Japan Cotton Trading Co., Ltd.

Driving the Development of Japan’s Cotton Spinning Industry as a Direct Importer of Cotton

Japan’s modern cotton spinning industry was born with Osaka Cotton Spinning Co., Ltd. (currently, Toyobo Co., Ltd.), which was founded at the suggestion of Eiichi Shibusawa in 1882. Following this, more than twenty cotton spinning companies were established, one after another, granting Osaka the name  “Manchester of the Orient.”However, in order to acquire cotton at the time, Japan’s cotton spinning industry depended on trading companies that colluded with some foreign trading firms for the supply of cotton materials. In response to this, a group of twenty five members, consisting primarily of  the executives of cotton spinning companies, founded Japan Cotton Trading in 1892. In the first year of the Taisho era (1912),  cotton spinning made up half of all  Japanese industry , with Japan Cotton Trading greatly contributing through its procurement of cotton materials.

Immediately after its founding, Japan Cotton Trading started to import cotton from India, Egypt and China. In 1896, Japan Cotton Trading Co., Ltd. became the first Japanese company to import cotton from the United States and the company’s staff joined the New York Cotton Exchange as its first Japanese members. In 1903, Japan Cotton Trading Co., Ltd. set up a branch in Shanghai and became the largest cotton dealer in China, and in 1917, it became the first Japanese company to import Burmese cotton. It also bought local rice polishing factories turning Myanmar into one of its strongest regions, even in the postwar era. Furthermore, Japan Cotton Trading was the first Japanese firm to conduct a trial cotton cultivation project in Eastern Africa. This project is said to have been Japan’s first attempt at investment in Eastern Africa. When World War I broke out, Australian wool imports stopped, and the company started to import wool from Argentina and Uruguay.

Japan’s cotton spinning industry expanded the export of cotton yarn and cloth products. During World War I, there was a halt on cotton supplies from the United Kingdom, which was the world’s largest cotton producer at that time. Japan’s cotton product exports dramatically expanded during this time, which brought a huge amount of foreign currency into Japan. President Matazo Kita of Japan Cotton Trading was selected as one of the four private-sector delegates for the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 based on his contributions to the development of the Japanese cotton spinning industry and Japanese industry as a whole . President Kita saw the potential of rayon upon his return to Japan and established Asahi Fabric Co., Ltd. (currently, Asahi Kasei Corporation) jointly with Shitagau Noguchi, the founder of Nicchitsu Konzern. This marked Japan Cotton Trading’s entry into the chemical field.  

Picking cotton at the cotton ginning factory in Burma
Tai’an Cotton Spinning Company in Hankou China
Buying cotton in East Africa