vol.4 An Unlikely Business School
We look at the imprisonment of Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki-an experience that greatly shaped his development as a successful entrepreneur.
Yataro immersed himself in his studies after securing the opportunity to study in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). However, he made a hasty return home when his father was seriously injured after a heated dispute with the village headman and some local farmers. Yataro made the journey in half the normal time, crossing snow-covered mountains and raging rivers along the way.
Yataro went to the local magistrate to seek justice for his father. However, many people considered his father to be a nuisance, partly because of his bad drinking habit, and no one came forward on his behalf. All the witnesses supported the headman's story and the case was dismissed. Unable to suppress his indignation, Yataro wrote a message on the wall of the magistrate's office, accusing local officials of being swayed by bribes.
Yataro was subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace and imprisoned while his case was pending. Time passed with no word from above. In the end, Yataro spent seven months in prison; his family was also stripped of its samurai status and banished from the village. The experience kindled a rebellious spirit in Yataro, and after sharing a cell with a merchant, he also came away with a keen understanding of mathematics and the fundamentals of business. The experience would later prove to have a great impact on his life.
These were tough times for the Iwasaki family: Yataro was in prison; his father was partially paralyzed; and his brother, Yanosuke, was just four years old. Yanosuke left the following recollection of those days: "Mother put me on her back and went to work in the field. She suddenly became dizzy and fell to the ground, where we sat for some time." The family was shunned by everyone except Takuhei, a tenant farmer who worked the family's land. Takuhei helped with farming and other chores while also doing what he could to keep Yanosuke's spirits up. Yataro's mother later wrote: "Life was very precarious for us and Yanosuke naturally came to rely on Takuhei like a father." Takuhei's descendants still reside in Kochi Prefecture, not far from where Yataro grew up. Today, they are following in Takuhei's footsteps by taking care of the house where Yataro was born and tending to the graves of the Iwasaki family.