Consulate-General of Japan in Houston


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Remarks by Consul-General Nozomu Takaoka
at Orientation and Reception for Departing
2014 Japan Exchange and Teaching Program Participants
on July 26, 2014

July 26, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen: It is my great pleasure to welcome you here this afternoon to honor and cheer on the 30 young people who will be departing from Houston tomorrow to work in schools and local government offices across Japan.

I would like give my thanks to the members of the JET alumni association: Your valuable insight, generosity, and passions continue to improve upon the program experience. Thank you everyone.

I would also like to recognize and thank executives of Japanese companies in Houston for showing your interest in this program. You can never find so many promising young Americans committed to building bonds with Japan.

Next, I wish express my appreciation for Dr. Toshimatsu Matsumoto: you have been a cornerstone of Texas’s effort to select the best candidates since the first year of the program in 1987. I do not know how many JET participants have left from Texas and Oklahoma for Japan with your blessing, but their contributions to our bilateral relations must be great. Thank you Dr. Matsumoto.

And, as some of you may know, Ryan Pauley will soon be departing our office for good. I hate to say this as he has been the engine of this JET Program and other programs in our Consulate for the past 7 years. I hope you will join me in thanking him for his tremendous service and wish him good luck in his new life in Australia. Thank you Ryan.

2014 marks the 28th year of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. In over a quarter of a century, JET has become the world’s largest exchange program with 36 representing countries and almost 4,500 current participants. You join a network of tens of thousands of individuals who have come to Japan and shared passions and culture with the people at the most grassroots level of exchange.

This is not my first experience welcoming program participants. In 2001 and 2002 I worked as Director of the Foreign Ministry in charge of this program on the Tokyo side and had the opportunity to address thousands of JET participants attending the Tokyo Orientation that you will take part in next week.

During those years, I participated in discussions with hopes to build upon the already huge success of the JET Program. One of the clearest ideas to emerge was a plan to expand and structure the JET Alumni Association through national leadership conferences and create an international group, JETAA International, to collaborate across the globe. With more than 57,000 Alumni since the program’s start, I’m happy to note that our efforts then have matured and the Alumni Association is organized and has become more vital than ever before, even here in Houston.
The JET Program has two primary goals: to improve foreign language education in Japan and to advance mutual understanding between Japan and other countries. JETs are an indispensable tool for education. For too long Japan’s focus on English language has been on reading comprehension. Citing my personal example, while my education helped me to understand great novels like “Tremendous Trifles” by G.K. Chesterton and “Final Diagnosis” by Arthur Hailey, they did not add much to my listening or conversation skills. The creation of the JET Program was an answer to the lack of outgoing language training. With that in mind I challenge you to create new language-learning activities and teach engaging activities beyond the textbook for the benefit of eager Japanese students.

I am also glad to note that many JETs often go far beyond the basic duties and serve as heartfelt community ambassadors, sharing not only culture, but developing a personal connection.

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Tohoku has been given the hard task to rebuild after the devastation. I noticed that seven of you are heading to the Tohoku Region. I am sure your presence will be a tremendous encouragement for the boys and girls who are determined to stay in Tohoku and be a part of the reconstruction process. I assure you– not only those of you traveling to Tohoku, but all of you moving to cities and towns throughout Japan – any involvement you can bring to your town will open you to a richer experience.

Another important element of your stay in Japan I would like to mention is the strengthening of Japan- U.S. alliance following the recent new interpretation of the Japanese constitution on collective self-defense. This is a bold, historic decision as was commented by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. I believe there will be a significant political debate in Japan on how we forge an elevated dimension of the Japan-U.S. cooperation and I hope you can benefit from this timing during your stay in Japan to witness this important period of our bilateral relations.

In closing, I wish you the best of luck as you explore your new home in Japan. All of us here today are proud of you and wish you each a wonderful experience. I hope that you will spend your days learning more about Japan, our culture and our people while at the same time sharing with your new community the best that America has to offer.

Thank you very much.