CLAIR and local governments that employ JET participants are implementing the ‘JET Furusato Vision Project’. By exploring opportunities to use JET alumni in globalisation and local revitalisation activities, CLAIR and the local governments of Japan hope to further expand the potential of the JET Programme and to publicise the successes of the Programme widely both in Japan and abroad.
JET alumni who participate in this project will return to their former places of employment on the JET Programme, visiting places and people they had strong connections with and reconnecting with the community. More importantly, participants will develop and implement their own ‘Vision Plan’ that utilises the skills and connections they acquired after JET to make new contributions to their former community in areas such as Tourism Promotion, Economic Exchange, Educational Exchange, Culture & Arts Exchange, Grassroots Exchange, Current JET Participant Career Support, or some other project to deepen the community’s ties to the world.
In the autumn of 2018, CLAIR Tokyo and local governments that employ JET Programme participants followed up the successes of 2017 with the second year of the JET Furusato Vision Project. The project took place between 25 October and 10 November 2018, and JET alumni whose former contracting organisations were in Eastern Japan were eligible to participate. Applications were accepted from 5 March to 20 April 2018, and 44 project proposals from JET alumni around the world were submitted. CLAIR choose eight JET alumni to participate in the Project.
Here we we introduce the projects implemented in 2017 and some comments from the eight participants.
Yamagata Prefecture – Adrian O’Connell returned to his home country of Ireland after spending a couple years in Japan working in tourism and marketing upon finishing his term as an ALT. Back in Ireland, he pursued further education in television and film productions. He has built an impressive portfolio of video work which includes two short films. In late October, Adrian spent four days in and around Sakata City, Yamagata interviewing local farmers and filming for a documentary he will edit and produce to, in his own words, “Raise international awareness to the beauty of the region’s people, landscapes, onsens, food, and drink, as well as highlighting the attractiveness of countryside living to the younger Japanese generations.” Before the project, Adrian said, “Yamagata’s countryside and its people have a big place in my heart and I want to go back to capture the magic through making a short film on a day in the life of a rice farmer in Sakata, their tradition, and philosophies.” After the project, Adrian expressed great pleasure with the work he was able to achieve during his week in Japan and high hopes for the next stage of his project, which CLAIR will surely share in the future.
Kawamata Town, Fukushima Prefecture – Michelle Spezzacatena works at the United States Library of Congress and has been active in the JETAA community since returning from her time on JET. She has devoted much of her life to supporting literacy, remarking, “As a former Fukushima JET, and a current Library of Congress employee, education and reading are two topics that are very important to me.” Her furusato, Kawamata Town in Fukushima, suffered severe consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake, including a partial evacuation. Michelle was active immediately after the disaster, working with JETAA to distribute funds raised to affected regions. She also provided direct support to Kawamata by arranging for a group of student Taiko drummers to travel to Washington, D.C. for a life-changing experience. Through the Furusato Vision Project, she was able to continue her support by establishing English libraries in Kawamata’s schools, donating more than 100 books. She will continue to arrange for books to be sent to Kawamata in the future, ensuring a lasting connection and contribution to her Japanese hometown.
Tochigi Prefecture – Farah Karim, is a security software development company executive with a background in engineering. She has a passion for design, specifically that of fashion and apparel, describing herself as a keen dressmaker. She was an ALT in Oyama City, Tochigi Prefecture, the center of a small industry that produces Yuki Tsumugi, an exquisite, rare fabric known throughout Japan for its unique production technique and luxurious quality. Yuki Tsumugi silk is designated as one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan and is on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Before the project began, Farah said, “I always look for great quality fabrics to craft beautiful garments and products. It is rare – if not impossible – to find Yuki Tsumugi within the UK or even Europe. Therefore, I would be delighted to participate in the Furusato Vision Project to help make Oyama’s Yuki Tsumugi silk known in my continent and support local manufacturers.” Farah travelled throughout the region, meeting with the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Oyama City, learning from local officials tasked with preserving the industry, studying the production techniques with local artisans, and consulted with a local wholesaler and producers’ cooperative. Farah is now ready to display samples acquired during the trip in the United Kingdom next year, after which she will work with her new contacts in the Oyama area to spread the elegance of Yuki Tsumugi throughout the world.
