Department of JET Programme Management, CLAIR Tokyo
Propose a ‘Vision’ of your ‘Home-Away-From-Home’ and Visit your Former Contracting Organisation in Japan!
Do you want to contribute to your former contracting organisation, your ‘Second Home’ in Japan? In the JET Furusato Vision Project, JET alumni will be able to return to their former contracting organisations from their time on the Programme to reaffirm their bonds with the local community and, more importantly, develop and implement their own ‘Vision Plan’ that utilises the skills and connections they acquired after JET to bring new energy to the region.
For more information such as how to apply, please check the link below. We look forward to receiving many applications!
Deadline: Monday, 8 May, 2017 9:00 A.M. (Japan Standard Time)
By Aurélie Noel, Former Ibaraki Prefecture CIR, 2010-2013; President of JETAA France
Four key words that describe French JETs:
—Speaking fluently, adapting continuously, working efficiently, and always smiling!—
*The subtitle refers to the “Moses’ Ten Commandments” motif (a French expression).
A commemorative ceremony was held in Tokyo on 7 November, 2016 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the JET Programme, and as President of the JETAA France Association, I had the honour and great pleasure of attending it. Our association will soon celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2018 and I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the professional and personal experiences of the French JET Programme participants. To this end, I am currently collecting testimonials from participants in Japan, but also from former participants. My trip to Japan last November enabled me to meet three French participants currently working in Japan. French participants of the Programme usually have interesting profiles due to their experiences, their knowledge of several languages, and the nature of their positions within the Programme. They have often mastered at least four languages: French, English (learned from the age of 8 in a playful way, then more seriously from the age of 12 when entering college), a second foreign language such as Italian, Spanish, German or Russian, taught at the age of 14 in all middle schools in France, and finally, Japanese, studied intensively at university up to JLPT level N1 or N2.
Let me first introduce Damien Robuchon, CIR in the town of Tomioka in Gunma prefecture. Damien first studied Japanese at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations in France. Tomioka, a town of 50,000 inhabitants, has hosted a French CIR since 2013. The inclusion of the Silk Mill of Tomioka as a World Heritage site in 2014 played an important role in the development of the city. From the very beginning of his term, Damien carried out documentary research and made translations to prepare for the annual documentary exhibition at the Silk Mill. He was also involved with the preparations for the exhibition ‘SOYEUX DESTINS’, which was held in collaboration with the consulate of Japan in Lyon. In 2016, he worked on a major exhibition in Tomioka dedicated to Bourg-de-Péage and its surroundings, a city with which Tomioka signed a friendship pact. His involvement included helping coordinate the loaning of museum collections from France.
Moreover, in the summer of 2014, Damien had the opportunity to work on an amazing project that he never would have imagined being able to do while on the JET Programme: the production of a half hour TV programme in English for the international broadcaster NHK World regarding Silk Spinning in Tomioka (‘Journeys in Japan: Tomioka, Cradle of Japan’s Modernisation’). For this project, Damien worked closely with the director in preparing for the filming, writing the screenplay, and even playing the role of the reporter and of Paul Brunat, the French engineer who founded the first modern silk spinning mill in Japan in Tomioka in 1872. This unforgettable and very formative experience shows the degree of adaptability that JET participants must demonstrate and illustrates well the skills that the participants can develop during their work.
As translators, interpreters, and trilingual actors, every single day is different for French JET Programme participants. This is also true for Ludovic De Pinho, CIR since 2013 in Ibaraki Prefecture where he divides his time between the International Association of Ibaraki and the International Relations Division of the prefectural government. Originally from Toulouse, Ludovic first studied neurosciences; a few years later he began studying Japanese, including a year at the Chuo University in Tokyo in 2009. Like Damien, Ludovic’s professional activity is composed of translating, interpreting and organising of official visits. However, Ludovic’s work finds its originality in its position at the crossroads of foreign cultures.
He contributes to the ‘World Culture Seminar’, a series of conferences organised by foreign residents of the department which takes place about ten times over a six month term, as an organiser and ‘head hunter’ for presenters at the seminar. Through these conferences, the citizens of Ibaraki Prefecture can learn more about other cultures and discuss in English a different topic each week. Ludovic also contributed to the dissemination of French culture and helps dissolve stereotypes by visiting the primary schools of the prefecture on a regular basis. Finally, as part of the prefecture’s effort to support foreign residents, Ludovic counsels and assists those who contact the International Association seeking help with the issues they encounter in their everyday lives. The support Ibaraki provides every weekday includes a helpline and counsellor visitations. Being part of the JET programme also means contributing to the well-being of the community on many levels.
