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...

  • - JET Alumni Association DC Said on July 10th, 2010 at 4:15 pm:

    […] Please see the Jetwit article here. […]

  • PC812 Said on July 11th, 2010 at 6:21 am:

    It’s sad that the JET Program may end up on the chopping block. It is one of the few organizations that treats ALTs coming to Japan with respect and dignity and provides support services that many private companies don’t. When I speak to current college students studying to be English teachers or speak with recent graduates, many of them tell me that a major reason they decided to be an English teacher was because of an influential JET ALT. In the rural areas JETs usually find themselves in, they may be those students’ only contact with foreigners. I know a fair number of former JETs who have gone to work in Japanese embassies or with international organizations that have a beneficial impact on Japan. I know other JETs who chose to stay in Japan after their contractual obligations were fulfilled and continue to contribute to Japanese society.

    Reforms in the JET Program are not uncalled for, but throwing out the baby with the bathwater would be a massive mistake, and one I feel Japan would eventually live to regret.

  • Takafumi Kawakami Said on July 11th, 2010 at 11:10 pm:

    Renho, a Upper House representative, has been wrong about her opinion about the JET. The JET could be very effective. The students could have wonderful opportunities to learn about not only language but also their cultures. But, some boards of education do not allow the native English speaking teachers to design their classes. They just use those teachers to be “human tape recorders”.

    Also, if we end the JET, people in rural areas will lose the oppotunities to expose to foreign cultures.

  • What will happen next year? « Beckywithasmile's Blog Said on July 12th, 2010 at 9:52 am:

    […] world-wide, JET is rumored to now on the chopping block as well. The only real article about it is here, and it doesn’t even to have any real, solid […]

  • aaronspooner Said on July 12th, 2010 at 12:03 pm:

    The DPJ is probably out to cut many of the vestiges of the LDP patronage system that sent massive amounts of yen to rural communities, who were the largest recipients of JET, in an attempt to purchase votes.

    I have never seen the actual budget line for the JET Program, and I doubt that there is a single line. The government conveniently spreads the program out over several entities and ministries, which may partly mask the full cost. However, the government does provide local contracting organizations money well in excess of the annual JET salary (approximately double, I’ve been told), and even a little basic arithmetic with this figure multiplied by the 5000 or 6000 JET participants every year offers a rough guess at how much JET is costing. JET likely costs in excess of 350 billion yen every year.

    So, educationally, is Japan getting its yen’s worth? Nope. Japan’s level of English education is still deplorable. Compared to Korea, China, and other countries, the English abilities of Japan’s students lag badly. The JET Program’s ALTs could probably do more, but doing so would require massive structural changes to the educational system to put less emphasis on exams, more emphasis on immersion from a young age, less emphasis on arcane rules, and more emphasis on the ability to use and produce language in practice.

    For the money being spent, Japan would get more return by hiring professionally trained ESL teachers. A bachelor’s degree is not typically any qualification to teach, and most JETs spend six months or a year fumbling around to discover basic effective teaching practices. Some take even longer. Even when ALTs do figure out what might work well, they are often hampered by not having the authority at the school or in the classroom to make changes, and by the reality that they may only see a class of students once per week or less. Professional ESL teachers who taught solo and full-time in the classroom and had a degree of control over the curriculum are what is needed.

    For that matter, Japan could probably get more bang for its yen by sending its Japanese English teachers overseas for one or two years of intensive English and TESOL training. The teachers would return more confident in their English skills and brimming ideas for more effective models of teaching English.

    JET’s primary success is as an internationalization and exchange program. Educationally, in terms of language alone, the program is a waste, but it does accomplish cultural exchange fairly well. JETs themselves are the biggest recipients of this exchange, and the tens of thousands of ex-JETs scattered throughout the world are probably strong ambassadors for Japan…and probably also strong critics of Japan in some regards. Japanese students and communities also gain good exposure to foreigners through the program. The ALTs in many rural communities are probably the only foreigners that many children would be introduced to outside of television, movies, music, and the internet. If Japan’s education ministry cannot quantify this effect, then it is not gathering the right data. Surveys of knowledge about and attitudes toward foreigners and foreign countries in schools and communities with JETs and in demographically similar communities without should illustrate the effect of internationalization and exchange vividly. Unfortunately, everybody seems to measure English test scores, and almost nobody bothers with this other important data.

