The first Mitsubishi company was a shipping firm established by Yataro Iwasaki (1834?1885) in 1870. In 1873, its name was changed to Mitsubishi Shokai (????). The name Mitsubishi (??) has two parts: “mitsu” meaning “three” and “hishi” (which becomes “bishi” in the middle of a word) meaning “water caltrop” (also called “water chestnut”), and hence “rhombus”, which is reflected in the famous company’s logo which symbolizes the propeller of a ship. It is also translated as “three diamonds”.
The company bought into coal mining in 1881 by acquiring the Takashima mine and Hashima Island in 1890, using the produce to fuel their extensive steamship fleet. They also diversified into shipbuilding, banking, insurance, warehousing, and trade. Later diversification carried the organization into such sectors as paper, steel, glass, electrical equipment, aircraft, oil, and real estate. As Mitsubishi built a broadly based conglomerate, it played a central role in the modernization of Japanese industry.
The merchant fleet entered into a period of diversification that would eventually result in the creation of three entities:
Mitsubishi Bank (now a part of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group) was founded in 1919. After its mergers with the Bank of Tokyo in 1996, and UFJ Holdings in 2004, this became Japan’s largest bank.
Mitsubishi Corporation, founded in 1950, Japan’s largest general trading company
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which includes these industrial companies.
Mitsubishi Motors, the 6th largest Japanese auto manufacturer.
Mitsubishi Atomic Industry, a nuclear power company.
Mitsubishi Chemical, the largest Japanese chemicals company
World War II
Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter
During the Second World War, Mitsubishi manufactured aircraft, under the direction of Jiro Horikoshi. The Mitsubishi Zero was a primary Japanese naval fighter in World War II. It was used by Imperial Japanese Navy pilots in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and many other occasions, including in kamikaze attacks in the later stages of the war. Allied pilots were astounded by its maneuverability, and it was very successful in combat until the Allies devised tactics to utilize their advantage in firepower and diving speed.
As well as building prominent fighters, Mitsubishi also built many of Japan’s most famous bombers of the war, such as the G3M, the G4M, the Ki-21, and the Ki-67. During the 1930s, Mitsubishi had also built the single-engined Ki-35.
Slave labour controversy
Like many other large Japanese corporations at that time, Mitsubishi made use of slave labour from Allied POWs and the Japanese captured territories, like Korea and China. With poor working conditions, many people died during this period.
In the post-war period, various lawsuits and demands for compensations were presented against the Mitsubishi Corporation, in particular by former Chinese slave labourers. The counter-arguments presented in statements by the conglomerate’s spokesman and by lawyers representing it in the courts included that:
Mitsubishi regards forced labour as inconsistent with the company’s values;
It was a general Japanese wartime national policy to employ Chinese labourers;
The Mitsubishi of World War II is not the same as the company bearing this name at present.
Mitsubishi 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 the historic EXPO’70 in Osaka in 1970’s to 1980’s
As of 2007, Mitsubishi Corporation, a member of the Mitsubishi Group, is Japan’s largest general trading company (sogo shosha) with over 200 bases of operations in approximately 80 countries worldwide. Together with its over 500 group companies, Mitsubishi employs a multinational workforce of approximately 54,000 people. Mitsubishi has long been engaged in business with customers around the world in many industries, including energy, metals, machinery, chemicals, food and general merchandise.
Mitsubishi Motors reached 1.3 million cars of total production in 2007.