You’d have to be a dunce to be employed in the eikaiwa industry. Photo credit Stack Jones.
You’ve seen the pale blue Kumon signs taped in windows of dilapidated apartments, tacked on the exterior wall of a building, or hastily draped over a balcony. You’ve seen the Peppy Kid Clubs, and the like, sprawled across every backwater community, dubiously occupying structures so insignificant that they aren’t fit for storage, let alone an environment conducive to education. Take a peek inside one of these unlicensed institutions, and you’re quick to discover barren walls, cheap uncomfortable furnishings, or just a few worn cushions tossed on the floor. Take a closer look and you’ll notice the decaying rice paper that reeks of mould and old age, that and a patchwork of cheap commercial carpeting, so heavily worn, that they’ve become blackened, brought about through years of neglect. Welcome to the environment of the typical employment experience in Japan!
Sadly, eikaiwas are more often than not, fly-by-night schemes that carry odd designations such as Wilbur’s Playpen, Brainy Kids, English Baby Sitting School, (where a child was recently murdered), Kiddy College, Yes You Can English, Space Cadet Academy, Billy’s Club, or Junior’s Playhouse.
Berlitz, CoCo Juku, GEOS, Nova, Peppy Kid’s Club, are but a few of the exploitative “educational” working environments that exist in Japan.
Parents all across Japan are targeted, inundated, pressured, and duped into paying enormous fees to institutions that promise an open door to the unfamiliar world of English immersion. In reality these companies offer as little as they can get away with, for as much as they can steal from their unsuspecting clients.
An excellent example of fraud in the industry is iTTTi Japan Co. Ltd., aka Peppy Kids Club, a company that requires a 400,000 ¥ per student sign up fee. After parents pay that initial expense, they are then required to pay additional monthly fees, and thereafter are pressured by trained sales staff to pay for “special” summer, Halloween, and Christmas packages which are tailored toward adding to the profit margin of the company rather than an actual educational experiences.
iTTTi’s website claims to have 95,000 students, 1200 Japanese staff, and 340 foreigners. The website has posted the exact same claim for several years. A handful of “testimonials” on the website displays only English names, with fake silhouetted images that make those testimonials suspect. Those same testimonials have remained on the companies website for several years, having never been updated.
iTTTi promises a top-level English education environment. In reality it offers four classes each month, three that are taught by Japanese woman who often can’t communicate at a beginner level of English. While some can’t speak English at all. The fourth class is taught by an exhausted “native” who’s forced to commute long hours on foot, by train, by bus, or a combination thereof, to the far reaches of every rice paddy that exists in the country. Take away the special lessons, the exposure to a foreign teacher adds up to about nine lessons a year. Quite often, (more often than not) that “teacher” has little or no teaching experience. Don’t take my word for it, just ask a PKC student the fundamental question, “How old are you?” Most likely they’ll give the same response that a child who has never had a lesson would give; “I’m fine thank you, and you?” Ninety-five thousand students exposed to a mere nine lessons a year? For bloated fees! Is there any wonder the Japanese can’t speak English at all?
But wait, there’s more!
The innumerable issues aren’t just educational related. At PKC, kids have fallen out of second story school (apartment) windows, resulting in serious injuries. Children have also been hit by cars, and at least one has died as a result of the company’s reckless management. One former PKC teacher who had only been in Japan for two weeks was struck by a car and killed while returning to the train station after a day of work. In the civil proceedings, PKC argued that the act of returning to the train station did not fall within the scope of employment, and refused to compensate the victim’s family. PKC lost that argument, as the company requires all (foreign) teachers to use designated walking, train, or bus routes to travel to and from work. It must be noted that no such requirement is imposed upon the Japanese employees that work for the company.
During training, iTTTi deceives teachers into believing the company will cover the cost of a taxis where the commute to a school is far from a train station. In fact, iTTTi does not pay taxi fees from a station to a school location. iTTTi also requires its teacher to make long distance phone calls to “phone in” to the Nagoya office, and “check in.” The calls are made at the teacher’s expense. So remember, if you’re somehow duped into working for iTTTi, expect a three-kilometer walk from a train station, after a ninety-minute train ride, to some far off vastness. Consider that you will be making these lengthy commutes in the midst of a deep winter blizzard, a torrential downpour, or a mid-summer humid heat wave. Make sure you’re always on time, or be prepared to be fined three days salary, which is illegal and violates Japan’s labor laws. Those that have challenged these fraudulent fines have returned to their company supplied housing, to discover their personal property tossed out onto the street, and the locks changed on the apartment.
PKC also refuses to employ Japanese male teachers. This violates the Equal Protection Clause of Japan’s Constitution. Regardless, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and the Ministry of Education have ever taken such an important fundamental right seriously. This is because in Japan, “customary norms” within a business environment takes precedence over the rights of an individual and the constitutional provisions that were written to protect them. As a result, when a labor dispute arises, one can expect different legal determinations, from the exact set of facts, than that of another companies’ policy. The concept of legal uniformity is unknown in Japan.
Chain eikaiwa hiring schemes for Japanese women are appalling. Japanese women work long hours, and are paid much less than that of men who have the same skill set. Women who work for eikaiwas receive the lowest wages possible under Japan’s law, and more often than not, receive no benefits, save the absolute minimum imposed by ever weakening labor standards.
A former iTTTi employee speaks out against power harassment.
