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This is the language school that many foreign language teachers worked for in Japan. I knew someone working for them who complained that their pay was low, and they actively discouraged its employees from dating.
Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK
Japan's Nova in financial crisis
Japan's largest chain of foreign language schools, Nova Corp, has filed for court protection from creditors.
The firm, which mainly offers English classes, has more than 800 schools and 400,000 students across Japan.
But in June, it was ordered to suspend part of its operations, after a court ruled it had misled customers in advertisements about some services.
Since then, student enrolment has fallen sharply and Nova has accumulated debts of up to JPY50bn ($437m, 213m).
Its 2,000 Japanese staff have not been paid since July and some 4,000 non-Japanese instructors have not been paid their salary for October, union officials said.
Nova has now closed all its schools, Kyodo news agency said.
A court-appointed trustee will sort out its debts and seek sponsors to rebuild its business, Japanese media reports said.
Nova is one of Japan's major employers of foreign nationals. Murdered Briton Lindsay Anne Hawker was working for Nova at the time of her death.
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School's closure in Japan exposes tough times for foreign teachers
Nova, the largest language school, declared bankruptcy last week.
By Christopher Johnson | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Twenty years ago, native English speakers in Japan used to joke that they could make $100 an hour as an ESL teacher because they speak "a" language.
These days, teachers feel as if the joke is on them. Some 4,000 foreign teachers are without jobs and are owed $4,000 in back pay after Japan's largest school chain, Nova Corp., closed its 900 schools last week, declared bankruptcy, and failed to pay refunds to its 400,000 students.
The collapse of Nova might not just be Japan's largest consumer story this year. Foreign embassies, Qantas Airlines, and local unions and media are rallying behind students and teachers, who Sunday night set up a "Nova Relief Fund" to help hundreds evicted on short notice from apartments supplied by Nova. "We just need to think about the 1,300 Australians who are suddenly finding themselves out on the street there in Japan," said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
Nova's demise is also illuminating Japan's worsening reputation for its dealings with thousands of skilled Western workers who, despite speaking Japanese and raising Japanese children, are denied voting rights, tenure at universities, promotions, and contracts beyond one-year agreements with few benefits.
An Industry Ministry survey in 2002 listed 15,800 foreign teachers and about 1 million students at private language schools such as Nova. Thousands more teach privately via networking sites such as findateacher.com, and at most public schools, with 3,800 in Tokyo alone.
"We're being treated like cheap migrant labor down in the southern United States," says Paul Baca, a young Canadian. One of thousands of "perma-temps," he has been going from job to job over the past decade. "About 99 percent of us have university degrees.... [W]e're not treated like skilled workers in other countries."
Ryan Hills quit his $18-an-hour insurance job in Indiana to fly to Tokyo in June in hopes of earning Â¥260,000 (about $2,300) a month at Nova. "My flight landed, and the next day I heard about Nova on the news," says Mr. Hills. "I wanted to study Japanese language and culture but I've been too busy battling landlords and management at work."
He and his roommates from England and New Zealand were evicted after Nova didn't pay rent already deducted from their salaries. With only Â¥9,000 left, he's hoping to receive an emergency loan offered by the US Embassy. "Ramen noodles are not that filling after a few days. The last job I applied for had 900 applicants. But I don't want to leave Japan. I cut off everything at home, for nothing."
Arriving a month ago after graduating from the University of Idaho, Derek Archer calls himself "one of the poor saps who got here when all this was happening. The trainers said, 'Don't worry.' But then our area manager said, 'You have six days to get out of your apartment.' I was totally lost."
His student, an elderly woman, offered to put him up for two months. "I'm [fortunate].... Others are scraping for food money."
TV news sob stories of impoverished blond-haired, blue-eyed refugees was not the intention of Japan's kokusaika, or internationalization. During the bubble economy of the late 1980s, thousands of Westerners earned $3,000 a month to chat with Japanese at national schools such as ECC, Geos, and Nova. But wages have stagnated or declined. Some schools have closed.
Teachers say Nova grew too big, with nearly half the market. "This is a crisis created by a company operating in very improper ways," says Bob Tench, who taught with Nova for 13 years.
Nova teachers joined the National Union of General Workers in the 1990s. Union representative Catherine Campbell says firms abuse the yearly-contract system. "Teaching in Japan ... [is] a really hard situation if you are serious about a long-term job."
Ms. Campbell says Japan's Industry Ministry didn't monitor Nova early on, and then overreacted by banning long-term deals with students. "After that, Nova just started bleeding customers."
About 2,000 Japanese staff have not been paid since July, while many students are threatening legal action to get refunds. But Osaka District Court on Friday granted Nova court protection amid reports that Nova owes Â¥43.9 billion. The Jasdaq Securities Exchange suspended trading in Nova stock.
