Where to start? There are so many famous Japanese.
Title image: Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), founder of the Tokugawa shogunate that effectively ruled Japan from 1600 – 1868. I did not, however, include him on my list below. I focused on more recent figures. But, as historical figures go, Tokugawa was a bad ass.
Famous Japanese: Founder of Nintendo
Hiroshi Yamauchi (1927-2013) was the third president of Nintendo. In the 1970s he steered the company toward video games. Nintendo is now one of Japan’s most valuable companies. In 2018 it had a market value of over $37 billion.
Yamauchi is likely the most famous Japanese person you’d never heard of. Now you have.
Famous Japanese: Sports
Naomi Osaka is currently the #1 female tennis player in the world.
She represents Japan and Haiti. She came to my attention in 2018. That’s when she beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final.
A couple of days ago she withdrew from the Italian Open quarterfinals due to injury.
Taihō (1940-2013) is the best sumo wrestler of all time, according to many.
Most notable are the 45 consecutive matches he won in 1968-69.
In the category of baseball, there are too many players to mention.
Too many Olympics medalists, as well. Since judo became an Olympic sport in 1964, Japan has won 32 gold medals in that sport alone.
Famous Japanese: Manga
Creator of One Piece, a series my son, Gerard, reads and watches without fail.
Creator of Dragonball. This series has a world-wide fanbase.
Famous Japanese: Anime
Author, illustrator, animator, director, producer, screenwriter. Here he holds aloft his 2003 Best Animated Feature Oscar for Spirited Away.
He has won every animation prize. In every country you can think of. That gives prizes.
Along with Isao Takahata, Miyazaki founded Studio Ghibli in 1985.
You can visit the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Be sure and buy your tickets in advance. You can’t just walk up and expect to get in.
Famous Japanese: Feature Film
Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of all time.
He directed Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), among many other famous films.
Famous Japanese: Nobel Prizes
This category could fill a Top Ten list nearly three times over. I’ll mention here only the most recent one:
Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017.
The English-speaking world knows his work primarily from his novel, The Remains of the Day (1989). Also a movie.
Born in Nagasaki in 1954, he became a UK citizen in 1983.
Famous Japanese: Netflix
I’ll call this a legitimate category. The current Japanese Netflix sensation is Marie Kondo, organizing expert.
Not gonna lie. I was looking for Japanese women to include in this list. Still, I consider her a legitimate famous Japanese person.
I can’t help it. Call it nostalgia. Call it whatever you like. I’m ending my list with Japanese performance artist Yoko Ono. Her third husband was singer-songwriter Beatles sensation John Lennon (1940-1980).
This famous photograph of the two of them occupies a certain amount of real estate in my brain.
Annie Leibovitz took this photograph only a few hours before Lennon was shot dead.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen