The Story of Masujiro Hashimoto, the Founder of Nissan

Japan holds a special place in automotive history. Known for its cutting-edge technology, reliability, and innovative engineering, the Japanese automotive industry has some amazing founders, one of whom is Masujiro Hashimoto. His contributions have left an indelible mark on Japan’s automotive landscape, shaping it into a global powerhouse. In this blog post, we will delve into the life and legacy of Masujiro Hashimoto, exploring his journey, challenges, and enduring impact on the automotive world.

Early Life and Education

Masujiro Hashimoto was born in 1875 in what is now part of Tokyo. His early life was set against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing Japan. The Meiji Restoration had opened Japan to Western influences, and Hashimoto was part of a generation eager to embrace new ideas and technologies.

From a young age, he showed a keen interest in mechanics and engineering, a passion that was to define the trajectory of his career. Hashimoto pursued his education in engineering, a field that was gaining prominence in Meiji-era Japan as the country sought to modernize and industrialize.

Journey to the West

When he was already a mechanical engineer, Masujiro Hashimoto was selected by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce for a special mission: to learn about manufacturing techniques in America.

He became one of the few pioneers in Japan, venturing into car manufacturing. He went to the United States in 1902 to learn about internal combustion engines – a move that was bold and unusual for a Japanese citizen at the time.

During his three-year stint in the States, he gained valuable experience working for a New York company that specialized in steam engines. He worked with companies that were at the forefront of automotive engineering. This experience was crucial, as it provided Hashimoto with insights and skills that he would later bring back to Japan.

Return to Japan and Establishment of Kwaishinsha Motor Car

After returning to Japan, Hashimoto’s career was diverse, including roles in electrical engineering, manufacturing machine guns, and designing equipment for coal mines. His most significant contribution came in June 1911 when he founded Kaishinsha Jidosha Koto, better known as Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works. This company was the precursor to the modern-day automotive giant Nissan Motors.

Masujiro Hashimoto’s venture, Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works, was sustained by three key financial supporters: business manager Kenjiro Den, his childhood friend Rokuro Aoyama, and the well-connected financier Meitaro Takeuchi. Their initials inspired the name of the company’s first cars – the DATs. In 1914, the company introduced the ten-horsepower DAT 31, followed by the DAT 41 in 1916, which quickly became a best-seller. The DAT car was a reflection of Hashimoto’s vision and Japan’s early forays into automotive manufacturing. It was an ambitious project aiming to create a vehicle that could withstand Japan’s varying terrain and weather conditions.

The journey was not smooth. Hashimoto faced numerous challenges, including financial difficulties, technological setbacks, and skepticism from a public unfamiliar with automobiles. Yet, his perseverance paid off. The DAT car gradually gained recognition, paving the way for the future of the Japanese automotive industry.

Company Rebranding

In 1917, the company underwent a rebranding, adopting the name DAT Motor Vehicle Company. During this time, the cars were affectionately referred to as Datson – “son was added, but because the sound “son” in Japanese is the same as the sound for the word that means “bankruptcy,” they changed it to “sun,” thus the name Datsun. This playful moniker stuck until 1983.

Unfortunately, Hashimoto’s journey with the company ended in 1931 due to a reorganization, leading to a period about which little is known regarding his life post-automotive industry.

DAT’s Transformation

Just two years after Hashimoto’s departure, DAT experienced a significant transformation. It merged with Nihon Sangyo Co., and the merged entity adopted a new name – Nissan. This name was derived from ‘Ni-San,’ the symbol used by Nihon on the Japanese stock exchange, marking a new chapter in the company’s history, rooted in Hashimoto’s original vision and efforts.

During this era, Japanese companies often replicated American and European car models. Tokyo Gas and Electric, a home appliance maker, and Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, a component of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu (industrial conglomerate), even produced trucks for the military.

However, overall, zaibatsus showed limited interest in motor vehicles. The military, distrusting the zaibatsus, preferred sourcing from other suppliers. In 1919, the Ishikawajima Shipbuilding Company, backed by Mitsui Bank of the Mitsui zaibatsu, ventured into the automotive sector.

