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[Alumni Biographical Notes]

Aizo Soma: Founder of Nakamuraya and a Great Shopkeeper

Aizo Soma (1870-1954) is known as the founder of Nakamuraya (a well-established food company). In 1886, Aizo entered Tokyo Professional College which had just been founded. While at the college, he received education from Shoyo Tsubouchi, Tameyuki Amano and Sanae Takada. Later, he studied with Sokichi Tsuda, a Japanese historian who became a professor at Waseda University. In later years, Aizo developed a friendship with Yaichi Aizu, an art historian. Aizo said, "I want to contribute to culture and the state (society) through my occupation." In fact, he did contribute to the promotion of literature and arts through a salon he organized with his wife Kokkou. He also developed food culture and introduced authentic Indian curry to Japan.

(Reprinted from Seihoku no Kaze, 2011 alumni publication)

Entry into Waseda University

Aizo Soma (left) and Kokkou Soma (right) and the Bose family welcomed the Indian poet Tagore (center)
(From History of Aizo and Kokkou Soma)

Aizo was born in a farming family in Azumino City, Nagano Prefecture. He dropped out of Matusmoto Junior High School and left for Tokyo at the age of 17 in order to enter Waseda University. In his book For a Great Shopkeeper that was published in 1938 when he was 69, Aizo wrote the following about the state of university at that time.

"With the land of Waseda as well, there is a great difference compared to now. Rice paddies spread out endlessly and the ground was loose because of significant low wetlands. If you put a little strength and stepped onto the ridge of the rice fields, the ground 7 to 9 meters ahead of you would shake. Between the rice fields, here and there would be Japanese ginger plots. This was a famous product of Waseda at the time. On the opposite side of the residence of Shigenobu Okuma, Tokyo Professional College was built in part of the hills of a slightly elevated tea plantation."

Aizo recollected about Shoyo Tsubouchi, "rather than listening to lectures, I remember being shown plays of Shakespeare, which was very interesting." In 1890, he graduated as the seventh students of the College. At that time, the number of graduates was 184.

People of the Nakamuraya Salon

Indian curry of Nakamuraya

After graduation, Aizo learned about silkworm culture in Hokkaido and started manufacturing silkworm eggs by carrying out breed improvement of silkworms in his hometown. When he was 28, he married Kokkou, but Kokkou could not get used to new life and became ill. Therefore, he resolved to once again go to Tokyo. In 1901, he took over Nakamuraya, a bakery in front of the Red Gates of the University of Tokyo and took his first step on the path as a shopkeeper. Three years later, he had an original idea for a cream-filled roll, inspired by a cream puff. In 1909, he set up new shop which today is in Shinjuku.

Under Aizo and Kokkou, from this time, people gathered from various worlds, such as art, drama and literature. Naoe Kinoshita, who was a socialist activist from the same town and school as Aizo, visited, as did Vasili Eroshenko, a blind Russian poet. Kanzo Uchimura and Sumako Matsui also paid a visit. They also sheltered Rash Behari Bose. Bose was the head of the Indian independence movement and he also contributed to the development of Nakamuraya's pure Indian-style curry. Aizo and Kokkou helped Bose with his life on the run from the authorities. These glamorous friendships that developed in a studio built at the back of the shop were known as the "Nakamuraya Salon."

Interacting with People from Waseda

The year was 1916. Yaichi Aizu wrote of his meetings with Aizo and Kokkou, "When I originally taught Yasuo, the oldest son of Nakamuraya at Waseda Junior High School, I got very angry with him and made him drop out of class. Thereupon, Aizo and Kokkou came to see me to thank me. They said bravely making him drop out of class was an extremely virtuous thing to do." Later, he developed a deep friendship with Aizo and Kokkou who admired the Nara arts. After the war, Aizu held a one-man exhibition at Nakamuraya.

Sokichi Tsuda went to the same school as Aizo and was his life-long friend. In 1935, the Waseda University Oriental Philosophy Laboratory was established and Tsuda, who had founded the annual report Oriental Philosophy Research, was financially assisted by Aizo. In the case in 1940 where Tsuda was prosecuted for blasphemy against the majesty of the Imperial Family because of his writings, Aizo tried everything in his power to help his friend.

Handwriting of Yaichi Aizu
(from History of Aizo and Kokkou Soma)

The Intentions of Aizo Handed Down

"For a Greater Shopkeeper is a must read book for our new employees." These are the words of Masato Murakami (graduated from the School of Education in 1988) in the Nakamuraya CSR Promotion Office. Murakami says, "Many of the words of Aizo Soma, such as 'the customers of the shop are important,' 'be original without exception,' 'make high quality products inexpensively' and 'observe the rules of the shop' still form the foundation of the company's management to this very day.

Aizo wrote in his book Thirty Years of Store Management, "If you look for the foundation of a shop.then it is a place where high quality products are sold to customers inexpensively and where there is kindness toward people at the same time as voluntary social service with the aim of making people happy."

Murakami also said, "The spirit of serving the community has formed the basis of business from a century years ago. Furthermore, CSR was already practiced in those days. I am surprised at these things as a company member who in charge of CSR promotion." He then went on to mention, "I happen to be in a position to teach our employees the company history and founding spirit of my senior Aizo Soma and I can't help but think about this quirk of fate."

Aizo departed from this Earth in 1954, and Kokkou followed him a year later at the age of 79.

◆References

For a Great Shopkeeper (Iwanami Shoten)

History of Aizo and Kokkou Soma (Nakamuraya)

・Nakamuraya website(http://www.nakamuraya.co.jp/pavilion.html)