The Department of JET Programme Management, CLAIR
This February, CLAIR and local chambers of commerce hosted the annual JET Programme Career Fairs in Osaka and Yokohama for JET participants leaving the Programme.
Before 2014, AJET hosted the ‘AJET Information Fair’ as part of CLAIR’s ‘After JET Conference’ so that participants leaving the Programme could meet with businesses and graduate/business schools interested in offering opportunities for JET participants and alumni. Feeling it necessary to provide more support to JET participants who decide to stay in Japan after JET, CLAIR began hosting the event as the ‘JET Programme Career Fair’ starting in February 2014, with 27 companies in attendance.
Since then, thanks to the efforts of many distinguished JET alumni promoting the event to their employers and business connections, the career fair has expanded each year to feature more companies and multiple venues throughout Japan. This year, a record 31 companies and 143 JET participants and alumni attended the career fair held on 3 February at Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building, followed by an even more impressive 75 companies and 352 JET participants and alumni at Pacifico Yokohama on 25 February.
Companies attending the fair ranged from Japanese SMEs looking to expand abroad to large-scale Japanese trading companies, international hotel chains, major airlines, prominent entertainment companies, and even several manufacturers.
CLAIR staff who have attended the fairs over the years commented ‘Each year, we see leaving JET participants anxious about their future reappear the following year at the fair, this time on the side of the hiring companies. We are glad to see that the fair is leading to real career opportunities for participants, and greatly appreciate all the efforts of the alumni community in spreading the word about the JET Programme. We hope to continue to have companies passionate about hiring excellent, globally-minded professionals like JET programme participants at the fair, while also furthering our endeavors to educate JET participants about job-searching in Japan and abroad.’
Japan, like many developed countries, is facing large-scale issues such as a super-aging society, low birth-rate, labor shortage, decreased sense of community among citizens, disaster preparedness, environmental preservation, etc. In order to tackle these issues, many local governments have created unique policies and projects worthy of note by the global community.
Every year, we at CLAIR select examples of leading-edge policies from around Japan, translating them into English (from 2017 we have started translating some of the Best Practices into French, Korean and Mandarin as well) and publishing them on our website. It is our hope that this free resource will be of use to local governments around the world, who are perhaps facing the same problems as Japan. We also hope that this publication will encourage exchanges between local governments.
The 2017 version of Best Practices is now available on our website! You can access it via the link below.
Xander Peterson, Former Miyakonojo City ALT, Miyazaki Prefecture
Come 1 April, 2018, my two-year tenure as JETAA International (JETAA-I) Chair will come to a close. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to have served in that role, and I am immensely proud of all that we have accomplished. I would like to take a moment to reflect on our achievements as an organization, discuss the goals we have for the future, and briefly highlight my next JET-related endeavor.
I first became involved with JETAA-I back in fall of 2015 when, as one of the JETAA USA Country Representatives at the time, I began to work with CLAIR on revitalizing JETAA-I in preparation for the JET 30th Anniversary the following year. Within a year, with the help of an incredible core team of JETAA and AJET veterans, we were able to rebuild JETAA-I from the ground up; we recruited all of the current JETAA Country Representatives, passed new bylaws, modernized our online communication infrastructure, and improved our web presence with a new website. After Ashlie O’Neill and I were elected as our first Vice Chair and Chair respectively, we set out on our biggest initiative – to hold an international forum in Tokyo just a few short months later for the JET 30th Anniversary in November, 2016. The forum was a huge success, kicked off by the induction of the newest country to join the JETAA-I family, JETAA Trinidad & Tobago. Meaningful discussions were had with the heads of CLAIR and the respective three ministries involved with the program about our commitment to improving international diversity amongst JET participants. Most importantly, bonds of comradery were formed amongst the 19 JETAA Country Representatives in a way that only meeting in person can create. That weekend marked the true beginning of the birth of JETAA-I 2.0.
Since that time, JETAA-I has had a number of achievements to be proud of. We have collaborated with AJET on numerous occasions on both pre-departure and returnee preparation and have maintained close ties with the National AJET team. We also communicate constantly and collaborate with CLAIR on a number of initiatives; our relationship is stronger than it has ever been. Significant conversations and ideas are exchanged amongst the member Country Representatives, accomplishing our underlying mission of bringing the JETAA family that much closer together. We filled out our Board of Advisors with a stellar cast of individuals, and our web presence continues to be regularly updated and influential. Lastly, our most recent undertaking, the KenJETKai (KJK) Initiative, is off to a fantastic start, with the majority of prefectures now having their own KJK group.
