Our HistoryVisiting the Birthplace of Marubeni - Exploring Toyosato

Marubeni was established in 1858 when Ohmi merchant Chubei Itoh from the eastern side of Lake Biwa (now Toyosato in Shiga Prefecture) began business trips to deal in linen cloth. This special page introduces Toyosato — the birthplace of Marubeni — through articles, photos, and interviews with local people.

Map of Toyosato

Toyosato, located on the eastern side of Lake Biwa, has been home to many Ohmi merchants since the Edo period. This map introduces various places in Toyosato associated with Marubeni.

  • 1Museum of the Pioneers
    The museum displays exhibits on the achievements of Chubei Itoh, the 9th Chobei Itoh, Tetsujiro Furukawa, the wealthy merchant Jihei Satsuma and four others who were born in Toyosato.
  • 2Old Toyosato Elementary School Buildings
    The school buildings were constructed with a JPY 600,000 donation (several billion yen in today's money) from Marubeni Shoten's Senior Managing Director Tetsujiro Furukawa.
  • 3Toyosato Hospital
    The hospital was built in 1925 using a vast sum of donations from Marubeni Shoten's first president, the 9th Chobei Itoh.
  • 4Kurenai-en
    Built in honor of Chubei Itoh in 1935 by Shutoku-kai, which was a group of people associated with Marubeni. A monument with a relief sculpture of Chubei was placed in the garden.
  • 5Chubei Itoh Museum
    The former home of Chubei Itoh built in 1882. The museum displays mementos, belongings, and materials of the first Chubei and his son the second Chubei.
  • 6Hie Elementary School
    Since 2009, children from Hie and Toyosato Elementary Schools have gone on field trips to the Marubeni Osaka Branch.
  • 7The Archival Museum at the Shiga University Faculty of Economics
    This museum displays collections of material on Shiga Prefecture's commerce from the Middle to Modern Ages and the history of towns and villages in the area.

All About the Ohmi MerchantsThe Archival Museum at the Shiga University Faculty of Economics

This museum is involved in the preservation and research of Shiga Prefectural historical documents, as well as the collection and exhibition of roughly 160,000 pieces of historical documentation and artifacts, including three groups of historical records from the Japanese Middle Ages designated as important cultural property.

  • The museum also displays the Ohmi merchants’ peddling tools and relevant advertising signs.
    Also on display at the museum are trade tools and signs used by Ohmi Merchants.
  • The money, gauges to count money, and collected coin storage boxes used by merchants in the early Modern Period of Japan
    The museum has collected money, gauges to count money, and coin storage boxes used by merchants in the early Modern Period of Japan.
  • We were given a tour of a storeroom where valuable documents and other materials are kept. Professor Usami showed us some antique documents.
    Exhibits(Common Tools)

An Interview with Professor Usami

Mr. Hideki Usami
Who were the Ohmi Merchants?

Academically speaking, the Ohmi Merchants were traders of the Edo Period who were based in Ohmi and did business in other areas or, were travelling merchants. Although Ohmi had been a prosperous area for commerce since the Kamakura Period, Ohmi Merchants of the Edo Period looked outward and traveled outside of Ohmi to conduct business in other regions – this is characteristic of Ohmi Merchants.

What was the secret to their success?

The reason that the Ohmi Merchants were able to conduct business in other regions, even during that era, was of course due to their keen eye for turning a profit and the fact that they derived their strength and energy from an intense sense of curiosity. However, their success can also be credited to the fact that they actually donated and gave back to the various places to which they travelled. Other than simply giving money, there are examples of the Ohmi Merchants conducting community construction activities like, “Relief Building” and also making efforts towards creating jobs and employment opportunities in the lands where they did their trading. That was how the Ohmi Merchants believed a merchant should be; they were raised since childhood to believe that, without question, hard earned profits should be used to help society.

What made Chubei Itoh a standout Ohmi Merchant?

Basically, Chubei Itoh liked new things and never got bogged down by old traditions and customs. While he adopted a council and the “tripartite division of profits principle” and other such management systems that were employed by other Ohmi Merchants, Chubei also believed in frequent power changes, giving promotions based on skill rather than seniority. Chubei placed young and talented individuals in positions of responsibility, only giving advice when it was requested and otherwise allowing his employees to operate freely. From this we can tell that Chubei Itoh truly trusted the employees whom he trained and firmly believed in them. Magnanimity and forbearance matched with foresight is the great legend of the Ohmi Merchants; surely, Chubei Itoh has carried on that legacy.

The Archival Museum, attached to the Shiga University Faculty of Economics
Open 9:30—16:30
Address 1-1-1, Banba, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture
TEL/FAX 0749-27-1046
URL https://www.econ.shiga-u.ac.jp/shiryo/10/1/
(Japanese)

For more information, please contact the Archival Museum directly.

Chubei Itoh Museum

The former home of Chubei Itoh built in 1882. The museum displays mementos, belongings, and materials of the first Chubei and his son the second Chubei.

  • Lit lanterns with the Chinese character for “Beni” [紅] enclosed in a circle printed on them are set up along the dirt floor.
  • The home's atmosphere is exactly the same as it was when Chubei lived there.
    The home's atmosphere is exactly the same as it was when Chubei lived there.
  • The western-style bathroom was made during the Meiji 40s (roughly 1907–12) and was rare at that time.
    The western-style bathroom was made during the Meiji 40s (roughly 1907–12) and was rare at that time.
Chubei Itoh Museum
Open 10:00—16:00
Admission Free
Address 128-1, Oazahachime, Toyosatocho, Inukamigun, Shiga Prefecture
TEL 0749-35-2001

Old Toyosato Elementary School Buildings

The school buildings were constructed with a JPY 600,000 donation (several billion yen in today's money) from Marubeni Shoten's Senior Managing Director Tetsujiro Furukawa. They were designed by architect William Merrell Vories, who worked on many western-style buildings in Japan. When they were finished in 1937, they were used as an elementary school until 2002. Since the 2008 renovation, they have been used by the townspeople as a library and child care center, among other things.

Related Content: The Philanthropic Endeavor of an Ohmi Merchant

  • Old Toyosato Elementary School Buildings
    Old Toyosato Elementary School Buildings
  • A bronze statue of Tetsujiro Furukawa
    A bronze statue of Tetsujiro Furukawa
  • The banister rails are decorated with the brass figures of a rabbit and a turtle competing with each other.
    The banister rails are decorated with the brass figures of a rabbit and a turtle competing with each other.
  • The school building features high ceilings and a bright Art Deco architectural style.
    The school building features high ceilings and a bright Art Deco architectural style.
  • 教室
    The classroom with nostalgia
Old Toyosato Elementary School Buildings
Address 518, Ishibatake, Toyosatocho, Inukamigun, Shiga Prefecture
TEL 0749-35-3737