Andrew’s world in Japan — 2017/May

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring thcreative process & connecting with other creative people.

The Greatest Gift of Recorded History


Nothing is comprehensive about the authentic bargain basement style travel that I conduct. My research is a scattered jumble of crumpled paper receipts, under-utilized maps, mistaken notes and haphazard photos. You may disagree, but I boldly note that you are not privy to my hidden treasure of collected observations. How to keep up on all these fascinating global affairs? My particular view on that is that we, we being humanity, are caught up in a circular loop. It’s just that characters are regularly swapped out to maintain that freshness. So I find it pretty amazing that a little-known list of oldest companies exists.

According to the list, a brand or company name must remain operating since inception. The main chunk of these companies, older than 200 years of age is in Japan; 3,146 to be precise. Apparently, the oldest is the construction company Kongō Gumi, established in the year 578. Most of the other early Japanese companies are either hotels or religious goods businesses. Slightly stunned by this information, I move on to be more intrigued at the ability for humanity to manage such precise records in light of my own poorly managed system. Even after fires, theft, age and whatever other kind of damage may befall the records, these companies have managed to maintain their records alongside their business. Japan also holds the most companies older than 100 years, 21,000 as of September 2009. What I also find interesting is that Germany’s and France’s oldest companies are in the beer and wine industry, goes to show European priorities. Which is my very haphazard segue into the hidden gem I stumbled on while out exploring Tokyo.

On a discrete typical corner in 1 Chome of Nakano City, resides the Kadoya Liquor Store. The first thing to catch my eye was an abundance of handwritten white paper signs with brightly colored in primary red, blue and black Japanese characters. Immediately struck with a sense of wonder; I love hand drawn signs. Then, the textures on the space, you can easily see the sticky residue of many years of devotion to taping up signs. Not a fancy new luxurious run of the mill store, no, this is a relic, a classic, a true slice of history; this coupled with what turned out to be a specialty shop focusing on saké, wine and craft beers; my kind of shop. You can imagine my fervent delight, right?

Big chains and conglomerates manage most of the shops around the globe these days. Even if they didn’t have anything I really wanted, I knew my devotion to helping maintain these kinds of independent shops would have me spending cash. The shelves in this tightly packed shop contained bottles for display along with actual available-to-purchase product. Helpful labels inform the origin, style and a short description. The shopkeeper, a very pleasant and patient fellow, deftly maneuvered my abundant, and possibly random, questions. Saké, was of course, the predominant product, so I purchased a small bottle along with a few beers. Unfortunately, my cash flow low, I would literally be ‘spending cash’ as this traditional shop also maintained the ‘cash only,’ policy of old. Lucky for me, otherwise I might have gotten carried away. A tight budget helps me maintain the ‘live modestly’ etiquette.

My memory holds on to threads of information I attempt to connect with my photos and notes. Not a fail-proof method, but it gets me where I need to go. That Japan has the most ‘oldest companies’ in the world leads me to wonder, did they invent “companies?” That wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. All I can say is that I have love for long-standing original businesses and hand painted signs. Kadoya liquor store owner, thank you for keeping your business going and sharing in the hazard filled wake of history.