NEW YORK (Kyodo) U.S. alumni of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program are calling on the Japanese government to continue the international exchange and teaching program, now under review for spending cuts, saying it is essential for bilateral understanding.

In a press release issued Sunday after its three-day annual meeting in New York, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Alumni Association of the United States said the program is “crucial to Japan’s international outreach and to increasing mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S.”

The alumni group said it “hopes that upon review the Japanese government will rediscover the necessity and value of the JET program.”

The release said U.S. alumni of the JET program are working as a bridge to promote mutual understanding. Some alumni continue to make an impact at the grassroots level in Japan, including Anthony Bianchi, a municipal assembly member in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, and Toby Weymiller, who is building an environmentally sustainable cafe in Hokkaido.

Under the program, the government every year invites mainly university graduates to teach foreign languages as part of efforts to promote international grassroots exchanges in local communities across Japan.

Now the program is under review by the government amid strained national finances. Japan’s public debt is the worst among the Group of Eight major economies.

More than 40 people from 19 chapters across the United States participated in the national conference, with Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki and Shinichi Nishimiya, ambassador and consul general in New York, invited as guest speakers.

Some 54,000 people have participated in the JET program since 1987.

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