Though the current JETAA-I model began in 2016, JETAA-I has existed since the 1990s.
Note: As this overview was put together by Japan Local Government Center / CLAIR New York, it will focus on JETAA activities in North America. It also covers the development of JETAA International since these originated there as well.
This history is meant to be maintained and expanded, to include information on
other regions such as Europe, Asia and Oceania.
Beginnings of JET and JETAA-I
JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program(me), began in 1987, after its two predecessors, the Monbusho English Fellows program and the British English Teachers Scheme, were consolidated and expanded.
JETAA, the JET Alumni Association, was created in 1989 by charter as a joint initiative between AJET (the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching, for JETs currently on the Program) and CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations). Two main objectives were to provide a support network for participants after leaving the Program, and to allow CLAIR to maintain contact with this alumni community as part of Japan’s efforts to strengthen its international ties.
Scott Olinger led the effort to create JETAA. He was the AJET representative for Chiba Prefecture before going to work as a Program Coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo. AJET and CLAIR both had input into the original 1989 set of bylaws (“regulations”), which were drafted by Scott, and which designated target cities for chapter formation. These target cities were located in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, US and Japan.
Both organizations then agreed to adopt the bylaws, including the list of cities to have chapters and the provision that CLAIR would act as the alumni association’s Secretariat, maintaining a membership database and sending out a membership directory and quarterly newsletters. (Both the directory and the quarterly newsletters have since been discontinued.)
The growing alumni and first meetings
While the original target cities were designated in the 1989 bylaws, most chapter formation appears to have happened fairly spontaneously as ex-JETs returned home and started working to network with their fellow alumni. As JETAA developed, the Grant-in-aid system was established in 1998 to introduce continuity and accountability into CLAIR funding for chapters and facilitate long-term support for alumni efforts (GiA for conferences and Country Representatives came later).
The first JETAA “International Conference” was held in 1995 in New York. The director of Japan Local Government Center (CLAIR’s overseas office in New York) at that time, Mr. Otaki, wanted to learn about the chapters’ activities and give them a chance to exchange ideas among themselves. The entire conference was funded by CLAIR, as were the second in San Francisco and third in Montreal. This seems to have changed from the fourth, held in Atlanta. The original conference format centered around the North American chapters, with three representatives from overseas chapters first invited to the Montreal conference in 1997 as observers.
However, by the fifth conference (Los Angeles,1999), there had developed a strong consensus to make the conference truly “international” by also holding it in places outside North America and including representatives from all countries with viable chapters as full participants in an independent, self-governing organization with its own bylaws written by alumni.
The first JETAA International bylaws were introduced in 1999, although the concept of “JETAA International” had clearly arisen before this time.
Also, around this time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) demanded a greater role in the conference, resulting in a shift away from its being mainly a CLAIR / alumni event. The 2000 conference, held in Tokyo, along the lines of the 1999 conference with all international chapters participating as full voting members, was the first of these new conferences. Each of the 43 chapters then recognized was invited to send two delegates. There were ultimately 84 delegates, with only Germany and Alaska sending one each. Brazil and Russia each sent two observers.
Election of the Committee
From the 2001 conference in London, England, JETAA-I began wrestling with the issue of scaling down and rethinking its annual conference, and its entire organizational structure, because of the increasingly severe fiscal situation in Japan and indications that funding and support could no longer be maintained at the levels enjoyed up to that point.
Getting to work
Besides the fundamental issues of JET Program recruiting and alumni support, chapters at the regional and international levels began focusing more heavily on issues of communication, effective organization, coordinated action, and database development.
The Vancouver conference in 2002 was devoted to these issues, and members worked on ideas and proposals through 2003, when there was no conference, in preparation for the 2004 conference in New York (officially listed as the 2003 / 2004 Int’l Conference). This was held in February, breaking with the tradition of holding the International Conference in November or December, as had been done up until then.
In New York it was officially decided to try to hold an “International Conference” (with both country and chapter reps) once every five years, probably in Japan, and an “International Meeting” (with only country reps) in each of the intervening years, at some venue around the world. The last of these annual international conferences, or the first one on the “five year plan”, was set for Japan for the following year.
The first of the ‘International Meetings’ was held in Portland, Oregon, in November of 2004, devoted to discussion of changes (voting procedures, etc.) that would need to be made to the JETAA-I bylaws and to how members communicate and work together, given the new reality of no more full, annual conferences after the Aichi / Kobe conference in 2005. The JETAA-I executive officers and sub-committee members during and after Portland put together a package of proposed bylaw amendments to present to the alumni at the Aichi / Kobe conference, where they were formally adopted during the parliamentary session.
The smaller-scale International Meetings were then held in Sydney in November of 2006, Toronto in 2007, Paris in 2008, Kingston in 2009, and Edinburgh in 2010. MOFA announced at the Edinburgh meeting that they would no longer provide funding for international gatherings. An International Meeting was held in Tokyo in 2011, however, using funding from the Japan Foundation instead, but no International Conference or Meeting has been held since, until the reorganisation and relaunch of JETAA-I v2 for the 30th anniversary celebrations of the JET Programme, held in Tokyo in 2016.
The new v2.0 IM established a three-year cycle for the organisation of each conference. The 2019 IM established procedures for maintaining progress on projects and provided a forum for discussion of matters important to alumni at the time. For more information on all IMs since 2016, please see our International Meetings page.
Major issues and accomplishments
It would be very difficult to discuss the accomplishments of each conference, with focus and funding shifting over time as JET and JETAA evolved.
For JETAA-I, there were major gatherings like the 1999 L.A. conference, which was pivotal in determining the direction and character of JETAAI and regional groupings of chapters within it; or the 2005 Aichi / Kobe conference, with the creation of the CMS (leading to all the ramifications of its failure) and bylaw provisions for a pared-down combination of large and small international gatherings, and which, arguably, set the stage for a more regional focus for chapter activity in place of attempts to create a global structure. The same is true on the national level, with, for example, the 2010 and 2011 US conferences being pivotal in creating a sense of national identity and laying the groundwork for the US National Capacity Project, proposed in 2012 and agreed to by the JETAA USA chapters in 2013, which produced the national nonprofit USJETAA. The 2015 Global Forum and 2016 International Meeting, both held in Tokyo, were critical in ratifying the groundwork for JETAAI 2.0 and launching it officially on the world stage.
On both levels, however, other conferences have either produced small but lasting results (logo marks, JETAA merchandise, improved communications, stronger ties among chapters, etc.), or have left little if any discernable benefit in their wake. Very often, these accomplishments, too, have been the fruit of initiatives or ideas spanning several years, and are not necessarily attributable to any one conference. Basic topics over the years have remained fairly constant, though: Communications, increasing member involvement, funding and fundraising, engaging with the community, creating a brand or identity for JETAA/JETAAI, etc.
In looking at the evolution of JETAA, it is interesting to note that it was originally conceived of as an extension of AJET, with groups referred to as “Regional Associations” of AJET, and the 1989 “regulations” were patterned on the AJET charter. A few years after this, looking at how the alumni and JLGC viewed JETAA, documents from around the time of the first conference in 1995 refer not to “JETAA chapters”, but rather to “each JETAA”. The term “JETAA” indicated each separate, individual ‘regional association’, and did not refer to any sort of collective identity or larger group. The development of the distinct collective identity denoted today by the term “JETAA” is probably one of the biggest accomplishments achieved over the years.