Eikaiwas Shut ‘Em Down

If you intend to become employed in Japan, be forewarned. There is good reason 30,000 people jump in front of trains, hang themselves in Hakone, or jump off of the cliffs in Tojinbo. Simply put, working and residing in Japan will be one of the low points of your life. As bad as it is for the Japanese, for foreigners, who are not considered human beings by Japanese officials, and who have no human rights, it is far, far worse.

This article originally ran in Japan Today as a four-part series. After the initial segment was published, the industry that hires foreigners as “teachers”, the eikaiwa industry, threatened the publication for slander. The result was the editor pulled the series. What is it that they didn’t want you to see? Read on and find out.

You’ve seen them, the pale blue Kumon signs pasted in windows of dilapidated apartments, tacked on an exterior wall, or hastily draped over a balcony. You’ve seen the Peppy Kid Clubs, sprawled across every rural backwater community, dubiously occupying buildings so insignificant that they aren’t fit for storage, let alone an environment conducive to learning. Take a peek inside one of these “educational institutions” and you’re quick to discover they look more like an isolation chamber, replete with barren walls, the cheapest, tackiest, and most uncomfortable furnishings money can’t buy, or none at all, save for a few worn cushions tossed on the floor. Take a closer look and you’ll notice the decaying rice paper that reeks of age, mold and absorption of a myriad of unpleasant odors. Then there’s the cheap commercial carpeting, so heavily worn, in building so poorly maintained that they’ve become blackened, brought about by years neglect.

Sadly, eikaiwas are more often than not, fly-by-night schemes that carry odd designations like Wilbur’s Playpen, Brainy Kids, English Baby Sitting School, Kiddy College, Yes You Can English, Space Cadet Academy, Billy’s Club, or Juniors Playhouse. Honestly, do any of these “schools” sound like the kind of place you’d want to send your child? Of course not. So, why is this the best the industry can offer?

Welcome to the reprehensible, unprofessional, generally unskilled, and unlicensed industry of the eikaiwas. Salutations from the lowest of lows, here to make a fast buck, undermine the importance of the education, cause hazardous, and deteriorating working conditions, while pushing the limits of fraud, and failure, all at the unsuspecting customer’s (suckers) expense.

Mr. Rogers often said, “Who’s that knocking at my door?”

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 half-baked 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 (PKC), a company that has been known to require a 400,000 ¥ per student sign up fee. The buck doesn’t stop there though. After paying the entire initial expense up front, parents are also required to pay additional monthly fees, and then get pressured to pay for “special” summer, Halloween, and Christmas junk packages that are tailored more toward adding to the profit margin than an actual educational experience.

iTTTi’s website claims to have 95,000 students, 1200 Japanese staff, and 340 foreigners. The website has had the exact same claim for several years now. A handful of the “testimonials” on the website displays only English names, with fake silhouetted images that make those testimonials suspect. Those same testimonials have also been on the companies website for several years, having never been updated. Hmmm…

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 the beginner level. Actually, 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 in the country. Take away the special lessons, which many parents don’t purchase, and the educational experience adds up to about nine lessons a year where the child is exposed to a native speaker. 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 it any wonder that the Japanese can’t speak English?

But wait, there’s more!

The innumerable, and overwhelming issues don’t rest with the appalling educational experience. At PKC, kids have fallen out of second story school (apartment) windows, resulting in serious injuries. Children have 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 a few weeks, was killed by a car while returning to the train station after a day of work. 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 train, or bus routes to travel to and from work. It must be noted that no such requirement is imposed upon the Japanese employees who work for the company.

PKC also refuses to employ Japanese males as teachers. This violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Japanese Constitution, but it’s not like Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, or the Ministry of Education has ever taken such an important fundamental right seriously. You see, in Japan, “customary norms” within a prefecture, (business environment) is more applicable to the rights of an individual than the constitutional laws that were written to protect them. As a result, one can receive a different legal determination over a labor dispute, from the exact set of facts, than that of a neighboring prefecture. So much for legal uniformity! So much for the myth that everybody in Japan is treated the same.

