Mark Dieker on Z Notes about the JET

You might check out Charge de Affaires Jim Zumwalt’s “Z Notes” Blog from time to time. (I have a link over in my blog links to the lower right.)

I enjoy it as a sanitized blog, which means, you aren’t going to ever see anything halfway controversial on it, and everything is wonderful. If you are the #2 guy at a Tokyo mission of the U.S. state department, this is how you would write, too.

Last month, CdA Zumwalt invited an ex-JET to do a blog post. That’s about as far of taking a position as I think the blog would go! Mark Dieker works for the State Department in some capacity, in Fukuoka. (The consulate that closed the gates on Savoie as he was trying to un-abduct his kids from Japan two years ago.)

As an ex-JET, naturally Mr. Dieker has nothing but positive to say about it:

I hope it’s OK if I just re-post the text in full:

JET Program Strengthens U.S.-Japan Relations

When I arrived in Mie Prefecture in 1994 to work as an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET program, I planned to stay for only one year. However, teaching at nine middle schools during the two years I lived in Tsu City turned out to be the most transformative experience of my professional and personal life. I not only taught thousands of Japanese students, who have since gone on to contribute to all parts of Japanese society, I also learned to speak Japanese and met the Japanese woman I eventually married.

It’s impossible to say how much my English lessons and classes about American culture improved my students’ ability to speak English and their knowledge of the world, but I believe that our encounters with each other opened new worlds for both of us. I re-evaluated many of the cultural assumptions I’d grown up with, encouraged my students to do the same, and was thrilled when years later I returned to Tsu City to hear several of my former students hollering out “Mark-sensei!”

Speaking earlier this year in Fukuoka about U.S.-Japan relations

Thanks to my JET experience, I was able to study at the University of Tokyo and later work at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. I am now the Consul for Political and Economic Affairs at the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka.

What I want to emphasize, however, is that my story is not unique. When U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos recently met with Nagasaki Governor Hodo Nakamura, three of the four American diplomats accompanying the Ambassador were former JETs.
[Emphasis added.]

The JET Program has not only transformed my life, and the lives of thousands of others, it has also played a critical role in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.

Now, good for Mark Dieker. But on the point that I have been going to, that JET is basically a gravy for the Pacific Elite and those who are connected (or seek to be connected), this is like another exhibit for the pile.

You notice that point Dieker is making is not that having been a JET helps him help Americans who are in Japan, it’s that it helped him set up a nice life for himself in Japan, courtesy of the Japanese. Oh, and of course the rural students remember him as a JET, and with their great English and appreciated knowledge of Big Faraway Country they still greet him in their now-cosmopolitan Mie with “Sensei!”

Again, I put this before you, and this is what I wonder:

For every JET, there has to be at least six Dispatch ALTs showing up from America. They are not the celebrity of the town, and chances are their “experience” in Japan is going to be a little more street-real and cynical. They are going to make great friends, but they are also going to see Japan and the Japanese in all its broad diversity, and feel it. Feel the screwing. So it’s not all going to be nice. It’s going to be like that tea you get at the Hamarikyu Gardens that the shoguns used to drink. There is a sweet part to it, and then the bitter flavor they used to add to remind you of the bitterness of existence.

For some of these ALTs, it’s the fact that they don’t get their social insurances covered like the JET does. For others, they get to experience what it’s like to be, effectively, an employee who has to wonder every month whether anyone’s going to stab them in the back (figuratively), as they try to build a career of sorts in Japan.

For some, things will work out great, that combination of skill and luck. But for quite a few others, it’s going to just be this thing they never should have taken seriously. For yet others, a circumstance where Japan burned them and they have no outlet back in America to seek a balance on the situation.

So what the Pacific power elite is hearing is from the Diekers: This boondoggle was so great and it’s strengthening U.S.-Japan relations because now you have us as your shills! Oh, wonderful.

What I think actually strengthens U.S.-Japan relations are heart-to-heart talks, done with some sunshine if you catch my meaning, into the serious issues that the two countries face. Not pay off a handful of people who then use kone to get into the State Department and do their best to inhibit reforms and inhibit dialogue and debate, and avoid issues like social insurance treaty violations and matters of equal protection and fair play.

(The part about sunshine means that this stuff has to happen out in the open so that the taxpaying and Congress-contacting citizenry back home (who have their own Japan experience) can know what is going on, and not be kept in the dark.)

I realize that the people in the State Department stationed in Japan like to think that they work very hard and are invaluable to the bilateral U.S.-Japan relations. I’m not in a position to evaluate whether or not their opinion is true, or whether they’re slipping up on key matters. Canada invites Canadians in Tokyo to the Embassy for monthly picnics. Our Embassy acts like you are a potential terrorist trying to break in to the compound at Toranonon if you go to visit. So, you see, there isn’t much that you get as a takeaway as to whether the Embassy is there is for the average American, or the average international executive with the package, the JETs, and colleges looking to recruit young Japanese for their campuses back home.

I think they stuck a sock in Renho lately, so you don’t hear anything about touching one paragraph of the JET Programme plan, but she was definitely on to something about whether it needed to be looked at. I think the U.S. State Department should stop just taking the opinions of the well-connected as fact, and look into whether JET tends to skew the views that ex-JETters are filtering into our Pacific foreign policy, the bias they are adding, and whether State should start to ask about the Everyman Issues that Americans living in Japan face.

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3 comments

  1. Kei · January 18, 2011

    Finally, a cohesive anti- JET piece that finally serves to illustrate some REAL possible negative aspects of the program (unlike anything you’ve posted in the past, which was essentially to say that child molesters could lurk in any JET pool, and that hiring one over a dispatch teacher was a waste of government tax dollars since it didn’t seem to have any bearing on whether or not Japanese people sucked at English).

    I 100 percent agree that anyone who comes out of the program with a sheltered view of Japan, eventually ends up working for the state department, and turns into a sort of Japan apologist is contributing negatively to a true and un-biased portrait of Japan abroad, and maybe even makes things worse for other foreigners still living here. (Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that they do so because they were unfairly influenced by their easy as pie JET deal, and not the obstacles they face in regards to policy reform).

    This however, could be said for any foreigner in the same position. I’m not sure how you trace it back to JET specifically. Perhaps the same percentages of the people you’re talking about could be found among the pool of ALL foreigners who come to Japan to live and work, or at least the ones who STAY. Some of them are okay with how things are here, and stay and the ones who aren’t, don’t.

    Not all JETs walk away from Japan with a positive experience and a distorted view of Japan-US relations. Not all JETs become members of the state department. Many can’t even secure real jobs here after leaving the program, and are even FURTHER disappointed by the lack of opportunity it brings when returning home. And lastly, many spend a good portion of their tenure with JET fighting against the system trying to make changes, getting a good lesson in Japanese bullshit before giving up after a few years, and opting not to re-contract.

    Finally, I really think you have to look at the whole program from another angle for the following 2 reasons.

    1. You know nothing about the program and it’s operations.

    2. JET and it’s off-shoots (such as NET which I mentioned before) are the closest thing this country has to government protection for foreign teachers. Remove it, and you remove the precedent, so to speak, for making sure non-Japanese teachers receive health insurance and pensions and actual “employee” status. You remove a major unified resource for foreigners here, and perhaps the only real shot they have at creating a positive association with the English language in Japan.

  2. hoofin · January 18, 2011

    1. You know nothing about the program and it’s operations.

    its = possessive adjective for “it”

    it’s = contraction of “it is”

  3. Kei · January 18, 2011

    You have identified my weakness.

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