    This really cuts to a problem of the JET Program from its inception. JET was initiated during Japan’s boom years at the end of the 1980s. “Internationalization” was more of a catch-word than an actual plan or practice, and JETs were really little more than a gaudy display, not unlike a Canada Land theme park (or any number of other nationally or culturally themed parks that sprung up across Japan, funded by government largesse), than a consciously planned piece within a larger pedagogy. Sending JETs to local communities was a good way to make rural parts of Japan feel like they were cosmopolitan like Tokyo, even if in some limited way, and the program has transferred trillions of yen over the years to rural communities. (It’s probably also transferred trillions of yen back to JETs’ home countries, but that’s a separate issue.) The program is part and parcel of larger LDP policies that sent wealth to local authorities in a bid to retain party power, and it worked until people realized that Japan is broke, and that its pensions now risk failing. The fears several years ago when the government lost track of a number of people’s pensions helped fuel distrust in the LDP, and it’s hardly surprising that the DPJ wants to dismantle the mechanisms that the LDP used to retain power. The JET Program is part of that LDP machine.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your view of the JET Program, the DPJ just suffered serious election losses, and it’s not clear how long the party will be able to retain power, or even what it will be able to accomplish while the party is guaranteed to keep power. Change always happens slowly in Japan, and murky, turbulent political waters are probably going to slow efforts at austerity even more.

  • Save the JET Program! | Chicago JETAA Said on July 12th, 2010 at 4:03 pm:

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

  • Is English in retreat (at least in Japan)? « Marxist TEFL Group Said on July 16th, 2010 at 6:28 pm:

    […] by a Government review of its JET scheme. You can read about this review both on Letsjapan and here on the ex-Jet participants’ blog, Jetwit.com. The Jet scheme was introduced 23 years ago to encourage graduates from outside Japan […]

  • Mutantfrog Travelogue » Blog Archive » The JET Program is an abject failure; therefore, Japan needs the JET Program more than ever Said on July 22nd, 2010 at 8:03 am:

    […] realize I am somewhat late to this, but there’s been a flare-up of interest in “saving the JET Program” ever since the new government’s budget review panel apparently pledged to focus on it […]

  • Global Voices in English » Japan: JET Program in danger of being cut Said on August 1st, 2010 at 4:39 am:

    […] provides essential foreign exposure and helps improve English proficiency. The Jetwit site provides background details. The 23 year old program offers one-year contracts to foreign college graduates to work in schools […]

  • Ryan Dawson Said on October 26th, 2010 at 12:31 pm:

    In the face of a falling dollar because of the US’s pointless wars and actions by the federal reserve. Japan NEEDS government spending to reduce the value of the Yen or its top corporations are going to face dramatic decline in trade to the US.

    If they want to cut something cut the pointless US bases that the Japanese public do not want anyway and save education from the ax. This would help reduce the US’s spending and strengthen the dollar becoming a win/win for both nations and it is better than simply buying more US debt.

    Spending money on English education and cultural exchange is not a waste of money. Japan’s foreigners are basically either military temporaries or teachers. Japan has very few outreaches to the world and suffers from it.

  • Ryan Dawson Said on October 26th, 2010 at 12:34 pm:

    Cutting JET is just going to anger tens of thousands of former JETS all over the world that took decades to form relationships with, and turn them against the DPJ. There is plenty of pork to be cut before any programs should be considered.

  • jetwit.com - JET ROI: JET alum op-ed in Asahi Shimbun – The JET Program is a ‘triumph of soft power’ Said on November 5th, 2010 at 12:24 am:

    […] Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA) and author of the “Chopping Block” […]

  • angela vasquez Said on December 21st, 2010 at 7:29 am:

    Weighing in a bit late on this debate, but … it seems many ex-JETs tend to suffer from JETspeak. They’re stuck in the loop that JET put them on. I’m an ex-JET 1995-8, Kanagawa, 2 as a CIR and 1 as an AET. Personally, I don’t think the whole cultural exchange thing that so many bang on about can justify the enormous amounts spent on it. CLAIR needs abolishing and the amakudari put out to grass on basic pensions. Then the government needs to sit down and decide about the English language teaching side of the equation.

    If they decide that Japan can turn in on itself and falling English standards are no problem, they should just axe JET and all the dispatch companies in one swoop. I say this, because the dispatch companies are without doubt part of the current landscape, and they are a national disgrace, and have no place in any public education system, with or without JET. It would be tempting for the committees to conveniently ignore the pirates as they are saving local boards of education a fortune, so they might be tempted to replace JET AETS with dispatch ones. But they should have the courage of their convictions and opt for legality by making indirect hiring in the public education system illegal.