Myoko City, Niigata Prefecture – Rhea Braunwalder, cultural and social project coordinator and university researcher in Switzerland, became enamored with Japanese Taiko drumming soon after arriving in Myoko City, Niigata Prefecture as a JET Programme ALT. Upon returning to Switzerland, she hoped to continue her Taiko activities in some way, and became acquainted with a group near her hometown. The Myoko Kogen Shumisen Taiko group she practiced with while living in Niigata has a unique, entertaining style, but only has a few young members to keep the tradition going. Thus, Rhea’s project allowed her to return to Myoko to practice, document, and record select pieces to take back to Switzerland and teach to her local group. Eventually, the Swiss group will perform these pieces and promote Myoko City. Rhea also hopes that someday members of the group in Japan can visit Switzerland to engage in joint performances and instruction.
Fukui Prefecture – Traci Bowles, a school district administrator in the United States and former ALT in Fukui Prefecture, has had an “insatiable appetite for information on dinosaurs and fossils” since childhood. As fortune would have it, her JET placement and furusato is the center of dinosaur paleontology in Japan, and her alma mater Rowan University recently opened a fossil park with plans for a museum and visitors’ centre in her home state of New Jersey. Traci’s project aims to connect the thriving dinosaur and fossil culture in Fukui with the budding fossil and paleontology community in her area. She was able to visit university researchers and museum personnel to get a better idea of the local efforts to promote the sciences, specifically dinosaurs. Using her newfound connections and experiences from the Furusato Vision Project, Traci hopes to not only educate the students in her district about her second home in Japan and its scientific riches, but also create a lasting relationship between the museums and people of the two regions.
- Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture – Lynn Nylander, an educator and public employee in Sweden originally from the United States, is an avid photographer and has led local photography tourism projects in China. She notes a common aesthetic between Sweden and Japan and asserts that an existing interest in Japanese culture combined with the allure of onsen hot springs would attract more visitors from Sweden. By highlighting Fuefuki City’s rich collection of onsens through lectures and photographic exhibits in her community, Lynn hopes to encourage her fellow citizens to visit Yamanashi. The government of her city in Sweden has already agreed to assist in distributing her promotional materials to every household in the city and hosting her lectures, so her work during the project will certainly inspire some of her neighbors to look into a relaxing vacation in her furusato.
Shizuoka Prefecture – Justin Koek, a government employee in Australia and former Shizuoka Prefecture ALT, has a passion for soccer and has been active in his local sports community since returning from Japan. His furusato in Shizuoka also happens to be a soccer powerhouse, and his former school has a prestigious team that has sent players to the professional ranks and even Japan’s national teams. This project aims to create a relationship between clubs and enthusiasts in his local area and his Japan hometown. Visits to schools and professional teams were Justin’s objective, and he will take advantage of the new relationships he made during the project to promote a cooperative exchange between both of his communities.
- Toyone Village, Aichi Prefecture – Jeffrey MacCharles, a Ph.D. student in Sport Management and lifelong curler from Canada living in the United States, has fond memories of how Sports Day festivities in Toyone Village contributed to a more fulfilling JET Programme experience. Jeffrey aims to continue enriching the lives of young people in Toyone and around Aichi through sports education and exchange. During the project, Jeffrey and CLAIR cooperated with local groups to hold ice and floor curling events around Nagoya, as well as visiting Toyone and his old school. With great success in curling at the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, the sport has gained popularity here in Japan. Jeffrey wants to build on that momentum and work with curling organisations in Canada, the United States, and Japan to promote the sport he loves to as many students as possible.
The projects operated on tight schedules, but each of the eight participants worked tirelessly to make the most of their allotted time. The participants’ activities during the project concluded with presentations in Tokyo where they were able to engage with members of related organisations as well as each other. Each participant spoke enthusiastically about their activities during the project, their hopes for future cooperation, and their appreciation for the opportunity provided by the Furusato Vision Project.
Stay informed about future opportunities with the Furusato Vision Project by following on social media using the links below, subscribing to JET Streams, and staying connected with your local JETAA Chapter. Also, please check the JET Programme Homepage for information regarding all of CLAIR’s JET-related initiatives.
In the autumn of 2017, CLAIR Tokyo and local governments that employ JET Programme participants launched the JET Furusato Vision Project. The project took place between 26 October and 10 November 2017, and JET alumni whose former contracting organisations were in Western Japan were eligible to participate. Applications were accepted from 17 March to 8 May 2017, and 106 project proposals from JET alumni around the world were submitted. CLAIR choose eight JET alumni to participate in the Project.
Here we we introduce the projects implemented in 2017 and some comments from the eight participants.
