Opening the Bridgestone Museum of Art

Shojiro Ishibashi, who amassed a major collection of European and Japanese Western-style paintings in the period from before the war through after the war, intended from a relatively early stage to establish an art museum.
In 1950 he travelled to the United States to conduct tie-up negotiations with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and it was during this trip that his plans for a museum took shape. After visiting a number of famous art museums around the U.S., he decided, "Rather than cherish the collection on my own, I want to build a museum so that everyone may view it, thereby contributing to the advancement of culture." In particular, he was impressed by those art museums in city centers where people could drop in casually to view the artwork on display.

The Bridgestone Building, with its then cutting-edge mechanical engineering, at the time of the opening of the Bridgestone Gallery (1952)
The Bridgestone Building, with its then cutting-edge mechanical engineering, at the time of the opening of the Bridgestone Gallery (1952)

At this same time, Shojiro happened to be in the middle of planning the construction of the Bridgestone Building in the Kyobashi area of central Tokyo. This building was groundbreaking, not only because it was the first nine-story building to be constructed in Japan within the height limit of 31 meters under the Building Standards Law at the time, but also because it was built using the latest earthquake-resistant and fire-preventive construction techniques, to the point where it is said that the Building Standards Law was amended to take account of the lighting, air-conditioning equipment, and other aspects of the internal structure.

On January 8, 1952, Shojiro opened the Bridgestone Gallery (the name changed to the Bridgestone Museum of Art in 1967), which occupied the entire second floor of the new building.
This was just seven years after the end of the war, when Japan was still in the midst of recovery and occupation. People yearned for art of a high standard, yet there were no art museums in Tokyo exhibiting modern European or modern Japanese Western-style paintings. Against this backdrop, the Bridgestone Gallery, which put on view to the public in the heart of the city masterpieces of European and Japanese Western-style painting, had a big impact. For example, the painter and Chairman of the Japan Artists Association, Sotaro Yasui, sent a letter of appreciation to Shojiro in which he stated, "It is clear from the number of people who gather silently in the museum that your kindness has given great comfort and sustenance not only to artists but to a general public thirsty for real art."

Shojiro Ishibashi during his address at the completion ceremony (museum lecture hall)
Shojiro Ishibashi during his address at the completion ceremony (museum lecture hall)
The opening exhibition
The opening exhibition

As well, writing in a newspaper of the time, the novelist Saneatsu Mushanokoji commented, "The opening this year in Kyobashi of the Bridgestone Gallery has brought great pleasure to art lovers like myself… Since we were young we have dreamed of having a small art museum like this, and the reality is indeed splendid."

Since its opening, the Bridgestone Museum of Art has played host to a wide range of events and activities related to the arts, including not only permanent and special exhibitions, but art lectures by experts and distinguished guests in various fields, the production of documentary films, and recordings, concerts and recitals. Although the contents have gradually changed over the years, these activities remain central to the program at the Bridgestone Museum of Art.

Saneatsu Mushanokoji giving a Saturday Lecture (1952)
Saneatsu Mushanokoji giving a Saturday Lecture (1952)