Jul 3

Leading U.S.-Japan Exchange in Northern California: JETAANC

The following was written by JETAA Northern California President Mark Frey (Kumamoto-ken, 2002-06) with contributions from Xander Peterson (Miyazaki, 2009-2012) and was originally published in Japanese in the most recent edition of the CLAIR Forum which is distributed to pretty much every prefecture and town government in Japan as well as every Japanese consulate and embassy.  Below is the English version.  Here’s a link to the CLAIR Forum (PDF) which has the article in Japanese.

Leading U.S.-Japan Exchange in Northern California: JETAANC

By Mark Frey, President, JETAANC, mark.frey@jetaanc.org

Many of you know participants of the JET Program (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program). They may be your co-workers or friends. But what happens to them when they return to their home countries? I hope to show you some of the exciting things that former JETs are doing on behalf of U.S.-Japan relations. I will also suggest some ways that you can engage JET alumni to further your own goals.

In 1989, two years after the start of the JET Program, former JETs gathered and established the JET Program Alumni Association (JETAA) with the aim of giving each other support and continuing the mission of the JET Program to foster grassroots international exchange.

Over the past 25 years, JETAA has grown into a vibrant worldwide organization. There are now over 57,000 JET alumni living across the globe. Over 28,000 of them live in America. That’s about 1 in every 8,000 American adults! You can see the positive impact that JET alumni can have in promoting Japan around the world.

This year I became President of JETAA’s Northern California chapter, JETAANC. With over 3,000 members, I am proud to say that we are one of the largest and most active chapters in the world. Next year we will celebrate our 25th Anniversary.

Our alumni are working at every level of every sector of the local economy, including for-profit, non-profit, education, and government. They are promoting exchange between the U.S. and Japan whenever and however they can.

Every year, our alumni provide substantial support to the JET Program. We help the Japanese government recruit, select, and train JET participants. When participants return to Northern California, we help them re-adjust to American life and find employment, often with Japan-related organizations.

In the area of economic exchange, JETAANC has forged strong partnerships with the Consulate’s Economic Affairs Division, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, and Keizai Society, a strong local U.S.-Japan business networking organization with many ties to Silicon Valley. We also organize our own Career and Networking Forum events, to which we invite local Japan-related companies and organizations to network with our alumni.

JETAANC is also a leader in U.S.-Japan cultural exchange. We created “Kabuki Club,” which offers free classes to the public on Japanese performing arts. Recently, we provided a year-long course on Chushingura. We commissioned “Kurozuka,” a new Butoh dance piece by noted local artist, Judith Kajiwara. We established the largest online list of English-language resources for Japanese performing arts. We also developed the first and only online English-language discussion forum centered on Japanese performing arts, which now features participants from around the world. For more information, visit < jetaanc.org/kabuki>.

JETAANC also leads a Book Club to promote Japanese literature. We organize popular cultural events throughout the year such as hanami, bonenkai, and shinnenkai. We staff booths to promote Japan and the JET Program at local Japan-related festivals, including Japan Expo, Visit Japan, and Lunar New Year Festival. We provide volunteers for and participate in the many Japanese festivals in our region, including the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, Children’s Day Festival, J-Pop Festival, Mochitsuki, Otsukimi, and many local Obon Matsuri.

JETAANC is especially active in our local Japanese Sister City Associations, including San Francisco-Osaka and Oakland-Fukuoka. We have forged strong partnerships with Japan Society, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, providing volunteers and co-sponsoring many of their events. We also sponsor an annual scholarship for local high school students who plan to study Japan in college.

JETAANC is also playing a lead role in local U.S.-Japan public relations. We actively post local Japan-related news and events on our social media pages. We developed the first and most comprehensive online list of Japanese things in Northern California, including Japanese organizations, restaurants, stores, gardens, and even onsen! People across the region use the list to connect with Japan locally. We also established the first online forum for the more than 60 Japan-related organizations in the region to communicate together.

One of our future goals is to create a Hougaku Band, bringing together talented alumni and community members who play traditional Japanese instruments, such as the shamisen, koto, shakuhachi, and taiko. We would also like to visit local schools to share Japanese culture with local students.

We do not get paid for our work. All of it is volunteer. We do it because we love Japan and want to share Japan with the world. It is a way that we can “give back” to Japan for all of the generosity we received when we lived there.

This was proven dramatically when the 3-11 disasters struck Tohoku. The JET alumni community around the world immediately rallied to support Japan. Within weeks, JETAANC helped to raise over $17,000 for recovery efforts. On the national level, alumni created a disaster relief fund and raised almost $90,000 for recovery projects related to education and support for students. Worldwide, alumni raised over $500,000 in support of recovery efforts. Many alumni traveled to Tohoku to help with recovery efforts as well.

To mark the third anniversary of 3-11, JETAANC organized a fund drive this past March that raised $6,000 for the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund, which benefits the continuing needs of students and families in Tohoku. Nationwide, alumni raised nearly $50,000 for the Fund: <bit.ly/tamfund>

How JET Alumni Can Help You

I strongly believe that JET alumni are a huge untapped resource for schools and organizations in Japan. The best way you can engage JET alumni from your prefecture is by joining their LinkedIn Group: <bit.ly/jetaaken>. I encourage you to think creatively about how alumni can help you. For example, you could:

  • Arrange for JET alumni to exchange letters and videos with your students
  • Schedule a live video chat between alumni and students
  • Ask alumni to send you cultural materials from their country to use in class
  • Ask alumni to promote your city or prefecture
  • Start a language exchange between alumni and your staff to improve their English skills
  • Ask alumni to give you or your students a home stay!

To learn more about JETAANC and JETAA, visit <jetaanc.org>, <jetaausa.com>, and <JETwit.com>.

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