Hisaya Iwasaki

The ModernizerHisaya Iwasaki

Hisaya Iwasaki (1865-1955)
Hisaya Iwasaki (1865-1955)

Hisaya Iwasaki ran Mitsubishi for 22 years. The third Iwasaki president put the company on the path of modernization in both technology and corporate culture.

The third president of Mitsubishi was the son of the company's founder, Yataro Iwasaki. Hisaya Iwasaki was born on the island of Shikoku in 1865 and moved to Tokyo at the age of nine to attend school at Keio Gijuku. At Keio, he received personal instruction from the school's founder, Yukichi Fukuzawa. That Meiji-era scholar and promoter of western learning's influence played a big role in Hisaya's development. At 12, Hisaya transferred to the Mitsubishi Commercial School that his father founded. There, he studied commerce and economics from western texts.

After his father's death, 20-year-old Hisaya traveled to the United States to study. He spent five years there and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

On his return to Japan, Hisaya became vice president of Mitsubishi under his uncle Yanosuke. He assumed the mantle of president two years later when the company reorganized into Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha (Limited Partnership). As president, Hisaya proved a gentle, modest man of strict ethical standards. He demanded purity of character and fairness in actions throughout Mitsubishi operations. And under his leadership the company continued to grow.


Japanese industry in Hisaya's time was modernizing rapidly to catch up to the West. Mitsubishi had diversified widely under Yanosuke, and that diversification was beginning to pay off in rapid growth. In mining, Hisaya continued Yanosuke's drive to purchase mines that yielded the coal and copper that industry needed. He also purchased the government-owned Osaka Refinery to process copper. Exports of Mitsubishi's mineral products were an important source of funding for further diversification.

Hisaya also expanded Mitsubishi's shipbuilding business. He injected funds to expand and modernize the Nagasaki Shipyard. The company opened two new shipyards in Kobe and Shimo-noseki, making Mitsubishi Japan's largest private-sector shipbuilder.

Real estate business, too, grew under Hisaya. He continued Yanosuke's plan of developing Tokyo's Marunouchi business district and began to offer rental office space there. Banking and trading operations also grew in size and importance. Management became a challenge as Mitsubishi grew in size and diversity. So, Hisaya made what was a very progressive decision for the time: he had the business divisions adopt autonomous accounting systems. That provided the basis for the the modern system of operational divisions.

Hisaya was also active in all-new industries. He started coke production, the company's first venture in carbon-based chemicals. Overseas, Mitsubishi built a steel plant in northern Korea. And he backed other entrepreneurial businesses, such as Kirin Brewery.

The outbreak of World War I meant a big jump in business for Mitsubishi. Hisaya took the opportunity provided by continued growth to retire in 1916. His cousin Koyata, son of second president Yanosuke Iwasaki, took over the presidency. After Mitsubishi, Hisaya devoted himself to running agricultural and cattle businesses and Mitsubishi Paper Mills. Hisaya loved the outdoors and ran several farms. One of those, Koiwai Farms, is a major dairy producer even today. Hisaya also operated agricultural and cattle projects in Korea, Taiwan, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Brazil, and other places.

Hisaya lost most of his personal property in the breakup of Japan's zaibatsu financial and industrial combines after World War II. He led the rest of his life in seclusion on his Suehiro Farm. Hisaya passed away in 1955 at the age of 90.