The origin of Mitsubishi goes back to 1870 when the founder, Yataro Iwasaki, started a shipping firm with three aging steamships. Yataro's brother, son and nephew expanded the business into various fields during their respective terms as president and set the foundation of the Mitsubishi companies. After WWII, the original Mitsubishi organization was disbanded to become the independent companies they are today.
1830〜1880Establishing Mitsubishi in a Time of Tremendous Upheaval and Change
A visionary and formidable entrepreneur
When we look back on history, there have always been new businesses arising during times of political and social change.
The final days of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration that followed in 1868 was one such period, and it was Yataro Iwasaki who had the knowledge and the vision to see a new era coming, and with it the need for strong and organized international commerce.
Yataro Iwasaki was born in 1835 and as a young man worked for the Tosa Clan, one of the most powerful merchant clans of the time. Exporters of specialty goods such as camphor and dried bonito and importers of warships and weapons, the clan initially conducted its business operations in Nagasaki, the only sea port authorized to conduct trade between Japan and the outside world. Due to Yataro's strong leadership and business savvy, the clan's business operations were eventually moved to Osaka. When the Meiji government set out a policy of banning the system of clan-led businesses, powerful members of the Tosa clan, Shojiro Goto and Taisuke Itagaki, established Tsukumo Shokai, Mitsubishi's predecessor, in 1870 to take over the clan's shipping business.
In 1873, the new government enforced the abolition and in the turbulent period of change that followed, Yataro took over the management and formed Mitsubishi Shokai, making him one of the most successful and powerful businessmen in the new Japan.
The early years of Yataro Iwasaki
Very early in his life, Yataro understood the importance of a good education. Studying under a noted scholar of the time, Neiho Okamoto, the boy received an education only the very privileged of his day could have access to, all the more remarkable because of his roots in a small village in Tosa, Japan. Moving to Tokyo under the tutelage of Zosai Okunomiya, a prominent Confucian scholar of the time, Yataro was destined for greatness.
Mitsubishi's transformation into a shipping company
In 1867, Yataro was appointed manager of the trading operations of the Tosa Clan's business interests in Nagasaki. As Japan continued to open to Western trade, ports in Osaka, Kobe and Yokohama emerged as centers of commerce, replacing Nagasaki, which had long been Japan's only officially designated open port. In 1869, Yataro was assigned to Osaka and rose to become manager of the clan's Osaka operations. In 1870, Tsukumo Shokai was established with three steamships chartered from the Tosa Clan, and three years later changed its name to Mitsubishi Shokai. The following year its headquarters were moved to Tokyo and the company was renamed Mitsubishi Jokisen Kaisha.
Under an exclusive contract from the government, Mitsubishi provided the ships that carried Japanese troops to Taiwan in 1874, and later to Satsuma when the Southwestern Rebellion broke out in 1877.
This business earned Mitsubishi the trust of Japan's government and the financial rewards of this business relationship solidified the financial base for the company for the future. During this period, Mitsubishi owned 61 ships, or 73% of the gross tonnage of Japan's steamship fleet.
The remarkable contributions of Yataro Iwasaki
Established in 1873, Mitsubishi Shokai originally conducted business primarily as a shipping and trading company, but Yataro skillfully moved the company in the direction of diversification, and into mining early in its history. With the purchase of the Yoshioka Mine, in Okayama, the company introduced modern technology that resulted in the discovery of previously hidden rich veins of copper, transforming the mine's dwindling production to one of Japan's highest producing copper mines.
This remarkably skillful business visionary further moved Mitsubishi into other businesses that included shipping documentation services, warehousing and financial services. In 1881, the company purchased an extremely unprofitable coal mine owned by Shojiro Goto, in Nagasaki, and with the introduction of new mining technology developed by Mitsubishi, the business became highly profitable. In 1884, Mitsubishi leased the Nagasaki Shipyard and later purchased the facility from the Japanese government, heralding an era of growth that made Mitsubishi one of the world's leading shipbuilding companies.
