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The Japan Experience

Teaching with the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program

Over a period of more than 50 years the Fulbright Commission has sponsored over 6,000 Japanese students and professionals to work and study in this country. As a way of saying “thank you” while fostering international friendship, the Japanese government established the Fulbright Memorial Fund in 1997. Three times a year the program selects 200 educators from every state for a 3-week, all-expenses-paid program that gives primary and secondary school teachers a firsthand experience of Japanese education and culture.

I was one of the 200 teachers selected to participate in the program last summer. Teachers from all 50 states began with a 1-day orientation at the Sheraton Hotel in San Francisco. Thanks to flawless organization we all met again the next evening at the 5-star New Otani hotel in Tokyo, where we were awed by the mixture of technology and tradition. Our private rooms had hot water ready for tea, a bathroom telephone, and a 3-button toilet. The meals were so beautifully arranged that we felt compelled to photograph the plate each time we sat down to eat.

Together, we visited some cultural sights of Tokyo and attended lectures on Japanese education, economics, government, art, literature, and theater. We savored much that is traditional Japan: the temples, the tea ceremony, origami, kabuki, sushi, saki, and the fish market.

After six days, the original group of 200 split into 10 groups of 20 and went out to different prefectures, or states, for 10 days to visit classrooms and experience a homestay. My group visited Fukuyama City in the Hiroshima prefecture.

We greatly appreciated the invitation by the Japanese government to walk freely through the classrooms and were impressed by the great diligence and love of learning we saw in primary and secondary education. We also respected the candor of the lecturers and teachers in describing some of the current difficulties in higher education. For all of us, the Fulbright Memorial Fund experience was just the beginning of our understanding of the Japanese educational system and culture.

To learn more about the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, contact the Institute for International Education, 1400K St., NW, Suite 650, Washington, DC 20005-2403; 888-JAPAN-JFM, fax 202-326-7698; fmf@iie.org, www.iie.org/pgms/fmf.

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