EXCLUSIVE: Former A-League player Naoki Imaya – now based in Tokyo – is hoping to bridge the gap between Australian and Japanese football, as he told au.fourfourtwo.com.
"I went to Sydney at the age of 10 with my family, and was put into a local school without being able to speak a word of English.
"But I picked it up through playing various sport activity. The same concept is applied to my school where I teach football in English."
Imaya, as some in Australasia may remember, had an injury-plagued spell at New Zealand Knights in 2005/6. He'd also been on the books of Canberra Cosmos, Blacktown, Marconi and Adelaide Galaxy over the last nine years in a solid professional career.
During this period the attacking midfielder also had stints in Switzerland with La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Neuchatel Xamax as well as Germany's third-tier side VFB Lubeck last year.
But since quitting football, the now 28-year-old has set up a school in Tokyo where he teaches football in the English language to Japanese youngsters and adults.
"I was able to learn a lot from playing football in four different countries," he says.
"Difference in culture, background, colour, whatever it may be, but I know for sure that football can put us all together.
"Aiming to be a world class player would be on anybodys mind who have tried to pursue a career in this beautiful game, but I think it is more important to aim to be a first class human being.
"I believe I have some things I can pass onto some of the kids in Japan and I thought opening this kind of a school was the perfect way for me to get the message across to them."
Imaya is also bringing foreign people in Japan into his school to help them mix with the Japanese using football as the common denominator.
Imaya runs many of his classes at Futsal centres around Tokyo such as the Adidas Futsal Park in Shibuya. Futsal has been an important part of Japanese football development, that fact emphasised by Kawasaki Frontale's recent drubbing of the Central Coast in the Asian Champions League.
However, Imaya says Japan's technical approach should not be over-emphasised.
"The Japanese youth definitely focus very heavily on technical aspects of the game, and perhaps they have to realise it is only one aspect of the game," he says.
"I think we can learn from each other as the Australian players are more athletic than the Japanese, but lack in technical abilities. They are both very important aspects of the game, being athletic and having technical abilities."
Eagle-eyed observers would've also noticed Imaya was the translator for Pim Verbeek during the Socceroos' recent World Cup trip to the Japanese capital.
Imaya was a spectator at the 0-0 draw in Yokohama and when asked, Imaya gives a frank assessment of the Japanese national team.
"The current Japanese side is not really playing an exciting football or a football that will intimidate the opponents.
"The Japanese players are good at short passes and moving around to confuse the opponents because of the players being so agile, but I have not seen enough of the Japanese style of football in the recent games."
That said, Imaya is ideally placed to provide a bridge between our two footballing cultures and it's something he hopes he can do with his new football school venture.
"I hope in the future I can help the youth from Australia and Japan in some kind of an exchange program where they could learn each others' football style and build a better relationship between the countries as well."
Imaya's blog is at http://www.naocastle.com/blog with information on his school Touch of Class English And Football School.