Indian Merchants and Trading Houses in 19th and 20th century Japan: A Correspondence

May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments (5)


Earlier this month I received the following inquiry from a PhD candidate at Japan’s Keio University.


Dear Professor Amitav Ghosh,


I am a researcher of Indian merchants to Japan in the nineteenth and twentieth century and I would like to take advice from you on some specific aspects of my research as you are the specialist in this area. 

I would be grateful if you would kindly respond to my email and help me with the following questions;


  1. The following 24 Trading Houses were in Japan in the late nineteenth century. Do you have any information or knowledge material on any of the below mentioned houses?


1 J.Pestongee
2 J.Eduljee
3 H.A.Esmail&Co.
4 Essabhoy
5 H.H.Joseph
6 H.M.Ebrahim
7 M.M.Rahimkhan
8 W.Assomull
9 A.H.Josuph
10 A.Shaikally
11 K.S.Munshi
12 India and Japan Co.
13 Empress
14 Kaliandas
15 C.M.Bhesania
16 K.A.J.Chotirmall
17 L.D.Abraham
18 J.B.Bhesania
19 Topunsin Motumall
20 Tarachand Rijoomal
21 Pomull Brothers
22 Dunamall Cheralam
23 A.M.Curmally
24 M.N.Gobhai



  1. Do you have information regarding Sindhi and Parsi merchants in early twentieth century to Japan, especially information/material regarding the use of local/commercial/banking/remittance network by Indian traders?

Thank you very much for taking your time and I would very much appreciate your help.


With respect to your writings,


Sincerely yours,

Ui Teramoto


Ph.D Candidate,

Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University


Since I have no information on this subject I forwarded the letter to Murali Ranganathan, who is an expert on colonial Bombay and has done extensive research on the city’s major trading families. His response is below.


Dear Amitav
I have done very little work beyond the nineteenth century and cannot claim even a passing familiarity with this subject. 

As can be seen from the list, the Parsi involvement was fairly limited; the Japan trade seems to be dominated by Sindhis, Marwadis, and Gujarati Muslim communities. None of them generally felt the need to document their activities as the Parsis did in the nineteenth century, though I must add that I have not looked. 
As for the Parsis, Japan features quite often in their Gujarati travelogues. For example, our First World War hero, Nariman Karkaria goes to Japan enroute to Europe. The Bombay industrialist, Framji Dinshaw Petit (1847-95) writes about his travels to Europe, America, China and Japan in his 1887 travelogue. The Parsi lady, Bhikai Cama (dead 1890 and not to be confused with the Indian patriot) who was settled in London contributed regularly to the Mumbai Gujarati newspaper Rast Goftar about her travels in China, Japan and America. 
That the Parsis were commercially active in Japan can be concluded from references to a speech by Cowasjee Merwanjee Shroff at the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and dinners hosted by him. See Japan Daily Mail for details. (Source Parsi Prakash Vol 3, page 340.)
Some of the old banking archives might have some information on their remittance patterns. For example, the State Bank of India archives contains a lot of material. 
If there is any other way I can help, please let me know. 
Best wishes

Murali of Mulund




If readers of this blog have something to add to this I would be glad to post their responses here.






5 Responses to “Indian Merchants and Trading Houses in 19th and 20th century Japan: A Correspondence”

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  1. Comment by Raj MahtaniJune 9, 2016 at 6:30 am   Reply

    Dear Professor Amitav Ghosh,

    My name is Raj Mahtani and I am a second-generation Sindhi residing in Yokohama, Japan. I was absolutely thrilled to see your blog post regarding Mr. Teramoto’s inquiry, and his list of trading houses. A few names in there are very familiar to me, such as W. Assomull and K.A.J. Chotrimall in particular. The latter company continues to run a branch in Yokohama to this day, and the manager of this branch and his family happen to be close family friends.

    I would most certainly be happy to assist Mr. Teramoto in his research in any way possible. To that end, perhaps as a first step, I am happy to provide this link for Mr. Teramoto’s, Mr. Ranganathan’s, and your reference to a story I co-wrote for the Japan Times Weekly back in 1993.

    Some references in there may be outdated and, since I was still starting out as a scribe at that time, there’s a bit of chest-thumping which I am rather ashamed about today, but I believe the piece nonetheless provides a rare glimpse into the history of Indian merchants in Yokohama and the Kansai region. In fact, the sources mentioned in there–such as the Japanese entrepreneur, Mr. Nishida, the CEO of a long-established scarf exporter, and another Japanese businessmam with close ties to the Indian community in Yokohama, Mr. Nishimura–could possibly offer insights into the the banking and remittance patterns of the Indian merchants of that time.

    One of the prominent Sindhi companies not mentioned in the article is Active Boeki (, the official distributor of Nintendo products for specific countires in the Far East and Middle East.

    My brother, Manoj Mahtani, is running AIC in Tokyo (, a fashion brand, which was originally helmed by my father, formerly a silk trader in the saree sector.

    I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am to have stumbled upon such a wonderful reason to contact you, Professor Ghosh, as your book, In An Antique Land, is very near and dear to me, having had a defining impact in my formative years.

    Please forgive me for the length of this message, and the substandard resolution of the linked PDF file. Should you decide to take a look at the story, please download and zoom in for legibility.

    Most sincerely yours,

    Raj Mahtani

  2. Comment by Veeresh Malik — June 10, 2016 at 7:38 am   Reply

    Hello Amitav,

    On a route recce for a rally route in the Agra – Etah belt a couple of years ago I met up with the scions of the Royal family of Awagarh, whose history was linked with the pre-1857 freedom struggles emanating from Kasganj and Farrukhabad.

    It seems that somewhere around that time, one member of the family went to Japan to seek help from the Japanese in trying to free India from the British, and in due course of time also tried to trade with Japan. Nothing much came of it, and there are not too many records on the subject left, but yes, Japan was on the radar for Indians even then.

    Some of the names in the list were still around in HK in the ’80s.

    Look forward to your book on climate change. Incidentally, sudden storms do hit Mumbai, they are known as “Elephantas”, and they can run up quite a tidal surge if the timing is in synch with an incoming spring. In the ’70s we remember the waters reaching what is known as King’s Circle and Matuna Railway Yard.

    Best / Veeresh Malik

  3. Comment by Dr Meenu kanojiaApril 12, 2020 at 11:06 pm   Reply

    Dear Sir,
    I am Meenu Kanojia have completed my Doctoral Research under Dr Mariam Dossal, my area of research is in the Bullion trade. I need your help sir if you can let me know about the presence of Japanese Copper, silver merchants in Bombay and the Bombay merchants involvement with Kobe and Osaka. Trading links building Bombay And Japan in the 19 th century and early 20th century.

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