Masato was a good guy: very honest, very friendly. He was a typical Japanese guy: quiet, shy. But once you spoke with him, you knew he was a nice person. Most of my team-mates shared this impression of him.
I played with him in the national team during qualification for the 2014 Brazil World Cup. We only played together for a short time, but we had the same agent, with whom I spoke about Masato’s career and clubs, so I knew he went to Canada and Australia.
Some players were very close to him, such as national team player Hiroki Sakai, who played with him at the Kashiwa Reysol academy and grew up with him.
When we heard the news, we were shocked. I live in Dusseldorf, which has one of the biggest Japanese communities in Germany. Many players live nearby such as Ko Itakura from Borussia Monchengladbach and Ao Tanaka from Fortuna Dusseldorf. We often meet and when we heard the news, we spoke about it. We were shocked.
I also spoke with the board of the Japanese players association (JPFA), with Hiroki and other national team players and staff, and we decided that we wanted to do something. We discussed how we could best support Masato’s family. I reached out to players in the second (J2) and third divisions (J3), who have careers similar to Masato’s. I asked them what their biggest concern would be in such a situation. They all mentioned family and money, so we thought financial help would be the best option.
The idea for the auction was mine, but that is not important. We are doing this together.
Before we started, we discussed it with Masato's wife, to know how she would feel about this. A charity is very sensitive, as people can take such a gesture in a good way or a bad way. After Hiroki explained it to her, his wife agreed with the auction.
Our objective is to collect as much money as we can for Masato’s wife and daughter.
The auction has four phases. The first one, which just ended, involved almost all national team players, who put up items from the 2022 World Cup. For example, I sent the boots that I wore during the match against Spain, which we won 2-1 and helped us advance to the Round of 16.
Some of the bids were crazy. (Note: Some people offered more than 15,000 USD for Kaoru Mitoma's boots and Maya's sold for 7,700 USD).
In the next three phases, players from the three J-League divisions will be involved, as well as famous former national team players such as Atsuto Uchida, Keisuke Honda and Kazuyoshi Miura, the ‘King’ as we call him, as he is still playing even though he is 55 years old. His items are always special and popular. Next to that, we are also asking celebrities with close links to football to join as well.
When we launched the auction, various people called us, such as women’s national team player Mana Iwabuchi, who asked us how she could help.
Masato played for Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS and Brisbane Roar in Australia, so with the help of the MLSPA and Professional Footballers Australia, players from those countries are joining as well.
Even though my time is limited, I am on the phone a lot and almost every day I am asking people to join. My good friend Uchida is doing the same. He lives in Japan and knows many ex-players there.
The money is important, but we also have two other goals. It is also about showing solidarity. We, the JPFA, want our players to feel that the JPFA is with them no matter what happens to them, always.
When I heard that Masato passed away, I was scared. I was thinking of what would happen to my family if this would have happened to me. I have been lucky to play in England for a long time and financially I am in a better situation than many other players, such as the J2 or J3 players. Some of them will also have started worrying about their future. What will happen with my family, with my kid, if something happens to me? We have to remove that fear. That is why this gesture, this auction, is so important.
And finally, our third objective is that, whenever any other accident or disaster occurs, whether that is in Japan or in any other country, or whether it involves football players, baseball players, or basketball players, then we can replicate this scheme. This auction shows how we can work together, and we can see global solidarity. Of course, I hope that a next time never happens, but when it does, then we are ready to use this example.