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  • JET Programme on GOJ chopping block: Appeal from JQ Magazine and JETAA in NYC

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 8th, 2010

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    Hi Blog. Forwarding with permission.  Comment from me below.


    Subject: URGENT: JET Programme in Danger – An Impassioned Request for your Help
    Date: July 6, 2010 4:59:39 AM JST

    Dear Mr. Arudou:

    Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Justin Tedaldi, and I am the editor of JQ Magazine New York, a publication of the JET Programme Alumni Association of America’s New York Chapter. I also write about Japanese culture in New York for I lived in Kobe City for about two years, and my first work experience out of school was as a coordinator for international relations with the JET Programme.

    I’m a longtime follower of your site (over ten years), and I would like to ask your help on behalf of all the JETs worldwide. As part of Japan’s efforts to grapple with its massive public debt, the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program may be cut. Soon after coming into power, the new government launched a high profile effort to expose and cut wasteful spending. In May 2010, the JET Program and CLAIR came up for review, and during the course of an hourlong hearing, the 11-member panel criticized JET, ruling unanimously that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken to see if it should be pared back or eliminated altogether. The number of JET participants has already been cut back by almost 30 percent from the peak in 2002, but this is the most direct threat that the program has faced in its 23-year history.

    We are asking JET Program participants past and present, as well as other friends of the program to speak out and petition the Japanese government to reconsider the cuts. Please sign this petition in support of the grassroots cultural exchange the JET Program has fostered and write directly to the Japanese government explaining the positive impact the Program has made in your life and that of your adopted Japanese community.

    Any effort you can make to pass along the petition link below or include as a posting on your site would be most appreciated. I am also open to e-mail interviews for the Examiner if you would like to discuss this further.

    Thank you for your attention, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

    Best regards,

    Justin Tedaldi
    JQ Magazine New York


    Date: Mon, 5 Jul 2010 12:21:09 -0700
    Subject: [uschapters] Save JET and JETAA – Sign the Petition


    As you recently were notified, the JET Program and JETAA are on the chopping block. More detail can be found at the link below.

    In addition to sending your anecdotes and JET Return On Investment stories/videos to Steven Horowitz at, please sign the petition below to demonstrate your support. This is for anyone to sign, so please forward to your friends and family to demonstrate the hundreds of thousands of people that have been positively impacted by these meaningful programs. Thank you for your support.

    Megan Miller Yoo
    President, JETAANY



    COMMENT: I have of course written about JET in the past:
    And here:

    In sum, although I have never been a JET myself, I am a fan of the JET Programme. The program has its flaws, but overall its aim, of ameliorating insular tendencies within Japanese society, is an earnest and genuine one. I would be sad to see JET go, as its loss would be a detriment to Japan’s inevitable future as a multicultural society.

    Sign the online petition if you want. I have. What are other people’s thoughts and experiences about JET? Is it fat to be cut from the budget, or an indispensable part of Japanese intercultural education? Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    UPDATE: I just remembered, I did a paper on JET’s goals way back when. You can read the full text of it here.


    By David C. Aldwinckle, Assistant Professor
    Faculty of Liberal Arts, Hokkaido Information University
    Hokkaido Jouhou Daigaku Kiyou
    Vol 11, Issue 1, September, 1999

    Keywords: Internationalization, Public Policy in Japanese Education, The JET Programme


    Internationalization, or kokusaika, has become a buzzword in Japan through its attempts to become an outward-looking, “normal” country in international circles. To this end, the Japanese government over the past ten years has sponsored the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which offers educational internships of one to three years for young college graduates from English-speaking countries. These teachers, acting as assistants to native Japanese English teachers in Japan’s smaller-town junior and senior high schools, have been expressly charged with increasing Japanese contact with foreign countries at the local level. As the first in a series, this research paper will seek to outline the structure of JET, critique its goals, and briefly focus upon its operations in one locale, Hokkaido, as a means of case study.

    90 Responses to “JET Programme on GOJ chopping block: Appeal from JQ Magazine and JETAA in NYC”

    1. Johnny Says:

      The government’s finances are in a mess, and from a political point of view this program is easier to cut. In fact I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened earlier.

    2. Kimpatsu Says:

      Actually, I think the JET programme is a total waste of time, because ostensibly it’s to familiarize Japanese kids with gaijin, but the max. number of years you can be on the programme is three, so all the kids really learn as a result of this revolving door is that NJ don’t really belong in Japan; they can come for extended holidays, but the idea of us settling here permanently is beyond the pale. JET is a year-long party to the majority of its participants, and I don’t think it achieves anything constructive. I’d be happy to see it go, and Japan open its doors to genuine immigration instead.

    3. Douglas Says:

      I feel the programme needs to move in two directions. Having a bunch of JETs in an education centre doing 3-5 day intensive cultural/speaking courses either at select schools or having students/teachers staying at the centre for the duration of the course OR for those JETs with teaching certificates (degrees), they should be allowed to work alongside their Japanese counterparts for a set amount of time and then given their own classes. Flaws aside, the JET programme has done a lot to open the eyes of many a student here and also helped the teachers think more for themselves and become teaching teachers.

    4. JP Says:

      As a former JET, I have to agree that the program does have its flaws, but overall its goals and what it accomplishes do have value. It would be sad to see it go all together. I think most people see it as an English teaching program, but it is meant to be so much more. If you want English instruction, hire English teachers; if you want cultural exchange, the JET program does a good job.

    5. jjobseeker Says:

      I have no personal experiences with JET, but have heard secondhand stories from participants that were not very positive. Though its goal is quite noble, the impression I got was that the execution, support, and follow through were sorely lacking…at least in the cases that I have heard. Is it fat that needs to be cut? Maybe. However, this could be a chance to rectify the inefficiencies that are perhaps preventing JET from accomplishing what it originally set out to do.

    6. Kim Says:

      Definitely cut JET. Spending the money to send Japanese citizens or educators overseas to study and bring back a broader perspective will help society far more than the current JET program. The world is not just English-speaking nations. Japan needs more exposure to non-English cultures. JET is too ethnically biased towards white, Anglo-Saxon cultures.

    7. Jay Says:

      I have to agree that JET is a bit of a waste of money, but much less of a waste than bridges to nowhere and subsidies for whaling ‘research’.

      That three-year limit has been extended. I even know a JET on her fifth year. And lots of people stay, so it’s not a revolving door: I was a JET and I’m still here. I even ran into a former student just the other day here in Tokyo. I also know quite a few people who were JETs and still live on our islands, so I’d argue that JET *is* an immigration program. And it’s an immigration program that involves the would-be immigrant in the community and connects him or her with people. There are tons of problems with it, but it’s more a lack of knowing how to integrate JETs on the part of the recipient town or school rather than the program itself.

    8. Peach Says:

      As a former JET and now active JET Alumni – back in Canada, – I am sad that this even being considered – JET changed my life !

      The objective of JET was never to (and the consulate tells us this) to stay in Japan – its a limited time culture exchange! Thats the intent – we actually rejected several people in interviews who said they want to go and stay in Japan.

      While the time used to be three years, you can actually stay up to 5 now, and as well if you were a JET there is a 10 year wait period and then you can apply to go again.

      I agree with some of the comments above, the program does need some changes. In fact the salary and benefits package has not changed from 30,000US since 1987 when the program started. I am sceptical though that this 30,000US would cover the costs of a JTE going abroad for a year. And since the program was put in place originally because Japanese were not going abroad – so bring internationalization to Japan – I’m not sure this situation has changed?

      Also since 2004 the number of applicants to JET have drastically decreased! which is a worry to the consulates… not having enough quality applicants. Some of the reasons say the consulate are that teachers in Canada start off at a salary of 40,000US and also people are not willing to handle the difficult Japanese lifestyle – for those going to rural locations – where JETs are wanted and needed the most!

      However the grassroots cultural exchange and the impact students and my community had on me – have changed my life and view of Japan forever! I constantly hear those stories from others in my JET Alumni activities as well. And when I return to my town in Ehime, every couple of years, people still are friendly and excited to see me. I think there are very few other programs like JET ! and here’s hoping it will survive! Its truly a way for grassroots cultural understanding, if not an English teaching program. (also there are JETS who are hired to speak other languages – i.e. French!)

    9. Shibuyara Says:

      Have 23 years of the JET program resulted in a Japan that is less xenophobic or less discriminatory?


      — Just saying it don’t make it so. Evidence. Comparative, please. Or this comment gets deleted by dinnertime.

    10. Michael Weidner Says:

      As someone who has lived in Japan for about 5 years now and has been a teacher for 3 of those years, I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences with JET teachers. After attending JET functions and conferences, there was one thing that was made very clear to me; the JET Programme is a joke. The quality of teachers that are hired is, for the most part, low and a lot of the teachers that are on the Programme use it as an excuse to party and get paid to do so. Granted, many JET teachers are essentially treated like Human CD Players and have not much work to do. So it’s not the sole fault of the teachers. I think that there needs to be actually qualified teachers in place doing the work instead of the Human CD Players that they currently have.

      Scrap JET. Make something new in it’s place. Keep around those who are worth their salt and fire those who are not. We’re talking about Education here; not a living version of the Eigorian Characters.

      — For those who don’t know what Eigorian Characters are (I didn’t), here.

    11. Hank Says:

      People like to get all mad at JETs for being lazy and wasting taxpayers’ money (some of these same complainers originally came to Japan on JET and moved on to ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ prospects where they began paying taxes, mind you), but ultimately, JET is a waste of money because the Japanese educational system doesn’t know how to use JETs.
      Forgive the clumsy analogy, but it’s like a city using taxpayers’ money to buy a bunch of buses and not hiring anybody who knows how to drive them.
      The Japanese English teachers are told “Here’s your gaijin. Team teach with it.” But they aren’t really taught how to do that. Moreover, their main job is to prepare students for an entrance examination for acceptance into whatever higher learning lies beyond, generally a reading/writing examination. Their job is not necessarily to provide students with the communicational (and practical) form of the language the JET would be best at helping with.
      Most JETs are told “you have 2 classes tomorrow…”, to which they show up and look out the window for 42 minutes while a Japanese English teacher speaks Japanese to the students. Then, per direction of the Japanese English teacher, they read a couple passages out of the textbook before retreating to the staffroom for more waiting around.
      Is the JET Programme a waste of money? Yes it is. But that’s not the fault of anybody who needed an airplane to participate in the JET Programme.

    12. Jenny Says:

      I wish I could have gone with the JET program, but instead I had to go with another ALT company. From my point of view, the Japanese government needs to define what exactly are they looking for, and also how much support are they going to give a foreigner to come over here. Most employers have this attitude that it’s a sink or swim situation. They believe they did you a favor by hiring you and sponsoring your visa, now you come over and you speak English to the kids. Ok, what about your daily life away from work? What then? Are there any support groups you can go to when you have a problem?

      If the government just wants a cultural exchange then why do they expect us to be teachers? Why is it always English? Why not have a foreigner come in and speak their native language to the students? If they are wanting certified teachers then why don’t they hire those people? Lastly, if they don’t want foreigners to become part of society, why not just make it easier for native Japanese to go abroad for the training needed to be a “insert language” teacher?

      Whatever “fat” that needs to be trimmed should start with a clear goal in mind.

    13. Bucky Sheftall Says:


      Do you know of what you speak, Shibuyara? Were you here in the “bad old days” to see Japanese xenophobia and discrimination at its worst? (well, I wasn’t here in 1853, either, so I can’t speak THAT authoritatively…)

      I have been here the entire time that JET has been in existence (actually, I have a few months on it). When I first got here to Shizuoka (where I’ve been the whole time), there were something like 50 (yes FIFTY) non-Asian foreign residents in a prefecture with a population of some five million. There wasn’t even enough market to float a Japanese language school in Shizuoka City (pop. 600,000 then)…I had to teach myself Japanese using elementary school kids’ kanji workbooks. But I digress.

      The first few years I lived here, I could barely step foot outside of the door of my apartment without being pointed at, shrieked at, accosted or mocked. This is NO EXAGGERATION. Walking downtown on a Friday or Saturday night with my future wife, people would spit in front of us, call my wife “whore”, call me “hairy barbarian” (ketou), etc. I still marvel at having avoided arrest, given all the fistfights I had with xenophobic pricks in those early years. But somewhere around the early 1990s, I began to feel a definite sea change in Japanese attitudes (at least in Shizuoka) towards non-Asian faces in their midst, and the violent hostility was the first unpleasant treatment to go. The goofy zoo specimen treatment — yknow, being treated like I just stepped off a UFO in a silver spacesuit — lingered for a while longer, but in time, even that faded away to practically nil.

