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How Fortress Japan Bilked its Victims

This got buried in my stack of stuff to do, but why not haul out the rotten corpse that is Fortress Japan for another round of flogging? To recap, the Consumer Affairs Agency shut down Fortress Japan in February for six months over its coercive methods of signing up new students. The agency's report [PDF] contains five case studies that illustrate how Fortress Japan did business.

You are probably already familiar with Fortress Japan's sleazy conduct, but the stupidity of its victims also shines through. Why did they sign? Where they mentally worn down to the point of being unable to leave the room or were they scared into signing? Fortress Japan's suspension ends August 18 and I wonder if they will return to their dirty tricks if they return at all. Here's a summary of the case studies.

CASE 1

In March 2009, Employee Z from Fortress Japan stopped Consumer A, who was in the midst of looking for a job, in a train station and asked if he would answer a questionnaire. He agreed.

Days later, Z called A on the mobile phone number he left on the questionnaire. She identified herself as Z from Global Trinity and asked A if remembered the questionnaire from the other day. For the next 20 minutes, she told him about an information session that would be useful in A's job, saying that it included one-on-one counseling, that it was popular, and that seats would fill up quickly. A was interested and said he would attend the session at Fortress Japan.

A went to Fortress Japan at the appointed time and date, where Z led him into small room. Using newspaper clippings, Z proceeded to explain to A the importance of being able to speak English and how it would benefit him in a severe the job market. Z also produced a pamphlet which she used to introduce Global Trinity to A, explaining that it offered employment skills and personal development seminars in order to succeed in finding a job as well as English lessons that A could take at any time without any restrictions.

A, realizing that two and half hours had elapsed and that Z wasn't about to finish, informed Z that he was leaving. Z replied that she was almost done and to wait a bit longer. On hearing the exchange, Z's boss jumped in to tell A that Z's presentation was almost finished. So, A let Z continue. A asked how much English lessons were after thinking that studying English would give him an edge in his job search. Z replied that she would tell him the next time they met. Wanting to know how much lessons cost, he arranged for another meeting.

Days after the first meeting, A returned to Fortress Japan where Z led him to the same small room and proceeded to talk about importance of English and the lesson fees. Z informed A that it cost 570,000 yen for 10 months and that A could take any number of lessons at any time he wanted in any course offered, all at the same price. On hearing the cost, A informed Z that he wanted to talk things over with his parents since he had no savings and couldn't carry a loan by working part-time. Z told him that A could increase his hours at his part-time job. A replied that getting more hours would be difficult, to which Z replied that he would be a failure in life and accomplish nothing if he didn't start now, and that he should work more hours. Z also pressured A into making the decision himself by saying that A was an adult and didn't need his parents to make decisions for him. Just then, Z's boss, Y, appeared and told A the reason he couldn't decide was because he didn't have the resolve and was weak. A signed a contract, thinking that they would not let him leave unless he did so.

A later took a level check at a Global Trinity school and was told he was at Level 1. Just as he was about to start his studies based on the curriculum for his level, he was unable to book a lesson three out of four times he tried. Moreover, A found that there were times when the lesson schedule that was released two weeks in advance of classes was suddenly released only 3 days in advance, making it difficult for A to book a class. He was never able to take lessons as he intended due the large number of Level 1 students all trying to make lessons reservations.

CASE 2

In April 2009, Employee X from Fortress Japan stopped Consumer B at a train station while he was on his way to university and asked him if he would fill out a questionnaire about English. B agreed.

That night, X called B on the mobile phone number he gave on the questionnaire. She identified herself as X from Global Trinity and thanked B for his help with the questionnaire at the train station earlier that day. She asked about B's university life and search for a job, and informed him of a popular English conversation information session that was filling up fast. Since B was aware how important being able to speak English was, he made an appointment with X for the next day.

B met X at the train station closest to Fortress Japan, where X escorted him to the building where Fortress Japan had an office. B was led into a small, partitioned room on a different floor than Fortress Japan. X then began a one-way spiel and informed B that Fortress Japan operated an English conversation school and job seminars, and that it had a lot of good things to offer. X also informed B that taking Fortress Japan's English lessons and job seminars would make him a go-getter, instilling within him assertiveness, responsibility, and ambition. X asked B to come tomorrow for a more detailed explanation about the English lessons. Since B was interested in studying English, he agreed to meet the next day.

