Universality in the Era of Globalization

A symposium entitled, “For Universality in the Era of Globalization — Association Concordia’s Audacious Activities and Shibusawa Eiichi,” was held in Tokyo under the auspices of the Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation on March 6, 2018.

Chiba University Associate Professor Kenjo Teiji

The Association Concordia was inaugurated in 1912 under the auspices of leading business entrepreneurs and intellectuals at the time in Japan, with the aim of discussing an extensive range of issues including those related to religion, morality and events occurring outside Japan, as well as enlightening the public with the discussion results.

The aim of the symposium under discussion was to find out what sort of society the founding members were aiming for when they rallied for the Association Concordia around one hundred years ago.

Professor Kirihara Kenshin, Kinjo Gakuin University, College of Humanities, acted as the moderator at the symposium.

What is Association Concordia?

Nicknamed the “Father of Japanese Capitalism,” Shibusawa Eiichi was involved in the establishment and management of more than 500 commercial enterprises in his lifetime, including the First National Bank and the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Meanwhile, Shibusawa was strongly inspired by a range of philanthropic activities funded to a large extent by business entrepreneurs that he witnessed on some of his visits to the United States, and he demonstrated active leadership in promoting activities related to welfare, education and private-sector diplomacy. Shibusawa was involved in over 600 philanthropic activities in his lifetime, and the Association Concordia was one of these.

No in-depth research had been conducted on the Association Concordia until February 2018, when Chiba University Associate Professor Kenjo Teiji wrote the book, “Association Concordia’s audacious activities and Shibusawa Eiichi” (pub. Minerva Shobo). In this book, Professor Kenjo discusses the Association Concordia from a range of perspectives.

“I believe that Eiichi [Shibusawa] sought to understand international relations in terms of morality and the economy,” Professor Kenjo noted in his presentation at the symposium. “I have published this book in the expectation that research on the Association Concordia will provide certain clues that will enable readers to understand Eiichi’s concept.”

The Association Concordia was established in 1912 under the auspices of twelve core members, including Shibusawa Eiichi, Naruse Jinzo (educator and founder of Japan Women’s University), Anesaki Masaharu (“father of religious studies” in Japan), entrepreneur Morimura Ichizaemon, moral philosopher Ukita Kazutami and philosopher Inoue Tetsujiro.

Established in the middle of the period between the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) and World War I (1914–1918), the Association Concordia used to be held once a month as a general rule, providing opportunities for discussions and lectures delivered by specialists with the aim of helping to find solutions to issues confronting Japan and other countries around the world in those days. The lectures usually covered a wide range of themes including those related to religion, morality, social/economic/political issues, and international/humanity issues.

The Association Concordia promoted activities for building an international network aimed at publicizing its activities abroad. Naruse, a core member of the Association Concordia, visited colleges in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Paris and Berlin for publicity purposes, spending around six months in total doing so directly after the Association Concordia was established in the summer of 1912. His publicity efforts paid off, gaining great admiration from the local intellectuals.

Soon after this, the Association Concordia of America was established in November 1912. (However, international activities for the Association Concordia fizzled out in the wake of World War I.)

The Association Concordia announced quite a few resolutions and declarations on the occasion of its regular meetings for discussions when its activities peaked in Japan before and after World War I.

For example, Shibusawa raised several themes for discussion at a regular meeting in February 1914, asking questions like, “Do the economy and morality coincide?” “Why haven’t only moral phenomena progressed?”, and “To what extent can education alone improve man’s nature?” Based on the themes raised by Shibusawa, speeches and discussions related to religion, morality and education were held in the later regular meetings. Consequently, it was resolved and announced at the regular meeting in May 1915 that precautions should be taken so as not to hamper the development of faith due to the negligence or contempt on the part of educators shown towards such development, while religious faith sprouts quite naturally in the hearts of people receiving education.

At the regular meeting in January 1915, Shibusawa and moral philosopher Nakajima Rikizo jointly announced a research program entitled “Conviction of the Nation’s Citizens in Response to the Current Situation.” After discussions on almost ten occasions, a manifesto was announced at an open lecture in February 1916, incorporating the concepts of “the nurture of the spirit of the public domain” and “the spirit of world peace.”

However, the activities gradually fizzled out after Naruse passed away in 1919. Professor Anesaki, Department of Religious Studies, Tokyo Imperial University (currently University of Tokyo) took over the hands-on responsibilities in the beginning of the 1920s, and the Association continued to hold regular meetings until the early 1930s. Shibusawa Eiichi passed away in 1931, and the Association Concordia ended its activities after sending out a dissolution notice to members in the name of Anesaki in 1942.

At the inception of the Association Concordia, Shibusawa and Naruse expected that the association would create a “concordia of religion”; that is, a certain “universal religion” that goes beyond Confucianism, Buddhism or Christianity, but there was not much progress in the discussions on religion. This is one of the reasons why no in-depth research work had been undertaken on the Association Concordia. But Professor Kenjo points out that it is still worthwhile researching the Association Concordia, because it promoted activities publicizing the significant concept of world peace and international collaboration in the challenging international environment in those days.

“The international situation in the period from the 1910s through the 1920s became quite unstable in the wake of World War I. Japan also faced an unstable period in the wake of labor disputes and the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923),” Professor Kenjo said. “The Association was quite uniquely inclined to hold wide-ranging discussions by leading intellectuals on the appropriate use of conventional religions and morality as well as relationships for Japan to build with the international community in response to the situations both at home and abroad. From this perspective, I believe that we should continue developing research activities about the Association Concordia going forward.”

SAWAJI Osamu, The Japan Journal

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