Fujita was born in Osaka, Japan to a Christian mother and father who worked in a foreign company. Fujita, who was entirely ethnically Japanese, was reared differently from most other Japanese children. With a command of the English language, he served as a translator during high school. However, after World War II, Fujita found his life altered by the death of his father and the destruction of his house. Fujita was educated at the University of Tokyo law school and after graduating in 1951, he decided to work at the importing business he started while attending the University.
After his first McDonald's meal in 1967, Fujita was amazed by its efficiency and popularity. After selling imported bags and shoes, Fujita seized on the opportunity to start McDonald's franchises in Japan in 1971. His strategy for selling McDonalds to the Japanese people involved the following statement: "The reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for two thousand years... If we eat McDonald's hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years we will become taller, our skin become white, and our hair blonde."
He opened his first McDonald's in Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza (銀座三越), an upscale district in Tokyo, Japan. However, while McDonald's Japan opened its first restaurant in 1971, it did not start television advertising until 1973. McDonald's Japan now has 3,800 restaurants, earning revenue of approximately $4 billion a year (60% of the hamburger market). Much of the success was due to the Japanese styled offerings such as the Teriyaki McBurger (テリヤキマックバーガー) and Chicken Tatsuta (チキンタツタ). After building McDonald's presence in Japan and building a net worth of about $1 billion, Fujita retired on March 5, 2003. His ambitions, however, did not recede with age as he predicted that there would be 10,000 McDonald's in Japan by 2010. In December 2003, McDonald's paid $57 million (estimated) for canceling its contract with Fujita & Co. (Fujita's consulting company) along with a $24 million retirement bonus. Fujita's family held a 25% stake in McDonald's Japan until selling it to Longreach private equity fund in 2005. At the time the shares had a market value of $674 million.
Fujita served on the board of Softbank, whose Korean-Japanese founder, Masayoshi Son, once idolized Fujita as a boy. He served as Vice-Chairman of Toys 'R' Us Japan. Fujita wrote eight books on business strategy.
His own words:
Look, not with your eyes but with your heart and mind. Then, opportunities will find you. (凡眼には見えず、心眼を開け。好機は常に眼前にあり。)
— Den Fujita.
He printed these words on all of writing tablets used in his company.
At the age of 78, Den Fujita died of heart failure on April 21, 2004. Two days earlier, McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo had died of a heart attack. After his death, Japanese Media made a massive propaganda for his inheritance and subsequently questioned the government for inheritance tax that his heirs had to pay. All his personal property and investment, which was left over from his earnings minus paying huge income taxes, was again subjected to Japan's Inheritance Tax (Souzokuzei 相続税).
Awards and honors
- Business Week: The Stars of Asia Managers (2001)
- Forbes: World's Richest People (1999 - )
- Blue Ribbon Award for business achievement from Emperor Hirohito (1986)
- Business Week: The Stars of Asia Managers
- Japanese Bio
- 2004: World's Richest People - Den Fujita & Family