Sugiyama Shoten, the Spark behind Kubota’s Engine Business

Kubota began manufacturing agricultural oil engines in 1922 by leveraging the casting technology it had been developing since its founding, as well as its experience in automobile manufacturing technology and its production technology in machining. These engines were very well received and were a great success for the business.

Behind this success, there was the presence of a store called Sugiyama Shoten.

It is said that the reason Kubota decided to manufacture engines in the first place was because Sugiyama Shoten asked them to do so.
It was also Sugiyama Shoten that sold Kubota's engines and promoted the Kubota brand to Japanese farmers. It has been said that without Sugiyama Shoten, the Kubota engine would never have come into existence.

What kind of store was this Sugiyama Shoten? Let's examine this mystery through a variety of references.

An Encounter with Sugiyama Shoten

In the 1910s, Kubota Iron Works (at the time) experienced significant growth through its production of cast-iron pipes, after which it diversified into the machinery sector to take advantage of the booming economy during WW1. However, the recession that followed WW1 devastated the machinery division of Kubota Iron Works.

In 1921, Atsujiro Kubota, who had been adopted into the family after marrying Shitsue, the eldest daughter of founder Gonshiro Kubota, made a proposal to his "father" Gonshiro, concerning rebuilding the Machinery Division.

"My father asked what I intended to make, and I told him that I wanted to make an agricultural engine. However, he immediately scolded me harshly, saying that no peasant would use such a machine."
"Japanese Entrepreneurs 4: Kubota Gonshiro" Minoru Sawai (PHP Research Institute)

At the time, the demand for agricultural engines for use in applications such as irrigation pumps was increasing in Japan, resulting in many engines made in the U.S. and other foreign countries being imported.

In addition, small-scale factories, mainly in Okayama Prefecture, were actively manufacturing Japanese-made engines, suggesting that there was likely a growing demand for these machines from domestic farmers. Atsujiro was a key person in Kubota's automobile manufacturing business, Jitsuyo Motors Co., Ltd., which was established in 1919. Although Gonshiro became president of Jitsuyo Motors, it is said that he mainly decided to enter the automobile business because of Atsujiro's enthusiasm.

Coincidentally, Jitsuyo Motors was established on Atsujiro's birthday. This episode suggests that Gonshiro thought highly of Atsujiro and was very affectionate toward him.
(In later years, after Gonshiro withdrew from automobile manufacturing, Atsujiro Kubota left Jitsuyo Motors to become the managing director of DAT Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd., and then executive director of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. He seems to have played an active role in building the foundations of the Japanese automobile industry.)

However, it appears that Gonshiro Kubota did not initially appreciate the demand for agricultural engines and was extremely negative about manufacturing them himself, to the extent that Atsujiro, who Gonshiro adored, was "harshly scolded" by him.

But shortly after this incident, Gonshiro had a change of heart.

The reason Kubota began production of agricultural oil engines was because Gonshiro, who was looking for a way to rebuild the badly affected machinery division, responded to a request from Sugiyama Shoten, a Torishima pump distributor and import agent for Z engines.
"Japanese Entrepreneurs 4: Kubota Gonshiro" Minoru Sawai (PHP Research Institute)

Gonshiro was approached by Takeo Sugiyama, owner of Sugiyama Shoten, a pump distributor for Torishima Seisakusho and an import agent for American-made engines, about the manufacture of Japanese-made engines. Gonshiro recognized that the machine shop's production facilities and manufacturing technology could be of great use, and he decided to begin manufacturing oil engines.
"Casebook: Entrepreneurial Activities in Japan" (1999). Japan: Yuuhikaku.

Gonshiro accepted the proposal from Takeo Sugiyama, the owner of a company called "Sugiyama Shoten," and started manufacturing agricultural engines.
In 1922, Kubota began to manufacture oil engines. From April 1923, the A-type three-horsepower agricultural oil engine was sold through Sugiyama Shoten.

