American Club (eikaiwa)
|Industry||Language instruction, other|
|Founded||Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan (July 15, 1986)|
|Headquarters||Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan|
|Yasuki Yamauchi (山内泰樹Yamauchi Yasuki) current President|
Though the company primarily operated as an English school in the 1980s and '90s, according to its business registration it is also involved in numerous other business activities such as restaurants and bars, athletic clubs, hotels, printing/publishing, video and software rental and employment services.
The American Club began operating on July 15, 1986, and recruited students for English classes during the Japanese asset price bubble economy of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The classes were mainly taught by native English-speaking teachers from the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. At its peak, it had a main school in Utsunomiya, and six branch schools in Mibu, Mooka, Oyama, Tochigi City (all in Tochigi Prefecture), Koga (in Ibaraki Prefecture) and Sendai (in Miyagi Prefecture).
Financial problems and first lawsuit over unpaid wages
After the burst of Japan's bubble economy in the early 1990s, the American Club began to suffer. In summer 1994, employees' wages were late. By October of that year, the school had stopped paying wages at all.  A group of employees, led by Don MacLaren, subsequently organized, formed a branch union through Japan's National Union of General Workers and took the company's president, Hiroaki (aka "Morio") Sugimoto, and director, Isao (aka "Yasuaki") Konno, to court.   These employees received three months in back wages on December 26, 1994, with a stipulation insisted on by Sugimoto that "teachers will refrain from damaging the company's reputation". 
Though the school had serious problems making its payroll between 1994 and 1996,  it continued to recruit and hire new employees (both before the December 1994 lawsuit and after it) from overseas through a broker in Vancouver, Canada, as well as from within Japan, through The Japan Times "help wanted" ads. Many of The Japan Times' ads were for positions at an affiliated school Sugimoto ran - International Business and Language Senmon Gakkou (aka IBL, which according to its business registration is, like American Club, still a legally functioning entity).
Sugimoto was the landlord of the American Club spaces in Utsunomiya, and collected rent from the American Club through another company he owns, Mimasu Shoji, when the schools' teachers and secretaries were not being paid.
By December 1995 the school was again three months late paying employees' wages. By this time Sugimoto had legally resigned his position as president of the company, and Konno became its president. However, on the business registrations for the Oyama and Mooka schools, Sugimoto's name was the only one listed as being responsible for the school.
After the 1996 New Year's holidays, Konno fled. In a letter to an American Club employee he claimed Sugimoto had threatened him and his (Konno's) wife with harassment from sound trucks operated by right wing organizations if Konno tried to declare bankruptcy for the American Club. In the letter Konno explained that because Sugimoto relied on the financial solvency of the American Club in order to obtain business loans, he (Sugimoto) could not afford to have the American Club be declared bankrupt by its own president.
After this, Yasuki Yamauchi of Fukuoka City, more than 1,000 kilometers from Utsunomiya, assumed legal responsibility for the school. According to a January 25, 1996, article on the American Club in the Asahi Shimbun, a reporter from the newspaper made a call to the company's phone number in Fukuoka, but the person who answered the phone hung up on the reporter. None of the teachers met Yamauchi, and with no one coming forward to take charge of the company, the teachers eventually stopped working for it. However, after the American Club stopped holding English classes in 1996, Sugimoto continued to run IBL (which was government-supported).
Second lawsuit over unpaid wages
A second lawsuit was filed by employees for three months in unpaid wages in January 1996, but none of the company's directors showed up in court and they ignored the subsequent court order to pay. Eventually the employees received 80% of their back wages through the Labor Standards Office of the Japanese government.
With no income received after three months, many teachers returned to their home countries. The total amount of delinquent wages owed all employees during the lawsuits totaled the equivalent of more than US$100,000. Also, students, who had paid in advance for as much as a year's worth of classes, lost an undetermined amount of money. In addition, rent on the company's spaces in branch schools, as well as rent on the teachers’ apartments (which had been deducted by the company from teachers’ pay) was as much as a year in arrears by the time of the second lawsuit.
