Shibusawa Eiichi, 1st Viscount Shibusawa (渋沢 栄一, March 16, 1840 – November 11, 1931) was a Japanese industrialist widely known today as the "father of Japanese capitalism". He spearheaded the introduction of Western capitalism to Japan after the Meiji Restoration. He introduced many economic reforms including use of double entry accounting, joint stock corporations and modern note-issuing banks.
He founded the first modern bank based on joint stock ownership in Japan. The bank was aptly named The First National Bank (Dai Ichi Kokuritsu Ginkō, now merged into Mizuho Bank) and had the power to issue its own notes. Through this bank, he founded hundreds of other joint stock corporations in Japan. Many of these companies still survive to this day as quoted companies in the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which Shibusawa also founded. The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry was founded by him as well. He was also involved in the foundation of many hospitals, schools, universities (including the first women's university), the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and charitable organizations including the Japan Red Cross.
Another notable aspect of Shibusawa's career is that, despite being the founder of hundreds of corporations, he refused to maintain a controlling stake in these corporations, effectively preventing himself from forming a zaibatsu. What is known as the Shibusawa zaibatsu was a holding company to look after his estate for his family. The Shibusawa Zaibatsu did not hold any controlling stake in any companies. Despite his lowly origin as a farmer, he was granted the title of Viscount, while all other zaibatsu founders were awarded the title of Baron. He was also awarded Shōnii, Second Honour under the ritsuryō rank system, which is usually given to high ranking nobility and prime ministers.
Shibusawa was born on March 16, 1840 in a farmhouse in Chiaraijima (located in the present-day city of Fukaya, Saitama prefecture). As a boy, he learned reading and writing from his father. He grew up helping with the family business of dry field farming, indigo production and sale, and silk raising and later studied the Confucian classics and the history of Japan under Odaka Junchu, a scholar who was his cousin.
Under the influence of sonnō jōi (expel the barbarians; revere the emperor) sentiment, he formulated a plan along with cousins and friends to capture Takasaki Castle and set fires in the foreign settlement in Yokohama. Ultimately, however, this plan was canceled and he moved on to Kyoto.
Shibusawa left his hometown at the age of twenty-three, and entered the service of Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu (then in line for the position of shogun). He distinguished himself by his work in strengthening the household finances of the Hitotsubashi family.
When he was twenty-seven years old, he visited France and other European countries as a member of Tokugawa Akitake's Delegation to the Paris World Exposition. In this trip Shibusawa observed modern European societies and cultures for the first time, and realized the importance of industrial and economic development.
After returning from Europe at the news of the change of governments now known as the Meiji Restoration, he established the Shōhō Kaishō, one of the first joint stock companies in Japan, in Shizuoka prefecture. Afterwards, he was invited by the Meiji government to become a member of the Ministry of Finance, where he became a driving force in the building of a modern Japan as head of the Kaisei Kakari, or office of the Ministry of Finance in charge of reform.
In 1873 Shibusawa resigned from the Ministry of Finance and became the president of the Dai-Ichi Kokuritsu Ginkō (lit. "First National Bank"). This was Japan's first modern bank, established under his own guidance while still employed by the Ministry of Finance. With this bank as a base, Shibusawa devoted himself to founding and encouraging businesses of all sorts.
Shibusawa was an advocate throughout his life of the idea that good ethics and business should be in harmony. The number of enterprises in which he was involved as founder or supporter is said to exceed 500, and includes Mizuho Financial Group, The 77 Bank, Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Imperial Hotel, Tokyo Stock Exchange, Tokyo Gas, Toyobo, Keihan Electric Railway, Taiheiyo Cement, Oji Paper Company, Sapporo Breweries, and NYK Line. Moreover, he spearheaded many works for the betterment of society, and was an enthusiastic supporter of education, especially higher education in the field of business such as current Hitotsubashi University and current Tokyo Keizai University, higher education for women, and private schools. Shibusawa involved himself in some 600 projects related to education, social welfare, and others.
In addition, Shibusawa made efforts to promote exchange of goods and goodwill across national boundaries through private-sector diplomacy. Numerous guests from overseas visited the Shibusawa residence in Asukayama, where they talked candidly with him.
Having lived through a time of great change and having stood personally in the vanguard of change in a new era, Shibusawa died at the age of ninety-one on November 11, 1931.
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure (24 August 1911) (Fourth Class: 19 July 1892)
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers (10 November 1928)
Shibusawa, along with many other famous historical figures from the Meiji Restoration, is a supporting character in the historical fantasy novel Teito Monogatari by Aramata Hiroshi. In the 1988 adaptation, known in the west as Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis, he is portrayed by renowned Japanese actor Katsu Shintarō. In the animated adaptation, he is voiced by Osamu Saka.