- Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa ignited a frenzy on Twitter on New Year's Day when he pledged to give $9 million to his followers as part of an experiment to see if money would increase their happiness.
- Maezawa also made headlines in 2018 for purchasing the first tickets for Elon Musk's SpaceX flights around the moon.
- Maezawa built a $2 billion fortune running online clothing retailer Zozotown, Forbes reported.
- Before fashion, Maezawa had a career in punk rock.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
When most billionaires want to fund scientific research, they donate to universities or hospitals. Not Yusaku Maezawa.
In a New Year's Day tweet, the Japanese fashion tycoon announced that he would give away $9 million to a group of his Twitter followers to see if money really does make people happier, Reuters reported. Maezawa, 44, previously made headlines for buying out SpaceX's first flight around the moon for himself and a group of artists in 2018.
Keep reading to learn how the eccentric billionaire made and spends his fortune.
Yusaku Maezawa was born in Japan's eastern Chiba prefecture in 1975.
Maezawa still lives in Chiba, according to Forbes.
He also has an apartment in Tokyo's ritzy Hiroo district, according to The Times.
Maezawa knew early in life that he did not want to be a traditional businessman.
In a 2004 interview, Maezawa said that "seeing all the tired faces on my morning commutes" inspired him to forgo college and a traditional white-collar job after graduating from Japan's prestigious Waseda Jitsugyo High School, according to The Daily Beast. Maezawa briefly moved to the United States with his then-girlfriend, before returning to Japan.
Maezawa turned his passion for music into his first business, launching a CD and record mail-order business in 1995, The Daily Beast reported. The first albums Maezawa sold were from the personal collection he built up while living in the United States.
He also had a career in punk rock.
DAVID MCNEW/AFP via Getty Images
In videos from the group's 1997 "....TO INFINITY" tour, Maezawa can be seen headbanging while playing the drums. The group released an EP in 1995 and subsequently another four albums before Maezawa announced that he was taking a break from music in 2001, according to Discogs.
Maezawa made his multibillion-dollar fortune from his 38% stake in the parent company of Japanese fashion retailers ZOZOTOWN and fashion app WEAR.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Zozo's clothing brands are extremely popular among Japanese youth but little known outside the country. Sales topped $1 billion in 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Yahoo Japan acquired a majority stake in Zozo in September 2019 for ¥400 billion ($3.65 billion), according to The Japan Times. Maezawa stepped down as Zozo's CEO as a part of the deal.
Maezawa founded the company, then called Start Today, in 1998, according to Forbes. Zozo began as an online retail business platform and started selling clothing in 2000. Maezawa didn't abandon his musical roots until 2005, when Zozo stopped selling albums; he severed the music division of the company that year "as some of the music they handled were not suitable for the company image in going public," he explained, according to The Daily Beast.
Zozo even tried to launch an affordable bespoke clothing brand in 2018.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
The service, called ZOZO, gave customers a free bodysuit covered with sensors that worked with an app to take their exact measurements, according to the Wall Street Journal. The brand folded in August 2019, as "users felt the suits were simply too cumbersome to use, given that they were mostly ordering casual clothing that didn't need a perfect fit," The Journal reported.
Maezawa has since turned his attention to a new product — Zozomat, according to The Journal. Zozomat is a paper sheet that can take custom measurements of user's feet so they can order bespoke shoes from select brands.
"I believe everyone will be able to measure their precise body size within the next few years," Maezawa told The Journal. "The hard part is how to make things once that happens. [Making custom clothes quickly] is going to be an absolute requirement in the fashion industry. If you can deliver custom clothes within a week, customers may be willing to wait. Then there won't be excess inventory, there won't be waste, and there won't be excessive discounts."
The success of Zozo's other brands have made Maezawa the 22nd richest person in Japan.
Forbes estimates that his net worth is $2 billion.
Just because Maezawa got out of the music business doesn't mean he's not investing in other forms of art. He spent $98 million on contemporary art in two days in 2016.
DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images
Maezawa bought pieces from Adrian Ghenie, Jeff Koons, Christopher Woo, and a $57.3 million for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting during the two-day shopping spree at Sotheby's, according to The Japan Times.
In May 2017, Maezawa broke records by spending $110.5 million for another Jean-Michel Basquiat painting called "Untitled," the largest amount ever paid for at auction for a US artist, according to The Chicago Tribune.
"I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece," he wrote on Instagram after the auction. "When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible."
Maezawa plans to build a museum in Chiba to share his art with the public, according to Forbes. For now, much of Maezawa's collection, including the $22.6 million "Buste de Femme" by Picasso and a $6 million sculpture by Alexander Calder, are displayed in his Toyko apartment, according to The Times.
He's also funding and preparing to embark on an elaborate space mission, a move that Elon Musk said restored his faith in humanity.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has described Maezawa as incredibly brave and said Maezawa's desire to participate in and pay for this trip restored Musk's faith in humanity.
"This is going to be dangerous. This is no walk in the park," Business Insider previously reported that Musk said of the mission.
He added: "It's not 100% certain that we succeed in getting this to flight ... But we're going to do everything humanly possible to bring it to flight as fast as we can and as safely as we can."
It's unclear how much the moon's first space tourist paid for access to the lunar flight, though Musk has said Maezawa is "paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster," Business Insider reported.
"He's ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets," Musk said.
Maezawa was inspired to bring artists with him to space after thinking about the art Basquiat might have created had he flown through space.
"One day when I was staring at his painting, I thought, 'What if Basquiat had gone to space and had seen the moon — what wonderful masterpiece would he have created?'" Maezawa said, according to CNET.
Maezawa said the artists will be part of a project called #dearmoon, which will involve them creating work inspired by their lunar journey.
Maezawa is also searching for a "female partner" to accompany him on reality TV.
Maezawa shared an application for the position on Twitter Sunday with the text: "[WANTED!!!] Why not be the 'first woman' to travel to the moon?"
—Yusaku Maezawa (MZ) 前澤友作 (@yousuck2020) January 12, 2020
The search will be chronicled in "Yusaku Maezawa's serious matchmaking documentary" called "Full Moon Lovers," Business Insider reported. Criteria for applicants include being over 20 years old, having an interest in space travel, and being "someone who wishes for world peace."
The deadline for applications is January 17, and Maezawa aims to have selected a partner to take to the moon by March this year, according to the website.
Despite Maezawa's overwhelming love of art, he also dabbles in science. The billionaire tweeted on New Year's Day that he is giving away $9 million on Twitter for a "social experiment" to see if it makes his followers happier.
Maezawa tweeted that he would give $9,000 to 1,000 of his Twitter followers who retweeted a particular message, Reuters reported.
It is now the second most retweeted tweet in Twitter's history, according to MarketWatch. The most retweeted tweet ever also came from Maezawa. The 2019 tweet was advertising a similar, but smaller-scale giveaway, offering 100 of his followers a share of 100 million Japanese yen ($923,000 at the time), according to CNBC.
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