Established in 1868, the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC) is Japan’s oldest international sports and social club. It is the birthplace of most modern sports enjoyed today in Japan, including rugby, soccer, baseball, tennis, hockey and cricket.
Japan Today interviews YC&AC General Manager Aaron Kleiman.
What is your background?
I was born in Chicago. I originally was interested in Japanese because I thought it might be beneficial for what I thought would be my future career in law. I never ended up going to law school, but I have certainly benefited from the time spent studying the language at university. My decision to move to Tokyo shortly after graduation was strongly influenced by the amazing experience I had while studying at a wonderful program down in Kyoto, where I spent my 3rd year. I moved to Tokyo in 1999 and have lived in the Kanto region ever since.
Has 2012 been a good year for the club?
Yes, it has. We have introduced a number of exciting new initiatives, such as gymnastics and ice skating lessons for our younger members, have hired some amazing new staff to join our team, and have brought back some of the excitement and fun at the Club that was missing following last year’s disaster. We’ve also held some really memorable events working in collaboration with some key players in the local community, such as our American Independence Day Celebration, our summer Bon Odori festival, and many more. Such community involvement is a major part of what makes YC&AC so special.
Did the club lose many members after last year’s disaster and has the number of members recovered this year?
While the Club saw a number of its foreign members leave following last year’s disaster, we have seen the numbers start moving in the right direction this year and are slightly up in terms of overall membership.
How many nationalities are represented in your membership? What percent are Japanese?
We have members spanning 35 different countries, with no single nationality – including Japanese – exceeding 30% of the Club’s membership.
What do you think most appeals to Japanese members about the club? Do they play cricket, for example?
It certainly depends on the individual, but I think on the whole that there are three major reasons the Club appeals to many Japanese. 1) There are very few places in Japan where you can truly feel like you have escaped from the hustle and bustle that defines so much of life here. Our club provides just such an atmosphere, along with the sophistication, excellent food, and athletic facilities that you would expect of an international sports club. 2) The Club offers a range of activities, including alley bowling, tennis, and lawn bowling, that you don’t need to have grown up in the UK or the U.S. to know how to play. 3) In addition to all of that, English is the spoken language of the Club, so it is also a great way for our Japanese members to maintain and improve their language skills.
As for cricket, it’s a section of the Club that could really do with more members of any nationality taking part. However, we do have a good core of keen players, and the YC&AC President’s XI played the Japan national team this summer in a match to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Club’s move to Yamate. Though we lost, we hope this may serve to rejuvenate interest in the sport both within the club and outside. We also have plans, for example, to launch a youth cricket program next season. As your question implies, YC&AC is of course the home of cricket in Japan.
Are there any interesting events or projects to look forward to next year?
From an events standpoint, we are just putting the finishing touches on our calendar for 2013 and are looking forward to hosting some amazing events. In January alone, we will be hosting a Chili Cook-off and Bunco Night, a Speakeasy Night with live jazz, and a Burns Night Celebration honoring the life and poetry of the Scottish poet Robert Burns and paying homage to YC&AC’s Scottish founder JP Mollison.
There are lots of sporting events in the works as well. We are already beginning preparations for our Rugby 7’s tournament which we will host in early April. YC&AC is glad to be a major part of the promotion of the sport in Japan – especially with Japan set to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Operationally, we have also just hired a new executive chef, David Kristiaan Ueno, who joins our team after most recently heading up Decanter at Tokyo American Club. David will be emphasizing local, seasonally sourced ingredients and a healthful approach to cooking – coupled with consistency, value and thoughtful preparation.
Any new buildings planned or refurbishment of current facilities?
The Club has actually gone through significant renovations over the past five years – including the introduction of a FIFA-certified all-weather surface which we use year round for a range of sports, such as soccer, rugby, baseball, cricket, and more. In 2010, we also renovated and expanded our fitness center and added a dance studio, and transformed the Club’s library into a beautiful new function room and BBQ deck. Of course, to remain competitive, it is important to maintain all of our facilities at a high level and such plans are appropriately prioritized.
As general manager, what is a typical day for you?
Every day is truly different, but I try to answer emails first thing in the morning, and then get into the Club no later than 10 a.m. Weekdays, I then spend the rest of the day working with my staff to ensure operations are going smoothly and to especially work with them on getting new members to join the Club. Weekends are the busiest time at YC&AC and my job is busier as well - I try to spend time in the a.m. talking with our members to find out how they are doing and what aspects of the Club they are pleased with or conversely which areas they want to see improved. Then in the p.m., I tend to be either doing interviews of new incoming members or helping make sure that any event or function we are hosting that night is properly prepared.
Is your job a bit like running a resort or hotel?
I certainly take the same approach to the Club as I would a hotel or resort. That is, I believe that our members expect the same level of service and value that one would expect in a resort or hotel. As detail and service-oriented that I am, it is impossible for me to do the job alone – which is why I am truly thankful to have so many dedicated and hard-working staff on my team.
Are you at the club every day?
It certainly feels like it. I do, however, try to spend a day or two a week at home, so that my wife and 2 year-old daughter don’t forget who I am!