Masuda Takashi: the man behind the rise of Mitsui

On this day, November 12 in the year 1848, one of the pioneers in the industrialization of Japan was born in Niigata prefecture. His name was Masuda Takashi, the man responsible for the early growth of Mitsui, one of the largest trading companies in the world.

Masuda Takashi
Masuda Takashi (Credit: wiki commons)

Masuda Takashi was the son of a government trade official. He was able to learn English and became an interpreter at the age of 14. In 1863 at the age of 15, he was given the permission to accompany some diplomats in their travel to Europe. In 1871, he was appointed as Master of the Mint at the Ministry of Finance. The following year, he founded the Senshu Kaisha trading company with the help of Kaoru Inoue, a powerful member of Meiji oligarchy.

In 1876, Masuda Takashi was appointed as president of Mitsui Bussan (Mitsui Trading Company), a company founded in the 17th century. Under his management, the company was transformed into one of the biggest Zaibatsus (business conglomerate). The company pioneered the import of essential products that the country needs in its initial stage of development. At the same time, Mitsui endeavored to earn foreign exchange by exporting Japanese-made textile and clothing, coal, mushroom, and rice.

As head of Mitsui, Masuda started a mission to provide products and services for the Japanese people. To do this, he diversified into different industries and expanded aggressively in the Japanese colonies of Taiwan and Korea. He set up Mitsui Mining which acquired a government owned coal mine. Later, he organized Taiwan Sugar Corporation. By early 1900s, Mitsui controlled almost 20% of Japan’s external trade.

After his retirement from Mitsui in 1913, Masuda Takashi devoted much of his time honing his skill in tea ceremony and the arts. He died in 1938.


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