Many jukus and chain eikaiwas hiring schemes for women are appalling. Women work long hours, and are paid much less than that offered to 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.

During training, iTTTi deceives teachers into believing the company will cover the cost of a taxis for transportation to schools that are quite often very far from train stations. It doesn’t. The company also requires its teacher to make long distance phone calls to “phone in” with the Nagoya office, 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. You will be doing this is in the midst of a deep winter blizzard, a torrential downpour, or a mid-summer humid heat wave, and make sure you’re on time, or get prepared for the company to fine you in a manner that would be illegal in countries like America, Australia, Canada, or the UK.

A former iTTTi employee speaks out against power harassment.

PKC uses lockboxes for teachers to enter many of their work locations. Many foreign teacher have no key, and since they work alone, they would naturally expect to find one in the lockbox upon arriving at their work place. Right? Well, one teacher reported that when he opened the lockbox it was empty, and could not enter the school. This incident took place in Yamagata, in early February when the weather was  well below zero. As a result of this oversight, the class had to be cancelled. The teacher stood out in sub-zero conditions for more than an hour, notifying each parent that the class was cancelled. How did PKC management respond to the error that had nothing at all to do with the teacher?

PKC asked the teacher if he preferred an immediate 10,000 ¥ deduction from his salary, or 50,000 ¥ to be seized from his bonus. The teacher chose C. None Of The Above, and instead, filed a complaint with the labor board, based on irrationality, unreasonableness, and power harassment. When iTTTi learned of the complaint, the company faxed a document to the teacher, which had his entire remaining teaching schedule blocked out. This was clearly a breach of contract on the part of PKC. The fax notified the teacher that he would not be teaching any more classes, and would be terminated at the end of his contract. This seems like pretty extreme treatment toward a teacher that had done nothing more than show up to work, only to find no key to enter the school. But, this is the reality of the kind of treatment that foreign teachers are subjected to on a daily basis in Japan.

The teacher was then informed via that same fax that during the remainder of his time with the company he was to report to the company’s office; the distance being three-hours by train, and another thirty-minutes by foot. This also violated the teachers, contract to teach. He wasn’t an office worker. These harsh actions were clearly retaliatory because the teacher simply didn’t kowtow to being bullied by unreasonable working conditions.

The teacher reported these matters to the labor office, and sought redress. He was told to go to the nearest PKC location during his normal teaching schedule, and if the company had no work for him, to just remain there until it was time to leave. iTTTi didn’t like the labor board’s decision, so they immediately tried to terminate the employee. iTTTi then attempted to forcefully evict the teacher from his residence, throw his property out onto the street, and change the locks on the dwelling, but the police got involved, and prevented that from occurring, informing PKC that evictions were civil matters, and 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 up to six months to resolve. iTTTi management didn’t like that government decision either, so PKC management illegally contacted the electric, water, and gas companies in an attempt to have the utility services discontinued. Ironically, the service contracts were exclusive, with the deposits having been paid by the teacher. iTTTi had no legal standing to terminate, or to interfere with those contractual relationships. Each company refused to comply with iTTTi’s demand. The outstanding salary totaling more than 720,000 ¥ was never received by the instructor. The bonus package of 150,000 ¥ was never received either. This is not an isolated incident at PKC or other eikaiwas. 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 acts of management, even those of city officials that employ teachers. (As you will discover later on in this article). Welcome to employment in an unsecure, and unregulated industry of fraud, harassment, intimidation, and ongoing criminal collusion. One can only imagine how wretched teaching conditions are in countries like China, Cambodia, and Thailand, when Japan reigns as the apex of “democracy” and the pinnacle of freedom 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? Silent, even after numerous cases of pedophilia, rape, murder, embezzlement, power harassment, poor working conditions, poor educational results, a myriad of fraudulent conspiracies, Ponzi schemes, coercion, manipulation, and scores of other corrupt, and criminal practices. Why are other educational industries in Japan, both the private, and public sectors, including elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, technical schools, colleges and universities, and international schools that teach the Japanese language, as well as all testing facilities required to be scrutinized with strict licensing requirements to operate, yet the jukus and eikaiwas are given a free ride with absolutely no governmental intervention or oversight? I don’t know that answer. Your guess is as good as mine, because when the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and the Ministry of Education were contacted regarding these questions, they decided to bow out. Apparently, fraud, corruption, sex crimes, deplorable working conditions, and dreadful results merit little for either of these governmental bodies 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, without warning, or remorse, 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 the age of one day to one hundred years, and beyond! Why, we even offer classes for fetuses that are still incubating in mommy’s tummy. Peculiarly, the unwanted, and invasive interlopers themselves couldn’t 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 sales pitch, and hard sell.