Hamada City, Shimane Prefecture – Rose Tanasugarn returned to her home country temporarily after being a JET participant in Shimane Prefecture, but now currently works in marketing and sales at a hotel in Kobe City. Having become more knowledgeable about communications, Rose decided to utilise her new-found knowledge and skills to talk about marketing with university students, local government staff, and other officials in her former contracting organisation of Hamada City. In addition, Rose used the connections she made on the JET Programme to help coordinate an event for foreigners in the local area. At the event, participants could both watch and try for themselves the Iwami Region’s famous ‘Iwami Kagura’ dance and ‘Iwami Pottery’. Though the event was threatened by inclement weather, the sun came out soon after it began, and many people came and enjoyed the event. When asked what the best part of the experience was, Rose commented, ‘There were so many “bests”, but it was probably the many coincidental reunions with former colleagues and students and being able to give back (to the community) was the best’.
Ehime Prefecture – After finishing the JET Programme, Jessica Shepherd returned to Canada to continue her education. While studying at graduate school, Jessica maintained her connections with Japan by serving as a sommelier of Japanese sake at several events hosted by the Japanese embassy. As she introduced the wonder of Japanese sake to attendees at the events, she noticed that many people were disappointed to hear that the sake she was serving was not available in stores. To fix this, Jessica decided to acquire a license to import sake to Quebec, and used the JET Furusato Vision Project to visit local breweries in her former contracting organisation of Ehime, which is famous for sake. After visiting multiple breweries to discuss the possibility of exporting to Canada, she managed to find a few vendors interested in her endeavour. Jessica is now back in Canada making further preparations to import local Ehime brand sake.
Oita Prefecture – Michael Carrasco, an associate professor of art history, took the opportunity to study Oita Prefecture’s bamboo arts and traditional basketry on the JET Furusato Vision Project. Michael met with renowned bamboo artists and craftsmen, officials and curators at the Oita Prefectural Art Museum, community members involved in sustainable bamboo forestry, and prefectural staff focusing on the preservation of traditional arts and crafts throughout the prefecture and performed numerous interviews. Michael’s vision is to utilise the connections he made on the Project to invite a bamboo artist to his university and/or plan an exhibition that includes Oita bamboo craftwork, thus spreading knowledge about this traditional art. Michael is currently working with his connections to investigate the next step in his Project.
Kyoto Prefecture – Patrick Monari, a second generation Japanese-American, did not have the opportunity to speak Japanese at home when growing up. He did, however, have the opportunity to enjoy Japanese cuisine, and identifies strongly with this food culture. While in Kyoto on the JET Programme, Patrick was particularly taken by Kyoto’s signature kyoyasai vegetables and kyotsukemono pickles, and decided to make this the theme of his JET Furusato Vision Project. Working with CLAIR, the Kyoto Prefectural Government, and the Kyoto Prefectural Association of Pickle Makers, Patrick was able to schedule interviews with pickle makers from major manufacturers as well as with smaller artisans. He also spoke with prefectural officials about the branding of Kyoto’s kyoyasai vegetables, and even spent a week before the project working on a farm to learn more about what makes the vegetables special. In addition to showcasing kyotsukemono on a popular Japanese cuisine Facebook page (Japan Food Today), Patrick plans to host a pickle-making workshop in his hometown with local supermarket and restaurant officials.
Tokushima Prefecture – Katherine Osgood first experienced special needs education while on the JET Programme, and since then, she has dedicated her life to being a special needs educator, studying the practices, and raising awareness. With the aim of giving back to those who introduced her to this passion in Tokushima Prefecture, Katherine decided to share her knowledge of the field with educators in Tokushima. Returning for the first time in a decade, she learned about the current situation of special needs education in the prefecture, exchanged opinions with education officials, and held a workshop for current JET participants and other local educators about best practices in special needs education. Regarding Katherine’s project, officials in Tokushima commented, ‘We were concerned at first about the limited scope of the topic of Katherine’s project and whether or not it would be able to pique the interests of students and participants in the workshop, but the teachers and students welcomed her warmly, and participants in the workshop were very proactive in asking questions. We think this was a great opportunity to think about special needs education in the prefecture’.
