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Mikimoto – the ‘Pearl King’ and Other Notable Japanese Visionaries

Here we explore the groundbreaking talents of Mikimoto and two other Japanese pioneers who founded companies that have become global leaders in their respective industries for innovation and design.

KOKICHI MIKIMOTO – Founder: Mikimoto
(25.01.1858 – 21.09.1954)

Kokichi Mikimoto at work

Kokichi Mikimoto at work

Kokichi Mikimoto – also known as the ‘Pearl King’ – is the inventor of the cultured pearl and the founding father of the modern day pearl industry as we know it.

In 1893 after many years of toiling along the coastline of Toba, and countless failed experiments, Mikimoto finally unlocked the secret to cultivating pearls of such lustre and quality that they rivaled those found in nature.

He discovered that by implanting a small spherical object (“the core”) wrapped in oyster mantle into an Akoya oyster, the object would be completely covered in layers of mother of pearl over time. This amazing discovery ignited the Japanese cultured pearl industry and Mikimoto himself helped to build the country’s significant global trade.

However as a true alchemist of the sea, Mikimoto’s discoveries did not stop there. Amongst other things, Mikimoto went on to cultivate the first stunning South Sea black-lip pearls in Okinawa (so rare they were considered to be figments of the imagination) and silver-lip pearls in Palau.

With these discoveries, Mikimoto changed the pearl trade forever.

REI KAWAKUBO – Founder: Comme des Garçons
(11.10.1942 – present)

Comme des Garçons SS13 runway show (photo: style.com)

Comme des Garçons SS13 runway show (photo: style.com)

Japanese fashion designer and founder of Comme des Garçons Rei Kawakubo is considered to be one of the most important designers to emerge in the last century. She is the best known for pioneering the modern avant-garde style and introducing conceptualism into fashion.

Although untrained as a fashion designer, Kawakubo established Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd in Tokyo in 1973 – specialising in garments that draped around the body and featured frayed, unfinished edges along with holes and general asymmetrical shapes.

Upon her first showing in Paris in 1981 Kawakubo’s darkly austere and deconstructed garments challenged established notions of beauty at time where colour reigned supreme and ostentatious clothes were seen as a form of ornamentation.

From the beginning of Kawakubo’s career, her intention was to show “what I thought was strong and beautiful. It just so happened that my notion was different from everybody else’s.”[1]

Today, Comme des Garçons is a global tour de force, with boutiques and stockists around the globe and Kawakubo’s unique aesthetic has influenced new generations of avant guard designers including Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Helmut Lang.

TOKUJI HAYAKAWA – Founder: Sharp Corporation
(11.03.1894 – June 24, 1981)

Tokuji Hayakawa (front row, far right) aged 13 during his apprenticeship at the metal ornament workshop (photo: sharp-world.com)

Tokuji Hayakawa (front row, far right) aged 13 during his apprenticeship at the metal ornament workshop (photo: sharp-world.com)

A true mechanical genius, Tokuji Hayakawa is the Japanese businessman famous for inventing the “Tokubijo” belt buckle and the “Ever Ready Sharp” mechanical pencil.

Born into humble beginnings, Hayakawa left school in the second grade and was apprenticed to a maker of metallic ornaments, where he worked diligently to master his craft.

Although never having worn Western clothing, Hayakawa invented the Tokubijo buckle in 1912 after watching a silent film where an actor’s belt was hanging loosely. This incident inspired him to create a buckle that could fasten at any length through the use of a roller that fixed without puncturing the belt.[2]

The success of his invention led Hayakawa to start his own metallurgical processing company – Hayakawa Kinzoku Kougyou – and in 1915, developed the prototype of the sharp automatic pencil still sold today.[3]

Under the guidance of Hayakawa, the corporation expanded into electronics manufacturing of radios, tape-recorders and televisions, becoming the renowned multinational Sharp Corporation.

A Tokubijo belt buckle (photo: sharp-world.com)

A Tokubijo belt buckle (photo: sharp-world.com)


[1] “The Misfit,” by Judith Thurman. The New Yorker, July 4, 2005.

[3] “A Tale of Two Pencils: Keeran’s Eversharp & Hayakawa’s Ever-Ready Sharp.” The PENnant, Winter 2001.