History of Sumitomo
Founder's Precepts of Sumitomo
Bust of Masatomo Sumitomo
The history of Sumitomo dates back to Masatomo Sumitomo (1585 - 1652), who opened a book and medicine shop in Kyoto in the 17th century. Masatomo left his teachings in the form of the "Founder's Precepts," in which he expounds concisely the points in conducting business. His precepts still serve as the foundation of the "Sumitomo spirit."
Sumitomo's original copper refining method
Around the same time Masatomo's brother-in-law Riemon Soga (1572 - 1636), who ran a copper smelting and coppersmithing business in Kyoto (under the trade name Izumiya), developed, with considerable effort, a copper smelting technology called "Nanban-buki(Western Refining)" to extract silver from crude copper.
Tomomochi Sumitomo (1607 - 1662), the eldest son of Riemon, who became a family member of the House of Sumitomo by marrying a daughter of Masatomo, extended the business to Osaka, and disclosed the "Nanban-buki" technology to other copper smelters. Sumitomo/Izumiya thus came to be looked up to as the "head family of Nanban-buki," and Osaka subsequently took the lead in the copper refining industry in Japan.
copper rods, round copper ingots
During the Edo period, Japan was one of the world's leading copper producing countries. From his origins in the copper trade, Tomomochi went on to become a trader in thread, textiles, sugar and medicines, and Izumiya prospered such that it was said that "No one in Osaka can compete with Izumiya."
Izumiya then went into the copper mining business, and ran copper mines in the Ohu region and Bicchu Yoshioka. In 1691, the Besshi Copper Mine was opened after obtaining permission from the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Besshi Copper Mine continued operations for 283 years, and served as a basis of Sumitomo business.
Besshi Copper Mine in 1890's
The Besshi Copper Mine, which got through the chaos caused by the Meiji Restoration, quickly adopted technology and equipment from overseas, and dramatically increased its production output. Later on, the Besshi Copper Mine not only further increased its copper production output by continuously introducing new Western technologies, but also entered into related businesses, in quick succession, such as the machine and coal industries, electric cable manufacturing and forestry. Moreover, the "Namiai-gyo" finance business operating in Osaka developed into a banking business. The warehousing business, which was a part of this banking business, became independent, and developed into a modern financial group focusing on two major areas - mining and manufacturing, and financing.
With the postwar dissolution of financial groups, Sumitomo affiliated companies began to go their separate ways, and each company now plays an active part in their respective industry. The "Founder's Precepts" written by Masatomo Sumitomo still live on in the performance of Sumitomo affiliated companies as the "basis of the Sumitomo company spirit."
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