Yukuchi Fukuzawa—The shadowy samurai behind Japan’s might

Japan underwent a remarkable transformation from a agricultural nation to an industrial nation in the 1860’s and it was done not through their innovation and creativity, but by the thoughtful adaptation of and the adoption of Western sciences, technologies and systems. That is, their remarkable transformation was due to their taking up the best of other countries and adapting it to their own wants and needs. It was dependent on two inter-related factors. They are the translation of Western material in to Japanese language and the gaining of insights in to the “core aspects” (or the Way, as they put it) of the Western sciences, cultures, strategies, crafts, thinking patterns, technologies and systems. The person who did his best to bring about this transformation was Tukichi Fukusawa, a Samurai.
Fukuzawa learnt both Dutch and English, and it was the latter that helped him the most.item_3616 He went to U.S.A. in the very first voyage of the first Japanese-build vessel and was only 24 years of age at the time. His first task in U.S.A. was to buy a Webster’s Dictionary and proceeded to write an English-Japanese Dictionary for the benefit of Japanese speakers, and it is the first publication of his remarkable publishing career. Thereafter he went on to study the core aspects (or the way) of the different disciplines, cultures and systems he encountered in his postings in U.S.A. and Europe. He proceeded to write on these subjects, translating the texts and adding the core aspects he has grasped from his own studies, observations and insights. He observed things, read voraciously and interviewed people, and kept methodical,detailed and copious notes that were the basis for his books.
The copious output of Fukuzawa include ten volumes of “Western Ways,” three volumes of a “Rifle Instuction Book,” five volume “Western Art of War,” to mention a few.
In 1899,he published his autobiography, and died in 1901,at the age of 66 years. His Rifle manual helped the Japanese army to adapt itself in to a modern fighting force, and in 1905,the Japanese Navy won over the Russian Navy, which established Japan as a formidable military power.
It is seen that Fukuzawa laid much emphasis on military aspects but it could be more to his vision of having a modernized, militarily powerful Japan that cannot be bullied by Western powers rather than to his upbringing as a Samurai, although his upbringing played the major role in forming his outlook and mission of life. He was misunderstood during his time and unfortunately by some pacifists at present for his helping Japan to be formidable in military affairs and is accused by them as being the fore-father of the militarism of Japan. However, to me, he is a shining example of a person who opted a mission on his own and thereafter played his part to the best of his ability to help the country and who did not aspire to any high office, nor to any perks and privileges. Hence, he is a shining example of a man with a mission from whom we could learn a lot in life.



Jagath Gunawardana Attorney-at-law


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