He was the face of the new Japan, a leader in the post-war generation of industrial giants who designed innovative, high-quality consumer products that the world now takes for granted.
Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony Corp., was the Bill Gates of his day. Starting out with $500 and a radio repair shop in bombed-out Tokyo, he snatched up the license to the transistor (for $25,000) that its American inventor thought had limited use.
From there, he gave us inexpensive radios, the Walkman tape recorder, the Trinitron television, the compact disc, the Playstation, and more.
Even Sony's blunders came with respect for Morita's drive for innovation.
The Betamax videotape player failed in the market, but not for lack of a quality image. And Sony's purchase of Columbia and Tristar studios may yet pan out as Internet gold.
Just as much as Coca-Cola is the world brand name of America, Sony has become Japan's brand name.
Morita, who passed on Sunday, was always trolling for new ideas in consumer electronics to improve the daily lives of people. Even during interviews with American reporters in his later years, he fished for useful product ideas.
In a nation that only lately has appreciated entrepreneurs, "he was an engine that pulled the world economy as well as the Japanese economy," as Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi put it.
He was also a political force behind the scenes to bring Japan into a new age by adopting Western management ideas and opening markets.
He had harsh criticism of Japan's corporate morals. "The problem lies in the mind and heart of Japan," he said. Japan "must create an atmosphere of things that cannot be seen."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society