Chapter 3: The Start-Up Years
The "Crash Program" Nearly Crashes
Dozens of flights converged on Narita Airport on 31 July 1987 carrying hundreds of Japan Exchange and Teaching Program participants, many of whom had flown business class.1
Private buses whisked the new arrivals to the luxurious Keio Plaza Inter-Continental Hotel, where they were greeted, in the glare of the media spotlight, by the ministers of foreign affairs, education, and home affairs and the governor of Hyogo Prefecture.2
Following the official introductions, all the JET participants, as well as a host of current and former Japanese officials connected with the program, were treated to a gourmet dinner reception. The beer flowed nonstop, and an elegant buffet was served by kimono-clad hostesses.
The Japanese speakers, by and large, expressed their expectation that the participants were to be "cultural ambassadors," indeed reformers of Japanese society. One noted, "It is my honest wish that through mixing with local people you will play your part as a stone in protecting the castle of peace." Another told the group, "You are participating in this great experiment. The process of internationalization is here to stay, and that is why you will be welcomed all over the country. . . . The understanding you can bring is so vitally needed in this turbulent world of today." Over the next four days of workshops on the nuts and bolts of teaching a foreign language or working in government offices, the theme of change was constantly in the air and a spirit of goodwill dominated.
But by the end of August, when the JET participants had finally settled in local schools and communities, the positive atmosphere had begun to dissipate. For assistant language teachers (ALTs), life in Japanese secondary schools seemed focused on preparing for entrance exams to the neglect of spoken English. Some coordinators for international relations (CIRs) arrived in prefectural offices to find that the "coordinator" part of their title was something of a misnomer: their employers had little clue as to what they might do other than translate documents and teach English to prefectural employees. Prefectural conditions of employment varied greatly, and school visitation schedules seemed to promote superficiality. Negative reports about the JET Program began to surface in the national media, and questions were raised about the commitment of CLAIR and of the Ministry of Education to racial and gender equality and about the capacity of bureaucrats to provide the human touch. The first few years of the program were thus marked by numerous problems and misunderstandings as the reform-minded participants, most of whom spoke no Japanese and had little understanding of Japanese culture, vented their frustrations to anyone who would listen.
These program-related complaints were directed primarily at the small cadre of Japanese officials and alumni of the Mombusho English Fellows Program and British English Teaching Scheme at CLAIR who had been assembled to administer the program. This chapter examines the administrative and cultural problems that arose during the first three years of the program from the vantage point of national-level officials. What issues were raised by JET participants and their brokers at CLAIR, the program coordinators? What were the major concerns on the part of Japanese officials at the Ministry of Education and at CLAIR? Most important, through what process were conflicts actually defused, and with what effect on each of the parties concerned?
It is important to remember that the initial CLAIR staff numbered fewer than twenty and was anything but the stereotypical Japanese organization-a cohesive, tight-knit group. While the influence of the Ministry of Home Affairs was great, only three of the five ranking Japanese officials (yakuin
) hailed from that ministry. As a group, the yakuin
had only minimal experience with internationalization and were simply anxious to get through the start-up year without major problems. Most did not consider being posted to CLAIR as a step up in their career ambitions; instead, they usually viewed it as a lateral move, or even as removal from the career ladder entirely. In addition, there were eight staff members (uneiiin
) representing local governments from as far away as Kumamoto Prefecture and as near as the Tokyo Metropolitan office. Though they were ostensibly appointed to CLAIR to acquire know-how for internationalization, these local government officials saw their stay primarily as a chance to develop ties with the central authorities that could later benefit their locality.
Finally, there were three foreigners chosen as program coordinators for the pilot year: Philip, a soft-spoken American who had spent three years teaching in Saga Prefecture in the MEF Program and had married a Japanese woman; Caroline, an outspoken American who had spent two years in Chiba Prefecture in the MEF Program after graduating with a major in Japanese studies from a small midwestern liberal arts college; and Ben, a native of Britain and an alumnus of the BET Scheme. They would be responsible for designing all English-language materials for the program and handling most of the direct interaction with JET participants. Having worked hard to promote English language reform and cosmopolitan attitudes in their respective prefectures, they wereexcited about the great changes that the JET Program would make possible.
The composition of CLAIR was thus even more complex than that of the agencies John Campbell has described as "pseudo-uchi"-agencies that cross ministerial jurisdictions in order to deal with recurring or permanent problems.3
There was no natural community of interest among the initial staff at CLAIR; on the contrary, the potential for fragmentation was tremendous. Yet this group with diverse interests quickly became focused on the shared task of managing an extremely complex and unwieldy program.
THE RISE OF AJET AS A PRESSURE GROUP
The very first development unanticipated by Japanese officials was the establishment by JET participants of a quasi-union/support group at the 1987 Tokyo Orientation. While similar organizations had existed earlier, no one guessed that MEF and BET participants who stayed on under the JET Program would be so successful in mobilizing incoming JET participants to their cause. With the stated purpose of providing support and assisting CLAIR and the Ministry of Education in responding effectively to a variety of program-related problems, the Association of Japan Exchange and Teaching (AJET) convinced over 80 percent of JET participants to pay the $100 dues required to join during their first year. Prefectural, regional, and national representatives were elected, and AJET immediately began publishing a monthly newsletter. By 1988 this publication had become a "magazine" that provided "a forum for sharing teaching ideas, travel tips, complaints, triumphs, humor and even recipes." The August 1988 issue began with a letter from the group's chair describing the rationale and purpose of AJET:
The program is simply too large to be carried out effectively given the present government's administrative provisions. Another body is necessary, one which addresses the needs of program participants. In fact, such an association exists. AJET is an independent, self-financed support organization which exists to represent the interests of participating ALTs and CIRs. AJET is a network which addresses the personal and professional needs of its members through a three-tiered hierarchy of representatives. There are seven Block Representatives and 47 Prefectural Representatives serving in addition to the four National Officers (a Chairperson, a Vice-chairperson, a Treasurer and a Secretary). These representatives seek solutions to problems on the program participants' behalf and attempt to preempt those which threaten to disturb our well-being. . . . AJET is independent and self-governing, it need not concern itself so extensively with the spectre of censorship which looms at official levels.
It should be mentioned here that AJET is not a labor union. No wage bargaining will ever be attempted, no wild-cat strikes called, no buttons issued, no love-ins or walk-outs sponsored; foreign unions are by law forbidden in this country. If we were ever to appear to conduct ourselves as such, one can be certain that we would be directed to pack our omiyage [souvenirs] and take our respective brands of native English elsewhere.4
Though AJET's elected leaders assiduously avoided the label "union," arguing that the group was necessary simply to coordinate and facilitate smooth implementation of the program, it was never entirely clear to Japanese officials whether this was to be a support group or a pressure group. Privately, several of the Japanese officials I interviewed confessed that initially they perceived AJET as a vote of no confidence on the ability of Japanese officials to handle the program. It is clear from even a cursory look at AJET's activities during the first few years that the organization began pressing CLAIR and the Ministry of Education for change on a host of controversial issues. AJET not only took up the problems of taxes, insurance, and pensions but also established special interest groups for minority JETs and for female JETs, as well as a peer support network to fill the perceived gap in counseling services.
Private opinions aside, the issue for CLAIR and ministry officials quickly became how to manage AJET. How much formal recognition and support should be accorded? How much leverage should AJET representatives be allowed over program policies? How should AJET be explained to prefectural and municipal officials? AJET's struggle for a formal and legitimate role in program administration was a recurring theme during the early years of the program.
There was by no means unanimity in the Japanese camp on how to handle this development. Initially, Wada Minoru at the Ministry of Education was quite unsympathetic to AJET requests for a greater role in determining speakers and the content of sessions at the Tokyo orientation, the midyear block seminars, and the renewers' conference. The first secretary-general at CLAIR also adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward AJET, and even forbade program coordinators at CLAIR from contacting AJET representatives directly without first going through the relevant Japanese prefectural official. Finally, at AJET's request, CLAIR did send out official notification to each prefecture explaining the association and asking for cooperation in facilitating meetings of prefectural and district AJET representatives. Yet prefectural receptivity to and understanding of the purpose of AJET varied tremendously.
In 1988, however, under a particularly sympathetic secretary-general, CLAIR's strategy began to change. In effect, Japanese officials at CLAIR decided that it would be counterproductive to take an overly confrontational stance toward AJET; rather, they would monitor AJET activities and cooperate when possible. CLAIR even granted AJET a small budget and agreed to host three "evaluation meetings" each year that brought a small group of JET participants to Tokyo to provide feedback on the program. These meetings, which are attended by all top-ranking officials at CLAIR, are now an important source of input from the JET participants. Moreover, AJET was granted an additional day at the renewers' conference, with hotel rooms subsidized by CLAIR, during which they could schedule their own speakers, hold meetings of their interest groups, and elect officers.5
By 1989 the question "What's AJET's stance on this?" was asked automatically of almost any proposed change in program policy. While CLAIR and Ministry of Education officials were often far from willing to capitulate to AJET demands, AJET had at least established its legitimacy as a conduit through which concerns of program participants could reach the ears of Japanese officials.
ADMINISTRATIVE SNAFUS AND INTERMINISTERIAL RIVALRIES
In her case study of intercultural friction in a U.S-Japan joint venture company, Tomoko Hamada provides a fascinating account of a disagreement over how to calculate for taxpurposes the depreciation of newly purchased equipment. She describes how Japanese officials preferred the method of their parent company, which spread the depreciation over a number of years. The American side, however, was under considerable pressure to show short-term profit to the company's stockholders and thus preferred an accounting method that allowed for the largest possible tax deduction immediately. In the end, a seemingly trivial distinction in calculating taxes led to a series of misunderstandings that proved highly significant in shaping mutual perceptions. The JET Program, too, was full of seemingly "neutral" administrative procedures that led to much questioning of intentions and motives.
The Australian Tax Controversy
The first mini-administrative crisis involved a controversy over the tax status of Australian participants during the first year of the program.6
According to Japanese law the JET participants could be exempt from Japanese income tax for their first two years of employment, and the government had advertised the year in Japan as tax-free income. In the haste of the start-up, however, they had overlooked the fact that Japan had no bilateral agreement on taxes with the Australian government. Moreover, Australian tax laws made it clear that nationals residing outside the country were required to pay taxes either at home or abroad. Any change in this policy would require nothing less than an act of Parliament.
By the time Australian participants arrived in Tokyo in August 1987, the rumor mill had begun to whirl. Up to 40 percent of their JET income would have to be forked over to the government on their return home! Even if they paid Japanese taxes, they would be held responsible for the difference, since the Australian tax burden was higher! Calls to the Australian embassy or to CLAIR asking for clarification seemed to lead nowhere. All this created a panic among Australian participants, some of whom had already signed a form exempting them from Japanese taxes. They began to confront CLAIR officials as well as local board of education personnel and school principals. AJET got involved, petitions were signed, letters of protest were written, and an Associated Press reporter was brought into the fray. Several Australian participants threatened to resign unless the issue was resolved by a specific date. Miriam was one:
We had all kinds of meetings at orientation about the tax problem and for six months afterwards as well. It was a horrible way to start what should have been a wonderful experience. We'd been told when we applied that we were all tax-free, but they obviously didn't do their homework. CLAIR kept saying, "Don't worry, as far as we're concerned you won't have to pay taxes," but they wouldn't give us any evidence. Finally I told my boss, "Look, you're not going to be there when I have to pay my tax. Get me something in writing by the end of this month, or I'm going home in January." That got his attention. It seems the only time they respond to us is when we give them ultimatums.
Pressured both by the Australian embassy and by educational administrators in the prefectures to do something about the tax problem, CLAIR officials contacted the Australian Taxation Department (via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs via the Japanese consulate in Canberra) to ask if an exception to the tax laws could be made for the JET Program. After all, the Japanese government was doing Australia a favor by including their citizens in it. The reply from Canberra was clear: this was Japan's problem, and the burden of accommodation rested on the Japanese government. But Australian officials did suggest that if JET participants were to pay taxes in Japan, they would be exempt from taxation in Australia. The only difficulty came with the relatively large percentage of Australian participants who were public school teachers. As civil servants, they could not be exempted from Australian tax unless they were "consultants" to a foreign government.
