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.


As the first Asian member of the OECD, Japan has long been known as the most outlying, inward-looking society in the club. In the face of clumsiness in the international arena, critics have asked in many fora, "Why can't Japan be more like other countries?", to which the answers have essentially boiled down to an "island country mentality" (shimaguni konjou), with a lack of an internationalism due to social and cultural homogeneity. Consequently, for the past few decades Japanese society has made efforts to "internationalize" (kokusaika suru) itself and its institutions, writing volumes on how to define kokusaika and institute it. For this purpose, the government has created entire organizations at the local and national level with extensive budgets, and one of those organizations shall be the focus of this paper.

First, a word on what kokusaika exactly means. That is no simple task; it is not even noted as a word in itself in my 1988 edition of Japan's Webster's Dictionary, the Koujien, and other reference books (Imidas, Japan Almanac, etc.) have also been of little help--describing the organizations and outposts of the kokusaika machine without actually defining the terms; in a 1998 edition of the Koujien it is glibly described as, "an action which widens things to an international scale" (kokusaiteki na kibo ni hirogaru koto), no more. Thus even though the definition and goals of kokusaika remain blurry, the practical institution of it has not been so. The governor's office in Hokkaido, for example, puts out annual reports (Footnote One) devoted entirely to outlining Hokkaido's kokusaika and justifying the taxpayer outlay. A cursory read is instructive: The table of contents heralds "Foreign Language Education for Japanese", "Foreigner-Friendly Domestic Facilities and Networks", "Public and Private Organizations and Educational Institutions Promoting International Contact", and "Economic International Trade Venues and Statistics", among others. The Preface then briefly justifys the existence of kokusaika: "In a world of interdependent regions due to the "globalization" (guroubaruka) of the world economy, the internationalized society requires increased contact with the outside world not only at the ambassadorial level, but also the institutional and popular level"; thus any local efforts to increase "international interchange" are worthy of inclusion in this report (Footnote Two). In sum, Japan's government has viewed kokusaika less as a drive to produce tangible, quantifiable economic or political results, and more as a matter of communication. That is to say, efforts to increase contact with people overseas would promote an interchange of ideas, which would ultimately create positive change in Japanese society as a whole.

Questioning whether this is the appropriate approach for kokusaika is the topic for another paper, but following this logic, two issues--"the lack of contact with persons from other societies", and "monolinguality, particularly in the language that more people speak as a second language than any other: English"--have been targeted for the past decade by a consortium of three powerful ministries through an institution called The JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) Programme. Inaugurated August, 1987, JET has been designed to not only increase Japan's degree of interpersonal contact with foreigners (particularly in out-of-the-way rural areas), but also improve the level of Japan's English instruction by bringing over native speakers. It is not an invisible program; JET has, as of 1998, provided 41,400 positions (counting repeat instructors) from 34 different countries(Footnote Three). Moreover, despite the drop in local government monies allocated to "international projects"(Footnote Four), JET has had a steady and unabating increase in participants (nicknamed "JETs") over the years, making it a worthy topic for gauging Japan's official kokusaika policy in the field of education.


Three quite different government fiefdoms cooperated to bring JET into existence. First is Monbushou, the Ministry of Education, a goverment organ exceptionally strong in the world in its national control over how and what its citizens learn. Monbushou determines institutional accreditation, approves curricula and classroom textbooks, decides who qualifies to teach at all levels of education, determines budgets and promotion quotas for almost all of the prestigious universities, has deep grant pockets, fills government bookstores with educational studies, creates and institutes national policy drives both overtly and discretely, and generally affects the livelihood of every teacher and student in Japan. Thus, Monbushou has been held accountable for the consistantly low level of spoken English ability (compared to other OECD and Asian nations) in Japanese schools, and has from the mid-1970's taken steps to remedy this. The precursor to JET, The Monbushou English Fellow (MEF) Program, mostly brought young American college graduates into Japan to teach in public schools on unlimited renewable one-year contracts; it ran in tandem with the BET Program (British English Teachers--which brought over certified UK educators), and other international programs (such as Fulbright) that functioned outside of the Monbushou domain.

