[Column02] Cherry flowers, the symbol of Japan, were the first design of Shinsuisha Co., Ltd.

Accomplishments of Makoto Shimizu, the founder of Japanese match business

Column Content
  • [Column 1] Sweden, the match country that actively pursued the world market share
  • [Column02] Cherry flowers, the symbol of Japan, were the first design of Shinsuisha Co., Ltd.
  • [Column03] No. 1 label made in Japan
  • [Column04] Iwaya's cigarette labels of Tengu
  • [Column 05] The Match Museum in Sweden; the only match museum in the world
  • [Column06] | Memoir of "Match Wonderland Exhibition" at the Tomakomai City Museum
  • [Column07] | Kobe University's Auxiliary Library: Explore the source of modern Kobe, Suzuki Shop and 'rise and fall' of match industry

Accomplishments of Makoto Shimizu, the founder of Japanese match business

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With commencement of Meiji Era, Japan began to import Western culture dynamically, and tried to promote match-manufacturing business to reinforce national economy as well as to help samurais who were in a misery of straying because of feudal regime's turndown. However, nobody knew how to manufacture matches in Japan. In Europe, match markets had already grown large, but Japan had to import matches since the production required cutting-edge technologies. Matches were very expensive in Japan. Then there was a Japanese man who stood up to make progress of the situation, and he was Makoto Shimizu.

Now, let's find how Makoto Shimizu, the originator of match manufacturing in Japan, worked out and established the business.

Makoto Shimizu was a samurai in Kanazawa Domain and was assigned to study Western developments when he was 20 years old in 1865. He was transferred to Yokohama and Nagasaki in 1865 (Keio 1): then he started to learn machinery and shipbuilding in 1868 (Meiji 1) with F.L. Verny, a professor invited to Yokohama from France.

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In 1869 (Meiji 2), Makoto Shimizu traveled to France to continue studying, and went to Verny's School. After that, he was admitted to enter the Ecole Centrale Paris in 1873 (Meiji 6) and majored Science and Engineering Course, which resulted to be useful for him later to start the match development in Japan. However, we assume he never thought he would start match business when he was in Paris. By the way, May 12th is determined to be the Match Day in Japan, because it is the day Makoto Shimizu started his voyage from Yokohama Port to France.

Well, the story of matches and Makoto Shimizu begins around this time. In 1874 (Meiji 7) Makoto had an opportunity to socialize with the Manager of the Imperial Household Agency, Mr. Tomomi Yoshii who happened to visit Paris for sightseeing, and Yoshii asked Makoto Shimizu to start match-manufacturing business in Japan by all means. Makoto Shimizu must have been perplexed because his major studies were machineries and shipbuilding, and chemistry was not in his range of study.

However, his patriotism was strong so he accepted Yosii's request. Makoto returned to Yokohama on October 3, 1874 (Meiji 7), and started to prepare match business. The greatness of Makoto Shimizu is that two months later in December, he not only endeavored for establishment of match manufacturing in Japan, but also joined in the French Observational Party of Venus as interpreter-cum-photographer together with an astronomer named Jansen in Kobe, while working for Yokosuka Shipbuilding Company putting his knowledge of shipbuilding into use.

Working for match manufacturing business and shipbuilding, Makoto managed to establish a temporary match factory with assistance of Yoshii in April, 1875 (Meiji 8) in Mita-shikokumachi, Tokyo, where there was once a residence of Mr. Tomomi Yoshii. The trial sales of matches went much greater than Makoto expected. Japan set the year of 1875 as the initial year of match production, so 2005 is the 130th anniversary.

Being encouraged by success of match business, Makoto Shimizu opened a full-scale match factory called Shinsuisha Co., Ltd. in Yanagiharamachi, Tokyo (where Ryogoku High School is now) with subsidy from the government in September 1876 (Meiji 9). The invested capital was 100 thousand yen. Makoto resigned the job of Yokosuka Shipbuilding Company and devoted himself to the match manufacturing business. 1876 is the memorial year for match industry as the first match factory called Shinsuisha was built in Japan. "Shinsuisha" means a new flint, or new firestone.

Matches made on trial before Makoto Shimizu came into the business

Matches had been made on trial and sold on small scales in Japan before Makoto Shimizu built the factory.
In 1839 (Tenpo 10), Michitaka Kume, who was called as Japanese Leonardo da Vinci, and Saemon Sakae tried to produce matches in Japan. Then in 1848 (Kaei 1), Koumin Kawamoto, who lived in Hyogo Prefecture and has been respected as the originator of chemistry in Japan, manufactured matches on trial.

Meiji Government had promoted match manufacturing giving subsidies so that resigned samurais could start the business after collapse of the feudal regime in Japan. As a matter of fact, a match manufacturing company called "Hoko Co., Ltd." was founded in Morioka Domain in Iwate Prefecture in 1873 (Meiji 6); but the company failed to catch up with new technologies and was also lack of operating capital, so after all its business did not have good outcome like that of Makoto Shimizu.

Designs of Shinsuisha Co.,Ltd.

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Completing the set up of match business, Makoto Shimizu made dynamic activities: Makoto achieved adequate selection of material trees to use for matchsticks and commenced production of safety matches, as well as exported Japanese matches after he founded a match distribution company named "Kaiko Trading Co., ltd." He also accomplished improvement of match manufacturing machines and acquired patent rights of his inventions such as book match (connected match): and his remarkable achievements helped Japan later to rise up as the match country.

In this site, we like to show Shinsuisha's match labels made in the beginning.

When he was starting the production of matches, Makoto Shimizu looked around to decide the first design on the match label, and chose cherry flowers, the symbol flower of Japan.

Some people say Makoto decided on the cherry flowers as the initial design of Shinsuisha's match label, because he first encountered cherry flowers in blossom at the Ueno Park when he moved to Tokyo from Kanazawa with his heart filled with ambitions.

Then, designs of horses as seen in votive boards were employed in addition to "Branch of Cherry-Flowers" and "Cherry Flower."

The reason of horse design on the match labels was because horse was then considered as god of water: the yellow phosphorous matches manufactured at that time were dangerous as they spontaneously set fire, the manufacturers wanted their products be in control by the power of water god.

Since the registration system of trademark had not been regulated yet then, many of bad-quality matches made by other companies copying designs of Shinsuisha's cherry flowers and horses were causing headaches of the salesmen of Shinsuisha.

Trademark registration system was regulated for the first time in Japan in 1884 (Meiji 17) and finally "Branch of Cherry-Flowers," "Cherry flower," and "the horse" were registered officially on June 20th, 1885 (Meiji 18).

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