Contributing to society through business

At the age of 17 (in 1906), after graduating from Kurume Commercial Junior High School in Fukuoka Prefecture, Shojiro Ishibashi took over the running of the family tailoring business along with his older brother, Jutaro (who later changed his name to Tokujiro). Shojiro had achieved excellent results at junior high school and was looking forward to furthering his studies at Kobe Higher Commercial School, but out of respect for the wishes of his father, who was on his sickbed, he made up his mind to enter the business world. Looking back on this period of his life, Shojiro later said, "I was determined to be involved in the business world throughout my lifetime. Upon making up my mind, my ambition expanded to include running a nationwide enterprise and doing something good for society."

Shojiro Ishibashi as a young man
Shojiro Ishibashi as a young man

Shojiro oversaw the transformation of the family tailoring business into a specialist manufacturer of tabi (split-toe socks) and set about improving production efficiency by dispensing with the apprentice system and introducing new machinery. He came up with one innovative new measure after another, such as using automobiles for advertising and introducing a flat rate instead of the traditional variable rate system for tabi sizes and types, as a result of which the business grew in leaps and bounds.

In the middle of the Taisho period, keen to start a new, improved line of business using the company's tabi-manufacturing facilities, Shojiro decided after conducting research that improvements in the footwear worn by the working class would be of the most benefit to society, and he set about developing the jikatabi (split-toed heavy cloth work shoes with rubber soles) by utilizing the latest gum arabic adhesion technology. At the time, most laborers wore wooden or straw sandals, which were extremely problematic from the point of view of both durability and hygiene. In 1923 the new footwear was launched under the brand name Asahi Jikatabi. Their popularity grew exponentially, and this along with the company's success in the mass production of rubber shoes caused an upheaval in the mass footwear market in Japan.

Jikatabi and rubber shoes
Jikatabi and rubber shoes

Shojiro then turned his attention to automobile tires. In around 1928 there were just over 50,000 automobiles in Japan, while in the United States automobiles already numbered in excess of 23 million. Given the likelihood that large numbers of automobiles would be manufactured in Japan in the future, Shojiro considered that he could make a contribution to the development of the automobile by providing Japanese-made tires cheaply. He embarked on producing tires domestically based on his own research with no technical guidance from overseas, and in 1931 founded the Bridgestone Tire Co., Ltd. (now the Bridgestone Corporation). The company struggled at first, amassing a mountain of returned goods due to abuse of the company's guarantee to exchange any defective tire for a brand new one, but as the technology advanced, the company's reputation for producing quality products grew both domestically and overseas, and before long it was exporting tires and competing with foreign manufacturers in overseas markets.

The first domestically produced tire (May 1930)
The first domestically produced tire (May 1930)
The Bridgestone Tire Company Kurume Plant
The Bridgestone Tire Company Kurume Plant

After the war the company quickly pushed ahead with quality improvements and advances in mass production by introducing a series of technical innovations and modernizing its facilities, and it was soon making a major contribution to the automobile society, just as Shojiro had envisioned at the time of Bridgestone's foundation.

Shojiro's successful pursuit of these ventures through innovative ideas and enterprising management can largely be attributed to his philosophy of doing things for the good of society. In his own words, " I have set my sights on contributing to the advancement and development of society by constantly seeking insight into the changes of the times, trying to be ahead of the times, and manufacturing products of superior quality; the greater one's contribution to society the more one's business will grow."

The Bridgestone Tire Company flag
The Bridgestone Tire Company flag

One could say that Shojiro's own approach to contributing to society consisted of pursuing business as represented by his involvement in Bridgestone and the various cultural initiatives outlined below as if they were two wheels of a cart.