After months of deliberation, correspondence, and visits among all the relevant agencies, including the Finance Ministry, Home Affairs officials and the secretary-general of CLAIR decided on their course of action. They would raise the actual salary of the Australians by the amount required to pay Japanese taxes. This would ensure that after Japanese taxes were deducted, their salaries would remain the same as those of other JET participants. The solution to the predicament of those who were teachers in Australia involved a more substantial dose of administrative sleight of hand. CLAIR advised local governments to change the official status of Australian ALTs to CIRs on all tax forms, thereby qualifying them as "consultants to a foreign government."
Yet the fallout from the Australian tax problem was heavy. During the months that CLAIR had been negotiating their tax status, the Australian participants themselves had been in limbo, receiving little in the way of consistent or reliable information. Frustrated by the bureaucratic inertia and by the teaching conditions at local levels, their reports back home were far from glowing. While more than 1,100 applications had been received from Australians in 1987, the number fell to barely 250 the following year. There was also a significant decrease in requests for Australians by prefectural offices of education fearing unpleasant confrontations and extra administrative work. This placed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a very difficult position. Eighty-three Australians had been hired to participate in the program in 1987, and it would hardly do if in 1988 the number were to decrease. An Osaka board of education official recalls, "After the Australian tax problem many prefectures didn't want Australians but Foreign Affairs called us and said, 'Please take one or two because if you don't it will look bad for Japan.' It was a real difficult situation because of the diplomatic considerations (gaiko ga aru kara muzukashii
). So we ended up requesting a few Australians even though they weren't our first choice." In the end, 143 Australian participants were admitted to the JET Program in 1988, but the percentage of Australian participants relative to the total JET population later fell steadily, from 9.79 percent in 1987 to 4.9 percent in 1991.7
Health Insurance and Pensions
A second controversial question involved health insurance and pension payments for the foreign teachers. During the first year of the program the amount that JET participants were required to pay for health insurance varied greatly among prefectures, ranging from as little as $30 to nearly $200 per month. JET participants began complaining to CLAIR immediately after their arrival: individuals asked why they should have three or four times as much taken from their salary for health insurance as friends in the neighboring prefecture.
The discrepancy arose because prefectural offices and municipalities were choosing between two insurance plans, the "Kenpo" (Seifu Kansho Hoken) plan and the "Kokuho" (Kokumin Kenko Hoken) plan. The former is the government-operated insurance plan designed for nonregular employees (regardless of nationality) who are employed for more than two months in the public or private sector. The latter applies to anyone employed for less than two months or to those who are self-employed. According to Japanese law, the Kenpo plan is compulsory for any public or private organization employing personnel for a period of more than two months. In reality, though, many prefectures and municipalities were enrolling all their nonregular employees (not only JET participants) in the Kokuho plan because it was cheaper.
In 1987 the Social Insurance Agency (Shakai Hoken Cho) notified local governments that they must comply with the law, and the National Audit Board began investigating health insurance procedures in host institutions. Prefectures and municipalities that had been using the Kokuho plan saw the audit coming and switched to the more expensive policy. This solved the problem of discrepancies between prefectures, but some JET participants were outraged by their new high premiums. Moreover, those premiums were automatically deducted from every employee's salary. When several prefectures switched the health insurance of their renewing JET participants without notice, renewers charged that they had not been accurately informed of the terms of their new contracts.
The switch also created an entirely new and even more intractable problem: the Kenpo plan required JET participants to pay into a pension fund even though they would receive no pension. Indeed, that contribution is what makes the Kenpo plan considerably more expensive than the Kokuho plan. The "pension issue" became a perennial sore point during the early years of the program. The CLAIR Newsletter
and the AJET Magazine
ran regular updates on developments in the debate. In a 1989 letter to the JET Journal,
one CIR summed up the indignation felt by many JET participants:
While I am sure none of us totally reject the idea of paying for an insurance policy, I believe many of us find almost criminal the fact that half of the actual insurance premium we pay each month is for the purpose of a pension fund payed [sic] to retired individuals. It is simply the principal [sic] involved. Why should we be required to pay for a pension fund which we will never benefit from? Unless we have aspiring Kent Gilberts among us (Kent is the quintessential gaijin-turned-Nihongo star to be watched almost nightly on TV), we are in Japan on a temporary basis and will certainly not be here when we retire.8
Japanese officials at CLAIR were completely stymied by this problem. Most agreed that there was a logical inconsistency in the policy, and one secretary-general even told me that he ranked it the major unresolved issue of his tenure at CLAIR. Yet the outspoken, even self-righteous, manner in which some JET participants pressed their claims seemed to catch CLAIR officials off guard. From their point of view, the JET participants were guests in Japan, and fairly well-paid ones at that: to press monetary demands in this way seemed highly inappropriate. Japanese officials were also quick to point out that the same situation existed in many other countries.
Nevertheless, by May 1988 CLAIR had already approached the Social Insurance Agency to request that it reconsider the pension requirement. But CLAIR was clearly at the mercy of more powerful external agencies. Because the pension payment was prescribed by Japanese law, any changes would require the introduction of new legislation in the Diet, and in the late 1980s the Social Insurance Agency seemed to be in no mood to consider such action. For the time being, JET participants were forced to swallow the bitter pill of paying over a hundred dollars per month into a fund from which they would never benefit.
The Prime Minister's Office Rediscovers JET
At the same time that the tax, insurance, and pension issues were being negotiated, interministerial rivalries resurfaced in dramatic fashion. By 1988 the office of prime minister had been taken over by Takeshita Noboru, a former English teacher who, unlike Nakasone, had only limited experience with foreign affairs. Yet in a speech given while visiting Europe in 1988, Takeshita suddenly promised to include French and German participants in the JET Program the following year. I happened to visit CLAIR the day after his announcement, and I found that it had come as a complete surprise to officials there and in the Ministry of Education.
It later became known that his speech had been written by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the diversification of participating countries was part of the ministry's larger strategy to move beyond bilateral ties with the United States and to reposition Japan in relation to the European market. One CLAIR official put it this way: "One of the ideas of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office was that while the ties between the Japan and the United States were strong, the ties between Japan and Europe were less so. In trying to think of various approaches for strengthening ties with Europe, it was decided that the JET Program was one way to go about it."
In any event, it was Ministry of Education officials who were put on the spot by the announcement, and they quickly charged that in emphasizing the contribution of the JET program to Japan's diplomatic relations the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ignoring domestic realities. While a number of Japanese private secondary schools offer French and German, English so dominates foreign language instruction in public schools that finding places for the French and German participants was virtually impossible. In fact, fewer than a dozen French and German participants were invited in 1989; much to their chagrin, most of this token number ended up teaching English in addition to a few classes in their native language. One assistant French teacher reports that he was told by the Japanese consulate in Paris that none of the French JET participants would need to teach English, but he ended up teaching sixteen hours per week of English, and virtually no French, for the entire year. In addition, the application forms were all in English, as were the employment contracts they had to sign. Not surprisingly, French and German participants-who, as a rule, were very highly qualified-began applying in much greater numbers for the CIR portion of the program, in which they could assist prefectures or municipalities that had French and German sister cities.9
The invitation to include France and Germany had another ironic complication as well, as the Canadian embassy had requested that French Canadian participants be allowed into the program. Now that France had been admitted, the Japanese government felt that the few slots available for French teachers had to be reserved for participants from France; predictably, the Canadians were not pleased.
NEGATIVE PUBLICITY AND THE STRUGGLE TO CONTROL THE MEDIA
The sensitivity to foreign pressure that characterizes politics at the national level raises the stakes riding on the success of the JET Program. Favorable publicity is an important means of achieving the program's political goals; on a practical level, it also helps guarantee a large number of high-quality applicants. Having invested considerable resources in the JET Program, Tokyo bureaucrats certainly hoped for positive coverage. Yet media assessments both within Japan and abroad were very mixed during the early years of the program. The English-language newspapers in Japan-especially the Japan Times,
and the Daily Yomiuri
-became sites for a vigorous debate on its pros and cons.
The Wakabayashi Controversy
Just over a month after the program began, Professor Wakabayashi Shunsuke of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies wrote an article voicing the fear of the teachers' union that Japanese jobs might ultimately be threatened by the JET Program. Blasting the government for perpetuating an "ugly system that allows amateurs to teach," Wakabayashi argued in the Japan Times
that "all teachers should be licensed for any subject they teach." He lamented that since Japanese teachers are very polite toward foreigners, they "will be forced to busy themselves taking care of the young people" to the detriment of their own classes. He pointed out the folly of assuming that students can learn English with only three classes a week and went on to argue for a position long held by the teachers' union: "it is more urgent that the government send as many Japanese English teachers as possible to other countries."10
Reaction to his attack came swiftly and from several quarters. Numerous ALTs wrote letters taking issue with various points. Kimberly Kennedy in Nagasaki questioned Wakabayashi's reference to JET participants as "boys and girls," noting that the men and women on JET were subjected to a careful screening process and included people with master's degrees and years of teaching experience. Michelle Long in Toyama took a different tack, pointing out that "Amateurs teaching English in public schools is a problem that is more a result rather than a cause of the sorry state of English education in Japan." Andrew Barnes wrote in from Fujioka, Gunma, that Wakabayashi's view "undermines the cultural and educational importance of the JET Program."11
On the Japanese side, Iizuka Shigehiko, an independent researcher in English language education, published a rejoinder to Wakabayashi titled "We Welcome JET Teachers." Iizuka noted that although quite a few Japanese teachers of English oppose JET, the majority are eager to study their own subject and want to be proficient in speaking English. He criticized Wakabayashi for suggesting that the government should invite only professionals while knowing full well that specialists in English as a second language (ESL) are scarce even in English-speaking countries. Iizuka continued: "Is [Wakabayashi] afraid that Japanese teachers of English will lose their jobs if the influx of JET teachers continues as the government is reported planning? If so, he is very right in saying, 'the people are far from being internationalized,' and he is typically one of them."12
All of this squabbling finally led the secretary-general of CLAIR to write to the Japan Times.
Noting that "there is considerable misunderstanding regarding the JET Program and its purpose," he proceeded to downplay the Ministry of Education's view of the program. "The JET Program's objectives encompass much more than English education," he asserted, and he was "confident that all 848 JET participants . . . upon returning home will contribute much to improving the understanding of Japan abroad."13
One ALT addressed the last claim in a letter published the following month: "My response is, Don't be so sure. Greater understanding of Japan does not necessarily mean greater empathy. . . . I don't accept any postcontractual obligations for public relations work on Japan's behalf."14
Wakabayashi's article highlighted several issues that became widely debated. It called attention to the program's failure to actively recruit candidates with teaching credentials or to particularly encourage those with ESL degrees to apply (though, to be sure, holders of such credentials were not actively discouraged from applying). On this issue, the views of Ministry of Education officials shaped policy. They felt that experienced teachers were too set in their own teaching strategies to adapt effectively to Japanese schools.
Wakabayashi's reference to the JET participants as "boys and girls" also threw into relief the government's tendency to see the program as primarily geared toward people not yet fully mature. Obviously, this tended to annoy many of the participants themselves, just out of college and feeling ready to take on the world. Yet JET participants' perception of themselves as "adults" notwithstanding, I found Wakabayashi's view to be widely shared among Japanese administrators and teachers.15
In fact, although the term "Jetto" (JET) is sometimes used in Japanese renditions of the name of the program, the official title in most ministry documents is Gaikoku Seinen Sho chi Jigyo (literally, "a program to invite youth from abroad"). Similarly, "AJET" for many years was translated into Japanese as Gaikokujin Seinen No Kai (the Association of Foreign Youth), a rendition that AJET fought vigorously; they eventually succeeded in changing it to Jetto Puroguramu Sankasha No Kai (JET Program Participants' Organization). In a society in which age and experience still go a long way in determining the level of respect one is accorded, the JET participants were widely seen as greenhorns. Many had not experienced life as shakaijin
(persons living on their own and holding down a job) prior to their employment in the JET Program. Moreover, as Merry White has shown, Japanese have high expectations for individuals in this age range and are unlikely to see any testing of ideas and social experimentation in a favorable light.16
I often heard the Japanese criticizing JET participants' behavior as youthful self-centeredness.
Yet in spite of their difficulties in dealing with the "youth factor," the Japanese broadly agreed that younger persons were more desirable. One senior curriculum specialist in the Ministry of Education explained, "If the JET participants are too old, Japanese teachers feel threatened. Also, people just out of college are more flexible and can adapt easier to Japanese schools." This sentiment was strikingly demonstrated by CLAIR's 1988 decision to set an upper age limit of thirty-five for participation in the JET Program. Although the rule had been in effect in the early years of the MEF Program, it was struck down by a lawsuit against the New York-based Council for International Educational Exchange. Now that the Japanese government was in charge of the selection process, lawsuits in U.S. courts were less of a threat.
