Mitsubishi Corporation

vol.11 Yanosuke Plays Pivotal Role in Purchase of Takashima Coal Mine

Our Roots A history of rising to the challenge
Photo courtesy of the Mitsubishi Archives

vol.11 Yanosuke Plays Pivotal Role in Purchase of Takashima Coal Mine

We shift our focus to Yanosuke Iwasaki, Mitsubishi's second president. Starting from his time as vice president, Yanosuke was instrumental in promoting the diversification of Mitsubishi's business, thereby laying the foundations for today's Mitsubishi Group.

Yanosuke was 16 years younger than his brother Yataro. At Yataro's urging, he traveled to New York in 1872 in order to further his education, and as Yataro had anticipated, the experience greatly broadened Yanosuke's knowledge of the world.

The following year, Yataro changed the name of the company to Mitsubishi and set out to expand its business in the area of marine transport. Around this time, Yataro and Yanosuke's father passed away. Yanosuke subsequently received a letter from Yataro asking him to come home immediately to serve as his right-hand man. Yanosuke returned to Japan in November 1873 and joined the company as vice president at the age of 22.

In 1874, Mitsubishi Shokai relocated its headquarters to Tokyo. With a steadfast dedication to providing excellent service, the company's business began to gain momentum after prevailing in a fierce struggle with a rival company. Yanosuke amassed valuable experience when Mitsubishi supported marine transport operations in connection with a Japanese military expedition to Taiwan. After that, he headed up marine transport operations as the Japanese military sought to suppress an internal uprising known as the Satsuma Rebellion. Yanosuke later went on to pioneer the development of various new fields including insurance, banking, warehousing and railways; these early ventures represent t he fore runners of "Mitsubishi" companies such as Tokio Marine & Nichido, Meiji Yasuda Life, the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ and Mi tsubishi Logist ics Corporation. However, at the time, marine transport still represented the company's core business, and Yanosuke eventually joined with Yataro as Mitsubishi engaged in an intense battle for the company's survival with a rival shipping enterprise named Kyodo Unyu Kaisha (later Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK)).

The purchase of the Takashima Coal Mine stands out as perhaps the greatest achievement of the second half of Yanosuke's tenure as vice president. The mine had a very long history, but it fell into dire straits in the late 1870s. Yataro was approached about buying the mine, but he was not readily convinced. Yanosuke conducted a comprehensive assessment of the mine's potential, weighing a wide-range of factors, from the mine's estimated reserves and projected output to the value of equipment held by the mine and the benefits of having Mitsubishi's ships transport its cargo. He developed a case in favor of purchasing the mine and presented his recommendation to Yataro. The purchase of the mine remained in doubt for some time, but a deal was finally struck in the end.

Yanosuke's assessment of the mine's potential proved to be correct. In the late 1880s and early 1990s, it generated large profits and emerged as Mitsubishi's largest business, while underpinning Mitsubishi's expansion into new industries, such as mining and shipbuilding.

The Quick Way to Learn English

While in the U.S., Yanosuke studied at a small boarding school in rural Connecticut more than 200 km north of New York City, where he was the only Japanese person around. He spent his days studying the Bible in English, from dawn to dusk. Years later, when the son of a high-ranking Mitsubishi official went to study in England, Yanosuke penned the following advice in a letter: "The quickest way to learn English is to avoid associating with other Japanese people; that's how I was able to master English in 16 months."