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Japan: NOVA on the brink of collapse

Despite numerous statements to the contrary from an increasingly evasive management, the collapse of Japan's largest English language school operator NOVA appears imminent as bloggers have been reporting lesson cancellations, school closings, and busy phone lines. Tension has been mounting over the past month, with administrative staff still waiting for their pay from September 27 and English teachers having yet to receive their pay of October 15th. And yet even as stories pile up of teachers with pennies in their bank accounts and no funds even to get back home, NOVA President Nozomu Sahashi remains nowhere to be found, refusing to file for bankruptcy protection which would allow staff and teachers to apply for unemployment benefits.


News coverage of striking NOVA teachers

Living day-to-day on a dwindling reserve of funds, teachers are meanwhile being steadily evicted from their housing as NOVA, with little assets and massive liabilities from terminated student contracts, has been unable to pay the rent. Checkmated in a deep financial crisis, even stories of a potential buy-out now seem far-fetched as NOVA faces possible indictment for violation of labour laws, its president meanwhile reportedly hiding in the British Virgin Islands.

FAX from NOVA
FAX from NOVA

Stories in English of the ongoing NOVA saga have featured regularly in blogs and discussion forums over the past couple months. As NOVA finally began to actually cancel classes last week, however, Japanese students and staff also joined in the conversation. Blogger Bun writes:

最近、ブログでノバ生徒のカミングアウトが多発!?
大声で「NOVAに通っています」と言えないのは、
悪徳会社のせい?はたまた英会話能力の無さを自覚しているから?

Recently, there have been a lot of cases of NOVA students coming out in their blogs ! ?
Maybe the reason that people cannot proclaim in a loud voice, “I attend NOVA”,
is that the company is so corrupt? Or is it because they sense their lack of proficiency in English?

[…]

安全な日本で、幸せボケした私にはNOVAが唯一の外界との扉
この歳で思考回路を作り直すのは難しいが、英会話と同じで地道に
やっていこう!NOVAに通った数年間は無駄ではない

For me, who is spoiled with happiness in safe Japan, NOVA was the only door to the outside world
At my age it is difficult to rewire one's line of thinking, but just like English conversation,
let's do it! The years spent attending NOVA were not a waste of time.

Many of the Japanese bloggers who have “come out” reported their experiences at having had their lessons cancelled due to teachers being on strike. As blogger yagiemi-109 describes it:

今日Novaに電話をしました。
予約を変更する電話でしたが、まず電話が話中でなかなか通じない。

Today I called NOVA.
I was calling to change my reservation, but at first the line was busy and I couldn't get through.

何度目かで、やっと通じたかと思うと「講師の給与未払いで、ストライキになるから、予約を受け付けてない。」との返事。「あとから、お知らせがいくと思いますが」でした。

After many attempts, just when I thought I had finally gotten through, I got the reply: “Teachers are going on strike due to the late payment of salaries, so we are not taking reservations.” Then: “More information will be sent to you later, I think.”

Blogger kohkichi gives some more detail about their experience:

今週月曜日にNOVAから
「講師の都合で明日のレッスンが受けられなくなってしまいました」
と電話がありました。

On Monday of this week I got a call from NOVA that
“Due to circumstances with teachers, it has unfortunately become impossible to offer a lesson tomorrow.”

今日、その振り替え分の予約を取ろうと電話をしたら
「実は、本校が○○校と統合することになり10/22〜31まで休校することになりました」
と言われました。

Today, when I called to try to transfer the lesson,
I was told that: “Actually, this school has been consolidated with school X, so between the 22nd and 31st of October there will be no classes.”

で、その○○校は給付金コースを開設していないとのこと。
給付金コースを開設している他校は遠くて通えません。
もう、いつ倒産してもおかしくないので、解約してもお金は戻ってこないだろうし
このまま続けてもレッスンを受けられる保証もなく・・・。

But that school X does not have courses for the educational training benefits [Kyufukin].
Other schools that have such courses are too far away for me to attend.
At this point it wouldn't be surprising if [NOVA] went bankrupt, so though I cancel my contract I probably won't get my money back.
Even if things go on like this, there is no guarantee that I will even be able to continue taking lessons.

Many Japanese had planned to at least continue with the lessons that they had already paid for, since they did not expect to get their money back if they cancelled. Blogger Riruna explains the situation:

今までおよそ4年間NOVAに契約していましたが、家族間でも「なるべくポイントを消費させようとしているのでは」という疑惑が上がり、外国人講師もどんどん辞めて、今では来日3ヶ月などの新人さんしか居ません。

I've been on a contract with NOVA for 4 years now, but even within my family people have voiced concerns that “[NOVA] is trying to make students use their points”, and [meanwhile] more and more foreign teachers are quitting, with only the people who came to Japan within the last 3 months still remaining.

