While serving in the Lower House, Jun Saito worked to correct regional disparities in education through legislation.
Today, the former 42-year-old Diet member is taking a hands-on approach, through his English cram schools in Tokyo.
On a recent day, six first- and second-year junior high school students read aloud together from an English-language picture book. Their voices, softer at first, steadily grow louder and more confident ...
"Hop on Pop ..."
Saito opened his cram schools this spring for junior high and high school students in Tokyo's Jiyugaoka district and in his hometown of Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture.
He was elected to the Lower House in a 2002 by-election as a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, but lost in the following year's general election. He then went to the United States, where he taught political science at Yale, a prestigious American university in New Haven, Conn., until March.
Saito returned to Japan to care for his mother. Despite offers from Japanese universities, he opted instead to open English cram schools, his pet project over the past 10 years or so. He made his decision because he believes, "Japanese people lose out big time because they can't speak English."
In his hometown as a teenager, Saito had little opportunity in his daily life to come in contact with English. He worked hard on his listening comprehension through movies and shortwave radio broadcasts and interpreted for foreign students on homestays in Japan. But when he went to the United States to study in his third year of college, he realized his English was far from sufficient.
"I want to make that roundabout route I had to take as short as possible for today's kids," he says.
In his first school year of teaching, Saito recruited around 20 students in Sakata and 30 in Tokyo. His students say his lessons are "much more interesting than classes at school where the teacher just writes on the blackboard."
In the future, Saito wants to teach democratic theory and other subjects in English. He also aspires to create a "small university" where students hold discussions in English.
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