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Biography of Kintaro Hattori

Episode 1 - Aim to Be a Timepiece Dealer (1860 - 1880)

Kintaro Hattori was born in Uneme-cho, Kyobashi, Tokyo, close to the present “Ginza 4-chome” intersection, on October 9, 1860. When Kintaro was 8, his father, an antique dealer by trade, sent him to a private elementary school called Seiundo. Even at that early age, Kintaro knew he wanted to become a merchant. In the spring of his 11th year he apprenticed himself to Tsujiya, a haberdashery wholesaler in Kyobashi who imported directly from abroad.
At 13 years of age Kintaro visited Kobayashi Clock Shop, a traditional clock shop established in the Edo period near Tsujiya. He decided to become a clockmaker.
“Business tends to get slow on rainy days, but the clerks at the Clock Shop still have plenty of repair work to do. They make money from both sales and repairs. They stay busy every day, never forced to waste precious TIME. I wonder if I could save up enough to start up a clock shop of my own. Not a bad idea, actually. Hmmm… I’ll do it! I’ll run a clock shop!”

Kintaro Hattori offered his savings to the owner of Sakata Clock Shop in the face of great difficulty in business.
Kintaro Hattori offered his savings to the owner of Sakata Clock Shop in the face of great difficulty in business. This episode has been retold to every new generation to commemorate Kintaro’s generosity and loyalty. (Shuyo Zenshu: Vol. 10 Risshi Funto Monogatari)

Deciding to be a timepiece dealer, Kintaro joined Kameda Clock Shop in Nihonbashi. Two years later he was transferred to Sakata Clock Shop in Ueno, where he learned how to both sell and repair timepieces. But not long after he joined, the shop owner was forced to declare bankruptcy and close the business. When Kintaro left the Clock Shop he expressed his gratitude to the owner, his master, by offering him the money he had saved while working there. The owner was deeply impressed. This episode is still recounted as an example of Kintaro’s generosity and loyalty.

Returning home in 1877, Kintaro put up a signboard, “Hattori Clock Repairer,” on the front of his house. He began selling and repairing secondhand timepieces at once. His new business was the predecessor of what was to become K. Hattori & Co. Over the same years he worked for a clock shop in Kyobashi run by an expert technician named Seijiro Sakurai. He was determined to learn as much as he could about the clock business and clock technologies.

Episode 2 - Establish K. Hattori & Co. (1881 - 1891)

In 1881, amidst a recession caused by the shrinking value of Japan’s currency, the 21-year-old Kintaro established “K. Hattori & Co.” in Uneme-cho, Kyobashi, Tokyo, close to his house. An age of Japan-made clocks and watches was dawning. Pioneers in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya were studying and producing pocket watches based on Western products. Japanese wholesalers needed to purchase all the imported timepieces from foreign trading companies established in Yokohama, Kobe, and other open port areas.
The foreign companies typically set up agreements requiring stores to pay within 30 days. Yet many of the stores insisted on paying only twice per year, once during the Bon festival (mid-August) and once at the end of the year, according to a traditional business practice of the Edo period. The foreign companies and dealers were displeased.
Kintaro adhered to every business agreement he entered. He never wavered from his strict policy of honoring agreements, regardless of the counterparty or the difficulties he suffered. K. Hattori & Co. gained a growing reputation for reliability in the foreign business community.

The spirit of the founder Kintaro Hattori – “Keep any promise (whatever difficulties I suffer)”

First clock tower
First clock tower

Many foreign trading companies distributed their new models to K. Hattori & Co. preferentially, which enabled him to make significant breakthroughs within a relatively short period. In 1886, during an economic boom, Kintaro started focusing on the wholesale and retailing of imported timepieces.
In 1887, in its sixth year in business, K. Hattori moved to the main street in the Ginza, the center of commerce in Japan. Eight years later, in 1895, the booming timepiece dealer purchased a corner of Ginza 4-chome (the present-day location of WAKO), constructed a building with a clock tower (16 meters from top to bottom), and set up a store at the new address.
Ginza was at the forefront of westernization at that time.

In 1891, 10 years after the establishment of K. Hattori & Co., the 31-year-old Kintaro was asked to take up two important positions in industry, one as a director of the Tokyo Clockmaker and Watchmaker Association and one as a member of Tokyo Chamber of Commerce.

Episode 3 - Establish Seikosha Factory (1892 - )

Tsuruhiko Yoshikawa
Tsuruhiko Yoshikawa

In 1892, emboldened by an economic upturn, Kintaro set an ambitious goal as an entrepreneur. With the savings he had earned from selling imports, he decided to begin manufacturing clocks at home in Japan.
Soon after visiting a wall clock factory in Nagoya, Kintaro and a talented engineer named Tsuruhiko Yoshikawa started producing a line of wall clocks (Seiko’s Bonbon Clocks) at a saltpeter factory in a vacant plot of land in Ishiwara-cho, Honjo-ward (the present Sumida City) as a temporary factory.
Seikosha Factory was established with around a dozen of employees. The 31-year-old Kintaro and 28-year-old Tsuruhiko, the factory’s chief engineer, committed all of their efforts to coming up with a Japan-made clock. In the early summer of the following year, 1893, the factory was moved to Yanagijima-cho.

