福翁自伝

I think I haven’t completely finished reading this book, but it was kind of amazing to think that the era when people first see skyscrapers and golden gate bridge is so close to when we are living now. I picked up this book because I was curious who is this guy who appeared on the 一万円 (10k yen). I thought he was just another old man who advocated for some nobel goals. I was apparently wrong. He was pretty unconventional for Japanese of his era. He was curious, incredibly curious so that he will abandon his family and the position he could’ve inherited from his dad, who was a “salary man”, a government official collecting taxes and stuff. Instead, he chose to leave home and head to oosaka (I can’t remember exactly where) to follow someone who studied 蘭学 “the Dutch knowledge”. He learned electricity, chemistry, and physics (again, this surprised me, because I thought he mainly wrote books.)

 

After a few years of studying foreign languages — yes that was an era when studying foreign language can get you important positions in the government, get you followers from all over Japan, and also get you assassinated. Www — 福澤諭吉 decided to head outside along with the Americans to see the outside world for himself. He went to San Francisco, at the time a thriving city with low housing price, and saw street lamps, horses as well as cars, and skyscrapers. I can only imagine how much of a shock that was to him and to others back then, when for all their life they have only lived in traditional houses and thought that they will continue living like their parents, and the parents of their parents, for ever and ever.

 

This is a fun book to read I would say. I come to like this “old guy” a lot after reading this. I found his curiosity towards science familiar and he definitely represented the “new Japanese” who fought for liberating from their fixed social status. He talked about how his father wants him to become a monk, because no matter if you are a son of a king or a son of a farmer, you can always be a great monk. The book is full of hope and forward looking thoughts that pushed humanity forward in the 20th century. The book lets you spend a few hours living like a Japanese in the 1850~1900s, which is kind of fun, you know, drinking beer and getting naked in front of the ladies and all that.

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