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Kitamura, Toranosuke (1866–1930)

by D. C. S. Sissons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Toranosuke Kitamura (1866-1930), merchant, was born on 12 April 1866 in Kyoto, Japan, eldest son of Kitamura Uhei, druggist, and his wife Kishi, née Fujita. His father died during his childhood. In 1876 he began work as an office-boy with S. Nagoaka, wholesale druggist at Osaka, and in 1885 he went to Hong Kong to gain a practical grounding in foreign commerce. There in 1887 he met and impressed Kanematsu, Fusajiro, the owner of the Osaka Mainichi newspaper and former managing director of the Osaka Shosen shipping company. Two years later, when Kanematsu set up a firm at Kobe to open direct trade with Australia, he prevailed on Kitamura to accompany him to Sydney to establish an office there and manage it after his return; they arrived in the Tsinan on 16 February 1890.

The early years in Sydney were not easy. Kitamura later recalled: 'for three years our meals morning and evening consisted of a dish of beef or mutton with a piece or two of bread. For lunch we had bread and water. We tried to economize expenses, attending to labourers' work ourselves, moving the goods in and out of the office'. At Woolwich on 24 March 1894 he married Riku Yasuda; the marriage was registered at the Japanese consulate on 5 March 1903. She later returned to Japan with their three children.

It was in the station produce industry that Kitamura's influence was first felt. Finding that many items such as sinews, hooves, and leg-bones, for which there was a market in Japan, were discarded in Australia, Kitamura toured boiling-down establishments and, armed with American samples that he had procured from Chicago, gave full directions for the preparation of each product. In this manner he turned what had been an annual waste into a lucrative trade.

In order to gain a practical grounding in the technicalities of the wool trade, Kitamura worked for a time in the wool store of Harrison, Jones & Devlin Ltd. There he made trial purchases of small lots and shipped them to London for resale. In his forty years as head of the Sydney office the number of bales of wool shipped by the firm from Australia rose from 200 in 1890-91 to 2000 in 1904-05, to 10,000 in 1909-10 to 100,000 in 1930 (the year in which Japan supplanted France for second place in the Australian wool market). He first bought wheat in 1900; annual shipments reached 13,000 tonnes in 1919 and 60,000 tonnes in 1925.

When the parent firm in Japan became a public company in 1918, Kitamura was its largest single shareholder, owning 18 per cent of the issued capital. From 1922 when the Sydney office became a separate company, F. Kanematsu (Australia) Ltd, he was its managing director. Throughout, it was his custom to have his midday meal with the rest of the Japanese staff at an old table covered with a sheet of newspaper in a corner of the wool sample room. New arrivals saw this as his method of passing on his experience and expertise and impressing upon them that it was economy that saw the firm through its initial difficult years.

It was in 1929, when he was still at the helm, that the firm endowed the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology and Biochemistry at Sydney Hospital.

Kitamura's principal residence was at Woodford in the Blue Mountains. During the week he lived at 60 Blue's Point Road, North Sydney. He was unusual among the local Japanese community in that he was a permanent resident (only possible for those who arrived before 1901) and raised an Australian family. He had a great regard for Britain and sent two of his daughters to school there.

He was a keen race-goer. One of the most popular and respected figures in the Sydney wool trade, Kitamura made regular visits to Japan and owned a residence and other real estate at Kyoto. He developed bronchitis at sea en route to Japan and died at Kobe on 6 June 1930, a few days after his arrival. In accordance with his wishes his ashes were returned to Sydney and buried in South Head cemetery. His estate in New South Wales was valued for probate at £9535. He was survived by a son and two daughters in Japan and by one son and three daughters in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • Kanematsu Ltd, Kanematsu Rokujunen no Ayumi (Kobe, 1961)
  • Dalgety's Annual Wool Review, 1929-30
  • Kanematsu Geppo, June 1954, Aug 1959
  • Official municipal family register (koseki) of Kitamura, Toranosuke of 309 Shinnyodo-cho, Nijonoborou, Kuruma-cho, Kamikyo-ky, Kyoto.

Citation details

D. C. S. Sissons, 'Kitamura, Toranosuke (1866–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kitamura-toranosuke-6980/text12129, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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