Our Founder

ISHIBASHI Shojiro, born in 1889, died in 1976

Our founder, Ishibashi Shojiro, and his collection of modern Japanese art

Ishibashi Shojiro was born in the city of Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, in 1889. At the age of seventeen, he took over management of the family tailoring business. Having succeeded in developing commercially viable jika-tabi (split-toed heavy cloth work shoes) with glued-on rubber soles, he then set his sights on manufacturing tires for automobiles. In 1931, he founded the Bridgestone Tire Co., Ltd. (now the Bridgestone Corporation), its name reversing the meanings of the characters in his surname (Ishibashi: stone bridge), and moved its headquarters to Tokyo a few years later.
The stimulus for Shojiro’s beginning to collect art seriously was reconnecting with Sakamoto Hanjiro, a Western-style painter who had been his art teacher when Shojiro was in elementary school. Sakamoto thought would be a shame if the work of the painter Aoki Shigeru, another native of Kurume and a remarkably gifted artist who had died young, became scattered and lost. He suggested that Shojiro collect Aoki’s works and build a museum for them. Moved by Sakamoto’s appeal, Shojiro began to collect modern Japanese Western-style paintings, primarily by Aoki. During the following decade, he was able to acquire Aoki’s masterpiece A Gift of the Sea along with other works and build his collection.
In addition to Aoki and Sakamoto, the work of the painter Fujishima Takeji had an important position in Shojiro’s collection. Having noticed and purchased Fujishima’s work at a solo exhibition, he became a close friend of the artist and acquired, as a single lot, fifteen works from Fujishima’s Italian period. The elderly artist had entrusted works he dearly loved to Shojiro, who from the start had been thinking of founding a museum.
The year that the museum opened was 1952, the same year that the Treaty of San Francisco was signed and Japan acquired its sovereignty, during the postwar recovery period. The Bridgestone Museum of Art’s sixty years of history places it among the rare pioneering museums in Japan, starting with its founder ISHIBASHI Shojiro’s prewar collection.

Postwar focus on Western art and the founding of the museum in central Tokyo

Ishibashi Shojiro, saying, “I could show Aoki’s and Fujishima’s work alongside the work of the French artists who were their models, and they would shine even more,” set about devotedly purchasing prewar Western art that was being sold off during the chaos that followed the war. As he said, “I like bright, cheerful paintings,” and particularly the Impressionists; taking full advantage of his superb eye for art, he acquired works of the highest quality. At the same time, he blocked the outflow of outstanding works of art to overseas collectors during Japan’s period of recovery.
Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire and Château Noir is a work that we are particularly proud to have in our collection. It was purchased in Paris before the war by Hara Sankei’s son Zen’ichiro, a member of the White Birch School, a humanist literary and art society, to help fulfill the dream of building a White Birch art museum. Shojiro was meanwhile acquiring many Western paintings, focusing on Impressionist and other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French paintings, and building a collection of superb works, including masterpieces by each of the artists included in it.
In 1950, during his first trip to the United States, Shojiro was deeply impressed by the Museum of Modern Art’s location in downtown New York. He immediately made up his mind to transform the second floor of his new headquarters building in Tokyo’s Kyobashi district into a gallery where he could invite the public to view his collection. In January of 1952, the Bridgestone Museum of Art opened its doors.
Shojiro later explained that while nothing was more enjoyable for him than selecting and purchasing the paintings he liked, he also felt that his collection should not become an individual’s private pleasure. Moreover, he believed that by building a museum he could contribute to elevating the level of culture. He also decided that the museum should not be his personal possession. Four years later he established the Ishibashi Foundation, to which he gave the bulk of his collection and entrusted management of the museum. That same year, he built the Ishibashi Museum of Art in his hometown, Kurume, and donated it to the city. He was not only an extraordinary entrepreneur. As a museum director, he was a leader and mentor with an exceptional awareness of his obligations to society.