JET Streams – Winter 2019

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JET Streams

Winter 2019



Beyond JET
2018 JET Furusato Vision Project Report

The Department of JET Programme Management, CLAIR

In October and November of this year, the JET Furusato Vision Project returned for its second iteration. From 6 March until 20 April 2018, CLAIR received approximately 50 project proposals from former participants around the world who were interested in implementing their ideas to help revitalise the local regions they called home during their time on the JET Programme.

Eight former participants’ proposals were selected, and their visions were made into a reality with the help of CLAIR and their former employers. The projects took place between 25 October and 10 November 2018. Alumni whose former contracting organisations are in Eastern Japan were eligible this year. In this article, we introduce the projects implemented in 2018.

  1. Adrian O’Connell conducting an interview

    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.

  2. Brand new English library in Kawamata Town

    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.

  3. Production of Yuki Tsumugi silk

    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.

  4. Rhea Braunwalder attends practices Taiko drumming

    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.

  5. Traci Bowles and company during a visit to the Fukui Dinosaur Museum

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. The project had the cooperation of professional athletes

    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.

  8. Jeffrey MacCharles promotes curling in Aichi Prefecture

    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.


JETAA Oceania Conference 2018 in Perth

Ashlie O’Neill, Chair of JETAA-I, Former Hyogo Prefecture ALT, 2013 – 2016
Photographs courtesy of Julius Pang, member of JETAA Western Australia and 2017 Furusato Vision Project participant (Kitakyushu City)

Last year we sat around the table in Auckland discussing the next destination for the JETAA Oceania Conference and decided that it was about time that we all made the trip to the far away state of Western Australia and visit beautiful Perth. JETAAWA graciously agreed to host the conference. So twelve months later, delegates from all over Oceania made the long journey to Perth.

The conference began with a bang at Consul General Hirayama’s residence in the lovely suburb of Peppermint Grove with a performance from “Taiko on Perth”, led by JETAAWAs very own Simon Vanyai. From the first few moments onwards the Perth’s 2018 Conference did nothing but deliver.

On Saturday, all the participants gathered at Murdoch University fresh faced and ready to go. This year’s conference theme of “Outreach and Communication” was well chosen as it is essential for all chapters of JETAA, no matter how big or small.

Wellington kicked it off by talking about how it uses organisational tools like Trello and social media sites to engage committee members and plan events. Next up, JETAANSW discussed promoting and using social media, South Island followed by discussing their recent triumphs with their sister city relationship of Kurashiki in Okayama, and their very first JTE exchange teacher. JETAA Canberra discussed benefits of working with other Japanese groups like the Australia Japan Society, University Japanese groups and MEXT scholarship awardees. Auckland’s representatives explained to us about how their strong relationship with the Consul General and Embassy benefits their alumni and committee. JETAA Victoria/Tasmania/South Australia chatted about their wildly successful “Big Bento lunch” and how they are combatting donor fatigue in future fundraising. JETAA Queensland introduced us to their upcoming Careers Seminar, and lastly, Country Representatives for the Oceania Region Eden Law (Australia) and Rosa Finkle-Vern (New Zealand) spoke about all the fantastic work that they have been doing in their positions this year.

I was lucky to be able to kick off Sunday by presenting about JETAA International 2.0 and all the amazing things that we have been up to recently. This includes the promotion of our latest project, KenJETKai. KenJETKai seeks to re-connect JET Programme alumni with their home prefectures to continue the grassroots cross-cultural exchange and friendship that was at the heart of their JET Programme experience. KenJETKai also helps and supports local chapters by connecting them to individuals and chapters around the world with similar wants, projects and struggles. For more information, please visit our website ( or social media pages. Additionally please feel free to reach out to me personally at my e-mail (


CLAIR Tokyo Executive Consultant Mr. Isobe

Following my presentation, CLAIR Tokyo Executive Consultant Mr. Isobe introduced delegates to recent developments in the JET Programme, supports for JET participants, and showed us new promotional materials that have been created for the program.

