In response to the arrival of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, Japan reopened its doors to the outside world after a long period of isolation and re-established trade with foreign countries. Kobe, which was designated as a trading port, prospered primarily as a place of imports. It was through trade that the predecessors of the Sojitz Corporation first encountered advanced technologies and products from abroad. They saw that Japan’s over 200 years of isolationist policy meant the county had been completely left behind by the global industrial revolution. Katsujiro Iwai, the founder of Iwai & Co. Ltd., and Naokichi Kaneko, who played a central role in developing Suzuki & Co. Ltd., often visited the foreign settlement in Kobe where foreign trade was permitted. Iwai and Kaneko felt it was their mission was to develop Japan through industrialization. There was also a strong desire to see Japan procure raw materials independently, without relying on foreign trading companies—a dream which led to the establishment of Japan Cotton Trading Co., Ltd.
Iwai Bunsuke Co., Ltd. started in 1862 as a general dealer of foreign goods in Osaka. In 1896, Katsujiro Iwai left to start his own business, Iwai & Co. Ltd. Iwai often visited the foreign settlement in Kobe, becoming the first private enterprise to conduct direct trade by trust receipt, and primarily engaging in the import of steel products from Western countries.
Suzuki & Co., Ltd. was established in 1874 by Iwajiro Suzuki as a trading house for Western sugar. Although his firm grew rapidly and became one of the eight major trading companies in Kobe, Iwajiro Suzuki passed away suddenly. Subsequently, his wife Yone Suzuki entrusted management of the company to head clerks Fujimatsu Yanagida and Naokichi Kaneko, to continue the business as general managers. Through Kaneko’s warm friendship with Shimpei Goto, the then-head of civil affairs for the Governor-General of Taiwan., he obtained the right to sell Taiwanese camphor oil, which accelerated the company’s rapid growth.
Japan Cotton Trading Co., Ltd. was established in 1892 by a group of 25 entrepreneurs, including the top management of cotton spinning companies and several merchants from Osaka, to become an independent cotton procurement company. In 1882, Osaka Cotton Spinning Co., Ltd., was founded at the suggestion of Eiichi Shibusawa. The company acted as a catalyst for the industry, with more than 20 cotton spinning companies established in its wake. It was at this time that Osaka came to be known as the “Manchester of the Orient.” Cotton imports increased rapidly. However, Japan still depended on foreign trading firms for raw materials, which made the independent acquisition of cotton a national priority.