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
, you'll be rewarded
不実 【ふじつ】 (adj-na,n) perfidiousness; faithlessness; inconstancy; insincerity; falsehood
Ouch. Unfortunately for the meme, the company's name is
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
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
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
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
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).
Today Fujitsu, the communications spinoff of the electric spinoff
of a mining company, employs some 200,000 people and has another
companies itself. The active partnership has been
revived in the form of Fujitsu-Siemens
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.
(English: read this for more on the mine disaster)