vol.18 Railways, Agriculture and Electricity— Hisaya Focuses on Building the Foundations of a Prosperous Nation
We primarily focus on Mitsubishi's third president, Hisaya Iwasaki, and how he strove to develop diverse businesses to meet the needs of the times.
Japan's first railway linked Tokyo's Shinbashi with Yokohama in 1872. After that, the construction of railroads became a top priority for national development and the government set out to build the Tokaido Line to connect Tokyo with Kobe. Before long, private enterprise also began to participate in the construction of railways around Japan—and Mitsubishi, which was already the established leader in marine transport, was among those advancing efforts in this area. In 1881, Nippon Railway was established with investment from Yanosuke Iwasaki, Mitsubishi's second president, and in 1891, the company completed construction of a line linking Tokyo with Aomori in northern Honshu. After that, Mitsubishi participated in numerous other private railway projects, including the Sanyo Railway, which connected Kobe with Shimonoseki; several lines in Kyushu; and a railway in Niigata Prefecture. However, despite strong opposition, the Railway Nationalization Act came into effect in 1906, thereby marking the end of Mitsubishi's railway business.
In 1887, Mitsubishi launched an initiative in Niigata Prefecture to promote rice farming under a company framework. The business, which mobilized thousands of tenant farmers, covered everything from financing of agricultural supplies to guidance on farming techniques. The venture eventually began to produce good results, but around that time, conditions in agricultural communities in Japan were deteriorating and agrarian uprisings had begun to break out across the country. Mitsubishi was ultimately forced to withdraw from the business in the face of contravening social currents.
Hisaya had a strong interest in farming. After studying in the U.S. as a young man, he brought many books home with him and the majority of these dealt with topics related to agriculture and livestock rearing. Hisaya worked to develop agricultural operations in Japan as well as other locations worldwide, from Southeast Asia to South America. He founded a farm on the Korean Peninsula that utilized upwards of 3,000 workers while endeavoring to bolster rice production; he also established large plantations on the Malay Peninsula and in Brazil for producing rubber and coffee, respectively.
Hisaya also worked to promote the early development of the power generation business. In 1911, he established the Inawashiro Hydroelectric Plant in order to sell power to Tokyo Dento, the city's electricity provider. The overall design of the facility was handled by engineers of the electrical equipment division at Mitsubishi's Kobe Shipyard, but the project utilized various foreign components, including hydraulic turbines from Sweden; generators from England; and transformer facilities from the U.S. When the design was unveiled, some suggested there was not enough demand for electricity in Tokyo to justify such a large-scale plant, but Hisaya stood by the engineers' plan. He countered, "With a project like this, you must push boldly ahead, with an eye to the future." In the years that followed, the pace of development in Tokyo exceeded expectations, and after the plant began transmitting power in 1915, it was necessary to immediately proceed with work on expanding the project. The rapid growth of Japanese industry combined with the plant's success triggered a wave of large-scale power projects across Japan. The Inawashiro Hydroelectric Plant subsequently merged with Tokyo Dento in 1923 and Mitsubishi withdrew from the electric power business.
In addition to these activities, Mitsubishi also had a long tradition in water-related business, which had been initiated by Hisaya's father, Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki. These operations were discontinued in 1908 when Hisaya transferred all related facilities over to the City of Tokyo.