to the bemused amusement of the readers.
The manga's author is a talented writer with great observation skills. The book went from strength to strength, and it’s even been given its own abbreviated version. The Japanese love to combine two words into one, with words such as famicon (“family computer”), pokemon ("pocket monsters") and the favourite in our house, remocon (“remote control”), becoming part of the Japanese daily lexicon. And now, "Omagun" is available to enjoy in live action or animated form.
(JP) Link: Official website for 「お前はまだグンマを知らない」(“You Don’t Know Gunma Yet”) - The Anime
Emma holds an MA in Advanced Japanese Studies from Sheffield University. The child of a Japanese mother, Emma grew up in Japan as well as England, and is fully fluent in both Japanese and English. Emma contributes essays based on her experiences growing up as a child of two cultures.
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