The 2018 guest speaker, Kent Anderson, prompted us to consider what it is that we are seeking from our alumni. He suggested that with each new generation of JETs they will have a different wants and needs from JETAA chapters. Leaving us with the question, how can we as JETAA meet these needs of those we represent?

I want to take this chance to thank JETAAWA for a wonderful conference in 2018. It is not an easy feat to organise a weekend-long conference, and all the participants were able to learn a lot in a short few days. Special thanks go to JETAAWA Oceania Representative and Conference Organiser Natasha Sjahrir who worked tirelessly over the year to make this a meaningful conference for all.

I cannot wait to see what next year holds for JETAA Oceania in Sydney (JETAANSW).

The Next Chapter for USJETAA

Bahia Simons-Lane, Executive Director of USJETAA, Gunma Prefecture ALT, 2005 – 2007

In July of 2018, torrential rains and floods decimated western Japan, displacing two million people and killing more than 200 people. Just as when the tsunami struck Tohoku in 2011, JET alumni all over the world turned their eyes to the tragedy and looked for a way to help. The U.S. JET Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) quickly mobilized to take donations on behalf of JET alumni in the United States. Our goal was to provide a secure way for JETs to donate and to minimize the cost of sending funds from the U.S. to Japan so that more money would make it to the organizations on the ground. We set a goal that we thought was ambitious: to raise $5,000 for the recovery efforts of the NPO Japan Platform. As we watched the donations come in, we were overwhelmed by the generosity from JETs and friends of JET. By the time we closed the campaign, we had raised $7,508 for the cause.

This donation campaign continued the new chapter of USJETAA that started with our JET30 Alumni Reunion in 2017. No longer a fledgling organization, we are positioned to take quick action to support Japan in the face of disaster. With our efforts to support western Japan, we saw the strength of our network and the dedication JET alumni have toward their adopted home manifest itself in a measurable way. It made us optimistic; not only for the recovery and resilience of the Japanese people, but for how we can continue to support the important relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

A passionate group of JET alumni established USJETAA as a national nonprofit organization in 2015. It was the result of an initiative by the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation that investigated how to strengthen the JETAA network and support the next generation of leaders in U.S.-Japan relations. Led by Paige Cottingham-Streater (Mie, 1988-89), the Bridging Foundation sought feedback from the JETAA community in the United States and ultimately decided that there was a need for an umbrella organization to support the dedicated volunteers who run the 19 JETAA chapters in the United States and reach JET alumni who may be unaffiliated with those chapters. While the three country representatives of JETAA USA guide the JETAA chapters, those positions are also uncompensated. The JETAA USA working group involved in the conceptualization of USJETAA determined that an umbrella organization with employees and funding could support the JETAA volunteers, boosting their capacity and providing funding for programs beneficial to JETs and the U.S-Japan relationship.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Laurel Lukaszewski (Kagoshima, 1990-1992), USJETAA put down roots and launched programs to provide assistance to JETAA chapters and reach current JETs. To provide support for the leadership of JETAA chapters, we established the leadership program where USJETAA visits JETAA chapters to workshop their goals; we created a webinar series to address topics relevant to chapter leaders; and, we partnered with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA to provide grants to JETAA chapters for community projects. We also sought to help current JETs in internationalization and English teaching efforts by partnering with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to provide microgrants (grants of small amounts of funding) to current American JETs.

In August 2017, USJETAA held the JET30 All-Alumni Reunion in Washington, D.C. It was a fabulous event with 283 JET alumni from every year of the JET Program who had taught in 46 prefectures. The event celebrated the 30th anniversary of the JET Program and was the largest gathering of JET alumni ever. The program included both social and professional activities so that we could reminisce and reconnect, while also seeing the breadth of careers and accomplishments of JET alumni. The attendees enjoyed it so much that the USJETAA board formed a committee to explore the feasibility of holding another alumni event in the future.

I attended the JET30 Reunion after relocating back to the Washington, D.C. area and my experience at the event made me passionate about supporting USJETAA. I had the fortune of joining USJETAA as Executive Director in January 2018. My mandate was to reach more JET alumni, increase funding to support our organization, and promote our programs. I immediately revamped our member directory to make it easier for alumni to join and use it to connect to each other and find mentors, instituted a donor management system, and strengthened our website and social media presence.