When Kintaro founded the Seikosha Factory he drew up a list of guiding principles.

1."Produce precise clocks"

Wall clock produced at the establishment of Seikosha Clock Factory
Wall clock produced at the establishment of Seikosha Factory

Kintaro named his company Seikosha Factory to express his strong commitment to introducing “Seiko” (a Japanese word for precise) products to compete with the quality clocks manufactured in the West.
Convinced that “customers always favor a quality product,” Seikosha Factory specialized in quality-centered, customer-centered manufacturing.

Spirit of the Founder Kintaro Hattori – “customers always favor a quality product” (“a superior product is a solid basis for ongoing prosperity”)

2. "Cultivate human resources"

The founder, who had been keen on learning in his youth, was enthusiastic about educating his young employees. Soon after establishing Seikosha Factory, Kintaro built a dormitory house within the factory premises and started cultivating skilled technicians. In 1900 he set up evening classes in the dormitory and mandated that his dormitory students learn Japanese, mathematics, and calligraphy. Almost two decades later, in around 1918, he established evening classes in the main store of K. Hattori & Co. to offer the equivalent of a middle school curriculum under the prewar education system. He then founded the Hattori School of Commerce, a four-year night school, within the Osaka store in 1927.

A statement by Kintaro from an article entitled “Kogyo Hatten no Ichi Shudan (lit.: A Means of Industrial Development”) in an edition of Katsudo no Nippon (lit.: “Active Japan”) magazine published in 1905.

“The export of mechanical and industrial products of Japan has been stagnating by and large. The clock industry has been lagging behind the West, mainly as a consequence of 1) outdated machinery equipment and 2) a lack of mechanical knowledge about machines… (snip)… our development as an industry hinges on the establishment of techonological schools (timepieces schools).”

3. "Focus on the brand"

Kintaro focused on the importance not only of “producing superior products,” but also of what we now call “branding” and “marketing.” His invention of the company trademark was an early example. Kintaro’s spirit was the driving force behind the launch of the SEIKO brand in 1924, the broadcast of Japan’s first radio and TV commercials, the company’s contributions as the Official Timer for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, and many more of the company’s activities in society.

4. "Learn from the world and act in the global market"

Kintaro looked out to the world from his very first days in business at the Seikosha Factory. He was determined to learn advanced clock-making techniques from the West and cultivate a market in the world to establish a Japan-made timepiece industry.
Kintaro started exporting in 1895, three years after the company’s founding. He also spent generously on America’s most advanced manufacturing machinery and equipment.

His such managment style spurred the dramatic growth and development of K. Hattori & Co. and Seikosha Factory.

Episode 4 - Growth and Development

Kintaro at 47 (1907)
Kintaro at 47 (1907)

Seikosha Factory wasn’t one of the first clockmakers established in Japan. The Japan-made clock industry emerged in around 1877, fifteen years ahead of the Seikosha Factory. Yet by as early as 1911, twenty years after its founding, Seikosha commanded an approximately 60% share of the market for Japan-made clocks. The astonishing growth of the company was achieved not merely through Kintaro’s fierce commitment, but also his outstanding foresight, insight, and leadership.

1. Making a state-of-the-art factory

Panoramic view of Seikosha Clock Factory in 1920
Panoramic view of Seikosha Clock Factory in 1920

Kintaro clearly saw that Japan’s clock industry was held back by outdated machinery. One year after establishing his factory, Kintaro upgraded from manpower to engine power on his production lines by installing a 5-horsepower steam engine. More upgrades followed in succession: to 25-horsepower; to a 60-horsepower steam engine purchased during his solitary 6-month visit to the West in 1900; to a 140-horsepower steam engine purchased during his second visit to the West in 1906; to the acquisition and introduction of the world’s most advanced techniques and state-of-the-art machine tools. Kintaro worked aggressively to build a most advanced factory.
Seikosha Factory adopted a system of vertically integrated production to combine all stages of production from all parts making to assembly, turning away from the system of horizontally divided production adopted by the mainstream Swiss and Japanese manufacturers. Integrated production was the fastest route to achieve “precise and quality timepiece making” with “shortened development periods.”

Kintaro also sought to internally produce machine tools. An automatic pinion lathe he developed in-house dramatically streamlined the production of parts (pinions), an important phase of watch making that had hindered mass production. This innovation swiftly increased the sales of pocket watches, a product that had brought in no money for many years.
His efforts to build a state-of-the-art factory improved product quality as well as the company’s capacity for mass production. The modernization of factory became the driving force behind Seikosha’s development and growth.