1880〜1896An Unusually Insightful and Judicious Leader
A visionary and formidable entrepreneur
"I am here to announce that I will take over leadership of Mitsubishi and do my best to expand our shipping business. I will strive to fulfill the long-cherished desire of my deceased brother with his same indomitable spirit." With these words, Yanosuke Iwasaki, the younger brother of the founder Yataro Iwasaki, became Mitsubishi's second president in 1885.
Sixteen years junior to his brother, Yanosuke previously spent a brief period in the U.S., where he studied and learned about American culture and customs, an experience that would influence his actions throughout his lifetime. His international education, however, was cut short by his father's untimely death in 1873 and the young Iwasaki returned to Japan. Later he stepped into his brother's role as the administrative leader and became the driving force of a new and prosperous Japanese company.
A strategy for growth encompassing the concept of diversification
One of the achievements for which founder Yataro Iwasaki deserves credit is his efforts to diversify the company's holdings early in its history. Yanosuke played a major part in one of these expansions,namely the purchase of the Takashima Coal Mine, in 1881. The previous owner, Shojiro Goto, had acquired the mine from the Japanese government, and owing to poor management and a lack of expertise in the mining business, ran the company into disarray. Yanosuke Iwasaki persuaded Yataro to purchase the mine through his comprehensive assessment of its estimated reserves and business potential.
Under new management, the mine later emerged as a profitable enterprise, as new mining technology was introduced.
Through his early experiences researching the mining business for his older brother, Yanosuke became Mitsubishi's expert in mining, later acquiring mines for the company in Chikuho and Karatsu as well as in Nagasaki.
Mitsubishi's acquisition of property in Tokyo's Marunouchi district
During Japan's Edo period, some clans had mansions in the Marunouchi district adjacent to Edo Castle. Following the Meiji Restoration, the area became government property and was transformed into military barracks, drill fields and other military facilities for the Imperial Palace Guards.
Later, the government attempted to raise money for the army's planned construction of a brick barracks at Azabu by selling the land lots at Marunouchi an area of about 413,000m². When calling for bids among the predominant zaibatsu of the time, tender prices were found to be far smaller than anticipated by the government.
Therefore, in order for the government to rebuild its military installations, then Finance Minister Masayoshi Matsukata,facing insufficient government funding for the effort, asked Yanosuke to purchase the property. The young Iwasaki was inspired by his youthful memory of Manhattan, and considered that Japan would need an office district like that of London to support its modernization. With Mitsubishi's purchase of Marunouchi, yet another era for the growing company had begun.
Honoring duty and integrity for the future of Mitsubishi
With the enactment of Japan's commercial code in 1893, Mitsubishi was restructured and renamed Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha. Fulfilling a promise to his older brother, Mitsubishi's founder, Yanosuke then stepped down as president in favor of his nephew, Hisaya, turning over the reins of power and leadership to the next generation. He continued to be involved in the activities of the growing company in a supervisory role and continued to maintain an instrumental role in the management of the company. At this time in Mitsubishi's history, Yanosuke was 42 years old, and Hisaya only 28.
Yanosuke went on to become Governor of The Bank of Japan three years after retiring from Mitsubishi, an appointment he received from then Prime Minister Masayoshi Matsukata. In 1896, as the Governor, he established the gold standard system and a collaborative framework with Yokohama Shokin Bank, Ltd., one of the predecessors of today's The Bank of Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd.
Yanosuke established the Seikado Bunko Library with books that he had received from his former teacher, scholar Yasutsugu Shigeno. Yanosuke was an avid collector of Oriental art and cultural artifacts during the Meiji Restoration, a time when things Oriental were being cast aside for anything Western. A true visionary, Yanosuke understood the value in preserving the heritage of his culture and country. During his lifetime, Koyata Iwasaki also continued to collect items for the library, continuing his father's legacy.
