Finance is a topic that is essential for people living in modern society. However, somehow it is a topic that is difficult to grasp. How can the intangible concept of finance be made into something that more people will be interested in? This article will delve into the relationship between finance and people and the hints a museum can provide through a visit to The Museum of Finance, a museum operated by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, on the topic of finance.


A Space to Explore Finance: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation’s The Museum of Finance


Yuna Mori, PR Consulting Dentsu Inc.


Financial knowledge of Japanese people

There was a time in Japan where many people would not discuss money in front of their children. However, in April 2022, the legal age of adulthood was lowered to 18 years old, making it possible for 18-year-olds to enter into financial contracts, and financial education became compulsory in high schools. In other words, we have entered an era where people are now discussing money in front of their children. In addition, in the 2023 Annual Tax Revision Plan, a policy to expand Nippon Individual Savings Accounts (NISA) in 2024 was agreed on, and systems were established to allow general consumers to invest more actively.

However, there are concerns as to whether people who will invest in financial products have sufficient knowledge of finance. As mentioned above, financial education in schools only began last year. The Financial Literacy Survey conducted every three years by the Central Council for Financial Services Information shows that consumers’ financial literacy did not change in 2016, 2019, and 2022. On the other hand, according to the survey, 71.8% of respondents answered “Yes” to the question, “Do you think financial education such as life planning and household budget management should be offered in schools?” This clearly shows a need for financial education. In addition, the necessity for financial knowledge, education, and literacy was highlighted from various aspects, such as the fact that people who answered more financial literacy questions correctly were less inclined to encounter financial problems.

Amid this situation, there is a place where you can learn about finance in a unique way, rather than through a lecture in a classroom. That place is Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation’s The Museum of Finance.


Spin the globe and think

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) is one of Japan’s leading megabanks. Mitsui Bank, founded in 1876, and Sumitomo Bank, founded 19 years later in 1895, merged with several banks over the years, and the two merged themselves to become SMBC in 2001. The Museum of Finance, operated by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, is located in Otemachi, Tokyo, where the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation’s head office is situated. The museum is on the second floor of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation East Building Rising Square across the street from the head office. It opened in 2015 when the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation East Building was completed.


Exterior of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation East Building (Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation)


The decision to establish the museum in this location was made during planning for the construction of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation East Building in order to have a facility with the purpose of community revitalization. Unlike other corporate museums, the Museum of Finance does not put the thoughts and ideas of the founders at the forefront. This is because the company was established through a series of large-scale mergers.

However, the Museum of Finance is located in Otemachi, Tokyo, a major financial district in Japan. The Currency Museum of the Bank of Japan is just a short walk away, and the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Shintaku Museum opened in the same district and same year as The Museum of Finance. There are many other museums owned by banks that exhibit their mission and history in their local communities. However, what SMBC has chosen to do is provide access to basic financial education to many people.

On the first floor before entering the museum, there is a digital globe called Tangible Earth, which is 1/10,000,000 the size of the actual Earth. This is the world’s first interactive digital globe and displays information such as the weather in real time, earthquakes and tsunamis, bird migrations, population growth, global warming, and PM2.5. As the name Tangible Earth implies, you can interact with the globe with your hands and see the Earth from various angles as you move it.


Tangible Earth (Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation)


Why is a globe installed at the entrance of a museum of finance? I asked Mr. Yoshiteru Higuchi of the Administrative Services Department at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

“Our society and our daily lives are made of the links in the massive systems on planet Earth. We are living in an era where we constantly need to think of various things from a global perspective, such as safe and secure lifestyles, sustainability of food, water, and energy, and environmental issues such as fostering diverse ecosystems. The Museum of Finance and Rising Square, where it is located, have centered their theme on grasping these current issues globally and considering the role of finance in solving them. This is why we have set up this Tangible Earth, to serve as a tool for thinking about the relationship between the Earth and people from various perspectives. We are also introducing such real-time changes on the globe and the reality of current social issues that are connected on a global scale, along with the possibility of solving them together through our activities.”

We can gain new perspectives when considering what kind of role the financial world that we experience will play through awareness of the relationships between the ever-changing Earth and our daily lives.


Monoliths for discovering a new relationship with finance

After experiencing Tangible Earth and moving on to the second floor, you will find yourself in a space with multiple pillars that are covered with flowing images and audio. This is The Museum of Finance. These three-meter-high pillars, also called monoliths, represent pillars of knowledge. There are eight pillars, each displaying more than 500 pieces of content. In addition to the pillar of guidance, there are seven other categories of pillar: creation, ecology, global, diversity, information, life, and living. All of them are touchscreen panels, and images of people and content with titles of varying sizes flow from bottom to top.


