Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi company was established as a shipping firm by Yatarō Iwasaki (1834–1885) in 1870. In 1873, its name was changed to Mitsubishi Shokai. The name Mitsubishi (三菱) consists of two parts: “mitsu” meaning “three” and “hishi” (which becomes “bishi” under rendaku) meaning “water caltrop” (also called “water chestnut”), and hence “rhombus“,

which is reflected in the company’s logo. It is also translated as “three diamonds”.[1]

Mitsubishi was established in 1870, two years after the Meiji Restoration, with shipping as its core business. Its diversification was mostly into related fields. It entered into coal-mining to gain the coal needed for ships, bought a shipbuilding yard from the government to repair the ships it used, founded an iron mill to supply iron to the shipbuilding yard, started a marine insurance business to cater for its shipping business, and so forth. Later, the managerial resources and technological capabilities acquired through the operation of shipbuilding were utilized to expand the business further into the manufacture of aircraft and equipment. The experience of overseas shipping led the firm to enter into a trading business.[2]

In 1881, the company bought into coal mining by acquiring the Takashima Mine, followed by Hashima Island in 1890, using the production to fuel their extensive steamship fleet. They also diversified into shipbuilding, bankinginsurance, warehousing, and trade. Later diversification carried the organization into such sectors as papersteelglass, electrical equipment, aircraftoil, and real estate. As Mitsubishi built a broadly based conglomerate, it played a central role in the modernization of Japanese industry.[3]

In February 1921, the Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Manufacturing Company in Nagoya invited British Sopwith Camel designer Herbert Smith, along with several other former Sopwith engineers to assist in creating an aircraft manufacturing division. After moving to Japan, they designed the Mitsubishi 1MTMitsubishi B1MMitsubishi 1MF, and Mitsubishi 2MR.

The merchant fleet entered into a period of diversification that would eventually result in the creation of three entities:

The firm’s prime real estate holdings in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo, acquired in 1890, were spun off in 1937 to form Mitsubishi Estate, now one of the largest real estate development companies in Japan.[4]

World War II[edit]

Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter

During the Second World War, Mitsubishi manufactured military aircraft under the direction of Dr. Jiro Horikoshi. The Mitsubishi A6M Zerowas a primary Japanese naval fighter in World War II. It was used by Imperial Japanese Navy pilots throughout the war, including in kamikaze attacks during the later stages. Allied pilots were astounded by its maneuverability, and it was very successful in combat until the Allies devised tactics to utilize their advantage in armor and diving speed.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Mitsubishi made use of forced labor during this tenure. Laborers included allied POWs, as well as Chinese citizens. In the post-war period, lawsuits and demands for compensations were presented against the Mitsubishi Corporation, in particular by former Chinese workers. On July 24, 2015, the company agreed to formally apologize for this wartime labor, and compensated 3765 Chinese laborers who were conscripted to Mitsubishi Mining during the war.[14] On July 19, 2015, the company apologized for using American soldiers as slave laborers during World War II, making them the first major Japanese company to apologize for doing so.[15]

Mitsubishi was involved in the opium trade in China during this period.[16]

Post-war era[edit]

Mitsubishi was among a number of major Japanese companies targeted for dissolution during the occupation of Japan. It was broken up into a large number of smaller enterprises whose stock was offered to the public. For several years, these companies were banned from coordinating with each other and from using the Mitsubishi name and trademarks. These restrictions were lifted in 1952, as the Korean War generated a need for a stronger industrial base in Japan. Mitsubishi Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which had themselves been broken up into many smaller entities, again coalesced by the mid-1950s.[17]

Mitsubishi companies participated in Japan’s unprecedented economic growth of the 1950s and 1960s. For example, as Japan modernized its energy and materials industries, the Mitsubishi companies created Mitsubishi Petrochemical, Mitsubishi Atomic Power Industries, Mitsubishi Liquefied Petroleum Gas, and Mitsubishi Petroleum Development. The traditional Mitsubishi emphasis on technological development was in new ventures in such fields as space development, aviation, ocean development, data communications, computers, and semiconductors. Mitsubishi companies also were active in consumer goods and services.

In 1970, Mitsubishi companies established the Mitsubishi Foundation to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the founding of the first Mitsubishi company. The companies also individually maintain charitable foundations. Mitsubishi pavilions have been highlights of expositions in Japan since EXPO’70 in Osaka in the 1970s to 1980s.

Mitsubishi, along with other manufacturers, was affected by the Kobe Steel scandal in 2017, which – involved falsified data for products supplied to the aerospace, car and electric power industries.