Gakumon no Susume (Encouragement of Learning) (学問のすゝめ)

Gakumon no Susume, or Encouragement of Learning, is a book written by Yukichi FUKUZAWA. Only the first edition has a co-author, Tokujiro OBATA.


The book principally consists of seventeen different themes, and originally the seventeen volumes were serially published from the first to the seventeenth.

In 1972, the first volume was published. The later volumes were serially published and the series was completed in 1976 when the seventeenth was published. Then, all volumes were combined to one volume by adding a preamble in 1880. According to the preamble, 700,000 copies were sold during the eight years since the first was published.

Eventually, more than 3 million copies were sold, and we can estimate one out of ten Japanese people read the publication at that time, given the country's population at the time was 30 million. It was an amazing best-seller book in the period of time when no major distribution routes nor nationwide advertizing campaigns were available.

"The heaven does not create one man above or under another man" could be the most famous passage from this book.

This is often misunderstood, but this sentence is composed using the form of "it is said" (in Japanese meaning), and is not complete, rather it continues. This is not FUKUZAWA's original idea, but a citation from the Constitution of the United States of America.

The sentence is followed by the passage:
"However, looking around the world of human beings, we can see the wise, the fool, the poor, the rich, the noble, and the common, and find differences between them, they are as different as cloud and mud."
This means the following:

The heaven does not create one man above or under another man, which means there is no difference by nature between the noble and the common. However, looking around the world of human beings, we can see the wise and the fool, the rich and the poor, and the noble and the common.
What difference is there among them?
It is very clear. The difference between the wise and the fool is derived from learning or not. There is no difference in nature between the noble and the common, but just those who work hard to gain knowledge will be noble and rich, and those who do not will become poor and uncivilized.

Those passages are included in the first edition, and we can understand his intention to clarify complicated boundaries between the ideal and real worlds. The book generally emphasized how education affects people's life, and indicated a road for the Japanese of that time to take. Therefore, the writing was titled as Gakumon no Susume, literally encouragement of learning.

Fukuzawa denied the idea of exclusion of foreigners when the idea was pervasive across the country, and maintained that: a government is established by its own people, a good government is chosen by good people and a bad government is chosen by unwise people;
Laws and regulations are also changed by the activities of people; if the ignorant people who have no interest in learning resort to direct petitions or uprisings and always make it work to his advantage, I think this is shameless; and
thus, it's completely unreasonable to break the law only to satisfy their own demands without appreciating that they live under the protection of the law (paraphrased). The way of thinking that he had presented was very advanced at the time when the Taisei Hokan, a transfer of power back to the Imperial family, was achieved only four years back.

Fukuzawa also encouraged to acquire certain skills that could be practically used in everyday life, such as reading and writing, calculation, fundamental ethics, rather than learning Chinese and classics that had long been encouraged to learn but were rather abstruse and unpractical, and were good and appropriate only for Confucian or Neo-Confucian scholars, while Fukuzawa never denied the value of those classics, just implying that they were good, but were not the subjects you really had to study diligently.

Writing Style
The Fukuzawa's writing style was very simple in those days. Actually he even said that "When I write something, I'm trying to write in a way that even monkeys can understand".

Like many authors of the time, he used many figurative expressions, particularly humorous metaphors. Many interesting expressions, such as "an arm broken by a sumo wrestler", or "a son of a merchant who took his father's business ruins the business", can be found in his writing, providing good insights for us to review how the society of the time worked, and to understand Fukuzawa himself.

In each chapter, his writing was plain and concise, explaining a main topic using metaphors, events and figures in history, and even foreign words.


Harsh critiques against Gakumon no Susume at the time were focused on the sixth volume "Kokuho no totoki wo ronzu" (Consideration of the importance of national laws), and the seventh volume "Kokumin no shokubun wo ronzu" (Consideration of the jobs of people). Critical reviews became rampant in 1873 to 1874, one account explains the situation as "a barrage of severe criticisms became abusive at the end of 1874, and he received intimidating letters from across the country, even endangered his friends who tried to give advice to Fukuzawa.

Ako Roshi (lordless samurai of Ako domain);

In the sixth volume "Consideration of the importance of the national laws", Fukuzawa described the action by Ako Roshi as a private sanction, thus not a right thing to do. And he went on to say that the judgment by the government was not adequate to make ASANO Takumi-no-kami to kill himself, leaving the other party KIRA Kozuke-no-suke non-guilty; the ideal closing should have been to bring the case to the government to resolve by court. This part became the target of criticism because it was interpreted that Fukuzawa did not regard the Ronins as true loyal warriors.

Masashige KUSUNOKI and Gonsuke

In the seventh volume "Consideration of the jobs of people", he painted a very loyal hero who sacrificed himself to his lord, and an ordinary man who killed himself because he could not uphold the order from his lord, with the same brush. Moreover, he discussed that both died to satisfy their own demands, not helping civilization to progress. This part could easily be attributed to a national hero Masashige KUSUNOKI, who died in the battle of Minatogawa, and was criticized by an interpretation that Fukuzawa identified Kusunoki's death as useless as an ordinary man's death.

"A review on Gakumon no Susume"

Fukuzawa responded to those views, by posting an article of "A review on Gakumon no Susume" which appeared in an additional edition of Yubin Hochi Shinbun newspaper on November 5, 1874, under the name of Kokuro Senban (which nearly sounds "thanks for your efforts") of Keiogijuku. And the review appeared again on Choya Shinbun newspaper on November 7, Nisshin Shinji-shi on November 8 to 9, and Yokohama Mainichi Shinbun newspaper on November 9.

Since those postings, the barrage of criticism ceased, and the situation became quire calm.

"A review on Gakumon no Susume" is included in the publications below.

An introductory to Gakumon no Susume, the 1st volume of the complete works of Fukuzawa
An appendix to Gakumon no Susume (published with new characters but old ways to read)
An appendix to Gakumon no Susume, Iwanami Shoten (Iwanami Bunko), 1994, ISBN 978-4000071543
The 3rd volume of the works of Yukichi FUKUZAWA edited by Masanori KOMURO and Shunsaku NISHIKAWA, Keiogijuku University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-4766408799
The 12th volume, Fukuo Jiden (autobiography) of the works of Yukichi FUKUZAWA edited by Kinichi MATSUZAKI, Keiogijuku University Press, 2003, ISBN 978-4766408881
A list of titles that were inspired by this publication
Gakumon no Susume is so well-known that there are many works and products that have titles in a parody of this publication.

"Usotsuki no Susume", a novel, by Takashi HAYASHI and Shinbo MINAMI. "Bakusho-mondai no Susume", a broadcasting program by Sapporo TV and NTV groups.
"Daizu no Susume", a beverage by Coca Cola Japan
Original publications
One of the original copies is exhibited at the museum to preserve the house FUKUZAWA once resided, in Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture.

The first edition of Gakumon no Susume was reprinted in 1968 as "Great books reprinted series, Modern museum of literature, the first half of the Meiji period, 29", from Nihon Kindai Bungakukan.

The seal placed on the first copies of the first edition of Gakumon no Susume can be found in a book by Masanori KOMURO and Shunsaku NISHIKAWA, Keiogijuku University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-4766408799

[Original Japanese]