      I’ve had plenty of time to think about the possible causation mechanisms involved; one is, admittedly, that the people who have direct personal memories of/animosity over the war and the Occupation are, first of all, disappearing, and second of all, the ones still left are no longer genki enough to throw punches. Another may be that, since the collapse of the Bubble, the populace here has lost their Kodo Seicho Ki/Bubble Era ‘tude and entered a kind of long-term “akirame” mode re: stimuli that once resulted in the virulent xenophobia I experienced as a gaijin newbie in the 1980s. But more than anything, I think the most significant influence has been the sheer physical presence of thousands of new non-Asian faces in Japanese society in the interim, courtesy of the JET program. The Japanese — to crib the old “My Fair Lady” lyric — have grown accustomed to our faces.

      Let me share another personal anecdote with you: I think my “gaijin epiphany” moment regarding all of this came to me when I was walking in downtown Shizuoka one day in the late 1990s and a Japanese salaryman type approached me on the sidewalk, starting off with that raised hand “sumimasen” gesture. Assuming he was going to hit me up for some free Eikaiwa practice (or maybe an inebriated crotch grope — c’mon, who here HASN’T gotten that in Japan from a middle aged man at least once?), I braced myself to go into well-honed defense mode. Then the guy asked me, in Japanese, if I could give him directions to JR Shizuoka Station. I obliged him — also in Japanese — and walked away from the encounter a changed gaijin. “I’m home,” I thought. “THIS is home.” It’s a moment I’ve never forgotten, and a feeling I’ve never quite lost, now in my 24th year of gaijindom.

      If JET has accomplished nothing more nor less than making an encounter between a Japanese and Non-Japanese like this possible — even THINKABLE — in Japan, I think it has been worth the expenditure of taxpayer funds. It has been worth it not only for making the lives of “old Japan hands” like me more comfortable, but for giving our hosts a more cosmopolitan outlook on life and on the big wide world outside the borders of their tiny home isles.

      No, my Japanese neighbors (and their children) STILL can’t talk their way in English out of a paper bag, but they DO treat me like a human being, and I sincerely believe that JET is responsible in large measure for this change. Others may no more, but at least this is how it has looked from these old gaijin’s eyes.

      — Amen, Bucky.

    14. Allen Says:

      I think if the JET wants to stay alive then they need a serious reform. The idea is good, but the execution is flawed in places, as demonstrated by the previous commentators. Japanese schools need to work harder to try to teach conversational English and not just aim to pass entrance exams. At the same time, the native english speakers who are just coming for a party should get a sobering slap in the face and get serious.

      (Those Eigorian Characters would be great for my kids, however…..XD)

    15. jeezus Says:

      From my first-hand perspective: Just like the majority of English ‘teachers’ they work with, the majority of JETs I have met are not qualified to teach English or be ‘cultural ambassadors’ — this does not mean they are not ‘good people,’ but being a jolly nice chap is not nearly enough to carry out such an important endeavor. Sure, the JETs speak the language a lot better than most of the ‘teachers’ they “assist,” but it should be quite obvious that the ability to speak English does not automatically grant one the skill to effectively teach it as a second-language — the brief training sessions provided are nowhere near enough to train JETs to properly deal with the responsibilities they are given. Actual curriculum seems to be quite rare, and the “textbooks” used are absolute trash — sorry, one 50 page workbook and a bunch of “games” do not make a curriculum.
      JETs are often fairly well-educated in whatever field they studied as undergraduates, but absolutely clueless when it comes to designing, implementing, or even recognizing effective instruction and skill-assessment in the classroom setting [for obvious reasons, graduate-level JETs seem to be quite rare]. ‘Success’ is thereby celebrated when a very small number of the student population shows any sign of improved ability, which is far too often thanks to the personal interaction that the large majority of students do not have access to/take advantage of — they should not have to; effective instruction should be taking care of this in the first place. Some of these JETs then go on to advisory positions to help “train” incoming JETs in the (failing) ways of the programs they participated in. If a JET is not finding success [as defined above] it must be because of “cultural misunderstanding” and/or the students just aren’t trying enough. This creates a cycle that keeps the majority of students from coming even close to proficiency levels in ‘English-communication,’ and does very little to provide students the theoretical knowledge that is necessary to make respectable judgments-of-culture regarding the worlds around them. ‘Cultural exchange’ is too often whittled down to “In my country we…” and “In Japan we…,” which those of more cosmopolitan backgrounds know is a far too ignorantly-general approach to be of any use to the ends of killing stereotypes and the accompanying xenophobia/discrimination, educating students on wide variants of culture in every society (including Japan), etc. There is no denying that some JETs do things that can be suggested as ‘good’ for the communities they participate in, but, in my view, the poor results of the program as a whole makes it proper for the ax. [Consider the masses of taxpayer dough that is tossed at the program and the actual results that come from it. Better idea: take out English as mandatory at the JHS level — it is not technically mandatory in high school, but most schools use English to fulfill the language requirement –, bring in teachers of various nationalities that are highly trained/skilled for full-time positions instructing various languages (Chinese, Korean, English, Indian, etc.) and call it a day. You get your language instructed at a high level of skill, and true “internationalization” takes shape. Not easy to convince an English-washed public of this, but it is probably not too shabby of a thought.]

    16. Kimberly Says:

      Sorry to have to disagree on this… I think JET AND AETs are absolutely unnecessary. Each English classroom needs a single teacher… natioanlity and native language should play no role in the hiring process… who SPEAKS both English and Japanese, and is a full time teacher at the school who interacts with the children outside of English class as well. Cut the gaijin who are there just to look foreign and “listen and repeat,” cut the Japanese English teachers who can’t even order a pizza in English as well, and get people in there who can do the job ALONE, regardless of what the color of their skin happens to be.

    17. John Says:

      Cut it.

      It promotes the wrong view of the world. Specifically, all gaijin are English speaking. The program is simply not culturally or linguistically diverse enough.

    18. jack Says:

      I have to preface this with a disclosure: I used to be a JET.

      That said, I feel that cutting the JET Programme would be penny wise and pound foolish; it’s hardly beyond reproach, but just the same is it hardly as bad as the public works boondoggles mentioned above (and let me add another: the tragic, tragic state of air travel, with all its airports hemorrhaging yen). If it gets the axe, I fear it will be for lack of political defenders rather than a lack of efficacy.

      The JET Programme has its weak points: participants with little to no qualifications in teaching, insufficient training of participants, seemingly nonexistent training regarding team teaching for Japanese English teachers, participants being spread too thin to effectively help improve students’ English abilities, and a growing mission creep extending further every year toward the elementary schools, to name a few.

      However, many of the horror stories aren’t as bad as they sound: while there are the inevitable poor examples, on the whole the JET Programme seems to draw a relatively motivated set of participants; those least-prone to the position tended to drop out fairly quickly, often before or at the one-year mark; the tendency to use participants solely as human CD players has decreased; and last, the JET Programme is still steadily improving, year by year.

      Most of the criticism of the program focus on its direct results in the classroom, but it serves many other purposes as well. These include the feel-good purposes of internationalization, the fostering of tolerance toward foreigners and foreign-looking people, and the injection of creativity and motivation into students’ lives, but often people overlook the fact that JET participants are (often unavoidably) great practical in-service training for the Japanese English teachers, who must communicate with them in and about lessons and throughout the school day. Not to say anything bad about them, but plenty of Japanese English teachers could use the practice.

    19. Mark Hunter Says:

      Bucky, awesome post! Really. Hank, I totally agree with you.

      As a former JET myself and teacher, one thing Japan has taught me is that what is said or written is not necessarily what is meant. The JET Programme says / writes that it is for English teaching and internationalization. Fine. However, I believe Japanese ‘honne’ and ‘tatemae’ are at work here. The ‘tatemae’ is that JET is for English teaching and the ‘honne’ is that it is for teaching people to view the different-looking as at least somewhat similar to themselves, with likes and dislikes, not as freaks of nature, like Bucky alluded. Much like Japan thinks it can catch whales for ‘research’ purposes (tatemae) and then sell them in supermarkets and restaurants (honne), so goes the spoken and written purpose of the JET Programme. This is the trap that critics of the JET Programme fall into. I strongly believe that the powers that be in Japan firmly have the ‘honne’ in mind, while selling the programme with ‘tatemae’. I see no other logical explanation for why Bucky is able to elaborate on the changes he’s seen, while still having tens of thousands of classes of students exposed to JETs, but who can’t tell you or write what they did yesterday in English. I believe the powers that be know this full well and are not really that concerned about it. They are satisfied that kids learn to at least see the different-looking as somewhat human and by doing so help prepare a new generation for at least some form of globalization. I do not fault Japanese English teachers either. They are not given specific goals or training for their time with JETs and are in an impossible contradictory position of having to teach their text while this foreign person is hanging around. It’s an impossible situation. Nor do I fault JETs themselves. There is, nor has there ever been, to the best of my knowledge, any requirement that JETs actually be trained teachers. A tiny percent actually have credentials (I was one and this meant little in the context of the JET Programme). It is illogical to fault JETs for applying to a programme for which they met the criteria and then fault them for not being able to override decades of grammar-based instruction in Japanese language-led English classes. I believe the creators of JET got exactly what they wanted. Is it worth the money? That’s a big question. If it’s at risk of being cut, either the powers that be don’t think enough gloabalization is taking place or there is no money. Fire away.

      — At what? This ribbon of thought process is a mess. Rewrite please.

    20. Ted Says:

      Just a few points from a former JET.

      1. English teaching, and a one to three year cultural exchange experience are, and always have been, the thin edge of the wedge. One of the primary ideas was to seed the West (and later other countries) with a cohort of young people who had had a good experience of Japanese people and culture so that 20-30 years down the line when they were business, gov’t, cultural leaders Japan would have someone to talk to in other countries who understood the country a bit better. While some leave with ill feelings, most former JETs will be more disposed to at least listen. Japan got good value for money on this count.

      2. The send Japanese abroad instead argument has some good points, but how many of those Japanese teachers will actually return? How many will stay abroad? Many of the students I send abroad want to stay there.

      3. Money doesn’t disappear: it circulates. Much of the salary and associated support funding that is attached to your average JET participant stays right where it is sent in the form of rent, food, drink, and tourism. A portion gets repatriated to the host country of the JET participant or frittered away in Thailand, but quite a bit stays right here in Japan–much of it in rural communities that need a free-spending young JET throwing yen down for yakitori in the local restaurant and buying a used car or motorbike from the corner lot. But, I hardly expect basic economics to trump gut feeling.

    21. Robert Says:

      Whether the JET Programme is discontinued or not, it will not lead to any significant tax cuts for the tax-paying populace nor will it result in any significant savings for the government. There will still be ALTs in the classroom, but instead, they will be employed by outsourcing/dispatch companies, which is already the case in many towns, cities, and prefectures; or for a lucky few, they will be hired directly by the municipal and prefectural boards of education. The tax burden to pay for these ALTs will just be shifted from the federal to the municipal and prefectural levels of government. This has already been happening as an increasing number of boards of education continue to opt out of the JET Programme every year and are relying more and more on outsourcing/dispatch companies for their ALTs. In the end, it is still our tax dollars (yen) which pay for the ALTs. As it seems rather unlikely there will no longer be ALTs in the classrooms, I would rather see my tax money being used by the municpal and prefectural boards of education to pay the salaries of direct-hire ALTs than have it go towards increasing the profits of a growing number of shady dispatch companies.

