JET, Jets and Japanese Studies

This post is based on a presentation I gave at the JET Alumni Association Special Interest Group Workshop at the University of East Anglia in December 2017.

Let’s just remind ourselves of the aims of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme: ‘To increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations, to promote internationalisation in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education, and to develop international exchange at the community level.’

One of part of my research has been about the jets that fly around Japan. Whilst my primary focus has been on the domestic side of things, I cannot ignore the significance of the international side, particularly with the expansion of LCC services to/from other Asian nations – although there have also been increases in demand from northern Europe which is causing capacity issues and forcing up prices or making people use other routes.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic there was massive growth in the number of foreign visitors to Japan in recent years. But still 7th in Asia & 22nd in the World. Target for 2020 raised from initial 20m target, as that was clearly going to be met easily, to 40m. This was a very different situation to when BET (a forerunner of JET) and then JET was established. Does this mean that the aim of increasing mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations by bringing young graduates to Japan to work is no longer needed? No. Because clearly not enough Japanese are going overseas. Yet again we have entered a period where there is a huge disparity between inbound and outbound visitors. What this chart does not show is also the length of stay – many Japanese people’s visits overseas are short – one week maximum, but often only 2 or 3 days, even for a trip to London and Paris.

If we look at where visitors to Japan come from, we see the dominance of East Asian countries and territories. Outbound Japanese visits are similar – but the data is skewed also by the majority of visits to the USA being to Hawai’i and Guam. Children, and I would argue even more importantly, teachers, need overseas experience too. This is where new programmes with school exchanges with Asian neighbours need to be developed, not as a replacement to JET, but as a parallel and enhancement to it. English will likely be the international language, let us not forget.

In terms of the JET programme and its main teaching positions, we can see that the countries are not well represented on this diagram, though the numbers are higher than in the past. Does this mean that JET no longer has a role as people are coming to Japan anyway? I would argue JET is still critical due to the different type of experience it presents.

These are the sort of things that people see on a short trip to Japan – which feature in my book Japan: The Basics. It’s barely scratching the surface of real Japan. What is more, it can lead to reinforcing misunderstandings. As Littlewood (1996:xiii) notes ‘One by one, the time-honoured images turn out to be true. But in doing so, they obscure all the other things that are true – which is why they are so dangerous. They teach us what to look for, and that is what we find; everything else becomes a background blur. We are left with a reality selected for us by our stereotypes.’

Remember the aims of JET. ‘To increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations, to promote internationalisation in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education, and to develop international exchange at the community level.’

This cannot be done through one or two-week holidays to Japan. And for Japanese people going overseas, a few days living in a touristy bubble are even more ineffective.

Do you know where this is? This is in Ueno-mura. The photograph taken from the crash site of JL123. Why am I showing this? Two reasons – one to link to my research on the JL123 crash.

The other reason is that when I was in Ueno-mura in September 2017. It was only about 2 weeks before doing a half-marathon, so I went for a training run. While doing this I passed a young lady, who could well have been an ALT. What language to greet her? But more than that, it reminded me of how great JET is & the depth of experiences possible.

When on JET you get to see a side of Japan you cannot as a visitor. For those of us who go on to academia, this can also be of vital importance. Not necessarily that the year will be fieldwork or linked to research – it did in my case. But understanding and experiencing how Japan operates is key. Many different types of academic experience. Family and other commitments mean that not all of us can look to go and work in Japan at a university, for example, or have long scholarships (which is perhaps not open up all the experiences of working in Japan anyway). Most of my trips to Japan have been very short.

I have written before about my busiest trip to Japan. Not all like this – but many are. Most are so research focussed, I do not get to see all aspects of Japanese working dynamics – without a year on JET, regardless of my studying Japanese at university, I may not have been able to understand how to conduct meetings, etc. There are limits to what can be learnt from books and lecturers – need personal experience too. JET also helped with the language. So, for many of us who want to go on to be academics, and I know this also from talking to recent students of mine, a JET experience is critical before starting the PhD.

Most academics have no experience of Japan or JET. Those that do, can help a lot to avoid the cultural misunderstandings that helped lead to JET being created. Japan remains a crucial trading and academic partner for the UK – and may become more so in some ways after Brexit. We need to ensure that more academics have experience of JET.

Remember the aims of JET. ‘To increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations, to promote internationalisation in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education, and to develop international exchange at the community level.’

JET still has much to offer. The question I would like to pose is what can those who have done JET and gone into academia do for JET, keeping in mind that not all go into Japanese studies, as I feel that perhaps that hasn’t been fully explored.

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