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KYOTO, Japan — Naomi Hasegawa’s household sells toasted mochi out of a small, cedar-timbered store subsequent to a rambling previous shrine in Kyoto. The household began the enterprise to supply refreshments to weary vacationers coming from throughout Japan to wish for pandemic aid — within the yr 1000.

Now, greater than a millennium later, a brand new illness has devastated the economic system within the historical capital, as its as soon as dependable stream of vacationers has evaporated. However Ms. Hasegawa isn’t involved about her enterprise’s funds.

Like many companies in Japan, her household’s store, Ichiwa, takes the lengthy view — albeit longer than most. By placing custom and stability over revenue and development, Ichiwa has weathered wars, plagues, pure disasters, and the rise and fall of empires. Via all of it, its rice flour truffles have remained the identical.

Such enterprises could also be much less dynamic than these in different international locations. However their resilience provides classes for companies in locations like the USA, the place the coronavirus has compelled tens of hundreds into chapter 11.

“When you have a look at the economics textbooks, enterprises are presupposed to be maximizing income, scaling up their dimension, market share and development fee. However these corporations’ working ideas are fully totally different,” stated Kenji Matsuoka, a professor emeritus of enterprise at Ryukoku College in Kyoto.

“Their No. 1 precedence is carrying on,” he added. “Every era is sort of a runner in a relay race. What’s necessary is passing the baton.”

Japan is an old-business superpower. The nation is dwelling to greater than 33,000 with a minimum of 100 years of historical past — over 40 p.c of the world’s complete. Over 3,100 have been working for a minimum of two centuries. Round 140 have existed for greater than 500 years. And a minimum of 19 declare to have been constantly working for the reason that first millennium.

(A number of the oldest corporations, together with Ichiwa, can not definitively hint their historical past again to their founding, however their timelines are accepted by the federal government, students and — in Ichiwa’s case — the competing mochi store throughout the road.)

The companies, often known as “shinise,” are a supply of each pleasure and fascination. Regional governments promote their merchandise. Enterprise administration books clarify the secrets and techniques of their success. And whole journey guides are dedicated to them.

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Most of those previous companies are, like Ichiwa, small, family-run enterprises that deal in conventional items and providers. However some are amongst Japan’s most well-known corporations, together with Nintendo, which received its begin making taking part in playing cards 131 years in the past, and the soy sauce model Kikkoman, which has been round since 1917.

To outlive for a millennium, Ms. Hasegawa stated, a enterprise can not simply chase income. It has to have a better objective. Within the case of Ichiwa, that was a spiritual calling: serving the shrine’s pilgrims.

These sorts of core values, often known as “kakun,” or household precepts, have guided many corporations’ enterprise selections by the generations. They give the impression of being after their staff, help the neighborhood and attempt to make a product that evokes pleasure.

For Ichiwa, which means doing one factor and doing it properly — a really Japanese strategy to enterprise.

The corporate has declined many alternatives to broaden, together with, most lately, a request from Uber Eats to begin on-line supply. Mochi stays the one merchandise on the menu, and if you’d like one thing to drink, you’re politely provided the selection of roasted inexperienced tea.

For many of Ichiwa’s historical past, the ladies of the Hasegawa household made the candy snack in roughly the identical means. They boiled the rice within the water from a small spring that burbles into the store’s cellar, pounded it right into a paste after which formed it into balls that they gently toasted on wood skewers over a small cast-iron hibachi.

The rice’s caramelized pores and skin is brushed with candy miso paste and served to the shrine’s guests scorching, earlier than the fragile deal with cools and turns powerful and chewy.

Ichiwa has made a number of concessions to modernity. The native well being division has forbidden the usage of properly water. A mochi machine hidden within the kitchen mechanically kilos the rice, saving a number of hours of labor every morning. And, after centuries of working on the dignity system, it expenses a set worth per plate, a change it instituted someday after World Warfare II because the enterprise started to pay extra consideration to its funds.

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The Japanese corporations which have endured the longest have typically been outlined by an aversion to danger — formed partly by previous crises — and an accumulation of huge money reserves.

It’s a frequent trait amongst Japanese enterprises and a part of the rationale that the nation has to this point averted the excessive chapter charges of the USA in the course of the pandemic. Even once they “make some income,” stated Tomohiro Ota, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, “they don’t improve their capital expenditure.”

Giant enterprises specifically preserve substantial reserves to make sure that they will proceed issuing paychecks and meet their different monetary obligations within the occasion of an financial downturn or a disaster. However even smaller companies are inclined to have low debt ranges and a median of 1 to 2 months of working bills readily available, Mr. Ota stated.

After they do want help, financing is affordable and available. Rates of interest in Japan have been low for many years, and a authorities stimulus package deal launched in response to the pandemic has successfully zeroed them out for many small enterprises.

Small shinise typically personal their very own services and depend on family members to assist preserve payroll prices down, permitting them to stockpile money. When Toshio Goto, a professor on the Japan College of Economics Graduate Faculty who has written a number of books on the enterprises, performed a survey this summer season of corporations which can be a minimum of 100 years previous, greater than 1 / 4 stated that they had sufficient funds readily available to function for 2 years or longer.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t imply they’re frozen in time. Many began in the course of the 200-year interval, starting within the seventeenth century, when Japan largely sealed itself off from the surface world, offering a secure enterprise setting. However during the last century, survival has more and more meant discovering a stability between preserving traditions and adapting to shortly altering market circumstances.

For some corporations, that has meant updating their core enterprise. NBK, a supplies agency that began off making iron kettles in 1560, is now producing high-tech machine components. Hosoo, a 332-year-old kimono producer in Kyoto, has expanded its textile enterprise into dwelling furnishings and even electronics.

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For others, maintaining with the instances might be exhausting, particularly these, like Tanaka Iga Butsugu, which can be basically promoting custom itself.

Tanaka Iga has been making Buddhist spiritual items in Kyoto since 885. It’s well-known for what its 72nd-generation president, Masaichi Tanaka, jokingly refers to because the “Mercedes-Benz” of butsudan — family shrines that may promote for tons of of hundreds of {dollars}.

The pandemic has been “powerful,” he stated, however the largest challenges confronted by his firm, and lots of others, are Japan’s growing older society and altering tastes.

Some corporations have closed as a result of the homeowners couldn’t discover a successor. For Mr. Tanaka, it’s getting more durable and more durable to interchange expert conventional staff. Enterprise is crimped as a result of fewer folks these days go to the temples he provides. And new properties are hardly ever constructed with a spot to place a butsudan, which usually occupies its personal particular nook in a conventional Japanese-style room with tatami flooring and sliding paper doorways.

Relating to spiritual custom, there’s little room for innovation, Mr. Tanaka stated. A lot of his merchandise’ designs are almost as previous as the corporate. He has thought-about incorporating 3-D printers into his enterprise, however he wonders who’s going to purchase objects made with one.

Ichiwa is blissfully untroubled by such issues. The household is giant, the enterprise is small, and the one particular talent wanted to grill the mochi is a excessive tolerance for blistering warmth.

However Ms. Hasegawa, 60, admits she typically feels the strain of the store’s historical past. Although the enterprise doesn’t present a lot of a dwelling, everybody within the household from a younger age “was warned that so long as one in all us was nonetheless alive, we would have liked to hold on,” she stated.

One purpose “we preserve going,” she added, is “as a result of all of us hate the thought of being the one to let it go.”



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