Plaque for Matsuo Yokoyama

Matsuo Yokoyama

When The Walt Disney Company sought to meet the world in Japan, they depended on Matsuo Yokoyama. As former chairman of Disney Consumer Products Bo Boyd once said, “Matsuo’s a marketing marvel. He developed relationships with many faithful licensees and made Mickey Mouse not just an American hero in the country, but a beloved member of the Japanese people and their rich culture.”

Born in Tokyo on March 31, 1927, Matsuo was the son of a chef and restaurateur. At 17, he entered a boy’s military school until August 1945 when Japan surrendered to the Allies. After the war, he worked in an iron factory by day and studied English at a local YMCA by night. In 1951, he enrolled in the University of Keio in Tokyo where he studied business management. Upon graduation in 1955, Matsuo joined Morinaga Confectionery Company in Tokyo as its marketing manager.

Six years later, in 1961, Matsuo answered a newspaper employment ad and was selected from more than 100 applicants to join Disney as a merchandise representative. At that time, fraudulent Disney character merchandise and advertising ran rampant throughout the country; Matsuo’s first and most challenging job was to assert and establish Disney’s copyrights in Japan. As part of this effort, he created the Disney Licensing Association. This was the first organization of its kind to encourage cooperation among legitimate licensees.

By 1964, copyright protection of Disney intellectual properties had passed a major hurdle and Matsuo was subsequently promoted to officer and director.

An instinctive business professional, Matsuo sensed that the Japanese market was becoming over-saturated with American character merchandise during the United States Bicentennial in 1976. That autumn, he limited the amount of Disney merchandise manufactured. Disney licensees argued that they were losing valuable sales, because American merchandise was a hot commodity in Japan. In the spring of 1977, however, American goods suddenly plummeted in value because of retail overstock; only Disney merchandise maintained its value, because of Matsuo’s prudent foresight.

In October 1989, he was promoted to president of Walt Disney Enterprises of Japan. Two years later, at a special gathering in Matsuo’s honor, former Walt Disney Company president Frank Wells named him chairman of the board and referred to his recent business success as “Matsuo’s Missile.”

Matsuo retired in September 1994 after dedicating 33 years to the development of Disney’s presence in Japan. In that time he grew its royalty income from an estimated six million yen in 1961 to twelve billion yen in 1991. Matsuo subsequently served as consultant to Walt Disney Consumer Products Asia-Pacific Ltd., followed by a position as chairman emeritus of Walt Disney Enterprises of Japan from 1996 through 1998.