Alice Paquier, the current CIR in the city of Kita-Ibaraki in the same prefecture as Ludovic reminds us that the passion for Japan often begins very early for the participants of the JET programme, even from childhood. Alice, like many children and teenagers, learned about Japan through its pop culture; after all, France, along with America and Japan itself, is among the top 3 consumers of Japanese anime and manga. Following studies in international relations and a year spent on exchange in Japan and then in the United States as a French language teacher, Alice first spent three years in the town of Nasushiobara, in Tochigi prefecture between 2013 and 2016. The activities led by Alice are as varied as Damien’s and Ludovic’s but she is also in charge of many events and classes involving the children and seniors of the community. Alice’s experience is also unique because she tries out many new and different activities, such as interviewing local people and sharing her daily life in Tochigi on the local radio station. Perhaps French JETs should add ‘reporter’ to their list of job-titles? Alice is involved in producing a Facebook page: “Life in Kita-Ibaraki” where she once again offers her French perspective on the characteristics of the prefecture.
While this article didn’t feature any interviews with French ALTs, the description of the French JET experience would not be complete without mentioning that French ALTs are all trained in French as a Foreign Language (FLE, the equivalent of ESL for English) and work in several high schools in Japan. Some French ALTs even have the ability and skills to teach English.
These three stories illustrate the diversity of experiences within the JET Programme and the strengths that the participants represent for Japanese local communities.
By Luke Valentine, Former Tochigi ALT, 1996 – 1998
My time on the JET Programme was one of the best experiences of my life, a hugely transformative, educational and influential period that has continued to influence my daily life in Denmark almost 20 years after leaving the programme. When I think about the decisions that I have made, my initial choice to apply, and then to accept the offer, I think that they were some the best I have ever taken. My university degree was what qualified me to participate but in retrospect I felt as though I learned so much more from my time in Japan than in the lecture halls of Manchester University. And what’s more I had a salary and subsidised accommodation too. I remember reflecting in my goodbye speech at Tanuma High School on whether or not I had done enough to help my students: where was the “exchange” in the JET Programme when I felt as though I was the one who had gained so much?
At the time that I lived in Japan I would often hear nostalgic accounts of the pre-bubble days of the 1980s when Japan was awash with cash and opportunities were abundant. In retrospect, things were good for us in the 1990s too, with business class travel to Japan and conferences at hot spring resorts throughout my time as a JET. Most memorably, we had a conference in Kobe for JET participants that were renewing their contracts, and that was where I got together with my now wife, a Canadian ALT based in Gunma. Today, we live with our two children in Copenhagen. As it is a place they hear about a lot, my kids are fascinated with Japan and have even picked up some words from us. In some ways I feel that our children are JET kids. Should the programme get to celebrate its 40th anniversary, they might even become participants.
One event that didn’t exist in my time was the After JET Conference. Maybe this is a sign of the programme maturing. Certainly the questions and worries that today’s participants have about what to do next are the same as those that we keenly felt 20 years ago. I would have really appreciated the chance to meet former JETs and to go to a career fair at a time when I was faxing applications and hand-writing my CV in response to newspaper ads in the Japan Times.
It was therefore a huge pleasure and honour to be invited to attend the latest After JET Conference in Yokohama in February. After 18 years of working in the game industry and having left Japan in December 2000, I was impressed at the formality of everything. All of the attending JETs were wearing suits. Everybody was so polite. I was referred to as Mr. Valentine, or even sensei. It was an overwhelmingly familiar yet distant experience. I was lucky enough to meet many present participants, all of whom seemed very focused and disciplined and sure to go on to success in their lives after JET. Over the two-day conference, I was able to pick up on: how things are today on the programme; what has changed; and what remains the same. I was also able to thoroughly enjoy doing a workshop on the game industry. My present company is owned by Square Enix and it was an added bonus that I was able to visit our head office in Shinjuku afterwards.
I was so incredibly happy to be back in Japan and loved every moment of my visit. To those of you who are still participants—should you be considering leaving the country—I can only assure you that Japan will always remain a treasured place to you. I am still in close contact with many of the friends I met on the JET Programme, all of whom have interesting and fulfilling jobs whether they remained in Japan, returned to their home countries, or ended up somewhere completely unrelated to either. As hard as it is to imagine as you look ahead to your last few months as a JET, you will all find something fun to do in your lives. Do your homework, ask lots of questions and get as much out of the last few months as you can—you will value your time as a JET forever.
Department of JET Programme Management, CLAIR Tokyo
1) Could you introduce yourself and explain a little bit about your experiences as a JET participant, and as a JET alumnus after returning to Canada?
About half a year prior to graduating with an undergraduate degree in English Literature and a minor in Computer Science my mom saw an ad for the JET Programme and asked me if I was interested in applying. That accidental view of a small ad changed my life.
I became a JET in Akita for 3 years and loved it. I certainly learned a lot–probably more than I taught! I took up Shorinji Kempo (a Japanese martial art form based on Shaolin Kung Fu) and earned my shodan (first level black-belt). I learned Japanese and about Japanese arts, culture, and sports. And, most importantly of all, I learned about the Japanese people and made lifelong friends.
After leaving JET, I went to graduate school for an International MBA (IMBA). As part of that programme I went back to Japan as an intern and as an exchange student. After graduating I went back to Japan to work in a large international company. So, all-in-all I lived in Japan 3 times for nearly 6 years in total.