But for all that we have done there is still plenty more to do, as our past accomplishments are only overshadowed by our future ambitions. We are always looking at ways to grow the JETAA family, and with our guidance on infrastructure creation, I predict we’ll see the foundation of at least one more new country JETAA chapter as well as a couple of new chapters in existing countries. Our partnerships with CLAIR and AJET will only grow stronger as we continue to play a more active role in events like the After JET Conference. We will continue to support the organic growth of the KJKs and help position them as key prefectural communication hubs, especially as more alumni plan return visits to Japan for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. And finally, our website and other online portals will continue to grow with valuable global resources for JETs and JET alumni. These are just a few examples of the good work that JETAA-I will continue to support, not to mention all of the new projects and initiatives yet to be started. Ashlie O’Neill, as my Vice Chair for the past two years, is better equipped than anyone to be the next Chair. I have the utmost confidence in her and in Rose Tanasugarn, the new Vice Chair, to guide JETAA-I on all of its future endeavors.
Being Chair of JETAA-I has been one of the most rewarding opportunities I have ever had. I’ve seen the strength of our global network firsthand and am deeply proud of the success we have had. Since returning from JET in 2012 I have been working for JET full steam, first as a JET Program Coordinator for 2.5 years, then as the JETAA USA Country Representative for 3 years, and finally as the JETAA-I Chair for 2 years. I am so grateful to have had these opportunities to help the JET Program over the past 6 years – and I have no intention on slowing down. My work with JETAA keeps me engaged with Japan and is a wonderful community full of lifelong friends. While it can be a lot of work at times, I always appreciate the numerous ways that being active with JETAA enriches my personal and professional life.
My next endeavor is to actively lead the JET Program Developers, a community I founded last year of software engineers, UI/UX designers, and project managers who want to build apps for JET and Japan. We already have over 30 members, but the group has been dormant as I was too busy to devote time to it. Now I’ll be able to commit my time to building meaningful open-source projects, as well as to teach current JETs and JET alumni who are interested in learning how to code. If you are interested in joining the community, please email me directly at email@example.com.
Joe Yount, Former Tsuru City ALT, Yamanashi Prefecture, 2008-2012
We were on the stage at the Imperial Hotel a few hours before my speech and there was debate over to whom we were to bow first. Some believed that Their Royal Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan should be bowed to before the audience and others felt that the audience should come first. The staff of the Imperial Hotel walked through the actions we were to take from our seats to the podium and, after some discussion, it was decided that the audience would be bowed to first, followed by a 45-degree turn to our right to bow to Their Royal Majesties. I felt a sense of relief in knowing that I wasn’t the only person charting new waters.
The event was for the America-Japan Society (AJS) 100th Anniversary celebration. Former Ambassador Fujisaki, Chairman of AJS, had contacted me a few months prior asking if I would represent young American JET alumni members and speak in front of Their Royal Majesties, Prime Minister Abe, and other distinguished guests. At 33 years old, I was delighted and honored to still be eligible to represent young people and to speak in front of such a crowd. I had only joined the organization a year prior after meeting AJS members through another organization’s event in Tokyo, and the invitation was a total surprise.
After walking through my speech on stage a few times, I returned to the room set aside for us and paced the room practicing my 150-second speech for the next two hours. Not trusting my nerves, I decided to keep a copy of the speech tucked into my suit pocket. My suit was a little tight as I had not worn it much since starting my new job at an IT company. Soon after, I was joined by the American Interim Ambassador to Japan and we were escorted to the stage by Japan’s Secret Service. Along the way, Prime Minister Abe joined us and we all walked to the stage.
I scanned the audience and saw many firm faces looking back at me. These expressions soon melted away as we were told to rise as Their Royal Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan entered the room. As the Emperor ascended the stage and passed by me, he leaned very close to greet me. Without thinking, I whispered a greeting as he leaned in close. His demeanor and kind gesture somehow made me forget the pressure and stress that had plagued me just minutes before.
Various addresses and videos followed, and pretty soon I knew it was time for my speech. Sweat poured from my hands and forehead as my nervousness returned, but I had already committed myself to completing the task no matter what the outcome. I walked to the podium, bowed to the audience, bowed to Their Royal Majesties, and pulled the speech from my pocket. For the next 150 seconds, I was only vaguely aware that I was giving a speech as my nerves caused me to go into auto-pilot mode. My self-control was enough that I was able to complete the speech without a mistake and I felt a great relief as the audience applauded. I returned to my seat and looked over the audience. My eyes met with those of the wife of Prime Minister Abe and we both smiled as we held our gaze. After about 10 seconds, I averted my gaze to look for other familiar faces and to avoid an international incident.
