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...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!