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Takashi Oyabu is the president of a company in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, that operates tourist infrastructure with a difference.

Its portfolio includes ryokan (traditional inns), restaurants and shops that sell high-end, locally made items such as towels and ceramics.

In the lobby of Dogo Yaya, a hotel operated by his firm Eight One Co. in the city’s Dogo Onsen hot springs district, faucets offer a local specialty: mandarin juice.

“Ehime Prefecture is the kingdom of citrus fruit,” the 36-year-old said. “I installed the faucets after being inspired by an urban legend that says mandarins are everywhere in Ehime.”

He ended up a hotelier after dabbling in other businesses and striking it rich as a day trader.

“When I was in my 20s, my life was that of a NEET” Oyabu said, referring to people not in education, employment or training.

Born and raised in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, Oyabu entered Ehime University in Matsuyama. He was a diligent student — until he started going to a pachinko parlor almost every day.

“I simply needed money to buy clothes and go drinking with my friends,” he said. “For me, pachinko was a more effective way of earning money than working at a restaurant.”

Oyabu said he would do all he could to win at pachinko — combing all the machines at each parlor, for example.

“Once I develop an interest in something, I am obsessed with it,” he said.

Oyabu could not find a job after graduating from college. So he decided to train to become a tax accountant. In the course of studying for his license, he became interested in online stock trading.

“While studying about asset management, I developed a strong interest in trading for myself,” he said.

In the first 18 months, he kept losing in trading based on the ¥2 million he had earned through pachinko, but he started to win after analyzing the market more carefully.

By the end of 2006, Oyabu, still in his 20s, was a billionaire, having amassed ¥2.5 billion in profit. This was derived mainly from investment in a speculative market dedicated to startups.

Oyabu bought a car and gave some of the money away, but he never felt fulfilled.

“I came to realize that I can never be happy unless I do something for the betterment of society,” he said.

He shifted part of his funds to the property market in response to the declining stock market and founded Eight One, a real estate management firm.

Around that time, he was sounded out about taking over an ailing local luxury ryokan, Dogo Yumekura.

He was asked to rebuild the inn at a time when locals were concerned that the number of visitors to Dogo Onsen may decline due to the reconstruction of the historic Dogo Onsen Honkan, the area’s main tourist attraction.

Oyabu accepted the plan in 2008. He was 29 at the time.

“To revitalize the local economy, I thought I should take action immediately. That was my mission.”

But six months later, all his employees had left.

“I had no clear vision about the inn. The employees could not maintain their motivation,” he said.

After studying guest comments and looking at why inns elsewhere were successful, he came to realize that local resources should be used as much as possible.

“Through trial and error, I realized the power and potential of local resources,” he said.

He turned to high-quality towels manufactured in Imabari, an Ehime city known for its towel industry. A select shop handling the product, sold under the brand Iori, opened in 2009.

Eight One now operates about 30 towel shops across the nation.

Yuji Murakami, managing director of Eight One, headed the first shop.

“Back then, we received critical comments like, ‘Who would buy a towel as a souvenir?’ ” he said.

At present, about 20 factories in Imabari supply towels to Eight One. They even supply original brands developed for the company.

Eight One currently operates about 20 other businesses related to local resources, including ceramic products sold under the brand Shiro Ao.

“If locally produced products sell well outside the region and the local industry becomes prosperous, it will give hope to locals,” Oyabu said.

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