glyph 346: Japan . history ... mathematics, Takakazu Seki, Newton, Leibnitz, science ... literacy ... Samurai schools ... Inazo Nitobe, Bushido ... emergence of democracy ... coherent devlopment of new from old, preservation of cultural integrity and heritage while undergoing national transformation
The following is a part of one of my blog entries in Jack Wheeler's online newsletter, in which I share my view on why Japan was successful in her Westernization in the 19th century
We all know that in the 17th century Newton (1642-1727) and Leibniz (1646-1716) developed calculus around the same time. In Japan, there was a genius mathematician by the name of Takakazu Seki (? - 1708) who was their contemporary. Seki also developed calculus entirely independent of and probably before Newton and Leibniz. He was the greatest mathematician of his generation but there were schools of mathematicians who together developed the science of mathematics to the level equal to and in some areas higher than that in Europe.
Therefore, when Commodore Mathew Perry came to Japan in 1853 in pursuit of whales (don't forget Moby Dick), the Japanese had requisite mathematical knowledge to build a replica of the" black ship (kurofune) within two years. At that time, the literacy rate of the whole population of Japan was about 50%, by far the highest in the world, because the samurai class, educated in classics and arithmetic, had taught the common Japanese people through the terakoya school system throughout Japan. The Japanese were on the whole literate, and the elite, samurai class in particular was very well-versed in Chinese and Japanese classics, which were as intellectually and philosophically sophisticated as Western classics.
In the mid 19th century, Japan had already developed a singularly rich, mature, and integral culture of her own. Further, Japan at that time had a class of highly educated and trained samurais who considered moral character development to be the essential purpose of education and whose mission it was to serve the interest of their nation. If you read Inazo Nitobe's Bushido, not only would you learn the kind of ethics to which the Japanese subscribed but also you could get the sense of the high level of the intellect and the education the elite Japanese possessed in the person of the author Inazo Nitobe (who was a Christian). Upon this rich cultural basis the Japanese studied, digested, absorbed, and assimilated Western cultures and systems without losing their cultural integrity and heritage.
Democracy requires educated, thinking, and self-governing people in order for it to be run successfully. In fact, when a people as a whole becomes educated, thinking, and self-governing, democracy evolves as the most logical and functional form of collective governance. The 19th century Japan thus had a requisite social condition for the development of a democracy. Therefore, it is a mistake to think that democracy emerged in Japan after the Second World War. In fact, after the WWII, the quality of public education in Japan has declined, which is one of the negative consequences of the United States' post-war Japan policy and strategy, and the Japanese on the whole have lost their spiritual and intellectual connection to and integrity with their culture. This is one of the causes of many of the problems with which Japan faces today.
At any rate, in trying to spread democracy and freedom (though these two are not necessarily identical), the example of the 19th century Japan is instructive. (1) Japan had a developed culture of which she took advantage maximally in the process of westernizing the country and developing a democratic nation; (2) Japan maintained her cultural integrity, and her westernization and democratization were carried out as a process of coherent development from the old system to the new; (3) There was a group of people with a vision who were completely committed and dedicated to and risked their lives for the transformation of their nation (they were the Japanese equivalent of the Founding Fathers of the United States); and (4) The elite class and the common Japanese people took great pride in their own culture, unlike the post-WWII leftist Japanese intellectuals.
Other nations that want to democratize themselves can learn valuable lessons from the example of Japan. They can apply these principles to their particular cultures and conditions.
Four Pillars of the work of Vision In Action
Fri, Aug 18, 2006; edited/updated November 26, 2015