Teigo Iba: Part 2

Author: Teruaki Sueoka

Teigo Iba’s personality

“Yuo,” a biography of Teigo Iba published in 1933, describes his philosophy and personality in detail. The book mentions that in 1907, Iba’s friend Kinichi Kawakami*1 urged Shigeru Yoshida, his junior at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and consul-general in Mukden, to meet Iba. In setting up the meeting, it was not Kawakami’s intention that Iba and Yoshida would discuss current affairs or the situation in China, but rather that Yoshida would benefit from encountering such a thoroughly admirable man: “I am sure you will find Iba warmhearted. He is like a breeze in the spring. If you aspire to be a leader in the future, such attributes will be of great advantage to you.” Yoshida, who subsequently served as prime minister and charted the course of Japan in the post-war period, met Teigo Iba in his youth. Kawakami himself joined Sumitomo, attracted by Iba’s personality. Iba inspired great respect.

最晩年のTeigo Iba(右)と河上謹一(左)
Teigo Iba (right) in old age and Kinichi Kawakami (left).
This photo was taken toward the end of the Taisho era at Restaurant Yanagiya in Ishiyama.
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

*1 Kinichi Kawakami
Born in the Iwakuni Domain (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) and was awarded a scholarship in 1870 to study at Daigakunanko (forerunner of The University of Tokyo).
After graduating from the Faculty of Law of The University of Tokyo in 1878, he studied at University College London and Kings College London. After returning to Japan in 1882, he served as an official of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce and then of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before joining the Bank of Japan in 1891. He resigned from the Bank of Japan in 1899 and joined Sumitomo as a riji (director) at the request of Teigo Iba. He resigned from his position as director in 1904, coinciding with Iba’s retirement from the position of director-general. Kawakami went on to serve at several companies, including as a founding member of The South Manchuria Railway, director of Sanyo Railway, and auditor of Kyushu Steel.

Return to Osaka Head Office

Yajiro Shinagawa, Teigo Iba’s friend who added the words “Moon and flowers bequeathed to another” to Iba’s haiku.
Photo from “Biography of Viscount Shinagawa”

In January 1899, Iba returned to the Osaka Head Office, appointing Masaya Suzuki as his successor at the Besshi Copper Mines. In a letter dated December 17, 1898, to his eldest son Teikichi, Iba wrote: “In the five years since I moved to the Besshi mountain, copper production has progressed without interruption, increasing every year. I am handing over my responsibilities for the mines to Suzuki in the New Year and will be returning to Osaka.” Reflecting on the five years since his assignment to the Besshi Copper Mines to fulfill an important mission, this letter conveys Iba’s joy at having managed to settle the unrest at the mine and achieve progress concerning the smoke pollution problem in Niihama. Iba’s delight was also apparent in a letter to his friend Yajiro Shinagawa*2, to whom he had confided his feeling of desperation when he took up his post at Besshi. In the letter, Iba composed this haiku—“Looking back at the receding traces of five years: snow-covered mountains.” Shinagawa, admiring Iba’s selfless, gracious attitude and his willingness to relinquish power, added the words “Moon and flowers bequeathed to another” to Iba’s haiku. “A leader should shoulder responsibilities and grapple with difficulties and then, once the difficulties are overcome, step back and make way for the next generation.” This approach is apparent in everything Iba accomplished.

Business diversification and establishment of jyuyakukai (executive board)

Minutes of the first jyuyakukai (executive board) meeting of the House of Sumitomo.
Today’s major Sumitomo Group companies were conceived at that meeting.
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

On May 4, 1895, Iba convened the first jyuyakukai (executive board) meeting of the House of Sumitomo at the Onomichi Branch. The members included Teikichi Tanabe, who was general manager of the Osaka Head Office, and Jyusaku Teshima, Teikichi Den, and Kanji Tani, all three of whom were riji (directors). The agenda addressed such issues as establishment of the Sumitomo Bank and expansion of foreign trade. Based on resolutions passed at that momentous meeting, The Sumitomo Bank was established on November 1, 1895, and the Wakamatsu Branch (predecessor of Sumitomo Coal Mining) to supervise the coal mines in the Chikuho area of Fukuoka Prefecture was established on February 12, 1896. On April 1, 1897, Sumitomo Copper Works (predecessor of Sumitomo Metal Mining, Sumitomo Electric Industries, and Sumitomo Light Metal Industries) was established. On May 9, 1898, the Forestry Department and the Civil Engineering Department of the Besshi Copper Mines (predecessors of Sumitomo Forestry and Sumitomo Construction, respectively) were established. On July 1, 1899, Sumitomo Warehouse was established, separate from the bank. Thus, today’s major Sumitomo Group companies trace their histories back to this period when Iba served as the director-general of the House of Sumitomo.

On October 1, 1896, Iba made extensive revisions to the Rules Governing the House of Sumitomo as they were increasingly out of step with the actual circumstances of business in the late 19th century. The main revisions were 1) abolition of jyuninkyoku (the senior management department) and instead deliberation of important matters by jyuyakukai (the executive board), 2) renaming of sorinin as soriji, and 3) making riji (directors), who were previously below the general manager in the hierarchy, members of jyuyakukai (the executive board). These moves signaled the launch of Sumitomo’s soriji (director-general) system and jyuyakukai.