1890〜1916First Step toward Modern Management
Transforming Mitsubishi into a modern enterprise
In his early days, in 1886, Hisaya Iwasaki studied at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. This was the period when great capitalists such as Rockefeller and Carnegie began to emerge in America to build businesses in oil, coal and steel. Hisaya experienced this big wave of American business firsthand.
His exposure to American education had a profound impact on the young Iwasaki's life and upon his return to Japan, he built himself a Western-style house designed by a British architect, Josiah Conder, and surrounded it with gardens reminiscent of the American countryside.
Today, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government owns the house and gardens, so the public may now enjoy this splendid representation of Western-style living.
Transforming Mitsubishi into a leading shipbuilder
In 1895, Nippon Yusen built one of six passenger-cargo vessels (6,000-ton class) for a European line at the Nagasaki Shipyard.
Until this time, only British companies had the shipbuilding capabilities to construct this size of commercial ship. The ship, Hitachi Maru, was the first of its size for the Nagasaki Shipyard, and the experience gained from the construction of this vessel set the stage for a growing number of orders for larger vessels, including an order for the 13,000-ton class luxury liner, TENYO MARU, and many subsequent orders for large-scale battleships.
Creating a modern corporate management system
In 1908, Hisaya introduced into Mitsubishi a management system very much like today's system of operational divisions.
The aim of this change was to give each division responsibilities and cost consciousness in order to further expand the company's businesses. Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha consisted of the divisions of banking, shipbuilding, administration, mining, sales, and real estate, to which direct management authority was then transferred. This move was a decisive and strategic gain for the growing Mitsubishi, increasing both efficiency and profitability as a corporate enterprise.
The introduction of the division system was the first step in Mitsubishi's transformation from a one-man rule company to a truly modern corporate structure, equipped to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing and increasingly international business environment.
Major contributions even in retirement
In 1916, while Japan prospered during the war boom of WWI, Hisaya stepped down as president and entrusted the reigns of leadership to his cousin Koyata Iwasaki.
At the time Hisaya was 50 years old, and he felt he could confidently entrust the business to his successor at such a time of robust economic growth. It was a truly selfless decision, and having passed over the reins of power, Hisaya refrained from interfering in the business of Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha.
Following his retirement, Hisaya Iwasaki worked to contribute to society, while also being involved in agriculture and cattle raising at Koiwai Farm. In 1924, he established The Toyo Bunko Foundation, which has become one of the world's leading centers for Asian studies. Currently, the facility houses about 950 thousand documents and many artifacts for public viewing.
1910〜1946Another Visionary Businessperson Leads Mitsubishi
A voice of reason during a time of despair
On October 20, 1945, only two months following Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces, Japan was dealt a further economic hardship when the Allied Command ordered the disbanding of all zaibatsu, the nation's industrial and financial business conglomerates. The order was given because Allied Command considered the military and the zaibatsu to have been ultimately responsible for driving Japan into the war, and sought to break up economic forces that exercised totalitarian monopolistic power. The hard work of many went unrecognized at the time of the dissolution of these zaibatsu corporations, and among them, the work of Yataro Iwasaki and the Mitsubishi Group. Koyata Iwasaki, the founder's nephew and fourth president of Mitsubishi, was an outspoken advocate, asserting publicly that Mitsubishi was a friend to many business partners around the world and that it had never engaged in dishonorable business practices.