PKC uses lockboxes for teachers to enter a work location. Foreign teachers are given no key, and since they work alone, they’d naturally expect to find one in the lockbox upon arriving at their work place. Right? Well, one teacher reported that when they opened the lockbox there was no key inside. As a result , they could not enter the school. This incident took place in Yamagata, in early February, when the temperature was well below zero. To make matters worse, there was a blinding storm, which caused snow to pile high. As a result of iTTTi management negligence, that teacher’s classes had to be cancelled. Being a responsible person, that teacher stood outside in sub-zero conditions for more than an hour, notifying parents that classes had been cancelled. How did management respond? The teacher was not payed for that day, and the companies’ management asked the teacher if he preferred an additional immediate 10,000 ¥ deduction from his salary, or 50,000 ¥ seized from the teacher’s bonus. The teacher chose C. None Of The Above, and filed a complaint with the labor board, based on the irrationality and unreasonableness of that determination. When iTTTi learned of the complaint, the company faxed a document to the teacher, which had the entire teaching schedule blocked out. This was a breach of contract on the part of iTTTi. The fax notified the teacher that they would no longer be teaching, and their employment contract was to be terminated at the end of his contract. The teacher was also ordered to travel long distances to the company headquarters, each day for the remainder of their contract period. This is but one example of the kind of work related harassment that foreign teachers are subjected to on a daily basis in Japan.
The teacher reported these matters to the labor board, and sought redress. The teacher was told to go to the nearest PKC branch during normal teaching hours, and if the company had no teaching duties for them perform, to remain at that location until it was time to leave. iTTTi was furious with the labor board’s determination and attempted to terminate the employee. iTTTi tried to evict the teacher from their residence by throwing their personal property out onto the street, and change the locks on the apartment. iTTTi is notorious for this kind of criminal conduct. The teacher contacted the police, which prevented the unlawful eviction from occurring. The police notified iTTTI that forced evictions were criminal in nature. The police told iTTTi management that an eviction proceeding would have to be filed in a civil complaint, and that such actions could take more than a year to resolve. iTTTi management didn’t like that government decision either, so management contacted the electric, water, and gas companies and attempted to have the utility services discontinued. iTTTI was unsuccessful as the service contracts were exclusive, and the deposits had been paid by the teacher. iTTTi had no legal standing to terminate, or to interfere with those contractual relationships, but this shows how far the company will go to harass a foreigner. It must be noted that each utility company refused to comply with iTTTi’s demand. The teacher’s outstanding salary totaling more than 720,000 ¥ was also never paid. The bonus package of 150,000 ¥ was never received either. This is not an isolated incident at iTTTI. Instead, this is exactly how the majority of eikaiwas treat foreigners over minor issues.
The threat of a forced illegal eviction, and contract termination always loom over the head of a teacher that stands up to power harassment, and irrational conduct of management. Even foreign teachers that are employed by cities find themselves treated as wrongfully as the teacher in the iTTTi example above. One can only imagine how wretched teaching conditions are in countries like China, Cambodia, or Thailand, when Japan reigns as the apex of “democracy” throughout all of Asia.
Dead students. Dead teachers. Dead environs. What MEXT?
With decades of unresolved issues, why is the Ministry of Education (MEXT) silent in all of this? Why does MEXT allow the language teaching industry to remain unregulated when there have been far too many cases of pedophilia, embezzlement, power harassment, poor working conditions, poor educational results, and fraud perpetrated against both students and employees? Why are other educational entities in Japan, both in the public and private sectors required to comply with strict licensing requirements? These requirements apply to elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, technical schools, as well as colleges and universities. Why are eikaiwas subjected to no governmental oversight and allowed to receive occupational licenses where that entity has no background in education? When the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and the Ministry of Education were contacted and asked these questions, both governmental agencies failed to respond. Apparently, fraud, sex crimes, and deplorable working conditions merit little for a Japanese governmental agency to intervene.
Who’s that knocking at my door? Again!
With the fervor of a brainwashed religious revival, sweaty salespeople in their worn black suits, shoddy sample packets, and notepads pound the pavement, and encroach genkans relentlessly, harassing housewives, and grandmothers, (knowing full well the father is already off to work) as to the mystical virtues of the English language, and how imperative it is that their progeny doesn’t get left behind. No child? No worries! We have classes for anyone from womb to tomb! Not surprisingly, the unwanted, and invasive interlopers themselves aren’t able to whisper a word of wisdom from the etymological educational experience that they peddle. But, they’ll use any means necessary, by hook or by crook, to suck the hard earned money from the grip of the cash strapped women in their unrelenting hard sell.
Horror stories are ubiquitous in the unethical eikaiwa.
One American teacher arrived in Shizuoka all wide-eyed and ready to teach. He paid his own airfare, and visa related expenses. All he asked for, prior to coming to Japan, was two consecutive days off each week so he could explore the country, its people and its culture. The teacher worked for two straight months without those consecutive days off. He had been lied to. He then fell ill, lost his voice, and requested a day off so he could recover. This teacher had become so ill that he couldn’t lift himself out of bed. This “unreasonable” request was adamantly refused. When the teacher said he was too ill to work, he was ordered to the school (the owner’s home) under the guise of being required to attend a mandatory company meeting. While waiting for this “meeting” to take place, the teacher’s personal property was removed from his apartment, and tossed into the street. As he sat waiting for that meeting to begin, several harsh men appeared at the owner’s home, and bullied the teacher into leaving the premises. The teacher was notified that he was fired, and that his belongings were on the street.
