Komajiro Tsuda and the Development of Weaving Machines in Japan
Born in a turbulent period
Komajiro Tsuda, the founder of TSUDAKOMA Corporation, was born in Sasaka-machi (present address: Tera-machi 5) of Kanazawa on April 4, 1878 as the first son of Mosuke and Yae Tsuda.
His grandfather Koshichi and the grandfather's younger brother Kichinosuke were both involved in the construction of the Shinmon Gate of Oyama Shrine. The two brothers were well-known as temple/shrine carpenters. Komajiro's mentor in weaving machine development, Yonejiro Tsuda, was the son of Kichinosuke.
In the year Komajiro was born, the world's first patent was obtained for the phonograph invented by Thomas Edison. Meanwhile, in the same year in Tokyo, electric lamps were lit for the first time in Japan.
There is no doubt that the Westernization movement in Japan had reached Kanazawa by this time. Yet most likely there were also clashes between the movement and the traditions from when the region had been part of a large feudal domain named Kaga prior to the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912).
The early Meiji Period was an era of industrial development which was promoted on a national level. Due to the abolition of the feudal domain system in 1871, Kanazawa had lost its lord and was in continuous recession. In order to revitalize the city and save the livings of families that used to belong to the abolished samurai class, Junya Hasegawa, a former samurai of the Kaga Domain who later served as the second mayor of Kanazawa City, stood up together with others. He adopted habutae silk manufacturing technologies from the Nishijin region of Kyoto. This was a time when people were working hard to root a textile industry in Kanazawa.
Against this backdrop, Yonejiro Tsuda had been working on developing power looms for silk fabric and succeeded in prototyping a power loom for cotton fabric in 1880. This success came earlier than Sakichi Toyoda's (the founder of Toyota Industries Corporation). However, Yonejiro was focused on one goal: to develop a power loom for silk fabric, which had become a part of the local region. It is said that Sakichi Toyoda, who was focused on power looms for cotton fabric, and Yonejiro encouraged each other to thoroughly pursue the field of their interests.
A gentle and sincere young engineer
By 1900, Yonejiro had successfully developed a power loom for silk fabric. In 1903, he received the Award of Excellence at the Fifth National Industrial Exhibition. We can only imagine how at that time Komajiro may have looked up to Yonejiro, who was always three steps or maybe even five steps ahead of him.
Over the years, Komajiro closely watched Yonejiro, who was elder by 16 years, devote himself to the development of power looms. It is said that Komajiro did not only manufacture looms according to orders from textile manufacturers, but was always looking for ways to improve the looms. He was the perfect example of a gentle and sincere young engineer.
In 1905, Yonejiro started working in Tokyo to produce power looms through a tie-up with Matsuo Plant located in Azabu. Meanwhile, back in Kanazawa, Komajiro wanted to be more than just a loom carpenter. Having such ambition, he instantly accepted the invitation from Yonejiro to work in Tokyo.
Komajiro started working in Tokyo together with Yonejiro hand in hand in 1907. Things went very well and it wasn't long until a turning point came to Komajiro. He received an order for 90 weaving machines from the Onishi Bunjiro Textile Weaving Plant in Kanazawa. Upon receiving this order, he made the decision to return to Kanazawa and start his own business.
It was in March 1909 that he made this decision. He was to turn 31 years old the next month. Just as Confucius had "found his footing at 30," Komajiro must have felt ready to become independent from Yonejiro. He was undoubtedly high-spirited and filled with motivation.
Establishment of the Tsuda Komajiro Plant!
In order to respond to the needs of the textile industry of Kanazawa, his home town, he set up a sign reading "Tsuda Komajiro Plant" outside of his house in Sukekuro-machi (present address: Nomachi 2) located at the back of the Shinmeigu Shrine.
This was the moment TSUDAKOMA came into this world and started its history of more than 100 years.
As the trust in Tsuda-type looms was rising and the plant received a large order at the time of its establishment, the plant was off to a good start. Nevertheless, the young plant owner worked hard day after day to reach a higher level.
Intent to not let any idea pass him by, he often went to the plant in the dark early-morning hours to write down in design drawings the ideas he got during the night. Maybe some of those ideas came in his dreams.
Komajiro loved being at the plant. Having pulled up the bottom of his kimono and sticking a carpenter's square in his obi belt, he walked throughout the plant all through the day to check the on-site activities. He could not help thinking about the progress made in the work being performed.
While he had strong feelings about weaving machines and never compromised, he was an extremely good-natured person. When he interacted with employees outside of work, his face beamed with kindness. Perhaps diligent by nature, he had no interest in gambling saying that "gambling ruins lives." He even took no interest in games like go or shogi.
According to records, Komajiro's hobbies were unrelated to the production of weaving machines. He enjoyed going to theaters to watch plays and traditional Japanese narrative music performances. When he got in the mood at parties or social gatherings, he would sit on top of piled up zabuton cushions and, looking very comfortable, give traditional Japanese narrative music performances himself. He always looked very satisfied after such performances.
Steady growth and relocation to Ibaragi-cho
The Tsuda Komajiro Plant grew steadily; by 1911, two years after its establishment, the business had to be relocated from his house to Ibaragi-cho in need of a larger space. The relocated plant had a woodworking section and an ironworking section, and already had nearly 40 people working.
It is also around this time that Komajiro married Orika. Mrs. Tsuda became the wife of the first President of the company and she was also the older sister of the second President Tokuji Koshiba. She recollected the air of the company at the time they got married as follows:
"The plant at Ibaragi-cho had a woodworking section and an ironworking section separated by a corridor in the middle. It was such a bustling plant!"
"He didn't talk much about work so I'm not fully aware of the types of looms that were being made at that time, but I think they were making half-wooden half-iron looms. Since there were two lumber storage areas, I think they were making at least 100 looms already around the 1910s."
While Komajiro led the woodworking section, the ironworking section was led by Yokichi Nakagawa, a blacksmith whose ancestors directly served the Kaga Clan for generations. He joined the Tsuda Komajiro Plant upon its establishment together with all his apprentices. Power looms that dramatically increased the speed of weaving required components and structures with enhanced strength. Accordingly, there were needs for high quality iron components and castings.
While Yonejiro developed power looms for silk fabric, it can be said that Komajiro created the market for power looms. The number of power looms installed in Ishikawa Prefecture increased year by year and by 1914, there were more power looms than hand looms. The difference between the numbers of hand looms and power looms significantly widened the next year at 5,979 and 8,957, respectively. As though he had been waiting to confirm the popularization of power looms, Yonejiro passed away this year at age 54. He remained focused on power looms for silk fabric throughout his life. He was a pioneer with no hesitation in spending all his money and running up debts for the development and production of silk power looms. Komajiro inherited Yonejiro's obsession and his engineering spirit.
Excerpts from TSUDAKOMA Corporation's 100th anniversary commemoration booklet Weaving the Times, Developing the Next Generation: The Path of Challenges – TSUDAKOMA's 100-Year History