Eiichi Shibusawa

Remembering Legacy of Eiichi Shibusawa as He Helped Armenian Refugees during Genocide

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By Anna Vardanyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Nowadays, interest in Eiichi Shibusawa, as a unique, exemplary entrepreneur does not stop in Japan․ He founded more than 500 enterprises operating in Japan, carried out diplomatic and charitable activities, and made a major contribution to the development of the Japanese economy at the time. However, until about a decade ago nobody knew about the ties between Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931) and the Armenian nation.

In fact, he was the head of “Armeniya-Nippon” Armenian-Japanese Scientific and Cultural Union. More has been discovered about him thanks to the efforts of historian and independent researcher at the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Vicken Babkenian.

During the Armenian Genocide, Japan sent aid to the refugees.

In an effort to internationalize the efforts of the US-based Near East Relief, which was a fund helping Armenian refugees after the Genocide, Rev. Dr. Lincoln L. Wirt, an American Congregational minister and a Red Cross commissioner during World War I, was given the mission to establish branches of the Near East Relief among the Pacific nations, one of which was Japan. He succeeded in establishing a general committee in Japan and the Armenian relief movement began to gain momentum. Wirt was invited to the Imperial Bank. As Babkenian notes, Shibusawa was also present at this meeting.

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Sitting at the head of a long table, Shibusawa asked Wirt “who the Armenians were and why they needed help.” After a little geography and history, Wirt described the details of the atrocities committed against the Armenians and their current plight. Shibusawa interrupted and asked, “Why did you not come to us with your appeal?” He added, “Was it because we are Buddhists and you thought we would not help Christians in distress? We have read your speeches as reported in the Japan Advertiser [an English-language daily] and we thought we would like to help, even if we have not been invited to do so. Unbeknown to you, one of our Japanese papers published your appeal, and here is your result.” Shibusawa then handed over to Wirt a check for $11,000 (about $140,000 in today’s terms).

Not only did he give money for charity, Shibusawa also accepted the chairmanship of the Armenian Relief Committee of Japan, headquartered in Kajimachi, Tokyo. He immediately wrote a letter to 100 Japanese leaders, inviting them to attend a lecture by Rev. Wirt in the hope of inspiring interest to help the Armenians.

It’s a fact that the Armenian Relief Committee of Japan implemented a series of donations, activities, and lectures together with Eiichi Shibusawa and a group of people of different social and political status, who spared no effort to raise funds for Armenians in need. The issue of the Armenian refugees became a key question for the Committee.

For example, 10,000 yens were sent to the Armenian Refugee Fund. Another amount was transferred to the Armenian Musicians’ Fund. In addition, it was decided to transfer 120 yen per child per year. The Armenian Relief Committee headed by Eiichi Shibusawa raised about 20,000 yen, by organizing such activities as lectures, concerts, film screenings and theatre performances. It is also significant, that the money raised by Armenian Relief Committee headed by Shibusawa reached the biggest Armenian orphanage at the time, which was located in Aleksandrapol, today’s Gyumri, Armenia.

From the distance of a century, the impression is created that the mercy of the Japanese people towards the Armenian people has been forgotten, lost from the pages of the joint history of the two friendly peoples. This article hopes to counteract this view, valuing the historical relations between the Armenian and Japanese peoples. Despite the geographical distance, the peoples of the two friendly countries have always treated each other with mutual warmth. In general, there is an opinion that states make history.

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