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Top 20 Entrepreneurs in Japan

The big brands of today were built on the ideas and passions of striving entrepreneurs. The same is true of Japan, with its variety of different industries and thriving businesses. Think of brands like Asics, Nissin, and even Canon. These brands were all started in the early half of the 20th century by small time entrepreneurs in Japan and have since become global superstars and changemakers that compete with other global brands.

It’s then no surprise that according to the OECD, 99.7% of all businesses in Japan are Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs), many hoping to make it big. Here we’ll cover entrepreneurs in Japan making waves in the island country from the big leagues to up-and-comers, and why being an entrepreneur in Japan today is full of opportunities for you. 

Who are the entrepreneurs Japan is known for?

Automotive Industry

The Japanese automotive reputation is visible on streets and highways across the world. Japanese cars are highly valued for being enduring and low maintenance with great value for a budget. Here we have a list of Japan’s most famous automotive companies and their founders.

  1. Kiichiro Toyoda 豊田 喜一郎 (Toyota Motor Corporation

Toyota Motor Corporation changed from a loom works service company founded by Kiichiro Toyoda’s father to an automotive company in 1937. At the time, Japanese-made cars were seen as inferior to foreign-made cars. But with the right engineers and a company vision for manufacturing top-of-the-line engines, Toyota helped lead the boom of Japanese car exports in the 1980s. 

It was with Kiichiro Toyoda’s foresight to establish the Toyota Production System which automates the production process through a lean manufacturing system that brought the company to greater heights and continues to help the company to lead today.

  1. Sochiro Honda 本田 宗一郎 (Honda Motor Co., Ltd.)

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. was founded by Hamamatsu-born visionary Soichiro Honda. He began as a mechanic and later founded the company in 1948, initially focusing on motorcycles. However, Soichiro Honda’s ambition went beyond two-wheelers. He wanted to dominate the automobile industry.

What made Honda stand out was Soichiro Honda’s dedication to engineering excellence. His company developed the groundbreaking CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine in the 1970s which innovated fuel emissions. 

  1. Yoshisuke Aikawa 相川 喜助 (Nissan Motor Corporation

Yoshisuke Aikawa, born in 1880, is the driving force behind Nissan’s evolution from a regional automaker to a global automotive giant. In 1933, he founded Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., which later became the Nissan Motor Corporation. Aikawa’s vision and commitment to innovation propelled the company into the global automotive market, solidifying its position as a key player in the industry.

Aikawa’s legacy extends beyond business success. He prioritized technological advancement and fostered a corporate culture that valued creativity and excellence. These principles continue to influence the company’s innovative spirit and commitment to pushing the boundaries of automotive technology.

Technology Industry

The Japanese tech industry has earned its place in the global spotlight. Renowned for its commitment to quality, innovation, and precision, Japan’s technology sector has carved a niche as one of the most influential and respected in the world. Here we have a list of Japan’s most famous tech companies and their founders.

  1. Masaru Ibuka 井深 大 and Akio Morita 盛田 昭夫 (Sony Group Corporation)

Founded in 1946, Sony’s success can be attributed to the complementing strengths of two remarkable individuals,  Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita. Masaru Ibuka, with his technical innovation and inventive spirit, introduced groundbreaking products like the transistor radio, fundamentally changing the consumer electronics landscape. Meanwhile, Akio Morita’s marketing genius and global vision played a pivotal role in establishing Sony as a worldwide brand known for quality and innovation.

  1. Kōnosuke Matsushita 松下 幸之助 (Panasonic Corporation)

Kōnosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic Corporation, was an entrepreneur who laid the foundation for one of Japan’s most well-known electronics companies. He started his journey in 1918 when he founded Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works. 

Under Matsushita’s leadership, the company introduced a series of innovative products, including the first non-insulated electric iron in Japan and the two-way socket, which allowed consumers to plug in multiple devices simultaneously. His dedication to delivering high-quality, affordable products earned the trust of consumers not only in Japan but also around the world. It has also solidified his position as one of the most famous entrepreneurs in Japan.

