The Samurai Company

The Samurai Company: Double Creative Response in Meiji Japan ― The Case of Onoda Cement
Seiichiro Yonekura
Institute of Innovation Research, Hitotsubashi University

No abstract is available

URL http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/hitiirwps/12-08.htm

Reviewed by Masayoshi Noguchi

This paper is an interesting work on Japanese business history in the Meiji Period and was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2012-06-13. The author’s stated purpose is to help us better understand the emergence of capitalist firms in Japan during this period,

This paper examines how the financial issues that emerged out of foreign affairs made it necessary for them not just to become Restoration politicians and bureaucrats, but to dismantle samurai class (“shizoku”) from which they emerged. Restoration officials had an extremely creative response to the task of dismantling their own class for the purpose of rebuilding the country’s finances. Their idea was to use national bonds to purchase the status of having belonged to the former samurai class and to convert those national bonds to industrial capital. However, this idea would never have gotten off the ground had it not been for another creative response by those responsible for it –to transform the samurai into entrepreneurs, indeed, to create the “samurai entrepreneur.” (p.3)

Yonekura also suggests that, ‘few studies have attempted to empirically verify the role played by the samurai class in dismantling feudalism and promoting industrialization’ (p.3). The double creative response which the author refers to means (1) ‘the creativity of Restoration officials in institutional reform’ as represented by ‘the issue of hereditary pension bonds’ to eliminate the heredity stipends paid to the former samurai class and the creation of ‘a lending facility to provide necessary funds to the samurai entrepreneurs and (2) ‘the creative corporate activities of the former samurai class’ as represented by Junpachi Kasai’s tactfulness in establishing and managing Onoda Cement, the subject of Yonekura’s study.

The hereditary pension bonds was the public loan delivered by the Meiji Restoration as the compensation to the noble families and the samurai class that returned hereditary stipends in accordance with the abolition of the system. Therefore, as the author states, ‘the Meiji government purchased the privileges and status of the former samurai for a lump sum payment of 170 million yen, and the samurai likewise sold their status to the new government for that amount’ (p. 6). This exchange was disadvantageous of the dealings of the samurai and they became further destitute economically through the inflation brought about by the accelerated issuance of inconvertible paper money. This was made worse by increased dissatisfaction with the new government. To avoid the risk of rebellion, the government implemented the ‘Samurai Relief Plan (shizoku jyusan)’ to encourage (or redirect?) the samurai to have them work in industry by creating the system of a lending facility.

On the other hand, Kasai’s creativeness was summarized in the way of fund-raising to establish Onoda Cement Co. The company was established by issuing the shares to the samurai investors in the Choshu Fief who had possessed the hereditary pension bonds bearing 7% interest at the rate of one share per 50 yen face value of the bonds. Furthermore, the bonds provided were used as security to borrow funds and raise further capital money. In managing the company, Kasai faced difficulty many times, but it got through using the connection of Kaoru Inoue who was a renown Restoration politician. This evidence helps to support the idea that:

‘The role of samurai in industrial promotion policy has not traditionally been highly regarded. They were largely amateurs, and their moves into commerce coincided with the Matsukata deflation period went failure. However…little empirical research has been done on the processes involved. This paper attempts to fill in some of the blanks with empirical research on Onoda Cement, a representative samurai relief company.’ (p. 24)

As suggested in the title of the paper, it is considered that the success or failure of the author’s attempt relies on the extent of Onoda Cement representing the ‘samurai company’ and depends on that of Junpachi Kasai, the founder, representing the ‘samurai entrepreneur’ of those days. It can be said that the former is based on the ability to present more comparative cases other than Onoda Cement and the latter depends on the quality and quantity of evidence to confirm the extent of which Kasai actually shared the consciousness as antigovernment element with other complaint samurais besides his own statement “shamed by their births as samurai” (p.14). This paper will serve as a new contribution in these days when the relevance of the Samurai Relief Plan for the management of Japanese enterprises is being reexamined as represented by the example of Okamoto’s (2006) latest work.

Reference

Okamoto, Y. (2006) Shizoku Jusan to Keiei – Fukuoka niokeru Shizoku Jusan no Keieishi teki Kosatsu (The Samural Relief Plan and the Management: Review in Business History of the Samurai Relief Plan in
Fukuoka), Kyushu University Press.

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