Considered by some as Nihon's remuneration for the massive trade surplus accrued at the expense of the Western world in the '80s, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme sends over 2,000 native English speakers a year to the land of the rising sun for the express purpose of teaching English to Japanese high school, junior high, and elementary school students. Requirements include an interest in foreign culture, mental stability, and a college degree. (Knowledge of the Japanese language, though not required, is encouraged.) The application process lasts from late November, when the initial applications are due, until March or April, when accepted applicants learn their respective assigned locations in Japan.

Upon arrival in Japan, each JET Programme participant (or JET) receives a monthly salary of 300,000 yen, before insurance and Social Security deductions. Positions within the program are: Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), Coordinator for International Relations (CIR), and Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA). According to the official website for the JET Programme (, over 90% of the JET populus are ALTs. The ALT's duties consist primarily of "team-teaching" English with a native Japanese teacher. Some ALTs are vastly underutilized; others have very little rest time during their working hours. Most fall between these two extremes.

There are, of course, various books and websites detailing the experiences of JETs. (One example that immediately leaps to mind is Bruce Feiler's Learning to Bow, in which the author writes about his participation in the very first year of the program.) The definitive book on the JET Programme, however, is Importing Diversity: Inside Japan's JET Program by David McConnell. A remarkably fair-handed assessment of JET's weaknesses, strengths, and overall efficacy, the tome includes viewpoints from a variety of interested parties, ranging from government officials responsible for the creation of the program to the actual participants themselves. Although the sponsors of the program (the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, and Home Affairs) are notoriously reluctant to grant access to the inner workings of JET, Mr. McConnell was able to spend two years in Japan observing the program. His notes on the mechanics of the program on the national, prefectural, and local levels provide a fascinating glimpse into Japanese government and how it works. Importing Diversity is essential for anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of the JET Programme and Japanese society in general. Two especially memorable observations:

  • The three ministries sponsoring the program have very different ideas on what it should accomplish. The Ministry of Education believes the program is intended to help Japanese students more effectively master verbal English, while the Ministry of Home Affairs believes the program's purpose is to globalize Japan, and give the people of Japan a taste of undiluted Western culture. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though, believes the JET Programme exists to give participants a good impression of Japan that they can take back to their home countries. The results of this difference in opinions are chronicled in Mr. McConnell's book.
  • The JET Programme is the only major initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Education that hasn't been officially opposed by the Japanese teachers' union since the union was founded during the 1950s.

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