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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.