The Life of Iwasaki Yataro: Founder of Mitsubishi Group

One of the greatest pioneers in the development of the Japanese industries was born in Kochi Prefecture on January 9, 1835. His name was Iwasaki Yataro, the founder of the Mitsubishi zaibatsu, once a very powerful conglomerate in pre-war Japan.

Iwasaki Yataro
Iwasaki Yataro (Credit: Mitsubishi.com)

Iwasaki’s family descended from a clan lost its samurai status due to debt. At age 19, with the help of the Tosa chief, he travelled to Tokyo for his studies. However, a dispute where his father got injured forced him to return home to Tosa. Since then, he continued his education with the reformist Toyo Yoshida who inculcated in him the idea of nationalism and the need to develop local industries. After working as a finance manager of the Tosa Clan, he was able to save enough money to restore the samurai status of his family.

During the Meiji Restoration of 1868, all domains reverted back to the emperor. The Tosa Clan disbanded and Iwasaki moved to Osaka where he got control of a trading firm connected with the Tosa Clan. After paying the debts of the firm, he began purchasing ships to expand the trading activities of the company.

In 1873, Iwasaki became president of the company and renamed it ‘Mitsubishi’ which means three-diamond crest. When the new government started eyeing Taiwan as a colony, it was the Mitsubishi-owned ships that carried Japanese troops. As a token appreciation, the government allowed the company to the large Nagasaki shipyard.

In the next decade, there arose an intense shipping competition among Japanese shipping companies. Mitsubishi and Kyodo Unyu Kaisha agreed to merge to form NYK line. However, before the merger could take effect, Iwasaki passed away due to stomach cancer in 1885. He was 50 years when he died. He had a son named Hisaya who became the third president of the Mitsubishi Keiretsu after his uncle Yanosuke.

Today, the Mitsubishi group comprises a number of autonomous multinational companies including MUFG Bank (the largest bank in Japan), Mitsubishi Corporation (a general trading company), Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

References
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Iwasaki-Yataro
https://www.mitsubishi.com/e/history/series/yataro/

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