Japan’s oldest enterprise defies time with benefit-primarily based succession

Dee Yonker

TOKYO — Kongo Gumi, a contractor broadly thought to be Japan’s oldest ongoing corporation, was made in the sixth century to make a Buddhist temple in what is now Osaka.

To be correct, it was started in 578 to establish the temple, Shitenno-ji, as a large countrywide project led by Prince Shotoku, a political leader devoted to Buddhism.

Kongo Gumi is acknowledged as the oldest corporation in Japan by Toshio Goto, a professor at the Japan University of Economics, who scientific studies previous Japanese corporations that are continue to in business.

The business has its origin in a group of a few Korean carpenters invited by the prince from Baekje, an ancient kingdom in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula, to construct the temple. “Nihon Shoki” (“Chronicle of Japan”), the oldest formal history of Japan, refers to a team associated in the development of shrines and temples in the period of time. In addition, tales about the group have been passed down by phrase-of-mouth at Shitenno-ji. Owing to these facts, both equally Teikoku Databank and Tokyo Shoko Analysis accept Kongo Gumi as the Japanese corporation with the longest historical past.

This 12 months, Kongo Gumi has faced new realities and troubles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a quantity of temple and shrine tasks postponed.

The quantity of people today who go to temples or maintain Buddhist products and services for the dead is also declining in Japan, and there is a expanding development towards simplifying funerals, which translates into a lot less earnings for temples.

The prolonged historical past of Kongo Gumi indicates some crucial components for its superb longevity. One big aspect has been the ongoing existence of Shitenno-ji, but that is not the only rationale for the firm’s excessive staying energy, according to Hidekazu Sone, an associate professor at the Shizuoka College of Artwork and Lifestyle who research prolonged-lasting companies.

“There are good reasons linked to each skills and administration,” he reported.


The Buddhist temple Shitenno-ji in Osaka was constructed in the sixth century.

With regard to competencies, teams of independent craftsmen who retain and polish them have played a vital job. Many unbiased kumi, groups of temple and shrine carpenters with certain expertise, have been functioning for Kongo Gumi. There are now eight these types of groups, up from four promptly immediately after the end of Globe War II. Competitors among the these groups, which do the job together in construction projects, has contributed to bettering and sharing skills and strategies.

“Maintaining this approach for a extended time has supported [Kongo Gumi’s] core competence,” Sone said.

In handling the firm, which made use of to be a household-run small business, Kongo Gumi has averted finding trapped with the tradition of hereditary leadership succession. Throughout the Edo Interval (1603-1868), the business commenced currently being threatened by levels of competition from other temple carpenter groups. To survive the harder business enterprise ecosystem, Kongo Gumi experienced to pick out leaders who were skilled carpenters and experienced an aptitude for leadership.

Documents from the Edo Interval exhibit the firm would choose not to place an eldest son of the Kongo family at the helm if he did not have what it took to be a good leader of the business enterprise. There were cases where a male who had been picked out as the head carpenter was stripped of his standing after failing to reveal his determination to the occupation. If the loved ones has no male heir, arrangements may well be designed for a daughter to choose a spouse who can come to be the head carpenter. In particular eras, the head family and department households aided every other.


Shigeo Kiuchi heads Kiuchi Gumi, one of the eight teams of temple and shrine carpenters operating for Kongo Gumi. (Image courtesy of Kyosuke Ogame)

Kongo Gumi has lasted for so prolonged for the reason that it has modified to changing instances. The most important alter it has long gone by was the reduction of its independence by its acquisition by Takamatsu, an additional Osaka-primarily based construction company, in 2006. Kongo Gumi Chairman Kenichi Tone, who came from Takamatsu to regulate the organization, reported the critical to the thriving reorganization was to “make it an common firm.”

Funds to establish temples and shrines are mainly elevated as a result of a very long system of collecting donations from parishioners and patrons. The fundraising course of action frequently will take five to 10 decades.

In temple and shrine projects, delays in construction work are normally tolerated. But Takamatsu was not delighted with the way the organization was operated, beneath which system and price administration ended up difficult. Kongo Gumi was complacent about its position and took it for granted that revenue would “appear routinely” if it did its operate, according to Tone.

Just after getting to be a Takamatsu device, Kongo Gumi begun producing its economic figures clearly visible to staff members who have been not very well informed of the firm’s earnings performance. The business also took measures to share setting up plans amid staff members and created manuals and circulation charts for business approach administration. Steps have been also taken for rigid expense management. The business took a leaf from Takamatsu’s administration book and adopted a technique to put the price tag administration team in cost of placing orders for materials like lumber.

Takamatsu has not, on the other hand, tried out to alter the way Kongo Gumi’s happy craftsmen function. The setting up of temples and shrines is done largely by hand and in a way completely various from how regular design get the job done is executed. When lousy climate circumstances persist, for occasion, temple and shrine carpenters have to invest days on close sharpening their saws and planes. On other days, they spend a lot of time on cautiously finishing modest slice finishes.

As a end result, Kongo Gumi has managed its level of expertise and its relationships with customer temples and shrines underneath Takamatsu’s management. The business has also retained its time-honored name, which has an aura of believe in that has been created around hundreds of years.


Kenichi Tone, chairman of Kongo Gumi, came from Takamatsu, an Osaka-based design corporation that acquired Kongo Gumi in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Kyosuke Ogame)

Kongo Gumi rings up some 4 billion yen ($38 million) in annual profits. Its earnings movement tends to fluctuate from yr to year, considering the fact that massive temple or shrine jobs that thrust up the prime line occur only as soon as in a although. Nonetheless, the enterprise has returned to profitability and is on a secure money footing as aspect of Takamatsu.

The company now employs all over 110, up from some 80 when it was obtained.

The current Kongo Gumi workforce has only just one member of the Kongo spouse and children. That individual is a daughter of the 40th head of the household and now serves as the 41st head.

Shitenno-ji grants the title of the sho daiku, or grasp carpenter — the individual liable for preserving the temple — only to a member of the Kongo clan. The yearly ceremony at Shitenno-ji to mark the opening of small business for the year has to be executed by the Kongo family members and temple carpenters. Kongo Gumi staff members aid the ceremony powering the scenes.

Even however the Kongo household is no for a longer time concerned in the company’s administration, the clan is even now noticed as the symbol of Kongo Gumi, of very important value for the temple carpenters and for the company’s connection with Shitenno-ji. These carpenters and the Kongo family, which gives their mentors, are sure by stable, historic ties.

Next Post

Protection digital camera installation: 8 strategies from the professionals

Home safety cameras nowadays, when positioned effectively, are a viable and cost-effective residence stability choice to expensive, pro-put in programs. Their crisp 1080p+ footage, AI human and movement detection, long battery life and good residence integration are precious instruments for deterring or documenting crimes. What is actually particularly difficult for […]

Subscribe US Now