Name In Japanese: 伊庭 貞剛
Pronunciation: iba teigō
Period: 1847 to 1926
Iba Teigō was a businessman and the second Director-General of Sumitomo in the Meiji period. He was originally from Ōmihachiman, in today’s Shiga Prefecture. He solved the problem of smoke pollution at the Sumitomo Niihama Smelter, leading to a resurgence of copper mining at Besshi. He also focused on environmental restoration such as tree planting, and is said to be a pioneer of corporate social responsibility.
Teigō studied kendō with an instructor in the Ōmi feudal domain and was called to the imperial court in 1868 in the first year of the Meiji to serve in the Kyōto Imperial Palace guard. This led to a career in the legal system of the new government, and he was transferred to posts at courts all over Japan, with promotion to prosecutor then judge. At the age of 33, while he was working at the Osaka Superior Court, he became disenchanted with the government and resigned.
At the recommendation of his uncle, Hirose Saihei, the first Director-General of Sumitomo, he joined the company in 1879. After becoming the manager of the head office three months later, he was regarded as highly talented by the Sumitomo family and was promoted through various positions. Based in Ōsaka, and active in the business world there, he was involved in establishing textile and shipping companies and the commercial school that later became Ōsaka City University.
In 1894, smoke pollution from the smelter at Besshi Copper Mine had led to protests by the farmers of Niihama. Teigō came to Niihama and resolved to move the smelter to Shisaka Island in the Inland Sea. In order not to alert the owners that Sumitomo was buying the island, he ordered an employee to buy it under his own name, Iba. The smelter was moved to the island and the problem at Niihama was solved, at least for a while.
He was also devoted to restoring nature by planting trees on the Nishi Akaishi mountains that had become bald due to mine development, believing that it was their responsibility to restore their natural greenery. Later, the forestry company Sumitomo Ringyō was established to manage the forests.
Teigō was promoted to Director-General in 1900. He retired in 1904 at the age of 58, and went to live in Shiga, where he died in 1926, aged 80. You can see a bust of him in his old age at the Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum.