Autumn and Winter 2022
Department of JET Programme Management, CLAIR
Welcome to the 2022 Autumn/Winter edition of JET Streams! After enjoying the bright colours of the autumn kōyō, we at the Department of JET Programme Management have been wrapping up as the weather begins to turn colder.
In this edition, representatives from JETAA-I and CLAIR enjoy a dinner meeting in Singapore. We are also happy to share with you a piece from a member of JETAA Jamaica in which a former ALT reflects on her experiences as a teacher, and an article from a member of JETAA Germany who tells us about the innovative methods his chapter has used to stay together over the last two years, as they look to the future.
As always, we hope that you will find these articles informative and interesting. We always welcome new writers for JET Streams. If you, too, would like to share your experiences, please see below for how to submit your article to JET Streams. As we enjoy a cup of warm green tea and a clementine under our kotatsu blanket, we at the Department of JET Programme Management wish you a happy holiday season as we move into the final weeks of 2022.
Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme Alumni Association International (JETAA-I)
Date: 19th September 2022
Attended by: CLAIR Tokyo Executive Advisor Mr Isobe, CLAIR Singapore Executive Director at Mr Sakurai, JETAA-I Chair Nathalie Ng, JETAA-I Board of Advisors Cheryl Phua and JETAA Singapore member Chan May Hwee
On 19th September, 2022, members of JETAA International and JETAA Singapore met with CLAIR Tokyo’s Executive Advisor Mr. Isobe and the Executive Director of CLAIR’s Singapore office, Mr. Sakurai-san, for a dinner meeting while Mr. Isobe was in Singapore for business meetings. Our last meeting with Mr. Isobe was at the last International Meeting in 2019, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and as such, it was a really long-awaited meet up!
This meeting happened because Mr. Isobe was passing through Singapore on his business trip, and wanted to keep in touch with the JET alumni he had met on his previous business trip to Singapore. JETAA-I Board Advisor Cheryl Phua, JETAA Singapore Member Chan May Hwee and I were part of the JETAA Singapore executive committee whom he met on his last trip. The current JETAA Singapore president Tee Lineng was also invited, but she unfortunately was unable to make it due to her work schedule.
While it was a quick catch-up, we were all immediately transported back to our time in Japan – a place we hadn’t been back to for the past two-and-a-half years due to the pandemic, and were extremely touched by this sense of familiarity. During our meeting, we spoke a mixture of Japanese and English, and we spoke about the upcoming International Meeting to be held in Tokyo later this year, in November 2022. We spoke about the topics that would be discussed during the International Meeting and what we would first do once we were allowed to go back to Japan as tourists. Cheryl spoke about her ‘furusato’ or second home town, Yukuha-shi City, and I about the onigiris or rice balls that I would typically buy at the combini (convenience store) once I touched-down in Haneda.
|We enjoyed a selection of delicious sake together, while Mr Miura of JINO, the specialty sumiyaki and sake restaurant where we spent out evening, also provided a delicious menu.
We were happy to learn that CLAIR Singapore Executive Director Mr Sakurai has the qualification of ‘Sake Diploma’ from the Japan Sommelier Association. He opened his cellar for us, and took us on a tour of Tohoku with some very special sake that he had brought from Japan for himself. We were extremely impressed by a special dessert wine called Masuizumi, an oak-aged Kijoshu made from rice wine combined with water and aged in oak barrels. This ‘omotenashi’ or hospitality reminded us of how all the people around us in Japan treated us whilst we were on JET. We were extremely moved by Mr. Sakurai’s gesture, and his insight really opened our eyes to the world of Japanese sake, and its varied vinification.
At the end of this dinner meeting, every one of us came away with a feeling of longing for Japan, and the sincere hope that we would soon be back on her soil soon to reunite with our friends there.
JETAA Germany Representative Sven Traschewski, CIR in Sapporo City (2006–2010)
During the time the SARS outbreak hit, from 2002 to 2004, I was studying at Nankai University in Tiānjīn, China (close to Běijīng). Perhaps thanks to this experience, I did not feel nearly as frustrated as most of the people around me when the corona virus pandemic began. However, once I realized the extent and severe impact of this new pandemic, I was devastated. Especially for one reason: it is no exaggeration to say that I have dedicated my life to exchange between people – on a personal level as well as in my professional life – and now the key element of my efforts, meeting people, had suddenly been turned in something ‘dangerous’ and ‘threatening’ – something to best be avoided.
