This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Japan’s Richest 2021. See the full list here.
After contracting nearly 5% in 2020, Japan’s economy remained on course for a strong recovery thanks to a rebound in exports and the upcoming summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index was up 54% from a year ago, shrugging off lingering uncertainty after the government imposed measures in April to fight surging Covid-19 infections. Consequently, Japan’s 50 richest saw their collective wealth swell to $249 billion, a 48% rise from last year. For the first time, all 50 fortunes exceed $1 billion, with minimum wealth for inclusion on the list at $1.15 billion.
It was a banner year for SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, who reclaimed the No. 1 spot after more than doubling his net worth to $44.4 billion. Successful IPOs of food-delivery app DoorDash and Coupang, Korea’s Amazon, sent SoftBank shares soaring, making Son this year’s biggest gainer in dollar terms. Meanwhile, rising demand for Uniqlo’s comfortable everyday clothing, well-suited for working from home, boosted apparel billionaire Tadashi Yanai’s fortune by nearly 90%. With $42 billion, Yanai is now the second richest after topping the list for the past two years.
Overall, 36 fortunes were up with a dozen listees notching gains of more than $1 billion. Five among them more than doubled their net worths, including Shigenobu Nagamori, founder of motor manufacturer Nidec, who enters the top five for the first time with $9 billion. The biggest percentage gainer was Shintaro Yamada, founder of Mercari, a used-goods marketplace site, which benefited from an online buying boom.
Despite the pandemic, Japan minted new wealth. Five new entrants make their debut on the list—four billionaires and one family fortune. They include Taichiro Motoe, lawmaker and founder of e-signature service bengo4.com; Itaru Tanimura of online medical services provider M3; Takanori Nakamura of cloud services firm Rakus; and Shirou Terashita of IR Japan, an investor relations and shareholder advisory firm. The fifth was the Uchiyama family of Lasertec, which makes testing equipment for the latest generation of semiconductor chips.
Three listees return to the ranks after dropping off in past years, such as Ryuji Arai of electronics retailer Bic Camera and Muneaki Masuda, founder of bookstore chain Tsutaya. Only four fortunes were down, including that of Chang-woo Han, founder of Maruhan, one of the country’s largest operators of pachinko parlors, which took a pandemic hit. Three others in the same business, including Yoji Sato, who controls Dynam Japan Holdings with his siblings, are among the eight who dropped off.
Full Coverage of Japan’s Richest 2021:
With reporting by Anuradha Raghunathan and James Simms.
The list was compiled using information from the individuals, stock exchanges, analysts, company filings and other sources. Private companies were valued by using financial ratios and other comparisons with similar, publicly traded companies. Fortunes often include assets owned by other family members. The list also includes foreign citizens with business and residential ties to the country. Net worths were based on stock prices and exchange rates as of the close of markets on April 5, 2021, and hence in some cases differ from the net worths that appear on the World’s Billionaires list, which used stock prices from March 5, 2021.