Panel on Shibusawa Eiichi at AAS in Philadelphia

January 28, 2014 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

You are cordially invited to our panel “Moral Vision and Economic Organization: Shibusawa Eiichi and the Re-Invention of Capitalism in East Asia” at annual conference of Association of Asian Studies (AAS) in Philadelphia at the end of March.

Time: Sunday, March 30 10:15-12:15am
Place: Philadelphia Marriott / Room 402/403
Session no.347.
Organized and Chaired by Izumi Koide, Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation / University of Tokyo
Sponsored by the Japanese Company History Interest Group (Shashi Group)

Recent studies on Shibusawa Eiichi have been globally attracting attention of major scholars in business studies since it is a source of alternative ways to look at capitalism after Lehman Shock. While focusing on Shibusawa Eiichi, so-called “Father of Japanese Capitalism,” it is a true multinational panel including speakers from China, Japan, Korea, United States, and commentator from U.K. Please do plan to stay until Sunday in Philadelphia.


The circumstances of the global economy since the Lehman Shock have provided opportunities for reflection on the sustainability of the capitalist economy. In this turbulent economic context, it is worth revisiting the ideas of Shibusawa Eiichi (1849-1931), the father of Japanese capitalism, and exploring his vision of capitalism and its application in East Asia. Tracing the process of “reinventing” capitalism by Shibusawa and those who were inspired by him enables us to see capitalism in a comparative perspective, across societies and over time. Such a comparative perspective on the impact of capitalism on East Asian societies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries makes this topic of direct relevance to contemporary issues of capitalism, and can shed light on the kind of capitalism that should, or could, emerge in the future.

In this panel John Sagers discusses Shibusawa as institutional entrepreneur through his public statements and financial contributions. The following two papers are concerned with Korea and China, two countries strongly influenced by Shibusawa through his visits and his business and other relationships with people there. Myungsoo Kim takes up the case of Choseon businessman Sangryong Han, and analyses Shibusawa’s influence on him and on the Choseon economy. Chen Yu delves into Shibusawa’s vision for a developing economy and discusses how Shibusawa was received when he visited China in 1914. Making reference to the ideas of Adam Smith and Michael Porter, Kazuhiro Tanaka analyses Shibusawa’s doctrine of “inseparability of morality and economy” and its relevance to capitalism today.


John SAGERS (Linfield University)
“Shibusawa Eiichi and the Ideological Foundations of Japanese Capitalism”

Shibusawa Eiichi (1840-1931), one of the most important financiers and industrialists of Meiji Japan, is also remembered for his use of Confucian language to promote the “Unity of Morality and Economy.” While Shibusawa’s speeches, publications, and contributions to business education were efforts to improve the behavior of future business leaders, they also served the critical purpose of improving the status of capitalism in Japanese society.

In his autobiography, Shibusawa recalled that, growing up in a prosperous family, he had been appalled by the attitude of “revere officials and despise the people” which was prevalent in Tokugawa Japan. Joining the Japanese delegation to the Paris International Expo in 1867, Shibusawa found that commercial and industrial leaders enjoyed much greater prestige in European countries. For Japan to prosper, Shibusawa concluded, the status of merchants in Japanese society would have to improve.

Economic historian Douglass North has noted that when entrepreneurs find established institutions and social norms to be obstacles to their objectives, they may “attempt to devote resources to restructuring the rules at a higher level.” Through an examination of Shibusawa’s statements and financial contributions, we will see that Shibusawa was indeed an institutional entrepreneur focused on changing the rules of Japanese society to create a more favorable environment for commerce and industry. By promoting commercial ethics using Confucian principles, Shibusawa was not only giving sermons to improve business behavior, but also conducting a public relations campaign to make commercial investments and business careers more respectable in Japanese society.