2. Speedy product development

Seikosha’s first pocket watch, the Time Keeper
Seikosha’s first pocket watch, the Time Keeper

Kintaro tried to catch up with the advanced Western countries by ambitiously producing "precise products of quality" of many different varieties, starting with a wall clock in 1892. He rapidly commercialized the Timekeeper pocket watch in 1895, the third year from the establishment of Seikosha. Next came an alarm clock in 1899 (the seventh year of operation), a pocket watch called the Excellent in 1902, a popular pocket watch called the Empire in 1909, and Japan’s first wristwatch, the Laurel, in 1913.
Kintaro’s alarm clocks made with rust-proof nickel-plated cases overtook the overwhelmingly popular German alarm clocks (iron cases) in the Japanese and Chinese (Qing) markets.
The Empire popular pocket watch (produced with the factory’s automatic pinion lathe) was recognized as superior to Western imports and spread widely through markets in Japan and overseas. This timepiece was one of SEIKO’s true masterpieces. The company continued producing the Empire for 26 years up to 1934.

Laurel (1913)
Laurel (1913)

The Laurel, Japan’s first wristwatch, was an epoch-making product for the far less developed Japanese timepiece industry. This watch brought Japan closer to the advanced watch makers of the West when the mass production of wristwatches launched in around 1910. Demand for the wristwatch skyrocketed after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, proving Kintaro’s perfect timing for the launch of the Laurel, as well as his foresight and speedy management.

3. World War I - the advent of the wristwatch in an era of dizzying prosperity

World War I generated rapid increases in exports and an unprecedented economic boom. The German timepiece industry halted exports, bringing in a surge of business at the Seikosha Factory. The factory received large-lot orders for about 600,000 alarms clocks from the United Kingdom and for another 300,000 from France.
Imported materials became scarce during the war despite a rapid increase in foreign demand. Nonetheless, Kintaro managed to import large volumes of material just after the outbreak to successfully meet the increased demand. Other Japanese clockmakers suffered material shortages and missed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to grow exponentially.
Seiko Factory became strong enough to compete for hegemony in the Asian market against the Western timepiece makers. Kintaro Hattori, the founder, came to be known as the King of Timepieces in the East.

Episode 5 - The Great Kanto Earthquake (Quick Restoration and Birth of the Seiko Brand)

Pocket Watches destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake
Pocket Watches destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake

In September 1923, Seikosha Factory faced its greatest crisis ever, the Great Kanto Earthquake. The fires sparked by the earthquake reaped serious damage to Seikosha and Kintaro Hattori. The only part of the factory not decimated was a sole feed-water tower made of steel. Kintaro’s residence and the temporary office he rented during the construction of the main store building were also destroyed.
Kintaro, already 62, was depressed for only day or two. Four days after the disaster he declared plans to rebuild the Seikosha Factory. Restoration work began at once.

Announcement on the return of repair items destroyed in the earthquake
Announcement on the return of repair items destroyed in the earthquake

The sales section at K. Hattori & Co. started buying and wholesaling imported timepieces in mid-October and started full-scale business from a temporary store launched in November.
The earthquake had also destroyed about 1500 clocks and watches the factory had received from customers for repairs. Kintaro placed an advertisement in the paper and compensated customers who came forward by providing new equivalents. This gesture attracted a great deal of attention in the general public.

The production sector (Seikosha Factory) took a step toward restoration on the 1st of the following month. A temporary factory building was completed at the end of the month. Several more temporary factory buildings were constructed in 1924, the following year. The sector shipped wall clocks in March, pocket watch cases in April, and alarm clocks in September.
The extremely fast restoration was achieved mostly through the efforts of the people on hand at the factory.
And by a stroke of great luck, 60 to 70% of the burnt machine tools were still salvageable and useable after repairs.

In December of the same year, the production of wristwatches commenced under a new brand name, Seiko. A prototype that had been completed the day before the catastrophic earthquake luckily survived the fire. The new brand was born just as the nation prepared to conquer its difficulties and take a new step forward. The survival of the prototype helped K. Hattori restore the Seikosha Factory. The birth of the Seiko wristwatch spurred the modernization of the factory’s manufacturing equipment and processes and laid the foundations for the company’s subsequent developments and breakthroughs.

Episode 6 - Later Life

Seikosha Clock Factory in 1930
Seikosha Factory in 1930
K. Hattori & Co. in 1932
K. Hattori & Co. in 1932

The restoration of the Seikosha Factory went smoothly. Then came the completion of the new main store building of K. Hattori & Co., in 1932. The newly constructed Clock Tower is currently the most prominent architectural heritage of the Ginza. The factory buildings were now fully restored and the main store building with the Clock Tower was revived.

A year later, in 1933, Kintaro fell ill.
In 1934, Kintaro Hattori, an entrepreneur with a profound commitment to service, a philanthropist who spent much of his personal fortune on good works and a scholarship foundation (Hattori Hokokai Foundation), passed away at the age of 73 with his family at his bedside.

Kintaro Hattori in later life
Kintaro Hattori in later life

Kintaro had to overcome many difficulties before reaching his ambitious goal of establishing a timepiece industry.
Kintaro was a man with an extraordinarily strong will and astonishing endurance, a man who always stayed a step ahead, moving forward with steady determination, neither stopping nor hurrying. His spirit lives on in some words, “the World’s Brand Seiko,” the slogan of choice for Seiko when it became the official timer of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, when it dominated the observatory competition in Switzerland, when it introduced the world’s first quartz wristwatch, the “Quartz Astron,” the current world standard for clocks and watches, and when it introduced the world’s first “GPS Solar Astron” in 2012.