With my task complete, I was able to enjoy the rest of the event and was congratulated by Prime Minister Abe who shook my hand and said in English, “Good speech.”
The rest of the night was spent chatting with other politicians and guests while I was still in disbelief over what had transpired. I spoke with former Prime Ministers and politicians who were relatives of famous samurai. The brother of former Prime Minister Taro Aso told me that mine was the best of the speeches, and applauded its short length. I laughed and made many connections that night. My only regret is that I missed out in sharing sake with other guests after the kagami biraki. Hopefully, I will have experiences in the future that come close to this one where I don’t miss out on the sake.
Richard Halberstadt, Former Tsuruoka City ALT, Yamagata Prefecture, 1988-1990
Life can be strange.
When I first arrived in Ishinomaki City, the second largest city in Miyagi Prefecture, ready to take up my job teaching English at Ishinomaki Senshu University in 1993, and in the weeks after that, as I struggled to get used to life there, make new friends and integrate into the community, I could never have dreamed of how things would turn out.
The big turning point came eighteen years later. That had been enough time for me to settle into life here, but nothing prepared me for that fateful day: 11 March, 2011. The Great East Japan Earthquake, magnitude 9.0, caused great damage, but it was the ensuing tsunami that devastated the area. 13% (73 km2) of the entire municipality was flooded by waves of up to seven meters in the city center and over twenty meters in rural areas, and just under 4,000 people lost their lives, the most of any single municipality in the disaster area.
I was lucky enough to survive the disaster, but, along with so many other people, spent the days afterwards in an evacuation shelter in what looked like an apocalyptic scenario. Large areas of the city razed to the ground and/or covered in swathes of mud, debris strewn everywhere, whole ships left in the middle of streets, cars deposited on the roofs of the buildings that were left or thrust into upper floor windows. Of course, we had no electricity, water or gas for some time, and there was no one who had not lost either a family member or a friend.
In a situation like this, the meltdowns at the nuclear reactor in neighboring Fukushima were not on the top of our priority list. We were just concerned with getting by day to day, and with starting to rebuild our city and our lives. But ultimately it was the meltdowns that ripped through my own life leading me in a completely new direction. About a week after the tsunami, I was contacted by the British Embassy, who were advising all British nationals in the Tokyo area or further north to leave the vicinity, and were also offering to take us back to the UK for free by charter jet. This was a shock to me, leaving me confused and bewildered about what to do. In a way, just coping with the tsunami aftermath had been simpler and easier. However, all my friends in Ishinomaki advised me to go back to the UK if I had the chance, saying they would be happier knowing that I was safe. Because I was in the disaster area, the embassy came to collect me (other people had to make their own way to Narita Airport), and because they realized I was conflicted, they suggested at least going to Sendai with them to talk more and make a final decision. So, after tearful farewells, I found myself in Sendai, getting the UK’s take on the Fukushima situation, and spending a sleepless night making the decision of a lifetime. My conclusion was that I felt that I just couldn’t leave my friends, the ones who had supported me for so long, in that terrible situation, and that while I couldn’t do much, at least I could be with them and show solidarity. The next day saw me back in Ishinomaki, with more tears, but this time happy ones. This act cemented even further my ties with the people here and my connection with the city I had felt so ambivalent about when I first arrived, and influenced so much of what has happened to me since.
In the days after the disaster there was no shortage of media people in the area looking for stories, and mine proved to be one that attracted them: the foreigner who stayed. What started as a small article in a local newspaper gradually became a large article in a national one, followed by several TV reports. I said earlier that I couldn’t do much, but one thing that I could do was to use this opportunity to get the plight of Ishinomaki out into the media sphere, so I accepted any and every offer of coverage, (even to the extent of having a (Japanese) book out, that undersold dramatically!) in the hopes that it would contribute to the aid pouring into the city as the reconstruction effort started up, something that is continuing even now and will be years before it can be said to be complete.
Despite having a good job at the university, I had been feeling that I wanted a change and was looking for something else. Thanks to my long years in Ishinomaki I was known by the local government, and in 2014 was contacted by city hall with news that they were setting up a resource center for Ishinomaki citizens and visitors, with information on the city, the disaster and the reconstruction effort. The Ishinomaki Community & Info Center opened in March 2015, with me as one of the three staff members, later promoted to director in summer of the same year. We exhibit photos of Ishinomaki in the past and at the time of the tsunami, along with a summary of reconstruction projects, and a diorama showing how the center of the city will look in the future. We also show various videos connected with 3.11. The facility has been visited far more than any of us envisaged, and as of the beginning of 2018, we have had a total of over 47,000 visitors, of which 2,500 have been non-Japanese. Of course, while similar facilities have been set up in municipalities throughout the disaster area, ours has the advantage of a native English speaker who can talk about the disaster experience firsthand. It’s always very gratifying to hear visitors both Japanese and non-Japanese say that they are glad they visited us and can understand the disaster and reconstruction projects much better.
2017 saw us entering our third year, and while there is a trend of decreasing visitor numbers (partly a natural result of the passing of time), there are still many people who want to come to the disaster area and see for themselves what happened and how things are changing. As the disaster recedes into the past, we must make sure that it is not forgotten completely, and make efforts to continue education and publicity for disaster prevention measures and evacuation procedures that can mean the difference between life and death in the event of future disasters.
Another surprising occurrence for me in 2017 was that there was a marked increase in my television presence, notably a one-hour long program on me broadcast on the BS satellite network. This was part of the “Watashi ga Nippon ni Sumu Riyuu” series, which every week focuses on a foreign-born long-term resident of Japan. This, along with other programs on various channels, was also an excellent vehicle to publicize both the center and the Ishinomaki area, and may have contributed to our increased numbers, in addition to overall tourism in the area.
This all culminated in my final surprise at the end of the year, when I was honored to get an award from the city. This is awarded by the Ishinomaki Chamber of Commerce to people who have contributed to improving the image of Ishinomaki, and I am the first non-Japanese to have received it in its eleven-year history. It’s hard to believe that I have become this integrated into the city, thinking back to those early days, but I have made the most wonderful friends here, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. There is a special connection when you have gone through what we have together. That’s what gives me the impetus to want to help get this city back on its feet again after the terrible events of 2011.
As I said, life can be strange.
Janice and Shaun, Former Kagoshima City ALTs, 2015-2016
‘Something that would allow us to strengthen the ties between the communities in Japan and Australia that hosted and raised us, but also provide a good excuse for us to go back our host city Kagoshima to visit friends (and eat food!).’
That was the dream that inspired us to create the Kagoshima Inaka Network.
We were lucky enough to be placed together as ALTs in Kagoshima City (the sister city of Perth, Australia where we live) in 2015-2016. We had the best experience of our lives, so when it came to leaving Japan and coming back home we knew we needed to do something to keep the connection alive.
Enter the Kagoshima Inaka Network (or “KIN”) – a company we started with the aim of sharing the unique produce and artisan crafts from the Kagoshima countryside. When abbreviated the company name forms the English word ‘KIN’, which means family. It is a reference to the Kagoshima-Perth sister city relationship and also our goal of strengthening the relationships between the two peoples. KIN in Japanese means gold – a reference to the unique treasures that each city has to offer the other.
Since we loved the unique tea culture (and desserts!) of rural Kagoshima, we thought the people of Perth would too. We decided to start off by bringing in organic Kagoshima green tea and matcha grown by a local family we met while in Japan. We are looking to expand into ceramics and the other crafts that the people of Kagoshima do so well.
In creating the branding for KIN we deliberately incorporated elements of Kagoshima into the design. In the label you can see sashiko, a hand sewing technique, which we were inspired to incorporate into the design by a Kagoshima artist who invited us to her studio. You can also find references to the beautiful gardens of Sengan-en and Chiran and the pillow-like O-karikomi sculpted trees and bushes.
Quite unexpectedly, since creating KIN we’ve been able to meet our goal by talking to hundreds of people in Perth about Kagoshima and our experiences on JET. We have done this through tea tastings at the Japanese Consulate and at grocery stores. We are in the process of making a video jointly with the City of Perth, highlighting the sister city relationship and showing the journey our tea makes from the farm in Kagoshima to the shop in Perth. Our KIN tea is stocked at wellness stores, premium grocers, gift stores, and is on the menu at a local café. We’ve also been able to meet our goal of going back to Kagoshima by visiting suppliers, and renewing our relationships with old friends (and food!).
Before joining the JET Programme, we never expected to start something like KIN. We didn’t know whether in going on the Programme, we would be able to realise the aim of ‘promoting grass roots international exchange between Japan and other nations’. However, we believe now – this is exactly what we are doing.
We invite all JET alumni to get involved and think of ways they can share the unique experiences they had in Japan to enrich their communities. You never know where it will lead (although hopefully it leads back to Japan, friends, and food!).
If any alumni reading this want to collaborate with KIN or discuss ways they can engage with their communities to promote cultural exchange, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.