Kubota's oil engines sold well as power sources for irrigation pumps and rice hullers, after which the model range was expanded from around 1925 to include 5-horsepower, 7.5-horsepower, and 10-horsepower engines.


Exploring Sugiyama Shoten through Documents

Just what kind of company was this Sugiyama Shoten, and what kind of person was its owner, Takeo Sugiyama, who convinced Gonshiro to make agricultural engines?

Searching the Internet, there are many companies and organizations throughout Japan with Sugiyama Shoten as their trade name. These include manufacturers, food companies, wholesalers, and retailers. However, no company could be found that might be the Sugiyama Shoten that requested Kubota to make engines at that time.

After searching carefully through the search results and trying all manner of methods including changing the search terms, we found a few clues. First, we found a description of the relationship between Sugiyama Shoten and Kubota in "Keiei Shigaku" Vol. 38 (Business History Society of Japan).

In 1921, Sugiyama Shoten (the sole importer of Fairbanks-Morse Z engines from the U.S.) noticed the rapid spread of engines to rural areas and recommended that Kubota begin manufacturing them domestically. As part of its measures to combat the postwar recession, Kubota began producing agricultural oil engines, for which it could use its existing production facilities and technology.
"Keiei Shigaku" Vol. 38 (Business History Society of Japan)

From this "Keiei Shigaku" source, we were able to refer to the "Kansai Gyokai Jinbutsu Taikan, Daiichi Shu" published in 1926, which provided us with the names and profiles of Sugiyama Shoten's representatives.

Takeo Sugiyama, director of Sugiyama Shoten, was born in Shiga Prefecture in 1890. After his graduation from Kobe Higher Commercial School, he was adopted into the Sugiyama family of hardware merchants in Kobe in 1913 where he became successful in the iron and steel trade during World War I. Sugiyama Shoten, which had reorganized as a limited partnership in 1916, moved its headquarters to Osaka in 1918 where it expanded its business as the sole agent for Kubota Ironworks, Fujita Mining, and Torishima Manufacturing.
"Kansai Gyokai Jinbutsu Taikan, Daiichi Shu" (Teikoku Koshinsho, ed.) 1928, p. 468

provides the above description. The director's name was Takeo Sugiyama. As he was born in 1890, he was 20 years younger than Gonshiro Kubota, who was born in 1870. In 1921, when Gonshiro and Takeo Sugiyama are said to have had their meeting, Gonshiro would have been 51 years old and Sugiyama would have been 31.

Atsujiro Kubota, who was "harshly scolded" when he first proposed the agricultural engine, was born in 1891, making him about the same age as Sugiyama.

Our search continues with books published during the Taisho and early Showa periods.

"Champion of Manufacturing Iron Pipes for Waterworks" and "Pioneer of Rural Mechanization"

There is a publication called "Nihon Toshi Taikan (Appendix: Manchukuo Toshi Taikan. Showa 11 (1936)" (Osaka Mainichi Shinbunsha, ed.). This publication is like an encyclopedia filled with information about Japanese industry, cities, and companies of the time. In the "Agricultural Tools" section of the "Osaka Prefecture" chapter of this book, we found an introduction to Sugiyama Shoten.

This book was published in 1936, when Takeo Sugiyama was 46 years old. In this book, he was praised as a "pioneer of rural mechanization."

"Sugiyama Shoten was founded in 1882, at a time when Japan's agricultural industry was lagging behind the mechanized agriculture of advanced Western countries and was still relying on labor-intensive farming methods. The company took the initiative in mechanization with the motto 'from hand to machine,' and for over 50 years since then, has focused exclusively on mechanization. It has contributed greatly to the rapid progress of the Japanese agricultural industry, and has been recognized for its great achievements."
"Nihon Toshi Taikan (Appendix: Manchukuo Toshi Taikan. Showa 11 (1936)" (Osaka Mainichi Shinbunsha, ed.)

