National | MUSEUM MUSINGS

Reformer Eiichi Shibusawa's ideals point way forward

by Kaho Shimizu

With the country’s economic problems continuing, and with people apparently at a loss over how to remedy the situation, Shibusawa Memorial Museum offers a hint to the path Japan should take by showcasing the starting point of its earlier era of modernization.

Located in Tokyo’s Kita Ward, where the late Eiichi Shibusawa lived, the museum displays artifacts that explain his important role in the establishment of modern industry here.

To keep the spirit of his work alive, the Ryumonsha, Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation opened the museum in 1982 and has been handling its activities ever since.

The first floor is occupied by a museum shop and meeting room, where visitors can watch a 25-minute biographical film on Shibusawa.

At the entrance to the 300-sq-meter display on the second floor, a life-size photograph of Shibusawa stands in front of a huge color print depicting the First National Bank.

“The photo and the picture are to impress visitors with the most significant aspect of Shibusawa, as the founder of a modern banking system,” chief curator Jun Inoue said. Shibusawa’s other most notable achievements were in the fields of education and social welfare.

Visitors then watch a five-minute glimpse of Shibusawa’s life on a TV. Armed with this brief summary of his background, they then enter the main exhibition.

The general exhibition is divided into nine chronological sections, starting with Shibusawa’s childhood in 1840 and ending with his death in 1931.

Section two shows how his visit to the Paris International Exhibition as a member of the Japanese delegation between 1867 and 1869 gave him inspiration.

Shibusawa’s first encounter with modern technology and the economic systems of European nations had such an impact that he quickly became an advocate of Western business practices, in particular calling for the establishment of joint-stock corporations in Japan.

Sections three and four depict his remarkable efforts to encourage the country’s industry after returning from Europe in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, both as a Finance Ministry official and as an entrepreneur.

As a government official, he took part in many projects to promote modernization, including the introduction of a postal service and telegraphic communications.

After resigning from the ministry, he served as president of First National Bank and was involved in either the founding or fostering of more than 500 enterprises in various business sectors, including manufacturing and finance.

“Even though not every item relevant to his work displayed here is very exciting, they are precious in that they convey his achievements,” Inoue said.

One prominent display that demonstrates Shibusawa’s principles is a recording in section five, describing his devotion to promoting international relations and business.

Shibusawa is heard giving a lecture in 1928, advocating the importance of morality in conducting economic and corporate activities, while emphasizing that these activities should not be driven by personal interests.

“The late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi came here twice and listened attentively to the speech,” Inoue said, adding that Shibusawa’s principle has been a lesson to many other people for a long time. Inoue said his principle sounds fresh even today because it is still a task that the world must tackle.

The latter part of the exhibition focuses on Shibusawa’s devotion to some 600 educational and social welfare projects, including founding schools and welfare homes for the elderly.

“We would be grateful if this place makes visitors think what his ideal world was and how he tried to achieve it through his work,” Inoue said.

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