You’d have to be a dunce to want to work in Japan.

Horror stories are ubiquitous in the unethical eikaiwas.

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 clearly been lied to. He then fell ill, lost his voice, and requested a day off so he could recover. This teacher then became so ill that he couldn’t lift himself out of bed. This “unreasonable” request was refused. When he said he was too ill to work, he was ordered to the school (the owner’s home) under the guise of a meeting. While waiting for this “meeting” to take place, the teacher’s personal property was being removed from his apartment, and tossed into the street. While he sat ill, for quite some time for this 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.

What makes this story even more horrifying is the fact that the teacher had driven the school’s owner to the emergency room only the night before, for having had the very same illness. 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 months salary on top of any outstanding salary owed.

Fortunately, due to the poor working environment, and the dilapidated condition of the school, the teacher had already been looking for employment elsewhere. He found immediate “employment” in Fukui prefecture. He took the reprehensible conduct of the former employer to the labor office and prevailed. As a result he received 540,000 ¥ in compensation for his improper, and unlawful dismissal, but not before suffering great trauma, and emotional distress. The school is Bowers English School. It’s owned, and operated by Hiroko Bowers and her daughter Ranie. Ironically, Bowers had been divorced from her Canadian husband for decades, yet she 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.

That teacher thought his troubles were behind him, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The situation went from traumatic to sickeningly surreal. After working for two months at the new school, and yet to receive any pay, the teacher demanded his salary. The schools owner boasted that he could withhold it 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 here is obvious. Withhold as much salary, for as long as one can, so the broke, and starving teacher will leave, usually returning home, or to another prefecture. This makes it that much more difficult for the former teacher to force the criminal party to comply with labor laws, and to receive the outstanding wages owed. The sham eikaiwa owners know this game, and play it well. They use this guise to rip off the young, and inexperienced teachers as often as they can get away with it.

In the case above, the teacher’s problem were just beginning. Sixty days turned into ninety after a grueling work schedule. The teacher discovered a mere 80,000 ¥ had been deposited in his account. That’s three months of work for less than 30,000 ¥ each. The teacher had enough, and began to investigate the employer. Much to his dismay he discovered the company had a long history of defrauding former instructors, office managers, office staff, and partners. The General Union in Osaka had battled bitterly against the company, keeping a detailed account of all complaints, and rulings against the company in their online database. The city officials, who knew of the ongoing scheme never took any action against the owner, regardless as to how many criminal, and civil complaints had been filed, and regardless how many people were financially, and emotionally ruined.

That school was known as, Japanese American Language Institute (JALI). JALI had been ripping off former partners, managers, staff, and teachers for years. The teacher discovered a list of grievances signed by twenty-two former teachers, managers, and office staff, who filed a collective criminal, and civil complaint against JALI owner, Ed Miller. The document was handwritten, and signed by scores of teachers who stated their individual grievance, and how much each one was personally owed. This document had been discovered on file at the cities “friendship association.” When the teacher went to the union, and to the city for help, before he had a chance to say who the culprit was, they both proclaimed, “Oh, you’re working for Ed Miller.”

Miller’s notorious reputation in the education industry was so bad that his own children refused to have anything to do with him. Miller claimed that he was the real victim in all of this. However, the truth is Miller had devised a scheme, where he claimed that his former accountant had embezzled the company’s assets, and as a result was unable to pay the salaries owed to the former teachers, and staff. In reality, Miller had been skimming company assets, and sending them off 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 funds. The Fukui police investigated Miller’s embezzlement claim, and found no irregularities in the accounting firms activities. No charges were ever brought against the firm.