  1. Namihei Odaira 小平 浪平 (Hitachi, Ltd.)

The success story of Hitachi Ltd., a global leader in technology and engineering, begins with its founder, Namihei Odaira.  His vision led Hitachi to develop cutting-edge electrical machinery and systems that contributed significantly to Japan’s industrialization during the early 20th century. His pioneering spirit can be seen in Hitachi’s early products, which included electric motors and generators designed to enhance industrial productivity.

Under Odaira’s guidance, Hitachi expanded its reach into various sectors, including electronics, construction machinery, and healthcare technology. H Today, Hitachi continues to honor Namihei Odaira’s founding principles by delivering advanced solutions that improve the lives of people worldwide, solidifying its position as a global technology and engineering powerhouse.

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Video Game Industry

While the video game industry is relatively new, Japanese video games have made lasting games that continue to make sequels today in long-running franchises. It’s in the detailed story and intuitive gameplay that Japanese video games stand out.  Here we have a list of Japan’s most famous video game companies and their founders.

  1. Kenzo Tsujimoto 辻本 憲三 (Capcom Co., Ltd.)

Capcom Co., Ltd., one of the leading video game developers and publishers, owes its success to its founder, Kenzo Tsujimoto. Tsujimoto established Capcom in 1979 to create innovative and entertaining video games. Under his guidance, the company quickly became a major player in the gaming industry, known for its iconic franchises and groundbreaking titles.

Kenzo Tsujimoto’s commitment to quality and innovation set Capcom apart. The company’s early successes include games like “Street Fighter” and “Mega Man,” which became cultural phenomena and laid the foundation for Capcom’s reputation for excellence in game design and development. Today they lead with games such as the “Resident Evil” Franchise and “Monster Hunter”.

  1. Hiroshi Yamauchi 山内 溥 (Nintendo Co., Ltd.)

Nintendo Co., Ltd., one of the world’s most iconic and influential video game companies, owes its success to Hiroshi Yamauchi. Yamauchi served as the president of the company for over five decades, transforming it from a playing card company into a global gaming powerhouse.

Under his guidance, Nintendo introduced some of the most beloved and enduring franchises in gaming history, including Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon. Yamauchi’s willingness to take risks, innovate, and create innovative gaming hardware, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Game Boy, played a pivotal role in the company’s rise to prominence.

Camera Manufacturing Industry

Cameras in Japan are well-known for their quality lenses and their world-renowned shutters. They’ve dominated the camera industry since the 1960s with manual SLRs and today with DLSRs. Here we have a list of Japan’s most famous camera manufacturing companies and their founders.

  1. Takeshi Mitarai 御手洗 毅 (Canon Inc.)

Canon Inc., a global leader in the imaging and optical products industry, owes its enduring success to the visionary leadership of Takeshi Mitarai. Founded in 1937, Canon initially set out to produce high-quality cameras, but it was Mitarai’s dedication to precision engineering that propelled the company to international fame. 

His unwavering devotion to research and development led to groundbreaking inventions like the Canon AE-1, the world’s first camera with a built-in microcomputer. This spirit of innovation laid the foundation for Canon’s iconic EOS series, introducing autofocus technology to the world. 

  1. Shigetaka Komori 古森重隆 (Fujifilm)

Fujifilm Corporation, a globally renowned name in photography and imaging, owes its diversified success to the visionary leadership of Shigetaka Komori. Fujifilm’s journey began as a photographic film manufacturer in 1934, but it was under Komori’s leadership that the company adapted to changing market dynamics and transformed into a diversified global corporation. 

One of Komori’s notable achievements was steering Fujifilm through the transition from traditional film to digital imaging. Under his guidance, Fujifilm expanded into healthcare, printing, and digital imaging technologies.

The company introduced groundbreaking products such as medical diagnostic equipment and digital cameras, with the Fujifilm FinePix and Fujifilm X-series cameras showcasing its commitment to quality and innovation in the digital age. 

