Born the eldest son of a wealthy merchant in Nagoya, central Japan, Morita was expected to inherit his father's sake and soy sauce business. As a boy, however, he preferred to tinker with the family's new phonograph rather than learn about brewing techniques. His fascination with electronics took him to Osaka Imperial University, where he took a degree in physics - rather than in economics, as his father had suggested.
It was whilst doing war-time research on missile systems that he met Masaru Ibuka, whose dreamy technical genius was to provide the perfect complement for Morita's sharp business acumen. Their relationship, Ibuka's wife would later say, was "closer than lovers".
In 1946, amid the rubble of postwar Tokyo, the two men established a small electronics company with 20 employees and capital of 190,000 yen (£1,000). The early days were tough and the business was only able to stay afloat with income from radio repairs and loans from Morita's father. The big breakthrough came in 1950, when the company developed Japan's first tape-recorder.
After that there was no stopping it. As Ibuka pioneered new devices - such as the world's first pocket-sized radio and the Trinitron TV - Morita used his charisma and canny business sense to promote the company's image overseas. His masterstroke came in 1958, when he changed the company's name from Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Tokyo Telecommunications and Engineering Industries) to Sony - a mixture of sonus, the Latin word for sound, and "sonny boy," which Morita felt epitomised youthful vitality.
In the 1950s, Morita made hundreds of visits to the United States to check the latest technological developments and to explore potential markets. It was not always a gratifying experience: because of currency restrictions he only had enough money to stay in cheap hotels, and often had to do his own washing in the sink. He was also embarrassed that Japanese products were seen as cheap and shoddy - a reputation he vowed to change.
The biggest step towards that came in 1961 when Sony became the first foreign company to sell shares on the New York stock exchange. This issue raised $3m, but, more significantly, it lifted the profile of Sony in America. Morita would say later it was the happiest moment of his career.
As president of Sony in 1974, Morita led the influx of Japanese companies into Britain by establishing a television manufacturing plant in Bridgend. The location was reportedly decided in a meeting four years earlier with Prince Charles. By the time Morita was knighted in 1993, Britain had attracted more than 40 per cent of Japanese investment in Europe.
Morita was a businessman who relied on instinct. This meant some huge successes, such as the decision to push ahead with the Walkman in the 1980s despite doubts about how it would be received. But there were also failures, notably the disastrous move to challenge the leading VHS video format with Beta.
He was also outspoken and stirred up controversy in 1989 by co-authoring a book, The Japan That Can Say No, with the nationalist Shintaro Ishihara. But his frank and witty criticism of American business practices was also applauded as a refreshing change from the bland comments of successive Japanese prime ministers and bureaucrats. Henry Kissinger said that Morita was probably the single most effective Japanese spokesman he ever met.
Usually a man of boundless energy - he took up scuba diving and water-skiing in his 60s - Morita suffered a stroke in 1993 that left him wheelchair-bound. He retired as Sony chairman a year later and spent most of the rest of his life in Hawaii. He is survived by his wife Yoshiko, sons Hideo and Masao and daughter Naoko.
Akio Morita, industrialist, born January 26 1921; died October 3 1999