The Museum of Finance (Photo taken by the writer)


At a glance, you might notice a picture of someone that makes you think, “Why is this person here?” Each monolith is designed the same way and if you tap the image of the person and they are from the past, their thoughts and words on finance are displayed. If it is someone who can be interviewed, a question is shown in text and a video with them answering the question appears. When you tap the title, an explanation of the content is displayed with text and illustrations.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation has positioned The Museum of Finance as “a place where you can discover a new relationship between you and finance.” Rather than gaining knowledge specifically about finance, it is a place to discover the relationship between you and finance through each category as a different door. For that reason, after you browse through the image or content you selected, you will see other content linked to the one you chose. In other words, it shows that “Issue A” and “Issue B” are actually connected, or the fact that “Historical Topic C” and “Current Legislation D” were enacted in a similar course, suggesting connections that you may not easily otherwise notice.


Monoliths showing connections (Photo taken by the writer)


Just having knowledge in your possession could end up going to waste. However, by seeing that knowledge and recognizing its connections to a variety of other phenomena through your experiences here, your knowledge will grow beyond your expectations and open more connections to new questions and events. Using each category as an entrance will help you think about the relationship between you and society, in addition to finance.

For example, trying to familiarize yourself with a topic, such as through reading books, can prove challenging to attempt by yourself. This can be due to many reasons, such as being limited by what we know and our individual biases. This can be solved relatively easily by looking at events and their relationships through different perspectives or different knowledge, such as by talking to others. This will make it much easier to see the relationship between you and the issue from a broader perspective. This is clearly shown on the monoliths at The Museum of Finance, which draws many additional lines to each topic. Moreover, the monoliths are especially useful because they can be easily and intuitively operated.


Businessmen, artists, and cartoon characters

The images flow up the monoliths from the bottom to make it easier for children and wheelchair users to access the information. Because the theme of the museum is finance, the content may be difficult to understand and enjoy for early elementary school students. However, there is content such as “What is the job of a bank?” “Field guide for money” and “Protecting the environment and nature” that are tagged “KIDS,” which are composed of relatively simple sentences and provide readings for difficult kanji. You can also get an audio-visual experience through videos of interviews with famous people from various fields, giving you the exciting feeling of actually interviewing the people yourself.

Photographer Naoki Ishikawa, novelist Mariko Asabuki, and artist Noritaka Tatehana are among some of the people that were interviewed. At first you might wonder, “Why were they chosen to be interviewed about finance?” Of course, there are also interviews with economists and businessmen who are more relevant to finance.

However, I personally found the interviews with people from the former category to be much more interesting. For example, Noritaka Tatehana caught Lady Gaga’s attention with the heelless shoes that he made for his graduation project at Tokyo University of the Arts. He continued to design shoes for her for almost two years after graduating. There were many things he needed at that time, one of which was money, and of course, a bank account. Money is essential for starting a business in the current economic system. It is easy to imagine that he had difficulties coming up with money on his own immediately after graduating from university, so he borrowed from the financial system.

This kind of a story does not come up very often. This is because people do not often think to turn to writers and artists on the topic of finance. However, we live in a time where it is difficult to make a living without finance. This interview is a reminder that listening to people who seemingly have nothing to do with finance is an effective way to understand the reality we live in. It shows that this applies to you, and that it applies to everyone.

There are many other people who participated in these interviews. In addition to the photographer, novelist, and artist mentioned above, there are countless other people whose stories I would like to hear, such as Takashi Zaizen, the main character of the manga “Investor Z,” and Taihei Hayashiya, the rakugo storyteller.

When you hear the word finance, you may feel that it is a topic distant from yourself, and that you would face a hurdle to learning. If you feel as though you are in a similar situation, that hurdle is lowered, creating an easy gateway to the topic, by hearing about finance from someone you know or a cartoon character you are familiar with.

Thanks to this ingenuity, people who have some knowledge of finance will be able to discover new connections between finance and themselves, and it is also a suitable place for beginners if they want to know more.


Financial and economic education as a sustainability initiative

The SMBC Group, including Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, positions financial and economic education as one of its sustainability initiatives. In modern society, there are various problems related to money, such as multiple debt and financial crimes. Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation aims to realize a society in which everyone can acquire proper knowledge of money and live with peace of mind by providing financial and economic education for a wide range of generations from children to adults. The Museum of Finance also exists as a place for financial and economic education.

The role of The Museum of Finance is to provide an opportunity to think about questions, such as what finance has created for society and what kind of future finance promises. Financial literacy will become increasingly important in the future. It might be a good idea to visit The Museum of Finance as a first step.