executive impact

Tokyo American Club

By Chris Betros

For the first time since the 2008 global financial crisis, total membership in the Tokyo American Club (TAC) now exceeds 3,600 active dues-paying members. It is also a much more diverse membership than it used to be, with about 50% Japanese and 50% non-Japanese (of the non-Japanese, 30% are American).

John Durkin, the club’s representative governor and president, says the club is pleased to welcome so many new members from many diverse backgrounds and countries, but adds the club will always maintain its American flavor.

Durkin divides his time between Tokyo and Osaka where he is CFO of Akindo Sushiro Co, which operates the largest chain of sushi shops in the world. Japan Today catches up with him at the club in Tokyo’s Azabudai area.

It has been a difficult last few years for the club, hasn’t it?

Yes. The Lehman shock in 2008 hit the club hard. We had shrinkage in Tokyo of international businesses, particularly financial services that never came back. We had around 40 members from Lehman – gone; Citi had over 100 members at one time, plus businesses that serviced them like lawyers, accountants and so on. All that shrank to less than a fifth of its size. Those were the club’s core members. In total, the club lost about 700 members due to the financial crisis.

What about the 2011 disaster?

That was different. After the quake, people left temporarily and either came back or someone came to replace them. The businesses didn’t leave Japan. What did suffer was the banqueting business. We lost six months of bookings as everybody cancelled.

What are your plans going forward?

Every 10 years we do a members’ survey and we found three things we want to do this year. One is that members want the club to be more American. Second is they want to have more value for what they are paying. Third is they want us to focus on recreation because that is the No. 1 reason why most people join the club. We are in the process of putting together a long-term operating plan that will deliver enhanced benefits to members, while ensuring a solid foundation for the club for long in the future.

We are also going to be celebrating the diversity of the membership as well. We will have a big Fourth of July weekend and November will be military appreciation month in which we will honor servicemen and veterans. The club will celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving and we invited Singapore to have Singapore Day here. We recently had or will have Greek, Indonesia, Spain, Hawaii and Thai events.

With Japanese festivals, we used to always have Bon odori and we are trying to find a way to start again and mark other Japanese holidays like Setsubun, Tanabata, Adults’ Day and so on.

What would you say the appeal of the club is to Japanese who make up about 50% of your members?

The Japanese want to have the American experience. We offer a different type of culture here. You can’t go to a hotel and experience what we offer and I think some Japanese find that appealing. Everything here is done in English. Many Japanese are long-term members – their average is 20 years. A lot come back to Japan after a long period overseas and they want to join the club.

What is the club doing to support Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid?

We are strongly supporting the bid. We are asking members to sign their name at one of the petition points around the club. We issue press releases and take part in support activities. Masato Mizuno (CEO of Tokyo’s bid committee) is a member of the club and he briefs members on what they can to help such as writing letters.

What is the best part of your job as club president?

I get to meet lots of interesting people, interact with lots of senior diplomats, politicians and visitors to the club.

How do you divide your time between club president and CFO of Akindo Sushiro?

Being club president requires as much time as you put into it. I usually allocate Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays to club business. Then we have board meetings once a month. If I am around and not so busy, I will attend other meetings. We have very responsible people on committees who know what they are doing.

What facilities do you use the most?

I like to use the fitness center and we also have a fantastic pool. I am a marathon runner, so I often come back after a run and use the Jacuzzi.

© Japan Today

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I don't think the membership of this club is very diverse. It's very high priced, no doubt intended to keep the riff raff out.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

They cut their membership fees by 50% recently to try to boost members, place is still way too over priced though.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Curb Your Enthusiasm.

-2 ( +2 / -3 )

The high price and low value or return keep me from joining.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"It is also a much more diverse membership than it used to be, with about 50% Japanese and 50% non-Japanese (of the non-Japanese, 30% are American)."

So only 15% of the members of the Tokyo American Club are Americans.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

what is the purpose of this club?

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Really would have been useful if there was a more in depth explanation of what the club actually involves.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The Lehman shock in 2008 hit the club pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-tyyyy hard.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I checked their website.. roughly $26000 USD to join plus $220 per month in member fees (for a single membership).

Even that source is vague on what they do.. just seems like a gentlemen's club for wealthy businessmen and expats

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@ pizzatime and conbinibento - lol fellas! Spot on!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is very similar to the high-end golfing country clubs in America (such as the one at Augusta National where the Masters Tournament is played). You pay an inflated entry fee to ensure the club maintains exclusivity, inflated dues, and are expected to "support" certain annual events or risk losing your membership privileges. It's basically snob-central. Think "the country club in 'Caddyshack'".

1 ( +3 / -2 )

My wife and I had our wedding reception party at the Tokyo American club. They were such a breath of fresh air after having to deal with all of the ridiculous Japanese wedding halls and party places. All the staff were Japanese, but we received an "anything you need we can make it happen" attitude, like making significant changes to the menus, that is not usually available in Japan. And the price was quite reasonable.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

The Tokyo RICH American Club is more like it, hahaha! Forget about it; it is not for "average Joes" like me.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Sounds like a nice club for those who can afford it and have the time to spend there.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Well said.... Everyone!!! It just make me think of making a club for " philippine internationl club" and hook all the japanese rich businessman... Thanks fof the idea!!!!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I just had a two week trail at TAC. There are way to many tattooed Japanese there and so I decided not to join.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@Sherman, that's how I thought they might be. The luxury hotels in Kansai have similar clubs. In some of them, what you say, those that select on money only (others take only persons that are sponsored by members). Oh, not the colorful thugs that show their back dragons at the boxing dojo in my shitamachi, but well, the elite of the same family. I was a little surprised to see that people that wouldn't enter regular fitness clubs and even the public pools could be seen in a place supposed to be selective. The hotel's managers being E.T.s (I mean those expats living on another planet), they didn't seem to notice anything... weird for Japan.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Back in the day, when I first came out to Asia, these types of clubs served a purpose in that disparities between local cultures and what Americans were accustomed to were so very, very large.

In most Asian countries - and particularly in Japan - those days are long gone. This place sounds like a language school mated with a country club.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The TAC also gives the wives of execs somewhere to go. There are plenty of excursions and sightseeing ventures for them. Part of the life style.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There is no limit to the level of snark that is contributed by the gaijin readers of this site. In any case, since this article was written TAC has no exceeded over 4,000 members built on a huge increase of new younger members from the American and international community. They just upgraded their fitness centre with all new equipment which completely blows away anything from Golds or those crappy Anytime Fitness scam centres. My dues for wife and I are 29,000 yen per month pay for totally free fitness, pool, full basketball court, locker room with towels, full wear, jacuzzi, sauna, sun deck, quiet library and more. They also started doing an almost free monthly first Friday party which is so awesome - a couple of months ago they served FREE American steaks and ribs along with a battle of the bands that just blew us away. Maybe years ago this was a snooty expatty old peoples club but not anymore. Joining this club has completely made our life in Tokyo so much better. Forget the snark and if you are a gaijin in Tokyo its worth a look.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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