Building the “Shibusawa Encyclopedia”

Inoue Jun, director of the Shibusawa Memorial Museum, outlines the Museum’s work to build a “Shibusawa Encyclopedia.” This article first appeared in our March 2012 issue and has been updated where appropriate.

To read the PDF version of this article with photographs, click here: Wisdom of Shibusawa Eiichi Part IV

Text only version follows.

This year (2012) represents a milestone for the Shibusawa Memorial Museum, as we celebrate our thirtieth anniversary. Although there have been some dramatic changes over the years, the museum has always had its sights set further in the future.

We have spent the last seven to eight years exploring new possibilities, in an effort to expand the foundation’s activities and broaden the scope of individual projects. Our aim has always been to create information resources. Having got the ball rolling in that direction, it would be fair to say that we have already achieved what we set out to do to some extent. The next step is to think about how to build on what we have achieved to date.

The idea of indexing documents to create information resources came from Shibusawa Keizo, grandson and successor to Shibusawa Eiichi. Based on practices in the academic world, he was a keen proponent of organizing documents to assist with research. He also believed in bringing documents together to access the “information” that they contain. This was a key feature of his work amassing a large collection of historical documents. Shibusawa Eiichi Denki Shiryo (Biographical Materials) for instance were compiled with the aim of assembling documents for the biography that will inevitably be written at some point in the future. This approach has been maintained ever since, as typified by the foundation’s efforts to gather information relating to Shibusawa Eiichi, establish information resources relating to corporate history, and create information resources using nishiki-e woodblock prints typically found in documents depicting the history of business. Practices such as these are now more relevant than ever, as the role of cultural organizations continues to shift from awareness and enlightenment to more active participation.

Looking ahead, we are working on a project aimed precisely at creating information resources. One of the processes involved in this project will be stocktaking. This means carrying out a full survey of all of the documents including materials and information collected by the foundation and museum to date, to ascertain what information we have and in what format. The resulting information will then be made available as a resource, so that it can be put to good use for various different purposes.

The next process will revolve around special exhibitions, something that we put a lot of effort into. In order to make the most of the results from the aforementioned stocktaking process, we have set ourselves the theme “tracing the origins of companies” and will be focusing on a number of companies in which Shibusawa Eiichi was heavily involved from the beginning and that are still key players in their respective industries today. In addition to an exhibition tracing the thirty-year history of the museum and a memorial exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Shibusawa Keizo, we will be putting on a series of special exhibitions featuring the Shibusawa Warehouse Company, Oji Paper Co., Ltd. the Imperial Hotel Ltd., the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Toyobo Co., Ltd., Daiichi Bank and Shimizu Corporation [the “tracing the origins of companies” series ran from 2012 to 2016]. One of the aims of this series is to pave the way for a “Shibusawa Encyclopedia,” as a tangible product of our information resources. This will also demonstrate that Shibusawa Eiichi’s ideas are relevant to twenty-first century capitalism and modern society and help raise awareness.

As part of this project, we are particularly keen to put together a project team that includes members of staff from the featured companies and organizations. We will also be using an increasingly wide range of digitized information, based on our Shibusawa Eiichi Denki Shiryo. Looking ahead to the future, we have plans to study, verify and obtain permission to use materials belonging to other companies, outside the museum’s own collection. We are eager to develop digital content and incorporate it into our exhibitions wherever possible. Implementing this project will involve the same difficulties, dilemmas and uncertainties that Shibusawa Eiichi (and Keizo) faced as individuals. International comparability is another factor. Also Eiichi established the modern bank, the National First Bank (Daiichi Kokuritsu Ginko, later Daiichi Bank) to develop Japan’s financial infrastructure and he committed to creating new corporations and fostering human resources based on the bank. In this sense, our focus on individual companies means thinking about the relationship with and involvement of Daiichi Bank.

Whilst considering specific themes such as these, we also need to think about restructuring the museum, and about the future of the Shibusawa Memorial Museum as an information resource center.

We are currently discussing the possibility of extending collaboration from museums, libraries and archives (MLA) to include community centers (kominkan) as well (MLAK). We want to go beyond functional collaboration and make the most of this MLAK framework to create a new, more integrated museum, or a type of cultural ensemble. To achieve that, we need to fuse the three divisions into a cultural organization as a new model of the foundation, developing programs and events making full use of the functions and characteristics of each division. We believe this will preserve Shibusawa Eiichi’s achievements and underline the importance of gathering, analyzing and sharing information.

INOUE Jun is an executive director with the Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation and director of the Shibusawa Memorial Museum

Note: This article updates that which first appeared in the March 2012 issue of the Japan Journal.

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