TOKYO -- About 5,200 foreigners are expected to be working in Japanese municipalities through a government-run exchange program this summer, passing the 5,000 mark for the first time in a decade amid the rise in tourism and a growing foreign population in the country.
Many new participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program began arriving in the country late last month. Under the program, the national government recruits and sends young college graduates to localities based on their requests. The local governments are then responsible for training and paying the workers for the needed tasks.
The city of Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture, for example, is planning to increase the number of foreign English-language teaching assistants by 40% to 84 -- or at least one for each of its public elementary and middle schools. Nagayo in Nagasaki Prefecture is getting its first such teaching assistant in 15 years.
Many regions also need help providing services to a growing foreign population. Shizuoka Prefecture takes participants from the Philippines who can translate or interpret for the rapidly expanding Filipino community there.
Tourism is another factor. The town of Hiraizumi, home to the renowned Chusonji Temple, mainly receives tourists from Asia. It is taking part in JET for the first time by accepting an American staffer, who it hopes will help attract more visitors from the U.S. and Europe. It is looking for advice on its English-language websites, as well as on how local stores can better serve tourists.
The JET program began in 1987 as a way to promote grassroots cultural exchange and ease the strain caused by trade frictions between Japan and the U.S. Over 6,000 foreigners participated at its peak in 2002, but a number of municipalities have since withdrawn from the program because of budget constraints.