Nichimen Co., Ltd. and Nichimen Corporation

Rapid Development of Various Non-Textile Projects

Japan Cotton Trading Co., Ltd. changed its name to Nichimen Co., Ltd. in 1943. In the postwar era during which trade was restricted, Nichimen was contracted by the General Headquarters (GHQ) and public trading corporations to deliver food and cotton. When trade resumed,  Nichimen began to import cotton and cotton yarn, and in 1951 Japan was once again the world’s leading exporter of cotton cloth. Nichimen also went on to become food industry leader, and having not been included on the list of businesses and financial conglomerates to be dissolved after the war, they eventually came to handle 5% of the total trading transactions in 1953, rising to the top of the sogo shosha rankings.

The expanding demand triggered by the rapid economic growth and Japanese companies’ increased competitiveness provided Nichimen with the opportunity to participate in a broad range of projects.  Nichimen utilized its prewar cotton trading ties to receive a succession of contracts for postwar reparation-related projects, including national railroad electrification projects in India and power station and power cable construction projects in Burma. Nichimen also engaged in the export of textile machinery, automobiles, railroads and household electrical appliances. In 1973, Nichimen strengthened its operations in the aircraft business as the distributor for Airbus in Japan. For its energy business, Nichimen established a nationwide gas station chain and in chemical products, Nichimen entered a partnership with the Dow Chemical Co.  for the import and sale of resin and agrichemicals.  Responding to increasing consumer interest in fashion, Nichimen acquired the exclusive usage rights for U.S. company McGREGOR in 1963, and strengthened its downstream-oriented fiber business. Amidst growing demand for capital investments among Japanese companies, Nichimen introduced the concept of leasing from the United States and founded the Orient Leasing Co., Ltd. (currently, ORIX Corporation) in 1964. Furthermore, in response to increasing demands in the housing market, Nichimen entered  the condominium business, which also strengthened its timber business, and before long they enjoyed the top share of timber imports in the Japanese sogo shosha rankings.

In terms of Chinese-Japanese relations, Nichimen appealed to reestablish trade with China, capitalizing on its prewar relationship with the country. Representing the interests of the Japanese business world, Nichimen Corporate Advisor Saburo Nango visit China to meet with Mao Zedong in 1958. In 1960, Nichimen became the first major trading firm to be designated a “friendly trading company” by China. Subsequently, Nichimen received an order for the first major project to build television IC manufacturing plants after the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations. In 1967, Nichimen made contracts to mass-import iron ore and coal with the former Soviet Union and Poland, respectively. They also played a leading role in developing the South Yakut Coal Field Project together with Nissho Iwai as joint coordinators. Nichimen received orders to build bearing manufacturing plants in Poland and China and became known as a sogo shosha with a strong connection to the Communist states.

 The 1980s brought a rush of plant orders, and Nichimen received a number of contracts for power and communications facilities and cement plants in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. As part of its support for the industrialization of developing countries, Nichimen established automobile parts and assembly factories in Indonesia and luxury alcohol manufacturing and sales companies in India. When the yen got stronger, Nichimen backed Japanese companies in their expansion overseas and strengthened their overseas textile and automobile businesses.

Received contract for Baluchaung Power Generation Plant in Burma as part of war reparations
Saburo Nango, former president of Nichimen, pictured here in talks with Mao Zedong (Mao Zedong 2nd from the right; to his left, Saburo Nango)
Loading lumber onto a freighter in the Port of Tacoma, U.S.