Yoshimi Shimoyama, affectionately known as “Captain” among friends and colleagues, was born in Japan’s Okayama Prefecture in 1947 and loves nothing more than the sea and America.

At age 15, he left his hometown for Tokyo, establishing Joymark Design at age 22. In 1979, he launched the popular Boat House clothing brand, and later released other well-known labels, including Captain Santa.

Shimoyama is also known for scouring the globe to build a collection of more than 25,000 pieces of Coca-Cola merchandise. Why did he go to such lengths to collect Coca-Cola merchandise? We asked what first inspired him and he shared his amazing stories with us.

On a hot July day, our interview team set out by taxi for the home of Japan’s No.1 Coca-Cola merchandise collector near Aburatsubo Bay. In a small side road appeared a stylish white villa, not unlike one you might see on the West Coast of the United States. From the outside, there was no indication that the building housed such a valuable Coca-Cola collection.

“Sorry, did I keep you waiting?” came a voice from a car that pulled up behind us. “I was just out to lunch. Sorry, let’s go inside.”

Shimoyama stepped out of his vehicle, smiling, and invited us to follow him into the house. From the entrance way, we could see the dining room, full of Coca-Cola collectibles.

In the stairway up to the second floor, the bedroom, the guest room, or the separate wing used for large gatherings, wherever we looked seemed to glow with the brilliant red of Coca-Cola. After a tour of the villa, we began our interview in the reception area, which was filled with large shelves loaded with valuable Coca-Cola bottles.

How did you first begin collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia?

I started when I was 22 years old, during a business trip to New York. I bought a can of Coca-Cola there, which I brought back to Japan. Later I visited antique shops, and gradually my collection began to grow. In the United States, the home of Coca-Cola, there was so much merchandise that was unavailable in Japan.

What exactly about Coca-Cola appeals to you?

It’s the Coca-Cola logo design. Many people are surprised when I tell them that I first started out in graphic design, and never actually studied apparel. This is why I'm first attracted to graphics. I also found the sight of people drinking Coca-Cola in the United States to be really cool. I remember the thrill... a feeling that this was the real United States!

Coca-Cola certainly is symbolic of America. So, have you always been drawn to the United States?

I first left Okayama for Tokyo when I was 15, in 1964, which was the golden age of the Ivy League Look. I was working for a women’s clothing manufacturer at the time. I then encountered young people known as the “Miyuki Tribe,” a movement centered on Miyuki-dori, an area I delivered to in Ginza. They looked so cool dressed head to toe in Ivy League fashion. It was through such trends that I first became enamored with the United States.

Is it true that you were one of the few Japanese people to belong to the Coca-Cola Collectors Club?

The Collectors Club holds regular events such as auctions, attracting members from across the United States, and I often attended to buy merchandise. I bought so much merchandise that I even had my own shipping container to transport it back to Japan.

That’s incredible. 

At times, there was so much Coca-Cola merchandise that it took up two-thirds of the container. 

Can you tell us a story which made a strong impression on you at the time?

Once when I attended an auction of Coca-Cola memorabilia, I’d already overspent on other items, and was therefore unable to buy a Coca-Cola gum case from the 1800's. In the end, the president of a U.S. Coca-Cola bottler got the case. He was himself well known in the industry for the museum he had built in his plant—he had even published a catalog of his collection. We competed fiercely at that auction, but became friends because of our shared adoration for Coca-Cola. He later showed me his Coca-Cola production plant and even his museum.

Did you have any personal guidelines when purchasing Coca-Cola merchandise?

If I want something, I buy it. Nothing more, nothing less. You only get one opportunity with these things. Many Coca-Cola goods are novelty items; they aren’t on the market. If they were for general sale, there would be many around and they wouldn’t be so difficult to obtain, but with novelty items, this is not the case. It’s therefore necessary to make use of the collectors’ network, to attend auctions, and so on.

Is there an item in your collection that you are particularly fond of?

I often get asked this question. Essentially, I’m fond of every item, and each one has its own appeal, so I can’t rank them. People also often ask what the rarest item in my collection is, but that’s not actually something that interests me. Many friends who visit exclaim that such-and-such an item is a rarity, but basically if I find something fun, that’s enough for me.

Is it difficult to manage a collection this big?

I know all of the items I own, and I know where each one is. They are kept in various locations, such as my home, this villa, my office and my store in Odaiba. My wife and children are not interested in my collection at all. But when the children were young, my wife asked me not to keep the items in the house. I think she was worried that something would get broken.

Are you still collecting?

My collecting has slowed down a lot recently. These days, about the only thing I buy is a case of Christmas edition Coca-Cola each year in Hawaii.

What does Coca-Cola mean to you?

It gives me a sense of the United States that I love. That’s what Coca-Cola means to me. That’s why I think that, with Coca-Cola, it’s not “like” but “love.” I’m sure that for many people around the globe, Coca-Cola has a very cool image. Surely that’s the reason why the brand has grown this big. It’s more than just a drink—it can be seen as a symbol with its own fashion sense.

What are your future plans and goals?

I’m turning 70 next year. People compliment me on the success of my various fashion brands or they tell me that I’m a go-getter, but actually, I don’t look at myself that way at all. I am who I am today thanks to the connections I’ve had and the support I’ve received from so many people. The other day a friend commented that no matter how old I get, my passions and relationships with people are unshakable, and perhaps this has actually been my strength. I want to make the brands that I’ve built up until now even more successful in order to show my appreciation to everyone who has supported me in the past.