After nearly thirty years, JALI was forced out of business as a result of Miller’s bad reputation in the community. At the height of Miller’s career, JALI was the number one English school in the entire Fukui prefecture, employing twenty-five teachers, and having no real competition. At the time of JALI’s demise, Miller was penniless, hadn’t been paying rent, and was being forcefully evicted. Miller was sleeping in his car, and in Internet café’s where he was “teaching” a handful of students online. Miller no longer resides in Japan. It must be noted that Ed Miller first came to Japan as a Mormon missionary to preach the gospel of his lord and savior Jesus Christ to the throngs of Japanese who were in dire need of having their souls saved. Amen!

It’s not just teachers that receive a harsh reality check.

Ms. Aita, a former Nova student 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.

Ms. Aita works on a commuter train operated by the JR Line as a food, and beverage server. She wanted to study English so she could communicate with her foreign passengers. The former Nova CEO Nozomu Sahashi, who is currently in prison for embezzling corporate assets, stole her hard earned money, and never fulfilled the terms of the contractual agreement. Unfortunately, the criminal conduct perpetrated against Ms. Aita is not an anomaly. It’s business as unusual in the eikaiwa industry, and the Japanese government bodies that are charged with the oversight of educational entities never do a damn thing about it. Thankfully, the courts do as the former Nova CEO discovered. Sahashi’s initial period in the pokie was scheduled for three and a half years. Apparently, he still had some of the students stolen funds to pay for an appeal. The Court of Appeals ended up lowering Sahashi’s prison stint to a mere two years. It has taken Ms. Aita much longer than that to recoup the financial 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, the former sociopath CEO hadn’t appreciated the massive extent of harm he caused so many former teachers, managers, and students, who were out of jobs, out of homes, out of their earned revenue, and just plain shit out of luck, as Sahashi was found guilty of embezzling 320 million yen in 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 who had long ago terminated their contracts with Nova after discovering his failed Ponzi scheme. Aside from the criminal case, Sahashi still faces numerous lawsuits filed by former employees who lost their livelihood without receiving back salaries, and students who received no refunds since Nova went bust in 2007. 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 saying fraud. Fraud is where one acts against their own best interest after being deceived by the other party that makes false representations regarding the agreement. The main aspect of fraud is informed consent. This means one would not have entered into that agreement if all of the information regarding that deal was out and in the open.

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 that claimed foreign teacher related expenses (salaries) as corporate losses!

At the “new” Nova all foreign management were terminated as if the issues within the sham company had anything at all to do with them. The criminal aspects of Nova have always originated from the money hungry, and extremely incompetent Japanese management. Ironically, Nova has mostly foreign staff, yet has no representation in management to address any foreign related matters. This of course is illegal in America, Canada, the UK, and Australia. As a result of incredibly poor working conditions at Nova, the company has found it impossible to hire any new teachers. This… while the world has fallen in the worst economic time since the Great Depression of the early 1930s.

Nova can’t find suckers that are willing to work for the company, yet it keeps signing on as many new students as it can get. If the students were informed of the appalling working conditions, (informed consent), none of them would have anything to do with the company. Yet, Nova keeps marketing and promoting its outdated “product” as if all is well and good. Currently, there is nothing well and good at Nova.

Gravy for the gander, or what goes around comes around.

According to an article that ran in Toyo Keizai, G.com got conned when it sought investment capital from a shady Yokohama based organization called BOW Networks. Apparently, G.com put up approximately ten percent of its shares, worth an estimated five hundred million yen in G.Taste, G.Networks, and Yakiniku Saki as collateral. G.com realized something had gone wrong when BOW Network bowed out of their end of the bargain after receiving the shares, and without notice. G.com discovered they 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 anyway? 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 G.communication is refusing to communicate any further about what transpired. But, what is obvious is that G.communication, the largest eikaiwa in Japan after aggressively purchasing Nova, and the GEOS franchises, associated itself with dubious businesses partners in order to raise revenue. Isn’t it comforting to know that poor management isn’t just a failing of the eikaiwa industry? It’s a feature!

