Mitsui Group (三井グループ Mitsui Gurūpu?) is one of the largest corporate conglomerates (keiretsu) in Japan and one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world.



Surugacho (Suruga Street) (1856), from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, by Hiroshige, depicting the Echigoya kimono and money exchange store with Mount Fuji in background. Currently, the Mitsui Main Building (三井本館), which houses Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mitsui Fudosan, The Chuo Mitsui Trust and Banking Co. and Mitsui Memorial Museum, is located on the right side of the street. Mitsukoshi department store is on the left side.
Mitsui Main Building and Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower

Founded by Mitsui Takatoshi (1622–1694), who was the fourth son of a shopkeeper in Matsusaka, in what is now today's Mie prefecture. From his shop, called Echigoya (越後屋), Mitsui Takatoshi's father originally sold miso and ran a pawn shop business. Later, the family would open a second shop in Edo (now called Tokyo).

Takatoshi moved to Edo when he was 14 years old, and later his older brother joined him. Sent back to Matsutaka by his brother, Takatoshi waited for 24 years until his older brother died before he could take over the family shop, Echigoya. He opened a new branch in 1673;[1] a large gofukuya (kimono shop) in Nihonbashi, a district in the heart of Edo. This genesis of Mitsui's business history began in the Enpō era, which was a nengō meaning "Prolonged Wealth".

In time, the gofukuya division separated from Mitsui, and is now called Mitsukoshi. Traditionally, gofukuyas provided products made to order; a visit was made to the customer's house (typically a person of high social class or who was successful in business), an order taken, then fulfilled. The system of accountancy was called "margin transaction". Mitsui changed this by producing products first, then selling them directly at his shop for cash. At the time, this was an unfamiliar mode of operation in Japan. Even as the shop began providing dry goods to the government of the city of Edo, cash sales were not yet a widespread business practice.

At about this time, Edo's government had struck a business deal with Osaka. Osaka would sell crops and other material to pay its land tax. The money was then sent to Edo—but moving money was dangerous in middle feudal Japan. In 1683, the shogunate granted permission for money exchanges (ryōgaeten) to be established in Edo.[2] The Mitsui "exchange shops" facilitated transfers and mitigated that known risk.

After the Meiji Restoration, Mitsui was among the enterprises that could expand to become zaibatsu not simply because they were already big and rich at the start of modern industrial development. Firms like Mitsui and Sumitomo were led by non-family managers such as Minomura Rizaemon, who guided the business by accurately forecasting the coming political and economic situations, by acquaintance with high-ranking government officials or politicians, and bold investment.[3]

Mitsui's main business in the early period were drapery, finance and trade, the first two being the businesses it inherited from the Tokugawa Era. It entered into mining because it acquired a mine as collateral from the loan it had made, and partly because it could buy a mine cheaply from the government, Mitsui then diversified to become the biggest business in pre-war Japan. The diversification was made mainly into related fields to take advantage of accumulated capabilities; for instance, the trading company entered into chemicals to attain forward integration.[3]

On July 1, 1876, Mitsui Bank, Japan's first private bank, was founded with Takashi Masuda (1848–1938) serving as president. Mitsui Bank, which following a merger with Taiyō-Kobe Bank in the mid 1980s became part of Sakura Bank, survives as part of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation). During the early 20th century, Mitsui was one of the largest zaibatsu, operating in numerous fields.

During the Second World War, Mitsui employed American prisoners of war as slave laborers, some of whom were permanently maimed by Mitsui employees.[4] Mitsui were involved in the opium trade in China during this period.[5]

After the end of the war and the dissolution of the zaibatsu, Mitsui lagged somewhat behind its rival Mitsubishi Group and Sumitomo Group in reorganization. Mitsui Bank, which should have been the mainstay and principal capital provider of the group, declined in size due to the collapse of the Imperial Bank of Japan, which resulted in reduced cohesion of the conglomerate. Many companies that were once part of the Mitsui Group have become independent or tied to other conglomerates. Specifically, Toshiba, Toyota Motors, and Suntory, once part of the Mitsui Group, became independent, with the Toyota Group becoming a conglomerate in its own right. Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries is now considered to be part of the Mizuho Group, and many companies in the Mitsui-Sumitomo Financial Group are now more closely tied to the Sumitomo Group than the Mitsui Group. Recently there have been signs that Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and the Mitsubishi Group could be taking over other parts of the Mitsui-Sumitomo Financial Group. Mitsukoshi merged into Isetan, a major department store with a close tie to the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, to form Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings in April 2008.

Makeup of the Mitsui Group

Companies currently associated with the Mitsui family include Mitsui & Co., Chuo Mitsui Trust Holdings, Japan Steel Works, Mitsui Chemicals, Mitsui Construction Co., Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding, Mitsui Fudosan, Mitsui-gold, Mitsui Mining & Smelting, Mitsui Oil Exploration Co. (MOECO), Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd., Mitsui Petrochemical Industries Ltd, Mitsui-Soko, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group, Oji Paper Company, Pacific Coast Recycling, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Taiheiyo Cement, Toray Industries, Toshiba Corporation, Tri-net Logistics Management

Mitsui Group also has substantial interest in Vale and Caemi Mineração e Metalurgia, which owns 70% of Minerações Brasileiras Reunidas (MBR).

Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. owns just over 50% of the shares in MODEC Inc.

MOEX USA Corporation, the United States arm of MOECO, owns a 10% working interest in the Macondo oil and gas prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. In April 2010 the semi-submersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operated by BP Exploration and Production Inc., exploded and subsequently sank, resulting in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[6]

Companies with close ties to the Mitsui Group

See also


  1. ^ Hall, John. (1970). Japan: From Prehistory to Modern Times, p. 290.
  2. ^ Shinjō, Hiroshi. (1962). History of the Yen: 100 Years of Japanese Money-economy, p. 11.
  3. ^ a b Odagiri, Hiroyuki (1996). Technology and Industrial Development in Japan. Oxford University Press. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-19-828802-6. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hastings, Max (2007). Retribution. New York: Vintage. p. 413. ISBN 978-0-307-27536-3. 
  6. ^ "MOECO News Release (10-May-2010): The fire incident of a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico". US Minerals Management Service. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  • Hall, John Whitney. (1970). Japan: From Prehistory to Modern Times in Delacorte World History, Vol. XX. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-2970-0237-6
  • Shinjō, Hiroshi. (1962). History of the Yen: 100 Years of Japanese Money-economy. Kobe: Research Institute for Economics & Business Administration, Kōbe University.

External links



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