Itō Yae

Itō Yae

Yae provided indispensable support for the Ōmi merchants on the home front.

place Area: Toyosato access_time Published: 2020.07.23

Dates: 1848 to 1952
Name in Japanese: 伊藤八重

Itō Yae, the wife of the first Itō Chūbē and the mother of the Itochu Marubeni trading company.

She was born in 1848 in Toyosato, Shiga Prefecture. She was the eldest daughter of Fujino Sōzaemon, and her childhood name was Sachi. In 1866, at the age of 18, she married the first Itō Chūbē, the second son of the fifth Itō Chōbē. On marrying, she inherited the name of her mother‐in‐law, becoming Yae. The only education she received was learning to read, write, and use the abacus at a temple school, but her husband taught her Arabic numbers and arithmetic. She enjoyed writing postcards.

Her husband Chūbē was dedicated to peddling Ōmi linen and had achieved good results in Kyūshū. When he opened the Benchū shop in 1872 in Honmachi, Ōsaka, Yae took over the management of the Itō family home and headquarters in Toyosato.

She selected the rice and tobacco sold in the Ōsaka shop and prepared large volumes of miso and pickled plums for sale. She oversaw the making of employees’ uniforms and at Obon and New Year, she made kimonos and bought geta for the many clerks. Her tasks also included washing and mending the bedding of the staff.

Education of new store employees was also one of Yae’s jobs. She personally oversaw recruitment, and when a new clerk was hired, he went first to the family headquarters in Toyosato, where he learned reading and writing, the abacus, and business manners. In the course of this education, Yae observed the personality and ability of each hire, advising her husband on how best to assign them on the job. If a clerk caused a problem after starting work at the shop, he was immediately sent back to the Toyosato head office for re-education.

At her home, she also undertook the training of the daughters of good families in domestic management and deportment before marriage.

The second Chūbē said of his mother, “She was my father’s business partner rather than a housewife or mother of a household”. Her rigorous management went far beyond what’s typically considered ‘wife’s work’. It was also Yae who devised the Marubeni trademark.

After laying the foundations for Marubeni and Itochu Corporation, Yae’s husband died at the age of 62. Her son Seiichi succeeded him, becoming the second Chūbē. But when her son started his employment at the shop, Yae gave him no position and he began as an apprentice like any other employee, much to people’s surprise. The second Chūbē learned management from the shop floor up, an experience that seems to have served him well.

Itō Yae was large and strong for a woman at that time. She had a straightforward personality with a strong will. She was a firm adherent of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism. Yae lived until the age of 104.

Even now, every spring, as part of their training, new employees of Itochu and Marubeni visit the Toyosato home where Yae once conducted her personnel development program. They study the origins of the company in the business of the Ōmi merchants and learn to respect Yae as the mother of the employees and a pioneer of the modern employee training system.