What is learning? Fukuzawa Yukichi may give you a hint about it. He lived from 1834 to 1901 and became a translator and teacher. He is very famous for education, and was a founder of Keio University which is one of the most famous universities in Japan. He is also known for the expression “Heaven doesn't make a man better than others, nor does it make a man worse than others” (Fukuzawa Yukichi, 1994). In reality, however, we are not equal in many ways, but what makes the gap? He says it is learning that creates the disparity. Assuming that is true, so as to fill in the gap and become happier, it is probably the first step to ponder the aspects of “learning’’.
First of all, Fukuzawa learned from other countries and broadened his horizons. He was dispatched by the government to the countries such as America, Britain, Germany, and France. In 1860, he went to America and he was shocked so much by the cultural difference such as America’s indifference to offspring of famous people like George Washington. In 1861, he was dispatched by the government to Europe as a translator. When he went to London, he visited an international exhibition for research and saw things such as steam locomotives, electrical equipment, and linotypes. In addition, utilizing money provided by the Japanese government, he bought lots of books about Europe and scrutinized European’s culture. After these surveys, he wrote a book named “Things Western (西洋事情)’’ which describes European culture, politics, economy and so forth. If you can conjure up a time when you have had an experience in a new place, you must know that as his case, expanding your field of vision is a significant part of learning.
Learning from other countries, however, does not mean imitating them and proper learning is to be selective. Fukuzawa writes about it on a book named “Datsu-A Ron (脱亜論)’’ which literally means escaping from Asia. You may want to criticize him as an unpatriotic person, but this is not true. He seemed to love Japan and that is why he referred to the necessity for Japan to be civilized. As he said, imitating such as wearing western clothes is not civilization as he would think of it; then, what is civilization? He seemed to regard it as cultivation of ‘’inner spirit’’. In other words he thought that people had to learn things from other countries such as dignity and the way of thinking which are more important than external things like food, hair style, and fashion. Interestingly, it is said that Fukuzawa never wore western clothes at home and he disliked meat and liked fishes, which was typical of Japan. As it shows, he mentioned the importance of being selective about learning (Hutchinson, personal communication, 2013).
Finally, everyone has been learning and will continue to keep learning things. The famous book ‘’Encouragement for education (学問のすすめ)’’ talks about it. What you have to notice here is the word “Gakumon (学問)’’. This word “Gakumon’’ is common in current Japan but it had a different meaning in Edo period. ‘’In this period, when people heard the word, most of them thought of “学文” instead of “学問” (Shibata Toshio, 2005). What is the difference? On one hand, “学文” literally means study such as reading and writing. On the other hand, the word “学問”, as you can see by the word “問’’, is to question things such as “what is happiness?’’ and it was Fukuzawa who popularized it. The thing is that there is no end to questioning things and this indicates that we never stop learning for good as far as we live.
What we can conclude from these facts and his ideas is that learning has at least three cardinal aspects. They are that learning is to broaden your horizon, we must be selective, and learning never ends in our lives. As Fukuzawa Yukichi mentioned, if learning differentiates people, with learning these features as the first step, no one will stop learning for the sake of realization of real equality.
Fukuzawa, Y. (1994), 学問のすゝめ [Encouragement of Learning], Iwanami
Shibata, T. (2005), 福澤諭吉のレガシー [The legacy of Fukuzawa Yukichi], Maruzen