After abandoning the teacher on the street, the school’s owner refused to pay any of the outstanding salary owed. Under Japan law if an employee is terminated, that employee is due their full salary immediately, and without delay. The company is also obligated to pay that employee one full month salary on top of any outstanding salary owed. What makes this story even more horrific is the fact that the teacher had driven the school’s owner to the emergency room only the night before, for having had contacted the very same illness.
Fortunately, due to the poor working environment, and the dilapidated condition of the school, the teacher had already looked for employment elsewhere. He found an immediate opportunity in the city of Fukui. The teacher brought action to the labor office of Shizuoka and prevailed. As a result the teacher was compensated 540,000 ¥ for the unlawful termination. The school that caused these troubles is named Bowers English School. It’s owned, and operated by Hiroko Bowers and her daughter Ranie. Hiroko Bowers had been divorced from her Canadian husband for decades. The elderly, chain smoking woman retained her former husband’s name to “legitimize” operating an English related business. At the time of the incident Hiroko Bowers was also a member of the Shizuoka City Council.
The teacher thought his troubles were behind him, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The situation went from horrific to horrifying. After working for two months at the Fukui school, the teacher had yet to have been paid. The teacher demanded his salary, but the school’s owner boasted that he could withhold salary for up to sixty days, despite clear language in the labor code, which states that all salaries must be paid within thirty days. The scheme soon became apparent as withholding salary for sixty days left the teacher broke, and starving and no other recourse but to seek other employment, or return home. Both choices made it extremely difficult for the teacher to force the school’s owner to comply with labor laws, and to get paid the outstanding wages owed. Sham eikaiwa owners know this game, and play it well. They use this guise to rip off the young, and inexperienced teacher as often as they can get away with it. The Japanese government, including police agencies do nothing to help foreigners who get ripped off under these schemes.
In the case above, the teacher’s problem had just begun. Sixty days turned into ninety days, as he worked a grueling schedule, hoping to eventually be paid. At the end of that ninety days the teacher discovered a mere 80,000 ¥ had been deposited in his account. The teacher ended up working for three months for less than 30,000 ¥ each month. The teacher began to investigate the employer, and much to his dismay he discovered the company had a long history of defrauding former instructors, office managers, office staff, partners and students. That school was known as, Japanese American Language Institute (JALI), owned and operated by a former Mormon preacher named Ed Miller. The General Union in Osaka had battled bitterly against the company, and kept a detailed account of all complaints filed, and rulings held against the company in their database. The city officials, who knew of the scheme never took any action against Miller whatsoever, regardless as to how many criminal, and civil complaints had been filed, and how many teachers that had been financially, and emotionally ruined by the long running scheme.
During his investigation, the teacher discovered that the Fukui Friendship Association, had a document that was written and signed by twenty-two former teachers, managers, and office staff, who filed a collective criminal, and civil complaint against Ed Miller. The document was handwritten, and signed by teachers who gave an account of their individual experience, and gave an accounting record as to how much money each one person was owed. When the teacher went to the union, and to the city for help, before he had a chance to say who the culprit was, both entities proclaimed, “Oh, you worked for Ed Miller!”
Miller’s reputation in the education industry was so abysmal that his four children refused to have anything to do with him. Miller however claimed that he was the real victim in all of this. In reality, Miller devised a scheme where he claimed that his former accountant had embezzled the company’s assets, and as a result he was unable to pay the salaries owed to the former teachers, and staff. The truth was that Miller had been skimming the companies’ assets, and sending them to his wife, who had returned to the states, and had been threatening to file for divorce. When the money ran out, Miller’s wife divorced him anyway, but not before she remarried, and purchased a home in Utah with the stolen assets. The Fukui police investigated Miller’s embezzlement claim, and found no irregularities in the accounting firms activities. No charges were ever brought against the accounting agency.
After nearly thirty years, JALI was forced out of business as a result of Miller’s bad reputation in the community. Miller left Japan in disgrace having never paid anyone the monies owed to them. At its height JALI was the number one English school in Fukui, had employed twenty-five teachers, and had no competition. At the time of JALI’s demise, Miller was penniless, hadn’t paid rent for over a year, and was forcefully evicted. Miller slept in his car, and in Internet café’s where he taught a handful of students online. It must be noted that Ed Miller first arrived in Japan as a Mormon missionary to preach the gospel of his lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
It’s not just teachers that receive a harsh reality check.
Ms. Aita works on a commuter train operated by the JR Line as a food, and beverage server. She studied English so she could communicate with foreign passengers. Ms. Aita was duped into paying 1,000,000 ¥ up front, for three years of English lessons. She never received the lessons, and never received a refund. The former Nova CEO Nozomu Sahashi, went to prison for embezzling corporate assets, stole Ms. Aita’s hard earned money, and never fulfilled the terms of the contractual agreement.
The criminal conduct perpetrated against Ms. Aita is not an anomaly. It’s business as unusual in the eikaiwa industry, and the Japanese government entities that are charged with oversight of educational entities never do anything about it. Thankfully, the courts will as the former Nova CEO discovered. Sahashi’s initial period in the pokie was scheduled for three and a half years. Apparently, Sahashi still had some of the student’s stolen funds to pay for an appeal. The Court of Appeals lowered Sahashi’s prison stint to a mere two years. It would take Ms. Aita much longer to recoup the losses she suffered at the hands of the former Nova CEO. I wonder if Sahashi’s cell blanket has a picture of that stupid looking rabbit with a yellow beak? I wonder if his prison garb is gaudy pink?
