Part 4

Author: Teruaki Sueoka

6. Teigo Iba Joins Sumitomo

The shizoku (“warrior families”) rebellions, a series of insurrections mounted by former samurai, occurred in the early years of the Meiji era. In 1877 (10th year of the Meiji era), Takamori Saigo perished while leading the Satsuma Rebellion, but by then the free and open atmosphere of the Meiji Restoration had disappeared. Teigo Iba concluded that there was no place for him in a bureaucracy where those who jettisoned their principles and flattered superiors were promoted while those who expressed their honest opinions ate humble pie. So he submitted a letter of resignation in 1879 (12th year of the Meiji era), which is also showcased at the exhibition. In this letter, he stated that he wished to resign in order to care for his aged parents living in Nishijuku, Omi-hachiman, his hometown.

The House of Sumitomo

Teigo Iba visited his uncle Saihei Hirose in Osaka, who by now was director-general of the House of Sumitomo in Osaka, to inform him of his decision to return to his hometown. Hirose expressed himself forthrightly to Iba: “It is such a waste to just return to your hometown when you are only around 30 years old. There is so much to be done in the world of business and one can serve the nation through commercial enterprise.” My favorite words of Saihei Hirose are from a speech he made at the Besshi Copper Mines in 1887 (20th year of the Meiji era). Addressing the people working at the mines, he said: “Why did you come to the Besshi Copper Mines? It was not just by chance. Each of you had an objective. Your objective was to benefit the nation by working diligently while achieving prosperity for yourself by saving.” Saihei Hirose emphasized the need for a sense of purpose. Everyone needs sometimes to reflect on why they work. Clearly, he believed that the purpose of work is not just to earn a living. He exhorted Teigo Iba, “ Why don’t you work for the Besshi Copper Mines? You will be sure to make yourself useful for the nation,” and Iba agreed.

Shūmon Mujintō Ron (Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen)

As for his decision to commit himself to working for Sumitomo, Teigo Iba’s motto may well have come into his mind: “A man of noble character esteems wealth and is scrupulous in seeking the ethical way to acquire it.” This aphorism was written by the Zen monk Tōrei Zenji in a book titled Shūmon Mujintō Ron (Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen). When Iba came across these words in a book, they made a powerful impression on him, becoming his guiding principle. He believed, “A company is a profit-making enterprise, and to work for a company is to work for profit and nothing shameful. This is an important truth.” This is true in Europe and North America, indeed wherever people work hard and by doing so make their countries affluent, and it should be a source of pride. “However, there is an ethical way of earning profits. Profit must be earned in accordance with moral principles, and the money gained must be used for proper purposes.” That was Teigo Iba’s conviction.

7. Teigo Iba Becomes a Diet Member

Teigo Iba joined Sumitomo in 1879 (12th year of the Meiji era) and was appointed general manager of Sumitomo Head Office the following year. Recognizing his capabilities, people around him would not leave him alone but badgered him to seek election to the Diet. Iba was about to stand for a constituency in Osaka in Japan’s first general election but the people of Shiga, the prefecture from where he came, urged him to represent them. In 1890 (23rd year of the Meiji era), he ran as a candidate from the third electoral district of Shiga prefecture and was elected to the House of Representatives. Diet members elected by the first general election of 1890 included Shozo Tanaka from Tochigi Prefecture, a politician and social activist who is widely considered to be Japan’s first conservationist.

Gazan Hashimoto

Gazan Hashimoto, a Buddhist priest from Kyoto, was a friend of Iba. He is known for the restoration of the Tenryuji temple. Founded in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) in memory of Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339), Tenryuji was destroyed by fire during the Kinmon incident (Hamaguri Gate Rebellion) in 1864. Subsequently, Tenryuji was restored with the support of Yajiro Shinagawa who was from Choshu clan (Present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) and his friends Saihei Hirose and Teigo Iba and others. Having developed close relationships with Saihei Hirose and Teigo Iba in the course of the temple’s restoration, Gazan wrote a letter to Teigo Iba upon his election to the Diet. He wrote, “It must be a great inconvenience for you to be elected to the Diet,” instead of congratulating him and wishing him well in his efforts to serve the nation. He further wrote: “You should quit as soon as you can since being a Diet member doesn’t suit you.” Gazan must have been a true friend of Iba to be so plainspoken. In fact, Iba resigned from the House of Representatives the following year. In 1890, two heads of the Sumitomo family died in quick succession (Tomochika, the 12th head, and Tomotada, the 13th head), leaving only female members of the family. Saihei Hirose told Iba to return to Sumitomo, stating that Sumitomo’s business might not survive without Iba. In a letter to his friend Yajiro Shinagawa, Iba stated that he was resigning because his uncle Hirose was beset by difficulties.

Certificate confirming Teigo Iba’s election to the House of Representatives

Teigo Iba had been tutoring Tomotada prior to his death at the age of 19. Iba encouraged Tomotada to cultivate the qualities of a leader and sent him away from his parents to study at Hikone Middle School in Shiga Prefecture and then at Gakushuin University in Tokyo. While Tomotada was at Gakushuin, receptions to commemorate the bicentenary of the Besshi Copper Mines were held in Niihama and Osaka. Tomotada died shortly after attending those events. Iba had been taking care of the young head of the Sumitomo family and felt a sense of responsibility for his death. Now the Sumitomo family only had four women left: Tomotada’s grandmother, mother, and two sisters. Having returned to Sumitomo, Teigo Iba sought a suitable match for Tomotada’s elder sister, eventually settling on Takamaro, who was a son of prominent courtier Kin'ito Tokudaiji and a brother of Kinmochi Saionji, a two-time prime minister. He married into the Sumitomo family and became the 15th head, changing his name to Tomoito (using the name Shunsui for his artistic endeavors). Before getting married, Takamaro reportedly expressed his concerns to Iba, “I worry that I might be the last head the Sumitomo family,” to which Iba replied with a reassuring smile, “The family became wealthy by refining copper. You don’t need to worry about being the last of the line.” This allayed Takamaro’s anxiety and the wedding took place. (To be continued)

Proceed to Part 5