By 1930, during which time recession and two banking crises had further favoured the strong over the weak, just four houses dominated the economy: Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Yasuda and Sumitomo. But rather than specialise, as foreign firms by then mostly did, they gained scale through agglomeration, with a family-run holding company typically controlling financial, manufacturing, mining, shipping and trading units.These core companies in turn controlled hundreds of sub-contractors.By the time the army had turned south to secure the oil fields of South-East Asia, Mitsui had become the biggest private business in the world, employing about 1m non-Japanese Asians.
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But when the new Meiji government of 1868 put an end to feudalism, it did not look to rich Tokyo merchants like Mitsui to lead Japan's industrialisation.
It turned to the samurai, noble but impoverished, who over centuries of peace had become bureaucrats.
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This rapid concentration of economic power among a few samurai families suited the Meiji reformers fine.
Japan, like China, had seemed to be heading for semi-colonial status, with foreigners trading on highly favourable terms out of six of Japan's ports, and controlling its international shipping.
ON NOVEMBER 6th 1945, the supreme commander of the occupying Allied forces in Japan, General Douglas Mac-Arthur, changed forever the way the Japanese did business. He ordered the break-up of the , the huge industrial conglomerates which in 50 years had transformed Japan from a backwater into a world power.