End of the Road for World's Oldest Firm

      December 15, 2005 19:57

      The oldest company in the world, which was founded in 578 in Japan by a group of people from the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje, will go into liquidation in January.

      Kongo Gumi dates its foundation from the year when carpenter Shigemitsu Kongo built Shitennoji. Kongo had been invited to the island country by Prince Shotoku. His descendants continuously maintained the family business, and the construction firm was named the world's oldest company by the Economist monthly.

      Japanese crowds welcome Korea's cultural delegation by hailing, "watso" (meaning: "they have come") at a historical re-enactment in front of the Shitennoji Temple, built by Shigemitsu Kongo of the ancient Korean Baekje kingdom.

      The operation of Kongo Gumi will be handed over to a subsidiary of the Takamatsu Corporation of the same name that was established last month. But with the retirement of Masakazu Kongo, the firm's 40th president, its 1,400 years of history as a family firm are effectively at an end.

      Besides the Shitennoji Temple in Osaka, Kongo Gumi is also famous for building the Horyuji Temple in Nara, both leading examples of old Japanese architecture. The firm has also been a symbol of Japan's "shinise," or family-run business culture.

      After the price of land Kongo Gumi had purchased in 1980s nosedived, the firm decided to liquidate due to heavy debts. It nonetheless recorded sales of 7.5 billion yen in April last year and is hiring about 100 employees.

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