Mitsubishi Corporation

vol.5 Turbulent Times of Change & Uncertainty

Our Roots A history of rising to the challenge
A statue of Mitsubishi Founder Yataro Iwasaki in Aki City, Kochi Prefecture

vol.5 Turbulent Times of Change & Uncertainty

We focus on Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki's ties with Toyo Yoshida, an influential official of the Tosa Domain.

After being released from prison (see July issue for details), Yataro moved to a village near Kochi Castle where he made a living by opening a makeshift school. The order banishing the Iwasaki family from their village was eventually rescinded and their samurai status restored. Yataro, however, proceeded to enter a school run by Toyo Yoshida, an influential figure of the Tosa Domain who was known as an enlightened person throughout Japan. Toyo had opened the school because he happened to be suspended from his official duties at the time. Yataro gained Toyo's favor while studying at the school and also developed a strong friendship with Shojiro Goto, one of Toyo's top protégés.

After being reinstated to a prominent position inside the Tosa Domain, Toyo proceeded to promote various reforms. He cleared the way for capable individuals to play a role in the domain by reforming its rigid hierarchical structure, and in anticipation of the opening of Japan, he pushed forward with measures to promote marine transport, trade and industrial development.

In 1859, Yataro was suddenly ordered to go to Nagasaki in order to gather intelligence about foreign affairs and the activities of the Western powers in China. Although Yataro excelled at studies of Chinese characters, he knew nothing about English or Dutch, so he used translators in order to cultivate a network with foreigners. While wining and dining his contacts, Yataro learned a lot about the ways of the world, but he failed to collect much information about the Western powers or conditions overseas. After spending extravagantly in Nagasaki, Yataro returned to Tosa in an effort to raise money to pay off his debts. He managed to repay his debts, but subsequently lost his post for going to Tosa without permission and returned home crestfallen.

At the time, Tosa was embroiled in a struggle between two factions, those who thought Japan ought to open up to the outside world and those who believed foreigners should be expelled and the emperor restored to power—in short, those who supported reform and those who wanted Japan to remain unchanged. As these tensions grew, Toyo was targeted as a reformist and assassinated in 1962. Toyo's allies were subsequently driven from power.

Yataro agonized over his misfortunes for some time, and then one day, he was instructed to go to Edo as part of the contingent of a local lord who was on his way to take up residence in the capital. However, along the way, Yataro was ordered to return to Tosa after breaking formation. His apologies fell on deaf ears and he reluctantly returned home. Others who had studied under Toyo continued on, only to be brutally murdered after arriving in Osaka.

Back in Tosa, Yataro applied himself to farming, and in 1865, his first son was born. Yataro later managed to secure a position as a low-ranking local official. Meanwhile Shojiro Goto, Yataro's friend from his days at Toyo's school, made a comeback and was assigned an important post within the Tosa Domain. The tide of change was shifting once again.