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Sumitomo in History  

Japanese Copper Across the Sea
Isolation from the Outside World
Exporter of Copper and Silver
Contributing to the Wealth of the Nation

Contributing to the Wealth of the Nation

In the last issue, we explained how Soga Riemon (1572-1636), one of the founders of the Sumitomo Group, hit on a refining process called nanban-buki for better separating silver from copper, and that his son Tomomochi (1607-1662) passed this technique on to his peers in the copper trade in Osaka.
After that, the technique caught the attention of the shogunata, which decreed that domestically produced copper that had not been refined in Osaka using nanban-buki could not be exported. As a result, Osaka prospered as a major locus of copper refining. By establishing the nanban-buki technique and supporting other in the trade, Sumitomo became a leader in Osaka copper refining and made a major contribution to the wealth of the nation by spurring copper exports and stemming the outflow of silver from Japan. The shogunate subsequently enacted a variety of copper export policies designed to ensure an ample supply of copper for export, including the establishment of mechanisms to tighten control over the storage, smelting, and sale of copper, and Sumitomo-as Japan's largest copper smelter-displayed its leadership in fulfilling a role in the execution of these national policies.
Building on its copper export business, Sumitomo expanded into importing raw silk, silk goods, and other products. These moves allowed it to accumulate the wealth needed for embarking on the full-scale operation of mineral mining as well.

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