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Batten Down the Hatches

Lets Japan gets a steady stream of email from people asking for advice on how to get a job in Japan or whether they should make the journey on their own. We receive so many of these messages that we feel we should have started a consultancy not a blog.

A typical reply usually includes some mixing and matching of the following:

  • Sure, come to Japan if you want.
  • Try one of the larger schools.
  • Yes, you need a university degree.
  • If you want to come on your own, you'll need a lot of money.
  • Work for a year or two, and then think about getting on with your life. Don't stay too long.

Things, however, have taken a turn for the worse:

The economy plummeted at an annualized pace of 12.7 percent in the three months through December, the worst fall in the past 35 years. Gross domestic product for 2008 shrank 0.7 percent in real terms, compared with 2.4 percent growth in 2007.

The Cabinet Office in a report released Monday said weak overseas and domestic demand led the GDP to contract for the third straight quarter, following an annualized 2.3 percent July-September fall.

"This is the worst crisis in the postwar era. There is no doubt about it," economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano said.

The Economist:

NO ONE expected good news. Yet Japan’s GDP data for the final three months of last year, published on Monday February 16th, still managed to shock. The preliminary estimate suggested that the economy had shrunk at an annualised rate of 12.7% during the period, the third consecutive quarter of contraction. The speed and scale of the slump leaves behind anything that happened after 1990, when Japan’s bubble burst. Looking for something comparable in Japan’s post-war history, only the effects of the first oil crisis of 1973-74 outscores it—and this slump is far from over.

Japan's economy is in free fall. Major manufacturers have already gone through one round of layoffs and production shutdowns, and there is no indication that things will get better soon:

According to the latest government estimates, released last month, some 125,000 part-time workers will lose their jobs by March. Labor officials cannot follow what happens to all those who lose their employment, but of the 45,800 who have been tracked, the government found 2,700 became homeless.

Private estimates go much higher — to upward of 400,000 new jobless by the end of next month — and say more than 30,000 of them will become homeless, nearly double the country's nationwide homelessness figure. By the official count, the number of homeless is 16,000 and has been slightly decreasing for several years.

"This is just the beginning," said Hitoshi Ichikawa, a ministry official in charge of labor policies. "There will be many more in coming weeks and months."

Politically, Japan is a basket case. The Aso government is quickly running out of that most-important type of political capital: credibility. Shoichi Nakagawa's embarrassing press conference has become a full-blown crisis for the Aso government. Despite his quick departure, the government does not appear to have a coherent plan for leading Japan out of recession. It has already decided on two stimulus packages and is now considering a third. Given that past spending efforts only helped to create a crushing debt that is 180% of GDP, adding to it isn't a plan for success. If Nakagawa's drinking proves to be the final nail in the Aso government's coffin, Ichiro Ozawa and the DJP, likely to take the Lower House in the next election, haven't been very vocal as to how they would fix things, either.

A zombie government, the unwinding of job security, and the loss of income translates into a collapse in discretionary spending. For neo-Nova and eikaiwa as a whole, this may further prolong and deepen the "Nova shock". Job conditions aren't any better. Pay is down, legal battles over wages remain, and students are still smarting over the loss of their tuition fees.

My point is that if you're thinking of coming to Japan to teach, now is not the time. You're better off putting this idea on the back burner. If you're already here, it's time to batten down the hatches. You, too, need a plan if you wish to avoid finding yourself in a situation similar to the clusterfuck that ensued when NOVA collapsed. Update your resume. Get out of debt. Have a plan for returning home if things go really bad. Above all, have cash on hand. Lots of it. If you don't have any savings, get some. Find a better-paying job, take an extra gig on the side, earn more, and seriously cutback on your expenses. Things are going to get worse in Japan before they get better.

Related reading

Adamu at Mutantfrog has an informative post on how the number of JETs, eikaiwa teachers, and non-JET ALTs has changed in recent years. It's well worth reading.


Your comments seem to suggest that previous governments had a solution to get Japan out of the quagmire it's been wallowing in, they didn't. If Japan has been stuck on this path for fifteen years or so, why are you so angry over the issues of the last couple of months. Everyone expects bad economic news when talking about Japan.

I think you're reading too much into the economy bit. All I was doing was briefly describing the economic and political situation in Japan to give those thinking of coming to Japan some context. I don't know why you think I'm angry.


Looking at the current economic circumstances, will the Japanese keep lining up to pay through the nose to sit down with some idiot, simply because that idiot happens to be a native English speaker?

Hmm, I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

Eikaiwa was always a load of bullshit – a hat full of deceit and lies –that milked Japanese consumers for every penny it could. It was covered in blow flies and maggots from day one.

People crap on as if though Japan’ former economic success, and indeed its economic future, was and is based on “Engrish Fruency” – it’s a load of god damn baloney – bullshit and hype, invented by mafia Eikaiwa operators, who are nothing more than pimps, when push comes to shuv.

It is good Japan has been hit hard by recession. Hopefully, it will result in the final and total collapse and obliteration of Eikaiwa.

Certainly, anyone with half a brain, who has been touched by the Eikaiwa beast, thinks so.

B Nelson

It's the fact that this web site exists, that is the giveaway, I would say.

It seems like everyone on this website is angry.

