15 Mar 2016

3.11, US-Japan Relations, and the JET Alumn

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The Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and the Washington, DC, chapter of the JET Alumni Association partnered in hosting a special 5th anniversary commemoration of the March 11, 2011, disasters in Tohoku.

The event, “The Role of JET Alumni in US-Japan Cooperation”, was held at the Mayflower Hotel and featured a discussion between Matthew Fuller, JET alumnus and former Special Assistant to Ambassador John V. Roos, and Suzanne Basalla, former Senior Advisor to Ambassador Roos, who reminisced about their experience together working in the US Embassy in Tokyo during and after 3.11 (they were together in a meeting with the Ambassador when the earthquake struck) and exploring the ways in which Matthew Fuller’s JET experience helped inform his work for the Ambassador. Beyond a the deeper familiarity with Japan and its people that comes from living and working there, he cited his experience teaching in a small village in Aichi Prefecture as having helped him through teaching him how to interact diplomatically with people to avoid awkward or unpleasant situations, as well as how to be flexible and build relationships. He also spoke about the work he and others in the Embassy did to preserve the Program during the years it was on the chopping block, recognizing the important role it plays in supporting the US-Japan relationship. This was further highlighted by the fact that there were 25 JET alumni working in the US Embassy during 3.11 and the State Department was able to supply surge capacity in the weeks following the disasters by bringing in alumni who were working in other diplomatic outposts around the world. He also cited the fact that once the number of JETs is increased to the target set by the Abe Administration (roughly 6,400), there will be more JETs than there are members of the US Diplomatic Corps.

After the discussion, Wesley Julian, Director and Producer of Tohoku Tomo and The 113 Project, gave a few brief remarks prior to screening Tohoku Tomo in its entirety, along with announcing the launch of the 113 Project short videos that are now available online. He was joined at the event by Canon Purdy and Cameron Peek, two alumni who are featured in TT.

The event was followed by a wonderful reception, where participants were able to talk with Jean and Andy Anderson, parents of Taylor Anderson, and Shelley Fredrickson, sister of Monty Dickson, the two JETs who were lost to the tsunami on 3.11.

It was as very moving and informative evening, and a wonderful opportunity for many very active supporters of the JET Program and JETAA to come together and talk in person beyond the normal one-to-one emails and other JETAA-related communications through which they are connected.

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Matthew Gillam
March 2016