    If they decide, on the other hand, that they want to improve the standard of English in Japan, they should start by enforcing all the laws that would outlaw the dispatch companies presently operating illegally. They should then reform JET i.e. it could become a means of direct hire of English teachers, not cultural ambassador/bouncy fresh-faced foreigners. This should involve trained and qualified English teachers/trainers, with a specific training role i.e. few contact hours teaching English, mostly working on JTE development. They should do this by bringing practising EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers from a range of English speaking countries to Japan, and seconding selected JTE’s to schools in other countries to teach a combination of Japanese as a foreign language and work as language assistants with trained EAL teachers in EAL classes. I have worked with a teacher who did this on her own initiative, and she was blindingly good – she had the lingo, she had the techniques, she was motivating, simply a combination of all the best qualities you could find in a teacher.
    These kind of secondments are generally earned by dedicated and hardworking teachers on both sides who have demonstrated long-term commitment to language education in their respective countries, and they can bring all this back with them and pass it around with colleagues on return to Japan. That’s a way to working towards reforming Japanese education from the inside, and god does it need it!

    Well meaning fluffy statements about how life-changing JET was for participants personally is just great, but people should do that at their own expense. As non-professionals, what they have to offer, while well-meaning, is going to have limited impact on English language education, which is what the government needs to focus on. Twenty years after the bubble burst, all that fluffy internationalisation claptrap needs to go. It always was claptrap, but too many people have had fingers in the pie to actually stand up and say the truth.

  • jetwit Said on December 21st, 2010 at 10:16 am:

    I approved the comment above because it contains constructive ideas on the English teaching side of things.

    However, it makes the common mistake of dismissing the value of the cultural exchange. It is in fact the cultural exchange–having over 50,000 non-Japanese who now have some sort of generally positive lifetime connection with Japan–that makes the JET Program worth the investment to Japan.

    As I’ve pointed out in various posts and comments, there are now JET alums in a whole variety of established positions in government, business, education, translation, etc. that continue to provide very positive returns to Japan.

    The JET alumni community is in many ways a sort of substitute ex-pat population for Japan.

    To learn more about this, read some of the JET Return on Investment (JET ROI) posts here: http://jetwit.com/wordpress/category/jet-roi/

    I appreciate a healthy debate and honest questioning of the “JET Threat” issue. And it will be much more helpful if JETs and JET alums are fully informed and aware when they participate in this discussion whether here on JetWit or in other forums or contexts.

  • jetwit.com - JetWit Writing Opportunities: 12/27/10 Said on December 27th, 2010 at 1:19 am:

    […] one of the leading international affairs organizations in Japan. Jim was also the writer of the “JET Program on the Chopping Block” article published last summer. Talk to him about his work, Japan, and the continuing efforts to […]

  • Steven Gerogianis Said on February 4th, 2011 at 4:23 pm:

    As a JET applicant who was just rejected from entering the interview process, I came upon this website and after reading into how the Japanese government has systematically cut JET down thus far I am not surprised, as the application numbers only continue to grow. I hope that the United States Government and the Japanese Government come to further agreements on how to address economic woes, so that people like me, who are very interested in working in Japan, teaching English and helping to exchange culture, are accepted in a wider base. The sad reality is.. JET at most had 6000 employees and as of May, 2010, had little over 4000. Thank you for creating this website!

  • Tenku Ruff Said on March 3rd, 2011 at 4:56 pm:

    “the JET Program was criticized as being ineffective in raising the level of Japan’s English education”
    I can’t argue with this point, but I believe this is not due to the JET program itself, but, rather, the schools’ restrictions on JET teachers that prevent ALTs from teaching in ways that are effective. Still, I think the program is quite useful for many other reasons, most of all for heightening cultural awareness. In my 15 years of experience with Japan, I continue to be astounded by the misconceptions about other cultures which permeate Japan. If nothing else, the fact that a few students in rural Oita now know that not all Americans carry a gun, and that a few people in rural America now embrace the benefits of “wa,” might actually be worth the entire JET program.

  • JQ Interview with JET Alum Jim Gannon | JETAANY.org Said on May 3rd, 2011 at 12:16 pm:

    […] worked for the for the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, he penned last year’s “JET Program on the Chopping Block” article, which helped alert and educate JETs and JET alumni to the threats facing the future of […]

Page Rank