Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Truth About AEON: Part I

I am no longer in the world of the eikaiwa. Now that I am free of such a contract, I can reveal to my readers and the world: I worked for AEON (if you didn't pick up on that already). Why didn't I mention this earlier? Well, for one, I received an official ken seki - disciplinary action and a demand for a written apology – following some of my legitimately informative blog entries regarding cultural differences in the workplace. I later changed these entries to eliminate traces of the Japanese company, and what you see is the finished product.

I can honestly say my experience in Japan and at AEON has been, for the most part, a positive experience. I came over here with a few misconceptions. My research being limited to a handful of personal blogs and backlog from the Nintendo era and bubble economy days of the 1980's, you could argue I wasn't the most knowledgeable individual.

Many people search online for information about the different ways to teach English in Japan – AEON, GEOS, ECC, NOVA, and JET. I do have some personal opinions about my experience working in the most corporate of the English-teaching companies for a year. But, I'm going to be as fair and unbiased as I possibly can (difficult at times) relating these matters to you. If you have any questions or differing opinions, or could link me to other stories that support or refute my position, feel free to add them to my comments section. I give you... the truth about AEON, in easy-to-read installments. They’ve been a long time coming. These are my experiences at one branch of an AEON school. Maybe this is the standard, maybe it isn't... still, I think this information is very beneficial for newcomers.

I freely admit that I am an arrogant individual. I am reckless, headstrong, and I often act before I think. I am the “American-minded” employee many Japanese companies fear (if you believe it's an issue of nationality). That having been established, certain facts remain, based solely on my experience at my branch school and having been recruited by AEON from the states.

Advantages of the Eikaiwa

I will go into detail about many faults, many problems, many issues, on both my part and the part of AEON. However, there are definitely advantages in signing on with an eikaiwa company like AEON for your first Japanese experience. I would like to frame my criticism for this organization in the true Japanese fashion: that is, stating the positives, then commenting on what needs to be improved.

1. Visa sponsorship. Even if you're from a country that qualifies you for a Working Holiday Visa, the eikaiwa will secure your place in Japan for one year, not to mention go through the most difficult parts of the application process for you.

2. Travel expenses. Although AEON does not pay for your airfare to Japan, they do provide return airfare or the cash equivalent if you wish to stay in the country.

3. Transition time. AEON provides you with a guide the moment you land in Osaka or Narita. From that moment onward, you don't have to worry about managing everything by yourself – there is someone to help you through the cultural differences and jet lag time. They help you forward your luggage to your branch school. They can assist you with exchanging money. They pay for your train fare to the training center.

The training (which lasts for seven days if you teach adults, or nine days if you teach children and adults) is helpful in itself as a transition: a chance to experience Japan while learning about your profession, and you don't have to seriously worry about the business side of the eikaiwa just yet.

4. Essentials. Setting up your Japanese bank account. Registering with your local government office. Buying a cell phone. Setting up utilities (though you might be on your own for internet).

5. Getting an apartment. I mention this separately because it is a huge monetary burden if you don't have a company backing you. Japanese apartments and rentals typically have at least two payments required before move-in: deposit and key money. The deposit might be about one month's rent. The key money is anywhere from one to three month's rent. At move-in. If you've just spent a thousand dollars on a plane ticket, this can be difficult enough to cover.

6. Salary. ¥2161/hour, unless you're working with AEON Amity (an independent company that caters entirely to children). This money is especially good given your working hours of 29.5 hours/week, and the flexibility of that schedule – being able to take breaks during the day, and not starting until 1:00 PM.

7. Insurance. Split decision here; the company is obligated to keep you in good health while you're working for them, but it's still reassuring to know you have some coverage. Under a 29.5 hour work week, you have medical insurance only in the event of emergencies - not for preexisting conditions like dental care or any medication you might have.

Recently, AEON joined the Social Insurance Agency in Japan, which led them to “force” employees to choose between the emergency insurance and a 29.5 hour work week, or the new full-coverage Social Insurance (Shakai Hoken) and a 36 hour work week; by now, this might be the standard for new employees.

8. Cultural training. Going over some key differences that will arise in a Japanese work environment (“orders”, kampai, zangyou (overtime), framing criticism for students, etc). Simple Japanese lessons including introductions and giving your phone number.

9. Socializing. Only two of the “big four” (AEON, ECC, GEOS, and NOVA) have a policy promoting socializing with students: AEON and GEOS. Although this might seem like common sense, the other two do have disciplinary action in place if the branch chooses to enforce it.

“AEON encourages teachers to develop friendships with students in a group situation. However, AEON discourages all teachers from having inappropriate, intimate relationships with AEON students, and in particular, teachers should not, under any circumstances, socialize with students under the age of 20 on a one-to-one basis.”

