Aug 7


This editorial in support of the JET Programme by Hitoshi Tanaka appeared originally in Japanese in The Mainichi Daily News.  Thanks to Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94), Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA), for sharing the article.  And special thanks to Laura Kamutaka (CIR Miyagi-ken, Shiogama-shi, 2005-07) for translating it into English.

Don’t Cut Funding of Grassroots Exchange:  Earthquake reveals and affirms overseas bond

Tanaka Hitoshi, Chairman, Institute for International Strategy, Japan Research Institute

The Tohoku earthquake swallowed many lives and left many missing.  The unimaginable hardship of the disaster victims weighs heavily on our hearts, and many of us have a strong desire to help with this tragic situation. People who want to take action beyond making a charitable donation.  People who want to work together with the disaster victims in any capacity, no matter how small the achievement. Some of those around me set up a nonprofit called Hope for Tomorrow to assist high school students affected by the earthquake, of which I’ve become a representative.

”Hope for Tomorrow” is designed to not only assist the students advancement but to help develop their language skills as well.  There’s a reason for this. One of the tsunami victims was Taylor Anderson, an Assistant Language Teacher in Ishinomaki City of Miyagi Prefecture who taught English at both elementary and junior high schools.  After the earthquake, the 24-year-old Virginia, US native worked to ensure her students’ safety and, in doing so, lost her life.  In honor of her memory, Anderson’s parents have been collecting US donations with the intention of sending them to Japan to help restore school in Ishinomaki.

Anderson was in Japan through the JET Program, a Japanese government program that invites international youth to help Japanese students with foreign language instruction.  After 24 years of existence, the program currently boasts over 4,000 participants from 36 countries, with over half coming from the United States.  Most participants stay in Japan from two to three years, teach elementary to high school-level Japanese students, and maintain a strong bond with Japan even after returning to their home countries.

Ten years ago when I served as the Consulate General in San Francisco, I spoke with both JET participants who were about to leave for Japan and those that had recently returned.  I remember those that returned all spoke passionately of their experiences and had great affection for Japan.

Even the JET participants’ response to the earthquake is remarkable.  The JET Alumni Association has chapters across the country working to fundraise for relief efforts.  There are those such as Stuart Harris, a JET participant in Iwate prefecture in 1989 who assembled a team of doctors right after the earthquake to provide relief to Japan.  JET participants currently in Japan have also collected donations and vigorously volunteered to the relief effort.

Of course, it isn’t only the JET participants that have shown compassion towards Japan.  A friend of mine who married an American found a network of people on Facebook, leading them to New York’s Union Square to collect donations less than a week after the earthquake.  Passersby would donate cash and in no time more than $10,000 had been raised.  We need to protect these precious bonds that transcend national lines.

Unfortunately, this kind of grassroots exchange has been decreasing each year.  The number of JET participants has gone from 6,000 participants 10 years ago to 4,000.  The Democratic Party of Japan has included the JET program in its budget cuts.  From a financial standpoint alone, it seems counterintuitive to shrink a program that yields such positive results.

It is easy to see the Japan-US ties mainly through the relationship between the two governments.  But that’s not true.  Grassroots exchange is what sustains the important bond between the two countries and is something we must never forget.

one comment so far...

  • Rashaad Jorden Said on August 8th, 2011 at 8:06 pm:

    I am saddened that the JET Program is shrinking. I do wonder if there’s hope for the future.

Page Rank