Kongō Gumi: The World’s Very First Brand

The very first brand in the world is Kongō Gumi which is the name of a construction company founded by Shigemitsu Kongō in the year 578 in Osaka, Japan.

Irene Herrera writes in Works That Work: “When Prince Shōtoku Taishi (574–622) commissioned the construction of Japan’s first Buddhist temple, Shitennō-ji, Japan was predominantly Shinto and had no miyadaiku (carpenters trained in the art of building Buddhist temples), so the prince hired three skilled men from Baekje, a Buddhist state in what is now Korea. Among them was Shigetsu Kongō, whose work would become the foundation of the construction firm Kongō Gumi.”

Prince Shōtoku (574-622) flanked by his younger brother Prince Eguri (left) and his first son, Prince Yamashiro.

Kongō Gumi has been recognized as the world’s oldest continuously ongoing independent company, operating for over 1,400 years. It is a brand that exists until today which is primarily focused in the construction and restoration of Buddhist temples and shrines in Japan. It is currently a subsidiary of the Takamatsu Construction Group (or TCG) which purchased the company in 2006.

Kongō Gumi’s logo.
Shitennō-ji, completed by Kongō Gumi in 593 AD, was the very first Buddhist temple built in Japan.

Through its history of over fourteen centuries, Kongō Gumi participated in the construction of many famous buildings across Japan, including the famous 16th century Osaka Castle which held a prominent role in the unification of Japan under the leadership of Tokugawa Ieyasu, also known as the Edo Period (1603-1867).

The famous Osaka Castle, built by Kongō Gumi.

“The Kongō family…managed to maintain its narrow focus on Buddhist temples and shrines in Japan…”

For over 40 generations of the Kongō family, they managed to maintain the narrow focus of Kongō Gumi on Buddhist temples and shrines in Japan which helped establish this brand as the undisputed leader in this specific market segment in the Japanese construction industry.

Kongō Yoshie (2nd from right), the 38th master carpenter of Kongō Gumi with employees.

Kaushik Patowary writes in Amusing Planet: “Aside from high quality of workmanship, Kongō Gumi gives emphasis on building a strong relationship with customers. “Listen to what the customer says”, “Treat the customers with respect” and “Submit the cheapest and most honest estimate”, are some of the precept in the Shokuke kokoroe no koto (or “family knowledge of the trade”) that reflect this approach. The creed also discusses relationships in general, such as “Do not put yourself forward”, “Never fight with others”, “Do not shame a person or boast” and “Communicate with respect”.

This creed was written by the 32nd leader of the company, Yoshisada Kongō, during the period of the Meiji Restoration in the early part of the 19th century. The creed includes a list of 16 precepts distilled from the company’s successful past and intended to guide and preserve the family’s operations into the future. 

Some of the key learnings from this oldest brand in the world include the following:

  • Focus on a specific expertise provides a strong competitive advantage.
  • Being first in a category helps establish market leadership and makes it difficult for competitors to challenge.
  • Building strong relationships with customers is key to sustaining a profitable brand.
  • Each employee of the company reflects the personality of the brand, therefore, must deeply understand its values and thereby apply this in his or her own personal and professional life.
  • The life cycle of a brand can carry on for centuries if the key principles of branding are executed consistently.

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