Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Company

Hoshi Pharmaceuticals was one of the most influential drug companies in Asia in the early twentieth century. It was a leader not only in patent medicines and consumer goods, but also in alkaloid-based medicines such as quinine, cocaine, and morphine. From its beginnings as a small drug manufactory in Tokyo in 1906, Hoshi Pharmaceuticals enjoyed a meteoric rise, particularly in the years after World War One. In 1923, it boasted a capitalization of nearly 50 million yen—nearly five times more than its closest competitor in the market. In 1925, the company became embroiled in an opium trading scandal that destroyed its finances and reputation.  Although the company briefly recovered from bankruptcy in the 1930s and became a key supplier of medicines for the Japanese military during World War Two, it became entangled in a similarly damaging opium scandal during the early years of the Allied Occupation.

In its heyday, Hoshi Pharmaceuticals maintained a close association with the Japanese state. Its founder and longtime president, Hoshi Hajime (1873-1951) had close personal ties to leading statesmen such as Nitobe Inazō (1862-1933), Itō Hirobumi (1841-1990), and especially Gotō Shinpei (1857-1929). Hoshi Hajime himself was a politician; beginning in 1908, when he won his first seat as a representative in the National Diet from his native Fukushima Prefecture, Hoshi served as a parliamentarian six times while pursuing his career as a pharmaceutical mogul (his last term ended in 1947). Before entering the drug business, Hoshi had spent a decade in the United States studying and working among elites. He obtained an M.A. from the School of Political Science of Columbia University in 1901, directed the Japanese Exhibition at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, and managed a bilingual newspaper that fostered U.S.-Japan relations titled, Japan and America. Hoshi's time in America piqued his interest in American franchising and retail methods and influenced his decision to enter the drug industry.

Today, Hoshi Pharmaceuticals is perhaps best known because of Hoshi Shin’ichi (1926-1997), one of the most popular writers of his postwar generation. He was Hajime's eldest son and a former company president before the Hoshi family sold off its stake in 1952.

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