JET Calls in Favors in Tohoku

The Wall Street Journal
By Cheng Herng Shinn


Since 1987, the Japan Exchange and Teaching program has been paying keen young foreigners to experience life across Japan in return for spending some time teaching each week.

For many former JET participants, it’s the experience of a lifetime, and the start of a lifelong bond with the country.

Associated Press
A fishing boat washed ashore by the March 11 tsunami sits at Shiogama port, Miyagi prefecture, where former English teachers recently revisited as part of a government program.

Now JET is looking for something in return:  It’s inviting selected alumni to visit schools where they once taught in areas struck by the March 11 disasters to get the word out via blogs and social media that reconstruction is afoot and Tohoku is open for business.

Tanya Gardecky, a 24-year-old from Canada, was one of 20 chosen for the project put together by the Japan Tourism Agency and JET. The JET program has come under the microscope of late having been deemed unnecessary by a government unit looking into wasteful spending in May 2010. The program survived the witch hunt, but its budget was cut by more than 15%.

Other JET alumni who returned to Japan before Ms. Gardecky have already started posting photos on the Internet via Facebook. Her weeklong trip took her to schools in the coastal city of Shiogama and the Urato islands, both in Miyagi prefecture, where she taught until last August.

“I expected much more damage but it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Ms. Gardecky said of her impressions of Shiogama on arrival. Though affected by the tsunami, the city of about 60,000 people wasn’t as severely damaged as many others.

According to the ministry of environment, 94% of the debris in Miyagi prefecture has been cleared. But signs of damage are still evident: Women crouched wiping mud off pens one at a time in a closed stall provided Ms. Gardecky with a stark reminder of the devastation wrought by the disasters.

Ms. Gardecky went on to visit her former students in a school in the Urato islands. What would usually take 40 minutes by ferry took an hour because of debris floating in the water. The principal had warned her about the damage the island suffered, but when she arrived, Ms. Gardecky was still taken aback.

“I finally saw the damage I was told about. I was honestly shocked and upset,” Ms. Gardeckywrote in her blog. “Walking around the island I saw massive piles of scrap metal and wood, which used to be houses.”

The island was without water for two months, and electricity wasn’t restored until July. But for all the hardship her former students had to endure, she said they were bursting with energy when they saw Ms. Gardecky.

“The people are doing well and, for the most part, do not want to complain about the losses they have suffered,” she wrote in an email. “Japan still seems very safe to me.”

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