Nov 25

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The November 2013 edition includes an article by JET alumn Anthony Bianchi. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.



“Once you are in the programme, you are in the programme for life. As an Italian kid from the streets of Brooklyn, I get that. Like they say, when you’re a JET you’re a JET all the way, from your first cup of tea to your last hanami.”

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Anthony Bianchi (Aichi-ken, Kiyosu City, 1989-91), graduated from New York University with a degree in film making. After working on a number of television programs in Hollywood, he joined the JET Programme and spent two years working as an ALT in rural Aichi. A few years later, after overcoming many difficulties, he started the Native English Teacher (NET) Program, a teachers programme tailored for Inuyama City. Feeling there was a wall between the citizens and the city hall, he decided to run for the office and was voted into the city council of Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture in April 2003. Anthony is currently serving his third term.


JET Generations

As anyone who has done so knows, living and working overseas in a different culture has a profound effect on all sides.

I have written before about how being on the JET Programme changed my life. To make a long story short, I would definitely not be here in Inuyama doing what I am doing had I not been involved in JET. Sometimes it still amazes me how things worked out. I mean, sometimes while I am making an argument on the council floor about some very local issue I still think, “How in the world did I end up here?” Conversely, I wonder at times what I would be doing if I had not joined JET some 25 years ago. Definitely something very different and most likely not as rewarding.

But the JET experience is certainly not only about what you get out of it, as I mentioned at the top, it is about the effect it has on all sides. As time passes I realize more and more that being a JET alumnus is a living thing that goes on after your contractual duties end. I still meet people involved with the programme that leads to great relationships and opportunities. Especially opportunities to give others even a small glimpse into another culture like the one we had by being part of the JET Programme. I am always impressed by the willingness of JET alumni to give back. A couple of summers ago I was asked to be on a panel at a national conference in Washington DC. Of course, there again, I met many outstanding alumni who are doing great things to promote cultural exchange and understanding between Japan and their home country. But I also realized that there is something about meeting former JET participants that has a camaraderie that is different and,in many ways, surpasses any other alumni association that I have known. I include in this group also Japanese staff and officials who have worked on the programme.

I would like to talk about a recent example. Out of my office, we run an exchange program called B. Bridges. We are a volunteer exchange group in our tenth year of existence. The idea for the group was seeded at an event the Brooklyn Borough President,Marty Markowitz, held for me at Borough Hall after my first election in 2003. There I was reacquainted with the administration of Xaverian High School. On that same trip I visited the school before returning to Japan. During that visit we decided to hold some kind of exchange.

After some planning, the first group of 70 from Xaverian visited Inuyama. The next year a group of 40 from Inuyama visited NY. We participated in the Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We always have a cultural aspect to the exchange. The group from Xaverian is the Jazz Band and Chorus. Over 400 people have traveled back and forth between NY and our home town in Japan, Inuyama on this exchange. We have sent Japanese teachers to Xaverian, a kind of reverse JET. We have also arranged for Japanese educators to visit Xaverian while on study trips. We started to add charity events to our program after the financial meltdown several years ago. Our first event here in Inuyama, a charity concert by the Xaverian group, raised several thousand dollars for foreign residents who had lost their jobs. After the great tsunami earthquake, along with Xaverian HS, in events both in Japan and NY, we raised close to 15,000 dollars, and after Hurricane Sandy, 17,000 dollars.

Although the group from Xaverian is students and teachers, our group from Inuyama is mixed and has members from 7 to over 70 years old. For our 2013 spring trip from Japan to the States we were planning a cultural event which was to take place at Brooklyn Borough Hall. It was the first time for us to hold an independent event of this scale in this type of venue in New York. On-stage performances and demonstrations included calligraphy, tea ceremony, iaido martial art, and music by the Xaverian High School Jazz Band. In the booths, we were planning to have calligraphy lessons, serve matcha green tea and sweets, and have displays of handmade traditional Japanese items including geta sandals, bangasa umbrellas, kirie paper cutout and other art work, traditional toys and more.

After getting the go ahead from Borough Hall I got in touch with JETAA NY, as we needed help to pull our event off. They agreed to help and we set up a meeting for when I first got into town, which was about a week before the exchange group was to arrive. I also had been in touch with and set meetings with CLAIR New York and the Japanese Consulate in NY, both had also agreed to support our activity.

We needed help especially with communication between our group from Japan and local people attending the event, not only on the language level but the cultural level also. One of the obstacles for JET alumni to participate was that the event took place on weekday afternoon. Despite that, many showed up to help us on a day. They not only helped our guests from Japan communicate with locals visiting the event, they also displayed the individual skills they learned in Japan by serving as instructors in the various booths.

After returning to Japan, almost all of our members mentioned how impressed they were with not only how many alumni volunteered, but with their knowledge of Japan and the zeal with which they participated. I was proud as a former JET participant myself, and grateful as an organizer of the exchange.

The Japanese Consulate had their Deputy Consul General speak at the opening ceremony and also set up a booth of their own. CLAIR NY was extremely helpful from the start and I was in contact with them by email well before I got to NY. The Executive Director also came to speak at the opening ceremony and staff members were on hand to help along with JET alumni throughout the event. Another interesting aspect of this is the number of Xaverian student participants who expressed to me their interest in joining the JET Programme.

Needless to say, the event was a success due to the efforts of all involved. I felt a great connection to the other JET alumni who helped us. Also, the presence of the Consulate and CLAIR made me feel very close to and still part of the JET programme, although it has been over 20 years, a full generation, since I was an active JET participant. I have come to feel greater and greater pride at having been a JET with each new generation of alumni I meet. I feel as though I had worked in Japan with each and every one of them.

Once you are in the programme, you are in the programme for life. As an Italian kid from the streets of Brooklyn, I get that. Like they say, when you’re a JET you’re a JET all the way, from your first cup of tea to your last hanami.

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