I did notice some discrepancies in this policy; will report more on that later.


Advantages. Questions? Comments?


In accordance with my contract, I still cannot legally post any information which might potentially "damage the Employer’s reputation". I do not consider this post, or my future postings, to contain such information, just firsthand experiences I would like to share. With salesmanship of the eikaiwa under scrutiny (due to the recent legal action against NOVA), I would think AEON would be eager to hear some legitimate concerns foreign teachers have about their work environment. However, if there are closed-minded individuals within the company who object to this information being released, I am giving you this one and only opportunity to object; send me an email with the pertinent information.

Regardless of the eikaiwa reaction, however, I will be posting links to the necessary information if you are considering working at AEON, working at an eikaiwa chain school, coming to Japan, or would just like to hear my experiences.  None of these pages contain information about AEON's “business operations” – just personal experiences which I have the right to share.

The Truth About AEON: Part I
The Truth About AEON: Part II
The Truth About AEON: Part III
The Truth About AEON: Part IV
The Truth About AEON: Part V
The Truth About AEON: Part VI
The Truth About AEON: Part VII

15 comments:

Shari said...

I'm not sure that they can prohibit you from talking about your experience in perpetuity just because you signed a contract with them. I'd be shocked if those terms apply after your contract has expired and I'm guessing there's nothing they could do to you if you did post anything negative aside from sending you nasty notes.

I do have a few questions though. You said the salary was ¥2150 an hour. Are you calculating that based on time on the premises or time spent in classes? That is, places like Nova calculate working hours based on in-class hours yet you are required to spend the "breaks" between every class getting and putting away files. Essentially, there is at least an hour of time in the office you aren't paid for and are doing work-related activity but it isn't counted as working hours.

Also, can you describe the size of the apartment you get and how much the rent was?

I'll be looking forward to your future posts on this topic!

ターナー said...

It's kind of a grey area. Technically, I have nothing to lose; if they pursue legal action, I have no money and no possesions, whereas they will be the ones bringing an unjust business practice (censoring employees' freedom of speech) into the light.

The 2167 yen/hour is based upon a 255,000 yen/month salary divided into the base 29.5 hour workweek; you bring up a lot of good points I get into when I discuss discrepancies in the employee contract; to be concise, let me just say now AEON cannot force you to work in your break time, but managers will find ways around this, especially if you want to work in a cordial environment. Again, wait for Part III.

Rent is always 42,000/month - AEON pays any extra cost, and you may receive an allowance if you live in a "hardship" area like Hokkaido or Tokyo. The apartment size and quality really varies - I guess you can expect a relatively clean furnished efficiency apartment with all the appliances and kitchen equipment you need... but it really varies depending on where you're stationed and what the previous teacher decided to do with the place. My furniture was rotting, but the apartment was pretty new and wired for internet.

Don't hesitate to throw more questions my way, but like I said - six more detailed posts coming.

Shari said...

Thanks for answering. One of the reasons I ask these questions (besides overall curiosity) is that my husband worked for AMVIC which was the predecessor of Aeon and Geos (AMVIC split into those two schools a long time ago) and he didn't work during breaks. In fact, he'd sometimes leave and go wandering around the area or go home (he lived a short distance away from the school).

On several occasions, he found the Japanese staff were rather disgruntled at his habits in this regard but this was a long time ago (about 20 years ago) and he didn't really know the culture and didn't take any hints. He simply didn't care if they got irritated at him for what he did. They tried to push him but he rarely gave in.

One bit of irony is that the salary hasn't changed at all since he worked for AMVIC! I'm also pretty sure the apartment situation was exactly as you outlined.

Anonymous said...

ECC doesn't pay for airfare (I worked at ECC for three years).

Anonymous said...

Geos also promotes socializing with students outside of class, so your statement is incorrect. I work for Geos now and teachers often drink with students (over 20).

ターナー said...

Good to know - any other inconsistences, please tell me

J said...

Hi Turner,

Thanks for posting this on your blog for others to read. I worked for AEON back in the day ('98-'99) with no prior information, so not only do I think these entries are helpful to those considering coming over and teaching, it was interesting to see some of the differences and similarities in your experiences and mine. A few that pop out:

>8. Cultural training.

Never had it. No Japanese lessons (cultural or language-based) were included as part of our training.

Also, the policy of no on-on-one fraternization with those under 20 was not (I think) part of the deal back then.

Thanks.

foxxycleopatra said...

The Japanese manager of my local Aeon resented the foreign teachers. She thought they were intellectually inferior and lazy.

Anonymous said...

I worked with AEON for a year and I enjoyed it. I worked for them from 2002 - 2003 - I was not offered a renewal and I DID NOT KNOW what the reason was until I asked. Supposedly I had dropouts but they never told me how many dropouts I had and I always had the same amount of students in all my classes. Moreover, I worked for two other employers after AEON and they BOTH GAVE ME CONTRACT RENEWALS SO - I am sure that I did nothing wrong with AEON and whoever made that decision did not know who I was.

