KYOTO, Japan – Naomi Hasegawa’s family has sold Tochi Mochi from a small, cedar wood shop next to a fine old temple in Kyoto. The family started the business of providing refreshments to tired travelers coming from all over Japan to pray for relief from the epidemic – in the year 1000.
Now, more than a millennium later, a new disease has devastated the economy in the ancient capital, as the once reliable stream of tourists has evaporated. But Ms. Hasegawa is not worried about the finances of her venture.
Like many businesses in Japan, her family shop, Ichwa, To see the longest – takes the most time. Putting tradition and stability on profit and growth, Ichiva predicts wars, plagues, natural disasters and the rise and fall of empires. Through all of this, its rice flour cakes remain the same.
Such enterprises may be less dynamic than other countries. But their flexibility provides lessons for businesses in places like the United States, where coronoviruses have forced tens of thousands In bankruptcy.
“If you look at the economics textbooks, enterprises are supposed to maximize profits, increase their size, market share and growth rate. But the operating principles of these companies are completely different, ” said Kenji Matsuoka, a professor of business at Ryukoku University in Kyoto.
“His No. 1 priority is running,” he said. “Each generation is like a runner in a relay race. Passing the baton is important.
Japan is an old trading superpower. According to a study by the Tokyo-based Research Institute of Centennial Management, the country has a history of more than 33,000 years with at least 100 years of history. More than 3,100 have been in operation for at least two centuries. Nearly 140 have existed for over 500 years. And since the first millennium at least 19 claims have been operating continuously.
(Some of the oldest companies, including Echiva, certainly cannot trace their history back to its foundation, but their deadlines are accepted by the government, scholars, and – in Echiva’s case – a competitive cobbler’s shop on the street.)
The business, known as “shinja”, is a source of both pride and charm. Regional governments promote their products. Business management books explain the secrets of their success. And entire travel guides are dedicated to him.
Most of these are old businesses, such as Echiva, small, family-run enterprises that operate in traditional goods and services. But some of Japan’s best-known companies include Nintendo, which started playing cards 131 years ago, and soy sauce brand Kikkoman, which has been in place since 1917.
To survive for a millennium, Ms. Hasegawa said, a business cannot chase profits. It should have a higher purpose. In Echiwa’s case, it was a religious call: to serve pilgrims.
Those types of core values, known as “kakun,” or family, have guided many companies’ business decisions through generations. They care for their employees, support the community and strive to create a product that inspires pride.
For Echiwa, it means doing one thing and doing it well – a very Japanese approach to business.
The company has declined several opportunities to expand, most recently, including a request from Uber Eats to begin online delivery. Mochi remains the only item on the menu, and if you want to drink something, you offer a choice of politely roasted green tea.
For most of Echiva’s history, women of the Hasegawa family made sweet snacks in much the same way. They boiled the rice in a small spring water that penetrates the shop’s basement, mixed it into a paste and then shaped it into balls, so that they would slowly roll a small iron hibachi over a wooden skewer. Throw it on.
The rice caramelized skin is brushed with sweet miso paste and served hot hot for pilgrims before the delicate treatment cools down and hardens and chews.
Ichiva has made some concessions to modernity. The local health department has prohibited the use of well water. A cobbler machine hidden in the kitchen mechanically pounds rice every morning, saving a few hours of work. And, after centuries of working on the honor system, it charges a fixed price per plate, it was established sometime after World War II as the business began to pay more attention to its finances.
Japanese companies have endured the longest, often defined by a paradox for risk – shaped in part by past crises – and an accumulation of large cash reserves.
This is a common feature among Japanese enterprises and the reason that the country has so far avoided the United States’ high bankruptcy rate during the epidemic. Goldman Sachs analyst Tomahiro Ota said “even when they make some profits,” they do not increase their capital expenditures.
Large enterprises in particular have sufficient reserves to ensure that they can release salaries and meet their other financial obligations in the event of an economic downturn or crisis. But small businesses also have lower debt levels and average operating expenses for one to two months, Mr. Ota said.
When they need support, financing is cheaper and readily available. Interest rates in Japan have been low for decades, and a government stimulus package introduced in response to the epidemic has effectively reduced them to zero for most small enterprises.
Younger shiners often own their own facilities and depend on family members to help keep payroll costs down, allowing them to stockpile cash. More than a quarter said when Toshio Goto, a professor at the Japan University of Economics Graduate School and representative of the research director of the Institute of Management of Hundred Years, who is at least 100 years old, said this summer He had enough money on hand to work for two years or more.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that they are frozen in time. Many began during the 200-year period, beginning in the 17th century, when Japan largely shut itself off from the outside world, providing a stable trading environment. But during the last century, existence has meant balancing between preserving traditions and quickly changing market conditions.
For some companies, this means updating their core business. N B, A materials firm that started manufacturing iron kettles in 1560, is now producing high-tech machine parts. Hosu, a 332-year-old kimono manufacturer in Kyoto, has expanded his textile business into household goods and even electronics.
For others, it can be difficult to keep pace with time, especially those, such as Tanaka Inga Butsugu, who are essentially selling the tradition.
Tanaka Inga has been making Buddhist religious goods in Kyoto since 885. It is famous for the 72nd-generation president, Masachi Tanaka, jokingly referred to as “Mercedes-Benz” of Butsudan – domestic dwellings that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The epidemic has been “tough”, he said, but the biggest challenges faced by his company, and many others, is Japan’s aging society and changing tastes.
Some companies closed because the owners could not find a successor. For Mr. Tanaka, it is becoming harder and harder to replace skilled traditional workers. Business has collapsed because fewer people visit the temples that they supply today. And new homes are rarely built with space to place butsudans, which normally reside in a traditional Japanese-style room with tatami floors and sliding paper doors on their own special nook.
When it comes to religious tradition, there is little room for innovation, Mr. Tanaka said. Many of their products are as old as the design company. He has considered adding 3-D printers to his business, but he wonders who is going to buy items made with one.
Ichiva is delighted with such concerns. The family is large, the business is small, and the only special skill required to grill the cobbler is a high tolerance for boiling heat.
Ms. Hasegawa, 60, admitted that she sometimes felt the pressure of the shop’s history. Even though the business may not be very much alive, everyone in the family was “warned from a young age that we needed to be carried as long as one of us was still alive,” she said.
One reason is “we keep going,” he said, “because we all hate the idea of letting it go.”