Our topic this week is the Meiji intellectual Fukuzawa Yukichi. From the second son of a poor samurai family he rose to be one of Japan’s most prominent intellectuals, and helped define what it meant for Japan to be a modern country. His influence was tremendous, but it also had a darker side; in his works lie the kernel of what would later become Japanese imperialism and ultra-nationalism.
Listen to the episode
Civilization and Enlightenment: The Early Thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi.
The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa.
Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation unless otherwise noted)
Members of the crew of the Kanrin Maru. Fukuzawa is sitting on the far right.
Fukuzawa and the daughter of the photographer, 1860. Fukuzawa used this photo to brag to his companions about what a charming man he was, and how well he understood Western civilization. Even at the end of his life this was apparently still one of his favorite stories to tell.
A young Fukuzawa during a trip to Paris in 1862.
A first edition of Bunmeiron no Gairyaku, or An Outline of the Theory of Civilization. Published in 1876, this work presented Fukuzawa’s ideas on how civilizations worked. Spoiler alert: the answer was “they worked best by Westernizing.”
Fukuzawa at the height of his career in the 1880s. Courtesy of Keio University.
The 10,000 yen note bares Fukuzawa’s likeness to this day.
The campus of Keio University 11 years after its founders death. The university remains to this day as one of the most prestigious in Japan and the most visible symbol of Fukuzawa’s legacy.