Japanese club opens door to foreigners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Japanese Club is turning its back on decades of tradition by seeking more foreign members.

The club, which was formerly an exclusive association for Japan nationals and a small number of outsiders and guests, planned to double the number of non-Japanese on its books in light of falling membership, said club president Tatsuo Tanaka.

'We've always had about 200 or so non-Japanese members but I hope that we can bring the number above 500,' he said.

At the end of last year the club, on the 38th and 39th floors of the Hennessy Centre in Causeway Bay, had 2,715 Japanese members and 276 non-Japanese members.

Non-Japanese members have to pay a $9,500 membership fee and $340 a month, while Japanese pay a deposit of $1,000, a membership fee of between $200 and $400 and a monthly fee of $150 to $280.

Mr Tanaka said it was not the higher fees that limited non-Japanese members to people such as bank managers and honorary members like Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

'We want people who have something to do with Japanese people or who have an interest in Japan,' he said.

The club's secretary-general, Hirokazu Fukumitsu, said that despite Hong Kong's Japanese population having returned to its 1996 peak of more than 24,000, the number of people joining the club had almost halved.

Mr Fukumitsu's figures, from the Japanese Consulate, are at odds with those of the Immigration Department, which show the number of expatriate Japanese in Hong Kong fell from 21,800 in 1996 to 14,900 last year.

'In 1996 we had 4,228 Japanese members but this year we have only 2,551,' Mr Fukumitsu said.

The club believes the decline is because many Japanese in the SAR are now living in a less grand style.

Mr Tanaka said: 'In the past people chose to live here even when they had to visit factories on the mainland. But nowadays many Japanese have to live in Shenzhen.'

The club has been trying to attract non-Japanese clients by setting up reciprocal membership plans with the Kowloon Club, Butterfield's and the Tower Club, but without much success.

The closure of the Tower Club recently, owing creditors and members $30 million, was another blow to the Japanese Club.

The club has renovated its lobby and issued new brochures in a bid to attract non-Japanese. It is considering opening its cultural activities and classes such as kimono dressing to non-members to attract Chinese.

Mr Tanaka said the club was able to offer advice to people planning to work or travel in Japan.

The 19 subsidiary groups the club now sponsors - whose activities include judo, fishing, dragon-boating and equestrianism - already accept people who are neither Japanese nor club members. 'We are hoping that once people associate with our members and come to eat at our club, they will realise that we offer something that other clubs do not have,' Mr Tanaka said.