Long-cherished memories and an international environment are inspiring Members to keep Club membership in the family.
On a hot summer day in 1990, the pool of the Azabudai Club erupted. A barrage of projectiles rained down on the water, followed quickly by another barrage—this time of children.
“I can still picture it, the old Club, the outdoor pool,” Member Matthew Romaine says. “I spent a lot of time in the pool and on the diving board. I remember they would take old film canisters—those little black tubes—and put a bunch of rocks in some and coins in others. They would throw them in, and the bottom of the pool would become covered with these canisters. There was a contest and you could go down and grab them, and you could keep what was inside.”
It’s just one memory of Matthew’s time growing up at the former Azabudai clubhouse, which reopened in its present incarnation in 2011. He would often visit with his parents, Steve and Machiko Romaine, and grandparents, Kaneichiro and Michiko Imai.
Image (clockwise from bottom left): Michiko Imai, Dona Romaine, Matthew Romaine, Azusa Tanaka, Fumiko Tanaka, Steve Romaine, Machiko Romaine and Melissa Romaine at Easter lunch in 1987
Matthew, 43, also recalls the family Sunday brunches and his explorations of the Club’s intriguing maze of corridors and rooms.
Now his 3-year-old daughter, Aria, will be able to embark on her own adventures at the Club. Matthew and his wife, Sawaka, took over his grandfather’s membership, which Imai maintained until he moved to a nursing home. He lived to be 103.
Machiko remembers spending time at Azabudai with her father in the 1970s. She and Steve joined in 1980, just four years after they tied the knot at the Club.
“It was in the lobby,” recalls Steve. “They built a very tall chapel.”
“Yeah, they double-booked us,” adds Machiko with a laugh, “so that was to make up for all the trouble. Then we had the reception upstairs.”
As Matthew and Sawaka record their own Club experiences as a family, they are thrilled to be able to raise their daughter in a multicultural environment.
“The Club is a great place for that, with things like Thanksgiving and Easter, which don’t really happen in a Japanese environment,” Sawaka says. “I grew up in Mexico and went to an American school. I grew up with people from different backgrounds, and I really want Aria to have that same multicultural experience.”
Image: Ayako and Ryutaro Yoshida with Santa at the Club in 1993
The Romaines are just one family who are forging memories and celebrating milestones across generations at the Club. And following the Board’s decision earlier this year to allow Members to transfer their membership to grandchildren as well as children, more families will be able to share the pleasures of membership with the next generation of Club custodians.
Alyssa Yoneyama is another Member who called the Club home as a child and has returned with children of her own.
The Club, she says, helped her family adjust to their new life in Tokyo in the early 1990s.
“With my mother being from the US and my father from Japan, my father wanted to make sure that my mother had a network, so we joined the Club,” says the 35-year-old. “I remember Halloween, Easter, Sunday brunches, the Fourth of July and birthday parties here. And once I got to middle school and high school, my friends and I would always just come here after school, charge meals to the number, play basketball, things like that. It was a good hangout.”
Image: Alyssa Yoneyama at the Club bowling alley in 1994
Her parents’ work running their sporting goods company meant plenty of travel between Japan and the United States, and Yoneyama spent portions of preschool through high school in both countries.
“The nice thing was, when we came to Japan, there was always the Club,” she says.
Yoneyama is now experiencing the Club as a parent. She and her husband, Andrew Brewer, moved from Los Angeles in August with their children, Callum, 2, and Moe, 5 months. This time, it was Yoneyama’s mother, JoAnn, who was keen to put a network in place. She transferred her membership to the young family.
“My mom has helped us so much,” Yoneyama says. “She remembers the tough parts about moving here back in the ’90s, so she wanted to make sure that it was comfortable, and that Andrew wouldn’t have to go through any of those things.”
Brewer says he is looking forward to making the most of Club membership.
“I want to do my best to immerse myself in the culture outside the Club because I think that’s really important, but having this community is a nice addition to transitioning from the States,” he says.
The couple are especially excited about the opportunities for their children.
“It’s fun thinking about how they’ll have a similar experience to what I had,” Yoneyama says.
Ayako Yoshida has the same hopes for her 2-year-old daughter, Sara, after Yoshida’s 93-year-old grandfather, Yashiro Masamoto, transferred his membership to her.
The 33-year-old remembers Club excursions with her grandparents as a child.
“We visited the Sunday brunch a couple of times a month,” she says, “and that’s one of my greatest memories with my grandparents.”
Image: Andrew Brewer and Alyssa Yoneyama
Yoshida even keeps a photo of herself with her brother, Ryutaro, and Santa Claus at the Club in 1993 in her living room. She says she is keen for her daughter to experience those kinds of moments.
“It will be a great opportunity for her to enjoy and experience all the programs at the Club—swimming, music classes and more,” Yoshida says. “I enjoyed the outdoor pool at the previous Club facility. I went three or four times a week every summer when I was in Tokyo.”
Hopefully, Sara won’t experience everything her mother did.
“I actually got lost once. I think I was 3 or 4,” Yoshida says. “I got into an elevator on my own, accidentally, and I got lost. And, apparently, I screamed. My mother thought she had lost me, but then she heard me. I ended up somewhere on the second floor. I think by the Membership Office.”
Besides introducing her daughter to the Club, Yoshida says she is looking forward to taking advantage of the many offerings herself.
“I’ve only just become a Member, so I haven’t had a chance yet, but I would definitely love to use the gym,” she says, “and also there are other programs I would love to join.”
Arriving in Japan in 1982 as a 12-year-old, Andrew Little encountered a country vastly different from today.
“Coming from a small town in the Midwest made the move quite jarring,” Little says. “But I can still remember going to the Club and the comfort of just having a hamburger and fries helping the transition.”
Those tastes of America would become a mainstay during the six years Little spent in Tokyo.
“I still remember meeting friends at the pool during the summer months and having a hamburger, fries, a milkshake and a salad with blue cheese dressing,” says the 53-year-old. “It’s such an ingrained memory that still makes me smile.”
Graduating from the American School in Japan (ASIJ), Little returned to the States to attend the University of Wisconsin. Now he has returned as a parent.
Image: Andrew Little at the Club pool in 1983
“I moved back to Tokyo on an elective basis this year to give our 16-year-old son an international experience, living in Tokyo and going to ASIJ,” he explains. “Joining the Club again was a must, both for my wife and me and for our son.”
Little says the Club was a sanctuary of sorts for him 40 years ago, and he is sure it will offer the same opportunities for his family to socialize and immerse themselves in its international community.
So what does he make of the new Azabudai Club?
“It’s spectacular,” he says. “The new design, layout and facilities are exceptional. Everything I loved about the Club back in the ’80s was the location, food and basic facilities, but now you get all that with world-class facilities and service.”
It’s those kinds of sentiments and touches of nostalgia that inspire parents—and grandparents—to share the life-enriching opportunities of membership with the next crop of Members of Tokyo American Club.
Senior or Emeritus Members interested in transferring their membership to a child or grandchild should contact the Membership Office for details.
Words: C Bryan Jones
Top image (l–r) Matthew, Sawaka, Aria, Steve and Machiko Romaine: Kayo Yamawaki