Fujita Denzaburo (藤田伝三郎)
Denzaburo FUJITA (August 2, 1841 - March 30, 1912) was a business heavyweight in the Kansai area during the Meiji Period and founder of the Fujita Zaibatsu (conglomerate). He was involved in various industries including construction and engineering, mining, electric railroads, power development, finance, spinning, and newspapers, and established the foundations of many of today's prestigious companies. He fostered many talented managers and is also known as an art collector and philanthropist. Founder of DOWA Holdings Co., Ltd. He was the first commoner to become a Baron. He was from Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. He was a member of the Kiheitai (Irregular Militia).
He was the 4th son of a sake brewer in Hagi, Choshu (present Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture). Apart from being brewers, the family were also Kakeya, providing loans for the domain's low ranking samurai. During the turmoil of the Meiji Restoration, he became a follower of Shinsaku TAKASUGI and joined the Kiheitai, forming friendships with Takayoshi KIDO, Akiyoshi YAMADA, Kaoru INOUE and Aritomo YAMAGATA, a network that later helped Fujita to succeed as a politically-connected businessman. In 1869, when the Choshu Domain abolished the Land Transport Bureau and disposed of artillery guns, rifles, artillery shells and bullets, Fujita purchased all of them and made a large profit by delivering them to Osaka. Denzaburo started shoe manufacturing in the same year, expanded his business to the construction industry, and during the Seinan War in 1877, delivered clothing, food, machinery, boots and even personnel to the army, making profits equivalent to those of Mitsui and Mitsubishi.
Fujita Gumi Counterfeiting Case
In December 1878, the national government was in uproar when counterfeit bills were found in the national treasury funds paid to the national government by local governments. On September 15, 1879, after Fujita's company was raided on the suspicion that the company conspired with Kaoru INOUE, who was in Germany, to make counterfeit bills there and use them as capital, Fujita, Goichi NAKANO, Tatsunosuke FUJITA, Shikataro FUJITA, Yoji NIIYAMA, Seiichiro SAEKI, Seisuke KONO, Isuke IRIE were taken into custody and, on October 16, transferred to Tokyo. Fujita was found innocent and acquitted due to a lack of evidence on December 20. Then, on September 20, 1882, he was completely exonerated when 815 counterfeit two-yen bills (of a run of 2,000), printing papers and a printing machine were seized from Choan KUMASAKA, a doctor and painter who lived in Nakatsu Village, Aiko District, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Why was he falsely accused?
One reason was that, thanks to his Choshu connections, he had become a millionaire at a young age. Another reason was the power struggle between Satsuma and Choshu. Satsuma was losing ground to Choshu because of the loss of leaders following the downfall of Takamori SAIGO and the death of Toshimichi OKUBO. Therefore, they devised a strategy to uncover fraud by Choshu bigwigs, using the Satsuma-controlled Police Bureau, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Prior to this, Aritomo YAMAGATA of the Choshu clique had almost lost his political life when he was implicated in a payoff scandal involving Wasuke YAMASHIROYA, a political merchant. A tip about the counterfeit bills provided the Police Department with a similar chance to bring down Kaoru INOUE and Denzaburo. In 1873, when Inoue was the Deputy Minister of Finance, he was temporarily driven from the political world because of an accusation that he colluded with Goichi NAKANO, the Governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture at the time, in fraud related to the Osarizawa Copper Mine (Akita Prefecture). Nakano was a business partner of Fujita Denzaburo Shosha and he was also arrested in the counterfeit case. There was a view that Inoue, Nakano and Denzaburo were colluding. This view was established by Kodan-shi (professional storytellers) who, critical of the clan-dominated political system and empathizing with the Freedom and People's Rights Movement, started telling Denzaburo's biography right after the case. Although the biography included both fact and fiction, it was accepted as fact since Denzaburo, true to his principles, didn't protest or offer any explanation.
Formation of Zaibatsu
Immediately after the counterfeiting case, he faced hardship because of the absence of orders from the army and Osaka Prefecture. However, he made a fresh start by reorganizing Fujita Denzaburo Shosha into Fujita Gumi in 1881. In 1883, Fujita Gumi moved into the construction industry by contracting to build a railroad, the 5 bridges in Osaka and Biwa Lake Canal; additionally, Denzaburo established Osaka Boseki (predecessor of Toyobo) and entered the spinning industry. Moreover, in 1884, he purchased the Kosaka Mine (Akita Prefecture) from the government and, by focusing on technical innovation, had turned it into Japan's most productive copper and silver mine by the early 1900s. In addition, he took a leading role in the founding of Hankai Railway (predecessor of Nankai Electric Railway), Sanyo Railway (acquired by Japanese National Railways), Uji River Hydroelectric (predecessor of Kansai Electric Power Company), and Kitahama Bank (latter-day Sanwa Bank).