We should note, however, that the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Education supported the age limit for very different reasons. To the extent that Foreign Affairs officials saw the program as a vehicle for increasing foreign understanding of Japan, it was desirable to catch applicants at a formative stage in their lives-preferably young people who might later take up leadership positions in their respective countries. But Education officials wished to select the kind of participant most acceptable to Japanese teachers and educational administrators. In both cases, youth best met their concerns; in spite of complaints from various quarters, the age limit remained generally in effect.17
The Mie Incident
While Wakabayashi was harangued for his opinions about the JET Program, no one accused him of intentionally misrepresenting it. In two subsequent cases, however, reports on the JET Program proved to be extremely misleading and one-sided. On 5 November 1988, the views of the teachers' union on the JET Program received another airing in a Yomiuri Shimbun
article titled "Verbal Abuse of American Teacher Leads to Student Expulsion, Controversy." According to the article, a Japanese student was expelled from a Mie prefectural high school for shouting "Speak Japanese!" (Nihongo de shabere!
) and other insults at an ALT identified as "B-san." The author blamed the incident, which "has once again brought into relief the problems connected with ALTs," on the ALT's favoring those students who were motivated in English and ignoring or treating with "American-style discipline" those students who couldn't follow the lesson.18
The article itself, however, supplies virtually no details; in fact, it is simply a summary of critical reports given about ALTs at the annual meeting of the Mie Prefectural Teachers' Union. The author concludes, "Most ALTs have received a high-class education and come to Japan with enthusiasm, but suddenly come up against exam English, some teachers who have a 'gaijin complex,' and a society that lets low achievers get by-none of which they can understand. While the situation in Mie is not as extreme as that in Nagasaki Prefecture, in which three-fifths of the ALTs returned home early in despair, trouble spots arising from the different views of education seem to be everywhere."
After the article appeared, CLAIR officials visited the site and talked at length with the ALT, the principal, and the board of education. As it turned out, the student was expelled because of a cumulative history of poor class work, disruptive behavior, excessive absences, tardiness, and verbally abusive language toward many of the teachers. The ALT in question had never been interviewed by the Yomiuri Shimbun
reporter, and the student had stopped attending her class more than two months prior to being expelled. She had had two unpleasant interactions with him, however. During the first term she had taken the student down to the teachers' room, because he was thirty minutes late to class with no written excuse. The second confrontation took place in the nurse's room: "I walked into the nurse's room to meet with another teacher and 'A-kun' was there. He yelled *#!gaijin@Y! at me, I gave him a disgusted look, walked by him and the nurse told him to be quiet. A-kun left and I met with my teacher."19
While the ALT's actions in the first instance could be seen as problematic by other teachers, neither of these interactions had anything to do with the student's expulsion.
The ALT herself wrote an open letter to JET participants: "I am the same 'B-san' that has been asked to give countless speeches on 'The Internationalization of Mie-ken,' and yet was a victim of a worst-case scenario of just how 'uninternationalized' people really are. In effect, the mass media got away with an article that bordered on nationalism and racism."20
CLAIR officials also sent a plea to JET participants in the CLAIR Newsletter:
As many of you may already have heard or read, an ALT in Mie Prefecture was described (by Yomiuri Shimbun) as being responsible for a 1st year student being asked to withdraw from his high school. Such, however, was not the case. The ALT was regrettably mentioned by the principal as also having had trouble with the student and was drawn into the center of the fray to suit the interests of the mass media. . . . While everyone directly involved knows that the ALT has become a scapegoat, CLAIR asks for your help in setting the record straight when questioned about the matter by teachers, supervisors or the press.21
The Tokyo Journal Controversy: A Case of Missing Identity
Later in the same year, under the title of "Teacher Torture" an article in the Tokyo Journal
Patricia Smith was a JET. She thought Japanese were diligent, obedient people with a high regard for education. But to her, Japan was like a bad dream. . . . Every class was supervised by a Japanese teacher. Soon Patricia felt like a living tape recorder. "Here, read this part," the teacher would command. . . . She went to the principal to discuss the situation and was immediately given a sermon: "You dress too colorfully. Please wear more conservative clothes. . . ." One day five students came to her and said they had some questions. She brightened for a moment, thinking "progress at last." Then she found out what they wanted to know-the meaning of a list of words: F--, S--, D--, C--, B--. "The students giggled as they watched my face while I read that list," Patricia said. "I have never seen more hateful expressions than were on those students' faces. Even though I feel I can take a lot, a month later I decided to go back to America. Now, when I tell people what kind of experiences I had in Japan, no one will believe me."22
Alarmed by such an extremist perspective, CLAIR officials decided to look into the matter. They discovered that the article, though not so identified, was a composite of interviews with several JET teachers. To compound problems, the author had inadvertently chosen as a pseudonym a name that in fact belonged to a former participant in the program. Indeed, that Patricia Smith had had a very different experience. CLAIR officials and the program coordinators decided to go on the offensive. They persuaded the real Patricia to write a letter in defense of the program, and they pressured the editor of the Tokyo Journal
(using the threat of a lawsuit) to publish it with an apology. "JET Brag" appeared in June 1989:
This is in response to the article which appeared in the March '89 issue of the Tokyo Journal as an excerpt from the monthly, Shincho 45. . . . [It] tells of a gaijin nightmare-existence as a JET and reads like anti-Japanese propaganda. It is, however, anti-JET propaganda. There was only one Patricia Smith in the JET Program in 1987. I am she, and I did not write that article. I loved my year in Japan and have the utmost respect for the JET Program. It is suspected that the article is in fact by a Japanese writer working for Shincho 45 who was in hopes of stirring up resentment toward the JET Program. . . . This attempt to manipulate public opinion through subterfuge can only be viewed as malicious and cowardly. In addition, The Tokyo Journal is equally culpable in this subterfuge because of its failure to verify the authenticity of the article. . . . The damage done to my reputation and to the trust I worked so hard to build in the community in which I lived is permanent; however, I expect the editors of The Tokyo Journal and Shincho 45 to do something to redress this wrong.
We hope that by running this letter from the real Patricia Smith that we can put this matter to rest for all parties involved. We feel, as Patricia points out, that this unfortunate case could have been avoided by a more extensive checking on all levels, including the translation stage-Ed., Tokyo Journal.23
A much more serious blow to the credibility of the JET Program came in April 1989, when Karen Hill Anton, who was subsequently featured in Reggie Life's documentary Struggle and Success: The African-American Experience in Japan,
devoted her weekly column in the Japan Times
to the JET Program. Anton had written an earlier article praising the JET Program; now, in "Japan Pulls in Welcome Mat with Racial Insensitivity," she described the experience of a pseudonymous African American ALT, Sandra Evans, with impeccable academic credentials and considerable international experience:
Evans remembers well her first meeting with the head of the English department[;] . . . he greeted her not with Hello or Konnichiwa, but "Hey, you're big!" His first two questions were: "How many black ALTs are there?" and "Will you teach the black dialect?" Later she would regularly hear, "Can you speak standard English?" . . . Evans says it was clear from the beginning her school felt they were being "punished" by being assigned a black person. It was obvious they were let down; the administration acted as though they'd been cheated; had been given a defective gaijin.
Evans is both sad and confounded when she says "the Japanese don't realize how ugly their behavior is." Clearly, it's impossible to reconcile the image of Japanese politeness with the crude, unconscionable behavior she's been subjected to; difficult to draw parallels between Japan's well-educated populace and the narrow, ignorant racially insensitive people she's encountered.24
Anton was not the first to voice the issue of race. The "white bias" in program structure was also criticized by the AJET vice-chair in an article widely circulated among JET participants:
More to the point, the JETs from all six countries represent a very narrow and carefully selected segment of their respective nations. Apart from Asian-Americans, very few of us fall under headings other than WASP. . . . Color, variety and pattern have been screened out of the controlled sample brought here for this experiment. . . . What about native English speakers from India? Why haven't the Philippines been added to the list of participating countries? Through the JET Programme, the Japanese government has stated very clearly its position on racial and social equality. The JETs working here show in black and white, mostly white, that the concept of "internationalization" has been grossly distorted. . . . Japan is alone in its reluctance to promote racial equality, and this exposes the hypocrisy that it calls "internationalization." Japan is connected with the rest of the world; it can't ignore what the rest of the world thinks.
While the above article was circulated only among AJET members, Anton's feature story reached much of the foreign community in Japan; obviously, it raised quite a stir at CLAIR and the sponsoring ministries. One African American participant teaching in the same prefecture as "Sandra Evans" recalled: "You can imagine what happened when this story hit the press. I had Mr. Wada call, I had CLAIR call, I had everybody calling, asking 'Was it me?' I said, 'Well, she [Anton] interviewed me, but it was not me who was written up in the paper.' Then they kept warning me about how I have to be careful with the press."
My conversations with several persons acquainted with the situation verified the accuracy of Anton's account. Shortly after the story broke, I also had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Minority Support Group at the 1989 Tokyo Orientation.25
The comments by several renewing JET participants of color confirmed the ways in which the social perception of skin color inJapan constrained their experiences.
You're gonna have to deal with stereotypes. The first day I walked into class and on every desk there were Little Black Sambo pencil cases and bags. I nearly hit the roof, but then I thought, "OK, it's just my first day," so I asked them why they bought them, and they said, "Oh, they're cute-kawaii." I said, "No, they make me wanna cry." If I had a dollar for every time someone says, "Oh, I bet you can run fast!"
Here's what I do, I get on my soapbox. I use blue chalk and yellow hair and I say, "On TV you see this, but guess what? This is not the sum total of America." We need to let them know the U.S. and the world has different people and different languages.
Media come and they don't want to interview me; they don't want my picture, just the blond hair and blue eyes.
Yet my interviews with African American JET participants also revealed the dangers in pigeonholing any group. The experiences of minority JET participants showed considerable diversity, and many had very positive assessments. One program coordinator put it this way: "Most of the schools would say, 'We're amazed, we've got this black and she speaks fantastic English; she's so enthusiastic and the kids love her.' So there was this one place that hit the newspapers and that was unfortunate. There were other black participants who were doing a great job but you never heard about them." Anton herself eventually came to see the JET Program as a positive force, and she became a very popular keynote speaker at JET Program conferences in the early to mid-1990s.
Nevertheless, her article raises a very pertinent policy question, drawing our attention to how CLAIR negotiated between its sincere desire to foster understanding of diversity and the reality of widespread preference for whites at the local level. It is important to note, first of all, that from the beginning CLAIR has stated that prefectures are not allowed to make requests about the race of the foreign participants (though they could specify preferences for nationality, sex, teaching credentials, Japanese language competence, and sister-city locations). But some prefectures and municipalities let their desire for whites be known in other ways. Philip articulated the problem to me:
Philip: Naturally one of the things we never considered asking prefectures was whether they wanted someone who was black or white or Asian or whatever. But not surprisingly some prefectures on their request sheet wrote in they didn't want someone of a particular race. DM: How many?
Philip: Very few. Two prefectures out of forty-seven. But still two too many. Luckily, the other two people in my department and the kacho (section chief), the four of us absolutely opposed even considering that sort of request. And we told the prefectures involved, this is impossible. At the same time, you're faced with an interesting dilemma. That is, you already know that X prefecture doesn't want someone of a particular race. So what do you do? What if someone of that race goes there? Is it fair for the person going because he or she isn't going to know that, at least initially. But there's a chance they'll find out the prefecture made a particular request, or else they'll sense it. Ethically, it's a difficult question because you refuse to accept that type of request, but at the same time once you know that sort of situation exists, you can't really ignore it and throw that person to the wolves, so to speak. So that was awkward, but perhaps because the number of nonwhites in the first year of the program was so small, it didn't become a problem.
