Sumitomo Kakkien Reminiscences

Teigo Iba’s aspirations reflected in Kakkien and his life in retirement

Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Teigo Iba—A man of integrity

“As the Tokaido train crosses the iron bridge over the Seta River, any Sumitomo people on board will likely note the Karahashi Bridge downstream and then 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.”

This comment is by Jun Kawada who was a managing director of Sumitomo Goshi Kaisha and a poet (source: “Sumitomo Memoirs” published in 1951).

Teigo Iba, to whom Kakkien belonged and who had previously served as the second Director-General of Sumitomo, was born in 1847 in Nishijuku in the Gamo District of Omi Province (present-day Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture). He became an honorary guard of Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1868. After serving as a prosecutor of the Ministry of Justice, a deputy chief judge of the Hakodate Local Court, and a judge of the Osaka Superior Court, Iba joined Sumitomo in 1879 on the recommendation of his uncle Saihei Hirose who was the first Director-General of Sumitomo. Three months later, he became director of the Osaka Head Office and engaged with distinction in the Sumitomo family’s business and the wider business community as Hirose’s right-hand man.

Iba had an attractive warmhearted disposition and possessed outstanding capabilities. He was known to be a man of the utmost integrity.

Iba’s aspirations to achieve Besshi’s recovery

Many episodes attest to Iba’s admirable qualities and aspirations. Appointed general manager of the Besshi Copper Mines, Sumitomo’s principal business, in 1894, Iba was confronted by a crisis. Smoke pollution attributable to the Besshi Cooper Mines had devastated the forests and was damaging crops, triggering riots. Staff and miners quarreled frequently and there was much ill feeling.

On being assigned to the Besshi Copper Mines, Iba toured the mines and took every opportunity to speak with the miners. In a letter to a friend, Iba wrote: “I like simple work. Because there are many clever people around, I do simple work shunned by others.” His visits to workplaces slowly but surely relaxed the tense atmosphere and, thanks to his humane qualities, he was able to restore the Besshi Copper Mines to normality.

Moreover, Iba accorded priority to restoring the environment of the ravaged Besshi mountains. While emphasizing the recovery of forests through afforestation, he relocated the smelter to Shisakajima, an island offshore from Niihama. In his final years, Iba is reported to have remarked, “The reforestation of the Besshi mountains was my true calling. I derive great satisfaction from what we accomplished.”

Impressed by Iba’s attitude, the employees at the Besshi Copper Mines admired him. In 1899 when Iba became the Director-General of Sumitomo and left the Besshi Copper Mines, they presented him with a large quantity of hemlock and other high-quality timber as a farewell gift. Applied in the construction of the Japanese-style building of Kakkien, this timber is not only in large measure the source of the building’s enduring attractiveness but is also an eloquent testimony to Iba’s aspirations to restore the Besshi mountains to their original glory.

The Besshi Copper Mines in 1881
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives
Shisakajima Smelter in 1905
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

At 40, deciding where to spend his retirement

Pillar of riftsawn hemlock, timber presented as a farewell gift to Iba when he left Besshi

Iba was 40 years old in 1887 when he purchased the land at Ishiyama, having already decided to spend his retirement in this delightful location that was both near his birthplace and blessed with magnificent scenery. He also said that he chose this place so that he could invite guests from Japan and overseas to experience the beauty of Japan.

Although Iba had already achieved a prominent position and was widely respected, his retirement was still a long way off. In fact, his work was his passion. In addition to his accomplishments at the Besshi Copper Mines, he established the Sumitomo Bank and other key companies of the Sumitomo Group that have endured to this day. As Director-General, Iba fostered and promoted a cadre of high-caliber business people, thus laying the foundation of the Sumitomo Group.

He evidently had a clear idea of how he wished to spend his retirement. In 1904, having served as the Director-General for four years, Iba stepped down at the age of 58, stating, “What is most harmful to business development is not the mistakes of youth but the dominance of the old.” Making way for youthful talent, he opted to live in seclusion at Kakkien in the graceful villa that he had built.

Villa bearing the stamp of Iba’s admirable character

Staircase to the second floor of the Western-style building. As suggested by Magoichi Noguchi, the steps are shallow so that even an elderly person can ascend and descend with relative ease.

It was in this room that Iba extended a warm welcome to the many friends and acquaintances who visited him in his retirement. Shigeru Yoshida, who subsequently became prime minister of Japan, was one such visitor.

Iba was knowledgeable about architecture. Having established the Temporary Architecture Department at Sumitomo Head Office, Iba encouraged talented architects and commissioned buildings of architectural distinction. “Architecture is an applied art. But if only utility is emphasized, the spirit of architecture will be lost. Architecture should not slavishly reflect only what those commissioning a building desire. The resulting building should embody the architect’s artistic sensibility and preferences, as well as the owner’s personality, values and taste. That’s why I think architecture should be treated with respect and architects’ hard work should be appreciated forever,” said Iba.

The architects who designed Kakkien—Magoichi Noguchi and Jinbee Yagi who were responsible for the Western and Japanese buildings, respectively—were employed by Sumitomo. Faithfully reflecting Iba’s intention, they created a serviceable yet refined villa by fully utilizing their expertise. Following Iba’s purchase of the site, he planted pine and maple seedlings whenever he had the opportunity. By the time of Iba’s retirement, they had already become part of the landscape, an honor guard of substantial trees ready to welcome Iba to his new home.

In the lexicon of Zen Buddhism, kakki roughly translates as “understanding the subtleties of human nature.” When considering a name for his retreat, Iba, who was drawn to Zen, reached for this term. Does it indicate his intention to be mindful of the subtleties of human nature even here, tucked away from the hectic bustle of the world? He welcomed many guests to Kakkien whose very name is expressive of Iba’s personal magnetism.

Free from worldly cares, Iba lived here until he passed away in 1926. He attained bansei 晩晴, a state of mind reflecting clarity of thought and spirituality in later years. It involves acceptance of aging and deriving pleasure from the experience associated with old age. Its poise contrasts with the homonym bansei 晩成, signifying restlessness and the seeking of new challenges in old age. At Kakkien, Iba appreciated being part of the fabric of existence encompassing the seasons, the mountain and the river, the plants and trees. Kakkien was a fitting retreat for Iba, the man who found the Besshi mountains brown and dead and left them green and full of life.

Rooms on the second floor of the Western-style building are currently used for exhibiting artifacts illustrative of Iba’s career and character and Kakkien.