"I just got back from Bangkok, and I'm going to Sri Lanka in two days. I'm busy every day, so busy I have no time for myself. I almost never take a holiday."
Shantha Wickramasinghe has plenty of energy, and that shows when he speaks. At 33, he's already the president and owner of a company exporting used cars. He has six employees, and his company, located in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, pulls in 200 million yen a year. The company buys used cars in Japan (including some which were involved in accidents), repairs and paints them when necessary, and then exports them. Most go to his home country, Sri Lanka. He handles an average of about 30 a month, and his company's business keeps growing every year.
"In Japan, staying on good terms with people is the key to success in business. If you keep your word, people will trust you. And if they trust you, they'll do business with you time after time. It's hard work cultivating good relations with customers, but it's well worth the effort."
Shantha was born in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. After graduating from high school, he joined a travel agency and worked as a guide. That's how he became acquainted with a Japanese traveler who invited him to Japan. He was 22 when he first landed there.
"That was my first trip to a foreign country, but the strange thing is, I didn't feel out of place in Japan at all. It was like I had been to Japan before, many years ago. And I had no trouble picking up the language... I guess Japan and I have some kind of transcendental bond."
Shantha returned to Sri Lanka, but was soon back in Japan. He enrolled in a Japanese-language school, and studied day and night. Making ends meet was not easy. When he was away from home and very thirsty, he sometimes drank from the water fountain at a train station, rather than buy something to drink. And there were times when he ate only bread to keep the hunger pangs away.
"Ever since I was little I wanted to have my own company. Japan is a place where people can fulfill their ambition if they are willing to make the effort. That's what I thought, so I tried really hard."
All cars in Sri Lanka are foreign-made, and the most popular ones are made in Japan. So he decided to buy good, used cars in Japan, then send them to Sri Lanka at low prices. He studied Japan's used car market until he knew it really well. And he kept looking for some good car mechanics. The hard work paid off, and he launched the company when he was 24.
He married a Japanese woman in 1994, and lives with her and their 6-year old daughter in Saitama Prefecture, not far from Tokyo. When he has some time off work, he likes to volunteer for a good cause. One recent volunteer effort involved sending 200 used bicycles and 4 ambulances to Sri Lanka.
"My next big aim in life is to become a politician in my own country, so that I can help improve the education system for children there. I want to tell children about some of the things we can learn from Japanese culture, like good manners, team work, and a sense that all people are equal. If Sri Lankan kids know that, my country will have a better future."
With this dream to work for, it looks like Shantha will be busy for some time to come.
Shantha Wickramasinghe's used car repair lot. He generally exports about 80 at a time, after they have been repaired.
In addition to selling used cars, Shantha Wickramasinghe manages a travel agency that arranges tours to Sri Lanka.