Earlier, Hashimoto’s firm had made a mark with its handcrafted Datsuns, equipped with twelve-horsepower engines. These vehicles were well-received for their time, with sales ranging from ten to twenty cars annually. However, the journey wasn’t without its challenges. In 1923, an earthquake devastated the company’s factory, leading to a forced merger with Jidosha Seizo Company Ltd. in 1926 for survival.

The year 1932 saw another milestone when the company, now known as DAT Jidosha Seizo, released a car with a 500-cubic-centimeter engine. Despite being relatively small by American standards, it was among the larger Japanese auto firms of that era. In a testament to the industry’s growth, the entire Japanese auto sector produced 880 units in 1932, all intended for the domestic market.

Aikawa Acquires DAT

Yoshisuke Aikawa, a Tokyo Imperial University graduate who also studied manufacturing in the United States, founded the Tobata Casting Company in 1910. This company became a key parts supplier for various automakers. Despite the common belief that military needs would initially drive the industry, Aikawa foresaw a future Japanese market for passenger cars.

He formed a corporate entity named Motor Vehicle Industries and, in 1931, approached DAT, which was producing ten vehicles annually, with a takeover offer. In 1932, Aikawa’s Tobata and Nippon Industries acquired DAT and, later, the automobile division of Ishikawajima. By 1933, Tobata and Nippon merged their automotive interests into a new entity named Nissan Motor Company by Aikawa. While Nissan’s official founding is often dated to 1933, its roots, as outlined, trace back to 1911.

Masujiro Hashimoto’s Legacy

Pioneering Japanese Automotive Industry

Hashimoto’s foray into automobile manufacturing in the early 20th century was a leap into relatively uncharted territory in Japan. By establishing Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works in 1911, he laid the foundation for an industry that would eventually shape the global automotive landscape. This bold move at a time when Japan was not known for automobile manufacturing demonstrates his foresight and innovative spirit.

Technological and Business Innovations

Hashimoto’s approach to car manufacturing was groundbreaking. The creation of the DAT car, later evolving into the iconic Datsun brand, showcased his ability to combine technological prowess with creative business strategies. His decision to name the car by using the initials of his partners (Den, Aoyama, and Takeuchi) was a unique branding strategy for that era. Moreover, his sensitivity to cultural nuances, as seen in changing “Datson” to “Datsun” to avoid negative connotations, highlighted his acute business acumen.

Impact on Nissan and the Global Stage

Although Hashimoto’s direct involvement with the company ended in the early 1930s, his early contributions were instrumental in the evolution of Nissan. The company, born from the foundations he laid, grew to be a giant in the automotive industry, known for its innovation, quality, and global reach. This growth from a small, local company to a global player is a testament to the solid groundwork laid by Hashimoto.

Inspiring Entrepreneurial Spirit

Hashimoto’s journey from a student in the United States learning about internal combustion engines to founding Japan’s first automobile manufacturing company is a classic tale of entrepreneurial spirit. His story inspires future generations of entrepreneurs and innovators, proving that with vision and determination, one can overcome barriers and create lasting change.

Educational Contributions

Beyond his automotive ventures, Hashimoto’s diverse career, including his work in electrical engineering, machine guns, and coal mining equipment, reflects his multifaceted talent and contributions to various sectors. This diversity underscores the importance of a broad knowledge base and adaptability, qualities that are increasingly valued in the modern world.

Cultural Impact

Hashimoto played a crucial role in shifting Japan’s industrial focus. His efforts in automobile manufacturing helped move the country towards modernization and technological advancement. The success of the Japanese automotive industry, influenced by his early work, has become a part of Japan’s national identity and a symbol of its technological prowess.


Masujiro Hashimoto’s story is one of perseverance, innovation, and vision. He saw the potential of automobiles in Japan when few others did and worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality. Today, as we witness Japan’s esteemed position in the global automotive industry, it is crucial to remember and honor the pioneering spirit of Masujiro Hashimoto. His legacy continues to inspire new generations of engineers and entrepreneurs in Japan and around the world.