I have worked in the team of project management at the Japanese-German Center Berlin (JDZB) since 2012, where I am mainly in charge of conferences and the exchange program “German-Japanese Young Leaders Forum”. My whole working situation changed dramatically when COVID hit. We quickly shifted most of our original formats (especially conferences) to the virtual world. This helped me gain a lot of experience in handling different tools designed for online exchange, concerning both technical aspects as well as online formats to support and foster exchange.
The selection process for new German JETs, and also their Pre-Departure Orientation, had to be held online as well – which was a pity because usually after the official part of the orientation, new JETs and former JETs are invited for a reception at the Embassy of Japan, an experience which helped them to network and connect. The first event we – the German JETAA chapter – implemented online was our “New Year’s Gathering”（新年会）on Zoom on January 17, 2021. It had about 50 participants attending – quite a high number considering that our “small chapter” had less than 300 members with active e-mail addresses. Even when the largest local group in Germany, Berlin, meets, we usually only have about 10-15 people gathering.
What was also surprising was that the exchange that occurred amongst the members by far exceeded our expectations. This gave us the drive for our next online event: our “Cherry Blossom Gathering”（花見）on a platform called “Wonder” on April 25, 2021. This tool is perfect for informal online meetings, since groups magically establish naturally, without having to create breakout rooms. Members can easily “wander around” and “hop” from group to group like at a real party. On October 17, 2021, we decided to have an online gathering of chapter members with the eight new German JETs (five selected in 2020 and three selected in 2021) who were in quarantine after their arrival in Japan during that time. On January 9, 2022, we had our New Year’s gathering on Wonder, thereby establishing a full year’s course of meetings online! We have continued using Wonder throughout the year; on April 3, 2022, we again had a Cherry Blossom gathering. We then held another meeting online on August 14, 2022, shortly before our new German JETs would be leaving for Japan this year!
While the new online gatherings were originally only initiated as a substitute for in-person meetings, we have decided to keep on running them even if we get to meet in-person again in our local groups. The reason being that the online format proved to be less of a substitute than an additional chance for different members of our chapter to meet; we now have people attending from Japan, which is home to the largest group of German JETs outside of Germany. Our chapter’s members can simply join in without restrictions based on their actual location – it truly feels like the chapter is even more connected than before!
Having said this, in-person meetings will still be an essential part of our efforts to keep the German JET community connected. They are simply irreplaceable and indispensable – therefore I was very happy when the local group in Berlin finally got to meet for a picnic outdoors again on June 12, 2022. I am also happy about the photo we took – finally we could see each other sitting side by side again, not only screenshots of virtual tiles on Zoom.
I also hope that international travel to Japan will become routine for all of us again soon. I am sure there are so many ex-JETs out there who miss their “other home” in Japan as much as I do, and simply cannot wait to touch Japanese ground again and experience the country with all five of their senses. After all, we are human beings and not machines connected by servers! I am looking forward to a fullhearted “I am back”（ただいま）from my side and to reading a “welcome back”（お帰りなさい）once I arrive at the airport in Japan again!
JETAA Jamaica member Samantha Miles, ALT in Matsuyama City, Ehime (2015–2021)
The JET programme was a dream come true. As an avid reader, I have vicariously experienced the world and daydreamed of travelling the world through literature. However, as a young mom, I was busy with teachers’ college, raising a family, and creating a home while concurrently building a career in education. My dreams of travelling the world were just that, a dream.
In my mid-thirties, I realized I was soon going to be an empty nester and at a place in my career to take a break. I also felt stagnant in a job I had held for over 15 years. I started panicking. What will I do with all that free time? I browsed the internet like crazy, looking for interesting jobs. That’s when I discovered the JET Programme. Luckily, they had just raised the age limit for application. It felt like a divine intervention. In less than 2 weeks, I was able to meet the deadline and submit my documents to the embassy in Kingston, Jamaica.
I had nothing to lose, so at the interview I was quite relaxed, talking and joking with the prospective participants. I discovered that some people were obsessed with Japanese culture and anime. I did not even know what anime was. I only knew Battousai the slasher (Rurouni Kenshin), an old drama series “Oshin”, and I had watched documentaries on TV about how technologically advanced Japan was. Knowing my age and having been a teacher since I was 18, I knew many may have considered me old and pedantic. However, I managed to show my best qualities in the interview and soon I was leaving my country for the first time.
