Before the Zaibatsu

Time Asia has a great article on Osaka’s Kongo Gumi (金剛組) construction firm, which they describe as the world’s oldest family firm, but I suspect may actually be the world’s oldest continuously operated business of any kind. Sure, if you go back that far it’s probably the case that all businesses are family firms, but since today one term is a subset of the other, the latter is a bit more impressive to the ear.

Built to last

Of the 202 Buddhist sanctuaries in Osaka’s Tennoji neighborhood, there is one that stands out: Shitennoji, the first Japanese temple commissioned by a royal and one of the oldest Buddhist complexes in Japan. Construction began in A.D. 593, just decades after the religion reached the country’s shores. One of the carpenters for Shitennoji, Shigemitsu Kongo, traveled to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Paekche for the project. Over a millennium-and-a-half, Shitennoji has been toppled by typhoons and burned to the ground by lightning and civil war—and Shigemitsu’s descendants have supervised its seven reconstructions. Today, working out of offices that overlook the temple, Kongo Gumi Co. is run by 54-year-old president Masakazu Kongo, the 40th Kongo to lead the company in Japan. His business, started more than 1,410 years ago, is believed to be the oldest family-run enterprise in the world.

Kongo Gumi’s official corporate website is located here (in Japanese of course)

If you look at their ‘corporate summary’ page, you’ll see that their date of founding is listed as Asuka period, 6th year of the reign of the Bidatsu emperor, 30th emperor of Japan. To put that in perspective a little, this would be about the time that the Arthurian legends are generally believed to have been set, so for a more familiar equivalent, think about what it would be like if the construction company that had built Camelot were still in business-AND they’d kept up the maintenance on Camelot the whole time, so you could pay your five bucks admission to walk past the velvet rope in front of the Round Table, and get your photo taken in front of The Stone.

And yes, although now officially organized as a modern corporation, the CEO is still a Mr. Masakazu Kongo.

創業 飛鳥時代第30代敏達天皇6年(西暦578年)
社名 株式会社 金 剛 組
代表取締役 金 剛 正 和

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