Soccer is a universal language. It was the language that helped Takashi Yamaguchi make the transition from Japan to Belgium, and later, to England. Soccer also became a source of camaraderie and esteem for Yamaguchi, who learned early on that he had a preternatural feel for the sport. It was that feel that pushed him to pursue a career as a professional athlete. But that career did not come easily for Yamaguchi. He played for a team where a win meant getting paid and a loss meant getting nothing. Yamaguchi eventually made it to Yomiuri FC, where he thrived as a midfielder for the team. Then the game ended, and Yamaguchi eventually found himself in the real estate industry by chance.
Yamaguchi spoke with Blueprint, presented by CBRE, about his love of soccer, how ignorance helped fuel his game and what sort of impact the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will have on Japan’s office market.
POSITION AND SPORT
TEAMS PLAYED FOR
Yomiuri Nippon Soccer Club (now Tokyo Verdy), 1992
BEST SOCCER SKILL
PROFESSIONAL ACCOLADES IN REAL ESTATE
Awarded the CBRE Japan Circle of Excellence in 2011
TIME WITH CBRE
WHEN I FELL IN LOVE WITH SOCCER
Growing up in Osaka, I was originally a baseball player and played catcher in little league when I was in grade school. My older brother was also a catcher and I always had my sights on being like him. My dad was working for a general trading company and he moved us to Belgium when I was 10. We were living in Brussels among a community of roughly 3,000 Japanese people. I went to a Japanese school there, but they didn’t have any baseball. I joined a local soccer team that was not part of the Japanese community. I played against local kids and I fell in love with the sport. Soon I was telling people that my dream was to become a professional soccer player.
PLAYING WITH THE BIG(GER) GUYS
When I was 16, I moved to Buckingham in England by myself. I attended a Japanese high school there, but I was able to play on a local amateur team in Buckingham. I discovered that I could play just as well and as tough as the bigger British players. Even though I wasn’t big or strong, I could still play well. I was chosen as a representative from Buckingham to play in Newport Pagnell, a nonprofessional team in England. That gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer and I realized then that it was becoming more of a realistic goal.
THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF SOCCER
I learned more about the people I was playing with and their culture through playing soccer than I did doing anything else. It gave me a window into how people think and how receptive they are to people from other cultures. It was not very common for people in Belgium and in England to have an Asian player. Some people were nice to me, and some people were more, well, ignorant. But that’s human.
IGNORANCE AS MOTIVATION
When I was confronted with ignorance by a teammate or an opposing player, all it did was motivate me to play better. When I scored goals, people ran up to me and congratulated me. That’s what motivated me to play. If I scored goals or played well, my nationality and ethnicity no longer mattered.
RETURN TO JAPAN
I returned to Japan and I tried out for Yomiuri FC, but I did not get a full-time position with the club. Instead, what I got was a “semi-professional” position in the team’s lowest tier. This meant that I played once a week and if my team won we got paid. If we lost, we didn’t.
So I had to work several part-time jobs to support myself while attending practice every day in the afternoons. I worked primarily in restaurants. I also once worked as a fishmonger.
MAKING IT TO THE MINOR LEAGUES
After two years of toiling, I was brought up to Yomiuri’s equivalent of a minor league team. It was basically one rung below their major team. I practically cried with joy. I was very happy.
MOST MEMORABLE GAME
When I was with Yomiuri, I played against Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as “Zico,” in a game against the Kashima Antlers. He was a Brazilian soccer player who retired from professional soccer and was invited to play in Japan despite his ambivalence to do so. It was fun to play against him.
WHEN I KNEW I WAS DONE WITH THE GAME
I realized that I needed not only the technique, but a stronger body and mind to compete against others. After playing soccer during the 1992 season, I was asked to leave the club the following season in 1993. I realized my game wasn’t as strong as it used to be.
LIFE AFTER SOCCER
After I left Yomiuri, I spent two years looking for another team to play with. Yomiuri gave me a recommendation letter to share with other professional teams, so I was trying out here and there while holding part-time jobs.
After a while, I gave up on the idea of playing for a professional soccer team and joined Yokogawa Electric, a private company. Yokogawa had its own soccer team, which isn’t unusual in Japan. Many companies have their own athletic teams, like volleyball, ice hockey, rugby, baseball, and track and field. Athletes earn a living working for these companies and playing sports. So I joined Yokogawa’s sports business unit and was teaching children soccer while playing for its soccer team.
After three or four years, a colleague and I were called in by the company and were told that one of us would remain with the sports business, while the other would have to move to Yokogawa’s real estate unit. Because my colleague made the first choice, he asked to remain with the sports business. I moved to the real estate unit and continued to play for Yokogawa until I was 29. I wanted to leave and expand my real estate practice to commercial properties. CBRE was already a known commodity in Japan and the company had a nationwide network, so I joined the firm in October 2004.
SOCCER SKILLS TO REAL ESTATE SKILLS
I’ve been a professional soccer player for most of my adult life. The sport itself taught me how to communicate, how to foster a strong relationship with my teammates, and to have the passion to work tirelessly to improve my body, my mind and my technique. Everyone at CBRE has a common goal and they work to accomplish that goal as a team. In this business, there is always winning and there is always losing. That still shouldn’t deter us from working to accomplish our goals.
I’ve also discovered that sometimes when I meet with new clients, most of the time they just want to ask me questions about my soccer days.
WHAT TO EXPECT OF JAPAN’S REAL ESTATE MARKET IN 2017
With the Tokyo Olympics now three years away, office rents will grow in Tokyo and Osaka. This is not a direct result of the games themselves, but host countries’ GDP generally grows leading up to the opening year of the Olympics, and we expect this to be the case in Tokyo, as well. The rent hike will continue through the end of 2017, with a peak hitting in the third quarter. Tenants will be facing higher rents, but many of our clients’ businesses are already expanding, so we should see many of them expand into new office space or consolidate smaller ones into bigger, singular spaces.
After that, the market should stabilize, I believe. The Tokyo market expects plenty of supply in 2018, so the market will be favorable to tenants.