The question that needs to be addressed is, why was Inayoshi willing to expose his business enterprise to such a scheme? Is Nova once again fishing in murky waters on a dead sea? Is Nova drowning in another financial struggle that could lead to yet another scandal that would inevitably harm its teachers, staff and students? Time will tell.

A historical perspective. Will work for food!

When Nova went bust five years ago, one of the ridiculous remedies was to form, A Lesson For A Meal Program. The shameful failed remedy went like this; teachers would teach a lesson to a student who had gotten ripped off by Nova’s CEO, and incompetent management. That student would then buy the teacher a meal. Back in the U.S.A., only social outcasts such as, alcoholics, crack addicts, and the abandoned mentally ill that slept in makeshift cardboard shelters carried signs that read, Will Work For Food. Clearly, a foreign teacher, who is working for a fraction of the salary they would earn in the states have as much value to the Japanese as a homeless bum that lies in his own filth in the back allies off of the derelict, decrepit, and decaying streets of lost dreams. Welcome to Japan. Welcome to the eikaiwas.

A peek into the immoral and unethical practices of some of the more prominent eikaiwas.

GEOS stands for Global Education Opportunities and Services. Tsuneo Kusunoki founded the company in 1973. An article in The Japan Times stated the working conditions at GEOS were possibly the worst in the industry. In 1999, fourteen managers demanded overtime pay they had not received. 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. Ironically, a spokeswoman for the company insisted that GEOS, and the “language industry” in general, provided women with a rare business opportunity they wouldn’t be able to find in other industries. Maybe so in Japan, but not in the countries these repugnant companies seek to hire from. No doubt, being ripped off after submitting to massive overtime expectations, in a deplorable working environment is truly a rare career working opportunity. The kind only Japan could envision, and justify as an opportunity.

As scores of teachers began to quit working for GEOS, a familiar industry wide pattern began to emerge. Students who had been lured into paying for bargain lesson packages were unable to schedule classes. This led to immense refund demands, which cascaded into teachers being unpaid, and inevitable economic ruin for GEOS, as it has for so many other similarly operated schemes.

By September of 2009, the Japanese staff hadn’t been paid. By October, foreign teachers that remained on had not been paid. 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 teachers, staff member, and student who resided on Kyushu and Shikoku.

One former teacher who studied with Westgate said they would definitely not recommend for anyone to work for that company. The former teacher described Westgate as just one of a myriad of crooked agencies out to rip off teachers, and students. Westgate requires teachers to work nine hours each day that is strictly scrutinized. Westgate wages are the worst in the industry, at 1,500 ¥ an hour. The company also charges double the market price for renting a tiny room. So, Westgate is also responsible for earning unwarranted income by subleasing dwellings. Of course, this rental scheme is illegal in the U.S., the UK, Canada and Australia, but it’s business as unusual in the eikaiwas that operate in Japan. Here, the former teacher was thankful that the job only lasted a few months. She also said that Westgate doesn’t offer any cultural exchange experience as they had promised. She said the job was a waste of energy, and regrets her time there.

Charles Berlitz, known as one of the world’s top linguists, 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 that were 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. He also prophesized that the end of the world would come in 1999 in his book titled, Doomsday.

This teacher is forced to humiliate himself, wearing a Coco Cola red, white and fat gaijin suit. Ho ho… ho!

Peculiar… Peculiar.

Well, there is nothing peculiar about Berlitz’s initial online application form. What is peculiar is after filling it out, and waiting a few weeks for a response, and being “accepted for the interview stage” and after being scrutinized in that interview, and overcoming that hurdle, there is yet another laundry list of queries. You see, once it appears that you’ve met the wondrous standards of Berlitz, there is a final question not revealed until the entire hiring process had been completed. The final question asks, “Are you willing to work for two weeks, without pay, during training, and at your own expense?” Uh, no, I’m not. Are you? Is anybody? If you were intelligent enough to answer “no” to this query, you would then receive a standard form email stating, Berlitz teaching jobs are very competitive, and that they regret to inform you that you didn’t get chosen. If you agreed to work for free for two weeks, then your training schedule would be set up, and you’d be welcomed as a bonafide Berlitz linguist. Geez!