Calls to Nova's offices went unanswered.
Mr. Tench says teachers should be treated as professionals rather than tourists who speak a language. Some teachers say they fear a new trend of schools hiring cheaper college grads from the Philippines.
Still, many teachers vow to stay on. Sam Gordon, who came to Japan five years ago, says he became attached to his students. "I don`t want to go back to America, I have no job there. Now foreign teachers have a bad image in Japan. I feel bad for the students, too. They didn't even get to say goodbye to their teachers."
Note: Weeklies in Asia are sometimes like their US counterparts, i.e. the enquirer, world weekly news, etc. The reporting is a bit sensational than the norm. Here are some photos of the pad: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/photospecials/graph/071031nova/
http://mdn.mainichi.jp/culture/waiwai/f ... 4000c.html
NOVA impresario used palatial presidential penthouse to pork the pick of his staff
Nozomu Sahashi, the ousted president of NOVA Corp., was getting into some bunnies a bit different to the stuffed toy symbol of the struggling English conversation school chain, Sunday Mainichi (11/18) says.
Sahashi, 56, had decked out a secret room attached to the President's Office at NOVA headquarters in Osaka's Naniwa-ku with a Jacuzzi, sauna and double bed in a room decorated every bit as gaudily as the tackiest of love hotels.
Receiver Toshiaki Higashibatake opened the room to the media to show the world just how much Sahashi was using the publicly traded NOVA as his own personal company, including using the chain to fund the 70 million yen it cost to set up his secret love nest, as well as the 2.7 million yen a month in rent that came with it. NOVA was also forced to foot the bill for a similar love palace for the ex-president in Tokyo, all the while failing to pay thousands of its employees' wages and rent.
"Former President Sahashi started using this (Osaka) office from about 2002," a NOVA spokesman tells Sunday Mainichi.
From about the same time, NOVA's finances began taking a turn for the worse. By its settlement of accounts at the end of March this year, it was 3.1 billion yen in debt. NOVA owes 4 billion yen in unpaid wages and has already received payment from students in the vicinity of 40 billion yen for lessons it has not yet provided. Sahashi, though, has no such money worries. In 2005, he took home an annual salary of 300 million yen. And last year also pocketed a pay packet of 150 million yen.
Sahashi had a liking for bunnies that went beyond the NOVA bunny he created to become the symbol of the company.
"He'd take a gorgeous secretary with him every time he went to some big meeting or party. He used secretaries who had once been top nightclub hostesses in Tokyo's Ginza and Osaka's Kita. They were all gorgeous women, every bit as attractive as showbiz idols or models," a former NOVA executive tells Sunday Mainichi. "He had his favorite foreign teachers and picked out several women for serious relationships; I suppose that's what he used to use the secret room in the president's office for."
In the early days of NOVA, back in the first half of the 1980s, Sahashi was apparently notorious for housing his hostess lovers in dormitories he had set up for foreign teachers at his company's schools.
"He broke a lot of hearts, of both Japanese and foreign women," says a resident of the area where Sahashi's lovers used to be shacked up. "He used to get sick of women pretty quickly and would soon find new love. We were always hearing him screaming out in lover's tiffs."
Despite his failings, some within Japan's McEnglish industry acknowledge Sahashi had his successes.
"He was certainly an ideas man," an industry insider says. "At a time when the market rate for classes was 10,000 yen a lesson, he was able to provide classes for under 2,000 yen a pop, which really drew in customers. He was also a big supporter of youngsters, having employed lots and lots of very young teachers."
Sahashi also oversaw NOVA as it grew from being a tiny Osaka conversation school that grew to become a nationwide chain far larger than any of its competitors. The NOVA bunny, in its early days at least, also proved to be a tremendous financial success for the company because of its outstanding merchandising sales, and was another Sahashi creation.
But the Osaka Prefecture native son of school teachers also received plenty of help along the way. One of the prime reasons was indirect government backing through a national program to encourage working people to study.
"This program subsidized 80 percent of the cost for those who decided to attend an English conversation school," a business journalist tells the respectable weekly. "In effect, this was our tax money. Which means that taxpayers' hard-earned cash was ending up in Sahashi's pockets."
As the NOVA empire crumbled around him and his board let loose with the ax, Sahashi was rumored to have fled overseas to avoid possible prosecution or retribution, but it appears he is actually still in Japan.
"According to a lawyer for the former president, he is spending his time traveling back and forth between Tokyo and Osaka," a NOVA spokesman tells Sunday Mainichi. "We have still yet to be able to talk directly with him." (By Ryann Connell)