The 711th Mita Public Speaking Event "Translation Culture in Modern Japan and Yukichi Fukuzawa: Commemorating the 150th anniversary of An Encouragement of Learning"
January 23, 2023
On Tuesday, December 20, 2022, Keio University's time-honored tradition, the Mita Public Speaking Event, was held at the Mita Public Speaking Hall (Mita Enzetsu-kan). For the 711th iteration of the event, Dr. Alberto Millán Martín, an Associate Professor of Keio's Faculty of Economics and member of the Fukuzawa Memorial Institute for Modern Japanese Studies, delivered a lecture titled, "Translation Culture in Modern Japan and Yukichi Fukuzawa."
This year's lecture commemorated the 150th anniversary of Gakumon no susume (An Encouragement of Learning), a collection of essays published by Yukichi Fukuzawa. The lecture began with a quote from the 12th essay in the volume, which begins with Fukuzawa's discussion on translating the English word, "Speech" as "Enzetsu." Dr. Millán Martín later touched on the 17th essay of An Encouragement of Learning which describes how a person's words are a powerful way of communicating our thoughts to others and, therefore, should be as simple as possible. He then introduced Fukuzawa's proficiency and persistence at deepening his understanding of his native tongue, an essential aspect of translation. This expertise is clear in the opening lines of his treatise, "Heaven, it is said, does not create one person above or below another." Fukuzawa, inspired by the American Declaration of Independence, uses "Heaven" rather than "Creator," a concept unfamiliar in Japan, making the quote memorable and applicable even in modern times.
Dr. Millán Martín then traced the history of interpretation and translation in Japan, beginning in the 4th century, and talked about the dramatic transformation of translation culture from the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji period, focusing on how Fukuzawa and his students led the way in this movement. One example of this was Taizo Abe's translation of Francis Wayland's The Elements of Moral Science which he titled, Shūshinron (Theory of Ethics). It was used as an Elementary textbook during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Abe drew inspiration from Edo period Kanazōshi textbooks when translating the work, using a less literal style and changing "God" into "Heaven," "Devil" into "Demon," and "Bible" into "Old Book," so that it would be easier for students to picture the ideas. Dr. Millán Martín then examined Japan's distinct culture of re-translating foreign literary works multiple times in order to give voice to contemporary interpretations. Finally, for his conclusion, he discussed how Fukuzawa was able to use words and concepts that anyone, no matter their background or status, would be able to understand, ultimately leading to his immense achievement in successfully introducing Western ideas of civilization to Japan.
Participants seemed to appreciate the examples that Dr. Millán Martín included throughout the lecture as well as his subtle humor, evidenced by their occasional bouts of laughter. Even after the event ended, many attendees went to speak with Dr. Millán Martín, asking him follow-up questions on the topic.
Associate Professor Millán Martín delivering his lecture
Inside the event venue
The outside of the event venue, the Mita Public Speaking Hall (Mita Enzetsu-kan)