However, up until 1987, the reach of of Monbushou's programs was limited by budgetary constraints, the lack of apparatus to headhunt overseas, and infighting with other ministries which did not want to see an unfettered influx of foreigners coming to Japan, staying for an unspecified duration, and possibly taking jobs away from qualified Japanese educators only by dint of being native speakers.

This is why the JET Programme was founded with the cooperation of two other ministries. One is Gaimushou, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is in charge of Japan's international policy and, like any external affairs office, of public relations and image control. It has Japan's largest network for sourcing and selling Japan's national policies to interested parties, with offices (embassies, consulates, and various trade and culture missions etc.), that have direct links to the most important houses of government overseas. Gaimushou does the headhunting for JET, makes visa applications smoother for foreign entrants, and basically acts as the funnel from the outside world into Japan. It is hard to imagine an effective overseas campaign without Gaimushou's help.

Handling the domestic front is the Jichishou, the Ministry of Home Affairs, through which the programming and funding comes. Jichishou places newcoming JETs in various vicinities (not all of them approving of either the Programme or the idea of transplant educators) through its extensive domestic networks. In fact, although Monbushou often takes the credit for JET, it is Jichishou that runs the program on both the national and international levels, pumping money into public relations activities and glossy publications, and establishing organizations as liaison between the day-to-day of expat teachers and the information centers for overseas PR.

To illustrate how established these organizations are, let us briefly focus on a non-profit organization named the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR, or Zaidan Houjin Jichitai Kokusaika Kyoukai), which is specifically directed at increasing Japan's kokusaika. CLAIR is not a mickey-mouse entity. It is well-placed: in addition to having offices in New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Seoul, Sydney, and Beijing, it has domestic offices in every prefecture and all the major cities. CLAIR is also busy: it handles contacts between Japanese and overseas localities, sponsors monthly "Local Internationalization Fora" (Jichitai Kokusai Foramu) in Japanese on methods of international exchange and regional promotion, and implements the Kokusai Juku which offers Japanese bureaucrats short overseas professional internships. CLAIR is also appears to be well-funded: not only does it have offices at very high-rent addresses in those overseas cities, it offers grants for local public and private-sector international exchange groups (which totalled 87 million yen in 1998 (Footnote Five)), it has a budget for studying overseas issues in the CLAIR Report (which has published over 200 research papers in the past ten years in four languages, but most in Japanese: "Local Autonomy in Malaysia", "Singapore Housing Policy", "French Sewerage"), and it maintains a library of Japanese tomes on domestic internationalization. Finally, with all this within their domain, CLAIR manages the JET Programme.

CLAIR is the conduit through which local authorities receive their JETs, and it is the agent of last resort when problems come up and intercession is necessary. It also provides (many say insufficient (Footnote Six)) orientation activities on Japanese language and culture, counseling, periodical seminars and briefings, and even guest speakers (including the author of this paper). It also manages the differentiation of JETs on the basis of duties--from the garden-variety JET transplant educator (called ALTs, or Assistant Language Teachers), to officers which handle regional coordination and counseling (called CIRs, or Coordinators for International Relations). There are also people who carry out "sports education" (called SEAs, or Sports Exchange Advisors), and they are mostly from non-English-speaking countries. For CLAIR, management of JET is no small affair; as there are age limits (with hardly any exception, no one older than 35 may participate) and term limits (three years of renewals maximum) on all JETs, the revolving-door design of the Programme no doubt keeps CLAIR busy with the recurring problems of youth and inexperience.