Shigetaka Komori’s visionary leadership ensured Fujifilm’s continued relevance and success in an ever-evolving industry, solidifying its position as a global leader in imaging and healthcare solutions.

This compilation features successful entrepreneurs who have achieved significant success while deviating from the traditional Japanese product landscape. But, entering the Japanese market requires meticulous planning and strategic considerations. Tune in to our Intro to Japan Market Entry podcast. In it, Maor Schwartz, an expert in cybersecurity in Japan, provides an insightful analysis of market entry issues.

Each person on the list is a line in the history of big Japanese figures, well-known to the public. But some incredibly influential entrepreneurs in Japan are rising which we feature in the next section. 

Modern Leaders in Entrepreneurs in Japan

Entrepreneurs in Japan today are making strides in tech, fashion, and a variety of fields. Read our carefully curated list of the top 10 entrepreneurs in Japan today, currently shaping Japan’s economic future and soon-to-be business giants in their own right. 

Horiemon 堀江 貴文 (Livedoor and Interstellar Technologies)

Takafumi Horie, widely known as “Horiemon,” is a prominent Japanese entrepreneur and former CEO of Livedoor, an Internet Services Provider (ISP).  Horiemon gained notoriety for his unconventional business tactics and outspoken personality, especially on his personal social media pages. 

His remarks are always newsworthy lines. He has famously said, “Becoming a leader is the easiest way if I am to change Japan,” before running for the National Diet. These remarks have made him one of the most controversial entrepreneurs in Japan

Today, he continues to make waves with his new company, Interstellar Technologies, a spaceflight company. Horiemon envisioned easy private spaceflight in the 2000s and has since launched engineering feats one after the other to prove it. The company aims to address the low-cost launch of satellites with an ultra-compact rocket and it hopes to be the first Japanese company to do it. For updates on Horiemon and his recent business activities, make sure to check out Zeroichi, a media business under SNS Media & Consulting Co., Ltd. run by Horiemon. 

Shoji Miyata 宮田 昇始 (Nstock and Smart HR)

Shoji Miyata is the founder and driving force behind Smart HR, a revolutionary company that provides cloud HR and labor management software. With a profound understanding of the evolving dynamics of the modern workplace, Miyata embarked on a mission to redefine HR practices for the digital age and establish himself as one of the top entrepreneurs in Japan. 

Under Miyata’s leadership, the company has developed groundbreaking software, transformed talent management, and streamlined HR processes, making it an indispensable partner for organizations seeking to thrive in today’s competitive landscape. 

Although he no longer serves as president of the company, he continues to lead Nstock, a 100% subsidiary of Smart HR. It aims to solve the problems of stock options and provides a service for granting stock options and communicating this with the team. For updates on Horiemon and his recent business activities, make sure to check out his blog.

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Hiroyuki Nishimura 山内 溥  (5ch) 

Hiroyuki Nishimura, often associated with his online pseudonym 山内 溥 (Yamauchi Hajime), is the founder of 5ch, a pioneering forum-based online community platform that has had a profound impact on internet culture in Japan. 

Nishimura’s dedication to fostering open and anonymous discussions online has made 5ch an iconic platform for free expression and information sharing. His creation has served as a breeding ground for internet memes, subcultures, and diverse discussions. 

Today, he operates a competing operator 2ch.sc after stepping down from operating 2channel. Nishimura’s commitment to the principles of anonymity and decentralization has been both celebrated and criticized, making him a polarizing figure in the online world.

Nevertheless, his influence on internet culture and the way people engage with online communities cannot be denied amongst other entrepreneurs in Japan, cementing Hiroyuki Nishimura as a trailblazer in the evolution of online discourse and social interaction in the new internet age.

Takemitsu Takezaki 滝崎武光 (Keyence)

Takemitsu Takezaki is the founder of Keyence Corporation, a global leader in the field of factory automation and industrial sensors. With a deep understanding of the needs of modern manufacturing and a passion for technological innovation, Takezaki embarked on a mission to revolutionize the industrial automation industry. 