Apparently, Sahashi hadn’t appreciated the extent of harm he caused thousands of former teachers, managers, and students who were left without a job, a home, and the salary they had earned and not received. Sahashi also managed to embezzle 320 million yen of employment benefit funds. The Osaka District Court rejected Sahashi’s claim that he had no intention to profit from the embezzlement scheme. If you believe Sahashi had any good intentions, then you believe dolphins swim freely in Taiji.
During trial Sahashi claimed he intended to use the stolen funds to reimburse prepaid lesson fees to students, like Ms. Aita who had long ago terminated their contracts with Nova after being subjected to Sahashi’s failed Ponzi scheme. Aside from the criminal case, Sahashi also faces numerous lawsuits filed by former employees who lost their livelihood without receiving back salaries, and students who received no refunds since Nova was taken over by G-Taste in 2007. G-Taste is a food distribution company and has no experience in the education industry.
In another related matter, a bankruptcy administrator filed a damages suit, seeking 2.1 billion yen in compensation for breach of trust. Breach of trust is a nice way of stating that a fraud had occurred. Fraud is a legal term to explain that someone had acted against their own best interest after being deceived by the other party which made false representations regarding an agreement both parties entered into. The main aspect of fraud is the concept of informed consent. Informed consent is where one enters into an agreement with all of necessary information related to that deal.
Much of Nova’s business operations were taken over by Nagoya-based G.communication. Ironically, Masaki Inayoshi, who is happily celebrating the fifth anniversary of taking over Nova assets, while ignoring its debts, hadn’t learned a thing, as he himself has been convicted of inside trading, tax fraud, and a “creative” accounting scheme after filing false tax returns, which claimed that the payment of foreign teacher salaries were “corporate losses.”
At the “new” Nova most foreign management was terminated as if they had anything to do with the extensive fraud. All of the criminal aspects of Nova’s demise originated because of incompetent and racist Japanese management. Ironically, Nova mostly had foreign staff, yet almost none of them were management level employees. This of course is illegal in America, Canada, the UK, and Australia. As a result of the extensive fraud, unpaid wages to thousands of foreign employees, and incredibly poor working conditions that still exist at Nova, the company has found it nearly impossible to hire replacement teachers. This… while the world has fallen in the worst economic period since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Gravy for the gander. Or, what goes around comes around.
According to an article that ran in Toyo Keizai, Masaki Inayoshi got conned out of millions of dollars when he sought investment capital from a shady Yokohama based organization called BOW Networks. Apparently, G.communication put up approximately ten percent of its shares, worth an estimated five hundred million yen in G.Taste (Nova), G.Networks, and Yakiniku Saki as collateral. Inayoshi realized something had gone wrong when BOW Network bowed out of their end of the bargain after receiving the shares. Inayoshi discovered he got ripped off when the office that BOW Networks had been occupying had been vacated. Even the landlord hadn’t been paid! Registered mail that had been sent to the president of BOW Networks residence had been returned stamped, “unknown address.”
Who was BOW Networks? The company had been set up twenty years earlier in Miyazaki, originally selling golf equipment. BOW Networks then moved its headquarters to the Kanto region a decade ago, and had been working in a different kind of “security” business. We may never know how unscrupulous this suspect deal really was as Inayoshi is refusing to communicate any further about what transpired. But, what is obvious is that Inayoshi purchased G.communication, the largest eikaiwa in Japan, and thereafter aggressively purchased Nova, and another Ponzi scheme chain of language schools known as GEOS. Thereafter, strapped for cash, Inayoshi associated himself with dubious partners in order to raise revenue, and he got ripped off. Isn’t it comforting to know that poor management and incompetence isn’t a minor matter in the eikaiwa industry? It is in fact a major feature!
Will work for food!
After former Nova CEO Sahashi ripped off thousands of employees, and was unable to pay the outstanding salaries owed to them, one of the most offensive remedies was to form, A Lesson For A Meal Program. The concept went like this; teachers would teach a lesson to a student who had also gotten ripped off by Nova’s CEO. Thereafter, the student would buy the teacher a meal. Back in the U.S.A., social outcasts, alcoholics, crack addicts, and the abandoned mentally ill carry signs that read, Will Work For Food. Clearly, a foreign teacher in Japan, who works for a fraction of the salary they would earn in the states, and being paid much less than Japanese teachers, have as much value as the homeless that line the back allies of the derelict, decrepit, and decaying streets of lost dreams. Welcome to Japan! Welcome to the realities of teaching in Japan.
A peek into the unethical practices of some of the more prominent eikaiwas.
Update: Recently, a twenty-three-year-old Japanese woman who was forced to work more than one hundred hours a week, committed suicide after leaving several notes asking for someone to intervene on her behalf. Nobody did! The company owner is a Japanese lawyer, and lawmaker who had to pay the family 1.3 million USD to settle the matter. Click here to learn how Japanese companies handle suicides.
GEOS stands for Global Education Opportunities and Services. Tsuneo Kusunoki founded the company in 1973. An article in The Japan Times stated that the working conditions for foreign teachers at GEOS were possibly the worst in the industry. In 1999, fourteen managers demanded overtime pay for hundreds of hours they had not been paid for. One of the plaintiffs said she had been working seventy-two hour weeks under immense pressure to increase sales. The employees sued, and won, costing GEOS three hundred million yen in unpaid wages. In the same article the former managers said they were extremely overburdened because of a high volume of teacher turnover that was due to a deplorable working environment. A spokesperson for GEOS insisted the company, and the language industry in general, provided women with a rare business opportunity they wouldn’t be able to find in other industries. Unfortunately, this may be true in Japan, but not in the countries the nation seeks to hire from. Apparently, in the mindset of the Japanese, not being paid for overtime work, and slaving away in deplorable conditions is a rare career opportunity. A rare opportunity that only the Japanese could envision, and justify as so.
