Jul 3


JET Return on Investment (ROI) is a new category on JetWit intended to highlight the various economic and diplomatic benefits to Japan resulting from its investment in the JET Program. This first post by Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) lays out the context and background regarding the serious challenges now faced by the JET Program and JET Alumni Association in connection with current economic problems and political shifts in Japan.  Email jetwit@jetwit.com with ideas or submissions for additional JET ROI posts.

“JET Program on the Chopping Block”

Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94), Executive Director for the Japan Center for International Exchange

Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) has served as the Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA) (www.jcie.or.jp) in New York since 2002, the US affiliate of one of the leading nongovernmental institutions in the field of international affairs in Japan. JCIE brings together key figures from around the world for programs of exchange, research, and dialogue designed to build international cooperation on pressing regional and global challenges. Before joining JCIE in 2001, Jim conducted research with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and taught English in rural Japanese middle schools as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. He received a BA from the University of Notre Dame, conducted graduate research at Ehime University in Japan, and has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Mr. Gannon is also a fellow with the US-Japan Network for the Future, operated by the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Foundation, and his recent publications include “East Asia at a Crossroads” in East Asia at a Crossroads and “Promoting the Study of the United States in Japan” in Philanthropy and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Postwar US-Japan Relations.

As part of Japan’s efforts to grapple with its massive public debt, the JET Program may be cut. Soon after coming into power, the new DPJ government launched a high profile effort to expose and cut wasteful government spending. This has featured jigyo shiwake–budget review panels that were tasked with reviewing government programs and recommending whether they should be continued or cut.  (See Stacy Smith’s (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) May 21 WITLife post that explains jigyou shiwake and touches on the threat to the JET Program.)

In May 2010, the JET Program and CLAIR came up for review, and during the course of an hourlong hearing, the 11-member panel criticized the JET scheme, ruling unanimously that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken to see if it should be pared back or eliminated altogether.When the jigyo shiwake panels were launched in November 2009, the intent was to weed out bloated spending and a wide range of government programs were put under review, from government-affiliated think tanks to host nation support for US military bases. Bureaucrats involved with each program were directed to submit a brief report on program activities and testify before panels consisting of a handful of Diet members and roughly a dozen private citizens from different walks of life. The defenders of each program were given five minutes to explain why the program is worthwhile, the finance ministry then laid out the rationale for cutting it, and then the panel held a 40 minute debate before issuing a recommendation whether the program should live or die.

Diet member Renho

This extraordinary spectacle made for great theater, becoming wildly popular with voters disenchanted with a lack of government transparency and critical of recurring bureaucratic scandals. In November 2009, the first round of jigyo shiwake panels dominated the newspapers’ front pages and the hearings were streamed live by various online news sites. The process even gave rise to a new set of stars, most notably Renho, a 42 year-old Taiwanese-Japanese announcer turned Diet member who relentlessly attacked the bureaucrats who appeared before the panels.

Despite this initial success, a backlash eventually began to brew against the jigyo shiwake panels, with detractors labeling them as mindless populism, arguing that panel members without any special expertise were unqualified to evaluate the programs and ridiculing the attempt to pass judgment on complex, long-standing projects with such a cursory review. In one noteworthy development, a group of Japanese Nobel laureates publicly rebuked the Hatoyama Goverment for jigyo shiwake recommendations to gut government funding for basic scientific research. Renho herself met with ridicule for arguing in one budget hearing, “What’s wrong with being the world’s number two?”

On May 21, a diverse set of programs including the JET Program were lumped together in one hourlong session and, during the course of the proceedings, the JET Program was criticized as being ineffective in raising the level of Japan’s English education. One of the more publicized comments called for the elimination of the Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) portion of JET. The general sense was that the JET Program was being evaluated as an educational program with the exchange component being given short shrift, since its impact is difficult to quantify and assess.  (Click here for the ruling on the JET Program in Japanese in PDF format.)

A few Japanese intellectual and foreign policy leaders have begun to push back against the attacks on the JET Program, noting how important it is in terms of public diplomacy and in Japan’s engagement with a range of countries. In its June meeting in Washington, D.C., the US-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Exchange (CULCON), a joint US-Japan “wisemen’s commission” scathingly criticized the shortsightedness of any move to cut the JET Program, issuing a statement that

“CULCON strongly endorses the JET Program, especially against the background of negative assessment expressed by some panelists of the screening process.”

For its part, the US State Department also seems to be taking the position that the JET Program makes valuable contributions to the long-term underpinnings of US-Japan relations and cutting it will be harmful. Meanwhile, a handful of articles have also started to appear in the Japanese press defending the JET Program, although there have been only limited contributions to the debate so far by current and former JET participants.

