Geographies of the Eikaiwa Wonderland

Eikaiwa is a Japanese term that can be translated as “the activity of English conversation.” It is often used metonymically to mean an organization that teaches conversational English, particularly one of the big private English conversation schools. In Japan there are many hundreds of eikaiwa establishments. The largest companies are NOVA Intercultural Institute, GEOS, AEON and ECC (the Big Four). Each of these organizations has an extensive network of schools located throughout Japan and a network of recruitment offices abroad. The corporate history of AEON serves as a typical example of the historical growth of one of the bigger English schools. Founded in 1973, it had 25 branches in 1984. By 1989 this had increased to 149, and by 1997 there were 230. At that point, AEON employed over 2000 personnel, of whom about 500 were foreigners (AEON 1997). The other big schools exhibit similar patterns of expansion over this period (NOVA 2004, ECC 2004). Total estimates for eikaiwa sector size are unreliable; however, according to some sources between 400,000 and 700,000 students are attending eikaiwa at any one time. The University of Arizona. Read more…

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