KITAKYUSHU (Kyodo) Keitaro Sato, a prewar coal tycoon who donated the bulk of his vast fortune to charities, has finally been honored as a local hero in the city of Kitakyushu, where he made his name.
Nearly seven decades after his death, a bust of Sato, once dubbed Japan’s answer to American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, was unveiled earlier this month at his former residence in Wakamatsu Ward.
It is the third statue of Sato. Another is at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, considered a landmark legacy of his charity work, and the third at Beppu Art Museum in Oita Prefecture. Both museums were built courtesy of his endowments, which also provided philanthropic support in such fields as education, welfare and public life.
Born in 1868 in a town in Fukuoka Prefecture, Sato began earning a living as a coal merchant in his mid-20s and worked his way up to become an industrial icon of his time through his perseverance and innovative approach to coal production and business management.
Yasuyoshi Saito, a professor in art history at Tsukuba University and the author of a biography of Sato that put his life back into the spotlight, said the unveiling of his latest statue marked the significance of his contribution to local philanthropy — albeit belatedly.
“It is very rare that a statue is built this long after someone’s death,” said Saito, the leading authority in the study of Sato’s work and charitable activities. “This proved the greatness of what he did.”
Saito said a biography depicting the life of Carnegie — the King of Steel — and his devotion to charitable causes inspired Sato to pursue a similar lifestyle. Sato, who was himself described as the “God of Coal” in Japan, seemed to have been deeply impressed by Carnegie’s words: “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
One of the greatest moments in Sato’s life came in 1921, when he gave away ¥1 million, equivalent to an estimated ¥3 billion or more today, to cover the full cost of building what later became known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. His action was spurred by a newspaper article calling for Tokyo to join the ranks of major Western cities by having a permanent museum.
In the leadup this month to the unveiling of his statue in Kitakyushu, local residents and businesses impressed by the biography of Sato, which was published last year, were quick to reassess his work and philanthropic activities and started to collect money in a project to honor him.
They eventually gathered ¥5.6 million, enough to complete the statue that sits in a park donated by Sato to the city. The unveiling comes ahead of the 70th anniversary of his death next year.
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