The next day, B went to the same place to hear more about the English lessons. As with the previous day, X told him about the lessons and job seminars. Interested in signing a contract, B asked about how much it all cost. X didn't answer his question and repeatedly told B that the English lessons were a great opportunity for busy university students such as himself as he could take lessons any time he wanted. B thought that taking the classes would change him. After speaking for nearly four hours, X informed B that she would discuss lesson fees the next time they met and that he should come again tomorrow. Although B was busy that day, he made an appointment for another day.

Several days later, B met with X to talk about lesson fees. As with previous meetings, X again repeatedly told B of the importance of English and job seminars, telling him that English lessons were a great opportunity for busy university students such as himself since he could take lessons any time he wanted. Concerned about how much everything cost, he asked about the price. X told him it was 500,000 yen for 10 months and that he could make a lump sum payment or pay in 24 monthly installments of 24,000 yen by credit card. Knowing it would be difficult to make monthly payments of 24,000 yen and go to school at the same time, B asked for some time to think things over. X pressured B into making a decision by telling him things such as, "500,000 may seem expensive, but it's an investment in yourself. It's cheap when you consider you'll be able to speak English," and "You can decide on your own. You're older than 20." X pressured B for more than two hours before he finally signed a contract.

After signing the contract and going to the school to find out if he could take lessons any time he wanted to, the receptionist told him that all lessons had to be booked and that there was a curriculum for each particular language level. B realized that he would not be able to take lessons at a time of his choosing.

When B tried to book lessons in the fee time he had in between his university studies, classes were filled quickly and he was only able to make a reservation about half the time he tried.

CASE 3

In the Spring of 2008, University Student C, who had filled out a questionnaire on English conversation while on his way to school, received a call on his mobile phone from an unknown number but decided not to answer.

In May 2009, he received a call on his mobile phone and answered it. The person on the line was W from Fortress Japan. She introduced herself, told C that he had filled in a questionnaire at the train station a year ago, and asked him how his studies were progressing. She engaged in small talk while asking him about his search for a job, and then asked if he was interested in visiting an English conversation school that would help him with his job hunt. C was interested in studying English and arranged for a meeting at the school. C went to the school and was taken to a room. There, W informed him that "companies demand assertiveness, responsibility, and go-getters," and "English will help your search for a job. You need it in today's society." W made C anxious by telling him he wouldn't make it in society without being able to speak English or that he would earn less if he could not speak English. Since W didn't tell C about the English conversation school, C made an appointment to meet the next day.

C went to Fortress Japan the next day and after W reminded him again of the importance of English, told him that while all lessons have to be reserved, he could make a reservation without any restrictions at any time and that he was free to choose the day of the lesson. C liked the idea of being able to take lessons whenever he wanted but when he asked about the price, W told him it was 500,000 yen for 10 months, or monthly payments of 24,000 yen by consumer credit loan, and that this was considerably cheaper than other English conversation schools. C replied that a 500,000 loan was out of the question. W ignored C's rejection, telling him it wouldn't be a problem since he had a part-time job. Despite his job, he was a student with an unstable income. C said no and expressed his desire to go home and think it over. W refused to let him go, saying things like he would "regret it if he didn't decide now," or that she needed a decision right now or "You're a failure as a working adult." Wanting to leave as quickly as he could, C signed a contract, believing he had no other choice.

When C tried to book a lesson, he found he was unable to since the class schedule for the next half month was released two weeks in advance. The school was flooded with reservations. Moreover, C's university and part-time job schedules were set a month in advance, and when he tried to make a reservation that fit his schedule, he would only be able to fit in lessons once or twice a week. C tried more than 20 times to book a lesson but could never get the dates he wanted. Ultimately, he was never able to take more than half of the lessons he intended as they were all booked.

CASE 4

In June 2009, Consumer D was stopped in front of the entrance of his university by V, who introduced herself as being from Trinity, an English conversation school and job hunting juku. She asked D if he would take 30 seconds and fill out a questionnaire. V told D that Trinity was holding a free job search seminar and that he should attend. D was worried about his job prospects and decided that it would be a good idea to attend.

Days later, D met V at the train station closest to Trinity, where V escorted him to a small booth on the 9th floor of the building that Trinity occupied. V used newspaper clippings to illustrate how bad the job market was while explaining to D for three hours how difficult it would be to find a job and that companies want people who can speak English and are good communicators. D understood the need for personal development but didn't hear anything about how much everything cost, so he asked about the price. V replied that she would talk about prices during the second meeting, but D didn't seem like a university student who would have problems with money, so he should come to the next meeting tomorrow. D decided that he would make up his mind after learning about the price and promised to attend the second meeting the next day.

