The 2011 International Educators to Japan (IEJ) Program starts as scheduled
International Exchange Department
Institute for International Studies and Training
The effects of the Great East Japan Quake have prompted some offshore visitors to postpone their trips to Japan and a number of invitational programs too are on hold. However, IIST’s International Educators to Japan (IEJ) Program will go ahead at the end of June as scheduled, supported by participants’ desire to understand Japan today through, for example, observation of educational institutions, and by the unstinting cooperation offered by those institutions to enable participants to observe Japan firsthand.
More than 30 years of history
The IEJ Program 2011 takes place in Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto and Hiroshima from 26 June to 7 July. As in other years, elements of the program will include interaction with Japanese educators, lesson demonstrations at elementary schools, visits to historic sites, chances to experience Japanese culture, and homestays in ordinary households.
IEJ’s history traces back to the 1970s. At that time, Japanese companies were rapidly expanding their overseas activities to the US and elsewhere, and the sudden surge in Japanese staff stationed abroad also increased the number of Japanese children attending local public schools who were unable to speak English. These local schools welcomed their new Japanese students warmly and helped them to adapt to local society. In 1975, at the initiative of the Japan Business Association of Southern California, a program inviting educators to Japan was launched as an expression of appreciation to those educators at local public schools teaching the children of US-based Japanese staff, and to help them to understand the cultural and historical background and living environment of their Japanese students and assist them in their teaching and guidance activities. The program has now been operating for more than 30 years.
Initially, only American educational institutions were involved, but the program has since expanded to include Canada and Europe. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) handled the program in Japan for the first years, with IIST taking over in FY2008. Most of the costs are covered by the groups dispatching educators to Japan for the program.
Many participants send condolences and encouragement
Preparations for the next IEJ usually accelerate at the beginning of the year. Because the program brings local educators to Japan for almost two weeks, the best timing is late June through early July, when local schools are on holiday but Japanese schools have yet to reach the end of the term, and participants need to be finalized in February and the general program schedule in April. In other words, there is only limited room for change as regards the operating time.
This year, IIST’s IEJ staff had only just returned to Tokyo from Kansai, where they had been making arrangements with the host educational institutions, when the earthquake struck.
Immediately after the quake, so much remained unpredictable—aftershocks, for example, as well as what would happen with the nuclear power plant crisis—that it was difficult to decide whether or not the program would be able to go ahead. Media coverage offshore focused on the damage Japan wrought by the quake and tsunami, and some of the (scheduled) participants expressed shock at the terrible images being broadcast, while others were uneasy at the possibility of radiation leaks. Based on close discussion with the educator dispatch institutions and the educators themselves, we decided to wait and see what would happen, and asked the Japanese institutions participating in the program to understand the situation too.
Over that period, we received numerous messages of sympathy and support from participants. Some of this year’s scheduled participants said they would gladly give up their participation if the funds for the program could instead be donated to the affected areas. We also heard that students at schools where past participants taught were apparently working hard to raise money for disaster relief in Japan.
A glimpse of actual conditions in Japan
Offshore, some initial media reports gave the impression that all of Japan had been affected, but government travel advisories became steadily less panicked. In the US, for example, immediately after the earthquake the State Department urged US citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to all of Japan, and temporarily authorized the voluntary departure of government employees from Japan. However, as of 14 April, that authorization was lifted, with the US government determining that there was no particular risk to areas beyond the 50 mile (80 kilometer) evacuation zone, and particularly to cities like Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya. As at the time when this article was written, US citizens were still being advised to stay outside that 50 mile zone, but it was deemed safe to use the Tohoku Shinkansen railway and Tohoku Expressway to transit through the area, with restrictions on activity limited to the area immediately around the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant (16 May Travel Alert).
Having asked each institution and scheduled participant what they wanted to do, at the end of April, IIST decided to go ahead with the program. There were four reasons why we decided that it would be possible to run the program at that point: (1) enough participants had been confirmed; (2) most international institutions and governments in the relevant countries did not have travel restrictions or advisories in place for Tokyo or anywhere further west, which is where the program will take place; (3) as the earthquake has had virtually no impact on those institutions involved in the program, the program should still achieve the expected results; and (4) we felt that it would be meaningful for people to see for themselves how Japan was faring after the quake.
The 30 participants originally scheduled have dwindled 60 percent to 12, but all 12 have indicated strong interest in seeing the Japan of today. Some have even asked if they can participate in volunteer support efforts for the affected area of Japan during their stay. The relevant institutions in Japan too are strongly cognizant of the significance of continuing with the program and have been even more cooperative than usual.
The success of the program is evident in comments made by former IEJ participants at briefing sessions and elsewhere after they have returned home that they have been able to take what they learned from observing Japanese classrooms in operation and interacting with educators and students and put it to use in their own classrooms. Participants have also acknowledged the significance of such cultural activities as calligraphy classes and extracurricular classes on traditional culture.
Some of the dispatch institutions have required participants to make presentations to local teachers and student parents after their return home. The fund-raising activities by ordinary students noted above could also be regarded as a result of these presentations. We hope that this year’s IEJ participants too will each communicate directly to their colleagues and students back home a real picture of post-quake Japan.
(original article : Japanese)
• The 36th IEJ (International Educators to Japan) Program (FY2011)
• IIST e-Magazine No.0198-0809 The trip that almost never was. -Impression on IEJ Program-