Some years ago, I purchased this old, framed photograph of Nissan’s first President, Yoshisuke Aikawa. It dates from 1956, a period during which he was a member of the Japanese government. I thought it to be quite an unusual thing to find at the time, but more on the photo in a moment. Firstly, for those who are unfamiliar with the name… who was this man? As regular readers would expect, naturally there’s a Datsun connection because Yoshisuke Aikawa was instrumental in the creation of Nissan Motor Company in the 1930’s and was a major force in Japanese industry before the Second World War. After the defeat of Japan he again became a key factor in the country’s post war recovery…
Yoshisuke Aikawa was born on the 6th of November, 1880 in Yamaguchi prefecture into a powerful family. His father was a local Lord under the Choshu clan and the family had many business and political interests. Aikawa himself had little interest in becoming a politician or businessman so he went to study mechanical engineering at Tokyo Imperial University from where he graduated in 1903. From University he went to work as a lowly mechanic for Shibaura Seisaku-sho who would later become Toshiba. The work, albeit low paid, afforded him the opportunity to save enough money to travel to the United States in 1905 where he worked for The Gould Coupler Company, again as a mechanic. For a year he worked there and studied the manufacture of malleable cast iron, after which he returned to Japan. In 1908 he went back to the US again, only this time he became aware of the burgeoning Auto industry and realised that this fledgling industry had absolutely huge potential, and naturally, a direct requirement for malleable cast iron components.
In 1910, after his subsequent return to Japan, he founded Tobata Imono KK in Fukuoka prefecture with the support of Kaoru Inoue, who was the uncle of Aikawa’s mother, the son of a low ranked Samurai and a very powerful man within the Choshu clan. Tobata Imono successfully produced malleable cast iron components under the Hyotan brand name using an electric furnace, becoming pioneers of the process in Japan at that time.
In 1928, Aikawa’s brother in law, Fusanosuki Kuhara, offered him the task of restructuring his own company, Kuhara Kogyo who were engaged in copper mining and production. Reluctantly, Aikawa took on the task, making it a public limited company, becoming its president and re-naming it Nihon Sangyo, the name from which Nissan would eventually come (Nihon Sangyo). From there, Aikawa started to build it into a conglomerate or zaibatsu, the Nissan Konzern, incorporating Hitachi (an in-house venture of Kuhara’s company), Nissan Chemicals and Nihon Life Insurance plus dozens of other companies.
In 1931, Tobata Imono purchased Dat Jidosha Seizo, the company which had originally developed the Dat and Datson motor cars. At this time there was much promotion of Japanese car production by Japan’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry so on the 26th of December 1933, Aikawa established Jidosha Seizo KK, jointly created by the new Jidosha section of Tobata Imono and Nihon Sangyo. The new concern was renamed at its first shareholder’s meeting to Nissan Motor Company with Aikawa becoming it’s first President.
Prior to WW2, in 1937 Aikawa moved to Manchukuo (Manchuria) on the invitation of his relative Nobusuke Kishi (grandfather of Shinzō Abe, the current Japanese Prime Minister). Manchukuo was a puppet state located in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia set up by Japan in 1931. The headquarters of Nissan also relocated there to become the centre of the Manchurian Industrial Development Company which was a Manchuria based Zaibatsu. Aikawa guided industry in Manchuria through the late 30’s but his political views were at odds with those of the Japanese Imperial Army and in 1942 he resigned and returned to Japan. After the fall of Japan, he was arrested by the American Occupation Forces and spent twenty months incarcerated in Sugamo Prison accused of class-A war crimes but was freed before his case went to trial.
The giant Nissan Zaibatsu was broken up during the allied occupation but Aikawa still had plenty to offer to assist with Japan’s post war reconstruction. He was selected by the Emperor to be a member of the Japanese House of Peers in 1943 (un-elected fore-runner to the House of Councilors). He went on to form a foundation which made loans to Japanese light industry and small businesses. He served as president of both the Teikoku Oil Company and of the Japan Petroleum Exploration Company before being elected to the House of Councilors of the Diet of Japan in 1953. In this position he formed and became chairman of the Road Planning Research Committee and he also continued to promote and assist the needs of small and medium businesses until 1959. Yoshisuke Aikawa died at the age of 83 on the 13th of February 1967 and was buried at Tama Cemetery just outside of Tokyo.
And so, back to my photograph….
I really have no more information about it other than it appears to be old and genuine I can’t examine the back of the actual photograph as it’s all sealed into the frame with glue and nails. On the reverse there is a yellowing paper bonded to the frame which is marked thus…