When D showed up at the appointed time the next day, V introduced him to U, who would be giving the presentation that day. U informed D that while the English lessons were by reservation-only, he could take as many lessons as he wanted during the 8-month course. U then spoke about the price of the lessons, informing D that it cost 650,000 yen, or under 30,000 yen a month in 24 monthly consumer loan payments. D thought the course was expensive and clearly refused to sign a contract as he wanted time to think it over. U, looking disappointed, told him that talking to his parents was pointless since they'd be the ones footing the bill and that it was too bad that D couldn't make the decision himself. When D explained that he had no choice but to talk with his parents since he probably wouldn't be able to get more hours at his part-time job, U replied that he should take responsibility for signing the contract without his parents input. The back and forth continued for some time. Finally, D decided to work more hours at his job and said he would join the school.

CASE 5

In August 2009, Consumer E was passing through a train station during his search for a job when he was stopped by T, who asked him if he would fill out a questionnaire about his job hunt. T asked E if he was interested in studying English and whether he felt that it was important. E thought both were important and filled out the questionnaire, leaving his name and phone number on the form.

That evening, T called E using the information on the questionnaire and introduced herself as T from Hearts. She then asked E about university life and his search for a job, and asked if he was interested in attending a free job seminar. E had just started looking for a job and thought the seminar would be crowded with people but would be worth attending for the information. He agreed to attend.

Days later, E went to the train station where he first met T. S escorted him to a booth and told him that today was decision day. E replied with a vague, "I see" although his intention was to listen to the spiel and go home without joining Hearts.

S started her presentation by saying that with the Hearts program, E would have to work part-time and earn money on his own. When E replied that he didn't have a part-time job, didn't have time for a job, and didn't intend on getting one, S attacked him for not having a job as it would hurt his job prospects. She said things like, "Not being able to work and go to school at the same time gives a bad impression because society demands that you do various things at the same time," and " Businesses don't like to hire people dependent on their parents because they've had to deal with complaints about their child's employment environment." After some time, S asked E if he had any questions. E replied that Hearts had something to offer but wasn't sure if he wanted to study there. S asked why he was confused, to which E replied, "I have university, seminars, and my own job hunting to worry about so doing a part-time job and studying at Hearts is impossible." S told him that he could do both.

Since the discussion was going nowhere, E asked to see some information about prices. S showed him a chart that said that it would cost 20,000 yen a month, a price that even a university student could afford it while working part-time. E felt that 20,000 a month was doable but the chart that S showed him listed a lump sum price of 500,000 yen payable in monthly installments of 20,000 yen over three years. E pointed out that at 20,000 yen a month, the cost would be more than 600,000 yen. He didn't have the money or time for a part time job, let alone study at Hearts. S tried to persuade him by saying the money was an investment in himself which would yield huge returns and that it was important to work and do something for yourself while he was still young. Again, E declined, "It all sounds good but I have my doubts about some things and am not quite convinced." S asked why he was confused again, to which E replied, " I'm not interested. I'm surrounded by highly-motivated friends at university who are more interesting." S countered by saying that there were plenty of people like that at Hearts and that relying on those close by wasn't a good thing. It was better for him to create his own environment. E thought the discussion was never going to end, so he made himself clear, "I'm really not interested right now."

S, however, pressed on saying, "You think like an old man," "All you think about is risk, not the challenge. You're young but indecisive. If you fail, it's better to do so while in university. It's better to do something and regret it than regret not doing something," and "You can take the lessons when your schedule allows it and you can take as many as you want at no extra charge." E was firm, "The risk is considerable if I fail given the large amount of money involved and other things may take a backseat if I start studying at Hearts. There are other ways than Hearts to grow personally, so I can't make a decision right now." S was persistent in maintaining that joining Hearts was the only way to succeed despite E's many protests, "You're being evasive. You're saying that activities beyond money, your schedule, and Hearts are more important so you can avoid having to make a decision." E kept refusing for over three hours but S wouldn't take no for an answer, so E decided to sign the contract.

It was only when E went to take an English level check that he learned the truth: He had to book lessons, but there was only about one class a week for a given curriculum, he could only make one reservation at a time, and he had to go to the school in person to book a lesson for the same day.

