The language of Japanese is deemed inconvenient and is not sufficient for writing compositions or public speaking. Therefore, we should speak and write in English – at least this is the foolish nonsense that some people propose (directed at Mori Arinori, the first Minister of Education). -Fukuzawa Yukichi

米国翻訳専門職大学院(USA)副学長 堀田都茂樹

Tomoki Hotta
Vice Chancellor
Babel University Professional School of Translation

In this article, we’ll consider what we can learn from Fukuzawa Yukichi’s viewpoints, referring to Itsuo Kohama’s recent book Fukuzawa Yukichi and Japan’s Graceful Spirit.

Fukuzawa announced bluntly that, “The language of Japanese is deemed inconvenient, and is not sufficient for writing compositions or public speaking. Therefore, we should use English and write in English – at least this is the foolish nonsense that some people propose.”

At around the same time, Fukuzawa published An Encouragement of Learning, Japan’s first Minister of Education Mori Arinori called for switching to English as the country’s official language. The above quote is Fukuzawa Yukichi’s words of scathing reproach in response to Mori’s proposal.

It would be one thing if only private corporations were making the switch to English, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. National and local governments are glibly proposing strategic “English only” districts, or areas where public services are offered only in English. Then there’s the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), that insists on creating “super global” universities and casually switching higher education in Japa to English. What’s more, MEXT is pushing forward policies to introduce English in elementary schools for earlier grades, even though the success of such policies is doubtful. In light of this recent activity, Fukuzawa’s words sound as a warning for the Japanese.

What’s more, while Singapore and other Asian countries adopted English as the language used in their higher education, Japan has remained adamant about using Japanese in its higher education. What’s interesting is that Japan has won several Nobel Prizes in the sciences, putting it right behind the U.S. at the top of the list for Nobel Prize for sciences. However, compared to the year 2000, a comparison of shifts in the science and technology budgets for major countries shows that America, Germany, and England have allotted 1.5 times more funds for science and technology, and Korea 4.7 times. China has set aside a surprising 11 times more funds for science and technology. Japan – whose allotted 1.06 times more funds in these fields – has shown almost no change. The government of Japan’s blatant downplay of its role as a technology-intensive nation is shocking.

The Japanese people and government must adopt an attitude for learning similar to that which Fukuzawa Yukichi taught. Fukuzawa advocated standing between the East and the West – always thinking of Japan’s role and not simply following the West, but also learning from the East, Japan itself, and the West as well.

Considering recent policies enacted by the Japanese government, it’s time to be concerned again about Japan’s current condition and examine just what kind of country Japan should be.

Fukuzawa Yukichi contemplated such questions after the Meiji Restoration, which was a great turning point for Japan. The Japanese need to be aware of the fact that now is also at a turning point – a period where Japan must make a shift.

Many are already aware of the following data, also cited by Kohama in his book (data provided by Kyoto University Graduate School professor Satoshi Fujii) from OECD’s report on shifts in nominal GDP for major countries. Setting the year 1990 as the base year (100), Germany, France, and Italy are currently at 200 and above for nominal GDP, while the U.S., England, and Canada are at 300 and above. However, Japan has exhibited almost no growth. What’s more, during the 20-year period from 1995 to 2015, Japan’s nominal GPD rate of growth has been the lowest of all 80 major countries. Japan’s deplorable situation doesn’t stop there – nominal wages have continued to decline as well during that same 20-year period. Is Japan’s current situation intentional? What’s incredible is that not only the government but the media as well makes no mention of these issues.

If Fukuzawa Yukichi were alive today, he probably would have had the following thoughts…

If one were to venture to list the three dangers threatening modern Japan, they would be the lack of citizens’ awareness of danger and a lack of concern for the country. The Japanese today resemble the fable of a frog being slowly boiled alive. Neighboring China continues to cast sidelong glances at Japan as it struggles with economic decline (due to the misgovernment of government officials), looking for ways to encroach upon Japan’s borders (buying whatever they can lay their hands on), and make Japan a Chinese protectorate. It is in the midst of such conditions that the Japanese must wake up to what’s going on.

Kohama also has a sense of impending danger and asserts that there are two other dangers in particular threatening Japan.

The first is Japan’s Ministry of Finances’ reduced budget policies, which are the foolish plans of finance bureaucrats who renounce growth. These policies have resulted in delays in infrastructure maintenance, which was the primary reason for recent water damage in various areas. Such policies have also resulted in budget cuts in science and technology, which has threatened Japan’s status as a technology-oriented nation, and military budget cuts, that have led to Japan’s decreasing ability to protect itself as a nation. These budget cuts have also created an overwhelming disparity between Japan and neighboring China. Japan’s foolish policies are deplorable, to say the least.

Behind such policies are rumors of economic collapse, with Japan’s debt supposedly at 1,000 trillion JPY, or approximately eight million JPY of debt per person. The government, however, issues bonds calculated in JPY as if there’s no possibility of bankruptcy, and spreads propaganda insinuating that its citizens are the ones burdened with debt (while in actuality Japanese citizens are creditors).

The second danger is minimal opposition in Japan to globalism and neoliberalism. How many people are aware that increased immigration policies, shifts in education to English, the liberalization of electricity, privatization of waterworks, and other policies are leading to Japan falling prey to global corporations?

How many are aware that such problems are the result of the reckless actions of Japan’s unique private members of the Diet? These “members,” who aren’t members of the Diet but rather prominent players in the financial world, are allowed to nominally participate in Japan’s Future Council, the Economic and Finance Advisory Council, etc. What these “members” are really doing is looking out for the interests of their own corporations (it would be one thing if they were simply engaged in honest lobbying). Japan is thus creating a structure that allows enterprises to greedily pursue personal gain.

My intent in this article is not to get mired down by political issues, but I do believe Japan’s people need to be concerned about the current health of Japan.

Fukuzawa Yukichi did not merely side with the West as many often believe, but earnestly cared about Japan and adhered to a policy of fully understanding things Western, using what’s called a “translational approach” – adopting Western ideas into the context of Japanese society. What Japan desperately needs now is another Fukuzawa Yukichi.