Not only is it a computer company, but it makes just about everything you can imagine. The make air conditioners, high resolution monitors, computer equipment, and even heavy machinery. The compamny itself is based out of Japan, and is a major player in the society there. They also produce an online graphical avatar world called Worlds Away, which has become very popular with Compuserve memebers

There's an interesting meme floating about the Net these days: "Look up Fujitsu in a Japanese dictionary! You'll never buy a Fujitsu hard drive again!" And sure enough, if you punch fujitsu in romaji into WWWJDIC, you'll be rewarded with:
不実 【ふじつ】 (adj-na,n) perfidiousness; faithlessness; inconstancy; insincerity; falsehood
Ouch. Unfortunately for the meme, the company's name is Fujitsû with a long U instead of a short one, a significant difference in Japanese. Now, I could just tell you that "Fujitsu" (富士通) is just short for Fuji Communications (富士通信) and be done with it... but it turns out there's an interesting story after all.

Shoguns and Disasters

Our story starts off in Japan's feudal age. Deep in the misty mountains of Toshigi to the north of Tokyo, the Tokugawa shogunate had operated the Ashio copper mine since the 1600s, but output had been tailing off, and after the Meiji Reformation of 1868 the mine was privatized, ending up the hands of Ono, a government-linked trading company. (Incidentally, this is the same Ono family that Yoko Ono descends from.)

But Ono's business model had been to take deposits from the government and use the money to finance trading in luxury goods like silk. The new government demanded its deposits back, and since Ono couldn't cough them up, it went bankrupt, leaving a large group of angry creditors behind. In 1885, Ono's former head clerk Ichibei Furukawa (古河市兵衛) managed to convince one of the main claimants, the Soma family, to take the Ashio and Kusakura mines in exchange -- and to install himself as the mines' director. A fair deal, and Furukawa did the best he could and increased production from 46 to 132 tons/year by 1882.

But then he got lucky: in 1884, a gigantic new vein of copper was discovered at Ashio. Next year's haul shot up to 4000 tons, and with demand in rapidly industrializing Japan skyrocketing almost as fast, Furukawa soon found himself rich. But with a modern country to forge, this was no time to rest on one's laurels: Furukawa ploughed the money back as investments. Turbines, smelters, railways... the juggernaut rolled on, incidentally also poisoning 28 villages and 1600 hectares of farmland with mine tailings in Japan's first major industrial disaster, but no time to get into that now!

Furukawa soon realized he would have to start to make his own gear as well, and a machinery plant to this end was opened in 1900. By 1906, he had built a power station in Nikko and mutated company structures a couple of times, and in 1920, the electric goods business was spun off as the Furukawa Electric Company (古河電気工業株式会社).

Germans and Holy Mountains

In 1923 something remarkable happened: Furukawa Electric decided to team up with its supplier since 1890, German company Siemens, in one of the first international partnerships on record. Since the German pronunciation of Siemens is written jiimensu (ジーメンス) in Japan, somebody had the bright idea of combining the two: henceforth the company would be known as Fuji Electric (富士電気工業株式会社), conviniently borrowing the characters for Mt. Fuji to write this.

In 1935, Fuji itself spun off its communications division. The new offspring was dubbed Fuji Tsûshinki Seizô (富士通信機製造株式会社), or in English the rather unwieldy "Fuji Communications Equipment Manufacturing".

And then came the war, which put German-Japanese cooperation in a rather different light. Fujitsu laid low and mostly escaped from the post-WW2 zaibatsu skewering by the Allied Occupation. By 1954 Fujitsu had rolled out Japan's first computer, the FACOM 100, and 7 years later its transistorized big brother FACOM 222 joined the fray. It was time to do something about the name: in 1967 the company officially changed its name to just plain old Fujitsu (富士通).

Modern Monolith

Today Fujitsu, the communications spinoff of the electric spinoff of a mining company, employs some 200,000 people and has another 500 subsidiary companies itself. The active partnership has been revived in the form of Fujitsu-Siemens (est. 1999), Europe's largest IT supplier owned 50/50 by Fujitsu and Siemens.

Fujitsu's mommy and daddy, the Furukawa Group and Fuji Electric, are also doing fine. But don't pull too many companies into the group hug: as far as I can figure out, neither Fuji Bank, Fujifilm nor Fuji Heavy Industries (best known for Subaru) have anything to do with Furukawa/Fuji.

References (English: read this for more on the mine disaster) (English) (Japanese) (Japanese)

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