In the news

Although I did end up doing a post yesterday on the Kokaryo case, I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I have been on a vacation from the blog for about a month. To catch up a little bit, here are a few headlines of interest to my themes on this blog that have been kicking around my desktop for the past couple of days. I normally don’t like to do the “here’s a bunch of links” format, but putting them here is as much for my own future reference as for everyone else’s enjoyment.

  • The Japan Times has a FAQ about the new National Assessment of Academic Ability exam, given to all sixth year elementary and third year junior high school students in Japan. Of special relevance to some recent discussions on this blog over Japan’s adaptation to foreigners is this sentence. “Foreign students who take classes with Japanese nationals at Japanese schools are also required to take the test, but are allowed to receive support from interpreters.
  • In September of 2005 I posted about Osaka’s Kongo Gumi (金剛組) construction firm, which was then probably the world’s oldest continually operated company, having remained a family firm ever since its founding in A.D. 578, over 1410 years ago. Sadly, Kongo Gumi is now no more. Read the tale of how a decline in construction by their traditional Buddhist temple clients and excessive borrowing during the bubble period in an ill-advised attempt to expand into other areas of construction led to the bankruptcy of the world’s oldest company. They technically still operate as a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction, but it’s just not the same without the 40th head of the Kongo family as CEO. According to Wikipedia’s list of the world’s oldest companies, this now leaves formerly second place Hoshi Ryokan, formerly just the world’s oldest hotel, as the world’s oldest independently operated company. Founded in 717, they are nearly 140 years younger than the former Kongo Gumi.
  • Historian and journalist David Halberstam has died in a car crash, at the age of 73. I mention it because several months ago I read his excellent book The Reckoning, on the history of the American and Japanese automobile industries from the very beginning to the mid 1980s when it was published, focusing largely on the stories of individual personalities in Ford and Nissan-the number two car companies of respectively the US and Japan, as well as some key bureaucrats in the case of Japan. This is recommended reading for people who are interested in learning generally how Japanese industry developed, thrived on technology transferred from abroad, to specifically why Japanese car companies and Toyota in particular are now leading the market. I strongly believe it should be on the short list for people interested in these topics, along with such better known books as Charlmers Johnson’s MITI and the Japanese Miracle, particularly for the chapters in which Halberstam explains precisely how Nissan management created a company union, crushed the independent labor movement within their company, and created the harmonious management/union structure we see throughout Japan, which the misinformed believe to be a symptom of Japan’se traditionally harmonious culture.

3 thoughts on “In the news”

  1. Interesting how many of the oldest companies are Japanese. The oldest Chinese one is far younger, only dating back to 1663. Germany’s strong showing is interesting too. At the risk of wildly overstating the case, it seems that a fairly decentralised state, with strong regional power, could be a key. War and political strife per se seem to have little bearing – the 法師旅館 would have been pretty much slap-bang in the Ikko Ikki uprising area, though after that the Kaga area remained fairly stable, especially under the Maedas.

    Just taking a look at the Houshi site. Rooms start at 20,000 yen each, rack rate. Ouch, but could be worse.

    Apparently it was founded by the priest Garyou (雅亮法師), the disciple of Taichou Daishi (泰澄大師: the first priest to undertake ascetic training at Hakusan [the White Mountain, the sacred mountain at the south-east end of Ishikawa Prefecture] and the “opener” of Hakusan, founding a temple at the peak). Taichou was a priest from Echizen Province, which is now basically the Reihoku area of Fukui Prefecture, but until 823 also included Kaga (the last kuni to be founded under the ritsu-ryou system). Echizen itself was originally part of “Koshi-no-kuni”, “the land beyond the mountains”, which was split into Echizen, Etchuu, and Echigo (Fukui-Ishikawa, Toyama, Niigata): Front, Middle and Rear. Going from Kyoto of course.

    A year after Taichou Daishi started his meditations at Hakusan, the Great Apparative Spirit (大権現: a temporary or variable shape taken by a Buddha or Bosatsu in order to save the people, often a Shinto spirit) of Hakusan appeared to him in a dream, and told him of a village known as Awazu five or six leagues away, where, through the mercy of Yakushi Nyorai, a sacred hot spring, existed, but as yet no one knew of it as it was buried deep in the earth. Taichou was ordered to go to that village, dig out the spring, and spread its bounty to the people. The Houshi Ryokan was founded by his disciple as a lodging for people to stay in while they took the waters.


  2. It’s amazing how old some companies in Japan are. Check out the history of Mitsui/Mitsukoshi for example. Just yesterday on the subway I saw a poster advertising that Daimaru department store is having a “two suits for 29,000 yen” sale in honor of their 290th anniversary.

  3. Mitsui is famous – any Edo-period woodblock print of the Nihonbashi area will show the massive Mitsui-Echigoya dry-goods store, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum has a nice model or two of it. Didn’t realise Daimaru was that old, but not surprised. For what it’s worth, Harrods is from 1834, but can’t beat Mitsui’s 1673 date. Not that Harrods makes any claims to World’s Oldest or anything….

    Shouldn’t Daimaru sell their suits for 290 yen each instead?

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