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Business History Society of Japan: Past and Present

The Business History Society of Japan (BHSJ) was founded in November 1964. The initial membership was 257 in September 1965 but now stands at around 800 members. As one of the 210 council members of the the Science Council of Japan, BHSJ is expected to report its activities to the public as well as its members. The founders established the BHSJ to explore and understand the features of Japanese companies, which were becoming increasingly present in world markets during the high growth period (mid-1950s to 1973). Professors Yoshitaro Wakimura and Kei-ichiro Nakagawa played a significant role in its establishment. Wakimura, who began research on business history in the prewar days, is considered to be a pioneer in the field. Nakagawa was one of the first researchers to introduce methodologies to Japan for the study of business history, which were developed in the United States in the 1960s, and opened up a new research area, comparative business history. BHSJ members continue to build on the seminal work of the founders as well as present and publish new research described below.

(1) Conferences, Workshops, and Journal

BHSJ currently organizes an annual conference and regional workshops in Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, and Western Japan (Kyushu). Regional workshops are held approximately ten times per year. In addition to regular workshop presentations, joint meetings following a new book launch and special workshops for invited overseas guest researchers are also organized each year. BHSJ publishes Keieishigaku (Japan Business History Review) in Japanese four times a year and Japan Research in Business History (JRBH) in English once a year.

(2) Fuji Conference and Publications

Thanks to the generous financial support of the Taniguchi Foundation, in 1974, BHSJ held the first in a long series of Fuji Conferences, the purpose of which was to encourage exchanges between Japanese and overseas scholars. At the first Fuji Conference, there were 10 presentations by Japanese business historians and two by presenters invited from overseas, Alfred D. Chandler Jr. of Harvard Business School and Charles Wilson of Cambridge University. The Fuji Conferences have greatly contributed to the internationalization of BHSJ through the publication of the Fuji Conference Proceedings by the University of Tokyo Press (20 volumes) and Oxford University Press (five volumes). The dissolution of the Taniguchi Foundation in 1998, however, made it difficult to hold the Fuji Conference every year. BHSJ has nonetheless endeavored to continue the Fuji Conference tradition under a new name, the International Conference on Business History, held once every three years. In addition to this conference, BHSJ has also hosted bilateral business history workshops with scholars from other countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Korea, Thailand, etc.

BHSJ published Keieishigaku no 20 nen (Twenty Years of Business History) in 1985 with the University of Tokyo Press and Keieishigaku no 50 nen (Fifty Years of Business History) in 2015 with Nihon Keizai Hyoron-sha, in order to record and reflect upon business history research in Japan. Until the 1980s, one of BHSJ’s main missions was to encourage scholarly research on the salient features of Japanese companies from an international comparative perspective. However, the long economic stagnation since the 1990s had a significant impact on the focus of BHSJ’s activities. Some members of BHSJ started to research on various forms of business, including small and medium-sized enterprises, industrial clusters, and family business. The scope of the geographical focus has also expanded from the West to Asia. In recent years, the dynamics of Japanese companies over the last 500 years since the early modern era has been attracting an increasing number of business historians as a ‘new’ research topic.

(3) Overseas Exchanges

Many BHSJ members study foreign companies in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Their research has enriched the Society’s knowledge of overseas business and societies and has also contributed to a deepening of the understanding of the role of Japanese firms overseas. It is BHSJ’s role and responsibility to promote the dissemination of these valuable findings to researchers overseas through academic exchanges. A number of members participated in the First World Congress on Business History held in Bergen (Norway) in 2016. In September 2020, the Second World Congress on Business History will be held at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan. BHSJ will continue in its commitment to fostering exchanges with business history societies around the world, advancing the study of business history from a global perspective, and sharing members’ findings with other business historians worldwide.


Message from the President
"The Roles and Tasks of the Business History Society of Japan"
Minoru Sawai,
Nanzan University, President of the Business History Society of Japan

In January 2017, I took office as the President of the Business History Society of Japan (BHSJ), replacing my predecessor Takeo Kikkawa. I resolve to do everything possible to develop this large society with 812 members. I ask for your kind cooperation in my future endeavors.

Business history is a branch of learning in which the history of business administration, other related organizations, and key players are the subjects of focus. In addition, business history includes academic activities related to the neighboring fields of economics, business science, historical studies, and economic history.