As scores of teachers began to quit working for GEOS, a familiar industry-wide pattern emerged. Students who had been lured into paying in advance for bargain lesson packages were suddenly unable to schedule classes. This led to an onslaught of refund demands, which cascaded into teachers being unpaid, and inevitable ruin for all involved. How does the Japanese government handle an employment crisis like this? Generally, a foreign teacher’s job is tied to their visa. If a teacher loses their job, they lose their visa status, and are threatened with arrest and deportation at their own expense if they do not leave within 30 days. Numerous foreigners who ended up being arrested under such circumstances end up dying in detention centers due to the harsh conditions that they are subjected to. Despite what people may think of Japan as a peaceful nation, the reality is Japan is not foreign friendly whatsoever. Japanese are afraid of foreigners, real estate companies will not rent to them, and there is a rise in businesses that have “no foreigner” signs on the exterior of the entrance of their business. But, let’s get back to the GEOS debacle.
By September of 2009, the Japanese staff of GEOS had not been paid. By October, foreign teachers that remained on had not been paid either. In April of 2010, GEOS filed for bankruptcy with an outstanding debt of 7.5 billion yen. Ninety-nine schools had failed, with two hundred thirty being taken over by G.com. Approximately thirty-seven thousand students had paid for lessons that they would never receive. Another round of closures occurred in October of 2010. These closures affected every GEOS teacher, staff member, and student who resided on Kyushu and Shikoku.
The Westgate scam.
Several former teachers who studied with Westgate said they would not recommend anyone work for Westgate. One former teacher described Westgate as one of a myriad of crooked agencies out to rip off teachers, as well as their students. Westgate requires teachers to work nine hours each day while being strictly scrutinized. Westgate wages are also the worst in the industry, at 1,500 ¥ an hour. (Currently, McDonald’s workers in the U.S. make 15.00 USD an hour.) Westgate also charges double the market price for renting a tiny room. So, Westgate also earns an unwarranted extra income by subleasing dwellings. These rental schemes are illegal in the U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. But in Japan, it’s merely business as usual. The former teacher was grateful that the job only lasted a few months. This teacher also stated that Westgate doesn’t offer any cultural exchange experience as they had promised, and that the job was a waste of energy, and regrets her time there.
Berlitz: One of the top companies posted on the TEFL Blacklist of “schools to avoid.”
Charles Berlitz, the self proclaimed world’s top linguist, and grandson of the founder of the Berlitz language schools claim to fame came about as an author of “truth is stranger than fiction” books which are in reality nothing more than pure fiction. Among his ridiculous repertoire are such classics as, The Mystery of Atlantis, The Bermuda Triangle, and The Roswell Incident. Charles Berlitz also prophesized that the end of the world would come in 1999 in his book titled, Doomsday.
Berlitz offers teaching jobs through their online website. I just had to fill out the application and see what would happen next.After a few weeks I received a response that I had been “accepted for the interview stage.” After being scrutinized in that interview, and reassuring that I was not a member of the teacher’s union, and had no intention of joining the teacher’s union, I was told the company would get back with me. Next, I had to overcome a laundry list of queries through the companies online portal. After being accepted as a teacher, having never met anyone, the final question posed on the companies online formed asked the following question: “Are you willing to be trained in Tokyo for two weeks, without pay, pay for your own travel and hotel expenses?” I responded no, and on the next day, I received the following response, “Berlitz teaching jobs are very competitive, and as a result we regret to inform you that you didn’t get chosen for a teaching position.” Why doesn’t Berlitz just ask the applicants if they are willing to work for free upfront, and save everyone, including their human resources staff a lot of time, and effort? The answer is obvious. Nobody would make it to the next round of the “application process.” It’s definitely a well thought out deceptive ploy! Working for free is a form of involuntary servitude. It’s illegal! If anyone challenged this loathsome tactic, they most assuredly would prevail in a labor dispute. But, a caveat exists, and the reader has been forewarned… You may find yourself being sued by Berlitz!
In February of this year, Berlitz found itself on the losing end of ridiculous action where the company had the audacity to sue for damages against union executives, and the teachers they represented for waging strikes against the company over a slight salary increase. If a lawyer pulled this twaddle in the states the presiding judge would sanction that lawyer, order full payment of opposing counsels legal fees, and then that lawyer face the wrath of the state bar that licensed them. In this matter, the presiding judge, Hiroshi Watanabe sided with the labor union, and the teachers they represented. Watanabe held that the acts of the defendants “do not comprise any illegality.” Watanabe went on to rule that there was no reason to deny the legitimacy of the strikes, including their purpose or process.
Berlitz had filed the lawsuit claiming executives of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, and affiliate Berlitz General Union Tokyo, and the five teachers they represented conducted illegal strikes for eleven months. According to Berlitz, the union activities included coordinated strikes that “put the company’s existence itself in peril.” Berlitz never once considered that its own conduct is what put the company in peril. Berlitz claimed the defendant’s acts affected 3,455 classes, and caused some of its students to quit. The company sought compensatory damages in the amount of one hundred ten million yen, from each union executive, and each of the five Berlitz teachers. The strike actually involved more than one hundred unionized teachers of the chain.
What was the real issue? The teachers had requested a mere 4.6 percent cost of living increase, which Berlitz “strongly opposed.” The teacher’s lawyer Yukiko Akutsu, criticized Berlitz for allowing the matter to drag on for more than three years. She called the courts ruling a complete victory for her clients. Akutsu said she was pleased that the court “recognized that each of the strikes were legitimate.”