KIM Myungsoo (Keimyung University)
“Sangryong Han’s Reading Shibusawa and Application to Colonial Korea”

The Choseon Business Club (CBC) was a business organization established in Choseon (=Colonial Korea) in March 1920. At first, the CBC consisted of only Korean businessmen. As the number of Japanese participants increased, the CBC’s character changed into a political organization campaigning for a naisen ittai (内鮮一体, Japan and Korea are one) policy. Sangryong Han, leader of the CBC, was called the ‘Shibusawa of Choseon’; he was an active organizer in the Choseon business world and also tried to implement Shibusawa’s ideas in Choseon. Naoji Kada, advisor to the CBC and president of the Choseon Chamber of Commerce & Industry, regarded Han and the CBC as key figures realizing Shibusawa’s ideas on ‘business morality’, education, and naisen ittai. Han fell under Shibusawa’s influence and guidance after an initial meeting in 1902, and subsequently introduced to Choseon various features of capitalism such as the insurance, trust and banking systems. Through his Hansung Bank he took part in establishing many companies with other Choseon people. It can therefore be said that Han’s life as a businessman was nothing but ‘following Shibusawa’. This paper makes use of the limited data available to answer the following questions. Firstly, in the political context of Japanese imperialism and colonialism, what did Han learn from Shibusawa and what were his plans for the Choseon economy? Secondly, what influence did Shibusawa have on Choseon society and economy through Han, and what was the role of the CBC?

YU Chen (Yokohama National University)
“How did Eiichi Shibusawa View China?”

Eiichi Shibusawa has been known as the pioneer who promoted the progress of capitalism in Japan. He had learned the Chinese Classics since his childhood.  Moreover, after his resignation from Ministry of Finance in 1873, he continued to be devoted to Confucius. With respect to Japan’s relationship to China, Shibusawa believed that Japan, as a leader of East Asia, should increase its friendship with China and attempt to improve the Chinese economy. Did his attitude toward China correspond with his grand vision to develop Japanese capitalism? Were his ideas effective to deal with the relationship with China at the time?

To find the answers to the questions above, the first part of this presentation focuses mainly on Eiichi Shibusawa’s visions to improve the country by developing industry and commerce, not military power. It touches on the links between his visions and activities with Confucius, as well as his stance on the proper relationship between government and business in Japan.

The second part deals with Eiichi Shibusawa’s viewpoints on China by examining his words and actions related to the management of Sino-Japanese joint company and the other organizations. His visit to China in 1914 and his attitude toward anti-Japanese agitation arising in China at that time will also be investigated.

The last part argues the problems that Eiichi Shibusawa was faced with by revaluating the so-called “same race and same script” idiom which indicated the intimate relationship between China and Japan at the time. Meanwhile, this part fosters a debate on the possibility of a form of diplomacy to be untaken by industrialists instead of official governments.

Kazuhiro TANAKA (Hitotsubashi University)
“Prioritising Public Interest: The Essence of Shibusawa’s Doctrine and Its Implications for the Re-invention of Capitalism”

Eiichi Shibusawa advocated and practiced the doctrine of ‘inseparability of morality and economy’ which he developed based on Confucian teachings. This consisted of two assertions: (a) Economy is congruent with morality; (b) Morality is congruent with economy. ‘Morality’ includes both passive morality prohibiting certain acts and active morality urging a person to do what one should do.

Shibusawa’s argument concerning the relationship between morality and economy in the capitalist world has key things in common with those of Adam Smith and Michael Porter, who argue that (1) pursuit of self-interest by individuals can lead to, and even be vital for, social value creation and social prosperity, but (2) it should be allowed as long as they comply with justice or passive morality. There is one thing, however, on which Shibusawa would not have agreed with Smith and Porter, and which distinguishes him fundamentally from the other two. As a Confucian, he placed paramount importance on the practice of benevolence (active morality) and, in this context, expected each and every person in business to make a conscious effort to contribute to the welfare and advancement of society. Shibusawa certainly championed pursuit of self-interest itself, but regarded it as a means to an end, namely the promotion of public welfare.

For the capitalist economy to be sustainable, there need to appear a succession of business people of this kind who eagerly seek their own profit but at the same time prioritize over it the interest of others and of society at large.


Entry filed under: History. Tags: , , .

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