When Englishman David Chandler arrived in Japan in 1995 he never imagined he’d publish an award-winning book. Neither did he foresee that one day he would be sitting in the office of Japan’s prime minister discussing his JET experience.
“All I knew was that I was bored with my former life in England,” Chandler remarked during a recent visit to Tokyo. “I was ready for a change, and coming to Japan seemed like a good, safe choice.”
It was not Chandler’s first experience living abroad. After graduating from Kent University with a degree in American Studies, he interned in Washington for the Democratic National Committee, where he wrote the education policy report for the ’92 Clinton election campaign. Returning to London, he worked in Parliament with a number of Liberal Democrat MPs, but after three years he was ready to move on.
Hearing about the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, Chandler applied and was accepted as an assistant language teacher. Like many young people in the JET program, he was assigned to a public high school in rural Japan. That was 1998.
Chandler considered himself lucky. He was placed at Nagano High School, a school known for academic excellence. Also, because of the Winter Olympic activities going on at the time, he commented, “Nagano was a fantastic place to be.”
One of the highlights of his experience in Nagano was volunteering as a cultural assistant to the British Olympic team. This was the beginning of a friendship with Chris Moon, the anti-land mine campaigner who lost an arm and leg in Mozambique in 1995 and was invited to Nagano to run with the Olympic torch into the stadium during the Games’ opening ceremony.
Like many other ALTs placed in rural areas, however, Chandler’s first year in Japan was full of challenges. “I was not only starting a new life. I was also faced with the difficulties of adjusting to the Japanese way of doing things,” Chandler recalls.
In order to make sense of his cross-cultural experiences, he started writing. Around this time, Chandler heard about an essay contest sponsored by the Kyoto International Culture Association. He decided to write an essay critical of Japan’s English-language education system and, to his surprise, his essay was chosen as a finalist. He was invited to present the essay in front of a panel of 12 judges in Kyoto.
“Before I arrived at the assembly area, it dawned on me that my criticism of Japan was culturally biased,” Chandler remarked. “I was not seeing the Japanese side of things.”
When it was time for Chandler to approach the podium, he surprised the judges by discarding his essay and voicing fresh ideas. He missed the prize, but the experience gave him the impetus to write a book.
Every year there is a turnover of thousands of foreign teachers in Japan, and little of their knowledge and experience is passed on to newcomers when they leave. This alarmed Chandler. His answer: “The JET Programme: Getting Both Feet Wet.”
“The idea for ‘Getting Both Feet Wet’ took shape during my second year in Japan,” Chandler explained. “I saw a need for a kind of ‘survival guide’ that addresses the difficulties many foreigners face, especially those in the JET program, teaching in the Japanese school system.”
He discussed his ideas with fellow ALT and friend David Kootnikoff, who joined him in coediting the book. After hours of discussion, they concluded that to effectively address the conflicts many foreign teachers face, it was important to articulate both perspectives.
“Through the JET network, we contacted both foreign and Japanese teachers and supervisors working in public schools and city offices,” Chandler explained. “We asked each of them to write about their experience with the JET program.”
The essays were divided into seven chapters, with each including an essay from a Japanese and foreign JET participant on their specialty, whether it be teaching in a junior high school or working in a local city office. The book took a year to complete, with many late-night discussions among the contributors. Finally, only three days before Chandler was to leave Japan to begin a new life as a graduate student back in England, he completed the final edit.
While in England and looking for a publisher, he approached Nicolas Maclean, who in 1977 first proposed the concept of the British English Teaching program, a forerunner of the JET program. Maclean’s relations with such prominent politicians as Toshiki Kaifu and Jun’ichiro Koizumi were instrumental in creating the present JET program 10 years later.
Maclean applauded Chandler’s efforts, offered to write the book’s preface and introduced him to the head of the Sasagawa Foundation, which provided 2,500 British pound of the 3,000 British pound needed to get the first 1,000 copies printed.
“The JET Programme: Getting Both Feet Wet” was published in 1999 and the following year received the Japan Festival Award for its contribution to developing awareness of Japan in England. Through such recognition, word of mouth and Chandler’s Web site ( www.jetprogramme.com ), the book now reaches a growing number of young people around the world interested in the JET experience.
“What I would like now is to have the book published in Japanese, so that people here in Japan can benefit from the insights we have gathered,” Chandler said.
Toward these efforts, he met with Koizumi in March, and the future prime minister expressed his support for the project.