Fukuzawa Yukichi was among the most prominent political thinkers of the early Meiji period, famous in particular for his ideas on education, and on Westernization.
In 1858, he founded the Keiô Gijuku academy for Western Studies, which would later develop into Keiô University. Two years later, he served as an interpreter on the 1860 Japanese Embassy to the United States. Following a second visit to the West, Fukuzawa wrote Seiyô Jijô ("Conditions in the West"), a volume describing much of American lifestyles, material culture, societal and urban organization, and the like; published in 1867 in a format explicitly meant to be accessible to the public, it quickly sold more than 150,000 copies.
Fukuzawa attempted to build friendly relations with Korea, and to encourage and aid the push towards reforms and modernization in Korea through programs of education for Korean students at Keiô University, and through supporting Korean reformers and activists in various ways, but ultimately was unsuccessful in having any particularly notable impact. In 1884, Japanese activists including members of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement, as well as official government delegations, attempted to effect some reforms in Korea, and to build friendlier official ties between the two countries, but these too were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, French victories in Indochina, among other events, led Fukuzawa to turn away from his efforts to lend aid or push for reforms in East and Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, Fukuzawa was also an outspoken proponent of the need for a central plan for the development of Tokyo, and for attention to be paid for the construction of a properly impressive and modern Imperial Palace at its center. Countering arguments which pointed to the Sage Kings of old, who lived simply and frugally in order to benefit the people, Fukuzawa was bold in calling the emperors of old "primitive" and "uncivilized," and arguing that for this civilized, modern, time, a modern capital was needed, most importantly in order to demonstrate Japan's modernity and the majesty and impressiveness of the Emperor to the nations of the world.
Fukuzawa also founded the newspaper Jiji shinpô, which ran from 1882 to 1936. In March 1885, he published a now famous essay which has come to be known as Datsu-A ron ("On De-Asianizing"), in which Fukuzawa argues that neither can Japan help uplift Asia (which has proven itself recalcitrant, stubborn, and cold to Japanese overtures), nor allow itself to be associated in Western eyes with such backward, failing, nations. Inoue Kaoru expressed similar ideas two years later, advocating that Japan had to become a European-style empire if it wished to retain its independence.
- Seiyô Jijô ("Conditions in the West", 1867)
- Bunmeiron no gairyaku ("An Outline of a Theory of Civilization", 1875)
- Datsu A-Ron ("On Leaving Asia", 1885)
- Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 105.
- Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, UC Press (1998), 74.
- Jansen, 105-106.