To conclude this section, the writeup in the Hokkaido Government's handbook on internationalization (Footnote Six) summarizes the actors in this system well:

"Local self-governing bodies are the center (shutai) of [JET's] administration. Jichishou decides the placement of the foreign youths, Monbushou provides guidance for language education and financial measures (zaisei sochi), and Gaimushou provides recruitment and selection procedures for the youth through overseas governmental entities. NPO CLAIR acts as head of coordination and adjustments (chouseiyaku).

In other words, Jichishou provides the money, Gaimushou provides the teachers, Monbushou lends legitimacy, and CLAIR keeps the JETs in line.


It is always refreshing to read official information on any government program in the original Japanese (as opposed to the English translation), as it is generally more revealing; there is a greater tendency for the language to make goals more explicit as they are addressing the government agencies and political entities that pay their bills, not foreign entities to which they are less accountable. In glossy JET brochures, as well as in Hokkaido no Kokusaika no Genjou, page 2, the JET's goal is thus stated:

"[The JET Programme] will contribute to the enrichment (juujitsu) of foreign language education, as well as the development of international communication (kokusai kouryuu) on a regional level, as well as increasing mutual understanding (sougo rikai) between Japan and foreign countries, and the promotion of internationalization (kokusaika)."

The goals sound worthy indeed, but note the difficulty that hereinafter lies when appraising JET's merits--the effects on and benefits for Japanese society. This is not only because kokusaika is a fuzzy construct. Given the paradigm that international communication in itself is beneficial, how does one know whether placing JETs in various regions will indeed create "communication" on an "international" level (as opposed to an "interpersonal" level--for indeed, these youth are not trained ambassadors). Moreover, since the concept of "communication" in itself has numerous academic societies still trying even to define it, how can it be quantified with empirical data? Furthermore, there is the questionable claim that JETs are, and can be, national and cultural representatives, individuals entrustable with the enviable duty of fostering mutual understanding on an international level. No matter. Let us now turn to the remaining goal--that of foreign language education--since matters such as language ability and teacher participation are more measurable.


As was stated above, JET has provided foreign youth over over 40,000 positions in the past ten years, meaning 4000 participants per year on average. This is sizable number, and arguably far more foreign participation than ever before in the Japanese education system. Moreover, these teachers are not simply from one society, or even from one language--as of 1998, 34 countries have participated representing dozens of tongues. Table One below, on JETs by country of origin, depicts a potentially rich loam of cultural diversity. Note that the diversification of participating countries has recently been accelerating.


Year Total USA UK Australia Canada Other English-speaking countries (a) Other (b)
1987 848 592 150 83 0 23 0
1988 1443 871 248 143 127 54 0
1989 1987 1090 370 146 290 79 12
1990 2284 1249 396 145 366 112 16
1991 2874 1545 488 142 488 175 36
1992 3325 1708 595 181 589 210 42
1993 3785 1881 696 221 658 260 69
1994 4185 2174 733 244 686 259 89
1995 4628 2406 825 276 720 270 131
1996 5032 2581 917 315 762 287 170
1997 5322 2536 1069 335 831 326 224
1998 5687 2614 1128 355 874 350 366

Source: "The JET Programme" Brochures (Japanese versions), 1997-8 and 1998-9.
Above Table Notes:
(a) New Zealand, Ireland
(b) Countries mostly without English as the official national langauge: France, Germany, China, South Korea, Russia, Brazil, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Israel, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, Belgium, Finland, Czech Republic, Mongolia, The Ukraine, Argentina, Austria, Laos, and starting from 1998: Turkey, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Poland, Switzerland, Holland, The Philippines, India, and others "unspecified" (mitei). The "country" with the largest proportional representation in 1988, is "unspecified" (80) followed by China (68) and South Korea (52).

By means of case study to assess JET's effectiveness, let us now focus on one particular region of Japan. Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island and a prefecture in itself, is, despite being the closest to foreign countries than any other part of Japan, not terribly famous for its "internationalization". The statistics, assuming that the number of foreign residents is some indication of international cosmopolitanity, bear this out: In terms of registered foreign residents, Japan has a whole had 1,415,136 (in 1996), or a little more than one percent of Japan's total population. Moreover, these numbers have been perpetually growing, by as much as ten percent a year. Hokkaido, however, had only 13, 877 foreigners that same year--about 0.3% of Hokkaido's total population--and growing significantly at lower rates. Even allowing for the high concentration of non-Japanese in the Kansai and Kantou Regions, this would strongly imply that Hokkaido has fewer foreigners than average, making it seem ripe for the variety of kokusaika JET is designed to provide.

JET has made its presence known. As of 1998, nearly 200 foreign youths a year, and its local coordinating organization, HAJET (Hokkaido Association of JETs), is one of the most active in Japan. Table Two below provides regional comparison between total foreigners by region and resident JETs, in order to some idea of dispersion and density.


Regional Office # of Registered Foreigners Of those who are JETs % of Local Foreigners
Ishikari Shichou (1) 7685 57 0.7%
Shiribeshi Shichou (2) 444 4 0.9%
Sorachi Shichou (3) 573 25 4.4%
Iburi Shichou (4) 1023 7 0.7%
Hidaka Shichou 365 7 0.7%
Oshima Shichou (5) 766 11 1.4%
Hiyama Shichou 38 3 7.9%
Uekawa Shichou (6) 1113 20 1.8%
Rumoi Shichou (7) 77 3 3.9%
Souya Shichou (8) 177 3 1.7%
Abashiri Shichou (9) 624 17 2.7%
Tokachi Shichou (10) 789 9 1.1%
Kushiro Shichou (11) 576 6 1.0%
Nemuro Shichou (12) 173 5 2.9%
TOTAL 14,443 187 1.3%

Above Table Notes: Each regional office includes the cities of :
(1) Sapporo, Ebetsu, Chitose, Eniwa, Ishikari, Kitahiroshima. (2) Otaru. (3) Yuubari, Iwamizawa, Bibai, Ashibetsu, Akabira, Mikasa, Takikawa, Sunagawa, Utashinai. (4) Muroran, Tomakomai, Noboribetsu, and Date. (5) Hakodate. (6) Asahikawa, Shibetsu, Nayoro, Furano. (7) Rumoi. (8) Wakkanai. (9) Kitami, Abashiri, Monbetsu. (10) Obihiro. (11) Kushiro. (12) Nemuro.

Source: Hokkaidou no Kokusaika no Genjou (Hokkaido Government, March 1988), pgs. 3 and 95.

This table would indicate that Hokkaido JET distribution is very uneven. In places where the major ciities are--Ishikari, Shiribeshi, Iburi, and Uekawa--JETs make up less than two percent of total foreigners. However, there are spikes in regions with no cities (Hiyama), with only one fishing-community city (Rumoi), or with communities scattered far and wide across farming or coal-mining communities (Sorachi). The reasons why this is so requires further research, but for now let us look more closely at where they are and examine what it means.

