Monjuin Shiigaki (Founder’s Precepts), the source of Sumitomo’s business philosophy

Monjuin Shiigaki
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Masatomo Sumitomo wrote the Monjuin Shiigaki, known as the Founder’s Precepts, toward the end of his life to offer guidance on how a merchant should conduct business. Rather than offering a set of principles explicitly focused on the continuity and development of the House of Sumitomo’s business, the Monjuin Shiigaki, with its preamble and five precepts, consists guidelines pointing out the overriding importance of diligence and integrity in everything that a person undertakes. Below are the contents of the Monjuin Shiigaki.

Do your best prudently and meticulously, not only in business, but also in every aspect of your life.
- If items are offered to you at prices lower than the market prices, assume they are stolen goods unless their origin is known.
- Do not put anyone up for the night or accept anyone’s request to look after his belongings.
- Do not act as a broker or provide a guarantee for anyone you do not know.
- Do not sell or buy on credit.
- Whatever the person you are dealing with says, do not become short-tempered and argumentative. Instead, provide detailed explanations repeatedly.

Masatomo’s teachings as summarized in the Founder’s Precepts, handed down through the generations, constitute the foundation of Sumitomo’s business philosophy. At the outset, the Founder’s Precepts exhorts us to act with probity and thoroughness in every aspect of our lives, not just in matters of business but also in all situations.

Mr. Teruaki Sueoka, Deputy Director, Sumitomo Historical Archives
Mr. Teruaki Sueoka, Deputy Director, Sumitomo Historical Archives
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Then, Masatomo lists four things that one should never do. Lastly, he gives advice on how best to cultivate fruitful relations with others.

Regarding the Founder’s Precepts, Mr. Teruaki Sueoka, Deputy Director of Sumitomo Historical Archives, observes: “Masatomo had a shrewd grasp of the turbulent social conditions of the times in which he lived. In those circumstances, he advocated probity in business dealings and compliance with laws and regulations. The business philosophy of Sumitomo’s founder is persuasive and its relevance is undimmed with the passage of time.”

Masatomo’s religious principles and the opening of Fujiya

Wooden statue of Masatomo Sumitomo
Wooden statue of Masatomo Sumitomo
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Masatomo, the founder of Sumitomo, left the Monjuin Shiigaki, the Founder’s Precepts, and his teachings have been handed down through the generations to the present. However, apart from this invaluable inheritance, the documentary evidence and information about Masatomo are sparse .
SEN-OKU HAKUKOKAN MUSEUM at Sumitomo Yuhoen Villa in Higashiyama, Kyoto (Shishigatani, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City) has numerous exhibits illustrating Sumitomo’s history of more than 400 years and its business philosophy.
Among the museum’s artifacts is a small wooden statue of Masatomo. Depicted holding a rosary, Masatomo’s serene expression brings to mind that of a sage who has attained enlightenment. This wooden statue, which is not on public display, is the sole item indicating the founder’s personal appearance.
Masatomo was born in Maruoka, Echizen Province (present-day Maruoka-cho, Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture), in 1585. It was also the year that Toyotomi Hideyoshi became kanpaku (chief advisor to the Emperor) and Japan, in the midst of the Sengoku period, was riven by civil war. Surviving reminders of those turbulent times include Maruoka Castle, built by Shibata Katsuie, a leading general of Oda Nobunaga. “The family records reveal that Masatomo was descended from a samurai family,” says Mr. Sueoka.

Masatomo moved to Kyoto at the age of 12. Possibly to escape the intermittent civil war, the Sumitomo family relinquished its samurai status. Masatomo’s parents decided that Masatomo should train for the priesthood. He and his brother, accompanied by their mother, left Maruoka, but their father remained in the town.
In Kyoto Masatomo became a disciple of Gyui Shonin Kugen, the priest who founded the Nehan sect of Buddhism. Taking the name of Kuzen, Masatomo practiced asceticism, and acquired the honorific Monjuin.

