|Ups and Downs
|Ups and Downs|
|As the Meiji era gave way to the Taisho period, the Japanese economy was buzzing with business generated by World War I. Many business owners engaged in the shipbuilding and marine transport industries, which were enjoying an unprecedented boom, made vast fortunes and were seeking ideas for their next investment. Some of this capital found its way into the marine insurance businessan essential counterpart of the three thriving sectors of overseas trade, shipbuilding, and marine transportand the number of non- life insurance companies more than doubled from 23 in 1916 to 52 in 1922. Fuso Marine Insurance Co., Ltd., the forerunner of Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, was established in 1917, a child of this rush to establish insurance companies.
The Tokio Marine and Fire Insurance Company Limited, Japans oldest non- life insurer, helped in the establishment of Fuso Marine, and its senior managing director, Hachisaburo Hirao, took a directorship in the company. Mitsui had been Tokio Marines main customer, and when Tokio Marine forged closer ties with the Mitsubishi group in 1918, Hirao transferred to Mitsuis new non- life insurance company.
Following the close of World War I in 1918, the shipping market went into decline and competition intensified in the marine insurance business. Fuso Marines major competitors steadily gained contracts with various zaibatsu (industrial group) companies, but without a similar backbone or powerful business base, the company became painfully aware of its weaknesses. Then the Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923, leaving an estimated 140,000 people dead or missing and causing damage roughly equal to 16 months of the national budget.