In 1985, the BHSJ published a memorial book titled, Keieishigaku no Nij ûnen: Kaiko to Tenb ô (Twenty Years of Business History Studies: Retrospect and Perspectives), by the University of Tokyo Press. In the preface of this book, Keiichir ô Nakagawa, the President of the BHSJ, reflected on the past two decades stating, "In the year of establishment of the Business History Society of Japan, the T ôkaid ô Shinkansen (bullet train) was inaugurated, the Tokyo Olympics were held, and Japan became an IMF Article 8 nation after which it became a member of the OECD." At that time, Japanese manufacturing was in full swing. At the end of the 1970s, the book titled, Japan as Number One: Lessons for America, had become a bestseller.

As one of the characteristics of the study of business history in Japan, it is possible to point out the accumulation of industrial business history studies. In fact, many business historians were involved in the writing and editing of company history, which is an inevitable reflection of the importance of manufacturing in contemporary Japan. By the 1980s, many business and economic history studies on Japanese-style management or the Japanese-style economic system had emerged.

After headlines such as "Japan Lost One Decade" or "Japan Lost Two Decades" emerged, the pessimism regarding the future of Japanese firms, manufacturing, and economy became widespread in the country. However, these discussions lacked rational proof and neglected the significance of historical processes and the efforts of key players. It is important to note that business history does not support such vague discussions since business historians place considerable importance on the subject in the organization, the relation between the subject and the organization, and the relation between various organizations.

More than 30 years have passed since the publication of the society's book in 1985. Two questions arise: 1) Have we consciously continued the efforts to enlarge the targets of "business" history as much as possible? And 2) Have we consciously improved and developed the tools for effective historical analyses? Moreover, in this era of Japan's declining birth rate, aging population, and unexpected disasters, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, it has become increasingly important to foster the consciousness and pursue the subjective dialogue between the past and the present. Hence, the BHSJ provides the arena where these academic discussions can be exchanged.

In pursuing the goals set by my predecessors, I would like to prioritize the following three: 1) promoting research globalization, 2) promoting informatization, and 3) providing support and information to younger generations.

Regarding the first priority, the BHSJ has placed particular importance on exchanges with business history societies and researchers around the globe. At the First World Congress on Business History, held in Bergen, Norway in August 2016, Japan occupied the largest share in terms of the number of participants per country. Since it has been determined that the Second World Congress on Business History will be held in Tokyo in September 2020 (just after the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics), it is crucial that we begin preparations as soon as possible.

Various activities, including the continued hosting of the Fuji Conference, the publication of Japan Research in Business History (JRBH) (an academic journal in English) and the hosting of bilateral conferences on business history with counterpart societies in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Thailand represent our objectives. In addition, these activities were mainly promoted by the Fuji Conference and International Communication Committees as well as the JRBH. The 50th International Conference on Business History at Bunkyo Gakuin University in 2014 conducted sessions in English for the purpose of internationalizing the annual meeting held in Japan. The policy of setting an international conference on business history every other year was realized by the 52nd International Conference on Business History at Chuo University in 2016.

Regarding the second priority, research circumstances have dramatically changed and the amount of digitalized information is becoming larger by the day. Thus, numerous Japanese business historians have benefited from accessing the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records and National Diet Library Digital Collections. Moreover, university bulletins are rapidly changing from paper-based to digital formats. On the other hand, for business historians, the search for primary sources is a seemingly endless task. It is important for us to surveil that the flood of digitalized materials does not bring forth a new gap in research circumstances. The BHSJ also discusses the best ways of dispatching information.

Regarding the third priority, it is important to provide support and information to younger generations. Parallel to the retirement of baby-boomers, academic societies are facing a decrease in the number of members. Additionally, the sharp decline in the college-age population, symbolized in the "2018 Problem," is certain. As a result, academic fields have been competing with one another to acquire graduate students who will most likely be the core members of such societies in the future. Moreover, it is important to support younger generations by allowing them to give presentations at annual meetings after which their research can be peer-reviewed and published in, for example, Keieishigaku (Japan Business History Review).

The BHSJ also encourages younger researchers to give presentations at local committee meetings as well as at international conferences to increase the possibility of finding colleagues with similar interests. Furthermore, although it is difficult to write and publish an academic article in another language, the BHSJ finds it important for young researchers to expand their skills by preparing articles, for example, in English, and submitting them for consideration at international conferences.

Finally, we resolve to devote all of our energies to the development of the study of business history, with the support not only from the BHSJ members but also from people outside of the our organization. We would appreciate your continued understanding and support.

January 1, 2017
Minoru Sawai

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