Wow! What a kewl website IBEC has. Why, there are towering skyscrapers, and professional looking people standing in front of huge plate glass windows, and a massive power desk that seems to shout success. IBEC must be one of Japan’s premiere language centers, as its staff has every kind of skill imaginable. You’ll find a consultant with a J.D. from Harvard, and another with an MBA from… Phoenix University. One staff member has “8years” (not my typo) of experience in the language industry. With education, experience, and visuals of that caliber, you’d expect a huge amount of venture capital to operate the company with. IBEC has a mere ten million yen. (Not a typo). This means that if IBEC had a couple bad months, perhaps as a result of teachers going on a strike that was related to substandard working conditions, or if students demanded to be reimbursed for not being able to schedule classes, or because the Japanese Immigration Bureau decided to crack down on teachers who were illegally working in violation of their visa conditions, IBEC would find itself seeking bankruptcy protection from its creditors, former teachers, former office staff, and former students.
IBEC website claims to have two hundred registered native teachers at their disposal. How many of these teachers can actually legally work for IBEC? In order to work in Japan, one has a valid visa, which was provided by the immigration bureau because an employer offered a contracted salary. To work as a teacher, one must have a specialist in humanities visa, which must be sought by the teacher’s actual employer. IBEC refuses to do any of the necessary paperwork that is required by the Japan’s Immigration Bureau that would allow teachers to obtain a valid visa and work for the company. As a result, any teacher, unless they have a spouse visa, would be working for IBEC in direct violation of Japan’s immigration laws. IBEC could not claim ignorance to such facts, as all companies are required to verify an employee’s legal working status. The issue here is obvious, if a teacher has a specialist in humanities visa, and it wasn’t issued by IBEC, that teacher cannot work for IBEC. I contacted IBEC to ask them about this. However, even though the company claims to be an English language school, nobody was able to communicate with me in English to answer the question.
If you think eikaiwas conditions are deplorable, and they are, consider Japan’s public schools. Recently Japan found itself dead last, again, in educational environments out of the thirty-one nations researched in that study. Meanwhile, Japan continues to pretend it has a 99.97% literacy rate.
Interac is an agency that provides low paying contract work to local educational boards. Those jobs are known as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). If you’re interested in working for an agency that takes a percentage of your salary, in a public school that has no air conditioning in summer, and no heating in winter, in a drab environment that is extremely under funded, then this is the perfect opportunity for you.
In 2007, NHK ran a story about Samantha Bouton, an American ALT who was working at a Chiba public school under an Interac gyomu-itaku contract. Bouton had been working forty hours a week, as well as overtime, but was only being paid for twenty-nine and a half hours. Interac gyomu-itaku contracts stipulate that all ALT employment activities must be approved by Interac, and not by the school staff, local board, or its principal. These arrangements would make it impossible for an instructor to adapt to changing classroom conditions, and as a result, the Japanese Education and Labor Ministry declared gyomu-itaku contracts violated Japan’s dispatch law. The Ministry regulations stipulate that all instructors in a public school must be under the direct control of the principal or educational body. This meant that gyomu-itaku contracts do in fact violate Japan’s dispatch law.
In an unrelated matter, the General Union (GU), a member of the National Union of General Workers (NUGW), represented Interac teachers that wanted to improve their working conditions, but negotiations failed. The GU teachers began striking. During the ongoing dispute it was discovered that numerous ALTs were still being employed through illegal gyomu-itaku contracts. The union reported this to the Osaka Labor Bureau, and the boards of education were ordered to cease dealing in illegal contracts.
In 2009, Interac teachers working at Kurashiki in Okayama, approached the local board of education seeking to be hired directly by the board, rather than dispatched through Interac. The board of education refused, and threatened the teachers with termination, and eviction from apartments that had been provided to them through the city. In Japan, even governmental agencies will use threats, and intimidation when a foreign employee challenges unlawful conduct. The ALTs took their grievance to the GU, which won many of them direct hire. The GU had also forced Interac to enroll its teachers in unemployment insurance, which was required by law, but hadn’t!
In 2009 the GU sent a survey to the city boards of education in Aichi prefecture. Sixteen replied that they used teachers through illegal gyomu-itaku contracts. On October 19th 2009, the GU brought action against Interac at the Osaka Labor Commission, and submitted supporting documentation to the Aichi labor bureau, and visited the Aichi Prefectural Board of Education to inform them on the illegal use of gyomu-itaku contracts, which breached dispatch and employment security laws. In response to the case against Interac, the Osaka Labor Commission ruled that Interac had committed unfair labor practices by refusing to hold collective bargaining meetings with the union. As a result, Interac was ordered to deliver a formal apology to the union, and was also banned from bidding on government projects in Osaka Prefecture in the future.
Goodwill: A future expectation that arises from a respectable reputation earned through honest business dealings.
The concept of goodwill toward clients, and fair dealings with teachers doesn’t merit much in the Japanese corporate paradigm. The covetous clowns in the eikaiwa industry don’t seem to notice that good teachers are very hard to come by, and that a quality teacher would expect nothing less than fair working conditions, a reasonable schedule, respectable treatment, and a contract completion bonus to help cover the costs related to traveling overseas, and the ridiculously expensive living tax that all foreigners must pay. Without good teachers the eikaiwa industry is doomed to fail. If the industry continues down the corrosive path it’s on, it should!
