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Machinery & Industrial Equipment

Japanese executive known for 'pre-funeral' dead at 81

Former Komatsu chief Satoru Anzaki shook up approach to death

An innovator in life, Satoru Anzaki helped change Japan's conversation on death with his "living funeral."

TOKYO -- Ex-Komatsu President Satoru Anzaki died on Saturday at 81, months after the former chief of the Japanese construction machinery builder celebrated with friends and colleagues at his own funeral.

When diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in October, Anzaki made it his mission to enjoy the time he had left. Around 1,000 guests, including business associates and classmates from Hitotsubashi University, filled a Tokyo hotel ballroom in December to fete their friend and colleague. The wheelchair-using Anzaki greeted each.

"People have their own ways of handling death -- I did things my way," he told reporters after the event.

As Komatsu's president from 1995 to 2001, Anzaki gained a reputation as an innovator. That period saw the company exit the unprofitable construction business and revamp for a rapidly globalizing world, shaking up its management structure and expanding abroad. After passing the baton to Masahiro Sakane -- now at Komatsu in an advisory role -- Anzaki became chairman. When Komatsu took its first-ever tumble into the red after the dot-com bubble burst, Sakane pulled it into a swift recovery.

In retirement, Anzaki worked on projects promoting exchange between Japan and China. His approach to dying put him back in the public eye. When doctors said his cancer was inoperable, the onetime executive ran a newspaper ad to "express my gratitude while I am still well," inviting friends and acquaintances for a final farewell party.

Such "living funerals" are not unknown in Japan. But it is rare for a high-profile executive to hold one -- a fact that has drawn numerous comments from those touched by the practice and sparked a conversation about quality of life at the end.

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