    22. Game-JET-Match?: Is JET Done For? « A Blog About Japan, Great Idea Says:

      […] the JET alumni magazine in New York claims the JET Programme is on the government chopping block. Read about it here. He claims it is “the most direct threat” the government-run program has faced in its […]

    23. level3 Says:

      JET as intercultural exchange program to expose Japan to Anglophones and vice versa, yielding all the less-tangible, anti-xenophobia benefits? Mission accomplished.
      JET as a cunning bribery program, a kind of ODA for wealthy countries, a gamble that even if only 1% of JET participants get into positions of political/financial power, Japan will reap the rewards? Hard to say, but it doesn’t seem to be working well recently, at least not for Toyota, whalers, Okinawan bases, etc. [One could even maybe argue that this theory is counter-productive, teaching foreigners that Japan is a sucker willing to throw money around trying to buy friends but too polite to ask for, let alone demand, much in return, except maybe votes at the IWC.]
      JET as method to get most Japanese students to be able to speak English? ..excuse me a second…there’s the glass…. take a sip… read that last point again… FOOOM! ****milk squirts from nose*****

      Whichever way, JET needs to be seriously reformed (not slow and steady year by year, 23 years later and still Japan ranks where? Tied with Tajikistan for 2nd worst in Asia on TOEFL scores as of 2009! So, at this rate JET will really get things humming around the year 2130 or so?) or outright terminated, regardless of how nostalgic ex-JETs may be. (And it’s easy to understand the nostalgia, nice pay, easy work, parties…)
      How about just giving up on the English-teaching charade and just make it a kind of reverse Peace Corps in Japan, foreigners doing NGO-type work around the country and meeting Japanese people. And you don’t even have to focus on white Anglophones anymore if you do that.

      Or kill JET and siphon the money to a much more needed realistic program to get more foreign nurses working in Japan on a permanent basis. Cultural exchange AND needed workers. isseki nichou

      Or how about this? Incorporate means-testing into JET salaries. If you’re a senator’s son taking a “year off” after graduating debt-free from an Ivy League school, you don’t really NEED to get paid 4million yen a year from taxes paid by lowly eikaiwa teachers to kick it in the inaka and go to parties, do you? Heck, you could easily get people to do JET duties for room and board with a small stipend, give them trainee visas..I’m sure the government will ensure they are treated well. 😉

      — Hope the GOJ doesn’t hire you as a consultant! :)

    24. mashu Says:


      Your story rings true to me and I (long termer) have seen the change in perspective first hand. But the world has changed exponentially. When JET started there were no internet and cell/smart phones and the high tech communication we now take for granted. Imagine trying to start the JET program now—no way. IMHO it has outlived its cost^ performance ^ratio.

      Well done! JET program. You have been successful. But in the now and future, your potential contributions are outweighed by your actual costs. Good night and good luck.

    25. E.P.Lowe Says:

      Michael Weidner@10

      I think that there needs to be actually qualified teachers in place doing the work instead of the Human CD Players that they currently have.

      The problem is that qualified teachers on the JET programme get treated the same as unqualified JETs: Human CD Players. Seeing that teachers have much higher expectations of what they’ll be achieving on the programme, and have the insights to see how bad a lot of Japanese teaching practices are your plan, sadly, has no chance of success.


      Sorry to have to disagree on this… I think JET AND AETs are absolutely unnecessary. Each English classroom needs a single teacher… natioanlity and native language should play no role in the hiring process… who SPEAKS both English and Japanese, and is a full time teacher at the school who interacts with the children outside of English class as well.

      And where will these people come from? How will they learn Japanese? How will they learn how to fit into school and community life? They’ll probably need a programme, and someone with a big gun telling the BoE to tell all the xenophobes where they can stuff their complaints!

      Cut the gaijin who are there just to look foreign and “listen and repeat,”

      You make it sound like it’s a deliberate choice! Demonisation is pretty easy – actually getting to the root of problems needs a bit more thought.

      and get people in there who can do the job ALONE, regardless of what the color of their skin happens to be.

      What has race got to do with it? When I was on the JET programme we had a wide range of nationalities and ethnicities in our Ken – most of us experienced problems regardless of the colour of our skins.


      It promotes the wrong view of the world. Specifically, all gaijin are English speaking. The program is simply not culturally or linguistically diverse enough.

      There are JETs who teach in other languages – I knew of German and French-teaching ALTs in my day. There were only a few – because of a lack of demand by the Japanese schools and BoEs. What you are suggesting is akin to shooting the horse because the cart has a broken axle. Fix the cart, use the horse.

    26. Sapporo Dude Says:

      JET is a waste of time, since it hasn’t helped to improve the spoken fluency of English students.
      I think the program should be scaled back, and more money should be spent on improving internship and co-op programs for all students (Japanese and foreign) in high-schools,technical colleges and universities.

    27. crustpunker Says:

      the JET program may have certian merits that seem to be variable, but like so many other aspects of Japanese society, I mostly think it is just a half-assed attempt to look like something is being done (in this case to help improve kids English ability) when actually it has very little practical application in terms of doing that at all. Here is a quick, not very well thought out solution from a layman.

      1. Decide to what end Japan needs English. (conversational, test-taking, rote memorixation etc.)
      2. Hire native level or native speakers of English to teach with specific goals in mind.
      3. Make the jobs appealing enough (money/prestige/benefits/time off) to attract said teachers.

      Really, experts and specialists in the field of second language acquisistion (from outside of Japan) should be called in to work with the ministry of education to develop a curriculum that has practical value and with the specific needs of Japanese students in mind. Perhaps by cutting the JET program this would free up some funds to do just that? However, It’s my opinion that the current ministry of education feels that hiring natives as full time teachers in public schools or bringing in said experts from overseas will be seen as a sign of weakness. It will be percieved as an admission of failure by the general public that Japan and its elected officials, in fact has no idea how to solve the debacle of teaching English to its citizens.
      Instead the Japanese gov. continues to pretend that they are helping their kids by having largely innefectual programs that have not produced clear results (in terms of English language acquisistion) since its inception. Many “teachers” who are here continue to be lost in a maelstrom of misdirection and chaos because no one can figure out how to properly utilize our potential benefits to Japanese society…

    28. Jack Says:


      Regarding test scores, it’s well-known that Japanese scores are near the bottom of the list. I attended a talk by an official from MEXT last year on this very topic. He focused on two points.

      One, Japanese scores on measures of English ability have shown steady increase over time. Is this the result of the JET Programme and the ALT system in general? He was inclined to say yes. I’m not convinced how effective it has been compared to an ALT-less system, although it would be silly to say that they contributed nothing to the effort. Regardless, scores in Japan are improving, and that’s the most important statistic to keep in mind – not some competition with other nations, but Japan’s actual progress.

      Two, he asserted that test scores in Japan are kept artificially low by the “hobbyist” test takers. He had a wonderful graph showing the number of test takers by country, with Japan being far, far anomalously high; I don’t have that graph on hand, but a quick web search for “toefl 受験者数” led me to a page ( ) declaring that, of 650,000 test-takers worldwide, 83,500, or about 13.5%, are from Japan. That seems rather out of proportion to me. He had figures normalized to the test-taker profile from other nations (essentially, mostly students) that purported to show Japan much more competitive.

      Some food for thought.

    29. Mark Hunter Says:

      I still think some people fall into the trap of thinking the JET Programme is about teaching English. It’s not. It’s about having a new generation of Japanese not freak out when they see racially different people – call it internationalization if you want. Anyone who seriously thinks it is indeed about English has fallen for the ‘tatemae’ of the J government I explained (quite clearly I think) above. The ‘honne’ or real intention of the programme is this ‘exposure’ factor, and in that sense has been a rip roaring success – exactly what the powers that created the programme wanted. I give Japanese people much more credit than some do for knowing what they want and how to get it. The creators of the programme wanted kids to be exposed and got just that. The whaling analogy is perfect in my opinion. Tell people you are studying whales, with the real purpose being to sell their meat to shops and restaurants. This way of doing business (or exchange programmes for that matter) drives so many foreign people nuts because in many of their cultures this is deception of the highest order.

      Bucky, I (and I think others) would love to read more of your thoughts on all this. It warmed my heart to know that so many people’s efforts have not been wasted. Good on ya!

    30. Kerim Yasar Says:

      I first came to Japan in 1995 as an AET on the JET Program, when the exchange rate was about 90 yen to the dollar (never thought I’d see THAT again, but then I never thought I’d see a black U.S. president either). I had just graduated from university, had never studied Japanese, and saw JET as an opportunity to become familiar with a part of the world I had never visited before. Given my school debts, the high prices in Japan, and the exchange rate, that’s not something that was likely to happen in any other way.

      In all honesty, the experience was wretched. It was the usual story: being used as little more than a human tape recorder, being stared and pointed at, crank calls late at night. About seven months in, I got sick with infectious mononucleiosis and spent nearly a month in the hospital. As I said, wretched.

      Yet, somehow, my life had been changed. The school didn’t know how to use me and there was nothing to do in the small town where I lived, so I spent most of that time studying Japanese, and that combination of immersion and intensive study laid the foundation for the many years of study that followed. Although I left JET after that first year, the misery of the experience didn’t deter me from coming back, which I did two years later on a Monbusho scholarship. Needless to say, that was a far more satisfying experience. I went on to get a Ph.D. in Japanese literature at Columbia and I work now as a teacher and translator.

      I can’t say what my presence did for the students of Motosu Junior High School in Gifu Prefecture (probably not much), but I can say that the experience profoundly altered the course of my own life: If it weren’t for JET and the Monbusho Scholarship I almost certainly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. I know my case isn’t exactly representative, but I’m certain that there would be far fewer translators, interpreters, and enthusiasts of Japan and the Japanese language around today if JET had never existed. At a time when Japan stands to be eclipsed by China not only economically but culturally (just look at the changing enrollment numbers in Chinese and Japanese language classes abroad), it needs all of the foreign friends it can get. By all means, reform the program as necessary, but I think doing away with it altogether would be a tragic mistake.

    31. Jack Says:

      Thanks @Kerim for showing how even when the JET experience goes wrong it still does right in other ways.

      I, too, would love to hear more from Bucky.

    32. Bucky Sheftall Says:

      Thanks for the feedback everyone. It’s satisfying to see that my stories ring true (esp. for fellow old-timers who do indeed remember “the bad old days” [then again, getting 10,000 yen an hour to teach giggly office girls Eikaiwa in the Bubble Era wasn’t so “bad”, was it? ;-)).

      Anyway, I’m afraid I’ve pretty much blown my op-ed wad on this topic in my previous post. Although it indeed IS something I’ve thought about from time over the years, I don’t have much more to add, I’m afraid (other than to give my endorsement to Mark’s posted opinions).

      I could, however — if the right thread presents itself — regale you with old-timer gaijin stories that’d make your hair stand on end (or at least make you glad you weren’t here “way back when”). Maybe I should write a book? 😉

    33. Cabby Says:

      Sure, after 22+ years in Japan I can definitely notice a less xenophobic vibe and a more open one from the younger generation, but is this due to the JET program, more international travel by Japanese, the increase of foreigners in Japan, or having the world at out fingertips due to the Internet? Who can say? No doubt a combination of factors is at work. When I arrived in 1988 who would have thought that there could be so many Japanese fans of Korean musicians and TV stars? Yes, attitudes change and sometimes for the better.

      I have never been a JET and have always questioned the idea of bringing fresh graduates to teach English merely because they can speak it . The idea of freshness (the former 3-year limit) and teachers who more than likely have no prior experience also troubles me. Although I hold these negative attitudes regarding the JET program I know many teachers who have benefited from it and I am sure that exposure to non-Japanese has helped young learners to be more open minded, if not more proficient at English.

      Just like the good old USA and other industrial powers, Japan chooses to make cuts in education and social services while spending enormous amounts on so called defense spending. As we are now living the Orwellian nightmare of permanent war we will continue to see cuts in education and social services while the military-industrial complexes enjoy increased allowances. It seems there is never enough money to go around to satisfy real needs and always enough to fight bogeymen, real or imagined. After all, what government could survive with a truly educated and informed populace? It is not in their best interest.

    34. Bob Says:

      The JET programme is a disgrace and I welcome it’s demise.

      Under worked and overpaid, JET “teachers” (if being the classroom parrot is the same things as being a teacher, that is) , far from aiding the continual internationalization of Japan, sustain a, let’s face it, clearly racist ideology whereby the almost entirely unqualified and inexperienced foreigners are paid salaries well over the rate of their actually qualified and trained Japanese coworkers and, just to rub it in, can expect subsidized living costs as well.

      Still, in light of the recent news concerning the tragic deaths of foreign workers from overwork, it’s a relief to know that there’s absolutely no chance in hell of the same thing happening to any of our “cultural ambassadors” in any of our schools here anytime soon.
      Far from it.
      However, should one arrive for work and discover that s/he actually has to plan and really teach six to eight classes a day and will have to leave the twittering and facebooking etc etc for out of work hours, schools may well see an increase in the rate of absenteeism due to their senseis coming down with the flu or something.