He also established the 'Osaka Mainichi Shinbun' newspaper (now the Mainichi Shinbun) by reorganizing the ailing 'Osaka Nippo.'
In this way, he diversified operations and formed a zaibatsu.
The Kojima Bay reclamation project is worthy of special mention. This project has existed since, and was partly started in, the Okayama Domain period. In the Meiji Period, former Hanshi (samurais who served a domain) tried to restart construction, but they didn't have enough funds and asked Denzaburo for financial assistance. Even though he couldn't foresee any profitability, he agreed to their request, seeing the chance to create a part of Japan as a dream come true. This great generosity indicates that he was more than just a political merchant. They applied for a permit for the reclamation project in 1884, receiving approval in 1889. Due to protests by local residents, recession and heavy floods, construction began 10 years later in 1899. They divided an area of ocean totaling 5500 hectares into 7 sections and reclaimed each part. The 1st to the 5th sections were constructed solely by Fujita Gumi and completed in 1950. The 6th section was constructed by Fujita Gumi, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Agency for the Development of Agricultural Land. The final section was completed in 1963, with the whole project taking 65 years to complete.
Mediation and Quirky Social Skills
He left his mark on business activities in Kansai area. In particular, he demonstrated ability as a mediator in settling disputes. He was a founder member of Osaka Chamber of Commercial Law (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and in 1885 he became the second president following Tomoatsu GODAI. In 1887, he became the first president of Osaka Mercantile Exchange. He acted as a mediator in the conflict between Osaka City and Osaka Gas over road tolls and in the confrontation between Nankai Railway and Uemachi Line of Hankai Tramway.
His lifestyle was described as 'Cocoonism.'
He didn't write for newspapers or magazines and he didn't participate in interviews. He hated to be photographed, thus there are a few photos of him in his fifties. He rarely went to the office and avoided the business community's parties. However, he often met the people who visited his home and listened to their stories. There was an endless line of visitors to the Fujita Residence, both officially and privately.
Fostering of Human Resources
Once Denzaburo thought someone the right person for a job, he never doubted them. Kiyochika IWASHITA, who had worked for Mitsui & Co., Mitsui Bank and Kitahama Bank, was famous as a rowdy person and even Hikojiro NAKAMIGAWA, a head of Mitsui, had difficulty with him. Hikoichi YAMAMOTO, who built Mainichi Shinbun into a national newspaper, was also headhunted from Jiji Shinpo by Fujita Gumi. After having a major hand in the Kojima Bay reclamation project, he moved to the Mainichi Shinbun, making rapid progress. Fusanosuke KUHARA, who was nicknamed 'Monster' in the prewar and postwar political world, was Denzaburo's own nephew. When he was working for Morimura Gumi, he was invited by Denzaburo to go to a new post at the Kosaka Mine, where he introduced new technology and contributed to the reconstruction of Fujita Gumi. After rising to chief manager of Fujita Gumi, Kuhara struck out on his own. He was vigorous enough to form the Kuhara Zaibatsu for a while. He struggled in the recession after the World War I, letting Yoshisuke AYUKAWA, his brother-in-law, run the company and entering politics.
Art and Education
Denzaburo's art collection is renowned as the 'Fujita Collection.'
The Fujita Museum of Art, located at the old Fujita Residence site in Amijima-cho, Miyakojima-ku, Osaka City, has 5,000 objects, including 9 national treasures and 45 important cultural properties collected by Denzaburo and his son, Heitaro FUJITA. Denzaburo's old residences were renovated as follows: main residence in Osaka to the Taikoen, villa in Tokyo to the Chinzanso, villa in Hakone to the Hakone Kowakien and villa in Kyoto to the Hotel Fujita Kyoto, all of which are operated by Fujita Kanko. Denzaburo devoted himself not only to art collection, but also to charity work and donations to education.
Having started from nothing to become a millionaire, he often told that he knew both 'the joy of the rich' and 'the sorrow of the poor.'
Also, the Chemistry Museum at Japan Women's University, Keio University's former library and the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Waseda University were all established with sizeable donations from Denzaburo.