Japan’s oldest organization defies time with merit-based mostly succession

TOKYO — Kongo Gumi, a contractor broadly considered to be Japan’s oldest ongoing firm, was created in the sixth century to construct a Buddhist temple in what is now Osaka.

To be correct, it was started in 578 to develop the temple, Shitenno-ji, as a enormous countrywide challenge led by Prince Shotoku, a political leader devoted to Buddhism.

Kongo Gumi is identified as the oldest company in Japan by Toshio Goto, a professor at the Japan College of Economics, who research previous Japanese firms that are even now in enterprise.

The firm has its origin in a group of three Korean carpenters invited by the prince from Baekje, an historical kingdom in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula, to construct the temple. “Nihon Shoki” (“Chronicle of Japan”), the oldest formal background of Japan, refers to a team associated in the design of shrines and temples in the interval. In addition, tales about the group have been handed down by word-of-mouth at Shitenno-ji. Due to these facts, equally Teikoku Databank and Tokyo Shoko Study acknowledge Kongo Gumi as the Japanese firm with the longest record.

This yr, Kongo Gumi has confronted new realities and difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a selection of temple and shrine jobs postponed.

The variety of individuals who check out temples or keep Buddhist companies for the lifeless is also declining in Japan, and there is a escalating craze towards simplifying funerals, which interprets into less profits for temples.

The extended background of Kongo Gumi suggests some crucial aspects for its excellent longevity. Just one significant issue has been the ongoing presence of Shitenno-ji, but that is not the only motive for the company’s excessive staying power, according to Hidekazu Sone, an affiliate professor at the Shizuoka University of Artwork and Society who scientific tests long-lasting companies.

“There are explanations connected to each expertise and management,” he claimed.

The Buddhist temple Shitenno-ji in Osaka was built in the sixth century.

With regard to expertise, groups of impartial craftsmen who sustain and polish them have performed a vital job. Various impartial kumi, groups of temple and shrine carpenters with specific abilities, have been doing work for Kongo Gumi. There are now 8 these groups, up from four promptly soon after the end of Entire world War II. Competitiveness among the these teams, which perform with each other in development initiatives, has contributed to strengthening and sharing skills and methods.

“Protecting this technique for a extended time has supported [Kongo Gumi’s] core competence,” Sone said.

In taking care of the company, which utilized to be a household-operate organization, Kongo Gumi has prevented obtaining caught with the tradition of hereditary leadership succession. For the duration of the Edo Interval (1603-1868), the corporation started out getting threatened by competition from other temple carpenter teams. To survive the tougher organization natural environment, Kongo Gumi had to opt for leaders who were being qualified carpenters and experienced an aptitude for management.

Paperwork from the Edo Interval clearly show the corporation would choose not to put an eldest son of the Kongo loved ones at the helm if he did not have what it took to be a great leader of the organization. There have been scenarios in which a male who had been chosen as the head carpenter was stripped of his position soon after failing to show his motivation to the occupation. If the household has no male heir, preparations may be built for a daughter to choose a husband who can become the head carpenter. In certain eras, the head family members and department people aided just about every other.

Shigeo Kiuchi heads Kiuchi Gumi, one particular of the 8 teams of temple and shrine carpenters performing for Kongo Gumi. (Photograph courtesy of Kyosuke Ogame)

Kongo Gumi has lasted for so extensive because it has modified to switching times. The greatest transform it has absent through was the decline of its independence via its acquisition by Takamatsu, yet another Osaka-based building company, in 2006. Kongo Gumi Chairman Kenichi Tone, who arrived from Takamatsu to take care of the business, claimed the essential to the successful reorganization was to “make it an everyday company.”

Money to establish temples and shrines are fundamentally lifted via a lengthy course of action of collecting donations from parishioners and patrons. The fundraising procedure often requires five to 10 a long time.

In temple and shrine jobs, delays in design work are generally tolerated. But Takamatsu was not joyful with the way the small business was operated, below which process and cost management have been unachievable. Kongo Gumi was complacent about its standing and took it for granted that revenue would “occur automatically” if it did its function, according to Tone.

Just after getting a Takamatsu unit, Kongo Gumi started off earning its fiscal figures obviously obvious to workers who were not nicely aware of the firm’s earnings functionality. The organization also took ways to share constructing ideas between personnel and created manuals and movement charts for organization procedure administration. Actions have been also taken for demanding charge administration. The enterprise took a leaf from Takamatsu’s administration e book and adopted a process to place the price administration team in cost of positioning orders for components like lumber.

Takamatsu has not, having said that, attempted to improve the way Kongo Gumi’s proud craftsmen get the job done. The making of temples and shrines is finished mostly by hand and in a way wholly different from how everyday construction perform is executed. When negative temperature problems persist, for occasion, temple and shrine carpenters have to expend days on stop sharpening their saws and planes. On other times, they spend a large amount of time on thoroughly finishing little reduce finishes.

As a outcome, Kongo Gumi has preserved its stage of expertise and its relationships with buyer temples and shrines under Takamatsu’s management. The company has also retained its time-honored identify, which has an aura of believe in that has been crafted more than hundreds of years.

Kenichi Tone, chairman of Kongo Gumi, arrived from Takamatsu, an Osaka-based design enterprise that obtained Kongo Gumi in 2006. (Photograph courtesy of Kyosuke Ogame)

Kongo Gumi rings up some 4 billion yen ($38 million) in annual gross sales. Its profits move tends to fluctuate from yr to yr, due to the fact large temple or shrine jobs that force up the top line appear only when in a though. Even now, the company has returned to profitability and is on a secure fiscal footing as part of Takamatsu.

The firm now employs all-around 110, up from some 80 when it was acquired.

The current Kongo Gumi workforce has only a single member of the Kongo spouse and children. That person is a daughter of the 40th head of the family and now serves as the 41st head.

Shitenno-ji grants the title of the sho daiku, or master carpenter — the man or woman accountable for preserving the temple — only to a member of the Kongo clan. The annual ceremony at Shitenno-ji to mark the opening of organization for the calendar year has to be executed by the Kongo family members and temple carpenters. Kongo Gumi staff assist the ceremony powering the scenes.

Even even though the Kongo loved ones is no for a longer period involved in the company’s administration, the clan is nonetheless witnessed as the symbol of Kongo Gumi, of critical great importance for the temple carpenters and for the company’s relationship with Shitenno-ji. These carpenters and the Kongo family, which provides their mentors, are sure by sound, historic ties.