Microgrant recipient Emmanual Tarr

However, what I am most proud of is the expansion of our programs to serve more JETs and JET alumni. This November, we launched a contributor program with the East-West Center in Washington to hire JET alumni authors to write content for the Japan Matters for America website. Accepted authors will get paid and credited for their contribution, while also enriching the website content that highlights the importance of people-to-people exchange between Japan and the United States. We expanded our webinar series from three per year to 11 annually, half of which now provide professional development and career guidance to JET alumni and current JETs. This year we also saw a record number of applications for the Microgrant Program for American JETs and were impressed with the high-quality and interesting projects proposed. To assist the U.S. JETAA chapters, we expanded our partnership with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA to provide greater amounts of funding for community projects and took a sponsoring role at the JETAA National Conference.

The past year with USJETAA has been more rewarding than I could have guessed. As a former president of a JETAA chapter, it’s exciting to be involved with the JET alumni community on a national scale and see the impact of our work through the success of our charity relief efforts and the programs we support. I invite you to get connected and join us in this next chapter of our growth.

About the author
Bahia Simons-Lane is Executive Director of USJETAA. She is from Maryland, U.S.A., and now lives in Virginia, U.S.A. After teaching as an ALT with the JET Program, she worked as the ALT Advisor for the Gunma Prefectural Board of Education Compulsory Education Division. Following her return to the U.S., she earned a Master’s degree in International and Intercultural Education at Florida International University and served as the President of the Florida JET Alumni Association for 5.5 years. She now works full-time for USJETAA while completing her dissertation on the global perspectives of students at Florida International University. You can find more information about USJETAA on the website and Facebook page. You may also reach her at

Marine Litter, a worldwide problem that needs local attention – What I learnt from my second furusato

Sarah Auffret, Tokushima Prefecture ALT, 2007 – 2010

For three years, I was an ALT in Naruto, a city on the east coast of Shikoku well known for its whirlpools, delicious seabream and seaweed. A very welcoming community, Naruto became my home away from home, my second furusato. In my last year on the JET programme, I was wondering how I could thank everyone for those wonderful years. In the process, I learnt the value of voluntary work done as a community.

A keen hiker, I enjoyed getting to know the city’s amazing islands. In January 2010, I followed the Shikoku Path along the coast of Shimada Island, with beautiful views of small terraced fields and the Seto Inland Sea. The walk led me to Koike beach, a place neither words nor pictures could describe accurately: over a meter of Pet bottles, cans and large floats of polystyrene were covering the pebble beach. Most of the litter came from the sea, brought by strong currents and winds. Naruto city was making great efforts to clean along the mountain roads and campaign against dumping. But what could be done against marine litter?

Koike Beach on Shimada Island

For three months, I talked and showed pictures to various people in Japan and abroad. Given the scale of pollution and the isolation of Koike Beach, nobody could come up with a suitable solution. Then I gave cleaning a go. I had never done this before and was a little too optimistic as to what could be accomplished in one day. Not knowing what to do with the waste, I filled my little car with it for a couple of days, so it brought the problem much closer to many people. As I could finally show concrete action and talk about the issue more accurately, I secured the support of Naruto High School, and within a week, the Naruto beach cleanup project came together thanks to the help of Naruto City and our local waste treatment plant.

During my last four months at Naruto high school, my supervisor, club students, and I organised monthly cleanups along the coast of Shimada Island. Thanks to printed media and regional TV coverage, we had over a hundred volunteers join us. Later in the year, the prefecture conducted a mechanised cleanup to remove more of the waste stuck in the layers of pebbles. It was a successful community project as it brought locals, JETs, schools, the city and prefecture together and had a positive impact on the environment.

After leaving Naruto, I became an outdoor guide and eventually had the opportunity to lead expeditions with tourists in Svalbard, an archipelago just over 1,000km from the North Pole. The Clean up Svalbard project was already well established- visitors coming ashore in remote locations are encouraged to pick waste and bring it back to town where the local government handles the disposal of marine litter.