Street where the Fujiya shop opened by Masatomo once traded
Street where the Fujiya shop opened by Masatomo once traded

However, the Nehan sect was attacked by other Buddhist sects and subsumed into the Tendai sect by the command of the Tokugawa shogunate in line with its religious policy. True to his principles, Masatomo did not join another sect. “Masatomo called himself Monjuin Ingai Shamon, meaning a priest unaffiliated with any sect, continuing to practice Buddhism in accordance with his beliefs. In spiritual matters, he displayed tenacity,” explains Mr. Sueoka.
Masatomo left the priesthood and opened Fujiya, a shop selling books and medicines in Bukkoji Karasuma, Kyoto. This was during the Kan-ei era (1624-43). In those days, shops specializing in books and medicines were often to be found in the precincts of Buddhist temples. Embarking on a career in business, Masatomo called himself Kakyu Fujiya. While trading in books and medicines and living according to the principles of his faith, Masatomo continued to encourage his former followers. One of them, the coppersmith Riemon Soga, collaborated with the Fujiya business behind the scenes. The encounter of Masatomo and Riemon had far-reaching consequences, establishing the foundation for the House of Sumitomo’s subsequent prosperity and its longstanding involvement with copper.

Relationship between Masatomo Sumitomo and Riemon Soga

The signboard for Hangontan
The signboard for Hangontan
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Having left the priesthood, Masatomo (Monjuin), Sumitomo’s founder, took the name of Kakyu Fujiya and entered the world of commerce. Under the Fujiya trade name, he handled medicines and books. His shop was situated in what is now a downtown quarter near Shijo Station of the Kyoto Municipal Subway and Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line.
The street retains no trace of Fujiya. But if you visit SEN-OKU HAKUKOKAN MUSEUM, you can see a wooden signboard that advertises Hangontan, a panacea that the shop used to sell. It is displayed together with works published by Masatomo, including Ojoyoshu (“The Essentials of Salvation”).
Throughout his life Masatomo continued to espouse his faith and live by its precepts. Since Masatomo entered the Buddhist priesthood in his youth and became a highly respected priest, it is not surprising that he retained a strong attachment to religion throughout his life. But what other factors determined his lifelong spiritual preoccupations?
Mr. Sueoka explains, “Although adoption of the name Monjuin Ingai Shamon, meaning a priest unaffiliated with any sect, may have helped him get on in the world of commerce, it also reflects his enduring allegiance to Gyui Shonin Kugen, the founder of the Nehan sect.”
The Nehan sect to which Masatomo adhered was subsumed into another sect, and extinguished by the command of the Tokugawa shogunate. Considering the vexation and disappointment of Gyui Shonin Kugen, the founder of the Nehan sect, Masatomo considered it his duty to continue propagating the teachings of the Nehan sect among the populace of the unsettled society of those times. It seems that Masatomo was driven by this conviction.
With an indomitable spirit, and despite opposition, Masatomo continued to espouse the virtues of “honesty, mercy and purity.” One of his disciples, the coppersmith Riemon Soga, admired Masatomo from the bottom of his heart and discretely extended support to him.

In partnership with Masatomo who founded Sumitomo and established its business philosophy, Riemon laid Sumitomo’s foundations in terms of craftsmanship and technical skills. Their relationship, cultivated through the Nehan sect, was deepened by the marriage of Riemon and Masatomo’s elder sister, which created a familial relationship between the two men. When Masatomo’s eldest son, the heir to the Sumitomo family, died, Riemon’s eldest son, Rihee Tomomochi, who was married to Masatomo’s daughter, was adopted by Masatomo and became his heir.
Masatomo spent his last years living in seclusion at Soken-an, a retreat near Seiryo-ji Temple in the Saga quarter of Kyoto, composing poetry and corresponding with his followers and Tomomochi. He wrote the Monjuin Shuigaki, the Founder’s Precepts, which constitutes the basis of Sumitomo’s business philosophy, here.
This letter to a follower, which Masatomo wrote about two years before his death, shows that he remained committed to Buddhist spiritual practice until the end of his life.
“My faculties are fading, my sight is dimmed, physically I am in decline, finding it difficult to perform the morning and evening prayers. I am resigned to the fate that awaits every human being. […] I am coming closer to paradise day by day...” (from Company’s DNA, Teachings of Monjuin by Teruaki Sueoka)
Masatomo passed away in 1652 at the age of 68.

