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Mises in Japan

  • Human Action by Ludwig von Mises

Tags Media and Culture

05/30/1999Toshia Murata

This interview with Toshio Murata, the economist who translated Ludwig von Mises's Human Action into Japanese, appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun /Daily Yomiuri, May 7, 1998:

An Interview with the President of the Yokohama College of Commerce

A University should be a place where students discover a pursuit that will occupy them for a lifetime, Toshio Murata, president of the Yokohama College of Commerce, says in an interview with Daily Yomiuri staff writer Naoki Niyekawa.

Some words from a former high-ranking Foreign Ministry official, a few more from a company president, and a book written by an Austrian economist, turned Toshio Murata, president of Yokohama College of Commerce, into an ardent advocate of free-market economics. Murata, a devout Christian who considers himself "a man of defiant spirit who has always sought to do what others have not," would not be the man he is today but for these encounters.

"Life is full of surprises," the 74-year-old president said. Murata has made the best of these surprises, all of which were brought about through personal contacts. "I have been fortunate in human relationships," said Murata, a leading real estate expert who introduced the concept of marketing to the real estate industry. "I consider myself a pioneer in establishing academic approaches to real estate business management," he said.

For 18 years, beginning in the late 1960s, Murata led real estate agents on annual trips to the United States in an effort to educate them on how to conduct their business, especially the ethical side of the business. Was he not suffering from a health problem, he would still be organizing such tours today.

The story of how Murata came to specialize in real estate, which he calls "the champion of free-market economics," is a long one. As a student, he was an English-language buff. His strong inclination to do what others have not done may have been the reason he developed an interest in English, considered an enemy language during World War II, he said.

When he entered Yokohama Higher Commercial School, the forerunner of present-day Yokohama National University, he spent his study hours solely on English. One day, his English professor asked Murata if he was interested in working at the Foreign Ministry, which had asked the professor to recommend one student.

Seeking advice from someone in the field, he visited the residence of Morie Ono, a former ministry official who had served as minister of the Japanese Embassy in Vienna, he said. The former official asked Murata what he was good at other than English.

Murata replied that he had been studying nothing but English. The man told Murata to give up on the idea of working at the ministry, because "being able to speak English was nothing remarkable in the field of diplomacy."

"My eyes opened and I realized that foreign languages were merely a tool," he said. "It was when I decided to study economics that I was drafted."

Fortunately, his enrollment at the commercial school enabled him to take the entrance examination for the military's accounting academy, he said. "I became a paymaster at the materials procuring section of an army post in Shanghai in late 1944, after studying at the academy in Beijing," he said. A while later, he said, he was transferred to a field hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. There, he learned the basics of what would later become his specialty.

"My duties, other than procuring, included construction and maintenance of buildings," he said. After he was released from military service he decided to go back to school. He chose Kochi University, located in his home prefecture, where he planned to major in economics and become a high school teacher.

At home in Kochi Prefecture, his life changed completely. A missionary at a school in the prefecture asked him to translate a pamphlet about the Nativity written by Nelson Bell, a devout Christian and medical doctor, he said. Murata wrote to the author to obtain permission to translate the pamphlet, and soon after started exchanging regular correspondence with Bell. One of Murata's letters, in which he wrote about ideological changes occurring in the Japanese economy, was carried in its entirety in a U.S. magazine on religion.

"Readers of the magazine sent many books to me pertaining to the subject of my letter," he said. Among them was a book written by Ludwig von Mises , a noted economist who advocated liberalism and free-market economics. "Von Mises ' ideology resembled nothing I had studied before; it opened up a totally new academic horizon for me," Murata said with visible excitement.

"So, I considered it my responsibility to promote his ideology in this country. He started issuing a private newspaper devoted to discussions of free-market economics, including von Mises ' ideology, and distributed it to his friends both in Japan and overseas, he said. His newspaper drew the attention of the president of a trading company in Kobe, who invited him tothe firm's head office.

"He advised me to obtain a scholarship to study in the United States, the mecca for liberalism and free-market economics," he said. The company president's words stimulated Murata, who turned his passion for the field into something tangible. Murata won a scholarship to New York University, where von Mises taught.

"Prof. von Mises had me live in the office building of the Foundation for Economic Education, because he believed that living with Japanese would hinder the progress of my English," he said. That decision led to another life-changing encounter. An official of the foundation who formerly worked at a real estate agency drove Murata around New York on weekends, showing him various real estate properties in and around the city.

"The official would appraise each property for me, pointing out flaws and advantages. She inflamed my hidden passion for real estate," he said. Now, Murata is a living manifestation of the college's hallowed founding principle: "Be a trustworthy person." The principle, he said, can be interpreted to mean that each student should strive to become a professional, worthy of the confidence of others; one who can be entrusted with completing tasks.

Having won the complete confidence of von Mises , Murata has long devoted himself to promoting his mentor's work in Japan. Murata believes that finding a lifelong pursuit is the most important thing a student can do in his or her four years in college. "Helping students to experience the joy of learning something new is a teacher's responsibility," he added.

The Yokohama College of Commerce was launched in 1968, when its forerunner, a junior college, was granted university status. The single-department college has three majors: commerce; trade and tourism; and management information. The trade and tourism, and management information majors were the first of their kind in Japan. The college, with a student body of about 3,000, employs a small-group education policy--the school's largest classes have a maximum capacity of 60.

The school has campuses in Tsurumi Ward and Midori Ward, both in Yokohama. Toshio Murata, who was born in 1923, obtained an undergraduate degree in economics from Kochi University and a graduate degree in business administration from New York University. After teaching at a commerce high school in Kochi Prefecture and Kanto Gakuin University, Murata joined the teaching staff of Yokohama College of Commerce in 1969. He assumed the post of president in 1995.

Among the many papers and books he has had published is the American-Japanese Dictionary of Real Estate Terms, the only dictionary of its kind.

Copyright 1998 The Daily Yomiuri Copyright(C) 1998 The Daily Yomiuri.


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