Mori Arinori is well known in Japan for his achievements of setting education system and his radically westernized way of thinking.
First of all I’m going to describe how his life was going along timeline. He was born in Satsuma domain (now Kagoshima) to a high-ranking samurai family. He was the fifth boy. Because his family was wealthy, he got educated well. When he was 13 years old, which is now the age of enrollment of junior high school, he started studying kanngaku (Chinese ancient study) and 4 years later, he enrolled at Kaiseizyo where students studied Western learning. It is said that this school is the basis of the Tokyo University. There, he took a class about studies of British literature. When he turned 18 years old, he went to London to study. Later, he also studied in Washington. During these stays, he got interested in Christianity.
After the Meiji restoration, he went back to Japan and he set up a group named Meirokusha with other historical important men, such as Fukuzawa Yukichi or Saishu. This group was meant to do enlightenment activities. He became the first leader of this group and published many literatures. In 1875, he founded a private school called Syouhou Kousyuuzyo (which is now known as Hitotsubashi University). In this year, he married a Japanese woman, Hirose Tsune. It is said that this was the very first contract marriage in Japan.
While he worked in London as an ambassador to Great Britain, Ito Hirobumi visited him and they had discussions about Japan’s future. Mori insisted that education is the first thing that Japanese government should work on first to build a strong country. Ito was impressed by his passion and he accredited Mori as a first minister of education as he got a Cabinet in a place. Even after Ito’s Cabinet ended, he stayed on his post of the education minister. While he worked for Prime Minister Kuroda Kiyotaka, he set an academic degree system. This is still a basis of present education system.
In 1899, at the age of 43, on the day of promulgation of the constitution, he was changing his clothes for the ceremony, he was attacked and stabbed by an ultranationalist and he died the next day.
Now, I want to give a little focus on the education area, starting off with his idea of education. His idea was basically education is ultimately to enrich the country, known as Fukoku Kyouhei (rich country, strong army), by giving appropriate knowledge evenly to boys and girls. Some researchers have pointed out that he thought that school is a place to choose good students to become soldiers for the policy.
Because of his extremely westernized thoughts, he once even suggested that we should stop using Japanese and change the public language to English.
Now about the assassination, there are some rumors about the cause of this incident that he was regarded as extremely westernized so that he didn’t take off his shoes when he entered a famous shrine in Ise and he pushed aside a curtain with his walking stick which only the emperor can touch. However many reseachers deny all these rumors. The guy who attacked him also got killed at the time he killed Mori so truth will never come to light.
Needless to say, his thoughts were not same as most other Japanese people. Only a few wealthy Japanese people learned Western studies and most of Japanese didn’t agree on his radical Westernized ideas. That might have been caused him many difficulties. However he still contributed to make Japan modernized and distribute education evenly to boys and girls.