New banknotes will be issued on July 3rd this year. The person chosen to be the face of the new 10,000 yen bill is Eiichi Shibusawa, who also became the main character of the NHK Taiga drama. Eiichi founded approximately 500 companies during his lifetime, including the Daiichi National Bank (currently Mizuho Bank), and is known as the “father of modern Japanese economy.'' He emphasized the importance of this. This is the so-called “moral economic unity theory''.
Ken Shibusawa, Eiichi's great-great-grandson (fifth grandson), CEO of Shibusawa & Company, and Chairman of Commons Investment Trust, says that “Analects and Abacus,'' a collection of Eiichi's lectures, is not only a management book, but also a great book for the time. He says it is a book of encouragement that worries about Japan. Blockchain, which serves as the foundation for new organizations such as wealth dispersion and distribution and DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), may have something in common with Eiichi Shibusawa's ideas. We asked Ken Shibusawa about Japan's current situation and possibilities.
Dramatic demographic change towards an inverted pyramid
──What do you think of the current situation in Japan, especially the economic situation?
Shibusawa：I think Japan is clearly entering a new era. In the past, Japan's successful experience was during a time when the demographics were pyramid-shaped, with many young people supporting the older generation. The “many young generations” are what we now call the “baby boomer generation.” This structure boosted Japan's domestic economy until the 1980s, when it expanded overseas. This was the era when “Made in Japan” became a brand.
Then the “Japan bashing” began, and the Japanese people said, “Sorry, let's make it in your own country,” and adopted the clever and rational model of “Made by Japan.” The Heisei era started with “bashing,” but I think it's been 30 years since then and it's become “passing.”
Looking at the demographic trends over those 30 years, there were two major peaks: the baby boomer generation and the baby boomer juniors, and it was a 30-year period in which the gourd-shaped demographic trend continued to rise. However, around 2020, demographic trends will change dramatically.
Actually, ever since I started a company called Commons Investment Trust with my friends in 2008, I have been paying attention to demographic trends, and I have been aware of the drastic changes in Japan's social structure, which will suddenly become an “inverted pyramid” around 2020. I did. These changes are not felt very much in our daily lives, but when you look at the scale of hundreds of years, tremendous changes have occurred in a short period of time. The population may increase due to the sudden increase in the number of babies, but no country in the world has actually experienced an “inverted pyramid'' demographic situation where the generation that built up wealth suddenly declines. not. A huge upheaval is beginning in Japan.
──Demographic dynamics are said to be “the future that has already happened,'' and the increase or decrease in the population between the ages of 15 and 64 is said to be related to economic growth.
Shibusawa: Simply put, it's a generational change. Looking at the next 30 years, we will see an “inverted pyramid,” so pessimistic predictions are common. However, this is only because we are envisioning the future as an extension of the successful experience of the “pyramid” era. I believe that there are two futures. One is “the future that will definitely happen.” A typical example is demographic trends, which always occur. The other is the “unseen future.” The reason you can't see it is because there is uncertainty.
Uncertainty means that things may turn out bad, but things may turn out good. In the world of finance, it is called “risk,” but risk is not always a bad thing, and should be properly controlled. That is “risk taking”.
And the people I have high hopes for in the “unseen future” are the Millennial generation and Generation Z. This generation is a “minority” with a small population in Japan, but they are digital natives who have had access to the Internet for granted since birth. By making full use of the Internet, you can connect with the world. In Japan, we may be crushed by older generations, but globally, this generation is currently the most populous “majority.” In other words, I believe that by collaborating globally, we can create a new era, new value, and new experiences of success as a new majority.
Currently, the countries in the world where the population is increasing are the countries called the “Global South.” Africa, South Asia including India, and South America. What many people living there want is to get a job, earn a living, and support their families. This is commonplace in Japan, but the Global South faces various challenges.
I believe that the concept of “SDGs” was born from this historical background. Of course, it is important in Japan to leave no one behind, but from a broader perspective, there are still many people left behind.
Japan's large companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, and startups can enrich the lives of many people in many countries, both directly and indirectly, in a variety of ways. I believe that we can support a sustainable society.
If we can do that, in other words, if people in many countries can spread the awareness that “Japan will accompany us,'' the next 30 years will not be pessimistic at all, but will instead be an interesting time. From Made in Japan and Made by Japan, the era of “Made with Japan'' has arrived. The message “Let's create a rich life together with Japan” is extremely important.
Changes in companies in the volume zone are important
──“Made with Japan” is a positive message.
Shibusawa：Amidst this, I believe that Japanese companies, especially large Japanese companies, will undergo tremendous changes. Demographics are changing rapidly. In the past, large companies attracted talented people and retained them until retirement, but there are fewer young people in the workforce. And talented young people are no longer aiming to work in government offices or large companies, but rather to start their own businesses or start ventures. Even if they join a large company, they will quickly change jobs if they find a new goal. This is becoming more and more commonplace.
There is a good chance that the definition of a company will also change. The successful experience of the Showa era of hiring new graduates all at once, seniority-based, and lifetime employment is over. The management probably understands this. This has not been communicated to the hiring process. The diversity that Japanese companies are looking for is not just about gender and nationality, but also about age and generation.
Companies that understand this are changing with the times. However, there are still companies that are aware of change but have not been able to change, and companies that are not aware of change.
