Biography of Fukuzawa Yukichi – History Essay

Biography of Fukuzawa Yukichi – History Essay
This paper will be on the life and works of Fukuzawa Yukichi, the man who spread foreign studies throughout Japan, opening schools and founding one of Japan’s major universities today. I chose this topic, because the name

Fukuzawa Yukichi sounded familiar and therefore I did some brief research on him. From there I found out that he had been the founder of Keio University, which got me interested in him. Fukuzawa Yukichi is a very important figure in Japanese education, for he spread foreign studies and rangaku amongst the Japanese society.My research question of this paper will be: How was Fukuzawa’s knowledge in foreign studies and “rangaku” advantageous when trying to spread foreign studies? My hypothesis is that his knowledge helped him to gain support and respect from the bakufu as well as the citizens, and helped him to open schools throughout Japan and travel abroad to study.

Fukuzawa’s Background
“ Fukuzawa Yukichi was born on January 10th, 1835 in the city of Osaka.”1 His father was a low-ranking samurai of the Okudaira clan of Nakatsu. However, a year and a half after Fukuzawas birth, his father passed away leaving the family in poverty. Due to this Fukuzawa was unable to go to school until he was fourteen, when he finally had enough money to go to a school of Dutch studies. “When his brother sent a letter to the chancellor of the lord of his clan, it was returned to him for the address didn’t contain honorifics appropriate to the chancellor’s status. Due to this Fukuzawa developed a great hatred for the feudal system.”2
Fukuzawa waited for a chance to change the ways of the feudal system. In February, 1854 at the age of nineteen he traveled to Nagasaki to study Dutch language and gunnery in order to become an expert in western gunnery. “After one year, he decided to head for Edo to work for a family friend who was a physician, under the pretext of visiting his mother.”3 He traveled up to Osaka where his brother greeted him. “His brother then stopped him from continuing on to Edo and told him to stay in Osaka. And so Fukuzawa remained in Osaka and studied western medicine and Dutch language at the Tekijuku school run by the physician Ogata Koan.”4 At the age of twenty-three, he was ordered by his clan to travel to Edo and teach Dutch at the clan headquarters. Once he arrived in Edo, he was provided with a small apartment in Teppozu. Before long his pupils started coming to learn Dutch and pretty soon his apartment had become a small school.

Putting ideas into action
The following year, in 1859, Fukuzawa visited Yokohama which had just been opened to foreign trade. To his dismay, his knowledge in Dutch language was completely useless, for the language in use was English, not Dutch. Fukuzawa then decided to teach himself English with a conversation book and an English-Dutch dictionary.
“Fukuzawa heard that the shogunate was sending a Japanese ship, the “Kanrin Maru” to escort an American warship with Japanese envoys to San Francisco.”5 He was determined to sail on thin voyage and sent a letter to Captain Kimura, the highest-ranking member of the Japanese Navy. “He also visited the Captain at his home and asked the Captain to take him along as a personal servant, which he agreed to immediately.”6
During his stay of four months, Fukuzawa was overwhelmed by the new ideas which greeted him. “The men and women dancing together, ice cubes in drinks, horse-drawn carriages were all so new to him and amazed him.”7 Before his journey back, he bought a copy of the “Webster’s Dictionary,” which is said to be the introduction of Webster’s to Japan. Upon his return Fukuzawa became an official translator for the bakufu, while continuing to study English.

Fukuzawa Yukichi in 1860
Traveling abroad and gaining respect

“In 1861 Fukuzawa married a seventeen-year-old girl with whom he had nine children. A year later, he was sent to Europe as a highly-paid member of a diplomatic mission.”8 During this time he visited Egypt, France, England, Holland, Prussia, Russia, Portugal and various ports in Southeast Asia, taking notes wherever he went. He then published a book which consisted of his research and experiences abroad, titled “Seiyo Jijo.” (Western Things) This book became an immediate best seller. It included descriptions of schools, hospitals, railways etc.
In January, 1867 Fukuzawa traveled to the United States once again. “This time he had gone as an interpreter for a delegation sent to purchase an American warship and to obtain rifles for the shogun’s army.”9 Upon his return, Fukuzawa wrote another book, “Seiyo Tabi Annai ( A Guide to Travel in the Western World) also became a best seller. “This was followed by his third book, (Seiyo Ishokuju (Western Clothing, Food and Houses).”10 He also set up his own school in Shinsenza, and named in Keio Gijuku. The number of students grew rapidly to 100 students.