A champion of internationalism and goodwill in a time of discord
Koyata Iwasaki was the most international spirited Japanese businessperson of his era, having completed his formal education at the famed University of Cambridge in England. Despite the spirit of internationalism and social justice he engendered, at the outbreak of hostilities following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Koyata Iwasaki stated at a speech given to the assembled top executives of each Mitsubishi Group company: "Now our nation has come to a decision. And although my personal ideas regarding diplomacy depart from those of the nation, we are all now called upon to follow the order of our Emperor, to be united and to endeavor with all our strength for the nation." A small voice of reason in a time of turmoil and growing call to arms, Koyata urged the nation to look beyond the current state of affairs, and envision a time when internationalism and peace would prevail. A forward thinker, Koyata Iwasaki spoke of the day when people everywhere could work towards the global good. He was a man dedicated to the ideas of international understanding and the globalization of markets, long before the concepts and phrases had entered our modern lexicon. His idea of 'corporate responsibility to society' guiding individual and corporate actions, known in Japanese as shoki hoko, would define one of Mitsubishi's guiding principles for decades to come. It is important to remember, that during the turbulent years of WWII and in its aftermath, the Mitsubishi Group continued its responsible stewardship of its associated British and American business interests in Japan and the region, in this spirit of Koyata's dedication to internationalism.
A proponent of cooperation and accountability in a time of transition
Koyata's strong conviction that integrity and fairness were the foundation of all business remains a cornerstone of Mitsubishi's management philosophy today. Amidst the economic depression of the early 20th century, Mitsubishi's operations were guided by a set of core principles. With the nation hard hit by the difficult economic times, Koyata advocated responsible action and assistance to manufacturers, producers and the public Mitsubishi served. Placing an unwavering commitment to quality and fair business practices, Mitsubishi survived and prospered and in many instances took a leadership role in moving the industries in which it conducted business to profitability and sustainable prosperity. In 1934, his ideas became officially accepted as Mitsubishi's guiding principles, and these principles would lead the company to greatness in the 20th century and beyond.
Development of the Marunouchi district
Tokyo's Marunouchi district, which had developed as a focal area for the army of the new government following the Meiji Restoration, gradually transformed itself into the nation's nerve center for business activities. In 1894, the first modern office building was constructed in the British red-brick architectural style and in 1914, the country's landmark Tokyo Station was opened as the transportation hub of the nation.
The early 1920s, saw construction of American-style office buildings for Japan's growing business center. These were large and could be built relatively quickly. It was at this time that Koyata made the decision to build Mitsubishi's new building. The former Marunouchi Building was a landmark structure, which opened on February 20, 1923, after being built in record time using new construction technology by a leading New York construction firm. Less than a year after its completion, the Marunouchi Building survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which devastated most of the Tokyo skyline. The famous icon facing Tokyo Station was demolished in 1999 as part of a massive redevelopment project for the district. In 2002, a new Marunouchi Building was completed. It has become a familiar landmark in the Marunouchi area.
1950〜1970Rebuilding Japan– a Transitional Process for Mitsubishi
Reestablishing a corporate identity
Following the end of WWII, the Allied Forces in Japan demanded the dissolution of the zaibatsu that had held so much power in the prewar period ending nearly 70 years of Mitsubishi's leadership by four generations of the Iwasaki family. In September 1946 the company disbanded its headquarters, and its network of affiliates and subsidiaries were all re-launched as independent companies. Moreover, GHQ orders strictly prohibited the use of the Mitsubishi trade name or logo.
The San Francisco Peace Accord in 1952 brought about a repeal of the ban on using zaibatsu trade names and logos. With this change, former Mitsubishi Group companies reclaimed the Mitsubishi name and in 1954, the once-divided Mitsubishi Corporation conducted a series of mergers leading to an overall merger into a single entity.
A new era in weather forecasting
The typhoon Isewan struck the Kii Peninsula on September 26, 1959, killing more than 5,000 and injuring about 40,000 Japanese citizens, and becoming Japan's most destructive typhoon in more than a century. In the wake of this natural disaster, the Japanese government moved to build weather warning facilities, establishing a weather observatory on the summit of Mt. Fuji and ushering in a new era of meteorological observation systems throughout the country. Mitsubishi Electric Corporation received the order to build the facility.
