This week’s art-buying spree of Japanese entrepreneur, Yusaku Maezawa, in the U.S. and abroad, including a $57.2 million piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat (a record for the artist) may seem mysterious.
Maezawa’s shopping basket also included, according to Artnet, a $13.9 million Christopher Wool piece, $9.7 million spent on Richard Prince’s “Runaway Nurse” (2007, a new record for that artist), and Jeff Koons’s “Lobster” ($6.9 million).
The most obvious purpose of Maezawa’s shopping is to open a private museum in his beloved hometown of Chiba prefecture. He has been “rocking” Japan’s business world and fashion industry for years and now he’s shaking up the world’s art scene as well.
Maezawa is a well-known businessman in Japan and has over 39,000 people following him on Twitter. He also has a wry sense of humor, his Twitter handle is “Yousuck2020.” (Perhaps he had a premonition of Japan’s 2020 Olympic problems.)
Maezawa was born in Chiba prefecture Japan in 1975. He entered the renowned Waseda Jitugyo High School in 1991 where he started up his indie rock band SWITCH STYLE, releasing an EP in 1995.
In an 2014 interview with monthly magazine President he recalled moving to the United States upon graduation following his then-girlfriend, rejecting the conventional path to college for he had become disillusioned in his future as a salaryman (white collar worker) in Japan, “after seeing all the tired faces on my morning commutes.”
Once in the U.S. he collected CDs and records of artists he personally loved and upon returning to Japan in 1995 he started an import CD and record mail-order business.
Following the success of his music business, he founded Start Today Inc. in 1998 transitioning to an online retail business platform around 2000. The same year, his band was signed with BMG Japan and they debuted their major album. In 2000, Start Today became a joint stock corporation and they started retailing clothing as well. Subsequently he announced a break from his music career in 2001.
The company grew steadily and in 2007 Start Today went public and was listed in Tokyo Mothers Market. Maezawa said in the President interview that “he severed the music division of the company in 2005 as some of the music they handled were not suitable for the company image in going public.”
In February 2012, Start Today switched its listing over to the First Section of Tokyo Stock Exchange. The same year Maezawa founded his Contemporary Art Foundation focused on the promotion of contemporary art and fostering young talent through awards and grants.
It has been reported by the Japanese media that for 10 years Maezawa has been planning on building a museum in his hometown Chiba City and had been shopping around for his collection and his foundation has been holding exhibitions of his collections twice a year for the past few years.
Through Start Today’s retail platform ZOZOTOWN and fashion app WEAR that together holds reportedly 10 million members, his net worth is said to be $1.5 billion ranking 25th on Japan’s most wealthy list and 1140th on the Forbes list as of 2014.
Maezawa has also been known for his charitable acts and progressive management style. In April 2003, Start Today and 40 brands using his online retail site created a charity T-shirt protesting the war in Iraq.
The 5.96 million yen they raised in sales were all given to charity. He also personally donated a million dollars for the restoration of Chiba Marine Stadium.
In addition, Start Today implemented a 6-hour work day system in June 2012, in hopes to improve his employees’ lives with more free time for family and hobbies.
He himself is reportedly unmarried, but is a father of 3 children with 2 different women whom he all takes care of financially.
He is currently dating actress, model, and mother of two Saeko Dokyu, who is the ex-wife of Major League baseball star Yu Darvish.
Maezawa explained his purchase of the Basquiat on his Twitter account as follows: “I received a lot of street culture influence. And as a show of gratitude and thanks I decided to go all out and purchase (making the winning bid) on the best art piece (of Basquiat)—who also rose up from the streets. I hope to display it somewhere in Japan where everyone can look at it up close to their heart’s content.”
On his Instagram account he posted a photo of himself in front of the painting, with the words, “Jean-Michel Basquiat is coming to Japan.”