In fact, the second category, “companies that know they need to change but are unable to change,'' are the most common in the volume zone, and I think they will become interesting in the future. It will be extremely important for Japan to see such changes in the future. If Japan cannot change, it will fade out.
──What does it take for companies in the volume zone to change?
Shibusawa: It is the destruction of common sense. For example, in Nagatacho, the LDP faction is also being destroyed. Although there are reports that it is still not enough, I think that something big is happening. Many changes are occurring in many places. The question is whether we can notice these changes and act accordingly. What is needed is independence.
It is important that not only the top management has the initiative, but all workers have the initiative, and that they act on their own initiative, not just because of the system, customs, or “reading the atmosphere.''
When I go abroad, I feel that my interest in Japan is increasing. I feel like more and more people are saying, “Let's do something together.'' When you look at Japan from a macro perspective, it looks like a very boring country, but when you look at it from a micro perspective, it has a lot of interesting things, and that's why so many people from overseas are visiting it now. People from other countries are starting to realize how interesting Japan is. At that time, it will not work to say, “I'll take it home and consider it.'' You will miss out on a great opportunity.
Additionally, we were surprised to hear that the New York Times announced “52 Places to Visit in 2024,'' and that Yamaguchi City was featured third. Now that we are entering a new era, I feel it is better to stop using self-deprecating tone and saying things like Japan is no good.
Eiichi Shibusawa was “angry”
──Is the idea of “Made with Japan'' based on the ideas of Eiichi Shibusawa, who advocated the unity of economics and morality?
Shibusawa：Eiichi Shibusawa was a person with a very strong sense of patriotism, but at the same time, I think he was also a person with tolerance. By being tolerant, he learned to see things from a bird's-eye view, and with the aim of increasing Japan's national power, he created many companies as a means to that end. Most of these were new businesses, and we started many what we would now call startups. Moreover, rather than being in charge of everything myself, I leave things to them. I think he was like a catalyst, creating a chemical reaction.
When you look at photographs of Eiichi Shibusawa, you get the impression that he has a round face and is kind, but when you read the documents that he left behind, he is actually very angry. He is angry because he thinks Japan's country, companies, managers, and ordinary citizens deserve better. In other words, I was never satisfied with the status quo and was always future-oriented.
Japan today is a very nice country. However, on the other hand, there are also aspects that make it difficult for innovation and creation to occur. I believe that Eiichi Shibusawa always had a desire to see a society like this, a future like this, and a feeling that there must be a better state. The Analects and the Abacus was published in 1916. It was not the era of great change around the Meiji Restoration, but the Taisho era, around the time of World War I. Before that, there was the Russo-Japanese War, when Japan caught up with developed countries, and the term “nouveau riche” was born due to the military economy. However, I think Eiichi Shibusawa, an old man who had seen the process of China catching up with the developed world from a developing country, could no longer remain silent. He said, “We should aim for a better country.''
“The Analects and the Abacus'' is not a management book or a know-how book, but rather an appeal to the ideal state of things and the importance of independence. If I don't, I'm worried that I might regret it in the future. Shibusawa passed away on November 11, 1931. Two months ago, in September, the Manchurian Incident occurred, and after that, Japan truly entered a period of regret. I think the world is quite dangerous right now. It is very important to have initiative. If politics, companies, or someone else is at fault, we have lost our independence.
──2008Have you noticed any changes in the world or environment since you launched Commons Investment Trust in 2017? Especially in investment, the new NISAWith the advent of “savings to investment'', I think it is finally becoming a reality.
Shibusawa: Things are clearly changing. When I founded my company 15 years ago, the term “long-term investment” was hardly used, and monthly savings only resonated with a small number of people. I set up an investment trust with the goal of raising 1 billion yen, but I only managed to raise 120 million yen. Although we were significantly off target, the starting amount has never been less than the year-on-year rate. Even on a monthly basis, there is almost no change from the previous month. We now have over 100 billion yen in assets under management. It doesn't have a big impact yet, but I think 120 million yen to 100 billion yen in 15 years is not bad.
There are negative opinions about the new NISA, saying that overseas ETFs will become popular and that money will flow overseas. However, Japanese people are investing their money overseas and working on growth in that country. This is absolutely necessary as a nation built on asset management. “Made with Japan'' means that we work on various things around the world and the return of that growth comes back to Japan. This is extremely important because it means that a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution will not only occur within Japan but also throughout the world.
On the other hand, we actually do not invest overseas, but rather in Japanese companies. As shareholders, we would like to support the companies in the volume zone that I mentioned earlier, which are likely to play a role in Japan's growth, as well as the asset building of general individuals.
──Web3How do you view blockchain and blockchain in the context of global financial movements?
Shibusawa：To be honest, I don't really understand it, but I think the important thing, whether it was when Shibusawa created a bank 150 years ago, or with Web3 or blockchain, is whether there is “trust.” Unfortunately, I still don't have enough faith in it, but I think those who understand it trust it precisely because they understand it. What is dangerous is the pattern of not knowing but trusting. The most dangerous people are those who don't think about anything. This is also a question of subjectivity.
We want to make sure that even people who don't know anything about technology can understand and trust the trust created by algorithms. I believe that filling this gap is essential for Web3 and blockchain to become more widespread in the future.
｜Interview/Text: Takayuki Masuda
｜Photographer: Airi Okonogi