Just to let you guys know, if you are not given a contract renewal, you can get it reversed if you are member of a union -

Anonymous said...

Hey dude. I'm sorry to hear that you had such a bad time working for Aeon.

(Disclaimer: I work for them.)

I think you should probably make a bit clearer that you personally had a bad time, partly of your own making (you've admitted as much) and that this "Truth About Aeon" title is more like "My bad time at Aeon".

I worked with several teachers like yourself who were fresh out of university, never having worked before and being shocked at the NERVE of the comapny to expect them to say "good morning" when they entered the office.

Frankly, most of us were glad to see them leave, even if it meant we had to cover their classes for a while before their replacement arrived.

I have one question about your story: at one point you say something like "this blog is my personal private diary and I didn't plan for anyone to read it" -- yet you published it for all and sundry to see on the internet. If you were honestly just trying to record your thoughts somewhere and were honestly not intending for it to be read, why didn't you just save your ramblings on your PC, or at least set the blog to private?

It's pretty clear that you are a bit butthurt about the situation you got yourself into, but this blatant self-justification is a little TOO obvious.

Turner said...

Again, I find it interesting you choose to post anonymously. Regardless...

"The Truth About AEON" is a proper title. These events happened, after all, not just to me, but to people echoing sentiments in the comment of entries I-VII. Check 'em out.

I wasn't angry at the company for expecting me to say "ohayou gozaimasu". Genkiness was a bit of an issue, but I didn't appreciate the sales tactics, or the underhanded way managers tried to convince teachers these tactics were proper.

Incorrect - I did expect people to read the blog, but my target audience was incoming AEON teachers and others looking to live in Japan. The assertion that AEON was making - some of my students would be able to find and understand my blog - was ludicrous; 90% of them were in Straight to the Point classes or below. Honshu did their own search, as I understand they have people searching the blogosphere for anything that might cause detriment to the company name.

Thanks for reading, and leave your name next time.

Elisabeth said...

I was wondering how many people AEON sends to Japan each year and if these people stick together or have very different lives.

What is the age range of teachers? I am under 25 and I'm getting a feeling that this is not a "young" program. I also have no previous teaching experience, but I thought teaching in Japan would be a great experience.

Thank you for publishing your experience.

Andy said...

I also wanted to add that 5 and a half years later when I called AEON in New York to register a complaint they gave me some info that I never knew. They have a policy about dropouts. If you have dropouts, they dont give a renewal. Moreover, THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MENTION THE AMOUNT OF DROPOUTS OR EVEN THE NAMES OF THE DROPOUTS. The reason why they dont mention this info is "to protect the privacy of the student and so the teacher does not get irate at the student for dropping out" - This really makes no sense to me but this is what I was told when I called AEON after working for them. My supervisor who I worked with at AEON did not know why I was not offered a renewal - I had to call an office 200 km away to find out why

Anonymous said...

dude, no offence but i don't think what ur doing now is how a professional should act (if u are one).
1 - You should remember that the company is a multi indutry and multinasional business. Perfection and results are important especially when it comes to training.

If you expect them to be totally lenient and happy go lucky like in highschools what for are they spending such a fortune to bring foreigners in??..No companies want to have weaklings and whiners to succeed their business.

2 - I work for AEON but in the mall management division. i'm also a foreigner and i also have my good and bad opinion about the company but i don't spread tales of my hardship for every one to see because it is not the company but my own manager and top officials that pissed me off.

But that's life. The company has went through countless of policies in order to take care of their employees welfare and truth to be told i've worked for 2 other rival companies before and i can give you my word, i've never felt such an attachment to a company to the point that i'm pissed off when reading your article

3 - I think you should pull down this post. It's like your bitting the hands that feeds you. You cannot expect everything to be as you want it to be.

The company has over 300,000 employees, 15 divisions and 250 subcompanies under its name. The top management cannot look into everyone individually and that's why direct seniorities are given the power to judge. It's the same as in any large companies.

Sometimes you get a good superior and sometimes you get an ass but you cannot really say that this is AEON. I'm not really that much of a higher position but I have my own sit in making things go round in my operation department and i tell you that human resource is one of the major aspect of the company so much so that they are developing their own academy for AEON employees.

4 - Sory dude, but I personally think that they made the right decision of firing you.

If you think that you act on the spirit of human rights and all crap, i think you should get your lazy party going ass off finding a new job and see in 5 years will you still be staying in that company or will you post another blog about how life is unfair and biased like a kid

Turner said...

Thank you for your opinion, but based on that comment, it's obvious you didn't read the full seven pages or understand them.