Under his leadership, Keyence has become synonymous with cutting-edge technology and precision instruments, serving a diverse range of industries worldwide. His unwavering focus on innovation and customer satisfaction has solidified Takemitsu Takezaki’s reputation as a pioneering figure in the world of industrial automation and has made him one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Japan.

machine automation amongst entrepreneurs in Japan

Chikahiro Terada 寺田 親弘  (SanSan Inc.)

Chikahiro Terada is the founder of SanSan Inc., a dynamic and forward-thinking company specializing in document management and business process automation solutions. The company helps make documents and networking easily accessible and searchable.

With a profound understanding of the challenges faced by modern businesses in managing their paperwork and streamlining processes, Terada embarked on a mission to simplify and optimize the way organizations handle their documents. 

SanSan has emerged as a trusted partner for countless businesses such as Japan Post Holdings, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. His unwavering commitment to simplifying complex processes and enhancing workplace efficiency has positioned Chikahiro Terada as a pioneering figure in the realm of document management and with other entrepreneurs in Japan, helping businesses transition into the digital age with ease.

Yosuke Tsuji 辻 庸介 (Money Forward Inc.)

Yosuke Tsuji is the founder of Money Forward Inc., a groundbreaking financial technology company that has changed the field of personal finance and accounting in Japan. With a deep understanding of the complexities of financial management and a passion for leveraging technology to empower individuals and businesses, Tsuji embarked on a mission to simplify financial tracking and planning. 

Money Forward has now become a household name, offering innovative software solutions that allow users to effortlessly manage their finances, from budgeting to tax preparation. Tsuji’s dedication to financial literacy and accessibility has positioned Money Forward as a trailblazer in the fintech industry.

His unwavering commitment to leveraging technology for the betterment of financial well-being has solidified Yosuke Tsuji as a pioneering figure in the world of personal finance and accounting.

Yusaku Maezawa  前澤友作 (ZoZoTown)

Yusaku Maezawa is the visionary founder behind ZoZoTown, a pioneering online fashion retail platform that has transformed the way people shop for clothing in Japan and beyond. With a keen eye for style and an entrepreneurial spirit, Maezawa embarked on a mission to democratize fashion, making high-quality clothing accessible to everyone. 

ZoZoTown has now grown into a leading e-commerce destination, offering a vast array of fashion choices and innovative sizing technology to cater to diverse customer needs. Maezawa’s fresh marketing schemes, such as the “ZoZo Suit,” have made him a prominent figure in the fashion industry. His dedication to bridging the gap between technology and fashion has positioned Yusaku Maezawa as a trailblazer, reshaping the landscape of online fashion retail and redefining the way people shop for clothing.

Tomoko Namba 南場智子 (DeNa)

Tomoko Namba is a prominent figure in the tech industry as the founder of DeNA Co., Ltd. Her dynamic approach has been instrumental in shaping DeNA into a global mobile and online platform powerhouse. Namba’s dedication to harnessing the potential of mobile gaming, e-commerce, and social networking has been a driving force behind DeNA’s success.

The company has now become synonymous with innovation, offering a diverse range of services and products that enrich the digital lives of millions worldwide. Tomoko Namba’s commitment to pushing boundaries and creating value for users has solidified her reputation as a trailblazer amongst entrepreneurs in Japan. Her unwavering focus on delivering exceptional experiences has made her a driving force in the industry, continuously propelling DeNA to new heights.

Akiko Naka 仲暁子 (Wantedly)

Akiko Naka, the driving force behind Wantedly Inc., has made a significant mark in the business world. As the founder of Wantedly, she has played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of professional networking and recruitment in Japan. As a professional social media site, the company has become a dynamic platform that connects talent with companies in a unique and meaningful way with over 3.5 million users and 37,000 users. 