Combined with the preceding information, the chronology of Sugiyama Shoten is as follows:

1882: Sugiyama Shoten is founded in Kobe
1890: Takeo is born in Shiga Prefecture
1913: At 23 years old, Takeo is adopted by the Sugiyama family, hardware merchants in Kobe. Then, during World War I, the company achieves success in the iron trade.
1916: When Takeo is 26 years old, the company is reorganized as a limited partnership.
1918: When Takeo is 28 years old, the head office is moved from Kobe to Osaka.
1921: At 31 years old, Takeo approaches Gonshiro Kubota regarding the manufacture of agricultural engines.
1922: When Takeo is 32, Kubota Ironworks begins production of the A-type three-horsepower agricultural oil engine at its Funade-cho plant.
1923: When Takeo is 33, Sugiyama Shoten begins sales of the A-type three-horsepower agricultural oil engine.

In particular, it is said that there is almost no other diesel engine with such outstanding performance as the Acro Kubota diesel engine, which demonstrates the sincerity of domestic production and shines as the supreme king of the small diesel engine industry. It has been well received by all parties, and has been in increasing demand recently.
"Nihon Toshi Taikan (Appendix: Manchukuo Toshi Taikan. Showa 11 (1936)" (Osaka Mainichi Shinbunsha, ed.)

**Takeo Sugiyama, representative director of the company, was born in Shiga Prefecture. He has already established a reputation as a rarely seen activist in the industry, and his visionary foresight and indomitable business spirit have always overcome every obstacle to finally achieve the success he has today. Furthermore, his devotion to the nation is continuously reflected in his business activities. In some cases, these activities are undertaken only for the benefit of the industry without regard for profitability. He is widely praised as a pioneer of rural mechanization, and it cannot be overlooked that the sacrifices he made were not insignificant.

Currently, the company has branches in Tokyo, Taipei, Beijing, Dalian, Kobe, Nagoya, and Sapporo. Business is growing day by day, and it is expected that the company will need to further expand its network of branches and establish a stronger sales force in the near future. The head office is located in 2-chome, Tachiuribori Minamidori, Nishi-ku, Osaka.**
"Nihon Toshi Taikan (Appendix: Manchukuo Toshi Taikan. Showa 11 (1936)" (Osaka Mainichi Shinbunsha, ed.)

According to this, Sugiyama Shoten was very successful, and as of October 1934, there were more than 500 Sugiyama Shoten branches, sub-branches, and stores throughout the country.

Gonshiro Kubota was born in Hiroshima, established his own foundry in Osaka, became a master of his craft, and was then adopted by the Kubota family. Kubota Ironworks, which Gonshiro had started on his own, then grew into a "champion of manufacturing iron pipes for waterworks."

Takeo Sugiyama, who was born in Shiga Prefecture, was adopted by the Sugiyama family of Kobe. He became successful in the iron trade and his business prowess was so great that he was described as a "pioneer of rural mechanization."

I feel that there are some similarities between the two of them.

Sugiyama Shoten in later years

From the Taisho era to the early Showa era, Sugiyama Shoten sold Kubota engines and Torishima pumps, after which the company expanded its business and established a sales network of more than 500 locations under the leadership of the director Takeo Sugiyama, eventually growing significantly into a large corporation.
We found Takeo Sugiyama's name in the "Nihon Boeki Gyosha Soran Showa 24, Shosha Hen, Seisan Gyosha Hen" (Jinji Koshinjo) published in 1949.

Here we learned that Sugiyama Shoten was reorganized in November 1945, changing its name to "Sugiyama Sangyo Co." The director of this company was listed as "Takeo Sugiyama."

In 1949, Takeo Sugiyama was 59. He was nearly 60.

Also in 1949, at the age of 79, Gonshiro Kubota resigned as president of Kubota Ironworks, a post he had held for the 60 years since the company's founding, and became an advisor.

From around 1947, the free trade of agricultural machinery became more active, and it became necessary to review the sales system for engines as well. This may have been when the partnership between Gonshiro and Takeo Sugiyama, which had been built up over some 20 years, came to an end.

I am sorry to say that we were unable to find any further information on Takeo Sugiyama's whereabouts after this.