JETs and their counselors are clustered in just about every Hokkaido city. However, where they are not clustered--the small towns--merits mentioning. Although exact numbers are not clear in the literature, there is at least one JET in the towns (chou-- all places below are chou unless otherwise indicated as son, or village) of: Hamamasu-son, Shiriuchi, Kikonai, Kamiiso, Ohno, Nanae, Esan, Shikabe, Yakumo, Esashi, Kaminokuni, Kitahiyama, Rankoshi, Niseko, Makkari-son, Kutchan, Kurisawa, Naie, Kamisunagawa, Yuni, Kuriyama, Tsukigata, Shintsotsukawa, Chippubetsu, Uryuu, Numata, Horokanai, Pippu, Aibetsu, Kamikawa, Higashikagura, Biei, Kamifurano, Minamifurano, Wassamu, Kenbuchi, Fuuren, Shimokawa, Bifuka, Otoineppu-son, Nakagawa, Tomamae, Haboro, Nakatonbetsu, Esachi, Utanobori, Higashimokoto, Memanbetsu, Bihoro, Tsubetsu, Shari, Tanno, Kunneppu, Tokoro, Ikutawara, Engaru, Maruseppu, Kamiyubetsu, Takinoue, Okoppe, Oumu, Abuta, Soubetsu, Atsuma, Hobetsu, Hidaka, Shimukappu, Shizunai, Mitsuishi, Urakawa (Hidaka), Samani, Erimo, Otofuke, Shihoro, Shimizu, Taiki, Hiroo, Makubetsu, Honbetsu, Urakawa (Tokachi), Akkeshi, Hamanaka, Shibecha, Teshikaga, Akkan, Onbetsu, Bekkai, Nakashibetsu, Shibetsu, and Rausu. There are also "privates" (invited teachers who work outside of JET for local boards of education, many of whom are JET veterans) in Makkari-son, Esashi, Takasu, Nishi-Okoppe-son, Touma, Mashike, Kiyosato, Okito, Koshimizu, Rubeshibe, Saroma, Yubetsu, Toyoura, Touya-son, Ohtaki-son, Shiaoi, Oiwake, Mukawa, Shikaoi, Memuro, Nakasatsunai, Sarobetsu-son, Ikeda, Toyokoro, Ashoro, and Rikubetsu. This is a total of 146 communities containing 221 international representatives.

The point is that in Hokkaido there are per community an average of 1.5 invited foreign teachers, creating prominent mini-spikes of foreign prescences in truly outback rural hamlets (names in kanji that are in fact illegible to most Japanese). Since by law a chou in Japan has a maximum of 50,000 people, and a son in Hokkaido has less than 5000, chances are that most of these places have probably never even seen a foreigner, let alone contained one. In sum, JET's goal of "regional-level" representation, in its degree of dispersion, may arguably be said to be met in Hokkaido.

Now, how has JET done in its last remaining goal, the "enrichment of Japan's foreign language education", as far as Hokkaido goes? Research is insufficient at this time. To properly address this, surveys would need to be done measuring students, teacher, and administration attitudes and feelings towards the prescence and effectiveness of the JETs in their midst, comparisons of standardized language test scores between communities and schools which do or do not have the JET Programme, and qualifications of the JETs in terms of TEFL or ESL. These are topics for my future papers.

However, it may be said here that the structure of JET gives rise to a number of issues about the quality of instruction, and thus how well Japanese students can learn a foreign language from their teacher. For one, JETs are not required to have qualification in TEFL or ESL, or even language proficiency in a second languate (particularly Japanese), to join the program; all that is necessary is a Bachelors' Degree from an accredited English-speaking university. Second, the "educators" are by design young, adjunct, and temporary. This becomes clear when comparing JET's title, "Japan Exchange Teaching Programme" to the more revealing Japanese version: Gogaku Shidou Tou o Okonau Gaikoku Seinen Shouchi Jigyou. This is literally "The Enterprise Inviting Foreign Youth to Undertake Language Guidance". Note that the enterprise is not language "education" or "instruction" (kyouiku), but "guidance" (shidou). And it is done by invited "youths" (shouchi seinen), not "educators" (gakusha, kyouikusha). This is compounded by the third factor: the tenure of JETs' internship. With age and contract renewal caps, this is not a system which will make the JET a long-standing member of the community, with years of guiding the same students. JET rules ensure that people with less experience are rotated in and out of the Japanese educational job market in quick succession and with only short-term impacts on the local kokusaika.

