The founder of Hitachi Namihei Odaira 150th Anniversary Exhibition

Mar. 28, 2024 Yuzuru Kido

The year of 2024 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Namihei Odaira, the founder of Hitachi, Ltd. To commemorate this, “Namihei Odaira 150th Anniversary Exhibition - Namihei Odaira: An Honest Person” is being held at Hitachi Origin Park in Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, from January 15.

This special exhibition focuses on the term “honest person,” with “honesty” being part of the values that Odaira cherished throughout his life, so as to zoom in on the man himself. Tsutomu Ogane, director of Hitachi Origin Park, says: “By letting people know the thoughts of our founder, we want them to get a feel for the origin of Hitachi's social innovation business, which we are developing globally.”

“Contributing to society”

Namihei Odaira, Hitachi’s founder
Namihei Odaira, Hitachi’s founder

Namihei Odaira was born in 1874 in Ienaka Village (present-day Tochigi City), Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. When he was a student, he chose to study electrical engineering. In 1910, at a time when Japan was dependent on foreign technology, he founded Hitachi, Ltd. with the aspiration of producing electrical machinery in Japan.

The first product manufactured under Odaira's direction was a 5-horsepower motor. This is the oldest existing motor designed and manufactured by a Japanese person. It has been carefully preserved along with the engineering drawings, and in June 2023, it was designated an Important Cultural Property as “5-horsepower Induction Motor and the 5 design sheets.”

Taking advantage of the production of this five-horsepower induction motor, Hitachi workers collaborated with their colleagues on various projects under the corporate philosophy of “Contributing to society through the development of superior, original technology and products.”

Introducing the life of Namihei Odaira in three parts

Exhibition Room 1: “Origins of Namihei Odaira: An ‘Honest Person’”

This exhibition is divided into three parts: “Origins of Namihei Odaira: An 'Honest Person,'” which conveys the sprouting of the Hitachi spirit; “Namihei Odaira: Founding President,” which explores his beliefs as a manager who grew and expanded his business; and “Namihei Odaira: A Man of Many Interests,” which touches on his honest personality, with “honesty” as a value that he held high throughout his life without seeking fame or honor.

Odaira’s diary on display

The first exhibition room displays part of Odaira's diary, which he kept from his student days until just before his death, and drawings that he made while a student at Tokyo Imperial University, highlighting his aspirations when he was a young man to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

Director Ogane explains: “Although Odaira is said to have been a man of few words, his meticulously recorded diary entries convey his passionate desire to create new things with his own hands.”

Stories from Odaira’s grandchildren who knew him in life

Namihei Odaira’s grandchildren, Yoshiko (left) and Mitsuhiro (right), during the interview
Namihei Odaira’s grandchildren, Yoshiko (left) and Mitsuhiro (right), during the interview

A video interview with Mr. Mitsuhiro Odaira and Ms. Yoshiko Odaira, grandchildren of Namihei Odaira, is also projected in the first exhibition room.

Both Mitsuhiro and Yoshiko describe him as “a frugal and selfless person.”Yoshiko also says: “I think he was strict at work, but at home he was a kind and fun grandfather.”

A photo of Odaira on holiday with his wife (right) in the twilight of his life

His grandchildren see him as a “kind old man who takes good care of their grandmother.” He hit a hole-in-one playing golf and mowed the lawn. He also had a humorous side. For example, when they bathed together in a goemon bath, a large bathtub shaped like a cauldron, the grandchildren would say: “Grandpa, you bathe too quickly. You’re like a crow.” Odaira would reply: “No, the crows imitated me.”

When Mitsuhiro and Yoshiko were 13 years old, Odaira passed away at the age of 77. Yoshiko recalls: “Even the day before he passed away, he continued to write in his diary even though he was in pain.” She says this is a testament to Odaira’s honest nature.

Displays of autography board with “honest person” written on it by Odaira, along with Odaira’s beloved golf clubs

Exhibition Room 2: “Namihei Odaira: Founding President”

The second exhibition room displays items related to the work of Namihei Odaira, who led Hitachi, Ltd. in its formative years, such as business cards, seals, and his office desk. Among them is a piece of autography board with the key words for this exhibition—“honest person”—written on it.

The piece of paper with “honest person” written on it in 1947 by Odaira

These are the words Odaira wrote when asked by then-vice president Naosaburo Takao to leave a few words behind when he was ordered out of his position by the U.S. occupation authorities in 1947, even though Odaira himself was a man of few words.

Director Ogane explains: “I heard that Odaira’s mother told him to be honest when he was growing up, and I believe that Odaira carefully adhered to that teaching.”

Exhibition Room 3: “Namihei Odaira: A Man of Many Interests”

The third and final exhibition room sheds light on the true face of Odaira, who enjoyed a variety of hobbies, including golf, painting, and ceramics. Visitors are introduced to the inner richness of Odaira's pursuits through his beloved golf clubs, an axe for chopping firewood, and realistic paintings he drew as a student.

Odaira playing golf

Desire for visitors to get a feel for the origins of the social innovation business

Opened in 2021, Hitachi Origin Park is a facility that introduces the history of the company mainly through the products of Hitachi, Ltd. and the Hitachi Group. This exhibition—the first of its kind—focuses on the personality of the company's founder, Namihei Odaira.

Director Ogane says: “Hitachi's Mission of ‘Contributing to society through the development of superior, original technology and products’ has been carefully passed down since the company's founding. Recently, the focus of our business has shifted from manufacturing to digital, but our commitment to solving social issues by taking on new challenges has not changed since our founding. I hope that visitors to the museum will learn about the thoughts of our founder and get a feel for the origin of the social innovation business, which we are currently developing globally.”

Director of Hitachi Origin Park, Tsutomu Ogane, during the interview

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