      I, for one, applaud the new regime for taking the initiative and hopefully ending this hideous scam.

    35. jeezus Says:

      “Money doesn’t disappear: it circulates. Much of the salary and associated support funding that is attached to your average JET participant stays right where it is sent in the form of rent, food, drink, and tourism.”
      Ummmm, this is somewhat correct, but remember that, under this reasoning, money is being taken from education and put into other arenas that one would have a difficult time proving as appropriately-relative to education. I suppose taxes might put a small percentage of such funds back into this ‘circulation’; but, the amount of money that is specifically meant for education would thereby degrade every time it re-circulates, and it would never actually go towards achieving academic goals. So then, we right are back to figuring out how to best use the initial funding for achieving academic goals, or redirecting the funding elsewhere. To be honest, your proposal seems to be the same as saying “the economic process is as it is.” [seriously, absolutely no offense intended, but I just got the image of Zoolander (Ben Stiller) saying “Let me answer that question with another question,” in my head hehe]

      “Really, experts and specialists in the field of second language acquisistion (from outside of Japan) should be called in to work with the ministry of education to develop a curriculum that has practical value and with the specific needs of Japanese students in mind.”
      The problem is that specialists are brought in but the information they provide does not make it into classroom instruction. If you read the white paper on ‘Japanese with English Abilities’ [see MEXT site] you will see that such experts have contributed to the formation of a very reasonable ‘suggested’ approach to instructing the language. The issue is that schools are not using this information and are not being held accountable for using it. At a JET orientation I attended I listened to an ‘expert’ from England who teaches at a college in Tokyo — can’t recall the school’s name — and he gave fantastic information on eliciting ‘active participation’ during instruction. I was later told by a prefecture adviser (former JET) that he was “boring” and most ALTs didn’t like his presentation style. The valuable knowledge shared was thereby dismissed. Ridiculous. This is what happens when you bring in people who don’t know how to recognize valuable information due to lack of training/experience in the field — “It didn’t entertain me, so it must not be any good.”

      “One, Japanese scores on measures of English ability have shown steady increase over time.”
      But has the degree of improvement been acceptable according to the time and money that has been spent promoting it? The program has been around for 20+ years yet the majority of students I have come into contact with, from various institutions, still take 4-5 years of English courses to (sometimes) reach what I would consider 1st year proficiency [for credibility’s sake: I am educated at the graduate level in Education, including detailed studies of second language acquisition, and I have highly successful classroom experience in curriculum development, classroom management, and integrating students at varying skill levels into the ‘learning experience.’ I’m not quite an “expert,” but I’m probably not far off (and I’m modest too! hehehe)]. The students I meet that have the most ability have oftentimes piled on a ton of juku hours on top of their normal study time. This goes back to the question of whether or not taxpayers are getting good bang for their buck when it comes to English instruction — how much so is debatable, but English acquisition IS a targeted element of the JET program.
      “Thanks @Kerim for showing how even when the JET experience goes wrong it still does right in other ways.”
      Whoa! Be careful here Jack. The ‘logic’ here allows for a lot of funny business. Heck, you can justify every ‘bad’ thing that has happened over the course of humanity with this wide-open reasoning. “Yeah, but look at Hiroshima now!” [Debito, I can guess what your face looks like reading that, but please allow it. I only mean to point out the possible flaws of this sort of reasoning.]

      @Mark Hunter
      “The ‘honne’ or real intention of the programme is this ‘exposure’ factor, and in that sense has been a rip roaring success – exactly what the powers that created the programme wanted. I give Japanese people much more credit than some do for knowing what they want and how to get it.”
      Seriously? Put out a boatload of money on hiring/employing fluent English speakers (which includes: program advertisement, processing application paperwork, interviews abroad, orientations abroad, flights from abroad, Tokyo orientation, prefecture orientations, etc.), purchase classroom materials, hold yearly seminars, and go through all of the other rigmarole just to park “gaijin” in front of kids for ‘desensitization?’ I’m not sure I would be with you in lending credit for such a procedure. If we entertain your proposal and assume that it is the truth, it seems that we would still be confronted by the ‘bang for your buck’ dilemma. As well, even if we assume that this unlikely case has led to “rip roaring success,” we are still returned to the question that is being asked by the government’s putting the program’s funding up for review: “Is it doing enough ‘good’ for us at the current time?”

      I have been thinking that I remembered recently reading something about the JET Program being considered important, and I just found the link:
      [the China reference is quite amusing]

    36. Arudou Debito Says:

      For what it’s worth, I did a paper on JET’s goals way back when. You can read the full text of it here.


      By David C. Aldwinckle, Assistant Professor
      Faculty of Liberal Arts, Hokkaido Information University
      Hokkaido Jouhou Daigaku Kiyou
      Vol 11, Issue 1, September, 1999

      Keywords: Internationalization, Public Policy in Japanese Education, The JET Programme


      Internationalization, or kokusaika, has become a buzzword in Japan through its attempts to become an outward-looking, “normal” country in international circles. To this end, the Japanese government over the past ten years has sponsored the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which offers educational internships of one to three years for young college graduates from English-speaking countries. These teachers, acting as assistants to native Japanese English teachers in Japan’s smaller-town junior and senior high schools, have been expressly charged with increasing Japanese contact with foreign countries at the local level. As the first in a series, this research paper will seek to outline the structure of JET, critique its goals, and briefly focus upon its operations in one locale, Hokkaido, as a means of case study.

    37. jeezus Says:

      “However, should one arrive for work and discover that s/he actually has to plan and really teach six to eight classes a day”
      As mentioned above, many JETs would love to be doing much more but their schools are not interested in having them work more. Many that I have met came in expecting the ALT experience to be one of true full-time employment and were prepared to be busy all day — a few ALTs that I have met are kept fairly busy, but usually not with things that help achieve the purported goals of the program.
      “their actually qualified and trained Japanese coworkers”
      Are you speaking of ‘qualified English teacher’ co-workers, or are we talking about other subjects here? I have met very few English instructors, out of many (40+), that I would say have the language skills necessary for the position. I have yet to meet a Japanese teacher of English at the elementary, high school and junior high school levels that I would say has sufficiently mastered instruction method [for those who haven’t read above, that would include curriculum design, skill assessment, and classroom management]. Obviously I have not met every English teacher in Japan, but my research suggests that a lack of abilities in instructing English communication is a big issue within the English teacher population (see the MEXT White Paper reference from my last post). If all qualifications were met by a large majority of suc teachers, there would probably not be a need for ALTs, and students would be finding much more success in acquiring English as their second language.

    38. JP Says:

      Again as a former JET and a qualified teacher, I find it hilarious that people comment and say things like “under-worked and overpaid”. It is a full time job, JET’s are required to be at work 40 hours a week in most situations. When I was a JET, there was no internet at school, and teachers used word processors, cuz there were not any PC’s either. Facebook, not. The only online access at home was dial up in 1998 in Japan. I studied Japanese and played football with the boys PE class when I was free. That was cultural exchange. JET is not only about teaching English it is about always being the cultural ambassador and it never stops unless you are alone in your room. Overpaid? No change in salary for 20 years. NO raise at all even in the same position for 5 years. After 4 years, Japanese teachers make the same monthly salary and they receive bonuses. So critics imply that in order to receive that kind of pay you should be qualified, there is no incentive for qualified teachers to work in Japan. The pay is lower and there is no tenure track to look forward to. Why would a qualified teacher come to Japan?

      So now let’s compare salaries, JET’s earn 30man/ month, no bonus, and truck drivers earn about the same. So are JET’s really over paid? I don’t think so. Under worked? no. Because the job description is English teacher and Cultural Ambassador.

      That is my two yen’s worth and I hope that before anyone condemns the JET program, they at least learn a bit about it.

    39. Mark Hunter Says:

      Jeezus. Yes, the issue of bang for buck is exactly that. For those wielding the axes, if they are asking any questions at all, it most likely is about the ‘value’ of the programme. I certainly never said anything about the necessity of the JET programme being renewed, just that the, as you put it, desensitization, has indeed been very successful- at the very least as part of the package of factors that has led to less overt freaking out over having different-looking people around. If you don’t think the former rich Japan was capable of a scheme along my lines of thinking, then you’ve perhaps seen nor driven on many roads to nowhere, of which there are many and in great variety in these fair isles.

    40. Mark Hunter Says:

      Bob. I agree that one could certainly read an element of ‘racist’ intention into the rationale for the JET programme, if one believes in conspiracy theories. That’s a big ‘could’. I would disagree that JET programme participants are unqualified. They met the criteria exactly and passed a screening process to be accepted. Fault the creators of the programme. Why should an unlicensed foreign college grad be even considered in the same vein as a qualified and experienced teacher? They are two completely different beasts. If you believe the JET programme is about teaching English, which as a former participant I don’t, then you are clearly blaming the wrong people. Kinda like shooting the messenger.

    41. level3 Says:


      I’m aware of that argument about Japan having a relatively large number of people taking TOEFL who might be less-than-devoted to English study adversely affecting average scores.
      We could even go further and argue (assuming most TOEFL takers are college-age) that when you compare a Japanese to someone from any developing country, the youngster from the developing country is probably “hungrier” (figuratively, and possibly literally) for English, needs it more to get an education abroad that would be unavailable at home, whereas the Japanese student, even the serious ones, don’t have to worry about being doomed to life as a farmer if they don’t do too well on TOEFL, they can go to college (and have an easier time at it) staying in Japan. So even if Japan had an “appropriate” proportion of TOEFL-takers, it might still be expected to do worse than others.
      Then there’s the whole legitimate excuse about Japanese schools not teaching English conversation, just dated grammar and vocab. We all know this.

      Not @Jack necessarily,

      But there are so many reasons Japanese SHOULD be able to pull at least average scores. First, again, is the TOEFL hobbyists. They take the test multiple times. Getting used to the test, the procedure, the types of questions, fewer people screwing up in marking the answer sheet, the pacing, will already tend to give everyone about a 3-8 (out of 100) point boost compared to one-time test takers on average (or at least that’s what they taught me in training at The Princeton Review (the US version of juku). This would mean that if most Japanese TOEFL takers are multiple-takers, then Japan’s “true” ability probably is last place in Asia, if not the world.
      And then there’s what everyone knows: the whole 6-10 years of English “education”, the JET program, the eikaiwa industry, English movies and TV widely available, popular, and rarely censored (which I suspect is far more influential than JET, but how to prove it?), an explosion of teaching and self-study materials, and a mini-industry in educational EFL research being done by ex-JETs going on to grad school and discovering exactly which teaching methods are most effective, (but which is probably all ignored by the MOE.)
      I am sure of one thing, though. JETs cannot claim credit for any amazing results in Japanese EFL education, because there are no amazing results for which to claim credit.
      Putting it in terms of billions of yen spent per year on JET per point of increase in any metric of English ability, the result would likely be zero.
      At best.

      I just think it’s a bit sad that JET will take the fall, not out of sympathy for the program, but because it deflects attention from the real problem, general incompetence of the Ministry of Education and the teachers in English education. Who will they blame 5 or 10 years from now when English scores still suck? Not themselves, surely. They’ll just ask for more money, far more than was going to JET in the first place, and end up blowing it on 3D TVs in every classroom or something.

    42. Kimberly Says:

      “And where will these people come from? How will they learn Japanese? How will they learn how to fit into school and community life? They’ll probably need a programme, and someone with a big gun telling the BoE to tell all the xenophobes where they can stuff their complaints!”

      From the local communities of course. I never said all of them had to be native English speakers. I have a friend who is a public elementary school teacher. She also lived in Australia for a few years and I don’t worry about my sons picking up horrible Japanese Engrish by talking to her. There’s one. MANY of the existing English techers can’t hold a conversation in English. Many of them CAN, and there’s no need for a JET or ALT in those classrooms… if anything I think it lowers the kids’ confidence when the teacher turns to someone else for pronunciation or casual expressions, setting up “Japanese” and “English speaker” as two things that are mutually exclusive.

      People like me, people like (probably?) many of you reading this blog… already here, with a visa or PR or naturalized, who YES will need a bit of training to memorize grammatical terms in Japanese and things like that… but I think the amount of time that it would take to teach relevant J vocabulary to someone who already speaks English with an intelligible accent and business-level Japanese would be FAR less than what they are trying to do now, teach English to elementary teachers who were already hired when even English grammar (much less pronunciation) was not a part of the job description. PLENTY of housewives who would be glad to have a job that finishes when school get out. Never said they have to be native speakers of English OR Japanese either, just fluent in both, and there are plenty of Asian women here who fit that bill.

