Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki was born in 1834 in the village of Inokuchi on the island of Shikoku. That village, in what is now Kochi Prefecture, was part of a region that belonged to the powerful Tosa clan.
Yataro started a shipping company in October 1870 under the name Tsukumo Shokai, and that was the beginning of Mitsubishi. The company grew rapidly while undergoing a number of name changes: to Mitsukawa, Mitsubishi, Mitsubishi Steamship, Yubin Kisen (Postal Ship) Mitsubishi.
The Mitsubishi three-diamond mark originated with the emblem that Yataro Iwasaki chose for the shipping company he started in 1870. That emblem was a combination of the Iwasaki family crest and the oak-leaf crest of the Yamanouchi family, leaders of the Tosa clan, which controlled the part of Shikoku where Yataro was born.
In 1885, Yataro lost control of his shipping company in the wake of a political struggle that had buffeted Japans marine transport industry. The company merged with a rival and became Nippon Yusen (NYK Line), which would return to the ranks of the Mitsubishi companies in later years.
Though Yataro lost his shipping company, he had established other businesses that formed the foundation for the Mitsubishi organization. One, Mitsubishi Kawase-ten, was a financial exchange house that also engaged in warehousing business. It was the forerunner of todays Mitsubishi Bank and Mitsubishi Warehouse & Transportation. Yataro also had purchased a coal mine and a copper mine and had leased a Nagasaki shipyard from the government. He had participated in establishing the insurance company that now is Tokio Marine and Fire. He even headed up the school that became the Tokyo University of Mercantile Marine.
Yataro, however, was not destined to lead the Mitsubishi organization in its new phase of growth. He died at the age of 50 in February 1885.
Yanosuke Iwasaki succeeded his older brother, Yataro, as the head of the Mitsubishi organization in 1885. The following year, he incorporated the Mitsubishi operations as a modern corporation. Yanosuke set about rebuilding the organization around its mining and shipbuilding businesses. He also expanded the organization's positions in banking, insurance, and warehousing and thus laid the foundation for future growth and development.
In 1890, Yanosuke agreed to buy about 30 hectares (80 acres) of Tokyo swampland that the government was trying to sell near the Imperial Palace. He planned the commercial development on that real estate that became Tokyo's central business district, Marunouchi.
Yanosuke ceded the Mitsubishi presidency to Yataro's son, Hisaya, on the occasion of a reorganization of the company in 1893. He remained active, however, and became the president of the Bank of Japan in 1896.
On becoming president in 1893, Hisaya divided the Mitsubishi organization into semiautonomous divisions. Those divisions were banking, marketing, coal mining, metals mining, real estate, shipbuilding, and administration. Among the Mitsubishi companies established while Hisaya was president were businesses that now are Mitsubishi Paper Mills, Asahi Glass, and Mitsubishi Cable Industries.
Hisaya insisted on the observance of firm ethical principles in business dealings. When the outbreak of World War I jolted the old international order in 1914, he called on all Mitsubishi employees to redouble their commitment to integrity and fairness.
Philanthropy was a lasting emphasis for Hisaya. He donated to the city of Tokyo two expansive Japanese gardens Rikugien, in Komagome, and Kiyosumi, in Fukagawa that are among the finest in the city. And he established Toyo Bunko, a library for housing oriental works. Hisaya loved the simpler things in life. He personally managed two big farms owned by the Mitsubishi organization
Under Koyata's stewardship, important Mitsubishi divisions became separately incorporated companies: Mitsubishi Shipbuilding (now part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries), Mitsubishi Corporation (trading), Mitsubishi Bank, Mitsubishi Mining (now part of Mitsubishi Materials), Mitsubishi Electric, and Mitsubishi Estate. Koyata also oversaw the creation of the companies that now are Nikon, Mitsubishi Trust and Banking, Mitsubishi Oil, Mitsubishi Steel, Mitsubishi Kakoki, Mitsubishi Rayon, and Mitsubishi Chemical.
After World War II, the Allied occupation forces were in favor of voluntary dissolution by Japan's zaibatsu industrial groups, including Mitsubishi. That sentiment became formal in October 1945. Koyata himself succumbed to illness in December 1945.
The dissolution of the Mitsubishi holding company took place formally in October 1946, and the Mitsubishi companies fragmented into hundreds of independent enterprises. Those enterprises would have to find their own ways to survive and grow amid postwar turmoil and privation.
Prewar presidents and other top executives of the Mitsubishi companies lost their jobs under the Allied occupation. Most Mitsubishi companies abandoned the Mitsubishi name and emblem.
In the early 1950s, the occupation policy changed profoundly in response to evolving geopolitics. In the interests of promoting industrial development, the occupation forces allowed renewed cooperation among the members of the prewar industrial groups. Reconciliation was in the air after the San Francisco Peace Conference as Japan regained a welcome place in the international community. Mitsubishi companies that had abandoned that name after the war began using it and the three-diamond mark again.
Japan was the scene of unprecedented economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s. Mitsubishi companies were very much a part of that growth in their established industries and in new ones.
of their activities and to sponsor coordinate cultural and public-interest endeavors. International
exchange is a chief emphasis in those endeavors, as in the Mitsubishi Impression Gallery Festival of Asian Childrens Art. That is an annual exhibition of illustrated diaries by children in Asian nations.
In 1970, Mitsubishi companies established the Mitsubishi Foundation to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the founding of the first Mitsubishi company. That foundation donates large sums of
money annually to support scientific research and public-interest activities. The Mitsubishi companies
also are active individually in supporting worthy causes through their own charitable foundations and in other ways.