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A Biography on Fukuzawa Yukichi

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Fukuzawa Yukichi was born on 10 January 1835 at the height of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s strictly hierarchical society. His father belonged to the lower two-thirds of the society; according to the laws of the then society, a lower samurai would not overtake an upper samurai regardless of one’s talents and merit. Thus, a lower samurai could rise within his class, but would fail to reach the upper-rank samurai. The society was strict as it categorized citizens into upper and lower classes, which forbade intermarriage between people of different ranks. Besides legal unions, customs and laws prohibited illicit unions from two separate classes such as kyunin and kachi. The fact that positions were assigned to birth or marriage rights implied that the people knew their roles in the society since early stages of their lives. The lower ranks of the society were not accorded similar rights with their higher ranks counterparts hence they were treated as second-class citizens. For example, the ashigaru or the lowest ranking samurai would prostrate to the ground whenever they would meet an upper samurai. A person’s position in the clan determined one’s freedom. Fukuzawa notes, “While my brother was living, I could go anywhere at any time with only his sanction, but now that I had become the head of the family with certain duties to the lord, I had to obtain a permit for going ‘abroad. ’” The senior male in any family was the most influential with younger men and women being denied individual rights. Since the system assigned each person a rank, those in power oppressed their subordinates. As a result, every person was accustomed to be extremely submissive to one’s superiors and unreasonably oppressive to his juniors. However, Fukuzawa’s parents acknowledged the right to respect members of lower ranks. Consequently, he developed similar traits at an early age as he treated all people equally. Therefore, Fukuzawa devotes his work to the examination of the possibilities of a change in the hierarchical and group-based society to an egalitarian and individualistic one. He uses his experiences to illustrate the possibility of exiting form such a world and how others could emulate him.

Transforming Society

Survival in the autocratic society that disregarded individuals’ talents and merits to promote development proved a challenge. At the same time, Fukuzawa believed that he had the power to change his fortunes hence should not rely on authorities to improve the quality of his life. Fukuzawa acknowledges that poverty taught him crucial aspects especially through the development of the do-it-yourself attitude. He performed numerous odd jobs that changed his views towards life before the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate after the Meiji Revolution in 1868. Further, he notes that reading books alone are inadequate to provide a person with necessary life skills to succeed in an unequal society. Since his childhood, Fukuzawa believed that it was impossible to prosper if one failed to apply the lessons from real life experiences. In effect, he tried and tested several attitudes and beliefs to ascertain their authenticity. He refused to adopt the folk, Buddhist, and Shinto superstitions because he perceived them as people’s way to justify their mistreatment of others. In essence, he was skeptical and doubtful in most experiences that he encountered in his life, which prompted him to test their validity . However, from his travels to the Western world, he noted that religion was necessary for social cohesion, but it should not violate the rights of the lowly in the society. In addition to his skepticism towards the world, Fukuzawa was industrious in both his reading and other duties.

Fukuzawa hated his life in the village of Nakatsu. He notes, “Outwardly I was living peacefully enough, but always in my heart I was praying for an opportunity to get away. And I was willing to go anywhere and to go through any hardship if only I could leave this uncomfortable Nakatsu. Happily, a chance sent me to Nagasaki. ” his escape from the deplorable living conditions in his home village exposed him to Western civilization through learning scientific discoveries. He discovered that Chinese influence on Japan hampered the advancement of knowledge. At the same time, young Japanese would fail to realize their potential benefits from the effects of civilization that swept across the western world if they were subjected to clan segregation throughout their lives. In any case, how would a person advance if a family determined an individual’s position in the society? Low ranked samurais were always oppressed thus restricted them to servitude throughout their lives . His first visit to America liberated his views on inheritance and kinship. For instance, he was fascinated to learn that Americans were not conversant with George Washington’s clanship. On the contrary, in his native country, the clan determined a person’s position in the society for the rest of his or her life. In this regard, the child from a lower samurai could not become a ruler in Japan irrespective of one’s skills.

During the time of Tokugawa Shogunate’s demise, Fukuzawa learned much from western civilization and wished that Japan could assume the same path because it would accelerate civilization. However, after the Meiji Restoration, a majority of Japanese citizens including Fukuzawa failed to believe that the new rulers would cause any meaningful transformations in the country. Despite the changes in leadership, Fukuzawa could not break away from his clan even though he disagreed with some of his clan members’ political views. In practice, he shows that one should not depend on the efforts of others if that person wishes to succeed. Contrary to people’s expectations, Fukuzawa failed to take any active political role to improve the lives of his natives, but he used his academic excellence to write books that inspired others to adopt western civilization . Therefore, his influence was significant because he translated numerous English books into the local dialect to allow more people to acquire the knowledge that was hidden in the volumes.


Fukuzawa uses his personal experiences to illustrate the challenges that he faced during his childhood besides his ambition to improve the quality of his life and that of his family members. He lived at a time when Japanese were denied equal rights given that every person had a position in the society by birth or marriage rights. His work emphasizes the importance of hard work in life even if the circumstances were adverse. At the same time, it shows the essence of open-mindedness in instilling in a person the desire to explore new things. He believes that people should not believe whatever they hear or see, but should establish viable ways to ascertain the validity of certain beliefs. While a tender age, Fukuzawa devised numerous ways to test the authenticity of the people’s beliefs in his native village. However, his exposure to the western world exposed him to Western civilization, which he thought it was the best for Japan.

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A Biography on Fukuzawa Yukichi. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-biography-on-fukuzawa-yukichi/
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