In the early years of the JET Program, CLAIR's solution was to use hairyo,
which literally means "special care" or consideration. One former secretary-general of CLAIR described it this way: "We do give those applications special consideration in placement (hairyo wa shimasuyo
). But it's for their own benefit." What hairyo
meant in practice was that nonwhites were rarely placed in rural municipalities that had been assigned only one JET participant, as everyone from the mayor down to the parents and students was probably counting on a white face. Instead, most were sent to prefectural or large city boards of education, where often there was a history of receiving minorities; sometimes they were placed in high schools, where students were assumed to be more mature, or in the prefectural education center, where they interacted primarily with teachers. In addition, the supervisor at the local level was consulted beforehand.26
This practice of singling out African American and other nonwhite applicants in the placement process deeply disturbed some of the program coordinators. Because it involved separating groups by race, it was often perceived as yet another example of discrimination. Caroline recalls: "What I found is that the foreign ministry is still very prejudiced. Those applications will come from the foreign ministry with tags on them for CLAIR. . . . And John was furious, especially when he went back there and found two Korean Americans applications and one for a black guy that was married to a Korean. 'If you can't place them, please tell them that they can't come' type of thing."
The practice of hairyo
, then, illustrates a problem endemic to cross-cultural interaction. The checkered history of Japan's relations with nonwhites and the visible presence of subordinated groups in Japanese society lead many JET participants, including some program coordinators, to be suspicious of the intentions of CLAIR and ministry staff. Yet Japanese officials in the late 1980s and early 1990s steadfastly refused this interpretation. For them, it was precisely the knowledge that sentiment in some local areas was still "backward" that necessitated their approach to intervene, moving very cautiously to deal with each potentially volatile situation. In the very act of working to create an ideal of a cross-cultural learning in which race becomes irrelevant, Japanese officials felt it necessary, at least initially, to call attention to race as an issue in the placement process.
Contradictions in English Education
While the articles discussed above generated the most vigorous responses from CLAIR and the Ministry of Education, most newspaper and magazine treatments of the JET Program between 1987 and 1989 examined the difficulties created by introducing native speakers into a school system dominated by government-controlled textbooks and entrance exams. Some of these articles were quite positive in their assessment of the program, reading almost like a series of mission statements from CLAIR.27
Also upbeat were the dozens of features that began appearing in local newspapers throughout Japan, introducing the new foreigners in town and profiling their activities. Pieces in the San Francisco Examiner
("Foreign Teachers Find Fame") and the Christian Science Monitor
("How to Make English More Fun for Japanese High School Students") stressed the potential for cross-cultural learning inherent in the JET Program.28
In June 1988, Gerald LeTendre in Fukui-ken wrote a series of three feature articles for theDaily Yomiuri
that chronicled his work at Takefu Higashi High School and suggested positive steps ALTs could take to integrate themselves into theschool community and to engage their students in conversational English.29
Other feature stories seemed to sit on the fence. The Japan Times
ran an article after the first year of the JET Program titled "English Teaching Project Feeling Growing Pains," which cited the one-shot school visitation system as a major disappointment of the program scheme and the reduction of gaijin phobia as a significant achievement. A more positive view was offered the following year: in "English-Teaching Program a Success After Overcoming First-Year Trouble," the practice of basing more ALTs directly in schools and improved communication with participants and host institutions were said to have lowered the percentage of participants who left prematurely, breaking their contracts.30
Most disturbing to CLAIR and Ministry of Education officials was the persistent regularity with which reports sharply critical of the JET Program surfaced throughout the inaugural years. The first year that Canadian participants joined the JET program, the Toronto Globe and Mail
published an article on the frustrations of Canadian teachers in Japan: "They [JET participants] arrived in Japan last August to discover that, for the most part, their role was to replace tape recordings of English dialogue. Not only that, but many of them faced hostile attitudes on the part of local teachers who feared the outsiders would derail the process of preparing students for the 'examination hell.'"31
The author went on to note that the Japanese government apparently finds it easier to foot the bill for the imported language teachers than to create a substantive role for them. In a similar vein, in 1988 the San Jose Mercury News
ran a scathing front-page article on the "tough lessons" of the JET Program, claiming that it had exposed the insularity of Japanese culture. It related stories of JET women being sexually harassed, JET men being called "AIDS" as they walked down the street, JET minorities being grossly misunderstood, and Japanese teachers of English displaying fierce resentment. The pull-quote for the article cited an anonymous Japanese official: "People just aren't ready to listen to foreigners tell them what to do, to be perfectly blatant. The most unfortunate fact is that the Japanese government is spending millions of yen to create potential enemies, people who don't like each other, and that's exactly contrary to what they intended to do."32
Nor were the critical articles confined to overseas or to English-languagenewspapers. In the third year of the program, the Daily Yomiuri
took aim at the Japanese government, particularly the Ministry of Education, in "Apathy Prevails in English Classrooms." The reporter sat in on a team-taught class of forty-eight boys at an exam-oriented school in Saitama-ken and observed students who gave only a faint reply to roll call, mumbled through the song "Puff the Magic Dragon," and struggled to give simple answers to simple questions asked by the ALT. Claiming that English education has not changed as much as JET participants expected, the author concludes that the Japanese government "should take the blame, as it introduced ALTs into Japanese middle and high school English classes without changing anything else in the English educational environment."33
The Mainichi Daily News
carried an article in which Japanese teachers took issue with the high salaries and favorable working conditions of JET participants. The reporter also cited a student survey done by a Japanese teacher in which 28 percent of fifteen-year-olds called conversational skills useless on the exams.34
A Yomiuri Shimbun summary of presentations at a prefectural teachers' union meeting had this to say:
What stood out in the reports is the favorable reception of students (80 percent in one survey said they enjoyed team-taught classes). But this becomes the seed of a new worry for Japanese teachers (atarashii nayami no tane). . . . Whether Japanese teachers like it or not, it is their fate to have been assigned the task of making strong test takers out of all students. To do well on the exams, what is important is grammar, translation, and essay-writing skills. . . . The kind of classes the ALTs conduct is another species entirely, and among most ALTs exam English has a terrible reputation. Yet Japanese teachers feel that the students must live in an exam-governed society and at a time when the number of English classes per week is down, they can't afford to spend time on conversation.35
Articles about the JET Program in Japanese language papers typically picked up on this theme of the tradeoffs in emphasizing conversational English. The Kyoto Shimbun,
for instance, ran an article titled "Is Live English Useful on Exams? Foreign Teachers Have Been Invited, But." Even more revealing was the subcaption, "Students' Reactions Are Feeble; Some Teachers Have Returned Home Early in Despair."36
It also featured a cartoon (see figure 2) in which a stereotypical ALT (big nose, polka dot tie, blond hair), surrounded by Japanese students, is taken aback as they ask him all manner of personal questions (Are you married? Are you single? How old are you?). Meanwhile, the JTL, suddenly ignored, is shown standing behind the podium with a textbook in hand, tapping his foot angrily. As the cartoon suggests, puzzlement and anger over being asked numerous personal questions by Japanese students and teachers were not uncommon among ALTs, yet from the Japanese point of view such questions were usually just intended to gather information that would allow them to be helpful and to place the foreigner meaningfully in the larger framework of social relationships. Questions that were seen by ALTs as "meddlesome" and as an invasion of privacy were often sincere attempts to gain a better basis for communication with the foreigner. Such efforts to size up a new member of the group are ubiquitous in Japan. The age and marital status of one's conversational partner, for instance, can be crucial determinants of the language and demeanor used during face-to-face interaction.
That media accounts of the JET Program in the early years tended to play up the negative aspects of the JET Program, to pigeonhole Japanese responses, and to sensationalize JET participants' complaints caused great consternation among Ministry of Education and CLAIR officials. Even by the fall of 1988, the secretary-general of CLAIR thought the matter important enough to raise at the midyear block seminars:
One matter which has been of concern to those of us at CLAIR is that several articles have appeared in the press about JET. Some are constructive but some are negative, and most of the negative articles seem to be based on misunderstanding or intentional distortion. For instance, Orient, a leading English newspaper, interviewed an Australian JET who said he had no interest in teaching and came to Japan mostly for the money. I'm sure this idea does not reflect the majority. I think we must make efforts to defend the program from unfair coverage. Please raise your voice for the protection of the program against unfair attacks.37
Many JET participants were already puzzled about their role in Japanese schools and communities; this plea only strengthened their suspicion that the government was trying to keep them in the dark and even played into their stereotypes of an authoritarian Japanese state. After the secretary-general finished speaking, an ALT next to me turned with an exasperated look: "I really thought he was going to ban us from talking to the media, period."
THE LIMITS OF "INTERNATIONALIZATION": HOMOSEXUALITY One issue that caused a considerable amount of friction between CLAIR and AJET but never made it into the media was CLAIR's response to gay JET participants. I first learned of this "problem" when I attended the orientation for new participants at the Keio Plaza Inter-Continental Hotel in Tokyo in 1989. Mingling with JET participants on the first day I soon caught snippets of a rumor that was making the rounds. "We tried to start a support group and CLAIR freaked out. You can guess what it was about!" commented one ALT. "The head of AJET said CLAIR really played hardball," noted another. Finally, I was able to interview Garth, a gay JET participant, who was at the center of much of the controversy and who filled in the pieces for me:
When I first got to Japan I went up to one of the program coordinators and said, "Is there any information at all for gay JETs?" And she's like suddenly pulling me aside, "Oh, you better come over here, let's not talk about this in the open." And she said there was nothing. No possibility of any formal support network. After about four months of struggling along on my own, even though I was in a very good prefecture, I finally met another gay JET at the midyear conference. I finally had someone to talk to about issues that were important to gay JETs-you know, when you come into a society with very different concepts of sexuality and body language, it can bevery disorienting. And there's always the questions, "Who do I tell? How much do I tell?" Keeping it a secret is a very difficult thing, a very stressful thing. Finally I talked to the chair of AJET and told him I wanted to form a gay support group. Well, we started, we had some meetings, and then the people in AJET wanted me to write an article for the Tokyo orientation issue of the AJET newsletter to (a) let gay JETs know that support was available, (b) tell them that things are different in Japan-you can't use the same assumptions as in your own country, and (c) tell them to be discreet-don't come out! At the time that was my basic message. You have no idea what's going to happen-don't come out!
Well, for some reason, CLAIR saw a copy of that before it came out and basically threw a litter. The situation was made more difficult because the vice-chair of AJET at the time was gay. CLAIR was doing all sorts of things. They were threatening to close down AJET, they were threatening to stop the newsletter altogether, they said the future of the JET Program would be in jeopardy. And ultimately what happened is that they printed the page blank in the newsletter because it was too late to pull it out altogether. Even so, AJET let all prefectural representatives know that they could have the page sent to them if they wanted. And we went around to all the prefectural meetings at the orientation, basically to say "I'm here, there'll be a meeting at a certain time, support is available-if you're gay, don't freak out." We did that anyway.
When I asked CLAIR and Ministry of Education officials about this incident, the responses were virtually identical. All stressed that homosexuality was still highly stigmatized in Japan, particularly for those in public office. One CLAIR official ventured: "Because JET participants are government employees, we have to hold them to very high standards. There's no way we can tolerate a public discussion of homosexuality in connection with the JET Program. Anyway, the JET participants themselves are very much divided on this issue. There are lots of JETs who don't feel comfortable with the idea of homosexuality." So fearful were Japanese officials that the possibility of requiring AIDS testing of all JET participants was seriously discussed (but rejected) at a meeting between program coordinators and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials during the first year of the program.
Although AJET gave in to CLAIR's demand over including information on the gay support group in their monthly magazine, the issue of how CLAIR should respond to gay JET participants did not disappear. And in one of the JET Program's great ironies, Japanese officials at CLAIR actually hired Garth to be a program coordinator two years later, unaware that he was gay. The offer of employment came shortly after the Japanese management at CLAIR had done away with the practice of allowing program coordinators to choose their own successors. Because they had consolidated the decision-making apparatus entirely in their own hands, they had to rely primarily on reports from prefectural officials and a short interview. Garth himself realized that he would most likely not have been hired had input from current program coordinators been sought: "The program coordinators that preceded me, with one exception, were against hiring me because they all knew I was the 'gay troublemaker.'" Even a subsequent secretary-general of CLAIR admitted that hiring Garth came to be viewed as a mistake: "Eventually everyone found out that Garth was gay, but if they had known for sure at the time, they never would've hired him." In any event, Garth took up his assignment at CLAIR only to find it full of personal difficulties:
My first promotional trip abroad happened to be with the secretary-general of CLAIR and I remember we were in the Midwest-I think it was in Kansas City-and we were having breakfast, and one of the articles in the paper was on Governor Wilson in California vetoing a gay rights law. The secretary-general suddenly turned to me and said, "Is there any way we can screen out gay participants from the program?" I was completely taken aback and managed to say, "I think it's more trouble than it's worth. It'll open a can of worms that we don't want to deal with." But it was galling to be put in this position by someone who could make my life really difficult. Later when things came to a head, we started talking about issues gay people face and he said, "These people are choosing their lifestyle. We don't have to give them any support whatsoever," and I'm like "Excuse me, why would you choose a lifestyle that involves alienation?" So I went out and got all the information about how this is hereditary and he said, "Hmm, I'll have to think about this," and he went to his son who was a psychiatrist who corroborated everything I'd said.
