Kongo Gumi: The Oldest Firm in The World

Posted by Kie Bhayangkari, June 2021

Last week was a slow week, the meeting packed in 1 day and I finished my deadline task faster than usual, so I tried to focusing my time in the making of our company profile documents with a several information about Small Medium Enterprise companies in Japan. It was challenging because I have to focus both in content and design. Deep inside me, I like art and aesthetic design but theoretically I never have any formal education about design before. The only art certification that I ever have is my Certificate of Bachelor of Art Degree because Japanese and other language implied in the Art Department at the university where I studied. However, I find the result of the company profile presentation that I made is quite satisfaction. With the blend of our logo color, blue, and white as the background canvas, make the presentation looks professional yet still elegance.


Put aside my pride about the design that I made, here I want to share the story of our company profile material part about the oldest company in the world. If I did not make that company profile, I would not aware that the oldest company that ever exist in the world is a Japanese company called Kongo Gumi. Japan known as their dedication and commitment with their job, but as we know that industrial revolution originally  started from 1760 AD in the United States and Europe area, I think it is natural to think that the concept of company originally from there. Honestly speaking, I always imagine some American or Germany company as the first company in the world. (Please accept my apologize of my self-determined story)


And here it is: Kongo Gumi, a family business based Japanese company. Kongo Gumi made a family business system in 578 AD, it is way before industrial revolution at 1760 AD. Kongō Gumi operated for more than 1,400 years as an independent business before becoming a subsidiary of Takamatsu Kensetsu in 2006. It continues to operate today, specialising in the construction, maintenance and repair of Buddhist temples, using traditional tools and techniques passed down from its founder. 


In 572–622, When Prince Shōtoku Taishi commissioned the construction of Japan’s first Buddhist temple, Shitennō-ji, Japan was predominantly Shinto and had no miyadaiku (carpenters trained in the art of building Buddhist temples), so the prince hired three skilled men from Baekje, a Buddhist state in what is now Korea. Among them was Shigetsu Kongō, whose work would become the foundation of the construction firm Kongō Gumi. 


In the followed centuries, Kongo Gumi became the only company that in-charge of the maintenance, repair, and reconstruction of Shitenno-ji in Osaka. Then the company business expanded to contributing in the other complex temples such as Hōryū-ji (607) and Koyasan (816), as well as Osaka Castle (1583). They keep continuing their business and survived extreme changes in Japan’s culture, government and economy, preserving traditional construction techniques and family values. Kongō Gumi also survived the Shōwa Financial Crisis of 1927, keeping pace with economic and technological developments until it finally succumbed to financial difficulties and became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Kensetsu in 2006, after more than 1,400 years of independent operation.


After acquisted by Takamatsu Kinsetsu, Toshitaka Kongo wrote "A 1,400-Year-Old Venture: Sixteen Lessons Handed Down From the World’s Oldest Company" that published one day after his death. In this book, he wrote of difficulties with meeting modern-day deadlines, the challenges of working with other design and planning firms, and the difficulty of navigating the balance between respect for tradition and the demands of the volatile world economy. He also mention that the acquisition is not a failure because that is how companies sustain in the modern era.  And though the company is under the control of a parent corporation, its spirit lives on. Kongō family members and employees continue to build and maintain temples and may very well do so for millennia to come. And on the 1st and 15th days of every month over 120 Kongō carpenters and other employees still gather for a small prayer ceremony in remembrance of Prince Shōtoku to thank him for how this all began.


There is a lot of things that we can learn from the company. After I did a little research about it, I realize that Japan has a different level of loyalty compared to other country standard (in-a-good-way) and how their perspective of professional commitment as their core. Still, even if I already living in Japan for almost 7 years now, I still have a lot of new things to learn here. If you are one of lucky people that already thinking to start your journey in Japan, I can say that your decision is right. And please do not be hesitate to reach us anytime to help you get the perfect job in Japan. Cheers!