Photo/IllutrationTakeyoshi Aono, center, president of Free Style Inc., poses with his employees: Marcio Kitagaki, left, and Momoko Nakabayashi. (Takashi Nakajima)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on an IT venture company composed of former delinquents that proves the power of love.

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Japanese-Brazilian Marcio Kitagaki had given up on life until about 10 years ago, after having gotten off to a rocky start by falling into juvenile delinquency.

But then he found a company creating opportunities for former delinquents like himself to get fresh starts in life.

RISING FROM ROCK BOTTOM

Today, Kitagaki, 31, is an ace programmer for a Nagoya-based information technology (IT) venture company.

Hailing from Brazil, he came to Japan at the age of 3 when his father started to work at an automobile factory in Gifu Prefecture.

Kitagaki's excellent basketball ability attracted attention during his junior high school days, leading to a chance for a recommendation-based admission to a high school.

But his juvenile delinquency cost him the opportunity.

One day, Kitagaki was verbally abused by his teacher in front of his classmates. He responded by going berserk and was ordered to stay at home for one month of reflection on his actions. This disciplinary measure resulted in his recommendation to attend the high school being revoked, leaving him despondent.

After graduating from junior high school, he got a job. But he bounced between jobs about 20 times toiling as a store staffer, laborer and more.

Kitagaki turned his back on his life, saying, “I just can't do anything right.”

At the age of 21, he heard that there was an unconventional IT company in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, which he visited. It was a group of people consisting of former delinquents, who had hardly any formal schooling or any academic background.

When he started to work for the company, its president told him, “Stake your life on regaining your life as much as you have been slacking off.”

At this moment, he began to feel a ray of hope.

“I will be a programmer,” Kitagaki vowed to himself.

Following the president’s advice, Kitagaki started working at a company that developed game software to gain on-the-job training.

Working day in and day out, he was the last person to finish work at night and the first in the office in the morning.

Kitagaki continued such a life for four years, which eventually made him who he is today.

BREAKING WITH THE PAST

Momoko Nakabayashi, 26, who now manages her workplace as “the second in command” and smiles at everyone as a board member of the IT company, had been unable to trust men until she entered the company.

Nakabayashi’s father had unloaded his debts onto her mother even though they never married and one day just vanished. Subsequently, Nakabayashi thought that all men were jerks.

She began roaming the streets at night during her junior high school days. When men accosted Nakabayashi, she just slogged them off.

While in high school, the teen started to work part time at an “izakaya” Japanese-style pub.

One day, she served a group of about 50 people who were apparently working at an IT company. A man who appeared to be the president of the company told his employees: “Even if we are the dregs of society, we have a right to be happy. Let’s make a success!”

His words resonated with her.

Nakabayashi asked herself: “It’s also OK for me to be successful and find happiness, right?”

The group came to the izakaya every month. Nakabayashi was all ears to their conversations while carrying drinks and food to their table. None of them had given up on life but had rededicated themselves to make something of themselves. She was touched by their spirit and decided to enter the company.

Through her work there, Nakabayashi has gained experience in sales, general affairs and secretarial work.

One time, when Nakabayashi was walking with the president of the company, a vulgar acquaintance from her past approached her, saying, “It’s been a while.”

The head of the IT company, who easily got rid of the man, broke Nakabayashi’s cellphone and told her, “Cut yourself off from the past.”

STRUGGLING WITH ADVERSITY

The Nagoya-based Free Style Inc., which develops apps and games and provides IT solutions, with 148 employees, was founded in 2006 by Takeyoshi Aono, a 40-year-old president of the IT company.

The youngest of six children, Aono grew up seeing his father beat his mother.

His family frequently moved at night while skipping out on the rent. The first rent they skipped out on was at a housing complex in Osaka.

Although still a child, Anno thought: “It’s not true that if you have love, you don’t need to have anything else. Without money, how can you talk about love?”

To devote himself to working part time, Aono enrolled in a high school where he had been able to pass the exam without having to cram for it.

The high school was filled with young delinquents of various styles.

Students clad in a long or white “gakuran,” which are styles of student’s uniforms that bend the school's dress code, strutted about boldly on the school premises. Some students sported ducktail hairstyles while others dyed their hair gold.

After graduating from high school, Aono rose in prominence as a salesman in the field of housing, jewels and other items.

His desire led him to start attending self-enlightenment seminars. He wanted to be recognized more by others.

Perhaps as a reaction of his life in poverty, he then became involved in an investment business but found himself saddled with a massive debt of 40 million yen ($375,600) at the age of 26. He wound up being hounded by creditors.

Aono began attending meetings of a group of heavy debtors. Those who joined the group before him started missing meetings, presumably either having committed suicide or leaving town to escape their financial difficulties.

Finally, Aono became the longest-attending member of the group.