I am soon going out to Japan to take part in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Alumni’s Satogaeri Project, organised by the Council for Local Authorities and International Affairs (CLAIR) Tokyo. They have selected 12 ex-JETs from around the world to go back to their Japanese home towns with significant Japanese media coverage ahead of next year’s 30 year celebration of the JET Programme.
In my case, I am going out back to Ojima Town in Gunma Prefecture to meet old teachers and students, visit the school and Board of Education and also visit key tourist destinations in Gunma such as Ikaho Onsen-and Tomioka Silk Mill (to promote them not only on Japanese media but back here in the UK. I will also meet with Gunma Prefectural Tourism board to look at how tourism of the area is being promoted especially in the run up to the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics and Para-Olympics. Needless to say, I can’t wait. I have not been back to Gunma since I left there in 1998, wondering where my Japan experiences would take me. I have since heard many criticisms of foreigners who teach in Japan, sometimes described as being in a “dead end” job with no future. From my perspective, what I experienced in Gunma was the foundation for what I am doing now.
Anyone familiar with the JET Programme will know it is more than teaching-it is Internationalisation and not just for the people of the somewhat rural towns and villages many of us found ourselves in. It was my first insight into how people from two very different cultures with very different communication styles can find ways to understand and respect each other and form life-long relationships. Although at times it made me feel lonely and open to scrutiny, being thrown into the heart of a very small town community (see picture of me playing on a festival drum just after arriving there), it gave me the grass-roots understanding and experience of Japan that I use now in a business setting to support business development & understanding between Japan and the UK. Naturally, I have built up many skills and knowledge since leaving Gunma and have certainly expanded my Japan related network.
I hope the Satogaeri project will give me the opportunity to say thank you to those who not only accepted me, but also those who involved me to such an extent that I was able to attend significant family ceremonies, visit so many Japanese places, holiday with my colleagues, stay in people’s homes, go to Japanese festivals, play in local orchestras, discover J Pop and Japanese authors and really get to know about Japanese life. Although certain elements made it impossible for me to stay there long-term, the ties are still strong. Please follow me on social media or on my website with my vlogs and blogs from Gunma.
Although this project will appear on Japanese media, please follow my blogs/vlogs and insights through this website and the social media links below.