When visiting Nakatsu Castle in Oita Prefecture, it is a worthwhile idea to combine a visit to the Yukichi Fukuzawa Residence & Memorial Musuem as well. The property is close to the castle and only a 15-minute walk from the JR Nakatsu Station.
Although not a well-known figure outside of Japan, Yukichi Fukuzawa was undoubtedly one of the most important and influential thinkers of Japan’s modernization period. Born in Osaka in 1835, he was the second son of a low ranking samurai from the Nakatsu Domain in the present day Oita Prefecture. Fukuzawa never really knew his father who died when Yukichi was less than 2 years old. Raised by his mother, he credits her in his autobiography in having had a profound influence on his attitude. He especially noted her benevolence and kindness towards those in the lower classes. Fukuzawa himself was deeply resentful of the disdain and discrimination he suffered. While the class system of Tokugawa Japan is well known, less well known is that within the samurai class there were deep divisions and distinctions between lower ranking samurai and upper ranking samurai.
The family’s poverty also meant that he was not able to go to school until the relatively late age of 14. Fortunately, his father had collected a sizable number of books, so Yukichi was able to study by himself and was therefore able to escape the rigidity of thought that characterized the schools.
In 1853, when Fukuzawa was 19, Commodore Perry arrived in Japan for the first time and demanded that Japan open up to the West. Fukuzawa was sent to Nagasaki to study Dutch and western gunnery, but only stayed a short time before making his own way to Osaka, where he enrolled in the Tekijuku, a school of Dutch learning. During his three years there, he studied physics, chemistry & physiology, and of course, Dutch.
In 1858 he was appointed teacher of Dutch to the Nakatsu Domain and moved to Edo (present day Tokyo). The following year Yokohama opened as a treaty port but upon visiting the foreign settlement, Fukuzawa was shocked to discover that Dutch was not the language of the world, rather it was English. So, with little more than a Dutch-English dictionary, he set about the task of learning a new language.
In 1860 he was invited to join the first mission sent by the Shogunate to the USA, and while only there for three weeks, he was able to get what he considered his most valuable asset, a Webster’s dictionary. Upon his return, he was employed by the government to translate diplomatic documents and in the next year, he was invited to join a year-long mission to Europe.
Fukuzawa Yukichi is variously described as a writer, translator, newspaperman, journalist, teacher, educator and entrepreneur. He was the founder of the prestigious Keio University, and the man who coined the phrases “Civilization and Enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) and “leave Asia, join the West” (datsu-a, nu-o), two of the slogans that drove Japan’s modernization program in the Meiji period. Today, his likeness graces the front of the ¥10,000 Japanese banknote.
He passed away in 1901 in Tokyo at the age of 66. His grave is in Azabu-san Zenpuku-ji Temple, Minato ward, Tokyo.
Fukuzawa lived in the house in Nakatsu until he was 19 years old. It is a registered National Cultural Heritage Site and next to it is the Fukuzawa Memorial Museum. The museum contains manuscripts, first editions and other artifacts from Fukuzawa, including the first edition of Gakumon no Susume (Encouragement of Learning).
In the yard, you will find a storehouse that Fukuzawa himself remodeled to serve as his study space. The Inari Shrine that Fukuzawa experimented with as a youth is also on the grounds.
So when in Oita, take a moment to learn about the man that appears on the ¥10,000 Japanese banknote that is in your wallet. I am certain you will find it an enlightening experience!
Oita 871 0018
Tel: 0979 25 0063
Open every day from 8.30am to 5pm.
Photo credits: Rocky Andoh