Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Weerasakreck Wongpasser (Thailand)
Muay thai gym owner
(He’s been in Japan since ’93)
We introduce you to a man who has experienced the “Japanese dream”. Weerasakreck Wongpasser, who has built up many muay thai fighters.
When he left his country, Thailand, he brought only a bag and small amount of money. But now he owns nine muay thai gyms in the Greater Tokyo area and Southern Japan.
He had an abundance of energy and a strong will to fulfill his dream. Also his love for his parents powered the success of his business. He is a fighter-turned-businessman and he is involved in some projects for improving his country, such as giving old clothes to poor children, building schools and the renovation of old temples.
“If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.” This is an excerpt from Raymond Chandler’s “Playback”. This is exactly his way of life. Enjoy reading a story of a man who succeeded in spite of the odds.
Come all the way from Thailand with a bag
I’ve been managing the first full-scale muay thai gym in Japan. All of our trainers gained experience in Thailand, the home of muay thai. You can work out either in the morning or the evening. Also it’s cheaper than at other fitness clubs. Female members say that muay thai training has a cosmetic advantage because you lose weight after one sparring.
So my own gym became popular among Japanese people and I grew to have nine gyms in Japan. But when I came here for the first time, a bag and a small amount of money were my entire fortune.
A samurai country.
I brought two pairs of Levi’s jeans, a muay thai trunks and three T-shirts when I came here. Those were all that I owned at that time.
I used to be a muay thai fighter. After I retired at 20, I became a trainer. I worked on a monthly salary of JPY 6,000 (US$ 60) and it was low even in Thailand. So I thought that I would be able to get a higher salary in Japan. So when I was invited by a gym in Japan to come here, I didn’t care about the working conditions very much.
I had a dream to build a house for my parents at that time. I thought that I would get a good salary and send money back to my parents, then I would be able to realize my dream. So I decided to come here.
When I was in Thailand, I didn’t know about Japan at all. I learned about Japan by watching a samurai drama there so I thought that Japan is a “samurai country”. I got interested in teaching kickboxing to samurais.
The headquarters of his company. He bought up the entire 5-story building.
After I came here, I worked two jobs. I labored at construction sites from 8AM to sunset and then worked at a gym as a trainer from 6PM to 10PM. I woke up 6AM every morning and came back home to have dinner. Then I went to a gym. I did this everyday.
But I earned only 60,000 yen (US$ 600) a month in total. Sometimes I got more pay but at most 80,000 yen (US$ 800). I came to Japan with five other Thai guys but all of them went back home because they were fed up with that kind of situation.
I lived in a gym so I didn’t need to pay for room and board. I got 60,000 yen and I sent 50,000 yen to my parents every month.
I sometimes boxed even though I was a trainer. Each time I got 80,000 yen a match as fight money, I sent 70,000 yen to my parents.
Why did I do that? Because fathers and mothers are like God for us in Thailand. And I feel happy if they feel happy. I desired my parents’ happiness so that’s why I could keep working here even though I faced many hardships in Japan. Now they own three houses in Thailand.
Starting with 10 trainees
I participated in the matches in Japan even though I’d already finished my professional career. I have a 11-0 record here. I fought with a guy while under the weather but I broke his arm bone. He was forced to retire because of it so I felt sorry for him.
Then the word spread to people. I started a muay thai class at a sports center in Tokyo and 10 people took my class. That’s the original starting point of my muay thai school. It was my second year in Japan.
It was affordable so more people took my class. Some wanted to train everyday. But I had no ring or punching bag. Trainees learned muay thai by using mitts that I prepared. It made me want to teach at an equipped gym.
Working from morning to morning
One day I walked by a boxing gym casually. That gym closed in the nighttime so I asked a gym owner if I could use it from 5PM to 10PM. He’d experienced many hardships so he understood my circumstances. He let me use his gym for 100,000 yen (US$ 1,000). There were a ring and punching bag. But the name of his gym was left on its nameboard.
I taught muay thai in the nighttime so I worked on elevator installation from 7:30AM until 4:30PM. Then I taught muay thai from 5PM until 10PM.
