© The Japan Times
Tokyo, Japan
December 14, 1997

                                                Labor scofflaws often go unpunished

          I am responding to the anonymous letter to Readers in Council on Nov. 16 regarding problems the writer had with his (or her) employer ("Employer flaunts labor laws").
          The writer is going through difficulties similar to what I and many others have experienced, which I have outlined below.
          In June 1994, the company I was working for[1] was late paying salaries; and by October of that year, stopped paying them at all. Finally, a group of employees, led my myself, took our employer to court, and we were paid our back wages in the Utsunomiya courthouse on Dec. 26, 1994.
          Later, with a new group of employees, the same company once again stopped paying salaries. I referred the employees to a lawyer, and in January 1996 the company was sued a second time for delinquent wages.[2]
          Eventually, most employees in the second lawsuit received a percentage of their wages through the government. Japan's system of "justice," however, allowed the employer to shirk his responsibilities and get away without paying any back wages (or delinquent rent on the company's branch offices).[3]
          Because the employer is a powerful man in the community, most people involved were afraid to confront him. By slickly manipulating and intimidating those he dealt with, he was able to keep the business legally operating long after the pay problems began without surrendering any of the company's assets. (The largest part of the assets included land he had bought during the bubble economy and was having trouble making payments on.)
          Because of these experiences, I lost faith both in Japan's legal system and the Japanese people's sense of ethics. Most of the Japanese victims involved (and some of the foreigners) were manipulated and intimidated into protecting the employer who wasn't paying them and the status quo he represented.
          ​Unfortunately, our lawyers and the mainstream Japanese media failed to clearly expose our employer for what he is, and thereby failed to prevent similar abuses from reoccurring.[4]
          Seeing little hope in getting justice through Japan's institutions, some of us contacted the American Embassy and asked for help. The embassy expressed sympathy and told us they would relay our experiences to the office that puts together the U.S. government's human rights report on Japan. Since that time, however, none of those human rights reports have noted any abuses by Japanese employers against Americans or other Westerners. This leads me to believe the U.S. government is far more interested in protecting the status quo in Japan than it is in publishing human rights abuses – in order to keep U.S. military bases and corporate interests here from being jeopardized.
          During this ordeal some of us also contacted The Japan Times, but the newspaper didn't run any stories. Perhaps this is because many of those who had to sue for their pay were referred to the company by The Japan Times' "help wanted" ads.
          The person who wrote the letter published on Nov. 16 can contact me through The Japan Times and I can refer him (or her) to organizations that might help. I doubt, however, that the employer will find it necessary to take any responsibility with a system in place that protects the status quo rather than protecting the human rights of the system's victims.

Don MacLaren

[1] The company is the "American Club," based at the time in Motoimaizumi, Utsunomiya, Tochigi.  A Wikipedia article on the company (as of 2 April 2014) is here.

​​[2]​​ Each lawsuit was for three months in unpaid wages, thus totaling six months of unpaid wages in the two lawsuits.

[3] The person I'm referring to is Mr. Hiroaki Sugimoto, of Motoimaizumi, Utsunomiya, Tochigi.​​

[4] And alas, later similar abuses did reoccur since the time the above letter was published. NOVA, the largest English conversation school in Japan went through a similar situation before it declared bankruptcy in 2007, with debts of ¥43.9 billion (about US$300 million at the time).  Its president fled and many of its 7,000 employees went through (or are still going through) Japan's bureaucracy to get delinquent wages. (One of the NOVA employees was a fellow plaintiff in the American Club lawsuit of December 1994.) The fall of NOVA was also the postwar bankruptcy in Japan with largest number of consumer victims (its students, who had paid up front for classes).  Unlike the American Club though, NOVA's president was ultimately sentenced to prison time.  The last time I checked, Mr. Hiroaki Sugimoto, Mr. Isao Konno and Mr. Yasuki Yamauchi - the men responsible for the American club when its employees weren't being paid - were doing fine.

​​Also, GEOS, another one of the biggest English schools in Japan, filed for bankruptcy in 2010, after its employees suffered months of late/unpaid wages.​

Don MacLaren
Jiangsu Province, China
2 April 2014​​​​