Fukuzawa's Influence to Japan in Meiji Period

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Pr.William Pettigrew
ISC 268 A-World History
Go Mitsuhashi

Fukuzawa’s Positive and Negative Impact on Modern Japan and World History in 18th to 19th Century

According to the world history, historical significant events has taken places all over the world, and it can be said that the events are closely related to each other and it links to the emergence of next significant event in the coming generation. For example, with great adventurous mind, Vasco de Gama has set off the Age of Discovery which resulted in the globalization in Europe. This era resulted in colonization and invasion of countries, and some people like Napoleon Bonaparte and Cortes tried to change the tide of the period by using the great force and reformation of government. After gaining vast land with abundant natural resource and improvement in education, economy and flourished in Europe which basis was built by famous philosophers such as Adam Smith, Carl Marx and so on. As you can see above, almost all the historical significant events were led by the charismatic leaders who did not only influence people’s way of thinking and value then within the border, but also outside the border, for example Japan.

Globalization started in Europe and soon arrived in Asia, and to Japan as well which is separated from the continent of Asia by the Sea of Japan (or East Sea). Due to its geographical location and Japanese feudal policy of closing ports, Japanese economic growth and living standard was not as high as other countries, but on the other hand Japan could avoid from other countries’ invasion, so it could develop its distinct culture and tradition. However Japan’s closed society soon came to the end when America’s vessels arrived in Shimonoseki, Uraga and Edo Bay to open the port with the fire power, which resulted in signing trade treaty with America, and later with Russia, Netherland and France in 1854. Because of this event, many people started to doubt Tokugawa Shogunate’s superior power, and as a result, prefects such as Choushuu and Satsuma rose in rebellion against Tokugawa Shogunnate and made the last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa return the political power to the Imperial court in 1867. Like this, Tokugawa Shogunate which went for 260 years ended, and new era of ‘Meiji’ started under the Imperial power.

In this tempestuous period, one man was born who in the future founded the basis of modern Japan; his name is Yukichi Fukuzawa, a Japanese philosopher, teacher and author. After seeing the superior power of West in the coast of Japan, and visit to San Francisco and California, Fukuzawa keenly realized how Japan was falling behind in the trend of Globalization. When he came back to Japan from America, he wrote one of the Japanese most influential books and articles, called “Gakumon no susume”(An Encouragement of Learning) and “Datsu A Ron”(Good-bye, Asia).

One of the significance of “An Encouragement of Learning” was that it revolutionized stereotypical thought of Edo period and brought new value to Japan, which was to ‘achieve national independence through personal independence’. This means that if individuals had personal strength to not depend on others, Japan herself would automatically become independent and strong country, “[i]independence means to manage one’s own personal affairs and not to have a mind to depend on others…Japan must be filled with the spirit of independence if we are to defend her against foreign threats”(Havens, 16-17).To achieve this goal, Fukuzawa believed that education and equality was the key to the independence of Japan. In Tokugawa era, distinction of the rank which went by in the order of nobles, samurais, farmers and merchants existed, thus social hierarchy was rooted in the society. Therefore, people in the lower class had always been discriminated and restricted by strict laws of feudalism, such as if one was born in the house of farmer, one was never allowed to change its occupation and...
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