During the course of the second lawsuit, in January 1996, articles were run in the local edition of Japanese language newspapers: The Asahi Shimbun and the Shimotsuke Shinbun. Articles were also run by a local English language newspaper: Networking (now defunct). The Networking articles outlined the root causes of the lawsuits (specifically the events leading up to the first lawsuit) and focused on the immigrant employees involved. Later, several letters and essays MacLaren wrote were published in journals such as BusinessWeek and The Japan Times. MacLaren also provided The Japan Times with a list of organizations he had contacted in order to help resolve the pay problems, which the newspaper subsequently published on numerous occasions.
Though published news reports indicated the American Club was closed, and its directors ignored a court summons and subsequent court order to pay wages in the second lawsuit, its business registration indicates the company is still a legally operating entity, with 30 million yen in equity.
- アメリカンクラブ株式会社登記 (American Club Business Registration), Utsunomiya Legal Records Office, Feb. 10, 2011
- 「英会話教室の外国人講師ら」賃金支払い求め訴訟経営者不在のまま閉鎖」朝日新聞 (Asahi Shimbun), Utsunomiya edition, Utsunomiya, Jan. 25, 1996
- 和解書 (Court agreement), Dec. 1994
- "The fall of American Club" Networking, Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan, Feb. 1996
- National Union of General Workers Japan, Utsunomiya branch records, 1994-96
- American Club teachers' contracts, 1994-1995
- The Japan Times help wanted ads, 1994-1995
- IBL Business Registration, Utsunomiya Legal Records Office, Feb. 10, 2011
- 登記 (Business Registrations for real estate in Motoimaizumi, Utsunomiya), Utsunomiya Legal Records Office, Mar. 1998
- アメリカンクラブ株式会社登記 (American Club Business Registration), Utsunomiya Legal Records Office, Jan. 1996
- アメリカンクラブ株式会社登記 (American Club Business Registration), Oyama Legal Records Office, November. 1995
- アメリカンクラブ株式会社登記 (American Club Business Registration), Mooka Legal Records Office, Nov. 1995
- Konno, Isao, Letter to American Club, Feb. 1996
- "AC Update: Threat" Networking, Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan, Mar. 1996
- インタナショナルビジネスランゲージ専門学校登記 (International Business and Language Senmon Gakkou Business Registration), Utsunomiya Legal Records Office, Dec. 1996
- Court ruling, 宇都宮裁判所 (Utsunomiya Courthouse), Jan. 22, 1996
- Payments through Labor Standards Office, Utsunomiya, Feb. 1996-Sep. 1996
- Court ruling, 宇都宮裁判所 (Utsunomiya courthouse), Jan. 22, 1996
- 「賃金支払い求め英会話学校訴え宇都宮地裁に講師ら」下野新聞 (Shimotsuke Shinbun), Utsunomiya, Jan. 26, 1996
- 「講師の賃金支払い命令英会話学校へ宇地裁」下野新聞 (Shimotsuke Shinbun), Utsunomiya, Feb. 23, 1996
- "Corruption is de rigueur in corporate Japan". BusinessWeek. 1998-12-07. Retrieved 2018-06-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Labor scofflaws often go unpunished" The Japan Times, Tokyo, December 14, 1997
- "Labor scofflaws still running amok," The Japan Times, Tokyo, April 4, 1999
- "Don't count on a reformation". The Japan Times. 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2012-12-30. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "The American Club and the Vermin of the Wilderness" Wilderness House Literary Review, summer, 2010
- "Pros and cons of Japan bashing," Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, October 31, 1998
- "The back-wages of sin" Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, April 19, 1999
- "Useful telephone numbers," The Japan Times, Tokyo, 1997-2001
- Networking, Utsunomiya, Feb. 1996