January 28, 2008,09:42 +0900(JST) In Kurashiki-city
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to visit Kurashiki-city in Oakayama prefecture with my wife, for personal reasons. Kurashiki being not far from my home, it didn’t involve much travel, but on this first visit in 25 years I was impressed by the way the city of Kurashiki remained almost unchanged. I felt a strong sense of familiarity with Kurashiki, as I was able to identify what I saw there with fragments of my memory.
We enjoyed leisurely walks on Kurashiki Ivy Square tourist complex, in the city’s scenic historic area, and along the Kurashiki River. As we walked along the River, admiring old houses and storehouses with traditional white-plastered or square tile-covered walls, we felt as if – although this is a rather commonplace expression - we had been transported to the Edo period, hundreds of years ago. I truly admire those who are making constant efforts to preserve such a scenic traditional townscape.
What I definitely wanted to do in Kurashiki was visit the Ohara Museum of Art. This museum, opened in 1930 as Japan’s first museum of Western Art, was named after its founder, a unique business leader, Magosaburo OHARA (second president of Kurashiki Cotton Spinning Company that is now Kurabo Industries Ltd.).
Upon walking through the front gate, visitors are greeted with Rodin’s impressive statue of Jean d’Aire from “The Burghers of Calais,” on the right in front of the main building. Upon entering the building, you’ll find El Greco’s “Annunciation,” so famous that it requires no further comments; other tableaux by Impressionists such as Cezanne, Monet and Renoir, and even some works by modern artists such as Gauguin, Matisse and Pollock. Most of the works of art in the museum’s superb collection were chosen by the discerning eyes of Torajiro KOJIMA, painter and friend of Mr. Ohara.
As I walked slowly through the museum appreciating the paintings one by one, it was as though I could sense, through those works of art, the strong, almost intense commitment that the late Mr. Ohara must have had to this place. He is known to have boasted of his insight, saying that his eyes could see ten years into the future. Yet, he had a strong sense of service to society, loved his employees like his own family and devoted himself to various cultural projects, including the Ohara Museum, and community activities. I felt that the museum visit enabled me to come into contact with the spirit of this great businessman.
By the way, after visiting the museum, you can nurse your tired feet in the adjacent café El Greco, savoring its delightful coffee and cake.
Kurashiki seems to me one of the few cities in the world that enjoy truly significant corporate community contribution. There are many words that express how corporations can serve society, such as CSR, philanthropy and mecenat, and it seems as if these words are used every day in every place of the world. In Kurashiki, corporate contribution is not just words, but it is authentic and can be seen in action and felt in spirit.