Unfortunately, there’s still more!
Enter Coco Juku. Coco Juku is the deplorably unsuccessful and miserably failed Gaba, which is owned and operated by Nichii Gakkan, a company that makes medical devices. Working conditions are so abysmal at Gaba that teachers refuse to work for the company. The language chain was so poorly managed the company decided to rebrand. Apparently, not too many students, and teachers fell for this ruse.
I contacted Coco Juku to get information about how a medical company is qualified to operate an English language chain, but I was told there was nobody there that could communicate with me in English to answer my questions.
The fact is that Nichii Gakkan is yet another scam in the long, and dirty laundry list of companies that operate businesses unrelated to education. These companies attempt to get into the industry to make a fast buck at the expense of unsuspecting students and educators. These companies almost always end up failing, and ripping off students, and teachers. They seem to always find themselves in bitterly fought legal battles with union officials that represent teachers who have been harmed in a myriad of ways by these unlicensed education entities. When many of these companies realize that the union will not waiver in their battle, they resort to hiring gangs to intimidate, and physically harm union representatives, and/or their clients, the teachers.
Coco Juku had the audacity to form its own “teachers” union in a failed attempt to circumvent Japan’s labor law. As part of the companies requirements for being employed as a teacher, they must join the Coco Juku union. As a result, the same unconscionable working conditions exist at Coco Juku as they had at Gaba, and as a result the chain is doomed to failure. Coco Juku is one company you want to steer clear of.
And now for something completely different.
If you think the horror stories of Gaba, Geos, Coco Juku, Peppy Kids Club, Berlitz, and Interac are bad, then you don’t want to continue reading about the “new” Nova, which operates a wafer thin staff of extremely overworked “part-time” (full-time) teachers as the company continues to sign as many new students as it can. Nova management already knows full well the company doesn’t have enough teachers to teach lessons to the students the company already has, yet Nova engages in marketing fraud, and signing up as many new students as the company can.
In Ibaraki, Miyagi, and other regions of Japan, Nova schools have as many as five hundred students, and as little as one teacher. Some teachers have been asking for vacation owed to them for several years. Vacation time is required under labor law, but these requests are refused under threat of termination. Denying vacation time is illegal! It violates labor standards that Japan’s Supreme Court has strongly supported.
Nova is so poorly managed that the company hasn’t been able to hire new teachers in more than two years. Well, Nova did hire one teacher in Ibaraki who hadn’t even graduated high school. It didn’t take long for students to realize the guy didn’t know what he was doing. He was let go.
Another incident occurred at Nova where one “teacher” didn’t manage to last one day before being led out of the building by security. (Nova generally operates its branches in shopping centers.) This teacher had bragged about being allowed to beat children while teaching in China. Nova management was entirely aware that this person was not fit to teach, yet the company was so desperate, they hired him anyway. Nova’s training report stated that this teacher had never smiled during training, and that there were numerous other red flags. Nova management ignored those red flags. Within one day this “teacher” physically assaulted an elderly man, threw chairs, threatened bodily harm to students, and staff. This lunatic caused scores of students to flee from their lessons; some in tears. Many of those students never returned.
Why does Nova have a hard time finding bare minimum quality applicants during one of the world’s worst economic slumps? The information below show what Japanese teachers earn and the conditions related to their employment, and that of the Nova teacher.
Japanese teacher working conditions
- 360,000 monthly salary.
- 16-18. 50 minutes classes a week. (Maximum)
- Two salary bonuses each year. (Approximately 800,000 yen)
- All national holidays are paid days off.
- Paid holidays up to two months.
- Health insurance.
- Class preparation time.
- 250,000 monthly salary.
- 37-40 teaching hours each week. (Called part-time to circumvent labor laws.)
- No bonus. (The bonus becomes really important at the end of the year when the city requires you to pay a “living tax” which only foreigners have to pay. This approximately 160,000 annual expense is for the privilege of living in a radiation contaminated country that also has some of the worlds highest prices. Be prepared to pay twice as much for half as much when you live in Japan.)
- Work every national holiday. (Resulting in schedule changes. So expect to show up to work much earlier than usual.)
- No health insurance.
- Ten paid days off. (This is the bare minimum required by law. Nova often refuses paid vacation under the guise that it hurts the companies bottom-line.)
- Zero class preparation time.
Clearly, there is simply no incentive for anyone to work for a company like Nova. Nova take heed, teachers now prefer deplorable ALT positions to working at a strip mall. Apparently, having a job that was once construed as scraping the bottom of the barrel is considered far superior to working for the “new” Nova.
For anyone who still has the stomach to work in Japan’s sweat shop education factory, take into account that teacher salaries have diminished to poverty level. Also, consider the fact that the costs of living in Japan are the highest in the world. For example, it’s not uncommon to see a single mango with a price tag of 3900 ¥. Consider that driving one way, from Tokyo to Sendai will cost more than 10,000 ¥. These costs even during the 1980s economic “miracle” would have been insane, and that was thirty years ago.
Japan’s national operatives, and one-way mentality simply cannot grasp the necessity, and importance of regulation, and change. Take into account the debacle that arose in Fukushima on the evening of 3.11.11. The man-made disaster could have been entirely avoided had their been proper regulation, preparation, maintenance, and oversight. Japan had ample warning signs, numerous prior nuclear accidents, and a myriad of opportunities to prepare for such a catastrophic event. Yet the country rested on its laurels, and basked in the falsehoods that the nation was more prepared than any other nation regarding its preparedness for such calamities. The world quickly learned, Japan, the feigned model of preparation, had in reality been entirely unprepared for the nation’s worst disaster since being atomic bombed during WWII.
