Fukuzawa Yukichi: The father of modern Japan

Fukuzawa Yukichi Biography

The Youth and Personal life of Fukuzawa Yukichi

On the 10th of January 1985, Fukuzawa Yukichi was born in Osaka Japan. He was a son of a low ranking samurai and came from an impoverished family background. He had five siblings. His father passed away when he was barely 2 years old, due to their financial challenges he was not able to go to school until the age of 14.

Also, to be able to sustain the needs of the family he had to repair sandals and sometimes did odd jobs as a young child. However, during those times he was able to educate himself at home. When his father died, his brother Sannosuke became the head of the family. Though he never entered into politics, he was considered as one of the most influential during the modernization period of Japan at the time of Meiji Restoration.

He appears in the 10,000 Japanese Yen banknote and is being compared to Benjamin Franklin of the United States. He was married to Toki Tarohachi at the age of 28; she was a daughter of a fellow member of Nakatsu clan.  Together they had 9 children, they were able to raise four boys and five girls.

His Education and Career

He was a well-known author, educator, publisher, translator and entrepreneur. He was the founder of the Keio University. This school is located in Minato Tokyo and is known as the oldest institution of higher education in Japan. Initially, it was created by Yukichi as a school intended to study western culture in 1858. In addition to this, Yukichi also founded a newspaper publication called Jiji-Shinpo. The Jiji Shinpo translated as the current news was considered as one of the most influential newspaper during those times. The publications of this newspaper encourage the people of Japan to accept a new form of government, which is a National Assembly. His entire life, he had published numerous books and articles that talks about modern issues such as politics, economy, education, moral code and women's rights.

At the age of 19, he traveled to Nagasaki to study in a school of Dutch studies or Rangaku as instructed by his brother. The reason for this is that he could learn about the designs of cannon and gunnery by the Europeans under his teacher Yamamoto Monojiro. Aside from gunnery, he also learned about medicine and the basics of Dutch. However, he did not stay long and he came to his hometown in Osaka. Due to the persuasion of his brother, he studied at Tekijuku under a Dutch studies scholar named Ogata Koan. After three years of studying, he became proficient with the Dutch language. Due to this, he was selected to be the official Dutch teacher in Nakatsu.

When the ports of American and European vessels opened in Japan, Yukichi personally traveled to Kanagawa to witness them. Upon his arrival, he had noticed that almost all European merchants were speaking in English rather than in Dutch. He then decided to study English but later found out that there were no Japanese-English dictionaries. In 1860, he was able to produce the first English-Japanese language dictionary which, in history, became his first publication.

He also became part of the first diplomatic mission to the US in the year 1859. When he traveled to America, he had the chance to study the English language when he got a hold of the Webster dictionary. When he returned to Japan, he was assigned to be the official translator of Tokugawa Bakufu, which was the last feudal military government headed by a Shogun and its members from the Tokugawa clan. His exposure to the western culture has led him to publish his famous work Seiyo Jijo also known as Things Western, which became an instant best seller. In December year 1862, he was sent to Europe as part of a diplomatic mission, he then traveled to France, England, Netherlands, Russia, Prussia, and Portugal where he was assigned as a translator. While on this trip he was able to learn about schools, mines, and hospitals. Thus, he was able to publish his book – The conditions of the West or Things Western.

His Final Years

From all his travels abroad, he was able to gather information regarding the modern way of life in the western part of the world. When he returned to Japan, he refused to be a member of the Japanese government and remained a private citizen. He dedicated the rest of his life as an advocate of change, a strong believer of women's right and a leader towards the modernization of Japan. There was a point in his life when his he was in danger and his life was threatened. It is common knowledge that there are some samurai groups who strongly opposed the American and the Europeans. So, as an advocate of western ways, he was a target of the opposing band of samurai.

On the 25th of January 1901, he had suffered a stroke and eventually died on February 3 on that same year. The funeral was held on February 8, a monument was put up on the place where he died. His body was laid to rest in Zenpuku-ji in the Azabu area of Tokyo. His life may have ended, but his legacy will remain forever in the lives of the Japanese people. 

Goodbye Asia

In Japan, more commonly known as Datsu-A Ron, which was an editorial that was published in Jiji Shimpo by an unknown author. But, many believed that it was written by Yukichi himself. It talks about how the Japanese people should embrace the wind of westernization. He has likened civilization to a communicable disease such as measles that it is unpleasant and it cannot be prevented. In addition to this, he mentioned that the only difference is in measles there is only damage, while in civilization benefits outweigh the damages. The author termed it as goodbye Asia since it represents how Japan can recognize the need to adapt to westernization, leaving behind its neighboring countries China and Korea who seem to be resistant to the upcoming reformation. Furthermore, he emphasized that Asia should leave the old ways and customs. He thought that the Asian countries will not be able to catch up just by simply purchasing modern weapons and machinery but rather it has to start within the country through learning and education. He emphasized the need for national independence, which can be achieved through personal independence.

