Oct 28

JET ROI: Why JET Matters – Japanese language education, national security and the future of US-Japan relations

In a recent discussion on the JETAA Education Professionals LinkedIn Group, JET alum and Japanese language consultant Beth Yamamuro shared some perspectives and thoughts on the decline in administrative support for Japanese language study.  Beth’s comments prompted Matt Gillam, a long-time CLAIR-NY staff member and a graduate of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, to offer some useful insights into the role of JETs and the JET Programme in the bigger picture of US-Japan relations.

With their permission, and with the aim of helping to make the JET and JET alum community more aware of its role in the bigger picture, JetWit is posting their comments below.  (For the record, Matt’s comments are his own personal views and are not on behalf of CLAIR-NY):

Here are Beth’s comments:

I did want to share with you what I’m learning in the Japanese Language Teaching class I posted about earlier. It seems there is sort of a crisis in the Japanese as a second language field these days. Despite a growing number of students in classes, there is a decreasing amount of financial and administrative support. Japanese is not a strategically important language to the US like Chinese and Korean are, so there are fewer (or no?) government grants to study it. The Chinese government is subsidizing many Mandarin education programs within the US, and as a result some institutions are giving up their Japanese programs in favor of Chinese. Having bilingual speakers of English and Japanese IS strategically important to Japan, and the JET program is a unique system already in place to support the development of large groups of such speakers.

Another issue in which the JET program could play a part is the lack of qualified teachers of Japanese. With the increasing emphasis on standards in all levels of foreign language education, teacher training for the specific education community involved is more important than ever. JET participants tend to be people who are in some way interested in education, and many go on to be teachers on returning to their home country, whether or not that was their original career plan.

Here are Matt’s comments:

This is a really interesting report on what’s going on with Japanese language education recently, and in my opinion it reflects an extremely short-sighted policy shift by the U.S. government just when it’s becoming clear (again) that we need Japan as an ally to deal with an increasingly belligerent China and an increasingly (who’d have thought it possible?) unstable Korean Peninsula.  I think Japan is slowly beginning to come out of its recent phase of thinking the US-Japan security alliance is merely burdensome and no longer particularly relevant, and China was their new best buddy.  However, the events of the past few weeks, especially, have the US and Japan both realizing that China is not growing into the steady, dependable partner we’d all been hoping for.  It is doubly unfortunate that Japan herself has not made any efforts to counter this growing neglect and promote Japanese language acquisition or actively cultivate those who have an interest in becoming teachers.  As far as I know, there is only the JET Program to fill this void.

Each country is important in its own way and each requires attention.  China, despite recent tensions, is a vital component of the world economy and a critical trading partner for the US and Japan, besides being an indispensable player in addressing security and environmental issues.  They also possess a rich and ancient culture and history.  It is likely that political and economic realities will eventually compel them to soften their ham-handed, nationalistic approach to dealing with other countries, but when that might happen is unclear.  South Korea has become the steadier partner in many ways, partly because they have made extensive efforts to strengthen ties with the US and to appeal to American feelings of goodwill toward an old ally and trading partner.  But South Korea is vulnerable in ways Japan is not, and with their smaller economy and more limited capabilities in economic and security terms they are no replacement for Japan.

We cannot maintain a significant presence in Northeast Asia and thereby maintain credibility with our security partners as a counterweight to China without our bases in Japan (read, primarily, “Okinawa”), and to keep those bases we need people who can work with the Japanese and understand their needs and concerns, and not blunder through crises like the Pentagon and the Administration did with the new Hatoyama administration and the Futenma fiasco.

Everyone got lulled into thinking the US-Japan relationship was rock-solid and boring and could cruise along on auto-pilot without anyone actively managing it.  That, along with being dazzled by the rise of China, South Korea’s great success in democratizing and building itself into an economic powerhouse (albeit on a smaller scale than Japan or China) in Northeast Asia, and the two wars in the Mid-east/South Asia, have led to a deeply unfortunate neglect of Japan and the pivotal role the country plays in keeping Asia and the world stable.  We had hoped China would take the path of integrating into the world economy and governance structure as a responsible player, but, at least for the moment, they have chosen to emphasize nationalism and uncompromising self-interest instead.  That is not good news for Japan or the US, obviously.

As student exchanges and other ties between Japan and the US wither, JET becomes one of the few initiatives to consistently maintain a flow of people between the two countries, and is, I think, thereby critical in supporting that larger security relationship.

Comments are closed.

Page Rank