The Japanese Giant

Father of Modern Japanese Capitalism, Shibusawa Eiichi, was instrumental in changing the fate of Japan in the modern world

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Rhonita Patnaik

Published: Sun 19 Dec 2021, 5:44 PM

Just five feet in real life, the Father of Modern Japanese Capitalism Shibusawa Eiichi was a giant in statute during his lifetime in Japan. This is still visible when you visit his hometown in Fukaya in Saitama Prefecture. The five-metre tall statue at Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Museum is a memorial befitting a king showcasing his life and achievements.

No wonder, he will be gracing the JYP10,000 bill in 2024.

Eiichi (1840–1931), a financier and businessman, understood that Japan's contemporary economic transition required a more favourable government attitude towards trade, which was just as important as technological and commercial advancements. He was a strong force in the industrial world, having helped to start over 500 businesses and economic organisations. He was equally committed to social and public welfare, helping to start over 600 organisations for social welfare, education, and international exchange. He was a notable leader in Japan’s contemporary economic transition because he grasped both the tangible productivity of well-managed capitalist firms and the traditional Japanese distrust of self-serving merchants. Eiichi often urged company owners and managers to strive for the public good and win people's confidence and respect in order to bridge the gap between these two viewpoints.

The early years: Eiichi was born in 1840 to the Nakanchi main branch of the Shibusawa family in Chiaraijima Village. In addition to farming, his family was one of the most powerful in the community, producing and selling indigo. Eiichi studied Chinese classics while aiding with the family company and then travelled to Edo (now Tokyo) to study in the early 1860s.

Eiichi relocated to Kyoto and began working under Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu, the Imperial Palace guards' governor-general at the time. He became a shogunal retainer after Yoshinobu became shogun, and was later made a member of the delegation to the Paris Universal Exposition. During this year-and-a-half sojourn in Europe he observed the social system and institutions of various countries. Following Yoshinobu to the Shizuoka domain and contributing in the formation and management of the joint-stock business Shizuoka Shoho Kaisho, he put his expertise to good use upon his return.

Member of Meiji Government: Eiichi was a member of the national government from 1869 until his resignation in 1873. At the request of influential politician Okuma Shigenobu, he took a position as Chief of the Tax Bureau at the Ministry of Civil Affairs (Minbusho), and then became the Chief of the Reform Office (Kaisei Kakari), an entity he formed on his own initiative. Eiichi also held offices in the Ministry of Finance, including that of Head of the currency office.

Building of Japan’s economy: Soon after, Eiichi became the superintendent of the First National Bank after leaving the government. From then on, he established the basis of a modern Japanese economy by founding and nurturing about 500 firms, the most of which were in banking. He worked as a corporate leader to bring people together and stimulate the Japanese economy.

Social welfare and education: His efforts to private sector diplomacy, as well as social and public welfare, were unwavering. It is claimed that Eiichi has been involved in almost 600 projects. He aided these many efforts in a variety of ways, including the administration and financial support of welfare and medical institutions, the development of commercial, women’s, and private education, labour-management collaboration, and contributions to Tokyo's urban design.

Taro Aso, Japan’s former finance minister, announced that the country’s banknotes will be redesigned. The new notes are likely to go into circulation in 2024, the first change since 2004. Three historical figures were picked for the new designs based on several factors. They include that the figures be well-known in Japan, that their accomplishments be such that the Japanese people take pride in them, and the exact images to avoid frauds. In line with this, the new 10,000-yen note will feature Eiichi, the driving force behind Japanese industry. This revamp will improve the economy by increasing demand in a variety of businesses.

Reborn as Android

Recently, in honour of the visionary, Hiromichi Toriba, Chairman of Doutor Coffee Co, donated 100-million-yen (roughly $947,000) to Fukaya Government to build two Shibusawa androids.

The first one is a life-size depiction of Shibusawa at 1.53 m presents him in his 70’s, dressed in Western clothes at the Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Museum. The robot gives an eight-minute-long presentation about Eiichi’s philosophy of ‘harmony between morality and the economy including hand gestures.

The second humanoid android of industrialist is placed at the former Shibusawa residence 'Nakanchi' in his hometown. This is modeled after Eiichi at around the age of 80, wearing a crested hakama. It is displayed in a tatami room at the back of the main Nakanchi building, where Shibusawa is said to have stayed when he came back to his hometown in his final years. The android, which descendants of Shibusawa say looks very similar to him, gestures and welcomes visitors who come to see it from the residence courtyard.

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