After the gym, I went straight to a beef barbecue restaurant and worked there until 3AM. I earned about 160,000 yen (US$ 1,600) from an elevator job but it was not enough because I got married. I had to pay for our apartment and a gym so I worked frantically. My wife was also working but I didn’t want to rely on her.
My own gym
The number of my trainees swelled so it got harder for me to work until 3AM. But fortunately I didn’t need to work at a restaurant because many people took my training. So I quit a late-night job.
But I still continued my daytime work. I’d worked on both elevators and muay thai for two years and I saved up 2 million yen (US$ 20,000). I thought that I would afford a house for my parents.
However a gym owner asked me to rent it a whole day, not only nighttime. He said that its monthly rent fee would be 250,000 yen (US$ 2,500). If I didn’t rent it, he would shut it down. I spent 2 million yen on the rent fee, moving cost and a gym renovation.
I removed his nameboard and put a new one up. It bore my name, “Weerasakreck Muay Thai Gym”. Some trainees were sign makers and carpenters so they helped me a lot. Then my first gym was established.
But I wiped out my savings so I became penniless again. I owned my gym but I was still working on the elevator in the daytime. So I opened my gym only in the evening. However I quit the daytime job because of an event.
His first gym.
One day I was asked to cut lumber by a foreman. I finished it quickly but he put lumber in front of me one after another. He told me that I couldn’t come home until I cut them all.
But I had to go to my gym after the daytime job. I told him about my circumstances and he said that I was useless. I climbed the wall and flung the electric saw which I was using. I told him that I would quit that job and I left there.
Then my job was only a gym trainer. That means I worked only in the evening. Daytime jobs which foreigners like me could get were mainly the hard work.
So I opened my gym from morning even though only a few trainees took training in the daytime. I opened from 10AM until 2PM, 5PM until 10PM.
But against the odds, the number of trainees increased. I asked some experienced trainers in Thailand to come here and help me. I increased trainers in response to the increase of trainees. They live in my gym so they can focus on training.
Muay thai school in the headquarter building.
At that time, I was the only person who owned muay thai gyms in Japan. So people came to our gyms from a long distance. I don’t know whether that was the reason or not, but a company called “Fairtex” sponsored us. Fairtex is the company which manufactures gloves, trunks, punching bags and so on. I made a loan with a bank in order to buy a building, but they shouldered it. If we expand our business, they can sell more products. So they sponsored us.
I got a strong business partner. I built gyms in suburb areas of Tokyo. I bought buildings and built gyms one after another.
His third gym
Warabi, a suburb area of Tokyo
His fourth gym. He bought the whole building. There is a spacious training room and an accommodation. Thai-style massage service and Thai restaurant open in February 2010.
Makuhari, a suburb area of Tokyo.
I want to contribute to the promotion of Japan-Thailand interexchange
You may think that things just happened like a series of coincidences. But I dreamed to have a gym in Japan when I left my country. People said that I got crazy but I thought hard about my future and I believed that things would go well if I was confident about my plan. I set a goal so good people or good things came following after me.
Thank God for smooth business expansion and now I own nine gyms. My dream came true. Now the number of our trainees is 1,800. I manage gyms without problems during this recession thanks to affordable prices.
I feel I’m really happy because I love my business. I’ve been working on what I love. Moreover all of our gyms are in the black. Now I’m seeing how the economic situation is going but I want to build more gyms like convenience stores.
We host a muay thai tournament called “M-1” in Japan and develop fighters from any gym. I want to promote muay thai more in Japan in order to contribute to build a better relationship between Thailand and Japan. Now I’m looking for sponsors in order to realize my new dream.
What is Tokyo to you?
A good city. Wherever I live, I would feel happy if I have a job.
What is Japan to you?
It’s a difficult question to answer. The future is uncertain but my wife, my children and my brothers and a sister are living here. So I will live here for some time in the future.
This is also his own building. A Thai restaurant is in it and they put on a muay thai show regularly.
Abiko, a suburb of Tokyo
A gym near Tokyo