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Adapting to difference: JETS to Japan

Teacher note

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme was established by the Japanese government in 1987 to promote internationalisation at the local level. New Zealand was one of the four original countries invited to participate.

Most participants are selected as assistant language teachers, mainly in public schools. Others join the JET programme as co-coordinators for international relations or sports exchange advisors.

Since 1987, over 2000 New Zealanders have participated in the JET Programme, and a small proportion at least, have returned already to New Zealand.

They have had a huge impact on New Zealand – bringing fresh understanding of Japan and the Japanese to our people. They have also been Ambassadors for New Zealand in many communities in Japan – some may never have seen other New Zealanders.

The experience may have helped JETs and people they met adapt to difference.

It is not just the Kiwis who have gone to Japan as JETS who are keen on the programme.

Future generations of graduate Kiwis who would like to be assistant English teachers in secondary schools, or coordinators of international relations for local government in a big or small Japanese community, can look forward to a well organised, well paid one, two or three years learning Japanese culture and language amongst the people.

The JET programme helps the rest of us by building bridges of understanding.

Returned JETS are working in many circles in New Zealand – not necessarily on tightly focused Japan projects. They can help us understand Japan, introduce us to some of its ways, and work with us to build the relationship – and perhaps help us generally adapt to difference.

In 2005 the programme was expanded to include over 5,800 participants from over 40 countries, including 320 from New Zealand in locations throughout Japan.

Assistant language teachers help the Japanese foreign language teachers in class and assist in preparing teaching materials and class activities.

Knowledge of Japanese language is not required to be an assistant language teacher. A functional knowledge of Japanese is, however needed, to be a coordinator of international relations. These JETs work in local government offices. Their work may include editing publications, translation work, advising on the planning and implementation of exchange programmes, and interpreting international events.

Sports exchange advisers - a new part of the JET scheme - have assisted in the coaching of rugby and sailing.

A panel including New Zealanders helps the Japanese Embassy select JETs for teaching English or coordinating in local government for their one year initial terms (renewable twice) from amongst graduates of bachelor or teaching diploma courses aged under 40. Sports exchange advisers need either a certificate from the NZ Rugby Union or a related coaching qualification, and three years coaching experience.

JETs receive return airfares between Japan and New Zealand, and approximately 3,600,000 yen, after tax, annually.

JETS communicate the culture of Japan in New Zealand.

Consider these points of view.

Katy McTeigue had wanted to go on JET since high school – her Japanese teacher had been an early JET. She went to a coastal community in the Kansai, returned to Wellington, and now plans to take her children back so they can benefit from immersion in Japanese elementary education.

Henry Morris, on the eve of his departure at a 2006 farewell party hosted by Japan’s then Ambassador to New Zealand, Masaki Saito, enthused about the JET Programme.

“Through JET we can immerse in Japanese culture”.

Sport culture

Sport provides many of us with a window on culture.

Former All Black captain Wayne “Buck” Shelford goes backwards and forwards between New Zealand and Ritsumeikan University to teach rugby – and there are opportunities for more Kiwis to coach in Japan. Michel Rod interviewed Buck Shelford on the big Ritsumeikan playing field – part of what the prominent Kiwi described as “enormous” facilities.

Buck Shelford’s observations on Japanese culture, seen through a rugby player’s eyes, included “Japanese players revert back to their disciplined approach under pressure, rather than thinking outside the square”. He considers Japanese culture is similar to Maori.

Buck Shelford says Japanese players are committed to their rugby – he brought the Japanese team members to New Zealand, where they appreciated learning haka. The majority of the boys he coaches understand English.

Speaking during his second year of visits to coach at Rits, Buck Shelford wants it to be known there are opportunities for Kiwis to coach Japanese, and to go beyond rugby into workforce. And whats more, “Japanese food is fantastic”. There is also a big expatriate community in Kyoto, and they play sport and are in business. Golf course fees at $70 per day in Kansai, are similar to North Harbour. However, hesays, summer is horrendously hot.

We went with Rebecca Hillis, the Kiwi JET working in Sakai’s City Hall as a coordinator of International Relations, to see the indoor archery class.

Sakai archery tutor Fumiko Sato has been to Wellington., where an archery club was set up in 2005. Interest had been sparked at A Festival of Japan in Wellington. Teachers are visiting from Japan.

Fumiko Sato has seen that the Wellington students have the comparable self discipline and enthusiasm that Japanese have.

We asked the tutors about the comparisons between archery and rugby.

“Both require perseverance and hard work” says Fumiko Sato.

“It uses totally different muscles. Archery is peaceful and requires concentration qualities. It and rugby both have a goal and require putting in effort” she says.

What are the social values in archery?

Respect. Archery is not just bows. They are paying respect to themselves and others. They are honest to themselves. They open their hearts with honesty. When students come to the archery room they bow their heads in respect to teachers and others. This respect can also be seen in other martial arts.

Children can learn Kyuodo – the Japanese word for archery - from junior high school on. Students can do archery in a club. It’s a good disciplining sport in which students can learn. It is a good way to build strength – that’s why it is done later in life.

Interest is slowly increasing. It has increased over the last 20-30 years. Demand for teachers has grown. There are international and local associations.

Archery is not an Olympic game - but at the Tokyo Olympics there was a Kyuodo event. It was the first time people from overseas could see it.

The tutors say they need people from overseas interested in the Zen spirit. “Not just to be interested in arrows. But interested also in Zen. We do it as part of practice.”

Fumiko Sato says Japanese archery is different to archery overseas. The bow is made from bamboo - and is longer at the top and shorter at the bottom than overseas bows.

Japanese believe the bow is “alive”, rather than just being a piece of equipment. The most important features of the Japanese style of archery are body, heart and bow. The way the Japanese use their bodies makes their archery beautiful.

Historically archery was taught from person to person - there was no such school as this one in Sakai City. Knowledge was passed from parents to children. It was passed on to friends.

Originally each region of Japan had its own style. After Meiji Japan focused on one style. Now there is one common style.

Traditionally men were archers, using the art in war. Now women come to train. The gender equality movement means there is a role for women in archery.

Sumo is another very Japanese sport – and although we did not find JETs learning or teaching it, we did find a Kiwi participant at a world tournament in Sakai City. Thomas Piper, from a Sumo Club in the Hutt Valley said Sumo for Kiwis is better than getting up to no good!

So come forward you Kiwi rugby and sailing coaches – you too can be JETs for Japan! You can show the Japanese a thing or two – and they can show you a thing or two!

From Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News service

18 March 2007

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