      Those people will be here forever as well… spend a bit of money to get them trained at the beginning, and then have a reliable staff who will work for you until retirement, who won’t need to be walked through things like transportation and housing with baby steps, etc. And you get a truly multicultural teaching staff… this year’s teacher may be a native Japanese, next year’s is American and the year after that is Filipina… and what do you know, they are all capable of both speaking English and taking responsibility for a full-time job? What better way to raise international citizens than setting that kind of example?

    43. Kane Says:

      As a former JET, I have mixed emotions. From my experience, the JET Programme was well intentioned but failed at the grass roots level. Too much sitting around and not enough work or management. Irrespective of the state of the Japanese economy, the programme needs to be cut with a more focused and effective replacement. I never felt the programme offered enough ‘bang for the buck’ and it looks like this has finally been recognised. This should be the perfect opportunity to make the JET Programme live up to its potential and offer the taxpayer value for money.

    44. jack Says:

      @Jeezus: Point taken about Hiroshima, but I still feel this is a little different. The JET Programme has all these different goals for education, internationalization, fraternization, and so on and so forth, so it seems only fair that in giving an account of its worth we should add up the value of the effect on each – the extra-educational goals are real, concrete aims for the program, and to ignore them is to fall into the problem already enumerated by Mark above. Of course, to avoid the Broken Window fallacy, it’s important to likewise tally up the benefits for alternative uses for this tax money.

      I’d love to bring a little bit more discussion about Robert@21’s comment earlier: the idea that the ALT system is here to stay, and that getting rid of the JET Programme will only bring about greater use of dispatch ALTs (which MEXT has already acknowledged as illegal as per ) and ALTs from other programs. I have to say that this seems like a likely possibility, and I don’t see the students benefited by such a change. What does everyone else think?

      As a general observation, it seems to me that those most against the JET Programme put forth a gross caricature of its participants that even most loosely fits at most one in ten, although the other nine certainly have plenty of room for improvement (and could be better-utilized by the system than they are at present).

    45. Hoofin Says:

      JET is a program that, if ever useful, has outlived its usefulness.

      I think Renho is absolutely right, and I hope that her commission withstands that pressure that it’s going to get from the Pacific Elite who describe JET as an “investment” in Japanese relations with the western world (mostly America, but the West for sure.)

      Since it’s pretty obvious that there is little difference between the JET Program as a source of teachers and the Dispatch Eikaiwa system that the corrupt LDP government allowed to bloom as its competition, the JET defenders have now devoted their efforts to emphasizing the “E” of JET, or exchange. They say that JET is an exchange program and should really be evaluated as such.

      So on my blog, I put forward there four questions:

      1) If there already are so many young foreigners coming into Japan to work for these dispatch ALT firms and chain eikaiwas, what exactly is the additional cultural exchange that is being offered by the JETs? Can’t the potential JETs just join the pool with the rest of the young men and women who come to Japan?

      2) If the JETs are bringing some special skill, can we finally know, after 23 years, what this secret skill is? Because it’s not obvious.

      3) Doesn’t offering an exchange program with a revolving door aspect just make it more difficult for the people who come to Japan to try and take it seriously for the long term?

      4) How come the English-speaking ability of so many Japanese never really seems to improve? Some are very good speakers and many try really hard, but is it possible that something about the JET format gives people the wrong impressions about English and about language study?

      I think it was Bucky Sheftall above who said that prior to JET, there were very few western foreigners around Japan. But now, there are obviously many–even without JET–so why would Japan keep the program?

      It just smells like a boondoggle, and one that reinforces the idea that non-Asians who show up here are ultimately just passing through, and should be looked at like “cultural ambassadors” in all its outsider connotations, and not as ordinary human beings.

    46. Kerim Yasar Says:

      I have to say I’m a little surprised by some of the hostility towards JET on this board. Yeah, many of the participants are semi-literate goons who couldn’t get jobs in their own countries. Yeah, it hasn’t turned Japan into the Netherlands in terms of communicative English ability. What were you expecting? All the billions of private wealth poured into GABA and Aeon and dearly departed Nova haven’t accomplished much either. When it comes to English-language-training Return on Investment, Japan probably comes in dead last in the world. There are no doubt many reasons for this. If it were simply a matter of flying in trained ESL instructors or certified teachers of other languages, I’m sure it would have happened by now as there were, once upon a time, billions to spend on same.

      When I was an exchange student in Tokyo, I decided to take an Italian course at my host institution. It was taught by a native Italian speaker trained and certified in second-language instruction. Yet the class only met once a week, there was hardly any homework, and there was no language lab to speak of. Every week, more than half the class was spent reviewing what should have been learnt the week before. The pace of progress was excruciatingly slow. Even by the standards I was used to in the United States, which is hardly a world-beater when it comes to the teaching of foreign languages, the class was a joke. The poor teacher, an Italian woman married to a Japanese, had a look on her face that I can only describe as haunted. The Japanese students, to a person, exhibited a degree of obtuseness and lack of retention that was so consistent across the board that I had to conclude that it was willful. I don’t know whether it was deeply ingrained xenophobia, or a fear of standing out by being too proficient, or what, but there was clearly something going on that had nothing to do with the abilities of the teacher or the innate intelligence of the students. For what it’s worth, this was at an elite institution, and the class was an elective.

      What this discussion has been missing so far is some hard figures. How much does the JET Program cost? I’ve tried to find budget figures online, but without success. How can it be made more efficient to achieve its core mission of putting real live foreigners in front of rural Japanese kids who have never actually seen one (for many of my students, I was their first). My understanding is that most of the funding actually comes from local school boards themselves. If they want to opt out of the program, that should be their prerogative (if it isn’t already). But cutting the program altogether and denying interested school boards the option of bringing a person, however imperfect as a language teacher or cultural ambassador, from another culture into their communities is just draconian Tea Bagger myopia. Some benefits are intangible. For many of these communities, those ALTs will be the ONLY (I speak from experience) foreigners they meet in their lives. If it makes the difference between seeing outsiders as human beings versus abstract, amorphous “threats,” it may very well be worth it. My point is simply that Japan has too much of many things (bridges to nowhere, loudspeaker trucks, etc.), but international and intercultural exchange isn’t one of them.

    47. Tom R. Says:

      My opinion is English chains schools hire foreign looking (white American, Canadian, English) employees who can speak the native language and USE them as an advertisement to get students to pay exorbitant fees for the classes they offer.

      JET might be just more of the same using its employees as tape recorders. But it is government sponsored, offers more money, vets their candidates more thoroughly, offers teachers more resources, and encourages employees to take jobs in remote areas helping to foster enlightened attitudes about different cultures, not to mention that English is the language of science, business, and used the world over which would help Japanese children succeed and if anything makes Japan a more aware, and diversely opinionated society, and in my opinion should be preserved.
      If the GOJ believes its doing western college kids a favor by allowing JET to continue, or that awareness and understanding of, and outside relations with foreign countries are a marginal goal, its sorely mistaken.

      But whatever the case, stereotypes are still treasured in Japan. You can’t blame western/white Anglo-Saxon culture for that nor the employees that are hired for the lack of seriousness on the GOJs part.

    48. Ted Says:


      Should have been more specific about recirculation. One: Does the money necessarily come out of other education funding? That’s a separate choice, isn’t it? Two: It is pretty well re-distributed from core to rural areas. Lots more AETs per person in Kyushu or Shikoku than in Tokyo or Osaka. Sending funds to the periphery in the form of AETs rather than concrete (the usual method) is probably better on the whole.

    49. Mark Hunter Says:

      Lots of interesting comments. I’m able to reflect on my own JET experience because of them. Thanks.

      I’d like to add that I think it’s a grave error to equate JETs with dispatch company employees. It is clear that dispatch company employees are to model English and almost exclusively help with English-related activities in schools. JETs do so much more than that. As examples, giving speeches to civic groups, helping organize and participating in local events like festivals, doing volunteer work, working in government offices to help with all kinds of civic related things, working on speech contests as judges, working with speech contest participants, coordinating exchanges between their home countries and their locality in Japan, joining in local sports, music and other artsy stuff, etc, etc. Just being in the classroom is a small part of what many JETs actually do in a week.
      I realize some non-JETs think that all JETs do is go into classrooms, and likely a few only do that, but most do a whole lot more in the wider community. Dispatch company employees do almost none of that as part of their job.

      I’m kinda with Level 3 in that any problems in English education in Japan need to blamed on the Ministry of Education, period. They’ve been quite happy with grammar-translation or a rough version of it taught in Japanese for decades. Until the Ministry truly wants Japanese people to give information through English to the world (speaking and writing), rather than just take information from the world for Japan’s benefit (reading), the ways of teaching and basic inability of students to actually communicate in English will remain sub par. The Meiji mentality of take from the foreigner, but don’t give anything, is still firmly intact in terms of actual measurable output abilities of most Japanese English students.

    50. jack Says:

      The point about other forms of instruction (juku, eikaiwa, dispatch) having little apparent effect is a good one. I’m loath to attribute it to a unique characteristic of the Japanese in some sort of reverse-Nihonjinron, though. Can I simply expand Level3’s thought @40 about the lack of “hungriness” among students here? I’ve met a lot of students who at their best are still miles behind the worst high school Spanish class I can imagine (Spanish being the default choice for those with no interest in foreign language in the places I grew up). And they get away with it.

      I think JP@37 has a good point, too; the dead-end, no-raise 30man/month (much less the… 20? 24? of dispatch companies) is certainly not much to entice any qualified applicants.

    51. DS Says:

      As others have accurately stated, JET was never intended as an ESL programme. It was a sop to the US during the days of huge trade deficits, and a way to plant seeds of pro-Japanism in young educated folks in various countries. Hence the proclivity of those who supervise JET to hire only young and inexperienced people whenever possible. The idea was to get them to Japan, give them a Potemkin village style tour for a year of so, and then get them home.

      If Japan was serious about improving English education, it would start with the Japanese English teachers themselves- training them on modern ESL pedagogy. It would continue to revamping the curriculum, perhaps removing English from the list of compulsory subjects. And it would end with hiring only trained and experienced foreign teachers. Not as ALTs (anyone can be an ALT, native speaking ability is not a necessity) but as fully tenured members of professional teaching staffs.

    52. Alys Says:


      I think you will find that a lot of JETs do not do those outside activities, just as some who are non-JETs do. In fact, many of the JETs that I know are not only bad teachers, but are lazy. I know of one, in particular, who doesn’t go to school unless she has a lesson. Whereas the non-JETs work longer hours per work, for less money (much less), and many get more involved in their schools. They go to the volunteer days, the festivals, watch the school’s teams at competitions, eat lunch with the students every day, etc., In addition, because of the nature of the contracts, it is much harder for the dispatch ALTs to participate in their community because they often are not even told of these things (which is strange, because sometimes it is special English lessons for students, or other activities that would be up their alley), nor would they receive any kind of benefit from going.

      Personally, I think that until Japan gets serious about education nothing will change. Yes, I realize that some people may think that Japan is serious, between juku and eikawa, and everything in between. But think about it another way – students can pass grades without actually knowing the material (I know a student who is in their first year of junior high yet cannot do simple addition). Bad students can continue going to school and disrupt classes. Students who never even set foot in to some schools still graduate.

      That and not enough people see or are told the reason why they are studying English. I am sure that even some who study it in eikawa couldn’t really answer, or would only say to pass the time. I think that Japanese people need to learn the benefit of studying a foreign language and re-evaluate the aims of their study.

    53. Greg Goodmacher Says:

      I vote to completely eliminate the JET program. Yes. There have been some good benefits, but for the total amount of money that has been spent, it is a bad investment. I would rather have the Japanese government provide grants to deserving Japanese students to study abroad or provide grants to deserving Japanese teachers to study methods of teaching language and culture. I think it is absurd to hire foreigners with no teaching experience to become language teachers, just become they are native speakers. (Hey, I have teeth, so I can be a dentist!) Doing so devalues the worth of qualified teachers, both Japanese and foreign, as well as wastes the time of students.

    54. Cabby Says:

      I am enjoying reading the varied opinions about the JET program and whether or not it should remain. I agree with posters who would like better data about the results of the program before making an informed decision.

