Sampo Yoshi and ITOCHU Sustainability

Basic Perspective on Sustainability at ITOCHU

"Itoh Itomise" thread and yarn store at the time of its opening in 1893

ITOCHU Corporation strongly believes that responding to the expectation of society through business activities keeps our sustainability and further growth.
We also believe that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is to think about how corporations can play a role, in order to achieve sustainable society through business activities. This concept ties into our management philosophy of sampo yoshi, which was the foundation of our founder, Chubei Itoh, to build his business. We believe that our mission is to understand diverse values as a global enterprise, meet the expectations of the society, and continue to be a corporation that is needed by the society.

Our Founder Chubei Itoh and Sampo Yoshi

Our founder Chubei Itoh
(1842 - 1903)
Ohmi merchants
(courtesy of Museum of Ohmi Merchant)

The foundation of ITOCHU Corporation traces back to 1858, the year in which Chubei Itoh set out from Toyosato Village, in Shiga Prefecture, to Nagasaki as a traveling linen merchant.

The base of Chubei Itoh's business was the spirit of sampo yoshi, which was a management philosophy of merchants in Ohmi, a province where he was born. The philosophy started in the shogunate era. Due to the merchants' contributions to the society, they were permitted to promote business activities in the region. Since then, not only good for the seller and the buyer, but also for the society became the management philosophy. This can be said to be the roots of today's idea of sustainability, which requires corporations to balance their business activities with the interests of a variety of stakeholders. That spirit is evident in Chubei Itoh's personal motto, "Trade is a compassionate business. It is noble when it accords with the spirit of Buddha by profiting those who sell and those who buy and supplying the needs of the society."

The Roots of a Management Philosophy Inherited Since the Foundation

A daifukucho ledger from the time of ITOCHU's founding

Our founder Chubei Itoh established a "store law" in 1872, and adopted a meeting system. The store law was a set of house rules covering what in modern parlance called management philosophy, a human resources system and employment regulations, which subsequently became the foundation of ITOCHU Corporation's management philosophy. Emphasizing communication with employees, Chubei Itoh chaired meetings himself. Moreover, he incorporated a series of what were at the time groundbreaking management systems, including the codification of "sharing of profit by three parties"(*) and western bookkeeping methods. Those initiatives built the foundations of mutual trust between the store owner and the employees. Since that era, we have based our corporate management on sustainability.

  • Sharing of profit by three parties: In a predominately feudal era, this was an extremely progressive philosophy of sharing profits with employees. The store's net profit was divided among three parties: the store owner, the store's reserve fund, and store employees.

150 Years of History and Sustainability

The headquarters with modern amenities built in 1915

In 2008, ITOCHU Corporation marked its 150th anniversary. Why were we able to keep developing for such a long period of time? We believe that it is because we have put into practice the spirit of sampo yoshi for 150 years, which is the root of sustainability. At the same time, as the business environment has changed with the times, we have established a corporate culture that anticipates changes and turns it into opportunities.

Since the foundation, ITOCHU Corporation has consistently thrived despite the turmoil it has faced in different eras, including two world wars and economic volatility. Starting as a trading company mainly handling textiles, we have fulfilled the role of a trading company that has responsively changed according to the demands of each generation. Furthermore, while significantly changing its products and business portfolios, we have expanded our sphere of influence from upstream raw materials to downstream consumer sales. ITOCHU Corporation has evolved into a general trading company, and from there into a globally integrated corporation.

We are convinced that our history has continued for more than 150 years because we have surely upheld and passed on the spirit of sampo yoshi while remaining an essential component of society by responding to changes, in its expectations in different eras.