Yep, I think the dire economic situation, and the catastrophic impact it will have on english "teaching" in Japan, is getting to people like Ernie. Rather than fisticuffs, take a deep breath guys, you can always up and leave this country when things get too bad.
Lets face it, were all just here to ride the gravy train until the gravy runs out - which it pretty much has... (And don't gimme no lame story like "I'm just here for the cool manga/costume play/scintillating culture")

I wish everyone would calm down. B Nelson is entiled to his opinion but I think he is over doing it. After all probably half of the eikaiwa students (IMO and I have experience teaching at eikaiwa) are only mildly interested in learning English. They are wanting the "gaijin experience" just as much as learning English. Sure there are many who are very serious but about half are almost looking for entertainment?
After all, eikaiwa is an easy way to escape from their lives.

I also seriously challenge the idea that he makes that eikaiwa seems to make huge amounts of money, ("paying through the nose") that may have been the case in the past but its pretty cut throat now. Much more competition etc.

And "the half a brain" thing at the end, was a joke. He obviously had some kind of bad experience at eikaiwa, ok but that doesn't mean we all have!

There are two (rational) ways of looking at how a weak economy affects English language lessons. However, you have to first understand that some people do indeed require English skill for their jobs. I worked for 12 years in a company that provided various services to major manufacturers and their employees. This wasn't eikaiwa stuff. These were people with an authentic need to have language skills (not just English, but mainly English). They traveled abroad, worked for companies with foreign ownership or affiliation, dealt with research or tech information in English, were preparing to study abroad for an advanced degree, or worked for companies that outsourced to India or China and used English as the common language between them and the Japanese branch.

In a weak economy, companies are jettisoning company-sponsored training, but their employees still need to improve their English. That means that the employees will have to use self-study techniques or pay privately for instruction. This will drive a lot of people currently being taught in their companies to eikaiwa and private teachers. The need hasn't gone away. The financial burden for fulfilling that need will just be shifting.

On the other hand, you have the people who are learning English for social reasons who may have to give up some expenses and English may be one of the things they let go of. That being said, a fair number of those people are in situations which are economy-proof in my experience. They are retired or the wives of retired people (who live on pensions which will not suffer in a poor economy) or men who have seniority at companies and won't lose money unless their companies go out of business. Not everyone is going to get blown out of the water economically even in a downturn, particularly not in major cities.

Nova having tanked already removed a competitor for consumer dollars in the English language teaching business. At least a portion of those who went to Nova will be redirecting their cash elsewhere eventually (if they haven't already).

Frankly, a lot of the comments here reflect a limited viewpoint of the reality of life for a lot of employees in Japan and seem based on the idea that all eikaiwa students are the same and all teachers are the same. This is just not true. Those notions serve no purpose aside from providing a target for the pessimism and anger of people who frequent this site.

Most companies will suffer a bit and some will fail, but the greatest risk is not to eikaiwa. It is to companies that traditionally sell training directly to companies for training of freshman employees or employees with an ongoing need for skill training, particularly those that service major manufacturers. You may not like this because it doesn't fulfill the emotional need to see the English language business crash and burn, but it's the logical way of viewing things.

I am getting about one or more requests a month from someone or some company looking to hire an English teacher directly! They are not interested in contacting the countless schools and dispatch agencies around and the are confident of having a direct relationship with the teacher -- provided that it is not some shitehead fresh off the plane!

I think so much the English teaching industry has gone off the radar , and that everything left is in such a bad state that it is the only thing people are talking about.

I agree with the general thrust of what you say. Eikaiwa won't die. It will simply find it's natural level in whatever environment emerges. However, the picture you paint is a little too rosy.

For example, based on my experience of teaching company classes, the percentage of former participants in company classes who would judge their need for English education to be so great that they would a) travel to a more inconvenient location and b) pay for it from their own pockets would be very low, I would say. Definitely less than 10 percent. Perhaps it might have been different with the company that you worked for, but overall my figure of probably well under 10 per cent would be close to the mark, I think. An important point to bear in mind is that when companies actually organise classes, that means it's OK to go to them instead of putting more hours in the office. If the company is not organising it, then that doesn't provide any excuse to leave work earlier than you otherwise would.

I agree that the retiree market could be an ongoing and perhaps even growing source of income for the industry. However, you make no mention of the currently larger Kids market. The mothers and fathers who pay for kids to go to clubs are most definitely not recession proof. These are the people who, when things get tight, will have to consider cutting back on educational expenses.

Also, I think it is debatable about how much of a portion of the former Nova clientelle will be directing their money elsewhere. The majority of the then current Nova students did not re enter English language education. So, how much difference a 'portion' makes, I don't know.

Most of the teachers who used to work at Nova are now in fact home. And yet there is still an over supply of teachers on the market. Why is that? I would suggest that the reason is that with the demise of Nova came a significant reduction in the size of the whole market. Nova spent a phenomenal amount of money on advertising. This is something that kept the profile of eikaiwa high nationally, and all competitors benefitted indirectly. That promotional money is no longer being spent and therefore the demise of Nova has led to a significant reduction in the size of the market as a whole. Yes, there will always be eikaiwa education. But no, that is not a reason to treat the warning to 'batten down the hatches' very seriously. This is a time of radical readjustment in which security of employment cannot be taken for granted.

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