With a strong commitment to empowering individuals in their career pursuits, Akiko Naka has successfully established the company as a trusted name in the industry. Her innovative approach to connecting professionals and companies has been instrumental in Wantedly’s growth and impact on the job market, making her a recognized figure in the realm of modern recruitment and fellow entrepreneurs in Japan.

Haruka Mera 米良はるか (Readyfor Inc.)

Haruka Mera, the founder of Readyfor Inc., has made a significant impact in the world of crowdfunding and philanthropy. As the main engine behind Readyfor, she has played a pivotal role in creating a platform that empowers individuals and organizations to raise funds for meaningful projects and social causes. 

By providing a space where people can come together to support various initiatives, Mera has helped bridge the gap between those in need and those willing to contribute and has created the first crowdfunding service in Japan. Her dedication to fostering a sense of community and making a difference in society has solidified her reputation as a figure in the realm of social impact crowdfunding and with fellow entrepreneurs in Japan.

Why should entrepreneurs start a business in Japan?

Japan as a business destination

Past and present entrepreneurs in Japan are an inspiration to those in structured corporate jobs who want to make it on their own. But is Japan the right place to make that move? 

Foreigners are motivated to start their own businesses or expand their existing business to Japan because the country provides extraordinary opportunities. These opportunities go beyond what some other countries may provide. These opportunities aren’t just for a big Japanese market but support programs and a supportive and accessible foreigner network in the country. Foreigners in or coming to Japan are also welcome to take part in a good amount of these special benefits such as special loans and incentives and networking access.

Support programs, loans, and incentives for entrepreneurs in Japan 

Japan has a variety of support programs, loans, and incentives available for entrepreneurs in Japan. For example, tax credit incentives are available up to 900,000 JPY per employee for companies hoping to promote their employees, especially in regions up for revitalization.

These support programs enable businesses to improve or start their businesses with less of a tax obligation and with more capital to do it, with the hope that Japan can foster new businesses.

You can unlock the potential of your business in Japan with a variety of subsidies, from office construction grants to programs promoting female inclusion in the workforce. Explore our comprehensive Guide to Subsidies in Japan to discover how to successfully apply and identify the perfect subsidy tailored to your business needs.

Networking groups and events for entrepreneurs in Japan

Entrepreneurs may be hesitant to start a business in Japan because of a lack of connections in the country. But, networking for entrepreneurs in Japan is made simple when you know the right events and how to get started. 

Some popular English events where you can meet other entrepreneurs in Japan are Venture Cafe at Cambridge Innovations Center Japan and Startuplady. Using online networking platforms like Meetup and Internations provides an abundance of opportunities to meet and connect with expatriates, foreign business owners, and entrepreneurs. To learn more about business cards, referrals, and industry-specific networking events in Japan, read our Guide to Business Networking in Japan.

Guide to Business Networking in Japan

Future prospects for entrepreneurs in Japan

Future prospects for entrepreneurs in Japan hold significant promise, as the country continues to evolve and adapt to changing global dynamics. In examining key economic indicators, it becomes clear that the country is on the brink of several exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs in Japan. 

Technological advancements, including artificial intelligence, robotics, and green energy solutions (greentech), are areas being groomed for significant growth. There are also emerging industries such as financial technology (fintech) and biotechnology (biotech) that are beginning to gain traction. 

The above success stories of individuals who have capitalized on these emerging trends such as the internet age and digital solutions can serve as inspirational guides for aspiring entrepreneurs in Japan. Learning from their experiences and understanding how they navigated the challenges can offer valuable insights into the future prospects for those looking to start or expand their businesses in Japan.

Final Thoughts

The list of our top 10 influential entrepreneurs in Japan is just a jumping-off point for you and your own business. Their business savvy is merely an inspiration for you to start. With motivation comes hesitation but using the right tools to get you started in Japanese market entry simplifies it.

Learn more about how to overcome challenges in Japanese market entry with this Foreigners Guide to Entering the Japan Market. The truth is that Japan is a land of opportunity and may be even more supportive than it was in the 80’s boom. Japan is ready for you to be on its next list of rising entrepreneurs. 

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