Notable Deaths in 2023
Takahashi Yukihiro (70): Musician
Takahashi was best known as the drummer for Yellow Magic Orchestra, a pioneering techno music group he founded together with Hosono Haruomi and Sakamoto Ryūichi in 1978. The band recorded such hits as “Rydeen,” “Behind the Mask,” and “Technopolis.”
Matsumoto Leiji (85): Manga creator
Born in Kurume in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1938, Matsumoto was just nine when he started drawing manga after discovering works by Tezuka Osamu. He left home for Tokyo at 18, living in a cheap boarding house while he honed his skills. Mostly self-taught, he had his first major success in 1971 with Otoko oidon (I Am a Man) about a hard-up young man who dreams of making it big. He rose to stardom with iconic works like Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999, and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, with the anime adaptation of the stories also becoming huge hits.
Toyoda Shōichirō (97): Honorary chairman of Toyota
Toyoda was the eldest son of Toyota founder Toyoda Kiichirō. As president and chairman, he oversaw Toyota’s rise to become one of the world’s biggest automobile manufacturers. He also served as the chairman of Japan’s largest business lobby, Keidanren, from 1994 to 1998.
Ōe Kenzaburō (88): Writer; Nobel laureate in literature
Ōe was born in a small village in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku in 1935. He began publishing his writings while still a student at the University of Tokyo, where he studied French literature, and was short-listed for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize before winning it in 1958 for his story “The Catch.”
A prolific writer, he explored political, social, and ethical issues in his works, with titles like A Personal Matter, Hiroshima Notes, and The Silent Cry garnering attention in Japan and abroad. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, becoming the second Japanese writer to receive the honor.
As an ardent social activist, Ōe supported the anti-nuclear movement and efforts to preserve Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, among other campaigns.
Itō Masatoshi (98): Founder of Itō-Yōkadō and Seven-Eleven Japan
Itō launched the predecessor of today’s Itō-Yōkadō in 1958, building it into one of Japan’s leading domestic retailers. In 1973, he reached a licensing agreement with the US-based operator of Seven-Eleven, opening the first store of the now ubiquitous chain in Japan the following year. He stepped down as president in 1992 amid scandal, but returned as honorary chairman of Itō-Yōkadō in 1996, serving in the same role for Seven & I Holdings from 2005 following the merger of group companies.
Chen Ken’ichi (67): Chef and restaurateur
Born in Tokyo in 1956, he trained at his father’s Sichuan-style Chinese restaurant. He was a regular contestant on the popular cooking series Iron Chef, distinguished by his bright yellow uniform. He helped popularize Sichuan cuisine in Japan, particularly mapo tofu, adapting the characteristic spicy dishes to Japanese tastes.
Sakamoto Ryūichi (71): Musician
Born in Tokyo in 1952, Sakamoto took up music from a young age, learning to play the piano and studying musical composition. He made his professional debut while a student at the Tokyo University of the Arts, performing in the studio and live with leading pop stars of the day. He formed the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Hosono Haruomi and Takahashi Yukihiro in 1978, and the band quickly earned a global following its self-titled first album and second release Solid State Survivor, with the trio performing in such locations as London, Paris, and New York.
Sakamoto also had a successful solo career, including as a composer of music for films. His arrangement for Ōshiima Nagisa’s 1983 work Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a movie which Sakamoto also appeared in, earned him broad accolades, and he won both an Academy Award and a Grammy in 1987 for his score for The Last Emperor.
Politically active throughout his life, Sakamoto supported a broad array of social and environmental causes, including the anti-nuclear movement, efforts to preserve Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, and opposition to the planned redevelopment of the Jingūmae area of the capital.
- Sakamoto Ryūichi: A Trailblazer Reshaping the Art of Music
- Sakamoto Ryūichi Recounts the Birth of His Music
- Sakamoto Ryūichi’s Last Testament: How Many More Times Will I Watch the Full Moon Rise?
Ushio Jirō (92): Businessman and former head of Japan Association of Corporate Executives
Ushio was a business leader who also had enormous sway in the realm of politics. Born into a business family—his grandfather founded Himeji Bank and his father was involved in electrical power and electronics—he established the lighting company Ushio Inc. in 1964. He served as chairman of the business lobbying groups the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (1995–98) and Japan Productivity Center (2003–14). He sat on the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (2001–6), where he advised Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō on implementing structural reform. He worked with Inamori Kazuo and others to launch DDI Corporation (now KDDI) and was appointed chairman in 2000.
Nomiyama Gyōji (102): Painter
An oil painter, Nomiyama was known for his dynamic brush strokes and abstract style. Born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1920, he studied at the Tokyo Fine Arts School (now the Tokyo University of the Arts). He moved to France in 1952, where he drew attention among art circles and established his distinctive style. Returning to Japan, he became a professor at the Tokyo University of the Arts. A prolific painter, he continued to produce works even after reaching 100. Having served in the army during World War II, he gathered works of art by students killed in the war, many of which are displayed at the Mugonkan, a museum and memorial in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.
Tanimura Shinji (74): Singer-songwriter
As the frontman of the band Alice, Tanimura gained fame with songs like “Fuyu no Inazuma“ (Winter Lightning) and “Champion,” and had solo hits like “Subaru.” He had a strong following in countries throughout Asia and was particularly popular among fans in China.
Asashio (Nagaoka Suehiro) (67): Sumō wrestler
A native of Kōchi Prefecture, in the ring he was known for his quick, powerful arm thrusts and pushes. He rose to the rank of ōzeki, and although he won only one championship, he earned a reputation as a “yokozuna killer” for his numerous defeats of Kitanoumi. As a stablemaster, he trained such notable wrestlers as yokozuna Asashōryū and ōzeki Asanoyama.
Ikeda Daisaku (95): Honorary president of Buddhist lay group Sōka Gakkai
Born in Tokyo in 1928, Ikeda joined Buddhist lay group Sōka Gakkai in 1947 and became its third president in1960. Under his leadership, Sōka Gakkai, which follows the teachings of the priest Nichiren, grew to be one of the largest religious organizations in Japan. Ikeda became influential in the political arena after founding the party Kōmeitō in 1964, and launched Sōka Gakkai International in 1975. Although he stepped down as president in 1979, he continued to guide the organization in his post as honorary president.
Terao (Fukuzono Yoshifumi) (60): Sumō wrestler
Born into a sumō family in Kagoshima Prefecture, Terao was a lean, lightweight wrestler but rose to the rank of sekiwake by taking advantage of his speed and hard-thrusting technique. A fan favorite in the 1980s and 1990s for his style and muscular physique, he boasted a long career spanning 23 years, during which he had 860 wins in the top makunouchi division, making him tenth on the all-time list.
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Sakamoto Ryūichi conducts an original composition at the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics on July 25, 1992. © Kyōdō.)