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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Endings (15)—The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series "Endings." 
[a] Not Just "Tradition"   RF
As should be apparent by now, I am fascinated with the "ethnographic imagination," particularly during the fertile and changing last decades of the nineteenth century. Already on Round and Square we have explored the meandering thoughts of writers from Francis Parkman, William Edgar Geil, and Jules Verne, as well as the tumultuous world of fin de siècle France. Today, we will examine the writing of a Japanese teacher-scholar and sometime official who lived through the last decades of the Tokugawa period and came of age in the full whirl of the Meiji Restoration.

In highlighting these various figures, I hope to mess a bit with the all-too-tidy history of anthropology that the discipline has constructed for itself. It is downright shameful, from my perspective, that anthropology has all but ignored as "literary" or "political" some of the trends we have seen from nineteenth and early-twentieth century writers. I don't mean to say that anthropologists don't think about these things (far from it; they are pretty sharp people, on the whole). It is, on the other hand, easy to see that (for various reasons) figures such as Fukuzawa Yukichi (surname first) aren't given much time when we talk about the way anthropological thought has developed. Perhaps that is because we have been obsessed by gradations and distinctions in theoretical realms, and have not spent quite enough time really thinking about something (seemingly) more mundane—fascination with otherness. Again, don't get me wrong. Anthropologists have spilled quite a bit of ink on the subject. I find it startling, however, that most of the histories of the discipline give rather brief (and often dismissive) portrayals of thought Before Malinowski (BM). I will save the grand argument for later. It is a narrative of how we get from Montesquieu to Bourdieu (MB?), with the whole world along for the trip. For now, I just want to give a few snippets of otherness for us to think about.

Pay particular attention in the conclusion of the Autobiography to the mix of national pride and regional ambition (the relationship with China—he refers to the war of 1894-1895—might give a chill to those of us who know, as Fukuzawa did not, what would happen forty years later). Note, as well, the way that Fukuzawa moves rhetorically from the clan life of his youth to national and even international stages. This is a book anthropologists should read. For that matter, it is one that students of Japanese culture should ponder, as well. It was required reading for students studying Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, just after Columbia University Press came out with a handsome paperback edition. We all read it back in the day. Students today would do well to read it, too.

Oh, yes. He is on the 10,000 yen note.
[b] 10K   RF
The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa (1899)
I wonder how much longer this kind of life is going to last. Sixty-odd years is the length of life I have now come through. It is often the part of an old man to say that life on looking back seems like a dream. But for me it has been a very merry dream, full of changes and surprises.

[c] Auto
My life begun in the restricted conventions of the small Nakatsu clan was like begin packed tightly in a lunch box. When once the toothpick of clan politics was punched into the corner of the box, a boy was caught on its end, and before he himself knew what was happening, he had jumped out of the old home. Not only did he abandon his native province but he even renounced the teaching of the Chinese culture in which we had been educated. Reading strange books, associating with new kinds of people, working with all the freedom never dreamed of before, traveling abroad two or three times, finally he came to find even the empire of Japan too narrow for his domain. What a merry life this has been, and what great changes!
Were I to dwell on difficulties and hardships, I might easily describe this life of mine as a pretty hard one. The old proverb reminds us, "Once past the throat, the burn (of the food) is forgotten." Of course poverty and other hardships were hard to bear. But as I look backward now, they seem dear among the old glowing memories which remain.

When I first began my studies, all that I hoped for was to acquire some knowledge of the Western culture and then so manage my living that I should not become a burden upon other men. That was my first ambition. Unexpectedly came the Restoration, and to my delight Japan was opened to the world.

Seiyou Jijou (Things Western) and other books of mine published during the old shogunate régime were written with no real expectation that they would interest the public at all. Even if they were to win some attention, I had no idea that the contents of the books would ever be applied to our own social conditions. In short, I was writing my books simply as stories of the West or as curious tales of a dreamland. Then contrary to all my expectations these books were read widely and were even taken for guidance by the people of the day. Moreover, the government of the new age proved itself most courageous in applying the new thoughts. It went far beyond what was advocated in my Seiyou Jijou and began to surprise even the author of the book himself.

In this unexpected turn of events I found that I could not be satisfied by my former ambition. I must take advantage of the moment to bring in more of Western civilization and revolutionize our people's ideas from the roots. Then perhaps it would not be impossible to form a great nation in this far Orient, which would stand counter to Great Britain of the West, and take an active part in the progress of the whole world. So I was led on to form my second and greater ambition.

Consequently I renewed activities with "tongue and brush," my two cherished instruments. On one side I was teaching in my school and making occasional public speeches while on the other I was constantly writing on all subjects. And these comprise my books subsequent to Seiyou Jijou. It was a pretty busy life but no more than doing my bit, or "doing the ten thousandth part" as we put it.

As I consider things today, while there are still many things to be regretted, on the whole I see the country well on the road to advancement. One of the tangible results was to be seen a few years ago in our victorious war with China, which was the result of perfect cooperation between the government and the people.

How happy I am; I have no words to express it! Only because I have lived long, I have met this wonderful joy. Why, then, couldn't all my friends live to meet it? I am often brought to tears of pity for those who died too soon.

After all, the present is the result of the past. This glorious condition of our country cannot but be the fruit of the good inheritance of our ancestors. We are the fortunate ones who live today to enjoy this wonderful bequest. Yet I feel as though my second and greater ambition has been attained, for everything that I had hoped for and prayed for has been realized through the benevolence of Heaven and the virtues of those forebears. I have nothing to complain of on looking backward, nothing but full satisfaction and delight.

However, it seems that there is no end to man's capacity for desire. I can still point out some things I am yet hoping for. Not ideas in foreign diplomacy or developments in our constitutional government—all these I leave to the statesmen. But I should like to put my further efforts toward elevating the moral standards of the men and women of my land to make them truly worthy of a civilized nation. Then I should like to encourage a religion—Buddhism or Christianity—to give peaceful influence on a large number of our people. And thirdly, I wish to have a large foundation created for the study of higher sciences in both physical and metaphysical fields.

It is these three things that I wish to see accomplished during the remaining years of my life. A man may grow old, but while he has his health, he must not sit idle. I too intend to do all within my power as long as life and health are granted to me. [1]

[1] Yukichi Fukuzawa, The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 333-336.

Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa [Translated by Eiichi Kiyooka]. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

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