Things "came to a head" because of the increasing dissatisfaction on the part of gay JET participants with having to stay completely closeted, even at conferences. In the question box at one renewers' conference, for instance, a gay participant had scribbled, "Why is CLAIR ignoring the gays?" Garth recalls: "My job was to collect all the questions and write official answers. Well, that meeting with the Japanese staff went on for about three hours. There was one program coordinator who was getting very vocal and emotional about human rights issues, but the Japanese staff basically responded, 'What gay issue?' For the secretary-general it was the first time he'd heard about it, institutional memory being what it is. The official response we settled on was 'CLAIR is open to discussion on this.'"
Unable to press their concerns for fear of being outed, eventually the support group settled on a name that would tell other gays and lesbians people exactly what they were about but that, according to Garth, "was sufficiently vague to keep the Japanese off the secret." For his part, Garth became involved in numerous other JET Program projects, some of which were quite successful; he nevertheless left CLAIR feeling quite bitter at what he termed "the rampant whitewashing and blatant disregard for truth endemic to Japanese bureaucracy."
DRUNK DRIVING, DRUGS, AND SUICIDES
The first wave of JET participants represented nearly a 400 percent increase over the MEF and BET programs. This dramatic escalation in numbers only magnified the cultural gulf between JET participants and their hosts and encouraged numerous misunderstandings and incidents that required national-level intervention. Indeed, during the first year of the program, CLAIR alone counseled 164 JET participants encountering various difficulties in adjusting to their life in Japan. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the JET participants approached one of the program coordinators directly. CLAIR officials broke the problems down into four categories: relationship with host institution, including disputes over housing, vacation time, and other work regulations (64 cases); daily life in Japan, including taxes, privacy, and medical care (43 cases); secondary employment and returning early to the participant's home country (33 cases); and other causes, such as sexual harassment (24 cases).38
Since local officials were often at the center of these complaints, typical cases are described in depth in chapter 4.
In the third year of the program, however, events unfolded that would shake the foundations of the program and highlight cultural contrasts in approaches to morality and counseling. In the fall of 1989, JET participants were involved in two well-publicized incidents of drunk driving. First, in early October a JET's accident led to serious property damage, embarrassment, and ultimately his resignation from the program. Complicating the situation was this JET participant's extreme popularity in the small town in which he was working; indeed, town officials lobbied for him to stay. But to drink and drive is a serious moral transgression in Japan, especially for teachers: CLAIR made the difficult decision that for the sake of the program as a whole and to atone for his poor judgment, he should be terminated from the program.
In December, a much more serious accident occurred. While driving under the influence, a male JET ran a red light and was hit by a 4-ton truck. He was not alone-a Japanese friend was in the car. It took about a half hour to extract them: both unconscious, they were rushed by ambulance to the hospital. The JET arrived at the hospital in very serious condition with chest injuries and cerebral hemorrhaging. After surgery and several months' rehabilitation, he recovered. His Japanese friend, although initially not expected to live, came out of a coma after about a week and began her slow recovery.
These incidents brought JET participants under the authority of a law enforcement system that treats alcohol-related offenses much more strictly than do most of their home countries. Because the JET participant was drunk, Japanese insurance did not cover the accident: he was ordered to work in Japan until he repaid the debt in full. The CLAIR Newsletter
published a strongly worded cautionary note after the incident:
We cannot emphasize enough the far-reaching effects of such actions. . . . Insurance will not cover alcohol-related accidents, and there is the probability that criminal charges and fines will be brought against you. And, according to Japanese law, friends that drink with you prior to an alcohol-related incident may be held responsible as well. Please remember: in Japan, the moral standards for teachers are strict. Teachers are held in especially high regard. This extends to ALTs as well. . . . Don't abuse that respect. What you do has the potential to affect not only your reputation, but may also damage the respectability of future JETs in your area.39
Unfortunately, drunk driving was not the only serious problem confronting CLAIR officials. Many of the JET participants travel to other Asian countries during their summer or winter break, and the temptation to bring back illegal substances into Japan can be great. When two JET participants were arrested in the mid-1990s for possession of minute amounts of marijuana, the incident proved traumatic for all parties concerned. The host schools and students were shocked, and the prefectural board of education called an emergency meeting of all JET participants. As the arrest was widely reported in both English and Japanese media, nationally and locally, it caused extreme embarrassment to the governor, who had supported the JET Program's growth.
After the incident had run its course, CLAIR persuaded one of the convicted participants to write an open letter to all future JET participants warning them of the consequences of using drugs in Japan. This is now published in the general information handbook provided to all JET participants each year:
It's not just I who was affected by all of this. My neighbors had their flowers trampled as the camera crews came to peep through the windows of my mansion [i.e., Japanese apartment]. My fiancee's mother (68 years old) had to pedal her bicycle about four miles to the police station to be interrogated. People I've worked with or knew, including [program participants], were subject to the same treatment or worse. The hardest thing about this all is that there is no way to be forgiven, to repay the respect and kindness I once received. . . . >From arrest to indictment took in my case 22 days. During this period you stay at a police station. When not in your cell you are handcuffed and led around the station like a dog on a rope. I was questioned an average of nine hours a day (one hour for lunch in my cell) for the first 17 days . . . I spent my first five days in custody in a six-mat room with a glass-enclosed toilet, no way to wash your hands or get a drink. I shared it with a yakuza [gang] member and an old man fresh from a garbage can with some skin disease. Constantly scratching, we slept six inches apart. Eventually, I was put in isolation. And all the time, 24-hour daylight conditions with guards moving in the shadows. . . .
Besides the emotional suffering and breakdown (imagine seeing your fiancee's eyes when you are handcuffed to a chair, thinking you'll never be able to marry her let alone see her again-and she knows nothing about dope!!), the financial loss for me is mind-boggling.40
The writer then itemizes the roughly $21,000 in expenses he incurred. In the interest of deterrence, the handbook does exaggerate the potential fallout from such an infraction ("It is quite fortunate for everyone that the Diet-the Japanese national assembly-was preoccupied with other, more pressing issues at the time"), but this section on illegal substances is by far the most toughly worded part of the orientation manual.
Perhaps most traumatic were the three suicides that occurred within eighteen months of each other. On 9 September 1989, at 12:43 in the afternoon, a Canadian woman, Sherill Anderson, was struck by an express Odakyu train passing through Tamagawa Gakuenmae station: according to the driver and two other eyewitnesses, she jumped. Local newspapers drew on the negative publicity that had surrounded the first two years of the JET Program as they began speculating that she was unhappy with her situation in Kanagawa Prefecture. But an investigation revealed no problems relating to her living and working conditions. It appeared that she had arrived in Kanagawa a month earlier with unrelated personal issues. In an open letter sent to all JET participants, the secretary-general gave a brief factual account of the suicide and then noted: "Although the reason may never be made clear, rumors have a tendency to develop when clearcut answers cannot be given. Therefore, without making assumptions as to the root cause of the incident, it is CLAIR's opinion, contrary to some newspaper reports, that her working and living conditions were both of a very satisfactory standard. In addition, she did not, to our knowledge, discuss her intentions with anyone connected with the Program." The greatest fallout from this incident came from irate and thoroughly embarrassed Kanagawa prefectural officials who held CLAIR and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials responsible for the inadequate screening of applicants.
Less than four months later a second suicide occurred-this time an American in her second year in the program. An immensely likable, engaging woman, Jamin had been placed in Kyoto Prefecture's premier "international school." Her outgoing personality made her extremely popular among the students, and she was one of the favorites of prefectural administrators as well. Yet on a rainy New Year's Eve in Nara, Jamin, too, stepped in front of an express train and ended her life. Immediately following her death, the press descended on the prefectural board of education and the speculation began. Had her base school been remiss in failing to notice the warning signs? Should the prefecture have made certain that she had plans during the holidays instead of leaving her alone? Since her parents were in the process of getting a divorce, were there personal factors involved? In Japan, one who commits suicide traditionally leaves a note that includes a statement of self-accusation and an apology for causing trouble; here, the lack of any note made her actions even harder for the Japanese to understand. The Kyoto Shimbun
ran an article with an apt title: "A Sudden Death: She Loved Her Work and Her Students . . . Why?"41
In the end, no clear-cut motives emerged, but there is no question that this second suicide in four months came as a tremendous shock to CLAIR officials. Two representatives were immediately dispatched to Kyoto to assess the situation. This time, before Japanese officialsat CLAIR sent out a letter notifying JET participants, they asked the program coordinators to rewrite the first draft because it sounded too cold.
The third suicide came on 28 February 1991 when Lisa Isobe, a Hawaiian-born JET participant, jumped in front of a train in Kyoto. Lisa spoke Japanese quite well, as she had been an ALT for two years before switching to become a CIR in her third year. She was well-liked and seemed on the verge of a promising career, having been accepted at Harvard. As with Jamin's death, it proved difficult to make sense of a motive; Lisa too left no note.
THE PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING DEBATE
The back-to-back-to-back suicides highlighted a long-standing demand by the program coordinators and embassy representatives for a carefully thought-out system of crisis management. Arguing that the Japanese approach was reactive rather than proactive, they pointed to the complete absence of any kind of professional counseling services for JET participants. To be sure, on paper the counseling system looked impressive; a "Special Committee on Counseling and Training" included representatives from the three sponsoring ministries and the embassies of the participants' home countries. But the name was misleading: the committee's main function was to report program developments to representatives from the foreign embassies and get their feedback. Minutes of its meetings reveal that they tended to be quite formal, with few questions and little discussion of the details of particular cases. As the JET liaisons in the respective embassies began to be contacted directly by JET participants with various concerns, embassy officials began to press CLAIR for a more responsive system. Indeed, the program coordinators and one American embassy liaison conspired to raise this question at meetings of the committee on counseling and training. Caroline told me:
The American embassy representative especially, every meeting, really brought up the fact that there should be a psychologist connected to the program. I'd say he brought it up at four different meetings. Actually, he was really good because we could feed him information, because the Japanese of course took the embassies' requests very seriously, as opposed to ours [laughter]. We learned that lesson very quickly. Anyway, [the JET liaison in the American embassy], because he was an American, I was an American, he let us feed him information and if he agreed, he'd bring it up at the meeting. And as a result of that the secretary-general actually agreed to have somebody on call if there was a serious problem. We had someone to call when we felt like it was over our heads and also to give program coordinators training, serious counseling training.
In addition to hiring a professional counselor, CLAIR also instructed prefectures to set up a counseling system for JET participants. Ironically, though, it was not initially stipulated that these "advisors" had to be fluent English speakers, and some prefectural offices of education chose older Japanese educators who had had some overseas experience but were certainly not prepared to be the confidants of foreign youth.
Still, a rudimentary system of crisis management was not implemented until nearly three years after the program had begun, and only after a number of unfortunate incidents. Such slowness to perceive a need for this service and then to provide it may seem surprising, but the ministry officials tended to believe that JET participants' need for serious counseling lay in personal dysfunction or family problems. One Ministry of Education official put it this way: "We can't mix up personality and culture. Traffic accidents and suicide are personal acts and shouldn't be confused with culture. If it was because of the system (ukeire seido
), that would be a serious matter."
This response is rooted in cultural definitions of morality-more specifically, in the ways in which Japanese are socialized to see subjugating individual desires in the service of one'ssocial relationships as virtuous behavior. Indeed, the Japanese tend to view the very nature of the self as bound up in relations with others.42
The implications of this view of personhood for counseling are profound. Rather than helping people change their circumstances, counseling in Japan more often involves helping them improve their capacity for gaman,
for putting up with the situation and making the best of it. Takie Sugiyama Lebra calls one form of therapy in Japan, naikan
(literally, "inner observation"), "conformance through reformation." Through a process of intense, guided self-reflection, "resentment and self-pity are expected to be replaced by the realization of one's egocentric social insensitivity, an insurmountable sense of debt and gratitude to others, and a deep empathetic guilt toward those who have suffered because of one's heartless, ungrateful conduct."43
Instead of discovering one's burning desires and passions, and formulating a plan to achieve them, its goal is to better appreciate one's interconnectedness with and dependency on others.