The day-to-day work of JETs reflect this sidelining. JETs are officially not allowed to be entrusted with curriculum planning, exam preparation, solo classroom teaching. Often JETs not given a set of students through which to watch professional progress, instead are shuffled from school to school as a means of exposure to the idea of a foreigner rather than his or her teachings. Moreover, JETs are required by statute only to instruct if there is a certified Japanese educator in the classroom, and only as "Assistant Language Teachers", or Gaikokugo Shidou Joshu. This limitation is necessary, sources have said to me in interviews, in order to resolve critics' and unionist charges that JETs would deprive qualified Japanese teachers of foreign language jobs. We shall get more into the teaching methodologies and their educational impact upon Hokkaido in future writings, but a case may be made that JET is seriously limiting its own ability to fulfill its goals through its systematic processing of transplant educators.

In conclusion, the JET Programme is nothing if not ambitious. Founded and administered by three powerful ministries with huge networks and budgets, JET has the potential to place a non-Japanese in every single junior and senior high school in Japan. It already has scattered a small but widely-dispersed group of teachers in tiny locations in Hokkaido, and the effects of this on both the local populace's world view and the quality of language instruction remain to be seen. This paper is the start of a larger project to assess the efficacy of current directions and machinations of kokusaika in Japan, and more insightful conclusions will be drawn then.


1. AJET Kobe Renewers Conference Guidebook May, 1999, published by JET
2. "Hokkaidou JET Seinen Katsudou Houkokusho/Hokkaido Jet Programme Report" Hokkaido Government, Office of the Governor, 1998.
3. Hokkaidou no Kokusaika no Genjou, Hokkaido Government, March 1998.
4. Interview with Professor Thomas H. Goetz, Associate Professor at Hokusei Gakuen University, former participant in the MEF Program, June 18 and 20, 1999.
5. Interview with Robert Higgins, Ebetsu City Internationalization Division, former JET ALT and CIR, June 3, 1999.
6. Interview with Wendy Jonas, Hokkaido Governmental JET CIR, June 8, 1999.
7. Interview with Professor Stephen M. Ryan, Associate Professor at Eichi Sapientia University, former participant in the BET Program, June 19, 1999.
8. "The JET Programme" Brochures (Japanese versions), CLAIR, 1997-8 and 1998-9.
9. The Jet Programme, Ten Years and Beyond, published by the three ministries and CLAIR, 1998.


1. "The Present State of Hokkaido's Internationalization" (Hokkaidou no Kokusaika no Genjou), published by The Hokkaido General Affairs Division, Governor's Office, International Section (Hokkaidou Soumubu Chijishitsu Kokusaika) March, 1998. 191 pages (return to the original spot above in the paper)
2. Specifically how kokusaika will benefit Japanese society is also left unclear. The Preface specifically states that this book is meant as a reference material with little analysis. In any case, the point still stands that Japanese society has seen kokusaika as a positive end in itself, necessary for a modern society wishing to take its place as a respected member of the international community. I will deal more thoroughly with the definitions of kokusaika at a different juncture. (return to the original spot above in the paper)
3. "The JET Programme" (Japanese versions), 1997-8 and 1998-9, glossy brochures published by CLAIR. (return to the original spot above in the paper)
4. Council of Local Authorities for International Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) information pamphlet, 1998, pg. 17. According to Jichshou, spending unadjusted for inflation has been at around the same level in 1994 (107,150 million yen), 1996 (110,542 million yen), and 1997 (107,937 million yen), dropping by 10% since its peak in 1995 (120, 039 million yen). (return to the original spot above in the paper)
5. CLAIR Pamphlet 1998, pg 13. (return to the original spot above in the paper)
6. "Hokkaidou JET Seinen Katsudou Houkokusho/Hokkaido Jet Programme Report", pgs. 8-9. (return to the original spot above in the paper)
7. Hokkaidou no Kokusaika no Genjou, pg.2 (return to the original spot above in the paper)

(originally not part of paper above)

THE JET PROGRAMME--Official Information Site from Ministry of Foreign Affairs
THE JET PROGRAMME--In the JETs' own words (Big Daikon Site)
THE JET BLACKLIST--A list of local administrations which are allegedly not following the Programme's rules.