Saturday, May 23, 2015

Yasuda Zenjiro: The Founder of the Fourth Largest Zaibatsu

Yasuda Zenjiro
Founded the Yasuda Zaibatsu, he came from a poor background but rose to prominence in the financial world from his money changing business. He cashed in the development of Japan and made huge fortunes that landed his company as the fourth largest Zaibatsu or conglomerate in country.

Born in 1838, Yasuda Zenjiro came from a peasant family in Toyama Prefecture. But 1864, tired of the hardship in the country, he ran away to Edo to seek new fortune. He established a money changing business and became adept to the trade. During the time of the Boshin War, he bought notes from the government at a low price and sell it after the war when prices suddenly soared. Because of his transactions with the Meiji Government during the civil war, the government allowed Yasuda to handle some of its business ventures.

Yasuda also became active participant in the economic life during the new Meiji Era. In 1876, he helped to found the Third National Bank of Japan. From his earlier experience in finance, he then founded in 1880 his greatest legacy in business. He founded the Yasuda Bank with ¥200,000 as a starting capital. Today, Yasuda Bank continued to serve customer under the name of Fuji Bank. With his bank, he expanded his financial reach and became one of the most prominent figures in Tokyo. In 1887, he created an unlimited company, the Hozensha, which served as Yasuda’s holding company. By 1919, the Hozensha controlled over 17 banks and 16 other affiliated companies. In the late 1880’s Yasuda entered the business of insurance by establishing the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Later on, he founded one of Japan’s earliest life insurance company in 1894. Yasuda expanded his business interest by investing in different industrial ventures. He invested in railways and other transportation and communication services. But he became prominent as the financial banker of the industrial zaibatsu, Asano.

Asano and Yasuda zaibatsus had a close relationship. Asano dealt with industrial business, which include metal, shipping, and most importantly, cement. Much of Asano’s business expansion came from credit and funding from Yasuda banks. And so Yasuda provided the money, and Asano provided profits to Yasuda from their enterprise.

Besides business, Yasuda played an active role in the local political scene. He became part of the first Tokyo Prefectural Assembly in 1879 and in 1889, he took a seat in Tokyo’s first City Council. In 1921, before Yasuda’s untimely and tragic death, he contributed around ¥3.5 million for the foundation of the Tokyo institute for Municipal Research. His donation went to the construction of the Yasuda Auditorium in Tokyo University and the Hibiya Kokaido Hall.

Yasuda Zenjiro faced a tragic end. In September 28, 1921, Heigo Asahi, a far right, and in some described as “insane,” shot Yasuda Zenjiro in the outskirts of Tokyo. Heigo stated that he killed Yasuda in order to rid Japan clean from corrupt businessmen. Upon his death, Yasuda left around ¥18 million worth of assets and financial zaibatsu that controlled over 19 banks and numerous other companies.

See also:

"Yasuda Zenjiro." in Concise Dictionary of Modern Japanese History. Edited by Janet Hunter. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1984.

"Yasuda Zenjiro." in Historical Dictionary of Tokyo. Edited by Roman Cybriwsky. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2011.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan. United States: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Newall, Paul. Japan and the City of London. New York, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.

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