The King Kong Group: A 1,400-Year-Old Enterprise That Has Survived Through War, Natural Disasters, and Economic Turbulence

  In the Asuka era of Japan, after the major clans fought and merged with each other, the Soga clan emerged, defeated the hostile forces and stood in the center of the historical stage. Unlike other families who stick to the rules, the Soga family has shown a keen interest in advanced technology and exotic cultures. Through the “dulairen” who came across the ocean on a fishing boat, they heard about a new religion in the far western continent-Buddhism. People in the Soga family made every effort to collect relevant information about Buddhism, which was in stark contrast to other powerful families who believed in the native religion Shintoism. It was in this family passionate about Buddhism that Prince Shotoku, the grandson of the Soga family, was born. Prince Shotoku was extremely intelligent since he was a child, and actively studied various foreign cultures and systems. Prince Shotoku’s interest in Buddhism continued until he became regent, and he abandoned Shintoism and made Buddhism the state religion, and Buddhism spread in Japan on a large scale.
  However, the large-scale introduction of Buddhism brought troubles to the construction of temples. Since Buddhism is an “imported product”, we should simply invite a few master craftsmen from overseas to come to Japan. Under the convening of Prince Shotoku, three craftsmen from Baekje (now South Korea) traveled across the ocean. Their arrival marked the beginning of the construction of the first official Buddhist temple in Japanese history, Shitennoji. Kongo Shigemitsu was one of the craftsmen from Baekje. He demonstrated outstanding skills and creativity in Japan and was highly appreciated by Prince Shotoku. King Kong Shigemitsu established a group of craftsmen in his own name—King Kong Group. While teaching the construction technology, he led the team to repair the temple on his behalf. Unexpectedly, the King Kong Group he founded in 578 would last for more than 1,400 years and become the longest-lived enterprise in history.
  After the founder of King Kong Group, King Kong Shigemitsu, passed away, his legacy was passed on. After several generations of hard work, in the Nara period in the early 8th century AD, Shitennoji finally completed the construction of the final corridor and lecture hall as planned. This means that more than 100 years have passed since Kongo Shigemitsu founded the King Kong Group to the completion of the construction of the Shitennoji Temple. During this period, the King Kong Group faced various difficulties and challenges.
  The history of Kongogumi is closely connected with Shitennoji, and it has experienced regime changes during the Kamakura Shogunate, Muromachi Shogunate, and Sengoku period. These periods were full of turmoil and wars, and the temples and towers in Shitennoji Temple were destroyed by continuous wars. Whenever a new power comes to power, they will order the King Kong group to rebuild and repair the temple. This is not only to maintain religious belief, but also to use religion to ensure the legitimacy of the ruler’s regime. The craftsmen of the King Konggumi faithfully carried out their mission, and they devoted their skills and spirit to the protection and repair of Shitennoji. With the changes of the times, King Kong Group has gradually formed a unique traditional and craft style. They used many unique techniques and materials in the restoration process, so that the building of Shitennoji can withstand the baptism of time.

Statue of Prince Shotoku. He made Buddhism the state religion of Japan and invited overseas craftsmen to build official Buddhist temples.

  One night in 1801, a powerful bolt of lightning struck a pagoda in the rebuilt Shitennoji Temple, instantly igniting a terrible fire. The fire spread quickly, engulfing the wooden stupa, before spreading to other buildings of the temple. After dawn, the craftsmen of the King Kong Group stood in front of the wreckage and looked at each other. They couldn’t believe that the painstaking efforts and efforts of more than 30 generations were wiped out overnight, and the ancient temple that had been passed down for thousands of years turned into a piece of scorched earth. However, Kongo Xiding, the 32nd-generation head of the King Kong group (similar to the head of the family), immediately summoned the craftsmen of the King Kong group and decided to start rebuilding Shitennoji again.
  For more than a thousand years, the King Kong group has been focusing on protecting and repairing Shitennoji Temple. This reconstruction is also a continuation of their belief and mission. The craftsmen of Kongogumi are not only architects, but also guardians of culture. With their own hands, this magnificent temple has continued to this day, becoming a treasure of Japanese culture and history.

  Before the end of the Edo period, Kongogumi, as the exclusive repair team of Shitennoji Temple, received a generous salary from the ruler every year. However, with the collapse of the Edo shogunate, the exclusive salary of the King Kong group also came to an end. Since the first year of Meiji (1868), the King Kong group had to travel around to provide repair services for various temples in order to earn income to maintain the organization’s expenses.
  Entering the Showa era, the King Kong group encountered even greater suffering and challenges. In the eyes of the Japanese warlords who have embarked on the path of militarism, a company that repairs temples is not worth funding at all. The 37th generation King Kong group leader Kongo Jiichi is worried. He is an excellent craftsman, but he is not good at business operations. He made various efforts to save the King Kong group, but he still couldn’t change the bleak status quo of business operations. In the end, he chose to commit suicide in front of the ancestor’s tomb to express his apology. As soon as King Kongzhi died, the King Kong group immediately fell into a precarious state. Because no suitable heir could be found, in desperation, Kongo Jiichi’s wife had to take over the heavy responsibility and became the head of the 38th generation Kongogumi.
  However, there is no unparalleled road, and a sudden typhoon blew down the originally strong pagoda of Shitennoji Temple. For Japanese Buddhists, Shitennoji is a noble spiritual symbol, and even the military government realized that letting the pagoda of Shitennoji collapse would seriously damage the confidence of the people. The government quickly contacted the King Kong Group and provided the required funds and resources. The King Kong Group, struggling between life and death, finally got a new chance.
success or failure

