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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Oldest Company In the World

First a disclaimer… at one time this business was indeed the oldest, still-running company in the world… but because it has become a subsidiary of another, does it still maintain that longevity title?

Also... go ahead and check... but I bet this is the only English website or blog that says WHO the first leader of the company is. Go on. I'll wait.

Because I win, you win. 

Founded in 578 AD… no… I did not leave out a one to the far left… the Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd. (株式会社金剛組, Kabushiki Gaisha Kongō Gumi) is a Japanese construction company which was known as the world's oldest continuously ongoing independent company. Above is a photo of the gang taken some 1,300 years after it was founded, in the 1930s. 

Kongō Gumi was in independent business for 1,428 years until it was purchased and made a subsidiary of the Osaka-based Takamatsu Construction Group Co., Ltd.

The family-run Kongō Gumi was also headquartered in Osaka, and owes its origins to the whims of royalty.

Japanese Prince Shōtoku Taishi (聖徳太子), February 7, 572 AD – April 8, 622 AD was the son of Emperor Yōmei. Though not the next in line for the throne, he was appointed as sesshō (regent) in 593 AD.
Prince Shōtoku Taishi on an old ¥10,000 ( approx equivalent of a US $100) bill.
The prince was very keen on Buddhism, and lived as he preached the virtues, and so when he could, he commissioned the construction of the Shitennō-ji (Shitennō temple) in Settsu Province, which is now present-day Osaka)

Shitennō-ji (四天王寺) is the first Buddhist temple and the oldest officially administered temple in Japan… and while it still exists today, all the temple buildings have been built and rebuilt over the years.

Anyhow… Prince Shōtoku (who would later be credited with being the father of Japanese Buddhism) traveled across to the kingdom of Baekje to find the proper architect.

Baekje, in case you didn't know, is a kingdom in southwest Korea that lasts a mere six hundred years from 18 BC until 660 AD. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla.

So… Prince Shōtoku actually brought back members of the Kongō family in 578 AD and they built the Shitennō-ji.

Shitennō-ji temple.
Whether it was done upon arrival, or upon commencement of the temple's construction or when the temple was completed, in 578 AD the Kongō family created their own business, with Shigemitsu Kongō (surname first) the first generation leader of the business.   

In 1614 AD, after it was destroyed, the 25th generation of the Kongō Gumi repaired and rebuilt the Shitennō-ji temple itself.

Kongō Gumi has continued to build and fix via construction methods many buildings in Japan, including Osaka-jo… which you can see here below in one of my favorite photos of Japan, as my shot shows off the new with the old nicely. Plus there are storm clouds.
Osaka-jo castle.

The company also built the Horyu-ji (Horyu temple) in Nara.
Horyu-ji temple. The wooden pagoda is the oldest wooden building in the world (still in existence) and is is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  
Nowadays, there is a scroll that was created in the 17th century… so maybe 1,100 years after the fact… that now details all 40 generations of Kongō family members.

Now… despite me not knowing this until now… there appears to have been a reason for me to have written about adult adoptions in Japan.

Yoshifumi Bower of Kairaku-en Garden in Ibaraki-ken.

Certainly in the early days when the sperm was weak and could only produce females (I'm kidding!) or perhaps someone died young, gay or perpetually childless, in order to maintain the Kongō family name, male adult adoptions were performed…

As well, there was the practice of adopting son-in-laws to become actual Kongō family members - complete with new surname. Now that's buying completely into the company culture.

I should note, however, that the 38th member of the Kongō family to lead the company was actually a woman… the grandmother of the 40th and last Kongō to lead the company before it was purchased.

If I read the Japanese-only company website, the 37th leader of the Kongō Gumi committed suicide (much to the shame of the previous generations of Kongō family - that's what it says), but since his wife Yoshie was a master carpenter, she took over the running of the family business in 1932. The top-most photo shows the Kongō Gumi team after she took over. I can't find a cleaner image, so I have no idea if Yoshie is in the photo. Sorry.  
The Kongō Gumi workshop - where the magic happens.

So… at least it was cool that even though there were male adult adoptions, when pressed Kongō Gumi did allow a woman to lead the company. So there's a progressive culture at work here.
The firm has also been a symbol of Japanese 'shinise', which is what is known as the family-run business culture.

While time, infertility, non-male-heir fertility et al couldn't dull Kongō Gumi's success as a company, land speculation and the bursting of Japan's bubble economy could.

The company had purchased (on speculation) lots of land back in the 1980s… and after its value went down heavily, the company was in heavy debt.

I don't know for sure,  but I would surmise that the land and its perceived high value were used as collateral on other business loans… and when the lands no longer held their collateral value, Kongō Gumi needed to liquidate its assets to cover its debts.
Bakayaro! You are pressing down too hard and wasting valuable sandpaper. Use your hand instead!
Just before its liquidation in 2005, Kongō Gumi had over 100 employees and annual revenue of ¥7.5-billion (then $70-million).

It was purchased by Takamatsu in January of 2006… and while no longer a family-owned business, the company still exists ( - all in Japanese, I'm afraid, but I do know that it still constructs Japanese temples… though I would assume that to mean it is in the business of refurbishing old temples.

So yes… the company is no longer an independent company, but it is still in operation as a Takamatsu subsidiary… does it still count as being the world's oldest business?

I say yes.

Just like some of the work they currently produce, it's a mixture of both old and new architecture. But, mostly old.

Andrew "Didn't marry rich" Joseph
PS: These articles have a life of their own. I was just going to repeat and reprint the topmost image and the headline about the world's oldest company... you know... take 45 seconds and done. But dammit... I had to learn more. Ya can't just blurt out that so-and-so company is 1,400 years old and then not explain what the hell they do or who formed it or why. Seriously... not one article I read on-line mentioned who the first generation of Kongō Gumi was... or who or why a woman assumed leadership of the business.   

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