The World’s Oldest Company Has Been Active for Over 14 Centuries

A company that survived two atomic bombs.
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Shitennō-ji Temple built by Kongo Gumi in 578.Saigen Jiro/Wikimedia Commons

Kongo Gumi, a family-owned Japanese construction company that is specialized in temple building, is the oldest operational company in the world by carrying on its business for the last 1,443 years.

Back in 578, a renowned Korean builder named Shigemitsu Kongo was invited to Japan by Prince Shōtoku to build a Buddhist temple in the country. Since Buddhism was a new religion in Japan back then, there were no craftsmen to build or lead the project of a Buddhist Temple. Kongo was commissioned to build the Shitennō-ji (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings), which still stands in Osaka, Japan.

At that time, a family member of Kongo decided to start a business which became Kongo Gumi. Since then, the company has been run by the descendants of Kongo for 40 generations, who are listed in a 9,8-foot-long (3 m) scroll from the 17th century. 

The key to the company's longevity is the Buddhist temple construction business has been a reliable mainstay due to millions of Buddhists, generating 80 percent of the company’s income. The company also builds shrines that calms the mind.

Over 14 centuries, 1,443 to be exact, after surviving many natural disasters, political and economical crises, and even two atomic bombs during World War 2, the company has managed to stay operational.

Founding a business and keeping the company in the family for 1,428 years, Kongo Gumi had to liquidate its assets due to its hard financial situation in January 2006.

To summarize the financial difficulties of Kongo Gumi, Japan’s financial bubble in the 1980s must be brought into the equation. Back then Bank of Japan (BoJ) had suppressed the interest rates way too low, and that caused an asset bubble. As the low-interest rates attracted the companies to take huge amounts of debts.

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The financial bubble burst in 1989 and collapsed the asset prices, the companies were left with only debt.

Kongo Guni was among those companies. The company’s financials took a massive hit but managed to struggle for more than two decades. In January 2006, as the income Kongo Gumi generated was no longer enough to pay the debt, it became a subsidiary of the Takamatsu Construction Group.

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