© The Mainichi Daily News
Tokyo, Japan
April 19, 1999

The back-wages of sin

          Japanese people often ask me what I think of Japan. When I think they really want to know, I tell them about one day here I will never forget: Dec. 26, 1994. That was the day I and a group of employees I had organized were supposed to receive three months in back wages in the Utsunomiya, Tochigi courthouse at 11:00 a.m.
          But 11:00 came and went, and it wasn't until late afternoon when the man who had refused to pay us[1] stood in a hallway of the courthouse facing me, holding a briefcase filled with our money – refusing to open it and hand out the dough. The lawyers we had hired then met with him in private, later informing us that he demanded that we promise to keep quiet about having to take his company to court in order to get paid.
          Negotiations continued, and the stress from months of not being paid in a foreign country was reaching a climax in the courthouse, with some of my group in tears. Eventually, under strong pressure from my fellow plaintiffs, our lawyers and the judge, I agreed to "refrain from doing serious damage to the company's reputation." If I didn't agree to this vague clause, I was told by my lawyers, we wouldn't get paid.
          So we finally got our money, and the man whose company we had taken to court continued doing business, while his companies hired new employees through a broker overseas and through want ads in Japanese newspapers.
          But with a new group of employees, the same company we had taken to court stopped paying wages again. After I introduced these employees to one of our lawyers, the company was sued a second time for three months in back wages. This time, however, no one showed up to represent the company in the courthouse, and the company ignored the court order to pay.
          Finally, the government paid a percentage of those employees' wages, but I recently heard that the landlords of the company's branch offices have still not received their rent – which is as much as a year in arrears.
          According to copies of the company's business registration I recently obtained, the company is still legally operating (though it is no longer doing business).[2] Furthermore, the man who had refused to pay us is still legally responsible for the company's name. Meanwhile, he continues to run other businesses in Utsunomiya, one of which is an "international" senmon gakko (vocational school) in the city's Motoimaizumi district – where he had me teach English when he wasn't paying us.
          I will always remember the tears on the faces of people who weren't being paid when I think of Japan's internationalization program. But I suspect the man who held tightly to the briefcase filled with his employees wages laughs when he thinks about it. He has good reason to laugh – because Japan's internationalization program, like its system of justice, seems like some kind of cruel joke.

Don MacLaren
Fuchu, Tokyo

[1] The man's name is Hiroaki Sugimoto, of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture.
[2] Actually, the company (named the "American Club") may still be doing business​​.  I obtained the American Club's business registration in February 2011, and it clearly notes the company is not bankrupt and has 30 million yen in equity (over US$300,000 in February 2011).[2]  As far as I know, when this article was published in 1999, it was not holding English classes, but there are several other business activities noted on its business registration, such as restaurants and bars, athletic clubs, hotels, printing/publishing, video and software rental and employment services.

As of 3 April 2014 there was a Wikipedia article on the American Club, here.  You can also learn more about the events I describe in the Mainichi Daily News piece above here.

Don MacLaren
Jiangsu Province, China
3 April 2014​​

To contact Don MacLaren, please email him at: info@donmaclaren.com
You can learn more about him here.