Shipborne Polar Tourism has now been my community for a few years and I work for the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), an international association supporting responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the Arctic. A year ago, AECO signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Environment Programme and is contributing to the UN-led campaign Clean Seas to combat marine plastic pollution.

We are working to drastically cut back on single-use plastics on Polar expedition cruise vessels. Installing water and soap dispensers, removing single-use items such as bottles, cups and straws and requiring products to come in different packaging are various ways to reduce our plastic footprint.
We are also enhancing our contribution to Clean up Svalbard by collecting and reporting data such as locations and the nature of marine litter. In 2018, over 130 cleanup actions were reported and over 6,000Kg were picked up by AECO members alone. The information gathered onboard can be used by scientists and policy makers to tackle waste at its source and eventually help turn the tap off.

Finally, we are focusing on educating passengers, ship crew and the general public on what can be done to reduce single-use plastic consumption and prevent marine plastic pollution. To that effect, we are developing educational material such as guidelines, online articles, as well as lectures for use onboard vessels. Ultimately, we aim to share best practices and successes with others, so they can be replicated elsewhere.

We are still at the start of the fight against marine litter– a fight filled with frustrations and despair when encountering waste in remote locations, but also and most importantly amazing encounters with passionate, generous and dedicated people – and we also have the chance to awake passion in others.

Last June in Svalbard, a Japanese visitor shared with me her experience of diving and picking waste underwater around the world, including in Okinawa. Cleanups are big tasks you cannot tackle alone, but nor can the person next to you. Whether it’s with your students, neighbours or total strangers, clean ups are opportunities to engage with your community and build meaningful, long-lasting connections. It gives you a chance to work with many actors from volunteers and local authorities to local waste management facilities. Cleanup projects have an important educational and social value for the whole community. Local community projects are vital to turn the tide on plastic and put an end to marine litter pollution world-wide. JETs in small communities have great opportunities to engage in such actions or even organise them. By doing so, the care and love you demonstrate for the community who is welcoming you will go a long way.

I now live in Tromsø, Norway – another beautiful city with many islands and mountains for breath-taking hikes but also countless beach cleanups. The Norwegian language has its own word for voluntary work done as a community: dugnad. Thank you Naruto for showing me the way and helping me support my new communities.

About the author
Sarah is originally from France and the UK and now lives in Tromsø, Norway. She was a high school ALT in Naruto, Tokushima between 2007 and 2010. In 2010, she initiated monthly cleanups with the support of her school and local community along the coast of Shimada Island, Naruto.
After several years working in the polar regions, she joined the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) as leader for their Clean Seas Project. It aims at reducing single-use plastic on board expedition cruise vessels in the polar regions, enhance participation in cleanups, educate crew and passengers on those issues and share best practices with other industries. Follow the project on AECO’s website (, Facebook (CleanUpSvalbardForum) and Twitter (AuffretSarah).

Memories from a former MEF: A Mom Recalls Her Time in Japan as Her Daughter Starts Life as a JET

Elizbeth Simmer, Monbusho English Fellow, Shimotsuma City, Ibaraki Prefecture, ALT, 1985

Elizabeth Simmer with a Principal in Ibaraki, Japan 1985

Remember 1985? That was the year Live Aid concerts joined together and sang, “We Are the World” to raise money for children in Ethiopia. The “Calvin and Hobbs” comic strip made its debut, and Nintendo came to the USA for the first time.

In 1985, I was a Monbusho English Fellow (MEF) in Shimotsuma City, located in Ibaraki Prefecture. I will always believe I was placed in Ibaraki – famous for natto (fermented soybeans) and pigs – because I came from the midwestern farm state of Iowa.

Flash forward 33 years, and now my daughter Lian is working as a JET in Nobeoka City in Kyushu. Although I never suggested she apply for a job as a JET after graduating from college, she did, and I am thrilled.

Although I’m not the only former MEF or JET whose child has pursued a job as a JET, I am writing to share my personal story regarding the similarities and differences between my experience and the experience of my daughter, three decades later.