      What has just taken place in Okayama is something that no doubt is occurring in other locales as well. The JET program here (as far as I know) has ended and the new ALTs who have just begun work are dispatch employees from Interac. One of these new teachers is my daughter’s ALT. I for one can’t wait to see how the local government reacts when teachers leave during the school year and the imagined financial savings turn out to be just that, imagined, not real. On the bright side, another local city’s school board has decided to revert to directly hiring ALTs when it’s contract with another dispatch company is completed.

    55. Ryan Says:

      My wife had no interest in English or international cultures until her first class with a JET ALT in junior high school. This had a profound impact on her to the point that she spent a year studying in Pennsylvania while a student at Yamagata University (a year of schooling for which she received no credit in Japan) and is now an English teacher herself. She is not the only person I know what was affected in a similar way. Such experiences require people from other cultures coming into Japan and living here, something that is still not common in many rural areas. I think Japan has become much more open in the twelve years I’ve been here, especially in rural Yamagata; I believe the JET Program has been a major player in bringing about that change.

    56. James Says:

      I think the Japanese’s English is not improving precisely because this has been the second largest economy in the world since 1968. You can have a comfortable life without ever learning English, so you’re better off using that time and energy on something else. The situation will change when the market demands it.

      I’m very proud of my work in the JET Program the past two years. I worked a busy 45 hours per week, made friends all over town, knew the names and families of hundreds of students, had a wonderful time at countless local and school events, got into the prefecture’s newspaper for helping lead an international charity project, had Japanese compositions published four times, and went from knowing no Japanese to passing Level 1 of the JLPT, among other things. I earned my salary.

      That said, democratic governments are drowning in red ink because everyone wants to protect their share of the public trough. We serve at the leisure of the taxpayers. Japan, like the United States, will even have to cut good programs in order to survive. I pray that the government gathers accurate information and makes a wise decision.

    57. Mike Says:

      “I think the Japanese’s English is not improving precisely because this has been the second largest economy in the world since 1968. You can have a comfortable life without ever learning English, so you’re better off using that time and energy on something else. The situation will change when the market demands it.”

      Wrong. Japan doesnt need to speak English because of its racial make up. neither does China or Korea. If you travel to PI, Singapore, Malaysia ect they can speak English because they have many races living together. They may speak malay to each other, but to another group like Indians they can speak English. This isnt neccessary in Japan and probally wont be in the forseeable future. They will only speak it when its neccessary, such as in business transactions etc but amoungst each other Nihongo will always be the language of choice.

    58. snowman Says:

      I’m sure it’s been nice for the kids having an extended holiday but now the Japanese government has far higher priorities for its limited financial resources. Jet’s time has come and gone.

    59. john k Says:

      I forgot to add.

      The question asked by shibuyara in #9 is a very valid one, whether palatable or not.

      What statistical independent evidence is there to support the assertions that JET is good and has changed Japanese attitudes?

      Firstly, has there been a change, in statistical terms, in the past 20 years? a proper sample and demographic size)..and how is this measured?

      Secondly, what has caused this change?… could be the influence of foreign/American films on TV..or the internet or having more money to travel overseas on holidays…etc etc….it may have nothing to do with JET.

      Without further evidence, all the above comments, mine included, are just anecdotes and provide no proof of JET doing anything positive other than in those participating thinking they are making a change. We all have our opinions.

      And one should not be berated for asking the question… is a genuine question, whether shibuyara has the answer or not, doesn’t make it less important.

    60. Oishi Ninja Says:

      1. How much is the JET program total to the Japanese Government?

      2. How much money would be saved in cutting, trimming, or eliminating unnecessary JET costs?

      3. Anyone else have solid figures when it comes to cost of JET operation?

      In spite of the all the good, bad, and ugly experiences different values of the JET program. The simple fact is that government(s) and Japan is no different are in desperate need to balance their budgets.

      I know from the JET home page that the average JET salary is 30,000,000Y ($33,000) to to 36,000,000Y ($40,000) depending on experience, certificates.
      The JET ALT has round trip air fare paid for by the program. A around trip air ticket to Japan and US will run about $1200.
      Let’s use that as a base for air fair.

      2009 there were 4,436 participants in the JET Program.

      Let’s round that all the way to 3000. Just an easy figure to start off to account for recurring contracts and a low ball figure to work with.

      $3,600,000 annual cost in RT air fare
      $99,000,000 cost in minimum salaries
      $102,600,000 total basic cost of program
      9.2 billion in Yen per year is the guesstimate cost of the JET program.

      Eliminate free airfare and you save 3.6 million dollars.

      I wonder what other JET expenses can be eliminated to salvage the program from being cut altogether?

    61. mashu Says:

      Subsidized housing?

    62. TX Says:

      Hey everyone, I’ve been following this site for awhile but this is my first time posting a comment. I’ll echo some of the other posters by saying it’s been interesting to read the discourse about the merits for and against axing the JET Programme. I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, so Debito please feel free to whittle down this post as you see fit.

      I was a JET ALT. One of the things that the higher ups in the JET Programme like to stress is “ESID,” Every Situation Is Different. Whilst the recruitment and screening process is centralised by the national Ministry of Ed people, once we arrive we are scattered about Japan and hired by prefectural and local governments, which often have little contact with the head office in Tokyo let alone each other. We are placed in small rural villages, islands, and urban cities. Every hiring organisation and sometimes even every individual school does its own thing, so it’s hard to generalise but also hard to streamline. Some JET English ALTs (which I’ll refer to from now on as “JETs,” although I know that many JETs are not ALTs and also do not necessarily teach English) are placed in one school and get to know their students very well and others are placed in 4 or more schools and are lucky if they teach the same student twice per semester. Whilst many JETs have subsidised or free rent, there are many others who pay full cost. Some of us live alone in an entire house, some have tiny 1-room apartments, and some live in teacher housing provided by the school or local government. JETs do various duties at school, and I have heard of JETs who team teach various English classes (Oral Communication, Business English, Reading, Grammar, International Seminar, etc.) with a Japanese Teacher of English, lead English Club after school, participate in other club activities, assist with school festivals and sports days, write English exam questions or conduct interview exams, assign and grade students’ English assignments, and teach English or get involved in other ways within the community during the evenings or weekends. Yes, and being “cultural ambassadors” and just a friendly foreign face to your students and community is part of the expectations of being a part of the JET Programme. With that said, again, “every situation is different” and how “successful” a placement depends on a variety of factors, including the attitudes of the hiring organisation, the schools, the students, the Japanese teachers, the community, and the JET and their willingness to work together. Otherwise we get the scenarios like the JET as a tape recorder or parrot, and in other cases, with no classes at all for weeks or months.

      Some of my fellow JET friends have had very rewarding experiences on the JET Programme and have been heavily involved in their schools and community, and their students and communities have appreciated and valued their contributions. On the other hand, I know many JETs who seem either disillusioned or came to Japan for what sometimes seems like every reason except to teach English or be “good cultural ambassadors.” Before I came on JET I knew that I would not be a “real” teacher in Japan, which would require a teaching degree and knowledge and experience of the Japanese education system. I had many goals for coming to Japan and for my experience on JET, including further improving my Japanese ability, becoming a member of a community here, and developing cross-cultural relationships with my students and co-workers. Again, as I have reflected on my experience I reminded myself that because “every situation is different,” there are JETs who’ve had it both better and worse than me. But I admit that I’ve often been disappointed. I have been disappointed by the lack of clear measurable goals, and the lack of accountability when it is found that the teachers, schools, or hiring organisations are not playing according to the rules or what they claim to be valuing. I have been disappointed by many of the teachers’ attitude of “しょうがない” and many of the JETs’ attitudes of “Who cares? As long as I’m getting paid.” I have been disappointed by the national organisations’ (in charge) lip service but lack of willingness or power to promote and encourage improvements that would benefit both JETs and our students.

      Many JETs do want to get more involved with work. A recent survey of JETs showed that many want to be more useful but are often discouraged by – surprise, surprise – our schools and coworkers who feel that it is too bothersome to give us more responsibility or to integrate us (report here: Some of the Japanese teachers see us merely as students’ babysitters or entertainers to fill class time after exams and exam prep is over and they don’t have anything else prepared. And for those of us who want to also include something a little more educational in our activities than just playing games, as Jeezus said in an earlier post about a JET orientation presenter, “It didn’t entertain me, so it must not be any good.” I think many of the students and teachers here apply the same logic to evaluate the ALT. Of course students aren’t always enthusiastic about studying or learning in general, let alone English which some students feel is irrelevant to them, and thus will always view the ALT as crappy. Although I do not have teaching certification in my home country, I do have an advanced degree in an education-related field, and I sometimes cringe when I hear some of the activities that ALTs do in their classes (granted sometimes at the Japanese teachers’ requests) that are biased, inappropriate, or perpetuate inaccurate or negative stereotypes of foreigners or certain historically disadvantaged groups. But often at the end of the day, for some Japanese teachers the bottom line is “did the ALT make the students laugh?” I’m not against having fun in classes, and I enjoyed having fun with my students and my supportive teachers, but with so much money being put into this programme and the public criticism being raised, we also need to produce some beneficial results. Or we need to be clear which goals we are aiming for: “happy students,” or “increase average English test scores by X%.” I think this attitude of being students’ entertainment is also reflected in the interview process. Reading discussion boards online for prospective JET applicants it seems like a theme that appears a lot is that interviewers look for peppy personalities or those who seem like people who can “handle” living in Japan. Of course, those who aren’t serious about their jobs are likely to be able to handle having what must seem like a paid 1+ year international vacation. Nevermind that some of them will often come in to work hungover. It’s these types that make all JETs look bad and lazy (granted you don’t have to be a JET to have this type of mentality here). I’ve known good, hard-working candidates who were not accepted to the programme and others who seem short a few brain cells making the cut. And I have known some ALTs who DID have teaching degrees in their own countries, but some of them were seen as being by their Japanese coworkers as being too opinionated or demanding. Although some educators may carry their own or cultural biases coming to Japan, why would having fresh ideas or perspectives in cross cultural or English education be undesirable?

      Another issue is the difficultly for JETs to transfer to another assignment within JET. According to JET Programme policies (, unacceptable reasons for a transfer include: “My abilities are not being utilised in my current workplace,” or “work place relations and atmosphere are not good.” I don’t understand why these are not good reasons for a transfer. Granted, this policy may prevent frivolous complaints and wasteful transfers, but for a programme that already is being questioned for its relevance and cost-effectiveness, how expensive is it to bring in new people for all the people who quit and returned home who would have stayed but didn’t because they couldn’t move to a better situation where they would be better utilised? And how does this affect the fostering international relations aspect of the programme when someone returns to his or her home country having had a negative experience here (and not for unrealistic expectations)?

      In theory the JET Programme is a great idea. In practice, it’s a little more difficult to pull off. I am glad that there are others who have a very rewarding experience on JET, or, like Kerim, are able to take a not-so-great experience and make it into something rewarding and use it as a springboard to future opportunities. I don’t think the programme should be axed altogether, but it needs some serious work in order to be more credible and worth the money spent on it. In the end though, if JET gets axed or the privatisation trend continues, JETs will be replaced with dispatch company ALTs, which use essentially the same system with the same flaws. The Ministry’s English education and internationalisation goals must also be streamlined with college entrance exams or you get English teachers being told to emphasise two different things in their courses. And as for “internationalisation,” there’s a lot more out there internationally than just English-speaking countries!

    63. Oishi Ninja Says:

      Mashu. What do you mean subsidized housing?

    64. Alys Says:

      @TX – Thank you for your post. I think you summed up the JET program, and a lot of dispatch companies as well. Every situation is different. There are plenty of good teachers on both sides. I, too, personally know people with teaching certificates/degrees/etc., who were turned away from JET and thus had to go the dispatch company route. I know people who were on JET, wanted to stay longer in Japan, but their BOE told them they couldn’t do direct hires so they had to do dispatch.

      I know dispatch people who do club stuff, sports day, culture day, grade papers, make tests, mark tests, help with copies and office work, make lesson plans, etc., while some JETs do next to nothing. And, on the other hand, I do know some JETs who work their butts off, while some dispatch don’t.

      As for benefits of JET – their health insurance is also covered by the program, as well as their city taxes. Many get some kind of housing money – some for as much as half of their rent. It inflates their salary a bit, when you add it all up.
      Many dispatch workers have to pay their insurance, housing and taxes all on their own.

