Japan isn’t known for entrepreneurship.
There’s a strong preference for getting a good job at a well-known company, risk aversion, and for fitting in. The country also had a system of lifetime employment… which isn’t so “lifetime” nowadays.
Having said that… there is definitely Japanese entrepreneurship going on around here. There are plenty of smart, ambitious and risk-takers. And in this article, we’ll explore 10+ famous Japanese entrepreneurs. Of course, there are many, many more… and we’ll update this article.
Ready? Let’s go.
1. Masayoshi Son
- Technology Industry
- Founded Softbank
Masayoshi Son is one of the most famous Japanese entrepreneurs… with an impressive career that has led him to become the wealthiest man in Japan.
Although born in Japan, he went studied at the University of California Berkeley and majored in engineering.
Then at the young age of 24, he founded SoftBank, which is a now multi-industry company focused on technology. Through investments, the company now owns over 300 billion dollars in assets. More recently, he’s been focusing on philanthropy and investing in solar energy. In 2011, he decided to donate the rest of his salary until retirement to help the victims of the devastating Tohoku earthquake.
2. Tadashi Yanai
- Fashion Industry
- Founder of Fast Retailing (UNIQLO)
Founder and CEO of Fast Retailing, Tadashi Yanai, is one of the most important entrepreneurs of Japan.
Fast retailing is the parent company of UNIQLO, a Japanese clothing brand that has become popular all over the world.
After graduating from university, Yanai felt pressured to find a job so he started selling kitchen products and men’s apparel at a hypermarket company.
After a year, he switched over to working for his father’s men’s clothing store.
This store eventually turned into the company Fast Retailing, which now owns several apparel companies including UNIQLO. It has become the third biggest worldwide clothing retailer after companies like H&M and Inditex.
3. Hiroshi “Miki” Mikitani
- E-commerce industry
- Founder of Rakuten
Here’s another one of the most famous Japanese entrepreneurs.
Hiroshi Mikitani was destined to become successful at business. His father was a Fulbright scholar in economics who worked for a few years at Yale University and his mother worked for a trading company. Mikitani himself holds a commerce degree and went to Harvard business school.
After deciding he wanted to improve Japan’s economy, he quit his banking job to start his own business. At the time that Mikitani started his business, called Rakuten, e-commerce was relatively new. His idea was to build an online shopping mall, which turned out to be hugely successful. Rakuten is one of the most popular e-commerce sites in Japan, following Amazon Japan.
4. Tomoko Namba – Mobile industry
- Mobile industry
- Founder of DeNa
With a net worth of half a billion dollars, Tomoko Namba is one of the most important female Japanese entrepreneurs. She is the founder of DeNa which is a social mobile gaming and e-commerce company. Namba holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and started her career working for a consulting company called McKinsey & Co. She eventually started her own business, DeNa, in 1999. With DeNa, she also became the first Japanese woman to own a professional baseball team — the Yokohama Baystars.
5. Kahoko Tsunezawa
- Child care industry
- Founder of Tenders & Kidsline
At the age of 26, Kahoko Tsunezawa created a startup called Trenders that would grow into a lucrative business. Tsunezawa graduated from Keio University and went on to work for Rakuten and Recruit Holdings. Her second venture in 2014, was a startup called Kidsline. She wanted to create a babysitting business that could help mothers like herself. This business would help mothers in Japan to use these services and focus on their careers. She eventually hopes to expand this service worldwide.
6. Nobutada Saji
- Beverage industry
- Founder of Suntory
Nobutada Saji is CEO of Suntory Ltd, a beverage company known for Japanese whiskey. He inherited the company from his grandfather Shinjiro Torii who created the first whiskey distillery in Japan. Saji has grown this company since taking over in 2001.
What was originally a whiskey company, has developed into a distributor of a wide range of soft drinks and other alcoholic beverages. With Saji’s help, Suntory has become one of the leading beverage companies in the world.
7. Akio Nitori
- Furniture industry
- Founder of Nitori
Founder and CEO of Nitori, Akio Nitori, has created one of the most important furniture and interior stores in Japan. There are over 500 stores all over the nation, featuring low prices for high-quality products.
Nitori originally started this business when he opened a small furniture store at the age of 23. When he visited a furniture seminar in the U.S. a few years later, his worldview completely changed. At that moment, he decided that he wanted to create a chain store business. In 1972, he made Nitori into a joint-stock company. Since then, Nitori has spread abroad and there are now 100 stores outside of Japan.
8. Masahiro Miki
- Fashion Industry
- Founder of ABC Mart
Masahiro Miki is the founder of ABC Mart, a discount shoe company. His family already was already in real estate and the restaurant business. So, he became familiar with how businesses were run from a young age.
In 1985, he created ABC Mart at the age of 28. His first success with the company came when he became the sole distributor of the London-based boots brand, Hawkins. This was a huge hit in Japan. He further propelled the company after landing a deal with Vans as their sole distributor.
Miki stepped down from the company in 2007, but still maintains a high net-worth that lands him in the top 50 wealthiest of Japan.
9. Takemitsu Takizaki
- Technology Industry
- Founder of Keyence
Founder of Keyence, Takemitsu Takizaki is an entrepreneur that has enjoyed worldwide success. His company, which he established at the age of 29, supplies electronic parts… like automation sensors, laser markers, barcode readers and more. Due to growing demand over time, revenue has steadily climbed. Half of Keyence’s customers are from overseas and Takizaki has amassed a net worth of 17 billion dollars.
In 2015, he stepped down from the company but continues to be involved as a board member.
10. Kanae Tsutsumi
- Recruitment Industry
- Founder of Career Mam
Social entrepreneur, Kanae Tsutsumi began her career as an announcer. However, her experiences as a mother inspired her to create a company called Career Mam. This is a service that helps mothers or housewives go back into the workforce. In Japanese culture, once a woman has given birth and taken maternity leave it is difficult for them to join the workforce. Career Mam has helped thousands of women find meaningful work that can balance with their family life.
Japanese Entrepreneurs — Conclusion
Entrepreneurship in Japan isn’t as hot as it is in the United States or say… Israel.
But that doesn’t meant there aren’t any famous Japanese entrepreneurs.
There are plenty.
Now, over to you. Who’s your favorite? Who else should be on this list?
Leave a comment.
– Team IJ