Today I Learned That a Japanese Temple-Building Company Went Bankrupt After 1,400 Years February 13, 2015

Today I Learned That a Japanese Temple-Building Company Went Bankrupt After 1,400 Years

Brain-boggling sentence from a current story in the Atlantic:

In 2007 — after 1,429 years in businessthe temple-construction company Kongo Gumi ran out of money and was absorbed by a larger company.

That’s not a typo. Mediapost has more:

Kongo Gumi, the oldest independently owned company in the world, was founded in 578 A.D. as a Buddhist temple-building organization, subsidized in part by the Japanese government. … As the Japanese population grew, the need for more temples would follow. The company thrived through the centuries, passed down from one family member to the next.

Generation after generation, the family built until the company attempted to diversify its business in the 1980s by taking on heavy debt to acquire real estate, its first foray outside of its core business. Masakazu Kongo, the 40th member of his family to run the company, saw his $70 million company begin to crumble under the weight of $343 million in debt. … The temple-building business, its core asset for 1,400 years, began to evaporate from underneath.

An international 2012 poll about atheism offers another (probably secondary or tertiary) reason for the decline of Kongo Gumi’s fortunes. Via the Washington Post:

While superficial religious observation is common [in Japan] — many weddings take place in churches — formal religious practice has never really recovered from the imperial era that culminated with World War Two. For much of the 1920 through 1940s, Japan’s imperial government combined an extreme form of race-based nationalism with emperor-worship and traditional Shinto practice. … Like nationalism in Germany, a bit of a post-war taboo has developed around religion in Japan.

Fourteen centuries in business is beyond impressive. As much as I like to see atheism spread (non-believers make up over 30 percent of Japan’s population), I wish Kongo Gumi had managed to stick around for a while longer.

Not that the company will be forgotten anytime soon. It set the record for the world’s oldest continuously operating family business; and for that honor, no known contenders are nipping at its cadaverous heels.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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