Given this cultural logic, it is easy to see why Japanese officials would be skeptical of Western-style counseling that might only fuel JET participants' demands for change. Privately, CLAIR and Ministry of Education officials were quite unsympathetic to those participants who exhibited an irresistible urge to reconcile the ideal and the real and a tendency to view Japanese culture as in need of "development." Japanese bureaucracies generally define virtuous behavior as conformity to the demands of social roles. In addition, a premium is placed on knowing one's "proper station," to use Ruth Benedict's term-and according to the rules of hierarchy in Japanese organizations, the JET participants ought to take their places as willing learners at the bottom of the totem pole. Wada Minoru was characteristically blunt on this point: "When Japanese go to another country," he asserted, "we try to adjust to the expectations there, but ALTs don't do that. They're always criticizing Japan and acting according to their own commonsense rules." He continued:
ALTs are much too sensitive (binkan sugiru) and they interpret things we do innocently or out of kindness in a negative light. Their responses are countereducational (hikyoikuteki). Many ALTs complain that Japan is a closed society but I don't think ALTs are very open-minded either. I think they are too demanding. I can understand that to a point, because they don't understand Japanese culture, but if they react too strongly, then Japanese react negatively. One local administrator told me her prefecture is thinking of stopping the yearly increase in ALTs because if the numbers get too high, the demands are too great.
Wada's use of the term hikyoikuteki
(countereducational) is especially revealing, as it points to competing visions of the educational enterprise. By exercising their critical judgment and attempting to stamp out inequities, JET participants were enacting in various ways an individualism that demands action. But the forcefulness with which some JET participants asserted "unfairness" during the early years of the program, together with their tendency to leapfrog the normal chain of command (atamagoshi
) by taking their complaints directly to the top, was viewed with suspicion in a culture that values avoiding conflict in interpersonal relations and refraining from action that might embarrass one's immediate superior. One CLAIR official, the section chief of counseling, surprised me with his answer to a question about what he had learned about foreigners in his two years with the JET Program. After discoursing at length about the self-expression of JET participants as opposed to the modesty of Japanese, he suddenly added, "And one other thing is that ALTs tell lies without having a second thought (uso wa heiki de iu
). Japanese don't tell lies like that. Whenever a call comes into the counseling section of CLAIR from an ALT, the first thing you should know is that we never believe his story outright. We always contact his superior to find out the real circumstances." In light of Lebra's claim that one of the highest moral values in Japan is "trustworthiness" (shinyo
), this is a very serious charge indeed, though it must be qualified. First, his view was undoubtedly skewed by his position: he dealt primarily with the problems of a minority of ALTs. Second, program coordinators were also unlikely to accept at face value the facts as presented by a JET participant seeking counseling. Such cases inevitably took CLAIR staff into that nebulous arena between fact and fiction, and the most effective counselors were those who adopted a Rashomon
-like technique of employing multiple perspectives to approach the "truth." Finally, the section chief's comparison may strike Westerners as particularly odd because in Japanese society it is common to perpetuate half-truths both to maintain the tatemae, or official, version of events and to preserve harmony and save face. But perhaps he was referring not to lying per se but to a deeper virtue-reliability or dependability; his criticism seems to have been directed at ALTs who would distort reality to enhance their own position rather than that of their superior.
Complicating the privately held view that JET participants were overly judgmental, however, was what Japanese officials referred to quite self-critically and self-consciously as their "gaijin complex"-the strong cultural tendency to view Westerners with a mixture of awe and fear, and to give in to foreign pressure. Added to this was the tremendous constraint felt by national-level officials to make internationalization work, which to some extent meant ensuring that JET participants were happy and gained a favorable impression of Japan. The result was a constant mental struggle over where to draw the line on counseling cases and how to say "no" as delicately as possible. Consider, for instance, the predicament of one Ministry of Education official: "One time a British woman of German descent called me directly from her educational office and demanded to know why the women had to serve tea to men. I listened politely, but then she asked me to tell them to stop. So I told her I would call her superiors, and I called them all right, but rather than asking them to stop, I simply told them that she had called me. I don't think ALTs have the right to make such barbaric demands (yaban no koi wo iu kenri wa nai to omoimasu
By contrast, the program coordinators tended to see the Japanese attempt to construe the suicides as entirely personal acts as representing an enormous "empathy gulf." Meredith was outspoken in this assessment: "They [CLAIR officials] put almost everything into to the category of 'personal issues.' They'll do anything to avoid responsibility." Other concerned outsiders tended to agree. William Horsley, a BBC correspondent and the token foreign member of the Advisory Council for the JET Program, criticized the impersonal approach to program implementation: "As a member of the advisory panel to CLAIR I have been rather taken aback at the coldness and solemnity of the deliberations. The JET scheme should be a voyage of discovery, not some kind of laboratory experiment. Reading through the official papers about the scheme, including detailed figures on the academic backgrounds of the participants, and their various problems in settling down to Japan, I look in vain for the 'human touch,' or the sense of adventure."44
Even Caroline Yang, executive director of the Fulbright Commission during the early years of the program, expressed her puzzlement over the lack of a viable support network and crisis management system, speculating that "the suicides might not have occurred if they hadn't been in Japan."45
Philip recalled his own frustration in negotiating the issue:
I had a very heated discussion at one point with one of the upper administrators in CLAIR about their concern for the participants' health, particularly mental health. It came, I think, after the third suicide, because it so happened that that person had been in touch with CLAIR for some type of counseling some months prior to the suicide. Of course, when I say "counseling" it's not the type of psychological counseling that's expected in the U.S., but that person had contacted the program coordinators with some problems. But they were not the kind of problems that had any real relevance to what finally happened. In fact, it had nothing to do with the program. But the first and second suicides, they were people who had never been in touch with CLAIR whatsoever. So my impression is that it was much easier for CLAIR to sort of say that we were absolutely not involved with it. But it was after the third person died that CLAIR actually arranged some sort of professional counselor and provided some counseling training to the program coordinators. So my thought was that the motivation to finally do something was that CLAIR couldn't say their hands were absolutely clean. . . . That was an incident I felt sort of exemplified that CLAIR was a bureaucracy that was very adept in planning things and preparing papers but not at all experienced in taking care of peoples' lives.
And that became a recurring topic, you know. They're taking a risk coming here and joining this program, and I think you have to consider more seriously that what you're inviting them to do is affecting their lives; it's not only providing a service for Japan. And that's a very difficult, probably impossible, thing for most bureaucrats to understand.
One final point of contention between the program coordinators and the Japanese staff at CLAIR pertained to privacy. Typically, a call would be received from a JET participant involving a private matter: sexual harassment, emotional instability, a threatened suicide, or a medical problem of a personal nature. After hearing the report from the program coordinator, the Japanese staff member would instinctively reach for the phone to call the host institution. Since such problems usually meant missed work, the Japanese staff felt that local officials ought to be fully appraised of the situation. Yet if the JET participant had wanted officials at the host institution to know about the problem, he or she would have told them first. As a result, before the call would go out, a debate would ensue about whom to call, what details could and could not be told, and what solution to insist on. The program coordinators were usually uncomfortable with the amount of private information that was leaked to local officials, and feelings of mistrust on both sides increased.
QUALITY CONTROL: ELIMINATING THE BAD APPLES
While CLAIR officials were moving cautiously toward providing in-house professional counseling, they were moving aggressively to address what they felt to be a more fundamental problem: poor screening at the selection stage. CLAIR officials perceived a conflict between quality and quantity: how could they achieve a high-profile program, which depended on raising the numbers quickly, and yet still get quality people? One CLAIR official reflected, "When we started the JET Program we hoped only good ALTs and CIRs would come. Now we realize there are good and bad foreigners." Much of the energy of Japanese officials during the first few years of the program was invested in various approaches to screen out the bad apples. For instance, applicants were required to provide graduation certificates as well as transcripts of all college courses. They were asked if they had ever been convicted of any crime other than a minor traffic offense; if so, they were asked to sign a form authorizing the release to the embassy of Japan of any documents or records pertaining to the offense. Finally, applicants were required to fill out a self-assessment medical form that asked about personal history of hospitalization, psychological or psychiatric treatment, prescription medication, and dietary restrictions.
In the wake of the first suicide and increased pressure from local governments to send "healthy" JET participants, another idea discussed was the psychological testing of all JET participants. Philip recalled:
After there had been a suicide, they were trying to think of a way to incorporate some sort of psychological testing into the interviews. At which point the program coordinators said, "Who's going to administer these test questions?" I mean, right now you have the consulate people doing the selection, and most of them don't know anything about teaching English in Japan. Now you're going to have them pretend to be physicians? Besides, there's the practical problem of asking people who have no psychological background or training to evaluate people's psychological stability. We said, "That's not fair." Because you have people who may have all kinds of problems in their home country, but once they get away from the society that made them uncomfortable, they'll have no problem whatsoever. And the exact opposite is also very possible. It's ridiculous. But there was this feeling that because of this incident, something had to be done to reassure prefectures.
Though the idea of psychological testing was rejected, CLAIR officials decided to increase their efforts to get the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to improve the selection process and lower the percentage of those selected. They began by inviting representatives of selection committees from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia on a two-week study tour of Japanese schools to familiarize them with the actual working conditions of ALTs and CIRs. They also asked the ministry to circulate among selection committee members a list of problem cases that had developed. In addition, directly as a result of the serious incidents that occurred in 1989 and 1990, a cautionary statement appeared in 1991 at the top of the rating sheet given to members of the screening committees at Japanese consulates abroad: "If the applicant appears to be overly sensitive/emotionally fragile, not sociable, cheerful or polite, or does not appear to like children, do not recommend their acceptance to the program." CLAIR officials traveled overseas in pairs (one yakuin
and one program coordinator) to talk with consulate officials and to give presentations on the JET Program at colleges and universities abroad.
These actions were taken because CLAIR officials felt strongly that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (i.e., the Japanese consulates abroad) needed to portray JET participants' jobs more realistically. Indeed, the ministry was in a difficult position: it had to promote a positive image of the program abroad in the face of criticism from the foreign media. Realizing that most potential applicants were not primarily interested in English instruction, ministry officials tended to downplay the teaching component of JET, instead presenting the program as a chance for foreigners to experience Japanese language and culture. Predictably, the result was confusion; during the first few years of the program a handful of ALTs reported that they didn't realize they would be involved in team teaching until they arrived in Tokyo for their orientation.
Tightening Visa Regulations
At the same time that CLAIR officials were discussing with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs how to improve selection procedures, they were also talking with Justice Ministry officials about how to tighten the visa regulations. Japanese officials saw two problems in this area. First, a small minority of JET participants whose hearts were not in public school teaching were resigning from the JET Program in favor of other employment in Japan. Private English conversation schools, for instance, offer roughly the same salaries for only four hours of work per night; though some of these are fly-by-night operations, in some cases JET participants were willing to take their chances. A few even won jobs in Japanese corporations or at English-language newspapers andleft the JET Program early in order to take up their new posts in April, according to Japanese custom. While CLAIR had little standing to protest if the JET participant had a Japanese sponsor, officials did ask the Justice Ministry to intervene in such cases. In addition, CLAIR added a stipulation that return airfare would be withheld if it was discovered that a JET participant signed another contract for employment in Japan while in the program. Second, an increasing number of JET participants were staying on to work in Japan after their term of service was up. This problem was of growing concern to the Justice Ministry, the agency concerned with regulating the flow of personnel across Japan's borders. One secretary-general of CLAIR explained:
The Justice Ministry doesn't welcome the idea of ALTs changing jobs and staying on in Japan, and makes it difficult for them to do so. It's all right if they stay on to study, but JET is a simplified screening process, so if they use this as a route to get working visas, that's not good. I agree with this, and have personally instructed the Justice Ministry to make it difficult for ALTs to secure working visas. It's true, there's a sense in which this constitutes poor treatment of ALTs (ijiwaru to iu men mo arimasu), but as a principle I think it's preferable if ALTs return home when they finish here.
In addition, to discourage JET participants from using the program as a stepping-stone to get working visas the grace period for leaving Japan on completion of the program was changed from ninety days to thirty days.
