Eisai: The First 70 Years - History of Eisai -

  • Corporate Chronology
  • The Story of Eisai
  • Eisai's Founder, Toyoji Naito
  • R&D Archives
  • History Gallery
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7

The Story of Eisai: Chapter 1 Pre-Eisai Years 1911–1937

Toyoji preferred a smart style, wearing suits and ties when a traditional Japanese sash and apron were the norm.

Eisai's founder, Toyoji Naito, steps out into the world at age 15.The English he learns from his brother-in-law provides a competitive edge.

On August 15, 1889, in the village of Ito in a mountain gorge in Nyu, Fukui in central Japan, Kikuji Naito and his wife Fuji welcomed their sixth child and third son into the family. The child is Toyoji Naito—a boy who would one day found the Eisai Group. At age 15, Toyoji moved west to Osaka, where his career first began. His first job, however, was a far cry from the pharmaceutical industry—an apprenticeship at a mother-of-pearl button factory.

As an apprentice, Toyoji's work at the factory was mainly to sweep floors and run errands. After one year, Toyoji found a new position at a German-owned trading company called Winkel Shokai in the nearby port city of Kobe, Hyogo, where he utilized the English he had learned from his brother-in-law to handle tasks related to the company's export business. In 1909, Toyoji was drafted into the military and resigned from Winkel Shokai to join the Japanese Imperial Guard, where he served for two years. There he was assigned as a medic, a stroke of luck that provided Toyoji his first ever experience in working with medicines.

Toyoji during his military service as an army medic

Building on his skills as an army medic, Toyoji enters the pharma industry,which in turn paves the way to a successful career in marketing imported drugs.

After completing his military service in 1911, Toyoji returned to Kobe and began working at Thompson Trading Co., Ltd., a British-run pharmacy. There he would pay visits to local drug wholesalers, bringing with him promotional materials containing instructions and package inserts he had translated into Japanese for various imported drugs. His efforts finally began to pay off when established local distributors agreed to carry Thompson Trading's products. Toyoji next adopted a strategy of selling directly to hospitals and private clinics not only in Kobe but in neighboring Kyoto and Osaka, in effect laying down the groundwork for his later successful advertising career in marketing imported drugs to domestic consumers.

In 1914, World War I broke out in Europe. This wreaked havoc on the Japanese medicine market as most drugs being sold in Japan at the time were imported from the West. With business in severe decline, Toyoji found himself in a pinch. As fate would have it, it was at this time that Toyoji received an offer from Tanabe Gohei Store Co., Ltd. The Osaka-based company proposed that he consider taking charge of all overseas clients for its Tanabe Motosaburo Store Co., Ltd. branch (now part of the Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation) in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district. Toyoji accepted the offer and made the big move to the nation's capital shortly after.


High blood pressure in Japanese:—coined by Toyoji for a newspaper ad?!

In 1924, Tanabe Motosaburo Store was signed as the exclusive distributor in Japan for Animasa, a medicine for lowering blood pressure, following successful negotiations with the German manufacturer, Simon, Evers & Co. GmbH. Toyoji later recalled:

“I thought a lot about creating the copy for Animasa before coming up with the readily understood ‘koketsuatsu’ to convey the concept of high blood pressure in Japanese. I wasn't sure whether to go with something more along the lines of ‘treatment for rising blood pressure’ or ‘treatment of the arteries,’ for example. Of course, now the word has gained wide acceptance and people today may not be aware of how it first came about, but I think that at the time, to invent a new word and expect it to take off like that was quite bold. The slogan used for the campaign also helped to drive the concept home: ‘Life is shorter with high blood pressure.’”

Resting on the twin pillars of new drug development and effective promotion,Tanabe Motosaburo Store survives the postwar recession and Great Kanto Quake.

Tanabe Motosaburo Store and Toyoji managed to withstand the difficult postwar recession and later the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 by focusing on the development of new drugs in-house and creating effective advertising campaigns. Toyoji first devoted his efforts to new drug creation with the development and launch of two new products—Castalol, an easy-to-drink aromatic castor oil, and Salomethyl, an analgesic cream. Both of these were well-received by the Japanese public, in turn helping the company to recover from the hard blow it had received from the postwar recession.

As part of his marketing strategy following the launch of Japan's first anti-hypertensive drug Animasa by Tanabe Motosaburo Store in 1924, Toyoji designed a newspaper ad campaign for the drug that featured ads displaying in large print a new coinage he had conceived—koketsuatsu, or “high blood pressure” in Japanese. It was this marketing campaign that introduced the word into the contemporary Japanese lexicon. Incidentally, in 1933, a newspaper ad campaign Toyoji launched for Salomethyl struck a similar chord with consumers and went on to receive the Best Advertisement Award at the inaugural award ceremony of Japan's Society for the Promotion of Newspaper Advertising.

Sakuragaoka Laboratory researchers pose for a group photo in 1940

The Sakuragaoka Laboratory is created to better focus on developing new drugs.Work begins in earnest on vitamin products—the Lab's first huge success.

By the early 1930s, Japan was taking on a decidedly militaristic tone and promoting the good health and physical strength of the general population had become a pressing national issue. The Japanese drug industry followed suit by turning its attention to vitamins, particularly vitamins A and D. It was against this backdrop that Toyoji developed Haliva halibut liver oil tablets, which contained both these vitamins. Product promotion touted the fact that a single Haliva tablet would replace the daily spoonful (a full four grams) that traditional liver oils required. The ad campaign also featured a promotional strategy quite novel for its time—a comic strip serial titled Haliva Boy, which was carried in a major Tokyo newspaper. During the war, Haliva accounted for two thirds of all Tanabe Motosaburo Store product sales.

At this point, Toyoji was now well known in the industry for his successes in new drug development and marketing strategy, but he remained dissatisfied with how Japan's drug industry at the time remained overly reliant on imports. It was with this in mind that Toyoji then established Sakuragaoka Laboratory Co., Ltd. There he ordered the development of vitamin E product Juvela, in doing so marking the beginnings of full-scale commercial vitamin E synthesis in Japan.


Products developed under initiatives created by Toyoji Naito

PJapan's first commercial vitamin E product Juvela

Juvela was developed at the Sakuragaoka Laboratory and is Japan's first commercial vitamin E product. Its chocolate-colored, “hard outside, soft inside” pellets and attractive packaging were a popular selling point with consumers at the time. Juvela as a product has gone on to be further improved and refined since and continues to be marketed by Eisai today.

(Launched in 1938. Developed by Sakuragaoka Laboratory Co., Ltd. Marketed by Tanabe Motosaburo Store Co., Ltd.)

For treatment of then-prevalent dysentery in children Castalol (aromatic castor oil)

At the time of its development, dysentery was widespread in Japan and particularly fatal among children. Prescribed treatment for the disease was castor oil, which unfortunately had a distinctive and unpleasant smell that made it difficult when persuading children to drink it. Castalol, the very first product developed by Toyoji and Tanabe Motosaburo Store, added lemon scent and strawberry coloring as well as sugar syrup as a sweetener, making it more appealing and easier to drink. Castalol went on to become a huge success at the time.

(Launched in 1921. Developed and marketed by Tanabe Motosaburo Store Co., Ltd.)