This project showcases student project work from Japan and the World, a modern Japanese history course offered at Kanda University of International Studies. It focuses on important themes and individuals from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, when Japan was beginning to open to the world after centuries of government-enforced isolation.

All submissions are researched, whether in English or Japanese, and references provided. Comments responding to and exploring ideas, suggesting connections or further reading, are most welcome. As entries are written by non-native English speakers, please refrain from non-constructive comments about language use.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Yukichi Fukuzawa

Yukichi Fukuzawa
Yukichi Fukuzawa
By Atsuya Shimoju

Yukichi Fukuzawa was a great thinker and educator in Meiji period. His thought influenced many Japanese people and his words "Heaven doesn't make a man better than others, nor does it make a man worse than others" (Encouragement of Learning, 1872) are so famous. These words present his fair thought. In addition he built Keio Gijuku (Keio University) and it is one of the best universities in Japan. This essay says his background, his experience establishing his thought and his contribution to Japan.

Yukichi Fukuzawa was born in Osaka on December 12 in 1835. His father was able but a low rank samurai. He died after eighteen months when Yukichi was born so his family was poorer. When he was thirteen years he started to go to school. It was later than ordinary children but he was a brilliant student so he learned many things quickly. Especially he was good at Confucianism. When he was nineteen years, he went to Nagasaki and there he leaned Dutch. According to Shinzo (1966), he wanted to learn how to use cannons but in order to learn that it was necessary to understand Dutch, because cannons which were in Nagasaki all belonged to the Dutch forces. Then he went to Yokohama and he got to know English was more important than Dutch and he began to learn English. After he was able to speak English fluently to some extent, he went abroad. Thereafter he started to tell his ideas though his books.

He thought class system of Japan should be abolished and Japan should be open to other countries. His thought was established though experiences in childhood and in foreign countries. His childhood was hard. He was superior but born in a low rank samurai family so he was looked down on by children of higher rank samurai families. There is a famous quote that says his thought. It is 'the status system of feudal society is my father's enemy' ("Fukuo jiden"). This quote expresses that he was subjected to great hardships of his class. Yukichi, who experienced discrimination of class system, went abroad three times. When he stayed abroad, he got to know that many Asians were controlled by western people so he came to think that Japan had to be open to other countries and study many things from western countries in order to defend Japan from them. Discrimination in childhood and experience in foreign countries established his thought.

His thought influenced many people and many systems of Japan changed. Among them one of the most important changes was supporting abolishing feudal system of Japan. A class system existed in Japan until Meiji period. Classes of people were decided by occupations. Samurai were at the top of the class system. On the other hand, merchants were at the bottom. Although samurai was the top, there were many ranks in samurai class. As previously stated, Yukichi Fukuzawa hated this system so he criticized it though his books. Some people of new government were influenced by his thought and changed clan system to prefecture system. Clan system was related to feudal system closely so abolishing clan system meant repealing feudal system. Thanks to Yukichi, Japanese people became a little fairer.

In conclusion, when Yukichi Fukuzawa was a child he suffered from class system of Japan and saw a lot of things abroad. Though these experiences his thought was made and had a significant impact on Japan society. He was absolutely one of the most necessary people of pre-modern Japan.

Reference list

Shinzo, K. (1966). Fukuzawa Yukichi, Iwanami Shoten
Shinzo, K. (1991). My Fukuzawa Yukichi, Kodansha