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Kenjirō's Fellows – “The King of Spinning” Hibiya Heizaemon

 There was once a businessman called the “King of Spinning in Japan" (Nihon no Bōseki Ō 日本の紡績王) or the “Elder Statesman of The Spinning World” (Bōseki-kai no Genrō 紡績界の元老). His actual name was Hibiya Heizaemon (日比谷平左衛門), a relative of Hibiya Kenjirō (日比谷健次郎) (1836–1886). Until the first half of the 20th century, the Japanese spinning industry was an internationally competitive industry that earned foreign currencies and played a leading role in the Japanese economy.

 Let us take a brief look at Hibiya Heizaemon’s footprints in the modern Japanese economy. Hibiya Heizaemon was born in 1848 in Sanjō-machi, Minamikanbara-gun, Echigo Province (today known as Sanjō City, Niigata Prefecture). His childhood name was Ōshima Kichijirō (大島吉次郎). He eagerly helped his family’s business at a young age; thus, he was favored by Saitō Yasuke (斎藤弥助), a businessman from the Matsumotoya yarn wholesaler in Edo. Saito stayed at his family's and employed Heizaemon as his apprentice. He was then involved in the textile industry. In 1877, he married Shigeto (茂登), the adopted daughter of the Hibiya Family. In the same year, he opened a cotton trading store (Hibiya Shōten), soon after establishing his own business.

 In the early Meiji period (1868−1912), when the country saw the beginning of what is referred to as Western civilization in Japan, Heizaemon saved several companies from financial crisis on numerous occasions with his excellent managerial skills. These companies included the Nippon Seifun, a flour trading company and Kanegafuchi Spinners (today referred to as Kanebō) underachieving due to the patronizing “silent shareholders” overriding the management.

 Heizaemon’s managerial skills shone again when he saved another fabric firm Fujibō. He suggested that the firm should use water-powered spinning mills to produce cheap but high-quality yarn. Although the first attempt failed, this new approach largely benefited the firm. Moreover, Morimura Ichizaemon (森村市左衛門) (1839−1919), who later became founder of the TOTO toilet manufacturing company, took part in the business of the above firm offering further support. Ichizaemon persuaded his friend Heizaemon to join the business as he felt Heizaemon could make great contributions to the business. Heizaemon finally accepted Ichizaemon’s request for his earnest implorations. Heizaemon then called on Wada Toyoji (和田豊治) (1861−1924), a graduate of Keiō University, to improve the firm's management. He also supplied more inexpensive raw cotton than his competitor Hibiya Shōten did. Henceforth, the firm was saved successfully.

 After the Russo-Japanese War (1904−1905), Heizaemon threw a garden party at his own expense, inviting naval officers to his residence. The party made his reputation grow further, and it flew beyond the business world.

 Hibiya Heizaemon died in 1921. Yet, many of the companies he reconstructed still exist today – thus his achievements deserve the title of “King of Spinning” in modern Japan.

Japanese names follow the Japanese order: surname-name.

Japanese names and words are transcribed using the Hepburn romanization method.


Mishina Masanobu, Hibiya Heizaemon no Kigyōka Seishin, Nippon Seifu, Kanegafuchi Bōseki, Fuji Bōseki no Saiken, "Hibiya Heizaemon's Entrepreneurial Spirit:

Rebuilding Nippon Seibu, Kanegafuchi Boseki, and Fuji Boseki," Shigaku,

Vol. 88, No. 1, pp. 1-25.

Author: Mishina Masanobu, Faculty of Commerce, Takushoku University

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