Naoki Sakai, 60, is a designer whose revolutionary ideas have made him an industry powerhouse. After designing Nissan's Be-1, the vehicle that in the late 1980s started the round-and-cute car boom, Sakai came up with concepts for three more popular cars from Nissan — the PAO, Figaro and Rasheen — as well as the SW-1 motorbike for Suzuki and the model for Toyota's Will concept car. Not only does he work with the auto industry, he's helped develop Olympus' O-Product, the camera that made the aluminium body a world standard; mobile phones for au by KDDI; and sofas for Cassina. As CEO of the design studio Water Group, he regularly nurtures great designers and is happiest when they are ready to leave the nest.

Success is not a one-person achievement. If a project succeeds, it means the team is great even if, as the face or symbol for the whole group, I am the one taking credit.

Subcultures make new standards. The flower children and the gay movement created new identities while mainstream cultures vanished. Japan produces so many creative and peaceful subcultures — from mobile phones, manga, Nintendo, anime to much more — that spread around the world.