そこで解約しようかと思っているのですが、指摘を受けて清算方法は改正されたのでしょうか?
私は確か330ポイントの契約で、一括で払い込んでおり、残りのポイントは200ほどです。
その為、清算方法が改正されていなければかなりのダメージでして、親も「改正されたのなら今すぐ解約、されていないのならば使い切るしかない」との意見です。
しかしあまりにも対応に必死さが滲み出ていて、学生の身で踏み込んだ質問をしても、向こうにとって都合のいい返事しか返ってきませんでしたし、私としても不信感のあまりもう行きたくありません。

So I am thinking of cancelling my contract, but I wonder if they have revised their accounting practices after they received the warning?
I got a 330 point contract, and I paid for my points in one lump sum, and I have about 200 points left.
If their accounting practices have not been revised, then there will be a lot of damage, and my parents’ opinion is that “if they have revised their practices, then cancel right away, if not then you have no choice but to use up the rest of [the points].”
However, their response exuded a sense of desperation, and even when further questions as a student were raised, I was given only answers that were convenient to them. Personally, the sense of distrust that I feel is strong enough that I don't want to go [to lessons] anymore.

On the other hand, there was also a lot of nostalgia about NOVA lessons. Blogger yummy writes:

ますますあぶないと噂のNOVAですがガーン
先生やスタッフさんに恵まれた人はNOVAが大好きで
なくならないで!!
と思っている人たちも多い
私もその一人です

Rumor has it that NOVA is getting into a more and more critical state
The people who benefit from the teachers and staff really love NOVA,
So please don't disappear !!
There are lots of people who think this
I am one of those people

NOVAにひどい目に合わされた人や上達しないからNOVAはダメという人などNOVAを良く思えない人もたくさんいると思います。
でも私は好きだし、楽しいし、すごく上達しているしなくなってほしくないです

I think that there are many people who had terrible experiences at NOVA, or who did not improve [their English], and these people think NOVA is bad, and cannot think of NOVA in a positive sense.
But I like NOVA, I am having fun, I have really improved [my English], and I don't want this to stop.

Blogger lettuce also misses NOVA:

ホント、がんばってほしいよ。
いち生徒として。
やっぱ、あたしは、時間的(仕事的)に海外に留学ができないの。
だから、駅前留学っていう制度はサイコーによくって、
講師がみんな外国人ってとこも、ほかの生徒さんとも仲良くなれたことも
最高にうれしいことだったの。

I really want them to try their best.
As a student [of NOVA].
In the end, I am not able due to time constraints (and work constraints) to study abroad.
So the system in which schools are positioned in front of train stations is really great,
and the teachers are all non-Japanese, and I also got to be friends with other students
so it was really a great experience.

Some bloggers even expressed hope for the future of NOVA:

振り返ると楽しかったな
いろんな国のインストに会い興味深い話を聞くことができたし
英語は上達したのかなぁ 
今は経営状態がよくないけれどがんばって立て直しでもらいたいです。

I look back and [realize that] I had a good time
I had a chance to hear fascinating stories from instructors who came from various different countries
I think I improved my English
Right now the business situation is not very good, but I hope that they work hard and pull things together.

Blogger Applecheese was less optimistic, looking to the future and predicting that the era of NOVA-like schools has come to an end:

多くの人が英語を上達させたいと感じていて、なおかつ、学習効果の上がる方法を各人が身を持って知る機会が少なかった頃には、派手な宣伝とかも手伝い、うまく時代に乗って広がりました。でも、ああいうシステムが、日本の歴史の中で大きな役目を果たした時代は終わりだと思います。最近の指導システムがどうだったのかは詳しく知りませんが、契約や解約方法の話を別にしても、10年前のあのままのシステムを続けているのだとしたら、規模縮小はまぬがれないと思います。

At a time when many [Japanese] people felt that they would like to improve their English, yet had few opportunities to advance the effectiveness of their studies, [NOVA] took advantage of the trend of the times and expanded with the help of flashy ads. However, I feel that the era of Japanese history in which that kind of system can play a significant role has now ended. I am not familiar with more recent tutoring systems, but even if we put aside issues of contracts and cancellation policy, if they continue with the system that was in place ten years ago then I think it is inevitable that there will be a downsizing [of operations].

