In 1868, when political revolution shifted power from the Tokugawa shogunate to a newly centralized imperial government, Yukichi Fukuzawa's private school, now ten years in the making, was laying the foundation for what would grow into one of the most influential academic and research institutions in Japan. Upon relocation to Shiba Shinsenza, Fukuzawa and his fellow Western scholars established Keio Gijuku, an organization that would evolve into Keio University, one of Japan’s first modern institutions of higher learning.
April 2018 marks exactly 150 years since Fukuzawa moved his school from Tsukiji Teppozu to Shiba Shinsenza (modern-day Hamamatsucho) and renamed it Keio Gijuku, after the contemporaneous Keio era (1865–1868), which would end just five months later with the ushering in of the Meiji Restoration amid major political, economic, and cultural upheaval. The relocation and renaming of the school is now considered a major turning point in the transformation of an otherwise insignificant school for Dutch studies into the major research and academic institution that we know today.
As detailed in Keio Gijuku no Ki (Pronouncement at the Establishment of Keio Gijuku), Keio was not to remain a small private school, but was instead to become a gijuku—a modern institution open to anyone wishing to pursue Western studies, regardless of class or caste. The gijuku that Fukuzawa envisioned was to be organized and operated in the same manner as schools in the West and is thought to be modeled on the public schools of England, based on a passage in Keio Gijuku no Ki which states that Keio "shall be fashioned after the public school." And though there are other instances of the word gijuku, it was Keio Gijuku that popularized the concept and led to its use across the country.
The name Keio, on the other hand, was simply a sign of the times, meant as a temporary placeholder to be later changed, as indicated by another passage which states, "The school’s provisional name shall be Keio Gijuku, after the year of its establishment." Yet even after the Meiji period began in October 1868, Fukuzawa left his school’s name unchanged despite repeated government demands to rename it. And though some denounced him for his staunch refusal to join the new Meiji government, he paid such criticism no mind. Fukuzawa's defiance signifies the importance he placed on retaining the right of free speech as an independent citizen.
Even in 1868—a year of great political upheaval, as a new era started and Japan’s feudal system gave way to the restoration of imperial rule—Fukuzawa’s passion for academics remained steadfast. The May following the restoration, Tokugawa loyalists, now disgruntled by the surrender of Edo Castle, took up positions in the hills of Ueno, where they were attacked by imperial forces. With the roar of gunfire within earshot, Tokyo was engulfed in a sudden panic, yet Fukuzawa maintained his composure, delivering his regular Saturday lecture on economics as always. This Fukuzawa anecdote, which illustrates his respect for academic education even in times of tumult and uncertainty, would become the basis for the Yukichi Fukuzawa-Francis Wayland Memorial Lectures, which are held annually on May 15 at the Mita Public Speaking Hall (Mita Enzetsu-kan) to commemorate Fukuzawa’s bravery.
Fukuzawa would later reflect on the events of the time in his autobiography, describing the state of confusion in Edo: "When the war in Ueno began, all theaters, restaurants, and shops were closed and markets went completely dark. Every neighborhood throughout Edo was left in utter desolation."
Yukichi Fukuzawa Gives His Francis Wayland Lecture. Drawn by Yukihiko Yasuda.
While Fukuzawa and Takamori Saigo, a main architect of the Meiji Restoration, did not personally know one another, there is no doubt that they held each other in high regard. "Saigo’s death is a loss to be mourned. It was none other than the government that he helped create who plunged him into the jaws of death," Fukuzawa lamented in his public opinion piece Teichu Koron, written shortly after Saigo’s death in 1877 at the end of the Satsuma Rebellion.
Saigo Takamori (1827–77) (Courtesy of the the Saigo Nanshu Kenshokan Museum)
Fukuzawa respected Saigo’s personality, his ideals, his noble manner, and his embodiment of what Fukuzawa termed a "spirit of civilization." Fukuzawa was also a strong proponent of Saigo’s "spirit of defiance" against the tyranny of the new government during the Satsuma Rebellion. Fukuzawa went as far as to say that the Meiji government was directly responsible for Saigo’s death, criticizing it for driving former Edo-era nobility into poverty and causing riots that rocked the nation.
For all of their differences—Fukuzawa was an educator and Saigo a military man—Fukuzawa was nevertheless impressed by the way Saigo lived his life. A reporter for the Jiji Shinpo newspaper found Fukuzawa’s Teichu Koron piece, penned in 1877, in a stack of papers at Fukuzawa’s home and had it published in the newspaper just before Fukuzawa’s death in 1901. What stopped him from publishing his criticism in 1877 is still a mystery. Perhaps he deemed his scathing commentary too radical at such a volatile time.
Saigo is also known to have enjoyed reading Fukuzawa’s works, and he often encouraged pupils of his native Kagoshima to study at Keio and recommended reading Fukuzawa’s An Outline of a Theory of Civilization. It seems that he, too, sympathized with Fukuzawa’s ideals.
Yukichi Fukuzawa, the educator-cum-philosopher, and Takamori Saigo, the politician and military man. However disparate their stations in life, both shared an unbending will that guided them through the tumultuous times of the late Tokugawa shogunate and early Meiji period.
Fukuzawa’s 1877 Meiji Junen Teichu Koron, Yasegaman no Setsu
*This article appeared in the 2018 spring edition (No. 298) of Juku.
*Photo: Courtesy of the Fukuzawa Memorial Institute for Modern Japanese Studies
and Mita Media Center [Keio University Library]
(except for the 3rd photo).