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 in reality 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 for not willing to work for free!

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 them, order full payment for the opposing counsels legal fees, and then they lawyer that filed the action would face the wrath of the state bar that licensed them. In this matter, the presiding judge, Hiroshi Watanabe sided with the labor union its employees, 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 five teachers conducted illegal strikes for eleven months. According to Berlitz, the union activities included coordinated strikes that “put the company’s existence itself in peril.” The reprehensible company never once considered that it’s own illegal conduct is what put it 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 executives, and each of the five Berlitz teachers. The strike actually had involved more than one hundred unionized teachers of the chain.

What was the real issue? The defendants had been requesting a mere 4.6 percent cost of living increase, which Berlitz “strongly opposed.” Defense 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.”

An aside. Berlitz managed to find itself on the TEFL Blacklist of “schools to avoid.”

Wow! What a kewl website IBEC has. Why, there are towering skyscrapers, and professional looking people standing in front of huge glass windows, and a massive power desk that shouts 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. IBEC has a mere ten million yen. (Not a typo). This means that if IBEC had a couple of bad months, perhaps as a result of teachers going on strike regarding substandard working conditions, or students that 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 too, would be unable to pay salaries, and find itself seeking bankruptcy protection from its creditors, teachers, office staff, and former students.

IBEC website claims to have two hundred registered native teachers at their disposal. I’m curious how many of them can legally work for the company? It is imperative that in order to work in Japan, one has a valid visa, which is tailored to fit a particular skill. To work as a teacher, one must have a specialist in humanities visa, which must be obtained by the teacher’s 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, those teachers, unless they are all married, must be moonlighting, which is in direct violation of Japan’s immigration policy. IBEC could not claim ignorance to such facts, as all companies are required to verify an employer’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 be employed by that company. I contacted IBEC to ask them about this, but as usual, nobody wanted to communicate with me in English to answer the question.

What bugs me as much as the obvious immigration law violations are the educational institutions that can’t take the time to use a spelling checker program, and post websites, or publish educational materials that are typographically error free. This is something one would expect from an operation that has a consultant with a J.D. from Harvard, or even an MBA from Phoenix Universities online education program, (another scam that nets huge profits by providing worthless degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on).

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, (example students performing all of the maintenance work) then this is the perfect opportunity for you.

If you think eikaiwas conditions are deplorable, and they are, then consider Japan’s public schools. Recently Japan, once again, found itself dead last in educational environments out of the thirty-one nations studied. Again? Wow!

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.

In an unrelated matter, the General Union, 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 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. It’s clear that even governmental agencies will stoop to the use of 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.

Oddly, 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 take notice that good teachers are in reality, very hard to come by, and that a quality teacher would expect nothing less than a fair working environment, a reasonable schedule, decent treatment, and a contract completion bonus to help cover the costs related to travel, costs not borne by Japanese, and to cover the ridiculous, and expensive living tax that all foreigners are subjected to. Without good teachers the eikaiwa industry is doomed to fail. Sadly, if it continues down the corrosive path it’s on, it should!

WYSIWYG. The photo above is the reality of teaching in Japan. Oh, the horror!

Unfortunately, there’s still more.

Enter Coco Juku. Well, not really, you see Coco Juku is the deplorably unsuccessful and miserably failed Gaba, which is owned and operated by Nichii Gakka, a company that makes medical devices. Working conditions are so abysmal at Gaba teachers simply refuse to work for the company. The language chain was so poorly managed the company decided to change their name. Hopefully, not too many students, and teachers will fall for this obvious 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 completely unrelated businesses to education. These unscrupulous companies merely attempt to get into the industry to make a fast buck at the expense of unsuspecting students and educators. These establishments almost always end up ripping off students, and almost certainly find themselves in bitterly fought legal battles with union officials that represent teachers who have been harmed in a myriad of ways by these outdated shams. When many of these companies realize that the union will not waiver in their battle, they often resort to hiring gangs to intimidate, and physically harm union representatives, and/or their clients.

