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More than just tires!

Entrepreneurial passion and civic commitment, the driving force behind the work of Shojiro Ishibashi, founder of the Japanese group, and promoter of the Bridgestone Museum of Art and the Bridgestone Today Museum: a brief overview to discover the strong links between art and innovation culture

Francesco Lojola

It may seem a Japanese surname as any other, but translating Ishibashi (ishi means stone and bashi bridge) the origin of the main tire manufacturer in the world is revealed: the great entrepreneurial adventure of Shojiro Ishibashi kicks off in the family’s tailoring business, manufacturing jikatabi, the typical rubber soled footwear worn by workers in Japan, only to take off twenty years later, in 1931, when he founded the Bridgestone Tire Corporation. "His motto, 'serve society with superior quality' - says Andy Davies, managing director of Bridgestone Europe South Region - has always been the mission of the group. With the declared intention to offer the best to customers and to society as a whole, not only in terms of products, services and technologies, but in any business activity ", thereby gaining the confidence of the entire community. So here is the figure of Ishibashi, a champion of corporate social responsibility, cultivated on the one hand through a lively interest in the advancement of knowledge, though never separated from a strong code of ethics, and on the other through the promotion of arts and culture, a passion and taste for beauty that has always accompanied the founder of Bridgestone, soon to be known as a collector of great masterpieces in both eastern and western paintings. Here, then, is a different interpretation to a story we’d like to tell, as it still lies, in many ways, concealed: to set the tone, a trip to Japan in the symbolic places of birth and growth of a business culture that still portrays the Japanese group, its identity and strong values.


An extraordinary gallery

Two sites, among those deserving of a thorough examination, may best explain the essence of the combination of entrepreneurial passion and civic commitment: the Bridgestone Museum of Art in Kyobashi (Tokyo), owned by the Ishibashi Foundation, the art gallery in which the founder’s art collection has been gathered and opened to the public for the pleasure of all visitors; and the Bridgestone Today Museum, showing step by step the company’s technological evolution, from the first tire manufactured to future concepts in design and applications not forsaking the latest state of the art products, with a constant emphasis on environmental protection.

Two faces of the same coin, with the objective of contributing to progress, as Shojiro Ishibashi used to repeat, bringing the audience closer to art and technology. And there is no doubt that the aim of contributing to the spread of culture bu displaying his collection of masterpieces has already been reached, if it is true that since its opening in 1952, more than 5 million people have visited the Museum of Art. Strongly desired by the founder after his return from a trip to the US, being very impressed by his visit to the MoMA in New York. Since then the collection (, originally made-up of paintings by French artists of the second half of 1800 and the early 1900s, has steadily grown, embracing a period ranging from the 17th to the 20th century, from ancient works to impressionism and post-impressionism, Japanese paintings of the Meiji period as well as exhibits following the post-war French abstract-art, so that today the museum houses the largest collection of modern artists from all over the country.


History, technology and motorsports providing the fireworks

Priceless artwork signed by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Henri Rousseau. And, again, among others, by Amedeo Modigliani, Edgar Degas, Paul Signac, Edouard Manet, Camille Corot, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. In all, 1,800 masterpieces, with continuous purchases including, in 1980, the Acrobat with arms crossed by Picasso and, in 1987, M.lle Georgette Charpentier seated by Renoir; and then, more recently, the work Number 2.1951 by American painter Jackson Pollock, for the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation. In addition to the permanent exhibition, the museum offers a theme show four times a year.

Thus, until January 12, the museum houses the works of U.S. painter and sculptor of Dutch origin Willem de Kooning, one of the masters of abstract expressionism. Not too far from the historic headquarters of Bridgestone, which houses the Museum of Fine Art, is the Bridgestone Today Museum. Here the focus is placed on rubber and tire technology, which has become an integral part of everyday life for each of us. Among illustrative multimedia panels, product reviews and test devices, to appreciate the structure and its functions, here is the opportunity of a full immersion, through the process of manufacturing and rebuilding, in key moments of the evolutionary history of the Japanese brand as well as in events related to its long association with motorsports such as Moto GP, Formula 1, IndyCar and Super Gt.


Earthquake-resistant rubber and artificial fins

The building that houses the Bridgestone Today Museum is an anti-seismic structure and in the basement anti-seismic rubber cushions can be seen that support the entire structure, isolating it from the ground. A product that Bridgestone also markets outside Japan (where it holds almost 50% of the market), capable of reducing from 7 to 3 the intensity of the shocks. On the first floor the visitor can view the samples of materials used in making tires, the devices used in testing the forces, loads and temperatures involved, friction and resistance properties, cross-sections that highlight the structure of the products and, furthermore, a review of tires ranging from the largest off-road tire, weighing 5.5 tons, to tires for any kind of use (airplanes, road rollers, hand carts, snowmobiles, and more). The second floor, on the other hand, displays information on the manufacturing process, from research and development to the finished product, plus the many activities centered on reducing the environmental impact as well as corporate social commitment. So, here we find the most energetically efficient set of tires (Ecopia) and special rubber used in solar panels; furthermore, the Airfree concept (thermoplastic resin airless wheel for electric vehicles) and a formidable artificial fin for dolphins. "By 2050 - says Andy Davies - in the production process of our products we will use only environmentally sustainable materials. The tire of the future will be able to respect nature, without failing to perform and guarantee safety: a growing challenge that results in research and innovation. "




The passion for art has not run out with the founder Shojiro Ishibashi, who died in 1976, but over time has become a sort of leitmotif for the Bridgestone Group. In Italy the group has decided to express its concern for the environment and art commissioning instant artist Maurizio Galimberti, the photographer who, Polaroid in hand, has made the mosaic technique his trademark. Last June, the artist, turned the garden of villa Francis Ford Coppola, Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda (Matera), in a lush photo set, settling and portraying in his very personal style some Ecopia tires, the products that best embody the green approach of the Japanese manufacturer. "By partnering with Galimberti – the Bridgestone management explains - we give life and expression to an unusual and unexpected subject, turned into a true work of art, in order to emphasize our great respect for the environment and the union between technological innovation and art. The Ecopia range is the first step to fully express the commitment of Bridgestone towards sustainability".

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