Becoming director-general and recruitment and development of talented people

On January 23, 1897, Iba was appointed soriji kokoroe (deputy director-general). Iba’s guiding principle in conducting business was “A man of noble character esteems wealth and is scrupulous in seeking the ethical way to acquire it.” Iba believed “A company is a profit-making enterprise. There is nothing shameful in pursuing profit, provided profit is gained in accordance with moral principles.” This belief underlay Iba’s relocation of the smelter to Shisakajima and promotion of reforestation of the Besshi mountains. In March 1899, Kinichi Kawakami joined Sumitomo at Iba’s request, resigning from his position as a director of the Bank of Japan. As a courtesy, Iba demoted himself to riji (director), placing himself at the same level in the hierarchy as Kawakami. Iba subsequently recruited other Bank of Japan executives who, as loyal followers of Kawakami, resigned from the bank to pursue careers at Sumitomo. At the same time, Iba recruited many talented young people with university degrees. Iba dispatched new recruits overseas to cultivate a broad perspective, telling them “I want you to apply what you learn not only for Sumitomo but also for the benefit of society.” Indeed, they were not pressured into pursuing careers with Sumitomo if on returning to Japan they found other ways of serving society and the nation.

On January 5, 1900, assuming office as director-general, Iba announced his business policy: “Sumitomo’s business must benefit the nation and society as well as Sumitomo itself.” Moreover, if a project were to be beneficial to Japan and so large that Sumitomo alone would not be able to accomplish it, “Sumitomo should swallow its pride and readily join forces with major financiers and industrialists nationwide. And Sumitomo should be ambitious and willingly undertake challenging projects beneficial to the nation.” Iba pursued a business philosophy that always accorded priority to advancing the interests of society and the nation.

*2 Yajiro Shinagawa
As a retainer of the Choshu domain (present-day Yamaguchi prefecture), Yajiro Shinagawa participated in the sonno joi movement and the anti-shogunate campaign. Shinagawa was active in Meiji era politics. He visited Europe in 1870 to observe the Franco-Prussian War and did not return to Japan until 1876. As an official in the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, he promoted industrial development in 1881, helped establish Kyodo Unyu Kaisha through a merger of three transportation companies in 1883, and was appointed the Japanese minister in Germany in 1885. He was appointed the minister of internal affairs in the administration of Masayoshi Matsukata in 1891, subsequently serving as a privy councilor.


Photo by Tsutomu Okuda

In 1887, Iba returned to his roots, purchasing a site in a forested area in Ishiyama, Shiga Prefecture, affording a fine view of Lake Biwa. This was 17 years before his retirement. On assuming office as director-general of the House of Sumitomo in January 1900, his belief was that if one were appointed to the highest position and received the highest remuneration, one should not remain in that position for long. On July 6, 1904, four years after his assumption of office as director-general, Iba retired at the age of 58 based on his conviction that “It is most important that the elderly do not to get in the way of the young.” He also expressed the view that “What is most harmful to business development are not the mistakes of youth but the dominance of the old.” Influenced by Iba’s selfless example, Directors Kinichi Kawakami and Teikichi Tanabe also stepped down.

Hall of the western-style building designed by Magoichi Noguchi
Photo courtesy of Katsuhiko Sakamoto

Although Iba accepted that aspiring young people would inevitably make mistakes, he could not tolerate superannuated people preoccupied with status and honors. Iba knew that if the elderly clung to power, it would lead to lack of communication between superiors and subordinates, undermining the aspirations of the younger generation and perhaps fatally damaging the enterprise.

Upon his retirement, Iba composed this tanka: “After surfacing and sinking several times, the shore of Nio no umi [Lake Biwa] is attained.” In 1904, Iba built Kakkien, a villa on the site he had purchased 17 years previously in the forested countryside in Ishiyama, Otsu. The pine, cedar, maple, and other seedlings Iba had planted over the years were flourishing in the exquisite garden. Timber presented by the employees of the Besshi Copper Mines as a farewell gift when Iba left the mines was used in the construction of the Japanese-style building of Kakkien to commemorate his time at the mines. After retiring to Kakkien, Iba used the pseudonyms Koshu and Yuo while living a quiet life. He passed away at Kakkien early on the morning of October 23, 1926. Kakki means to be mindful of the subtleties of human nature. At Kakkien, tucked away from the hectic bustle of the world, Iba welcomed many guests who were attracted by his personal magnetism.

西川正治郎著のTeigo Ibaの伝記
“Yuo,” biography of Teigo Iba by Shojiro Nishikawa published in 1933
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Jun Kawada*3 wrote: “As the Tokaido train crosses the iron bridge over the Seta River, any Sumitomo people on board will gaze intently at a small tree-clad hillock on the right bank and recall with nostalgia, ‘There’s the villa where Mr. Iba spent his last years.’ Such is Teigo Iba’s enduring appeal.” Now, from the Tokyo-bound Tokaido Shinkansen, about 10 minutes after departing from Kyoto Station, you can see the grave of Teigo Iba in a cemetery on the right.

*3 Jun Kawada
Jun Kawada was born in Tokyo in 1882. After joining the Faculty of Letters of Tokyo Imperial University, he enrolled in the Faculty of Law, graduating in 1907. Kawada joined Sumitomo Head Office in Osaka in 1907. He became a managing director in 1930 and retired from Sumitomo in 1936 as the head director. Mentored by Nobutsuna Sasaki, Kawada is noted for his research on Shin Kokinshu (“New Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern” compiled in the mid-15th century), which he pursued during his career at Sumitomo. Kawada received the first Japan Art Academy Prize in 1942 and the Asahi Cultural Prize in 1944. As well as his collections of poetry, he is also known as the author of “Sumitomo Memoirs” (published by Chuokoron, Toshishuppan, etc.).