Ironically, Coco Juku had the audacity to form its own “teachers” union. As part of the requirements for being employed by this bogus group, you must join their union. This is clearly an attempt to circumvent Japanese Labor Laws, and to avoid having to deal with the real employment unions. In that, the same terrible working conditions exist at Coco Juku as they did at Gaba, and as a result the chain is doomed to fail miserably. This is one company you want to steer clear of as a student, office staff, and especially as a teacher.

If you think the horror stories of Gaba, Geos, G.com, Coco Juku, Peppy Kids Club, Berlitz and the rest of the worst are bad, then you don’t want to read on regarding the “new” Nova, which operates a wafer thin staff of extremely overburdened “part-time” (full-time) teachers while continuing to sign on as many new students as it can. Nova knows full well that the company does not have enough teachers available to teach lessons to the students the company already has, yet the company keeps marketing to sign up new students. In all democratic societies this is fraud, and to the extent that Nova commits it, it’s clearly a felony!

Sounds bad eh? Well, actually Nova has cleaned up its act a bit since its fall, and some of the regions are managed pretty well. This however, is not true in Ibaraki, Fukui, Miyagi, Fukui, Fukushima, and the rest of the area. This region is managed by a former office staff that somehow was raised to the status of “bucho” after the fall took place half a decade ago. This region is so poorly managed that one can only say management is entirely incompetent. They must be terminated if Nova wishes to avoid another implosion. Nova should take heed as its very bad reputation in Japan still exists, and is not looked upon favorably by the labor unions, or the courts. When Nova finds itself back in the media glare, it will not survive the second round.

In Ibaraki, Miyagi, and other areas in the control of the incompetent Nova management there are schools that have as many as five hundred students, and as little as one teacher. Some teachers have asked for vacation leave, which is required by law, and these requests are always refused. This is illegal. It violates labor standards that Japan’s Supreme Court has strongly supported, yet again.

Nova hasn’t been able to hire a new teacher in more than two years. Well, they did hire one teacher in Ibaraki who hadn’t even graduated high school. Although he was “cute” it didn’t take long for students to realize the guy didn’t know what he was doing. He was let go.

Another debacle occurred where one “teacher” who didn’t last even a week before he was led out of the building by security. This lunatic actually bragged about being allowed to beat children when he taught in China. This guy was such a whacko that his training report stated that he had not once smiled, and that there were numerous red flags to hiring him. Nova ignored those red flags as trivial matters, and gave the guy the green light. Within one day this “teacher” physically assaulted an elderly man, threw chairs, threatened bodily harm to students, and staff members, and had 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? Well, let’s do a comparison analysis between Japanese teachers, and the teachers who work at Nova.

Japanese teacher working conditions
16-18. 50 minutes classes a week. (Maximum)
Two salary bonuses each year. (Approximately 550,000 yen)
All national holidays are paid days off.
Paid holidays up to two months.
Health insurance.
Class preparation time.

Nova
37-40 teaching hours each week. (Called part-time to illegally circumvent labor laws.)

No bonus. The bonus becomes really important at the end of the year when the city has their hand out for a “living tax” that is generally as high, or higher than an entire months salary. This, for the privilege of living in a racist, radiation contaminated country that also has the worlds highest prices imaginable, regardless of the economic woes the entire country shares. So, be prepared to pay twice as much for half as much when you live in Japan.

Work every national holiday. (Actually, resulting in schedule changes where one has to show up much earlier than normal.)

No health insurance.

Ten paid days off. (This is the bare minimum required by law, but Nova often refuses these days off under the guise that it will hurt the companies bottom-line.)

Zero class preparation time.

Clearly, there is simply no incentive for anyone to work for a company like Nova. You’d have to be brain dead to not notice this after two years of not being able to hire anyone.

