Nov 5

JET ROI: JET alum op-ed in Asahi Shimbun – The JET Program is a ‘triumph of soft power’

Jim Gannon

The below op-ed titled “POINT OF VIEW: The JET Program is a ‘triumph of soft power’” appeared in the November 5, 2010 edition of the Asahi ShimbunIt was written by three JET alumni with expertise in Japan-U.S. policy and relations:

(Here’s the link for the original article on the Asahi Shimbun website:

POINT OF VIEW: The JET Program is a ‘triumph of soft power’

Michael Auslin

In its 23 years, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program has brought more than 50,000 young foreigners to Japan, including over 25,000 Americans, to teach in the school system as well as to support international exchange activities.

Each of us grew to know Japan through our participation in the JET Program, and this experience has changed the direction of our careers and enriched our lives.

In fact, the JET Program has touched the lives of so many people who might otherwise not be exposed to Japanese society that it is regarded by many outside of Japan as the most successful public diplomacy initiative in the world over the last several decades.

Paige Cottingham-Streater

Therefore, we were especially dismayed to learn that it has been criticized in the last round of the budget screening process.

Since it was launched at the height of Japan-bashing in the late 1980s, the JET Program has produced an extraordinary legacy.

On the one hand, we would like to think that it has been beneficial for Japanese students and communities. We have heard many stories about how students’ personal interactions in the classroom with JET participants have made English into a “living language” for them and helped motivate them to use English for communication rather than just as an exam topic.

We get the sense that, in our globalizing world, even students who never mastered English have benefited from their interactions with JET participants from countries they may never have thought much about before.

The JET Program’s least recognized contribution, however, may be its most important. This is the remarkable success it has had as a public diplomacy program. By exposing thousands of young professionals to Japanese society, it has built up deep person-to-person ties between Japanese people and an entire generation of non-Japanese from around the world.

In our country, the United States, the impact of this program on U.S.-Japan relations is quite extraordinary. It is no exaggeration to say that it has become an important pillar of the bilateral relationship.

As they grow older, former JET participants have started to take important posts in government, business, and civil society, bringing their personal networks and a deep appreciation of the importance of strong U.S.-Japan relations to their everyday work.

In the U.S. government, for example, JET participants have worked on the frontlines of U.S.-Asia relations in the White House, the State Department and other agencies. Two JET alumni even ran for the U.S. Congress–Rob Cornilles, who ran on the Republican ticket in Oregon, and Dan Seals, a Democrat from Illinois.

Similarly, when one looks at the emerging generation of Japan experts in American academic circles and think tanks, it appears that the majority are graduates of the JET Program, many of whom may have otherwise taken a very different direction in their studies and careers.

This is true of the grassroots organizations that sustain U.S.-Japan relations, too. At least 4 of the 40 Japan-America Societies in the United States are headed by former JET participants.

In evaluating the contributions of the JET Program, it is important to keep in mind the role it is playing in strengthening the foundations of Japan’s engagement with the rest of the world and the world’s engagement with Japan. People who are immersed in Japanese communities tend to develop a lifelong connection to Japan, and we are just starting to reap the rewards of this far-sighted program.

In our rapidly changing world, where it is critical for countries to project an active global presence and where a robust U.S.-Japan partnership on a wide range of issues has become even more important, the connections built by the JET Program are an invaluable asset.

The JET Program has been a triumph of soft power. We are so grateful for the opportunity that has given us and believe that continuing the JET Program–and further strengthening it–is important for Japan and all of its friends around the world.

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