As you’re probably aware, Japan has quite the lengthy history, stretching back thousands of years. And, as with any civilization, ancient Japan had need of commerce, which lead to the establishment of some of the oldest companies in the world.
Today, we bring you a list of our 10 favorite ancient Japanese companies. From sake to mountain-side inns to Buddhist temple construction companies, there’s something here for everyone!
Obviously, when compiling a list of companies that have existed for longer than many nations, it can be a bit difficult tracking down concrete details. While it may seem counter-intuitive, new details are likely to emerge at any time. In fact, one business on this list, Hotel Keiunkan, suddenly jumped up to being the second oldest company in the world in 2011, after providing the Guiness Book of World Records with new proof.
Additionally, Japan easily dominates the list of oldest companies in the world–taking the top five spots. It may be because of the relative stability and lack of invaders throughout much of the country’s history that so many businesses have lasted so long, though it’s hard to say for sure.
Alright, enough chit-chat, here’s our list of the top ten old companies in Japan!
10 — Hotel Sakan (1184ish)
Hotel Sakan comes in at number 10 on our list since we’re not exactly sure when it was founded. Some sources claim that the inn is over 1,000 years old, while other sources suggest that it wasn’t founded until 1184. Regardless of its exact age, this is a gorgeous hotel and onsen (hot spring).
Located in Akiu in Miyagi Prefecture, this hotel is the perfect place for those of you chilled to the bone in the winter months. Just imagine sitting and relaxing in that warm spring water. Ahhhhh…
Though we’re not exactly sure how old the hotel is, it seems that the current owners are the 34th generation to run the operation. According to legend, the inn was started by a man named Kensaburo Satoh over a thousand years ago.
If you’re interested in staying a night, you can book rooms on their website. Pricing starts at 18,900 yen (roughly US$190) per person per night and goes up from there, though it does include meals.
9 — Sudo Honke (1141)
The oldest sake brewer in Japan, this company is located in Niigata Prefecture and has been in operation for over 850 years.
Their website proudly proclaims that they have been using the same well for 55 generations, crediting the fresh, clean water for their successful sake.
The company also grows their own rice and competes in the International Wine Challenge–where they have won multiple awards. For more information, you can check out their website. If you want to order some sake, you can do so through Rakuten (Japanese only).
8 — Shumiya Shinbutsuguten Co. (1024)
This Yamanashi Prefecture company was founded in 1024–that’s well before the Norman invasion of England!
They produce goods for home Buddhist altars, like the miniature shrine pictured above, in addition to clothing for monks.
Shumiya makes Buddhist statues, funeral-related goods, and tombstones as well.
In addition to the Buddhist products, the company also offers items for Shinto shrines and ceremonies. Obviously, they put their centuries of know-how to use in each item they make.
7 — Ichimojiya Wasuke (1000)
Japan’s oldest confectionery, Ichimojiya Wasuke is usually called by its abbreviated name, Ichiwa, which is far easier to remember!
The store, located next to the east gate of Imamiya Shrine in Kyoto, specializes in aburi mochi, or warm sticky rice cakes. Pictured above, aburi mochi is believed to ward off sickness and evil. If you’re interested in visiting, you can check out the store’s Google Plus page or their Facebook page (Japanese only). It looks like fifteen sticks (as in the picture) are available for 500 yen (about US$5).
6 — Nakamura Shaji (970)
A construction company based in Aichi, Nakamura Shaji specializes in building both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. We wonder if they ever get confused…
The company was founded in 970 and boasts of over a thousand years of accumulated technical skills including wood working and carving.
Nakamura Shaji also posts pictures of various construction-related Shinto ceremonies on their website. Though the page is in Japanese only, the pictures may be of interest to those wanting to know more about Japanese construction.
5 — Tanaka Iga (885)
Based in Kyoto, this company was established around 888 (or 885, depending on who you ask) and has been producing high quality Buddhist goods for well over 1,125 years, like the lanterns pictured above.
The company uses its collectively amassed skills and techniques to produce the stunning goods. Unfortunately, as gorgeous as the three-legged table above is, we have a feeling it’s out of our price range.
The company is hardly trapped in the past though. For more elaborate projects, Tanaka Iga produces 3-D computer mock-ups of items before production beings, like the altar and other furniture in for Nakayama Temple (pictured above).
4 — Hoshi Ryokan (718)
This inn, located in Hokusan, Ishikawa Prefecture, was thought to be the oldest hotel in the world until 2011. Now it’s only considered the third oldest. We don’t know about you, but that still seems like an impressive accomplishment to us!
Complete with expansive, lavish hot spring pools, this almost 1,300-year-old company was founded by a woodcutter. After having visions, a monk came down from the mountain and entreated a local woodcutter to help him find the hot spring. Once they had discovered the spring, the woodcutter, Sasasekiri Gengoro, built the inn and passed it onto his children.
If you’re interested in visiting, you can book rooms online, starting at 26,000 yen (roughly $260) per person per night, including meals.
As a point of trivia, we would like to explain that the hotel’s name is Hoshi, but it is operated by Zengoro Ltd Co. Zengoro is also the name of the family in charge of both the hotel and Zengoro Ltd. Co. The family name has obviously changed over the centuries.
3 — Koman (717)
This inn, located in Toyooka City in Hyogo Prefecture, was founded after a divine dream.
Hyuga, whose family established the hotel, was visited by four deities one night, who told him that he needed to protect the people who lived in the area and their ancestors. After building shrines for the gods, his family set to work reclaiming the land and eventually the hot spring was uncovered. The story of the inn is told in an official historical scroll, pictured below.
In addition to a number of hot spring pools available to guests, this lovely hotel is also located near numerous sightseeing spots.
For those of you interested in staying at the inn, rooms start at around 27,000 yen ($270) per person per night, including meals. You can book a room on their website (Japanese only).
2 — Keiunkan (705)
This picturesque inn, located in Yamanashi Prefecture, is officially the oldest hotel in the world–and the second oldest active business as well!
Founded after a hunter discovered a wounded white monkey healing itself in the hot spring, this inn has been a popular destination for the sick for over 1,300 years. The monkeys are probably a bit annoyed that we stole it from them, though.
In addition to the exquisite facilities, the hotel’s natural surroundings are sure to make even the most stressed business person feel relaxed for once! If you’re interested in taking a trip to the inn, rooms start around 22,000 yen (roughly $220), though this does include meals. You can book a room with Japanican.
1 — Kongo Gumi (578)
And at last we have the oldest company in the world. Founded in 578 by a Korean immigrant who came to Japan to build Buddhist temples, this company has been in existence for over 1,400 years. But there’s a slight catch: the company doesn’t exactly exist anymore.
In 2006, the company hit a rough patch financially and was bought out by another company, Takamatsu, which turned it into a wholly-owned subsidiary.
Though the company still continues to build Buddhist temples, it is up to interpretation whether or not Kongo Gumi is still the oldest, active company in the world. We’re counting it out of sheer amazement of its longevity.
Also, jeez, we would not want to be the guy in charge when the 1,400-year-old company fails. That’s a lot of angry ancestors.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our look at some of Japan’s, and the world’s, oldest companies! Let us know if you’ve visited any of the inns or businesses on this list!
Sources: Hotel Sakan, Sudo Honke (Japanese, English), Shumiya, Ichiwa, Nakamura Shaji, Tanaka Iga, Hoshi, Koman, Keiunkan, Kongo Gumi, Honkawa Data Tribune, Wikipedia (Kongo Gumi, Hoshi, Tanaka Iga)
Image sources (when different from above sources): Rakuten, Nakamura Shaji, 71-year-old’s homepage,