Fujikura Ltd.

Sentetsu-no-Heya (Fujikura’s History)


History of Zenpachi

28 Jan. 1843 Zenpachi Fujikura born as the first son of Kumakichi Fujikura at 21, Aza Numahata, Oaza Funatsugawa, Ueno-mura, Shimotsuke-Aso Gun, Tochigi.
  1867 Started rice polishing business using watermills.
  1875 Moved to Myojinshita, Kanda, Tokyo.
  1881 Moved to Awaji-cho, Kanda and started hair accessory business.
3 Nov. 1883 Interested in electric power when he saw an arc light on the balcony of a postal service & telegraph office on Nihombashi Avenue together with his youngest brother Tomekichi.
May 1884 Asked kabuki star Danjuro Ichikawa IX to insert advertising in the chorus at Shintomi-za Theater.
Feb. 1885 Started manufacturing silk and cotton insulated winding wires.

Improved the production efficiency using the iron braid machines developed together with his younger brother Harukichi

  1887 Imported five large braid machines from the USA.
Apr. 1888 Leased out a former silk mill in the Shinjuku imperial estate, Tokyo. (Shinjuku Plant)
Sep. 1890 Plant moved to 900, Sendagaya, Tokyo. (Sendagaya Plant 1)
Jun. 1896 Plant moved to 922, Sendagaya, Tokyo (Sendagaya Plant 2)
  1900 Drew up a plan for establishment of Fujikura & Co., Ltd.
May 1901 Asked youngest brother Tomekichi, who was running a western furniture shop in Yokohama, to come and work full-time in the electric wire business.
8 Oct.   Zenpachi passed away (age: 59). The youngest brother Tomekichi succeeded him in accordance with his last will and testament.

Home village when watermills were the prevalent technology (presently Sano-shi, Tochigi)

Funatsugawa, Ueno-mura (presently Sano-shi, Tochigi) where Zenpachi was born was located in the triangle formed by the Watarase River and its tributary the Akiyama River. The Fujikuras originally owned a fairly large farm, but repeated floods resulted in decreasing crops every year. Zenpachi's father Kumakichi tried timber sales and river freight businesses besides farming, but was unable to improve the fortunes of the family.

Zenpachi leased watermills in Numahata and began a rice-polishing business. Though extremely busy, the business did not generate very much profit, and the mill was often the victim of disasters. When the lease expired in 1875, Zenpachi decided to move to Tokyo and start a new business there at the age of 33.


View of Funatsugawa
View of Funatsugawa

Move to Tokyo ~the launch of business~

Kanda Awaji-cho Plant, site of the founding business (arrow), adjacent to the Garai Shrine.
Kanda Awaji-cho Plant, site of the founding business (arrow), adjacent to the Garai Shrine.

After moving to Tokyo in 1875, the life of Zenpachi was a constant struggle. A defective steam engine purchased for starting steam-powered rice polishing business resulted in a 3-year lawsuit and the abandonment of the business. This was followed by other unsuccessful ventures.

His move to 1-1, Awaji-cho, Kanda in 1881 seemed to change his luck. His neighbor was a hair accessory artisan. Ine, Zenpachi's wife, learned how to fabricate hair accessories from him and began fabrication as a job to supplement the family budget. This job later evolved into the family business of the Fujikuras. They purchased a braid machine and put it into continuous operation with Ine working from the break of dawn till 10:00 pm and then Zenpachi taking the midnight shift till Ine relieved him in the morning. Afterwards, more artisans were employed and premises were leased in the nearby block as a plant to be operated day and night.

In 1884, Zenpachi created a circular hair accessory and named it "Ichikawa" after the famous kabuki actor Danjuro Ichikawa IX. He asked the celebrity to advertise it during his performance and gave away hundreds daily to the audience. Needless to say, the product enjoyed widespread awareness that led to a rush of orders from all over Japan. The profits generated by this success provided the seed money for the electric wire business Zenpachi was to launch.

Electric Wire Manufacturing ~the inspiration of an arc light~

Post Office on the side of Nihombashi Bridge (foreground) where the arc light seen by Zenhachi and Tomekichi was installed.
Post Office on the side of Nihombashi Bridge (foreground) where the arc light seen by Zenpachi and Tomekichi was installed.

On a night in November 1883, the installation of an arc light on the Nihombashi Avenue in downtown Tokyo attracted record crowds. Among them was Zenpachi with his youngest brother Tomekichi at his side, their eyes mesmerized by the shining arc light. Zenpachi was 41, and Tomekichi was 16.

How did Zenpachi come up with the idea to shift his business from manufacturing hair accessories to electric wires? The answer can be found in "Zenpachi Fujikura: A Short Biography."

Woodblock print depicting an arc light in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1883.
Woodblock print depicting an arc light in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1882.

"In late autumn of 1883, the post office near Nihombashi Bridge was lit by an arc light mounted on a balcony to demonstrate electric lighting to the citizens. Bathed in the brilliant light for the first time in his life, Zenpachi could not help but admire the technology and its promise, and became increasingly fascinated by the business of electricity. Moreover, the braid machines and silk and cotton braids he was handling had a very close relationship to the primitive electric wires used in those days, It was this fateful coincidence that he led to his manufacture of electric wires. It was in February 1885."

Garai Shrine ~Guardian deity of Fujikura~

Garai Shrine moved to Fukagawa, Tokyo
Garai Shrine moved to Fukagawa, Tokyo

The Garai Shrine is regarded as the guardian deity of Fujikura Ltd. The site where Zenpachi started his business in 1-chome, Awaji-cho, Kanda was originally the estate of the Ogyu family on which was located the Garai Shrine. The Shrine was moved to another residence in nearby Hongo in 1872, and the sweet viburnum evergreen (Viburnum odoratissimum) on the grounds that had been worshiped as a sacred tree had been given to a steeplejack master living in the neighborhood.

Zenpachi, who frequently patronized the Garai Shrine, came to associate this shrine with his success. He knew that Awaji-cho was the original location of the Garai Shrine in Hongo, he requested the separate enshrinement at the original location and declared that this shrine was the guardian deity of his business. At the same time, he also bought the Viburnum odoratissimum tree, carried it to the Sendagaya Plant on a decorated oxcart and planted it as the sacred tree.