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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Internationalization Key to Japanese Global Relations

My buddy Mister Gee sent me a couple of things to read on Tuesday because he knows I like to read, like to learn, often need blog topics, and wants to ensure this blog does its Energizer Bunny routine and keeps going and going and going every day - for which I am extremely grateful.
The topic was essentially the same - and no surprise was by the same author, but essentially discussed the U.S. and Japanese relationship and how JET fits into it all.

I am sure I am qualified to offer an opinion on the subject, seeing as how I am a former JET (1990-1993), write this blog about Japan that has a modicum of success, and have heard of the United States of America.

My favorite State is Florida—America's wang, to quote Homer Simpson, American patriot and fictional cartoon character.

Anyhow, the gist of the two articles is that JET is being used by Japan to promote itself internationally.

The idea is that when the AET (assistant English teachers) et al have a positive time in Japan, they'll talk about it to friends and co-workers (apparently two different things, but I don't buy it), and in that way, Japan gets its ego blown.

Then there are people like me (except they are American), who create blogs and such relating all the great times they have had in Japan.

There are always a few who don't have a good time in Japan and spread the word as such, but please note that once Japan finds out, they usually have those Japanese employers killed…. or taken down a peg, which is worse than death in Japan.

I'm kidding of course… yes, losing face in Japan is worse than death, but no,there do not appear to be any recorded deaths or imprisonments due to a bad JET Programme experience.

The study mentions that of the three Ministry' involved in the formation of JET, each seems to possess it's own agenda or understanding about what JET is all about.

For example:

A Ministry of Home Affairs official suggested the purpose of JET was to force local governments to “open up their gates to foreigners.”

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said the program’s primary goal was to “increase understanding of Japanese society and education among youth”
from participant countries.

A Ministry of Education, Science and Culture official declared that improving Japanese students’ and teachers’ “communicative competence in
English” was the primary policy goal for JET.

And you know what? At least while I was there, Japan was in the process of achieving all THREE!

The thing is… two out of those three goals are more about the visitor, than it is about Japan… unless we consider point one to be about increased tourism?

That might have been the initial goal… but certainly by 1990, there was a new goal: internationalization.

I arrived in Japan from Toronto, Canada, in 1990…. JET had only been around since 1987, and with a maximum three year shelf life for any participant, I was pretty much in on the second wave of JET-setters… though truthfully, I only learned that a couple of years ago.

I really should have read that pre-orientation booklet JET sent out.

But I didn't… and I did so for a reason. I really didn't have one freaking clue about what Japan was like. I had read some good Japanese comic books, seen some very good Japanese movies (all typically involving a radioactive lizard and a flying amphibian), and never ate Japanese food until a couple of days before leaving Canada…

In fact, aside from owning a white 1986 Mazda 323 (now a Mazda 3, but in Japan it was familiarly known as the Mazda Familia), I pretty much knew squat about Japan.

I knew the basics about their Pearl Harbor, and subsequent bitch of a payback(s) in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but assumed all the women wore kimono (uh… no) and all the men wore business suits (they do).

I was essentially a blank slate. Perfectly stupid to be molded by whatever I saw.

And upon arriving in Japan… I saw… a saw a stupidly large city that looked exactly like Toronto, except that no one spoke English and that there were a lot of foreign… hmm… no, that sounds like Toronto, too. Okay, it was more humid.

Prior to leaving Canada, and upon entering Japan, we were imparted with the wise gift of Internationalization - told how it was CRUCIAL, crucial, I say!—for us to impart this upon the Japanese.

Now, I had never heard of the term 'internationalization' before this (I really shouldn't have zoned out during those Toronto-area JET orientations… I wonder if I have ADHD?) and even the explanations I received were what I would later define as typical Japanese waffling…

but essentially, internationalization involved us gaijin (foreigners) getting the Japanese out of their comfort zone…

That comfort zone was Japan… as in Japan-this or Japan-that… that Japan was the be-all and end-all.

We weren't supposed to tell them that Japan sucks and that USA was #1 (everyone knows it's New Zealand), rather we were encouraged to relate how we (the individual) were similar to the individual Japanese person.