This determination that JET participants should quickly return home is curious, particularly in light of the demands to open up Japanese society that gave rise to the program. One could argue that the desire of a high percentage of JET participants to stay on and work in Japan is a striking indicator of the success of the program, and should be encouraged. Yet the Japanese caution is fully consistent with studies that have shown a preoccupation with protecting a pure and homogenous society from foreign pollution. Jackson Bailey's characterization of the underlying mind-set seems apt here:
The thrust and structure of Japanese rules and regulations regarding the entry into Japan of people or things whether they are part of commercial or of cultural exchange demand that proof be offered that the person or item should be allowed to enter. The implicit assumption is that persons or things should not be allowed in until there is clear and explicit evidence that they should be. This assumption underlies all transactions whether they involve a small matter such as a video cassette of a television program from the United States, a set of photo negatives for a cultural exchange poster, or the appointment of a foreign professor to a regular faculty position in a university. In each and all of these cases the implicit parameters of the situation assume that the answer is "no" until incontrovertible proof is supplied, normally in writing, that the item or person is eligible to come in.46
According to this logic, although the entry of JET participants into Japan had already been negotiated, a continued stay must be renegotiated from scratch. It is worth noting, however, that with the help of a legitimate Japanese sponsor, JET participants do not find it too difficult to subvert the general principle and keep working in Japan. In fact, there are numerous JET alumni currently living and working throughout Japan, and neither tightening the visa process nor imposing a three-year limit (discussed below) was enough to thwart their determined efforts to stay on.
Cautions to Renewers and the Three-Year Limit
Realizing that several serious incidents involved renewers who presumably had become complacent and whose reasons for staying were not job-related, in 1989 CLAIR sent out a list of the pros and cons of renewing to discourage ALTs and CIRs from extending their contracts for the"wrong" reasons.47
CLAIR also encouraged local governments to exercise their option of rejecting applications for renewal from "problem JETs." To that end, the wording on application forms was strengthened: "Contracts are for one year[,] . . . renewable in certain circumstances by mutual consent between the host institution and the JET participant." In reality, prefectures are loathe to refuse a request for renewal. One prefectural official confessed to me, "This year there was one person we didn't want to renew, but because CLAIR didn't give us the forty we had requested (only thirty-three) we had to renew him. If they gave us all we wanted, there would have been room to refuse renewers." The cultural aversion to face-to-face confrontation was also a factor. Their fears were not unfounded. Chiba Prefecture refused to allow an American woman to renew, pointing out that she did not have good relations with her schools and that she had been ill for some months without a clear diagnosis; she became incensed, contacting CLAIR as well as the American embassy to demand their intervention. When they did not act, she contacted lawyers to see about legal recourse. Ultimately, she left the program, but the possibility of this kind of reaction makes local governments reluctant to take a tough stance. Because renewals are so common, an incoming prefectural teacher's consultant, with limited English skills and little knowledge of the JET Program, may find him- or herself dealing with JET participants who have three or more years of experience working in the program. These veterans both know internal precedents and, as a result of visiting a number of schools in the prefecture, they are often more in touch with teachers and school-level realities than the teacher's consultant is. Though most long-term ALTs and CIRs are dedicated to their jobs, others manage to minimize their exertions while cultivating other interests or even augmenting their already-generous income by offering lucrative classes in private conversation on the side. In other words, they have learned how to milk the system to great advantage.
To remedy this problem, a handful of local government officials approached CLAIR and asked for a new national policy stipulating that JET participants renew no more than two times. This would make it easier for local officials, who jokingly referred to themselves as "the Japanese who can't say 'no,'" to get rid of problematic ALTs and CIRs: they could say that the three-year limit was set by higher authorities and therefore out of their hands. For a while, CLAIR wavered on this issue and even conducted a survey of local governments, which showed mixed sentiments. But the suicides and serious accidents led to a reconsideration; beginning in 1991-92, those serving in or beyond their third year were not allowed to renew.48
Not coincidentally, this policy was vigorously supported by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials. They thought the renewal rate, which had averaged 44 percent for the first four years of the program, was too high for a cultural exchange program and limited the number of new participants.49
Indeed, the official explanation for the three-year limit was that since JET is a youth program, it is important to let as many youth as possible participate. This did not satisfy long-term JET wanna-bes, and voices were raised in protest, as this excerpt from the minutes of the first evaluation meeting for the 1989-90 JET Program reveals:
Putting limitations on the application criteria is acceptable, but once a JET has been on the Program demonstrating his/her ability, how can the host institution disregard the efforts made and say, "Go back to your home country?" Could it be that Japan doesn't want foreigners to stay so long that they learn/understand too much? Gaining too much insight into the system represents a threat? For JETs who have done their best and contributed a lot, it is a slap in the face to suddenly be told that they are no longer wanted. Very distressing. It is a very arbitrary decision reflecting very badly on CLAIR.50
To be sure, some incompetent JET participants have stayed on primarily to collect their salaries, and CLAIR's wish to deter them is quite understandable. CLAIR officials even noted that should a JET participant really become indispensable to a host institution, local authorities could hire that person directly for the fourth year and beyond. There is no question, however, that by setting the three-year limit, Japanese officials were explicitly acknowledging that the ALT and CIR slots would forever be positions for temporary outsiders.
WHEN TRUST BREAKS DOWN: BETWEEN PROGRAM COORDINATORS AND CLAIR OFFICIALS
The first few years of the program suggest that a bureaucracy known the world over for its organizational efficiency had suddenly run aground. Many participants themselves, disillusioned by the gap between rhetoric and reality, adopted conspiracy theories. In addition, ministry infighting proved to be as strong as ever. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs berated Education and the conservative public school system for sapping the enthusiasm of the JET participants. The Ministry of Education responded that Home Affairs officials were interested only in "symbolic internationalization." Both the Ministries of Education and Home Affairs criticized Foreign Affairs for lack of rigor in the selection process and for putting Japan's diplomatic priorities above internal needs. In retrospect, we can see that in addressing one set of concerns at the national level-the trade crisis and Japan's image in the world-JET created a whole host of new problems, which continued to snowball. In the face of this administrative confusion, the striking contrast between the informal evaluations offered by the program coordinators and those offered by Japanese ministry officials is particularly significant. On the whole, the program coordinators in CLAIR were severe in their assessments of the Japanese policy response during the early years of the program. Philip described the first year as a "disaster" but pointed to steady, if incremental, improvement after that. Tellingly, though, he attributed successes largely to the efforts of the program coordinators in overcoming the barriers erected by the Japanese ministries:
The program coordinators were certainly closer to the JET participants and most of us felt that the bureaucracy made it very difficult to provide the kind of care and support the JET participants deserved. But I don't think the lack of personal touch on the Japanese side really undermined the program because we had a lot of dedicated program coordinators. And of course the result was that the program coordinators were very stressed out most of the time. We received no overtime compensation and yet we had emergency phone calls at all times of the night and on the weekends. But we felt it was our job, so we did it. It was a very awkward position to be part of the Japanese administration and at the same time having to represent the interests of the foreign participants on the program.
Meredith had much harsher words for the CLAIR staff:
As program coordinators, our primary job is to push. Most of the time I'm sure we're looked at as difficult. As international as they say CLAIR is, they're treating the program as an internal Japanese group would. People should walk in here and feel it's different. To be perfectly honest, they're clueless. This is an office of mediocrity. They allow themselves to be mediocre, to cut corners, to be less than honest, to out-and-out deceive. When you have integrity become a nonentity in international affairs, it's scary. The staff here are good people, but they're not willing to push and the few that are get shoved out.
Perhaps the most frustrated of all was Caroline, whose volatile outbursts at Japanese staff and tendency to bang her computer when frustrated fueled gossip even among JET participants. It was widely rumored that the CLAIR staff eventually stopped listening to her opinions and finally asked her to resign. In any event, she found another job and left in despair. "The reason I quit," she confessed to me, "was because basically nobody at CLAIR cares."
"Uncaring," "clueless," and "prone to deception": the reasons for these strong negative appraisals are worth exploring in some detail because they reveal a set of evaluative criteria sharply diverging from those used by the Japanese hosts. First, the program coordinators tended to judge the success of the program, and of CLAIR in particular, both by its transformative outcomes and by the decisiveness with which Japanese officials anticipated, confronted, and resolved problems. Their basic assumptions were that Japanese culture was in need of "development"; that the desired changes entailed moving toward a Western model, variously defined; and that the JET Program was the vehicle by which theory and practice were to be joined. By these standards, the responses of Japanese ministry officials simply did not measure up. They did not anticipate problems well, they reacted too slowly when problems did arise, and they seemed to lack the gumption to tackle the really tough issues. It wasn't long before the phrase "it's glacial," referring to the cautious reaction that seemed inevitable when any specific change was proposed, had entered the vocabulary of program coordinators as a running joke.
In short, the program coordinators felt that Japanese officials were not treating CLAIR as different from any of the other hundreds of bureaucratic offices in Tokyo, arguing that several policies at CLAIR illustrated an attitude of business-as-usual instead of a commitment to substantive change. They lent credence to William Horsley's caution that "Japanese officials who run the scheme should guard against the power of their country's culture to transform outside influences into another version of Japan's own value system."51
The program coordinators' first complaint, concerning personnel policies, cut three ways. First, the program coordinators saw the high turnover rate among secretaries-general as evidence of a lack of concern for continuity in program policy. Meredith noted: "The Japanese staff is transient. We worked so hard to get the embassy liaison meetings to involve some real give-and-take and then [the new secretary-general] came in and went right back to the formal style of meetings." "Institutional memory" tended to be fairly poor and worked to the disadvantage of long-term change, according to Philip. Caroline agreed: "CLAIR has been through four directors in just over two years, and if you know anything about Japanese organizations, that says a lot."
It is certainly true that at times the brief tenures of CLAIR's directors have suggested a game of musical chairs, but the meaning of this rotation may not be obvious. It is widely known that jinji ido
(personnel rotation) is a common practice among the ministries to offset the powerful tendency toward sectionalism. But critics are less likely to note that in the Ministry of Home Affairs such rotation is particularly common, because of its close relations with local governments. In fact, CLAIR and ministry officials see nothing significant in the frequency of shifts. "There's nothing special about CLAIR. We're always shifting personnel on the spot to make room for people coming and going to local governments," said one ministry official.
Second, program coordinators were deeply skeptical of the criteria used by the Ministry of Home Affairs in choosing the secretary-general. If the government were really serious about reforming Japanese society and education, their reasoning went, then it logically should choose the most "international" person to head up that effort. Yet the Japanese staff at CLAIR proved to vary considerably in their command of English and their willingness to support the program coordinators' requests. This variability led program coordinators to cast the Japanese staff starkly as heroes and villains. Those who supported their causes were good people, and those who played by the rules of Japanese bureaucracies were either obstructionists or cowards.
For instance, in the second year of the program, the reins of secretary-general were handed over to Nakamura Hajime, a generous man, warm by almost any standards. He genuinely enjoyed dialogues with the program coordinators. He would stay up late at night memorizing his speeches in English and was very responsive to the concerns of program coordinators. Reaching out to AJET members as well, he worked with them to further program objectives. His reassignment after one year was widely regarded by the program coordinators as retaliation for the reputation he had achieved as a "gaijin lover."52
Nakamura's successor, by contrast, promptly moved his desk to the far end of the room, where he was much less accessible; suspended regular meetings with the program coordinators, claiming that he was "too busy"; and thus quickly acquired the label of obstructionist.
The third and final personnel complaint concerned the issue of overlap. Meredith explained: "They have every single program coordinator quitting in August and the secretary-general is oblivious. He had never thought of the fact that we needed to overlap." Here again, however, different cultural models seem to be operating. Under the personnel rotation system, it is considered extremely rude for the outgoing person to offer unsolicited advice to the newcomer. The basic philosophy is to start with a new spirit, not influenced by the jaded perceptions of the incumbent. This nondidactic approach to learning on the job, which requires of the newcomer an acute sensitivity to job expectations, can be seen in numerous other contexts as well. G. Victor Soogen Hori, for example, has labeled this approach "teaching without teaching" in his description of the training of Zen monks.53
The second major factor underlying the disillusionment of program coordinators was their perception that they were not treated as equals and were "excluded" in various ways by the Japanese staff at CLAIR. On the one hand, this involved being shut out from the little things that are a crucial sign of group membership in Japan. According to Meredith,
We're still outsiders and they're insiders. We're foreign and treated differently. We're not told things that concern us. Even if we work late, they forget to ask us if we want an obento (box dinner). They forget to say otsukaresamadeshita or osaki ni (see you tomorrow) to us when they leave the office. . . . One time someone came over and wanted to ask where [A-san] was. I was the only one there at the time so he went back to his seat and waited till a Japanese came back. They treat us the same as them when it's convenient for them and when it's not, they don't.
