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Philosophy. The Japanese have never had a philosophy of their own. Formerly they bowed down before the shrine of Confucius or of Wang Yang Ming.[1] They now bow down before the shrine of Herbert Spencer or of Nietsche. Their philosophers (so-called) have been mere expositors of imported ideas. The names of the principal old-fashioned ones will be found on page 103. In our own day, a new light arose in the person of Fukuzawa Yukichi, the "Sage of Mita," thus called from the district of Tōkyō in which he latterly resided. So wide-spread is the influence exercised by this remarkable man that no account of Japan, however brief, would be complete without some reference to his life and opinions.

Born in 1835 and dying in 1901, Fukuzawa's youth coincided with the period of ferment inaugurated by the first contact with foreigners, his mature age with the settlement of all the institutions that go to make up modern Japan. He was a Samurai from one of the southern provinces, poor, and left an orphan at an early age. But he made his way first to Ōsaka, where Dutch was taught in semi-privacy under plea of the study of medicine, then in 1858 to Yedo. One of the most striking pages in his striking Autobiography is where he tells of his disappointment on discovering, by a visit to the then infant settlement of Yokohama, that the language current among the merchants was not Dutch, but English. Nothing daunted, he tackled the new task. At that period, anti-foreign feeling still ran high; all persons who showed any leaning towards alien ways were ipso facto suspects liable to personal violence. Nevertheless, translations of various foreign works and documents had gradually become a necessity of the times. Fukuzawa undertook them, and made himself so useful that he was attached to the staff of the first embassy which was sent abroad in 1860. But on returning to his native shores, he thenceforth steadily declined all connection with officialdom, and resumed—never more to drop it—the self-imposed task of enlightening his countrymen, detaching them from Orientalism, Europeanising them, or, it might be better said, Americanising them,—for America was ever his cynosure among Western lands. The democracy which he had found there, the simple family life, and also, it must be owned, the common-sense empiricism, the "Franklinism" (if one may so style it) of America exactly suited his keen, practical, but some what pedestrian intellect. The strong devotional bent of Anglo-Saxondom struck no sympathetic chord in his heart. He always regarded religion as mere leading-strings for the ignorant. Spencer's agnostic philosophy attracted him on its negative side; but almost his whole activity displayed itself in a utilitarian direction,—in teaching his countrymen how to construct electric batteries, how to found cannon, how to study such practical sciences as geography and elementary physics, to acquire such knowledge concerning foreign institutions as could be put to use in money-making, to lead decent, self-respecting lives, to discard foolish old customs, to diffuse well-being throughout the nation by levelling ranks,—he himself giving the example, for he dropped his Samurai privileges, and became a mere commoner, and, as already noticed, uniformly rejected all official preferments and emoluments. He it was who first introduced into Japan the practice of lecturing and public speaking, for which several of his most progressive contemporaries had declared the Japanese language unfit. He it was who led the way in fitting the language better still to* bear its new responsibilities by coining equivalents for English technical terms. Besides composing, compiling, translating, paraphrasing, and abridging a whole library of books and editing a popular newspaper, Fukuzawa occupied himself with the foundation and supervision of a school, which became famous throughout the land under the name of Keiō Gijiku,—a school in both senses of the word, as an educational institution and as a centre of intellectual and social influence. On this school his mind impressed itself so powerfully during a period of over thirty years, his revolutionary views and methods so closely suited the needs of a rising generation which had broken with its entire past, the numbers who flocked to learn of him were consequently so great and so easily moulded, that it is no exaggeration to call Fukuzawa the intellectual father of more than half the men who now direct the affairs of the country. Therein lies the importance of his life-work; for though locally landed as a thinker, Fukuzawa was far more of a worker. Like the French encyclopaedists, he laboured for universal enlightenment and for social reform. His "philosophy" was not original, and amounted at best to little more than an amiable optimism of a utilitarian cast. But such as it was, the leading minds among his countrymen have adopted it.

Fukuzawa's success as an author was phenomenal. His separate works, as usually enumerated, amount to 50, making 105 volumes, of which, between 1860 and 1893, no less than 3,500,000 copies, or 7,490,000 volumes, had been issued from the press. But some of his best-known productions are omitted from this count, because posterior to the year 1893. Such are the Autobiography[2] already cited, of which seventeen editions have already appeared, the Hundred Essays,[3] of which there have been no less than thirty-four editions, and three or four others. Indeed, so voluminous were his writings that he early found it advantageous to keep a printing-office for his own use. Two causes united to bring about this result. One was the (to a Japanese public) novelty and interest of the subjects treated; the other was an exceptionally lucid style. Fukuzawa tells us himself, in the Introduction to his collected works, that his constant endeavour had been to write so clearly that "not only every uneducated tradesman or peasant should understand him perfectly, but that even a servant-girl fresh from the country, chancing to hear a passage read aloud by some one on the other side of a screen, should carry away a good general notion of the sense." And he adds that he had been in the habit of submitting his writings to the test of comprehension by a neighbouring poor woman and her children, and of simplifying every expression at which they stumbled. Little wonder that an author so truly democratic should have achieved an unequalled popularity.


Perhaps the reader may object that these pages, though labelled "Philosophy," have little or nothing about philosophy in them. We would remind him that we set out by hinting that, although the word "philosophy" may be found in Japanese dictionaries, the thing itself is scarcely Japanese. If we ask him, therefore, to put up with a makeshift, that is no more than what the Japanese themselves have habitually done.

  1. Ō-yō-mei, in the Japanese pronunciation. His chief Japanese expositor was Nakae Tōju (1605-78), commonly known as "the Sage of Ōmi."
  2. Fukuō Jiden.
  3. Fukuō Hyaku-wa.