  After struggling through the crisis in adversity, the King Kong Group began to adjust their business strategies. In order to survive and develop, they turned to the Japanese government’s business. During World War II, the need to build temples decreased. At the same time, the Japanese government promulgated the corporate abolition and merger policy, requiring companies with similar operations to merge to facilitate wartime management. In order to avoid being forced to merge, the King Kong Group began to seek ways of differentiated operations. They are good at carpentry, what kind of industries can they expand besides building wooden buildings for temples and shrines? After some thinking, the King Kong Group decided to enter the military industry. They quickly organized craftsmen to start producing military wooden boxes for carrying ammunition. Relying on this military production, the King Kong group successfully survived the difficult years of World War II.
  After World War II, Japan’s major cities were devastated. In addition to temples and shrines, ordinary civilian houses are in urgent need of reconstruction. At this critical moment, King Kong Lilong, the 39th generation leader of the King Kong Group, seized the opportunity with his excellent business vision. Looking back at the previous damages to Shitennoji Temple, it was mainly caused by fire and natural disasters. After careful consideration, King Kong Lilong decided not to be obsessed with completely wooden buildings. Kongogumi combines traditional craftsmanship with modern reinforced concrete, and on the basis of ensuring fire prevention, earthquake resistance, economy and practicality, it retains the graceful features of Japanese wooden buildings to the greatest extent. This novel architectural concept was quickly recognized by temples and shrines. Buildings destroyed by war can be repaired under a limited budget, so the King Kong Group has won a large number of commission contracts, even including the repair of some civil buildings. The King Kong Group ushered in its heyday, and established multiple construction teams and branch companies to deal with the huge commissioned tasks. Driven by the times, King Kong Group completed the transformation from a traditional craftsman team to a modern enterprise in 1955. They established a joint stock limited company and implemented a modern management and operation model. This transformation enables the King Kong Group to better adapt to the needs of the times and execute projects more efficiently.

  In the subsequent development, King Kong Group continued to expand its business scope. In 1980, a wood processing plant was opened in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, to process wood raw materials required for wood products. Meanwhile, while building construction, the Kongogumi noticed that the real estate market was a lucrative business. Realizing the business opportunities, the King Kong Group began to purchase land in large quantities. Driven by the bubble economy, the entire Japanese business world has fallen into a state of frantic expansion, and the King Kong group is no exception. Soon, Kongogumi opened branches and sales offices in major cities across the country, determined to become a leader in the Japanese construction industry. The construction of temples and shrines has been unable to meet the rapid expansion of the King Kong group. Therefore, they turned their attention to the field of civil housing construction. But in terms of residential construction, Kongogumi lacks experience and cannot compete with other large construction companies. With the collapse of Japan’s bubble economy and the collapse of housing prices, the capital chain of King Kong Group began to break.

King Kong Group was founded in 578 and has lasted for more than 1,400 years, becoming the longest-lived enterprise in history.

In King Kong, a new craftsman undergoes a 10-year apprenticeship, adding other skills his position may require in addition to the skills required for the job.

  At the end of the 20th century, due to over-expansion and setting foot in unfamiliar fields and a series of business decision-making mistakes. King Kong is in serious financial trouble. There is another wave of ancient architecture in Japan, and the construction of temples and shrines has returned to wooden buildings, so the modern skills of King Konggumi have been rejected by old customers. At this time, the King Kong Group can only borrow money to survive, relying on borrowing from all over the world, tearing down the east wall to make up for the west wall, struggling to survive. It finally came to the brink of bankruptcy in 2006. At this time, Takamatsu Koyuki, chairman of Takamatsu Construction, extended a helping hand. Kongogumi, which paid off its debts, has since been incorporated into the Takamatsu Group as a subsidiary.
  Nine of the ten longest-lived companies in the world are Japanese companies. This longevity phenomenon can be attributed to a variety of factors, including social environment, cultural traditions, and business philosophy. However, the longevity of these businesses also has one thing in common, that is, they have been focusing on the same business for millennia. After the reorganization of Kongogumi, the various branch businesses were cut off, and only the main business for thousands of years was retained, that is, the construction of temples and shrines with carpentry as the main body. Famous temples such as Shitennoji Temple and Horyuji Temple still hand over the repair work to the Kongogumi, which allows the Kongogumi to continue the exquisite craftsmanship and craftsman spirit of thousands of years.
  Their work not only reflects respect for traditional culture, but also demonstrates the inheritance and innovation of the craftsman spirit. This return to the traditional main business has allowed Kongogumi to maintain its unique position and continue to develop in the field of temple and shrine construction.

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