On the other hand, program coordinators also felt they were gradually closed out of the decision-making process. Initially, the program coordinators had been consulted about virtually every aspect of program policy; they held primary responsibility for publishing all guidebooks, writing the CLAIR Newsletter
and JET Journal,
handling all counseling calls from JET participants, planning conferences, and interacting face-to-face with the JET participants at the orientation and midyear conferences. As a result, they quickly came to feel that the success of the program rested largely on their shoulders. Over time, however, as program policies and procedures became more routinized, the program coordinators began to feel excluded. Meredith noted, "We often feel we're not a part of CLAIR and have to fight for a place. Caroline's in charge of Tokyo orientation, and she wasn't even invited to a meeting yesterday with Kinki Tourist to organize the airport greeting." Sarah pointed out that "Whenever money is involved, we're not consulted." Even Philip, widely respected as the "most Japanese" of the program coordinators because of his thoughtful and restrained demeanor, spoke somewhat bitterly about CLAIR's refusal to draw on his experience during his third year:
For me personally, being in CLAIR the longest, it became extremely difficult because I had been there longer than any of the Japanese. And maybe I was just so stressed that I was imagining more than there actually was. I felt a sense of, not so much animosity, but almost a sense of fear that there was a non-Japanese in this government-affiliated office who knew more about what the office had done up until now than any of the Japanese there. So there was, for me, what seemed an active effort on the Japanese part to keep me in place. "You may have been involved in the administration up till now, but it's not necessary any more. We know how to run the program." Certainly those of us who were there from the beginning felt that our opinions were welcomed and valued and in many cases heeded and put into practice, but once CLAIR had successfully run the program a year or two, well, the amount of innovation and modification became less. So I think CLAIR probably felt that "if we have to, we can do without the program coordinators."
Contributing to strained relations between the program coordinators and the Japanese staff was a sudden change in how new program coordinators were hired. For the first few years the program coordinators had more or less handpicked their successors. The Japanese staff had asked the departing program coordinator to recommend someone and then had interviewed that person. But in 1990, the program coordinators were informed that they would not have an official voice in the selection process. Meredith recalled the soap opera-like events that followed:
Meredith: But we wouldn't let them. . . . They had extended my contract, but there were seven points I had added to my contract before I would extend it, and one of those stipulations was being able to choose my successor. I already had the person picked out, so for that one slot anyway, it was already guaranteed that I could select it. Then we got wind of some of the other people they were considering. It was such a secret thing. They kept lists away from us, and my manager wouldn't let me look at them. We actually stayed late one night so we could go through his drawer because we knew he had the list of people they were considering. And they were holding the interviews on days where they wouldn't even tell us these people were coming in, and they told the candidates they couldn't contact us. We felt like we were working at the CIA or something, it was so ridiculous. And it was all very much the way [the secretary-general] operated. It was all coming down from him, and he said he didn't want us involved in that kind of thing. So it really caused a lot of hurt feelings, hard feelings. There were at least three people on that list that we were appalled they were even considering. DM: How did they come up with the lists, do you have any idea?
Meredith: It was from letters, from people who had been brownnosing the secretary-general. So then we called the people that we wanted them to choose and said, "Look, he's taking these letters people are sending him seriously! Send him a letter! Have someone from your office call him and tell him you would be a good program coordinator." So we went through the back door. And we had a Japanese guy helping us because he understood that the secretary-general didn't know what kind of person would make a good program coordinator.
In fact, the rationale for the Japanese decision was not as sinister as Meredith made it out to be. By the third year of the program, the number of program coordinators had to be increased to four (and in the fifth year, as the program continued to grow, to five), and more and more JET participants were asking how to apply for the position. Indeed, some had begun accusing CLAIR of unfair hiring practices because the method was entirely subjective. CLAIR officials thus felt pressure to switch to a more formal process.
Yet excluding the program coordinators from any direct voice in the selection was clearly a political move. Having had their fill of embarrassing confrontations with overly "aggressive" program coordinators, CLAIR officials reasoned that the problem would continue as long as they let those currently in the position pick their successors. By controlling the selection process and relying heavily on recommendations from local officials, they could guarantee that those chosen spoke better Japanese and were more in tune with Japanese bureaucratic norms. While this decision did not sit well with most of the program coordinators, it spoke volumes about the growing confidence of the Japanese. As one deputy secretary-general put it, "We began to feel that since this was a program run by the Japanese government, it made sense that we ought to be in charge of all personnel decisions."
Within this climate of mutual skepticism about motives and goals, program management often turned into a game of opposing strategies. For instance, in order to fend off their demands, CLAIR officials attempted to ascertain whether there was serious disagreement among program coordinators. Such conflict was then used as support for the official position-for example, on rescinding the age limit ("Britain and the United States disagree") or on censoring the advertisement placed by the gay support group ("many JET participants themselves are uncomfortable with homosexuality"). For their part, faced with what they believed to be an unresponsive bureaucracy, the program coordinators made great efforts to present a unified front. Sarah told me, "One of the things the program coordinators tried to do was stay united, like if three of us agreed and one didn't, then that person would have to bend because we're trying to get some kind of unity going. If we don't present a solid front, the secretary-general will play us off each other. [X] was really good at that."
Of course, presenting a unified front meant informal censoring of behaviors of other program coordinators that were deemed too "Japanese." Consider Sarah's recollection of what happened when the secretary-general proposed that JET participants pay for their own lunch at the Kobe renewers' conference. A controversy arose after Japanese officials realized their calculations for the budget were off and asked Don, the program coordinator in charge of the conference, for his opinion:
Don, whom we had a lot of trouble with, to be honest, decided to be Japanese and agreed to that plan without consulting us, and he also contacted AJET, and they had a fit. Like, it's a business meeting and you're telling them it's mandatory, and then you're telling them they have to buy their own lunch? Well, Don went ahead and approved it without all of us, and so Meredith and I called over the secretary-general and the section chief of implementation and in the middle of the office we had a good yelling match-well, we were yelling a lot at Don, too. They usually let me do the yelling because I've been there longer, and after a while, the Japanese will usually say, "Oh, we agree." But this time it came down to a lack of communication, and again it came down to cultural differences. The secretary-general couldn't see anything wrong with making them pay for their own lunches and being back in an hour. And we're saying, "It's not going to happen." That was a sore point, but ultimately, after he'd heard everyone's side, the secretary-general ended up paying for lunch, and they just shifted the budget around.
Worth noting here is not only how the charge of being "too Japanese" is leveled against a compatriot, but also how routinely the strategy of foreign pressure ("they usually let me do the yelling") is used to achieve their objectives-successfully, in this case.
While the comments and behavior of some of the program coordinators could easily be seen as exemplifying what Donna Haraway calls thecannibalistic logic that readily construes other cultural possibilities only in terms of resources for Western goals and actions, I believe such an interpretation falls short.54
First, there were strong and weak versions of this reformist approach, even among the program coordinators. Philip and Caroline, for instance, while sharing the underlying goal of change, differed dramatically in their willingness to use confrontational strategies to achieve their ends. Second, youth and idealism undoubtedly played a role in this stance. Their relative lack of job experience may have led program coordinators to blame "Japanese bureaucracy" for problems common to bureaucratic organizations more generally. Third, the program coordinators were a unique subset of the pool of JET participants. Members of the initial group were selected because they had become known in their local areas for championing reform while at the same time acknowledging the importance of Japanese approaches. They tended to be idealists, viewing the goal of the JET Program as transforming not only English education but also Japanese society more generally. In addition, as spokespersons for and representatives of the JET participants they were under some pressure to achieve results, and the gap between program rhetoric and reality was especially acute during the early years.
Finally, their disparaging stance toward Japanese bureaucracy can be seen as a kind of cultural performance: they take on the role of "foreigners trying to show Japanese how to do internationalization." With the best of intentions, and intensely desiring to help bring positive change to a culture in which they found many attractive features, they set themselves up for frustration. At times their exuberance overruled their common sense. It is also worth noting that a similar attitude toward Japanese culture can be observed among the "hired foreigners" (oyatoi gaikokujin) of the Meiji period and the educational consultants brought in during the Allied Occupation.55
In many cases these individuals saw Japan as fertile ground for experimentation; as they tried out ideas whose implementation in the United States had been quite problematic, they developed sudden amnesia about those earlier difficulties. The Japanese Response
The contrast between the generally negative evaluations of the program coordinators and the positive assessments of Japanese officials could not be starker. While Ministry of Education officials remained lukewarm about the program-after the rash of accidents and suicides, one official noted with a hint of smugness, "They must be really worried over at CLAIR right now. I do wonder about the future of the program"-the other two sponsoring ministries had no such doubts. At the midway point of the first year of the JET Program, a report by the Second Cultural Affairs Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated,
Though it may be a bit premature to evaluate the program since it is only six months old, judging from the voluminous reports, the impressions of participants, and the fact that only a small handful of people have gone home early (most for personal reasons), this ministry can say with certainty that the program is making a tremendous contribution to the promotion of our country's internationalization both in terms of bringing about historical reform in English language education and fostering international exchange and mutual understanding and goodwill.56
The expansion of participating countries itself testified to the program's success in achieving the goals of this ministry. Home Affairs Ministry reports were very upbeat as well and cited the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response of local governments throughout Japan.57
They also noted that the percentage of JET participants who returned home early had decreased from a high of 3.1 percent (26 out of 848) in 1987-88 to less than 2 percent by 1990-91. This percentage, which compares very favorably to the rates of prematuredeparture in other youth exchange programs, has continued to fall (see table 4).58
My first impulse was to dismiss these reports as just more examples of bureaucratic whitewashing. Yet when I posed this question in 1990 to a former secretary-general of CLAIR, he confirmed the positive evaluation: "Actually, we expected much more serious problems than we've had so far-AIDS, rape, illegitimate children. The JET Program is going much better than anyone thought it would." The roots of these favorable assessments lie in the very different model of internationalization that Japanese officials brought to the program. My first clue to that difference came when I bumped into the secretary-general of CLAIR at a reception in 1989. I asked him how things were going and, somewhat inebriated, he replied enthusiastically, "Experience is everything! Experience is everything!" His comment seemed straightforward enough, even simplistic; and yet the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that he was voicing the philosophy of "learning by doing" (karade de oboeru
) that has been shown to be a cornerstone of Japanese approaches to learning in a variety of contexts.59
What I believe the secretary-general was saying was this: We can talk about internationalization all we want, but the best way to learn is to jump right in and rub shoulders with each other. To an anthropologist who is accustomed to lecturing on the virtues of cross-cultural orientation and the need to learn more about one another before working together, this advice seemed counterintuitive. Diversity is not an end in itself. Without nurturance and careful instruction, placing diverse peoples together may just as easily result in intolerance, misunderstanding, and the confirmation of preexisting stereotypes. It also ran contrary to the sensibilities of the program coordinators, who had long pressed CLAIR officials to provide Japanese officials involved in the program with a more substantive orientation on cultural differences.
But for the Japanese involved, internationalization never implied erasing national boundaries or coming to know others as "autonomous individuals." Instead, it was seen as a process of improving understanding between groups who, it was assumed, would always be fundamentally different. Most ministry officials saw the JET Program not as dramatically changing Japanese society but as providing the experience that they felt was a precondition for true learning to take place. On the one hand, foreign youth would increase their understanding of Japanese society. On the other hand, a whole cadre of Japanese officials, national level and local, would be trained in Western styles of negotiation and interaction. One CLAIR official noted, "We're getting our own internationalization just by being here in CLAIR and interacting with the program coordinators. You know, Japanese can't just 'do' kokusaika
(internationalization). We have to 'touch it' first."
Given this framework, one could easily have predicted serious problems in the program's infancy, as expectations were adjusted on all sides. In spite of these problems in implementation, however, what impressed me most is that Japanese officials at CLAIR and at the sponsoring ministries did not give up. One by one, they took on virtually every difficulty raised by the JET participants and wrestled with it: sometimes holding their ground, sometimes capitulating entirely, but more often than not reaching some kind of compromise. Before examining in more detail the learning curve at the national level (see chapter 6), we need to journey downward through the administrative system to examine the diverse and contradictory ways in which the JET Program was translated into practice in local prefectures and cities, schools and classrooms.