The number of JET participants has already been cut back by almost 30 percent from the peak in 2002, but this is the most direct threat to its survival that the program has faced in its 23-year history. The pattern that has emerged with the previous round of jigyo shiwake has been that programs receiving this type of verdict will be scaled back significantly, absent any public outcry or political maneuvering by important figures.

It appears that the next few months will be decisive in whether and how the JET Program continues.


Additional reading on this topic:

  1. The JET Program is a Successful Example of US-Japan Exchange” – Sankei Shimbun, June 26, 2010 – http://sankei.jp.msn.com/world/america/100626/amr1006260751000-n1.htm (in Japanese)
  2. Second round of state spending reviews begins” – Japan Times, April 24, 2010 – http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100424a3.html
  3. Japanese scientists rally against government cuts:  Packed meeting hears a chorus of lament from Nobelists” – Nature News, November 26, 2009 – http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091126/full/news.2009.1108.html
  4. Ruling on JET (PDF) (In Japanese) – http://www.cao.go.jp/sasshin/data/shiwake/result/B-36.pdf (Feel free to provide English translation of relevant parts in the comments section of this JetWit post.)

Have a good idea for a JET ROI post?  Please contact Steven Horowitz (Aichi-ken, 1992-94) at jetwit@jetwit.com.

43 comments so far...

  • leesean Said on July 3rd, 2010 at 11:22 am:

    What can we do as JET alumni? Besides publishing blog posts, are there politicians we can petition? Or maybe ask our Japanese friends and former students to petition their politicians in favor of JET?

  • jetwit Said on July 3rd, 2010 at 11:28 am:

    Our officers have been talking with some Japanese govt officials. But perhaps there is more that JET alums can do to appeal directly to Japanese politicians.

  • Wide Island View » Blog Archive » JET Program on the chopping block? Said on July 4th, 2010 at 10:25 am:
  • Save the JET Program | JETAANY.org Said on July 4th, 2010 at 1:50 pm:

    […] For more background on this issue, please refer to “JET Program on the Chopping Block” by Jim Gannon on jetwit.com. […]

  • Save the JET Program | LEESEAN.NET Said on July 4th, 2010 at 1:51 pm:

    […] For more background on this issue, please refer to “JET Program on the Chopping Block” by Jim Gannon on jetwit.com. […]

  • jetwit.com - JET ROI: “Because of JET…..” Said on July 4th, 2010 at 6:55 pm:

    […] the JET Program and JET Alumni Association may be cut by the Japanese government, as explained in this post by Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) titled “JET Program on the Chopping […]

  • leesean Said on July 5th, 2010 at 1:04 pm:

    We have started a petition to the Japanese government to save the JET Program:

  • kendall Said on July 5th, 2010 at 5:02 pm:

    I don’t think we can overlook how important JET is not just for US-Japan relations, but for Japan’s relations and, as the article said, “engagement with a range of countries.”

    Do we know if this issue has taken root in any of the other JET participant countries? We could make a stronger case if we were to reach out to JETAA chapters in other countries and present a multi-national response to the Japanese government.

  • JET Program Budget Cuts | PNWJETAA Said on July 5th, 2010 at 10:56 pm:

    […] save the JET program by signing the petition organized but JETAANY and reading more in the article “JET Program on the Chopping Block” by Jim Gannon on jetwit.com We need everyone’s support so please spread the […]

  • JET on the Chopping Block? Said on July 6th, 2010 at 1:21 am:

    […] JET ROI: “JET on the Chopping Block” […]

  • Andy K Said on July 6th, 2010 at 9:39 am:

    Hmmm. While it would be sad to see it go, it’s not unrealistic or unreasonable. Sure, I made changes in young kids’ lives, but the program is, overall, a pretty big budget drain that could go into cancer research or benefits for high-performing Japanese teachers or whatever the populist crisis-of-the-moment is in Japan.

    The JET Programme was a project born in Japan’s bubble economy, and somehow managed to survive all this time. Perhaps its time has finally come.

