Students feed foreign teachers as Japan school fails

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TOKYO, Nov 1 (Reuters) Foreign teachers stranded by the collapse of Japan's largest language school said today they were broke and being fed by their students, as media revealed a secret bedroom and opulent offices enjoyed by the firm's founder.

Nova Corp, which ran a chain of 900 language schools, filed for court protection from creditors last week, leaving thousands of mostly foreign employees unpaid and students without the lessons they paid for.

''I have a couple of thousand yen (20 dollar) left in the bank. I am expecting an eviction notice any day,'' Kristen Moon, a teacher from the United States, told a news conference in Tokyo, at which she appeared dressed as a pink rabbit character that Nova used in advertising.

Australian Natasha Steele was on the verge of tears as she said her students were feeding her.

Union officials said there were plans to barter language lessons for food for the teachers.

''This is a crisis that is rapidly going to turn into a tragedy if we don't do something about it,'' said Nova union representative Bob Tench, a teacher from Britain. ''There are people who don't know where their next meal is coming from.'' Former company president Nozumu Sahashi, who founded the chain in 1981, pursued aggressive expansion by tying students into multi-year contracts and squeezing teachers' pay, as he made the firm a household name.

He paid himself 310 million yen (2.7 million dollar) for the year to March 2006, Kyodo news agency said, compared with about 3 million yen (,000) for an instructor -- about one-third below the average annual wage in high-cost Japan.

Sahashi's lavish 300 square metre (3,200 sq ft) personal office in Osaka was opened to media this week, revealing a hidden apartment complete with a bedroom, hot tub and sauna.

Sahashi was ousted by Nova's board of directors last week and has not appeared in public since.

The Nova teachers' union is planning to set up a rescue fund for those whose savings have run dry after the company failed to pay them this month, and some foreign embassies have also offered assistance.

Nova teachers were employed on one-year contracts and many of them had not worked for long enough to be eligible for unemployment benefits, union official Louis Carlet said.

Administrators are seeking a rescuer for Nova but analysts have expressed doubts as to whether the firm, which faces delisting from the Jasdaq Securities Exchange on Nov 27, will be able to lure back students who abandoned it in droves.

REUTERS PJ PM1730

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