JQ&A with JET Alum Robert A. Fish, Japan Society’s Director of Education and Lecture Programs



"I applied to the JET Program after three years of high school teaching. The Japanese public education system was held in high esteem at the time and I also felt that I could learn something from the 'gold standard' of educational systems."


By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle is entering a master’s program at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University (MIA 2013) and has been writing for the JET Alumni Association since 2004. He is also the goalkeeper for FC Japan, a NYC-based soccer team.

JET alumn Robert Fish (Wakayama-ken, 1996-97) joined New York’s Japan Societyin May 2006 as Director of Education and Lecture Programs. Fish previously served as an Assistant Professor of East Asian history at Indiana State University, where he worked extensively with pre-service teachers. Fish earned a BA in History at Yale University, an MA in Educational Administration at New York University, and a Ph.D. in Japanese History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

His research focuses on the history of childhood and education in 20th century Japan, and includes a book manuscript near completion about the history of “mixed-blood” orphans in postwar Japan as well as publications regarding the history “textbook controversy” in Japan.

Tell us about your background.

I studied History at Yale University and taught World History East at my secondary school alma mater, Tenafly High School, in Bergen County, New Jersey. At that time, I didn’t have a strong knowledge base in the region and wanted to learn more about Japan, so I applied to the JET Program after three years of high school teaching. Plus, the Japanese public education system was held in high esteem at the time and I also felt that I could learn something from the “gold standard” of educational systems.

I spent one year teaching English in Wakayama and then enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Japanese History at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. After graduating, I saw two strong career possibilities. One was to go back to teaching at secondary schools, and the second was to pursue a path in academia. I chose the academic one and spent a year teaching at Michigan State University and then Indiana State University, where I was on a tenure track.

Why did you leave academia?

I enjoyed teaching, writing and doing research in Japanese history, but I felt that this opportunity allowed me to develop a real passion of mine: to help primary and secondary teachers teach Japanese history and culture.

How did you get the job at Japan Society?

I applied through an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It was a “cold” application, meaning that I did not personally know anyone within the organization

Tell us about your current job.

The primary goal is to help teachers teach more effectively about Japan at the national level.  Secondly, we help children learn directly through social networking—we promote children to children connections between the United States and Japan. Third, we introduce children to Japan through family programming.

How do you help educators?

We divide our professional development activities into three areas: by offering teacher workshops, by organizing study tours to Japan, and by providing an online resource called About Japan.

The workshops provide K-12 educators with an opportunity to interact with Japan experts to improve their teaching about Japan. They range from half-day seminars to 36-hour workshops offering professional development credits. These workshops introduce recent scholarships and place Japanese culture and history in a larger East Asian or global context.

The Study Tours for Educators brings classroom teachers, school administrators and school librarians to Japan for three weeks, and include a homestay, visits to schools, meetings with scholars on Japanese culture and society, and visits to important historical and cultural sites.  Prior to departure, all participants attend a 30-hour educator workshop and introductory language study. Upon returning to the U.S., they attend a workshop to incorporate their experiences into new lesson plans.

The online resource, About Japan, provides extensive materials to help teachers create improved lesson plans about Japan. Starting in the fall of 2011, we will introduce far more multimedia materials, documents in translation, and materials to help teach about both language and the environment.

Can you tell us about the social networking project?

The Going Global Social Networking Project is designed to engage students from the United States and Japan in educational international exchange. Currently, we are also involving students from Pakistan and in the future we hope to expand to even more countries, such as India, China and South Korea. Right now, the project is in the “pilot stage” and we plan to officially launch it in September 2011.

Examples of scheduled projects include: A Day in the Life, wherein teens document a day in the life of their school/town, a Self-Introduction Project, where they will prepare oral introductions in English or Japanese and then ask foreign peers three specific questions; Responding to Art Project, which involves the creation of artwork (in a medium of their choice) in response to a set theme; and a Debate the Issue Project. All of these projects provide practical opportunities to learn about foreign cultures firsthand and learn how to utilize social media to effectively collaborate with their peers at home and abroad. The wide diversity of projects, such as art-themed projects, should attract students not ordinarily interested in international exchange or foreign languages.

Can you tell us about the family events?

We provide interactive, hands-on programming here at the Society that introduces children to Japanese culture through art, music, dance, children’s theatre, storytelling, and other activities.  Our annual festival series includes the New Year’s Festival, the Doll Festival (Girl’s Day), Children’s Day, the Star Festival, and the Shichigosan (7-5-3) Ceremony.

Are you involved with Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund?

All of the departments here at Japan Society are involved in the Earthquake Relief Fund.  Through June 30, Japan Society will absorb 100% of administrative costs for the fund, meaning 100% of the donations will go towards earthquake relief.  In addition, 50% of all admission and ticket revenue will also go to the relief fund through June 30. As of June 1, the amount raised is $8.3 million.

Vist Japan Society online at www.japansociety.org.