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A Terrible Triangle

The latest development in the dirty undertaking of dispatch teaching:

A labor union of foreign workers requested Monday that the Aichi prefectural board of education address the concerns of English-language instructors at public schools who they say are working under illegal contracts.

The General Union, based in the city of Osaka, said an investigation it conducted last month and communications with municipal boards of education show that foreign teaching assistants in 16 school districts in the prefecture are contracted by private language schools or other agents rather than the school boards themselves.

The union charges that by going through agencies, the school boards are "avoiding the obligation of hiring them directly that comes after a certain period of (temporary) employment has elapsed."

It's all slowly coming to a head. Nothing illustrates the situation better than this 2005 letter from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) acknowledging that gyomu itaku (outsourcing contracts) are illegal.

This notice was sent to all prefectural BOEs, and advises that they give preference to JETs, direct hires, and legal dispatch jobs over gyomu itaku with private dispatch companies. It also recommends that skilled ALTs be made permanent employees (正社員).

Paragraph 3 in the appendix also contains some noteworthy items. It notes that dispatch contracts can only be made with ministry-approved dispatch companies and that BOEs should make sure they are dealing with approved companies before entering into a contract. It also notes that dispatch contracts are valid for 3 years whereupon the ALT must be made a permanent employee.

This letter is the kind of thing that should lay the foundation for ALT positions to be decent jobs, but instead, what we have is a terrible triangle.

BOEs: Lazy and cheap. They want ALTs in classrooms but don't want any of the hassles that come with having to manage foreigners. They know that dispatch companies can be unscrupulous but use them anyway. They like the steady supply of cheap instructors but aren't smart enough to figure out why the teacher turnover is so high.

MEXT: The letter shows that they are aware of illegal hiring practices, but they aren't doing anything beyond issuing guidance. This particular letter was written in 2005, and clearly nothing has been done in the past 4 years. Recall the fate of Samantha, covered by NHK in 2007. Fast forward to the present, and we still have the same abuses happening to ALTs like Robert and Eric.

ALTs: For some unknown reason, despite the information one can find on the internet about dispatch companies and teaching in Japan, teachers still insist on being taken advantage of by their employers. They work for low pay and no benefits because they'd rather not give up on their dream/fantasy/plan of living in Japan.

Where is the breaking point? There is absolutely no justification to put up with such terrible working conditions. At what point does the whole mess collapse under the weight of its own bullshit? Who takes the first step in breaking the triangle? Do the BOEs smarten up? Does MEXT do something beyond issuing memos? Do ALTs quit in droves or strike for better working conditions?


so forgive me if you feel my making a comment is out of order. However I am an experienced manager in the European head office of a large Japanese corporation.

It seems to me that the part of the system least likely to break is the ALTs.

There is probably an inexhaustible source of new ALTs in the universities of the English speaking countries. Even if people are aware of the bad conditions in the Japanese domestic market, the economic situation at home is not so rosy as to convince those people that they are likely to do better by staying there.

As you say, a lot of people have a dream of living and working in Japan. It is still very hard to get any kind of job in Japan unless you speak fluent Japanese, which is difficult to achieve without living there for a while. Ironically, this situation arises because of the poor results of the Japanese system of teaching English. Japanese companies are wary of employing foreigners who do not already speak good Japanese, except in specialist positions such as programmer, because they think there will be problems fitting them in.

The bad effect, which in my view many Japanese managers do not recognise, is that the rest of the world is not only different to Japan, it is much bigger. A nation which depends on exporting really needs to take account of local conditions in its main markets, yet this often does not happen.

Conversely, if Japan is to grow a future as a tourist destination, it equally needs to improve its foreign language performance.

A: The ALT is an assistant helping the (real) Japanese teacher of English, who has direct control of the classroom.
B: The ALT has control of the classroom and the school has no direct control over what they teach.

If A is the case, then the BOE is breaking the dispatch law.
If B is the case then the BOE is breaking the education law (JHS)

You cant have it both ways, but that is what the BOEs and Interac etc. want. The big losers are ALTs. As long as the BOE continues to have it both ways they are breaking the law.

of hiring, supervising and firing foreigners. They are willing to turn a blind eye to illegal contracts and working conditions provided by dispatch corporations. Outsourcing and privatization rule the day.

freely ALTernate between A and B as their mood leads them. Sometimes they just check the mood of the students. If the students are unruly or sleepy, they turn the class over to the gaijin. The JT has no real supervision from above, so they might decide they are too busy to show up for class one day, or they might send a Disney flick with the ALT to show the class. Anything goes.

