More eikaiwa data – mostly bad news

UPDATE & DISCLAIMER: Please note that all the data below are for all language schools, not just those that only teach ESL. By using “eikaiwa” as a shorthand for all survey respondents, I am assuming that the dominance of English as the second language of choice (and the apparent overwhelming share that English occupies in the classroom-style language teaching market) and therefore that these numbers are essentially not affected by other languages. It is entirely possible, but unknowable from this set of data, that for any of these measures, the breakdown by language could show, for example, that the growth of Korean and Chinese language schools has made those languages a bigger driver of trends.

(First-time readers – I recommend reading my previous post on this topic “English teaching in Japan by the numbers” to get an idea of where this data is coming from)

You can now use Google Documents to see the data I used to create charts in my previous post, Eikaiwa by the numbers. In future data-oriented posts I hope to use the same tool.

While I’ve got you, here are a couple more views of the eikaiwa school data. As I mention toward the bottom, amid all the woeful news are a few rays of hope – the level of new students has remained relatively stable, and sales per customer have actually risen to a recent (if not historic) high:

Number of students


The student population went from 5.18% of the Japanese population in 2000 to 3.54% in 2008.

Student/teacher ratio


In a very wide estimate, each teacher last year taught 19% fewer students than the teachers at the turn of the century. One has to wonder how this ratio works out – maybe student numbers include people who just come in for two lessons and quit?

Classes taught

Also, the total number of classes started the decade at around 10.6 million, peaked at around 14 million in 2004, and fell to just 6.18 million in 2008.

Classes per teacher

Each teacher on average taught 645 classes in 2008, down 31% from 2000 and 42% from the 2005 peak of 1,107.

Number of eikaiwa schools

The number of schools, meanwhile, grew from 3,139 in 2000 to 3,680 (with a spike of 4,303 along the way in 2006).

Sales per teacher


Each teacher now brings in 18.6% less raw revenue than in 2000, in line with the student/teacher ratio.

Sales per student

sales-per-student Oddly, the sales per student bounced back in 2008 to more than the figure in 2000! Either there is some sort of time lag or carry-over effect in the data (receipts do not accurately reflect the student numbers given for the same year) or the schools found some way to boost the sales per student, though apparently not improving sales per teacher.

Sales per class
The total sales per class taught increased:

Sales per eikaiwa school

However, this is not reflected in the sales per school, despite the increase in the number of schools:


Every measure seems to be heading downward for the eikaiwa classroom industry, except for sales per student and sales per class taught. If we note that the number of new students has not seen the same level of collapse as areas like sales, total number of students, and number of teachers, this would seem to indicate that the students who have remained are willing to pay more for the privilege.

18 thoughts on “More eikaiwa data – mostly bad news”

  1. I don’t doubt that eikaiwa follows the trends you have graphed, but aren’t you making some pretty sweeping conclusions with the data? It’s for all foreign language schools, not just eikaiwa, is it not?

  2. That is a good point. In my previous post on the topic I included a detailed disclaimer of why this data might be unreliable. Still, though I don’t have hard data at hand, I think it is still basically fair to characterize this data as essentially mapping the English language industry. To back this up, I have some circumstancial evidence:

    1) The overwhelming majority of members of both major language teaching associations specialize in English.

    2) Even if Japanese as a Second Language schools are counted, the total number of schools numbered only 129 in 2006, with total students of less than 10,000 (vs. more than 3,000 schools in the METI numbers and millions of students)

    But in the interest of clarity, I have added something similar at the top of this post:

    UPDATE & DISCLAIMER: Please note that all the data below are for *all* language schools, not just those that only teach ESL. By using “eikaiwa” as a shorthand for all survey respondents, I am assuming that the dominance of English as the second language of choice (and the apparent overwhelming share that English occupies in the classroom-style language teaching market) and therefore that these numbers are essentially not affected by other languages. It is entirely possible, but unknowable from this set of data, that for any of these measures, the breakdown by language could show, for example, that the growth of Korean and Chinese language schools has made those languages a bigger driver of trends.

  3. One of the biggest problems currently is teacher numbers. There is a lack of teachers currently. For some reason there are a lack of quality English instructors in Japan right now. I think that due to the restructuring of the private English school industry many instructors packed up and left.

    Although, I expect by the end of 2009 the ratio between teachers and students to even out some more. It all depends on students sales. If sales stay higher or at the same level currently the teachers will come back and more of them can be hired as FT instructors.