    Andy K (Gunma 97-2000)

  • jetwit.com - Petition to Save the JET Program Said on July 6th, 2010 at 4:50 pm:

    […] For more background on this issue, please refer to “JET Program on the Chopping Block” by Jim Gannon on jetwit.com. […]

  • Good news and bad news « Only.Thing.Constant.Is.Change. Said on July 7th, 2010 at 12:02 pm:

    […] I don’t know how effective that will be, but it’s worth a shot.  Plus on that page you can also access an article stating the background of the whole issue.  I’ll put the link here for your convenience: http://jetwit.com/wordpress/2010/07/03/jet-roi-jet-program-on-the-chopping-block-by-james-gannon/ […]

  • Brian W Said on July 7th, 2010 at 12:43 pm:


    Signing the above petition is a start, but I think if the JET Program is really in trouble, it must be saved by the Japanese people themselves. The Japanese government is ultimately responsible to its citizens, so the thing to do is to find Japanese nationals that have been positively affected by their involvement with JETs and the JET Program. Former and current students, JTEs, or people in the community that have seen a positive influence by the presence of JETs in their towns and villages. The challenge will be finding these folks and somehow giving them a voice that the leaders will hear…

    Brian W (Fukuoka 98-2000)

  • Bahia Said on July 7th, 2010 at 4:12 pm:

    I just received an email saying that JET had been saved for the next few years, however no specifics were provided. Does Jetwit have any info on this?

  • Jason Said on July 7th, 2010 at 5:09 pm:

    Of course, we shouldn’t be so America-centric as far as the benefits of the Programme.

    While there are more American JETs than any other participating country, there are plenty of JETs not from America who benefit from the Programme and spread the “good word” about Japan in their home countries.

  • jetwit Said on July 7th, 2010 at 8:04 pm:

    The email you’re referring to is partly accurate but also doesn’t tell the whole story.

    My understanding is that JET will likely not get cut this year. But it may get cut in the coming year or years. And so may JETAA.

    @Everyone else
    Since “Every Situation Is Different,” it’s easy to understand why some people may see JET in a negative light depending on their teaching situation. But there are also countless stories of JETs who have inspired students and developed ongoing relationships. I’m working on a post that will offer a place to share those stories.

    Also, the value to Japan of JET and JETAA from a foreign relations and economic perspective is actually very high. Some of that you can see in posts and info on JetWit. And other parts of it have yet to be documented. But don’t worry, we’re working on it as you read.

    JETAA is only 22 years old. It’s hitting a point right now where the returns on investment are about to start increasing at an increasing rate. Many JET alums are now in positions of influence in the world of politics, business, media and translation. Additionally, JET alums number over 50,000 worldwide and give Japan a sort of substitute expat population that helps it connect with the rest of the world in ways it might not otherwise be able.

    There are plenty of other persuasive arguments, points and examples. But for now I’ll just say that when you really look at the big picture, the amount spent on JETAA is very little in comparison with the return on investment in terms of Japan’s relationship with the world, in terms of revenue and in terms of volunteer hours provided by extremely capable people with a wide range of skills.

    Steven Horowitz (Aichi-ken, 1992-94)
    JetWit creator and editor

    ps Thanks everyone for commenting. Keep’em coming.

  • Sharon tenBroeke Balke Said on July 8th, 2010 at 3:20 pm:

    As possibly one of the oldest JET Alumni (I taught in Yamanashi-ken in the second and third year of the JET Program’s existence, 1988-1990), I feel an obligation to weigh in on this issue. I signed the petition today to save the JET Program, which accurately reflects my opinion that my experience in Japan has made an indelible impression on my life. Japan holds a special place in my heart that would not exist were it not for my two years in Japan. Since my return to the US about 20 years ago, I have spoken with a variety of educational groups (from a college choir going on tour, to elementary school children learning about Japanese culture), continued to cook Japanese food for friends and family, taught my children some Japanese, and shared my experiences with anyone who will listen. I’m looking forward to traveling to Japan sometime within the next 5 years to introduce my husband and two children to Japan, the people, and the culture. The group of Yamanashi JET teachers from our prefecture in the late 80’s, who came together from various English-speaking countries around the globe, developed a special bond and have had numerous reunions and other gatherings since our time together in Japan. I know my JET colleagues have “touched” countless other people through their professional and personal lives throughout the world, which has undoubtedly fostered an increased appreciation of Japanese culture. The positive effects of the JET Program have grown exponentially over the years, particularly when multiplied by the staggering number of young people around the world who have participated in the JET program since 1987. Simply put, Japan’s significant investment in the JET program has resulted in long-lasting and ever-increasing benefits to the country, which really cannot be measured, but which are invaluable.

  • jetwit Said on July 8th, 2010 at 3:38 pm:

    A comment emailed to me by a JET alum:

    I was in Chiba-ken from 2007-2008. Here is my small part in contributing to the efforts to save the JET Program.