    65. mashu Says:

      @ Oishi Ninja

      To my knowledge, JETs get subsidized housing. (The few JETs I knew several years ago all had susidized housing) If this is still the case, then this expense would need to be added into your calculation.

    66. TX Says:

      @ Mashu and Oishi Ninja
      Some JETs get partial or full subsidies for their housing. A few I know get free apartments or houses to live in during their tenure. (With that said, a lot of them are in very rural locations and often find out that when they arrive they have to purchase a car right away in order to get to work.) Others pay a portion (for example, one to several man). In my placement, as well as most of the others in my area, we paid 100% for our housing.

      @ Alys
      Thanks for reading my comments and sharing your own thoughts. I do think that the health benefits of belonging to the JET Programme is one of the perks, as well as the salary and vacation options, in comparison to private dispatch company ALTs who receive lower salaries and don’t get paid for school recess time like winter and summer holiday. I think the budget could be adjusted to cut costs without seriously damaging certain components of the programme. As I stated before, I think they should seriously reconsider the transfer policies. It should cost less to transfer ALTs to another assignment than to pay for their airfare home and bring in other ALTs as replacement and pay for all of the orientations and what training they do provide.

    67. Oishi Ninja Says:

      Anyone have an idea of an average JET benefit package?
      I guess to assume since taxes, and insurance is not taken out of their salaries that they pretty much get full pay.

      Since dispatch workers have to pay the insurance, and taxes and such then they must save Japan a minimum of 20-30% in operating costs over a JET.

      Anyone have ideas on how the goverment CAN keep JET can cut costs?

    68. jeezus Says:

      I agree that this is a quality discussion, and I thank everyone for giving me different views to consider.

      @Mark Hunter
      Good stuff. I see what you are saying about the ‘roads to nowhere.’ It looks like we agree that the value’s being considered is fair. As regards the Ministry’s approach to communicative-English, for many years they have addressed the issue, but it does not feel like they have made much effort in holding the schools/prefecture I have worked with accountable for achieving the goals they put forth — here is 1 example of their trying to set a framework for getting people using the language to ‘give’ from July 2002 . The problem with the ‘desensitized-by-mere-presence’ point is that such ‘tolerance’ may come at the cost of producing students who do not have the ability to make reasonable judgments about the ‘cultural backgrounds’/personal experiences of the ALT that they spend an hour a week staring at — everyone arguing for acceptance of such an approach should take this into account. In short, this sort of tokenism is not an acceptable mid-point to true education in ‘international’ matters. Effective education, in my view, always requires very carefully thought-out/planned discourse to ensure mastery of concepts and abilities. Such discourse does not occur in the cases of ALTs who do the famed “tape recorder” bit.

      Ok, thanks for giving me some more specifics. I agree that supplying schools ALTs is better than paying for purposeless dump trucks and concrete, but the discussion seems to center around whether or not the ALT and the program set up to accommodate her/him is providing as much good for the cost. Not sure where all of the money comes form initially; I only mean to point out that the money’s going to education would seem to better serve the public interest [Sorry, I’m actually a tad bit confused as to what you are asking, so I am trying to answer the question according to how I am reading it.]

      Cool, thanks for clearing that up. It sounded like you were referring to the entirety of a negative experience and its after-effects. Looks like you were actually addressing elements within the program. That works, and it allows us to maintain the stance that the ‘bang for the buck’ evaluation is a proper one.

      “Accountability” was the key word in your fantastic contribution to the discussion. The ESID point is just a fact-of-life, and it is the responsibility of the administrative organizations to ensure that all ‘situations,’ as ‘different’ as they may be, are successful situations. Using different experiences and perspectives to come about a commonly understood body of knowledge that can be readily-modified under the same ‘difference’ premise seems to be what ought to be the goal here. Excusing failure because of ‘difference’ is what leads to a negative view of perspectives and experiences that may differ from one’s own.

    69. DS Says:

      If you want to compare the cost of JET to using haken dispatch companies, I can help out. My city pays a dispatch company 21 million yen per year to supply 4 ALTs. The company pays the ALTs a base salary of 240,000 a month.

      You can find the same information at any city hall. You just need to make a Freedom of Information request and they will provide you with a copy of the contract that the city signs with the haken.

      JET was never intended as anything resembling a career. That is why the salary and benefits do not rise, even after the JET completes one or two contracts. As a rough guesstimate, a JET costs in the area of 5-6 million yen a year once all costs are factored in.

      I have done seminars for various education groups and tell them all the same thing: hire responsible and professional native speakers. Hire them directly, as you would any other member of your teaching staff. Treat them with respect and in turn expect them to behave professionally.

    70. Andrew Says:

      I think TX pretty much summed up everything that went through my mind while reading this comment thread.

      I’m a current JET and the talk of the program being cut has been going around for months, a couple months ago, a number of ALTs in my prefecture (including myself) had school assignments changed to have more people going to more schools, fewer days a week. Basically to spread everybody out since the program is shrinking.

      I don’t think it needs to be cut, but it needs serious re-working. A lot of what people have said on here is valid and correct, but erasing it because it hasn’t turned Japan bilingual in 20 years isn’t a good one when there are a multitude of other factors involved. From my own experience, students’ lack of interest (in ANY subject, let alone English), Japanese English teacher lack of English ability (why isn’t this also being discussed by the suits up top?) and just simply, the education system not really caring if you can communicate (SPEAK) in English, rather than, “write a sentence using SVOO.” The last one comes out usually when I’m trying to help students with 英検 interviews, they can do the writing/grammar, but when asked questions (“Why?”) they stumble.

      There are always JETs who are great, and JETs who aren’t, but the “success” or “failure” of the program shouldn’t be attributed to them (us?) alone.

    71. Oishi Ninja Says:

      Without question the JET program has mixed reviews.

      In this financially stressed environment that the country is in, can the JET Program be sustained at current costs?

      The politicians would have an easy time to nix the program depending on the climate of the public opinion of the program.
      It would not take much digging for the media to find enough horror stories of less than professional ALTs over the last two decades to reveal scandals. With public support, the program would be easily justified to be axed.

      Now, the real question is…
      With billions of Yen saved from JET’s demise…

      Where would the money saved go?
      Where else could the JET savings go to support education in Japan?

    72. a39 Says:

      It may not be just budget concerns.This article from New York Times last week details how South Korea is already replacing teaching assistants with robots.If you read the article carefully, words such as “exacting”, “sticks to script”, “the female model seems more effective at teaching”,”replace native speakers” , “(students).they get shy before a foreign native speaker, afraid to make mistakes”. The truth could be more frightening.

    73. Oishi Ninja Says:

      Great article from the NYTimes.

      I was wondering what “frightening truth” were you referring too?

      Looks like the tale of John Henry is playing out in the English
      teaching industry.

      Of course, the robots appear consistent, cold, and are devoid of personality.

      On the other hand, the robot ALT will not…
      1. ever be late.
      2. show up to class hungover.
      3. have no work misunderstandings that are due to cultural differences.
      4. have no vacation, sick days, or personal leave issues.
      5. doesn’t need a work visa.
      6. saves time in screening potential ALT candidates.
      7. need housing, car, bank account, medical expenses.
      8. never gets tired.

      And I though they just made good vacuum cleaners.

      — So they don’t demonstrate any of the humanity (good or bad) of their fellow Japanese teachers. Great. I wonder if the educational labor unions realize that they’re next to be replaced.

      Once again, Gaijin as Guinea Pig.

    74. Michael Weidner Says:

      I know I was kinda harsh in my post earlier on, but I do feel that the whole system is broken. Some people did bring up some valid points when it comes to the usage of AET’s in the classroom, as well as accountability and credibility. I think a lot of the problem stems from a very apparent lack of communication between all parties involved.

      For Example:
      Teachers, BOE’s, and Schools are under the impression that JET AET’s have to take tests and have certain requirements in order to be on the JET Programme. The real situation is quite different however. Depending on the Consulate or Embassy that did the screening, the applicant may have gone through an intensive interview and testing process, or just a simple interview. That leaves a large disparity between applicants who are being asked to do the same job. The Consulates/Embassies verify that they are sending qualified people, but since there is such a disparity, how can they accurately verify that they are able to do the job? Things I have heard of happening while employed on JET: calling in drunk, going in to work drunk, calling in sick in order to take a trip to Tailand, showing up late, or not showing up at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are many fantastic JETs out there. The problem being that they seem to be few and far between, and those bad seeds put not only other JETs, but other foreigners in a bad light.

      There needs to be standards and they need to be followed. The reason I say that JET needs to be cut is because the system is flawed and needs to be replaced with a program that has been reworked from the ground up. With good communication at all levels. And responsibility and accountability at all turns.

      It’s not easy to make large changes in this country on the short term so a new program to replace the old one may be the only answer in order to keep things in balance.

      As for DS’s comments, thank you for basically summarizing everything I wanted to say. You rock :)

    75. Mark Hunter Says:

      Still seems many posters think JET is about English teaching. It’s not. I’m not advocating for its renewal specifically, but I believe that officialdom get exactly what they want with the JET Programme. The candidates read the qualifications, pass interviews and come. Don’t blame JETs and don’t analyze this issue from the point of view of English teaching or output results by students. It’s off base. By focusing on English teaching and results, the main thrust of the program, exposing people to foreigners, is shunted aside and the whole exercise goes around in circles. Can we put the English teaching thing to bed once and for all and just leave the blame for crappy results where it belongs, in the Ministry of Education. Flame away all you want on the Ministry, but blaming underlings in a hierarchical society is very odd.

    76. Ian C Says:

      I’m a current JET in a mountain town of 2000 people. I feel that some of the comments have been a wee bit unfair; I am most certainly not a parrot or a CD player. Saying that though, I think I am a good ALT, but NOT a good JET.

      I don’t think the solution is to cut the programme entirely. It needs a lot of work, and definitely needs stricter guidelines on the selection process (I remember thinking at London Orientation; “I did so much to boost my application for this, and this guy is acceptd without any relevant qualifications?!?!WTF…”), but ALTs can be beneficial to Japan and to the Japanese, even with regards to learning English.

      However, what I think would be even more beneficial is to find foreigners with a good command of the Japanese language and get them to teach English. In other words, the same way that foreign languages are usually taught in foreign countries. Yes, I was taught various languages by various English people who knew and could speak a foreign language (or two); but I learned the best when I was taught by a native of that language who had a decent command of English. Fair enough, they made many mistakes when speaking English, but they had enough to be able to teach me their language. This is the way that a language should be taught, IMHO.

      Obviously, you’re not going to find thousands of foreigners who can immediately come and teach in the way described above, and so this is where the funding for the JET programme comes from; use it to send the foreigners to intensive language courses so they can learn the language to be able to teach English. At the same time, they’ll be teaching in Eikaiwas and be interns at schools, so they can get real experience teaching and apply what they’ve learned at the same time. After about a year of intensive study, you’d hope that their language is of a sufficient standard to do some basic teaching; at that time, send them out to the rural towns and enroll them on a professionally made correspondence language course. Those with stronger Japanese language skills teach in high schools, and those with less teach in JHS and ES. Of course, new participants can only start out in areas with the centres for the language courses (e.g. cities and big towns), but after the year, they can trickle out to rural places. And to make up for the costs of the language programmes, these new language teachers are contracted for a minimum of three years after their study year. And their study year should only have a minimum salary to cover their costs. When they leave, these people become much more employable, having been on and completed an extremely competitive programme, and having definitely acquired a new language. Also, Japan would have people in various foreign countries who can speak Japanese; this has the benefit of giving Japan the foreign Japan-friendly diplomats they want (who they can talk to because they speak Japanese!), or these people can go back and become Japanese teachers themselves, thus spreading the language further.

      My idea would obviously run up huge costs, but it would do all the positives that the JET programme does now, [i]and[/i] definitely teach English to a high level. The number of participants of this programme would be significantly fewer than the current JET programme, but the quality of participants would be higher with stricter interviews and requirements. But the rewards (being paid to live in a foreign country and study its language) are huge, so there would be applicants. But the strict application process would weed out the I-want-to-be-paid-to-party people.

    77. Michael Weidner Says:

      Mark Hunter – “Still seems many posters think JET is about English teaching. It’s not.”

