Since our founding, we at Toray have assumed the role of a public institution and have executed our corporate activities with the foremost goal of contributing to society. Below, we introduce initiatives taken throughout Toray's history that anticipated the modern sustainability movement, while examining our insights and the historical context.
Japan was in the process of transforming from an agricultural to an industrial nation but suffered from a lack of foreign exchange reserves and products for export. To complicate matters, on September 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck 1.9 million people in what is still the greatest natural disaster in Japanese history. This ushered in a period of extended stagnation for the Japanese economy.
At the time, Japan relied heavily on imports of wool and raw cotton for its clothing. Yunosuke Yasukawa, Toyo Rayon's first chairman and the managing director of what was then Mitsui & Co., believed that by achieving domestic production of rayon made from locally sourced pulp, Japan would be able to reduce its dependence on foreign imports, provide better clothing for the nation, and secure much-needed foreign currency. Following Toyo Rayon's founding in 1926, newly-hired technicians acquired technical knowledge and skills from foreign engineers, while the company dedicated itself to improving equipment and facilities, and to developing new products.
Three years and eight months after the outbreak of the Pacific war in December 1941, the Second World War finally ended with Japan's defeat in August 1945. Following the war, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (GHQ) led efforts to democratize Japan, and the Japanese economy, after suffering the devastating ravages of war, set out on the road to recovery.
Toyo Rayon succeeded in the synthesis and melt spinning of nylon 6 fiber in 1941 but did not begin plans for its mass production until after the war. In 1951, Toyo Rayon concluded a patent licensing agreement with America's DuPont and began full-scale production of nylon fiber.
In 1954, the Japanese economy launched into a period of remarkable growth. At the time, people were hungry for prosperity, and economic development became the nation's top priority. Globally, this period saw the beginning of the Cold War, as capitalist and communist nations began their battle for global dominance.
In 1955, Toyo Rayon expressly laid out a company motto reflecting the management philosophy passed down since its founding. This was revisited in 1986, after which a new corporate motto of "Contributing to society through the creation of new value with innovative ideas, technologies and products." was established. In 1960, Toyo Rayon set up a foundation to promote and support basic science in Japan. In 1993 and 1994, it established independent science foundations in three Southeast Asian nations, where the company had expanded early on.
Companies from developed nations laid the technical foundation of the manufacturing industries that supported Japan's postwar recovery. Furthermore, the manufacturing industry was able to build its export competitiveness under a fixed exchange rate of 360 yen to the dollar. By 1986 Japan had grown to just below the US as the world's second largest economy by nominal GDP.
Toray's management understood the essential nature of producing new products and technologies based on the results of its own research and technical developments. To achieve this, the company made sure not to rely on technologies borrowed from the West or other companies and circumvented competition from domestic and international firms by differentiating its products and services.
In 1956, Toray established the Central Research Laboratory in Otsu (Shiga Prefecture) and, in 1962, its Basic Research Laboratory in Kamakura (Kanagawa Prefecture). From here, it devoted itself to developing new products. At the Basic Research Laboratory, Toray anticipated strong results from the creative research and technical developments it achieved based on fundamentals in independent research.
The global economy during the 1960's experienced a period of remarkable growth that lasted until the Nixon and Oil shocks of 1971 and 1973, respectively. In Japan, household appliances, automobiles and other consumer durables became widespread in society giving birth to an era of mass consumption. Following the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the Japanese economy temporarily stagnated after a round of investments in infrastructure but rebounded shortly thereafter, leading to a wave of economic prosperity lasting until 1970.
Along with Toray's original development of nylon and acrylic fibers, the company licensed polyester technology from the U.K. firm ICI in 1957. With this agreement, Toray became one of the world's leading manufacturers of all three major types of synthetic fiber in the 1960's.
This period saw a rapid growth in plastics with the expansion of the household appliance and automotive industries. Against this backdrop, Toray found success with a business model of guaranteed quality backed by constant exploration of new materials and applications.
In the 1960's, America pressured the Japanese textile industry - heavily dependent on US exports - to restrict its international output.
Conversely, developing nations hoping to achieve economic independence pursued economic growth through the development of their manufacturing industries. Many countries began implementing industrialization policies. Some looked to Japan, hoping to transfer its fiber and textile technologies given the rapid growth the country had displayed over the past several decades.
Toray established its first joint venture in Thailand with a business that provided integrated spinning, weaving and dyeing of polyester-rayon fabric. Toray's original objective in setting up this venture was to secure a place to export its staple polyester fiber but began overseas production of yarn and raw fiber at about the same time.
Within an ongoing climate of rapid economic growth, Japan faced a financial recession in 1964 and 1965. Among companies in the fibers and textiles industry this was known as the "Nylon shock." In the 1970's the global economy suffered two additional shocks with the Nixon and oil crises that occurred in 1971 and 1973.
After surviving the Nylon shock, Toray foresaw the eventual maturation of the domestic textile market and began taking measures to expand and develop its overseas operations. The company further sought to diversify into new businesses. To mark this occasion, Toray rebranded with a new name, Toray Industries, Inc., and accelerated the internationalization of its fibers and textiles operations, while diversifying into plastics and other new ventures.
In 1980, Japan sunk into its longest recession since World War Two, which lasted for three years. It began with the second oil shock brought on by the Iranian revolution. Domestic demand stagnated, but with a booming American economy, Japan expanded its US-bound exports, helping to rekindle the economy. At the same time, this sparked trade tensions between the US and Japan. At the 1985 G7 summit, the Plaza Accord was signed, further exacerbating the yen's appreciation.
After successfully developing polyacrylonitrile-based carbon fiber, Toray initiated its test production in quantities of a few hundred grams per month in 1970. Thanks to a boost from the "black shaft" revolution, Toray's production saw stable growth early on that translated into the fiber's adoption as a primary structural material in aircraft in the 1980's. Today, the Toray Group manufactures its carbon fiber around the globe in Japan, France, America, and Korea, earning it the number 1 spot globally in terms of both quality and quantity.
Research and development of membranes for reverse osmosis began in the 1960's, with many envisioning their application in seawater desalination. In recent years, membrane treatment methods have proven to offer much lower treatment costs than conventional evaporation methods, leading to large plants placing constant orders for these transformative membranes. In combination with other functional membranes, reverse osmosis membranes are also helping solve the challenge of wastewater reclamation.
Toray began its research on reverse osmosis membranes in the 1960's and started developing its water treatment membrane business in the 1980's. Today, as part of its integrated system proposals, Toray has developed a lineup of membranes with functions covering reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, microfiltration, and more. Toray currently supplies membranes to 70 countries worldwide, which collectively are capable of processing 60 million tons of water a day. This is equivalent to the amount of water used by around 400 million people.
The 20th century was defined by war. Even today, regional conflicts continue to unfold, trade wars escalate between superpowers, and even talk of conflict in space begins. Against this backdrop, the United Nations has taken the lead in efforts to address global challenges through international collaboration in order to ensure the continued well-being of humanity and the environment. For its part, Toray has established a long-term plan in continuing to pursue new challenges moving forward.
Toray has focused special attention on basic research to create innovative products. While some products take as much as fifty or sixty years to find market success, Toray's tenacious investments in R&D have borne fruit in a rich and broad portfolio. With a management philosophy that perseverance is power, Toray has continued to honor its dividend policy towards its shareholders, while providing consistent support to sports and culture through long-term sponsorships of worldwide women's tennis tournaments, the Shanghai International Marathon, and more.