Tracing the Footsteps of Seien
Seasonally different appeals of Shibusawa Memorial Museum Exhibitions
Eiichi Shibusawa, also known as Seien, is considered the father of capitalism in Japan. He was instrumental in the country’s economic growth, having persuaded Japan to adopt Western cultures and systems following the Meiji Restoration. As we welcome the new year, it is time for us to think of the future and renew our ambition. As I write this, it may be a good idea to reflect on the great accomplishments of Shibusawa and get in touch with his ideas.
Memorial Museum on Former “Aii Sonsou” Site
Eiichi Shibusawa was born on March 16, 1840 in Fukaya-shi, Saitama Prefecture. He came from an affluent farming family that not only grew crops but also produced and sold indigo (leaf) ball (dye). Young Eiichi advocated reverence to the Emperor and plotted with his comrades to attack the Takasaki Castle and burn a settlement in Yokohama. However, he realized that bloodshed was not the best way to realize his vision of “changing the world” and decided not to execute the plot. Thereafter, Eiichi traveled to Europe as a vassal of the fifteenth shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa. Upon his return to Japan, he was recognized for his achievements of establishing a business that became a model for joint stock organization, and was thereby appointed as a government official. Eiichi initiated various institutional reforms and later accomplished numerous feats as a private citizen and businessman, including the establishment of a bank.
The museum has interesting exhibitions where you can learn about Eiichi. Eiichi quickly adopted the Western clothing he saw in Europe. The first area displays the old books Eiichi reportedly read when young, as well as accounting records showing that he helped the family business. The next area showcases the records of his attendance at the World Expo in Paris as a vassal of the shogun. Particularly, the photographs of Eiichi with a topknot reminiscent of the Edo period and wearing a tuxedo to attend the World Expo lead one to think. We realize how flexible he was in trying to assimilate foreign culture, and we see how advanced the Western world was compared to Japan at the time. We also see the actual soap Eiichi brought back to Japan.
Eiichi the Government Official
The third area compiles the documents and items from the time Eiichi worked for the government. He handled the affairs of the state together with Shigenobu Okuma, Toshimichi Okubo and Hirobumi Ito. There is also evidence showing that Eiichi worked as an administrative supervisor at the government-operated Tomioka Silk Mill, which is now a world heritage site.
Achievements in the Business World
After retiring from the Finance Ministry, Eiichi promoted banking in Japan as the president of First National Bank. Subsequently, he established or nurtured approximately 500 companies. The fourth area contains a panel exhibition depicting some of the 500 companies. We see a list of companies that still have significant influence today, and the depth of impact Eiichi made on the Japanese economy is very clear. Exhibitions in other areas tell stories about Eiichi, who was not only a businessman but also a devotee to civil exchange with other countries and a contributor to education and welfare. When he died at the age of 91 (November 11, 1931), newspapers and radio stations ran headline stories about him, and many people gathered at the funeral service to bid him farewell. We also see photographs and other records of his funeral.
Important Cultural Properties of Japan
Bankoro and Seien Bunko are the must-see buildings in the Old Shibusawa Garden. Bankoro integrates Japanese and Western architectural styles. Primarily made of chestnut, the building, which appears very Japanese from the outside, contains a fireplace and other features characteristic of Western houses. On the other hand, Seien Bunko boasts beautiful decorative tiles and stained glass featuring “crossed oak leaves in a circle,” which was the emblem of the Shibusawa family. Standing inside the building, one is overwhelmed by deep emotions, knowing that Eiichi entertained Chiang Kai Shek and other foreign dignitaries here. Shibusawa Memorial Museum periodically organizes special exhibitions in addition to its permanent exhibitions. In visiting this personal museum, each of us–including business owners–can learn a thing or two from Eiichi Shibusawa. [Facility Information] Shibusawa Memorial Museum, 2-16-1 Nishigahara, Kita-ku, Tokyo; TEL: 03-3910-0005