  4. Can you be more specific about “there are a lack of quality English instructors in Japan right now” as in it’s worse than it was pre-NOVA collapse? As in, back then you could find people with 3 yrs experience but all the applicants now are fresh off the boat?

    If what you say is true, that’s exactly the opposite of what I expected – I would think the good teachers would find their way better than the hacks. But at the same time this makes sense – people always complain of being a human tape recorder, so for many of these businesses strict teaching skills might not matter at all. But then again, maybe the best teachers decided after the NOVA shock that this line of business could no longer be a steady meal ticket and decided to apply their skills and reliability elsewhere.

    You would think that as long as the classroom format stayed the same, the student/teacher ratio should remain about even.

    I was actually surprised to see that new students are coming in relatively steadily (down from 280,000 in 2000 to 230,000 in 2008), and sales per student are not too bad. So a new, small school with a good gimmick could maybe get out there and pull in some students.

  5. Well, NOVA is actually going to be ok. It was simply a mismanagement issue which led to the NOVA problem. After NOVA corp. fell apart it created a big hole in the number of instructors in the job market. NOVA corp. had a lot of experienced instructors. After the corp. broke up many of these experienced instructors packed up and left out of anger. The break down effected the entire private English school industry. There are other private English school having the same problem of not enough teachers.

    Although, as G.Comm NOVA and Seikatsu kobo NOVA redevelop the company, I expect to see in increase in instructors. The more instructor who are hired full time the more experienced instructors you will see in the job market. It will take a couple of years but the industry as a whole is going to be ok.

  6. The demand for English proficiency has gone up, not down. More and more salarymen and women are seeking English teachers, and a result the demand for private English lessons has jumped. But in relation to the eikaiwa industry as a whole it’s going to take some time for it to rebound back to descent teacher student levels.

  7. Are you guys serious? Unemployment is skyrocketing and Japan’s economy is bad and getting worse. If things continue to worsen over the next year, how many people do you think will have spare money for things like English lessons? Of course it will still be a decent number, but it will absolutely be less than today.

  8. Eikaiwa optimists – show us some evidence, either about the desirability of experienced teachers to companies or customers (as opposed to, say, blonde hair or being extra genki) or about eikaiwa’s prospects. The Japanese economy contracted at an annualized rate over double that of the United States for the last part of 2008 according to some measures. Why should we buy the idea that eikaiwa will be booming soon?

  9. This is hard because it is tough to show where demand is shifting due to the extremely diverse array of options. As more people get on the Internet, more will seek to learn English here, and that by itself gives you a whole range of options. I know for a fact that there are Japanese readers using English language blogs on Japan for English practice (though not always for self-improvement reasons – the “English” 2ch forum has a thread dedicated to monitoring anti-Japan writing), and that’s absolutely free.

    I would basically agree that the demand for English proficiency is going up, though the pace of growth is probably not accelerating and is probably slowing down. As Japan’s economy continues to stagnate, the adult population is drawn more and more by the idea of success that goes beyond everyday Japanese society. Profiles of Japanese people who have succeeded abroad can be found every single day on Japanese TV, and the bare minimum default requirement for international success, or even just a job at a foreign-owned company, is English proficiency. Whether or not people actually get anywhere near those goals, that’s the clear top of the pyramid. For one example, for years graduates of the Tokyo University Law Dept. have been opting to work at foreign firms rather than the bureaucracy, which was the traditional top career choice. At the same time, the rise of China and rising popularity of Asia have pushed people to learn more about those countries as well.

    What’s harder to pin down (at least as an armchair blogger too lazy and non-compensated to do original research) is where people are going to fill those needs. It is clear is that there has been a major outflow from this one business model, but who can definitively say whether it’s going into private lessons or to more serious classroom study (e.g., Berlitz has seen growth in students), fee-based internet options, Obama speech collections, or if people are just watching more NHK Education Channel? We will have to wait for Japan Probe to conduct a poll at the bottom of a post or for What Japan Thinks to find the latest opinion poll to get any real idea.

