Wealthy Merchants

The merchants of Izawa and Chuma were Matsusaka merchant pioneers and major business figures from Japan's middle ages.

The Birth of Izawa Merchants

Great Success Selling Face Powder
Great success selling face powder

Located on the north side of the Kushida River, the towns of Izawa and Chuma within Matsusaka have been known as wealthy merchant towns since the middle ages. Ise Oshiroi (white face powder), was a popular souvenir and nationally recognized brand that was sold as a cosmetic and medicine, and brought prosperity to Izawa. Izawa merchants successfully opened shops in Edo even before Matsusaka merchants, transforming families such as Takegawa, Tomiyama, and Kokubu into wealthy merchant dynasties.

Takegawa Chikusai

An Entrepreneur Ahead of His Time

Takegawa Chikusai

Takegawa Chikusai, seventh-generation head of the Higashi-Takegawa family, was an important business figure during the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate (1853-1867). Involved in a variety of business ventures, including building a new reservoir for irrigation, cultivating tea and mulberry, creating the Izawa Banko kiln, and establishing a private library, he is also known for his friendship with statesman Katsu Kaishu. Along with the Tomiyama and Kokubu families, the Takegawa were a family of wealthy Izawa merchants, and consisted of the main family and two branches, Shintaku-Takegawa and Higashi-Takegawa.

Producing Tea to Export

Chikusai developed large tea fields in the Izawa area, and began commercially cultivating tea. His younger brother Takeguchi Nobuyoshi exported the tea to Europe and America from Yokohama.

Establishment of the Izawa Bunko Library

Establishment of the Izawa

Chikusai was an avid reader, and he opened the "Izawa Bunko" with the books he gathered over the years. Also said to be Japan's first privately-established library, Izawa Bunko was open for the public to enjoy.

Mercury from Nyu

The Mercury That Brought Great Prosperity

From long ago, mercury was mined near the village of Nyu (currently in the town of Taki). The "Shoku Nihongi," one of the six national histories of Japan, records that mercury from Nyu was presented to one of the Japanese emperors. In the Kamakura period (from end of the 12th century to 1333), a guild of mercury dealers was established, and in the Muromachi (1336-1573) and Warring States (1467-1615) periods, production of mercury-based face powder began, and captured the hearts of women around Japan.

The Great Buddha of Nara

Since there are few mercury mines in Japan, it is thought mercury from Nyu may have been used in the finish of the Great Buddha of Nara.

The Kokubu Family

Creators of Murasaki Brand Soy Sauce

Creators of Murasaki Brand Soy Sauce

The Kokubu family were wealthy merchants who opened a shop in Edo and made their fortune brewing soy sauce. Their Murasaki (meaning "purple") brand of high-end soy sauce earned high acclaim, and the name is used even today as a synonym for soy sauce. The Kokubu family later grew into a trading company that carried a wide variety of products, from tea and beer to canned goods.

The Tomiyama Family

Successful Merchants Who Used Japan's Oldest Accounting Ledger

Creators of Murasaki Brand Soy Sauce

The Tomiyama family were wealthy merchants who established clothing stores in Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka, and were successful enough to be counted among the four major discount clothing stores of Edo. They recorded their accounts from 1615 to 1640 in a ledger they called "Tashiricho." It is the oldest existing book of accounts in Japan.

Let’s Walk Matsusaka

The Townscape of Izawa and Chuma

Tomiyama Family

You can still find storehouses with latticework fences dotting the streets of Izawa and Chuma, and the residences of the famous merchant families Takegawa, Tomiyama, and Kokubu still stand today.