Eikaiwa: 

Comments

to type virtually the same story 5 times..i think we are all saavy enough to "get it" if you had said something like; "this pattern repeats itself time and time again."

dave

I'm sorry I made you read, CanadaJin.

Shawn
Let's Japan.org::Blog

Re-type? Nah, it is called Cut & Paste. Should check it out sometime.

Japan is dirty.

Maybe someone can re-paste the comment about Big Burly Australians and Americans

Nah, the comments about dumb Canadians made me laugh the most. But it is not as if anybody even cares about them in this world anyway.

Burly? That is kind of a sexy word. :-)

I love burly Americans and Australians. They are great to hang out with and less insecure than others from countries I will not name.

I miss hanging out with those guys over a pint. Memories.

you make me cry...you ..you bastard! ;)

I'm glad that Shawn typed out the whole thing, sure it's a bit of the same each time but it drives home the point that this dodge company (who seems to be worse that Nova, if that is possible) would continue to do the same dodgy thing time and time again without any real thought to who they snared in their net

Than again, the customer here does IMO take some of the blame, they actually sat through a three hour "beating" - sales pitch, insults and various kinds of pressure with getting up, saying "NO" and walking away. In some cases they came back the following day for more! -- shakes head

It's a kind of missionary technique. They especially look for someone who is vulnerable and a little confused. Most people walk away, but its a percentages game. Every now and then they will hook into the right kind of person for their method and take it to the point where they can pile in with this stuff about saving your own life by buying their product.

So, they sell hard. English teaching in Japan is a business. You stupid instructors have never been able to grasp that. You make these websites, to denigrate the company, and think you should be treated like royalty, and then cry your pathetic eyes out, when the company folds. You are all worse than scum, and thanks to the bad publicity caused by this site and similar, schools are folding one by one, and you scum bag, lazy ass instructors are losing your precious jobs. What goes goes around comes around. What’s the matter scum ass instructor? Out of a job? Well, you could have supported your employer, instead of spending your time in here bitching about them, couldn’t you? Sorry scum bag instructor without a job, but your tears go unnoticed. It is all a bit like the boy who cried wolf to me. You hated the company. You hated everything. Now hate the fact you have no job. HA HA scum bag instructor! HA HA HA! Enjoy your cup noodles, you pathetic whiners, enjoy them!

It would be nice to think that sites like this could help to bring an end to these types of businesses and their sales tactics, certainly. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen. There will always be bottom end feeders and their apologists. The poster above is the prime example of a cornered bottom end feeder, snarling away.

What sites like this can do, however, is to expose such businesses for what they are, warn people away and very occasionally contribute to a well deserved downfall. No crying from me when that happens, none at all. This site is an excellent public service - and free of charge - for those who need their noodle money!

So who are you tolling for?

Let's all be honest here, Eikaiwa is, has been, and will always be a racket. For that matter, the concept, or lack there of, of English education in japan is a farce. From the elementary schools right on up to the universities. I'll be the first to admit that English teachers, instructors, or what ever you ant to call us are either: a) baby sitters, b) zoo attractions, or c) host/hostesses sans the drinks, fun, and money. I don't think any one in their right mind can honestly think there is much real education going on with regards to English language learning. And to be quite frank, do so many people in Japan really need to study English? Maybe that is the first questions any individual need to ask themselves before they get caught up in such sorry ass situations as illustrated above. Meh, but what do I know? I'm just a scum brag, right?

Well, Company Hater: Fuck You.

I would never use the vile and disgusting language used in the "Company Haters" post, but do wish to comment, that I almost totally agree with the sentiment of the post.

Thankless instructors would do well to remember, who it is that puts rice in the mouths, let alone, enables them to buy the beer they pour down their thankless throats.

Thankless instructors would do well to find an honest way to earn a living in Japan or otherwise go home.

Crime? Over zelaous sales staff, at the most. Consequence? Unemployment for instructors. The Japanese government needs to stop meddling in the affairs of private businesses.

The combination of low quality, thankless instructors creating negative image, unions and government interference is what has stopped the industry from being able to deliver product into the market place as promised. Instructors think Japan is a party. They are to blame for so much of the trouble. Thankless, useless, good for nothing instructors, taking a ride on the gravy boat, and then crying when the boat sinks, because it over-laiden with fat ass good for nothing morons.

So, they sell hard. English teaching in Japan is a business. You stupid instructors have never been able to...

(rants on for a bit)
...
are all worse than scum, and...

