Thursday, August 06, 2009


Yes, the favorite buzz word of many Japanese. I was recently reading over a book on the early years of the JET Program, and found this quote rather succinct. Although the information is slightly dated, it's still fascinating to learn about the birthing pains of the program: contract disputes, sexual harassment "accidents", team teaching, being a foreign pet...

The Japanese tendency to assume that linguistic and cultural competence, much less identity, was a priori beyond the grasp of foreigners lay in sharp contrast to the tendency of the JET participants (particularly strong among the exuberant Americans) to assume that Japanese not only could, but darn well should, learn English and become cosmopolitan. The implications of what seems to the Japanese to be commonsense behavior are summed up nicely by Harumi Befu:

Once dissatisfaction is fixed in the foreigner's mind because of his permanent exclusion from the category into which he wishes to be included, the label of gaijin will necesssarily sound pejorative when thrust on him against his will. Here is a classic case of mutual misunderstanding: a foreigner's wishful thinking is that internationalization obliterates the line between him and the Japanese, whereas for the Japanese internationalization compels them to draw a sharper line than ever before between themselves and outsiders.

Most JET participants saw internationalization in terms less of building bridges between people than of breaking down the walls between them. The Japanese teachers and administrators, however, saw internationalization as the development of techniques to improve understanding and communication between cultures and groups that they assumed would always be fundamentally different.

David L McConnell, Importing Diversity: Inside Japan's JET Program

1 comment:

Japanese words said...

Great point. This is something that is very difficult for foreigners when coming to Japan, and something that will hopefully get better with time.