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The Meiji Restoration and the Modernisation of Japan: The Dynamism of Yukichi Fukuzawa

Discover the history of Japan's rapid modernisation and explore the role of Fukuzawa Yukichi in shaping modern Japanese society.

The Meiji Restoration and the Modernisation of Japan: The Dynamism of Yukichi Fukuzawa

The Meiji Restoration and the Modernisation of Japan: The Dynamism of Yukichi Fukuzawa

  • 3 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

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  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours
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Explore Yukichi Fukuzawa's path to modernization

Discover the legacy of Yukichi Fukuzawa, a 19th-century visionary pivotal to Japan’s modernisation who spread his ideas through teaching and writing, including journalism, Keio University, the esteemed institution founded by Fukuzawa offers this course.

On this three-week course, you’ll uncover the foundation of modern Japanese society, the essence of Western thought and its impact on Japan’s leap onto the global stage.

Unveil the journey of modern Japan

On the course, you’ll explore the Edo period, a time of isolation, and witness Japan’s metamorphosis after the Meiji Restoration.

This course illuminates Fukuzawa’s quest for independence and civilisation as foundations for societal advancement.

Through Fukuzawa’s perspective, you’ll navigate the transition from a reclusive society to a nation eager to learn from the West.

Engage with Fukuzawa’s ideas about modernity

Throughout the course, you’ll learn about Fukuzawa. Born a low-ranking samurai, he grasped the opportunities offered by his early encounter with Western learning. He became a pioneer of modernisation, emphasising the importance of independence and self-respect.

You’ll navigate the intellectual landscape shaped by Fukuzawa, by examining his writings and public engagements. Through these materials, you’ll review his strategies for societal advancement and the critical role of education in fostering a progressive and independent nation.

Reflect on modernisation and Its discontents

By the end of your journey, you’ll have the tools to articulate your views on Fukuzawa’s transformative influence on Japan.

You’ll be positioned to judge whether Japan has fully embraced his visionary goals or if there remains unfinished business for the nation to address.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds National independence through personal independence. The Edo period in Japan lasted for more than 250 years. During this time, Japan was a closed society, very different from the West. With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan began opening up and learning from Western countries, and moving forward with modernization. At this crucial turning point in Japan, there was a person who pursued the essence of thought and mindset of Western society. Rather than just adopting the superficial traits and features from abroad, he sought out the best approach for the Japanese. His name was FUKUZAWA Yukichi. Hello everyone. My name is YAMAUCHI Keita.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds This course will examine the perspective of FUKUZAWA Yukichi, a figure who insightfully called attention to social issues and struggled throughout his life to achieve genuine modernization and civilization in Japan. We will consider the best ideals for individuals, societies, nations, and the world, taking “independence” and “civilization” as keywords. FUKUZAWA Yukichi was born almost 200 years ago into a low-ranking samurai family. In his boyhood he did not feel that he belonged to the feudal class system. From the age of 19, he began to assimilate Western learning through his study of the Dutch language.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds He also mastered English, and closely observed the West by capitalizing on three opportunities to experience the world overseas This was at a time when almost no Japanese had ever seen a foreign country. Hello. I’m TOKURA Takeyuki. This is where the first speech was delivered in Japan. What’s interesting about Fukuzawa is that he wasn’t concerned only with technological development, above all, he focused on the “spirit” of Western society, and considered what gives rise to it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds Fukuzawa founded one of Japan’s leading private educational institutions to cultivate people Recognized the importance of communication, engaged in public speaking, and established social clubs Founded a newspaper recognized by many as the best in Japan in order to promote journalism Powered Japan’s modernization not only via the government, but also through an independent private sector made up of his many followers. Fukuzawa’s life was a continuous struggle. The best approach for the nation, government and the people, men, women, and families, and learning and human beings. He battled with words, cultivated people, and continued dialogue with communities in order to explain new and different perspectives. Has the society that Fukuzawa strived for been achieved? Or do many issues still remain?

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds The strivings and concerns of FUKUZAWA Yukichi from 150 years ago are not just historical references of an era of great change in Japanese society. They call our attention to issues the world is dealing with in today. What is the “civilization” we should strive for?


