CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Dec. 20, 2019) -- Eight years ago, before Kaoru Hashiguchi knew anything about posing, flexing or "bulking," he was just a fitness enthusiast who one day went to a well-known gym in Tokyo with the goal of taking his workout to the next level.

A trainer at the gym approached Hashiguchi and told him that, with the proper training, he had the potential to be a competitive bodybuilder.

"It was totally unexpected," said Hashiguchi, 56, an accounting technician with the 78th Signal Battalion at Camp Zama, Japan, who has worked on the installation for nearly 30 years. "I didn't know who he was, nor did I really comprehended what he was saying."

Hashiguchi later learned the man was a former all-Japan champion in the sport.

"I didn't believe him at all," said Hashiguchi. "But at the same time, I thought that if he was serious, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up."

Hashiguchi decided to accept the challenge and soon began a three-year journey of learning the ins and outs of bodybuilding. This of course included a lot of time training at the gym, but Hashiguchi also changed his diet completely--everything from what he ate, to how he ate.
Based on his experience, Hashiguchi says the ideal body is crafted 60 percent from proper nutrition and 40 percent from exercise.

"My family also changed their diet to lose weight and become healthier after seeing the dramatic change in my body and listening to my philosophy during my training process," Hashiguchi said.

Finally, in 2015, Hashiguchi entered the 23rd Tokyo Open Bodybuilding Championship. Despite having trained for three years, it was still his first competition, so Hashiguchi said he did not know what to expect--or even what to do--once he got onstage.

From the stage, Hashiguchi could see his trainer in his eye line for the duration of his performance. Using gestures, his trainer guided him through the entire posing and flexing process. The result, Hashiguchi said, "was more than [he] ever could have imagined."

"I ended up being named champion in the men's 65 kg and under [weight] division," Hashiguchi said.

Since winning at the Tokyo Open, Hashiguchi has continued to train and participate in other bodybuilding competitions. Though he has not won another title since then, Hashiguchi says he has made it to the finals many times.

Although he still works out regularly, Hashiguchi said he took a break this year from training specifically for bodybuilding. However, he has set a goal for next year to enter more competitions and become a champion again. It will be a challenge because bodybuilding has only become more popular and competitive since he began training, Hashiguchi said.

Hashiguchi works out daily, typically during lunchtime, at Camp Zama's Yano Fitness Center. Located just a short drive from where he works, Yano is where "everything started" for Hashiguchi's fitness journey, he said.

Having regular access to Yano, which has no membership fees, unlike expensive private fitness centers outside the installation, is one of the best benefits of working for the U.S. Army as a Japanese civilian, Hashiguchi says.

Because of his physique and his obvious familiarity with form and technique, Hashiguchi says other patrons often approach him for advice.

"Soldiers, local national employees and civilian employees come up to me and ask me questions on how to train properly, what to eat, how to lose weight, and how to get ideal fitness results," Hashiguchi said. "I have gotten to meet and interact with people of so many different ages and backgrounds."

Yukio Kondo, an administrative specialist with the 836th Transportation Battalion, trains for physique competitions and said Hashiguchi gives him advice and detailed information on how to train and eat effectively, in order to see positive results.

"Mr. Hashiguchi's advice is always specific and precise, no matter what I ask," said Kondo. "He speaks from experience. Having his support in the gym gives me the motivation to train more effectively."

Training with others and being able to share the knowledge and techniques he has accrued over the years truly brings him joy, Hashiguchi says. He is proud to work for an organization like the U.S. Army, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining physical and mental health, and which offers access to fitness centers like Yano.

Entering the world of bodybuilding has changed him both inside and out, Hashiguchi says.

"It has been a life-changing experience for me," Hashiguchi said. "It has been an amazing journey."

Well into his middle age, Hashiguchi says he has no plans to slow down his fitness regimen. In fact, he is planning to become a licensed personal trainer after his retirement.

"It is never too late to make a change and get healthier," said Hashiguchi. "Anybody can change their body, regardless of their age. And I can truly say that because I did it myself."