Nova boss lived in cloud-cuckoo-land

“The superintendent at my apartment says to me, ‘Your rent is three months overdue; I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave,”‘ says Adele, who came from France six months ago to teach at Nova. “So I did a frantic Net search and found a place charging ¥40,000 a month. One six-mat room in a wooden building, with a filthy carpet on the floor and a shared toilet down the hall. The landlord told me it’s OK for four people to live in the room. So for now I’m living in it with three other teachers.”

This is too much for Weekly Playboy (Nov. 26).

“Why, you’d have more privacy in an Internet cafe!” the magazine exclaims. “This really is the very brink of homelessness!”

With about 4,000 foreign teachers in something like Adele’s position following the October collapse of the once-thriving language school chain, the opening to public view of Nova Corp. ex-president Nozomu Sahashi’s executive penthouse suite ? “furnished like a love hotel,” observes Sunday Mainichi (Nov. 18), complete with Jacuzzi bath, sauna, capacious bedroom, well-stocked bar and so on ? was salt rubbed into wounds already raw.

“We haven’t been paid in two months,” fumes an outraged Japanese staffer. “What are we supposed to make of this?”

One lawyer involved in the case ventures an answer.

“Think of it,” he tells Sunday Mainichi, “as an example of Mr. Sahashi’s exploitation of the company for his private pleasure.”

Like many an emperor, actual and would-be, Sahashi seems to have been grossly out of touch with street-level reality.

Beginning in 1981 he built up the Nova chain from nothing to a nationwide network of 924 schools, the largest of its kind in Japan and Japan’s largest employer of foreigners ? 7,000, including 5,000 teachers. So far, so good, but not even this year’s false advertising scandal, or the government-imposed sanctions that followed took the wind out of Sahashi’s bloated sails. As late as September, hiring was proceeding as though nothing had happened.

“I started teaching at Nova in September,” Weekly Playboy hears from a Canadian woman. “I haven’t been paid once. The company wasn’t even able to pay salaries, and yet they went ahead hiring foreigners who had no idea there were problems.”

She’s written home for money. Meanwhile, “I’m living on noodles, tofu and rice.”

“Rice, rice, rice!” chimes in Australian Peter Thompson, a Nova teacher for two and a half years. “I eat nothing but rice. It’s been awhile since I’ve tasted meat.”

“To the Japanese it might seem strange,” reflects Weekly Playboy, “that [Westerners] would come all the way to Japan in the first place with so little cash on hand.”

That gets a laugh from Mark, an American who’s worked for Nova for eight months.

“Listen,” he says. “Elites with vast amounts of money on hand don’t come to Japan to teach English! For my part, I quit my job in the States figuring on traveling around the world doing part-time jobs. Nova’s pretty well-known among people with that in mind.”

The takeover of Nova by a company promising to rehire as many teachers as possible has eased a mass plight which, when Weekly Playboy was reporting on it, was downright desperate: “No money, no Japanese government support, no possibility [owing to visa restrictions] of securing part-time employment in other fields, in some cases no roof over their heads, in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language . . .”

If all this is troubling Sahashi, he has shown no sign.

Sunday Mainichi delves a little into his background. He was born in Osaka Prefecture in 1951. Both his parents were teachers. After high school he studied in Paris for several years, returning at age 25 determined to do something about the Japanese people’s “language complex.” Nova Corp., founded in 1981, was the result.

“He was a real idea man,” an admirer tells Sunday Mainichi. Sadly for Nova students and staff, too many of his ideas seem to have been conceived in altogether too vast an office.