JAPAN: Fall of the House of Mitsui

Old Sokubei Mitsui had a head as round, as bald and as bright as a full moon. "With remarkable moral fortitude," says a chronicle, "he decided to abandon all rank and class and enter a commercial career.'' Sokubei put it more bluntly. "The Mitsuis," he said, "must get money." Some time before 1650 he put away his two samurai swords and—like many a British aristocrat of the same period—became a brewer. Soon Mitsui sake was selling fast throughout Yedo's thirsty red-light district.

The second Mitsui enterprise was a pawnshop. Later, a money-changing...

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