Connect with us

Economy & Tech

OBITUARY | Daiso Founder, the King of 100 Yen Shops with a Unique Business Philosophy

Defying his critics, Hirotake Yano proved that it was possible to offer quality at a low price. Now, Daiso has over 6,000 stores worldwide.



Daiso founder Hirotake Yano in Hiroshima in December 2023. (©Sankei)

Hirotake Yano, the visionary founder of Daiso, passed away at the age of 80 on February 12 due to heart failure. While Daiso wasn't the first 100 yen store in Japan, it gained fame for revolutionizing the business concept through enhanced product quality.

Yano passed away at his residence in Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima. His family held a private funeral to honor his memory.

Yano was born in 1943 in Beijing, China, then moved to Hiroshima with his family after World War II. He graduated from Chuo University and had diverse career experiences, including farming Japanese amberjack, door-to-door sales of encyclopedias, and running a household paper recycling business. 

In 1972, he founded Yano Shoten, which later began selling all products for ¥100 JPY (less than $1 USD). In 1977, Yano Shoten was formally incorporated as Daiso Industries, with Yano serving as its president. The company expanded rapidly under his visionary leadership.

Daiso opened its first company-operated retail store in Takamatsu in 1991 and went on to become an industry leader. Yano stepped down as president in 2018, passing the baton of leadership to his son Seiji. He then retired in 2019.

Hirotake Yano at the Daiso headquarters in December 1999. (©Sankei)

Philosophy and Vision

Renowned for his unique business philosophy, Yano was candid in pointing out the harshness of reality. Notably, he stated that it was "natural for companies to go bankrupt" and emphasized the importance of "self-denial."

According to Yano, he used to believe that he had neither luck nor ability. To "deny" his pessimistic tendencies, he changed his birth name after getting married.

Since April 2023, Yano's business philosophy has been serialized in The Sankei Shimbun under the title "The Philosophy of the 100 Yen Man." Some critics perceive his statements as haphazard, dismissing his ability as a business leader. However, the series reveals the firm conviction and philosophy behind his words, which offer valuable hints for Japan's regeneration.


Putting Customers First

Yano's 100-yen concept is often dubbed the "darling of deflation." However, the concept began with an offhand remark by Yano during a time when Daiso was gaining immense popularity. His staff found themselves overwhelmed, unable to even fix price tags on products or calculate prices. In a moment of desperation, Yano declared that all items would be priced at ¥100 JPY. 

This decision reflected his management philosophy of prioritizing customers above profitability, which was instrumental in transforming Daiso into the epitome of 100 yen shops. 

However, Yano's business concept continued to face criticism, with detractors claiming that cheap items were a waste of money due to their poor quality. Determined to prove them wrong, he persisted in offering "good-quality items, even if that meant ignoring profitability." He maintained the ¥100 price point, even if a product cost ¥98 to make. 

Inbound tourists at the Daiso store in Kansai International Airport on August 23, 2016. (©Sankei by Junichiro Maekawa)

Understanding that "it would be all over if the customers became bored," he paid particular attention to developing products and designing engaging store layouts that could be enjoyed like a game. Breaking free from convention, he refined his business philosophy through repeated "self-denial." 

Yano once witnessed Masatoshi Ito, the founder of Ito-Yokado, angrily shouting instructions to employees. This encounter made him realize that "the role of a business leader is not to be cool and composed but to work desperately and diligently on the issues in front of them. That means it's actually kinder to scold employees." From that point on, he became known as "the most angry president of Japan."

A Touch of Humor

Outside of work, Yano always strived to lighten up the mood.

I first encountered Yano during the New Year of 2020. He was in Tokyo's Otemachi area to cheer on his alma mater, Chuo University's team participating in the Hakone Ekiden race. Despite the chilly weather, he wore only a thin layer of clothing.

He joked in his Hiroshima dialect, "I can't stand the heat!" Then, introducing himself, he handed me a business card that read "怪鳥" (kaicho, monster bird) of Daiso Industries instead of "会長" (kaicho, chairman).

In another instance, Yano pretended to be struck by a bloody toy sword sold by Daiso, exclaiming, "I've been vanquished!"

Daiso founder Hirotake Yano at his home in Hiroshima. (©Sankei)

However, he knew when to switch to a serious tone. Alongside the playful business card, he also carried one with the word "arigato" (thank you) boldly printed on it.

"If you keep repeating 'thank you,' things really start rolling in a positive direction," he remarked, his expression reflecting his earnestness.

Yano had been looking forward to delivering a lecture to incoming students as a specially invited professor at Hiroshima University in April.

"Japanese people no longer persevere or work as hard as they used to. At this rate, Japan is going to collapse," Yano used to lament. He often gave speeches to "call for the creation of a new Japan."

On the morning of February 12, Yano complained of chest discomfort at his home in Hiroshima and passed away later that day.

Yano was a leader who faced the challenge of high prices head-on, forging a new era in Japan's retail and distribution industry. 


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Morimichi Imahori


Our Partners