Japan is home to the world’s longest-living companies, with nearly 30,000 companies that have been in business for more than 100 years. Although there are some big companies like Panasonic, most of them are actually small companies with less than 9 employees. The more you expand your business, the more difficult it becomes to steer it. As the saying goes, “Eat enough to last,” perhaps the secret to longevity in business lies in moderation.
One of the “key words” used by the government under previous Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in relation to the revitalization of the Japanese economy is “metabolism.” By stimulating the metabolism of business firms, it is hoped that the private sector will recover to realize its maximum vitality. And fortunately in Japan, numerous businesses can be found that can provide good examples of this “metabolism.” In addition to wars and natural disasters, they have survived changes in the market environment and other challenges, overcoming various difficulties over the previous century or longer. The resilience of these “long-lived businesses” afford many lessons to be learned.
According to the Teikoku Data Bank, Japan has 26,144 “long-lived” businesses that have been operating for 100 years or longer. Of this 1,410 observed their centennial in 2013. Broken down by type of business, the most numerous were sake (rice wine) distillers, with 707 companies, followed by office rental services (613 companies); and wine and spirits retailers (596). Others included retailers of Japanese kimono and material, and retailers of ready-made clothing for women and children. In terms of the scale of business, most were comparatively small: 16,287 businesses, or 62% of the total, employed fewer than 10 workers, and 21,431 companies, or 82% of the total, reported annual revenues of less than 100 million yen ($1 million). In terms of their founding dates, 23,384 businesses, or 89.4% of the total, were established since the Meiji period (after 1868), and 141 established before the Edo period (1602 or earlier).