Omi shonin (近江商人)

Omi shonin refers to merchants from the Omi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture) who were active from the Kamakura period through to Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. They are considered as one of the three major merchants in Japan along with merchants from Osaka and Ise.


Many of the Omi shonin were originally from Echi District (Shiga Prefecture), Gamo District (Omihachiman City and Hino Town [Shiga Prefecture]), and Kanzaki District (Gokasho Town) (Shiga Prefecture).

From the earlier period when Omi merchants peddled mainly in Kyoto and the provinces of Mino, Ise, and Wakasa, they gradually extended their businesses and the areas of activity. Some of the merchants ventured into foreign trade using ships with a shogunal charter called Shuinsen. After the isolation policy was reinforced by the government, some of them became daimyogashi (lending money to feudal lords with high interest) or brewers, while others became basho ukeoinin (merchants/traders working in designated areas on commission by samurai landlords) in Ezo (present-day Hokkaido). Many of the large-scale companies today, such as Nishikawa Sangyo which developed as a business enterprise after the Meiji period, have their origin as Omi shonin.

Their keen business sense was envied by the people of Edo, and they were maligned, together with Ise merchants, as 'Omi thieves and Ise beggars.'
In reality, however, they are now considered the pioneers who brought revolutionary changes to the distribution business by strictly pursuing the concept of streamlining, as seen in the examples of the invention of the double-entry system in bookkeeping by a merchant from Hino, Genzaemon NAKAI, which was at the highest level in the word at that time (according to Eiichi OGURA "Goshu Nakai-ke chogo no ho" (bookkeeping method of the Nakai family in Omi Province)); the establishment of the system of 'Otoban nakama' by the merchants from Hino, which can said to be an early concept of the contracted hotel; and the expansion of the business by proactively opening branches, which is a similar concept to today's chain stores.

One of the family precepts of Omi shonin is known to be that of 'Sanpo yoshi' (benefit for all three sides), which teaches that in their business the merchant should take into consideration the benefits for the customer, society, and the vendor at the same time.

[Original Japanese]