Seihachiro Sawayama was a devoted and obedient son, and embraced a life of simplicity and frugality.
― I eat sweet potato for breakfast every morning, 365 days a year. I do this to remind myself of my childhood years, when barley and potatoes was basically all we had to eat. At the time, I considered white rice the ultimate delicacy, and the few times each year when I was served white rice, I felt a sense of euphoria and deep gratitude.
Eating sweet potato every day is my way of reminding myself to remain humble and never take things for granted.
Seihachiro Sawayama’s reply when asked for his thoughts on the key to success in business:
― I have always felt that the secret to being successful in business is to make people happy. When selling coal to the foreign ship owners, I always tried to ensure that the actual product I delivered was better quality than the sample product I initially showed them. This enabled me to gradually gain the trust the ship owners. After a while, my regular customers would smile and say, “if it’s Sawayama coal, then I know it’s top quality”.
Quote from Seihachiro Sawayama about his life:
People tend to just look at a plant’s flowers or fruits, and give little consideration to the process the plant goes through to reach that point.
In the same way, people look at me and they only see the man I am today, they don’t see the numerous hardships I have had to overcome throughout my life to reach this point. They therefore do not fully grasp the person I truly am inside.
Born on November 3, 1855, in Omura, Nagasaki Prefecture, Seihachiro Sawayama was the eldest son of Kumaemon Sawayama, a samurai retainer to the daimyo of the Omura clan.
Around the time the Meiji Restoration was coming to an end, a young Seihachiro moved to Nagasaki City, where he studied at Gokyokan, a school for children of the Omura clan elite. He went on to attend Kounkan, a college in Nagasaki Prefecture, where he studied English. Upon completing his studies, he worked for the US Consulate in Nagasaki, and then as an interpreter for the Nagasaki prefectural government.
In February 1877, the Satsuma Rebellion broke out, and Seihachiro joined the imperial forces in battle, returning home safely after the imperial forces were victorious.
Around this time, Seihachiro decided that he wanted to become a businessman, and in 1879 at the age of 23, he relocated to Hakodate in Hokkaido and joined Rakusan Shokai, a company involved in international trade. Not only did this job give Seihachiro an opportunity to use his English language skills, he also learned to speak Russian, and gained invaluable experience in international trade. Although Hokkaido’s harsh winter climate was extremely challenging, Seihachiro persevered and was rewarded with promotion to the position of manager.
In September 1885, after seven years living in Hokkaido, Seihachiro returned to Nagasaki and took over Sawayama Shoten, a ship water supply, barge transportation, and sailing ship transportation company set up by his father, Kumaemon, in the Oura district of Nagasaki City.
Initially, the business focused on trade with customers in the Sotome region of Nishisonogi and the Goto Islands. However, a growing demand for coal from overseas prompted Seihachiro to focus solely on the coal export business, and he began establishing partnerships with the foreign trading houses that had set up operations in the foreign settlement district of Nagasaki.
Sawayama Shoten played an active role in increasing the output of Karatsu Coal from Saga Prefecture and started exporting this coal on foreign ships bound for Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Manila. Furthermore, with the assistance of Hamilton Gardner, an English pioneer and trader who helped establish coal mining operations on Takashima Island in Nagasaki (which were operated by the former Mitsubishi Coal Mining Company), Seihachiro won a contract to handle and sell Cardiff coal, the fuel of choice for the British East Indies Fleet. This business greatly contributed to enhancing the reputation and prestige of Sawayama Shoten.
In the years that followed, cargo imports into Nagasaki also boomed, transforming the port into a thriving trade hub. Moreover, in April of 1898, US naval vessels began visiting Nagasaki port and the business of supplying water and coal to these vessels became a very lucrative indeed.
Sawayama Shoten prospered during this period and was able to accumulate considerable wealth. Around this time, Seihachiro bought land in the Motomachi District of Nagasaki City, where he built a new residence and headquarters for the company.
In 1905, Seihachiro purchased the Norwegian ship “Prosper” and renamed it “Kuma Katamaru”. The ship’s name was thought to be derived for his parents given names; “Kumaemon”, his father, and “Kata”, his mother.
This vessel was Sawayama Shoten’s first ship constructed from steel, and its purchase marked the true beginnings of the company’s shipping business.
Ship type: Cargo ship
Main engine: Reciprocating engine
Gross tonnage: 1343.08 tons, s
Speed: 8.5 knots
Deadweight tonnage: 1850 tons,
Ship’s classification: First grade, Greater coasting
Manufacturer: Campbeltown Shipbuilding Company, UK
In January 1906, Seihachiro relocated the company to Tamae-cho in Nagasaki City, where he built a Western-style building as the company’s new headquarters. Along with the change of address, the company name was changed to Sawayama Shokai Ltd.
Around the same time, Seihachiro was awarded a medal of appreciation by Yuzuru Ogyu, director of the Meiji Government’s Decorations Bureau, for meritorious service to the Japan Navy, which had a base in Sasebo in northern Nagasaki Prefecture.
In the years that followed, Sawayama Shokai Ltd. continued to trade in coal, as well as offering water supply and barge transportation services. In October 1932, the company was relocated to Chima-machi (current day Dejima-machi, Nagasaki City).
Around this time, Sawayama Shokai began providing shipping agency services to Osaka Shosen, Nippon Yusen, and other major shipping companies, leading to robust business growth.
In October 1934, the company relaunched under its current trading name, Sawayama & Co., Ltd., and Ichimatsu Sawayama was installed as the inaugural president.
The origins of the Sawayama Group company emblem
The “S” in center of the emblem represents the “Sawayama” name, while the diamond shape represents a mountain (‘yama’ in Japanese), and is intended to symbolize the “yama” portion of the “Sawayama” family name. This design has been in use since 1894, when the company’s head office was in Oura. White flags emblazoned with this company emblem were flown on all company water supply boats, puller boats, and barges. This emblem was also imprinted on the funnels of vessels owned by Sawayama Kisen, a former affiliate company. Our company emblem is intended to symbolize Seihachiro’s philosophy of “providing products and services that make people happy”, and is one way of ensuring that this spirit is passed on to future generations.