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Japan: Reactions to the Nova Suspension

Categories: East Asia, Japan, Economics & Business, Law, Media & Journalism

Nova, the largest English-language school operator in Japan and well-known for its fuzzy pink mascot [1], is in dire straights [2], having been ordered last week to suspend part of its operations [3] for six months after it was found to have deceived its students [4] and violated consumer protection laws [5]. While selling its courses as an opportunity to overcome differences in social status [6], actual students complained of various illegal tactics: the distribution of pamphlets [7] claiming students can schedule classes for whenever they want (when in fact there was a shortage of teachers at peak hours), for example, and claims leading students to believe [4] that the “cool-off period” (period during which a contract can be canceled) is shorter than the law actually specifies. A total of 18 different types of violations [8] are reported to have been committed by Nova, affecting not only students [9] [Ja] but teachers as well [10] [Ja]. With Nova being repeatedly slammed by the media [11] over these recent events, some have predicted this may be the beginning of the end for the English-school operator [12].


Blogger individualfrog [13], a teacher at Nova, writes:

The evil company I work for, NOVA, has been hit with an order from the Ministry of Business or something that it can't sign up new students for six months. I'm fairly sure this will be the end of NOVA or at least NOVA as we know it, since the majority of students don't stick around for long–English school is like the gym in Japan, something you sign up for as your New Year's Resolution but don't actually go to. This has been an amazingly bad year for NOVA, with some teachers getting busted for drugs, another teacher murdered, and the scandal that lead to this ruling–they were basically ripping off students who canceled.

Blogger southofreality [14], a former teacher at Nova, is skeptical about the future of the company:

I’ve heard that NOVA (the eikaiwa side) makes most (90% plus) of it’s revenue through new student contracts. New limitations have been put into place to limit the duration of new student contracts. This will cause NOVA to become shortsighted when it comes to calculating monetary assests. It’ll only be able to count on short-term revenues.

Many Japanese bloggers also expressed their thoughts about the recent news. One blogger [15] questions the quality of teachers at Nova:

人の向上心につけ込むと言うか、望みがあるからこそ高い金払って受講するんだろうに、他人の夢を食らって肥え太ったというわけらしい。少人数制・教師はネイティブのみなんて言えば、講師集めだけでも大変な出費だろうと思っていたけれど。別の言い方をすると、フラッと日本に立ち寄っただけのバックパッカーでも講師に雇ってもらえる可能性が高いってことで、講師の質には大いに疑問があったりしたわけでもある。

I guess people pay a large amount of money to take lessons because they have a hope, but the company was taking advantage of people's desire to improve and eating up people's dreams. When I saw lines like “small classes” or “all native instructors”, I thought it must have been costing them a huge amount of money to recruit instructors. But if put in different words, even those backpackers who just pass through Japan can possibly be recruited as teachers; therefore the quality of the teachers is hugely questionable.


Another blogger, fametti [16], puts some of the responsibility on consumers as well:

これは会社側だけの問題ではなく、
全てが用意されたことに慣れていて、
自分で積極的に動くことを忘れた、
消費者側にも問題があるのである。

This is not just a problem of the company, but also of the consumers, who are so used to having everything done for them that they have forgotten to engage actively, and are thus also responsible.

何かあれば、
「すべてお前が悪い」
と言う考えが蔓延っている現代の日本、
益々主体性の無い国になりつつあるのだろう。

In Japan today, there is a widespread attitude of “it's all your fault” when something happens.
I guess Japan is increasingly becoming a country where no one takes initiative on their own.

Blogger Minatsuki [17], a Nova student, writes:

私の場合途中で解約する気は全くないため解約時に起こるトラブルは全くありませんが、そう言えば契約時、まだシステムがよくわかっていない私にスタッフが大量のVOICEチケット(フリートーク出来る部屋に入るためのチケット)を買わされたなぁ。あれまだだいぶ余ってる。期限が来年の10月ぐらいだったと思うからそれまでになんとか消化せねば…。そうそう、それと『いつでも好きな時に予約が取れる』という歌い文句が嘘だというのは本当です。それはもう入学当初(10年位前)から変わってないですよ。最初はよく『あの歌い文句は全くのデタラメやんか!』と心の中で怒ってました。とはいえ、全然英語が聞き取れずしゃべれずの私を曲がりなりにもなんとか今のレベルまでにしてくれたのはNOVA。というか、NOVAに行くうちに『英語はただ英会話スクールに行ってれば話せるものじゃない。結局自分で努力しなければなんにもならない。NOVAは自分の勉強した事を実際に使ってみる場所。』と通い始めてしばらくすると気づきました。日本にいると外国人と接することなんて日常生活ではまずないですから、外国人が狭い部屋で話しかけてくる、そしてそれに嫌でも答えなければならない状況を作ってくれているNOVAには私は感謝してます。・・・感謝はしてるけど・・・あくどい事をするのは良くないし、やり過ぎた様だから、ちょっとはシボられた方がいいかもしれませんね。これを機に業務見直しが進んで先生の数ももっと増やして予約がいつでも取れるようにして欲しいなぁ。

I don't intend to cancel my contract so I never have any problems associated with cancellation. However, when I signed the contract, the staff made me buy a lot of VOICE tickets (tickets for using the freetalk room) even though I still didn't really understand the system back then. I still have quite a few of them left. I think they will expire in October next year so I have to use them up somehow by then… Oh, yes, and it is true that the catch phrase “you can make an appointment whenever you want” is a lie. It has always been the same since the time I started (about 10 years ago). At the beginning, I was angry, thinking “that catchphrase is a complete lie!” in my mind. Having said that, it is NOVA that has helped me, a person who could not understand nor speak English at all, improve my English to the level at which I am now. A while after I started taking lessons at NOVA, though, I started to realise that “I will not be able to speak English just because I am going to an Engish conversation school. After all, if I don't make any effort, nothing will change. NOVA is a place where I can try out what I have learned.” In Japan, because you rarely have a chance to meet foreiners in your daily life, I thank NOVA for providing me with the environment in which I can talk with a foreigner in a small room and situtations in which I have to force myself to spit out answers. I thank them, but… it is not good to be greedy and they seem to have gone too far. So maybe it is …… I hope that they will revise their business management and increase the number of instructors so that people can schedule an appointment for whatever time they want.

Finally, one blogger [18] takes a more tongue-and-cheek approach to the whole thing, writing:

つい先日、受講料返還訴訟で敗訴したばかりのNOVAですが、業務停止命令ですか。

NOVAはどうなるんでしょうね。

入学金免除キャンペーンをずーっとやっていたら、それはキャンペーンじゃありませんね。指摘されても仕方ありません。

ただ、近所の服屋さんはずーーーっと「閉店セール」なんですが、、、

いつまでたっても閉店しないんですが、、、

これはいい、のか、な?

NOVA has just lost the law suit over tuition refund the other day, and this time they have been order to suspend their operations.What is going to happen to NOVA?

I guess if you are running a student recruitment campaign [offering no sign-up fees] all the time, then it's not really a campaign, is it?
It's only natural that they got accused of it [running the campaign].

But then, the clothing store in my neighbourhood has been having a “closing sale” for ages and has not closed yet.

I wonder if this is ok?