Ichisuke was born in 1857, the eldest son of a samurai in the service of the feudal domain of Iwakuni, a noted center of education. At the age of eight, he began attending the domain’s official school. At 15, he transferred to the Iwakuni English language school, where he achieved top marks. Indeed, his talents were so impressive that a year later he was appointed to teach there. His outstanding abilities eventually caught the attention of the former feudal lord of Iwakuni, and he was sent to study in Tokyo.
In 1884, a young Japanese researcher visited Edison’s laboratory and pledged to the “King of Inventors” that, upon returning to Japan, he would devote himself to establishing an electric power industry there. Edison replied, “Bringing electricity to Japan is a noble ambition. But no matter how much electric power a country may have at its disposal, it’s doomed if it has to import electrical appliances. So start with manufacturing electrical appliances. Make Japan self-sufficient as a nation.” The recipient of that advice from Edison was Toshiba’s other founder, Ichisuke Fujioka.
As soon as he saw Edison’s famous invention, the incandescent light bulb, he became convinced that this safe, easy-to-use invention would rapidly become popular. Accordingly, he urged the Japanese government and industry to adopt it for practical use. In 1886, at Ichisuke’s recommendation, Tokyo Incandescent Light Bulb Manufacturing Co., Ltd. ; predecessor of Tokyo Electric, opened for business. Japan had entered the age of electricity.
In 1886, Ichisuke resigned from teaching at university to start manufacturing prototypes of incandescent light bulbs. In 1890, he established Hakunetsu-sha, which later became Tokyo Electric to launch
Then, in 1904, the Russo-Japanese War led to a dip in imports, and domestically made light bulbs began to sell briskly. At this point Ichisuke made up his mind to establish a beneficial partnership with Edison’s giant firm, General Electric. In 1908, the Kawasaki plant came on line, dramatically boosting production capacity and competitive capabilities. In 1911, it released a tungsten bulb, the “Mazda Lamp.” Thereafter, economical, durable, domestically produced light bulbs steadily gained ground. In 1939, the company merged with Shibaura Engineering Works, the heavy electric equipment manufacturer established by Hisashige Tanaka, to form Tokyo Shibaura Electric Co., Ltd., a comprehensive manufacturer of electrical appliances.
At an 1890 exposition, Ichisuke exhibited Japan’s first electric train, which he designed himself by modifying a U.S.-built carriage. Later, he supervised construction of the first electric railway in Japan, the Kyoto Electric Railway, which started service in 1895. He also designed the electric motor that powered the train. Subsequently, Ichisuke superintended planning and construction of the Tokyo municipal electric railway. Thus, he played a central role in the spread of the electric railroads in Japan.
In Tokyo Electric Light’s early days, Ichisuke was involved in designing and building five power stations in Tokyo, and took part in construction of many power stations in outlying towns as well. Japan’s first hydroelectric plant, too, was built under his supervision.
Japan’s first high-rise, the Ryounkaku, was completed in 1890, and it was equipped with Japan’s first electric elevator system, also designed by Ichisuke. Two elevators, each with a 10-person capacity, served the first to eighth floors of the 12-story structure. But the authorities did not approve: half a year after construction, they ordered operation suspended