A Brief History
On February 7, 1885, one of the first great industrialists to bring Japan from a backwater third world nation to a modern industrial giant died of stomach cancer. The founder of the giant Mitsubishi Company, Iwasaki Yataro left the company in the hands of his brother.
Born in 1835, Yataro had humble roots, and his education was cut short when he was sent to prison at age 19 for accusing a local government official of corruption concerning a dispute with Yataro’s father. After serving a 7 month prison term, Yataro found it hard to find a job and went to Edo (now Tokyo) where he found work as a teacher and companionship with politically active reformers that sought to open Japan to the modern world.
Working as a government clerk, Yataro worked his way up to the top position in the Tosa clan’s trading office in Nagasaki, earning enough to buy back his family’s Samurai status. When the Meiji Restoration caused the end of the Shogunate business system, Yataro went to Osaka where he headed the Tsukumo Trading Company, which became Mitsubishi in 1873.
The name “Mitsubishi” comes from the Japanese for three (mitsu) and water chestnut (hishi). The water chestnut is diamond shaped, which is the source of the 3 diamond symbol of the modern Mitsubishi company displayed prominently on their motor vehicles.
Mitsubishi became closely associated with the Japanese government through a series of contracts to deliver soldiers, arms and ammunition as well as subsequent shipping contracts through the late 19th Century. The success and modernization of Japan was mirrored by the rise of Mitsubishi, which Yataro had diversified into mining, manufacturing, finance, ship repair and heavy industry.
Although Yataro died in 1885, the Mitsubishi company continued to grow into an enormous conglomerate of many diverse pursuits.
Although the base company was disbanded after World War II (they had produced the Zero airplane and many other weapons of war), the surviving companies continued to share the heritage of the parent and today Mitsubishi (“The Mitsubishi Group of Companies”) has around 350,000 employees and revenue of around $250 Billion per year.
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For more information, please see…
The origin of the theory of enterprise corporate Japan Iwasaki Yataro of “Mitsubishi”. Asahi Shimbun Publishing, 2010.