“On the 4th of July, 1868 sounds of gunfire from a battle a few kilometers from Keio-Gijuku could be heard during one of Fukuzawa’s lectures.”11 But he went on teaching about political economy. He told his students “whatever happens in the country, whatever warfare harasses our land we will never relinquish our hold on Western learning. As long as this school of ours stands, Japan remains a civilized nation of the World.”12
During these years Fukuzawa was offered several positions in the Meiji government, but refused them as well as renouncing his samurai status and becoming a commoner. “This showed his true devotion to Foreign studies and connecting with the commoners. Two years later, he suffered a severe attack of typhoid fever and as a result moved to Mita, where it was less damp and had a view of the ocean.”13
In the years that followed, he devoted himself exclusively either to teaching at Keio or helping initiate modern schools elsewhere. “He also translated and/or wrote pamphlets about the West and elementary textbooks on a surprisingly wide variety of subjects such as physics, geography, military arts, the British Parliament and international relations.”14 He bitterly criticized the traditional Japanese school curriculum, emphasizing ancient texts and the enjoyment and writing of poetry, as providing impractical pursuits. He argued that Western education was necessary and urged boys and girls who had just learned kana letters to consult translated textbooks and, at a more advanced stage, to read a Western language.

Public Speaking
“In 1873, Koizumi Nobukichi, a member of the Keio staff showed Fukuzawa a bookled entitled “American Debation.” This interested Fukuzawa who immediately started to translate this booklet on speech and debation.”15 He renamed in the “Kaigiben”(How to hold a conference.) Fukuzawa formed the “Mita Enzetsukai” which was the Mita Oratorical Society which studied speaking in public, debating, and giving conferences. This Oratorical Society rented a room in Fukuzawa’s former home and held their first official meeting on June 27th, 1874. Their meetings continued on until 1875. By this time the membership had increased to over twenty.
“By this time, Fukuzawa and his colleagues had gained enough skill in speaking to have the confidence needed to display their art before the public.”16
However, there was no such place available in Japan at the time. Therefore, he decided that he would build one on the Keio campus. “He asked his friend, Tomita Tetsunosuke who was visiting the United States at the time, to send some plans of various American assembly halls. Once they arrived, he carefully drew up a blue print for his speech hall. On April 7th, 1875 the Mita Enzetsukan was completed.”17
Saturday, May 1st, 1875. This was the memorable date of the first speech given in the speech hall. Nearly four hundred guests arrived and assembled at the Speech Hall. “The Mita Enzetsukai’s speeches were a great success and people both young and old flooded into the speech hall.”18 Sometimes, more people arrived than could fit the Hall. This popularity continued on until the 1923 earthquake, when the hall waws moved to the top of Inari hill to escape damage.
The number of students at Keio-gijuku, which had climbed back to more than 300 between 1871and 1876, again began to decline, in part because of the unsettled domestic scene. “As most of thestudents were samurai, a decision by the government in 1871 to abolish domains and reduce the hereditary privileges and stipends of the lords and vassals also affected the amount of money that could be spent on education. In five years, this process of confiscation was completed.”19 During this period, Fukuzawa’s students, most of whom were samurai, had been obliged to
leave the school because of their lost privileges, the war and worsening poverty due to inflation. Those who came from Satsuma returned to join the rebellion there and were either killed or wounded. In dire financial straits, Fukuzawa supplemented the school’s budget with his personal income and also asked for loans from the government and private sources. No one, however, was willing to lend the Keio-gijuku any money and some suggested that it should be dissolved. His fellow teachers responded by voluntarily accepting a reduction of their salary by two-thirds. “Subsequently, the number of students gradually recovered from a low of 200 in 1878 to as many as 500 in 1881. Fukuzawa subsequently created Keio University to teach what Japanese schools were unable to teach, and by 1890 had imported a sizable foreign faculty. “20

