Tadashi Yanai: The Story of Japan’s Second Richest Billionaire

Whether it’s haute couture or fast fashion, there’s a great deal of money in the business of what we wear. For instance, LVHM founder Bernard Arnault sits at the very top of the world billionaire club as the world’s third richest person – even reaching the number one spot twice.

But he’s not the only fashion mogul with a record breaking net worth. If you’ve ever went on a shopping spree one of Uniqlo’s 2100 stores across the world, you’ve got none other than Tadashi Yanai to thank. His long career as president of the chain’s parent company, Fast Selling has made him Japan richest person with a net worth of $33 billion.

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The Businessman’s Beginnings

Yanai was born in a mining town within Ube City on  February 7, 1949. The apple of success didn’t fall too far from the tree as his father owned his own clothing store called Men’s Shop Ogoroi Shoji. As he was the only son, Yanai was destined to one day take Yanai’s family actually lived on the top floor of the building which his father founded in a month after his birth . After high school, attended Waseda Univeristy in Tokyo to where he took classes in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics department. 

While he’s now known for his work as a pioneering business man of Japan, he admits to having a lack of drive in his youth. While other students were taking action in university protests, Yanai was much more interested in activities like Mahjong and slingshot.

“I was a typical lethargic student. I didn’t go to college classes and spent my time playing mahjong and pachinko,” Yanai admits in an interview with Nippon Shacho.

Under the advisory of his father, Yanai reluctantly stated working for a merchandise store called Jusco. Though, he wasn’t all that privy to spending his time selling kitchenware and menswear. So, he quit his job after working for less than a year. The twenty three year old billionaire-to-be then returned to his home in Ube to work in his father’s store. It was this experience that replenished his fervor for business.

“I realized that not having any preconceived notion is important,” says Yanai, “that you might want to first try something. That’s my learning from this experience.”

Two years later, Yanai’s father stepped down from his business and Yanai became the president of Men’s Shop Ogoroi Shoji. He looked to rebrand the company, targeting a more youthful demographic by offering items that were both parts appealing and relatable. He took major inspiration from Giordano polo shirts as they were becoming quite the trend in Hong Kong. He set up a meeting with Giordano International founder Jimmy Lai to pick his brain about business. 

“I went to meet with Jimmy Lai, founder of Giordano, and learned that there are no borders to trade, and no borders to manufacturing and sales,” the tycoon tells Japan Forward, “We’re the same age, and I thought, If he can do it, so can I. After that, I started doing business in Hong Kong and was travelling there nearly every week.”

The Rise of Uniqlo

By the 80’s, Yanai had his eyes set on casual apparel as opposed to the suits and ties that were sold at Ogoroi Shoji. Looking towards mega chain stores like Benetton and Gap for inspiration, he undertook the huge risk of opening up his next business venture: Unique Clothing Warehouse. The first store opened in Hiroshima in 1984. Though it took a while for the store to gain it’s recognition, Yanai used his savvy business tact to bring customers rolling in. 

“The concept was to provide a store where customers can shop easily and purchase high-quality clothing at reasonable prices, just like buying a magazine in a bookstore,” the store’s spokeswoman Beryl Pei-Chi Tung recounts from Yanai’s book.

The risk certainly paid off, as hundreds more stores were opened within the course of the next four years. Yanai certainly had a success on his hands. In 1988, the name of the booming business was changed to Uniqlo. According to Asia One, Fast Retailing Co became the new name of Ogoroi Shoji three years later. 

In 1998, the opening of Uniqlo’s Harajuku shaped the store’s trajectory for the better.

“It was when we opened the Harajuku store that we made a huge leap,” the tycoon says, “We focused on environmental improvements and consolidated into a brand under the Uniqlo name, making all our products low-price and high-quality.”

Uniqlo’s premiere item was their fleece jackets. The jackets were a major trend in Japan with Business Insider reporting that an estimated 1 in 4 people had one in 1998. Today, the company is valued at $13 billion and operates over a thousand stores worldwide. According to Quartz, Fast Selling’s capitalization surpassed that of Zara parent company Inditex by $105.6 billion – thus making it the most monetarily valuable apparel retailer in the world. 

Yanai’s Lavish Lifestyle

Today, Yanai’s net worth stands at $33 billion. As Japan’s richest man, it would only be expected he obtains a dazzling real estate portfolio. He currently owns a $50 million home just outside of Tokyo. The property in which Yanai purchased in an auction for $73 million in 2001, covers 16,586 square feet of the Woodlands area. The home comes with a driving range and a teahouse.

He became the owner of Hawaii’s Plantation Golf Course in 2009, as the billionaire is rather fond of the sport. He purchased the course for $50 million. The following year, he bought yet another course in the Kapalua Bay.

In 2014 he bought a glamorous estate in the exclusively affluent neighborhood of Shibuya. Many high brow of Japan’s business mogul and members of government call Shibuya home, such as  Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Miktani.

Read Next: How Japan’s Second Richest Man, Masayoshi Son, Made His Billions

Sources: Nippon Shacho, Japan Forward,

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