What I am about to share is almost inexplicable. In less than two weeks, Kekoa Collective is opening our first showroom/office/community store in Japan. I would have never imagined this is happening this soon in a million years. I am still in disbelief!
Allow me to share another moment of divinity with all of you.
I think it was three months after we opened our store at Ward Warehouse when a Japanese gentleman walked in and bought almost every shirt that we had on the shelves in his size. Afterwards, he asked if he could take a photo with Aubrey and me on the mat. He wore pink shorts and a flower printed shirt. I assumed he was some ex-famous MMA/ Jiu Jitsu fighter from Japan. Only a bad ass would wear pink shorts and a flower tee shirt, I told myself. He was full of smiles, his skin was tan, and he spoke very little English; that’s all I remembered. We were grateful for the sales since typically we made less than $100 a day at that time.
Fast-forward another four months: Jeff, Aubrey, and I are having lunch with Jun, our dear friend, at Piggy Small, seeking his help in expanding our brand in Japan. We were also looking for investors as we were slowly running out of cash. We shared our ideal partners and our vision for Asia. Jun spoke very little during the luncheon, but he listened to every word that was spoken. He left us with the following - “Let me think about it and get back to you...I know a dear friend who wants to open a restaurant in Oahu, but instead he might like to invest in Kekoa.”
Fast-forward another 17 days. Jun informs us that his friend is very interested in Kekoa, and he would like to come meet our family. The night before his arrival we had a meeting to review the agenda and our wish list. We still did not know his name at the time. The meeting was set at my house, and I planned to make my infamous curry. He was coming with his two young, pre-teen daughters.
“His name is Ryoji Okayama,” Jun said.
“Oh shit! We sold our first Kekoa DxD Gi drop to a Japanese customer named Ryoji!” Jeff exclaimed. He remembered receiving an email from someone with the same name requesting to buy our Gi from Japan. We all looked at each other bewildered and laughed! In my mind the possibility of it being the same person was less than 1 %. And to this day, I still do not believe it. The name must be a common Japanese name, equivalent to David our country, I thought to myself.
The next day, diner was set for our first pow-wow. I was full of excitement, and I was also nervous. Jun was our translator and the conduit for this meeting. His wife also came with their two pre-teen daughters.I answered the knock on the front door. The same face that I saw almost five months ago was standing in front of me. We shook hands, hugged and we thanked him for the meeting.
Now, if you know me, you know I do not like to cook with my shirt on. Forty-five minutes later, my shirt came off, apron went on, and I was in the zone with my wok in my kitchen. My Jenny was upset because I was about to cook one of the most important meals I’d make…without a shirt on. Personally, I had a rule about Kekoa: if we cannot be ourselves among our customers, employees, or business partners, then we should not be together at all along this journey. For us, fit is everything. The right fit is defined by our alignment in values, beliefs and heart. It’s a long game that we are playing. We must be able to be authentic and genuine and have tons of fun while we are building this Movement.
That night we spoke about the brand and our wishes regarding our expansion. After listening to all of us sharing or dream, Ryoji changed his mind from wanting to be an investor to choosing to be a participating partner. He said he’d rather help us grow by being in the trenches with us than by simply being the silent banker. We agreed on the terms. We shook hands, and they departed. (Oh, and he ate every drop of my curry!)
We knew it would take months before a legal document would be done, so we were not expecting any funds from Ryoji until then. To my surprise, he wired the first installment within two weeks of our dinner. I remember that night when I checked our bank balance. I was in shock. I have never dealt with anyone who honored a hand shake as a contractual agreement.
I visited Ryoji in July of 2018. We spent a week together strategizing our next move for Japan and the rest of Asia. He showed me the potential space for our first office/commustore in his home town. Given all the risk/reward factors, we agreed it would make perfect sense to open our first office in Mie, Japan, a small beach town with budding jiu jitsu academies growing in the surrounding areas. A year of planning and a year of slowly immersing Ryoji into Kekoa’s culture were necessary for the success of the brand. That same pink shorts, blue belt jiujitero is now an inspired and budding surfer and soon to be the Kahuna of Kekoa Ambassadors to the East. We are so proud of the man he has become.
On June 23rd, we are officially giving birth to the first Kekoa office outside of Hawaii. I am lost for words… and that is very rare. I want to thank every jiujitsu practitioner in Japan who has supported us from day one. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Jun and Ryoji for believing in our movement. They have made incredible sacrifices to make Kekoa Japan into a reality. I cannot wait to grow old together with you two. Much love, everyone!