The Economic and literary side
As a measure to reduce expenditure, the government decided to sell factories and enterprises. When it was announced that these properties had been sold off at
incredibly low prices, civil rights leaders criticized the government severely. “A rumor appeared in the press that Fukuzawa, with the financial help of Iwasaki Yataro of the Mitsubishi Corporation, was urging a coup d’état by Okuma. In return, Ito Hirobumi kicked out Okuma from the cabinet.”21 The real reason for this political drama was a struggle for control over input on legislation for the future constitution. Several Keio graduates who had worked under Okuma had suggested a constitutional monarchy on the British model, while the Ito group preferred the Prussian type. “This group was responding to, and afraid of, Fukuzawa and the Keio school, since Fukuzawa himself often expressed active support for Okuma’s policies.”22
After his political victory, Ito suspended the constitution and the opening of the Diet for ten years, canceling the sale of government properties. “Before their split, Ito, Okuma and other members of the government had arranged with Fukuzawa to start a newspaper to help promote the early opening of the Diet, but this was easily given up on. Fukuzawa decided to proceed alone and launched “Jiji-shimpo” on March 1st, 1882.”23 He declared that this quality newspaper would remain impartial and independent. From that time onward most of Fukuzawa’s writings appeared in “Jiji-shimpo,” not only serious articles but also satire. “He addressed all contemporary issues such as politics, domestic and international issues, political economy, education and educational policy, the moral code, particularly women’s rights, and so forth.”24 These articles and parodies fill nearly half of the twenty two volumes of his “Learnings”. His book “Gakumon no susume” was one of the first books written in the modern form of Japanese, with both kanji and kana: Fukuzawa wanted to bring education to the masses, and part of that idea was bringing language and the written word to the masses. The “jiji-shimpo” was his only literary outlet left, and he continued to write in it until his death in 1901.25


Natsume Soseki is one of Japan’s most influential authors. Natsume was born towards the later years of Fukuzawas life. The two great historical figures share similarities and differences. Natsume and Fukuzawa both excelled in languages: Natsume Chinese and English, Fukuzawa Dutch and English. They also both traveled abroad. Fukuzawa traveled to Europe and the United States, and Natsume traveled to England. But whilst Fukuzawa’s travels were all quite successful, Natsume did not benefit much from his visit to England. In fact, he went under depression. Both Fukuzawa and Natsume were teachers. However, Natsume decided to quit teaching at an early age and concentrated on writing novels. On the other hand, Fukuzawa continued to teach as well as writing books, speaking publicly, participating in human rights and the economy as well. Fukuzawa was much more active and worked in many different aspects. Natsume concentrated mainly on novels, which I think is why his novels are so famous and still studied today. One more similarity is that both men were on the Japanese yen notes. Natsume was on the ¥1,000 note whilst Fukuzawa was and still is on the ¥10,000 note.

My research question can finally be answered now. Fukuzawa’s knowledge in foreign studies and rangaku were quite advantageous when trying to spread foreign studies. He was able to gain respect from the bakufu with his knowledge of English. However, his knowledge in”rangaku” was not of much use, since Perry’s arrival had consisted of English, not Dutch. But because of his knowledge in so many different languages he was able to have three successful journeys abroad and to open up schools and gain respect from his pupils. Also, by learning “rangaku”, Fukuzawa was able to learn English easily, as well as being able to relate with the Europeans and the Americans. Overall His knowledge in foreign studies was extremely advantageous

From writing this research paper, I learned that there was more to Fukuzawa Yukichi than just finding Keio University. He worked extremely hard to learn “rangaku” and English, convinced people to send him abroad and devoted his life to foreign studies and speeches. He published many books and gave numerous influential speeches which affected the Japanese society. He gave up his status as a samurai which was an extremely hard gesture at the time, and spent his life on education and spreading it to the population. He has affected and in a way created the Japanese education which we use today. Not only did he change educational aspects of Japan, but also the politics and women’s rights.