When one thinks of Japan, there is an instant association with the Samurai. The island country has adapted the philosophy of its martial art into a business strategy and has achieved incredible success in the professional arena. It is widely believed that it is the spirit of Bushido, which is a strict ethical code of the Samurai warrior that has bestowed Japanese leaders with such achievements. There has been a number of Japanese who have created a niche for themselves and have swayed their areas of work in a number of ways.
They have made their presence felt all over the world and have become role models for many more generations to come. These eminent personalities are living examples of the fact that nothing in the world can be achieved in life without hard work and determination. We have listed the 20 most influential people in Japan—those who have worked their way up the success ladder and have a huge say in today’s world.
1. Masayoshi Son
Masayoshi Son is the Founder and the CEO of a Japanese multinational company called SoftBank. The most exciting thing about him is that he has managed to remain the richest person in Japan even after losing about $70 billion of his wealth due to the dotcom crash. It was the period between 1995 and 2000, when a large number of investors injected cash into internet-based start-ups, hoping to make big profits. In their mad rush to make quick money, they sidelined all the traditional investment protocols and as a result ended up incurring unprecedented losses. Son also has worked with organizations such as Yahoo BB, which is the largest Internet service provider in Japan. Currently working as a Chairman of Sprint Corporation, which is an American telecommunication firm, this philanthropist was ranked by Forbes as the 45th most powerful person in the world during 2013.
2. Hirokazu Nakaima
Hirokazu Nakaima was the Governor of Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost administrative area for a period of 8 years, from 2006 to 2014. After graduating in 1961, from the ‘University of Tokyo’, he joined the ‘Ministry of International Trade and Industry’. Before entering politics, this bureaucrat also worked with the ‘Okinawa Electric Power Company’, where he rose to become the Senior General Manager. After the Second World War, 20% of the island was occupied by the military. . It was during this time that the people developed a hatred and fear of the occupiers. It was through Nakaima‘s consistent efforts, that this adverse feeling towards the armed forces was removed. It was this feat of restoring normalcy that not only made him a capable governor but a person to remember in the history of Japan.
3. Shinichiro Ito
Shinichiro Ito is Chairman for ANA Holdings Inc since 2015. Before that he was the Chairman at All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. With extensive experience and a deep understanding of his profession, he rose from being a business manager at the start of his career to the position of a Senior Vice President of Marketing at ANA. lto also collaborated with other prominent companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. as an Audit & Supervisory Committee Member.
4. Eiko Harada
Harada is the ex-president of McDonald’s (Japan), and one of the most affluent people in the country considering all the high-end companies he has worked in. Starting in 1972, from ‘NCR Japan Ltd.’ which was a service providing company, he went on to collaborate with Yokogawa Hewlett-Packard and then joined Schlumberger Group as the Director of the marketing division. In 1996, he became the Vice President of Apple Inc and was in that position for eight years. Thereafter, he joined the biggest fast food burger joint, McDonald’s. Apart from being highly successful professionally, this business mogul is a fitness addict too.
5. Daisuke Okada
Daisuke Okada is the President of Okada Holdings Co Ltd. The company distributes electrical apparatus and building materials. He is the ex-Managing Executive Officer of Marubeni Corporation (Beijing), a trading firm in which he worked for a period of 36 years. Okada, who was leading the food department in the company, used his experience to design and initiate strategies that made Marubeni one of the leading companies in Japan.
6. Takeshi Niinami
Takeshi Niinami is a Harvard graduate who is the current CEO of ‘Suntory Holdings Limited’. He started his career in 1981 with Mitsubishi Corporation and charted a professional career that most of us only dream of. He worked his finger to the bone and went on to becoming the president and CEO of Lawson, Inc. which is one of the largest convenience stores in Japan.
7. Tadashi Yanai
Determination and grit are two terms that are synonymous with Tadashi Yanai’s name. The wealth he has accumulated till date makes him highly influential and also the 2nd richest person in Japan. In 2014 Yanai was the 35th wealthiest person across the globe. He is currently the President of ‘Fast Retailing’, which is his own trading company in Japan.
8. Masaaki Shirakawa
Shirakawa is well-known in Japan for the responsibility he took on in April 2008 as the Governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ) serving a term of 5 years. The University of Chicago graduate, worked as a lecturer for the Kyoto University for a period 2 years before joining BOJ. He is currently the Director and Vice-Chairman of the global firm, Bank for International Settlements (BIS). He ranks 6th among one of the world’s most powerful men according to a survey carried out by an American magazine.
9. Toru Hashimoto
Toru Hashimoto served as the Mayor of Osaka—the largest city of Japan—from November 2011 to June 2015. This professional lawyer is one of the most prominent politicians in Japan. Before becoming the Mayor of Osaka, he was the Governor of Osaka Prefecture. who gave up his post as the governor in 2011 to head Osaka. Hashimoto had his finger on the pulse of the people of his city and knew exactly which issue to rake up to gain political support. His campaign for starting only those atomic power plants with sufficient safety features, to ensure that they do not have a harmful effect on the environment, made him the most popular political personality according to ‘New York Times’.
10. Yu Darvish
If we talk about Japanese sports, Yu Darvish is one person we cannot help but mention. His baseball-playing skills and the resultant effect it has on people is astounding. He plays in the United States’ oldest and most respected baseball association, Major League Baseball, as a starting pitcher for the team ‘Texas Ranger’.
11. Akio Toyoda
Born on May 3, 1956 Akio Toyoda, one of the heavyweights in the automotive sector, is the grandson of the great Kiichiro Toyoda who brought Toyota industries to the level where it is today. Akio currently holds the position of the President and is one of the board members of the Toyota Motors Corporation as well. His academic credentials include a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Babson University USA, preceded by a law degree from Keio University. This illustrious entrepreneur is hailed for his unique ability to see the unseen, which saw him lead Toyota Motors Corporation out of the debilitating recessionary period.
