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The beginning of the JET program; a memory of my father

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In 1975, when I was a Junior High school student, my father was assigned to the Embassy of Japan in the UK in his early forties. He was the head of the Information Centre of Japan and his job was to proactively promote Japan. The UK in the late 1970s was called the era of "British disease" that resulted in bad economy, many strikes, a high unemployment rate, and a declining education system. Culturally, it was when Punk Rock was invented; as a whole, very ruined.

It was a time when cars and products made in Japan started to sell very well. On the other hand, the automotive industry in the UK was badly suffering. British people believed and said, "Because British cars often break down during the warranty period, by fixing the problems, the cars are restored, and that's why warranties exist." Whereas Japanese cars had warranties even though manufacturers were confident that their cars would stay in perfect working condition during the warranty period.

Decades before then, in the 1950s to 1960s, Western people used to devalue and laugh at faulty products; "Ha hah! That's made in Japan." Products from Japan used to have the reputation of being cheap and poorly made. It must have been a major threat to British people when they recognized the quality of Japanese products had improved.

People tend to attack or become offensive towards others when they feel threatened. Major Japan-bashing campaigns were held and reported in mass-media in the UK. News about the increased number of imported Japanese cars was broadcasted almost every day, saying "Japan exports unemployment to the UK."

"What can I do as the head of the Information Centre of Japan?", my father must have seriously wondered. He thought, "By having people from the two regions understanding each other better, it should improve this offensive situation." So he ran many workshops across the UK about Japanese culture. At the same time, he might have bumped into a bigger idea.

"Why don't we hire young unemployed British people and send them over to Japan as English teachers to schools in Japan. This would give them the opportunity to understand Japan better, and even if they didn't like Japan, the attacks in the media toward faceless Japan should improve in the long term. It should also improve Japanese students' English learning environment."

My father was a person of will. Once he got a good idea, he couldn't stop trying to actualize it. He talked with the Ministry of Education and many politicians in Japan, and had several hundred people successfully sent over to Japan from the UK in the first year. This was the start of the program, later called JET. Now they say there have been over 60,000 people who have attended the program.

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