My daughter grew up with me, my husband, and my son in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She got to know several people from Nagasaki, Japan because Saint Paul and Nagasaki have been sister cities since 1955. I served on the Saint Paul Nagasaki Sister City (SPNSCC) board, volunteered as SPNSCC President, and entertained people from Japan for Lian’s entire life. I’ve returned to Japan several times and traveled throughout Honshu and Kyushu with my children. At some point, my daughter Lian became interested in the Japanese language, and she studied it at Grinnell College, from which she graduated in May of 2018. She applied for JET and was hired starting in late July of this year.

What my daughter Lian did not want to hear about when asking about my life as an MEF was how I survived without a cell phone, social media, or a computer. And yet, my life and work in Ibaraki in the 1980’s was far different than my daughter’s current situation in Japan because of the impact of social media. The biggest difference is the way we can communicate daily through WhatsApp or email. Back in 1985-86, I rarely spoke to my parents on the phone and instead wrote letters that took over a week to arrive. Lian immediately learned all about her town, apartment, and more because the current JET staff in Nobeoka started messaging her as soon as she received her placement. Email, fax machines, cell phones, and the internet were not yet around in 1985.

Another huge difference is that Lian reads and writes in Japanese. I had attended International Christian University (ICU) in Mitaka, Tokyo, my junior year of college (1983-84). I learned some basic language during my year abroad, but was much less prepared than Lian was heading to Japan this past summer. On the plus side, because I lived in Tokyo for a year prior to becoming an MEF, I had a network of Japanese friends to visit on long holiday weekends.

Lian currently owns and drives a car in Nobeoka to get to her schools. I relied on Japanese teachers picking me up each day in their cars. Trains were available in the part of Ibaraki I lived in at the time, but my closest public transportation to nearby Shimodate Prefectural Office was a slow and very old train. The MEF program had 300 Americans teaching throughout the country at that time. Currently, the JET program has over 5,000 participants from 44 countries.

Our jobs in Japan also differ. I was a “one-shot” middle school teacher and visited many, many schools, rarely returning a second time. I would present basic information about my family and America on the chalkboard, drawing pictures and answering questions from the students. I did not collaborate or plan with the Japanese Teachers of English. I remember eating tempura or sushi lunches each day with the principal of the school (and gaining 20 pounds!) Lian’s position is much more collaborative. She goes to seven different schools, so she is able to visit them every couple of weeks. Because the visits are recurring, she has moved past her self-introduction lesson, and helps with ordinary lessons in the English language. Typically, she assists the teacher with the lesson, and then provides an educational game to engage the children and also let out some of their energy. The biggest difference is probably the smaller number of schools: though she still has hundreds of students and cannot get to know them all individually, she is able to familiarize herself with the teachers and the schools.

What I am most pleased about with my daughter’s experience this year is that she, like me, is taking advantage of all the cultural opportunities Japan has to offer. We both have a personal appreciation and understanding of Japanese society. She is in a beginning Taiko class. I studied karate. She is hiking the mountains around her city. I spent a lot of time in the beautiful areas of Ibaraki and nearby prefecture of Tochigi. She is making friends with her colleagues as I did, having adventures at hot springs, enjoying local restaurants, and participating in local festivals. The seven MEFs in Ibaraki in 1985-86 became somewhat close, and we would take full advantage of entertaining ourselves in the big city of Mito when we gathered for prefectural meetings. I’ve lost touch with all of them, and I wonder if they continued to pursue careers using their Japanese experience and language.

I ended up becoming an elementary teacher in Saint Paul, served a short stint as the Japan America Society of Minnesota Executive Director, and as mentioned before, remain very involved in the SPNSCC. I hope my daughter’s year as a JET will provide her with the same feeling of adventure, friendship, love of travel and trying new things, that it did for me.

I’ll be heading to see her in June with my husband. Then I’m off to Tokyo to visit friends I’ve known for 33 years. I hope the same for my daughter.

About the author
Elizabeth Simmer is a literacy and math coach for elementary teachers in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She attended Wartburg College, International Christian University in Mitaka, Japan and Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, MN where she received her Masters in Education. Simmer has spent her adult life bridging relationships between the people of Nagasaki, Japan with the people of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Copyright 2015 by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR)