Lecture highlights pioneer of capitalism in Japan

Gabriel Nair , Staff writer

The man responsible for introducing capitalism to Japan, Shibusawa Eiichi, is the focus of Dr. John Sagers’ research.

This past Wednesday, Dr. Sagers gave a presentation and insight into his latest project involving Shibusawa.

Dr. Sagers is the current Department Chair for the History department, but is also the acting chair of the Religion Department.

Sagers began his talk regarding by examining Shibusawa’s beginnings. Shibusawa was born in 1840 in Fukaya, a city located in the Saitama Prefecture and known for its indigo processing. Growing up, Shibusawa was exposed to the teachings of Confucius and was given a Samurai education despite being part of the farmer class.

Confucian teachings are commonly known as the “Way of the Sage Kings.” They are lessons designed to teach people how to conduct themselves in a humane and noble way.

Both Japan and Shibusawa were irrevocably changed when U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry forced himself into Japanese politics.

Perry strong-armed the Japanese into allowing the U.S. access into Japan, ending Japan’s isolationist policy.

Even after Perry left, there were many people who did not want to make the switch from isolation to modernization.

“Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians,” read one of the many sayings that the Japanese came up with during this period.

Shibusawa was furious with the government and harbored strongly anti-shogun feelings. But even still, Shibusawa left home and joined the Tokugawa Branch Family in Kyoto and was welcomed as a retainer to the soon to be Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

Shibusawa rose in rank and was asked to accompany the Shogun’s brother, Tokugawa Akitake, to the 1867 World Exposition in Paris.

It is here where Shibusawa started to understand why westernizing Japan might be a good idea.  He was struck by the idea of gaining high status via a commercial enterprise and was determined to popularize this modernized way of thinking in Japan.

During the Meiji Restoration, Shibusawa worked for the government as an official for the Ministry of Finance.

But when Shibusawa pushed to create the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, he was forced to leave the government.

Shibusawa’s economic innovation was called Gapponshugi. Shibusawa’s idea of capitalism is different from what is normally considered capitalism because he also incorporated the ideals of Confucianism into it.  

Shibusawa Eiichi’s first son, Shibusawa Keizo, followed in his father’s footsteps and made sure to preserve any documents relating to his father.