A n announcement at the Foreign Ministry last week that Japan and Ireland have agreed to let their young people work part-time in each other’s countries for up to a year was a reminder of how much benefit flows from the little-mentioned but widely utilized “working holiday program.”

With this new partnership, Japan now participates in reciprocal working holiday visa schemes with eight countries. The first agreement was struck with Australia almost 26 years ago, and the purpose was straightforward: to enable young Japanese and Australians between the ages of 18 and 25 (and in exceptional cases 30) to experience more of each other’s cultures than would be possible if they couldn’t keep themselves afloat financially with casual jobs.

Similar partnerships have since been established with New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany and Britain.

A Canadian teacher who worked and traveled in Japan in 1996 is quoted on the ministry’s Web site as saying, “The program opens the door of possibilities in Japan.” Over the years, tens of thousands of young Japanese have also seen doors of possibility open for them abroad by virtue of this program. Not only do participants get to stay in a partner country longer than they would as regular tourists, they are given the chance to dig below the shiny but superficial layer of tourism and experience the ordinary, workaday realities of a place.

The latest agreement, which goes into effect next January and will kick off celebrations to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between Ireland and Japan, certainly should appeal to young Japanese with a taste for something different. Thanks to the European Union, Ireland has blossomed into one of the most dynamic economies in the region and presumably has plenty of part-time jobs available.

As the Irish minister for enterprise and trade said at the Foreign Ministry last week when the scheme was launched, it has also become “a gateway to Europe for many Japanese companies.” If some of us were young, we’d be there in a heartbeat.

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