    WJT already has some good survey results:
    Online poll of young people (aged teens to thirties, various professions):
    * 1 in 4 are “interested” in online English lessons
    * 86% want to improve their English, mainly so they can understand movies, travel, and use the English net
    * A plurality of people polled thought language school/eikaiwa lessons would would have been a better way to learn than their school curriculums

    Jan 2007 online poll with widely varying demographics:
    * 56% are most interested in learning English, absolutely destroying the second-place Chinese (4.9%) and third-place Korean (4.0%). The real second-place answer was “not interested in foreign languages” at 26%.
    * This time, people who were interested in any language said they wanted the skills to travel, understand movies/music, and to talk to “foreigners in Japan” (are we that interesting?)
    * 75% of those interested in learning weren’t actually studying. 8.8% were studying English, vs. 1.7% studying Korean and 1.2% studying Chinese (interesting that the Korean learners are more motivated)
    * Of those learning any language, 21.3% are doing it through TV lessons, vs. just 9.9% in language school.

    As Ken Y-N would no doubt agree, these online surveys are hardly scientific, but they are a kind of best-of-a-bad-situation solution to efficiently getting people to tell you what they think. They are most instructive when there are obvious trends, like the yawning gap in interest between English and entire rest of the world’s languages combined.

    So this quick glance totally backs up my assumption that for all intents and purposes, METI’s “language schools” = English schools, though they say nothing about which areas are growing. Also, while economic factors may have an impact on how much money people will spend to learn a language, I am intrigued by the low percentage of people who can actually motivate themselves to study, and the low percentage of those who decide to enter a classroom. In such an environment, I can’t help but think that eikaiwa schools suffer less from the economy than they do from an image and customer service problem. People think of eikaiwa lessons as a high-cost and therefore high-risk venture, and as the Wiki entry will attest, the cat is out of the bag in terms of teacher quality. Without the lure of generous discounts it might just not seem worth it when you can spend your commute memorizing Obama’s inaugural address.

    Also, thanks to Freedom for reminding me of the reconstituted NOVA, run by G. Communication directly and under a franchise arrangement by Seikatsu Kobo. On the G. Communication side there are currently 439 schools open for business! I guess that’s why there is still a NOVA sign outside Kanamachi station.

  10. I’m a little surprised that after all the scandal the Nova brand name was still good enough to be worth using. But I suppose their decade or so of heavy marketing still meant that “Nova=convenient Eikaiwan lessons” in many people’s minds, and the more recent bad news could be excused away with the existence of entirely new management.

  11. Nova had some good ads for a while there. I’m sure that more people remember the ads than the scandal. We should keep in mind that the “holy crap, look what happened to Nova!” factor was a lot bigger for foreigners than for Japanese. I can remember watching the fall of Nova along with my wife… but she can’t. It was just another scandal of the week.

    Nova are back – but in this economic climate, can they really hope to make a go of it? And could the online eikaiwa lesson mean the end of the eikaiwa teacher in Japan lifestyle? The lion’s share of those lessons will almost certainly be done by people outside of Japan. I’m sure that we will hear lots about eikaiwa teachers with Japan experience having an edge because of imagined Japanese skills and cultural fluency, but we won’t care any more than the Japanese customers.

  12. I’ll throw my 2 cents in: I agree with Tony that demand for English proficiency is going up or at least as strong as it was in the past, but the students aren’t going to eikaiwas to study at the moment. Have a look at this series of posts I wrote about surveys conducted by Yano Research.

    They use the term “Nova shock” to describe the fallout from Nova’s collapse. People are shunning eikaiwa for lessons on-line and learning through software on portable devices like the Nintendo DS.

    As Roy says, it’s difficult to believe that the Nova brand is actually worth anything. Personally, keeping the Nova name was an incredibly dumb thing to do given all of the negative press coverage given to the collapse.

    Nova was absolutely slimy in the way it vacuumed money out of the pockets of its customers, so it makes sense to me that students wanting to continue their studies would look for other means. There are plenty of advantages to studying on-line or on your own with your DS:

    *No renewal campaigns
    *No pushy sales staff
    *Study at your own pace
    *No hassles with contracts and paying large sums of money up front
    *No worries about reserving a lesson

    Again, I’m echoing Roy, but as this recession deepens, I expect fewer people will pay to go to an eikaiwa, even if it’s a monthly payment of Y30,000. That’s a decent chunk of change when you don’t know if you’ll have a job in the near future.


  13. If that link (which seems to be not there) is the same crappy (literally) link that was just posted at Japan Probe, kudos for getting on the ball fast enough to save us.

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