glyph 160: book japan history . story of a remarkable life of discovery


The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa

philosopher, schoolmaster, discoverer of the West

The first edition of this book was published in 1899, with the first English translation in 1934. The following paragraphs, taken from Carmen Blaker's "Forward" to the edition offering the revised translaton by Eiichi Kiyooka, Columbia University Press, New York and London, 1966.

Here is the autobiography of a remarkable man. Fukuzawa Yukichi's life covered the sixty-six years between 1835 and 1901, a period which comprised greater and more extraordinary changes that an other in the history of Japan. At the time of his birth Japan was almost entirely isolated from the outside world, with a hierarchical feudal system based on a Confucian code of morals. Her notions of warfare were medieval, her economy largely agricultural, her knowledge of modern science confined to the trickle of Dutch books which found their way into the country through the trading stations at Nagasaki. At the time of his death Japan was to all effects a modern state. Her army and navy were so well disciplined and equipped that six years before they had defeated China and four years later they were to defeat Russia. She had a parliament, compulsory education, rapidly growing industries, and distinguished universities.

For these astonishing changes we can hold responsible both the impersonal forces of history and the very personal power of certain individual men. Among the latter Fukuzawa Yukichi was one of the most remarkable. He is generally acknowledged to have been the leading educator of the new Japan, the man who above all others explained to his countrymen the ideas behind the dazzling material evidence of western civilization; who insisted that it was not enough for Japan merely to have the "things" of civilization - the trains, the guns, the warships, the hats, the umbrellas - in order to take her place with dignity and confidence among the nations of the modern world. It was also necessary for her to comprehend the learning which in the West had led to the discovery and production of these things. And this would require a drastic reconsideration of some of her most ancient and unquestioned assumptions about the nature of the universe.

To explain these new and unfamiliar ideas Fukuzawa wrote voluminously over a period of some thirty years. He started a newspaper which continued for half a century as one of the great Tokyo dailies. He founded a school which is one of the largest and most distinguished universities in Japan.

The autobiography of such a man, a philosopher and a schoolmaster, might be expected to be perhaps a little dry, an abstract, inward account of ideas and conflicting principles. Not so this book. From the first page we are captivated, enthralled by both the author and the tale he tells.

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entered before July 9, 2006; edited/updated August 30, 2018

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