    I currently work for the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), in its Maryland office (having just left a job at the Embassy of Japan in Washington DC with 6 other former JETs). My job is to recruit American companies, and convince them to open a satellite office in Kanagawa-ken, just south of Tokyo.

    I mention this position for a few reasons.

    1. The first and most obvious is that I (a JET) am directly contributing to the search for new sources of tax revenue for Kanagawa, with all the possible financial windfalls included.

    2. Second, JETRO is a huge organization sponsored by the Japanese government, with offices all across American, Europe, and mainland Asia. Having just returned from a trip to JETRO’s office in New York, I know there are at least 2 other JETs working there in a similar capacity to the work I do.

    Just a few more examples of how many JETs move on to other work that directly benefits Japan as a whole.

    I also have several friends who taught with private companies while I was a JET, and they have nothing but awful things to say about their employers. Though private companies are cheaper than JET, the horrible conditions of employment forced on teachers causes damage to the schools where they work.

    Matt Ropeik (Chiba-ken, 2007-08)

  • jetwit.com - JET ROI: JETAA Chapter Beat Said on July 8th, 2010 at 10:40 pm:

    […] the JET Program and JET Alumni Association may be cut by the Japanese government, as explained in this post by Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) titled “JET Program on the Chopping […]

  • JET program to be eliminated? (Part III) « Hoofin to You! Said on July 9th, 2010 at 5:10 am:

    […] pointed to a stateside blogger, James Gannon, who was an early-era JET, and made something of a stateside career out of his Japan […]

  • The JET Programme is in Trouble « Bahia Portfolio Said on July 9th, 2010 at 8:46 am:

    […] You can read a good article on the current situation here: JET ROI: JET Program on the Chopping Block by James Gannon […]

  • jetwit Said on July 9th, 2010 at 12:29 pm:

    Submitted to JetWit via email:

    As an ALT at Kurayoshi Higashi High School, Tottori-ken from 1999-2001 I thoroughly enjoyed making a difference to the English education of students in a Senior High School. I ran a successful English Club; prepared students for University Entrance Examinations and engaged in daily spoken English activities with students throughout the school. I enjoyed putting on events such as a ‘British Week’ and taking part in School Festival.

    Since leaving Kurayoshi in summer 2001, I have maintained strong links with Kurayoshi and especially Higashi High School.

    In September 2002, I was employed at Baines School, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire as an English Teacher. I set about creating links with Higashi High School. Students wrote letters and emails to each other and in October 2003, I took 30 students from Baines to take part in a home-stay with Higashi High students. Students stayed with first grade students.

    In February 2003, we welcomed Principal Okamoto from Kurayoshi Higashi High School to the UK. An agreement was then signed by which 3 students and 2 teachers from Baines would travel to Kurayoshi to take part in the ‘International Students Conference’ in August 2004. Baines has taken part each year since then and will take part again this year, winning the conference first prize in 2005. I escorted the trip in 2004 and 2005 and have helped plan the trip since.

    For each of the conferences I have actively helped set the topic and write the English materials on the topic, working with the Principal and Vice Principal from Higashi High.

    My family and I have visited Japan in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and will be visiting again in 2010. I always visit Higashi High School and take part in lessons wherever possible. I maintain strong friendships with Japanese people in the Community and will be taking my family to stay with Japanese friends in August this year.

    Since September 2008, I have worked at Hetton School, Hetton-le Hole, Tyne and Wear. I run a thriving Japanese Club whereby students experience Japanese culture. Students have been writing letters to Junior High School students from Hokumei Junior High School. We plan to run a trip to Japan in the next two years.

    The JET Programme certainly changed my life. Almost ten years after leaving I maintain strong links with Kurayoshi and always enjoy visiting. I believe I have helped make a difference educationally to students in both Japan and the UK.

    Andrew Hindle (Tottori-ken, 1999-2001)

  • Bahia Said on July 9th, 2010 at 2:13 pm:

    @Steven, thanks for the info! The email I was received was very vague, so I suspected there was more to be said.

    @Brian W, I completely agree with you that we have more of a chance at saving this program if we involved Japanese students and teachers who benefit from their interactions with JETs. If the pressure comes from within Japan I think it will be more effective. I, for one, plan to reach out to my ex-students, friends, and teachers from Japan and make sure they are aware of the situation and weigh in to the Japanese government.

  • The JET program, budget cuts and Return On Investment « Takeshita Demons: Cristy Burne Said on July 10th, 2010 at 9:57 am:

    […] the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET, a huge international exchange program that now has 50,000 alumni around the world. I was a JET in Kawanishi (the town Miku Takeshita and her family come from […]

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