Since last living in Japan, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of business in Japan and I’ve been a very frequent traveller there. In fact, in 2015 I was in Japan 7 times! I continue to work with Japanese companies and it is, without a doubt, the JET Programme that got me involved in Japan in the first place.
2) How and when did you get involved with Japanese taiko?
I was first introduced to taiko when I arrived in Akita and saw the Kanto Matsuri. As an amateur kit drummer I was intrigued by this all-encompassing drumming form. I was introduced to a local shinto shrine group (Iyataka Jinja) and played with them for 3 years. I played at many festivals, including the Kanto Matsuri.
When I lived in Tokyo I missed taiko immensely so I was looking for a group to join. I went to Asakusa’s Sanja Matsuri, one of Japan’s largest festivals, and I saw an amazing group. They had amazing energy, passion, and power. Their songs were awesome and they were throwing the bachi (sticks) around like they were jugglers. After their show I approached them and asked to join–and they said sure. I went to my first practise with Hanabusa Taiko in Saitama that week. They were surprised when I showed up–they just didn’t think that I would. But I played with them for 2 years and also got the chance to play at the Sanja Matsuri. The practises were tough and, on occasion, my hand would form new blisters, the blisters would pop, and I would bleed on the bachi–something I am very proud of!
After leaving Japan, I came back to Toronto and I desperately missed taiko. After trying out a couple of local groups I decided to form Arashido Taiko. We’ve been playing for over 10 years now. We’ve recorded commercials, played in small and large events, and educated countless kids and adults through our school programme and lessons, countless kids and adults.
3) Please introduce your taiko group ‘Arashido Taiko’ (taiko style/ school of taiko, members, activities/performances, and training sessions):
Arashido Taiko is a volunteer run group. Arashi-do translates in to “The Way of the Storm” and it is indicative of the way we try and harness power and passion in to making music. We welcome anyone with the right attitude and a bit of skill. Our members change every once in a while but we generally have between 8-10 members. Our mission is to promote taiko and Japanese culture while having a ton of fun playing big drums! We play in all kinds of performances, from weddings and small corporate events to huge festivals. We perform for charities free-of-charge and we donate significant funds to charities every year in order to give back to the community.
Arashido Taiko plays modern taiko songs, sometimes with accompanying modern music but usually with just the drums. We also play more traditional songs where the taiko player would play on top of a yagura (tower) while dancers would dance around (Bon Odori Matsuri).
We like to say that we are the loudest acoustic band that you’ll ever hear. We emphasise that taiko is a group activity (it is hard to play taiko by yourself) and that taiko is an art that is 50% visual and 50% audible–so how we play and how we look (our form), is as important as the sound we produce.
4) Was it difficult to establish a taiko group in Canada and find members? Where did you purchase the drums, where do you store them? Do you have a taiko teacher or do you practise on your own?
Like most things that are worthwhile, it wasn’t easy to establish a taiko group. Many of the other groups in Toronto were funded either by sponsors or through government funds. Arashido taiko was built through our own funds and, later, through performance fees. We started with a drum that I bought and we had 3 members, a former JET, my girlfriend (and future wife), and myself. We slowly grew, primarily through word-of-mouth within the JET community.
All of our drums and equipment are purchased in Japan and I’ve brought back most of the drums myself as checked baggage. Our largest drum, with a diameter of about 1m, was a real adventure bringing back. The drum weighed 32kg and the stand weighed 64kg–so I had to split everything up in to 32kg packages, rent a van to drive to Narita, and then speak with a bunch of people to get my gear cleared to get on the plane.
We have practised at a local elementary school for about 9 years now. We store our drums in an industrial closet at the school. New members typically find us through our website and every new member brings something new to the group so we have evolved a lot through the years.
I still lead the group but everyone helps to teach and improve our form and develop the group.
5) How do you find events to perform at? What is the general audience like? How is the reception of Japanese taiko in Canada?
Most of our events find us! Our website, created by one of our members, is a powerful tool in promoting our group and it has been the key to connecting us with people interested in taiko.
Taiko is relatively unknown in Canada and our audiences are usually seeing taiko for the first time… and generally they are blown away by the performance. We strive to always put on energetic, powerful, and passionate shows and if we aren’t out-of-breath and sweaty by the end of a performance then we haven’t done something right!
6) What was the best experience you had so far with Arashido Taiko?
Without a doubt the best thing about playing taiko has been the ability to hang out with the amazing, committed, and talented members of the group. Week-in and week-out they come to practise, play hard, and have fun. The group is like a family.
On the performance side, we’ve had some fantastic experiences, from opening up the first Uniqlo shop in Canada (in front of Tadashi Yanai, Uniqlo’s Founder and CEO), to playing in front of thousands of people at BuskerFest, the largest festival of its kind in North America, to playing at my kids’ day-care! Playing in front of people who are into the performance is so much fun and is addictive!
7) Do you have a message for the JET Streams readership?
The best thing that you can do for yourself is to get involved in something that you are interested in. Explore and find your passion and then make time for it. It may end up being a lifetime endeavour that keeps you grounded, happy, and healthy!