Declining foreign teacher salaries.
- Salary approximately 280,000 yen.
- 22-24 teaching hours each week.
- Off national holidays, and receiving pay.
- Contract completion bonuses averaging 250,000 ¥.
- Paid sick leave.
- Health insurance provided by companies.
- Salary approximately 250,000 yen.
- 37-40 teaching hours each week.
- Working all national holidays without overtime pay.
- No bonus.
- No sick leave.
- No health insurance.
While some mom and pop eikaiwas still require twenty-two to twenty seven teaching hours a week, the chain sweat shops like the “new” Nova require thirty-seven to forty teaching hours each week. Take that into account when considering each Japanese teachers works no more than sixteen to eighteen, fifty-minute classes in a given week. Consider that many students on a teacher’s schedule range from small children, to eighty-year-old adults that may be approaching senility, and are only taking a class because they’re extremely bored of the mindless TV offerings that are spoon fed to a nation that has no idea what is happening outside its own borders.
Honestly, how often does one have to turn on the boob tube in Japan, and watch yet another, not so funny comedian, eating from the same bowl of noodles somebody else had eaten from only a few days earlier, on that very same show, and proclaimed, as the other not so funny comedian had, Oishi! It’s little wonder so many Japanese turn to child pornography, chain smoking, alcohol, and are entirely socially inept.
Licensing and strict adherence to regulation must be imposed on the reckless and unregulated eikaiwa industry.
In 2007 the world witnessed the Fed’s former chairman Greenspan, the Wall Street bankers, and the SEC’s deregulation experiment cause the world’s most volatile financial crisis ever. The lack of regulation plummeted the entire planet in an economic nosedive. The world has yet to recover from it. Clearly, having no regulation over that industry caused the havoc that still exists to this day. Isn’t it equally apparent that an industry as important as education needs to be licensed, and properly regulated with appropriate standards that must be adhered to in order to hang a shingle to operate?
Every legitimate industry in the world requires some form of licensing in order to do obtain a business operating license. Would you want a doctor to operate on you if he didn’t have a license to prove that he had the skills to do so? Why shouldn’t an education entity be required to be licensed and prove they have the requisite skills to operate that business?
Parents pay large sums of money to supplement their children’s education for university entrance exams in Japan. Employees pay large sums of money to get a good TOEIC score so they can be promoted to a management level position, thereby giving their family a better life. Hardworking people shouldn’t have to gamble that they won’t be victimized by the deceitful money grabbers, their endless ploys, their morally bankrupt ineptness, incompetence and Ponzi schemes in order to achieve those goals. Nothing could be better for the economy, and the educational entities themselves than to assure that high standards are mandatory. Licensing eikaiwas and jukus is well overdue.
The following are regulations that must be enacted to operate an educational entity.
Matters covering educational institutions
- Mandatory criminal, and civil background checks that prove an applicant who desires to operate an educational institution has no prior felonies, bankruptcies, or serious misdemeanors, before they are allowed to proceed in the application process.
- An applicant must be solvent.
- The entity must be a properly formed corporation.
- Minimum emergency operational expenditures should be set aside, and placed in an escrow accounts, or provided by an insurance agency. The board, owners or managers of the educational entity cannot handle these monies.
- Those funds shall not be commingled with the personal assets of the owner of the corporation, or any of its board member, or management.
- First aid kits must be in every school.
- Emergency evacuation routes must be established and drilled, especially in tsunami zones.
- All staff should know the emergency contact numbers for fire, police and ambulance services.
- Minimum language skills should be taught to non-Japanese staff so they can communicate with emergency services, and with students.
- An over site panel should be set up to address any future issues that may arise that are related to the educational industry.
Matters covering teachers
- Teachers both foreign and domestic must pass a mandatory criminal background investigation.
- Teachers must have more than a mere BA in an arbitrary industry. They must also have a teaching license.
- Proper training must be in place so as to ensure they meet minimum standards.
- Teachers who fall below minimal standards should be placed on a probationary period until they can meet those standards. If the instructor cannot meet those standards after exhausting that probationary period, they should be removed from teaching duties.
- Health insurance must be provided for all teachers.
- Maximum teaching hours should be twenty-two with ample time allotted for preparation.
- All teachers, regardless of nationality should enjoy the benefits of paid national holidays.
- An adequate bonus should be implemented to assure that teacher has an incentive to perform to high standards. This bonus should cover increases in living expenses, increases in the consumption tax, and it should cover the annual living tax imposed on foreign teachers.
- Insurance should be paid by the educational institution to cover injury and/or fraud perpetrated against students, and the staff, both foreign and domestic.
- All instructors and staff should receive minimum first aid training.
Matters covering students
- There should be a maximum number of students in each class so as to guarantee an adequate learning environment.
- Comprehensive, up-to-date, educational material should be used that is approved by a board of industry experts.
- End of term examinations, and presentations should be compulsory so students can prove what they have learned, and that the educational entity is living up to its contractual obligation.
- College accreditation should be offered to students as part of their degree program.
Are you a teacher in Japan? Do you have a labor issue? Then take it to the union. The following links will take you to Japan’s most influential labor unions.
Know your rights. Know the law. Japan’s Labor Laws.
Stack Jones is an award winning writer, photographer and musician. In contrast to his music, Stack’s social, religious and political commentaries are scathing. He simply tells it like it is, without allowing external influences to mar his perspective. For more information visit http://stackjones.com.