"You like baseball? I like baseball."
"You like beer? I like beer."
"You like blondes with big boobs? I know you do, but you should stop squeezing mine now."

Those were conversations typically uttered and experienced by JETs everywhere those first few days, week, months and years in Japan.

You could have been living in Japan for three years, and some wizenheimer will come up and ask if you like Japanese rice or if you can use Japanese chopsticks while you are shoveling in some with a set of chopsticks you whittled yourself out of a sheet of plastic. 

While there are indeed such things as Japanese rice and Japanese chopsticks, most Japanese only know of the Japanese version and not the others from other countries (except that American rice tastes horrible - though they have never tried it themselves)… and chopsticks… yeah there are different styles for different Asian countries… 

The thing is, the Japanese are a proud folk and think their country is the greatest in the world - and I love that about them! I really do… but apparently this pride is based not on fact, but on cultural brain-washing. 

The big-wigs in Japan realize that while that is great for maintaining harmony within the 'greatest country on the planet', it does pose problems such as getting along with others with a differing social structure.

Not everyone in Japan thinks like that, however, but the vast majority do…

We were there on JET not to teach the Japanese English (though 'awesome' if that occurred), but rather to get Japan more used to foreigners... to show the Japanese that there is no "us and Them, just people.

That's internationalization… that was what Japan needed to learn more than how to say the letter "L" properly.

So… I interacted with everyone I came across… teachers, students, people on the street, and acted just like them… I was polite and smiled a lot, but my smiling all the time put the Japanese at ease and they smiled right back.

I drank with them, joked with them, worked with them and lived within their community - though aware that I was outside it… still, I was always welcome to visit their community… and I never stopped  blowing their mind about how similar they were to me in the way I loved or lived or cared about people and things.

Basically, I showed the Japanese that foreigners aren't frightening… and aren't superior or even inferior… that I was a human being first and foremost.

The cultures may be different, but underneath I was just like them.

And… the best part about teaching internationalization to the Japanese, is that it works both ways.  

My first experience with the Japanese involved a myriad of eye-openers: they drive on the left-side of the road; hookers look like hookers no matter the continent - same with transvestites; people are honest and helpful…

That later part was key for me.

A guy walking around town - coming home from work, I assume, walks 10+ foreigners back to their hotel, taking himself some 40 minutes out of his way.

A taxi driver refusing my accidental over-payment, ensuring he was only paid what we was owed - without a tip, because there is no tipping in Japan.

All of that occurred within the first 48 hours of me arriving in Japan… the first 48 hours, when any crime has its best chance of being resolved (so the TV says)… and yet… those first 48 hours colored me impressed.

The fact that I recall it as though it was yesterday tells me all you need to know… it was an important life lesson for me to learn, and I learned it in 48 hours… I had three years to teach that to the Japanese.

Japan uses JET alumni to spread the good word about its fine-looking women, culture and sites… and all it took was to put up with our gaijin bullish!t visit for a few years, with us telling them how we're all individuals, and all the same under the kimono.

It's not bullcrap, in my mind, and I don't think it was for the Japanese I interacted with… first off… if they are interacting with you, and it's not because they have to, these people are already open into learning about similarities and differences and how those differences don't affect the one thing we all are… human.

I've rambled on for quite a while (ADHD?) and while I like to drink Coke and play video games - have you ever played any of the Final Fantasy games, the artwork is so awesome, like it was done by Rembrandt. I saw his art when I was in in The Netherlands. I went their for work, which was cool… where was I?

Oh yeah… internationalization… it's a two-way street.

Should you wish to read the study proposal: CPD Perspectives On Public Diplomacy - Promoting Japan: One JET at a Time by Emily T. Metzgar, click HERE.

Every JET I knew back in the day was told that we were essentially ambassadors of our respective country while we were in Japan… so public diplomacy was a must - especially since we weren't afforded the same degree of diplomatic immunity as other ambassadors. 

Camping (effing Auto-Correct) - Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
Image above: taken by Kano Naizen at the Kobe City Museum, depicting Portuguese carrack ship in Nagasaki, as part of 17th-century Japanese Nanban art.

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