On August 15, 1964, construction of the radar towers atop Mt. Fuji was completed, establishing Japan's first earlywarning weather system. The range of the new facility was 800 kilometers. Over the following 35 years, the Mt. Fuji radar system continued to play a key role in Japan's early-warning weather systems.
In March 2000, the Mt. Fuji radar system was recognized as an important milestone by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) of the U.S., as a noteworthy example in the history of electrical engineering for weather radar operation.
The Tokyo Olympics and the regeneration of the Mitsubishi Group
In 1964, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.(MHI) completed the reunification of its former companies. In September of the same year, the Mitsubishi Public Affairs Committee was established with the mission of increasing the Mitsubishi Group's involvement in community activities and its contribution to society overall.
The move was also designed to increase public recognition for the Mitsubishi brand and to enhance communication among the growing numbers of companies comprising the Mitsubishi Group. In October of the same year, the opening of the Tokyo Olympics realized Japan's long-held desire and allowed the country to demonstrate to the whole world that it had truly recovered.
A new era in corporate responsibility and leadership
During the 1960s, enterprises closely aligned with Mitsubishi began to strengthen their mutual links. At the same time, Mitsubishi took a positive approach to foreign capital. For example, Mitsubishi Petrochemical Co., Ltd. (currently Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation) was established in 1956 as a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell Group; Mitsubishi Reynolds Aluminum Co., Ltd. (currently Mitsubishi Aluminum Co., Ltd.) and Mitsubishi Precision Co., Ltd. were formed in 1962 as joint ventures with Reynolds International, Inc. and General Precision Inc., respectively.
The rapid growth of the Japanese economy during the 1950s and 60s was due in no small part to the astounding growth in the manufacture of consumer products and the expansion of consumer markets. Following close behind was growth in credit card businesses, of which Mitsubishi was a key player, organizing Diamond Credit Co., Ltd. (currently Mitsubishi UFJ NICOS Co., Ltd.) in 1967.
1970年〜Focusing on the Long-Term Future– a Century of Solidarity for Mitsubishi
In 1970, the Mitsubishi Group commemorated its centennial year in business, and established the Mitsubishi Foundation in 1969. The Foundation is an active supporter of a wide range of academic research and social welfare programs. In 1970, the Group formed Mitsubishi Research Institute.
During the occupation of Japan by the Allied Forces following the end of WWII, the zaibatsu were disbanded and their trade names abolished. In the decades of reconstruction following this difficult period in Japanese modern history, Mitsubishi was able to maintain a corporate identity despite its organizational dissolution through the nurturing of its original management principles, embodied in the themes of Corporate Responsibility to Society, Integrity and Fairness, and Global Understanding through Business.
To mark its centennial anniversary, the Group sponsored the Mitsubishi Pavilion at the Japan World Exposition in Osaka in 1970. In subsequent years, Mitsubishi has continued to maintain a high profile in international business and has also participated in other international events, including the '75 Okinawa International Ocean Expo, the Kobe Portopia '81 Exposition, the '85 International Exposition in Tsukuba, the '90 International Garden and Greenery Exposition in Osaka, and the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi. Its participation in these international gatherings is a reflection of the Group's determination to contribute to the promotion of international understanding and a better world for all people.
'Slow' but 'Steady' are trademark characteristics of Mitsubishi's longterm approach to business growth and contribution to society
Throughout the years of Japan's 'bubble economy,' primarily during the 1980s and early 1990s, the Mitsubishi Group continued to serve customers and manage assets following a careful and determined approach to business. The strength exhibited by Mitsubishi during the years of economic turmoil following this period, reflects its adherence to the basic corporate philosophy and management principles that have guided Mitsubishi's business affairs for more than a century.
This steadfast approach to business was woven into Mitsubishi's DNA by President Koyata in the years immediately following WWI, when Japan's economy had succumbed to a speculative boom fueled by post-war recovery demand. The president sent out a memo urging managers to eschew harmful, empty business practices based on easy speculation and short-term profit, and to foster instead a culture based on a slow but steady approach to management.