Riemon Soga, the inventor of the nanban-buki refining technique

In the late 16th century, a precociously talented young man, just 19 years of age, invented the nanban-buki refining technique for separating silver from blister copper. The copper he refined was delivered to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Indeed, it figured prominently in the history of Japan. This was Riemon Soga, the coppersmith who prepared the ground for Sumitomo’s prosperity, in partnership with Masatomo, the founder of Sumitomo.

The sound of the great bell at the Hoko-ji Temple (Tendai sect) resonating across the Higashiyama quarter of Kyoto takes one back some 400 years to the days when a youthful Riemon Soga, inventor of the nanban-buki refining technique, was making his mark in Kyoto and looking out to the world.
The majestic 82-ton temple bell bears the inscriptions Kokka Anko (May the state be peaceful and prosperous) and Kunshin Horaku (May the lord and his vassals be rich and full of happiness). Incidentally, it is said that Tokugawa Ieyasu’s idiosyncratic interpretation of these inscriptions was one of the causes of the Osaka Fuyu no Jin (Winter Campaign of the Siege of Osaka). The sonorous tone of the bell reminds one of the rise and fall of Toyotomi and Tokugawa. Monjuin Yuraigaki by Masatomo and other documents relate that Toyotomi Hideyoshi built the Hoko-ji Temple as well as an imposing statue of the Buddha that stood in the temple precincts until it was damaged by a powerful earthquake that occurred in 1596. Hideyoshi’s son Hideyori rebuilt the temple but the statue was melted down to make coins.
In 1602, a few years after the death of Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu erected a gilt bronze statue at the Hoko-ji Temple, which still welcomes visitors with its serene, contemplative gaze.
It is noteworthy that the temple bell and the statue of Buddha, both commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan, to protect the nation spiritually, were made of copper refined by Riemon, which attests to his status in Kyoto.

Riemon was born in Osaka (probably in the Senshu Sakai quarter of the city). In 1590, aged 19, he moved to Kyoto, where he opened the Izumiya copper refining and coppersmithing business at a site near the present-day Gojo Bridge spanning the Kamo River.
In the same year, Hideyoshi brought the whole of Japan under his rule. With its traditional grid pattern of streets, rising population, and vibrant commercial and cultural life, Kyoto was booming, as evidenced by the many new buildings popping up all over the city. For the ambitious, highly motivated Riemon, the inventor and promoter of the nanban-buki technique, Kyoto was a great place to be.

Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

However, mastering the nanban-buki technique was far from straightforward for Riemon. Mr. Sueoka explains, “Reportedly, Riemon heard from foreigners, perhaps Portuguese or Chinese, about the principle of copper refining and developed the new technique for separating silver from copper by taking a hint from what he had heard. But he did not receive any instructions.”
Thus, Riemon developed the nanban-buki technique on his own while still in his teens, without guidance from foreigners, before heading to Kyoto.
In the Sengoku period, various daimyo encouraged the development of gold, silver, and copper mines in their domains but the understanding of metallurgy was still rudimentary in Japan. In particular, since Japan lacked a technique for extracting gold and silver from copper ore, copper containing these precious metals was used.
Riemon’s invention of the nanban-buki technique for separating silver form copper brought about dramatic change. “It wasn’t just epoch-making in terms of the history of mining in Japan, but also significant in the country’s economic history,” says Mr. Sueoka.
Riemon promoted the nanban-buki technique until he died at the age of 65. Together with Masatomo, his brother-in-law, Riemon advised and fostered Tomomochi, the second head of the Sumitomo family, paving the way for Sumitomo’s business expansion from Kyoto to Osaka.