Finally, I'll end this post with blogger metatabi, who recounts saying goodbye at what will almost certainly be their last NOVA lesson:

NOVAから「本日予約のレッスンをキャンセルさせてください」と電話。
無給で働かされていた講師たちがストライキに入ったらしい。
まぁ、確かに仕方ないことなんだけどねぇ。
昨日のNOVAのレッスンではたった一人残っていた講師が、「明日を最後に3週間バカンスをとることにした」と言っていて。
帰るときには「また明日ね〜」って別れたのに!
来ないのか…。

NOVA called to tell me that: “We need to cancel your lesson reservation for today.”
Apparently the teachers, who were being made to work with no pay, have gone on strike.
Well, I guess there is nothing that can be done about this, but..
At my lesson at NOVA yesterday, the only teacher who was there that day said that: “Tomorrow, I've decided to finally take three weeks of vacation.”
And when we left each other, we even said “See you tomorrow!”
But I guess they're not coming…

18 comments

  • Thanks, Chris. This was a great post – I’ve noticed a lot of talk about the students with exceedingly few people trying to find out what the students thought. Good idea for a much-needed post. Keep up the good work.

  • Chris Gifford

    Dear everybody,

    Im currently a Nova teacher until the 24th of October. I feel sorry for letting down the many students who want to learn english but with no money there is no choice but to leave. Also it was said by the Australian Government they would offer support but after speaking to the Embassy the only support will be help with a phone call to your parents to organise plane or financial arrangements. Thanks Mr. Downer!! Once again never call the embassy, they are full of rubbish! So i wish everybody the best of luck obtaining their saleries, as there is literally no chance of getting this money! Its time to wake up, teachers, students, japanese staff? I cant understand why you are still going to work?

  • Look at the bright side

    Thanks for the insight of Students, If you are a Student yes NOVA was fun. In fact the reason I work there is the students. Not the shady business practices of the management and definitely not the large salary one advertising campaign claimed Nova teachers are paid (ha ha). But now it is time, for all of us to find a place to work and study where we are more appreciated.

    So if you are a teacher, don’t go home with your tail between your legs. Go out and find another opportunity!! If your are a student, Take a few minutes to assess how your English improved, what you liked and didn’t like about Nova and find a place to study that gives you more of what you like.

    Good Luck and Don’t Give Up.
    Doing that is only giving up on yourself!

  • "Rosie" McG

    I have recieved news in Australia today that Nova has become bankrupt…is this correct?

  • Black Ops

    Most of the English schools here are criminal … I have worked for 3 and all 3 have refused to pay their teachers and declared bankrupt to avoid paying the teachers …. a few weeks later they are open again under different company names …. Want to teach english go to Taiwan or South Korea … forget Japan…. it is to racist and the schools are run by criminals!

  • B Rodick

    They think its all Nova, it is now. Worked there for 2 years was fortunate to get out last year, so feel sorry for the teachers, staff and students,cant have much sympathy for mgt, to many bad experiences at that end

  • […] Salzberg at GlobalVoicesOnline gives a pretty good rundown of the problems many employees have faced in recent weeks, with administrative staff not receiving their September […]

  • Nova students speak out about collapse – in English…

    The news spread quickly today that Nova has officially filed for protection from creditors. There are articles now in the international press as well as plenty of them in the Japanese media.

    Estim……

  • Teacher

    Dear fellow Expat Australians,

    The best advice I can give to you all is get out of Japan ASAP!
    The Japanese economy has been steadily declining ever since the crazy bubble burst and the future of Japan looks grim to say the least.

    For us Australians there isn’t much reason to keep bashing our heads against the proverbial brick wall.

    The Australian economy is now the strongest in the industrialized World, the IMF has predicted a growth of over 4% again next year.
    The $A. is hitting new daily highs so the value of yen we are receiving from English schools like NOVA is simply a JOKE!

    Japan is becoming a third World country!!!

    Options?
    There are numerous mining opportunities at large Australian corporations like BHP which are offering $100,000 PA, do the maths that’s about 4 times higher than what you are ever going to get paid in Japan, as an English teacher (Even if you are lucky to get paid at all)….

    YES I’m afraid it is logically high time to say

    SAYONARA JAPAN!!!!!

  • Blue

    I’m very sorry to hear the news about NOVA. I wasn’t a standard student. I got a ticket which gave me the right getting only 3 times groupe-lesson at NOVA. On Oct the 25th I got the third lesson. And I’m afraid the day turened out the last day not only for me but also for all the students of NOVA.
    I met two teachers,and they were very nice. when I asked one of them if he had other job without NOVA,he said he was fortunary he don’t. Was it fortunary? I don’t think so ,now. I wish I could do something for them .

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