The mean Britain and the luminous USA

Japanese society for  British Philosophy Symposium Ⅱ Modern Japan and British Thought-On "Meiji 150"

The mean Britain, the sunshine USA - The Two Countries that Fukuzawa saw

Shizuoka University


 1)Fukuzawa Yukichi's (1835-1901) idea of civilization in Japan

Fukuzawa Yukichi actually started to aim at Western civilization as the learning goal and benchmark for modern Japan before the Meiji Restoration. That was in the Keio era (May 1, 1865 to October 23, 1868), not the Meiji era. At the time the shogunate had begin to implement the Western modernization policy during the Keio period, and Fukuzawa Yukichi followed this policy and established Keio School to develop human resources. The Five Oaths taken by the emperor and the senior government officials symboling that Japan was to enter civilization and enlightenment were only carried out on April 6, 1868.

Fukuzawa had been to the West three times in his life: to California in 1860, to Europe in 1862, and to the eastern United States in 1867. His purpose of those visits changed from studying Western military affairs at first, studying British and American economy, and then to education and human resources development. Unlike other Japanese enlightenment thinkers, he did not advocate "Japanese souls with Western talents", but "Western souls and Western talents", that is, anything advanced, including ideas and systems, must be brought and applied in Japan.

2)The mean British, but we have to emulate its system

Fukuzawa Yukichi's "Things Western" was published in 1866, and had a great influence on the reformists at the end of the Edo period, especially shown in some important writings, including Kosaburo Akamatsu's "Statement Reform Opinions" Sakamoto Ryoma's "Eight Strategies", "Five Oaths" by Yuri Jie, and "Guidelines" by Kakuma Yamamoto.

The core idea of "Things Western" is the "six conditions for a civilized political system", which include: first: respect for freedom, establish laws to ensure a freedom oriented and tolerant society; second: guarantee freedom of religion; third, encourage the study of science and technology and their application; fourth, build schools and improve the education system; fifth, foster industrial development under laws and regulations. Sixth, enrich welfare program to help the poor.

The question that Fukuzawa Yukichi was considering was whether these six conditions could be achieved in Japan and how to achieve them, assuming they had been achieved in the United Kingdom or the United States. First of all, Fukuzawa believed that Britain is a constitutional monarchy, so Japan, which has an imperial system, would have to turn to this political system in the future.

However, his experience in Europe was not encouraging. The British middle and upper class looked down on colony people and their own civilians and treated them harshly.  That made Fukuzawa and others in the diplomatic mission uncomfortable.

Therefore, although Fukuzawa Yukichi tried to choose the middle level of King's College as a model for the Keio school he founded, he preferred the United States as a possible social model. During his second trip to the United States, Fukuzawa purchased a large number of Western books and used them as textbooks for Keio School. Regarding his specific action plans, they were formulated from his reading of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. Fukuzawa's goal was to establish a middle class in Japan and cultivate Japanese-style American thought among them. 

3)The luminous American -Human beings must be like this

Fukuzawa Yukichi arrived in San Francisco on the ship Kanrin Maru in the spring of 1860 and saw the so-called "paradise world." Compared with his experience in Europe two years later, the United States does not have the same hierarchical system as in Europe, does not have a serious discrimination issue, and has sufficient respect for manual workers. Therefore, he wanted to build a Japan with the US as a social model. (Of course, he might not have seen the problem of racial discrimination.)

One reason that he liked American so much may be that the several Americans he met, Captain Brook, Captain McDougall and San Francisco businessman Mr. Brooks were all very kind people. Later, Fukuzawa Yukichi chose to send his two sons to study in the eastern United States, and had maintained a naive trust in the American middle class throughout his life.

Not only that, Fukuzawa also played the role of Benjamin Franklin in Japan. Franklin was a scientist, newspaper publisher, and founder of social clubs, academic societies and universities. Fukuzawa Yukichi's "Encouragement of Learning" can be said to be the Japanese version of Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack". Fukuzawa Yukichi very much hoped to train Japanese people in accordance with American thinking. In addition, Tocqueville's "American Democracy" also affected him, leading him to write the "On decentralization of power, advocating less centralized government in Japan."

4)The "tragic" fate of British and American thought in modern Japan

"Things Western" was the main source of information on political proposals at the end of the Edo period. The idea of "Restoration of imperial rule" proposed by Saburo Akamatsu and Kuma Yamamoto mentioned above was influenced by the American Constitution introduced by Fukuzawa. After the Meiji Restoration, Fukuzawa decided that the political system should be British style, while the development of the people should be American style. Among his writings, "English Parliament", "On the imperial household", and "On National Diet" are related to the system, while "Encouragement of Learning" (Franklin) and "On decentralization of power, advocating less centralized government in Japan" (Tocqueville) are related to human development ).  That shows a good contrast. At the same time, he was strongly influenced by Matthew Arnold's method regarding critical analysis of British business models.

However, the reform that abolished the feudal Han and introduced modern prefectures in 1871 destroyed the American-style "United States of Japanese Empire" that Fukuzawa Yukichi had hoped, and Fukuzawa's ally Okuma Shigenobu (companion with Fukuzawa previously) stepped down in Meiji year 14 (1881) in a coup d'état, Fukuzawa Yukichi's idea of following the "British model" in the political system was also lost. Private schools that promoted English learning were under increasing pressure, and the preferential treatment of German ideas in public schools had become more and more obvious. Similarly, any British and American thought from the perspective of Christianity could not be spread to society.

First of all, the main force of the Meiji Restoration was the group of people who had advocated exclusionism, that is, the principle of excluding foreigners, and to them the British and American ideas were considered dangerous. A system like the United States of America was impossible, not even the British constitutional monarchy. Fukuzawa Yukichi’s theory of women’s liberation also violated Confucian morality. Christianity could also promote the kind of atmosphere that may endanger the imperial power system and was therefore dangerous.

Fukuzawa’s followers in Keio were many who liked to follow the system of the United Kingdom and the United States. However, things changed quickly afterwards. Tokutomi Sohō, who was an influential journalist and activist at the time, initially was a champion of liberal democracy and populism. Following the First Sino-Japanese War and the Triple Intervention, his political views moved to the right of the political spectrum. By the second half of the 1890s, he came to be regarded as a conservative champion of the Meiji oligarchy, and was a close confidant of Prime Ministers Yamagata Aritomo and Katsura Tarō.  He and his groups, newspapers, promoted imperialism and expansionism.  In a sense, those who knew too much about British and American thinking, had turned to anti-Americanism. The imperial centralism of modern Japan advanced rapidly afterwards.




My rebuke to Princeton University regarding its recent policy change

Kazuo Ishiguro on his fears for Britain after Brexit