A History of Yoshisuke Aikawa – Founder of Nissan

Yoshisuke Aikawa was the founder and first president of Nissan zaibatsu. He was born in 1880 in what is now part of Yamaguchi city. Aikawa graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in engineering and went to work for Shibaura Saisakusho the forerunner of Toshiba. He made a trip to the United States where he researched malleable cast iron. When he returned to Japan he established the Tobata Foundry in 1909 which is known now as the Hitachi Metals company.

In 1928 Yoshisuke Aikawa became the president of Kuhara Mining Company, now the Nippon Mining & Metals Company. He created a holding company called Nihon Sangyo or Nissan for short. In the stock market boom following 1931, Aikawa bought majority shareholdings in over a hundred subsidiary companies of Nissan to create the Nissan Konzerne. This group included some of the most technologically advanced companies in Japan at that time.

In 1937 he moved to Manchukuo and eventually moved the headquarters of Nissan to Manchukuo where it became part of the Manchurian Industrial Development Company. As president and chairman, he guided all industrial efforts in Manchukuo and received bank loans from American steel industrialists to support the Manchukuo economy.

Yoshisuke Aikawa was not in agreement with the political views of the Imperial Japanese Army and predicted that Nazi Germany would be defeated if a general war broke out. He also supported the Fugu Plan to settle Jewish refugees in Manchukuo. Forced by the Kwantung Army, Aikawa resigned as chairman in 1942 and moved back to Japan. After the surrender of Japan, Yoshisuke Aikawa was arrested by the American occupation authorities and imprisoned in the Sugamao Prison for twenty months as a Class A war crimes suspect. He was freed but during this time the Nissan zaibatsu had been dissolved.

After he was released, Yoshisuke Aikawa played a key role in the post war economic reconstruction of Japan and purchased a commercial bank to organize loans to small companies. The zaibatsu was reformed into Nichiyo-kai, Nissan Group.

Nissan Motors was a small side business for Nissan Group compared to the core real estate business. During the real estate crash of the 1990s the Nissan Group shed the majority of its real estate gave Nissan Motors more independence especially after Renault SA bought a 39% stake. The turnaround of Nissan can be attributed to the CEO Carlos Ghosn who was installed in 1999. He detached Nissan Motors from the Nissan keiretsu connections and debt.

Yoshisuke Aikawa died in 1967 of gall bladder inflammation and is buried in Tama Cemetery outside Tokyo.