Ideas from the man on the 10,000-yen note


Book review, Tokyo – 10,000 yen is about 100 US dollars. So, a Fukuzawa is about a Ben Franklin, money-wise. ”Who?” you may ask. While the founding father is widely known for his adventures with kites and lightning, the former is no where as famous, possibly even in Japan.

So again, who is this man, the face on Japan’s most valuable note in wide circulation?

Fukuzawa is, in fact, the founder of Keio University and a forward-looking thinker at the time of the Meiji Restoration in Japan. When Japan faced colonial pressure and technology, Fukuzawa published “Gakumon no Susume (Encouragement of Learning)” to advocate learning to build knowledge and individual prowess to ensure sovereignty. He was quite a figure in the modernization of Japan. (His reputation after that requires more careful research, for me at least.)

A few months back, I found “Kodomo no ‘Gakumon no Susume’“, a book that re-presented his ideas for primary school children. Among the series of such books by Takashi Saito, which includes the Analects of Confucius, this one caught my eye because I was looking for something from Japan, and about it.

My immediate impression was the universality and relevance of his ideas. Nothing too overwhelming. Just simple ideas on tolerance, diligence, honesty, righteousness and good demeanor, just to mention a few.

A familiar board-gamesque path lining the page borders illustrate each of his 19 ideas, leading the reader from start to end. A learned bird donning a graduation cap would sometimes offer prompts to help the reader understand and think deeper.

Fukuzawa himself is known as a keen student and translator of Chinese, and later European and American thinking and sciences. He clearly found many dots in the course of his learning that he connected to form his own coherent ideas. To me, this was the master demonstrating to would-be students how to acquire information to create new knowledge.

The Internet is today often our first, immediately-available, omnipresent, go-to data source, but I shudder at how information is sometimes generated online, let alone have knowledge created from it. To me, learning and questioning have never been more important, and perhaps it is this urge that led me to acquire this book for myself.

Maybe only Keio University alumni and note maniacs or collectors would dig deeper into the face on the 10,000 yen note. Neither of these am I. But the ideas in this reworked version struck me as immensely relevant, and I am sharing my thoughts here to help foster the formation of new knowledge, and understanding.

Title: こどもの「学問のすすめ」(Kodomo no “Gakumon no Susume”, lit. “Encouragement of Learning” for children)
by Takashi Saito
Publisher: Tokyo, Chikuma Shobo, 2016 8th reprint (1st published in 2011)

Scoring Fs at AFCC 2016


Event, Singapore – Down for my first AFCC ever, I noticed a few Fs along the way. Here’s a quick run through!

IMG_20160703_000104Festival – Truly a festival of children’s content with books, music, songs and games for children, and those wannabe grown-up ones like me.

Focused – Japan was the Country of Focus in SJ50 year, which brings me to…

Fortunate – How else could I have had a look in? (Well, it was very much thanks to SCBWI Japan.)

Fun-filled – Totally enjoyed every bit, from tending the Japan Booth, helping the rehearsals for Japan Night in a dimly lit SEA Aquarium, keeping time for a marathon storytelling hour, to attending some very insightful sessions.

Fascinating – Very often so, as I was captivated by the performances and range of stories that were on display.

Flashy – How else to describe an underwater launch of bilingual picture books? Maybe splashy?

Favourite – An oft heard question, but I just couldn’t find a Japanese picture book or illustrator that I could pin down as a favourite. I found that I like many of them for their different stories, styles and colours!

Fruitful – Learned much about presenting, displaying, sharing, reading and creating content for children.

Frank – A brief, serious mention that kamishibai, picture card storytelling theatre, was once used for war propaganda. Frankly and plainly put, well-received with appreciative nods.

and finally,

Forward-looking – Covering recent trends in YA literature in Japan, the closing session of the event also looked to a future that promises to welcome greater colour, depth and diversity in Japanese content.

So a quick tally makes it 10 Fs in all, and there’s room for probably a few more.