12. Kazuo Hirai
Kazuo Hirai, the former Chairman of Sony Corporation, was born on 22 December, 1960. He had a penchant for gaming since his childhood and had a scientific bent of mind. Besides this, the far-sighted businessman was also an avid traveler, which helped shape his intellect a great deal. Hirai graduated from the International Christian University with a degree in Liberal Arts. Gaming has been his forte since childhood and his passion for it reflects in the success achieved by Sony Corporation in terms of keeping many youngsters hooked to their joysticks & consoles. Sony PlayStation, a revolutionary gaming platform, is one of his brainchildren which gave an experience of a lifetime to the users. Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited, online services, are among his other successful achievements. With his unmatched intellectual capacity and a passion for innovation, Kazuo verily features alongside other influential names.
13. Takashi Tanaka
Takashi Tanaka, President and the CEO of a Japanese telecom major KDDI, is a well-known person in the realm of software and technology. He held various authoritative positions, before becoming the President of KDDI. He was appointed the company’s head when it was struggling to make a foray into the smart-phone segment. His exceptional entrepreneurial expertise helped turn the situation around in the company’s favor. He came out with a sui generis business strategy of 3Ms, i.e. Multi-use, Multi-network and Multi-device that led his organization on a path to success, leaving the business fraternity in awe.
14. Shuya Nomura
A lawyer by profession, employed with a firm called Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Shuya Nomura also works for the Chuo University, where he teaches law. In addition, he featured on a committee formed by Diet, to investigate into the approaches adopted by the government while dealing with all matters related to radioactive substances at the Fukushima nuclear plant. His deft handling of affairs, in his capacity as committee head, has exposed the government’s lackadaisical approach in bypassing the institutional norms in procuring all-important information on Fukushima nuclear plant emergency. He has been lauded for his outstanding sincerity towards the multitude of roles that he plays, which radically differ from one another. This unique multi-tasking ability of Shuya Nomura certainly makes him one of the most influencing personalities among his contemporaries.
15. Sayaka Shoji
Sayaka Shoji, a world renowned classical violin artist, was born on 30th January, 1983. She went on to become the first Japanese and also the 2nd youngest artist to claim accolades at the Paganini Competition at Genoa in 1999. This Tokyo born artist received her education from Germany under the tutelage of musical greats like Zakhar Bron, Uto Ughi and Shlomo Mintz, subsequently graduating in 2004. Ever since her first prize at the Paganini competition, she has been associated with famous orchestras like Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and many more. Her spiritual understanding of the art has evinced praises from people all over the world. Tim Smith from ‘The Baltimore Sun’ remarked, in 2014, saying, “Her performance here revealed impeccable intonation and an ability to sculpt phrases with considerable eloquence.”
16. Kenichi Sado
Kenichi Sado is the present chairman of the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission, which was instituted to curb corruption and wrongdoing in the securities exchange market. Until he joined the commission, the violators were having a free run, which greatly eroded the base of Japanese economy. He proved to be more than just a deterrent towards curtailing this menace, and helped make the institution watertight against future violations through his unparalleled determination and focus.
17. Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is such a staggering personality in the field of entertainment that he hardly needs any introduction. Born on 5th January 1941 he is an extremely versatile figure with his astonishingly multipronged career verticals. He established the world famous film and animation studio, Studio Ghibli, and is acclaimed as an ace raconteur by the fans and critics alike for his one-of-a-kind storytelling ability. He was inherently a pacifist, which greatly reflected in his movie themes that took on other hues as well, such as good, evil, environment, flight and politics.
18. Hideo Kojima
Hideo Kojima is as a world famous video game designer, who has seen international success in screen writing and direction. Currently Hideo holds the position of a Director at ‘Kojima Productions’, a video-gaming firm that he had established a decade ago. This screen-writer has also held the reins of ‘Konami Computer Entertainment’ Japan as an ex-Vice president. He had had the good fortune of creating and directing a host of successful video game series, such as Metal Gear, Snatcher and Policenauts etc. This Tokyo-born game designer had a tumultuous childhood as he lost his father early in life; but that didn’t deter him from his path. Through his sheer passion for designing, he went on to become an illustrator, which eventually led him to try his hand and eventually excel at film-making.
19. Hikaru Utada
This Japanese American singer and songwriter, born in Manhattan, New York on January 19, 1983, is also known by the moniker ‘Utada’. She is famed for having sold the highest number of copies of an album in a single country i.e. 3 million copies in a week. She was also hailed as the ‘most influential artist of the decade’ by The Japan Times in 2009. She later became a singing sensation with hit releases such as ‘First Love’, ‘Carpenters’, ‘Traveling’, ‘Distance, and so on. With exhaustive genres of albums under her name, besides being conferred upon with numerous awards and accolades, she is undoubtedly one of the most influential and evergreen Japanese artist of our time.
20. Momofuku Ando
Perhaps you would be surprised to learn that the instant noodles that we all savor today were invented by this man named Momofuku Ando. Born in Taiwan in 1910, his original name was Wu Baifu but he changed it when he migrated to Japan after the World War II. He passed away in the year 2007, but left behind a legacy of flavors that lives on in our hearts and tongues. He toyed with many recipes before he stumbled upon the idea of instant noodles which, he mused, had the potential of curing world hunger. He had a great love for humanity and always thought of feeding the underprivileged hungry population. His love for humankind was intertwined with that for noodles, which can be seen in one of his quotes that said, “Mankind is Noodlekind”
In all these outstanding people, perhaps what stands out the most is their determination to succeed. They have given form to not only to their dreams, but have developed and shaped those areas which drew their interest.