(rants on for a bit more)

...Enjoy your cup noodles, you pathetic whiners, enjoy them!

If all the instructors are as bad as you say, it kind of raises the question: who was it that hired them? If eikaiwa operators hire morons to teach their classes because they're too cheap anfd stupid to get qualified teachers who actually care about doing the job properly, they deserve all the crap that's coming to them.

Or following their real calling and selling bogus telephone services to old people. Calling them up and pretending to be their nephew and asking for money etc. etc.

Got to put food on the table somehow, haven't we?

If you carry on doing unqualified "teaching", you will definitely end up working in scumbag operations like this one, and quite possibly get bitter and twisted like our friend above. If, however, you learn how to teach, by way of a teaching degree, you might have an outside chance of getting into something better.

The choice is yours.

First...

If all the instructors are as bad as you say, it kind of raises the question: who was it that hired them? If eikaiwa operators hire morons to teach their classes because they're too cheap anfd stupid to get qualified teachers who actually care about doing the job properly, they deserve all the crap that's coming to them.

But who is over the companies (or should be)? Government? Where is the Japanese government in regulating or at least trying to make any attempt at coordinating things? Governments talk a lot, blaming companies everyone of their problems, but it is usually the ineptness / incompetence of the government why these companies can do this...

Second...

Qualifications? Good luck finding one standard. As long as you stay away from wasting your money on SELL-ta you will be fine.

Qualifications, at the very least, maintain standards, and possibly raise them above the level of unqualified "teacher", depending on the attitude of the person. Certainly the unqualified teachers on here, besides having no professional guidance in teaching, are very bitter and envious of qualified teachers, and the subsequent damage to their careers that working at places like NOVA has done. I would certainly not hire them.

I think a good starting point, if you want a teaching career on or out of Japan, is CELTA. It is at least a step in the right direction, and something a little more than simply doing the monkey dance for the chipmunks, in the glass booth of an Eikaiwa bunch of crooks in Japan.

It all depends if you seriously want to think about a career in teaching, or being a chipmunk entertainer.

SELL-ta is a piece of paper...It doesn't make you God. Move on.

I knew it………..nothing more than a racist bigot…………..

“chipmunks” indeed…………

I think a good starting point, if you want a teaching career on or out of Japan, is CELTA. It is at least a step in the right direction, and something a little more than simply doing the monkey dance for the chipmunks, in the glass booth of an Eikaiwa bunch of crooks in Japan.

It all depends if you seriously want to think about a career in teaching, or being a chipmunk entertainer.

It might surprise you to learn that eikaiwa operators, whatever their various moral. intellectual, spiritual and sexual shortcomings may be, do like their native English teachers to do a bit of teaching as well. This is generally stipulated in their lesson materials, lesson plans and evaluation criteria. Unfortunately, they seem to figure that as Japanese people learn all the grammar and vocab in school all they need is speaking and listening practice, and that all teachers need to teach that is being able to speak English themselves. So, they hire the most minimally qualified native speakers allowed by Japanese visa regulations, and guess what? These native speakers have no idea about how to teach anything, so they are the ones who decide that 'entertaining' the students will be sufficient. They just yak on for forty or fifty minutes, and hope the students will learn something by osmosis. The management doesn't particularly want to spend the time or the money on extra training and higher salaries for supervisors, so either they don't have any or the ones they do promote are just as clueless as the regular instructors and offer no useful performance monitoring or effective leadership whatsoever. So, 'entertainment' is not the main thing that is supposed to be going on at eikaiwas. If that's all some instructors are doing, it's because that's all they're capable of.

Incidentally, I know one or two people with CELTAs. I'm not knocking the course or anything, but I don't rate them particularly highly.

The next comment about CELTA here gets deleted. Keep the discussion limited to the post about Fortress Japan.

Shawn
Let's Japan.org::Blog

CELTA.
(Sorry Shawn, had to do it...) :P

GEOS Montreal and Canada are late with their newsletters this month.....Something to do with interns (unpaid) quitting and staff being overwhelmed by work demands. While some reported there was about $4,000 per school per month going out to "GEOS NA HO", there is a lot more being moved around and out of Canadian schools right now. Follow the money trail. There is a reason why G.Comm Japan financed the failing Canadian operations.

Interesting. This last post supports what I have been hearing through the grapevine. A lot of info leaking out and managers do not even know it is coming from right under their noses.....even the "big cheese's" nose. Heard there are more personnel changes coming soon.

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