10,000 ¥
10,000 ¥

The next time you have a ¥ 10,000 bill in the hands, take some time to look Yukichi fukuzawa (1835 ~ 1901) because he was a remarkable man.
In October 1858, Fukuzawa, then a young samurai age 23, opened a small Western science school, known as “Dutch Studies” because it used books from Holland, Edo, present-day Tokyo. In 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor became head of state after the elimination of the Tokugawa shogunate, the school was renamed Keio Gijuku, ” Keio From the name of the area where it was located. In 1918, it became Keio University, the first private university in Japan.

Fukuzawa wrote many books introducing Western science and liberal thought to the Japanese still intimidated after more than 250 years of oppression under the Tokugawa regime, and even after the 1868 Restoration catapulted Japan into the modern world.

It is said that the sky does not create a man above or below another man. This means that when men are born from the heavens, they are all equal ”, wrote Fukuzawa in his 1872 bestseller“ Gakumon no Susume ”(“ An encouragement to learn ”). In this same book, he also wrote that it is not the sky which gives to the men wealth or dignity but that it is their training and their work.

Although these ideas of equality and encouragement to learn may seem normal for our time, but in 19th century Japan they were shocking if not completely wrong for many people. However, the mere fact that the book sold 200,000 copies, or 0.5% of the Japanese population at that time, shows that these ideas resonated with the population.

Yukichi fukuzawa
Yukichi fukuzawa

But, how did Fukuzawa, born into a small samurai family in his distant Kyushu, come to be the pioneer of progressive thought in Japan?

Of course, he studied dutch at Nagasaki and Osaka, the only foreign language that it was allowed to study in a Japan still in the period of sakoku, the period of isolation from the world that was imposed by the shogunate for some 200 years. But, in 1859, when Fukuzawa visited Yokohama, a port near Tokyo that had just been opened to foreign ships, he was surprised to find that Dutch was useless compared to the English spoken by American merchants and Europeans.

As no English-Japanese dictionary was available, he got himself a Dutch-English dictionary and learned English that way. The following year, Fukuzawa managed to be among the first group sent by the Shogun in the USA, sailing on a steamboat to San Fransisco.

After his return in 1862, he accompanied the first Japanese mission to Europe as an interpreter, which allowed him to visit France, England, Holland, Prussia, Russia and Portugal.

After his trip to Europe, Fukuzawa changed the name of his school from “Dutch studies” to “English studies” and when he visited Washington and New York with a government delegation in 1867, he brought back a large quantity of books in English covering many many academic fields for its students.

In 1875 he wrote “ Bunmeiron no Gairyaku “(” Outline of a theory of civilization “) thanks to the knowledge accumulated in Europe and the United States. In this work, he asserted that the accession to civilization, which he identified as the development of the knowledge and virtue of man, was of the utmost importance for any nation.

He also insisted on the fact that many Japanese, who did not analyze the past and did not project themselves into the future, were preventing the country from truly opening up to civilization.

Fukuzawa wrote in this book, “Consider how, from ancient times, the stages of progress towards civilization were always unorthodox the first time they were proposed. When Adam Smith first presented his economic theory, didn’t everyone condemn it as heresy? “.

Coat of arms of Keio University, Tokyo
Coat of arms of Keio University, Tokyo

According to Yuichiro Anzai, the president of Keio University, Fukuzawa was himself unorthodox in a Japan still feudal.

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Anzai adds, “For over 200 years during the Edo period (1603 ~ 1867), people took it for granted that he should follow the guidelines of the shogunate. At the opposite, Fukuwawa believed that each person should think independently, act and accept responsibility for the outcome of their actions. He was convinced that this approach would help the creation of a civil society. Fukuzawa was not only unorthodox but also visionary for his time.

In an attempt to promote communication and broad debate in Japanese society, Fukuzawa popularized the term “enzetsu”, the literal translation of which is “speech performance”, as well as the public speaking to which it refers.

Another of his initiatives to promote communication within society was, in 1882, to launch the Jiji Shimpo newspaper. Although there were already several newspapers, Jiji shimpo was the only one who declared himself politically impartial.

Pursuing the same goal, Fukuzawa also helped launch the Japan Times in 1897 by advising Sueji Yamada, one of his parents who was its founder.

He died in 1901. What can we conclude, if not that Fukuzawa was a “teacher” not only for schoolchildren of both sexes, but also for the men and women of Japan in his time, and he can still be regarded as such today..

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