      Mark, I think it’s a little naive to think that it’s not about English Teaching. Many applicants think that it is a “cultural exchange”. I’ve been an exchange student on two occations. Both cultural exchanges. I’ve also been involved with several other groups that also exchange students and teachers. From all of my experience in these fields, I can tell you that JET *isn’t* a cultural exchange. If they says it is, they’re lying to you. Either that, or they are doing an aweful job of the program. Japanese people today get a lot of exposure to foreign people through TV, movies, etc; they don’t require a live person in order to be exposed to them.

      I think a large part of this whole “OMG you’re a foreigner! You’re like sooo mezurashii!” frame of mind is because the society puts us out there on a pedistal. By setting up those who come over here on JET and other programs like it to fail, they fufill their expectations of lazy, undependable foreigners and reinforce their “us vs. them” mentality.

      “The candidates read the qualifications, pass interviews and come.”
      As I mentioned before, these qualifications are only loosely defined and are spotty at best. How is someone coming into work drunk considered acceptable? Even as a cultural exchange person?

      To me, it’s embarassing. But the type of issues that I mentioned in my previous post are not only prevalent, they are unchanging. Even when I was involved with the Rotary Club, they had stricter rules for candidates coming over, and stricter rules while they were on their exchange. Those rules were set in place because problems in the past had occured. Other cultural exchange programs followed suit when problems arose. Yet these problems with JET are as prevalent now as they were 10 years ago.

      Granted, not all JETs are bad. I’ve met my fair share of excellent JETs. But sadly, the percentage of those on the whole is too small for me to be impressed with the screening process. Or the program as a whole. Unimpressed enough to disuade those that I know who want to come to Japan to not come here on the JET program.

      I’m sorry, but the Japanese people deserve better, as do the people who are coming here.

      — Point of order: I think I’m going to call a moratorium on any further mentioning of the stereotype of the “Drunk (or Hungover) JET”. We’ve heard that cited enough, and even if true (and we have no concrete evidence to say that JETs ARE coming to class drunk) does not believe in judging the status of the whole group based upon the actions of a few; that is the element of prejudice. Now back to the discussion.

    78. sendaiben Says:

      Sorry, JETs are not teachers -they are assistants. All ALTs are. They are not legally allowed to be in charge of a classroom and cannot teach by themselves, as they do not have teaching licences. Because of this, they are as effective in the classroom as the teacher who is in charge of the class allows (or helps, or hinders) them to be.

      If we are looking at the effectiveness of the English educational system, start with the teachers, then look at the materials they use, the expectations of students and parents, and the tests that define education for a lot of students. Don’t bother looking at the assistants, many of whom do a great job. They don’t really make any decisions.

    79. Oishi Ninja Says:

      JETs are good. JETs are bad.
      I agree, the talk of the stereotype irresponsible JET is beating
      a dead horse. Even reading about brilliant ALTs, teachers, students,
      and B of Eds is beside the point.

      The axing or whittling down of JET is a financial issue and not one of pedagogy.

      The Japanese Government (or any other) does not have the luxury
      to understand the benefits of any cultural program.
      Their main concern is to balance their budgets.
      Education has never been on the forefront of any government.

      So, the issue isn’t quality ALTs, or better English education,
      or progressing xenophobia but one of Yen.

      Yes, it all gets down to money.

      I am curious for people’s solutions to the problem.

      What solutions do you offer so that the JET program funding not be cut?

      — I’m not sure we’re all line-item inspectors of the exact costs of the program, but that is essentially the question as far as Renho is concerned.

    80. Mark Hunter Says:

      Michael Weidner..agreed, JET isn’t a true exchange of cultures. It’s about exposing people to foreigners. True exchange would involve much more than the “look at the foreigner” thing to actually delving into our commonalities as humans, not differences. The number of JETs who claim to be used as human tape recorders is quite high and emphasizes (and I think your point)that not a lot of exchange is taking place. This depressing reality about exchange of culture does not then by default make JET an English teaching programme. It clearly isn’t. Let’s not shoot the messenger (JET participant) who passed the (albeit perhaps weak at times) screening process. Blame for lack of results, whether in the cultural exchange or English areas lies elswhere, namely with the organizers and the Ministry of Education.

      — We’re going around in circles now. Let’s not retread just to show agreement. Push the discussion forward. Let’s consider the question Oishi Ninja posed about concrete budget cuts. Let’s pretend we’re before a Dietmember Shingikai, trying to justify this program in terms of nuts and bolts, not principles and goals.

    81. sendaiben Says:

      Okay, looking at budget cuts.

      Cut CLAIR and the JET bureaucracy. Enforce the law so that BOEs can’t use dispatch companies to provide teaching staff. Encourage and provide support for direct hire of ALTs by BOEs. Encourage native speakers to get certified as teachers in Japan (a couple of people have done that here in Miyagi, so it’s possible for motivated people with support). Force BOEs and schools to focus on educational objectives as written in the course of study.

      Stop wasting millions of yen on pointless toys like interactive whiteboards (the BOE I worked at cut teacher salaries and positions every year, yet spent millions on pointless technology no teachers could use).

      Goodbye JET, hello effective English education 😉

    82. E.P.Lowe Says:

      Sendaiben raises a good point – ALTs are not in charge, the English Teachers are. However, one thing I have experienced a lot in Japan, and it is more the rule than the exception:

      Japanese Teachers do not have time to properly lesson plan with the ALT.

      They have homeroom problems to sort out, clubs to coach, parents to placate – and little time for anything else. Get rid of the free babysitting service that are clubs – farm them out to the community, and then maybe teachers and ALTs will have time to get a good synergy going.

    83. Oishi Ninja Says:

      From DS figures.

      Let’s say we take the average cost of a JET is 5.5 million yen, then DS’ city’s 4 ALT average comes out to 5.25 million yen per ALT.
      So we are talking about a .25 million savings per JET to dispatch company.

      250,000 (yen) x 3000 (JETS) = 750,000,000 Yen saved

      7.5 Million Yen!

      And that’s me really low balling it!

      4000 JETS that would be 1 billion Yen Saved to go else where
      as the government saw fit.

      Using the 2009 data from JET page

      250,000 x 4436 = 1,109,000,000 Yen

      That’s a lot of sushi!

    84. Mark Hunter Says:

      Sendaiben, amen to the useless digital stuff. This technology does not mesh with actual classroom practice, or at least not enough to justify the expense. Ditch it! Spend the money on teacher training.

    85. Pip Bernadotte Says:

      I like everyone’s arguments, especially those for the reformation instead of cancellation of the system. But if you look at the supposed cost of hiring ALL JETs for a year (9,000,000,000 yen) you realize that that is only 90 million dollars for 4000 teachers every year right? Thats only a little more than it cost to build the new highschool near me 2 years ago… (in SC, USA) So cutting the JET program (based on those figures) isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to healthcare, Education, military or ANY OTHER program in the Japanese government. Compared to the total defense budget of US$44.693 BILLION in 2005, $90 MILLION really doesn’t seem all that bad to me.

      That being said, I will say again that there do need to be a lot of reforms in how the program is run, both from the GOJ side as well as the BOEs that need to be taught how to better handle their “gaijin resources”, but most of all there just needs to be a general nation wide restructuring and enforcement of the English Education system in Japan.

    86. Mike Says:

      “250,000 (yen) x 3000 (JETS) = 750,000,000 Yen saved

      7.5 Million Yen!”

      Thats allot of unemployement insurance payments, job training, and other badly needed income for us out here struggling. The JET program was created during the bubble and could be justified during that time. These days there is no need for all that. [repeated subjective stereotypes of JETs deleted]

    87. Paul Says:

      I’ll be honest, I ticked the “cut it” box on the sidebar poll.


      Simple, as it stands, Boards of Education (BOE) are given the choice: hire a JET, or find a staff member via other means. And undoubtedly the very sleaziest of those other means come knocking on their door, hiding a sinister desire to facilitate breaches of workplace legislation.

      But heres the clincher: Hiring a staff-member full-time, without health insurance co-payments, not to mention the unpaid overtime (Junior High ALTs/NTs/JETs don’t oft encounter this problem; see lazy-bum comments above; but I can assure you those in the emerging Elementary programmes, and the more devoted Senior High workers do) is illegal.

      But the BOE cannot afford JET. The price difference isnt just that 100,000 yen a month the employee yearns for, its housing costs and/or subsidies, city tax exemptions, annual flights, JET administrative fees and until a couple of years back, the annual all-expenses paid holiday to Sapporo, Hiroshima or Kyoto. I’ve heard figures thrown around within the industry that the sum cost to the BOE itself for a single JET is between 6 million and 8 million annually. Its little surprise that this is unfeasible. So the BOE is forced to take the alternative, the easiest being the ~4 million (dispatcher cut isn’t slim) shifty dispatch contract.

      But its still illegal. Well thats OK, because the JET programme exists. You should be using that – there’s a handy official line. As long as the impossible JET option still exists, the dispatchers and their practices are essentially given approval by silence. Eliminate the JET smokescreen and finally a push can be made for uniform direct hire positions. a 4 mil direct hire allows proper candidate screening, and even in the low pay areas of Ibaraki/Kanagawa/Saitama/Chiba/Tokyo a saving can be made over the existing dispatcher contracts. The only catch I believe is a few rumoured technicalities involving reserve down payments on insurance, but those are one off investments of invisible money.

      I’m by no means knocking JET, its just that its served its purpose. Heck, it barely even exists anymore. I know Nagano still runs it and there are a pile in Hokkaido, and scattered across Tohoku. The rest is almost uniformly dispatch with a few bastions of direct hire around Osaka, Okayama, Yamanashi and greater-Tokyo.

      As a final note, I’m referring to JET teachers, not community managers and sports instructors or whatever, I’ve little knowledge on them except that the positions were rare in the first place.

    88. Molly Says:

      I think that one thing that a lot of people are losing sight of is the cultural exchange aspect of the program. “Aspect” isn’t even the right word — cultural exchange is the entire point of the program in the first place. If they were just sending English teachers abroad, they’d require an degree in education. What the JET program does (and has always, always been designed to do) is build lifelong bonds between young foreign professionals and the nation of Japan — particularly in its rural areas. ALTs and CIRs aren’t meant to settle down in Japan forever. They’re meant to come and learn, and then take that experience with them into the working world. The children that they teach and the communities that they interact with are meant to learn and grow from that exchange as well. In that, it’s been an exceedingly succesful endeavor. JET alumni (and STUDENTS of JET alumni) are out there in the world, being active in business, politics, and artistic endeavors that further the relationship between Japan and the world.

      Does JET have its problems? Of course — any large, government funded operation is going to. But every year, the program integrates thousands and thousands of college-educated westerners into Japanese communities to serve as agents of cultural exchange. In many of these communities, the JET is the only foreigner living in their area. If it weren’t for JET, many of these rural towns would have no contact at all with anyone not Japanese.

      JET’s contributions to a larger global community far outweigh its cost to the government. To throw away the program entirely would be a mistake.

    89. Molly Says:

      “If they says it is, they’re lying to you. Either that, or they are doing an aweful job of the program. Japanese people today get a lot of exposure to foreign people through TV, movies, etc; they don’t require a live person in order to be exposed to them.

      I could not disagree more. That’s like saying that American kids understand Japanese culture because they’ve watched some samurai movies. A great deal of the Japanese people that I’ve met, children in particular, think that the images of America* presented in TV and movies accurately represent the country. Meaning: everyone’s white, everyone has a gun, perfect teeth, no body fat, and great cars. Everybody knows Johnny Depp. These are things that my students have actually said to me.

      (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a current JET. In response to some of the things that have been said about ALTS: I currently hold a master’s degree, have received training in ESL pedagogy, and have never shown up to class in anything less than a state of perfect sobriety 😉 )

      If anything, now that western TV and movies are a staple of Japanese life, it’s even more imperative for these kids to have someone around to break down those stereotypes.

      *America being the country that many Japanese auomatically assume represents all western counties, which is another stereotype that JETs help to break down.

    90. Del Says:

      Reform the program. Why are so many great ALTs with dispatch companies? Some were denied placement on the JET program and are now working with companies who can ‘auction them’ and ‘rip them off’ as they see fit.

      The BOEs are paying way less for ALTs who perform better than those on the JET program. The bottom-line is; what are JETs offering that other exploited ALTs are not offering?

      If the JET program is such that it’s quota for the year does not allow for more people becoming involved, it should be scrapped and the dispatched companies given the preference with major reform more transparency.

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