Over half a century later during Japan's bubble economy, Mitsubishi's core philosophy protected the company from the folly of over-investment in the heat of the boom, allowing the Group to emerge from the bubble's collapse relatively unscathed with only a few bad debts on its books.
The birth of a world-class business district
Tokyo's Marunouchi district has undergone development to become Japan's premier business center, and Mitsubishi Estate has been at the center of redevelopment initiatives to transform Otemachi, Marunouchi and Yurakucho, the area between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, into a diverse district that serves as the face of Japan.
Since the announcement to rebuild the Marunouchi Building in 1995, the vicinity of Tokyo Station has been subject to major redevelopment. The successive completion of reconstructed buildings, such as the Marunouchi Building in 2002, the Industry Club of Japan, Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Building in 2003, Marunouchi MY PLAZA and Marunouchi Oazo in 2004, the Tokyo Building in 2005, "Tokyo Tokiwabashi" project, which includes the goal of completing construction of Japan's tallest office building at approximately 390 meters (1,279 feet) by 2027.
Moving beyond conventional manufacturing
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) made its first flight as Japan's first domestically developed passenger jet in November 2015. The MRJ business is promoted by
KOUNOTORI is an unmanned cargo transporter spacecraft designed to transport up to six tons of food, experiment devices and other supplies to the International Space Station.
Under the leadership of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and other companies continue to play a central role in manufacturing the transporter.
Japanese technological expertise has been highly applauded with respect to the transporter. The KOUNOTORI is the and the Shin-Marunouchi Building and the Peninsula Tokyo in 2007, have brought vitality and prosperity to the area.
Redevelopment activities that began in 2008 focused on updating the overall functionality of the area as a whole to extend and enhance its neighborhood ambiance. The Marunouchi Park Building and Mitsubishi Ichigokan were completed in April 2010. Mitsubishi Ichigokan was resurrected and stands on the same site as the original building, which was completed in 1894. This was followed by the completion of the Marunouchi Eiraku Building in January 2012, and Otemachi Financial City North and South Towers in October of the same year. The Otemachi Financial City Grand Cube was completed in 2016, a traditional Japanese inn was invited to develop a facility on an adjacent site, and serviced apartments were incorporated in the Otemachi Park Building that was completed in 2017, creating the first residential facility for the Otemachi district. These undertakings helped to further strengthen the area's function as a global business center. At present, Mitsubishi Estate is proceeding with urban development towards a new landmark for Tokyo by promoting the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. as a new business venture that harnesses the technologies accumulated through its aerospace operations. The commercial aircraft business is expected to become a potential new pillar for the domestic industry going forward. The MRJ is expected to drive medium-to long-term growth for the Japanese industry and to go beyond the rubric of single company manufacturing. Moreover, by forming new networks that connect different regions, the MRJ is expected to serve as an important means of transportation helping to revitalize regions.
The Mitsubishi Group embarks on a new journey to the frontiers of space
In March 2008, Japan's first manned experiment space station, the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo," was connected to the International Space Station (ISS) and in August that year the first experiment was carried out, thereby beginning a new era of the full utilization of ISS.
The H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI"(HTV), an unmanned space transporter, was developed in Japan to transport supplies to the station. world's only cargo transporter spacecraft that can deliver to the ISS large freight and external space-station equipment that is too large to pass through the docking port where personnel can enter. This is made possible by the transporter's large hatch and the unpressurized Logistics Carrier.
The Mitsubishi Group's businesses originated with marine transportation. Through its pursuit of "Global Understanding through Business" ("Ritsugyo Boeki") one of the Group's Three Principles, the Mitsubishi Group is now moving beyond the confines of the Earth to the frontiers of space.
- From the Mitsubishi Profile Published by the Mitsubishi Public Affairs Committee