- Kitakyushu City – Julius Pang is a professional photographer and photo tour guide. Identifying prime locations for photo shooting throughout Japan, Julius leads groups of photography-savvy tourists, and while instructing them about photography techniques, shows them around the country to places where travellers can get their ‘best shot’. While Julius leads tours in Hokkaido and the Tohoku, Kanto, and Kansai regions, he had yet to develop a course including his former contracting organisation, Kitakyushu City. Thinking he could use his photography skills to help promote the city to more people around the world, Julius worked with CLAIR and Kitakyushu City to plan a 5-day photo-tour of the city’s most superb sites. The city was kind enough to negotiate with officials at locations around the city to allow Julius to shoot with his camera and drone in areas usually off-limits to photographers. Julius has been preparing the photos and videos he took for the city’s use in tourism promotion, while also considering the spots for a new photo tour. The city also hopes to use the spots Julius picked as reference for future travel promotion campaigns. While on the Project, Julius’s efforts were recognised by local newspapers and cable news networks; his photos also attracted a large number of followers on social media. To his fellow JET alumni, Julius commented, ‘I highly recommend the Furusato Vision Project. It is ideal because you can get a lot of help to contribute back to your furusato, and it helps promote Japan. I hope it continues for many years’.
Miyakonojo City, Miyazaki Prefecture – Boldbaatar Tsendsuren is a former CIR of Miyakonojo City in Miyazaki Prefecture. After leaving the Programme, she worked at a local cable television network in Miyakonojo, gaining experience in the television world. She has since returned to her home country of Mongolia, but continues her exchanges with friends in Miyakonojo, keeping up-to-date with the latest goings-on of the city. When she heard that Miyakonojo officials were making an effort to publicise Miyakonojo beef in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, she jumped on the chance to use her connections at television stations in both Ulaanbaatar and Miyakonojo to propose a programme introducing Miyakonojo beef to the people of Mongolia. For the project, Boldbaatar was planner, director, host, and editor of the programme. The local cable television network in Miyakonojo, BTV, assisted her by providing a cameraman and transportation for the duration of the project, and officials of Miyakonojo City arranged the shooting locations and interviews with local cattle farmers. After the project, Boldbaatar commented, ‘The people of Miyakonojo were very happy and thankful when they learned of my project to spread the word about Miyakonojo beef. I will have to work on editing the footage when I go back to Mongolia, but I want to make it an excellent programme worthy of the thanks I received from people here’.
Amakusa City, Kumamoto Prefecture – Zachary Johnson is working on a community art project to explore commonalities in both the Ushibuka region of his former contracting organisation, Amakusa City, and the Burton Heights neighbourhood in his town of Grand Rapids in the United States. Though each region faces different social and economic hardships, both areas are experiencing shifts in population and an increase in empty shops and homes, threatening the loss of the neighbourhoods’ histories. Seeing the situations of both neighbourhoods, Zachary proposed an art project focused on the enduring hometown pride felt by people in each region and their memories of the neighbourhood, rather than simply on the changing cityscapes. Zachary had residents of both regions write short messages regarding their memories, and photographed the participants in the associated locations. The memory, photograph of the location, and photograph of the person will be displayed together in an art exhibition in Grand Rapids planned for summer 2018. Zachary hopes that the exhibit will be an opportunity for people to reflect on what makes their communities special.
Each project operated on a very tight schedule, but each of this year’s eight participants worked tirelessly to make the most of their allotted time. Despite the tough schedule, all of the participants agreed that the JET Furusato Vision Project was an endeavour that they would recommend to their fellow JET alumni!
Here we present advice from CLAIR staff and participants in the 2017 JET Furusato Vision Project.
- Propose something only you can do, either because of your connections or the skills you acquired after JET. If your project idea is one a current JET participant (ALT or CIR) can easily do, it will be less competitive in the selection process.
- Consider how your proposal will look when shown to local government or school officials. Have all the necessary details been explained? Have you explained what your role will be in the project, and what you expect CLAIR or your former contracting organization (a local government) to help with? As your former contracting organization will be consulted in the screening process, make sure that the local government officials there can understand your idea and the merits to helping you do it.
- Remember that there are budget constraints. CLAIR can provide some assistance with project related fees so there is no burden on the local government, but only to an extent. Projects which hinge on obtaining a large sum of funding may be less competitive.
- Try to limit the range of your activities to the prefecture or designated city where you were located on the Programme, and be sure to mention how your proposal will help that region!
- Although many JET alumni show interest in engaging in activities at their former schools, please remember that school schedules cannot always accommodate events or special classes. Events or special classes longer than an hour are often difficult to schedule, and even when the planned activity is short, schools may not be able to allot time due to another scheduled event (sports day, school festival, teachers’ conference, etc.).
- In principle, while participating on the project, participants must use public transportation (trains, buses, ferries, taxis, etc.). Participants cannot rent a car, even if they bear the cost themselves.