The real losers are the children. In case you haven't noticed there has been a steadily declining birth rate for years. The older generations simply don't want the little buggers so they don't have them. The few that do show up have to be cared for by this society that doesn't want them until they are grown and can take care of themselves. Then when they are old enough they usually need jobs but the older generation isn't ready to retire so they selfishly pass new laws so they can keep the money coming in a bit longer. All his on top of their entrenched age and sex discrimination makes for a very difficult job market for these unwanted and poorly educated young people. Is it any wonder the schools suck? The parents won't/can't complain. They discuss recipes at their PTA meetings. The teachers can't/won't complain. They are kept hopping around from school to school every year or two as it is and forced to stand and sing 'Kimigayo'. Having a few foreigners around at the bottom of the totem pole is nice as long as we smile and don't complain. But there is nothing worse than a whiney foreigner that should be happy just to be allowed into the country in the first place! It doesn't even make a cute news story for the morning "wide" show!

It would be wise for you folks still working at GEOS to expect to not receive any further payment. If this goes down as it did with NOVA, there were a couple of late payments, then salaries were cut completely. About 6- 8 months later the government did compensate a large percent of the unpaid salaries, but you have to assess if you go several months without pay, or if you can line up work soon enough. If GEOS provides housing that will be in serious jeopardy also, as some NOVA teachers were evicted from their flats, while working at NOVA for free.

This could be a good opportunity for some of you to cut your losses and move on. The English teaching market in Japan is sinking quickly. It really isn't worth teaching for food in a park, while trying to find a job that won't take you anywhere in life.

Is on the wrong board.

But just to clarify...
1) dispatch companies might have to change their practices, possibly close
2) GEOS might be going out if business
3) ELS is going filing bankruptcy
4) unconfirmed rumours about AEON

how will Jonny English Teacher get out of this one?
Tune in next week Batfans

Gyomu itaku is clearly illegal under the school education law. The above link that Shawn provided is indeed a scan of the actual guideline set by the Ministry of Education but the information above the scan is wrong in one aspect. The actual clause of where it says that gyomu itaku is illegal is stated in Clause 37 of the School Education Law (学校教育法律). It clearly states that principal is in charge of the education and not a dispatch company. Companies that claim gyomu itaku is legal are full of shit. One particular dispatch company says that the right the revise lesson plans and work orders that come from the schools or the ALTs. Clearly by this action, gyomu itaku is illegal under the school education law.

BTW..the Ministry of Education just released a new document reinstating that gyomu itaku is illegal under the school education law and it even clearly defines the duties of an ALT when it comes to team teaching.


Can you post the link or a copy of the revised document from the Ministry of Education. I think we're all curious to know what exactly has changed.

Who can enforce the policy, even if they wanted changes in the ALT's duties. The Japanese system and the teachers in it don't want to be accountable to any supervisory authority.

Post address, please.

Email me via the contact page, tell me what papers you have, and I'll get back to you.


To anonymous,

Got your email. The reason I use the contact form is to prevent spam. Contact me at my gmail address, letsjapan@....


Yeah, I heard the unconfirmed rumours have been swirling about. Any further news on this?

Yeah, I heard the unconfirmed rumours have been swirling about. Any further news on this?

How recent are the rumours you heard, and did they come from sources you consider reliable?

I have heard the rumours sloshing around the slime pits for quite some time, that AEON is up to it’s eye-balls in debt, and it’s crew are heaving partly digested fish heads marinated in miso and ginger sauce over the sides, as HMAS AEON goes through some pretty rough seas........ BUT they are thus far simply unsubstantiated rumours. Yes, they are spreading like wild fire, but they are, well at least to my knowledge, just unsubstantiated rumours.

Do you have any hard evidence? Can you name your sources?

Yes, they are spreading like wild fire, but they are, well at least to my knowledge, just unsubstantiated rumours.

Do you have any hard evidence? Can you name your sources?

Doesn't look as if anyone can confirm anything. I wouldn't be surprised if AEON was having a bad time right now, as they seem to have almost the same kind of set-up that GEOS did but with no overseas schools to suck money out of, but there just doesn't seem to be any evidence available.

I asked around a few of the upper management working in the foreigners side of the coin in this game and they said "no all fine" but you could tell by their wide open eyes and that look of "christ, will you shut up and keep that to yourself" painted all over their faces, that it just could be that something big is happening. The denials given reminded my of the kind of instant denial a lying politician gives to reporters. I know I have no evidence in hand at all but every bone in my body and every hair on my head twitching tells me something is going down and it is something big and almighty and it going to have a terrible sting to it.

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