Fukuzawa Yukichi 〜 The man who became the portrait of the ten-thousand yen bill


It appears that all the nations of the world choose their great or saintly persons to grace their banknotes.

For quite a long time, Japan’s ten thousand and five thousand yen notes had borne the portrait of Prince Shotoku, who worked for the spread of Buddhism, served as imperial regent, and proved himself a superior politician during the sixth and seventh centuries.


And the face of Hirobumi Ito, veteran statesman of the Meiji Restoration and noted politician who worked untiringly for the modernization of Japan during the last half of the nineteenth century, had been printed on the one thousand yen notes.



since 1984, Fukuzawa Yukichi (福沢諭吉) has appeared on the ten thousand yen note, Nitobe Inazo on the five thousand yen note (now, Higuchi Ichiyo), and Natsume Soseki  on the one thousand yen note (now, Noguchi Hideyo).




So I would like to spend in an attempt to explain the significance of  Fukuzawa Yukichi who appear on the banknotes. I will also attempt to explain just what sort of nation Japan is and what sort of culture it has based upon the significance of these three men.





Japan as a nation with a dual culture

The most unique feature of Japan is that while on the one hand it has accepted the modern culture of the West and developed advanced industries based upon what it has learned, it has at the same time maintained its own unique culture. In other words, we can speak of Japan as a nation with a dual culture.


By the way, the three men who appear on Japan’s new banknotes were active during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the time when the heaviest influx of Western culture entered and was accepted by Japan.

They were men who thought seriously about the situation from the standpoint of philosophy, education, and literature, and who wrote many books expressing their thoughts upon the subject.





Young, Fukuzawa Yukichi


 Fukuzawa Yukichi was a Japanese author, writer, teacher, translator, entrepreneur, and journalist. He was also an early Japanese civil rights activist and liberal ideologist.

His ideas about government and social institutions made a lasting impression on a rapidly changing Japan during the Meiji Era. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern Japan.


Fukuzawa Yukichi was born in Kyushu in 1835, the second son of a lower-ranking military man. He was the first Japanese ever to make a serious study of the English language.

When the first ambassadorial mission was sent to America by Japan in 1860, Fukuzawa traveled on the ship that bore that mission as a servant to the leader.



In San Francisco he bought a Webster’s dictionary of the English language. This is said to have been the first English dictionary ever to have been brought to Japan.

The Tokugawa Shogunate recognized Fukuzawa for his ability in English, and appointed him to the position of interpreter for the diplomatic mission they sent to Europe in 1862.





Father of Keio University

Since Japan had maintained a closed-door policy since 1639, there was very little accurate knowledge of Western civilization. Fukuzawa worked to rectify the situation by publishing a book titled “Conditions in the West” in 1866.

In this book he related his own personal observations of Western nations as well as the matters upon which he had gained knowledge through books from the West.


Due to the efforts of the Japanese to open up their country, there was great general interest in information concerning the West. For this reason, the first printing of this book, 150,000 copies, sold out almost at once.

Fukuzawa subsequently opened the school known today as Keio University, where he taught the youth of Japan all aspects of modern Western civilization through books written in English.






Fukuzawa was the intellectual father of the leaders of Meiji-era Japan

Most of the Japanese people of that time were driven by an intense desire to catch up with the industrialized Western nations.

Thus, Fukuzawa Yukichi  was a major leader in the movement toward civilization and enlightenment for Japan during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and he was the intellectual father of the leaders of Meiji-era Japan.



He died in 1901. His autobiography was published in English by Columbia University Press, and it compares favorably with Benjamin Franklin’s.

I strongly recommend Fukuzawa’s autobiography to anyone who has an interest in the modernization of Japan. Many of Japan’s finest businessmen have gone out into the world as graduates of Fukuzawa’s Keio University.


Also his book titled “An Encouragement of Learning “ has sold three and a half million copies. It is this Yukichi Fukuzawa who appears on the ten thousand yen banknote.






◉  Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) 

He has been described as the Japanese Voltaire, and compared by others to Benjamin Franklin, and though he is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential thinkers of Japan’s modernization period, Fukuzawa Yukichi is not a well known name outside of Japan, which is somewhat surprising if one considers that almost all visitors to Japan carry around a picture of him in their wallets as his portrait is on the 10,000 yen banknote.





◉ The life is something like play. A good actor may become a beggar, or a poor actor may become a feudal lord


◉ A person is free as far as you do not trouble another person