Soon, I had touched down in Japan. I got a headache trying to absorb the new sights and sounds during our bus drive from Narita Airport. Everything was wonderful! Unfortunately, two days of travel and experiencing different time zones meant that I slept through most of the presentation at Keio Plaza and even slept through half of the reception to meet the representatives from Matsuyama City! My city had at least 5 Jamaican JET Participants and the prefecture had many more. After having read complaints from JET participants about their placements, I was pleased to discover that our BOE in 2015 was one of the best. Apartments had been made basically ready for us and they had staff and volunteering ALTs who helped us to get everything needed to make us comfortable.
Sadly, on my first day going to work, I got on the wrong bus and immediately realized the importance of learning Japanese. This experience prompted me to get a tutor from the Ehime Prefectural International Center. By the end of my six-year journey, I was able to communicate conversationally in Japanese.
As a teacher and someone who would occasionally supervise student teachers, getting an opportunity to be exposed to education in a highly-developed country was invaluable. I was able to be an observer and a participant in the education culture of two junior high schools, four elementary schools, and a community center. At my schools, teachers were so friendly and had such great team spirit that sometimes I felt I was back home in Jamaica. The free resources available to both teachers and students made me jealous, as in Jamaica I have felt that our education system is lacking in resources which could benefit students. Teachers in Jamaica must be world leaders at recycling as we have to first think of how we can repurpose everything we touch for our classes before we discard it. I felt that remuneration packages for teachers in Japan were wonderful. It was fascinating to me that teachers were rotated to different schools often so they did not grow stagnant in their jobs. This also helped to ensure that teachers were as evenly dispersed as possible. For some, their teacher training also helped to make them more effective teachers.
Unfortunately, I also got a front-seat view of real behavioural problems which some students displayed. I found it frustrating that teachers and even BOE staff occasionally struggled when it came to dealing with real-world problems. However, dealing with behavioural and other social problems is an issue which teachers worldwide face, and seeing different approaches to social situations and student interaction was interesting to me.
Day to day, however, most students were well disciplined and able to self-study without commotion, even if a teacher was not present. Because of this, it was fascinating to me that with so many resources available to them, many students seemed to coast in school. I wondered if, maybe because they could go to cram school at night, they would save their energy during the day? In contrast, most Jamaican students study hard at school so that they can get the most out of the resources available to them.
My intention was to spend 5 years in Japan from the outset. However, due to Covid 19 and travel restrictions, I spent an extra year in Japan. I did consider staying long-term as it would have been possible to become a class teacher, perhaps in an international school. Doing so would have allowed me to make a better salary than I could in Jamaica. In addition, I had a better social life in Japan and could easily travel to various Japanese cities as well as other countries.
However, the long working hours of Japanese teachers and the paperwork were less appealing to me. I wanted to work smarter, not harder. In addition, the feeling of impermanence gnawed at me. As soon as I built a good rapport with a teacher or a friend, they would be moved to a new school, a new prefecture, or return home to their own country. I was also just too far from my family. After several years, these deeper issues left me discombobulated and ambivalent about forming new friendships. In the end, I said goodbye to Japan hoping, someday, to return as a tourist.
I still miss Japan, but I am back to teaching in Jamaica. One day when my class was misbehaving, I heard one of my students shout out “suwatte kudasai” (“please sit down”). I was shocked. I realized that my students must have picked up some of the classroom Japanese which I still occasionally use. It will probably take me a while to get out of the habit.
Going to Japan helped me attain my dreams of travelling abroad and experiencing different cultures. Through the JET programme, many of my dreams became reality. Now, I am able to think clearly and dream new dreams for my future.
Thank you JET Programme and Japan.
Presented by The Japan Foundation, Sydney, the Japanese Film Festival 2022 is one of the largest celebrations of Japanese films in the world. This year, the JFF will include a post-film talk event and of course, film screenings. From nail-biting thrillers to emotional dramas and comedies, this year’s lineup features the latest and greatest Japanese films of recent years. Visit the JFF website, and browse the full program: https://japanesefilmfestival.net/
The online magazine for former JET participants, JET Streams publishes stories of life on the JET Programme and the impact which that experience has continued to have even after time on the programme has finished. CLAIR, JETAA International (JETAA-I) and JETAA chapters around the world also publish information on their activities through JET Streams.
Submissions from former JET Programme participants include personal essays, articles, photography and helpful advice on themes such as job-hunting and capitalising on the JET experience. Any former JET Programme participant can write for JET Streams, and we welcome variety in the submissions. Staff at the Department of JET Programme Management will provide editorial advice and translate your submission. See the guidelines for submission and read articles by former participants stretching back to 1991, here.
The deadline to submit for the spring edition of JET Streams is 6 February 2023 (Monday).