  • Week 1

    Civilization and the Individual

    • Introduction

      We'll begin with an overview of the course. We will give an outline of the time during which Yukichi Fukuzawa lived, the last years of the long Edo period, and the Meiji Period that followed it.

    • Fukuzawa's Experiences of Foreign Cultures

      What enabled Yukichi Fukuzawa to develop a worldview that was so different to that of his contemporaries in a rapidly changing Japan? The starting point lay in his experiences abroad.

    • Male Female Relationships, and the Family

      Fukuzawa considered "husband and wife" and then the "family" to be the smallest units of society, and they were a lifelong focus of interest. He thought that the state of the family was directly linked to the state of the society.

    • The Individual and Society

      Fukuzawa stressed the importance of an "independent spirit" that would enable people to speak and act without paying attention to status or title. For this reason, he encouraged them to practice speech making and debating.

    • The Government and the People

      Fukuzawa's enthusiasm for increasing the number of individuals with the "spirit of independence" had an effect on the country as a whole. However, there were also setbacks.

    • Week 1 Summary

      Here is a review of what we learned during Week 1!

  • Week 2

    Civilization and Learning

    • Learning Shapes People and Changes Society

      Fukuzawa was one of the first Japanese to travel abroad after the limited ‘opening’ of the country in 1859. His trip to Europe in 1862 had a special impact. Here we focus on his use of education to develop individual independence.

    • The Ideal Way of Learning

      Fukuzawa was aware that learning must be kept independent of politics. He believed that feudal society and the custom of treating officials as more important than ordinary people should not spill into learning. Why is that?

    • The Spirit of Jitsugaku (Practical Learning/Science)

      Fukuzawa gave “jitsugaku = saiensu (science)”, “practical learning” in a literal translation, as the purpose of education. What did hemean? In this section we will also look at Fukuzawa’s relationship with his students.

    • Making Full Use of Learning in Society

      Many students who studied under Fukuzawa later became active in business and were pioneers in a number of fields of industry. They all had the common goal of "making full use of their earning in society.”

    • Week 2 Summary

      Let us review what we learned during Week 2!

  • Week 3

    Civilization and Information

    • The Information Revolution of the 1800s

      The industrial revolution was accompanied by an information revolution. News was able to travel further and faster. How did this affect individuals and the societies in which they lived?   These issues are still important today. 

    • Civilization and Information

      Fukuzawa was keenly aware of the state of society in the era of instantaneous information. As a user of information himself, he also devised clever ways of expressing his opinions and engaging in dialogue.

    • Focusing on our consciousness of history

      Fukuzawa’s dynamism was linked to his sense of being part of history. He felt a duty to continue the work of previous generations as a legacy for the future. This strategy is important to the promotion of social change.

    • Links to the Future

      Fukuzawa confessed to feeling terrible anxiety about whether he could pass on his passion for changing society to the next generation. Let’s see if we can unravel the meaning of his message for the future.

    • Conclusion

      What statements or ways of thinking introduced in the course impressed you most? As an individual and a member of society, what kind of civilization would you like to live in? What could you do to bring this civilization about?

When would you like to start?

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the characteristics of Japan’s modernization process
  • Compare the example of Japan and your own society
  • Discuss the influence of Yukichi Fukuzawa on Japan
  • Explain the causes of Japan’s rapid modernization
  • Explore the factors that lead to Japan’s distastrous involvement in World War II
  • Reexamine government-led attempts at modernization from the perspective of ordinary people

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for historians, educators, cultural enthusiasts interested in Japan’s transformation and the visionary ideas of Yukichi Fukuzawa.

Those looking to deepen their knowledge of modern Japan and its global impact will also enjoy it.

Who will you learn with?

I’m an associate professor at Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University and the vice-director of Fukuzawa Yukichi Memorial Keio History Museum.

I'm a professor at Keio University and a member of the Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies. I have much interest in history of Keio University.

Who developed the course?

Keio University

Keio University is Japan’s first modern institution of higher learning, and since 1858 has established itself as a leader in Japan through its continued commitment to education, research and medicine.

  • Established

  • Location

    Tokyo, Japan
  • World ranking

    Top 200Source: QS World University Rankings 2021

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Develop skills to further your career

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  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$109/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 19 Jun 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 3 June 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

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Sale price available until 3 June 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

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