Fukuzawa Yukichi famous books

An encouragement of learning

This is a famous book of Yukichi, it is a compilation of 17 pamphlets; it is translated as Gakumon no susume in Japanese. In this book, it tells the reader the principle of equality and that education is the key to achieve this. It stated that heaven did not create men to be under men, therefore, all men are equal at birth. It mentioned that a man has to study in order to obtain knowledge, and without knowledge, a man is considered a fool. In addition to this, he also mentioned that those who attained learning will rise up to ranks and riches and those who failed to achieve learning will remain low and poor. A person should focus on learning first the things that are practical to everyday life such as the abacus, alphabets, bookkeeping, and letters. After this, then he can only learn about geography, physics, economics, ethics, and history.  He also shared his most famous principle – national independence through personal independence. Furthermore, it explains that Japan can strengthen its nation if the people will rely on their own strength and not depend on other people.

An outline of a theory of civilization

This book was published in the year 1875 in which Yukichi detailed his own theory about civilization. He was inspired by books such as Histoire de la Civilisation en Europe by Francois Guizot and History of Civilization in England by Henry Buckle. Yukichi said that civilization is correlated with time and situation. For Fukuzawa, the word civilization meant gaining more knowledge and education. He emphasized that the only difference between the weak and the strong as well as the large and the small is the gauge of their knowledge through education.  If Japan will focus on the learning and education then material acquisition will follow. So, he was against the importation of guns and other merchants.

New Greater learning for women

Aside from his strong belief in reform and modernization, he was also an advocate of women's right. He believed that women should be given the right to an education so that she would be equipped for the modernization and advancement of Japan. He also argued that in a marriage, the wife and the husband should have an equal and fair right. Furthermore, women should have the freedom to acquire properties and to have it named under them. He also mentioned that a good marriage is the best result for a young Japanese woman.

All the countries of the world, for children written in verse

This is a book for children and is presently used by schools as their textbooks. Yukichi was inspired when he was teaching his son about geography and realized that books about this subject do not exist. So, he thought to write a book about geography. This consist of six volumes: First is about Asian countries, the second volume covers African countries, the third volume is all about European countries, the Fourth volume discuss countries in South America, the Fifth volume contains North America and Australia and lastly the Sixth volume is an introduction to world geography.

English-Japanese Dictionary

When he was young, with his determination to study the English language he was able to publish the first English-Japanese dictionary. He learned how English was a common language even among the Europeans, so he decided that he wanted to learn English. But, he realized that there was no dictionary available with a Japanese translation. When he was in the United States, he purchased a Webster's dictionary, which became his first step towards his first publication.

Yukichi: From Samurai to capitalist

This is a book about the life story of Fukuzawa Yukichi by Helen Hopper. It illustrates how Yukichi started his career. The author of this book has given life to Yukichi through this book. There was no denial that Fukuzawa Yukichi was born to a low ranking samurai, his father passed away when he was very young. Thus, education was hard and inaccessible for him. But, his determination has led him to become one of the most influential people in Japan, this has also led him to gain a vast amount of fortune. It is through his writings that he is able to influence and share his advocacy towards adopting the ways of the westerners. He had hoped that Japan would be as wealthy and as strong as the countries in the west; he had high hopes for Japan. His books were not created only to give the nation knowledge but to open their minds toward the western civilization. 

By 投稿者 (東京都内で入手) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Fukuzawa Yukichi quotes

Yukichi was also well known for his wisdom that he had shared with the nation of Japan through his published books. With this, there some unforgettable quotes that he had mentioned in his works. One of the most famous is from his book, an encouragement of learning, which says:

"It is said that heaven does not create one man above or below another man. Any existing distinction between the wise and the stupid, between the rich and the poor, comes down to a matter of education".

A simple explanation of this would be that in the absence of knowledge and education, all men become equal. It is with education and knowledge that distinction can be made. This is quite a profound principle which reiterates the importance of education and learning. 

In addition to this, Yukichi was always well known to be an advocate of western civilization. It is apparent with his works on the English language. It can also be seen in his many works that focuses on studying the western cultures. His famous quote for this –

"Whatever happens in the country, whatever harasses our land, we will never relinquish our hold on Western learning. As long as this school of ours stand, Japan remains a civilized nation of the world".