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Translating, Editing, Teaching and Chaperoning for the JET Program

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-11-03

Elaine Davis from Seattle has been working in the Okinawa City Culture Center since her arrival two and a half months ago. Her presence is part of the Japanese government’s JET program, putting foreign participants in public sector work placements all over the country. She is contracted to the City Hall’s Culture Promotion Division job for a year, with an option of renewing for a further two years. “I have learnt such a lot since I’ve been here” she says and expects to go on learning throughout her first year, at the end of which she will certainly renew her contract for another year. Whether she stays for a third year, will be decided when the time comes.

Elaine’s mother is Japanese and although she grew up in North America, Japanese culture was kept alive for her by her mother’s observance of home country customs such as New Year celebrations and Girls’ Day. Although Elaine mostly spoke English at home, she did practice the language of the other half of her heritage with other children at times like summer vacations.

She heard of the JET program while she was at university, studying accountancy and Japanese. “Ninety percent of applicants join out of college” says Elaine, with most intending to further their knowledge of some aspect of Japanese culture they have already become interested in.

Most JET volunteers become English teachers and they are able to join the program without Japanese language skills. In Elaine’s line of work, though, it is necessary to be able to communicate in Japanese. There are over ten like her in Okinawa’s different city offices and there are five in the prefectural office. Their nationalities are very varied, including Australian, British, Chinese and Korean. There are over 6000 participants in the JET scheme nationwide.

“The program is very flexible, adapted to peoples’ different strengths, says Elaine. One of her responsibilities is to produce a monthly newsletter for the foreign community in Okinawa City. This lists festivals, music events, theater and sports. There are also various news items informing readers about civic projects and a feature of the editor’s devising, “Bug of the Month” presenting little known facts about insects like cicadas and cockroaches.

One half of the Culture Promotion Division is concerned with the running of two theaters, the Civic Center and the Ashibina Theatre. Elaine is kept busy translating the music program for these.

She also does other translation work for City Hall. One example was when their Environmental Division needed a flyer on the new recycling program, requiring householders to separate tin, glass and paper. Another was when a brochure was needed for mapping a community center.

The other half of the CPD is the International Division, which is involved in projects like organizing the upcoming 11th International Carnival. This has performing arts, a parade, fireworks and a bull fight. It also has a flea market at the Okinawa City Agricultural training Center from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on November 2 which is soliciting buyers and sellers. Anyone interested should contact 932 6954.

The International Division also recently organized a two week trip to Lakewood, Washington for eight junior high school children. Elaine met them a month before the journey to prepare them and acted as chaperone and advisor while they were there, staying with host families.

Another project organized by the office is offering a scholarship for six months of every year, for someone abroad with an Okinawan family heritage. The current scholar is a Bolivian girl, fluent in Japanese because she has always spoken it at home, who has come here to do a computer course, as well as to study Taiko, Okinawan cooking and the Sanshin.

Elaine was not sent here as an English teacher but she has started giving English classes to a senior citizens group every Friday morning, a ten week program which she says she enjoys very much.

Another possible future scheme in the educational field might be to go around the city’s elementary schools, doing a day of cultural exchange, such as the teaching of English songs.

Elaine says one of the enriching aspects of her time here has been discovering how different the local culture is to that of the mainland in, for example, cooking and dance styles. She learnt Eisa dance three times a week in preparation for last month’s big Eisa festival and was gratified to be able to take part in the festival.

As to what she will do when her JET time comes to an end, Elaine says she enjoys working with people, rather than the endless numbers her accountancy training prepared her for. She may go into public relations and a move to the mainland, once her time in Okinawa is up, is a possibility.

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