Nova better take heed, as of March, there will be a huge exodus, as teachers now prefer deplorable ALT positions to the once eikaiwa giant. Apparently, taking a job that was once construed as scraping the bottom of the barrel is now considered far superior to working for the “new” Nova.

Caveat to Nova

If Nova continues to sign new students without having enough teachers to provide classes, then students will once again demand refunds, and the company will find itself in the media glare being scrutinized for its fraudulent, and illegal contracting practices, and unable to pay salaries.

Oddly, many students that had already been ripped off by Nova and left in droves, went to Geos. When Geos collapsed many of those same former Nova students found themselves back at Nova when G.com purchased Geos after it collapsed. Will those same students suffer a third indignity when Nova falls again?

Conclusion

For anyone who still has the stomach to work in Japan’s sham education factory, take into account that teacher salaries are diminishing to near poverty levels. Also, consider the fact that living costs 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 about 10,000 ¥. These costs even during the 1980s economic “miracle” would have been insane, and that was twenty-five years ago.

Japan’s operatives, and one-way mentality simply cannot grasp the necessity, and importance of regulation, and change until it’s way too late to act. 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 false determination that the nation was more prepared than any other regarding its preparedness for such calamities. The world quickly learned, Japan, the model of preparation may have actually been one of the world’s worst prepared for such a disaster.

So, while salaries continue to plummet lower than your Aunt Floozies’ neckline, and with the economy in a tail spin, with salary men incomes being slashed, thousands of jobs evaporating into the same place money is made – thin air, corporate fraud in other business sectors increasing, falsified accounting, insider trading, Japan’s ridiculous battle with China, and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands, and with Korea over another island dispute, and the World War II comfort women issue, the country doesn’t seem to be prepared to accept its inherent, and obvious failures. Add Noda’s failed policy of doubling the consumption tax, and the nation’s increasing debt, the eikaiwa problem just heaps more instability, and woe on an already troubled nation.

Declining teacher salaries

As of 2017, a immigrant working at McDonald’s in the U.S. makes better money than the average English teacher in Japan.

2007

• Salary approximately 280,000 yen per month.
• 22-24 teaching hours each week.
• Paid national holidays.
• Contract completion bonuses averaging 250,000 ¥.
• Sick leave, and health insurance provided by companies.
• Paid pension.

2012

• Salary approximately 220,000-250,000  yen per month.
• 37-40 teaching hours each week with no preparation time scheduled.
• Working all national holidays without extra pay.
• No bonus.
• No sick leave.
• No health insurance.
• Although stated in the contract, rarely if at all do Japanese employers pay the lawfully required  pension for foreigners.

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. Take into consideration 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 mindless TV offerings that are spoon fed to a nation that has no idea what is happening outside its own borders.

Honestly though, how often does one have to turn on the boob tube in Japan, and watch yet another, not so funny comedian, eating the same bowl of noodles somebody else had eaten only the day before, on that very same show, and proclaiming, as the other not so funny comedian had, Oishi!

It’s little wonder so many Japanese turn to alcoholism, are socially inept, or end up playing the odds at their local Pachinko racket, not unlike gambling that their eikaiwa chain won’t collapse before they are able to cash in on their prepaid “budget” lessons.

Remember, a good deal is usually neither, good, or a deal!

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 experimental deregulation philosophical experiment cause the world’s most volatile financial crisis ever. The lack of regulation plummeted the entire planet in an economic nosedive, and the world has yet to recover from it. Clearly, no regulation in the industry caused 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?

Nearly every industry in the world requires some form of licensing in order to do business. 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? Then why would one not want to learn a language from an entity that had no license to prove they had the requisite skill to do so?

Parents pay large sums of money to supplement their children’s education for university entrance exams. Office workers pay large amounts of money to learn the techniques they need to get a good TOEIC score so they can be promoted to a management position, thereby giving their family a better life. These hard working people shouldn’t have to gamble that they too 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.

  • http://generalunion.org.
  • http://tokyogeneralunion.org.

Know your rights. Know the law!

Japan’s Labor Laws. http://jil.go.jp/english/laborinfo/library/Laws.htm.