An Encouragement for Learning

Fukuzawa Yukichi, 1872

The Heaven is said to create no man on the top of a man or under. It means, since they are created by the Heaven, all people, equal and born equal with no difference in their social standing, are able to work with soul and body to enjoy everything in the world for their use, controlling the lives of their own without hindering others, so that they can make a comfortable living in this world. However, looking over this world of human beings, some are wise and others are dull; some are poor and others are wealthy; some are noble and others are menial. How is it that they are such differences as heaven and earth? It is quite obvious. According to Jitsugokyo (“Lessons of Reality Words”), a fool is a man with no intellect, and a man without learning cannot have intellect. Accordingly, the difference between the wise and the unwise is nothing but the difference between the learned and the unlearned. In this world, some jobs are difficult to do and others are easier. Those doing such difficult jobs are in an important position in society. Those doing easy jobs are in a lighter position. In general, your brain and mind is used for difficult jobs while physical labors are easier. Therefore, you can say that doctors, scholars, government officials, merchants doing big business or farmers employing lots of workers are in an important, respectable position. As a natural result of such positions, they are so rich and wealthy that people in a low standing may consider it should be impossible for them to reach there. However, the basis of the difference between them is nothing but whether they enjoy the power of learning or not. The difference is not an unavoidable fate. There is a saying that the Heaven does give wealth not to people but to their work. As I discussed before, therefore, people are born with no difference in their social standing and wealth. People become noble and wealthy if they study and learn things well. They become poor and menial if they do not learn.

Hydrangeas, 紫陽花 1902, Hishida Shunsō

By the word “learning” I do not mean merely unpractical literature such as knowledge of difficult Chinese characters, reading of classics that are hard to understand, or creation of Japanese or Chinese poems. Such literature is useful in a way, since it gives pleasure to people’s mind, but you do not need to respect it too much like the Confucians and the Japanese classic scholars insisting on it. From time immemorial, most of the Confucians are poor at household management. If a merchant is an excellent poet, he may not be a great businessman. Therefore, thoughtful merchants or farmers may well worry about the future of their sons who are studying so hard, since they consider such learning may be destructive for their business. Evidently, such study is far from the reality and does not meet the needs of daily life. For this reason, you should put off such unrealistic studies. What we should work on first is the realistic studies that are close to the ordinary daily needs of people. You need first to learn, for example, the forty-seven letters of the Japanese alphabet, wordings and expressions for letters, how to keep accounts or books, skills for using an abacus and a steelyard, and then there still is very much to learn. Geography guides you through a variety of natural features of the world, not to mention within Japan. Physics or natural philosophy is the science to see through the nature of all physical things to find out their functions. History is documentations that are detailed chronicles to be searched for the past and present conditions of various countries. Economics is explanations of finance of the entire society on the basis of finance of a person or a family. Ethics is clarifications of natural reasons on which one should discipline oneself, associate with others and walk through the world. To learn basics of such studies, you just need to study the books translated from the Western languages, which means the Japanese language is good enough for such learning. The young and talented should have a chance to read in Western languages, but should base each of his study on the reality, following the real things, and seeking for reasons in matters close to himself in order to meet the needs of today. It is the practical science for all human beings that I have discussed above. This is the common knowledge that all people, noble or menial, should learn. Learning such knowledge, people could be able to do their best to operate their own functions or businesses as samurai, farmers, craftsmen or merchants so that they, as individuals, will be independent and that their families will be independent. And so will the whole nation.

For learning, it is essential to know your standing in society. Human beings in the natural state are unbound, as men or as women, without any ties that restrict their liberty. In many cases, however, those who insist on liberty will be just selfish if they take no notice to the standing of their own. By the word “standing,” I mean the reasonable, humane way to attain or reach one’s freedom without hindering others. The difference between the liberty and the selfishness consists in whether it hinders others or not. You are not right if you think you are free to dissipate your own money extravagantly for any kind of pleasures. For your dissipation may be followed or modeled by others, and it may corrupt good morals of society, resulting in hindrance of education. Such conduct is therefore an unforgivable sin, even when you just waste the fortune of your own. In addition, freedom and independence is not only a personal matter, but also an issue of the nation. 

The difference between the liberty and the selfishness consists in whether it hinders others or not. 

Japan is an island country, at the east end of Asia, where in the past the people were just content with the domestic products without communicating with foreign nations. When Americans visited us in 1850’s, however, our nation started the foreign trade as we do today. Even after the opening of the ports, there were lots of arguments. Some loudly asserted the seclusionist or exclusionist policy, but their views were so narrow as those of a frog in the well. Their opinions were unworthy to discuss. The Japanese and the Western nations are peoples on the same planet, sharing the sunshine, the moonlights, the oceans and the atmosphere, living with the same human sentiments. If we have something in excess, we can hand it over to them. If they have something more than enough, we may ask them for it. With no arrogance or obsequiousness, the international community must teach each other, learn each other and benefit each other, wishing for each other’s happiness. International relations must be based on the universal reasons and the humanity. You must behave reverentially toward African blacks if it is reasonable. If you find the British or the Americans conducting against the humanity, you must not be frightened of their warship. Should there be a disgrace to our nation, all the Japanese throughout the country would be ready to risk their life to keep our national dignity. That should be the way the nation is free and independent.
More about
Meiji Art, Industrial Revolution

Meiji Art

The end of feudalism begins with the search for knowledge

1868 – 1912

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