Masahiko Aoki was born in Nagoya, Japan on 1 April 1938 and studied for a bachelor’s (1962) and then a master’s degree (1964) in economics at the University of Tokyo, before going on to a PhD at the University of Minnesota (1967).
It was at this point that he joined Stanford University as an assistant professor, where he eventually rose to the position of Henri and Tomoye Takahashi professor of Japanese studies (as well as professor of economics), becoming emeritus in 2005. He also held appointments at both Harvard University and Kyoto University in Japan, and visiting positions at institutions in China, Germany, Sweden and the UK.
In his research, Professor Aoki developed a “theory of the firm” to compare organisational structures within the corporate world. His 2001 book, Toward a Comparative Institutional Analysis, examined how institutions evolve, why they take different forms in different economies and the factors that promote or inhibit change. A further book on related themes, Corporations in Evolving Diversity: Cognition, Governance, and Institutions, was published in 2010.
Even when hospitalised, Professor Aoki continued working on his final paper, which examines institutional development in China and Japan from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.
He was praised by Takeo Hoshi, Henri and Tomoye Takahashi senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, as “the first scholar to apply rigorous theoretical tools in modern economics to the study of the Japanese economy” – and for developing this into a framework for comparative analysis that can be applied to any economic system.
Widely acknowledged across the world as a leading figure in his field, Professor Aoki was awarded the Japan Academy Prize (1990) and the International Schumpeter Prize in Germany (1998) and served as president of both the Japanese Economic Association (1995-96) and the International Economic Association (2008-11).
He was the founding editor of the Journal of the Japanese and International Economies and also played an important role in Japanese academic life through founding the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Virtual Center for Advanced Studies in Institution at the Tokyo Foundation and helping to establish the Center for Industrial Development and Environmental Governance at Tsinghua University.
Professor Aoki died on 15 July after being hospitalised for lung disease. He is survived by his wife Reiko, two daughters and a granddaughter.